Last year, Maxine Bleiweis announced her retirement. After 17 years as director of the Westport Library — and for 18 years before that, doing the same job upstate — her many fans and friends wondered how she’d handle the transition to “consultant.”
It’s been nearly a year, and the answer is: pretty well.
So well, in fact, that Maxine has done something very librarian-like. She’s written about her experience for Library Journal.
In a piece called “Letting Go While Hanging On,” Maxine admits that being a library director was “all I knew.”
I was used to having ideas, throwing them out to a group, seeing them put into action, and developing direction and policy for institutions that had impact on the community. I stayed for more than 15 years each at two institutions, which meant I had hired a majority of the staff and knew every mover and shaker in the area. I was accustomed to having a title and a position in the community.
She could have been lonely. She could have looked over the new director’s shoulder.
Instead, she made a new life — while letting go of the parts of her old one that she needed to.
Maxine offers 10 lessons. They describe her post-Westport Library life. But they’re a blueprint for any other boss who’s changing any career they’ve been in for a while.
For example, Maxine writes:
Don’t be tempted to go back to say hello or give advice. You’ve handed over the reins to someone else: free that person of your shadow. It’s enough that your past memos and emails and name on annual appeal letters and newsletters are in evidence. Your presence is felt without you actually being there….
Don’t keep up with anyone without permission. Start out at a distance through Facebook. You’ve been their supervisor, not their colleague. There may be some who want to develop a different relationship, but you should think about what they might report back to their coworkers and how that might translate on the job. If you have a relationship, avoid speaking about work, and don’t offer opinions.
Being untethered brings new opportunities, including spreading the library word when it is not expected. You can observe from an outside vantage point and have a better perspective about why the library isn’t on the minds of people the way you want it to be. You can write letters to the editor without worrying that you are taking sides politically. Being on the “outside” is both refreshing and jarring.
She also describes how she gets her reading fix without going into the library; learns not to apologize for leaving the non-profit world; rearranges her schedule; creates a new work environment, and spends time doing things she never had time for.
Was all of this easy? Not a chance. I’m fortunate that my consulting work and family took up time and energy and made up for some of the loss I felt. I still look at my email too many times a day and wonder why I’m buying “work” clothes when I have more than enough.
Check back in another year, and I may have conquered the rest of the library director habits.