Beyond the Bullet Points: New Years Resolution

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Let us make a resolution together. Let’s make 2010 the year of the librarian – not the library. As librarians we have become so consumed with an institutional focus that we all too often lose our personal responsibility and our power – it’s about librarians not libraries! I think all too often librarians get lost in some institutional identity and forget that they are the ones that make things happen. The library is not some large all encompassing and abstract entity resistant to change, it is just a group of people making decisions together. If the library is slow to change, that means that we are. If the library is not customer focused, that means we are not.

Worse still our constant use of the library as a sort of “royal we” leads those outside of the library field to see the library as a place and collection, not a group of expertise, people, and a mission. This makes it all too easy to cut it, or stereotype it, or even ignore it. We need to take back the language, and force ourselves and our communities to realize that it is all about librarians and their skills, not buildings and collections.

A simple shift in our language use, librarians instead of library (the librarians of X University, or the librarian of X city) can have an impact on our community’s and our own perceptions. Sure we use words like hospital or law practice as a normal aggregation. But no one thinks you go to the hospital to get well because of the walls – it is because of the doctors. Law firms don’t help us because they have an outstanding collection of law books. But that is what we perpetuate in our own language and marketing with the library. Go to the library to lose yourself in books, or to get free stuff.

If we want people to appreciate our efforts (our communities, our bosses, even our colleagues) we need to start giving credit where credit is due. You are the library. I am the library. The library is a place of knowledge, and knowledge is active and human and conversation. Andrew Carnegie said it best:

Take away my people, but leave my factories, and soon grass will grow on the factory floors. Take away my factories, but leave my people, and soon we will have a new and better factory.

So my resolution for the New Year is to make it the year of the librarian. To put a face on the building and the services. To take credit, and make sure my community knows me. My resolution for the New Year is to make a brighter future for librarians, and in doing so, making a brighter future for my community. My resolution for the New Year has a name – it is Karen, and Nicholette, and Joe, and Jeff, and Paula…

2 responses on “Beyond the Bullet Points: New Years Resolution

  1. steveb

    Thanks for an inspiring post Dave. It confirms much of what I’ve been presenting and writing in 2009 about the need to change library websites and focus on three things for designing a better library experience – totality, meaning and relationships. All of this is, as you say, based on changing our focus from what (collections, buildings, content, etc) we are to who (people, expertise, community members) we are – and what we do.

    I spoke about those three things in this post at Designing Better Libraries – see and as I look back on it now I do tend to talk about libraries – and library workers as well. But in 2010 I’ll pay more attention to emphasizing the librarian.

    To make your resolution happen librarians will need to get over their inferiority complex that keeps them from realizing that the most important thing we can offer our communities is our own expertise and relationships. When I published this essay about how we needed to change the focus of our websites from our content to ourselves (see I would find librarians saying things like “users don’t care about us or what we are doing, they only care about our content. They just want to get links to databases so why bother with news items about the librarians or with profiles emphasizing their subject expertise”. Until we start realizing our websites should be promoting the people at the library – not just the links to content. Fortunately at my library we are redesigning our website to de-emphasize the links to the content (which are going to be re-distributed across the Internet by our users – whether we like it or not) and to emphasize who we are and what we do for people.

    I hope you’ll be saying more about this in 2010 – Steven

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