Bibs & Blather
Five years ago, when Midwinter was last held in Philadelphia, I began Midwinter Musings (C&I 3:3, March 2003) as follows:
Cold. So cold. Where am I? Must keep moving. Find open door. What do you mean, use the door on the opposite corner of the block? Can’t feel face…
I ended that introductory section—mostly about the absurdly cold Monday morning—suggesting I might not come back to Philadelphia for Midwinter next time around, albeit not in so many words. As of last summer, I wasn’t planning to do so.
Things changed. I contracted with PALINET to run the PALINET Leadership Network—which was formally launched at Midwinter 2008, in PALINET’s home town, Philadelphia. So, of course, I attended—hoping for the best.
Truth be told, I didn’t leave my hotel at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning this time around. If I had, though, it would have been OK: Unless I’m mistaken, the temperature at that point was in the low to mid 30s, with very little wind. That’s a whole lot better than 16 degrees (12 degrees after wind chill factor). Indeed, the weather throughout Midwinter was fairly nice; I rarely bothered with a scarf and never took a cab during the daytime.
Maybe 2003 really was a fluke. I hope so.
As I located and reread that essay (I remembered Philadelphia Midwinter as being 2004, not 2003, so it took a while), I got to the longest section of the Perspective: “What’s happening in LITA?” I felt “out of touch with my home division”—I didn’t know what most interest groups planned to discuss during Midwinter, I really didn’t have much sense of the highlights of the 2002 Annual Conference, I missed any sense of continuity. In other words, I missed the LITA Newsletter and felt that LITA really hadn’t replaced it at all effectively.
Around that time, I was agitating on this issue and was assured by the leadership (members and staff) that they were working on it.
Maybe they still are. I can tell you that, from my perspective, the situation is worse now than it was in 2003. The LITA Blog is in my aggregator. I apparently dropped off LITA-L due to terminated email accounts (I’ve just fixed that). I checked the LITA Wiki and the general LITA website. And, when I went off to Midwinter, I had very little idea what most of the IGs were doing. (Checking the LITA-L archives, I see that at least one-third of the IGs posted something, by and large the same ones who did blog posts—but most IGs, as far as I can tell, did neither, and none show up on the LITA Wiki. Why have a LITA Wiki if it doesn’t provide current topical information?)
Worse yet, this time around the people putting together the ALA meeting program tried to be helpful—with a new section listing discussion groups time slots, meeting places and brief notes on what they were discussing. Whoops. The LITA IGs either weren’t included or were included without topical information. I knew the topics for most discussion groups—just not those in my home division.
In 2003, I was tentatively offering to help solve the situation. The response I got was somewhere between “It’s being taken care of” and stone silence, occasionally with a sense of mild offense that I should be questioning LITA’s actions.
I’m not offering to help any more. I’ve done my stint. Right now, I pay more in LITA dues than I do in ALA dues—and, frankly, get a lot less. Other than the LITA Happy Hour (thanks to cab rides, the most expensive glass of wine I’ve had in years!), I attended no LITA events at all—at least partly because I hadn’t a clue as to what they were about. I didn’t even have my usual Former President ribbon: Apparently, I was never at the right place at the right time (including the LITA booth in the ALA office) to get one.
To be honest, the primary reason I renewed my LITA membership this year is because I was once president of the division, and somehow feel obliged. I’m not sure just how long that reason will suffice. I have no doubt LITA is doing great things for some people, but I feel more out of touch with the division than ever.
That’s the downer. Sorry about that. Otherwise, it was a good (if very quiet) Midwinter for me. I planned to keep it low-key, to retain energy and to leave plenty of time for exhibits and for possible PLN-related interviews and other activities.
That doesn’t really leave a lot to report that would matter to any of you. The receptions I attended (all groups I have some affiliation with) were all excellent. The ALCTS “Medium Heads” session on leadership succession was fascinating, leaving me with six or eight topics to pursue for PLN. Exhibits were exhibits—seemingly less crowded than usual, even with a record Midwinter crowd. I frequently find Midwinter more energizing than Annual and usually attend quite a few interest groups and discussion groups. Not so many this time, for reasons noted above. (There were other reasons I kept things low-key. My wife cracked a rib, and I nearly canceled the Midwinter trip in order to stay home and run errands for her. She convinced me I should go, but I was still concerned…and then, I caught a cold a few days after returning, probably from the plane ride.)
One session was particularly interesting, perhaps for the wrong reasons. Something happened that I’ve seen happen at least once or twice during almost every ALA I’ve been to. That’s worth a separate section (which appeared in the PALINET Leadership Network, pln.palinet.org, before it appears here).
The Midwinter 2008 schedule included an intriguing session from LAMA: “Leaders, Not Managers.” At least that’s an intriguing title if you’re running a leadership network where much of the original material is about managing! So I went, to sit in the back, take notes and, if possible, promote PLN briefly.
I wasn’t the only one who found the title intriguing. By 10:30 a.m. (starting time for the session), there were at least 35 or 40 people in a room set up for perhaps 50. Who was not there by 10:30 a.m.: Chairs or convenors. The chairs at the table in front of the room were empty.
10:35 a.m. People continued to trail in—but those chairs remained empty. At that point, I thought I’d use the opportunity to promote the PALINET Leadership Network. I spent maybe three minutes saying what it was, who it was open to (everybody), why people would find it worthwhile and repeating the URL. I’d already left a few copies of the PLN one-sheet on the table in the back of the room.
10:40 a.m. I was done talking about PLN. The room was almost full. Another attendee, at that point, said “Why don’t we co-facilitate?” So we did—she and I took seats at the front of the room and coordinated a really good discussion for the next hour or so. By the end of the discussion, I think a full 50 people were involved—and at least half of them took part in the discussion at some point.
Since I was coordinating the discussion, I didn’t take very good notes. I know that a library school student made a distinction between managers (who handle day-to-day issues) and leaders (who find ways to improve the organization), that we discussed how managers do (or don’t) become leaders (“vision” was one keyword), that ALA was mentioned as a source of inspiration. They talked about collaboration with staff, peer consulting, advocacy, how leaders influence people, leading even when you disagree. Some tough topics included leaders who have no interest in being top-level managers (or university librarians), how hard it is to be a leader in a dysfunctional organization, difficulties in demonstrating leadership—and an apparent gap in the library literature relating to leadership. In that last case, I think PLN is there to fill the gap, albeit not with peer-reviewed articles.
At some point, I mentioned “guerilla leadership”—finding ways to lead in spite of obstacles, by going under or around them. And I began to think about this particular meeting as an indication of a leadership issue that isn’t always discussed: Initiative.
That’s how I started to describe this situation—but, as it turns out, that’s wrong. That actually describes the failure in leadership: The LAMA people who saw a need for a discussion on “leaders, not managers” set up the meeting but failed to carry through and lead the discussion.
On the other hand, that slogan—which I remember from Kaiser Sand and Gravel cement trucks in earlier days—needs a creator. A little “research” yields a number of possibilities, including Robert H. Schuller in 1926, but the most frequent citation is for Ruth Stafford Peale, Norman Vincent Peale’s widow. (I’ve also seen it credited to Norman Vincent Peale, Ruth Handler, founder of Mattel, Martin Small, and Henry J. Kaiser himself…and I’m sure there are other claims for original authorship.)
Yes, in a sense, the two of us saw a need and took action to fill it. I have no doubt that others in the room would have done so if we hadn’t; after all, most of them are either AULs or at least middle managers, and I can only assume that most of them are leaders.
Finding a need and filling it is all about initiative. We took the initiative to assure that people’s time wouldn’t be wasted. Leaders learn to take initiative—but institutions don’t always reward or even admire initiative.
Still, “find a need and fill it” is the wrong motto. A better motto is much older, going back more than 2,000 years, and can be credited to Horace.
Seize the day—or harvest the day. More specifically, take initiative when a clear opportunity presents itself. That’s what we did. It’s not always comfortable. I’m not even a LAMA member, I’ve never been a high-ranking manager, I was just there to take notes.
But there was an opportunity—and a real loss if the opportunity slipped away. Several dozen people came to a room to discuss something that mattered; if they left without that discussion, several dozen person-hours would be wasted. That didn’t happen because we seized the day.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, although it’s probably the first time outside of LITA sessions. I’ve encountered a few too many cases where chairs or leaders don’t show up—maybe for good reasons, maybe not. (With cell phones and all, it’s getting harder to accept that “something came up” and there was no way to find a substitute, but never mind. I came very close to canceling my Midwinter trip at the last minute, so I’m sympathetic to emergencies.) My own rule of thumb is that if at least ten people are in the room and it’s five minutes past the starting time, it makes sense to ask whether people want to start discussing the topic at hand while we wait for the proper leadership. Usually, the answer is “Yes.”
Try it yourself the next time such an occasion arises. Maybe people are only there because they felt they had to be, in which case the room will empty out. Maybe the leaders are just a few minutes late, in which case you can just turn the meeting over to them (and if they’re true leaders, they’ll make a point of thanking you). In any case, you’ll be taking initiative and showing leadership.
Oh, and if you are the chair of a discussion group: Either cancel the meeting beforehand or make sure somebody shows up. Just because you and your buddies (including the core of the interest group or discussion group) don’t think there’s anything to discuss, you requested a meeting time—and that meeting time is the best possible place to find new members and interested parties. Failing to show up undermines your own group and the division it’s part of. Leaders also carry through with initiatives.
Some of the people I talked to at Midwinter may remember that I was uneasy about this issue of Cites & Insights. Between running errands for my somewhat immobilized wife and the greater effort needed to get the PALINET Leadership Network ready for Midwinter, I hadn’t written anything for this issue by the beginning of Midwinter—a point in the month at which I’d typically have at least half an issue’s worth of copy waiting.
My comment at the time was that the February 2008 issue was likely to be some combination of late, short and peculiar. “Late” would be tricky for a reason that might suggest itself to anyone who pays attention to the masthead. Short? Well, my original goal for C&I was 12 to 16 pages an issue, but now I’d consider any issue shorter than 20 pages to be a little on the short side—but that’s OK. Then there’s peculiar: Not getting back to the usual mix of topics, after December 2007 and January 2008 issues that might be considered a little peculiar.
When I returned, I realized I did have some copy ready for the issue, or nearly so: The first six discs of the 50-Movie Classic Westerns set. Which is longer than the usual Offtopic Perspective, because I’m saying more about these flicks, particularly some of the stranger one-hour oaters. Oh, and Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples was ready, meaning I needed to do an announcement for that. And I needed to write up my thoughts about the session in which two audience members took over because the chairs of a discussion group didn’t show up, as a lesson about leadership and initiative (which you’ve just read)…
Add a T&QT special on forecasts and trends, and it looks like the February 2008 issue will only be one of the three. That is, it won’t be late, it won’t be short…but it’s a trifle peculiar, making three somewhat peculiar issues in a row. Not that anyone else cares, and not that I haven’t had better luck with peculiar issues than with normal ones. If only I could remember what normal looked like…
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