A Guest Post by Sarah Walkowiak
I uttered these words in a department meeting last week. Let me explain . . . We were discussing our mission statement, a work in progress. As a thought exercise, we had been tasked with writing a mission for our group in four words or less. Unfortunately for me, I was having the kind of day that left me without my usual creative spark. Tempting as it was to rely on a stock answer that sounds like everyone else’s mission statement, or a rehash of our usual talking points, I cringed. Then I wrote a couple of those kinds of phrases down, just in case I couldn’t come up with anything better before our time ran out.
This freed me up to do some real thinking. The point of the exercise was to stretch beyond our usual frame of thought, so I decided to jump in and give it a try. I was lucky to have just returned from a serendipitous lunch meeting with Dave and some colleagues from our division. We discussed several topics, but a recurring theme was how we are all about learning – despite the differences in our job titles and departments. Then I wrote the word “learning,” but this sounded too narrow. Yes, of course we are all about learning, but it didn’t encompass enough for me. Also, I suspected Dave might have written down the same thing, having been in that same conversation . . .
Then, I thought about a way to convey how learning is not just about us in libraries/technology, or about the students, but how we want to be continually learning in order to serve our constituents* — and how we need to keep learning to serve them, and more importantly, how we can learn together and give people the skills to learn for the rest of their lives after they’ve left our university walls. At the time, the best way I could express this in the moment was “learning explosion.” Not quite the best word choice I admit, but not bad for being put on the spot on an off-day.
The time of reckoning arrived. I looked down at my sheet of paper with a couple of lame stock answers, and then those words again: “learning explosion.” We were to go around the room and share our answers. I was fortunate to be sitting where I would be among the last to speak. As the answers were shared and written on the whiteboard, I heard some similarities to my stock answers. Uh-oh. I could still share one, but they would be repetitive and unoriginal now. As each person in the room took their turn to share, I tried to think of a better one, but couldn’t. Then I thought to myself “to heck with it, what’s the worst that can happen?” and then it was my turn . . .
I got a few chuckles, which I expected, and tried to explain my reasoning. I’m not sure how well I did in the moment. However, I’ve inadvertently said more embarrassing things in mixed company before, and hoped at a minimum it would prompt someone to help me find a better word to convey the ongoing future part. I didn’t quite get there in that one meeting, but I’m glad I took the risk. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I would revise it to say something more like “learning supernova” or “learning . . . and beyond.” Cheesy, yes, but it’s still a work in progress… just like our mission, and my own lifelong learning.
* I really hate using the word “patron” or “user” to describe the people we serve. I could go on, but I think I’ll save that for a future post.
Sarah Walkowiak is Research and Instruction Technology Specialist at Brandeis University, where she also serves as a lecturer in the Journalism Program and teaches multimedia and digital storytelling.