ALA11 takeaways

So I just posted this whole thing about how to win at conferences that you’re attending conferences for personal/career reasons, and I promptly went to an ALA where I had work responsibilities and it was different and I’m not even totally clear on how it was different.  Except that I worked for, like, 25 hours Friday-Sunday, not counting the 8 or so I spent doing Emerging Leaders (check out our project and demo!), and after I got home Monday night I promptly slept for 11 hours and then it took me another two and a half before I could remember how to take a shower.  What I’m saying is: I have a lot to process.  And that’s going to take me a while.  But going through my notes from ALA (which by itself took me three hours) I find I do have takeaways, themes that kept recurring:

  • There’s a simple, three-step recipe for winning at ALA: talk to people; identify cool things to do; actually do them.
  • Figure out who you are, and be that. This was Emerging Leaders Team M’s advice to LITA on marketing and branding — and I look forward to their implementing it — but it’s good advice for the rest of us, too.
  • Processes need ownership and authority. I saw a number of committees and other groups ask who had ownership of a particular project, or note that it wouldn’t get done unless some specific individual did have ownership, or express frustration that they had a charge but didn’t have the authority needed to enact (rather than just talk and recommend). Note to self: don’t join a committee that isn’t chartered with the authority it needs to act. Don’t vote to charter one, either.
  • A lot of discussion of finding your niche. ALA is this vast, sprawling, many-tentacled Cthulhoid horror, and you’re not going to get your mind around it (not that this has stopped me from trying). But you can gravitate toward neighborhoods where you find your tribe and where people are doing good work, real work (all neighborhoods should be like this; sadly, not). Surround yourself with people better than you, and learn from them. Join up with people better at some things than you and be better than them at others — complementary strengths make you an unstoppable team. Look for ways to experience, and facilitate, leadership development at all levels, not just obvious places like boards and committee chairs.
  • People can be the people you believe them to be. Find people to believe in — see things in them they don’t see in themselves. This is one of the things leaders do; believe in us more than we believe in ourselves until we turn into that person we didn’t know we were meant to be. (Sometimes it’s hard.)
  • There is no spoon. Still. Always.
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#libmadness round 2

Voting open now, through midnight Eastern tomorrow.

Some contests I’ve got my eye on: the children’s librarians smackdown (Rollins/Batchelder); cataloger v. cataloger (Dewey/Cutter); and the sword & sandals & scrolls matchup (Eratosthenes/Callimachus).

And also, of course, all of Andy Woodworth’s MARC madness, where voting is now open; once I write this post I’m going to do my bracket & vote for that.

Have at thee!

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#libmadness round 1: let the voting begin (and #marcmadness too!)

Hi, Internet. Sorry I’m behind schedule on the Library of Congress bracket; my daughter’s been sick this morning. If you’re jonesing for more bracketology, do check out Andy Woodworth’s MARC Madness!

I’ll get the LoC bracket up later today. In the meantime, why should ignorance stop anyone from voting? While it has been really interesting to learn about all these awesome librarians, far be it from me to stand between you and your ballot-stuffing.

(If you need a refresher on the competitors’ records in the other three brackets, check out the libmadness archives.)

Vote as often as you like. Campaign for your fave librarian. Enlist your friends! I’ll count votes through midnight (EDT) Sunday.

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answering Andy about ALA

(Can I resist the alliterative title? No.)

Andy Woodworth asks the entirely reasonable questions about ALA reformation:

But on this point, I have questions for my fellow young librarians. How is it slow? How is it bloated? How is it not meeting your expectations or needs? What should it be doing?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As one of the current class of Emerging Leaders, it’s important to me not only to maintain an enthusiasm for the organization and to learn as much as I can about how it works, but also to maintain a critical perspective: enough independence of thought that, even as I become acculturated, I don’t end up blinded to things that need to change. The thoughts I have in re Andy’s specific questions:

What should it be doing? Well, I’m not entirely sure of that yet, which I suppose prevents me from successfully advocating for change, eh? I do admire work like ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries Toolkit — things that members might not have the time or resources to put together on their own, that let them do their jobs better. Force multipliers. But I’m still looking for my professional footing (obligatory reminder: I’m on the job market; hire me?) so I’m not entirely clear what ALA could be doing to better support practicing librarians.

How is it slow? How is it bloated? This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the context of virtual participation, LITA board streaming, and all that parliamentary procedure I have yet to read. The information-profession landscape is changing constantly. My husband is busy at his information-profession (software) job lately because they have a release coming out this week. Just like they did last month. And the month before that. And, you know, perpetual beta: it’s not just a catchy phrase.

Meanwhile ALA has face-to-face committee meetings twice a year, and can’t seem to make important decisions between them? (Maybe I’m wrong on this. Please tell me I’m wrong.) When the issues are changing that fast, how can a six-month lag time in every major conversation be anything other than — not just cumbersome — but not even credible?

I appreciate that politics moves slower than technology, and ALA needs to operate in a way that allows for discussion and input and transparency, and sometimes that’s messy and slow. But its operational infrastructure seems to outright prevent it from addressing fast-moving issues. And a lot of the issues I’m interested in move very fast.

There’s another question he verged on asking, which is what’s stopping you from being the change you want to see? And to that I would say…there is a lot of institutional knowledge it seems you have to get a handle on before you can do anything. ALA is enormous and sprawling — my mother gasped in horror at its org chart — and that was just the org chart of the central offices and so forth; it didn’t begin to touch the committees. (Oy vey, the committees.) I’ve gone to the last three conferences and have been remarkably lucky in getting to meet insiders; I chose my Emerging Leaders project specifically because it was the one that seemed most likely to get me deep into the guts of the organization, figuring out how it works; and seriously, it’s just so big. It seems like it will take years to build up enough knowledge of the organization that I would have enough leverage to do anything interesting with it.

Partly this is something ALA could rectify by doing a better job of reaching out to new members, making it easier to figure out the unwritten rules of getting involved, et cetera (so maybe that’s something else I’d like to see from the organization — and I should mention that groups like NMRT and ACRL NMDG do well at that — once you find them in the sprawling vastness). But partly, it’s just hard to get a grip on an organization with tens of thousands of members and a well over a century of history. And more committees than a school of hypertrophic squid has tentacles.

for Andy: librarian entrepreneurship

Andy Woodworth has a lively discussion going on about librarian unemployment. (Have I mentioned how much I envy his discussion-starting skills?)

This has me wanting to start a discussion about librarian unemployment over here, what with my being an unemployed librarian, but I can’t think of any way to get that going other than “let’s all complain about long-term unemployment”, and I’m really not interested in hosting that. Like Andy says: it’s boring. Important topic; boring (negative, soul-sucking) discussion.

But I am interested in what Andy has to say about entrepreneurship. A lot of his commenters have seized on that point, speculating on the impossibility of starting a business as a librarian, but to me, entrepreneurship is a continuum. At one end, zero, are people with no initiative, who want their employers to tell them what to do. On the other end are people who support themselves entirely with profitable, dynamic businesses they’ve started.

But there’s this whole spectrum in between! We see part of it in the apparently awesome Kent Barnard, who saw an opportunity for a children’s storytime at his job as a bookseller and made it happen. I’m not interested in starting a business as my full-time gig — I want to have a more traditional type of job — but part of the way I’m trying to convince people to hire me is the projects I work on, like writing and making a virtual book fair for a school library (which I might develop into a sideline business) and helping to Buy India a Library. All of these are things that, yes, use my library degree, and involve money. In two of them, the money’s even for me. (Enough to live on? No. The job hunting continues.)

What I’m getting at here is a definition of entrepreneurship that — yes, at its extreme, is about money, maybe even enough to support oneself — but is more of an attitude. Where are the unfilled needs, that can be met with information skills, energy, tenacity? Where can we create something where there was nothing?

Maybe that’s the basis of a full-time business. Maybe that’s a sideline. Maybe that’s a route to working for someone else (I cherish the hope!).

I agree with the unemployed librarians of the world that the in-between times are no fun, and there’s a lot of barriers to employment these days. But I agree with Andy that carping about barriers is dull and, ideally, the intense pressures on our field will be Darwinian:

Personally, I want the tougher librarians to make it. I want them because we have some serious fights on the way and I don’t want people who will give up at the first sign of resistance or wait for someone to take charge of them. I want fighters, I want people with initiative, and I want winners.

I want our response to the crushing horror that is the job market to be kicking ass. I want my future coworkers to be the Kent Barnards of the world.

If I’m going to sponsor a conversation about unemployment on this blog (I realize just now) I want it to be the one where I hear what you are doing to kick ass: I want to glory in your accomplishments for a while! And if you’ve got some entrepreneurial idea that needs a librarian superhero teamup, I want to hear that too. I want you to find one another in the comments and build a something from the nothing.

Make it happen. There is no spoon.

four leadership lessons (and three questions) from ALA Midwinter

My head is racing with thoughts from ALA — you know, “my brain is full, may I be excused?” Little to no hope of ever digesting them all but, in the spirit of reflective participation in the Emerging Leaders program, I’d like to make a spirited attempt to write down thoughts on leadership: as Maureen Sullivan advised us, to be “aware and intentional” about developing this skill. So, in no particular order:

1)Be scared every day and have a drink in your hand: Peter Bromberg‘s distillation of Leslie Burger‘s talk to the ELs, capably (and quickly!) blogged by EL Lessa Pelayo-Lozada. The scared: throw yourself into situations where you don’t know what you’re doing but you need to succeed, and the crucible makes you learn how. The drink: is not actually to counteract the scared; it’s to force open body language while you go to the happy hours where all the real work happens.

Me on drinks: My ALA, for the record — my relationship to it, my involvement in it, the successes I’ve had in it so far — all started at the LITA happy hour at ALA Midwinter 2010 in Boston.

Me on scared: I keep gaining appreciation for how much the capacity to be scared, the ability to walk into ambiguity and not freeze or run away or give up, is a real skill, and matters.

2) Be generous. ALA leadership seems to be a gift economy, and I can’t count all the people who have been incredibly generous to me as I learn the ropes (though I have to mention Peter, Jason Griffey, and Janie Hermann). I am keen to be in a place in my career where I can pay it forward.

There’s some other lessons in there that I’ve elided, because I’m not sure I’m ready to commit them to a blog. But you might be able to get them out of me in other channels. (Particularly if you’re generous at happy hours. 😉

3) There is no spoon. I got this from Andy Woodworth’s blog a few weeks ago and keep coming back to it. The world is really, truly full of opportunities just waiting for you to notice and ask, or notice and do it. “Carpe diem” doesn’t mean “ask permission”. Which is why fellow EL Kate Kosturski is running for ALA Council (vote for Kate!). Which is how Jan Holmquist, Ned Potter, Justin Hoenke, and I — and a whole world of incredibly generous people on the internet — have raised almost half the money we need to buy India a library. Since Friday.

(Seriously: check that link out. There’s a box for our Facebook page in my sidebar now, too.)

4) Relationships. Meeting Brett Bonfield alone was worth the price of admission this weekend. Among the many reasons: during our panel on personal branding he talks about how he hates the term; for him, what it’s about is relationships: which people does he want to know? to collaborate with? And what can he do to make that happen? A moment when something clicked into place, right there.

And this, all this — barely even scratches the surface of my notes; is not the much longer list of things I know I don’t know about leadership. But at least gives me a fighting chance of capturing important parts of the experience while they’re still in my head.

And you, fellow travelers? What did you learn about leadership this weekend? What do you know you don’t know? What would you tell me today, or yesterday’s you?

feedback, please: help me navigate ALA?

I realized at ALA10 that one of my projects needs to be figuring out how this frankly byzantine organization works. (Or, at least, how some relevant subsets of it, like LITA and ACRL and NMRT, work…[*])

Then I was stumbling around through the blogosphere and realized that the ever-thoughtful Andy Woodworth had already asked the questions I wanted. So I’m going to reuse them. Whee! If you’re in libraryland, I would really appreciate your answers. (And if you’re not, why not riff on what libraries mean to you, how you do or do not belong to them, how they make this easier or harder for you…That or link to cute animal pics.)

  1. “Are you a member of ALA?” (If no, why not? If yes, continue to 2.)
  2. “Do you serve on any committees, roundtables, and the like?” (If no, why not? If yes, continue to 3.)
  3. “What does that committee/roundtable/whatever do?”

[*] When I was in library school it totally pissed me off that people threw these acronyms around everywhere and never expanded them. Like…aren’t librarians supposed to be about making information more accessible, not less? And how am I, a larval little graduate student, supposed to tell if I’m interested in being part of your conference/committee/etc. when you can’t be bothered to tell me what your acronym means? Do not make me Google to understand your email, not least because there is some irony.

I know that the readers of this blog aren’t all librarians. I want my readership to include non-librarians. Which means I value being accessible.

The upshot of my rant being:
ALA10 = American Library Association 2010 Annual Conference;
LITA = Library Information Technology Association;
ACRL = Association of College and Research Libraries;
NMRT = New Members Round Table.
These latter three are all subsets of ALA.

50 cent/robot/owl city/africa is the future

I promised a meatier post on Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s post, so here we go…

* I think Andy is very much right that people are the future. Surely one of the big lessons of the Internet in general and web 2.0 in particular is that people are the killer app — technology that lets us interact with data is great, but technology that lets us interact with data and people wins every time. And addicts us like nobody’s business. And pushes us over qualitative, emergent-behavior boundaries, where new ways to communicate mean newly organized patterns and possibilities of interaction.

* And I’m with @librarythingtim that libraries are and must be changing; “If libraries end up as a way for rich people to indulge children on a visit to a big city—what carriages mean today—well, crap! How did that happen?!” and I, too, “hope people use [Bivens-Tatum’s] essay as a way to “kick it up a notch” intellectually, get past the small stuff…”

The thing that works for me most (among many working things!) about Bivens-Tatum’s post is the point that it’s not about that small stuff. The Future of Libraries isn’t Facebook or SMS reference or what-have-you. The specific technology is, if you will, Plato’s shadows on the wall — specific manifestations of much larger ideas.

The Future represented by this technology, to me, isn’t any one platform; it’s big ideas like democratization of content creation, self-publishing and the attendant opportunity for important voices to come from unexpected and perhaps non-privileged corners, the possibility for people to connect across boundaries — geographic, political, social, corporate — and create their own dialogue that poses challenges to all those boundaries, long tails and finding your tribes far away (but maybe not nearby), remixes, reallocations of power, ubiquitous metadata.

There’s a value to ephemeral technology; we do need to be where our users are right now, and that can change. But there’s a long view here. How do our interactions with, our adoptions of, technology affect our ability to participate in a broadening discourse? to facilitate content creation and remixing? to give voice to the historically disempowered? to pose, and help others pose, questions about the validity and use of those boundaries? to accept that it’s harder and harder to be gatekeepers in a world of broadening access and increasing expectations of access (which I for one think is a good thing) and find ways to facilitate and guide (…while still remembering, and reminding, that there is information kept tightly behind gates, and sometimes it’s the information a discourse needs)?

Specific technologies are manifestations of the principles that guide an emerging future. Those principles are still being digested and determined by cultural mechanisms; cultures, like libraries, seldom change overnight. Me, right now? You can pry my WordPress and Twitter and Google from my cold dead hands — until, perhaps, you softly and gently supercede it, like Mosaic over Lynx, like web interfaces over scp and ftp, like, well, Google over Yahoo in a revelatory moment circa 1998; I’ll try to cling to principles.

[*] The title? From, of course, the top Google hits for “is the future”. I’m a fan of robots myself. (But not, you know, creepy sex robots. I vote against library adoption of this emerging technology. Thanks.)