A kind reader sent me two blog posts wondering what I thought. One was from late last year exploring the alleged “rock star dilemma” in librarianship, as if that was a thing.
Unlike the first, the other is by someone who actually works in a library, and thus might have library thoughts worth sharing, and the post is (possibly) ironically called Ego, Thy Name is Librarianship.
I can’t quite tell if the title is ironic or not, because while the librarian is critical of librarian “rock stars,” she obviously wants to be one of those famous librarians. She’s just not willing to sell her professional soul to do it. Plus, she’s a children’s librarian, and those are about the most ignored people in the profession.
As for the “rock star dilemma,” I can only shake my head in disbelief that anyone would use the the phrase “rock star librarian” without scare quotes and a little snicker. Only people who fancy themselves “rock star librarians” would even think of talking as if that was a real thing.
It’s not even a good analogy. The people who fancy themselves as rock star librarians are more analogous to reality TV celebrities.
For example, let’s pretend there was a reality TV program called “Library 2.0.” It ran from 2007-2009 on a small cable channel better known for programs on knitting, cats, and busting stereotypes.
Half a dozen previous unknowns were cast for the show, and the episodes were all performed at the center of very small conferences or on the periphery of very large ones. They all got up on stage and talked nonsense about how life-changing their message was, they argued with each other about what the title of the show even meant, and they were ruthlessly panned by an aggressive TV critic who dismissed them as the twopointopians.
Like a lot of these minor and transient celebrities, they were brash and loud, which set them apart from the crowd of introverts and people with a sense of shame by whom they were surrounded. When they weren’t performing in the show, they were blogging about their performances and the performances of their fellow performers.
It was a cozy little pseudoreality, and if you stumbled into it from the outside, you might think it was a big thing. After all, here are all these people yapping at you, and they’re all talking about each other. They must be a big deal, right? Like the Rat Pack?
Until you looked at everything else going on, whether it was other activities at conferences or the daily activities of most librarians. Put it into that perspective and you realized it for what it was–a sideshow for people desperate for attention and fame, willing to say or do anything, no matter how ridiculous, if it would get them noticed in the tabloids.
Like all of these shows, it was eventually cancelled as the initial interest in watching people hype each other wears off. The former celebrities might still get some attention every now and then, but mostly they sink back into their daily jobs.
They got a lot of attention, but no power, and most people didn’t even know who they were.
And then another show starts up. Maybe this time it’s about ebooks. It’s entertaining for a while, and then it goes away, along with the previous unknowns who helped entertain us with their antics.
The poser of the “rock star dilemma”–how do you manage people like this–wants to paint them all in a positive light, but they’re not all great at being librarians. They’re connected and innovative and have strong personalities that can be “a big challenge to manage, focus, direct and lead.”
Even this is supposed to be a good thing. They’re like the rogue cop in the action movie whose captain keeps yelling at him for breaking all the rules. He breaks the rules, but darn it, he gets the job done!
Except, well, he doesn’t necessarily. These people might be “good to great communicators” as long as the communication is them telling you the way it’s going to be, like it is with speeches and blog posts. But working with other people to accomplish something requires a different style of communication. Some of these librarians have it, and some don’t.
The ones who do work to persuade their bosses and colleagues, and continue being successful along with their institutions. The ones who don’t alienate their bosses and colleagues and then blame them for the library being such a backward dump that would be transformed if only people would stop asking questions and just do what they say.
Sometimes, they just can’t take the inertia anymore, and they leave the library, never to be missed or mentioned again.
Some librarians might want to emulate these people, to get that public attention they think they deserve. For those who truly want their fifteen minutes of library fame, here are some tips.
1) Never talk about libraries or library work. Libraries are boring, especially if you work in one.
2) Pick something outside of libraries and read at least 5 magazine articles about that thing so that you become the librarian expert. A few years ago it was Web 2.0, but it could be anything, from a management book you read to a webinar on graphic design you sat through. Just make sure it has no obvious connection to libraries.
3) Make a connection to libraries as best you can. Sometimes this will be easy. You read a book on management. Libraries are managed. Sometimes it will be more difficult. You just bought an iPad and iPads can be used for some library stuff so it’s somehow a “game changer.”
4) Publicize that connection everywhere you can. Start a Twitter account and post a comment on your topic every couple of hours. Write a blog. Create a Facebook page for it. Comment on every tweet, post, and Internet forum you can saying things like, “That’s a really interesting topic, and I think [insert obsessive irrelevant idea] gives us an interesting new way to think about this.”
5) Get a few other people on your bandwagon, and all of you talk up each other online and at conferences. Or if you’re not really an idea person, get on someone else’s bandwagon. The key thing is the bandwagon, not what it’s carrying.
That’s about it. Eventually, you’ll get your 15 minutes. Someone will invite you to a small conference, or you’ll get some panels accepted at larger conferences, or you can just create your own “unconference” and then publicize the hell out of it.
You’ll know you have it made when the Annoyed Librarian makes fun of your idea, pointing out that it’s incoherent and has nothing to do with libraries. Instead of defending your idea, you can complain about “anonymity” as you slowly sink back into it when the next new thing arrives.