Sunday, May 10, 2015

How to Become a Rockstar Librarian in 10 Simple Steps

So, I guess for all my admonitions to "just be cool", it turns out I can be pretty caustic and pretty cynical myself. By way of proof, I offer up the list, "How to Become a Rockstar Librarian in 10 Simple Steps".

See, the term (and archetype) Rockstar Librarian has become a sort of short-hand in our profession for those thought leaders, innovators, and agents of change who manage to become well-known in the profession. These Rockstar Librarians typically pen columns, present at conferences, write influential blogs, end up on various "best and brightest" lists, and deliver keynote addresses. The truth is, many Rockstar Librarians are lovely people. They sincerely want the profession to grow, to flourish and to remain relevant. They want libraries to improve and they want the lives of library users to improve as well.

That said, there are a number of pretty unflattering behaviors associated with the Rockstar Librarian type. These include an inflated sense of self-importance, a conviction that they and they alone know what's right for the profession and a rigorously pedantic approach to addressing the issues facing libraries. It was with those Rockstar Librarians in mind that I wrote this list. (I should also mention that there's something a bit unnerving in the hierarchical aspect of the Rockstar Librarian. We are, after all, a profession that values both diversity of thought and the process of examining issues from all points of view. By elevating the beliefs of individuals who may have no more experiences than the rest of us to the level of experts seems to undermine those principles).

Keen observers will note that the "steps" I prescribe amount to a classic strawman fallacy laid out in the form of a listicle. I've created an impossibly awful Rockstar Librarian (a caricature if you will) and proffered it up for mockery and attack. Keen observers will also note that I'm actually engaging in some of the exact behaviors that I ridicule (i.e. picking fights, mocking stereotypes, arguing from personal experience, etc.). To that I say, "Guilty, guilty and guilty". Realistically though, if I waited around for some flawless and blameless version of myself to materialize and publish this, it would never get posted. In the end I suppose I'm willing to answer charges of hypocrisy and sour grapes for the sake of a few laughs and maybe a larger conversation.

At the end of the day, I really do want us to "just be cool". This is a big profession after all. We're a diverse group and we serve an even more diverse public. We have a lot to teach each other, and a lot to learn from one another. I'd like to think we can do that in a way that's respectful and considered. I'd also like to think that we can encourage one another to make a difference regardless of which path we choose and what work we do. In that sense, I'll join the thebossladywrites and hope that perhaps we'll soon see the end of the Rockstar Librarian.

Until then, and if you still insist on becoming one yourself, I present:

How to Become a Rockstar Librarian in 10 Simple Steps

1. Refute Conventional Wisdom. Always. No matter what. Even if conventional wisdom is actually right, refute it. You'll look all the more visionary!

2. Develop a Set of Perfectly True yet Somehow Vague and Unactionable Pronouncements. "We need to invent the future of libraries", "We are in a partnership with our users", "Our task is to align our outcomes with our community's needs".

3. Mock Library Stereotypes. Do this relentlessly. Remember, the more condescending and mean-spirited your mockery is, the more more knowing you'll appear.

4. Pick Fights on Twitter.

5. Engage in Relentless Self-Promotion. Remember, you can't create a library based on your personal preferences unless you put yourself, your opinions and your worldview at the center of it. Build a strong personal brand and promote it without shame. Others will follow.

6. Accessorize and Individualize. A fashion forward image is critical. No Rockstar Librarian ever showed up to work in a brown suit or off the rack career separates.

7. Pick more Fights on Twitter. This time with strangers. (Pro Tip: Make people feel bad for caring about things that don't matter to you).

8. Declare the Death of Things. Consider these, "Print is dead",  "Physical formats are dead", "Reference is dead", "The catalog is dead", and even "The library is dead".

9. Embrace Solipsism. Know that your Rockstar Librarian credentials come from personal experience, not empirical data. As such, make sure you relate to others in a way that focuses attention on you. The following are some great sentence starters, "At my library...", "When I was in charge...", "It is my belief...", "In my experience...", "What I did was...". Can you think of more?

10. Practice Effective Time Management: If you find yourself spending more time serving others than promoting your agenda, you're doing it wrong.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Buzzword Backlash

Perhaps the only thing more tired than business buzzwords is the backlash against business buzzwords.

Maybe it's the circles I run in, but it seems that barely a week goes by without at least someone I know sharing an article about buzzwords that are overused, buzzwords I should stop using or buzzwords I should avoid immediately. The teasers all sound very knowing and very ominous. Typical are headlines like, "Most Annoying Buzzwords", "Buzzwords Gone Bad, and "Office Jargon: Six Tired Buzzwords to Avoid". Inevitably I'll click the link and find - much to my dismay - a bunch of words, phrases, and sayings that I either use myself, or find pretty much innocuous.

Heck, I'll go one step further. Most of the buzzwords people spend their time decrying are actually useful; useful in that they do what good language is supposed to do; they convey the desired meaning in a manner that's both economical and easy to understand. Further, they almost always strike me (cliched or not) as more interesting than any "plain language" alternative that's offered.

Take "wheelhouse" for example. In this article offering 30 Business Buzzwords You Should Stop Using, the author suggests that the term has been "around a long time and has become a bit of a cliche". Sure. Fine. It's a cliche. Still, if I'm sitting in a meeting and I have the choice between hearing someone say, "That's right in her wheelhouse" or "That's an assignment that matches her strengths. I expect she can handle it easily", I'll choose the former over the latter every day.

The same thing applies to the much-maligned term "scalable". Would you rather hear someone ask "Is it scalable?" or ask instead "Is it the case that this process can handle a growing amount of work in a capable manner?" Given those alternatives, I'm pretty OK with scalable.

Even when the brevity and clarity of buzzwords can be equaled, the results are often inferior. One article suggested dropping "ducks in a row" (as in, "We need to get our ducks in a row.") for "make a plan" (as in "We need to make a plan."). Unless one favors the embarrassingly prosaic, I don't see how this is an improvement. Is the expectation that the language we adopt be wholly literal? Are we to abandon metaphors, analogies, and figures of speech altogether?  Who on earth would wish for that?

Maybe that's what rankles me the most about buzzword backlash. When it comes to language I'm very much in the "language is a living and growing thing" camp. As such, I resist the admonitions of those who would prescribe when, how and what we should say. It's a form of cultural elitism that I've never been comfortable with.

If you want to teach people how to use language effectively, have at it. If you've got ideas for how to improve communication or increase its effectiveness, I'm all ears. If, on the other hand, you just want to tell people what words you think they should or shouldn't use, well, good luck with that. You'll never convince me it's a good idea, and frankly, you'd have better luck trying to boil the ocean.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Moveable Type: Igloo Letterpress Plans Move and Expansion

There's a temptation to simply think of Igloo Letterpress as "the little shop that could"; the plucky, niche printing upstart swimming against the tide of digital image processing and online print orders. I suppose in a way they are that, what with their homespun origins and old-timey printing ways. The problem is, that narrative glosses over a set of pretty solid business fundamentals that have lead to both an impressive client list and expansion plans.

Igloo loves Ohio!

Not to get all MBA here, but businesses don't succeed and grow because they're cute. Businesses succeed and grow because they meet a need and do top-quality work. They succeed because they build authentic relationships; the kind of relationships that foster goodwill and ensure enthusiastic word of mouth marketing. They succeed because they provide value for their customers and their community. By these measures, "the little shop that could" has been putting on a clinic since re-locating from Minnesota to the central Ohio in 2008.

Igloo has a library! Books include "Books Without Paste or Glue" and "How to Fold"

As evidence of their success, Igloo will be moving from the cozy (cramped?) confines of 39 West New England in Worthington to a space that's four times larger and includes a High Street store front. The expansion will provide space for retail shopping and a visitor experience unlike any other. To strengthen their connection to the community, Igloo has launched a Kickstarter campaign in conjunction with the move. A successful campaign will give Igloo the chance to offer expanded community classes and take on additional public projects.

 One of Igloo's presses in action

I had the chance to go behind the scenes recently at Igloo, and can attest to all of the above. This is a business the that does top quality work, cares about its customers, and adds value to the community. The fact that they're plucky upstarts doing some serious niche work is just icing on the cake.

2T 4EVA!

Details on Igloo's Kickstarter campaign can be found here, Move Our Igloo. If you think central Ohio needs more of this, then back them any way you can. And if you can't make a financial commitment then feel free to tweet, retweet and share the hashtag #moveourigloo Every little bit helps.