Stuck in the middle, or how I try to play both sides

This is related to my previous post, where somebody threw a fellow librarian under the bus, to use a transportation metaphor. I was horrified. How dare they complain about one of my colleagues like that in a meeting! But I don’t work with them directly and I don’t know their situation. That aside, it’s endemic of another issue I face all the time when I try to champion the cause of transportation libraries (though it’s not unique to transportation): How can I save you when you don’t want to save yourself?

I really hate that feeling and the language, but it’s something that I keep coming back to. Like last week. I was at the meeting, trying to show how dynamic and valuable libraries can be for state DOTs, but I’m just one voice and one perspective. I know when we both go home, back to our offices, things won’t totally change. I might talk a big game about the big picture, but that doesn’t mean their librarian is on the same page as me.

That was one thing that really stuck with me during SLA, was that I am not on the same page as many of my colleagues. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just something to be mindful of. I’m interested in big picture stuff. How to really integrate libraries into the organization, not as some sort of annex where information goes to die, but really an integral, living piece of the organization. Now, getting there is tough. I get that. I also get that I’m in a very special position, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep championing that vision. The thing that worries me, and I know happens, is that I go to a meeting like this, paint the picture of the library as the nexus of all great things, the research managers go back to their organization and don’t see that happening. There’s lots of reasons for that – lack of resources being the root of it all. It’s also a matter of philosophy. I have mine, several of my colleagues do not share my vision, which is OK but can lead to mixed signals.

Here’s an anecdote: I was promoting the values of Transportation Knowledge Networks and how libraries can be more than just reports/books. A research manager for a state DOT was very interested to hear about this and get involved even though they don’t have a library as such. Then when I was about to seal the deal, another librarian told them they couldn’t participate without a library. This mixed message is bad, but I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. I know every time I think we’re on the same page, something like this story happens and it feels like we’ve taken steps backward.

Tying this all back to the incident last week, I often feel like I have to play both sides. I have to convince the organizations to let the libraries do more (as a means of survival), but then I also have to convince the librarians to try for more (as a means of survival). I need to work on it, I know. Advocacy is a tough game to play.

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