Hi, this is Circulating Ideas, the librarian interview podcast hosted by me, Steve Thomas. My guest today is Andy Woodworth. He’s a public librarian in New Jersey, and he blogs at Agnostic, Maybe.
Ice cream, I wanted to start off with. What have you learned from that experience of trying to get the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor thing going? What have you learned from that? And how do you use that to continue doing the advocacy work that you do now?
What I’ve learned from that is the power of social media in terms of organizing, in terms of getting a message out there.
Right, and for the people who don’t know, can you explain what it is? I’m sorry I should start with that.
Oh yeah, that’s okay, no problem, no problem. Gosh, what is it 2009? It’s like so far in the past now right? [laughs] 2009 I put together a Facebook group called, back when they had Facebook groups, back in the day.
Back in my day.
Called [laughs] yeah, called “People For A Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Flavor.” And the idea was that, and I’d done some little due diligence, looked around, no-one had really lobbied the company for such a thing, so it’s like alright, this is something that hasn’t been done before. And Facebook groups make it pretty easy where anyone can join them. So, I put this group together, and I started advertising it on Twitter which was very much in the early time for, when I had probably started an account or started really using an account a couple of months ahead of time. So, just put together a hashtag and made regular tweets out of it, made regular posts out of it. I sent it to pretty much everyone I possibly could have. In terms of the lesson it’s really amazing, I mean Twitter now that we know with like the Arab Spring and the revolutions, I should say the protests in Iran, it’s such an incredible tool for zero costs except just time and diligence to get a message out. One of the things that I find the most powerful thing in using like Facebook is that there’s a one button share, and I was using that so, and encouraging people to share it with their friends because the idea of one person shares it with ten people, and maybe three people out of that share it with their ten people, and it’s still expansive growth beyond that. And, the last sort of thing is really that the connectedness is such that all I need is an email address and a very well written, official sounding either press release or letter and you can contact anyone now who has an email address, and just put forth whatever idea you want. Which, in this case, I sent it to all the library trade publications, I was sending it to the local media, I was sending it to anybody and everything, I mean I think I sent it to, no I don’t think I sent it I know I sent it to National Public Radio because they have a story submission form. I mean, when you talk about the lesson it’s just like the amount of contact that I can do just sitting behind my computer is tremendous. And for a virtual campaign it’s pretty much everything you need, I don’t have to go door-to-door [laughs] and knock, and be like “would you mind signing on your Facebook account and doing this?”
But, because the feedback I got was just incredible. People, it went international, it went, I think there was, if I remember right, there was, it was covered in places overseas, so there was people lending support all over the place. One of the, the other lesson is really that people will sign up for very silly things. As much as I was trying to put a serious message underneath it, and be like “hey, you know, libraries need your support.” People were like “hey, ice cream, okay.”
Everybody loves ice cream. [laughs]
Yeah, so it’s like, alright. The other lesson is tailoring your message. And to, in terms of tailoring your message you have to make it very close to what you’re trying to do. As much as I tried to put every interview or every talk I did, I tried to put it as close together as possible. But initially it was just like “hey look, ice cream.” And yeah that’s the kind of response I got. One of my friend’s girlfriends, now his wife, pointed out most of the people signing up for this are probably signing up because it’s rather silly, not because they actually support libraries, so I said.
[laughs] They support ice cream.
Yeah. Well, ice cream, you scream. [laughs]
Right, we all scream.
So, I assume then that you could use those lessons that you’ve learned from that with what you did this year with the Harper Collins petition at Change.org for their 26-circ thing which now seems so far in the past, but. [laughs]
Yeah, that actually, that petition just ended right now. But I hit the mark I wanted to hit. I hit 70,000 signatures which I think is pretty darn good really.
Yeah, that’s huge.
Yes, 70,000, well for Harper Collins they only got the emails, and there was three people there, so I’m responsible for over 200,000 emails they received, which is woe to their web guys, but otherwise.
Yeah I’m sure they’re real happy with you. [laughs]
I’m sure they’re thrilled. I think, yeah, in turning, when I was approached by Brett Bonfield who was behind the boycott, one of the two people behind the boycott of Harper Collins website, because he says “hey, you’re, would you be interested in doing this?” And I’m like “oh, sure, sure I’ll try anything once right?” But, I was like “okay”, and working with the editor Carol Scott at Change.org, the lesson there was really, and they were actually, they were very, very good at what they do in terms of be concise, make your ask very early on in terms of what do you want people to do. In this case, sign the petition, and if they really felt like going the extra mile, here’s the website. And, outline your reasons as easily and concisely as possible, and I think the real takeaway lesson from this, and for other librarians really is that you really need to drop the librarianese speak, and just find the easiest way to relate to people about something. It would be like, well you can give a very technical definition and say “well, we’re trying these checkouts, we have to go and deal with collection development, the collection development stats, we’ll have to examine these things.” But it really boiled down to “after 26 times it disappears. And there’s no good reason for it to disappear because it’s a file.” [laughs] And boil it down to what people can understand, and that lesson really actually really for me, originally came from teaching basic computers, because as much as I can be like “go on the screen and left-click up there, left-click these so and so thing,” and you get some very blank stares, so you learn to modify your language and be very descriptive in terms of what you want done, but not give an overly technical definition of double-clicking. It’s like press the left mouse button twice here. Which helps people understand that.
Right, and with that and the E-book Users Bill of Rights that you put together with Sarah Houghton, is there anything, either of those things, or anything that you think is really getting the publishers’ attention right now? Or are we just a little gnat that they’re swatting away and not really paying attention to on this issue?
I have to unfortunately say we’re kind of the gnat here. Now, there’s this sort of, the other takeaway from the HarperCollins thing is that no other publisher has tried a limited checkout policy. So, a year later I think that’s significant because I think if they looked at the numbers a year later, and went “oh well, as much as they bitched and moaned, they still bought the books, so we’re going to switch to a limited check up policy.” I think what we’re seeing now is with Penguin books holding back, as much as they might be in a fight with Amazon, it’s still, we’re still on that battlefield and getting killed here.
Right, we’re civilian casualties.
[laughs] Yeah, collateral damage here. When Penguin Books holding back, and just I think that’s actually the next move really with publishers, is that they’re just going to hold back whether it’s just a matter of trying to figure out how long to hold back. Like how long can we hold back and not completely and entirely piss off libraries and make it look bad for us, because I think the only thing they really, truly lose is public relations because that’s the nice thing about libraries. If people look like they’re being jerks to libraries, there’s an overwhelming sentiment of “how can you be a jerk to a library?” [laughs]
Everybody loves us, at least in concept certainly.
Yes, it’s like you’re picking on somebody, you’re picking on a library, it’s like who does that, nobody! It’s probably why Amazon didn’t sue the crap out of the libraries that were lending the first Kindles when they came out, who wants to sue a library? Nobody! Over that, because, as much as they might be in the right, and they were, with their terms of service they spelled it out for us, but they don’t want to be the company that sues libraries. Because also, they’d be the company suing taxpayers [laughs] which given their ability to dodge sales tax in states, I don’t think they want to draw any attention to themselves. But.
Do you think there’s anything that libraries can do that we haven’t done, or do you think we just don’t have a big enough united front to push that to? Because there were talks about oh there’s always libraries, there’s always librarians, but we have the ALA, but there’s no real one big thing to put against the publishers. Do you think there’s anything we can do?
I think there’s, there’s awkward statistics like “there are more libraries in the United States than McDonald’s locations.” Well McDonald’s is organized under one umbrella, all these libraries are not. And that they’re more numerous means that this will probably create more problems. I think in terms of uniting, its got to be really through ALA unfortunately. Fortunately, unfortunately, I won’t say unfortunately entirely.
What makes you say unfortunate?
I am sorry would you repeat that?
What makes you say unfortunate?
I say unfortunate because as much as there’s been some motion on it, I think in the last year there’s been certainly a lot more movement on the e-book thing, but they’re so afraid of antitrust issues, and any sort of, well that’s the response I get, “well we can’t do that because of antitrust issues.” Anti-trust concerns, is it a concern? Or is it an actuality? It either is or it isn’t, if I’m concerned, it’s kind of like I’m concerned that I might have some sort of disease, but then when I get it checked out I find I don’t have it. There never seems like well how could we, well could somebody check and see if whether it’s an actual concern? Or, what’s the risk assessment here? Because there’s a very low chance.
Do you think they’ve just borrowed the general passivity of the profession as a whole to engage things that were introverted, passive-aggressive kind of?
Yeah, I think, alright so right now I’m reading, I’ll answer your question this way, right now I’m reading the book “The Science Of Fear.” It’s a great little book because with the anxiety issues I’m having right now it’s pretty awesome to go in there and basically read the training manual for it. One of the things that it talks about is certain issues are, the human brain just can’t get around. If it has a high risk, like nuclear energy, we will by nature just give it a low benefit, even though it has a pretty high benefit, so it may be a higher, maybe. We see it as a high risk, low benefit activity because if you have a meltdown or something like this, that’s what the people, what your brain latches onto. It’s just like alright, if it’s a meltdown, it’s going to be ten thousand years before you can get back into an area, and radiation sickness, and we’ve seen all the things that can happen after nuclear accidents like Chernobyl, and the bombings, the atomic bombings in Japan, and just be like the brain basically goes “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” even though given its safety standards, it’s actually a very low risk, and it actually has a high benefit sort of thing. I think when librarians in general, I think there’s, when you look at something like that, like in this specific case well there’s antitrust concerns. That’s seen as a high risk, for whatever reason, because there’s an unknown legal consequence that could happen that could endanger the organization somehow. So it’s considered a high risk, so therefore it must have a low benefit. It’s not worth it essentially is what is coming through. I don’t think, I don’t know if anyone’s really done a critical analysis of, well what can we do? What is the kind of exposure here? Because that’s what businesses do every day, they take a risk, even ones like this where they say “well you know we could get our ass handed to ourselves here, but it’s worth a, the cost benefit analysis makes it worth a shot here.” I think a lot of risk is very easily dismissed, it’s just well it’s a risk so we can’t do it, therefore that’s it, end of conversation.
I don’t want people, everybody to think that you’re completely anti-ALA from that. [laughs]
Oh absolutely not. I think like anyone else there are parts that work, there are parts that don’t, there are people who work, there are people who don’t. Having run and been involved in volunteer member organizations in which the members run things, you get everything really, and you just work the best you can because it’s volunteer. I mean anyone, all the way up to the president could be like “well you know what as much as I committed to doing a year service here, I’m not, I’m done, I’m out.” And not even be a medical reason, they could just be like “I’m done,” and just leave.
Right, not only volunteers, but so many volunteers, it’s like the ALA is so huge it’s hard that they do things not by consensus necessarily, but they want to get most people on board so you have to wait until Midwinter until they can get together and meet, and it just takes a lot of work to move a ship that big.
I think there’s been enormous steps taken forward by people at ALA like Jenny Levine, and just trying to get it, trying to streamline, to make meeting process or any sort of work process a lot easier. And putting up ALA Connect. You’re creating a place where people can go, and they can share things. I mean not that couldn’t share things before, but in creating a place it makes it a lot easier so that I think, and maybe I’m wrong here, but when they have the Council minutes come out they can put them right on the website. When they have different documents being presented and accepted they can put them right in a place where people can access them right away. The fact that they’re more open to virtual attendance and, I’m not privy to the inner workings of some of the conferences, round tables and what not, but within their, but it sounds like what they’re trying to do is just create a lot more communication between the meetings. As much as I love face-to-face meetings like the conferences, like ALA, they are certainly taking a lot of steps to streamline some things. Now whether it’s still the giant Jabberwocky of bureaucratic committees and groups is a whole different issue, but it’s like anything really, some parts work, some parts don’t, some parts you probably are overdue to get rid of, and they’re probably committees or round tables or whatever that should have been created a few years ago to represent how interests or technologies have moved over time. I have the Groucho Marx approach to ALA, where I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member.
You know some of it is just, there is a cost which a lot of people bemoan, and I can understand that. I can afford an ALA membership, I just choose not to simply because at this point it doesn’t suit my needs. I’ll work with ALA, I mean when I did the shirt, the endangered libraries shirt, that was something that I don’t have a problem collaborating with them for different things, and with the.
And you worked with them on the challenge reporting.
Yes, yes. So, but that’s more of a reflection of myself in a way in that if I have an idea, and I can’t use it, or I can’t do it on my own, I’ll try and seek out the people who can help me, and that was, the shirt came from like, “I had this idea for a shirt, but since I don’t own the copyright to the public library shirt and thing, I thought you guys could use it.” And, that was contacting Jenny and she put me in contact with ALA Marketing, and a couple of months later we had a shirt with the…
Did they give you a free shirt?
Yeah, they gave me a bunch of free shirts actually, it was great. I did a giveaway on my blog and I sent a couple to my little, some of the library science things I’ve adopted over time, so that was a good Christmas. [laughs]
So, about the Freedom to Read challenge reporting, can you talk about how you came up with that idea? How you conceived it, and how you then thought. You talked a little bit about how you then thought the ALA was the one that was the best able to help you implement it. But, how did you come up with that? And how did you, I mean the idea for the artwork and everything?
The idea came from, it was, I’m trying to think where it came from. The initial idea was, it was a certain amount of curiosity. There’s this statistic that the Office of Intellectual Freedom likes to reference that really just boggled my mind. Where it says that they estimate that only 1 in 4 challenges are reported. And it’s like “really?” Who wouldn’t report more and why? I think the “and why” still needs to be answered. But I was, I put together a survey and at the time it was, it made sense to, I ran it through, I asked Sarah Houghton to put it up there, and it was a survey that basically asked a few questions. It said how many challenges have you experienced in the last five years? How many have you reported? How many have had the books removed by the procedure? And how many had the books removed not by procedure? And the answers were, and this was all anonymous, It was just startling where I think there was one I remember that somebody had 20 book challenges in the last five years and they reported none of them to the Office of Intellectual Freedom. And I don’t remember the statistics correctly, I just remember that 20 sticking out, I don’t remember how many books they ended up removing, maybe 1 or 2, but it was still you had 20 challenges in the last five years and you reported none of them. Well that makes, and just doing the statistic analysis, and just looking at the numbers there it was about 1 in 4 for the people who reported some of those things. So, there was contact, Sarah was contacted by the Office of Intellectual Freedom, she passed it onto me, and that’s where I came up with. I’m just like “we need to, if anything, just encourage people to report these things.” Not necessarily, just report, that’s it, it’s like crime statistics, they estimate how many violent crimes are not reported, how many mundane crimes like petty theft and that sort of thing are not reported, we need our own awareness campaign and just report these things. You can do it anonymously, you can do it however, but the statistics need to exist. And for one very simple reason, at least to me it’s a very simple reason, is that in having these statistics you can have the analysis that goes with them, and being able to look at, let’s just say, what’s a good book? The Diary Of A Part-Time Indian book.
Sherman Alexie, yeah.
Yeah, that was big in the last year. There was a couple of high-profile challenges to it. I can’t remember the state, but of course, at any rate, but if you’re looking at something like that, where if you imagine the 1 in 4 statistic applies, that means that, let’s just say there’s a town, we’ll pick on South Dakota. There’s a town, there’s four towns in South Dakota, they all have the challenge, and they all decide to remove the book. But, if you apply the statistic, the 1 in 4 reporting, that means only one of those reports will get out. And so if you’re sitting at a place like the National Coalition Against Censorship, or the Office of Intellectual Freedom, all you see is the one book removal, or the book challenge, or whatever it is, and that’s going to… If you had known about the other three, that’s going to really skew it where you can say “whoa, there’s four removals here. Are they related? Is it the same group that’s doing it? Is it different groups? Is it because they read something on a particular website that said hey this book is terrible? You need to challenge it.” You lack the analysis of a common thread if there is one, you lack the, because as these. It’s like a lot of things with human nature, if one person reads about a book challenge then they might be more inclined to challenge it in their own location or area. So somebody down in Florida could read about this in South Dakota and be like “oh, well I don’t want my kid to have that book, and if those parents or group or whoever they are can make sure that their kids don’t have it, then I can do it as well.” And I think what it comes down to is just, this very long-winded explanation comes down to is with the analysis, that better information yields better analysis, and I think it goes both ways. Not only for looking at book challenges and saying I think this is wrong in terms of its being challenged because it might have homosexual content or depictions of violence or language or something like this. But, I think it works the other way too, where let’s just say there’s a book out there that what it is being challenged on is not necessarily the basis of its content, but let’s just say there’s a, there might be a series of challenges from parents who say “You know what I think this book is marked at a third grade but I think it’s really a fifth grade book because of its content, tone, maturity, whatever you want to call it.” And I think it works well for us.
Yes, we get a lot of those in my library.
Well I think it works very well for us as a profession, because as much as these books come out of places and they’re graded for a certain age, I don’t think it would be unusual for us to go “well, you know what, let’s take another look at this and say, I think these parents are right, I think it’s not a third grade book, it’s more of a fifth grade book” And so in future book lists and what not we can revise it upwards and say “okay, you guys are right, this is probably, this is not the level that we intend, we are revising our initial assessment of the reading of this, we’re putting it fifth grade now. And then we’re going to advise school librarians, and say “hey we’re making this change upwards.” And some people might balk at that and go well that’s public, that’s just giving in to public pressure. It’s like no that’s actually us saying that sometimes we make mistakes in our assessments, and we can actually change these things, and it’s really not that big a deal.
Right, usually when we’re putting things in a certain place we’re just going by what the publisher says. I mean we don’t have time to read every single book that comes out to decide where it goes.
Exactly. Things change over time where, and I don’t think it’s, I think it’s actually a good thing for us to admit or deal with the fact that, yeah when you say publisher, the publisher said it was third grade and our book reviewers agreed at the time, but we make mistakes too. I think the idea of defending it to the death on the basis of that is just really, is actually kind of a distraction to book challenges, and to the seriousness of this. In a certain way, you pick your battles, but another thing is that can make mistakes on these sorts of things where I think the important battles is generally over topics and content rather than just making it about whether it should be in third or fifth grade, that’s kind of, at that age it’s a pretty small difference to me, that’s how I see it. Now I think if it’s third grade and it really should be in ninth grade, that’s a whole different, more protracted engagement.
Right, and different libraries split their kids collections in different ways. Some people say “oh, well this goes from kindergarten to second grade, and that goes from third to whatever.”
Right, right, Yeah, I think the, just I see it as, in working on this campaign is just like to really just get the word out there, to have, it’s something that I think librarians can very easily identify. The more information you have, the better you can analyze the situation in the same way whether you are serving your members for program ideas or how we’re doing sort of thing or looking at circulation statistics to try and get a better picture on what part of the collections are moving, what part aren’t. I think that’s something that can very easily, I think that’s something that appeals to us very easily because we are a number driven profession in terms of we want to know if this book goes out a hundred times or not, whether we should be buying more books like it in the future. It’s the same thing when it comes to these challenges, I think that we need people to just be brave for one minute, write up a thing, and it’s lovely because it’s anonymous, you don’t have to put your name to it because of the, but just give us, give the Office of Intellectual Freedom that information. It’s not, they may not act on it in terms of if you don’t ask for help, I don’t think they’ll just give it to you anyway, but that they have that statistic in there and they can look at it and go “hey, we see a pattern here for book challenges, whether it’s by, what we were talking about in terms of moving age groups or we have a particular title that’s being challenged all over the place because it’s got morally reprehensible content or something like this.” I think it also helps the Office pick their battles, but also give a better idea of what the battlefield looks like.
Right, so we know what the, whatever the book about the gay penguins or whatever thing, that is the hot book that’s being challenged.
Yeah, a book about gay penguins, I mean come on. [laughs] Well, it’s really, that’s my reaction. Like yeah so it’s.
When I first got into librarianship and I heard that Judy Blume was the number one challenged author. I was like “Judy Blume, really?” [laughs]
It’s kind of, I mean like, oh yeah, and JK Rowling the witchcraft thing. They know it’s pretend right? I guess any sort of depictions of witchcraft actually equals witchcraft which I guess if I was, I guess if I ran into these people I’d like to meet them because I’ll buy their house with this one million dollar bill that I’ve created with my crayons because depictions are real. Therefore this bill must be real.
Right, I always like to cite the fact that noted Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote about witches in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Yes, the witch is in the title, man. It’s in the title! [laughs] It’s right there! You can’t miss it.
I did also, I wanted to ask you about two different, they’re unrelated so I’ll get to the second one in a minute…
…but different blog posts that have gotten a lot of comments and stuff on your site. The first one is your most recent one, unless you’ve written one today that I don’t know about, about the awards, and how you feel like, maybe you can explain it. Are there too many awards in librarianship? Is it not making people special? Is it making people, has it got a sort of inferiority complex kicking in for people?
Oh, I don’t think there’s too many awards, not by a long shot. I think there seems to be a modest amount of awards for different sort of things going on there. Not that I can name all the ALA ones, although I did go through their site and there is a lot of awards out there, but for their, they’re such a diverse group and when you have, what is it 60 some odd, 60,000 members, I don’t think it’s, that’s unusual at all. I think it just seems like, as I writing, recognition is just like such a bizarre creature where there’s people, gosh, there’s probably no politically correct way to say this, and I’ll probably get in trouble, but.
It’s all right, if it’s really that bad I’ll edit it out for you so go ahead. [laughs]
No, no, no. It’s not like I haven’t been in trouble before, but it just seems like there is an ideal when it comes to the librarian, like this sort of person that we want to push out there on the national scene, and that people are measured up against that. The person I can think of is really like probably the most visible librarian we have is Nancy Pearl.
[laughs] I was about to say Nancy Pearl.
Gosh, she’s absolutely, and you know what, and this sounds like the preamble to throwing her under the bus, I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things from her, and she should be adored. I think she does a lot of excellent ambassadorship for the profession, and ambassadorship is the absolute proper term for this because she’s someone who can step over from library land and be someone that regular people can relate to, because she’s someone that they can go to for these kind of things, the questions of like “what do I read?” because it’s a very fundamental question. And be this sort of expert to it, but I think in a certain way, and it’s.
I imagine it’s strange to have your likeness as an action figure sitting on people’s desks all over America, but. [laughs]
Yeah, well, it seems like, but that does bring up the, there seems to be an aversion to a personal brand, now I wonder if that’s a question. I wonder if you have an aversion to librarians having a personal brand, do you have a Nancy Pearl action figure? [laughs].
What a strange reaction.
You can’t escape that, that’s a personal brand right there. It’s not like, it’s certainly adorable, it’s certainly humorous and it is a good likeness of Nancy, I don’t know how much she likes it. But, it seems like the comparison is how much does, she’s someone that people want to have out there, and she makes an excellent ambassador, and it’s kind of like there is, she represents a lot of the ideals to it where, and here’s where I get in trouble, she’s very, she has a very approachable, she’s non-threatening, she’s just someone who you could imagine having over, and just having a good talk with or being your neighbor sort of thing. And then I think that people make that sort of comparison to like the Nancy Pearls, and just be like “well here’s Andy Woodworth, how much is he like Nancy Pearl? I don’t think he’s, he looks kind of approachable, but he’s not someone who’s championing reading and literacy sort of things, so we’re going to just, alright, well he’s, I guess that’s okay, that’s alright. He’s on social media, and at the time social media who knows where it’s going.” It’s that sort of comparison to it.
So I wonder, who are you seeing making this comparison? The people giving out the awards? The people getting the awards? The people watching other people get awards?
I think it’s really that third group. I think it’s the unfortunate amorphous mass of the 99% of the profession who’s not getting these awards, or involved in the award process. It think it’s just like, they open up Library Journal and go “oh so this person got an award?” In certain cases probably just like that’s the end of the conversation there because if it’s some sort of very obscure, very niche award and they go, it’s just kind of, the words were all pasteurized and then they’re gone again. But when you have something like a Librarian Of The Year, or a Mover And Shaker, or any like the Lifetime Achievement category, that’s sort of whatever the honorific is, it’s just, are these people really the best 50 librarians that we can put forth here sort of thing? I think there’s that kind of judgment where they might look at somebody’s profile, and go “well I do that, I teach computer classes. I started a program here. They’re not, I’m pretty much on caliber with them.” And not realize that it might just be there are other factors that go into it. But, it’s just like that, I think there’s, I think there’s just a certain amount of denigration that goes with that. There’s also.
Right, and as somebody who’s received an award, do you ever internalize any of that? I mean are you the kind of person that hears that and goes “oh my god”, I guess you kind of are as that’s part of what your current post is, oh maybe I’m not worthy. [laughs].
Oh, well that was like, that was my initial reaction a few years ago. I’ve, as I’ve written, I’ve done stuff in between then, I’m not just, I didn’t just come, collect my award and then I just rode off into the sunset sort of thing, so I can just put it on my resume forever. For me, getting the Mover and Shaker award was just like, it was like, it was a motivation to do more. To do more, to do bigger, to really push that.
You said you want to be the first person to get it twice. [laughs]
[laughs] Which I’m sure people, I’m sure every, I’m sure there’s a ton of people going “oh my god this guy’s got the biggest damn ego ever,” but it’s just kind of like, I see it like, when they talk about the 50 librarians who are moving the conversations. It’s like, you know what, every year I want to be one of the 50 librarians moving the conversation, or moving the profession. When I think of it that way, it’s not really an ego thing, it’s just a “I’m going to do better, and if you want to be one of the 50, then you’ve got to beat me.’ [laughs] Really, as a competition.
As a motivation factor for other people.
Exactly. I mean I think, yeah, and I think there are a ton of people out there who certainly deserve the kind of recognition, whether its a Librarian Of The Year, or Mover and Shaker, or other reward out there, and I do think like everything else in this world, there’s vast unfairness. There will be people who aren’t recognized, but I think people trying to really get something started. I see it, yeah as a motivation, if I do something pretty awesome, I want to be, I imagine I’m trying to be one of the 50 people who’s moving librarianship forward, and if there’s someone who is doing something better, it’s like, that’s like, well then I guess I’m just going to have to try harder next year sort of business. Rather than being like “damn them, damn them for being so clever and creative, and being able to organize this group, or do this thing.”
Do you think there’s anybody else, I mean like I can’t think of anybody of Nancy Pearl level status, I mean I would guess Jessamyn West or Sarah Houghton might come the closest to being another national figure. But, I guess there’s nobody else really in her stratosphere. It helps that she’s on NPR every once in a while and all that kind of stuff, so.
Yeah, yeah, I think, and Jessamyn was asked to participate in the Room For Debate, I can’t remember the topic, but it was obviously something library related. Yeah, I think they’re the closest we have after that. Maybe, yeah really after that it just kind of drops off. [laughs]
There’s certainly people that are known within the profession. But I don’t think there’s anybody that really anyone has the outside.
The, as they say the crossover appeal, yeah. I think overall I think it’s rather, I think it’s absolutely, actually it’s rather unfortunate that we need, we should have I should say, we need, we should have, whatever, people in their own time can figure out what the right phrase is for this following statement, but we need a Nancy Pearl-like equivalent for other things in terms of, not like a DVD borrowing sort of thing, but in e-books, an e-books person. Someone who can speak on e-books, on libraries, and make it very sensible and approachable.
Yeah, I think Sarah’s close to that.
Yeah, Sarah’s probably, certainly the closest to that. But to have somebody that can have that high visibility, I mean in terms of, in the way that we have like celebrity scientists where people who are well-known physicists, and astronomers, and what not, and biologists.
Carl Sagan kind of thing.
Yeah, Carl Sagan. You know, I always screw up his name Neil…
Neil Degrasse Tyson
Yes Neil, yeah I always screw up. I can never pronounce this name, but he’s great. Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, these, maybe not Richard Dawkins, not for the atheist stuff, but just for the science thing. Anyway, but we don’t have that, we really could use that crossover appeal so.
Kind of in that same vein, who in the profession do you personally learn from? I mean, do you, that you follow regularly, and that you regularly learn things from?
Bobbi Newman, Sarah, to a certain extent the miscreants of the Library Society of the World. Miscreants, they will enjoy that name. A lot of it really comes out of Twitter. The Hack Library School people, I mean that, I really, I didn’t, last year I nominated people for Mover & Shaker, this year because I was writing a post like this, or had this in mind for a while, I didn’t nominate anyone, but they would be, I think if they were giving it out to groups, or to groups of people, that would certainly be one. I’m just trying to think it now on my whole blog list. I do read Jessamyn, David Lee King, I do read the Annoyed Librarian which some people go “my god why do you read this?” And it’s like, I read a lot of different opinions, and sometimes this person’s right, and sometimes I just click the browser shut and it’s pretty much the end of it for that day.
Right, when I talked to David Lankes a couple of episodes ago, he pointed out that a lot of times, I mean it’s good to read and to learn from people that you don’t agree with, that you want to find out what you don’t agree with so you can’t fight against that almost. [laughs]
I think it goes like, for a while I was reading, the funny thing, I talked, I wrote about a while ago, it’s like read people with different, opinions that you don’t agree with. But I find that, and I had a folder in Google Reader that had opinions of people I don’t generally agree with, and I have 200 subscriptions and only 3 were in there. I think there’s a lot of homogenous opinions out there really. At least, when it comes to the blogosphere where it’s just like, there’s a lot of “me too” to it. I mean the, the Annoyed Librarian is paid to be a contrarian so it’s just like, all right that’s good for you.
It’s somewhat of a schtick. I mean it’s not a real opinion. I always compare it politically to the Rush Limbaugh. I never get the impression that Rush Limbaugh agrees with what he is saying, he just knows what to say to get people riled up, and that’s what the Annoyed Librarian is. He/she knows what to say to get people riled up.
Yeah, and in a way it’s kind of, in a way it’s a waste of a platform because it’s all on, it’s like one of the most viewed blogs on a trade publisher platform, and it’s lost really. I mean, where it could really make a difference, but instead it’s just “alright, I’m going to be contrary, it will be nothing that can actually.” Where it could make a difference in the same way I see like the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, make a difference in terms of getting people to really think about stuff, from a satire sort of point of view it just doesn’t. There are some times when I read it and it just goes, I’m like “yeah, that’s good, good,” and then it goes off the rails, and I’m like “oh well, alright, well, it was worth it until that last point when you went off the rails.”
Yeah, I almost think it could be a better column if it was maybe less, if it was done less often. They don’t have enough grist for the mill to do a column that often, so they have to go off on weird things, and repeat things over and over again.
Yeah, while I think there is a certain amount of recycling that goes in blogging. You see people, it’s not necessarily, it depends on if they do if the regularity like Top Links Of The Week, that’s one thing, but every now and again coming out with a list, well there are times I do that when I’m being lazy. I hope this person isn’t being lazy. So, but, one of, I was looking at this little dissident thought like thing. There’s really not that much in a way, which kinds of beg a question how much critical analysis is going on because like when, let’s see what was the last controversy, probably the Penguin book, no we’ll go before that, we’ll go with the Amazon lending library. I’m clicking through my reader and it’s like a lot of the same sort of reaction rehashed. Now this is everybody’s personal platform so I should expect it, but there was just, it just felt like there was so much reaction and not much critical analysis.
Right, it was all OMG this sky is falling.
Yeah, it’s like this is the end of public libraries. The end of public libraries is going to be brought down by 5,000 titles that one person can borrow for up to one month. Up to one title that can be borrowed once a month, really? We’re that razor thin to dying? We’re that so close that this will pull the plug on it? I mean they’re up to 60,000 titles now but that’s still only because they’ve added all the self publishers, but it’s still only less than a tenth of what Amazon has to offer in terms of e-books, and who knows what that catalog looks like anyway. And may I remind you it’s still up to one a month? Where at least in my little establishment you can borrow up to 32 things, and you can borrow 10 e-books at a time.
If people think this is really going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, we need to, are you familiar with this camel? I think it could hold a lot more. [laughs] And I know I wrote it at the time, here’s a company that’s actually interested in doing something that we do as well and they’re trying to monetize it. They’re kind of interesting. They’re trying to make this as part of the appeal to become a Amazon Prime customer is to lend out a book, or that you can borrow a book. How many companies are doing that? I don’t see anybody else really trying to do that so, uh, huh. Now whether it works or not is an entirely different matter because wow.
For Amazon it’s a loss leader kind of thing, they’re just using it to, as a ways of saying “oh I like that so I’m going to purchase it now.”
Well, none of the six big publishers have jumped on it so there’s your sign right there. Oh I read a quote recently, “we’re worried about file security.” Yeah, I guess that’s why you guys live in a stone hut out in the middle of nowhere right? You don’t have Internet that runs into your building do you? Because as soon as you have that Internet you’ve added vulnerability. It’s so.
The last big thing I wanted to ask you about was the other blog post, when I was skimming through your blog this is one of the ones that got, one of the biggest amount of comments was when, I’ll let you explain this, but you said library unemployment as a topic is boring.
Oh yeah, that was.
That was, I think, in January of last year.
It will go down in history as great moments in honesty.
[laughs] Can you explain what you mean about that? I know you don’t think that the person that took offense, people who took offense at it mostly thought that you meant that you didn’t care if people were unemployed, but.
Oh, geez, if they knew how many people I helped, anyway. The set up for this is that somebody had sent me an email and said, we’re discussing immaterial matters, I can’t remember what they were at the time, kind of stupid stuff like probably Annoyed Librarian things. Why don’t you write about unemployment in library land essentially, and how it’s, how there are people being, that there are all these graduates coming out and there’s no jobs, and how this is a big deal. And, I don’t disagree with the fact that it’s a big deal, but I think, but even in my short tenure as a librarian in the last five years it’s been something that I’ve seen come up in cycles in terms of blog topics. Pretty much everywhere where it’s the usual connard. It’s the graying profession myth that ALA pushes, that all these jobs are disappearing which is true because in the last two years with the amount of jobs that have been lost due to budget cuts and the occasional library closure has been, there’s certainly a much smaller employment pool out there. But, and you have all these online schools now kicking in where they’re, where a school went from graduating maybe 50 people a year to 200 people a year, and that’s been. My response in saying that it’s boring is that because none of the factors have changed. You still have more people graduating than there are jobs, you still have more people, you still have people retiring, and the jobs aren’t being finished, I feel, of course I searched for a job for a year, I know what it’s, I certainly know what it’s like to not have a job, and I’ve been in job hunts previously before that that went on for over a year, and it’s a scary thing. I don’t, without a doubt in my mind being unemployed it really sucks, and I’ve helped people in my library look for jobs, conduct resumes, I’ve done one-on-ones where I sit down with people and work on whatever they need. Whether it’s typing up a resume, doing the job thing, and these are people who, they’ll say “I’m behind on my mortgage payments, I’m going from here to the food bank to get stuff.” I totally understand it. When I said it was boring, yeah because none of these factors have changed at all. There’s nothing, when there’s nothing new to report, all I’m going to do is rehash the same old arguments, or old points that come out there, and “yep, we’re still, the graying profession thing is still propaganda.”
Too many graduates, blah, blah, blah.
Too many graduates. The situation has not changed, which is just, it’s not something that, I don’t think anyone really finds interesting because there’s no new developments on that front.
Right, it’s like you said, just because it’s the same situation, doesn’t mean that it’s not a sad and lamentable situation, but it is just the same situation.
Yes, and so why would I write about something that hasn’t changed, unless it’s a status update. Hey remember that library unemployment thing, it’s still the same, I’ll take your comments below. I think it’s really, I think there’s a couple of other factors that people put into it where really there are librarian jobs out there, without a doubt, it’s whether you have the ability, or in some cases the motivation, to relocate, to go. I think it’s a much more mobile marketplace than anything else, where if you want to live in New Jersey, and you want to be a librarian in New Jersey, you’re going to have to wait for your time.
Right, because the University of Anchorage might have an opening, but you want to live in Miami.
Yeah, but if you’re willing to relocate there’s, there are jobs out there. They exist, there are positions that are open that need to be filled. There, they exist out there, you can’t say, if there’s really no jobs, to a certain extent you’re saying there’s no jobs for you under the conditions that you want, which sometimes life doesn’t work that way. So if you’re not willing to relocate then you gotta understand that in the meantime you’re going to have to tread water and do something else until a job opens up, like I say working in New Jersey within the state, or in the area, or whatever you’re trying to do. But, it was a very interesting reaction. It’s another lesson on how people can, I try and word things in a certain way, and then be like “you are just being indifferent to people who are unemployed.” No thank you very much, no. But just, to me that post has other significance. It’s really when I started finding my voice in terms of my writing, and just being extraordinarily frank. I think that probably the latest examples is on awards and recognition posts was it was just much more in my voice than I had been before. Where I had been writing things rather, I don’t know, trying to be a little bit diplomatic at least, but this was just being me so.
Right. And the last thing I wanted to ask you about is I know you used to work in gardening, is that correct? Vaguely?
Yes, commercial horticulture.
I think you’ve written about this in the past, I tried to find it but I didn’t see it on your blog. But, are there lessons that you learned in that profession that you’ve brought to librarianship? Aside from the obvious weeding metaphor. [laughs]
Yeah, there’s, probably the most important thing was that I learned I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. But, at the time it was, actually to be honest, there really isn’t that many lessons that I took from it other than that’s not what I wanted to do. It’s, it was fun while it lasted because it was in my early 20’s, I knew I didn’t work at a desk at the time, so it made perfect sense to me.
It was sort of like reading the Annoyed Librarian, that you figured out what you don’t want to do. [laughs]
Well, I think there’s, and this is probably more of a comment on our society that, I mean there’s such an emphasis on going to college, and the idea that was, or the sort of plan that’s put forth to you in High School, is like “okay, you’ll go to college, you’ll graduate here, you’ll go to college, you’ll find a successful job, you’ll find a nice person, you’ll settle down, you’ll have the formulaic American dream.” Which is actually pretty appealing, who wouldn’t want that kind of financial and family stability.
Right, the 2.5 kids, and the dog, and the wife that can fit this.
Exactly. And it’s kind of like, we’re a little bit, a little bit that’s where it went off the rails for me. There wasn’t much of a, it didn’t seem like there was, until I got fired, that there was much of a leeway for that where it was like I can look at, maybe this, there wasn’t, didn’t seem like there was that much analysis to make sure that you’re getting into the right field. It’s like “well, I think this is close enough” sort of thing. There seems to be little encouragement for exploration. I’m extraordinarily jealous of my cousin, my younger cousins, who took a year off between High School and college, and they took it off for different reasons, but they did things in that year. So, in certain cases they found volunteer projects in different parts of the world and went there and did it, or they worked and lived on their own for a while, and that, it seems like there’s an extraordinary rush to get where you’re going in your career, and without an allowance for time to, to be “well is this something I really want to do for the next 20, 30, 40 years?” I feel extraordinarily fortunate that I really did fall into librarianship, and that I really, I love what I do, I love being able to make a difference in people’s lives. I do think librarians do save lives. I do think, not in the way that policemen or fire or medical doctors do, but I think improving quality of life is an overlooked, it’s an overlooked asset really, where people may say “really, getting them the latest Debbie Macomber is going to improve their life?” you know? You know what, it might improve their day, it might improve the next couple of days, and it’s a battle of inches here. Where if you can make somebody’s day and say “hey look, I got the latest Debbie Macomber here” and they’re happy to be able to find it on chance, or have it come in, and it’s something they, yeah sure it’s a pleasure reading sort of thing, but it makes a difference. And I think, and we forget how our connectedness really in this world where if I can make this person a little bit happier, they’re probably going to be a little happier around the people they encounter, and it is that sort of pay it forward. And some people think that all that’s all, they get very cynical about it, it’s like “that doesn’t, that never happens,” that sort of thing. But it does, it makes a difference, it’s the small differences. We think of, as I said with the fire and the police and the medical doctors, they make big differences because they might be pulling somebody out of a burning building, or performing emergency surgeries, yeah those certainly are major differences, but it really, for the other 99% of your life it’s the minor differences, it’s the stranger who greets you on the street and says “hi, how you doing? What a lovely day” sort of thing. And, it’s those little interactions that matter, because face it, look at our body. Our body is basically a ton of little interactions, at the cellular level, at the molecular level, and no-one goes “well, geez, I can’t believe it took, yeah you think one glucose module, molecule will make a difference.” It’s like well, I bet you for that cell it will. And then it will be able to still do its job, it will still be able to run the organ that it’s attached to, or system. It really comes down to the tiny little interactions. I think sometimes we, and I use we in the royal sense, not just librarians but people in general, we forget about those little interactions, and how they can make a difference. I could, I know that I remember reading somebody’s, who wrote a note to like a suicide hotline that the reason they didn’t jump off the bridge is because some stranger said hello to them and acknowledged them when they were off, when they were walking onto the bridge they were planning to jump from. Those are the sort of little interactions that make a big difference. But we don’t see it that way and I think we should, and I think we should act accordingly as well, so.
Right, well it’s good that you got into the profession and can make those little things happen, and not just for roses anymore, but for people.
[laughs] Thank you.
So Andy, thank you so much for talking to me for this show.
Well, thank you for having me, much appreciated.
I’ll talk to you later.