Sometimes you shouldn’t poke the bear.
I’m bad at identifying those moments.
Or, more accurately, I’m bad at listening to my gut when my gut says “DO NOT POKE THAT BEAR”.
So this morning, I tweeted about the internet reaction to the Harvard Libraries town halls yesterday. The duet of tweets that got me going were these:
My response was:
So. I got a lot of responses. (See: Bear-poking.) I responded with a bit of fire, but mostly with matter-of-fact-ness. I poked a bear, but I was willing to dance. I believe in this one.
There are a few broad categories to the responses, thus far:
- Administrators who said “Amen” and “No shit” and “I wish I knew”.
- Librarians who said “Because our long years of hard work have value” and “Because we love our libraries and admin should know that”.
- Librarians who said “because I don’t trust the things the admin wants to measure” and “measuring value is HARD, but years of service is easy”.
Let me take those one by one.
- Another library director and I had a quick back-channel conversation about this, and about our desire to know more about what’s really going on at Harvard before judging the process, because we both can acknowledge, from our own experiences, how hard change is to manage, either managing up or managing down. And my conclusion is that I wish that more administrators remembered what it was like to be librarians in the ranks, feeling powerless, and that more librarians trusted their administrators (or had administrators worth trusting). And that, in general, we all had more breadth of experiences to pull on — time spent working for vendors, time in middle management, time in small libraries, big ones, in cataloging and reference and instruction and facilities and purchasing… so that we could all develop better big-picture understandings of the goals and intentions and needs and desires of the organization as a whole.
- I don’t want to argue about whether or not y’all love your work, or about whether or not your decades of hard work have value to an institution I’m not a part of. What I do want to say is this: If you are engaged in what you are framing as a war with your administration, and your administration has, as their opening salvo, announced that they want things to be radically different than they have been in the past, do you really want your first return salvo to be an announcement that you’ve been an integral part, for a very long time, in creating the thing they are saying needs to radically change? Is that really the message you find most strategic and tactically sound for opening your side of the fight?
- Yes. Measuring skills, values, strengths, and goals is damn hard. You’re totally right. And, yes, administrations that have lost the trust of their employees are also suspect in the eyes of those employees when they say they want to measure and evaluate hard things. But here’s my counterargument: Measuring time of service tells you precisely nothing. Some people have worked in their jobs for 20 years, evolved their skills and perspectives along with the changes happening in libraries, and remained an key, integral part of the success of their organization. Ditto some people with 5 years of experience. Equally true is that some people with 20 years of experience have been coasting, having minimal impact on their organization and their coworkers, doing the same thing for 20 years with no interest in adjusting, adapting, learning, or evolving. As have some with 5 years of experience. The number alone cannot tell you which is which. It simply cannot, and implying that it can means that admin will distrust your motives just as much as you distrust theirs. Measure things that matter, that are real, and that can be built upon to create something awesome, not the things that are just easy and comforting. “I’ve been here for 15 years!” is not a compelling argument. “I’ve been here for 15 years, and in that time I’ve maintained this, implemented this, mastered that and gotten certified in the other, participated in this, organized that, proposed these four things, supported Joe in doing this, that, and those, and been working with Emily toward this thing that’ll be done in 6 months” says a hell of a lot more. Harder, yes. Less clean, yes. Better? Also yes.
So. tl;dr: I wish we had more perspectives and less us vs them rhetoric. I hope you all think carefully about how you want to frame your arguments. And trusting easy but shitty data is far worse than fighting hard to create good messages that mean something.
Also, don’t poke the bear unless you’re willing to dance.