The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

In about two weeks, the 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker edition will be released and the winners will be revealed. From my own experience, I can tell you right now that there are about fifty new Movers & Shakers who can’t wait to share this news with the world. For the moment, they have held onto the secrecy of their chosen status for the most part; they may told some friends, family, and work colleagues but otherwise have kept a lid on it. These are the Oscars of the librarian world if only for a lack of other high profile awards within the field. While the ALA Youth Media awards are of higher visibility and prestige to the public with prizes such as the Caldecott and the Newbery, they are (for the most part) given to people outside of the librarian profession. Beyond that, I would imagine the average librarian would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of awards given within the profession at a national level.

The topic of professional recognition is a well trod territory in libraryland. From my perspective, discussion has always been skewed towards the negative end. For every social meeting posting sharing the good fortune of an award that is met with celebration from friends and peers, there are an equal (if not greater) number of posts that question the existence of awards, the worthiness of recipients, and value of recognition in the field. Awhile back, I had a theory as to where this kind of ‘worthiness’ judgment phenomena came from. Now, my feelings lay somewhere between ‘human nature’ and ‘really, who cares?’.

If people want to invest their personal energy into this cosmetic issue rather than other pressing issues floating around libraryland, then all the power to them. I find now that I don’t have the energy to re-argue old discussions that will recycle itself over time, especially given how nothing is truly resolved and how quickly it can devolve to the petty level. It’s still educational to follow this topic as it reveals a lot about the personal character of the people who bring it up and how they address it. Although, to be honest, I find myself more disappointed than intrigued when I do; there is nothing flattering about watching people engaged in petty axe grinding.

To this year’s Mover & Shaker recipients, I offer my congratulations. You have earned this noble distinction on the basis of your own deeds and accomplishments. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.  I’m proud to call myself one and you should be too. Enjoy your moment in the sun.

Shine on.

2012 Salem Press Librarian Blog Awards: Rock the Vote

On Friday, I found out that this blog was named as a finalist for Best “Independent Blog: Public” in the 2012 Salem Press Library Blog Awards. If you nominated this blog for an award, I’m flattered and grateful for your show of support; I’m also honored and pleasantly surprised to be named as a finalist. As should be noted, this is not my first brush with these awards. I was awarded first place in the Public Library category in their inaugural year (2010) and was one of the judges last year. Looking at the other finalists in “Independent Blog: Public” category, I’m in the running with excellent bloggers and some of whom I’m lucky enough to call friend. I look forward to the results!

I’d like to ask you the reader to do me a favor: take a moment and vote. While I would certainly love to have your vote (and kindly thank you if I do), I want to make a brief case for the benefit of voting for these awards. There really isn’t anything else like it in the library world; neither the ALA nor most of our state associations nor other professional librarian associations provide awards on this scale for librarian bloggers. (The closest is the Edublog awards, but libraries and librarians are not the primary focus of the awards. The Texas Association of School Librarians has an award for blogging.) It sends a message of confidence into the librarian blogging community that what these individuals are doing is worthy of praise and attention. At the same time, the blog awards and directory introduces people to blogs that they might not have heard of or considered as part of the personal professional development network. These awards might not be of the stature of the accolades that are more broadly associated with the librarian field, but in a profession where moments of recognition can be few and far between (and sometimes looked down upon) I think it’s a “job well done” statement that doesn’t always happen in the comments or feedback.

In a final appeal as to why voting matters in this case, I’ll say this:

Vote to reward good writing on library topics and the issues that matter to librarians. Vote to support bloggers that make you think or ignite your passion or imagination. Vote to encourage people who seek out, aggregate, organize, and share the library news, stories, links, and opinion. Vote to bolster the people who do this as a labor of love for their profession and its lovely yet complicated principles and ideals. Vote and send a message that the people whose blogs you read on the finalists lists are ones worthy of your time and consideration.

The polls close on Sunday June 17th. Thanks for taking the time to vote!

If Libraries are More than Just Books, Then Where are All the Damn Technology Awards?

The first draft title for this post was “If Libraries are More than Just Books, then Why Are There So Many Damn Book Awards?” but I figured that some humorless literal folks would see it as a challenge to giving out book awards. I don’t have any qualms about recognizing authors and illustrators for their fine efforts and I’d rather not get bogged down sidetracked with the elaborate interworkings of the book awards world. However, if the case is being made that libraries are more than just books and then the largest and most visible library association in the United States (the ALA) hands out awards mainly to people who create books, then there is some sort of dissonance afoot.

In looking through the Awards and Grants page on the ALA website, the first section entitled “Books, Print, & Media awards” has thirty eight awards of which only three are for non-book accomplishments (ABC-CLIO Online History Award, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video, and the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production). Two of these are duplicated “Youth Media Awards” which lists seventeen awards. None of these are for the creation, development, and/or use of technology in the library (although there could be a very muddled argument for the ABC-CLIO one).

To be fair, there are probably technology based awards in the Professional Recognition section; I only scanned the list for any that sounded promisingly and didn’t click on all of them. I will concede that there are probably some technology awards hidden in there that I just didn’t discover. But my counterargument would be that those professional awards don’t share the same stature as a Newbery or Caldecott or Printz accolades. They aren’t public facing nor further a idea that the library is collaborative learning space or internet and information access location.  

I will also concede that the awards I have mentioned specifically predate the digital age and are the product of years of reputation building. There is a lot to be said about the continued tradition of recognition in this aspect and I fully support the continuation of such awards. However, given the movement towards digital and technology integration into the modern library, shouldn’t there be national library association awards to reflect the innovations and efforts of individuals and industries that exemplify that?

Somebody call Bill Gates. He’s a fan of libraries and seems to know a thing or two about the digital age. He might just like the sound of the “Bill Gates Library Technology Award” complete with his face in a bronze medallion. Traditions start somewhere and this one should begin with recognizing the people who make library technology and information retrieval possible at a national level. If libraries are more than just books, then this would be a start to acknowledging it as part of our own professional culture.

On Awards & Recognition

[Note: this post is an expansion of thoughts from a previous post on the topic of awards and recognition within the librarian field.-A]

Back in 2010, I had the privilege of attending the Library Journal Movers & Shakers luncheon at that year’s ALA annual in Washington DC. I had been looking forward to the luncheon ever since I received the award and could attend the conference. The luncheon itself was held in the National Press Club, a few blocks from the White House and on a floor high enough to make me not look outside much.

In settling in for lunch, I was at a table full of (for lack of a better term) my personal library heroes. These were people that I had only read about or heard about and now I was sitting in their company. It was a great and exciting experience for me since I got a chance to get to know them in a social setting.

The conclusion of the entrée brought on the luncheon’s speaker, some reporter/author talking about their love of libraries as conference orators are wont to do. Following this speech, one of the Library Journal editors took the podium and announced they were going to introduce each year’s awardee and their accomplishments. Cool, I thought, not know what was in store for me.

In listening to each person’s name and accomplishments, I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. As I sat and listened, it felt as if every person’s achievement topped the next one’s on the moral and selflessness scale.

“Linda is a tireless worker in the impoverished regions of West Virginia, where she drives a satellite internet rig from town to town to provide them with internet service and library services.”

“Bob is a intercity librarian working with the homeless. He also volunteers to mentor HIV positive teens, bring peace to street gangs, and fosters abandoned kittens.”

“Lucy is a champion for literacy in the Middle East, reading books to blind orphans while fighting off rabid giant hawks and aggressive monkey-eating spiders with only a knife tied to a stick.”

With each successive person, the feeling of sheepishness slowly spread throughout my body. I’m one of the fifty people picked by the magazine as someone who is shaping the dialogue in the library world? No. No way. It can’t be.

“Jane has used recycled discarded materials to provide abused disadvantaged children of Africa with books as well as food, shelter, and energy. When she’s not saving endangered animals from extinction by personally rehabilitating their populations, she’s volunteering her time to cure cancer, depression, and the common cold. Jane also gave both of her kidneys to a set of twins so they would always be alike. She has reduced her carbon footprint to zero by eating only sunshine and expelling euphoria.”

Oh. Gawd. Then, in the curse that is alphabetical order, it’s my turn. I rise up from my seat as all eyes turn to me, feeling like a well known sinner standing up in church.

“Here’s Andy. He made a Facebook group about ice cream and libraries. Every year, we include someone whose accomplishments are questionable at best. It’s our insurance policy in case the rest of you get a big ego. We’ll just send you a reminder that you got it the same year as this guy.

Or so I heard in my head. Here was a group of people who airlifted books to children in need, had created movements within their communities, and defied common beliefs and protocols… and I made a Facebook group. I sat back down and made the best of the rest of the luncheon, pondering my inclusion in this group.

In the luxury of hindsight, I realize that what I was being recognized for was worthy of the award. The awful feeling of being a fraud, an all-too-common sensation that I have noticed and spoken about with my peers, was simply having its moment in the sun. I had done something unique, something different, and something that got national and international notice. Sure, it might not end up as an actual Ben & Jerry’s flavor, but I got people considering the library in a new light and for some renewing their support for the institution. There were also some other things I worked on that were included in the award, so the Facebook group was not the sum total of my efforts.

I can only guess where the fraudulent feelings came from; most likely for myself they were the product of a self-esteem that hesitated at the recognition. In taking on other projects and causes over the last eighteen months, I have proven to myself that I am not simply a flash in the pan when it comes to doing things worthy of notice in the library community. I have grown comfortable with choice of my platforms, the notion of being a public figure, and having a megaphone which broadcasts issues that I think are important reliably to portions of the online librarian world. Not everyone wants or needs the spotlight, but I feel alright about attention and recognition.

As I mentioned before, I’m not the first of my professional peers to contend with feeling like a fraud when it comes to being given awards and/or recognition. I don’t think it’s unusual to have a moment of doubt in which one wonders if there is someone more deserving out there or if what they’ve done is worth all the fuss. Surely there is someone out there doing something more worthy of notice and accolades, our lovely-yet-still-irrational brains think despite having no evidence to the contrary. But the feeling still persists until overcome or abated, and not always in favor of the recipient.

This internal dialogue is bad enough before you factor in contending with other librarians. I’ve been told (both explicitly and implied) that I shouldn’t have received a particular award. I hadn’t “paid my dues” either in experience or longevity or haven’t done anything worthy of recognition. (Ouch.) In examining the underlying implications of such (bogus) assertions, it suggests that there is a special sort of calculus to whether someone is worthy of professional accolades. That it must be a culmination of experience (the more years, the better), an aspect of librarianship that should be promoted (with books and reading being at the vanguard), and that they are a person worth commending in a public forum (insert vague connotations of looking or acting the part). It also discourages anyone from actively seeking recognition themselves, as if there is more merit and inherent value to being discovered and raised up by your peers. I’d warrant that’s why the profession has very few people in the national eye. With such exacting conditions and intangible requisites, it’s putting forth an ideal that rarely matches the reality of those who are working in different ways to move libraries forward.

In addition, I do want to make mention of an alternative to “Deserving” assertion which is the “there is no ‘I’ in team” pronouncement that raises its head every now and again. In the overly egalitarian application of this premise, it denigrates the stature of any award on the basis that there is no possible way that a person could have done this on their own without support staff, fellow librarians, and/or other forms of outside assistance. While collective efforts should be lauded and rewarded accordingly, this kind of subtle award assassination frowns upon individual efforts as if they are incompatible with the overarching library value of cooperation. Furthermore, this “no one can rise above the rest” does not encourage innovation; where can you go if there are people actively working to bring you down by downplaying your efforts?

(Honorable mention goes to the “my heroes are the regular folks who staff desks, shelve books, and do the mundane operations of the library” affirmation. I must say that that sentiment sounds better when applied to members of the armed forces or public safety officials rather than some of minimum wage minimal training enthusiasm-not-required workers we tend to put in these positions. They might be the people who make sure the library keeps working, but I’m guessing some are motivated by a paycheck more than the values of the library.)

Personally, for the undeserved flak I’ve taken, I’ve managed to shake most of it off and let my words, works, and projects speak for themselves. While I’m certain that some will see this next statement as arrogance or ego (or both), I take the approach that I’m always in the running for Mover & Shaker or Librarian of the Year or some other award (yes, I want to be the first repeat for that first one). It’s a reminder to me that when I do take on projects or causes, that when I do step into the spotlight or soapbox, and when I do promote an issue or stance, that what I am doing should always be something that is progressive for the mission and values of libraries and/or librarians. It ensures that I give my best effort, use all my talents and resources, and try to make the biggest impact possible. If the desire to change the hearts and minds of fellow librarians to see ourselves as part of a greater consensus and a sworn knight of a digital information future, to rally the public around the ideals of literacy and the collective shared information good, and to leave this worlds with a bitchin’ awesome obituary in Library Journal is considered a product of big ego, then well, I guess I have a big ego. And the problem in this situation is not me, but the ones who think that in this case it’s a bad thing.

Overall, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around some of the negative sentiments around awards and recognition within the librarian profession, but it might be that I’m trying to apply logic and reason to illogical and unreasonable attitudes. While I could dismiss it as “haters gonna hate”, it still doesn’t provide a remedy the resistance to showcasing individuals with exceptional talents or ideas. Nor does it provide an ample explanation for such an aversion to merit based rewards. What happened to create such cynicism, such contempt? Is it the companion to risk aversion embodied as reward aversion? How can we attract achievers to the profession when recognition and awards are considered with such begrudging acceptance?

If quiet mediocrity is considered the acceptable and desired norm for librarians, then perhaps once more I am unsuited for the career I have chosen.

(Don’t worry, it’s too late for me to start over yet again.)