Happy Blog Day

Today is Blog Day – the third annual. Today, each Blogger is tasked with recommending 5 new blogs – to expand the reading of others. Here are some of my local favorites (in no particular order). All have been born in the last year.

1. Library Tree — from Red Wing Public Library. News about upcoming events at the library.

2. Albert Lea Public Library — from Albert Lea Public Library. News about the library and new items.

3. Kids’ Info at NPL — from Northfield Public Library. News and lots of pictures.

4. MLA Update — news from the Minnesota Library Association.

5. Metronet Director’s Chat — observations about libraries and the profession written by Tom Shaunessy.

Useful mess?

Watching CBS Sunday Morning yesterday, my ears perked up when I heard the words messy desk as a story lead-in. Keeping storage spaces organized has always been a challenge for me. When I was being hired for my current position, my former supervisor warned my current director of the piles of stuff on my desk – I call it “file by pile.”

The Sunday Morning story featured one worker with a similar filing philosophy, who said they could find anything just by going down from the top of the pile an appropriate distance to coincide with the span of time since the document was created. I find things the same way, and often so quickly that many of my colleagues have been amazed at how organized my chronologically ordered stacks of papers are.

CBS newsman Andy Rooney was cited as an example, as he displayed his desk, which makes mine look really neat. Andy suggested that someone who’s too organized is not productive. The story went on to quote a study that found employees with a messy desk as being 36% more efficient than their counterparts who are neater.

While the majority of busy, successful acquaintances have desks that are less than tidy, there is a hypocritical attitude toward those with messy desks that suggests that you can’t possibly have confidence in someone who doesn’t know which file drawer perceived important information is in. Zoom in on a Presidential press conference from the Oval Office, with W seated behind a shiny (empty) desk. If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what can be said of an empty desk?

A colleague whose life presently seems to be spinning out of control said, “I’m keeping up on my filing; it feels good to be in control of something.” Good thought. So maybe the confidence to let things go is a corollary to being confident in life.

I’ve been doing a lot of desk cleaning lately, as I prepare for a major life change. I have gone through everything on top of my desk, and found that by the time I got back to it, all those agendas, and notes have lost any lasting value. Maybe that’s the key – just pile it up until you can throw it away.

Booktalks 2.0

Just in time for back-to-school, Joyce Valenza, on NeverEndingSearch posts a list of podcasts and online booktalks for kids. What a great idea to get kids interested in reading – link this to your library website, and lead the kids to try it out. Hope the kids can find the books in libraries.

Even better, record podcasts for the new books added to your library! They’ll think you’re really cool.

Why a baseball stadium needs a roof

We went on our regular family pilgrimage to a Milwaukee Brewers game on Saturday night (Brewers win 8-4). We planned it all summer, and cousins came from far and wide. We traveled through the beginning of the record-breaking rainfall across Minnesota and Wisconsin. And guess what! The game was not rained out – thanks to the Miller Park retractable roof. Yeah, I was disappointed that it wasn’t a beautiful night out for baseball. But I’d have been more disappointed had our one shot to carry on a family tradition been rained out and our miles on the road been for naught.

I’m not terribly invested in the Twins stadium debates (being an immigrant from across the border), but it just seems so short-sighted to build a fair-weather stadium without a roof. Think of all the fun family outings that won’t happen. Glad my family gathers at Miller Park.

OK – so what has this got to do with libraries? Well, at the appointed time, everyone with ATT phones sends text messages, and the messages come up on the scoreboard, and guess what – “Librarians are sexy” appears in lights (and no, it wasn’t me, with my Alltel phone.)

Librarians are sexy – 3rd line down
Miller Park

The roof – dry as can be
Miller Park

Here we are
Ron and Barbara

The Dip

I consider a book to have value for me when concepts I read start demonstrating themselves during my daily activities. Such is the case with Seth Godin’s The Dip, which I finished a few days ago. Godin is “a a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change” – from his Seth’s Blog.

I knew that this book had taken root in my mind when yesterday during a meeting, I heard myself say “do you see the light at the end” (the end being what Godin says you power toward when you’re in “the dip.”)

Here are a few other concepts from the 80 page book that stuck with me:

  • It matters to be number one – people don’t have a lot of time and don’t want to take risks, so they narrow their choices to those at the top.
  • It’s important to be “the best in the world.” Best as in “best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know.” In the world is as “in their world, the world they have access to.”
  • Almost everything that matters is controlled by the Dip – the long slog between starting and mastery (after the fun of beginning is over.)
  • The Dip is hard. It creates scarcity (because lots of people quit) and scarcity creates value. Successful people lean into the Dip.
  • The Cul-de-Sac is a dead end. It goes nowhere and uses up your resources.
  • If you can’t be #1 or #2, get out (ala Jack Welch)
  • When faced with the Dip, many diversify, instead of obsessing to be the best in the world.
  • It’s easier to be mediocre than it is to confront reality and quit.
  • Godin lists 8 “Dip Curves.” The “Education Dip” is particularly relevant to our field. Your career starts when you leave school. The Dip happens when it’s time to learn something new, or reinvent or rebuild skills.
  • Quitting at the right time is difficult. Most people play it safe, and try to average their way to success.
  • If you’re not able to get through the Dip in an exceptional way, you must quit.
  • The opposite of quitting isn’t waiting around, it’s rededication.
  • It’s OK to quit if the project isn’t worth the reward at the end.
  • Pride is the enemy of the smart quitter.
  • Decide in advance when you should quit.

Library is heart of Monowi

Watching CBS Sunday Morning today, my ears perked up when I heard the word “library.” In this case, the library is in Monowi, a small town in Nebraska, about 100 miles west of Sioux City on route 12. Monowi has one resident. According to its Wikipedia entry, Monowi had 130 residents in its peak years in the 1930s. The CBS story originally aired last year.

The town’s sole resident, Elsie Eiler, founded the 5,000 book library with the collection of her husband, Rudy, who died in 2004. There are pictures of the town and its library in the February 2005 Cave News blog piece.

Three things struck me about this little human interest piece: (1) The news story – whose inclusion of the library seems to validate the town’s existence. In other words, that the concepts town and library are mutually dependent. (2) Comments following the Cave News piece contain offers from numerous people who want to donate books to the library, a common problem in all libraries – the dropping off of unwanted books. (hope Elsie has a good collection policy.) (3) Additionally, comments in the blog piece express an interest in moving to Monowi, as an idealic place to live. Interesting that no one seems to have carried through and expanded the town’s population.

Leadership as musical enablement

While playing organ for a worship service this morning, I carried the analogy begun in my previous post even further.

Whenever I play organ in a church, I hear my German Lutheran Grandpa Walter’s voice — indeed his spirit often is near me. He used to complain mightily about the organist in his church (who, incidentally, was my beginning piano teacher.) He said she played too loudly, “only for herself,” he claimed.

As I’ve thought about his critical comments, I now know that the duty of the organist is as accompanist to guide the worshippers through their experience, and lead them in song. They are not there to put on a concert, there are other venues for that. The organist introduces the song, sets the tempo, outlines the melody, undergirds the dynamics, and then gets out of the way to let the people sing. One of my favorite things to do (in a congregation of good singers when the hymn is well-known) is to drop down to a whisper or maybe even drop out altogether for a verse or a section of a capella singing. The organ, with its myriad of hidden orchestra components, frames the entire program. With a prelude, the organ centers the attention; in soft, hushed tones it underlies the prayers; through modulation of keys, provides bridges between progressive elements of the liturgy, with trumpets, it soars with joy; all the while providing the infrastructure upon which community worship and singing happens.

Aha — organizational leadership! Good leaders set the tone, provide the accompaniment, and get out of the way so that others can accomplish their purpose. And, if the leader is a good one, does it all not for their own glory.

So to wrap this analogy to a beneficial conclusion, and not go on ad nauseum ;^)
A good library leader:
1. Builds a staff with diverse skills
2. Brings the staff together in teams
3. Blends some teams together as appropriate for tasks
4. Selects compositions/programs for appropriate times/places/audiences
5. Guides teams through the composition of projects
6. Determines planning and pace of programs
7. Enables others to be all they can be (darn, there’s that military influence in my background coming out again)
8. Does not detract from purpose through self-aggrandization

I know a number of library leaders who share my passion for music, specifically organ — Lars, Judy, Fran, Jane, Linda, are a few that come quickly to mind. Bet they already know this.

Leadership as a harmonious blending

Avocation: a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment : Hobby Merriam-Webster online dictionary

My first career in music became my avocation quite a while ago — which was the best thing that ever happened for me, since now I find therapy in making music. But when I quit music as a career field, I missed the rush of conducting a performing organization and the feeling of satisfaction in bringing the best interpretation forward through my conductor’s baton. I would point at one group, and they would add their voices; gesture to another section and they would whisper their accompaniment; while I lifted the soloist to bring out the melody.

I recouped some of that feeling through playing the organ. At my fingertips, I had the instruments of the orchestra at my beck and call. What fun, to mold a composition to my individual style. My right brain was challenged, and balanced the left brain logic and analytical thinking I was doing at work.

Somehow, while practicing today, “work me” invaded “personal me” when I realized that playing the organ is a microcosm of organizational leadership. Just as I set up various instrument combinations on each manual, with complementing voices and timbres, I look for complementing skills and attributes in staff teams. Where I use couplers to bring various voicings on the organ into other settings, I bring additional resources into various work projects that I’m leading. Adding a higher pitched stop adds a brilliance, and adding more bass to the pedal gives a stronger foundation.

It’s raining!

After a long period of no rain, and with 40% of Minnesota in drought, you can see why this is a great picture – it’s been raining all day. You can just see everything greening up — along with the puddles all over.
It's raining!