I’m not going to tell you how to do it

Today’s to-do list includes getting the feedback from recent conference presentations entered into a Google Form so that Teh Goog can analyze the data for me.  This means reading the comments as I transcribe them.  Two different comments from two different presentations jumped out at me.

“The topics were often discussed as ‘personal stories’ rather than on specific strategies for developing leadership skills.”


“I was hoping for more in-depth information … was hoping for more specific suggestions for communicating with users.”

Which are valid complaints. And which I’m going to ignore.  Here’s why: That’s just not what I’m interested in doing.

In a comment on this site, Jessamyn West talks about the Metafilter community’s approach to setting expectations appropriately.  Expecting me to give you a laundry list of How To Do It Perfectly is setting your expectations inappropriately. That is not who I am, nor is it, actually, something I believe in. Other things I don’t believe:

  • I don’t think there are general strategies for developing leadership skills which are applicable to all librarians.
  • I don’t think there are specific suggestions for communicating with users in all libraries.
  • I don’t think that the strategies I have used to do things in my career will work for everyone.
  • I don’t think that the things that are a roaring success at my library will be a roaring success at all libraries.
  • I don’t think that the things that have failed here, or in my career, will fail for everyone.

So how, given those things I believe, could I stand up and say “Do this. Don’t do this. This will work for you if you do it” with a straight face or any integrity?

I can’t.

So I don’t. I just don’t think the world works that way. There are no easy answers. There is no right way to do it. There is no golden ticket. There is no spoon.

Instead, what I offer are concepts: Things I believe in, backed up with examples of how that has worked out well or poorly in my own experience. It is my hope that by sharing my perspectives and my experiences, people will be able to reflect on their own beliefs, their own skills, their own strengths and weaknesses, their institution’s values, their libraries’ goals, and their fears and dreams, and then take those reflections and my commentary and use all of that, along with a mess of other external inputs, to build something they’re happy with. Whatever it is.

Another example: Do I think that everyone who follows my instructions for writing a cover letter will get the first job they apply for? No. Do I think that people who don’t follow my instructions will never get a job? No. Do I think that other people have added interesting commentary, nuance, disagreement, addition, and depth to my admittedly rant-like post? Absolutely. Do I think that if you apply for a job and the hiring committee includes me or someone who thinks like me you will have a better chance at success if you listen to my advice? Yes. Do I think that because some librarians and hiring managers disagree with me that makes any of us wrong? No. Because, quite simply, every person and every situation will be different.  But I shared my perspectives, based on my experiences, because I believe in them, and because the discussion that ensued — as I hoped it would — was awesome. Creating a space in which people can explore ideas, evaluate potential best practices, and consider their own perspectives is good enough for me. I understand that it’s not good enough for everyone.

So, until and unless I believe that if you do X, Y, and Z you’ll definitively be come a leader, and that if you communicate with any user in ways P, Q, and R you’ll absolutely improve your library’s message, I won’t be telling you to do X, Y, Z, P, Q, or R. But I’d be glad to tell you about what’s worked here, what I’ve learned, what I think is crucial to success in endeavors I have experience with, basic principles I believe in about our shared profession, and what I think it all means. There’s a lot of “I” in that last sentence, and it’s intentional. I can only speak from my experience, and my heart. That’s what I did in both the presentations above, and tried to do in the cover letter post.  But that’s as far as I’ll go.

Set your expectations accordingly.

One comment

  1. The other Sara and I did get a few of that type of complaint about our presentation on ESC’s information skills tutorial at the SUNYLA conference.

    The funny thing is, we actually had a conversation when we started developing the presentation, where we decided to make it more of a narrative about our process than instructions on how to replicate what we did. (Why would anybody even want to do that? If you like ours, take it – it’s under a Creative Commons license! If you don’t like it, you probably don’t want our advice anyway!)

    Instead we talked about the kinds of trade-offs, improvisations, and challenges libraries and project teams might want to consider as they undertake similar projects. Personal narratives are good for giving people vicarious experience with that kind of “soft skills” stuff.

    Oh well, can’t please everyone.


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