Friday, March 28, 2008

The end of an era

Today was strange. It snowed most of the day. Yes, it snowed at the end of March in Portland. One of the local TV stations said this is the latest snowfall on record, the previous record being March 10, I think. We're supposed to have more snow this weekend too. Guess I won't be gardening.

Today was also the day I said goodbye to my boss, who's retiring after 32 years as our library director. 32 years. Wow. He was hired in 1976, when I was a freckly 10-year-old making red, white, and blue candles at Girl Scout camp. It's hard to imagine the library without him. The first time I worked at the library, in the early 90s, I was a student assistant, hired to catalog some historical books during the summer between years of library school. I was a freckly 24-year-old at the bottom of the org chart. Library Administration was a suite of offices on the top floor of the library, and I knew the people who worked up there must be important because a) they wore suits, and b) they had the only air-conditioned offices in the building. One day I was hunched in front of my OCLC terminal (you library types might remember those old dedicated terminals with the green text on a black background), cataloging away, when Jim came down to tell me that he was glad I was there, and my supervisor was pleased with my work. I learned my first management lesson that day: show you appreciate your staff, even (maybe especially) the ones at the bottom of the org chart.

Several years later, after my sojourn in Georgia, I returned to the library, this time as a librarian. I worked for a wonderful supervisor who could turn a freckly, rough-around-the-edges 29-year-old into a somewhat competent professional. A few years later, we went through one of our many reorganizations, and I ended up reporting to The Boss. I was a bit intimidated, but I soon realized I had a new mentor. Jim helped me gain confidence as a new manager (still freckly and rough around the edges, in case you were wondering, but not quite so young) and was endlessly patient with my questions, insecurities, and frustrations. I always knew I could go to him for advice or a reality check, and I often needed both.

We gave Jim a fine send-off. In addition to the official retirement party, a group of us filled his office with balloons and streamers last night, and we pulled together an impromptu farewell lunch today. All too soon, though, it was time for goodbye. As someone wrote on the whiteboard, it is the end of an era. I don't know what the new era will bring, but I know I'll miss Jim's part in the old one.

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