The following takes place between 12 AM and 1 AM

Yes, I know it’s been awhile. I’m moving.

I’ve been meaning to pen a little something about David King‘s “rant” in response to one of his Computer in Libraries experiences. He writes:

First, I asked if attendees had learned something innovative or new at the conference that they’d like to take back to their libraries. Almost everyone raised their hands. Then I followed up with this question: how many will take that cool, innovative idea back to their libraries, and hit a brick wall with administrators when they try to implement that idea.

ALMOST EVERYONE RAISED THEIR HANDS.

This is not good.

Why? Well, during my Q&A time at the end of the session, the whys started coming out. Techie librarians are discouraged. Many have administrators and/or managers who don’t want to change, who refuse to learn new technology and who refuse to implement new ideas.

True enough. The world has it’s share of myopic administrators. This is certainly not unique to libraries, though. In fact, in the words of someone I respect greatly, if you haven’t experienced working under an asshole, you’re just lucky. David King isn’t necessarily talking about assholes, but you might very well be one if you dismiss the recommendations and suggestions of your motivated, talented, and bright tech librarians. Either that, or you’re too busy playing the game to remember why you’re playing it. There are several reasons why administrators buck original ideas.

Primarily, new ideas represent change and change equals risk. Many people in middle and upper management know that risk translates into a higher possibility of failure. After putting in all those years of getting to that position, who wants to fail and be bumped off (or worse, down)? A management position in an organization represents a major career goal to many people and all too often, people have followed the time-tested formula to get there: keep your head down, tamp down on the risk, maximize “success.” Success, in this case, would be the routine, long-term maintenance of the status quo. Seriously, it works great–as long as you’re working for that king of institution.

Some people also just don’t like to step out of their comfort zone. They don’t want to absorb new things. I was on a top technology trends panel at OLA last January when someone asked, “what if we don’t want to learn about all these new technologies?” (paraphrase). I don’t think I was in the mood for hand-holding because my answer was, “it’s your job.” Really. I don’t believe libraries are life support systems for staff. We need to work for our bread. That means that we have so stop bunting and try to knock it out of the park every single time. That takes passion, and too many people in every industry, including libraries, lack it.

I think that Dave should have followed up his question with, “How many of you are going ahead with implementing your ideas anyway?” Those are the people I want to work with. If you love what you’re doing, then do it. Don’t let someone else’s tunnel vision dictate what you accomplish in your lifetime. I had breakfast with Sean Robinson (ACPL) and chuckled about the fact that we both routinely would code well into the witching hour (which may explain some of the “idiosyncrasies” in SOPAC). The point being that, there was never enough time in the day to do what we loved, so we did it when we could.

I’m reminded of a great quote from Steven Pressfield’s War of Art:

I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what is important first.

If you raised your hand at David’s talk, chances are your boss doesn’t know the difference.

Naturally, you’ve got to bang up against the red tape, cover your behind, and remain within your sphere of authority. If you’re sharp enough to have a great idea, however, chances are you’re sharp enough to figure out a way to get some traction behind it.

Having come to the library world from a horrifically inbred engineering firm (and I’m talking afternoon-on-the-Chatooga, Deliverance inbred), I can tell you with all certainty that this is not a problem specific to libraries. There is one thing that is more prevalent in libraries, however, and that’s a pervasive culture of entitlement. Whether it’s the expectation that you’ll never have to step out of your comfort zone, that you’ll be able to settle in to a nice quiet career, or even that you have the right to have your great ideas met with ebullience. So, in the final analysis, I have a little sympathy for this particular plight, but it’s not keeping me awake at night–that would be the work I love.


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