speak

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?

ego, thy name is librarianship

cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar
cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a bit of an attention problem. No, not attention deficit– I have a need to be, if not the center of attention, at least left of center. Even though I am an introvert at heart who needs significant alone time to recharge and prepare, I am actually happiest when I am in front of a crowd. I meet this need for attention in many ways–by working in an area of librarianship that demands that I present storytimes and other programs, by being a performing songwriter on my personal time, by writing this blog. Often these endeavors are satisfying enough in themselves, but sometimes–during dark, lonely afternoons as I type up program plans, or ponder what to write about next on the blog–I crave even more attention, but I don’t know how to get it.

Doesn’t this all sound awfully conceited? I know. It does. But I’m nothing if not honest, so yes, I’ll admit to thinking I am awesome. I think I do excellent work, and have unique contributions to make, even though I don’t have a slogan or a hashtag or a large, slavish following. Sometimes I wonder if I were a man, writing about ebooks, if I’d get more attention. But since I am a lady writing mostly about playdough and early literacy, decidedly unsexy topics in librarianship (and when did “sexy” begin to equal “intriguing” or “worthwhile” or “interesting”?) I have a decidedly smaller circle of admirers and colleagues, most of whom are my fellow unsung heroes of the library world. As a children’s librarian, if you write more about how you use books with children than you do about the books and authors themselves, you don’t get as much notice.

Perhaps it is just my sensitive ego at work, but I feel like the librarian bloggers who work with children and teens and who write primarily about programs don’t get the recognition they deserve. Storytime blogs such as So Tomorrow, Awesome Storytime, Mel’s Desk, Playing by the Book, Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Bryce Don’t Play, and Storytiming provide real, concrete advice for creating worthwhile programming, which should be the bread and butter of libraries. If all of us wrote more book reviews and less about the programs we created using those books, or why we create the programs we do, perhaps we’d get more notice. If we blogged about hot button topics like e-books for babies or stripping our children’s departments down to look like futuristic lunchrooms filled with ipads, perhaps we’d get a ton of traffic. But we don’t. We write about our quiet successes and failures, about the simple craft of creating a flannel story, about what rhymes will fit with certain themes, and when we do review books, it’s always with an eye to How will I use this with a group of children? When we get dressed for work, it’s always with a thought about how easily we’ll be able to get up and down from the floor during storytime, and whether or not sweat will show if we’re doing a lot of jumping songs that day.

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship (Swiss Army Librarian being a rare exception, with his marvelous ref questions of the week). These men spin elaborate fantasies about librarians being information rockstars who dress to impress (either flashily or with an eye to ironic hipsterism), dismiss librarians who still use books to connect with patrons as hopelessly backwards, and come up with gimmick after gimmick to get libraries “noticed” without ever once writing about a concrete, applicable thing that they have actually done. Show me how libraries and librarians are amazing, don’t just tell me and expect me to be convinced.

I’m on very precarious ground as I write this, because honestly, my main motivation is that I am sad that I am not more recognized. [I really regret this sentence right now! While I, personally, do want to be recognized, more than that I want my tribe–kid and teen librarians who work so damn hard with little to no recognition in the wider library world–to be noticed and appreciated. Which they might be. I’ll admit to not being able to read everything ever printed about libraries. JJ 01/16] I want to be noticed. I want people to listen to what I have to say. I want to be offered speaking engagements, to have a larger platform to  discuss my ideas of how to better librarianship, to be valued. I want to win awards. I crave approval and recognition, and yet, to paraphrase Lillian Hellman, I cannot and will not cut my librarianship to fit this year’s fashion. I don’t particularly care about e-books, only that I wish we could give our patrons what they want. I don’t particularly want to shove ipads into the faces of babies and toddlers because I still believe screen time is ultimately damaging. I don’t really care to have the perception of librarians go from shushing bun heads to strutting pimps. (I think Frank Zappa* is a better rock star librarian model than any rapper, but that’s just me. Like Frank, I believe in free speech, showmanship, and being a decent human being. Like Frank, I think you can push the envelope of expression without being hateful to women.) I like books, and I believe librarianship is about books, if you stop and think about how books equal stories, and it doesn’t matter what goddamn container they come in, be it paper, digital, audio, or a film or a video game. Stories are what people crave, and stories (like the storycorp partnership with libraries, or the not so new resurgence of reading aloud to adults–and adult librarians, if you need help on reading aloud, you know who to ask) are what libraries have and always will do best.

So next time you need a keynote speaker, perhaps consider one of us librarians who spend most of our time on the floor–often literally. Our subject matter might not be “sexy”, but we know how to tell a damn good story.

*”If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” – Frank Zappa