Just Showing Up

“Eighty percent of success is just showing up”   – Woody Allen

I’ve found the above quote to have a lot of truth in my career so far, but I’m not talking about just showing up at work. It’s easy to simply spend all your time in your office. You have a lot of work to do. It’s comfortable there. It’s safe. But I’m not sure that just showing up at your office is going to bring success.

What I’m talking about is just showing up in other places, especially outside the library. Go to faculty senate meetings. Go to community gatherings. Attend board or town hall meetings. Join committees. Go to conferences or informal gatherings of librarians. Go to social events or holiday parties. The benefits of just showing up at events or meetings quickly become clear. You begin developing relationships with others. People remember your face, know who you are, and know that you are from the library. By just showing up you become an ambassador of the library. You’re getting out of the library and spreading your message of information and helpfulness in multiple places. If you go where the action is, good things just start to happen.

You may be able to help someone on a project that they have been thinking about for a while. You may have a great suggestion at a meeting that utilizes library resources. You may find a colleague or faculty member to collaborate with on a shared interest. Informal conversations with community members, faculty, staff, or students outside the library can and do lead to much bigger things. But these things won’t happen if you are sitting in your office all day. The first step is to just show up.


Getting Past Misunderstanding

different perspectives

On Friday I was at the LJ/Temple Library Future Symposium. I was on a panel with some great folks about bridging the culture gaps in our libraries. Courtney Young, our moderator framed the panel in terms of misunderstandings, and I found this to be really enlightening. Many of the problems we face when groups interact with one another, whether it’s the library vs. IT, change agents vs. resistors, or librarians vs. students, stem from these groups having different perspectives and a lack of mutual understanding of those perspectives.

Let’s take change agents vs. resistors as an example. For this example we’ll use changing the food policy as the conflict (though any change could be substituted here). On one side, you think that the food policy is outdated and that food and drink should be allowed in the library. On the other side there is a group resistant to this change who believe that it shouldn’t change. In order to get past this, there needs to be clear understanding on both sides.

You should first try to understand the other person’s perspective. And don’t just pretend to listen while dismissing what they say in your head. Pay attention and genuinely understand their concerns. Are they concerned about damage to the books or computers? Are they concerned with messes? Are they concerned with the smell? These are all genuine concerns and should be (and can be) addressed. Get to the bottom of why they are resisting the change. When you understand concerns you can then address them.

Then you need to communicate clearly to them why you think the policy should change and make sure that they understand your concerns. Do you think it will create a more welcoming environment? Do you see it happening other places (bookstores, etc.)? Are your users asking for it? Make a clear case for why you think the change is necessary. In discussing the change and coming up with solutions together make sure that their concerns are addressed. You can say something like, “I understand you are concerned with damage to our collection. I don’t want anything to get ruined either. Do we think that will happen a lot though? It seems like Barnes and Noble is not concerned with food or coffee ruining their merchandise. And at home I drink coffee and read books all the time. Does the benefit of making the library more comfortable and welcoming outweighs the risk of a few damaged books? Is there a way that we can limit damage while still allowing food and drink?”

Too often we assume that something is obvious or that someone is just obtuse when in reality we just have differing perspectives. The above approach might work and it might not, but it will be a lot more effective when we try to understand others and address them in terms of their concerns instead of only ours.



Change Agent Librarians

There is a lot to be proud of in the world of libraries. There are a lot of creative and innovative ideas. I see a lot of passion and enthusiasm. But there is also a lot that needs to change. The scholarly publishing system is broken, we need to figure out how we are going to change our model to capitalize on ebooks, and some of us even still need to allow mobile phones and food/drinks in libraries. We have plenty of work to do and no shortage of good ideas. But how do we actually go about evolving, fixing what’s broken, and creating lasting change, especially when there are a significant amount of people and systems in place that actively resist change?

Change starts with you

Sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike or the perfect moment is not going to bring about change. These are outside circumstances that you have no control over. What you can can control is yourself and your own decisions. This is the starting place, and having this mindset is the most important part of being an agent for positive change. One of the biggest mistakes that librarians can make is getting discouraged or giving up because of colleagues who actively resist change, an administration or board that is stuck in the past, or an institution that is seemingly calcified. You cannot control these things (but you can influence them). What you can control is your response. If you direct your anger and energy at the board or your “backwards” colleague or your inflexible institution, you will only reap frustration.

In chatting with librarians who are frustrated, I hear a lot people say things like “we can’t have drinks in the library because x,” or “if only x would retire, then we could enact change.” But this is giving up control. You still can respond. Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (I’m getting hooked on this book) talks about using proactive language instead of using reactive language. Instead of using phrases like “I can’t” you can say “I choose.” Instead of saying “there’s nothing I can do,” say “let’s look at our alternatives.” By understanding that you have the control over your choices and the decisions you make, you empower yourself.

I’ve seen other librarians talking about this same idea. There was recently a great post by the folks at In the Library with the Lead Pipe on the theme of the Occupy Movement. One of the sections was about occupying yourself and they discussed this idea of owning your own power and not giving it away to others. In the post they give a great model for a positive communication technique to bring about change without sounding like you’re attacking.

Know what change you want to see

In bringing about change it’s also necessary to be strategic. One person can’t change everything; they just don’t have the time. So you have to clearly understand what it is you want to change. You also need to be able to prioritize and recognize when a service or resource needs to be dropped. We can’t be everything to everyone in libraries, so we have to play to our strengths. Jenica Rogers talks a lot about this and she recently did a presentation for the LIANZA conference entitled Reality-based Librarianship for Passionate Librarians. In it she discusses identifying goals, but also this idea of picking your battles. Not everything can be changed, or it may not be worth the time, effort, and effects on your sanity to change something. Change doesn’t come easily, but have a road map for how to get there makes things simpler.

You’re not alone

My favorite part about library conferences is meeting with other librarians and hearing what they are working on and what they are passionate about. It’s easy to get caught up in the very narrow view from your own institution, but when you talk with others, you realize there are a lot of different ways to bring about change. By talking with others outside of your own institution you can begin to see other perspectives and different approaches to problems you are trying to solve. It is also a way to invigorate yourself and gain new energy. If you feel that no one at your institution wants change or has the same interests as you, find others who share your passion and collaborate with them.

You have to take care of yourself as a librarian. Burnout is real, and if your passion and creativity continually gets stifled at your institution, try to collaborate with other passionate librarians at different institutions. There is no shortage of passionate librarians. Go to conferences. Go to local meet-ups of librarians. Connect with folks via social networking. And if there aren’t many networking opportunities in your area, start some. There are likely others who want to connect and share ideas and are looking for a venue.

What strategies are most helpful to you in bringing about change at your library?