Open Thread Thursdays: Thought Leaders?

This is the first time I’ve been able to put fingers to a keyboard in any meaningful non-work fashion all week. Having spent the last few evenings visiting the good librarians of SLA at their conference in Philadelphia, the face-to-face socializing has taken precedence over the social media monitoring. My Google Reader is pushing the 1000+ count, my email is full of neglected correspondences, and Twitter is all but forgotten.

But the message from the TEDxLibrariansTO people I got a couple days back has been sitting on the top of this pile as they have been asking for videos discussing their theme for the conference which is “librarians as thought leaders”. As I tackle the question myself, I thought I’d toss it out there.

Are librarians thought leaders? If so, why? If not, why not? And feel free to narrow the context and scope of your answer.

As always, while I’ve given a starter topic, this is an open thread. Post what you feel and anonymous replies are welcome.

9 thoughts on “Open Thread Thursdays: Thought Leaders?

  1. I’m thinking this — we take technologies; learning technologies, technologies pertaining to improved information arrangement and access… and bring them to people, for a noble cause. We’re also at the forefront of the wave of realisation that technology will not solve all our problems… that users seek real-live human beings to negotiate the information world, and create context for them. And boom, there were are, sitting at the ref desk, ready to help. Yes, you can get Dr. Suess on your iPad, but you still need a nice lie-berrian to help you kid make sense of it, or find their favourite Dr. Suess book.
    Just some rando, preliminary thoughts… I’ve been thinking about this same topic today, but am having a hard time organising my thinking.

  2. I think librarians strive to be thought leaders but they often fail.

    There are a few though that come to mind that are particularly inspiring. Jessamyn West has been inspiring me lately. I’m not sure how many people outside of library land are hearing her voice.

    I’m getting annoyed that librarians think talking about how good their ipads work is somehow forward thinking, progressive, or solving any of the problems within our profession or communities we serve. If you’re computer doesn’t work good I recommend they send it back and get a new one.

  3. thought leaders cannot be in two places at once, both at ALA in New Orleans and in Toronto. so it seems like poor planning, or purposeful planning for when it was organized. otherwise, great idea. librarians are thought leaders, like LB said, Jessamyn West, and Steven Bell and Brian Mathews. certainly there are others, those came to mind immediately.

  4. I should clarify that it feels to me that librarians try to be thought leaders outside of library land but fail in that regard. There are many deservedly successful library thought leaders within library land. I want to say too that librarians SHOULD be thought leaders outside of library land because issues of digital divide, DRM, & copyright are so loud and clear in the popular media right now. Unfortunately, positive progressive voices on these fronts are drown out or ignored in favor of corporatist reinforcement of neo-liberal ideals.

  5. We have thought leaders within our profession there is no doubt of that, but how much influence we have as thought leaders on society as a whole seems (to me) to be rather limited. We have lots of innovative ideas, but getting them *recognized* by others as stemming from within the library world is our challenge.

    Elise Bauer has written an excellent post on thought leaders and what it takes to be one: After reading this through it confirms to me that though we have great potential to be thought leaders, we are not there (yet). Perhaps this TEDx will help move us in that direction.

    That being said, I need to also add my viewpoint about the timing of this event:

    Having been the organizer of three TEDx events at my library I have been watching the TEDxLibrarians site for well over a year and waiting for them to announce a date and some detailed plans. My hope was to combine a trip home to visit my family along with attending this TEDx event. I was very disappointed to find that it was planned to be held right in the midst of ALA Annual in New Orleans. I will be speaking at ALA in NOLA about TEDx and libraries and so I cannot be in two places at once.

  6. I think when there is no more talk of inside libraryland and outside libraryland–when there is no more libraryland–then we will know that librarians have succeeded in becoming thought leaders. Because the thinking we need most now will allow us to see that we do not exist within a special, magical land that provides services that are any more or less important than many other public/educational services. While we can take pride in what we do and know that it is important in and to our communities, we must be able to see beyond the needs of libraries to understand our place in the lay of the whole land.

  7. I think we tend to disregard how influential librarians and the work of libraries has been, in often unspoken and unrealized ways, throughout human history. In our generation, libraries were some of the first organizations to take advantage of networks to improve access to information. Librarians created at-the-time innovative new ways to store information electronically. We were proponents of the concept of open access long before our networked world even existed. So yes, I think we have the potential to be thought leaders.

    Like any profession, however, there are those among us who fear change and who will hold us back from continuing to innovate. We will only remain at the forefront of technological change if we can prevent those people from being the loudest and strongest.

  8. Barbara Fister is making incredibly good noise in her column in Inside Higher Ed. I’ve had non-librarian friends and colleagues forward her stuff to me. She’s talking about stuff librarians know about that matters to other kinds of academics in a language that makes sense to them–not rah-rah sales-speak, but the register of higher ed faculty. I wish there were more of us like her.

  9. Every profession has thought leaders, so is the question “Are all librarians thought leaders?” Of course not. We have our high flyers and we have our drones, our bright stars and our burnouts, same as any other profession. Are librarians destined by profession to become thought leader-ish? Some of us enjoy trying new things and advocating. Some of us appreciate the very organized, orderly side of the profession and are not about to jump start any thought chaos.

    While I’m sure others will give all the reasons why we are thought leaders, let me give some thinking from the opposite side: to be a thought leader means you are taking the risk of going against what is established (and, perhaps, popular). You need some sort of security if a bulk of the profession is going to engage in risky behavior, and while we can name a handful of folks doing great, wonderful, and different work, can we say that we as a profession are engaging in that? I am leaning towards no – many librarians are doing what they need to do to keep their jobs, stay under the radar, and dodge as many budget cuts as possible. How can librarians as a whole engage in risky behaviors if public libraries are being shut down and tenure is being yanked?

    Promoting the library as brand is not thought leadership; that’s just marketing, and any organization dependent on others for funding has to do that or die. So, our heavy marketers are great, but that’s not thought leadership.

    There’s a lot of talk about “leadership,” and not a whole lot of discussion about what leadership actually looks like. The site Janie cites above says “A thought leader is a recognized leader in one’s field.” Well, we’ve got a whole bunch of folks who are what i would call “library-famous”, but that doesn’t help us much if they’re just hitting the same library conferences every year, which more and more librarians can’t afford to go to. The article goes on to say that thought leaders gain “recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.”

    No, we don’t have this. To the outside world, we don’t deeply understand our business – we’re handwringing over funding, over ebook models and file typing, over electronic versus print, over physical space vs all digital, over Google, over copyright and first-sale, and arguing loudly that we are RELEVANT, dammit! And then funding is cut anyway. While insiders to the profession see these as growing pain issues or temporary, I would say that to an outsider, it looks like a whole lot of indecisiveness, and we-don’t-have-an-answer-to-very-important-questions-central-to-our-profession. Our diversity of opinions prevents us from being the sort of thought leaders that provide a unified front on a particular issue (aside from book-banning). Outsiders see us valiantly struggling to become as Barnes & Noble as possible – does this tell them that we’re thought leaders, or that we wish we were bookstores who got there first with the right idea? Outsiders see us shouting that we are all for offering workshops and jobhunting help and computer access – but only if you can come in Monday through Thursday from 10 to 5. If you have a daytime job or go to school, though librarians purport to be here for everyone, you’re out of luck. We’ve become the Post Office of the “broader marketplace” of information, only with even worse hours.

    I’d also take issue with the definition of thought leadership – to me, that simply sounds like good business practice. I wouldn’t necessarily say libraries are good business practitioners. To me, bringing up issues others don’t recognize as issues and forcing people – particularly people outside the profession – to engage with those ideas and understand the possible roles of librarianship there is thought leadership. Barbara Fister fits here, perhaps Jessamyn West, David Lee King, a handful of others who practice aggressive librarianship outside of traditional professional boundaries. But no, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, for either definition of thought leadership, as an entire profession.

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