PLEASE NOTE: if you're reading my blog for the first time, most posts aren't like this! :)
I feel like I was professionally asleep for the first few years of my career - then in 2009 I presented at the New Professionals Conference and everything changed. I realised there were other people out there like me! Who really cared about the wider profession. I realised librarianship was awesome, and that the people in it were ace.
Really big thanks to my Mum, and really big thanks to my Dad. My Dad is my biggest inspiration, the person who generates most of my good ideas, the person who still reads every article before I send it off to the journal / publication / publishers, my biggest support and my biggest fan. He's also an amazing singer! If you've not heard Officium or the Dowland Project I'd reccomend checking them out... (I know I'm biased but the former has sold over one and a half million copies and the latter was a New York Times record of the year, so other people like him too. :) )
Finally in this long and admittedly self-indulgent blog post (it is a special occasion though!) I wanted to reproduce part of my Mover & Shaker interview here. The way the Movers and Shakers process works, you get asked about a million questions to see if you live up to what your nominator said about you, and then you answer more questions, and then they follow up with yet more, and then they do fact checking - all in all I must have written over 4,000 words, which necessarily got boiled down to about 15 words from me in the final article. Because most of what I was nominated for is collaborative (all of it, really) I wanted to put my actual answers down in print (thanks to Sarah Bayliss for her permission) and give people credit where it is due.
What drives your passion for this profession? Why did you start “Library Routes” and “The Wikiman?” What are your goals for these?
My passion for the profession comes in a large part from that combination of the fact that we’re doing amazing things in librarianship, coupled with the fact that not enough people outside the profession know about them. So it’s great to be working on interesting and innovative things – throw in the fact that there’s this massive challenge to increase awareness of them and the whole thing becomes all-consuming. It’s also about the community: there are so many interesting information professionals to communicate and collaborate with.
Laura Woods and I set up the Library Routes Project just as a way to bring together everyone’s accounts of how and why they got into the profession. There’d been gluts of blog posts where several librarians were inspired to talk about this subject at the same time – Laura and I figured if we set up a wiki it would collect them all in one place, and maybe inspire more people to join in. It worked better than we every expected, and there’s now more than 150 entries in what has become a really useful careers resource.
I set up thewikiman blog because I wanted to engage in dialogue with the wider profession. A blog is a fantastic way not just to get your views and ideas out there, but to become plugged in to libraries generally, and become part of a global conversation. That’s very exciting. For me, all the amazing stuff that has happened in the last couple of years (like this accolade!) ultimately can be traced back to my decision to start a blog in summer 2009.
Which professional assignments are you most proud of?
There are two things I’m most proud of – instigating the Echo Chamber movement, and creating the New Professionals Network. Myself and Laura Woods (with whom I worked on the Library Routes Project) began to try and start raising awareness of the Echo Chamber problem in libraries, at the start of last year. All we did, really, was draw wider attention to an existing problem, give it a name (and a tag, #echolib, to allow a sort of trans-Social-media shorthand way of discussing it) and start going out there and writing and presenting on it. And it’s worked!
The Echo Chamber problem refers to the fact that we spend too much time in libraries talking with like-minded peers, preaching to the converted, having our own views reflected back at us, and never reaching the people we should really be targeting – potential patrons, currently indifferent to our unaware of our services. I sincerely believe that while libraries aren’t useful for everyone, there are vast swathes of most populations who would use them if they had a better understanding of what they were really like. So Laura and I started exploring ways of focusing the discussion in this way. A good example is when the profession is criticised from out-side – by a popular figure like Seth Godin for example, or by the media. The first response of the librarian seems often to be to find another librarian, and complain to them about how unfair the criticism is. This serves no purpose – the other guy already knows how unfair it is - and people were taking it to extremes, writing articles about how great libraries are, in library publications that are only read by librarians! So the echolib movement encourages people to think about what they could more productively use their time for. Writing a pro-library piece for the same main-stream media source which criticised libraries in the first place, is a good start. Reach the same audience that got the bad news about libraries, with some good news about libraries. This whole thing has grown and grown, and we’ve presented to more than 1000 people on this subject so far, with more booked for the summer. It really seems to be making a difference – particularly as people like Andy Woodworth (a Mover & Shaker himself, of course) and my personal library hero Bobbi Newman, have brought the issue to the attention of a wider library audience. Since we started talking about this, there are so many more librarian’s voices being heard in the wider media narrative on the industry, which is important. We need to tell our own story, because others won’t do a good enough job on their own.
LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, is the other thing of which I’m most proud. It came out of my work as New Professionals Support Officer with CILIP (which, roughly speaking, is the UK equivalent of the ALA), and offers an online and face-to-face network for librarians who have entered the profession within the last 10 years or so. Gratifyingly, many more senior Info Pros have joined up too, to give us newer people the benefit of their wisdom! The site contains forums with, for example, advice on Library School, and a blog with interviews (recently with Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton and Andy Woodworth) and a Resources area with loads of downloadable documents to help people out. Se have guides to public speaking, anonymous reviews of library school courses, tips on getting published – everything you might need when you’re starting out in librarianship. There are over 800 members now, from all over the world – so come on over, people of America, and join us! LISNPN members have started to set-up face-to-face networking events themselves, under the LISNPN banner, all over the UK. It would be amazing if someone got them going in the US too. People have found it really useful to connect with their peers, and discuss the future of the profession over a drink or two.
Can you give me a few specific examples of the echo chamber's success--published articles; lectures; etc. that reach a large audience?
Lauren Smith is the arch Echo Chamber escapologist, we feature her in our presentations. She wrote this article for the Guardian, and that was just the start. As it happens she was on the BBC News at 10 (the UK’s flagship news programme) this very evening. She’s also part of Voices for the Library who basically exist to escape the echo chamber. They’re mentioned in this newspaper article from yesterday - but really they do that sort of thing all the time. They’re a group of normal librarians, with full-time jobs, who have decided to make their voices heard in public.
An Echo Chamber escape that was pivotal for me was Mover and Shaker Toby Greenwalt. When Seth Godin famously questioned the relevance of libraries in the digital age, via his blog, Toby wrote a fierce defence of the profession on his own blog – so did a lot of librarians, via their own blogs. But what Toby did then was write a piece for the Huffington Post also – a brilliant and public account of libraries and librarianship. We should all be thinking like this. A slide-deck I created to try and raise awareness of what librarians DO these days was featured on the Careers section of the Guardian website last week, in this brilliant article on 21st century librarianship – a really pleasing echo chamber escape.
Tell me, specifically, about the work you are doing to prevent library closures. Are you working with Lauren Smith on this (also nominated as a Mover & Shaker this year)? If so, can you tell me about your collaborations?
In terms of my efforts to prevent library closures, I shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Lauren! She as an absolute legend, and has achieved extraordinary things. If I can claim any part in that, it’s that I know she took her library advocacy the next level after seeing mine and Laura’s Echo Chamber presentation. As a side note, I’m really proud that Lauren and I are representing the Brits in the Movers & Shakers!
The stuff I do is more about trying to raise awareness of the profession, and trying to establish a new paradigm for disseminating information about libraries and librarians. There are others much more skilled than me who have taken the actual messages out into the wider world.
Tell me about Buy India a Library. What is your role, and how did this come about? Where are you in the process, and what is your long-term goal?
Buy India a Library was and is a fantastic project to crowd-source enough money to make a real difference in a book-free area. When Jennifer Findlay pointed out on Twitter that you could build an entire library, including the building, books and staff for two years, for under $2000 via a charitable organisation, I couldn’t believe it. There were also mobile libraries, drawn by donkey, that would tour former war-zones in Africa, available for under $150! So I re-tweeted this information, and Andromeda Yelton said: why not try and fund one collectively, via Twitter? It was simple, brilliant notion. Jan Holmquist and Justin Hoenke got involved, we set up a blog, and started asking for donations. We all had the same role – promoting the project, trying to reach people and asking them to become involved.
As Jan put it, so many libraries are closing; why not open one? The response was overwhelming, and in less than two weeks we had enough to buy India a Library and to buy Africa TWO mobile libraries! It was absolutely fantastic – truly, the power of collaboration via social media, in action, changing people’s lives. People were so generous. Thank you so, so much to everyone who donated.
Can you tell me specifically what libraries where have been built/procured, and what the timeline is?
The libraries in both Africa and India will be built within the year. The library in India will be built at a school in Mysore, on the edges of a slum in a very poor area, where there are literally no books at present. The mobile libraries in Africa, which are aimed at promoting literacy among children in former war zones, will travel to schools in Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
What's the best thing you've learned from your successes? From the projects that didn't turn out exactly as you'd hoped?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with four things which have had some generous recognition from the wider profession: the Library Routes Project, the Echo Chamber movement, Buy India a Library, and LISNPN (the New Professionals Network). The thread running through all of those is collaboration. Working with others is fantastic, I love it – you get new ideas, new angles, cover new ground, reach new audiences. If you have a particular way of working, chances are your skills will be complemented by someone else with a different way of working. And it’s fun… My advice to anyone is: worth with people. It is so much better to be part of a movement, to catalyse change, than just to achieve something on your own.
I’ve had one project which didn’t turn out as I’d hoped – and that was because it was launched before it should have been. With any venture which relies on the commitment and buy-in of an online community, you really need all your ducks in a row before you start issuing public invitations. No one wants to be the first on to an empty dance floor..