Michael Stephens

Michael, welcome back to the podcast.

Thank you. Thank you so much. I am so glad to be back. It’s nice to be talking with you again. It’s been awhile, I think, since Michael Casey and I were on.

Yes, that’s correct. And then you came and spoke at my library for our Staff Day.

Yeah, last October. That was a great Staff Day. I really enjoyed that. Thank you.

One of the reasons I wanted to have you on, I wanted to have you on for multiple reasons, but one of the big reasons that you have a new-ish book out called the Heart of Librarianship, which is mostly a collection of your columns from Library Journal, Office Hours. And I wanted to kind of ask, we had talked when you were on with Michael Casey before, how you guys set up your column that you guys did together, the Transparent Library. How did you come to do this new column for Library Journal, Office Hours? I know it’s been, you’ve been doing it for awhile now, but how did that come about?

Michael and I did over two years of the Transparent Library and you know, I think we had said just about everything we needed to say under that banner of transparency in libraries and a very broad definition of transparency. So I think we ran down, we did a really neat thing at the end with, here’s what we think you all should do, you know, send off the column really well. I think it was about a year later, I was talking with the folks at LJ and I said, you know, I really, I’d like to talk more about LIS education and about how we’re teaching students to come into libraries and just about all this stuff that I encounter when I am out on the road. And I actually looked back at the book at the preface where I said, yeah, I learned so much, like, coming to visit Gwinnett and all the other places I’ve been, I learned so much over the last 10, 12 years of traveling and meeting librarians that I wanted to write about this. So Office Hours started, I want to say in 2010. We didn’t know what to call it. This is just a tiny little anecdote, you know, I thought the Transparent Library was such a cool column title and there’s some really good, you know, people that have neat column titles. It was Aaron Schmidt who wrote the User Experience for many years at LJ and who I have known for many years. We were IM-ing one day, he said just “Call it Office Hours because you’re a professor,” and it made it made so much sense, absolutely, because it’s so open. It can be, my research can be what I’m encountering out in the field, it can be what I’m doing with my students. So it’s really, it’s been a wonderful opportunity and I actually will be writing the next column in just a few days. If you come up to me and talk to me at a conference or at a library staff day or send me an email, just know that it could become anonymized fodder, if you will, I don’t think that’s a good word, for the column, but I got an email from somebody that said, I don’t feel I’m an early adapter and I’m never going to be, where is my place in librarianship, and what a wonderful question to think about because we are so tech heavy, right? We are so tech heavy, and we’re probably hurdling toward this, that it is, you know, tech is one of the things we do, but take that layer away, and what we’re really doing is we’re bringing people together with information and together with each other. So there’s a good example of a question coming in from an actual LIS student that I turned into a column.

And so can you talk a little bit about that? Like, how did you answer that student when they came to you with that? Because obviously we kind of expect in large terms, “Oh, it’s a younger person or it’s a new person in the profession. Of course they know about tech.” But obviously that’s still a concern.

And I don’t really know. I don’t want to, I don’t know that much about who this was and we certainly won’t reveal anything. What’s interesting and what I said was, you know, we do have to sort of have that attitude of being open. You, you cannot, okay. My first soapbox moment, I guess, of our recording. You cannot come into librarianship in 2017 and not think, you know, you’re not going to be not working with technology. You know, those jobs long gone. And I think I wrote that in the column early, early on. If you think you’re coming into librarianship to sit amongst the books, you’re wrong. You’re coming into librarianship to, again, help people with information, help people create information, access information, whatever. Technology is one of the tools we use to do that. So you have to be open to technology. You have to be able to look at something and say, “Oh yeah, this is interesting. And I sort of understand how this works, but this probably won’t be something I use completely in my life, but I will be aware of it for, you know, whatever, whatever service my pop up.” The example I used is Pokemon Go, I downloaded it. We were, this was last summer out at the lake here in northern Michigan. A couple of us had it and I said, “Yeah, I don’t know how it works.” So my friend says “Here, I’ll do what you do to like call the thing that comes” and suddenly (I don’t know the lingo) there was this thing sitting on the drink table, you know, next to the bottles of wine and I was like, “Okay, that’s weird.” I don’t really get it. But you know, yay for the libraries that have embraced this and if a library is a gym, I think that’s wonderful. I explored a bit, here’s what I wrote. I explored a bit and then I deleted the app that gave me a reasonable grasp of the game and the bigger trend behind it. I’m not an expert but I have an understanding that’s what I would want that person to do. You don’t have to be an early adapter… or adopter, but you should be an early adapter because we always have to be adapting to like the next thing more trend wise and technology wise.

Yeah. And that that’s how I am with Snapchat. I was like, “Okay, let me give this a try.” And I’m looking at it and I’m like, this is to me personally, I won’t say for anybody else. This is horrible UI. I can’t figure out even what’s going on, but I got a grasp of, okay, you tell these little stories with video and put little things on. I get it. Delete.

Me too!

I’m too old!

I know, I was the same way. No, I was like, I don’t get this. I love Instagram. I love Twitter. I do those things. I’d never, yeah, that’s fine.

Yeah, I know a little bit more Pokemon lingo now because I have a six year old son who’s getting obsessed with it. So I know some, we have Pokemon Monopoly, so I’m learning the names of some characters and stuff now, but it’s still kind of okay. I don’t get it, but okay. But the Pokemon Go is not only in itself, but it’s sort of a precursor of what’s going to come with augmented reality. So that’s, it’s a gamification of that and that’s going to show up a lot more in more and more technology as we go forward.

And that’s the thing to understand that that is there and that will only grow, that’s not going to go away.


So understanding that bit, absolutely.

Yeah, and as you were talking about the person that you spoke with that prompted that column, I noticed, I had gone to PLA last year and saw your presentation there and then you did a similar presentation at my Staff Day. But it’s interesting because you do a very good job of tailoring it to your audience because I noticed it was sort of taught, it was talking about the same topic, but you use different stories, you use different things, and you had incorporated some things that I think you had heard at PLA even. So it’s like your presentations are always constantly incorporating things like your slide that you, that you have trouble looking at about butchering the…

Yeah, Books and Butchers, yeah, absolutely.

But it’s great that you’re always incorporating things from people that you encounter.

Yeah. And I like that. And I again, I love to anonymize things. You know, years and years ago somebody came up to me and said, we want to do this, this and this, but we have an administrator that won’t sign off on anything. They’re the roadblock up top. And that, I think that figured into some of the writing that Michael and I did, that’s how long ago that was, that are you a roadblock to things going on in your library? So you know, that kind of little story, if I can then turn that around and tell that to a group, like at your Staff Day or at PLA, which was a wonderful time that you know, gets people thinking and you know, I say don’t raise your hand if you’re a roadblock, but maybe consider why you’re being a roadblock, and I hope that is not a thing and maybe there’ll be comments on this recording or whatever, “Yes, there are still roadblocks at my library!” I hope there are not, we don’t have time for roadblocks anymore.

Right, and one of your, so we’ll get into some other things, but I do want to get to one of the concepts that you’ve talked about for a long time is the idea of a Hyperlinked Librarian. Can you talk about what the concept basically is of that? And it does tie into what you talk about in the book as well.

Oh, absolutely. And we should, and I know you’re going to the, you did the introduction, so thank you for that. But I teach at San Jose State University in the School of information. I was very lucky when I started there in 2011 and I’m in my sixth year right now, to bring a class that I had started working on when I was at Dominican that became the Hyperlinked Library. And the Hyperlinked Library is a model; one of the things I’d learned in my doctorate program is if you create a model that kind of helps explain something and you can look at the facets of the model and what makes it work, et cetera. So the Hyperlinked Library, and I’ve written about this, and I did presentations, I took the Hyperlinked Library to Australia in 2008. So it kind of goes back a ways, but what the Hyperlinked Library is is that transparent, playful, constantly evolving organization and Hyperlinked Librarianship, which is, you know, what makes it all work is just understanding how we make connections with folks. As I say this, and maybe I said this at the presentation I did for you all, the web has changed everything. Absolutely. But it also… to pull back and we should do a shout out to David Weinberger who wrote a wonderful chapter in The Cluetrain Manifesto called “The Hyperlinked Organization” that blew me away. I will never forget where I was. I was listening to it in an audio book driving between South Bend, Indiana in Chicago, Illinois. And this chapter, I practically went off the road I was so excited. Such an incredible chapter, but that’s where the idea came from, that we are hyperlinks ourselves, people are hyperlinks, we can, library staff can connect people with ideas, we can connect people with other people, we can connect groups and we can certainly connect people out to knowledge as well as helping them make their own.

And one of the great parts of that I think is sort of encapsulated in your story there that you’re making these connections but you’re not just making connections within the library world. Like, you’re listening to Weinberger who’s obviously not a librarian though he did do work with Harvard Library, but you know, were looking for ideas outside of librarianship as well and bringing those in and seeing how they match up with what we want to do.

Right, with what we do and, like, our core ethics, our foundations. That’s always there. And I’ve been very careful to weave that into the stuff I do because I think that’s so important. And I think that reflects my years and years ago getting, you know, the MLS and getting all of this stuff that now I’m teaching because I’m teaching the intro class at San Jose, it’s called “Information Communities” now, but understanding core values, but also spotting trends and looking at what’s happening in the world ’cause we can’t, we can’t just keep looking down at our desks. We’ve gotta be looking out.

So I want to get into more of the book. In the preface, Brian Kenny wrote the preface to the book and, so… well, I’ll say, he wrote the forward, you wrote the preface. So in the preface you write that the heart of librarianship is learning, but he writes more about empathy. How do you see those two things working together to sort of connect librarians to their communities?

Okay. And thank you to Brian for that because I was deeply touched by what he did with that, with the opening for the book. Learning, of course to me, I think everything we do is related to learning, but that piece about empathy and I’m so glad he brought that out, and then I did the piece called Talk About Compassion about adopting the senior dog who is heartworm positive and blind in one eye. And it was at your Staff Day that I put the picture of Dozer up and I saw a lady, he shed a tear out in the audience and it almost, you know, broke me up too. But it really got me thinking about how important and I’ve written about empathy off and on. Way back back to when we were in Salzburg looking at participatory culture and libraries and how back then – and this is in the book, the Age of Participation – back then, these people that came together from all over the world and met in Salzburg for this three or four days that we were all there to talk about participatory culture, the things that rose to the top were things like compassion and caring and empathy for each other. And I think it’s always been there and I really appreciate Brian pulling that out. And then along came Dozer and, and all of that, and I realized that empathy and compassion and understanding is one of the best things we can bring to leadership if you’re a library leader or you want to be a library leader, absolutely, as well as just sort of how we view the world and how we take care of each other. So if you’re a librarian, and you don’t have a good grasp on empathy and understanding, you know, that person across the desk, that may be 1) having a super bad day and 2) may have just had something horrible happen to them and they need, you know, a little bit of help or whatever, you know, that you gotta put yourself there and if you can recognize that, and the way I frame the column, to bring it back to the dogs, is if you can recognize that in taking care of an animal or you know, being a good parent or being a good person. Absolutely, that should come into what we do as professionals. If we’re going to help people learn, I think the starting point is giving them an encouraging and friendly space. And I mean that in every sense of the word: the space between us talking, the space of the library, the virtual space for them to do that. And that comes back to understanding how people feel, putting ourselves in their place and thinking about what can best meet their needs. And this is, this is really truly an emotional investment. This isn’t just, I’m pulling a reference book off the shelf, you know, behind the desk and bringing it and saying, Oh yeah, here’s the fact you need to know, now you can go because I have to go onto the next thing. It’s a much different, much different thing.

Yeah. Well, I mean, it basically is the title of your book. You’re talking about the heart of librarianship, whereas reference work, finding these facts for these people, that’s the brain of librarianship, which we also need also. But the heart is really what gets is what gives you purpose for the reason you’re doing things.

Right, and anecdotally, you know, where is reference going? I think there’s that shift from, you know, the ready reference pulling the book, that’s, and talking to Brian who… I’m fascinated by how Brian manages his library, he’s director of White Plains Public in New York, just talking to Brian about how things have changed for their library. I think we’re moving toward – and that comes back to the learning piece – we’re moving toward that, “Oh no, I can find out, you know, facts and figures, whatever.” We’re moving more toward bringing people together to learn how the world works in a different way than just “How tall is Mount Rainier?” and “How do I plan my vacation?” or whatever.

Right, ’cause those kinds of, I mean, people will talk about all the time that Google replacing libraries, that is the part of librarianship that Google can replace. I mean you don’t need to ask a librarian how tall Mount Rainier is. You can look that up very easily. So yeah, we need to have a different reason for existing than being a fact book.

Right. Absolutely.

And one of the things you talk about in the Hyperlinked Librarian section of your book, one of the columns I liked the most was when you talked about embracing chaos because that’s sort of where we are in the world, just even outside of current events, just the world itself is changing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. Can you talk about that a little bit of how you can kind of keep up with this super rapid change and…


…embrace the chaos around us?

Yeah. Yay for Clay Shirky and cognitive surplus, he talks a bit about traditionalist approval, negotiated transition, or as much chaos as we can stand. And I have used, I have cited that and use that bit in presentations the last year and back before that, because it really speaks to, if you’re going to bring people together, you really want them to… what I want to be able to do is kind of help them see that things are changing and change is not going to go away. And this is really, Steve, you’re right. This is nice to revisit this in very late January, 2017 that there is chaos and we can decide how much chaos we can stand and within that space, things might be a little messy and it might be a little frightening. Wow. This is so good. This is nice. And this is stuff I’ve said before. Thank you for reminding me of this. It might be a little bit scary, but we can also understand that this is how things are going to be. Now for me out talking at PLA or whatever, it’s probably about technology and it’s about library service and now it might be a different set of things, but it still comes down to helping people. Understanding that it is impossible for an organization to have everything in place for anything that might happen. I think it’s better to be more flexible and be able to turn on a dime, as chaotic things happen. That’s, a good example of that is the library response, well, to recent events as well too, as well as to events in the last few years where, Ferguson for example, comes to mind where that library was like, we are open, we are a safe place, you know, come in. Absolutely. What, and what I learned from you all, and I’m gonna bring it forward to Gwinnett, you know, along with chaos is just that whole idea of change, and visiting with you all for a couple of days really illustrated how we can roll out change and we can roll out chaos, and I wrote about this, this is another one of the newer columns from November, about the changes you did with y’all closing… “y’all,” and I do have southern roots, so I guess I can say that.

It’s a wonderful word.

It is! With closing down the branches, pulling the reference desk and doing some really big changes. Wowza, but what you all did, and what I applauded you for, was the high level of communication, the fact that your administration said we’re going to do this and, we want you all to come along because this is going to be a big deal and this is what we believe libraries should look like. And with the Open Access with, you know, open to the public before anybody’s in the building, you know, that can freak people out, and you guys did it. And getting rid of the reference desk, freak people out, and you guys did it. So I think that’s absolutely wonderful. And that, what I heard that day, cause I got to sit down with your staff was so much communication and so much, you all said what you were going to do and you did it, and I think that made it work. So that’s a way I think to address chaos. So let’s bring it forward to right now. I would advocate for a public library, an academic library, every library really, to in their next time they get together to say the world feels very different. How can we make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing with our core values? What we do, we provide information, we provide a safe place for people to come in and learn, what can we do? What, what’s different now? What can we change to make it even easier for people to be informed and to try to make sense of the world? That would be an excellent conversation to have now.

Yeah. I mean, it’s basically letting the world know what our purpose is and this is who we are, come to us, we will chart these waters together.

Right, absolutely. I was just thinking about freedom of information requests and, that, how interesting is that, that maybe that’s something that a public library could be promoting. Like what does that mean when they say we’re doing freedom of information requests and what is, it comes back to transparency too. You know, how much of this stuff, what does all of this mean when they’re asking for documents so they can understand what’s going on? So it is, it’s fascinating to think about.

Yeah. I had some, I chatted with Sarah Houghton at the ALA Midwinter conference this year and she was talking about just, you know, doubling down on our ethics that we have this Code of Ethics. We’re fuzzy with it sometimes because it doesn’t matter, quote unquote, sometimes, but they’re being challenged now. So now it’s time for us to put our foot down and say, these are ethics. We’re going to stand up for them and this is how we’re going to do it.

Right. And I had it open in a tab because the Code of Ethics is so important. And I do, I teach it. We have a wonderful unit in our introductory class that Martin Garner created for me, for all of our students who come into our program on the Code of Ethics. Number one, we provide the highest level of service to all library users, accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all questions. It’s huge. And there it is, you know, along with all the others,

Again, in the preface, you talk about the heart of librarianship is learning and that’s obviously a part of a big part of your life as a teacher, as an instructor. How do you, so if you can talk a little bit about how you see, what’s your teaching philosophy sort of for teaching your students, and then how does that continue on after you get the people who have the MLS and then they get out of school, how do you, what’s the importance of continuing to learn after that? Not only for our MLS people, but just for our other staff as well. What’s, how important is that to do to this continuous learning? I have a couple of questions there.

I know, I love these questions. Okay. Let’s do the first one first.

Sure. Teaching philosophy.

Okay. Wow. It’s developed over time. Sometimes I hope I don’t scare the incoming students too much, but I really believe that from the get go they should be learning not only core values, foundations of librarianship, that stuff, that’s the easy part. They should also be learning how things work now with technology. What the Internet in the last, however long it’s been, has done to the world, to parts of the world, what that means for the digital divide and then personally for them, and this goes back to the chaos thing, that they should anticipate some chaos in their education because it’s not always going to be perfect. And if it’s perfect, there’s a problem. If your library education is, your master’s in library information science is, logging in to a cute little learning management system and writing a few paragraphs each week in response to a prompt from a professor that only the professor reads, and that’s it, there’s a problem. So one of the things I do, we’ve done a few things and I think this will illustrate a bit about how I approach this. I use a course communities learning platforms built on WordPress and BuddyPress. This is something I’ve done for many years. Shout out to my colleague Kyle Jones who really helped me get going with this. We use open platforms for the classes I teach, the Hyperlinked Library being one of them. I actually have a student from Syracuse University joining us through a program where other library students can take a class in another library school. It’s called Wise. Super cool. We have an open platform for the Hyperlinked Library as well as for my intro class called Information Communities where they learn to interact with each other, interact with me, to write for the open web because they’re all blogging, and to kind of get a grip on a technology that I think they should know, and that’s WordPress. I don’t know if WordPress will be around for a million years, but I think just having that background sets you up to do more. If you come into a library program thinking you are not going to get your hands on technology and have to do a little bit of self-directed exploration and figuring things out, then I worry about your future as a librarian. Is that bad? Does that sound bad to say that?

No, I mean it’s one of those things where you have to, what is it? Tough love?

Yeah, it is. Yeah. And I know I’m all about, I guess I’m about the tough love balance about the kinder, gentler, you know, we’re all gonna make this through. This is a safe place. My learning environments are a super safe place to explore and learn and try things out. And I never want anybody to be worried about making a mistake because that’s how we learn, and that goes back to the chaos thing, and I am not a professor that, like, takes points off for a missing period in an APA citation or anything silly like that. I want to see that people have grown, that they have tried ideas on and explored them with their own thinking, and they have come out on the other side with some new ideas about who they are and who they can be as information professionals. I coordinate our core class, one of our core classes at San Jose State School of information, so I get them early. I and other instructors teaching Information 200, and they’re doing all this stuff. They’re doing it, especially in my section, from the get go. And I’ve been working with them all weekend, getting settled, blogging, starting the readings about what information communities are, et cetera. And again, I want them to be immersed. I want them to be exploring and I want them to come out on the other side ready to do the rest of their coursework, as curious explorers, if that makes sense.

You want them to succeed, and so you want to set the expectations up front. This is what it takes to succeed. And if you don’t feel like this is for you, then maybe now is the time to get out.

And you know this, and this is a little, I don’t know, this is a little tough love too, but Marie and I don’t want to, I’m not going to say her last name correctly, Østergaard from Aarhus who spoke at PLA this last year about Aarhus and the Dokk1 library, which then went on to win an IFLA award. She got up in front of a packed room in PLA and said, we designed our libraries for people, not books. If that statement rattles you as an incoming library student, you might want to rethink where you’re going to go in the information professions because that really summed it up to me what is happening in libraries right now and what I see happening at Gwinnett and Anythink Libraries in Colorado and notable libraries all over the u s and all over the world.

And you talked about at PLA, I know you mentioned this and I’m sure we’re both going to butcher the pronunciation, the word H-Y-G-G-E.

Well, yeah. Okay.

“Hue-gah?” is that…?

Okay, I’m going to try and nobody get mad at me, especially the listeners on the global stage. “Hyooga? Hyooga.” It’s beautiful. And how cool is this? In Traverse City, Michigan where I live, one of the local arts center and I got to get over to see this, there is a hygge exhibit. So it’s a thing, and can I tell you just a real quick little story?


This goes back to ALA Midwinter in Boston a year ago. And I actually had dinner with Brian Kenny. We were talking about, you know, what is the next big thing? And I said, I don’t know what the next big thing is, but I don’t think it’s all this hoopla we’ve been talking about, all the social media and the Twitter and the Facebook. I think we’re coming back around to more of a quiet comforty thing. And I said, have you heard of this, this thing called hygge or however you say it. And I think it had just come into my brain via Instagram of all things from a fellow who was in Europe and said, oh, this is this classic concept and posted this beautiful photo, you know, a candle burning and beautiful table. And that’s what led to that column. And that’s what led, I was talking to Stacie Ledden at Anythink, and they said they used the concepts for redesigning their libraries at Anythink Libraries. And then along comes Marie at PLA, and I actually got up and asked that question about the concept and she said, yeah, that is part of it, that making people feel comfortable but also helping people feel that they are a part of a community. I think this is very beautiful, and in that column I wrote, I found some mentions around at various libraries that were doing this. And not every library is going to have a fireplace, but you can still make people feel welcome and a part of something and comfortable and cozy even if it’s in the desert. It doesn’t have to be for, you know, the people in the north where it’s snowing as it is here now. It can be anywhere. What a great thing to talk about. Thank you.

Yes. Oh, you’re welcome. I’ve heard that over and over again over the past year or so and yeah, it really does sum up, it’s one of those perfect little things where you hear about a concept that you don’t know how to sum it up. And then one word and it’s like, oh, that’s it.

Yeah. And who knew? Who knew that was, yeah. It just, and it came out of nowhere. And now I have a book behind me that is all about that. How quickly do you know the publishing world responds?

Thank you, Danish people.

Yeah, absolutely.

So let’s get back to, so that was, I think you answered the first part of that question. Well, the second part was sort of more into how do we continue that education then after we’re out into the world, into the field and not just MLS holders, but everybody, how do we continue education and what’s the importance of that?

Okay. I’m going to say a couple of things for folks, for degreed librarians, your education does not stop when you get your degree. That’s a given. Learn always. That’s it. Enough said. For everyone…

We’ll go ahead and wrap it up… Oh no, go ahead.

Yeah, thanks, click! For everyone, and I think this is, it’s important to be inclusive, especially like coming out to a library staff day because not everybody on the staff is a degreed librarian. And I think that’s one of the things that makes libraries so beautiful is everybody comes in, everybody contributes to the goal of the library. I believe, and I’ve argued for, that every employee of a library should have a development and learning plan. So they have a means to spend time weekly, monthly, whatever, improving themselves. And that can, it can be anything. It can be from the people that do the circulation to the people that are answering questions or the people that are running the buildings, everything. I am sure there are development opportunities for everybody involved. So that should be a given. I think administration should make time, build it into job descriptions and to make people accountable for their learning. What I wanted to tell you just a tiny bit about is, I’ve actually done research on this in the public library sector. We’ll kind of reign it in to public libraries because that’s what I focused on, working on an article now hoping to get that out and in the publication stream by the summer, now that the semester’s kicked in, where we surveyed over 400 public library staff and this is all staff or paraprofessionals and librarians. Sorry, we did sort of limit it for this first go round to this study. We’re pulling out some really, really interesting things. I love open-ended questions in research. I’ve always been a qualitative researcher. I want to tell a story about something more than I want to say x percent of this means y percent of that. Cause I’ve never, I don’t, math is hard. [Laughs] So the storytelling side is so much more interesting to me. One of the things, and I opened up my preliminary preliminary results. One thing we found is like the number, the highest percentage that folks are offered for professional development in public libraries is usually on the state level followed closely by the annual staff development day or some things done online. I thought that’s super interesting. We asked a question. I’ll just talk about this just briefly. I know I don’t want to run the on and on. I asked a question and I love open-ended questions like this. “What would be the best or most rewarding professional development opportunity for you?” And that, this question is in the middle of being analyzed now, content analysis, looking for themes, et cetera. But it’s so interesting. Some of the things that rise to the top is: more time, mentoring, and an opportunity to meet with others sort of regionally. And I think that’s really interesting that folks are talking about that that maybe, and maybe this is indicative of budgets and how things have changed over the last few years that we can’t all troop off to PLA or ALA or whatever conference aligns with what we do in libraries, but the more regional things might be where a lot of learning will happen for folks to continue. So I would like to see, for sure I want to get this out, but I would like to see more conversations about how we might encourage on the state level or on the regional level, more opportunities for library staff to learn. I think that’d be very, very interesting.

Well, that really leads right into what I was going to you about next is our last kind of big topic is communities of practice and mentoring is a big part of that. You mentioned a couple of other conferences as part of that and then just the way online communities have grown and have been able to bring people together in new ways because of, like you said, there’s these budget problems that a lot of libraries now we can’t afford to send people to, like you can’t send 50 people to ALA every year and still keep the library going back home. So what do you see as the importance of these communities of practice, like us learning all together?

This goes back really to the research I did about librarian bloggers back when I did my dissertation. I recognized that as a community of practice, and this was early on, this was early early on, but there were only like 200 or something that identified as library folks that wrote blogs. But the concept of the community of practice where people can come together and share ideas, and exchange and create something new maybe and put it out for people to use. I think that’s important. I think there’s a good online component to that. I don’t think, I think that that should also be something to go back to when we talked about students, I think students should learn that early on. And again, that’s one of the reasons that I pushed for a community blogging site, a WordPress multi-user site that we use, and things like that, so they can see and like maybe dabbling in Twitter or Facebook ALA Think Tank, whatever it might be, to see how people exchange information. So, I saw it in New Zealand, super strong community of practice there, that that was both online cause I could tell they had a lot of ways to communicate. And now I follow a lot of New Zealanders who are in the library world, as well as in person. And I wrote about, cause I was down there for the Library Association conference in New Zealand a few years ago, how cohesive the group it seemed. And I think part of that is because, to a certain degree they are very isolated. Although, you know, we’re connected to the world now through the Internet, but still they’re very isolated. So bringing it back to maybe a state level idea here in the United States, some states might feel more isolated than others, maybe it’s too far to travel to a big conference. A community of practice, both virtual and those things that might happen regionally, absolutely is a perfect idea for getting people together and getting them talking. And that is a lot easier to fund than, as you said, the 50 people, going off to ALA, which can almost be overwhelming in certain ways. To come back to the data from my professional development for public library professionals and paraprofessionals, one of the things, and I teach online, I do a lot of stuff online, I am here at my desk and my home. This is where I work, so I’m like the online guy, it seems. But looking at that data, when you ask what works best for you for professional development, what’s rising to the top, and I think this is something important, is sure, online is good, online seminars, webinars, whatever, but also a chance to be face to face. And maybe, Steve, that comes back to where we started just talking about people and being links and connections and humanism and empathy and compassion that if you’re there in a group of people and you’re talking, they’re probably, and I don’t take anything away from the online environment because I have gotten a huge amount of support over the years from people I only know virtually and from people that I have in my little iMessage right now that I’ve just talked to this morning, that if anything, you know, if you’re feeling weird, send a message to your friend, you get a message right back, you know, that’s super cool. But to be together as a group, I think there’s some value in that. And I think finally, after all these words I’ve said, to establish a community of practice regionally for library staff and that might be across types of libraries. That might be the public libraries like in your part of Georgia or Georgia in general, or states or whatever, or here in northern Michigan, which I think would be really interesting. Hmm. That would be interesting to bring together all these folks up here in these rural communities to talk about this. And I know they have a conference, I’ve spoken at it, but to encourage that, to encourage that kind of communication and sharing and relying on each other. That might be a really nice thing to explore.

Yeah, and it’s nice sometimes to make that sort of a regular kind of thing because we do have these regular, you know, we have their annual conference of the state associations and things, but you don’t want to have to wait a year in between having meaningful conversations about the profession.

Yeah, there’s something between that annual once a year and a Colorado Library association I wrote about because it just seemed so cohesive and they were so fired up, then that kind of meeting and then just saying, oh well you don’t have to do, you don’t have to go anywhere for professional development because I’m going to put you in front of a webinar for 45 minutes on your lunch hour.


Because that might not be the best way.

Well, the last question I want to ask you is one, I think, that you’re uniquely qualified to answer for librarians who are feeling this chaotic churn and they’re feeling sort of thrown about and everything, what is a good Fleetwood Mac song that they can listen to to soothe their soul?

Oh, oh, oh, wow. Well, okay. I’m going to, okay, I’m going to, I’m going to give you a personal answer and then I’m going to give you the answer for the world and both also for the recording of course. And just to broaden it out, find, you know, find that song that touches your soul. For me, it is “Sara” from Tusk, 1979. I can listen to “Sara” and things fall away. I don’t know why, but there’s something very important in that song. I didn’t know I’d talk about “Sara” with you. “Landslide,” also a good one. I’m a Stevie Nicks person under the Fleetwood Mac banner. But let’s broaden out, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” right? A little bit of a political connotation there with the Clintons, but absolutely. How about “Everywhere”? “I want to be with you everywhere.” That’s also a good one that I will support you and I will be there everywhere. That’s kind of interesting to think about as well. Wow. We could do a whole playlist.

We’re going to do a mixtape, right?

Yeah, absolutely. But yeah, I’d say there’s some good things there with “Don’t Stop,” “never break the chain,” all those things. It’s all kind of, yeah. But “Sara,” for me, and there may be some other “Sara” people listening, we can all commiserate next time we’re all together.

Yeah. And everybody has that kind of one song that can always get into them.

And okay. And let me say this, and I have used this in my writing, that the end of that song is all I ever wanted was to know that you were dreaming and just, you know, unpack that for a second. What does that mean? That just means, I just want you to be the best that you possibly can be. And doesn’t that go back to, you know what we’re talking about?

Exactly. That’s exactly what librarianship’s all about.


Michael, thank you so much for talking to me today. And can you let people, listeners, know how they can get in touch with you if they want to follow up on this conversation?

Absolutely. I would welcome tweets, Facebook messages. You can find me there @mstephens7 on Twitter. I’m on Facebook, mstephens7@mac.com. I’m, like, old school. I have a .mac address still, but it works. I would welcome emails, any of the channels, absolutely, I would welcome that. I really appreciate this.

Thanks a lot.

Thank you.