by John Digilio, Chicago Chapter, Legal Division Chair
Nervous energy. It is everywhere these days. It is that feeling in the pit of your stomach or at the back of your mind that something might not be quite right. As discussions on the future of libraries become more pressing, there is nervous energy. As we continue to reel from the library closings and job losses that seemed to gain momentum during the recent global economic crisis, there is nervous energy. In fact, there is so much nervous energy in our industry these days that I dare say it is palpable to each of us as library and information professionals. The good news is that we have an important choice to make. We can let this energy weigh heavily upon us and drag us down or we can choose to harness and channel it in ways that make us truly future ready.
What is gripping so many in our industry these days is nothing less than a real and warranted fear of the unknown. What is to become of libraries and librarians in a world that is increasingly dominated by virtual interaction, technological interfaces, and instant electronic gratification? It is an almost overwhelming contemplation. It is also a necessary one. In his excellent series on management skills, The Leadership Pickles, Bob Pharrell talks about the negative impact this fear of the unknown can have on workers and productivity. If left unchecked, it can sap some of most integral human commodities: enthusiasm, confidence and integrity. In his course, Pharrell urges managers to meet this fear of the unknown head on. As a librarian, I believe this is not only sound advice for managers but an urgent call to action for each one of us, regardless of level or title. As the old adage goes, “When life hands you lemons . . . “.
I believe that when it comes to the future of libraries and librarians, the tech-laden world of tomorrow is still very much our oyster. There are plenty of pearls to be had and nobody – I repeat, NOBODY – knows how to find them better than we. The trick is to not let nervous energy and fear of the unknown drag us down in our pursuit. When we are having these vital discussions in our meetings with colleagues, on discussion boards, and with our bosses and employers, we have to come to the table prepared. I personally recommend a three-pronged attack. Take that nervous energy by the horns and channel it into optimism, activism, and creativity. If you can do that, tomorrow and all of its unknowns will not know what hit them. Note that I am not saying this will be easy. I am saying it is essential. Here’s the breakdown:
- Optimism: Before you can make something better, you have to believe that it can be better. Treading water for the sake of survival is not going to cut it anymore. You have dive in ready to swim like a medalist. The first step is to stop saying things like “I think we can” or “Maybe we can.” The mentality is that “we can,” both because we truly want to succeed and we truly can. Reframe the discussion to focus on the promise tomorrow holds and what this profession of ours can do to make it even better. There will be many opportunities at the June conference in Philadelphia for us to build our optimism. Let’s generate so much of it that it bursts out into the world and carries us forward into the years ahead.
- Activism: Whereas the discussions and strategizings are important, they pale in comparison to the need for real action. We can only talk so much before tomorrow catches us with our mouths open and hands idle. It was Shakespeare who in Macbeth wrote, “Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.” If we are going to keep our castles from falling down around us, we need to move from talking to doing. This means showing the world that we are ready to embrace change and that we can help our institutions do the same. SLA offers us an amazing vehicle by which we can become active. From local and global meetings to wikis and discussions to networking with real luminaries in the field, we have unbridled resources at hand to help us take being Future Ready to the next level!
- Creativity: There is more to solving a problem than merely having an answer of your own. Creative solutions require open minds and a willingness to see issues from multiple angles. When an outside party says something about our profession that we do not like, creativity requires that we get to the bottom of their misconception before our claws come out. We have to be able to see ourselves as others see us before we can correct their vision. Also, tackling issues creatively is not just about doing things differently. It means learning from what worked and did not in the past and building on those successes in new ways, while learning from even the worst mistakes. Here again, SLA provides us with the tools we need to be creative. We just have to use them. When was the last time you attended a Click University session or a CE course at the annual conference?
Beyond all else, nervous energy is still energy and in energy there is amazing potential for great things. The trick is harnessing it and putting it to work for you. We can get caught up in all the bad news we see in the press or the fiery exchanges that seem to pop up online from time to time and we can fret and let that fear of the unknown drag us our down. Or, we can take that nervous energy and use it to fuel the optimism, activism, and creativity we need to shape the future of this industry. That is carpe diem, my friends. That is future ready!
John DiGilio is the National Manager of Research Services for Reed Smith, LLP. He has over 20 years experience in libraries and has written for numerous publications and taught college and graduate courses for attorneys and librarians. He has twice been awarded SLA’s Dana Award recipient. John blogs at iBraryGuy, and follow him via Twitter (@iBraryGuy).