Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reflecting on Retirement

I never, NEVER thought the concept of retirement could apply to me. As a charter member of the Forever Young Generation and a follower of the Gestalt Prayer, having a real job to retire from was a foreign concept for some time. But life being what it is, not only do I now have a job, but in three days I'll be retiring from it.

I've gone through the cycle of emotions -- relief, anticipation, panic,excitement -- till now I'm down to crossing items off a ToDo list at work. I'll be dealing with my new identity as a retiree for some time, but I'm blessed with good health, a loving partner, beautiful grandchildren, and a house in the Bay Area that's paid for. I'll remember my blessings every day for the rest of my life.

I'll be spending more time with my beloved Jonathan such as we did in this photo, relaxing on the deck of a resort in Death Valley.

With my sweetie at Death Valley
The library where I work threw a retirement party for me and a co-worker. My experience these past 22 years at this job has not been completely positive, and I was not enthusiastic about the party. But in fact, it was a lovely party and I'm grateful to everyone who came, and in the end I had a lot of positive things to say.

Here is an edited version of my remarks:

            My Mills story begins before I had ever set foot on this campus. A friend told me about a job opening at the Mills College Library and I did apply but my heart was not in it. My career was in flux. I was working for a library software company that was going bankrupt. I knew I had to leave but had no idea what to do next or even if I wanted to stay in the field. I couldn’t imagine going to a job interview and putting my best foot forward. But I was invited for an interview, and I ALMOST did something really bad. I almost just stood them up, not cancelling the appointment, but just not showing up!  All these thoughts were going through my head as I was driving down I-580, but at the last minute I took the MacArthur Exit and ended up on campus. Wow! Once I saw this lovely campus  it was love at first sight. This is where I wanted to be. I did put my best foot forward at the interview and I did get the job.

            When I arrived at Mills College in 1989 there was no Olin Library. No computers, no OPAC, no email, no Google, no Internet. Certainly no databases or eBooks.  The swimming pool was in the central plaza between the Tea Shop and Suzys, but then there was no Suzys. Parking was free and easy to come by. We communicated face to face or by phone, but I didn’t have my own phone till five of six years into the job. Or my own computer. That was our world.

            Those first few years were very eventful. Six months after I arrived was the Loma Prieta Earthquake, resulting in Mills Hall and other buildings declared unsafe. All the campus offices had to shift around to accommodate, and we, the library staff and the library collection (all 250,000 books), were required to quickly relocate to our incomplete new Olin Library. Imagine packing, moving, and reshelving 250,000 books in the correct order on the shelves in our new scarcely finished space. The following year was the Student Strike, which resulted in a Mills for Women only mandate; and the year after was the East Bay Fire. These external events  shaped these early years.

            After those early eventful years, things quieted down and I settled into my job in technical services, mostly behind the scenes. There are two big projects that I am especially proud of.

            The first one is the oral history program: the Oakland Living History Program. In 2001 Andy Workman asked me to work on an oral history program to connect Mills to the surrounding Oakland community. Over the years that Program has conducted and archived more than 70 oral histories that are available at Mills College and Oakland Public Library. Another component of the program was oral history workshop series for Mills students and the surrounding community. It was a great opportunity for students and the community members to get a one day introduction to oral history and to interact with each other. Some wonderful partnerships grew out of those workshops, in particular the Friends of Negro Spirituals and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.   The Friends of Negro Spirituals Oral History Project won a national award from the Oral History Association.

            The second project is my work with the CCM (Center for Contemporary Music), cataloging the archived materials Maggi Payne transferred and digitized. There are now more than 300 CCM CDs used by the Mills community and researchers from around the world.

            A third project is Mills related but not job related. Anthropology professor Mitch Allen is the founder and publisher of Left Coast Press. Mitch took a chance with me and agreed to publish my first book, Curating Oral Histories.  This is been a wonderful publisher/author relationship –  even more precious when I hear about the nightmares other authors have had with their publishers. In fact, it has all worked out so well, I am currently working on another, much larger publishing project for Left Coast Press, and Mitch has invited me to edit an oral history series for Left Coast.

            Now – 2011 – is a fitting time for me to step aside and pass on the torch to someone else, not only for personal reasons but also for the shift occurring in the library science field. Twenty-one years ago my predecessor, Eva Konrad, retired when the library automated. She had worked the previous 30 years at Mills. Once again libraries are experiencing a sea change in the access and delivery of information – with databases, eBooks, patron driven acquisitions, and mobile delivery. These changes and opportunities are wonderful, but not the kinds of things that interest me or that I want to wrap my mind around. It is with great pleasure that I pass this job on.

            When people ask me what is next, they expect me to say lots of oral histories, travel, or dance – interests that have been important to me over the years. But in fact, I do not have specific plans for the future, but I hope find a path completely different from what I’ve done in the past. Maybe get better at Tai Chi, learn to weave, learn more about jazz, about viticulture, about the early history of religion.  My only plan is to not plan, and let come what may. Stay tuned.

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