The Forest is Full of Trees

Whenever I’m giving advice to people who want tips on applying for management positions, the number one thing I emphasize is the ability to see the Big Picture. People who get bogged down in the details will not make good managers (IMHO, the only time to micromanage is when you are specifically working with a staff member on correcting behavior or improving a specific skill). You have to learn to delegate and trust that a lot of the micro, detailed work will be taken care of.

But does that mean the details aren’t important? Of course not. In fact, the second piece of advice I give potential managers is to be able to see the forest AND the trees, but that the higher up you move in an organization, the less you have time to personally deal with the details yourself. For example, you can boldly profess a desire to change the face of ebook lending in libraries but if you skip or gloss over the details, you can end up without a tangible product or a deeply flawed collection development policy. That doesn’t necessarily mean your entire project is a failure just because your thinking was visionary and broad, but the details are what make ideas work at a practical level. As a leader, you will often have to trust that the support team you’ve built will take care of those details for you, but that doesn’t make them less important or less worthy of praise, claim and recognition.

We throw our attention at those Big Idea folks and (while I sometimes quibble with who’s chosen to win awards), that’s a good thing. People who think big should be celebrated and held up as examples (and the people chosen then have the responsibility to model professional behavior; as a wise man once wrote, with great power, there must also come great responsibility). However, if we focus our attention solely on these people, while ignoring the support staff, the people who did a lot of the dirty work to make it happen, then we lose something important. “Why” we do things is vitally important and should be our guiding principle but without the ground level work, those big ideas can never come to fruition.

To paraphrase Casey Kasem, dream big but keep yourself grounded by the idea that the greatness of an idea is directly proportionate to the number of details involved in making it happen.


Famous ≠ Important

Sometimes a subject will embed itself in the world of librarianship like a splinter in our collective finger and we just can’t let it go, like when we’re told that we aren’t a stressful profession or Seth Godin gazes into his crystal ball to let us know our future. The current logjam swirling around is about “famous” librarians, kicked into high gear by Julie Jurgens’s now-infamous post (though Stephen Abram wrote about “the Rock Star Dilemma” back in November 2012 and there has been hoopla in the past over the criteria used by Library Journal to choose Movers & Shakers, most recently by Valerie Forrestal). Andromeda Yelton and Bobbi Newman wrote follow-up posts on how to make yourself more marketable as a keynote speaker, and while their advice is sound, it seems to be a misreading of Julie’s core idea. Meredith Farkas’s follow-up is on the nose at getting to Julie’s point, which is more about decrying the current idea of “library rock stars” than wanting to become one of them. It’s about your work being viewed as important, not about being famous (I agree in theory with what Lynda Kellam recently wrote about how she defines library fame; I just don’t agree that that work should be labeled as “fame”. Anna Mickelsen and Kristin LaLonde also wrote responses worth reading).

As someone who hosts a podcast that holds up librarians as paragons, isn’t this a strange, hypocritical thing for me to be complaining about? Well, I’ve talked about the issue twice on the show: once with Jessamyn West, when I jokingly asked what it was like to be an international rock star librarian living in rural Vermont, and again with Andy Woodworth, where we decided that with the possible exception of Nancy Pearl, there are no “famous” librarians.

What it comes down to for me is that I’m not interested in having people on the show just because they’re famous and cool and come up with catchy slogans. I invite people to be on the show because I think what they’re doing is important and should be shared for other to learn from and be inspired by. If in doing that important work, they are also coming up with hipper-than-thou hashtags, then so be it.

I’m not interested in being famous. I’m not even particularly interested in being important myself. I am, however, interested in emphasizing and sharing what I think is important in our profession and will continue to promote other librarians who do the same.

I hope you’ll join me in circulating the ideas that matter.

NOTES: Project Management for Libraries

These are my notes from the webinar Project Management 101 presented by Emily Almond, from May 18, 2011.

  • A project is a temporary endeavor, having a defined beginning and end, undertaken to meet unique goals & objectives usually to bring about beneficial change or added value.
  • PMI – Project Management Institute
  • PMP – Project Management Professional
  • To do “proper” project management, you have to follow a really really really detailed process chart.
  • Most critical pieces of PM: 1) Initiating: identify stakeholders, document business need, identify stakeholders, 2) Planning: create project scope statement (triple constraint), develop schedule/budget (triple constraint), risk management
  • Librarians are good at mentally pushing over the first domino & watching what follows, good at predicting how things will happen. Librarians are natural project managers.
  • Identify stakeholders: who will affect or be affected by the project? who has influence over the project?
  • Document Business Need: justification, why is this project being done?
  • Determine Project Objectives: what specific product or outcome is wanted? what will be the end result of the project?
  • Planning: Create Project Scope Statement: where does the project begin and where does it end?
  • Project management triangle
  • Three sides of triangle: time – cost ($ + money) – scope
  • If one side of the triangle changes, they all change.
  • The triangle is sacred.
  • The triangle must remain equilateral.
  • Hand off completed product: this is your chance to shine.
  • Throw a party when you’re done with your project. Celebrate your accomplishment. (Triangle-themed party with pi!).
  • Prove you were successful!

An Unquiet Birthday

Visitor Pass

Yesterday, on my 38th birthday, I drove more than an hour to meet Buffy Hamilton at the Unquiet Library, the aptly-named media center at Creekview High School in Cherokee County, GA.

The occasion of my visit was an open house for the public (though media specialists and librarians were the folks who showed up) to come see and hear the things she and her staff have accomplished.  Buffy aptly describes their great work regularly on her blog so I won’t go into that too  much here, but I have to say that meeting her in person was very inspirational for me.  She’s doing outstanding work there and is clearly overflowing with ideas about improving her learning and teaching skills.  Her infectious energy reflects her dedication to her students and her craft, and her ideas are applicable across the spectrum of librarianship, from media specialists to public to academic. I look forward to brainstorming and collaborating with her in the future.

Unquiet Library

It wasn’t the best birthday present I got (my four year old daughter got me Star Wars LEGOs for us to play with together), but it was a mighty fine one and one that I’ll cherish as I contemplate future professional projects.

If you ever have the opportunity to meet Buffy, do not pass it up!

NOTES: Ten Tips for Effective Mentoring Programs with Paul Signorelli

These are my notes from the webinar Ten Tips for Effective Mentoring Programs with Paul Signorelli (resource list / slides), from April 21, 2011. #mentorapr11

  • New book: Workplace Learning & Leadership by Lori Reed & Paul Signorelli
  • If you don’t set up goals up front, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
  • Mentoring is essential to organizations.
  • Mentorship programs help staff develop leadership skills, could be a line item in a strategic plan.
  • Mentoring is not heirarchical, doesn’t follow the organizational structure.
  • A mentor needs to be part of community-building exercises within the organization.
  • For a program to be successful, it needs a leader.
  • Leaders don’t need to have leadership titles.
  • Asking questions shows initiative.
  • Shouldn’t be a problem to have a mentor younger than you.
  • Open doors equal open ideas.
  • Put yourself out there if you want to be a mentor, don’t wait for people to come to you to ask you to get involved.
  • A mentor won’t fault you for failing.
  • Learning does not happen in a classroom; it happens when people get out and do something.
  • Mentoring needs to be more than warm, fuzzy conversations.

The Uncertain Future of the Horseless Carriage

With the news about Amazon lending Kindle Books to libraries still reverberating across the library and publishing blogospheres (see Jason Griffey, Bobbi Newman, Sarah Houghton-Jan, and the Overdrive blog, in addition to the Amazon Press Release, for starters), Fast Company, among others, asks if it means the end of local libraries, as if we’re all buggy whip wholesalers at the turn of the 20th century, wandering clueless by the Horseless Carriage dealership.

Libraries have been dealing with online databases, ebooks, and other downloadable media for years, and yet, every time a story like this comes along, the media acts like librarians are whistling past the graveyard, completely unaware that our professional deaths are imminent.  We all know this isn’t true but why is the message not penetrating back into the mainstream culture?  Part of the problem, of course, it that “The Death of Libraries” makes for a catchy headline and tasty, tasty link bait.  But is it also a reflection of the Echo Chamber that librarians tend to live in, where we’re not getting our voices heard outside our own colleagues’ ears?

It’s especially important in this day and age, with library budgets being cut to the bone, for civilians to understand what we do and why we do it.  Ned PotterBobbi Newman (her again??) and Patrick Sweeney have written on the topic of escaping the echo chamber and offered their own solutions and challenges.

I have my own addition to the cause which I hope to unveil soon, once I’ve gotten my ducks in a row.  I hope you’ll join me in generating your own solutions to make the cause of libraries known far and wide.

Too Good

I was helping a patron work through an honest-to-goodness reference question the other day, and after we found the info she wanted, she said, “You’re too good to me!” (punctuated with a high five).  Modesty aside, that phrase has stuck with me and been churning around inside my head.

As librarians, we have a responsibility to be “too good” to our patrons and to provide them with the highest quality service without providing value judgments.  Before and during library school, we all have that dreamy vision of how librarians are going to change the world, but when we get out into the work force (or have trouble getting in), so many of us let the everyday tasks and problem situations wear us down and make us bitter and jaded.

You don’t think being “too good” is part of your job description as a librarian?  Too bad.

We’ve all heard the stereotype of librarians sitting around reading all day, that we’re all introverted, timid nerds, and while obviously true in some cases, it’s worth our time to proactively prove the stereotype wrong (and if you are an introverted, timid nerd, work to overcome it). Don’t rest on your laurels, don’t just wait for the economy to get better to try new things, don’t let bad times transmogrify your optimism into pessimism, and for God’s sake, don’t prove the stereotypes right.  Stand up for yourself and for your organization and for the profession.  Be proud of who you are and what you do.  Be proud to be a librarian.

Don’t let “too good” be “good enough”.

NOTES: Libraries in a Transliterate World

Presenter: Bobbi Newman

Presented to NGAL on April 13, 2011

If anything here inaccurately portrays Bobbi’s message, I blame a combination of bad paraphrasing on my part and / or my poor handwriting skills. That’s right, I can’t even read my own handwriting half the time.

Bobbi just started a new position as Learning Engagement Manager at the Richland County Public Library (Columbia, SC).  The position title was changed from Training Manager because, and I love this, “Learning is something you do; training is something that happens to you.”

Transliteracy is about the role of librarians in the 21st century. It’s the ability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media.  It puts the focus on patrons, rather than ourselves. (For more on transliteracy in general, see the Transliteracies Project, though it is not library-focused. Many national conversations exclude libraries, even though the subject lies squarely in our areas of expertise, so it is incumbant upon us to insert ourselves into those conversations.)

Librarians have to be ready for the 21st century because things are changing quickly. Everything is moving online: insurance documents, gov docs, tax forms, homework help, bill pay, et al.  Online access is not essential to life but improves quality of life.  Social networking helps keep us connected to the world, both personally and professionally, and people need connections.  While the US Government should be lauded for instituting the National Broadband Planit is just laying broadband lines and doesn’t address the ability of people to access it.  Digital Divide: 65% of American households have broadband access, which has created a new second class citizen.

Transliteracy is not a destination. Identify your audience and the best way to communicate with them. How do people determine the authority of websites? It’s a critical skill to know when browsing the web, but not everyone knows it. Sometimes patrons feel like there’s too much information available, but as Clay Shirky says, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

If libraries don’t address these issues, then who? Some people in the library profession like to grouse about how “I didn’t go to library school for this.” Well, it’s your job now, just like unjamming the copier is your job.  Stop fighting technology; it’s about what the patron wants and needs.

Change is hard.  You need to have a clear process with specific goals to move forward with transliteracy. 23 Things, developed by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, is a fantastic framework for easing staff into transliteracy.  The 21st Century is no place for a timid librarian, so it’s time for us to be bold and tackle these new challenges head on.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, USArmy

Giving Back

I became a librarian for all kinds of reasons, some of which I detailed here, but the reason I continue to revel in being a public librarian is that I enjoy giving back to my community.  I feel like I’m helping people who genuinely need help, providing answers to people whose lives may be changed by what I tell them.  I feel like I’m fulfilling that vague sense of purpose that I think all librarians have burning in their hearts when they’re imagining what the profession is like.

So, needless to say, it drives me bonkers to see librarians who don’t enjoy their jobs, who constantly complain and whine about their patrons and their work.  There are plenty of fresh, young library school graduates looking for work who would love to have their jobs.

The worst part, of course, is that they’re doing harm to the profession in a time when we need all hands on deck to support and promote libraries.  We need people who are enthusiastic about being librarians, who love the work, to help us rise up, not dreary folks who post on their tweets and blogs (almost always anonymously) to drag us down.

If you’re not willing to invest yourself in your community, if you’re not willing to celebrate all that’s good about our profession and share that love with your patrons, please quit and make room for those of us who do want that.


Andy Woodworth has posted The Almighty Antithesis to Narcissism wiki, as a sane alternative to the madness that is Charlie Sheen, and Bobbi Newman has written about the same issue here. Please visit both of their sites and consider giving to counteract the negativity.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Management books share the same basic flaw as diet books: they ignore your uniqueness. They lay out plans and patterns and strategies in such general terms that they never quite seem to fit with the way you live and work. Sometimes they get close. Sometimes you can run your life successfully by following their advice, but it always seems like you have to tweak their advice to make it work for you or drop certain specifics of their plans. People are not plastic molds that can be mass produced, little management drones or fitness machines. The best leaders come up with their own personal management styles.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I consider my future in librarianship. I’m already on the management track in my library system and would like to continue to advance and get more involved with professional organizations. To prepare myself, I’m trying to shape my own personal style, using my former and current supervisors as models of what to do and what not to do. I want to use my skills and abilities to provide ideas, input, and services that no one else can, delivered in a way that no one else can.  I want to be a good enough leader that I can guide myself into the future that’s right for me. I want to write my own personal management book, shelved in the stacks of my brain.

Time to get started. Time to turn the page.