Thursday, April 24, 2008

working knowledge

I am an online community builder for librarians. In short, my job, my actual job, is to help librarians find and connect with each other online. I've said many times that I think I have the best job in library land. Sometimes, honestly, like today, it's not all that. It's not that I get discouraged, though sometimes that happens too, as I'm sure happens in the course of many of our day-to-days, but rather that I find my job very, very difficult. Head. Banging. Against a Wall. Difficult.

The parts that are most challenging for me have to do with resources. In our environment, as in most, resources are limited, and even though my particular project is considered well-funded, and indeed we are, it is a constant struggle to align those resources towards absolute efficiency and effectiveness. Of course, resources aren't just the dollars. There's also our time and our staff. I work really hard, and I know the team that I work with works really hard, to try and make the best decisions that we can about how to line things up effectively. Still, things are changing around us so rapidly. The plans we make are almost never exactly manifested. We always dream much bigger than we're able to implement. We always want to do more than we're able to in a day. By the time we're implementing there are three, five, or ten more things we wish we would have known. How can we be more clever? do this smarter? start that sooner? (And I'm not even really talking about the technology here. I'm talking more generally, about every aspect of the work.)

The other thing is that everybody cares so much about this work. In some ways I think it's a burden to feel so passionately about libraries and community. I often wonder if caring about the work as much makes me less effective. Am I missing something by taking things as seriously? How can I infuse humor, light, and even some degree of dispassion into my work so that I can be as personally nimble as the technologies I use and advocate for?

One of the best books I've read on libraries and change is "The Thriving Library" by Marylaine Block. I love this book. She outlines the things that "thriving" libraries are doing - not as a recipe, but as an example of some things that we can draw into our own libraries and communities. Come to think of it, Robert Putnam does the same thing in his work "Better Together" where he looks at successful community building projects and says 'here are a few things that work. it's not a recipe. just something to think about. something to try.'

So fine, there's no recipe. There's no perfect process, no perfect "plan for results". I think I can deal with that. And maybe things get easier as you gain experience and move through your career, (and perhaps that's another story). In all, I'd still say I have the best job EVER. I even know somewhere that the fact that it's difficult for me, that I'm constantly feeling like I'm new at this and that there's a lot to learn, is part of the reason it's such a great job for me.

But maybe tomorrow could be easier. Maybe tomorrow my cleverness could just swoop in and *poof!* solve the tough questions currently in front of me. Shoot, it wouldn't even have to be my cleverness. It could be yours. Please?


Alice said...

Oh, Chrystie we've missed you!!!

Eric said...

Chrystie -- great post.

FYI, both titles you list are in

The thriving library : successful strategies for challenging times (

Better together : restoring the American community