Killing Fear part 3: A call to action

[Part one is here. Two is here.]

So is there a middle ground in library leadership?

All I can say is that there must be. We have to insist on it.

I don’t want to be part of a field that cannot choose to act, but only react. I do not want to watch as my peers and my community become mired in the language of fear and defeat, destroying what we love so that we can save it. I do not want to watch the things I value fall to the wayside. I do not want to watch smart, capable, amazing people flounder and fail. We must move past this pattern in which the majority of our leaders see three options: to condemn it, to ignore it, or to fear it.

We must instead choose to act, and become our best selves.

To act, we must move past this fear of choosing a path, and stop reacting. I’ve been a professional librarian for 11 years. In those 11 years, I’ve never had a clear vision of “the future of libraries” – it’s always been blurry, evolving, cyclical, shifting. And so … what? I should have spent 11 years waiting? Or only reacting to the problems right in front of me, never looking out in to that blurry unpredictable future? I say no. I say we try to plan anyway. I say we grab onto the fact that we are ALL flailing about, and choose to choose our path. That we see this as an opportunity – not as a chance to fail because we don’t know what comes next, but as an opportunity to succeed because NO ONE knows what comes next – so how can we be wrong?

And when I say we, I mean all of us. I mean librarians with 20 years of experience, and librarians with 6 month old degrees. I mean front line reference staff, and I mean coordinators of large departments in huge libraries. I mean your office neighbor, and I mean your boss. I mean Taiga’s AULs, and I mean me, and I mean you.

Because charting our path forward isn’t something that you just magically learn how to do. It doesn’t get handed off to new library directors along with a tshirt and a handbook. It isn’t something directors can do alone. And it isn’t something that we, as a profession, are doing particularly well right now, so I would suggest that there’s a whole hell of a lot of room for new voices to begin agitating for something better.

In part 4, to that end, to move us all toward the goal of encouraging new voices to take part in this strategy building and futures planning and thoughtful, intentional action, I am going to suggest several tactics that you can use to empower yourself to dream, to speak, and to act.


  1. One key tool is a clear an well articulated *strategy*. Good strategy is rare in any organisation (‘good strategy is the exception, not the rule’. Richard Rumelt in ‘Good Strategy, bad strategy’2011. Many libraries face both acute financial and disruptive technology challenges. I have worked with a number of UK University libraries and I tend to see ‘vision’, ‘mission’ and ‘values’ statements and (tactical) operational plans but rarely a clear *strategy*. Not becoming, as you put it, ‘mired in the language of fear and defeat’ and ‘choosing a path’ demands what Rumelt calls clear a ‘guiding principle’. It doesn’t need pages and pages but it does demand we think clearly about the wider context, library users and the services we can provide that have real added value


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