No good deed…

Today is the last day of the Internet Librarian conference, and as usual it has been an extremely engaging, informative gathering.  It is truly a privilege to be able to absorb the experiences of such a diverse group of information professionals; the challenging part is to retain at least some of that data and bring it back to inform our practices at Alliant.

One of my favorite discussions was at a session on engaging patrons through social media such as Twitter and Facebook; the speaker spent a good deal of time talking about internal resistance to social media; that is, staff members who “just don’t get it” for one reason or another.  Generally their lack of understanding is attributable to the newness of the medium — they just don’t know what a tweet is for, or how it works — but in some cases it has a more dysfunctional origin: some will oppose The New on principle.

To illustrate the point, the speaker used an example shared with her by an academic library proponent of social media.  This librarian had been experimenting with social media for some time on a small, informal scale, trying to start conversations and build a sense of community among the institution’s library users — a laudable goal, and one which had strong support from most of her colleagues.  Oddly, though, one staff member (another librarian, no less) somehow viewed this activity of hers as not just a waste of time, but as inappropriate workplace behavior.  The Critic, as the person was referred to, would actually spend work time meticulously tracking the social media librarian’s tweets and Facebook posts, looking for missteps, and even brought printouts of these to staff meetings, pointing to them and making observations such as, “I don’t know what *this* has to do with libraries!”

Of course, this story drew gales of laughter from the Internet Librarian attendees, most of whom are familiar with this type of “librarian’s librarian.”  But there was a more serious note to the tale, and the audience appreciated the way innovative staff have to work twice as hard as the more traditionally-minded.  First they have to stay engaged, have great ideas and be willing to try them out and possibly see them fail; but they also have to fight against small-minded pettiness from their co-workers, the people one would think should be supporting their efforts.  The dedication it takes to do this is profound, and represents our profession at its best.

One Response to No good deed…

  1. Keely Dorran says:

    This was discussed at the June 2011 Library Journal/OCLC Symposium on Play/Learn/Innovate, as well.

    Being an innovator myself, I have seen my own ideas appreciated by a precious few (thankfully well-established) supporters, overlooked and unseen by leaders who misinterpret my enthusiasm for creative projects as self-centeredness (I am very much a ‘team-player’ – even when it’s not my game/idea), and resisted by those whose comfort-zones are threatened by new ideas. Another issue that comes up is that persons who do not have a background in arts and related subjects are often unfamiliar with the processes of creativity- they simply don’t have any idea what it has to offer, how it could be integrated to improve services to patrons in a library setting, or how to go about including that creative force in the process of growth. There is an element of trust, I think, that innovators/creatives must earn from the more traditional thinkers, who have their own kind of strength and stability to offer.

    Not everyone is or has to be an artist, obviously, but I wonder what it would take to make a place for innovators in library settings. From brainstorming to research and development, to implementation of progressive technologies, concepts and interfaces, the poet’s voice will bring meaning to the sense of overwhelm we all feel at times in this information-saturated world. What I mean by that is that innovators/creatives seek and focus on what’s meaningful ultimately, not so much on the details of any given system. This is the discipline of art. For instance, too many points of access to info (or any given “help” libraries offer) can be just as confusing and frustrating as too few when it doesn’t keep to the simple truth of the day to day lives and needs of library patrons.

    I believe a good modern library has to come to it’s users (to a great degree) in terms of making info available and accessible, not the other way around, and I’m happy to see that Alliant is doing this more- especially with YouTube tutorials, blogging, etc.

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