Putting Things in Perspective

For some reason a couple of older posts have been getting some recent traffic, one from a few months ago where I wrote about big name librarians and another much older one where I meditated upon my lack of fame. That last one is almost five years old, and while I’m probably better known among librarians than I was then, I don’t think I’m any more famous in any of the ways I wrote about. Still, after rereading those posts I felt like there was at least one more thing to say.

Some things have changed for me since I started this blog six years ago. My first post came on the day I officially received a promotion to “librarian with continuing appointment.” That’s our non-faculty-status equivalent of associate professor with tenure, and comes with more or less the same benefits. This month I officially received promotion to “senior librarian,” which is our equivalent to full professor. It was a nice honor, plus I got a higher percentage raise than usual. All to the good.

Also, since I started the blog, I’ve had a lot more opportunities to write and speak than before, and I’d have to credit this blog for leading to a lot of them. A blog post here inadvertently led to the book deal with Library Juice Press, and writing Libraries and the Enlightenment was the most professional fun I’ve had. It probably had something to do with being invited to join the great group of Peer to Peer Review columnists at the Library Journal. Possibly the name recognition has helped me win some elections within ALA that have been beneficial for my career. Good things have flowed from it. However, although I’ve done the writing, even the blog has benefitted from the person in OIT who supports WordPress and from all the other people I’ve interacted with online over the years.

I could focus on the me, me, me part of all this. I’ve had some success and I’ve also done a lot of work for it. In a sense, whatever success I have managed to have I’ve deserved, one could say. And I’m not saying I don’t deserve it. Those who know me well know that modesty isn’t exactly one of my strengths. Earning this recent promotion took a lot of work on my part. Some things I did deliberately over the years with the chances of promotion in mind, and some things just sort of happened, but nevertheless I wasn’t slacking. Just gathering up materials for my dossier took a lot of time.

On the other hand, what has struck me most about the whole process was how much the responsibility for it rested in other people’s hands, in fact a lot of other people’s hands. The more I consider it, the wider the circle of people and institutions that contributed gets. It’s kind of staggering when I start to think about it.

Just considering the promotion process directly, my supervisor had to write on my behalf. Somewhere between 10-20 other people in the library, a couple of academic departments, and across the profession wrote positive letters of reference for me (at least I’m assuming they were positive). That alone was one of the best parts of the process, knowing that so many people were willing to write on my behalf, and I’m very grateful to them. A group of my colleagues had to read all that stuff and make a decision, which other people had to approve.

But it keeps on going. One of the factors was probably having a book published. Rory Litwin is responsible for offering me the contract and support through the process, but I could never have gotten the book done on time without two research leaves from the university, which required other people writing on my behalf or agreeing to grant them. Sure I wrote the book, and it was a lot of work, but without Rory and the Dean of the Faculty it wouldn’t have happened.

Another thing I assume played a role was my leadership within ALA. I know I’ve done some good work in the organization, but that wouldn’t have been possible without the generous conference travel support I’ve had my entire career, both at Gettysburg and at Princeton. Without that support, my career would have been very different. I wouldn’t have worked with as many good people over the years and wouldn’t have had the opportunities to do the things I have. There are also all the people within the organization who helped me out, taught me stuff, worked with me, and enabled me to do what I did. I’ve written before on how to run a good ALA committee meeting, but to get anything done you’ve got to have the actual committee. It’s not a one-person operation.

Keeping the faculty and students in the departments I serve happy is one part of my job, and a couple or professors probably wrote on my behalf. Typically that role for the faculty involves either buying stuff or solving problems. Buying stuff is a lot easier when you have generous acquisitions budgets, as I generally have had. Even with the buying, I’m just the middleman. There’s a whole team of people who make the actual purchases, catalog them, link to them, make them accessible, and often quickly so that faculty and students get things as rapidly as possible. It’s unfair that I probably get more of the credit for that than I deserve.

Solving problems presents the same situation. I “solve problems” usually by being a conduit between the professor or student with the problem and the person in the library who actually solves the problem. Database isn’t working right? Well, I can diagnose and troubleshoot, but if there’s a bill to be paid or tech support to be contacted, I’m not the one doing that. OPAC glitch? Um, yes, we have people for that. I’ll contact them. Whatever the problem is, unless it involves a research project of some kind, my role is to find the person who really can solve the problem. I’m not saying that doesn’t take some knowledge and skill and that I’m not a responsive and capable liaison. I’m just saying that without all those other people, I’m pretty useless for a lot of things and I know it. I’m pretty good at what I do, but without a whole bunch of other people being good at what they do, I couldn’t be as good.

There are a lot of things I do more or less on my own and I could write about those things, but my goal here is to remember just how much I can’t. Thus, back to “big name” librarians, or “famous librarians,” or the amusing category of “rock star” librarians. I’ve never met any librarians who seemed especially stoked about their own alleged fame or celebrity status. They’re possibly out there, but we don’t run in the same circles. It’s always like that with me and celebrities, I guess. I’ve lived in New Jersey for eight years and have yet to socialize with Bruce Springsteen or even the cast of Jersey Shore. If they are out there, it would be impossible for me to take them seriously. For one, they’re still just librarians. Mostly, though, I know that however externally successful you are, and no matter how great you might actually be, you’re dependent on opportunities you didn’t necessarily create and a whole network of people who enable you to do what you do. Even real rock stars need great sound engineers.

6 thoughts on “Putting Things in Perspective

  1. Just wanted you to know that I read your book and really enjoyed it. It was well-written and researched. Another benefit to writing it!

  2. Pingback: Managing the “whole person” | Information Wants To Be Free

    • It’s probably best to just save my posts in Evernote. They’re far too long to actually read!

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