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January 2007
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March 2007

First Sight of Birmingham

I took the call in my office.  She introduced herself, and asked if I'd be willing to come to Birmingham to be one of the speakers at a seminar that she'd been planning.  The "theme" was new directors who had recently taken over from very well regarded predecessors and how they were managing things, particularly in relation to serials budgets.

"Sure," I said.  "In fact, I've just been working on some budget analysis, so this is good timing."

"Great," she said.  "Now can you do it next Thursday?"

I paused for just a moment.  "Sure, I can manage that, but you'll need to fly me back through Chicago on Friday.  I'm supposed to meet my girlfriend up there for the weekend."

"No problem, and thanks a lot for doing this."

That was my first conversation with Lynn.   I knew who she was, of course, and had even laid eyes on her the previous fall at the chapter meeting in Rapid City.  I'd been sitting in the hotel lobby during a break, writing in my journal, when a small and very attractive woman walked determinedly across the lobby to one of the meeting rooms.   "Who...?"  I knew she wasn't a chapter member.  Flipping through the program to find out who was presenting next in that room told me who she was.  But I had other things on my mind at that meeting and didn't encounter her again.

In those days, only a couple of years into her tenure with EBSCO, one of her major activities was to organize "directors seminars."  She'd invite a dozen or fifteen library directors, some of them  customers and some not, to attend a two day meeting at world headquarters in Birmingham.  She arranged it like a mini-conference, with several speakers from among the group, lots of good discussion, and a couple of fine meals.  It gave the directors some insight into the latest thinking of the company's strategic direction, and they served as a bit of a focus group as the managers rolled out some of their new ideas.  There was no sales pitch, no stock overview of current offerings.  Having been interim director at LHL for a time just a few years earlier, she had a good handle on what would be a good and productive use of the directors' time, and the seminars tended to be very satisfactory to all concerned.

I was not first on her list to attend.  In fact, for this particular seminar, I wasn't on the list at all.  But to her distress, one of her chosen speakers had to back out just two weeks before the event.  And when she started calling around for someone who fit her theme and who could be expected to put together a decent presentation in short order, my name kept coming up.

So I put together some notes, and off I went to Birmingham.  I recall looking down at the UAB campus from The Club overlooking the city.  Lynn pointed out the Lister Hill Library, where she used to work, and I said, politely, that if I ever came back to town I'd have to see if I could arrange a tour.

I remember the notes I wrote afterwards on the flight to Chicago for my weekend with Laura.  I was very impressed with Lynn's attention to all of the details, and how considerate she was of each of her guests.  I recalled in particular how she timed things for a late arrival to the first evening's reception -- she had the person who picked him up at the airport call to say that they were on their way, then kept half an eye on the clock, so she could meet him at the door with a drink at just the moment that he walked in.

It was also very clear from my conversations with her during the social events that she had two main preoccupations, her daughter and her job, and there wasn't much room for anything else.  There were allusions to a boyfriend, but romance was clearly a distant third.   I was single and she was damned attractive, so I fantasized idly, as men do, but I knew there was nothing in it.

Little did I know.  When I arrived in Birmingham, I took a cab out to the hotel where they were putting us up, unpacked, and then went down to the lobby to gather for the van that would take us to dinner.  I knew a couple of the other directors and we made a bit of small talk while we waited.  Then, that same small and energetic woman I'd first seen in Rapid City came into the lobby, greeting those she knew, introducing herself to the others.  She held her hand out to me and grinned, "And you must be Scott."

"I must be,"  I said.  It would be more than a year and a half after that meeting before our lives became entwined, but that moment, when we first shook hands, marks the beginning of all that has gone on since.

At dinner last night, she tapped her glass of wine against mine, and said again, "And you must be Scott."  Fifteen years ago to the day.

Sinking To A New Low

I wonder how those open access advocates who were shocked (shocked, I tell you) to find out that the AAP had hired a PR guy, responded to Richard Smith's wretched presentation at the BioMed Central Colloquium where he equates traditional publishing with slavery.  The second slide, with the artfully arranged lynching drawings is particularly tasteless.  I wonder how the people in the room responded.  I hope they didn't cheer.

Personally, I've kind of had it up to here with the whole thing.  At the Charleston Conference, I described myself as an "open access heretic," pointing out that Martin Luther never stopped believing in Jesus Christ, he just quit believing in the pope.  I was trying to suggest that while I remain strongly committed to transformations in scholarly publishing that will provide more access and take better advantage of digital technologies, I'm not very comfortable with the orthodoxy that claims that complete immediate open access is a moral imperative.

I was disheartened when Heather Joseph was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education saying, "We're disappointed to see that the publishers would hire someone to spin a message."  This was in late January, only a few weeks after one of my professional organizations had voted to continue our annual subsidy to the Open Access Working Group to help fund their lobbyist.  I'm sure I'm just being dense, but I still can't quite figure out the moral difference between the publishers hiring a PR guy, and the OAWG hiring a lobbyist.  (Oh, right -- their guy is "pit bull" and ours is...  um... a pusscat??)

A number of people have suggested that open access is the most important issue in scholarly communications today.  I have my doubts.  Improving peer review, doing a better job of ferreting out fraud, figuring out more effective ways of measuring research output, developing data stores and figuring out how to mine them -- I can think of a lot of issues surrounding scholarly communication that seem to me to be as important, if not more, than open access.

Actually, I think maybe the wave has passed.  It's pretty clear that no "one size fits all" approach to funding scholarly communication is going to make sense.  One can pretty well predict what's going to happen from here -- there is going to be substantially more access around a variety of funding models as publishers figure out different ways to make that happen, but the subscription model will continue to play an important part.  Some publishers will go out of business and some important new entrants into the field will arise.  Libraries and the institutions that they are a part of will continue to wrestle with the daunting challenges of finding the resources to manage everything that they need to do.

And some publishers and some open access advocates will remain locked in a deathstruggle of rhetorical spin, relying on their lobbyists and their public relations flaks to help them craft their soundbites, convinced that it's those bastards on the other side who have absolutely crossed the line, while they themselves are managing to stay just barely on the side of truth and justice.  And if they have to push that line a little hard sometimes, well, it's all in the service of a good cause -- whether that be eliminating the slavery of traditional publishing or preventing the complete collapse of scholarly communication as we know it.  It is, after all, the most important issue of our time.

Getting Ready For The Spring Tour

Now that we're inching our way towards Memphis, the Brown Beverage Sessions, and the Chapel Hill and Philadelphia gigs beyond, I think I might try spending a little bit more time over on the Bearded Pigs blog and see if I can kick that thing into life.

After Merline died, Someone_is_in_big_trouble I spent some mourning time cleaning up the basement and re-doing my practice space.  I've got things set up now so that I can easily zip down for thirty or sixty minutes at a time.  I'm trying to put in at least a few every day.  There are so many new songs to learn!Josie_is_two_002

If you're going to be around Chapel Hill on May 8th, or Philadelphia on May 2o, by all means, stop by!  We are the world's first open-access international librarian rock band and we'd be thrilled to death if you showed up.

In Chapel  Hill, we're playing the banquet for the Evidence-Based Librarianship Conference and you do have to be a conference attendee for that one -- but it looks like it'll be a great conference, so you may as well come on over.

We're in Philadelphia for the MLA annual meeting on the 20th, but you don't need to be attending the meeting to join us for that.  We'll be at the downtown Marriott, we'll have a cash bar, and we'll run from about 8:00 to around 11:00.  Keep an eye on the website for the exact location.

Funding open access is tough, of course, and we're grateful to the members of the Thicket Society for making our MLA gigs possible.    You don't need to be an MLA member... or a librarian, for that matter... to join the Thicket Society.  For $40 you get a cool limited edition t-shirt, a souvenir button, and your name in the program.  Once our expenses are covered, everything else goes to the MLA scholarship fund -- last year we were able to send 'em $750. 

Think of it as an informal and unofficial professional development networking event -- with rock band.

Organizational Transparency

Perhaps the most intriguing discussion from the MLA Board of Directors meeting last week had to do with how we might make use of social networking tools to make the organization more nimble and transparent, and provide better opportunities for members to participate directly in decision making.  Our president-elect is committed to making this a hallmark of his presidential year and there was quite a bit of enthusiasm for the general idea among the board members -- now the question becomes, how do we actually make this work? 

There were some interesting cautions from the association's lawyer -- he works with a number of other not-for-profit organizations which are also trying to make use of these tools, so he's aware of the variety of ways in which things can go askew.  There's a clear tension for the board members between having a vigorous open discussion and also meeting our fiduciary responsibility to support the decisions of the board and present a united front once votes have been taken.  It's one thing to have strong disagreements when a group is gathered in a meeting room and you have time to work through those disagreements and come to a consensus using all of the nuances & capabilities of in-person communication, and quite another thing to open those discussions up to the world using blogs and wikis and such, where misunderstandings and hurt feelings are much easier to come by, and where once the ill-tempered reply is posted, there isn't any taking it back.  The dilemma is that the very tools that have the potential to open up discussion can also have a chilling effect and shut it down.

Over at Five Weeks to A Social Library, the crew is having a discussion this week on blogs and how they might be incorporated into the daily operations of a library.  Many of the same issues pertain.  There is, of course, the basic learning curve of getting people comfortable with the technology and making sure that the technical implementation is as trouble-free as possible.  But then you quickly run into the more substantive organizational dynamics issues -- a traditional, hierarchical organizational structure, where all of the avenues of communication are clearly laid out and run along lines of administrative authority simply can't survive.    Something new is going to emerge, and we're not at all clear yet what risks we are taking by transforming ourselves in these new ways.

I am convinced that in the long run, these transformations will be good for our organizations.  Implemented well, these tools have a tremendous capacity for empowering association members, library staff, and the members of the communities that we serve.  But they do this, in part, by weakening authoritarian power, and this will give even the most well-meaning administrator pause.   Anyone who has followed one of the recent heated discussions in the biblioblogosphere (where we are generally quite polite compared to what goes on elsewhere in blogland) is going to be somewhat nervous about opening up our organizations in this way.

MLA will move forward (as will our libraries) -- too cautiously for some, too hastily for others.  Mistakes will be made.  I'm counting on the fundamental goodwill and dedication of all of the participants to see us through.

Personalizing Service

In his comment on my post from yesterday, Marcus suggests that "Tony's ability to provide top-notch service" was more straightforward than it is for librarians, because the services that we provide are more nebulous.   But the exceptional thing about what Tony did isn't what he provided, it's how he handled the whole thing.  Someone else, handling it in a different way, could have arranged the alternate reservation, given us the gift certificate, and have hustled us out the door still feeling annoyed and inconvenienced.  Truly great service is entirely about attitude and manner.

The key is that Tony took complete and personal responsibility for making sure that our particular need was met.  He wasn't just helping us out with our problem -- it was his problem.  It showed in all of the little things -- he was there instantly when we walked in the door.  During the few minutes that we talked, he never took his eyes off of us, and he never stopped smiling and being pleasant.  He didn't seem the least bit rushed or ruffled.  When he referred to the "technical problem" he didn't go into any detail about what it was and he didn't make any excuses -- he didn't waste any time explaining his problem.  What mattered to him at that moment was us and what he could do to insure that we had as fine a lunch experience as possible.   

He handed the gift certificate to us almost apologetically, signifying that he knew it was an inadequate gesture, but he hoped we'd take it anyway.    He was more insistent with his business card, making sure that I knew that it had his cell phone number on it, and that when we came back we should call him personally.  Giving us the cell phone number meant that it didn't matter to him if we called while he was working or not -- he'd take care of it.

His showing up at Gibson's, then, was all of a piece of it.  He was making sure that we understood that even though he'd passed us on to another restaurant, as far as he was concerned we were still his customers, and it was still his responsibility to make sure that we were taken care of.

Every time I go to one of my favorite restaurants in DC, I am welcomed like the long-lost cousin who has just come in off the boat.  The attitude appears to be, "We're always happy when a customer walks in, but that you, you came in tonight -- well, that just makes our night complete."   It took me a couple of visits to observe that they treat everybody that way, whether it's their first visit or their fiftieth.  I doubt that Tony remembers us as anything more than a blur in the crowd of people he dealt with on that miserable Sunday afternoon, but he made us feel as if we were the most important people in his world.   And I have no doubt that when we call him back, whether he really remembers us or not, he'll make us feel as if meeting us was the highlight of his afternoon.

Imagine if every time someone finished an encounter with someone who worked in your library, they felt that way.

Making The Best Of A Bad Day

"So when was it that you realized you were going to be having a really bad day today?" I asked Tony the maitre d' when he stopped at our table at Gibson's.

"Oh, probably about an hour and a half or so ago.  We'd done all of the prep work and had everything ready to go, but then..."  He gave a smile of weary resignation, but didn't go into the details of the "technical difficulties" that had caused RL to close their dining room for the day and start calling people who had reservations to offer them alternatives.

This was at about 1:30, and we had met Tony half an hour before.  What was remarkable about the conversation is that Tony doesn't work at Gibson's, and we hadn't been expecting to be eating there -- he's the maitre d' at RL, where we'd had a reservation for lunch.

The staff at RL had begun calling their customers as soon as they realized they had a disaster on their hands, but I'd missed the call, which apparently came into my cell at about the time I was sliding out of the cab at the Duke of Perth to retrieve the moleskine that I'd left there the night before (another superb service story, by the way).  So we had gone ahead on schedule checking out of the hotel, storing our luggage and walking up the street to the restaurant.  This is our general pattern when we have a weekend in Chicago -- book a late afternoon flight so that we can take our time and have a good lunch before heading home.  Evelyn has had positive things to say about RL, and since she's never steered us wrong on a restaurant recommendation we decided to give it a try and booked a 1:00 reservation.

When we walked in, there were people sitting in the bar and lounge areas, but the dining room itself appeared to be empty, the tables all set and pristine.  This seemed odd at what should have been the peak of the brunch rush.  I gave my name to the hostess and suddenly Tony appeared, calm and smiling, looking completely unrushed and unhurried, but deeply apologetic. 

"I'm afraid we've had a technical malfunction in our kitchen and we've had to close our dining room for the day," he said, and rolled his eyes up with a "these things happen" shrug.  "What I'd like to suggest is that you try either Gibson's or Lux Bar -- they have tables just waiting for you, and then I'd like to buy you lunch here at RL the next time you come in."

Of course, we were a bit startled and taken aback, trying to take this information in.  We probed a bit about the choices -- Tony described the places and we thought that Gibson's would probably do.  "Yes, Gibson's is what I would recommend.  John Coletti is there just waiting for you.  I can get you a cab or, if you'd prefer to walk, it's just a few blocks up Rush...   Now let me give you this gift certificate for the next time you come in and here's my card, with my cell phone number -- please call me directly for the reservation and I'll be sure to take care of you personally."

He pointed us in the right direction, apologized again, shook my hand, and by this time we felt like we were all in this together and were on an adventure, rather than being inconvenienced.

Sure enough, when we walked into Gibson's and said, tentatively, to the maitre d' there, "Tony just sent us up from RL...," he grinned and replied, "Oh yes, we were expecting you.  I'm John..."   We commiserated about what a lousy day Tony was having.  Our coats were whisked away and we were led to our booth.

"Let me see that gift certificate," I said to Lynn once we were settled in.  She handed it to me and I opened it up.  More than enough to cover lunch for two the next time we were in.  Impressive.  And as we were sitting there marveling at how they had so smoothly moved us from feeling disappointed that our plans had been knocked askew into feeling that we were being treated extra-special, Tony appeared at our table.  "I just had to walk up the street to see how my customers were doing.  Is everything okay?  Are they treating you right?"

We assured him that we were having a fine time, and were looking forward to coming back to his restaurant the next time we were in town.  He shook my hand again, and moved off to the next table of displaced diners.

"Now, that was over the top," we agreed.   Hard to calculate the financial hit that RL took that day -- an empty dining room that would usually be packed, all that food that had been prepped and would have to be given away to the food banks, and the gift certificates to the people holding reservations.  Many thousands of dollars to be sure.  But there was Tony, five blocks away from his own restaurant, as if there was nothing more important in his world than making sure that we were having a fine Sunday lunch.

We, in libraryland, talk a lot about customer service.  Oh, that we could be half this good!

Using The Right Tool

Thanks to that marvelous Libelle pen wrap that Lynn gave me for my birthday, I am travelling with eight fountain pens.  In the past, I rarely travelled with more than two or three, for fear of losing one of the expensive ones (although in the more than fifteen years that I've been using exclusively fountain pens, I believe I've actually misplaced exactly one), but the wrap helps me keep them all together.

So I burst out laughing at myself at my little table at Andy's last night when the one pen that I brought with me when I went out to supper ran out of ink two pages into a journal entry.   It was about 7:30 when I got to my hotel, and I'd planned on having a steak sandwich and drinking some wine and listening to some excellent local jazz while I wrote for an hour or two.   Three out of four?

I never go anywhere without at least one fountain pen and a notebook (and I usually check the pen to be sure it's at least half filled).  This goes back to the days when my carefully constructed personal life was crumbling.  I'd been keeping a journal since I was in my early teens, but it was typically with a pencil or a cheap ballpoint on whatever inexpensive spiral notebook happened to be around.  The friend who helped me sort through some things in those difficult days introduced me to the tactile pleasures of using a fountain pen and good paper.

I'm not a collector -- I don't think I have a collector's temperment -- but I suppose that I now have perhaps as many as 20 or so fountain pens, ranging from that very first cheap Sheaffer to some fairly expensive pens that have been gifts from Lynn.     When one runs out of ink, I set it aside for awhile and fill up a different one so that over the course of some months, they all get a chance to get used.

I do a lot of writing at the keyboard, and I enjoy that process.  I'm a fast typist, and I can get into a good rhythm, where I feel as if the clackety-clack of the keys is actually helping me pull new sentences out of thin air.  All of my professional writing is done at the keyboard, and I can't imagine that I would ever try to write an essay that I intended to publish with a fountain pen.

Still, every morning, I start my day with fountain pen and a good notebook.  I'm asked from time to time where I find time to keep up the blog.  It's easy -- I just use part of the time that I've already set aside for decades for that morning writing.  If I don't get a blog entry written, it's not because I'm not writing; it's because I'm not willing to give up the luxury of writing with the pen.

The flaw in the thinking of the technophiles who await the day when e-books will replace printed books altogether is that they fail to understand that a printed book and an electronic text are fundamentally, organically different.  A printed book is not simply a container for text, and a fountain pen is not simply a device for recording sentences.   They are physical things, with esthetic qualities that are intrinsic to their physicality.    There are many, many instances where the new technologies are better for the purpose than the older technologies -- but the older will always have a unique value as well.

Along with the pens and the notebooks, I almost always carry fine stationery with me.   I never know when I might be inspired to write a love letter to Lynn, despite the fact that on any given day, no matter how far apart our travels might take us, we're likely to have a couple of phone conversations, several exchanged emails, and a quick IM chat or two.  Having all of those communication options available is wonderful, but for a love letter, there is no substitute for a fountain pen and fine stationery. 

My father was a mechanic, and very skilled with his hands.  I may not have inherited his facility for making things, but I certainly learned the importance of using the right tool for the job.

Recording Music

More than a decade ago, through a convoluted series of coincidences, I found myself reunited with Liquid Prairie, playing out in front of the Birmingham Museum of Art.  I'd moved down here about six months before, and the museum was participating in an Art Car event.   There was a big contingent coming down from St. Louis, of course, and eventually it seemed natural to ask Liquid Prairie to perform for the event.  We had a fine time.

That evening, there was a fancy reception at a large house in one of the tonier suburbs of Birmingham.  The couple that lived there (he'd made his money in construction; she was a lawyer) had turned the house into a living museum of avant-garde art, so we felt right at home.  We did an impromptu acoustic set on the big staircase and the crowd was nicely appreciative.  A little later, we were standing in the buffet line, and a sweet and enthusiastic woman started babbling about how she had a good friend who was an executive with MCA Records (at the time the most important label in country music), and before she could get any further, Ferd, Ranger Dave and I turned to her and, in unison, said, "We are strictly a live act!"    We knew that whatever impact we had came from the energy and the showmanship of performance, and there didn't seem much likelihood that a recording would capture that.  Instead, it'd merely highlight the mistakes and lack of any sort of musical sophistication.  It'd be a disappointment.

That's pretty much the way that I felt when SG started talking about recording the Bearded Pigs in Phoenix last spring.  I was not very much in favor of the idea, but he stressed that he just wanted some kind of a  reference recording, not anything to distribute.  "Fine," I finally said.  "You want to set up some microphones that's fine with me.  I'm just not going to spend any energy on it."

I've listened to the recording a couple of times now, over the last few months, and I'm more impressed than I expected to be.  The quality is pretty lousy -- SG and Blind Lemon just set up two microphones in corners of the room, so the mix is terrible.  My voice is way out front, the drums and bass are barely there and I can't hear much of Bruce's lead guitar at all.  Some of TomCat & Tambourine Grrl's harmonies come through though, and despite myself I have to say that we don't sound too bad.

So as SG tries to figure out how to manage some recording when the Pigs gather in Memphis at the end of March (for what we're referring to as "the Brown Beverage Sessions") I'm warming to the idea a bit.   I still don't want to get distracted by the process of recording, but if he can get a few microphones well placed around the room and record everything, there ought to be something out of all of those hours that might be worth listening to.  It'd be fun to have a CD with a few tunes on it that we could give to Thicket Society members in Philadelphia.

After all, Liquid Prairie eventually did make a CD, and it turned out to be quite fine.

Trying To Be Complete

Many years ago, some months after my father died, my mother came for an extended visit in the town in which I was then living.  We found a nice little short-term apartment for her not far from mine, and spent as much time together as we could manage.  I was running a different library then, and I took her there and showed her around.  In the evenings she'd come with me to the bar where I played guitar or read poetry, and on the weekend she came along to the artsy neighborhood where I hung out with the renegades.  Near the end of her visit, after a long day that I had spent much of in a somber suit as a university administrator, but had finished off in boots and a cowboy hat singing punk country songs as part of a guitar duo called the Prairie Dogs, she laughed and said, "Your siblings [all of whom lived a couple of states away] don't quite know what to make of your life and all of the different things that you do.  But now that I've spent some time with you, I see that it all fits together."

I really appreciated that, because I had been struggling for some years, and had only recently started to feel that I was finding a sense of balance.  When my first marriage had broken up a couple of years earlier, one of the underlying stresses was that in my desire to be responsible to my career and to the obligations I felt I had made to my wife, I had lost track of parts of my self that also needed attention and nurturing.  I'd come to a point where I felt fragmented and not very happy with anything I was doing.  I was in my late thirties and I remember sitting at my desk in my little bachelor apartment thinking that maybe I wasn't cut out for this library stuff, and that once I got out from under the mountain of debt I'd assumed as part of the divorce, I might be best off just chucking it all and finding something else to do.

Music and art saved me.  (Falling in love with Lynn didn't hurt (well, it did hurt some for awhile but that's a different story)).  By the time of Mum's visit, I'd been spending most of my free time hanging out at the Venice Cafe with an eclectic bunch of artists and musicians.  They knew I was a librarian, but that was the day job and nobody paid much attention to those.  I was in a band, and the lead guitar player and I had the little duo, and I was starting to feel as if the man I had once imagined I might be was finally starting to come together.

I'm thinking about this in connection with a little discussion out there related to a post that showed up from one of the participants in the Five Weeks To A Social Library project.  Alisia raises the question of how to manage one's personal and professional lives within the social software context and it has engendered a bit of good discussion, both in the comments and on other blogs.

In my own case, there simply isn't a separation, and it has been that way for a long time -- ever since those days a decade and a half ago back at the Cafe.  All of us have many, many aspects to our selves -- Lynn teases me about "responsible guy" and "night guy," (as Frisse once famously said of Lynn, "the woman has whole cities inside her") -- but the boundaries are porous, and in the world in which we now live, impossible to maintain.   You are fooling yourself if you think you can.

When I started this blog, it was for the single purpose of finding out if I could use the structure to help me write better sentences.  That is still the primary purpose.  It has my name at the top, rather than some phrase, because it is intended to reflect nothing but who I am.

Which means that, on any given day, someone may come to it and read something that reflects how passionate I am about my profession -- but they'll see the picture of me and JoBug up in the corner.  On another day they'll read about the band, or music, or museums, or restaurants, or the tales of me driving the little black car across the vastness of west Texas.

But it is the internet, so it is all public.    When I mentioned our Dean of Medicine in a post once, I sent him the link as a courtesy -- which meant, of course, that I opened everything else up to him should he choose to browse.  When I saw him some days later, he seemed amused and wondered where I found time to do that kind of thing.

I know that many of the people who work with me read it.  I hope that the insights that it might give them to my character helps the work relationships.  I don't know if the president of the university has ever come across it, but it wouldn't surprise me, so I try to be careful never to say anything that she might feel would embarrass the place.

My mother reads it.  'Nuff said.

The challenge, with all of these audiences, is to not let myself be stifled in what I have to say.  There's a simple rule of thumb -- can I stand behind every word I write, no matter who might come across it? 

I'm no longer looking for "balance" because that still seems to imply managing two poles.  I don't have a "personal" or "professional" side.  I strive to be complete.

Lookin' For A Leader

The nominating committee for the Medical Library Association is chaired by the immediate past president and meets for a full day at the beginning of the annual meeting to come up with a list of potential candidates for president and board.  In anticipation of the board meeting next week, MJ asked each of us to list three leadership attributes we'd like to see in presidential and board candidates.

For president:

  • Somebody who can clearly, cogently, and persuasively articulate a broad vision for the profession -- in this time of radical change, we need someone who not only sees a rich and exciting future, but can present it in a way that energizes the membership and gets the message across to our communities in a vivid and inspiring way.
  • Somebody who is facile with the various social networking tools and, more importantly, knows how to implement them in a very targeted way so that they are used effectively -- the incoming president is encouraging us to think about how we can use these tools to transform the way the association does business and how it communicates with the membership.  MLA has done a pretty good job of using available technology so far, but we're now looking at the potential for truly transformative change, and that requires someone who can think radically about control, transparency and vulnerability in decision-making.
  • Someone with a demonstrated ability to achieve consensus, while not allowing the search for consensus to bog down decision-making -- MLA's constituency is very heterogeneous, and all of those disparate needs and interests have to be taken into account.  But leadership is more than just coming up with plans and proposals that make obeisance to various staked-out positions -- it requires pulling people along into seeing how addressing the critical needs of any particular subgroup are essential to making all of us stronger.  And sometimes it will require encouraging people to leave some of those long staked-out positions behind.

For board members:

  • Demonstrated ability to be a team player -- the board gets together only three times a year.  There's not a lot of opportunity to bond and develop deep trust (although, given the size of the profession, most board members have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other).  But if we're going to get stuff done, we've got to be able to work effectively together right from the start.  One of the biggest transitions for me in moving from the JMLA, where I could be a benign dictator who had final responsibility for all decisions, good and bad, is to be in a position where I can express my views and contribute to the problem solving, but then be able to strongly support the decisions that are made, whether or not they end up moving in the direction I might most prefer.
  • Good listener, with an appreciation for that multiplicity of viewpoints within the association that I referred to earlier -- each of us comes from a different setting, but I do not believe we are there primarily to represent that sector.  I'm not here representing big academic health science libraries -- I'm supposed to be looking out for the interests of all of the members, and that means I have to listen really well to the concerns of those who work in settings that I never have, so that I can appreciate the differences and seek out the commonalities.
  • We need people who are excited about the possibilities that we face -- there's a lot of doom and gloom out there.  I don't want to be a pollyanna about it all, but if the board is going to provide leadership to the profession, then one of the critical things that we have to do is present a future that is positive and exciting.  Nearly every time I speak to a group of librarians I point out that this is the greatest time in centuries to be a librarian -- explaining why that is so, and why this is a great profession to join at this point in time should be part of the portfolio of every board member.

And while it doesn't quite fit into either of these lists, I'd like to see candidates who are not "single-issue" people.  It is true that in order to be effective, the president has to be able to pick out just a couple of key issues that will define the presidential year, but we are not well served, at this point in time, by people who think that the critical issue is recruitment, or proving our worth, or dealing with technological change, or open access, or changes in the health care environment.  All important, certainly; but also all intertwined and the leaders that we need have to be able to take the broad view and see all of the interconnections.

Over the past seven or eight years, I've had the opportunity to work relatively closely with MLA's elected officers and headquarters staff and I've been pretty impressed, overall.  We've had many very smart, very dedicated people involved in leading and running the organization.  We're not as nimble as we need to be, and the processes involved in making decisions in an inclusive manner when you're dealing with a volunteer organization and all of those constituencies and sections & committees can be mind-numbingly slow.   We need to be quicker and more transparent.  We need processes and tools that bring in more of the creativity and energy of more of the members.   MLA will never have all of the money and other resources that we'd like to have.  But I learned from someone a long time ago that all the resources in the world won't help you if you don't have the right people.  And if you have the right people, they'll make great things happen no matter what.