In an earlier post I described this job as "shoveling and gardening," affectionately of course. Today I had one of those pleasant convergence moments when three sources of information (one human, one analog, and one digital) were all telling me the same undeniable thing: Trying to do it all is not heroic; it is simply ineffective.
The first source was librarian James A. Jacobs, whom I heard speak at ALA in a session on Obama's information policy. In addition to all Jacobs' wisdom on how the "new" information must be able to be not only retrieved but also "used, re-used, and re-mixed," Jacobs said this very important thing: "A focused collection is an information service; an unfocused or overwhelming collection is a disservice to the user." The former is my new mantra; I don't think the latter refers to any collection in particular, but it may as well.
The second source was Bruce Rosenstein's new book, Living in More Than One World, in which Rosenstein quotes Peter Drucker as having said, "People are effective because they say "no," not because they say "yes."" The third, which I cannot quite connect the dots on yet, was a song by Adrienne Young and Little Sadie called "Plow to the End of the Row." But maybe I just like that song and I happened to be listening to a licensed digital copy of it when this all came together for me. The weeding is just as essential as the planting and don't let anyone tell you different!
Flying solo? Choose a focus. Better yet, ask your users what you should focus on. I spent a little time weeding our print library today and was trying to think of an interesting way to write about it for the "Library Day in the Life" initiative. The print library usually leaves me uninspired and daunted because I have never devoted the time to it that I think it deserves. Plagued by the notion that my predecessors kept the print collection in tip-top shape, I often wonder why I have relegated it to something I only do on overcast Friday afternoons when I need to get up from my desk and do something physical to make it to five o'clock. But while I was in there I realized that there is no way I could maintain that collection perfectly and still be out and about in all the ways that have helped me get to know my users. There are entire weeks when I never even go in the library because I work in my office, in other people's offices hearing about their projects, and in my team's weekly meetings and conference calls.
If I had one piece of advice for another solo librarian it would be this: Know your users. If the print collection does not serve them (or if they are just not interested) then you are not only allowed to "neglect" it a bit; you probably should. Be where they are. I have never shied away from asking people, "So, what are you working on?" and my boss tends to think this is a strength! Figure out which things you need to say no to today and it will reveal the YES opportunities very clearly. Lee LeFever wrote about this in terms of "being lightweight" and contemporary Buddhist writings often refer to this as having more "white space" in one's life. There is also a great passage in Romancing the Ordinary where the author recommends "losing something every day." I highly recommend it!