10 Ways to Lose your Best People

The meme of the moment: how to lose your “techie” librarians, started by Michael Stephens. I read through the posts by my esteemed colleagues Sherri, Dorothea (my evil twin!), Jessamyn, Karen, and Sarah, among others. Fascinating reading. These lists are a combination of a variety of things; good experiences turned inside out, bad experiences (personal and merely observed) laid bare, intreprations of the attitude of the profession as a whole, through the professional literature, certain high profile kerfuffles in librarianship (and their fallout), and the culminative impression we get from reading the daily stories from tech librarians around the world though the librarian blogosphere. I am reminded of how very lucky I am to work where I work, with the people I’m surrounded by. Reading through all those posts, and by writing my own list of what would turn me away, it’s clear that it’s all in the attitude. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my job?

10 Attitudes That Would Make this “techie” Librarian High-Tail it Out of Your Library:

10. The rule is, if you get your hands dirty, it’s not a professional task. In spite of the fact that writing code doesn’t actually get your hands dirty, it does in a virtual sense, so it’s best to consider those librarians less than entirely professional.

9. Remember that as long as you have a librarian nearby who works with computers in some form, you don’t need to actually learn how to do anything with them yourself. Surely this person has been hired simply to alleviate that pressure from you. Just ask them to do whatever petty tasks you have hovering around you. It’s sort of like having your own secretary, really.

8. You can’t trust people who know more about technology than you do. Second guess them at every turn. Don’t trust their estimations of timelines; they always take more time than they need. If something is effortless to use, it was probably effortless to build as well. Don’t let a tech librarian bully you. You may have no idea how that application works, but you still know best.

7. Things that are “fun” are not educationally valuable. Keep that in mind at all times. Students shouldn’t read email from their friends at a public terminal, and they sure as heck shouldn’t be using IM to communicate with anyone. No one of any worth communicates in short bits like that. Libraries are places for silence, deep thinking, and serious learning. That is all.

6. This should be your mantra: traditional librarians are the “high-concept” people. The thinkers, the movers, the real planners. Traditional librarianship is where the direction for the profession is going to come from. Technology librarians are more “low-concept”, more how-to and technical; they’re your support staff. They basically act out the big plans of the others. It’s sometimes politically incorrect to say this outloud, but don’t imagine that anyone thinks otherwise.

5. Blogs are stupid. “Blog people” are even stupider. What’s a wiki? Why should I care? It’s best to approach all new applications not only with skepticism, but with active distrust and scorn.

4. Tech librarians cannot take on leadership roles. It’s like this: every person has a finite amount of ability. If you have someone at your workplace who’s pretty good with computers, that ability naturally reduces their ability in the “social skills” column. Tech librarians don’t know how to manage, inspire, or strategize. If your tech librarian also likes either a) Star Trek, b) Battlestar Gallactica, or c) Douglas Adams, what you’ve got on your hands is a geek. Geeks are not cool, no matter what pop culture tells you. Geeks are team players, they’re support people. They have their place, but that place is not leading committees, participating in high-level strategic planning, or out in public, representing the library.

3. The (physical) collection is our most important asset. Everything else is a frill. Remind tech librarians of this regularly. The moment this “computers” fad has passed, she will be out of a job.

2. Don’t be supportive of your tech librarian’s goals. When an opportunity comes up for them to apply for funding to help them do something they’ve spent years wanting to do, don’t support that. Don’t proof-read, discuss, pass on, or otherwise support that funding request. After all, we all have our goals; pie-in-the-sky dreams about an application that might possibly (if we’re lucky) be useful to the community at large isn’t really the business of the library. Focus on more concrete projects.

1. If something happens to go well, don’t congratulate your tech librarian. Don’t tell her that you’re glad she’s around. Geeks don’t have the same social needs as other people; just nod and move on to the next project.

3 thoughts on “10 Ways to Lose your Best People”

  1. Exercise your planning skills! Just wait a few years,let her learn that pesky stuff and then, reassign the job duties. That will discourage any other wanna-be and avoid this getting out of control.

  2. Very true, all points, to a greater or lesser degree. When these attitudes are not explicitly stated in the work environment, they are communicated by actions (or when more effective, inaction). I like #9 and #6 the best.

    Rochelle: Yeah, that’s why I wanted to talk about attitudes rather than policies, and even attitudes rather than specific actions. Sometimes you get these messages without being able to entirely pin them on any one action or statement. They can be hidden in the undertone as well.

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