Archive for May 2006

If You Build It, They Will Come

Meredith Farkas has a lovely post over at Information Wants To Be Free on “You May Not Be the Person You Think You Are, building from the thought that “We all have a story of our life in our heads that informs who we think we are and what we think we are capable of.”

Then, over at Library Stuff today, Steven M. Cohen quotes Dr. Mark Goulston from Never Eat Alone:

“The essence of it is that you need to have a clear, precise, compelling and totally convincing vision of what your best life looks like. When you see it, commitment naturally follows. If commitment doesn’t follow, the vision wasn’t important enough.”

I think this sums up part of what Meredith’s talking about — getting past our old stories and telling a new tale is a necessary first step in becoming the people we’re meant to be.

But, besides being what self-help books generally boil down to (my favorite in this genre being one that came through my former place of work (mfpow?) a while back called Write It Down, Make it Happen, it seems to me that we can also extend this same principle to librarianship. Without a clear vision of where we want our libraries or our profession to go — whether we talk about strategic planning or Library 2.0 or 21st Century libraries — we’re stuck in the story of what we were, not what we need to become. But, any compelling new story has to build on our existing foundations, taking the best bits from our old stories and weaving them into our new vision. To be meaningful, our story of who we are and what we think we are capable of needs to resonate with people, to fit into our larger professional mission.

Library folks should appreciate the power of stories; they are, after all, part of what gives us our purpose. Maybe reframing the question of “the future of libraries” as the question of how we want to tell our story can help us move past terminology and tangential issues and focus on the core of our tale: the plot, the action, the resolution. And, as with any compelling story, borrowing from older archetypical tales helps our audience understand where we are going. Borrowing from the tales they tell us lets us build connections and build a bridge to the new.


I just received a sample copy of Information Today (23:5, May 2006) in the mail, which included an article titled “Seek and Ye Shall Find” by Shirley Duglin Kennedy. (Subscriber-only link, but it’s available in InfoTrac and elsewhere.) She notes:

“Some people think I am a magician because, in 90 seconds, I can find what they could not find in hall a day. They think it’s because I’m a whiz with databases and search engines. But usually that’s not why I’m successful. I’m successful because I’ve spent so many years poking around the Internet, reveling in serendipitous finds.”

Well gosh, yes!

Serendipity got me through half of an (abortive) PhD program — whenever I looked up one book, I’d scan the shelves around it and almost always find related resources. I kept up the practice whenever I walked people to the stacks as a reference librarian in a public library. And I’ve always thought of print research as following a similar pattern to online research: One book or article will point to several more; look those up and they’ll spider out further; you’re done when your outbound links start to duplicate to the point where it’s unlikely you’ll find anything new on your topic. (Or never done, if you’re obsessive and in a PhD program! )

I think this is a point we’ve somewhat overlooked in the recent discussions about professionalism and keeping current. Because I read blogs and journals and web sites and tuck aside things for use in presentations or articles, I’m more likely to be able to find an answer later. Limiting your reading and participation to what strictly pertains to your current job limits your outlook and limits the foundation you will later need to build upon when your job inevitably changes.

One of the things that makes us professional is the underlying inquisitiveness that makes us go beyond, that makes us think about how things fit together and who else might benefit from or be working on a given topic, that makes us ponder what implications our serendipitous finds may have on our workplace or our profession — and makes us want to pass our thoughts on to others. Dorothea makes a good point when commenting on the last professionalism post, saying: “Isn’t that what deprofessionalization is, really? Turning a career into a job?”

Seeing librarianship as a career, not a job, means seeing this as a profession, not just a field in which we are employed. It means being willing to go beyond, to embrace serendipity, to participate, and to see ourselves as part of a larger whole.


Got the new ALA catalog in the mail yesterday, and my 3-year-old son was going through each page yelling: “READ! READ! READ! READ! READ!” through each spread of READ posters. His take: “This is a FUNNY magazine. Why does it say READ so much?”

OCLC’s recent “Perceptions” report notes that 70% of respondents identified the library “brand” with books. I don’t think this surprised anyone — and, in my heart of hearts, if someone demanded from me an instant one-word association with libraries, “books” it would be. (And yup, I’m a degreed librarian. Yup, I’m a Library 2.0 believer. Yup, I’ve been a systems librarian, and go to my local libary partly for the free wireless access, and have worked in a public library spending rainy Saturdays watching patron after patron make a beeline for our Internet terminals, with DVD rentals running a close second.)

But I’m also one of those people who went into librarianship partly because I love books. Yes, I said it. And one of the things I miss most about working in a public library is walking into work each day and heading through the stacks to get to my desk, knowing I had a part in getting some of those books onto the shelves. Working surrounded by books is in some ways as nice as living surrounded by mountains… but I digress.

So anyway, I see people talking about the OCLC report and other surveys reaffirming our bookish associations and wondering what we can do to change those perceptions. To them I say: “Good luck.” Maybe we’re all going to turn into “Idea Stores,” but I’m noting that even their reports say they’ve “doubled spending on books in recent years.” Do we really want to mess with a brand this powerful? Or can we work on being books AND… like what our friends at B&N et al have done with books AND coffee.

On that note, back to some Dean Koontz (OK, I said “books,” not great literature…) in my smelly hotel room in lovely Saint George, Utah, where I’m speaking at the ULA conference in the morning. This post caps off a day of minor travel annoyances, culminating in getting stuck in a smoking room for the night. But, the hills are gorgeous, and, luckily, I brought some books!

Professional Is As…

An older post on self-promotion has been attracting some new comments, and I wanted to pull one out for more discussion here. Anonymous commenter writes:

“and one other thing: i am a professional librarian because i have the education, training, job description and the pay necessary to make me a professional librarian. it has nothing to do with how many conferences i’ve attended or how many articles or books i’ve gotten published. not everybody has the time or inclination for publishing or networking; therefore, it is not an accurate measure of who–or what–is or is not professional. ”

(The first thing that jumps out at me from the above comment is the line about pay — thinking back to my first post-MLS job and what they deigned to pay me, I don’t know that I’d choose to include monetary compensation in any definition of what makes someone a “professional librarian.”)

Aside from that minor quibble, though, it is worthwhile to think about what makes us professionals, and I do believe our profession is defined in part by its literature and in part by how we interact with one another and with the outside world.

No, not everyone is going to publish. No, not everyone has the funding to conference-hop. Yes, we all contribute in different ways. But I think that the key here is the very idea of contributing — of being part of something larger than ourselves, our day-to-day jobs, and our single institutions. Whether you choose to contribute by writing for the library literature, or maintaining a blog or web site or e-mail list, or joining committees, or mentoring new librarians, or posting to discussion lists, or commenting on other people’s blogs, you’re participating in a larger and ongoing conversation that continues to define us and what’s important to us as a profession.

I don’t define library professionals in terms of how many books they have published or by how many conferences they have attended — but I do think that we each have a professional responsibility to keep up, keep connected, and give back in one way or another. Our participation in the larger whole is what makes this a profession, rather than a field in which we happen to hold a job.

Online is Fine

My gaming obsessions pretty much started with Zork and ended with Tetris. So I’m not sure why this Second Life Library 2.0 project is so interesting to me (especially since my not up-to-par video card won’t let me participate til I get around to installing a new one).

I think it’s partially because the online environment has been an integral part of my life for just over 20 years now, something I was reminded of recently when Boing Boing posted a link to an archive of ASCII BBS splash banners from the late 80s/early 90s. BBS’s were my first introduction to online community (although that’s not what I would have called it as a socially awkward teenager in the mid-80s!). I miss them dearly — so it’s fascinating now to watch various efforts to create community using the new tools now at our disposal.

And, having grown up with online community (and slightly past the socially awkward teenage stage), I do believe that these communities we create online are just as “real” as those we create face-to-face. Which means there is a place here for both libraries and librarians. If we’re going to be “at the heart of the community” or involved in “creating community,” we need to be where people are forming community.

I’m also thinking about these things as I’m sitting here in Missoula at the Montana Library Association conference. Librarians and library workers in Montana are about as spread out as you can be, and this underscores the importance of online community to us in the library field as well. A lot of us don’t get funding to attend conferences, are unlikely to be able to make the in-person commitment to run for ALA office, and need to look beyond the walls of our own institutions for kindred spirits and community. I treasure the relationships I’ve built online with librarians across the country, relationships that would not have been possible — or would be exceedingly unlikely — otherwise.

So any effort to build or extend community online should be applauded, and efforts like Second Life Library 2.0 that aim to make online more “real” bear careful examination. I hope to visit with all of you there, once I drag my PC into the 21st Century!

Random Publishing Stuff

Over the past couple of days, I’ve run across several interesting book-publishing-related stories, articles, and posts, which I’m linking here for two reasons. One, because one of my thoughts in starting this blog was to hold onto random things I wanted to remember. Two, because of the feeling that if all of these things are showing up on my radar at once, there’s probably a reason for it.

If the books they’re talking about here don’t tend to make money, take it from me, you’re not going to get rich writing books for librarians. But, on the other hand, any supplement to a librarian salary is nice…!

I don’t know how I can even comment on this one. But, sure, why the heck shouldn’t Starbucks publish books. Coffee, books, it’s all a commodity, right? As our P&L post above tells us, “Books are like toilet paper to a Butson’s grocery store. Books are stock to be moved to consumers. Toilet Paper X sells better than Toilet Paper Y, therefore Butson’s stocks more of X.” If I were waxing philosophical here, I’d say something about how this underscores the importance of libraries…

I like the term “biblioblogosphere.” I admit it, I do. But I draw the line at “blooks.” Nevertheless, it’s interesting to watch the blog-to-book fad and wonder how long it will last.

You have to admire anyone who can crank out 9,000 words/day! This is definitely not my secret to writing a book… But a nice snapshot into the competing demands of writing and life.

Walt Crawford’s take on my previous post on books vs. blogs, plus pointers to a number of other relevant posts for librarian writers.

So, there you have it — some reading material to keep you busy while I really do get back out to admire the Montana mountains!


From Big Sky Country

I’m writing from Missoula, MT at the Montana Library Association conference, where this morning I had the opportunity to see ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels do a keynote. So, I thought I’d try my hand at conference blogging — although, tech poser that I am, the below is taken from handwritten (!) notes.

Fiels talked about 5 challenges facing libraries and his strategies for facing these:

1) Funding issues — to which the solution is advocacy (we can’t just do our jobs but are responsible for securing funds), which is about getting actual money, not just cheerleading. For this, we need to track the dollars and their impace on our users, make plans on all levels (vision driving funding growth), and use research on the value of libraries (making this into local soundbites).

2) Continuing to attract the “best and brightest” — recruitment is key, but not just more bodies, we need to look at who we are recruiting. Hand-in-hand with this goes making all librarians better educated, so training on all levels and through various methods. Mentioned the new Public Library Administrator certificate, because “we don’t learn in library school how to defend our budgets.” Talked about training more people, including the 60% of people who work in libraries who don’t have their MLS. Working on developing a certification for library support staff and likes what the Western Library Council is working on in developing a standard certification across 29 states.

3) Improving the salaries of library workers — we can’t do by passing resolutions, guidelines without teeth, or complaining, but need to do one librarian at a time. Obligatory ALA-APA mention, developing resources, comparative statistics, best practices and strategies for us to use. “Our skills are comparable to IT workers, our salaries are comparable to sanitation workers.”

4) Most important things we do to make a difference — serving everyone, leading the way in diversity (we need to reflect communities and set an example, Spectrum Scholarships added $1million in funding last year matched by $1million from IMLS, jumped from 25 a year to 75). Fighting for constitutional rights, keeping info free for all, esp. govt information — examples of EPA eliminating l ibraries, info being pulled off web sites, documents being classified, records withdrawn from archives. Copyright — commercial interest attacking fair use so they can make more money. Says that in Canada and parts of Europe payment is made to an author every time a book circulates? We need to lead the world, helping develop libraries in other countries and learning from others with better service and building international understanding and tolerance. Knowledge -> tolerance -> peace.

5) Will libraries survive? Funding again, fight for lower taxes, people who hate libraries, “we need to think outside the box,” challenge of Internet. After Borders, TV, Amazon, Google, libraries busier / more needed than ever. Part of virtual learning community plus people come to libraries for more than computers can provide — and for computers. Community, inspiration, social interaction, learning, librarians, books. Libraries without walls = no libraries — we still have bodies, so we still need buildings. Libraries tangible expression of democracy and best way to create better society, best thing you can do for a child is take it to the library, key to economic well-being in competitive global economy.

So, all in all — I got the impression this is a speech he’s given any number of times, but he did a nice job talking about what ALA is actually doing in several areas (ie, where our dues go).

Now I’m off to look at the mountains again, because I miss them dearly in the oh-so-flat Midwest!