Plant your flag

It’s the end of the semester, and things are, as usual, a little overwhelming on campus. It’s how it goes, every year. In fact, some years, we’ve put up signs that say, essentially, “Be kind to others. We’re all stressed out.” Because we are. Even if your own work doesn’t change just because December’s approaching, the people around you every day are impacted by the approach of exam week, and the stress is palpable.

In the midst of this regular seasonal upheaval, the ongoing ACS stuff, and some other big campus changes, I asked the library staff to please consider volunteering for a task force that will rewrite our mission statement. Most of the staff are (unsurprisingly) unenthusiastic. I know that there’s a serious contingent of libraryland that thinks that strategic planning, mission statements, and learning outcomes for libraries are a giant pile of nonsense, who think they’re a bureaucratic waste of time that pay lip service to external needs, and have no interest in crafting, discussing, or heeding them. And some of those people are right to call it crap. (Others just don’t like administrivia and want to do their jobs without thinking about that stuff, I think.) Some mission statements are ignorable fluff. Some strategic plans are forgotten monstrosities. And some learning outcomes are simply laughable.

But I think it can be done well, and usefully. And I’m going to try.

I have one very simple reason why. You have to know who you are.

When you know the winds of change are coming and you can see the stormfront on your horizon, you need to plant your flag before the wind gets to you, so that you can blow in the direction it aims you in instead of being blown away by it. You need to know where you stand so you can plant your feet and lean into the change rather than be knocked over by it. You need to know who you are rather than letting someone else mandate, dictate, or demand that you be someone else. If you don’t know what you stand for, you can’t compromise on anything, only cave to it.

I think that in libraries, we do know who we are, what we stand for, and why do what we do. We just need to figure out how to say it, and say it in ways people can hear. We can’t just dogwhistle to people who already know what we mean, and we can’t let concise simplicity become trite platitudes. We need to find a way to communicate clearly about who we are, what we stand for, and why we do what we do, so that we can honestly and effectively argue for the best ways to do and be those things.

Else we’re gonna get blown over and pummeled with hail. I’m not interested in collecting those bruises.


  1. actually, I’m not sure that we DO know who we are and what we’re doing right now… not in my lalaland, anyway, where the library was focused on recreational reading, ebooks are now ascendant, and all the kids in the local school district have been provided iPads

    so we’re going back to the white board to look at info needs in our community and how we can serve, which is complicated by the fact that some of us are struggling with the idea that the library is no longer book-centric

    but that’s why you need a map… we might head the wrong direction from here, but even that’s better than just running in random circles


  2. I think your notion of knowing who you are is essential, but these days (perhaps because the wind has already picked up), it’s harder than it once was, partly because many of your patrons think you’re someone you might’ve been twenty years ago. It’s a dilemma we all face. Good luck with your project!


  3. I find that part of my own process of Getting To Be A Grownup Sort of Person is understanding that things like strategic plans really can be strategic. And plans. Though sometimes they are neither!


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