Tag Archives: Ramblings

Almost Famous

The best part of Roy Tennant’s new post on Library Journal, How to Become (and Stay) Famous?

This comment:

Do we actually have professional colleagues who think strategically about the steps they will take to become “famous”? If so, I’m not sure what to make of it. If you work hard, publish (have a voice and ideas that resonate with others) and take the right risks, you can emerge as someone with ideas that might influence others and gain some attention in the profession. But I guess my feeling is that if it happens, it happens. If you are taking steps and plotting a course to make it happen – that just strikes me as a bit – I don’t know. Off putting. Creepy. Narcissistic. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s better to make it known that you want to be famous. I guess I’m from the old school where it goes something like – you don’t need to tell people you’re good, if you’re are they’ll know it. At least that’s the advice I gave my kids. Maybe it doesn’t work that way anymore and you have to more aggressive about seeking fame.

Some of the points Tennant makes are good ones, especially #4 about consistently providing value. But I agree even more with commenter stevenb that libraryland “fame” should come secondary, as a positive consequence of providing value, not providing value for fame. This is also true of #5, making connections. No one librarians in a vacuum, we are social creatures and we collaborate, but putting it under the guise of ‘Guidelines for Fame’ seems to suggest making connections with the intent of using them to propel you to your desired outcome, not to share ideas, foster discourse, and/or develop actual relationships with your fellows. I’m sure none of the points in the post were meant in such a callous way but each of the suggestions, taken under the title of using them to reach the goal of fame, seems cheap and goes against what feels to me to be a strongly ingrained value in our profession.

I don’t have anything against self promotion, especially when you have a strong and salient point to make. But it’s more and more fluff in the name of fame, which makes us no better than those social media gurus who trawl Twitter and have an inexplicable number of followers and yet provide no meaningful content. Stevenb makes the point in his comment that if you’re actually good you won’t have to tell anyone, they’ll know. In my last post I made a similar argument about coolness and how libraries (and librarians) try too hard to prove they are and in doing so succeed only in dispelling any potential cool they might have had. Fame, whether it be in library land or not, is most often a product of not just talent or skill or luck, but a combination of that and hard work. But even so librarianship is not pop music, there is no star factory with a tested formula for making hits, and for some librarians “fame” is never going to come. But that doesn’t mean the ones who really care and want to better the profession through their knowledge will stop blogging or contributing to the conversation.

Self promotion is important and useful, but when you’re pushing your own content over and over and shrieking for the sake of popularity and followers it points very tellingly to one of Tennant’s introductory reasons for seeking fame: ego.

Guys, Seriously, We’re not Cool (But we are Awesome)

David Lee King posted last week about librarians as rockstars, an idea which comes down to promoting your staff as well as your collections/events/buildings/services etc. Let me start by saying that I really like this idea and agree wholeheartedly; working in several very different types of libraries over the years their unique user bases didn’t change the fact that people often developed a rapport with a specific librarian or staff member, asking for them whenever they were in. Good staff are an important and essential asset to a library, they lend life and health to an old institution and connect the community with the resources they oversee. I wish every library realized and shared just how vital their staff are.

But could we please not try to brand our staff as rockstars or celebrities? ((David added in the comments that he used the term because it was originally used by their marketing person. Is this marketing person a librarian, I wonder? ))

There has been a trend over the last year of tacking on “cool”, trendy monikers to ones title: guru, ninja, and rockstar all come immediately to mind. Social Media Guru. Coding Ninja. Rockstar Librarian. Account Sherpa. Yeah okay, I made that last one up, but you see what I mean.

Most libraries are going through a particularly rough patch right now and even in the best of times many still struggle to provide the best service they can to their communities. We’ve suffered something of an identity crisis in recent years, so many articles and blogs tossing around theories trying to figure out what we are in the wake of Facebook, Ebooks, and instant news in the palm of our hands. Are we libraries? Community centers? Computer barns? Job centers? The debate has quieted lately but we still haven’t answered the question. Or, more likely, no single definition can be applied to every library; a library is molded by, and a reflection of, its community, just as it helps to mold and reflect its users. There is no The Library, that archaic institution left over from the last century. The Library is a place one went to sit in silence and study from books, perhaps to check microfilm, and to get shushed by the librarian if they were too loud. The library, the modern library, our library is not one size fits all, it is made of its staff and users, without which it would cease to grow and change, and in the end, to exist.

But unfortunately, for the most part, libraries and librarians are not cool and apart from our five seconds of apparent hipness a few years ago, we are not trendy. I’m not sure if the library has ever been properly cool; back in the early days they were essential, providing a service to a population that really couldn’t get it elsewhere. These days you don’t need to go to the library to get a book of recipes, or a copy of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, or to check the dictionary. You can get all of those things in moments online, for as free as you would get them at the library but without the price of gas.

But for all our innovation we do provide some of the very same services as we did to those in our past. We provide a place for those who can’t get things anywhere else to better themselves, through books on job searching and every skill imaginable, internet access to apply for jobs and benefits, through workshops and programs, and computer classes. We raise spirits with leisure materials and teach children with stories. We provide access to materials for researchers they could not get elsewhere due to cost. We preserve our history and the words of scholars. And we have amazing staff who give so much of their time and do all of these things with limited resources.

We provide these things but even so that does not make us cool. I don’t know if we ever will be. And you don’t make yourself cool by shouting it desperately from the rooftops, clothing yourself with the mythos of the latest pop culture icon. Cool is subtly understated. Cool is not having to tell anyone you are, they just know.

Besides, why would we want to be rockstars or celebrities anyway? We’re librarians. We know we’re awesome (even if we’ll never be cool), and it is that we need to impress and impart, rather than wasting our efforts trying to keep up with the cool kids.