A Found Balance, and Lessons Learned: OCULA President’s Message

For many past presidents, the opportunity to serve on the OCULA council executive is an opportunity to develop or refine leadership skills, work with new people, and participate in discussions about academic librarianship with an exciting new perspective. Now that my year as OCULA President is closer to its end than its beginning, I am compelled to reflect upon my term as president. This article is also inspired by the wonderful community of library parents I have developed an online rapport with during my parental leave, most of whom have had a baby this year or are expecting one this year.

When I decided to run for OCULA Council at the end of 2013, I saw an undeniable opportunity for professional growth and the chance to participate in library work beyond the scope of my own library. I absolutely did not anticipate that I would actually win a spot on council and that one year later I would serve as Vice-President. And I most definitely did not anticipate that shortly before becoming OCULA president, I would take on the most important leadership role of all: parent.

Despite the apprehension to separate from my baby, I have finished OCULA meetings feeling recharged. Even as I write this article listening to ocean sounds from Harrison’s white noise machine softly echo in and out of the baby monitor, I find myself reconnecting with a part of myself that is often pushed down and away while more pressing demands, like keeping a small human alive, take priority. OCULA events, even if I can just attend for part of the day, have been a great way to reconnect with colleagues past and present and to participate in discussions that aren’t about bodily functions or sleep patterns. I am immensely excited about this year’s fall event, which for the second time offers library workers across Ontario an opportunity to participate in an OCULA event without geographic barriers and, ideally, without having to leave their couch.

Serving on OCULA Council has been more than an opportunity for professional growth for me this year. It has been a way for me to remain active in the library community while I am on parental leave. The periodic bursts of intense work, occasional phone calls, and regular in-person meetings or teleconferences have allowed me to stay connected to a community that has become part of my professional identity. Despite my initial concern that I wouldn’t be able to give my best to the presidency when a little baby was my first priority, it actually could not have happened at a better time. Having a child taught me to be kinder to myself, that being in control of any given situation is definitely just an illusion, and that to-do lists are basically just a list of things you won’t get done so don’t bother writing a list. I’ve learned to savour small victories and to admit failures without feeling shame. These lessons are easily transferred to my role with OCULA and they have profoundly influenced my approach to leadership. I learned that I don’t have to be a perfect leader to be a good one; that even though you may not be able to control an outcome, you can control what you take from it; and that there’s always someone watching, waiting to see what I’ll do next.

Denise Smith is an early-career librarian in the process of forging a path for herself. She is currently an Education Liaison Librarian at McMaster University’s Health Sciences Library, where she is the liaison for the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. She is also OCULA President and has a seat on the IFLA Information Literacy Standing Committee. Denise can be contacted at dsmith [at] mcmaster.ca and @DeniseSmith85.