via Howard Lake
via Howard Lake

I think my “ego” post actually contained within it several separate issues, all of which deserve their own careful looking over. Let’s do that, shall we?

first: speaking and keynotes.

I’ve been to several events where, as one commenter noted, the keynote speaker is someone famous who has just written a (usually awful) children’s book (because any idiot can churn out a book for kids, amirite?) and who blah blahs about how they LOVED libraries when they were kid or love libraries today or something else, then tell us why they just HAD TO TELL THEIR STORY in a MARKETABLE FORM.

Ugh. Gross. Don’t do that. Ever.

I say that both to the famous people in regards to writing children’s books, and to conference organizers who book them. There are so many wonderful authors who are also excellent speakers, why not book one of them?

Or, to be daring, why not book a straight up storyteller? (Ben Haggarty is one of my personal favorites). Instead of forcing your attendees to listen to some smarmy pap about “Go libraries” or “These are tough times, huh?” let them listen to a goddamn plain old good STORY. Of course, the theme will resonate with listeners, because a good storyteller will choose an apt tale, but the listeners will have to work for it. And they will appreciate it all the more that way.

Some of you might be thinking, why should I listen to a story? Because libraries are all about stories. Why do people read books? To read stories. Why do people read e-books? To carry a lot of stories with them in a portable form. Why do people need to create a resume? To tell the story of their work life. Why do people check out DVDs? To watch stories. Why do people create videos? To tell their story in a visual format. Why do people (sometimes, rarely, not often enough) access articles from our databases? To write a paper, or make a presentation, that tells a story. ET CETERA AND SO FORTH.

So libraries are about gaining access to stories, and, more recently, they are an avenue for creating and storing new ones. And shouldn’t we celebrate this fact with every keynote and every conference? This is not to say, of course, that non storytellers can’t tell a good story–it’s just a bit trickier, and that’s what the market has been glutted with in the past few years. I’m just saying…try something different, and see how it goes.

While I myself am well aware that I am not keynote level (I’m slogging along, paying my dues, very happily), off the top of my head I can think of five or six excellent women who work with youth who are at a point in their careers where I think they’d be damn fine keynote speakers. They’ve taught courses at the master’s level, published, and are all around engaging and inspiring. But librarians like that don’t seek the high profile engagements, because they are too busy, you know, being great librarians.

I don’t know how to get this to change. Does it need to come from a management level? Do public library directors and school principals need to push their staff more to engage with the profession on a larger stage? Perhaps. What do you think?

3 responses to “speak”

  1. Ok, I’ll try to give an example this time instead of “advice”.

    Three years ago I didn’t like how our state conference went off. So, the next year I volunteered to be one of the central organizers of the committee. Granted, I didn’t get to choose the keynotes, but the keynotes weren’t my issue, the organization of the conference overall was. So, I stood up, gave up a lot of my time and did the work that I thought I needed to be done. Overall I believe that made the conference I was involved in a success. At least I had no one to blame but myself if it had sucked.


  2. I am of the opinion that “authorities” in libraryland–the administrators, instructors, managers–can and should focus more on idea-sharing in the profession. Talking with and collaborating with colleagues helps us spread great service models and programs with each other, but it also gives us practice talking about what we do. I think that practice is integral to establishing a level of confidence in sharing our expertise and in advocating for ourselves that will allow us to make a larger impact in the field.

    What it comes down to, I think, is our ability to advocate for ourselves (and if we’re taught/have models for that to be acceptable) in similar ways that we advocate for children. I don’t see it as an issue of self-promotion as much as owning and sharing our expertise, which is valued by the community.

    Apologies if any of this is disjointed–trying to reply from the ref desk isn’t always the best scenario.


  3. I think that for alot of keynoters and conference speakers, in my observations both as a conference attendee and as a conference organizer, there is a level of self-regard (beyond self-confidence) that I find professionally tedious and distasteful – yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re ALL of that….snore. I respond most strongly to those speakers who learn as well as teach and there are far too few of those out there. The trumpet call of fame in this tiny non-famous profession makes many of these speakers clique-ish, snooty, unapproachable to all but a devoted fangirl/boy or their peeps.

    I agree with Julie and commenter Amy that truly sharing and collaborating is a stronger way of building incredible librarianship than the “Look-at-me-look-at-me” of many speakers. You great speakers and keynoters and collaborators and sharers of professional amazingness out there- and you know exactly who you are – keep up the awesomeness The rest of ya, get real.


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