why I’m excited about my new job

So for those of you who didn’t catch it on Twitter or see me at ALA or whatever, I’ve had a job since May, and it’s awesome. I’m working at Gluejar. My business card says “digital projects and library outreach” — I run the web site and handle much of the internal IT infrastructure and I listen to librarians and think about how to make our unglued ebooks work for libraries — but really, it’s a startup; our to-do list is “everything”, the deadline is “yesterday”, and I’m doing whatever needs doing. I’m the scrappy young thing surrounded by experienced, knowledgeable, smart (and super-personable) coworkers, trying to rapidly assimilate enormous piles of information on often unfamiliar terrain (publishing economics! copyright law! Drupal!) and do six impossible things before breakfast, living inside a giant possibility machine that sprawls across too much terrain to fit into any one person’s head, trying to make dreams into reality.

Well. I guess that makes it obvious why I’m excited about my new job :).

Not just that, though. Here’s a question I’ve been asking lately, and I want to hear your perspective on: what would you do with infinite free copies of a book? I find the answers to this really interesting because I don’t think we’re used to thinking in these terms in libraryland — we’re used to having finite (even when digital), expensive copies — it’s a constraint so basic it’s become an assumption, and I get to watch people start to think their way out of that assumption.

I was talking this morning with Justin Hoenke (a great way to fill up with sunshine and optimism), and he said — tell him why unglued ebooks are exciting. And I asked — what would you do with infinite free copies of a book? And the resulting conversation clarified my thinking, which is thus:

Unglued ebooks are exciting — well, not just because they’re a new model, and building the future is always exciting. They’re exciting because collections are boring, and connections are not.

OK, so collections aren’t always boring. I do value that I can go to my library and get books. I ❤ books! And there are, here and there, libraries for which collections really, really matter. I mean, my best friend, for her dissertation, went to a library in Armenia run by elderly and disapproving monks, whom you had to supplicate with properly formatted requests on cards at most once per day, because she really needed to read a particular 14th (?) century manuscript, and there are just not a whole lot of places you can do that. And thank goodness for the premier research universities and national libraries of the world.

But also, these days? Collections are easy. It is not hard for me to get access to information, assuming I do not need a 14th century Armenian manuscript. Libraries don’t add much value if their premise is “the place you get the books”. (Given the unhelpful hours my local branch is open, it may actually be subtracting value on this front.)

Libraries add value in connections. Connections and community and curation and collaboration, all those other tasty C words: the kinds of connections we can make between, and among, people and information. Libraries can do things on those fronts, real and local and human things, that no one else can.

So why am I excited about unglued ebooks? Because they offer the potential, long-term, for libraries to spend less of their limited funds on collections, and more on connections. More on the places that they are genuinely special and skilled and distinctive and magical.

So I ask again: what would you do with infinite free copies of a book? And what would it free you to do?

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?