I was going to start off this post with “Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!”, but then remembered that posting on the Internet means that one has a worldwide audience and as Thanksgiving is an American holiday, not everyone who reads and follows my “Librarian Hats” blog celebrates it. All that aside though, being thankful is a universal act and we can all pause and give thanks for family, friends, colleagues, professional growth, good food, and banjos. (I’m picking up my new banjo – an early Christmas present – this afternoon! My mind keeps wandering in that direction.) As for me, I’ve much to be thankful for, not the least of which is gratitude for the many people who have shared with me, over the past couple of months, how much you’ve enjoyed this blog. I really do appreciate that – I appreciate YOU!
I read a commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning that also brought to mind something to be thankful for in my profession and that is the fact that the leadership, namely the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, sought to celebrate progressive, out-of-the-box thinking, when they opted to offer up the administrative supplement grants to place informationists in funded research projects. We are a profession that talks a lot about the need to do things differently, yet we more often stay stuck in traditional roles and services because we either (a) can’t think of how to rearrange things enough to do different things or (b) cannot financially support new endeavors. By providing some funding for the informationist projects, NLM gave librarians and library administrators some real support towards their pitch to researchers. We could say to them, “Here is a funded person to support your team.” Like it or not (and I personally don’t), money talks.
The piece from The Chronicle speaks to recognizing those in the classroom who think differently, who approach problems differently, and who may not be the best students, as measured by grades or other standardized measures.
Shortly after Sir John Gurdon won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine this year, a report circulated that had been written by one of his high-school biology teachers. The report lambasted the young scientist, stating: “Several times he has been in trouble, because he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way.” This perfectly illustrates how teachers can fail to recognize a new way of thinking. In our most obstinate moments, the mere suggestion that a student can do something contrary to the way we teach it and still become successful is inconceivable.
As librarians, we instruct people on how to use information “the right way”; “Search PubMed like this,” we say, “Impact factors are essential for determining the best journals,” we believe, “We MUST have a reference desk!!” we cry. And many times, we are correct. I’m not suggesting we’re in the post-modern world of learning where there are no rules nor best practices, but like Anne Sobel, I do believe that we too easily get trapped by and in our comfort zones. Not having the money or the time or the staff or the resources to do something different becomes an easy fall-back excuse against trying new things. These realities (and they are realities), can lull us into staying put while our relevance walks right out the door. Sometimes, maybe we need to look to troublemakers and say to them, “Go ahead, make some trouble.” If it turns into something new and useful and great for our libraries, we can celebrate. If it turns into trouble, we can say, “Let’s try something else.” No harm, no foul (Or in the case of Thanksgiving, “fowl”. ba da bing!)
I’m personally not much of a rule-breaker and I also think that we’ve nurtured a generation of young people who believe that they’re geniuses because they’ve heard that they’re special from the day they were born. Not everyone is gifted, nor is everything we ever try a brilliant move. When Sobel states that an overactive mind may be a sign of gifted-ness or genius, my first instinct is to snort and think, “Or much more likely, just someone who never learned the discipline of paying attention.” Still, I appreciate the salient point of her piece, that “one remarkable student with progressive ideas can elevate an entire class.”
Remarkable or not, let’s give thanks for the individuals in our profession who think differently and for the institutions, administrators and leaders who support them. When we work in a field driven by information and technology, and a world of continuing change, to do otherwise is to set ourselves up for a long road of frustrations and not much to be thankful for.