Have you ever watched the web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? It’s a funny show created by the very funny comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. Much like his classic television show, it’s kind of about nothing – just Jerry and some talented and funny comedians riding around in vintage cars, having coffee, and talking about whatever. I like it.
I also like The Late Late Show’s host, James Corden’s, carpool karaoke bits where he picks up famous folks and they ride around singing to songs on the radio. (My all-time favorite is the one with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Honestly … LAUGH OUT LOUD funny! I had to watch it again while writing this. Excuse the snickers.)
And then there’s the sportswriter, Tony Kornheiser’s daily podcast, This Show Stinks. I started listening to it early this year during my afternoon walks. For many years, Kornheiser wrote a column in the Washington Post. Whenever it was about the Washington Redskins, my grandmother clipped it out and sent it to me. I’ve been a fan ever since. I love the podcast because it centers on discussions around sports, politics, culture, odd news stories. A regular, rotating crew of columnists, politicos, sports people, movie critics, and more join in for what’s always an entertaining hour or so.
I think the common thread of interest for me is that each of these venues allows me to be something of a voyeur, a fly on the wall of the room (or car) with people I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. They’re always smart and funny and they create these shows that allow me to feel like I’m part of the group. Even when I’m clearly not. Not in that league. Not by a long shot.
I was thinking about Comedians in Cars this morning while walking my dog. I got to thinking about a few times when I’ve been riding in cars with other librarians and how those drives turned out to be as interesting and fun as any of these shows or podcasts. I remembered the time that Kristi Holmes, Director of the Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University, and I rode all the way across Missouri together. At the time, Kristi was working at the Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis. We were both attending a conference in Kansas City, so I flew into St. Louis, Kristi picked me up at the airport, and we drove across the state together. On the way to Kansas City, we stopped off at the fantastically awesome, Ozarkland, and laughed ourselves silly at all of the kitchy souvenirs. On the way back, we stopped off at a for-real western wear store where I bought my very first pair of boots. Kristi grew up on a ranch. She was the perfect guide for this shopping adventure. And in between, we talked and talked. And we became friends.
Another time, early in my stint at the Lamar Soutter Library, I was invited to give a talk at Cape Cod Community College. Donna Berryman, Senior Associate Director at the Edward G. Miner Library, University of Rochester, was the Outreach Coordinator for the New England Regional Medical Library (NN/LM, NER) at the time, thus we were co-workers. Donna also had to attend this event at CCCC, so we rode along together. We talked about libraries, librarianship, books, movies, our lives, our families, where we were from, how we grew up… in other words, in those hours in her car, we also became friends. Life-long friends.
I guess that I was thinking about these experiences this morning because I recently engaged in an online discussion about the importance of professional organizations. They’re dwindling, in case you were unaware. Membership is down at every level – national organizations, regional organizations, state and local organizations – and for a variety of reasons. If you, like me, have long been involved in a professional organization, particularly in leadership roles, you’ve likely felt the pressure that comes with trying to maintain an organization with fewer and fewer resources, as well as struggling with the emotional feeling of “we’re failing.”
But we’re not failing. We’re changing, but not failing. The trick is to get in front of (or ride) the change in such a way as to prevent failure, i.e. change in ways to remain relevant, important, worth the investment of people’s scarce time and money. That’s the challenge.
My adventures riding in cars with librarians strikes at the heart of what professional networks and professional organizations are all about – relationships. Though I don’t work in a medical or health sciences library anymore, I maintain the professional relationships that I developed through car rides, meetings, shared office space, virtual spaces, and social media because they are invaluable. They provide every opportunity for support, professional growth, sounding boards, collegial spirit, and yes … friendship.
I think it’s really difficult to translate to anyone new to a profession (or even one who’s been at it awhile and sees the retirement door ahead) the value of the relationships that come from sharing a profession – from sharing rides in cars, both literally and figuratively. But I believe maybe it’s something that those of us invested in organizations need to work on, if we want to hang around awhile longer. Going it alone is hard and it’s also not the best thing for the overall health of a profession. People together makes a profession.