Blowing one’s trumpet

Bear with me, because there are a few threads I would like to draw together here, and they may come together rather messily.

  1. I’ve had a conversation in a leadership class about the difference between actually getting things done and the activities of self-promoting squeaky wheels who don’t actually contribute.  You know what I’m talking about, I am sure: the Peter Principal jerks who get promoted while those who labor quietly and competently get passed over.
  2. But then there is also the difficulty (sometimes) for management to realize who is doing what and the necessity for people to self-promote in a realistic way that helps the organization and themselves.  If you’re doing good so subtly, is management to be blamed for missing your fingerprints on the good deeds?
  3. The perennial issue of libraries in general being given the shaft during bad economic times no matter how foolish that may be in terms of value for money libraries give in terms of net access, help with finding jobs, and other resources.
  4. The historical tendency* of librarians to want to be recognized for the good they and their institutions do by their quiet competence and effort alone.
  5. This post today from John Scalzi’s blog.

Which brings me to the question – are we thinking (or have we been thinking) about what we do as charity rather than a profession?

* I do realize I am oversimplifying, and I do know that libraries are getting better at promotion.  I do think, however, that they are still behind the curve when it comes to proving the economic utility of what they do.


  1. To continue the conversation…I believe there is a definite synergy between librarianship being a woman-dominated profession and libraries being given the shaft. I think many women are raised to not toot their own horn, and to work quietly in the background. Not to mention that women’s work is generally undervalued. Thus, to badly quote someone, I can’t remember who, “The troubling perception exists that if women regularly do it, whatever it is, then anyone can do it.”
    I think that public libraries, for instance, have run on the charity “let’s me thankful they let us continue to operate” mentality for far too long. I would love to see some entitlement rear it’s head. Instead of doing more with less, just shut the damn doors for a few days! Either we’re providing a valuable service or we’re not. If we’re not, we should shut down. If we are, we need more money. Hell, they were cutting library budgets during the damn boom time.
    On a good note, a cut budget increases creativity fast. Which is a nice perk of the library field. But we do have to let people know what we do! Ideally before we have to shut the doors to get their attention. Sometimes the profession seems a little martyred to me. Or co-dependent. I haven’t figured that part out yet. :)
    Thanks for taking it to your blog.

  2. Yes, Jamie – I was also thinking of the female-dominated profession. I sort of didn’t mention it on purpose because I was wondering how fast it would come up in comments – so thank you! I was recently reminded in another context that women tend to think, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.” The context was reading balance sheets, so clearly I am as guilty as anyone of devaluing things I can do simply because I can do them.

    I was also thinking (but didn’t mention) my last post regarding resumes and saying, “Which resulted in what?”

    Yes, a cut budget increases creativity – in some. In others it induces despair. Which doesn’t mean the institution is not worth supporting, but does ensure its demise. Which is horrifying, when you look at the big picture. The martyrdom/co-dependancy may be deplorable, but I hope it does not signal the demise of the profession.

  3. There’s something a little wrong about the “charity vs. profession” thing. I know you’re onto something, but I think that’s not quite the right formulation? I’m being presumptuous, “correcting” your work. But charity can be a profession. It’s not just do-gooders leading with their hearts. And sometimes those do-gooders are way better than the professionals at tooting their own horns, anyway. So, what IS the right distinction to make???? I’m stuck.

    Could it be something like the difference between archiving the collected knowledge and information of a culture (important, but quiet and primarily a scholastic enterprise) and gathering that information and disseminating it -which changes people down to their toes? Just musing…

  4. Andrea – you’re right, but I wasn’t so much referring to running a charity (which I agree is a profession) but being someone who gives: the nonprofessional, everyday acts of charity which our culture (rightly or wrongly) has decided are not to be paraded before the public. Because I would argue that that is what most people immediately think of when they think of “charity” – not “Who runs MSF?” but “Yeah, I gave to the United Way.”

    Anyone can give to the United Way if they have an extra dollar. Not everyone can be a good librarian.