Picking and choosing your battles
A while back, I had a very visceral reaction of disgust and depression to a comment on my “Why do we put up with this” post. After my initial reaction, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss where my reaction came from and why I think this response while well meaning sets up a no win situation. I started a post then left it alone. However, today after a conversation with a colleague at University of Texas I thought perhaps this unfinished post was worth revisiting.
What the commenter said that sent me off the deep end was
As for your statement of having to become a member of your state association, I think we can safely say that youâ€™ve pretty much stated that TLA has little, if anything, to entice you. Not becoming a member makes sense. However, change usually comes from within an organization, although it might be stimulated by an outside event. If you arenâ€™t happy with how TLA works, then youâ€™ll have to join and help us make the needed changes.
To be perfectly honest, my first thought when I read this was “you’ve got to be kidding me”. Then I thought about the fact that I had a nearly IDENTICAL conversation with folks at code4lib as to why they should join LITA. The truth of the matter is that I believe in trying to change things by working within the system. However, there are only so many battles one can fight at one time. It seems to me that it is often the same people who pick up the torch and fight these battles for change in librarianship. It is the same people who get asked to do more, and to take leadership roles over and over again.
I was talking to a colleague at UT who is active in a particular library association and that association’s board of directors complaints/dismay that membership had dropped off. My colleague is trying to change the organization in question, and she is one of those folks I described above who genuinely care about the profession but is extremely over-committed because others refuse to take on leadership roles or are poor leaders.
Talking to her and thinking about other colleagues in similar situations, a pattern emerged in my mind. One where the same enthusiastic and effective people get asked to take on more and more and lead over and over again.
In my mind, this pattern has extremely dire consequences. Burn out of active and enthusiastic librarians for one. But burn out is the tip of the iceberg, because burn out can result in ineffectual leadership within our libraries and library associations to the point that we fail to be effective and as a result, alienate users and association members.
The solution isn’t for people like me or my UT colleague to take on more commitments. Instead our associations and libraries must recruit, train,Â nurture, and retain more people who are enthusiastic, engaged, and effective leaders. Our professional sorely needs this if as a whole we intent to be relevant in the future.