Category Archives: rant

Libraries Gave Up Control

This is a rant post.  Please feel free to turn away now.

I’m not sure how, why or when, but libraries have totally given up control.  Think about it.  We don’t control our revenues.  We don’t control the systems we depend on.  We don’t control the content.  We have almost no content that we actually own.  We barely control the organizational mechanism we have relied on for decades.

As a public institution, most of us relying on tax dollars, it makes sense that we just can’t spend whatever we feel like.  But our insistence on remaining unbiased has certainly hurt us here.  Not only do we need to speak up.  We need to control the messages associated with libraries.  Other Public service groups have a much louder and more sophisticated voice than we do.  Teachers, police, fire fighters, even postal workers are much more organized than we are.  This has to stop!

Why do educational institutions still get to control their prime service?  Yes, educators, for the most part, still have control of the curriculum they teach, the methods they use, and what happens in the classroom.  They still have control over their prime business.  We do not.  Publishers, vendors, and other content providers are eroding the very core of what we do.  Is it inconceivable to believe that eBooks will dominate the book world?  In many cases, eBooks already dominate.  So what will the world look like in 10 years when every has an eReader?  What will our business model be when we have virtually no content to provide the technology that seems to be mainstream?  We need to defend our rights as providers of a public good.

When did we turn over control of system creation?  It’s actually kind of funny, we make the systems and then we turn them over to someone else who charges us for the very systems we created.  We need to refocus on system design, but more importantly, we need to retain the control over the systems.  This is about much more than the ILS, but I’m talking just about every worthless, complicated system we have.  I’m talking about calendar and event systems, ILS, print-release, computer-reservation, CMS, discovery layer, etc…  As an added bonus, if we created these systems, we could actually integrate the systems.  Wouldn’t it be nice if a library member could make a computer reservation, register for a program, and check out a book all from one system?

I know this is just a rant.  I don’t really offer much in the way of constructive solutions.  I am so hopeful for the profession that I love.  But I am simultaneously worried.  I can’t look anyone in the face and say that I think the trend will be good to us.  If our control over revenue, content and systems continue to erode I think the writing will be on the wall.  I guess much of the solution from where I sit (it’s snowing in Chicago) depends on us joining together.  We need to join our voices together.  We need to pool our talents and resources to create systems that actually work for us.  And we need to talk directly to the authors.  The SPARC addendum works (sometimes) in the academic publishing world, maybe it can work here.

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The Art of Being (Done)

The Art of Being has been one of those defining books in my life.  Fromm’s suggestion that being is the ultimately goal as opposed to the goal put forward by society that having is the end all changed my whole outlook.  Well recently another important life lesson has emerged.  Lifehacker recently ran a post called The Done Manifesto which lays out 13 important lessons:

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

This is a mantra that I am putting forward both in my personal life as well as the leader at Prairie State.  To me, the goal of perfection is not possible.  We talk ourselves out of doing so much because we are not sure we can do it perfectly.  I want an organization that will be both good enough as well as an organization that is willing to fail.  Good enough doesn’t mean bad, it means good.  At some point we have attached a negative emotion to the concept of good enough.  Well, good enough is now good enough for me.  I have so much more that I want to accomplish, and spending energy on trying to achieve the impossible perfection is a waste of time, creativity, and energy.

To tie this back to the Art of Being, to me, being done is a much better outlook than having perfection.  Fromm argues that anything that we “have” can be taken away from us, but that anything we are will be with us always.  Perfection fades, rusts, becomes obsolete, and will ultimately end up imperfect.  I am much more interested in the satisfaction of being content with what I have, with what I have created, and how I lead.

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On Loneliness II

While reading Our Singular Strength, I came across a chapter entitled The Solace of Knowledge.

I think this is right on point.  And encourages me in the work we all do.

Also, as many of you know, Michael Gorman is my hero.  For those of you who dislike him, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to be open-minded and read Our Singular Strength.  You can read parts of it on Google Books.

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Why a Small Underfunded Library?

I have had several people ask me why I chose to be the director of Highwood Public Library.  My heart has always resided with the small and rural libraries in this country.  I firmly believe, and this is just a belief, that small libraries make the biggest difference in the lives of their community.

What do I mean by that?  Huge and well funded libraries, like Naperville or Elmhurst, serve wealthy areas.  The community in which they serve typically have the access and/or funds to gather whatever material they seek.  The residents of these communities enjoy the library, but they often do not DEPEND on the library.  Yes, of course this is a generalization and not a truth about every member within the community, nor is this to diminish what these libraries do.  These communities typically have excellent school systems, with strong park districts and other organizations to match.

However, the small and economically disadvantaged communities do not have a plethora of community organizations to address the needs of people.  One well-run and excellent organization can make a huge difference.

I do think it is a travesty that the small libraries are overlooked and not represented by the larger library community.  Yes, I fall into the trap as well.  I presented on eReaders yesterday for LACONI, however I know full well that the library I am going to got it’s first website in 2010.  YES, in 2010.

Society often discusses the cycle of poverty.  Well, how does that apply to libraries?  Is it inconceivable to think that a small library cannot afford to send someone to a program on granting writing (especially when those programs are held in the richer areas)? The same library also cannot send someone to learn about technology.  So the libraries that need these programs the most simply cannot attend.  They then find themselves even further behind.  The community in which the library reside only becomes more aware that the library is not filling their needs and cuts their funding further.  Do you see the cycle?

I did not get in the business to become rich and/or famous.  I got in this business because I firmly believe that libraries “save lives” and alleviate isolation, confusion, and loneliness.  I believe that at the heart of any strong community beats a great library.  I believe the best citizens of any country walk through the doors of libraries.

If you believe any of this, then accept this challenge.  Find a small library and offer to help.  How many of us could get some type of website up in a matter of hours?  How many of us could explain what an open-source solution is to someone who doesn’t know?  How many free resources do you use on a daily basis that small libraries may not even know about?  Could use explain best practices in reference, readers’ advisory, cataloging, ILL, management, technology or some other area to someone who has never heard of it?

Do you know that the knowledge that you spend a lifetime making dies with you if you don’t share it with someone else?

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On Loneliness

While pursuing my doctoral degree, I have begun to reflect a lot on some basic things.  What is information?  Why does it seem that information is a living, breathing entity?  Information is an entity that will find a way to be free, no matter how long it takes or what it has to go through.  But the power of information I will leave for another post.

Today I spent time reflecting on libraries.  What is a library?  What is the library’s ultimate purpose?  If a hospital cures illness, a school cures ignorance, a church cures the soul, then what do libraries cure?

I have come to believe that the answer to that question is never discussed in library school?  We do not mention this in our literature.  We don’t even talk about it amongst ourselves.  Not all will agree with my answer, but give it some thought.  Libraries cure loneliness.  And as Mother Teresa once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

Stop and think about all those patrons who just seem like that want to talk.  What about the patrons who come in day-after-day without ever saying a word to anyone?  Why do they come to the library?  Our patrons come to the library to connect to the world.  They come to feel less alone.

Maybe our contribution is more than just saving the culture of mankind.  Maybe our contribution is to make the world a less lonely place, and that is no small contribution.

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Ivory Towers and the Great Divide

I have been pondering and grappling with something lately.  Many people have commented on the theory-practice divide in LIS.  This ivory tower approach to our profession, in which LIS faculty and practitioners seldom cross lines, seems to only hurt us.  In the last three months I have been to three state association conferences.  At each of these, LIS faculty seemed to be not present.  They seldom present at state conferences, and do not seem to attend at all.  This has been bothering me a lot.  I have engaged in conversations with friends of mine outside of LIS, and asked if their profession experiences the same thing.  From accountants to doctors, the resounding answer is always the same, NO! They argue that the faculty need to know what is going on in the field, and they gain this knowledge from state and local conferences.

This is not to say that professors in LIS never join in the practitioner conversation, some professors are great at informing us, and listening to us.  Michael Stephens, and R. David Lankes come to mind.  However, they seem to be the exception to the general rule.

I think we practitioners need to contact our respective LIS schools and request that they join in our conversation.  I also think that we need to enter their world.  For example, a quick glance at the upcoming ALISE conference reveals a similar lack of participation on the part of practitioners.

I exist is some in-between world.  As many of you know, I am rapidly approaching completion of my Ph.D in LIS.  I am still unclear if I will enter into the world of academics, or administration, however I know that either way I will fight to open conversations between LIS faculty and LIS practitioners.

Perhaps I am wrong, and if so, please let me know.  I just can’t see how a divide profession serves us, the schools or most importantly, the patrons.  I long to see collaborative articles and presentations between faculty and those of us in the field.

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