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The spirit of angst lives strong in Seattle

January 21, 2010, 4:37 pm

When I publish my next book I’ll be sure to add “blowjobby” author of Next Steps to the promotional packet. That’s what a writer for The Stranger, Seattle’s alt newspaper, labeled me. I guess it is better than crickets chirping, but still—librarians get no respect.  And people wonder why newspapers are dying? Looking back at the writer’s archive of work he seems like he has a chip on his shoulder and is channeling the spirit of talk radio by taking things out of context and then trying to cause problems—while simultaneously posturing his angsty hipster image. I could be wrong but that’s how it looks to me. We’ll get to that.

First the column. The idea sprouted on a trip to UW-Madison. I wanted to write a follow-up book about the inspiring qualities of libraries. My foray into marketing left an impression on me about building a brand. It was fascinating to hear from patrons talking about what they liked about their libraries—how they were motivated, inspired, delighted—all these touchy-feely yet powerful qualities that don’t make it into our strategic plans. I envisioned a book with each chapter dedicated to one of these different components highlighting how all types of libraries could apply these elements. In conjunction to the book, I floated the idea of a supporting column that would allow me to explore the theme in a public and linear fashion.

ALA was interested but encouraged me to slant it a bit toward the aspect of managing through a financial crisis. So—how are libraries inspiring to their users and how do they sustain that momentum through tough times. That’s the vision. 700 words isn’t a large canvas to work with, but I tried to craft a narrative that would show that despite the struggles, libraries can still push ahead and still do meaningful and creative things.

I chose to start with the Seattle Public Library because I view them as leaders in the profession. They have a great reputation and watching them make tough choices will give other library managers help and hope. I visited the SPL last year at ACRL and was thoroughly impressed. They do so many amazing things, not to mention the beauty of their building. I am curious about where they were heading and tried to capture that as best as I could in the column

I didn’t seek out to write a political piece… but it seems that’s what it has become. It’s hard to judge though because there are many anonymous posters who rip on the library, but my experiences with online griefers suggest that it could be a minority opinion using a defenseless forum to vent. I’ve posted my response under the column and will let that speak for itself right now. DNFTT.

I kind of suspected that some disgruntled employee might come out of the woodwork and rip on the column… and that’s ok. But my suggestion to you is that you have to make change from within— build your skills, gain influence, and then do great things to help the organization. Investing your time by complaining online is probably not going to improve the situation. If you really want to have an impact, find a low cost way to offer a positive benefit on your library users. Just a thought…

After watching what happens in the comments over at Annoyed I kind of figured that somebody would take jabs at SPL and me. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would come from outside the profession. This former bookseller tried to cause a commotion by basically saying that his library sucks, blah blah, blah. His aim was “setting me straight.” Seriously? I feel sorry for you. This is your contribution to the world? Whatever dude.

It seems to be one of those instances where someone doesn’t appreciate what they have and therefore feel entitled to rip on it. You can scroll down to my response to him under his piece if you really care. I tried not to feed into his negativity, but it is what it is. Hopefully at the very least the good citizens of Seattle will be reminded of the struggle that their library is facing and it will result a positive outcome.

I apologize for any ill will that my column caused to the admin and employees of SPL. Honestly I think you have a great library. The more I researched the more impressed I became with what you are doing. I tried to shine a spotlight on you, but obviously others wanted to use it to promote their own self-interests. Keep building your relationship with the community.

The next column focuses on an academic library in Washington DC. Due out in American Libraries in March. Hopefully this one will have a better response, although it starts out rather provocatively. I’m eager to see how ALA edits it.

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