The Life-Path of a Librarian

Steve, Iris, Rikhei & others are going through some kind of meme on why they are librarians. I think self-reflection is great. In fact, when I started this blog, that’s what I intended to do — take opportunities to look at the library world in ways that might reflect “others” in the world. This blog is my way of pretending I am not myself for a bit so I can look at what I do in a new light.

But to say I am pretending not to be myself is a little untrue as well, because I am a contrary person. I do not like to do things the way everyone else does them. That’s why I’m taking this meme and running with it in my own way. So instead of offering why I became a librarian, I am going to imagine a life-path that could very well produce a librarian. Kind of like a 30 second biography.

Librarians :

  • as babies. . . had parents who were less-than-skilled at “peek-a-boo.” That’s why they had to turn to books to get that “it’s gone — no it’s back!” sensation. Every turn of a book, of course, is a game of peek-a-boo!
  • as early schoolers . . . had someone in their life with the guts to give them a book that might offend their parents. Beowulf at six was my big entry into that world. All that blood and gore really showed me that there was a world my parents (and any other authority figures) could not take away from me.
  • at about 10 years of age . . . found a corner of the library where they could laugh and giggle to their friends about all the books with a 613.907 Dewey number (PDF warning). (They would share that “super secret” corner and the Dewey number with their peers of course).
  • as a pre-teen. . . never received “secret admirer” letters because all potential anonymous love interests knew they could figure them out [no, it’s not because librarians are too geeky to be admired].
  • as a teen. . . pretended to read Dostoevski, Trollope, Derrida etc. simply to expose their friends to the fact that these folks exist.
  • before they graduated high school . . . changed from sciences, to arts, to business, back to sciences, and was confused by the idea that anything resembling a specialization in these fields existed.
  • in college. . . confounded profs in discussions by injecting sources of information that the prof never heard of before.
  • before graduating . . . realized that specializing in a particular field was a) going to drive them insane and b) not going to get them a good paying job.
  • in library school . . . reminded themselves “this is temporary hell before getting to a rewarding job.”
  • before graduating . . . forgot most of what they learned in library school (not realizing that this was probably a good thing), but found someone who convinced them that they belong in the profession .
  • in their first job . . . practiced remaining calm, courteous and friendly in front of a mirror while pretending to be abused Hamburger Hill style.
  • by six months . . . after having one of the following happen to them, felt emphatically that they were meant for this job:
    • teen patrons saying hello out of a library context
    • helped someone through a serious health information inquiry
    • got a procrastinating student through a project due next weekend
    • found a weird object to classify and got it fixed nice and easy-like
    • saw a navigation issue with the website and found a logical way to fix it
  • by 2 years . . . learned something they ought to have learned in library school.
  • by 5 years . . . laughed at a library student who was worried about their library school grades.
  • on their first management job . . . started to see the reasons for all those crazy policies that got made in the previous 5 years.
  • yesterday . . . thought about why they became a librarian and pretty much decided “yeah, what Steve, Iris and Rikhei said.”

The Kings of Philantropy Podcast on CBC — Get it Quick!

I keep saying this, but subscribe to the CBC Ideas podcast.  Do it.   Right now.   It is probably the best podcast that is not related to celebrity, comedy or music.

A new series, called the “Kings of Philantropy” is about to be nixed from the list (Ideas only keeps about 4 podcasts up on its site at a time), but listening to it on my iPod the past day or so on the way to and from work has been amazing.

It talks about the new “social entrepreneurism” that is coming out of the big dollars being made by tech and media moguls like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Larry Page.    I can speak to its relevance to libraries in a “good news/bad news” trope.

The Good News:  The United States appears to be embarking on an era of progressivism and philantropy that could rival the efforts of Rockerfeller and Carnegie.

The Bad News:   The money is going to international public health, and a few swipes are being made at spending for libraries.

I wonder how we are going to find entrepreneurs in the developing world without giving the people access to the world’s knowledge, eh? — that said, public health is probably the first step for most developing countries — then we can look at schools and libraries.

There is also a good amount of interesting discussion about the challenges of accountability for social spending under a philantropic envelope, and the problems a business-minded “results focus” can have when it crosses paths with long-entrenched social systems.   An example offered is in Haiti, where a hugely amazingly high-level hospital was created to deal with public health, only to discover that a $200,000 expenditure on a better water system could help prevent visits from about 80% of their patients.

Either way, I think social entrepreneurism is a great move in the right direction.   The world is just going to have to learn more and better to get the systems right over the long haul.

Another Life-trumps-blog post

Those of you who have met or talked to me in the past, know how much my family means to me. Some of you who have talked to me know that my wife and I are expecting a new baby somewhere around July 26th (yes, next month).

Of course, you can be sure that I will not be blogging very much after that day (except for perhaps the occasional “Flickr” post with pictures of new baby and proud parents and sibling).

But from here to then, I have to say blogging has to take a slow-down. Those of you who are fathers know that domestic life gets just that much more harry as you get closer and closer to the end of the pregnancy. That’s not complaining — it’s just the reality that I want to do much more wifey-attention and when it’s not wifey-attention, it’s leisure computer time (those of you who follow my account will notice a jump in online games).

I do want to do two things though.   1) I’d like to get a part two for my Joomla tutorial and 2) I’d like to start blogging regularly my reaction to the Best of Ideas podcasts.    I’ve mentioned more than once how I love these podcasts and how relevant I find them to what I do.    I listen to these periodically as I walk to work, so I though I might as well share some thoughts with you.

Walt Crawford is for hire! A staggered announcement.

The truth is that Walt may already have a job lined up,  but by design or procrastination, I am offering my announcement a couple of weeks after all the hoopla.   My blog can’t draw as much attention as most of the bloggers who already announced this, but maybe I can encourage another round of bloggers to go ahead and make the announcement.

Walt Crawford is looking for a job, with a fair set of expectations, and on a fairly reasonable time-line.    What can I say to vouch for Walt?

  1. Well, I think he may be the smartest person in the biblioblogosphere.
  2. His CV is a book, and it includes citations for lots of books.
  3. He’s a seasoned and well-respected presenter.
  4. He’s is a dedicated professional, concerned with balance in libraries;  techie without the spacesuit; luddite without being behind (well, not a luddite at all).
  5. He will find a job somewhere on his own schedule — it might as well be you!

So, go ask him if you are a good match for him!

Yes, I will Learn with you. . .

When I wrote my “Technology requests ought to begin with a ‘yes'” post, my intention was to highlight a dialectic between those who want to fight the so-called “culture of ‘no'” and those who want to emphasize the need for planning and sustainability. My argument was that technology has changed (and I stated the reasons) and that our thinking needs to be altered somewhat to go with it. I suggested that a technology request ought to begin with a “yes,” but insisted also that after that “yes” there needs to be modelling, planning, priorities and so on.

My harshest critic was Mark Lindner, who said (here):

“But what he actually said about saying yes immediately is extremely simplistic and also ill-advised from a managerial perspective. Do anyone want a manager who immediately says yes to things and then after asking a few questions retracts that yes? Does anyone want to be that manager?”

It’s funny, because I went to David Lee King’s presentation at CIL on change management and asked a question: “Ok. So I have alot of priorities and work to be done, and certainly not enough resources to do it all. I don’t want to say “no,” but i sometimes come off as if I am saying ‘no’ simply because I note a whole number of kinks that need to be worked out first. How can I take on the “culture of ‘yes'” under those conditions?” [not a direct quote]

David put the question to the floor and Halleluah! doesn’t the very first responder say “well, you should start with a yes and then openly and honestly address the idea in a list of priorities.” [also not a direct quote]

So, as a quick response to Mark, yes — I do want to be that manager and I believe that the generation of librarians coming up want precisely that kind of manager. Or at least they want something different from a manager who immediately says “no” or “man, that’s going to take alot of money and work to do” first. These folks understand change; they will understand how “yes” can become “no” as priorities shift, resources deplete and the devil-details bare their horns — and, if you believe the literature, they have the same sort of feelings about their employers. Loyalty means less than lifestyle and meaningful work. But more than anything, they want a chance to show that, actually, it doesn’t really cost that much (in staff time or money) to host a good many technologies.

I’m also going to re-state something I said before. Some technology ideas do not get the same interest as some very expensive and resource-intense non-tech things, like renewing online resources without getting any use for them, or putting on a program, or scheduling a whole slate of “how to use a database” classes, or creating large quantities of print promotions or participating in local events or purchasing large collections of books or setting up a society newsletter or engaging in a newfangled partnership or building a new central library. The list goes on and on.

Yet, for some reason, when a “tech” solution comes out, the starting point for many librarians is “no.” You get “no.” Then you have to “change manage” your way into even the slightest consideration. This is not to say that the non-techie things should not be done, but it does mean that I believe technology things need to be given the chance to show their merit. Starting with a “yes” will go pretty far on that one.

I offer “yeses” all the time and I think I am liked for it. And sometimes I do have to say “ok. Maybe that needs to sit down on the priority list for now as we take care of other issues.” But of course, this is a too literal interpretation of my “begin with a yes” post. I am talking about opening the door to passions and possibilities, rather than controlling the pace to protect people from anxiety. I think this approach can help people want to put the effort behind their projects.

In the library world we need more possibilities and less fear — definitely less fear — about technology.

Asking someone to write a one-page brief on what they want to do, for instance, is alot more fun for staff when you have a “yes” attached to it. The brief may get bumped on the priority list, sure — but in the end, you have that brief in your files (or a tweaked version of it) just waiting for the opportunity to happen . Your staff have an opportunity to know their passions are being listened to and are being given their fair shake at being implemented. And god forbid, a manager — or dare I say “leader” — might learn something along with it.

And that brings me to another point. As managers we talk alot of about training and life long learning, yet sometimes in our daily rush we refuse to do a simple Google search when someone comes up with something we never heard of. So maybe my “yes” doesn’t really mean “yes” purely, but “yes, I will learn this with you.” Truly, madly, deeply, the library world needs administrators who will demonstrate their appreciation for technological change. That takes learning, and frankly, while the tech world moves quickly, the tools are there (Google, blogs, Wikipedia) to help us learn technological things fairly quickly as well.

And if there is anything that social software has taught me, its that learning is alot more fun when you have a cool group of people doing it with you. Wouldn’t it be nice if that cool group for librarians included the people who are supposed to lead the organizations we work in to success?

My Spin on the Five Blogs Meme. . .

Well, I don’t keep much of a collection of RSS feeds. Basically I use live bookmarks so I can pick and choose the headlines I like. I may go to Google Reader sometime to be more ritualistic and purposive about blog reading, but, well, I don’t want to right now.

That leaves me in a quandry though, because I’m coming in late to this meme and the blogs in my feed have pretty much been linked 5-10 times each already.

I’ve also heard a bit out there about all this five blogs stuff being a little tete-a-clique.

So, while I promise to link to all the favorites throughout my blogging life, I’ve decided to make a list of Five Blogs I’m Going to Add to My Aggregator Because of the Five Blogs Theme.

  1. Jennimi – I really like the template and Jennifer E. Graham has a great writing style. Her two most recent posts were decidedly readable and relevant to boot.
  2. Off the Mark – Meredith mentioned me in the same breath with Mark Lindner, Walt and Karen Schneider. I think I’m ok with that.
  3. LibraryBytes – Yeah, *that* Helene Blowers. Adding her feed is a “no brainer” if it ever was one. This is just an oversight to be honest. I read the blog, I just haven’t ever added it to my live bookmarks.
  4. Libraryola – I have a great interest in the cross-connects between Library and Information Studies and Public Administration. Chris Zammarelli says he’s interested in e-Government, that’s a match!
  5. Open Access News – A great find from Dorothea Salo thankyouverymuch.

And if you are not on this list, it’s probably because 1) you are already in my aggregator 2) I just forgot to add you 3) I haven’t come around to your blog yet OR 4) Somewhere, somehow your content and my eyes haven’t found the right chemistry. Don’t worry, keep blogging. All [Harlequin] romances begin with tension to start anyway. I might come around some time or another.