Category Archives: Leadership

Another day, another bad deal

Photo Credit: Tim & Selena Middleton via Compfight cc

I had a brief email conversation today with one of our vendor-service middlemen. You may not work with the same ones I do, but you know the type: the organizations that negotiate on behalf of libraries to get good deals for online resources and then they sell them to us so we don’t have do go direct. We love our middlemen, and we rely on them to save us time and money. Unfortunately for all of us involved, today’s conversation was an extension of a conversation from last month, both of which focused around why we can’t get clear, reliable, understandable, transparent pricing from SAGE for their Premier package.

There are a ton of details, not all of which are relevant, interesting, or worth repeating. But one part is worth repeating, and here’s the key:

We declined to resubscribe to Sage’s Premier or All Access packages because we do not have faith in their pricing model.

When I announced that at our faculty luncheon last week (an event I host each semester to share our news and updates and have a discussion with library liaisons about their departmental needs and our issues), the first response I got was puzzlement. “What does that mean, no faith?” And then I explained.

What started as a deal that was presented to us as a classic Big Deal package became something less clear, and less acceptable. We started with a price — meticulously negotiated and described between SAGE and our Collection Development Coordinator, Marianne Hebert over the course of several months — that was based on our previous print + online holdings in SAGE titles, and included a fee for access to the full collection, with an agreement on an annual price increase negotiated by the middleman. We budgeted in 2014 for the 2013 price, plus that negotiated percentage increase.

What we got in 2014 was a quote for about 7% more than we expected, and a lot of email correspondence that included phrasing like “inflationary uptick” and “fee for the upgrade” and “holdings top-up”.

What we also got in 2014 was an email from a vendor rep that said “If a customer has a final cost of $50,000, it’s going to be $50,000 for the package no matter if their holdings are $25,000 or $10,000.”

And so we were left, after 16 emails in just one of the threads of emails on this, with no idea how pricing was actually being calculated, but a strong feeling that it goes something like this: SAGE looks at our spend from last year, decides what they think we should spend this year, and then bills us for that, but is willing to justify it however will make us happy through some combination of negotiated price increases, holdings values for a time period defined by them, top-up fees, upgrade fees, and inflationary upticks. Very few of those phrases have actual definable meanings. Every email we got seemed to offer us a new set of prices, broken down in new ways, with a slightly different bottom line. Each exchange produced more questions, and few answers. (And, perhaps, the whole thing can be explained by saying that the vendor has a perfectly explicable pricing policy but we just didn’t get it… but if two experienced collection development and administration librarians “can’t get it”, isn’t that a problem in and of itself?) So, as I explained to our faculty, as a steward of this institution’s funds, as a steward of our students’ tuition dollars, and as a steward of resources dedicated to providing good, appropriate access to information for our teaching and learning community, this is not how I choose to do business.

Our faculty got it. They really did. And when I said it was our fault, and therefore our job to change it, they got that, too. How is this our fault, you wonder? What did I mean by that? Well, when I vented about the experience to a group of librarians, one made a very good point: we brought this on ourselves. And she’s right. We did.

Who told publishers it was a great idea to offer us Big Deal packages? We did.

Who signed on to purchasing agreements via middlemen when we hadn’t negotiated the terms ourselves? We did.

Who agreed to a purchasing system in which we don’t sign our own licenses or participate in setting the terms of our purchase? We did.

For the last 20 years. We did. We agreed. We said yes. We went along.

Well, I’m done, people. Done. I cannot continue doing more with less. I cannot continue signing onto deals that are unclear. I cannot continue agreeing to egregious terms and conditions, to nondisclosure agreements, and to crushing price increases justified only by corporate profit goals. I cannot continue drinking snake oil, and I cannot continue smiling through the pain. I’m done. And so is my library, for every choice in which I have the agency to make smarter, more thoughtful decisions than we’ve chosen to make in the past. So yes, we told the publishers through word, deed, and dollar that this was okay, for a very long time. But for me, that stops now. I’m going to be telling them it’s not okay. It’s not business as usual. It shouldn’t be. It can’t be. And it won’t be.

Some days it doesn’t matter how hard you try

I had great plans for today. I was going to get to work early, work for two hours on the to-do list items staring at me, then three hours of meetings, a quick lunch, and spend my afternoon holed up in my office working on planning for the College’s Bicentennial.

Instead, I woke up late to a thunderstorm that made my bedroom so dark it was hard to believe it was after 7, and I decided that wisdom meant choosing a bit of yoga over an early start in the office. So, okay, I got to work at 9:30 with plenty of time to check in before starting my 3 hour meeting run… and was greeted in the lobby (before I even had time to fully close my umbrella) with the news that we have a major roof leak in the Archives.

5 of our staff are up there, right now, pulling materials and staging for recovery. It’s not a huge space, so that’s all the resources we can throw at it internally. And I can’t do much other than talk about the problem; I called all the people I can call, emailed the Provost with an update, and am waiting for information from our campus facilities staff. This kind of helplessness is a focus-killer, so even though I’m in my office with some time on my hands, my to-do list looks impossible.

The day will work itself out. We have smart disaster recovery staff on our team, and we’ll make it all work in the end. We’ll mitigate what we can, we’ll figure out our solutions, and we’ll go from there. It is what it is.

But today I’m sitting secure in the knowledge that even planning and competence can’t prevent crisis. Crisis lives on its own terms, and we can only choose how we respond.

What does ‘women’s leadership’ mean?

It occurred to me today that the phrase ‘women’s leadership’ might be more challenging than I would have have thought of, in ways I would never have thought of. Put more specifically, to some people it apparently means ‘lead like a woman’, while to me it means ‘lead while being a woman’.

I don’t know how to have it mean anything else, because I don’t think there are things I do particularly well just because I’m a woman. I think I was acculturated to behave in particular ways, and that I’ve practiced certain skills more than others, and that some of that is because I’m a woman. But mostly I think I’m a person who wants to be a leader in my field and my institution. I’m also a woman, and women have certain culturally built disadvantages when it comes to leadership in professional arenas. (Consider today’s news stories about the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act for some evidence, there.) So when I see things that are directly linked to or advertised as being for “women’s leadership”, I pay attention, because I always hope that they’ll be aimed at teaching and building skills that shore up some of the gaps most women have in presenting themselves as leaders. Some of the gaps that come from being a girl in our schools, from being a young woman in our universities, from being female in our culture. And sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re awesome.

And then sometimes I’m furious.

About 4 years ago, I attended a regional women’s leadership conference for higher education. I hadn’t seen the program in depth — it wasn’t available online — but it was within driving distance, it was affordable, and the blurb read well and seemed interesting. And then I got there, checked in, and sat down for the keynote. The keynote speaker sang us a song about empowerment. And then she wanted us all to stand and sing it with her.

To which I say, “Are you fucking kidding me?” After the keynote, I quietly got up and I left. No way in hell. Would any self-respecting keynote speaker at a generalized leadership conference, either for men or for a mixed gender group, or for higher education or for business, it’s not actually relevant other than “not exclusively for women”, ask the audience to sing? As an “empowerment” action? The answer is flatly “no”. No. That would not fly.

Today I got an email, double exclamation pointed in the “priority” column, calling for registrations to this year’s version of the same conference from past attendees. It was the third or fourth I’d gotten, but today it just set my teeth on edge. I looked at the program. My teeth started to grind. And rather than continuing to (politely, kindly) letting it slide, I responded to the organizer.

Please remove me from your mailing list. I did attend, once, but I am not interested in attending again. I dislike the focus of the programming; I don’t think women should be directed to focus on the “touchy feely” parts of leadership at a gendered conference: women should be building a well-rounded leadership skill set, and I don’t feel that the programming offered here does that. Instead, by focusing on “empowerment”, “harmony”, “rejuvenation”, “reflection”, “peace”, and “fear” (all from this year’s program!), this conference reinforces a stereotype of women’s roles and “how women lead” that I find extremely distasteful, and in fact, dangerous to gender equality in the workplace. Women lead by being effective leaders with a comprehensive tookit of leadership skills, and I don’t see this conference providing that.

There are days when I look at this blog and it seems to be a record of me communicating bluntly and in ways that will get me labeled as a bitch. And when I think that, I start to backpedal. I feel awkward and acutely aware that I’m violating society’s expectation that women be peacemakers and problem solvers and nurturers, kind and gentle and willing.

And that’s precisely the goddamned problem with the “leadership conference” I’m declining to attend. By framing the day’s events around “harmony”, “rejuvenation”, “reflection”, and “peace”, all they’re doing is reinforcing the idea that women are supposed to be harmonious and peaceful, and that our strengths lie in reflection, emotional smoothing, and internalizing. That we shouldn’t be forceful, that we shouldn’t be bitchy.

Fuck that noise.

Yes, many women have strengths of character that are gendered, that are learned behaviors that result from their experiences as a woman in our world. That’s true, and those things have value, as we all do. It’s fair to say that the men of our world could also benefit from learning those things, as well-rounded people.  But telling a conference full of women to focus on those things, without addressing other tangible, practical, and often male-focused skills and traits? That’s reprehensible. That’s not about success or equality. That’s about creating a leadership culture that remains unapologetic about being gendered. That’s saying “this is how to lead if you are a woman” rather than “this is how people lead, and here are ways women may succeed or be challenged by that”.

Am I unapologetic about being a woman? You bet. That picture right there? That’s me, today, in my office. I’m wearing cosmetics, I’ve manicured my nails, I’m wearing jewelry only socially accepted on women, and I’m dressed in gender-specific cuts and styles. Andromeda Yelton reflects on the choices we make around boundaries, gender, and persona in this piece, and like her, I present as feminine — very much so. It’s identity, and it’s personal. And that choice has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I can run a meeting, draft a strategic plan, advocate for important issues, craft an argument, sell an idea, cultivate political support, or any of the other thousand small things that make up effective leadership, because gender has very little to do with effective leadership. Yes, my leadership style is informed by my personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses, and some of those are in turn informed by my gender and our culture around femininity. But my leadership style is not limited by my gender, and I am not limited to a particular path just because I paint my nails and wear lip gloss and often default to an emotionally empathetic place. So stop trying to sell me on “harmonious empowerment” as something that’s in the domain of “women’s leadership”. I’d be the leader I am, learning and practicing the skills I’ve chosen, whether I chose feminine, gender-neutral, or masculine presentation. Because I’m a person, not a gender.

Leadership. That’s what we should care about. You want to hold a conference around empowerment, harmony, and facilitation as leadership skills? Go for it. But own it: open it to everyone and call it what it is. It’s not “Women’s Leadership”. It’s a kind of leadership, and those skills should be available to anyone who’s interested in building them, just as other kinds of leadership skills should be available to everyone. And if we’re going to care about gender as a part of the leadership argument, then we should be caring about whether or not women and all other disenfranchised people have a place at the big table with the majority, not that they build their own table out of special harmonious materials so they can feel good about something we’re falsely declaring to be innately theirs.

Start where you stand

I don’t know when I became Anti-Establishment Publishing Lass, but I seem to have done so. (I also think that all vaguely superheroish titles should come with logos and sidekicks. Gimme.) Today’s salvo in this ongoing and protracted war for the future of information distribution came courtesy of a libraryland publisher. An editor for the press had solicited me to write a book. I would like to write a book, but I want to be sure that any decisions I make about copyright for said work lines up with the decisions I advocate other scholars make, that I demand other publishers offer, that I am interested in fostering in my own institution’s financial choices. Essentially, I’m trying not to be either a hypocrite or an asshole about the things I pronounce publicly are Good and the things I choose to do.

So, I proposed, essentially, a one-year embargo on the title, followed by open-access after that time, which I had learned was something another libraryland publisher had recently agreed to. The editor said no.

Alas. Here’s my final reply:

I understand your position, but I’m going to stick firm to mine. I don’t think that we, as librarians, can argue that publishers aren’t sufficiently exploring robust new solutions for content distribution if we continue to move our own scholarship through the same old model that is failing so many of our institutions. Our arguments about sustainability for libraries and scholars only carry the weight of respect if we stand behind them with our own actions, so that’s what I need to do. And I have to pose the question: if our own libraryland publishers can’t find a sustainable digital-age model, or experiment with new solutions to get us all there, what hope do we as librarians have of convincing the rest of the information industry? I hope you at [your press] can find a way to stand with the profession — sustainably, for your ends and ours — as we all move into our new collections future.

Start as you mean to go on, and from whatever ground you happen to be standing on. May our publishing partners find themselves willing to explore new options when presented with them, and may we find the strength in ourselves to say “No. Not on those terms” when presented with the entrenched reality.

Keynote from NLS6: Moving Beyond Book Museums

Based on my speaker’s notes and my imperfect adrenaline-fueled memory of that afternoon, and minus some asides that make no sense if you weren’t there (bananas!), this is approximately the speech I gave at NLS6 in February. Enjoy!


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Hello. Thank you. I’ve had a wonderful time here this weekend, and meeting you all has been lovely. You’ve been kind and generous and thoughtful and funny and interesting, and it’s been my absolutely pleasure to be here.

You’ve also reminded me of something that I really do believe, but that is easy to forget: that even though things in libraries are chaotic and changing and weird and intimidating and seemingly insurmountable, you all exist. You’ve reminded me that there’s a world full of people coming up with smart solutions to the issues in front of us, full of crazy brave energy, and even when it seems like the future’s pretty challenging, all I have to do is look over my shoulder to see that the next generation of smart people is right behind me, waiting for the chance to shine. Thank you for that reminder.

So. Weird and intimidating and insurmountable or not, this is a brilliant time to be a librarian.

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Seriously. It is. Here are some things I know to be true.

Historically, libraries have been pretty much book museums. The internet changed crucial things about how people access and think about information. Therefore the internet changed crucial things about how libraries position ourselves in our communities. And so our professional identity is in question. Our sense of purpose is a bit at sea. Then add in that economies are pretty terrible worldwide, and funding for libraries feels like it’s at a record low, and in some places it actually is. And mix it up with the truth that the future is now, but most certainly it’s unevenly distributed. Even in the midst of such abundance, fair and equal access to information is still a dream, not a reality.

That’s a downer.

But! But! It is still a brilliant time to be a librarian. Even with all those things being true. Why?

Because we are on the cusp of something absolutely remarkable. Think about all the things you heard here in the last two days. Discussions of the Edge and the Cube, of urban informatics and information jobs that don’t have librarian in the title. All the things you discussed, all the ideas you chewed on and played with and wondered about.

That’s all real, and just as true as my depressing facts about libraries. Right now, as the future comes slamming into our lives in ways we hadn’t anticipated, didn’t expect, and aren’t quite ready for, just about anything is possible. Hell, everything is possible. Some of it’s going to be hard, and some of it is going to continue to be unevenly distributed, but there is so much possibility that I can’t help but think that it’s a brilliant time to be a librarian.

I’m a bit biased in this, in that I’ve had the relative luxury of watching this revolution in libraries happen for the whole time that I’ve been clued into libraries. I started my time at university in 1994, and that’s when I got my first email address and had daily access to computers with always-on fast internet connections. And so I was paying attention as only an eager university student can when the IT staff installed NCSA Mosaic on all the lab machines, and introduced my generation to the world wide web. The graphical browser had arrived, and it quickly and with all due speed usurped our existing systems.

That happened to all of us, in one way or another, but I think that my window into the information revolution was apt for the path I’ve taken. My most serious educational years, and my development of my own perspectives on information, learning, and libraries, were all influenced by the evolution of the web. So I’ve moved through my education about libraries and the early part of my professional career with a clear sense that there was a revolution happening. And revolutions change everything, sometimes blowing things up while they’re at it.

But the other thing I know is that librarians like beginnings, middles, and ends, with all data in carefully coded slots. And you never know where a revolution really ended until someone writes the history about it… and we haven’t written that history yet.

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So we don’t know yet where we’re ending up. The revolution’s not over, and librarians don’t know where we stand in this shifting and changing landscape.  But the damn thing started nearly 20 years ago. And my concern is that we should be responding by now.

I mean, we sort of are. But we sort of aren’t.

We have online catalogs, now… and they’re mired in MARC records and they still don’t really make sense to the average user, and they sure as hell aren’t Google.  And we’ve started digitizing our archives and special collections, but how long have we spent arguing about archival standards for .pdfs, and cost recovery on “extra” services like digitization, and what sort of discovery tools are we providing for users to get at our online things? And reference works are moving online, but not one of them can beat Wikipedia for ease of access or completeness – library resources are still locked into a paradigm that puts them behind a library-provided portal, and that values the traditional authority-based publishing process. Pick your own example. You can all come up with one, I’m sure, of the thing you look at in this field we all love and say, “That’s just not good enough.”

In a world that has cars that drive themselves, incredible processing power in our smartphones, and amputees with robot arms they control with their brains, I expect more from libraries than crappy OPACs and tepid forays into digitization. I expect better than venerating our tradition as book museums.

Of course, here’s the thing. I’m a library director. I’m one of our vaunted leaders, and I’m one of the people who should be providing direction and a plan of attack, developing strategy and vision. And I will tell you frankly that I don’t think that my library is on par with nearly-magic robot arms, either. So when I condemn the progress libraries have made, mine is included! I’m not responding the way I wish we were, either, and I know why: Because it’s hard, and I’m not quite sure how.

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There’s clear evidence from both anecdote and survey that we lack compelling visionary leadership. There are a lot of compelling voices, and a lot of visionary figures, but we lack compelling practical visionary leadership.

Here are some more facts. These are from the 2010 Ithaka S+R study of library directors. Ithaka is the group that produces JSTOR, and S+R is their research arm, looking into issues of scholarship, digitzation, publishing, teaching, and learning. Good stuff. I keep hauling this data out, and I’m waiting eagerly for their next data release on libraries so I can have new numbers to use… because these are depressing. But they’re real. So here it is:

65% of respondents do not feel that their library has a well-developed strategy to meet changing user needs and research habits.

63% of Library Directors don’t feel they have enough information to deaccession print journals available online.

75% of Library Directors still think it’s very important that libraries be “gateway”s for information access.

I have serious arguments with the 63-75% of my peers who gave those answers, and I’d like to whack most of ‘em upside the head. Print journals are dead, libraries are no longer gateways for users, and we need some goddamned planning and strategy. End of story.

And as I noted, I’m also culpable here. While I love my library and my staff, we are not building mind-controlled robot arms. I think we’re doing really good work to move ourselves, our institution, and our services forward in meaningful ways. But despite that, we’re not building mind-controlled-robot-arm quality services and initiatives. And I think we need to be, collectively. The future is knocking, and we’re pulling the blinds and waiting for it to come back after we’ve had a chance to tidy up the parlor.

Many of us who could be driving our future from a position of strength and leadership aren’t doing so because, frankly, it’s hard. And we don’t know how. We’re not ready. So we need leadership, plans, and vision. And 63-75% of library directors can’t figure out how to do that.

Depressed yet? Let me keep going. We particularly need them in emerging areas. Because, come on, we’re all practical and functional and smart enough to figure out public service, book processing, and all of our traditional core areas. We’ve got that down, man. We’re good at it. Service is what we do. I mean, all those services can be improved, and they can all be innovation hubs, but they’re places where we’re already comfortable. We’re god at making plans and strategizing about information literacy and community building.

I’m thinking about our areas of discomfort.

Digitization in all its big messy glory.

Patron-initiated knowledge creation.

Publishing and how the industry is changing around ebooks.

Publishing and how we might participate in it.

Publishing and how patrons might participate in it.

Collection development and how patrons might participate in it.

With all those boundaries between our work and the user opening up, then we get to digital and media literacy. And then someone throws in big and open data, and what are we supposed to do with that? Well, maybe software development is the way to go. But we’re not so great at that, either. We usually rely on vendors. Except their products are largely crap, too, and sometimes they’re actively antagonistic to our needs instead of supporting them.

And that’s just some of them. (Seriously, are you depressed yet?) There are more areas of discomfort now, and there will be new areas of discomfort that pop onto our radar tomorrow, because someone somewhere is gonna build a cool thing that libraries will need to respond to in creative and useful ways.And our leadership isn’t ready for it. We don’t have a practical or sustainable vision from our leaders of what to do now, and do next.

And I’m not saying that cool shit isn’t happening in libraries: It is. It really, really is. Amy Buckland at McGill is working on digitization in their archives and special collections on a scale that we don’t often see, and she’s got big ideas about libraries and publishing that I’m looking forward to seeing materialize. Two guys I know, Jason Griffey at UTC-Chattanooga and David Fiander at University of Western Ontario are both working on wireless library projects that would allow each of us to walk around with a battery-powered wireless downloadable ebook library in our backpacks.

Here’s my issue: Those are just three of my friends. There are thousands of those projects out there. Each of you could think of a half dozen professional friends, new grads, mentors, colleagues, who are doing really cool things. But in my experience, doing cool things isn’t enough. In my experience, the coolest projects aren’t scalable. they only work because of the circumstances in which they were built.

A great idea proves not to be scalable because it’s small and focused and the second it goes big it fails somehow. An awesome information literacy tutorial only works because it’s tailored to the community it was written for, so when you try to make it applicable at your place, the whole thing has to be restarted from scratch.

Or it’s not reproducible, because it’s hyper-local and you need the resource set of Institution X to pull it off. I cannot do at SUNY Potsdam with my 25 staff what Amy can do at McGill with the resources of a research university. Full stop.

Or the best new idea requires skill sets we aren’t training for and don’t have, except for a dozen people who are all being hired by Google, and that one guy who can write his own ticket and you could never afford him anyway. Or even smaller scale: Griffey shows me his LibraryBox and enthuses about how straightforward it is, and I totally want to make one to take to every meeting I ever have and insist that people download the files we’re going to be working with instead of printing them out… and then my eyes glaze over when he starts talking about the code that you need in order to set one up. I, um, was hoping for a nice little point and click and stick the cord in the hole kind of interface and he’s talking about GitHub…

Or, most important, not enough people are standing up in venues where they can be heard and saying, “Hey! I did this thing! See my thing? Let me show you how I did my thing and how you could do my thing, so we can make more things like my thing, and we’ll all benefit!” There are tons of great websites out there, showing, sharing, and demonstrating results… but there are not nearly as many pages included in those sites that say “and here’s exactly how we made this, and here’s our license that openly allows you access to all of our work so you can do it, too.”

In short, we’re doing great things, but not in the best, most practical ways that would benefit our bigger communities as a whole, and we don’t have leaders who are standing up and saying, “here, this is really useful and here’s how you can do it too.”

So that’s enough of depressing. All that’s true, but it’s still a brilliant time to be a librarian, and I want to encourage all of you to help us all by being a better kind of librarian in this brilliant time. The question is: How do we model and build new cool shit, and develop librarians who can be our practical visionaries in these areas?

Three ways. And they all start with you lot, with your energy and your excitement and your ideas, and your relative lack of preconceptions about how this all ought to work.


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I need you all to stop fearing failure. There is genius and glory in our messes, and as Stuart Candy made clear, we cannot possibly predict what will come next. The future? It’s a giant chess board of infinite possibility and endless surprise. So we can’t fail making the wrong choice in that universe of billions of options. To anchor it down a bit, there is a TEDx Flint talk by a man named Peter Bregman in which he discusses fear and learning. In it, he talks about children. He notes that these small humans throw themselves face-first into life, toddling and falling through their environments for months on end as they explore, feel, smell, and lick everything they encounter. He says we lose something as we grow older, wiser, and taller. He says, “We learn by falling face first into the unknown, and then exploring our surroundings when we get there.” He goes on to suggest that if you know the falling is coming, it’s scary. Adults know the falling is coming. Our wisdom and experience tell us to stop licking everything we put our hands on. And as we work to protect ourselves, we don’t learn.

In short, Bregman asserts and I agree that if we want to learn, we have to feel the uncomfortable emotions that go along with learning — there’s no other way to do it. You can either stay comfortable, or reach for more of your full potential. You have to choose. Since Ruth Kneale took ObiWan in her talk, I’ll take Yoda. There is no try. And you WILL fail.

The best example I ever heard of this came from a workshop I attended about implementing new technologies in libraries, sometime more than 5 but less than 10 years ago.  It’s a good one, and stuck with me. In the early ’90s, a group of library technologists sat down and worked out the best possible technology implementation for their campus, studying what was available, how the industry was growing and changing, and they came to one conclusion: Gopher was the way to go. They worked out an implementation plan, put all the pieces into play, and launched what was certain to be a big leap forward for information access at their institution. And just after they launched, you know what happened? I said “early 90’s”. NCSA Mosaic was released. And Gopher  became exactly 100% the wrong solution to their problem, even though it was absolutely the right answer up until launch day. Things changed, and it was the wrong one immediately after. They were right, until they were wrong. There was nothing they could have done to prevent that, and nothing they could do once it had happened. It just was.

So you’ll fail. It happens. But you’ll learn from it, and you’ll move on, and you’ll know that you chose to stretch yourself and you lived through the experience. And then it’ll be time to save the world. again.


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Because you’ve also got to stop waiting for a hero.

So let’s talk about the American Chemical Society.

It looked like a monopoly to me, in my first job out of graduate school. They had the content, they mandated we buy the content in order to be accredited, and they got to set the price on their content which we then had to pay for in order to have their approval of our program. But I was at a tiny tiny college, so who was I to complain? I told my boss it upset me, and why, and paid their invoices with a grimace.

And for the next 11 years, across different jobs in collection development, and watched as the paradigm did not change. And the prices rose. Again, and again, and again. In 2012 it looked like the ACS package — 40 journals serving one of 30 departments on my campus — would cost more than 10% of my materials budget. Costs had increased beyond my ability to pay. And finally, after years of hoping somehow, someone would do something, and something would change, I just said “To hell with it.”

And I did my job, and this time I did my job RIGHT. I worked with faculty so that they understood the issues. I worked with librarians to find alternate solutions. I ran the numbers again and again, and I talked to my boss about the the implications of what I saw there. I tried to negotiate with the publisher. I tried to get our consortium to negotiate with the publisher. Nothing worked.

And so I made the noise myself. We — SUNY Potsdam chemists, our collections librarians, and I — cancelled our ACS package. I blogged about it, telling other libraries that it was possible to walk away, laying out the steps of how I did it, describing what measures we were taking as a result, and asserting that the world probably wouldn’t explode as a result.

As confirmation, the world did not explode.

Interesting discussion ensued, for certain, and some other libraries were empowered to act, others to speak. I received more “thank you thank you thank you” emails and phone calls than I can effectively communicate. They were heartfelt, and they were real, and they mattered — and they were all from people waiting for someone else to be a hero. But if you wait for a hero, sometimes you wait for 11 years and nothing happens. Sometimes you wait longer. Is that the world you want to live in?

I have a tshirt referencing the classic Mario-rescues-the-Princess video games, except my tshirt says “self-rescuing princess.” I have another that says “I am my own hero.” Be your own damn heroes, and rescue yourselves.

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Digitization. democratized information access and creation. Big open data. Digital literacy. Mind-controlled robot arms. These are all new fields for libraries. (Maybe not the robot arms.) They’re all big, and interesting, and absolutely brand new.

You know the best part about new stuff?

Nobody knows what success looks like. No one can tell you if you’re doing it right or wrong. That means you can try anything, and produce anything, and odds are… you’re succeeding. Because, really. Consider:

Do I, with the formal education I received in the late 90’s, really know more about what’s going to happen to libraries as big open data begins to explode in our environment? Maybe, right now, I do (I don’t, actually, but if I did), but it’s only because I’ve spent time educating myself about trends in our industry. You can do that, too, and you should.

You who are younger than I am have a very different perspective on the internet and our current information economy. And that perspective might mean you have an answer that I don’t. So educate yourself, and become the person who knows more than me about what might happen next.

And ebooks. Does someone in my position somehow have a magic 8 ball about what the publishing industry will do next as they flail about looking for a way to preserve their old profit model? Again, if so, it’s only because I’ve done my homework. You can do that, too. Nothing about my position privileges me to be the expert on these topics, or prevents you from becoming the expert instead.

The uncertainty of our future opens the door for new experts, new approaches, and new ideas about how to succeed in that new future. You can be those experts. And I’m not saying we won’t help you, mentor you, or support you — the best of those of us who came before you most certainly will. What I am saying is that YOU should be those new experts. Not us. So …

In this brilliant time to be a librarian, when we don’t know what the future is going to bring but we’re pretty sure it’s going to be amazing, I ask of you:

Redefine success.
Redefine libraries.
Redefine our future.
Don’t let people like me tell you how it should be.
Don’t let people like me tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Grab hold of your brave ideas, and make them real. Make them into scalable and reproducible projects, driven by vision but also by a desire to see every library pick up the concept and run with it in their own way. Use your vision to drive your library forward, to advance the information profession and our societies toward a better future.

Build the libraries we deserve, not the ones we’ve gotten used to.

Make sure that, as was said yesterday, we’re not talking about the same things at the next conference that we talked about at this one. Push your boss, push your library, push the obstructionists. Have faith in yourself, and insist on success, as you’ve defined it. As Ruth said, you have mad skillz. USE THEM.

Be different.
Be better.
I know you can.

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