Librarian as Superhero

I recently had to go to urgent care for a stomach virus that had gone on too long. I like my regular doctor. She never seems to be in a rush and we’ve talked enough times that I’m completely comfortable with her. But, she wasn’t in the office; so, I headed off to the urgent care center near my workplace. It’s outfitted with zen doo dads, fresh water in a glass jug with lemon slices, a bowl of fresh fruit and a friendly staff.

The doctor who examined me was young. If I had to guess, I would say early thirties. When she asked me my occupation and I replied, “librarian,” she looked surprised. We talked some more about my stomach and then she said, offhandedly, “I guess your work has changed a lot, kind of disappearing.” I tried to explain modern librarianship in 60 seconds.  And took another 30 seconds to plug public libraries for all that they do beyond checking out books and one sentence about how librarians don’t just work in libraries.  But, I left feeling weird about it.

Mostly, I was so disappointed. Here is this young (and I might add, hip) physician who is so far removed from current methods of research and library service that she thought libraries would be disappearing with “everything online.”  And as if libraries were just  places where people went to get books.

It got me thinking. What are we doing wrong? Why doesn’t this highly educated, young woman understand the value of libraries and librarianship? Is it arrogance? Does she think that if she needs to research something for her job, even using a medical database, that she wouldn’t need a librarian’s help to execute a great search? If she seeks out a journal article, who curates those journal titles for the library?  Does she not understand that her public library is not only used by people  looking for a book to read; but, also by people who can’t afford to buy books.  Her library is serving people who don’t have internet access at home.  Her library is serving people who are looking for jobs, looking for group activities, looking for story time for their kids, looking to read magazines for free, looking for some new music to listen to or a movie to bring home, looking for a class that teaches them how to download books to their new e-reader, or just looking for a free lecture on an interesting topic?

I think maybe we just need to be better at sharing articles about all that libraries are doing for their communities.  We need to have a sweet or funny 3 minute spiel on the awesomeness of libraries, ready for just these moments.  Someone (was it Jessamyn West?),  said we need to have our “elevator speech” ready and I agree.  I tend to end by urging them to go visit their library and see what is happening there.  At the very least, they can sign up for a library card and borrow e-books!

Stuff like this either drives you crazy or invigorates you to go out and spread the word.  I hope you choose to take a deep breath, shake off the disappointment and go spread the word!!

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The Problem with the Anti-bullying Bandwagon

Miss Blackflag via Flickr CC

“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” –Brene Brown

The anti-bullying movement is certainly well intentioned.  There is no denying that.  My problem with the anti-bullying parade of legislation, media stories and programming is that there is a self-satisfied bragging about it without any self-reflection.  Look at all the things we are doing to stop bullying!

This post was motivated by a Facebook post from one of my dear friends, who teaches in the NYC Schools.  She told a story about talking with kids in her class.  She created a space where she could safely challenge the kids and they could respond honestly and share stories not only of being bullied; but, occasions when they have actually done the bullying.  Her post responded in a litany of folks congratulating her which is well deserved; but, when I tried to steer the discussion towards how we could model the behavior we expect to see, nobody took the bait and it got me thinking.  My friend mentioned how some of the students who were the biggest anti-bullying advocates were actually bullies.

New Jersey now has the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and Governor Christie has been quick to congratulate himself for its passage.  But, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that New Jersey is also a state which has a bully for a governor.  Do you think that the children of New Jersey would be better served by the anti-bullying legislation or by adults in their lives who do not bully, judge, gossip and instead choose to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and compassion?

I think it is safe to say, without referencing scholarly articles, that bullying is a learned behavior.  I’ve seen gossip and bullying in every workplace I’ve worked in.  My school teacher partner comes home and tells me some disturbing stories about teacher and administrator behavior.  In Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: popularity, quirk theory, and why outsiders thrive after high school, author Alexandra Robbins follows several students around at schools in different parts of the country.  In one instance, the reader is a few chapters into the book before you realize that the bullied, weird girl who suffers at the hands of a mean girl and her clique is actually a teacher and is being bullied by other teachers.  Where do you think kids are learning bullying behavior?  From us.    We have created and sustain a bully culture.

It’s all well and good to discourage bullying in children; but, what are we doing about the bully inside of us?  Oh, sure, I’ve seen articles and books about bully coworkers and bosses; but, they are almost exclusively about extreme bullies and fail to capture the subtle, everyday bully.  Ask yourself the following:

  1. Do you gossip?  Do you listen to or spread stories about coworkers, neighbors, or other people in your life?
  2. Do you exclude a person from group activities?  Do you participate in group activities after work when one or more coworkers have purposefully been excluded from invitation?
  3. Do you go home and tell stories about your coworkers that include judging or name calling?
  4. Do you make fun of people in front of your children?
  5. Do you tell mean jokes?  Do you crack jokes about coworkers?
  6. Do you tease any of your coworkers?  Your friends?  Your family?  Any other people in your life?

Are you now thinking, this doesn’t pertain to me, I’m nice, I’m kind.  What are you doing right now to cultivate compassion and empathy in yourself?  Oh, I agree that we need Anti-bullying campaigns and programming; but, it starts from within.  It’s not easy.  People piss us off and do stupid things and sometimes people make themselves irresistible targets.  The library field is saturated with odd folks and sometimes it is difficult to refrain from making an easy joke about a person’s style, personality quirks, weird hobbies or social awkwardness.  I know this because there have been too many times when I have not refrained and contributed to a culture that ultimately I wanted to see disappear.  Can you go one day without talking about one coworker in front of other coworkers?

“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” ― Brené Brown,

My friend, the teacher in the story at the top of this post, is one of those rare folks who is kind and thoughtful and nurturing.  She is not perfect.  None of us are perfect.  But, she gently taught those kids something that day.  She taught them something about assessing their own behavior and how it affects others.  And she gave them a safe place to talk about it.

Do that for yourself.  Is there something in your own behavior that needs to be changed.  Do you act towards others as you wish to be acted upon?  Do you have someone in your life that can be your sounding board?  I have a few people in my life that I trust and feel safe telling things that make me deeply vulnerable.  These are people who are also on a similar path; so, I know that they understand that I don’t want some behavior I’m describing to be easily condoned with a “that’s okay” response.  They also don’t judge or use the opportunity to feel superior.  They are my partners in this quest.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”  –Brene Brown

What kind of person do you want to be?  Do you want to be the person people feel comfortable gossiping with or the person people trust NOT to gossip?  Do you want to be the person that makes harsh judgments about people because of appearance or some other detail about their lives? Do you want to be the person who is kind to a person even when they annoy you because you are capable of EMPATHY?  Who erases the annoyance with a gentle attitude?

  • Little by little remove the bully from your heart and mind.
  • Surround yourself with people who want to be better.
  • The Golden Rule is made of awesome.  If it is the only rule you follow, you will lead a good life.
  • Commit.  (I’m yelling, arms raised to the sky)  Commit!!  Commit to the person you wish to be in the world.

Commit to kindness.  Commit to opening your heart.  As you move through this world, leave love in your wake.

You Don’t Need a Cape to Be a Superhero.

What is the recipe for success in any job?  I stumbled upon this great article by Chris Guillebeau, How to Stand Out in Any Job.   While I think his ideas have some obstacle in some situations, the spirit of these ideas and the practical applications are fantastic.  I encourage you to read his article and wander around his site.  There are some real gems there.

I want to bounce off his 8 principles for becoming a superhero in any job over the course of the next couple of weeks here on CCS.

“Never Turn Down a Project by saying, ‘that’s not in my job description’.”

This is huge.  I like that he put it first.  There are three ways to be at work:  open, closed and somewhere in between when it comes to being flexible in the workplace.  Guess which group gets the raises and promotions?  Guess which group has a better chance of getting positive responses to their requests?

In my varied work experiences in retail and the library world, I have hands down been happier when I have been open to being flexible about my job duties, etc.  This does not mean I take on jobs and responsibilities without asking for compensation for added work.  It does mean that when asked to handle something or do another task or take on some responsibility, I have almost always said yes, even if there is not added compensation.  I’m also not saying to take on TOO much responsibility so you lack balance in your life.  There is nothing wrong with answering a request to do something with an honest reply about workload and inquiry into your institution’s priorities.  Something along the lines of:

“I would love to help you.  I’m in the middle of projects X, Y, and Z; but, if you don’t mind Y and Z getting put on hold a bit; I think I can handle this new task with no problems.”

I have almost always been rewarded for pitching in when needed.  Sometimes the reward is monetary (raises and/or promotion), sometimes it’s a pat on the back and sometimes it has been support from others for my own pet projects.  Almost every time, I have been rewarded with the satisfaction of helping a coworker.

Happiness researchers (yes, there really are researchers who research happiness) have found a higher rate of happiness in people who are altruistic.  I think the same sort of satisfaction that you would get doing volunteer work or shoveling an elderly neighbor’s snow is available to you at work by being keeping an open mind about what your role is and how you should be spending your time.

I have encountered people who’s knee jerk reaction to being asked to do work outside of their job description is “no.”  You’ll win no friends and allies with this attitude.  That attitude benefits no one.  Most of you have experienced workplaces where there are some people who barely hold up their end and there are others who are continuously asked to work on new projects.  Some people see this as unfair, especially in a union environment when you might be making the same amount of money as the person who does less and is unwilling to help out.  But, even in these situations you win by stepping up because come promotion time or when an interesting position opens up you will be in a better spot to succeed in getting it.  You will also just have more opportunities at work:  more opportunities to learn, more opportunities to build your resume with varying experiences, more opportunities to network with colleagues and more opportunities to be challenged with interesting and fulfilling projects.

“That’s not my job.”  Don’t be that guy.  The guy who says that dreads getting out of bed and going to work every day.  The guy who says that only dreams of retirement.  The guy who says that is just putting in his time.  Our lives are way too precious for that kind of thinking.

Take this moment to ponder a line from Mary Oliver:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?

I broke my wrist again.  The doctor looked at the x-ray and said, “Wow.  It’s really a mess in there.”  This, of course made me laugh because…really it’s inevitable that my right wrist is just going to completely fall apart at some point and his surprise just seemed funny to me.  He casted my wrist and forearm and sent me on my way.

It was later, sitting on my couch watching Law and Order reruns on my laptop that I started feeling sorry for myself.  I try not to think too much about what the future brings for my dominant hand.  I don’t like to think of myself as handicapped even though the accident in some ways, has left me with a nifty bag of tricks (coping skills) I have to use to succeed in my life.

So, sitting there on my couch, feeling sorry for myself, I began to turn my attention to the positive spin.  I like to find the one or two positive things that come out of seemingly negative experiences.  I started shifting from doom and gloom thoughts about the steady decline of ability and tried to think of ways I could use this time, not being able to use my right hand, in a positive way.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Since I’m off the hook (with myself) for crafty projects that were on my To Do list, like knitting myself and my girlfriend winter caps, perhaps I could practice my left handed drawings.
  • To avoid more feeling sorry for myself, I could set up some plans in the evening with neighbors and friends.
  • I could start working on improving my balance, which is something I’ve been meaning to do.
  • I could use this 6 weeks as a giant immersion class in problem solving by keeping track of the obstacles and how I overcome them.
  • I could use this experience to practice asking for help when I need it, which is not something I’m good at in my home life.  But now I do need help.  I need help getting a 30 pound bag of dog food out of my trunk!
  • Practice writing left handed which is another thing I had been planning to do in a weird sort of planning for the day when writing normally will become problematic.
  • Figure out ways to maintain healthy eating patterns and yet reduce all the chopping and dish cleaning I normally do.

I think I like best the idea of using this experience as an intense immersion class in problem solving.  There’s nothing better for exercising the part of the brain used for figuring stuff out than to take away the regular path of practice (using my right hand for writing, brushing my teeth, scrubbing a dish while I held it with my left).  The neuropsychologist I saw after the accident told me everyone should be occasionally brushing their teeth with the opposite hand.  It is a simple, yet, effective way of exercising your brain.

Looking at my list, I realize that most of the items are just using the broken wrist for motivation, especially for things like improving balance.  Improving balance has been on my To Do list for about 6 months.  Falling on a hike in the Berkshires and breaking my wrist is a great motivator for undertaking that challenge.

This injury is temporary; but, my wrist is problematic.  It is falling apart and eventually I’ll go from limited range of motion to NO range of motion.  Anything I learn now, about navigating life left handed and/or one handed is probably going to come in useful later.

That’s how I try to turn a negative into a positive.  How do you do it?

In the workplace, as in your personal life, focusing on the negative is only going to leave you  in a negative place.  When something negative happens at work, how do you react?  How can you change a negative into a positive?  Learning something is usually a good way to go and sometimes leads to even greater success.

I have a friend who, several years ago, was fired from her job.  She was definitely freaked out and worried.  But, do you know what she did?  She started her own business and has found great success.  She has won awards for her design work and has ridden out the recession without too much worry.  Getting fired, seemingly a negative occurrence, turned out to have the single largest positive impact on her career outside of her schooling.

When negative stuff happens, turn it upside down and all around and I can almost guarantee you’ll find a few shiny spots.

Turn It Upside Down: Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket Project

Baltimore, MD

When I was a kid, I remember a lesson in school where we were taught about optical illusions. Pictures that at first appear to be one thing; but, when you look deeper are also something else. The old lady / young woman drawing is probably one of the most commonly viewed.

I was awed by that lesson. I suspect that it, although such a small lesson, helped nourish a seed in me to always be looking for hidden depths, alternative views and just different ways of seeing something. It helped me know that sometimes what we are seeing is not the only way to see something.

There is such value in looking at the world this way.  It opens your heart and it fosters good ideas.

I ran across a story about a program to bring groceries to people who live in areas of Baltimore that are not served by a grocery store. The Health Department and the Enoch Pratt Free Library have teamed up to help residents gain access to affordable, healthier groceries.  They are using the library as a place where people can order the groceries online and then the next day they return to pick up their groceries.  Health Department workers are on hand to help residents navigate the grocery store’s website.

This is brilliant. It is such a ridiculously awesome idea for so many reasons. On the library side of things, it reinforces the library as community center. It gets people to the library that might not have been familiar with all the library’s resources and services. It also reinforces the relationship between the library and the folks it serves. The program gets the library in the news in a positive way. And it’s just a feel good story all the way around. On the community side people who live in these grocery deserts now have options beyond the mini mart and corner store. The folks using the program will have access to healthier, less expensive food and won’t have to pay delivery costs.

Baltimore had a problem: areas of the city where the residents did not have access to regular groceries stores, which basically means they didn’t have access to good, fresh, healthy food.

Someone or a group of someones turned that problem upside down and inside out, looking at all the ways the problem could be solved. I’ve lived in cities where access to grocery stores was limited (Kansas City, KS and Pittsburgh) and most of the problem solving efforts were focused on trying to get someone to open a store in the neighborhoods lacking grocery stores. This, of course, is a good idea and solves the problem; but, in the couple years I spent in each place they were unsuccessful in accomplishing that goal. I’m sure Baltimore is also trying to get someone to open a grocery store in these areas.

But they didn’t stop there.  That is a long range goal.  It could take years and years to accomplish that goal; but, the people need to eat now.

I’ve always been a fan of turning a problem over and over and all around to see it from every angle and every side and think out every solution, even the absurd ones because maybe they aren’t THAT absurd.

The phone’s have been ringing off the hook from other cities that are thinking about copying the idea.

I applaud the thinking outside the box and the teamwork involved to get this program up and running.  Kudos to you Baltimore.

Inexcusable Twitter Behavior: Why Aren’t We Beyond All of This?

Danah Boyd photo: by Joi (Flickr) thru creative commons

I follow a lot of blogs on technology, libraries, librarians and social networking.  One of the blogs I follow is the blog of danah boyd.  danah boyd is a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  She is probably the leading researcher and scholar on the subject of youth and social networking.  I have no idea how many talks and presentations she has given; but, I can only imagine that it is A LOT.

Last week, she was giving a talk at Web2.0 Expo.  This is a conference for web geeks and those interested in web geekery.  You can read her post on what happened here.  I’ve always had tons of respect and admiration for her work anyway and for being so active and present in a man’s world; but, that post has elevated my admiration even further.

To quickly summarize:  The organizers of the conference decided that a Twitter stream should be visible behind the presenter.  So, while she was speaking, there was a live stream projected behind her of what people in her audience were saying about her talk.  The Twitter stream behind her turned nasty when the audience started making comments about her presentation style and apparently (though I have not seen all the tweets) personal attacks.  By her own admission, it was not the slickest speech.  I went on YouTube and watched it.  It actually was not that poorly presented in my opinion.  She definitely spoke too fast; but, I’m certain that having the audience burst into laughter when you haven’t made a joke is unsettling and I too would race to the end.

At the bottom of her blog post there are numerous comments and a couple of the commenters talk about the “social contract” between presenter and audience.   This is an important part of the conversation.  Is there a contract between presenter and audience? When is it okay for the audience to be equal participants?  Is it ever okay for the audience to become the focal point?  Why do we go to hear speakers?  All these and a million more questions have been raised by Ms. boyd’s experience and her sharing of this experience with the larger, connected world.

To me, all the debating in the world can go on about whether broadcast Twitter streams have a place at conferences while people are presenting and/or about whether what happened to danah boyd was a legitimate use of Twitter or a bunch of people angling for exposure, trying to one up each other with deeper and wordier insults; but, the core issue is humans treating other humans with decency and respect.  When did it become okay to take fidgeting during a “boring” lecture to delivering public and personal attacks on the presenter?  This is not okay.  There is an appropriate time and place for CONSTRUCTIVE criticism of a lecture; but, during a presentation is not one of them.  It only ends up being disruptive and rude.  If you wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a lecture hall and yell it, you probably shouldn’t tweet a personal attack.

The sad part of all of this is that we’ve completely lost her message which is incredibly thought provoking.   I urge you to read the transcript of her talk.  She is one of our brightest minds and what she has to say is relevant and insightful.  I found her closing comments  ironic in light of what happened.

As we continue to move from a broadcast model of information to a networked one, we will continue to see reworkings of the information landscape. Some of what is unfolding is exciting, some is terrifying. The key is not be all utopian or dystopian about it, but to recognize what changes and what stays the same. The future of Web2.0 is about information flow and if you want to help people, help them reach that state. Y’all are setting the tone of the future of information. Keep it exciting and, please, recognize the power that you have!

Fall Challenge! Give Up Gossip!

gossip

There is an excellent, excellent post on Tricycle magazine’s blog right now called, “7 Tips for Giving Up Gossip.”  I urge you to go check it out.

All of these tips are so awesome I could weep; but, instead I challenge you and even though I don’t get much commenting on this blog, I know you’re out there because WordPress keeps stats!  So, dear readers, I challenge you to choose one or two of these tips and put them into practice this Fall and see what happens.

I am going to focus on the last one:

“7. Practice saying something kind to someone every day. Do this especially with people you don’t like. It gets easier with practice and bears surprisingly good results.”

I don’t dislike many people; but, I admit that there are some folks that I don’t particularly enjoy/like, whatever you want to call it and I tend to avoid them.  I think this also lends itself to participating in conversations about these folks because I am disconnected from them.  That is why I have chosen this one.  I’m going to seek these folks out and try to say something kind probably not every day; but, several times a week and see what happens to my willingness to talk about them, even if I’m defending them which seems to happen a lot.  It is like I’ve taken on the role of being the one to come up with scenarios and/or excuses for the way people act.

But really, I shouldn’t be discussing other people at all.

I’m going to try that for the next few months.  Perhaps it will just become a habit or practice.  That would be nice.  And feel free to share which one you are going to tackle and why in the comments section!