What would you do if you didn't need the approval of 15 committees?

Put another way: what would you do if your library system was better using your talents?

The lightning-speed rollout of the Old Spice/New Spice videos, the fun of the Librarians Do Gaga video (and, to a lesser extent--but probably only because flash mobs have become fairly common--the Seattle Library Flash Mob), JoCo Library's Read to a Unicorn April 1st post...all have me both excited


frustrated about libraries run by committees and the compartmentalizing of library jobs (that is, you have your social media people, and only your social media people work on the library's social media presence; you have your communications department, and all communications with the public have to be run through it, etc.) If you work in a medium to largish library system, you are a part of a crowd of workers. And chances are, your library system isn't crowdsourcing within its staff...your library system isn't making use of everyone's talents. A big shame, because libraryfolk tend to be a pretty talented bunch.

I think of what, for ex, David Lee King does for Topeka & Shawnee. David has lots of talent; David has lots of gear...but a lot of folks who work in libraries have lots of talent and lots of gear. What ultimately matters most is lots of permission. David has that, I think--at least it looks like it from here--and most of us don't. Many of us don't need to be told or taught at conferences how to engage with patrons via social media, how to market our libraries via YouTube or Facebook, etc--we need our administrators to be told or taught that they should allow us to do so. In the largish public library systems I've worked in--all good systems, and none of which I mean to complain about here, as I'm pretty sure it's the norm (which I do mean to complain about)--you can barely post an Out of Order sign on a bathroom door at your branch without getting the font approved by someone in PR or communications. You can't do spontaneous programming, as all programs need to be approved (so they can be officially promoted, when promoting at the branch level would probably yield as high a turnout) at least 6 months in advance. You can't seize the moment; you can't seize the day; you're lucky if you can seize the year. Old Spice/New Spice practically seized the nanosecond.

Part of me wants to propose a place for library workers to post their ideas, ideas of stuff they would do if their library systems let them--so that other library systems, perhaps systems more willing to take risks, can run with those ideas if they want to. Free Library Ideas. Because we care about libraries, and we want awesome library stuff done, even if we're not in the required position to get it done at our own libraries.

Here are a few of mine:

If your library has a Facebook page, slap together a gift app. It takes about an hour. Create fake book covers in Picnik or wherever, covers that say things like "Pulse-Pounding Thriller" or "Savvy Historical Romp." Patrons can send them to people, and each should come w/the attached message: "For 10 Great Pulse-Pounding Thriller recommendations, call _____ Library at XXX-XXXX" [or insert ask-a-librarian's email, etc]". Boom. Facebook gifts. Reader's Advisory promotion. An hour or two of work. (Facebook quizzes are also a piece of cake. Have *something* fun & light to offer aside from your library's info, at least. Local history quiz? How Well Do You Know Your Library? quiz?) Quizzes and Facebook gift apps are kind of "yesterday," I know--but today's yesterdays are most library systems' tomorrows, so hop to.

National Poetry Month promotion for kids (or adults, really): run weekly drawings for personalized poems. You've got a poet on staff, or on your teen advisory board, or in your local literary community. You make up forms, or have a web form--kids write in 5 things they want included in the poem (give them suggestions: a sport, Harry Potter, a favorite color, toad guts, etc), and check whether they want the poem to be silly or serious. Draw one name a week, or 5 names a week, or 10 names a week during National Poetry Month--whatever your poet/s can handle. Poets write poems, type up poems on nice paper, give/mail poems to kids.

What else? Some kind of free reading-type content to download to e-readers/iPhones/etc. A free ebook, courtesy of the library. That's right; your staff puts it together. A selection of our librarians' favorite short stories in the public domain, if no one on staff wants to write original stuff. A compendium of library-related humor. An anthology of literary mash-ups (Pride and Prejudice and Librarians) by staff. Our Library's Got Talent. Anecdotes. Whatever. People LOVE free ebooks. Promote your library's free ebook via your library's social network presences, your library's web page, etc. Boom. You've given people something different, for free, and folks, it really wasn't much work at all.

If YouTube and blogs and LOLcats have taught us nothing else, they're taught us that sometimes the little guys, the guys who may otherwise have gone undiscovered, are fantastically smart, talented, and funny. Your new page may be a sharper writer than your senior PR person. For goodness' sake, don't let some other library learn about that before you do.

If anyone from any library system that will approve it wants to work with me on any of the above (especially the ebook), let me know.

What are your ideas? What aren't you getting to do that you'd do in a heartbeat if you could?


Dan said...

Can you hear that sound?
The sound of things not working
Death by committee

anne said...

You didn't get any discussion from me because I don't know what I'd do in a heartbeat if I could any more. But I love your post--it summed up a conversation I'd had that very day.

Kelly said...

Same here but I've been checked back many times for other peoples' responses! I'm in tech services, so I've thought about making a creative video for public services staff explaining who these folks are downstairs and what we do. Oh and our incoming students have to read the same book their first semester, it would be cool if the library could host some space for sharing reactions and reviews in a social kind of way.

Jodyth said...


Marge Loch-Wouters said...

I hear ya talking. I have been lucky for the last 30 years to work in libraries that the word is "You want to do.....? Then you go girl! Do it!" It has freed me to explore and create and support that creativity with people I work with. Without that free-flow and willingness to cede some territory between departments, things don't happen.