In a couple of hours I'll be kicking off the NASIG E-journals CE workshop here at Mississippi State. The title I gave them is "Beyond the E-Journal: Now It Really Gets Interesting", but it's really a re-weaving of the various themes that I've been working on over the last two years. The basic message is that this is the greatest time in at least 500 years to be a librarian, that we have opportunities unimaginable to our predecessors, but that to really take advantage of them requires some courage and daring and a willingness to creatively reimagine what we're doing. I try to acknowledge that this can be a pretty scary time for librarians because of all of the uncertainty, but the possibilities outweigh the dangers, if we're willing to seize them.
Our host, Patrick Carr, along with the rest of the planning committee, organized dinner for the speakers last night at The Abbey. Lots of great conversation and good food, but I woke up this morning thinking, in particular, about an exchange that Michael Stephens and I had. We were talking about the long process of building an organization that is comfortable with and hospitable to change, and how one of my primary goals during my sixteen years as a library director has been to try to create an environment that attracts creative and energetic people and that gives them the support and the resources that they need to excel. I think we're getting there at LHL and I couldn't be more thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the wonderful crew that we have there. But obviously, my perspective as the guy in charge is very different from the bright young thing two years out of library school who now finds that their great ideas are getting slapped down by a too-cautious bureaucracy; and while they're having their idealism squarshed out of them, they take out their frustrations in their blogs, and I wonder what to say to them.
I didn't have a good answer to that last night when Michael and I were talking, but I must've been thinking about it while I was dreaming through the night, because when I woke up I thought maybe I had a glimmer. Maybe it was sparked by Michael's comment about the necessity of developing a culture of trust. It goes both ways -- when I get asked about my responsibilities as a director, I point out that part of my job is to make sure that when things go well, the credit goes to the people in the library who really made the stuff happen, and when things go wrong, to take the blame. People need to believe that if they do take risks and something blows up, they're going to be protected and not left hanging out to dry. Developing that level of trust is a major part of what I believe I'm supposed to do.
When I think about the people who work in the library, I can also identify those who I trust to take on any project and do a great job with it. They're the people who are energetic, and quick and don't hesitate to say yes when they're asked to do something, and who execute it with flair and imagination. Over time, they've earned a level of trust from me that makes me quite willing, when they come to me with a new idea, to tell them to run with it. I trust that they're going to manage it well, and if it's something that they're excited about, it's probably a good idea.
So to the frustrated young librarian, I guess I'd try to counsel patience and to think of what you can do to develop that level of trust. You don't need to be seen as the bright young thing with all the great new ideas -- what you want is to be seen as the bright young thing who can handle whatever task is given to them. No matter what the project, you're the one who seems to be able to get it organized, bring the right people together, and bring it in on time. Some of those projects may seem pretty mundane and unexciting, but you have to take the long view. What you're trying to do is make yourself indispensible. Every library director is constantly looking at the people in the organization to identify those that can be trusted to get something accomplished. If you can establish that kind of credibility, you're going to get a good hearing for your own new cool ideas. But you're not going to be able to change the organization until you've earned that level of trust. And that takes time.
In other news, my vacation starts today! I've been looking forward to this trip for a very long time, and it was just a lucky coincidence of timing that when Patrick contacted me to see if I could come to the meeting, it was scheduled for the day I was planning to head to Clarksdale anyway. I've got the Robert Clay shack booked at the Shack Up Inn, and I'll head up there after the workshop closes this afternoon. I can't wait!