Library Spaghetti Sauce

I just discovered this long lost post (originally dated 06/11/06) perpetually stuck in draft status and thought "why not free it", so here it is... My library spaghetti sauce theory. Note: I may get virtual tomatoes thrown at me for this one, but that's ok. I don't mind eating vegetables. :)


In my wanderings around the NetSquared Conference site, I stumbled across remote conference session from Superpatron Ed Vielmetti. Although the conference was aimed at social network/web 2.0 technologies for non-profits, Ed and Corey’s conversation about innovation, niche markets and the need for different perspectives ring home my thoughts on libraries and spaghetti sauce.

Here’s an except from their archived chat …

May 31, 16:50:50 PDT> *Corey*: Edward, I personally think in the past, much inovation travelled with the professionals between jobs and organizations, I think that is changing some now

May 31, 16:51:33 PDT> *Edward Vielmetti*: ah, corey, so individuals took their tools with them from job to job and brought their innovations with them as they went

May 31, 16:51:53 PDT> *Corey*: That why much technology develops within niche markets

May 31, 16:52:09 PDT> *Edward Vielmetti*: the phrase I guess I've heard is "capacity building"

May 31, 16:52:38 PDT> *Corey*: individuals tend to specialize within the sector and many will stick with the tools they know?

May 31, 16:53:29 PDT> *Edward Vielmetti*: so you go from being an executive director of a children's museum in one city to the same role in another city, but your niche of program ideas and foundations and funding sources stays the same

May 31, 16:54:05 PDT> *Corey*: I've seen that happen a lot

May 31, 16:54:31 PDT> *Edward Vielmetti*: what has been interesting about the superpatron blogging I've done is that as a library patron I bring in a totally different perspective than many of the librarians out

Now here’s my spaghetti sauce thought …

As an individual who has worked in libraries for over 15 years now, I’m always perplexed by the single mindedness that sometimes prevails among the library profession and wonder how it came to be that the only "professionals" that libraries seem to value are those with MLS/MLIS degrees? Lately, I feel like I’ve been reading and hearing all too often for the need of “marketing librarians”, “emergent literacy librarians” “programmer librarians” and I wonder why?

What’s wrong with just hiring marketing people who are passionate about libraries and have a degree and proven skills in “marketing”? Or hiring emergent literacy specialists who have a passion for libraries and a degree and proven skills in emergent literacy? Or hiring programmers that have a degree in the area and a passion for libraries? Perhaps it’s because the only way the profession has been taught to recognize and measure “passion” and “core values” is by three letters.

So how does this all relate to spaghetti sauce? Good question. Let me answer by asking a simple question … when you make spaghetti sauce what ingredients do you add? Do you just add tomatoes? Or do mix in some garlic, onions, basil and whole bunch of other complimentary ingredients in with it?

To me a library is a lot like a good recipe for spaghetti sauce -- If you only mash tomatoes (which BTW I do agree is the most important main ingredient ) together for your mix, you may have sauce but it’s definitely not going to be very appetizing. To spice a library up and make it an award winning recipe, you need to pepper your professional talent with many other degreed professionals - marketing specialists, project managers, early childhood educators, programmers, historians, etc… etc … etc. and stop thinking that only MLS degreed professionals offer the skills that today’s libraries need. Businesses and other non-profits don’t seem to think or operate this way -- so why do we?

Ed’s comment about the need for a different perspective is a very valid one “what has been interesting about the superpatron blogging I've done is that as a library patron I bring in a totally different perspective than many of the librarians out there.” Very True Ed. --and it's greatly appreciated! But as libraries, we need to do more than merely open our ears to our users. We need to also make sure that the "ears" we are are using to listen with come from a variety of different skill sets and backgrounds as well… otherwise we run the risk of interpreting what we hear from only tomato point of view.

1 comment: said...

I'm going to extend your metaphor/theory a bit order for the sauce to be really good, you have to have *plump, delicious, well-rounded* tomatoes to make that base recipe. Does it matter what garden the tomatoes came from? Not necessarily. But they have to be tomatoes that are ready to be made into sauce and really *want* to be a part of the sauce, dare I say tomatoes that *love* sauce....sooo, what I'm getting at here (and before I run the sauce metaphor too thin) is going outside of a "the profession" to search for qualified, skilled, strong employees can and should be done. Now here is the spice that must not be left, though: It is absolutely imperative that candidates be grounded in library philosophy and practice in order for them to flourish and be a strong benefit to the Library. I think that there is often a tendency to minimize the exceptionality of what happens at the Library and the impact the Library can and does have. It is not "just another" nonprofit or corporation. Just as you wouldn't plug a librarian in a high level banking position for instance, why would you do the reverse? It's that X factor--that passion that you mention that is the key. So, sure, let's look outside of the Library box to fill roles--but remember that whoever comes in to fill that role brings HEART to it...and if they don't show up and develop that heart full of passion for the Library...there are so many banks just, back to stirring my sauce...