Tuesday, November 22, 2011

5 inspirational words of wisdom to librarians

Librarianship is a difficult road. I find myself often torn between idealism and cynicism, caught between passion and frustration. Talking to other librarians, I see the same in them. Libraries really have so much potential to make a difference and yet it seems obstacles in our path often seem insurmountable.

When things are difficult, when frustrations mount,  I often find it useful to re-read inspiring words of wisdom by other librarians who remind us that we are not alone.

These are some of my recent favourite speeches, with excerpts that I find memorable (emphasis mine) but I don't think the excerpts alone do them justice so be sure to read the whole post!

1. An Open Letter to New Librarians by Roy Tennant

This was a response to a blog post by PC Sweeney. PC Sweeney is a very passionate librarian and is in my mind one of the up and coming leaders of ALA but in the blog post he talked about some days where he felt like "blowing it all up and walk away" in view of all the challenges facing libraries and librarians.

This drew Roy Tennant's response, where he noted that when he was younger he faced similar frustrations and shared tips on how to not give up despite the frustrations that all passionate librarians face . He ended with this.

"I’m not trying to say that if you do the things above that it will be easy. It won’t. Deeply committed and visionary people will also tend to be frustrated and impatient. But I’m here to tell you that with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive. Our profession is counting on you to do so. Only the best and the brightest are frustrated. Everyone else is bored, or unengaged, or biding their time for retirement. You are the ones we simply cannot do without."

2. Be the change you want to see by Meredith Farkas

In a very uplifting and positive post, Meredith Farkas talks about keeping one's passion and enthusiasm and how not to be resentful or frustrated with others by comparing with what they are doing or what they have. She challenges us to "be the change you want to see" in our place of work.

Here's an excerpt from the post about setting one's own benchmarks for excellence.

"We all have our own standards of excellence. Some people’s bars are set higher than others. We also have different priorities and what motivates me to put in 100% won’t necessarily be the same for you. Whatever your own standard of excellence is in your work – whatever you passionately believe in doing – that’s what you should be true to. Be yourself. Don’t stop volunteering for things just because some of your colleagues’ standards of excellence are lower than yours or their priorities are different. Your measuring stick for your own achievement should be based on what you want to achieve, not how much or little other people are doing."

3. Reality-based Librarianship for Passionate Librarians by Jenica Rogers

Jenica gave a very impressive keynote speech at LIANZA Conference 2011 about how librarians should balance passion and reality. She notes that it hasn't been a good year for libraries, but then again when has it ever been?

Here's an excerpt from the post about choosing the right battles to fight

"There’s always a hill to climb. You cannot let the simple existence of the hill stop you from climbing it. 
You just have to pick your hills. Look at what you’ve learned here, this week, at the ideas you’ve generated. Look at your energy, your resources, and your barriers. And pick a hill.

Figure out which one is worth the climb, worth the sweat and the sore quads and the scramble over rocks. And just start climbing. And when you get halfway there, and see the insurmountable obstacle — be it lack of budget, resistance from colleagues, lack of leadership, dissonance of vision, the consequences of a natural disaster, or a good old fashioned catastrophic avalanche of all of them at once — you have to stop, and ask: Is this the hill I want to die on?

Because not all hills, even smartly chosen ones, deserve your passion. Some battles aren’t worth fighting, and can’t be won. Or the cost of winning is too high – you will spend more than you can afford to see it done. Or, remembering the exhortations of earlier keynotes to focus on political awareness, the victory isn’t strategic enough. Some hills are not worth dying on."

4. The Year of the Librarian - Of the People - David Lankes

David Lankes is a great speaker and you can watch many of his presentations live on his blog .  Honestly I could have easily picked any one of his excellent speeches but this one is from Reinventing Librarianship

"The time for introspection is done. The time for trivia is done. The time for looking for the future of libraries in catalogs, and strategic plans is done. The need of our communities is too great, and our promise for improvement too large.Our families worry about jobs and the ability to fight their way into a shrinking middle class. Our education system is broken – students unable to learn, or drowning under crushing debt. Our system of government increasingly polarized, our appetites for energy unsustainable, and the very memory of our society eroding behind walls of commerce and false scarcity. These then are our grand challenges, and just as the physicians before us, if we rise to meet them, we too shall be rewarded.

And I know what you are thinking. I know that tomorrow you’ll be dealing with broken printers, and shelving backlogs, and the rising costs of subscriptions. But you must look up. You must never make what you do replace why you do it. And if you can’t link broken printers and shelving to the grand challenges of our society, then you ought to ask why you are doing them. We must stop reacting to the world around us and start inspiring it!"

Below is another one that I found interesting.

5.Bravery based librarianship is the (only) future by Ned Potter

Of the 5 writers and speakers I have listed, Ned Potter is perhaps the least experienced in the field. However, he is definitely a thought leader in the field. Here's a blog post he wrote about his experiences while receiving Special Libraries Association (Europe) Early Career Conference Award.

"But what strikes me is how often I hear about bravery-based librarianship that goes well. There were loads of these at SLA2011. So many times when libraries take the plunge on some decision or other, the outcomes are positive. I know failure is less likely to make it into the public eye, but even so enough people are trying interesting things and discovering that – hey, guess what – the world DIDN’T end and the earth DIDN’T swallow them up, and in fact everything carried on, but slightly better. So we should learn from them.
So many great ideas get bottlenecked by trying not to upset people. We are at a time when we need to inspire people, not protect their delicate sensibilities. Merely not failing is no longer enough. We have to succeed in such a way that the odd failure happens too – otherwise we’re not speculating enough to accumulate sufficiently. And I’m not talking about whole libraries, I’m talking about the ideas which drive them. Can we get ourselves into a collective mindset where we don’t fear chaos?"


6. How Will We Save Our Profession? Reflections from a Texas Librarian

This is more specific to a given subfield of librarianship but still inspiring.

"Worried about these fresh new faces choosing to enter our profession, newly graduated from library school, who, as one candidate told us “had drunk the koolaid.” Were we doing them a disservice hiring them in to a profession that is facing such threats? I felt re-energized at the same time thinking of my own first year in the library, ready to do all I could to be the instructional resource, champion of literacy, technology integrator, and overall go-to-girl when something needed doing.

If you are feeling more discouraged than you should, think of what is lost to this generation of our students if our profession shrivels up and dies away. You are the one who must fight and win the battle to keep librarians in schools. But you are not alone! "


I know that words alone won't necessarily change anything. Reading these inspiring words doesn't mean that you will wake up the next day and find the situation is magically improved. God knows, the cynic in me sometimes wonder why I spend so much time blogging ideas on librarianship as if words alone will make a difference.

And you know what? The cynic in me is right. Words & even ideas alone won't change anything, not if they don't inspire you to do something.

If there is one common thread in all these speeches it is this, frustration is normal and if you are feeling this, please don't give up! Continue to fight the good fight (though you may want to change your strategy if it doesn't seem to be working)! We need as many bright, passionate, engaged people in our profession as we can get and the more of us there are around to support each other, the brighter our collective futures will be.

What are some of the most inspirational advise as a librarian, you have been given?

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