my six-point primer on self-promotion

A friend recently said I’m the best at self-promotion of anyone she knows. This should be taken less as an indication about me as one about our social circle — chiefly, geeky introverts — but is fodder for a blog post nonetheless. Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me (I’m a geeky introvert too, after all), which means I had to do some theorizing about it before I could succeed at all.[1] So here are the things I know that I know (stick around to the end and add stuff you know):

  1. It’s harder if you’re an introvert or a woman. And many of you, my readers, are at least one of these. Introverts tend to have moral, even physiological, difficulty tooting their own horns, and gravitate toward situations which feel like meritocracies (hence, where one can maintain the hope that good work will ipso facto be rewarded). My advice for this is (sorry) get over it, or be OK with being passed over. Women have to navigate the ever-shifting line between being assertive and being a bitch, which means in turn positioning themselves vis-a-vis concepts of femininity, leadership, even couture and diction. (I don’t actually have anything useful to say on this one, I’m afraid. It’s hard. Especially if you’re a manager.)
  2. If you’re looking for an opportunity, tell people. Tell everyone. Doesn’t the factoid say that your opportunities are most likely to come from friends-of-friends? So the more people who know what you’re looking for, the more likely it is that someone who can help you will hear about it.
  3. Use your social media. There may well be ways to self-promote without social media, but I’ve been an internet junkie since 1991, so that’s what I know. I was hesitant to get on Twitter because I thought (ironically, in this context) that I’d be uncomfortable being so public, but it turns out to enrich my life immeasurably. Because I reach out to follow people, to comment, to join a conversation, to try to be helpful or kind. Because I ask for help, and the angelic legions of the internet are there. I’m not saying it has to be Twitter — tweet, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS, whatever works for you. And use the technical aspects as well: find ways to synchronize the content you care about, automate your egosurfing, fall wildly in love with site stats and analytics (and use them to find, and reach out to, your audience).
  4. Say yes to things. Not everything, because that way lies the crazy. But volunteer, or get professionally involved, or turn your class projects into published works, or find things that need doing at your work and do them — something to go beyond the minimum. And when someone interesting asks you to do something relevant that’s maybe a little wild and crazy and outside your comfort zone, don’t think about it long enough for the self-doubt to sink in. Say yes.
  5. Be helpful. Be kind. Look, don’t be that guy who only talks to people when you want something from them. That’s obnoxious. You want people to give you the aforementioned opportunities, be the kind of person they want to give them to.
  6. Be a rock star. I don’t mean trash hotel rooms, rage about brown M&Ms, and sleep with all your librarian groupies. I mean, whatever skills you have that make you unique, embrace them and be confident in that uniqueness, and let that confidence radiate from you. Act confidently. Because fundamentally — and especially in a bad economy — if you’re not a rock star, why should anyone bother with you? And if you don’t think you’re a rock star, why should anybody else?

So talk to me, blogosphere! What do you know about how to (or not to) self-promote? What opportunities are you looking for?

[1] Of course, I’m not sure that I can be said to “succeed” until I have a job. Point number 2 — did I mention I’m looking? If you know anyone who needs a tech- and people-oriented librarian in an academic or special library, or a creative environment using library skills, I’d love to hear. ❤

marketing libraries, desire lines, metaphors like water

On Twitter, Andrea Snyder (great lunch companion, btw) pointed me to a post on marketing libraries, from which the following struck me:

A major point he made on signage was that, if you have to put up a sign to say what something isn’t, that indicates a problem elsewhere.

(Side note: second time I’ve seen serious ruminations about the talk referenced in this post. Now I wish I’d been at it. Oh well.)

Anyway, this quote reminded me of a story that Lisa Hinchliffe told in her keynote at the ACRL/NEC spring conference this year, about her experiences as head of the UIUC Undergraduate Library. (A great talk, lots of things to drool about even beyond the obligatory nerdcrush on UIUC.) Students kept coming up to the reference desk and asking if they had any graphing calculators people could borrow, and the desk kept saying “no”. And she heard about that and said, uh, how much do they cost? ($100, ish.) So — why not? A few graphing calculators: a few hundred dollars; the ability to say “yes” to patrons: priceless.

It also reminds me of my experience as a commuter cyclist. The roads, duh, are basically designed for cars, as anyone who’s ever navigated them by bike or foot can tell you, which means you will occasionally — at some intersections constantly — encounter even generally law-abiding cyclists doing all sorts of crazy stuff because there is simply no reasonable way to get from point A to point B. (I’m looking at you, intersection of Mass Ave and the bike path in North Cambridge.) Sometimes you will encounter signage telling bicyclists where not to be (don’t ride on the sidewalk, don’t lock your bike to this rack, etc.), and it is always a dead giveaway that bicyclists are doing their damndest to use the infrastructure (which they have a legal and, I contend, moral right to) but have no safe or convenient way to do so.

(And look, I’m that rare and priggish sort who really will follow the traffic laws. I’ll stop at the red lights when no one’s coming. Cross my heart. But there are no provisions made for cyclists crossing that intersection, even with a bike path on both sides. Seriously, people. Work with me here. I’m trying.)

And as long as I’m riffing on the free-association here, it also reminds me of desire lines. You know that quad you’ve all seen, surrounded by useful and probably monumental buildings, laid out with some sort of landscape-architect’s-dream pathways that no one ever uses because they bear no relation to the directions people go? And so there are worn-brown trails through the otherwise-green grass, breaking the landscape architect’s heart, because, really, you need to have a direct route from the building with all the library science classes to the building with the library? (Looking at you, Simmons.) Those are desire lines. They’re the evidence of where people go, what they really do, where they need to be, etched out for you. They are not eyesores. They are free evidence, telling you what to do.

And you can ignore them and rage against them and criticize people for refusing to follow the paths you’ve laid out for them, or you can move with it (isn’t there some kind of Zen metaphor about water that applies here?) and create a world that moves in harmony with the world.

the information commons: why didn’t I get this before

Doing reading for my academic libraries class last night[1] I had one of those blinding-flash moments and though, OK, now I get what the Information Commons idea is for. It’s for everyone’s favorite ongoing conversation, marketing the library — but not in the sense of getting people in the door because you have comfy chairs and coffee.[2]

What it is, is…

Academic libraries are next to useless if they model themselves as sources of fact. The world is full of sources of fact, or at least satisfice-y factiness, and lots of them are free and easy; you can get them on a whim and on your couch.[3] And if I need more depth, and lazy is better for me than free, I can one-click on Amazon and get it next day via Prime (or, if I owned an ereader, instantly). And yet, as Andy just said, “most talks about the library budget are controlled by the things we buy“.

The things we buy — a place where libraries have less and less comparative advantage.

But academic libraries are great as guides through a process. There are all kinds of facts and “facts” and books out there on the intarwubs, but if I don’t know how to construct a good search? or evaluate the trustworthiness and utility of materials I find? or identify materials best suited to a particular kind of paper or research project? or select tools for manipulating and presenting that information? Or if, purely hypothetically, I have never had to write a research paper before college and suddenly I have a 25-page term paper due and I have literally no idea how to organize an argument that size in my head and keep track of all my notes?[4] Woo, that’s hard to google for.

The model of the information commons in the article I was reading was — not just comfy chairs and ready availability of technology, although that’s part of it — but staffing by cross-functional teams who are able to help people with all phases of their research process (including, possibly, partnerships with the writing center, the computer help desk, et cetera…). It’s a physical and conceptual model that makes the library a potential partner across all phases of, say, writing a term paper — not just the first step where you’re looking for sources.

And this is what gets back to marketing. Libraries have to be understood, by the world at large, on a broader basis than “the things we buy”, or there really is little point to library funding. There are lots of ways to buy stuff. But a physical and conceptual model which facilitates collaboration across all phases of the research process, which embeds help where and when patrons need it, gets the point across that libraries are about process and partnership. And that, my friends, I cannot order overnight, not even if Amazon had Optimus Prime.

Right. I get that now. Information commons: a good thing. And not just because I really, really like coffee.

[1] Beagle, Donald. (2002, September). “Extending the Information Commons: From Instructional Testbed to Internet2.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28, pp. 287-296.

[2] OK, not just in that sense.

[3] e.g. you could google the Wikipedia article on zeugma. That was easy!

[4] In practice what I will do is not know librarians are useful for this, put it off until 24 hours before it’s due, blitz through whatever happens to be not checked out from the library at that point, get two hours of sleep, and make it work. Hey, kids: don’t take me as a model of study skills. Please. (I’m better now.)[5]

[5]Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, my undergraduate campus’s library has since closed, and graduate program #1 now has a coffeehouse (which makes me jealous like whoa).