I needed some inspiration today…

And thanks to my friend, James Ascher, an amazing librarian, I found this blog post I’d overlooked last week, Virtual Dave’s “Bullet Point: “We live in Shakespearian Times.”

Dave discusses the challenges we face in the field and ponders how he (and anyone) can stay optimistic. He writes,

As I go around the country I encounter too many librarians who see the vision, who embrace change, but have grown too tired and discouraged to hope again. They are quieted by the scars of past optimism.

A little further down he says,

Between the Annoyed Librarians of the world and the perceived resistance to change in the field, isn’t it all just a lost cause? How can we overcome? How can we continue to step over the ruble of past initiatives, and broken momentum, and ignore the anticipation of disappointment while once again stepping into the firing line of positive change?

His answer is encouragement. I hope you’re right, Dave. And, here’s what I’d like to share with you– your post gave me (and James, and many others) encouragement. Thank you. I hope that in some small way I can return the favor some day.

I was inspired to read someone remind us that,

As I have said before, we too often undersell the importance and raw power of what we do. We are a nobel[sic] profession. We don’t shelve books, and change toner cartridges – we maintain an infrastructure for social action. We don’t reference resources, and catalog artifacts – we teach and inspire.

Right now our city is undergoing a budget cutting process that I feel does not take into account what place the library holds in the community. We also have other departments who are trying to assert increasing influence over service provision and even website content. Too often I’ve heard us referred to as “a city department”. Yes– we are a city department, but more imporantly we’re also a part of something much larger. I’ve found it hard to resist despair over this even while biting my tongue about it publically.

I want us to advocate, I want us to not take it lying down. These words confirmed for me that my instincts are probably right. Why should we be quiet about what happens to us? Why should we wait on other department’s decisions? Why don’t we feel that we have the right to be as outspoken for ourselves as the rest of the city? This is Boulder, and this is the Wild West– our culture here is to not take things lying down. Our meetings go on forever because we have a history of vibrant citizen advocacy. We should embrace that history and acknowledge that we are a part of it.

Audacious action has worked for libraries before. I think of the Seattle Public Library closings as just one example.

So I end with the paragraphs the inspired me to write this post. Inspired to me to face the next week with optimism. Because I don’t think I can say it any better than Dave did:

So too can librarians overcome the crushing forces of mediocrity and cynicism – but we must believe that we can.

Faced with the enormities of these tasks – terrorism, economic disaster, apathy – standing up at a meeting and speaking truth to power? Simple. Faced with the real issues we must face – I can take on the added committee assignment, or backhand comment. How do I stay optimistic? I realize first the issues I face are miniscule to the good I can do. How do I get inspired to face intransigence, or laziness, or ineptitude? I look right past them at the real goal, and those who really need me.

Block me, and I will go around you. Build a wall, and I will build a door. Lock the door and I will break a window. And if I don’t have have a leader to inspire me, I will lead. If I don’t have a team that will support me, I will recruit a team from beyond the organizational boundaries – every policy has a loophole, every system has a hidden reward.

I’m gathering up my saw, screwdriver, hinges, and some wood-screws. Let’s build some doors together!

What I’m finding as an Information Professional

I’ve been working on the portfolio project for the end of my MLS program and it’s gotten me thinking. Yes, this is stuff I think about anyway, but it’s given me occasion to pause and reflect.

The library field is weird. No, really. I mean it.

It’s a field where some MLS programs think they should still exclusively teach theory, and some programs think that you need little more than practical applications, including computer programming.

It’s a field where you can still be the “Head of Technology” in your organization because 15 years ago you were the one person who knew how to change a printer cartridge, and a field where people like Blyberg are writing the next generation catalog after coming from the business world.

We have “librarians” who do little more than check out books to elementary school kids. And some who maybe if they’re good, (and their school understands their value), are also collaborating in developing the curriculum, in advancing info literacy, and in introducing digital literacy to their students.

We have “librarians” who do little more than copy-catalog all day, or who point to where the bathroom is. And we have “librarians” who spend their days answering fantastically challenging reference questions and their nights developing Web 2.0 learning programs for their library. We have “librarians” who run a network, some who do little more than maintain an ILS, some who develop cultural programming, and some who do ALL of these things.

We have “librarians” who are getting tenure by writing “I done good” articles and “librarians” who are creating new knowledge by drawing the on theories of other fields and pushing the envelope of what it means to be a “library” (whether they need to get tenure or not).

We have “librarians” who love their users and are fantastic at customer service and who give us a good name. And we have “librarians” (some of whom are highly esteemed in the field), who are openly contemptuous of their users.

The field is not in good shape. I don’t think adding “information” to the MLS is the answer, either. I don’t think that by further genericizing the profession by calling ourselves “Information Professionals” is any kind of an answer either.

I’m afraid we just might be making a mockery of ourselves. And we don’t have another 15 years to fix it. In 15 years the information landscape will have changed just as drastically as the web has changed us and if we don’t get serious we might just fall off the map completely.

It’s time to stop making our field generic in the I-schools, and to let our students get the specialized skill-set they need. And I don’t mean that you take a “track” that consists of three classes providing a shallow introduction to your area of specialization. I mean we need real, exceptional, challenging programs tailored to the specific specialties within our field. (Note: I don’t mean to suggest we should dispense entirely with theory, either. The theory is tremendously useful and important, it’s just not enough.)

I don’t agree with Karin (although I have tremendous respect and admiration for her work) that all librarians should learn programming. I think we need to go just the other direction. We need to get really good at what we’re responsible for, so that our organizations start cranking out the quality of service and innovation that rivals the commercial sector. I don’t want to go into business. I don’t think that the corporate model is perfect– but I do think we have to have the integrity as a field to admit that right now, they do innovation better. And for that matter, they do information better.

We better get moving, and we better get moving fast.