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Had a lovely day. Winding down with Jeopardy and the family. I’m a 60-year-old man.

Unexpected benefit of ukulele callouses: I can touch hot food when cooking and not feel it. Playing sax and piano never gave me that.

I’m never going to be able to hear the theme to Reading Rainbow the same way again…

We put a lot of emphasis on space

But then students are our target audience:

“The vast majority of academics who responded – around 90% – saw the main role of the university library as a purchaser of content. While 45% described themselves as very dependent on their library for their work, only 2% of academics start their research with a visit to the library building.”

Source: Academics will need both the physical and virtual library for years to come

Some of the best feedback from the first library orientation session included: “epic”, “super helpful staff”, “the best-looking bowtie this side of George Will.”

Entrepreneurial revolutionary, reporting for duty

Anthony Molaro, Associate Dean of Library and Instructional Services at Prairie State College, wrote a provocative post today entitled “What Librarians Lack: The Importance of the Entrepreneurial Spirit.” I would not go so far as to say all librarians/libraries lack entrepreneurial spirit (NC State, Virginia Tech, Harvard, Virginia, and Champlain College immediately come to mind as libraries making significant strides in library services and technology and I’m sure there are others), but I would agree that tectonic shifts rarely happen in academic libraries. When was the last time we created a shift so profound that the academy shuddered and the profession balked at the mere thought?

We don’t lack for innovators. As Molaro notes:

No society is devoid of entrepreneurs, ubiquitous protests of “we have lost our entrepreneurial spirit” notwithstanding. They may be under the radar, languishing in non-entrepreneurial positions, or channeling their entrepreneurial spirit in non-productive ways, but they are present. Find and enlist them. Support and mentor them. Galvanize the entrepreneurship resources and stakeholders to support them as well. Use your positions of power to help them find new customers, investors, advisors, and business partners.

I’m ready to do something radical. I’m ready to try something scary. Let’s build something from the ground up and terraform the library landscape.

Weekend must-read: Barbara Fister’s LOEX presentation

Writer-scholar-teacher-librarian extraordinaire Barbara Fister gave the keynote presentation at this year’s LOEX conference in Nashville, TN. I encourage you to read the full text of her presentation, which she described in the following abstract:

Developing both the skills and the disposition to engage in inquiry is a ubiquitous if ill- defined goal of higher education. Libraries are a space, physical and social, where students practice a number of inquiry skills they can use after graduation to make a living – and, more importantly, to make a difference. But it’s hard to take the long view. Students are focused on completing assignments as efficiently as possible. Faculty want to cover content. Administrators want strong retention and completion rates. Who has time to think about what comes next? The information universe that librarians invite students to use is so complex that learning just enough to complete academic tasks saturates our instructional efforts, distracting us from a fundamental question: what experiences do we provide that support long-lasting and meaningful learning? How will what students learn in our libraries today help them make meaning in the information universe of the future?

In her presentation, Fister asks us to critically and honestly examine what libraries are for, what universities are for, and what knowledge is for, both within the context of higher education but also with an eye toward creating lifelong learners. She then offers six ”outlandish claims” about first-year instruction to help us answer these questions:

  1. Research papers should not be part of the first-year experience.
  2. We should stop teaching students how to find sources.
  3. Very rarely are citations needed.
  4. We should stop policing plagiarism.
  5. We should stop implying that “scholarly” means “good.”
  6. Librarians should spend as much time working with faculty as with students.

As you wrap up your work week and move into the weekend, I hope you’ll think about these claims. I know I will!

Glorious, buzzing hornets

Over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Kim Leeder discusses the rhetorical value of the term “traditional library.” She closes with the following observation:

If we define [the traditional library] rhetorically as an institution focused on physical spaces and materials, then there remains no question: the traditional library is dead. That doesn’t mean libraries as an institution are dead, nor does it mean that the physical library as a component of some larger organization is dead. The traditional library has been replaced with an expanded vision of itself, one that encompasses traditional values and features but extends outward to include the vastness of free and licensed digital resources as well as spaces and services that are entirely people-focused. The contemporary library, in contrast to the traditional library, resides online, teaches, reaches out and asserts its value across its community. [emphasis added]

In this way, every academic library exists on a spectrum between traditional, book-/space-centered work and contemporary, instruction-/service-centered work. In my opinion, a moderately successful library will be one that is keenly aware of its place on the spectrum and is able to articulate its value as such, but the highest success (at least in today’s information-rich, digitally connected landscape) will be reserved for those who can strategically align themselves closer to the contemporary side of the spectrum through teaching and outreach.

Shokunin and the power of habit

Recently, I was thinking about the idea of craftsmanship in library work when I came across the Japanese concept of shokunin. While the term historically applied to many types of handicraft, in its current usage it implies a certain level of artistry, wisdom, and skill in working with objects: a level that can only be gained through a lifetime of introspection and practice and through repeating the same task thousands of times over until it is done in just the right way.

Since shokunin specifically applies to working with physical objects, it’s difficult to apply it to library work. Except in rare cases (perhaps cataloging and restoration/preservation work), librarians don’t repeat the same tasks over and over again. At least, not in the same way each time.

In the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the story of Jiro Ono, chef-owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro and a recognized shokunin, the food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto tries to outline Jiro’s work ethic:

  1. Take your work seriously
  2. Aspire to improve
  3. Maintain cleanliness
  4. Be a better leader than a collaborator (aka, never be satisfied)
  5. Be passionate about your work

Now here is something that I can apply to my work as a librarian. While I don’t know that I could ever attain a level of perfection equivalent to the idea of shokunin, through force of habit I can in the least put these same practices to work. (Admittedly, #3 doesn’t exactly apply but perhaps we could take it metaphorically to mean “orderliness of mind”).

Habit has been on my mind much of late. With a newborn now in my care, time is more precious than ever and yet the ability to schedule any type of professional development outside of work has proved… difficult. But I believe (and experience has taught me) that through small habits we can do great things. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says:

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently. Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity. (via Brian Pickings).

And so I’m trying to develop a game plan. Nothing drastic. I simply want to try to set aside a few minutes at various points of the day to do simple tasks: reading, writing, meditating, reflecting, having a conversation with a colleague about an important issue. Little things that taken en masse could make a world of difference. In a few decades (long term planning!). Perhaps in this way I can aspire and reach toward some level of artistry when it comes to the work that I so love to do.