The Why, How, and What of Library Advocacy

The audio isn’t great for the first half but it gets better later.

It’s not a well kept secret that I do love a good TED talk (or five). When I’m feeling like I’m out of creative energy and need a recharge, I watch a bunch right in a row. Pretty soon, it is late at night when I’m supposed to be asleep and my brain is trying to assimilate the ideas, thoughts, and concepts that have just been presented to it. If there is a cure for insomnia, this is the opposite of that endeavor.

From Simon Sinek’s talk, he talks about the model for how good leaders and companies effectively communicate. It’s the idea that people buy into the purpose over the actual product; that people are attracted to the ideas and emotions more than the actions. Here’s the part that grabbed my attention:

Why? How? What? This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t. Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don’t mean "to make a profit." That’s a result. It’s always a result. By "why" I mean: what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? Well, as a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. It’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing.

(The short version for people who have not seen the clip is that most organizations advertise in a “What they do/How they do it/Why they do it” pattern. Effective individuals and groups communicate in the reverse; they talk about Why-How-What they are doing or believe in. If something I write is a bit confusing, it is in reference to the talk. It’s a medium length video clocking in at fifteen minutes and it is totally worth the time.)

It got me thinking about this idea as it relates to library advocacy. Are the majority of advocacy efforts communicating in a What-How-Why pattern?

Consider this.

How often do libraries lead off with a ‘what’ type of statement in their materials? (“BumbleEff library circulates 750,000 items a year.” “Over 1,000 children have come to our story time programs.” “The library has 180,000 visitors last year.”) I mean, look at these statements. Who doesn’t know that the library lends items? Or their library has story times for kids? Or that as a public building you can actually visit it? I would say that (with few possible exceptions) there isn’t much of a doubt as to what the library does. People borrow books, movies, and other stuff. They have computers that you can use. If you have kids, they have monthly story times. You can read the newspaper there. People in general know what the library does; all these numbers is remind them of what they already know about the library. Sure, you could list all the things that the public might not be aware of, but that’s like tossing out attributes in the hope that one will resonate with someone. The public evaluates it as it relates to them, not so much as it relates to the community as whole. 

In turning to the ‘how’, it can be very hit or miss as to how the materials, services, and programs of the library come to exist. In providing a ‘how’, it tends to be based in finances; it makes mention of return of investment numbers, the local or state per capita spending, or the savings involved in group contracts or a robust interlibrary loan system. When staff are mentioned, the terms hover around adjectives such as dedicated or professional, the same sort of words used to describe upper tier restaurants and spas. It’s not exactly inspiring in the slightest nor explanatory as to how things come into being at the library.

As to the last area, the ‘why’, I find myself wondering if I’ve seen a good ‘why’ explanation offered by libraries. I’m talking about more than just offhand statements like “promote literacy” or “provide internet access” because those are simply superficial expressions of purpose.  It’s the equivalent of a mother declaring that she provides her child with maternal care; while technically correct, it doesn’t delve into any emotional or intellectual depth that the institution and the people who work there bring to this equation. It is these vapid declarations masquerading around as high minded philosophies that fail to make the personal connection between the library and the communities that they serve.

Just like Simon’s talk, I propose to reverse the manner in which the library advocates. Start by showcasing the ideas and emotions behind the why, present the how as the method for putting the why into action, and leaving the what as a footnote to the whole thing.

In addressing the ‘why’ of the institute and the profession, Simon offers basic questions that can be used to work it out. Why does the library exists? What purpose does it serve? Why did you choose to be a librarian? Why should people care about the library? It’s deeper than a love for books or helping out kids and adults with their homework. It has to lay bare the essence of the library and librarian in their societal role from its Enlightenment rooted beginnings to the distant future. In attempting to address this myself, here is what I feel (in regard to the public library):

The public library is a community supported public institution that provides knowledge access and information literacy education. Built on the ideals of supplementing public education, supporting individual self improvement, and providing materials and services for those in the community who would otherwise go without, the public library is a champion for intellectual freedom and personal curiosity. My work at the public library is important to me because I believe it is one of the greatest ways in which to support the new knowledge economy as well as improve the lives of the community members. Each and every day is a chance for me to change the life of someone who walks through the door, from a simple act of public service to providing or creating intellectual and social opportunities. A public library is an act of community altruism which creates happier and enriched fellow citizens.

The gist of the ‘why’ argument is based in the personal emotional drive of the library as an institution. My example is far from a perfect logical argument, but it is why I believe the library exists and why I have chosen it as an occupation. It is authentic in its telling and belief, invoking an appeal that goes beyond the surface and the numbers. This is what the ‘why’ drives at: the raw emotional core that makes an appeal at a completely emotional and ideal level.

In pivoting to the ‘how’ aspect for libraries, I believe it needs to address all of the moving parts of the library. It is drawing back the curtain and taking people down the path of what is required to arrange the materials, services, and staff for daily operation. Beyond what is immediately apparent, it is touting the expertise of staff in selecting books and preparing programs; the coordination and planning of personnel to ensure the acquisition and flow of materials (both print and online) at and between locations and on the website; and the use of budget as it relates to furthering the core mission of the library. For example, it is one thing to say that the children’s collection is selected by staff; it is another to say that the staff are former teachers with years of experience in both settings. It is showcasing the process and the people who carry it out that reveal more about the character of the institution. For me, the ‘how’ is a marriage of the fiscal wizardry and value of the library to the talent of staff and the individuals who choose the books and databases, prepare or schedule the programs, and maintain the quality of the institution.

Last, in presenting the ‘what’ of the library, it is about offering a course of action to support it. What can people do to support their library? Should they be asked to donate money, time, and materials? Which politicians or newspapers should they write to and what should they say? Could they offer to teach programs or tutor others? How can they raise funds for their Friends or association? Can they serve on the library board? Who can they call to gather support and what should they say? As I have stated previously, everyone knows what the library does but most don’t know what to do to support it. This is a chance to ask for their help, to inform them as to what is required, and to make supporting the library a truly community effort.

As I glance back over the preceding paragraphs, I think this might be an uncomfortable tact for some of my peers to consider. It takes us down a different direction, perhaps unproven in their eyes. The current advocacy strategies, while far from perfect, have been proven to work in a varying degree of success. The abandonment of those stalwart arguments might be perceived as a gamble. For myself, it is a necessary step for the continuation of libraries. I believe that libraries will lose in the long run if they stick to simply ‘what’ they do. That is a numbers game that will be set aside against a digital data future that is only getting faster, larger, and more accessible. What cannot be denied in that numbers game is the ‘why’ of existence of libraries and it is there that the appeal lays. The principles and purpose that lay within the institution are the keys to saving it when it reaches out and touches their inner idealist.

In a world where people accept ideas on the basis of their authenticity, I believe it is within our best professional interests to present library advocacy in terms of why, how, and what. For while our collections change, our principles and mission do not. Let those be our strengths in the battles ahead.

Carry On My Wayward Collection

From Library Journal:

The state librarian of Kansas, with the backing of state attorney general’s office, is planning to terminate the Kansas Digital Library Consortium’s contract with ebook vendor OverDrive and is asserting the bold argument that the consortium has purchased, not licensed, its ebook content from OverDrive and, therefore, has the right to transfer the content to a new service provider.

But wait! There’s more!

Budler said the current contract, which expires in December, required the state library to obtain permission from the publishers to transfer the content. As a result, she has sent two rounds of letters to 168 publishers (on May 16 and June 10) seeking their consent "to transfer this digital content from the current platform supplied by OverDrive to a new platform provider. It is understood that the same Digital Rights Management and the same user restrictions (one copy, one user) will be enforced by the new platform provider," the June 10 letter reads.

"I’m not sure [publishers’ permission] is absolutely required but certainly we are making a good faith effort to comply with the contract’s terms," said Chanay, who assisted Budler in writing the letters.

Chanay said that at some point "it may become a bigger deal" if some publisher decided to take issue with the transfer of content.

I will eagerly await how that situation will resolves itself. Which publishers, if any, will object? And under what grounds? And what will it mean for the libraries in Kansas (or any state, for that matter) that seek to move content from one eBook provider to another in the future? I can imagine another round of fallout akin to the HarperCollins fiasco if any of the major publishing houses say no.

On its face, the article sounds like an excellent supporting argument for outright library eBook ownership. Considering the time and expense required to move purchased material by gaining permission alone, the contract hoops that the Kansas State Library is required to jump makes it a costly one. Perhaps that is part of the business plan; to make it so that changing providers is such an ordeal and undertaking that it will discourage all but the most frustrated of librarians to endure it.

My wonder is how something like this will change the language on future contracts with other states. I don’t imagine publishers allowing Overdrive to put them in this spot again.

This will be one to watch.

(h/t: LISNews)

TEDxLibrariansTO Video

At the invitation of the TEDxLibrariansTO organizers, I made a video about their theme “Librarians as Thought Leaders”. Even at eight minutes, I feel like I scratch the surface regarding some of the issues I bring up. However, I feel that TEDx conferences are merely places to plant idea seeds and foster conversations. In that spirit, I hope the video does just that.

Enjoy. And leave your thoughts and comments here rather than on the YouTube page, please.

Copyright as a Hammer, not a Shield

From OpenCongress:

Big media companies and the Obama Administration have been asking Congress to change the copyright laws so that people who stream copyrighted content on the internet, whether intentionally or not, can be put in jail or charged massive fines.


The bill in question is S.978, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D, MN], to “amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright, and for other purposes.” Specifically, it would raise illegal streaming from a misdemeanor to a felony by changing its legal status as a “public performance” to the same level as a “reproduction” or “distribution.” That would seem to mean that someone who unknowingly embeds a YouTube video on their site that contains material that is determined to be protected by a copyright could potentially face the same penalty as someone who runs a large-scale DVD bootlegging operation.

And thus begins the remix/rehash culture versus the corporate copyright fiefdoms. Or, as I see it, an incredibly good case for encouraging the use of Creative Commons for all sorts of mediums. For the artists and authors who want their fans to use and play with their creations, this law does everything opposite to it.

While I can understand and respect the right of creator to profit from their labors, it cannot be at the expense of fair use and its accepted derivatives.

(h/t: Alaskan Librarian)

Son of a Son of a Sailor

As much as it is a Jimmy Buffett song, it also happens to be true for me.

My paternal grandfather went to the Coast Guard Academy before dropping out to build submarines for World War II. He was employed by Electric Boat in Groton Connecticut as an electrician, handling the wiring between the bridge and the rest of the submarine. Grandpa would describe working on sixteen hour shifts building them, taking them out into Montauk Sound, and diving ten feet at a time and checking all the wiring. Ten feet at a time, they would take the boat down and make sure everything worked and that the submarine was watertight. He did this for the duration of the war.

His time at Electric Boat also taught him to make coffee; specifically, he learned to make Navy coffee. This isn’t so much coffee as a water based caffeine delivery system, a concoction so strong and ill tempered that cappuccinos and espressos would see it coming and cross to the other side of the street. One time, when I was getting my dad a cup of the stuff (which he cut with liberal amounts of water so that he would not get the shakes), I poured in some milk. The healthy dose of milk disappeared under the surface without a hint of color change on the time; it was like the coffee had consumed the cream itself. As my grandpa had survived on this coffee for years, it was a family theory that he had outlived his life span due to the sheer volume of caffeine that resided in his system.

In the later years, he would watch the submarines making their way from the Navy base in Groton on the Thames river. From the hilltop across from the Coast Guard Academy, he’d observe the cadets maneuvering in their sailboats or taking Eagle out to sea. I can still see him now, sitting with legs crossed at the knee, puffing on his pipe and watching the business of the river go by.

My father had his own sailing adventures, minus the military involvement. As someone raised in the New London area, the river and the ocean were not far away. Whenever he got the chance, he’d go out sailing with my aunt on her sailboat. I remember vaguely as a kid that he took a sailing vacation for a week. When we went to pick him up afterwards, he had a goofy grin on his unshaven face, the kind one gets coming fresh out of an adventure.

This was not the only adventuresome streak my father had. During college and another time year later, he went out to his college buddy’s ranch to be a cowboy. Or, to make it a bit clearer using his term, a real cowboy. As in, rounding up and driving cattle, branding calves, mending fences, riding horseback, and all of the sweat and hard work that the movies rarely show. On that remote piece of plateau land in Arizona, he experienced the American Western life as few have known it in the intervening years.

Unlike sailing, my father continues to follow his love of the American West. He is a season pass holder for Cowtown Rodeo in Woodstown, NJ. (Yes, there is a rodeo in New Jersey. It’s the oldest weekly running rodeo in the country. And having attended it multiple times, it’s a quite a bit of Americana that should not be missed.) Every Saturday night during the summer, he drives down to see men ride bulls and horses, rope steers and calves, and women barrel race. It’s a professional rodeo and, having sat out there on the benches as the sun sets, it is just a bit of the cowboy culture transported to New Jersey.

As this is a Father’s Day post, I would be remiss to omit my maternal grandfather. He was a sailor of his own right, having learned to sail on the Cooper River and on Long Beach Island. His attempts to teach his children how to sail resulted in excellent family stories about emergence of personality quirks and very little actual seamanship. Nevertheless, my grandfather would go sailing with his friends in and around Barnegat Light as the sea and the family vacation needs saw fit.

In the last years of his life, he and my grandmother took a river cruise with my great aunt and uncle down the Hudson. The boat made its lazy, meandering way while the four of them enjoyed the scenery over the course of a week. I cannot remember where they started from, but I remember this trip because they were set to dock and disembark in New York City on Tuesday, September 11th. (Yes, that Tuesday. Needless to say, they did not dock there.)

While I really do like Jimmy Buffett song, I find that common thread of sailing in my immediate paternal forbearers to be apropos. There is a certain call of the sea, a romanticizing aspect that intrigues one by invoking adventure and curiosity. The harsh reality of the actual voyage carries its own burden for each person who undertakes it, resulting in a clash of ideals versus reality. With that said, I guess it would be a fair comparison to that of being a father. Though heavy with stories, real and otherwise, there is still nothing that compares to the actual voyage.

To all the dads out there, a Happy Father’s Day. I’ll give the last lines to Jimmy.

Where it all ends I can’t fathom my friends
If I knew I might toss out my anchor
So I cruise along always searchin for songs
Not a lawyer a thief or a banker

[Guest Post] OA Student Publications: Reaching Beyond the Journal

Last week, I sent out an invitation to the Hack Library School people to do a guest post on my blog. I’ve never had a guest post before so I figured I’d ask give it a shot by asking a group of people who have a consistently excellent product. I should note that Hack Library School also just won first place in the Newcomer Library Blog category of the second annual Salem Press Blog Awards. As one of the contest judges, I was enormously pleased to see that they were nominated and made the final cut. I was also pleased to hear back from Julia Skinner who took me up on the offer.

Open Access (OA) is an issue that I believe more librarians should take an interest in. With the distribution network of the Internet and the restrictive agreements which journals offer authors (both faculty and non-faculty), it represents a new mode and idea for information sharing and knowledge exchange. Consider the ongoing Georgia State University copyright lawsuit that threatens to change the very nature of how documents are handled at in academic libraries. For the skinny on the issue, read Barbara Fister’s Library Journal post for an excellent summary of what’s at stake.

Julia Skinner is a doctoral student in LIS at Florida State University. She recently received her MLS and a Center for the Book certificate from the University of Iowa. She studies library history and is also interested in LIS education, social media, and student OA publications. You can visit her blog or see her handiwork as an editor at the Hack Library School blog. Or you can keep up with her day-to-day on her Twitter account.

OA Student Publications: Reaching Beyond the Journal

I’ve said many times on my blog and in Hack Library School that a large part of the reason I love our field so much is the passionate and dedicated people who feel drawn to become librarians and info pros. Recently I finished my tenure as Editor at B Sides Journal and it gave me a chance to pause and look at student publishing. When I did so, I realized that a lot of the excitement and innovation I see elsewhere in the field is happening in the world of student-run journals as well. I have worked with two different journals, so I thought I’d share a little bit about all the awesome things they are doing and why I’m proud to be a part of the process!

B Sides

B Sides was founded by two awesome ladies (Angela Murillo and Rachel Smalter Hall) with the goal of publicizing unheard voices (UI SLIS students) and broadening the scope of our discourse in peer-reviewed journals. B Sides has a dual mission of publishing quality work and of educating students about the publication process.

B Sides has carried through with these goals through the journal itself (including some very well-read articles,) but has also reached beyond that to help shape the student experience in other ways. The biggest was the student-led conference that showcased the work of current and former students and provided a space for networking. As a compliment to the conference, we hosted two faculty-led talks: a ‘best practices’ session held before for students planning to speak, and a post-conference discussion of the publication process. We also set up a Twitter account and a Facebook account to share updates with followers and get input. My fellow editor (Katie DeVries Hassman) and I just passed the journal along to our new editors (Melody Dworak and Sam Bouwers) and I’m thrilled to see where they take it!

Library Student Journal

I serve on the Editorial Board at Library Student Journal (LSJ), and I am impressed with the awesome leadership our Editor, Claire Gross, has shown, as well as by the publications. LSJ accepts student publications from around the world, which means that readers can learn from a diverse group of authors about a variety of topics. The site also hosts a very active blog, where Claire shares resources on current events on the field and updates about the publication. LSJ is very active in social media as well, with a very informative Twitter account and on Facebook.

Why I Get So Excited About These Things

Both LSJ and B Sides provide an opportunity for students to boost their resumes by submitting publications and serving as peer reviewers, but I would argue that they are doing a lot more than that. First of all, they are both open access, which means that readers can access full text versions of works without paying money or relying on an institutional subscription. That means more people can read our work, learn from it, and give us feedback (my piece in B Sides, for example, has had over 230 reads in about a year.)

Student publications also provide a unique opportunity for students, and also for those interested in reading LIS scholarship. In both cases, the hope is that we get to share some of the great scholarship being produced, but also help students feel comfortable and confident with publishing so that they will continue to share their perspectives in journals throughout their careers. By making the literature of our field more inclusive, it is my hope that it becomes easier for us to learn from each other, think in new ways, and try new things.

It also makes me hope that we will see an uptick in practitioner-based research that is thoughtful and uses practice and theory to inform each other (theory to inform our approaches, outcomes to challenge parts of theory that don’t hold true.) There is some great research out there that takes a problem from a library and outlines the implementation of a solution, but there is also a lot that just talks about the successes of an approach. Instead, by helping students to engage with the publication process from the beginning, we can allow practitioners to approach their solutions with a critical eye and with a recognition that we can learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes.

I know LSJ and B Sides are working to help familiarize students with publishing and share their work, but I would be curious about other publications I am less familiar with. For those involves with other journals (student or otherwise), I would love to hear your thoughts on the value of student publications or on how publishing fits in with the future of LIS!

Two Nights in Philly (Visiting SLA 2011)

On Monday and Tuesday evening this week, after a long day at work I hopped on the train to meet and dine with my fellow librarians in Philadelphia. The Special Libraries Association annual conference was in the area and I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to meet with a whole new set of librarians that I generally only know through Twitter, Facebook, or the blogs. Monday was a chance to meet students from Pratt at the Hack Library School meetup and then onwards to the people I consider to be my tribe, Library Society of the World. Tuesday, I will say, was the night I was really looking forward to as I got a chance to share a meal with Ned Potter. We’ve been corresponding back and forth for months on various library advocacy things so it was great to actually meet him. Later on, I was glad to meet Laura and Bethan as well as the other British librarians who had made the trip over (Chris, Sam, and Natalia) at the SLA Dance Party.

In reflecting on two days worth of conversations (both sober and slightly less than sober), I will say that it was a nice change of pace to hear about libraries that don’t face the same obstacles as public libraries. While socializing with the SLA Pratt students, the range of environments in which they were operating their libraries was fascinating. From hospitals to government agencies to non-profits, each person brought a new set of difficulties and challenges to the table. As someone who works in a public library and is generally surrounded by public librarians, it was like visiting a different culture which spoke the same language but had different customs. It was fun to question and explore what these students were doing and how their library experience was radically different or surprisingly the same as mine.

To me, it poses it’s own conundrum: how does one advocate for special libraries? This was uncharted territory for me; on top of that, it is very contextual. In some cases, it’s not an issue when the company, agency, or business has an output or product based on knowledge resources. In other cases, it’s a matter of convincing an executive or government bigwig that the library is not a cost center and has value on its own merits. In assessing it in the scope of Big Tent Librarianship, it begs its own question: so how does it fit under the tent? Where is the give and take as it relates to other libraries? These are things I’m going to have to think on now, but I welcome other insight.

It was a couple of great nights in Philadelphia. I hope to be able to see everyone again; in the meantime, I’ll see you online!