Renewing my sense of purpose

For years now, about 15 years, my thoughts have circled back to the same theme: storytelling in the mid-21st century.

I wrote a post about that on our book design blog back in 2011. In those days, my former wife and I ran a boutique design studio focused on designing not only books but also apps and websites. She handled the design while I focused on coding the software and building the business. When we started that business in 2005, I made the strategic decision to focus on a niche rather than a broad market of design. Being a general purpose design and development shop would have been too difficult with all the competition. We found our niche and for several years, through effective SEO, was the top search result for “book design” on Google. I’m proud of SoroDesign but after an eight year run it came time to move on to other ventures. A major part of that was moving back to the U.S. from Argentina. We settled in Virginia, which always has been one of my favorite states. (I had lived in Norfolk from 1995 to 2000.) Now I’m in Lexington, Virginia and have returned to my former profession of librarianship and spend my days as a librarian at Washington and Lee University. More on that in a moment. And my former partner at SoroDesign continues her career as an extraordinary book designer in her role as Senior Designer at the University of Virginia Press. She’s found a professional home in the field of scholarly publishing, which she enjoys very much.

As for me, I’ve always been a non-traditional librarian even though I love books and still strongly believe in the importance of the printed word and that libraries should still build print collections (in addition to all we do digitally). Career-wise, my focus as a librarian always has been digital. I found a solid path within academic librarianship that led to a good, (honestly, a great) career. Throughout the 1990s, I developed a growing interest in what was then called digital libraries. But there was always something in me that lacked interest in the librarian aspect of digital libraries. I was much more interested in how people used digital materials, particularly in how that content was used as a form of expression. In other words, I always was intrigued by the question, “How do you write in digital media?”

I’ve written this same essay over and over again throughout the years. I’ve talked already elsewhere about how reading Manovich’s The Language of New Media changed my perspective. Around 2004, I seriously thought about entering a PhD program in what would now be called digital humanities but that term hadn’t yet gained momentum. I was highly influenced by the writings of Janet Murray and Katherine Hayles. Yet, a romantic relationship and a newly emerged impulsive tendency prompted me to abandon my career at age 39 and move to Buenos Aires where I adopted a lifestyle of enjoying life and working to live rather than living to work. We formed SoroDesign that year (2005) and I started this blog that same year, though I’ve been very sporadic in my postings over more than a decade.

For several years, I blogged extensively at Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. That’s where I really learned about blogging, SEO, building a loyal and engaged audience, and the importance of solid content. I loved writing about my long walks around the city, about my experiences at protest marches that happened almost daily in Buenos Aires, as well as posting about the cultural heritage of Buenos Aires, including a series of blogs posts I wrote titled 30 Days with Borges. The blog was even recognized internationally for excellent content. At its height, in 2008, that blog had over 80,000 unique readers a month. At that time, there really wasn’t much online in English about Buenos Aires. From that blog, I produced a profitable ebook and transitioned into developing apps about Buenos Aires. The apps turned out to be horribly unprofitable but the development experience was good. I launched a travel business with a good friend, which ruined the friendship as the business floundered. The Buenos Aires blog is still online but now as a historical artifact. And somewhere during my path in South America, I wrote some short stories and a novel (still unpublished), and spent an amazing but stressful two years living in an isolated village on the windswept coast of Argentina.

With a newborn baby in 2011, I found a good role working remotely for a New York city startup in developing a gamified travel app. And then, just as impulsively as I made the decision to move to Argentina in 2005, I made the decision to return to the U.S in 2013.

I never really had the intention of resuming my career as an academic librarian. I came back to work in this new space called digital humanities (DH), which I realized corresponded extremely well to my interest in how digital materials are used. I thought that DH was the space in which I should exist. I’ve learned that it’s not. I’ll pick up on that in another post.

Over the last few years I’ve been approached by executive search firms more than a dozen times for positions as a library director. I half-heartedly tested the waters for few openings but, finally, told the recruiters that I was off the job market. I actually said that my career goal is not to be a library director. I actually love my current job. Even though my job title is Associate University Librarian, that’s not very reflective of what I’m doing. Or, is it, if one considers where libraries are heading? That in itself is another post but at this moment I want to continue reflecting on what drives me both professionally and personally, and what I sense will sustain me will through my retirement.

Everything I want to do professionally is tied to that question, “How do you write in digital media?” My passion is exploring storytelling in the mid-century. I don’t plan to really ever retire. Yes, I will retire from my job in the library at some point in my sixties but I can see myself continue to work through my seventies and even eighties in digital publishing. I’m genuinely excited to see the state of digital storytelling when I’m 85. That will be the year 2050. If I’m alive, I’ll still be blogging in 2050.

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