Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

How Powerful Are You?

Will you be  particpating in the economic recovery that is starting to take place?  The library publications and conferences have reported the news of libraries being downsized because of the economy along with the many other professions (including law) that have seen, what seems, more than their share of reductions.  With what looks like recovery in sight and the promise of more jobs during the next couple years, will our employers decide it is time to quit investing in managing information or at least decide it is not a priority?  Before that happens we can take action.

Decide That You Are Not Powerless.

Throughout the years we have complained about the perception people have of libraries and have worried about what to do about it.  The fact is that the perception exists.  We are seen as powerless people and treated in the same way by many.

In a recent Law Blog article, Ashby Jones reported on the discussion of unwritten rules in law firms that was start on and picked up by Legal Blog Watch.  His article, Ashby asked his readers to participate in writing the unwritten rules through comments, as had been done on the other blogs.  One comment caught my eye and started me thinking about how we can change the perception.  The commenter wrote:

Rule No. 1: Be kind to everyone, ESPECIALLY to those people who you might think have no power: the security staff, librarians, office cleaners, cafeteria personnel, administrative staff, skycaps, and restaurant waitstaff.

I include this, not because I see the other positions listed as powerless, but because the commenter included librarians among them.  Ouch!  My first reaction was to get angry, but I managed to shake off that somewhat unproductive feeling and start thinking about why someone would think we are powerless.  What causes this perception?

Don’t Wait For Others to Change the Stereotype

You might disagree with me, but, here’s my conclusion.

All articles that report on the “hip” librarians, the importance of libraries, the good that we as a profession do in the world, the miraculous feats we use to find that elusive fact, will not change the preconception that the public, our employers and sometimes our friends and family (yes, Dad, I am using my tuition to become a librarian) have of us.  That goes for all the initiatives and name changes our professional associations take on.  We have to do it ourselves.  How?

Can You Feel The Power?

I believe that the notion of powerlessness is at the core of this problem.   If you were asked to list the preconceptions that are held about librarians, you would probably list timid, fussy, myopic, cyberphobic (fearful of computers), metathesiophobic (fearful of change), and subservient.

OK, so there are some librarians, my high school librarian was among them, who have projected an image as the angry librarian whose interest is to control.   While they seem more powerful than the timid librarian, the source of their anger is most likely born out of frustration, fear, and yes, a feeling of being powerless.  Most often, a really powerful librarian that goes against these stereotypes is seen as being out of the norm.

Define Powerless

Let’s think of the word, powerless, for a minute.  Webster’s provides the following definition:

Function: adjective
Meaning: unable to act or achieve oneʼs purpose <I wish I could help you, but I am powerless in this situation>
Synonyms helpless, impotent, weak
Related Words incapable, incompetent, ineffective, ineffectual, inept, unfit, useless; feeble, frail, infirm, passive, spineless, supine, unaggressive
Near Antonyms able, capable, competent, effective, efficient; authoritarian, autocratic, despotic, dictatorial, magisterial, tyrannical (also tyrranic); dominant, dynamic, energetic, forceful, robust, sturdy, tough, vigorous; important, major, significant; high-level, senior, top
Antonyms mighty, potent, powerful, puissant, strong
Double ouch!  If powerless is how people perceive us, then we have problems, and we probably won’t  participate in the economic recovery in our future.
The Path to Powerlessness
I once learned that others can not take your power away from you, you have to give it away to be powerless.  I believe we give away our power every day and, as we do, we perpetuate the librarian stereotype.  Think about some messages you might give to yourself that might make you feel powerless.
  • I can’t change it
  • No one understands what I am trying to say
  • I can’t make people listen
  • It is too much of an obstacle to tackle
Now think of the messages you send to give others reasons to think of you as powerless.
  • The “powers that be” have decided
  • That’s a battle that isn’t worth fighting
  • No problem
Re-engage Your Power
If we want the world to see us in a different way, we need to think in a different way.  We may need to do it for some time, but eventually, the world will get the message that a librarian is intelligent, insightful, strategic, curious, and solution oriented.   Someone who doesn’t just manage and help people find information but also help them understand the value of information.
How do we proceed?
  • Learn to communicate
  • Quit accepting what others think instead of what you think
  • Manage your anger
  • Quit feeling sorry for yourself
  • Feel fear but keep going
  • Acknowledge you are right more often than not
  • Speak up!
  • Be assertive
  • Ask questions
  • Create a vision for the future
  • Share your ideas
  • If you are in a business library, learn about the business and think of your self as a business person first, librarian second
  • If you don’t like being thought of as a business person, find another type of library to work at where you fit in – your staying where you will give you a sense of being powerless and helps perpetuate the stereotype
  • Learn the language of other professions to improve communication
  • Keep working at it, you will see changes
  • Act as if
I know there are more, but this should give us a place to start.
An Aside for Those of Us Thinking We Need Out
Years after graduating from high school and college I visited my then aging high school librarian.  When I told her that I had become a librarian, she said, “Why the hell did you do that!”   If you are wondering why you became a librarian or if you became a librarian because you “love to read” and haven’t figured out why you stayed, Quit.
My apologies for being abrupt but you need to find another profession. In other words, if you are not able to see yourself in a new way, or you truly hate what you are doing, please move on to another career.  This will give those of us, who want to step up, a chance at becoming who we know we are and why we stayed.
To those of us who want to stay, we need to start believing in ourselves and our work.  If we don’t take action we will very likely see our profession go the way of video store clerks.  THAT scares me, as I cannot see myself doing anything other than what I am doing.  Yes, a paradigm shift is taking place in our workplaces.  We need to understand it and find our place rather than fear it.  This won’t be an easy task, but then (as they say), ” nothing that is worth doing is easy.”

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