December 15, 2010


"Extroversion: The act of turning outward; the condition of being so turned."
~The Universal Dictionary of the English Language (1940)

My mentor Dave Shumaker over at EmbeddedLibrarian.Wordpress posed the following question last week and I can't help but respond: Can introverts succeed as embedded librarians? His answer was a resounding Yes, and mine will be, too.

As is my standard practice, I will start with two disclaimers: (1) I do not claim to have any knowledge of this topic except first-hand knowledge from my own experience; (2) I acknowledge than many people would not consider me introverted. However...

When I read Dave's post last week I stumbled down undergraduate memory lane. In college I did a double major in French and psychology, the latter being somewhat of an afterthought and a major academic challenge for my (then) anti-science brain. The best psych course I took was Tests and Measurement. As things came to pass, I ended up with a job in educational testing before I went to library school--to the delight of my Tests and Measurement professor. In this course we basically ripped apart every reputable test, including the Myers-Briggs (now MBTI), and we learned to think critically about testing in general. I took this a step further and approached every known assessment with skepticism and disdain. Dave's post made me realize that it was high time for me to revisit Myers and Briggs, at least as an exploratory mission to respond to his post. Lo and behold, I am an introvert.

I had started to suspect as much. Dave makes the crucial point that folk definitions of introversion and extroversion are not sufficient; it has more to do with where you find energy and insight. As for me, it's true than when I'm with others I tend to talk a lot (and loudly), but I enjoy spending time alone more than would likely be healthy for a true extrovert. As my neighbors will attest, I prefer to spend my commute reading rather than discussing local politics (although I will be forthright in saying so), and my coworkers will tell you that I have my headphones on whenever I am at my desk, drawing a lot of strength from my own reactions to music.

My "I" score was not as clear-cut as other dimensions, but it would be dangerous to correlate that with a measure of success in embedded librarianship. True, I often speak about "walking around the office asking people what they are working on," which may sound like a behavior tipped toward extroversion, but where do I get the courage to do that sort of thing?

The real "E" in this job has been entrepreneurship. I had very little to build on except my own skills and strengths. There was so little structure that I had to go out and find staff members to collaborate with, and to learn from. But it was in equal part a matter of deep and careful reflection on how to make my way here, what I had the capacity to do, and what would be of service to others. (Service is perhaps another way to view the "outward turning" in the 70-year-old definition of extroversion above.)

It would be interesting to look at correlations between MBTI scores and entrepreneurial activities, as well as "measures of entrepreneurialism" as a characteristic of embedded librarianship.

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