Saturday, October 22, 2011

Leading From The Stacks: Window and the mirror theory

This is the sixth post in the series Leading From The Stacks, an examination of leadership in the library industry. It was initiated by my course Leading From Any Position.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be involved with the blog Hack Library School as a contributing writer. For my post this week, I thought I would combine efforts, sharing my post on leadership with readers of both blogs.

I love theory. The ideas that disciplines and professions are based off of. The bedrock of our world views. The base of our ideologies.

Some of my favorite courses in library school were the foundation courses. At the time they were frustrating, because I wanted to be working in a library. But now that I am working in the field, I appreciate those theory courses the most.

I find LIS theory to be a fascinating creature. We have our own theorists (like Ranganathan, Dervin and Kuhlthau) but we are also a discipline of adoptive theory. Communication, education, business and management, sociology, gender studies, even engineering theories (HCI and UX principles are starting to take over the profession) are all relevant to LIS.

One of the last required foundation classes I took was Management and Leadership in the Library Industry. While most of the class discussions were focused on Taylorism and Scientific Management versus more current humanist approaches to management, our instructor provided a very interesting recommended reading list. On it were authors whose books are typically found on the shelves of business sections: Stephen R. Covey, John P. Kotter, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel H. Pink and Peter F. Drucker. I’ll admit: at first I scoffed at these books. Having a background in sociology, I want my theorist to be a bit grittier (and a bit more European): Foucault, Durkheim, Marx, Marcuse and Weber. So I pretty much stuck to the required reading and was none the wiser...

...until recently. I had a good friend (and non-librarian) recommend Good to Great by Jim Collins. This was a title that was on that recommended reading list, and one that I normally pass over. But the friend who recommended it was not someone I would think of as reading it: she spent a number of years selling fair-trade organic coffee, has spent a fair amount of time traveling in Africa and Latin America (including Chiapas, land of the Zapatista) and only recently started working for a corporation (Whole Foods) because of the horrible economy. Not exactly your rank-and-file corporate worker. So I had to check this book out.
Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying it, and finding much of Collins’ ideas surrounding leadership 100% applicable to libraries.

The most relevant lesson taken away so far is what Collins calls "the window and the mirror" theory:

"[Top-tier] leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well....At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly. The comparison leaders did just the opposite. They’d look out the window for something or someone outside themselves to blame for poor results, but would preen in front of the mirror and credit themselves when things went well. (Collins, Good to Great, p. 35)"

Collins uses steel producing companies to exemplify this idea. CEOs of mediocre companies would look out the window and see internationally produced cheap steel as the reason why their companies were not reaching their potential. While the CEOs of top steel companies saw the internationally produced cheap steel as an opportunity. The competing companies would have to ship the steel to the US at exorbitant prices, giving the American companies a distinct advantage. Likewise, these top companies look at their own operations for ways to improve their business, rather than blame outside factors for their failures.
I think the window/mirror theory is an excellent mindset not just for individual leaders, but for the library industry as a whole. We could look at declining circulation counts or reference questions as a factor out of our control that is pushing our services to the periphery. Or, we can look at the changing information searching behaviors of our patrons as an opportunity to offer innovative services and resources that exceeds our users expectations.

For example: In 2009, Project Information Literacy released a progress report, with findings that describes course readings, Google and instructors as the first resources students turn to when researching topics for their school work, and librarians as an overlooked resource. Looking for external factors to blame for lack of library use, this study could be a shining example. Instead, we should look at the fact that students are rarely seeking out librarians as an opportunity to create new services (such as embedded librarianship or collaborating with instructors and faculty) to better assist students. And we should be looking at our current services for potential areas of improvement.
It is widely know that we live in a time of change. Libraries of all types are facing major budget cuts, and we are fighting tooth and nail for what resources we do receive. Rather than being Chicken Littles about it, looking out the window to avoid falling pieces of the sky, we should be looking at the changes we face as the new reality and continue to offer excellent services and exceed our users expectations. Now is the time to ensure our place as leaders in the fight for a citizenry who is not just information literate, but information fluent.

I know that this book has been out for over a decade, and some of the companies that Collins have listed as "great" companies have been the most affected by our current recession (such as the now defunct Circuit City), but Good to Great is still an excellent read. It's worth checking out. But, as my hero Levar Burton often said: "You don't have to take my word for it..."

You can read more of my writing over at Hack Library School by clicking here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Leading From The Stacks: Getting infront of the puck

This is the fifth post in the series Leading From The Stacks, an examination of leadership in the library industry. It was initiated by my course Leading From Any Position.

Go in peace, Mr. Jobs.

We recently lost a great man, a visionary and a global leader when Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, passed away on October 5th.

There has been much that has already been said about him. Examining how Apple is in many ways the model for the personal computer industry, how Jobs as a major player in revolutionizing cinematic animation and the music industry. Steve Job was a very public figure, and his passing is global news. As a library student writing a series of blog posts on leadership, it would be remiss to not say a few words on Steve Job as a leader.
 "I skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been." - Wayne Gretzky

Steve Jobs said the the above Gretzky quotes has always been on of his favorites, and his success seems to support philosophy. When Jobs rejoined Apple in the late 90s, after decade long schism with the company he co-founded,  it was struggling. With a few short years the iMac and the iPod were released and the company was once again a global leader in the technology industry. Today, many companies seem to be constantly chasing Apple's tail coats, while Apple always seems to be right where the puck is going to be.

Much of this success is attributed to Jobs, who was a very hands-on CEO of the company. He was known for design excellence. As new products were developed, he was know for demanding simplicity and that all excess be cut out. Apple is also famous for creating experiences that exceeds their customers experiences. Jobs certainly offers a lot that anyone, but especially librarians, could learn from.

Jobs was not a perfect leader. He was known for demanding perfection, being an aggressive manager and even controlling. But he ways also heralded as today's Henry Ford. The world would be a different place with his influence, and his presence will be missed.

I have found his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address inspiring. I hope you do to: 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

InfoCamp Seattle Recap

I shot off a quick post the other day from the middle of a session at this year's InfoCamp Seattle, but now that I am home I wanted to sit down and report back on my time there:

Opening session at InfoCamp Seattle 2011
Kane Hall, University of Washington 

For those of you who aren't familiar with InfoCamp: it's a user experience unconference. User experience (UX), in very broad terms, is a look at how users/customers/patrons are interacting with the systems that are created for them. These systems include, but are not limited to: web sites, databases, software, programs, catalogs, etc. Probably 60% of the participants were from more technical industries (web designers, programmers, coders, developers) while 40% were from the library community. The "unconference" model is one where breakout sessions are organized as the day progresses, so anyone who shows up who would like to present would have the opportunity. It adds a grass roots feel to the event, which is pretty awesome.

The Keynote was given by Nishant Kothary, a writer, entrepreneur and Microsoft employee. His talk centered around the importance of failure, and included insights about behavior, neuroscience, design, economics, and, of course, cute dog photos. It was excellent. 

 Taco Time!

I attended some great sessions. The highlights included discussions on how to enter into a UX career, how to use tweets as a data set in quantitative and qualitative research, and how to incorporate UX principles into academic libraries. I also volunteered, to help cover the cost of the conference, and it was awesome to interact with folks at the registration table.

View of Mount Rainer from the University of Washington Campus.

The location was beautiful. I never realized how awesome the University of Washington Campus was. Not only was it a perfect setting for InfoCamp, but it was so much fun to spend the weekend in Seattle, seeing some old friends and eating some amazing food.

Librarian Extraordinaire, Kirsten Himes, trying to decide on which bowl of pho is for her. Don't let the sign dissuade you, it was an amazing meal. 

The highlight of the weekend, other than InfoCamp, was spending my birthday weekend with some close friends. Below, you can see Pfeif (our gracious host) preparing an amazing birthday dinner: tamari-maple-almond salmon with green beans and salad from her and her boyfriend's garden. It was great to spend a weekend out of town, with friends, learning about better ways to meet and exceed the expectations of our patrons.

InfoCamp was both invigorating and inspiring. I feel a renewed momentum to help get an InfoCampPDX started! We have a space booked in February 2012. So now it's time to roll up our sleeves and make it happen. if you live in the area, and are interested in helping out check out this wiki and feel free to drop me a line (

Special thanks to the organizing team of InfoCamp Seattle for an amazing weekend, and to Serenity Isben for letting me share her wonderful photos on here!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

live blogging #InfoCampSeattle

Having a great time here in Seattle. Learning about some really cool projects.

One that just caught my interest: Wikipedia Loves Libraries. In short: a project to try and create a wikipedia page for every library.

A session on academic libraries is about to start, titled "Head in the Sand." Should be good. So I have to go. But to learn more about InfoCamp, a UX unconference, search for the hash tag #infocampseattle in twitter!