Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I'm a (reluctant) leader

I am a leader, but I would have to say that I am the reluctant, silent type. More often than not I am one of those who has leadership thrust upon him. This is not as simple a question as it sounds given that many use leadership and management interchangeably. Those words are not interchangeable. A manager does not have to be a leader (let alone a good one), and many leaders are not managers. I think to be a leader you have to be knowledgeable in your field of endeavor. You have to also be willing to put in hard work, and you have to be willing to lead by example. Do not ask anything of those you hope will follow you if you are not willing to do it yourself. I could go on, but this is just a quick two cents on the topic.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Booknote: Bright-sided

My review from GoodReads:

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I will begin by saying that this book was not as engaging as other books by this author. I found Nickel and Dimed to be more interesting; I read that book and reviewed it here as well. Maybe because that book has the author doing more things rather than just presenting research. Having said that, this is a book that should be read, but it is also a book that you can scan large parts of it and still get the point.

Ehrenreich looks at the cult of the positive thinking in the United States, and it exposes it for what it is: something that actually dulls our edge, and it serves as a social control tool. Yes, the cult of positive thinking can be placed right along things like Stalinism. But getting rid of it is not as easy as it sounds given that, in the U.S., the cult of positivism is a billionaire industry. There are a lot of coaches, speakers, and ministers making a vast fortune over telling you that, if you do not become wealthy yourself, it is your own damn fault. People have pretty much bought into what is basically a con game.

Ehrenreich does a very thorough job of going over the history of positive thinking starting with the Calvinists and Puritans and working up to the modern gurus of today. She leads then from the beginnings to the current financial meltdown and economic mess we are facing. The message is simple: we need a defensive pessimism. It is what keeps us alive and gives us an edge. And we need to be realistic, get some empathy, and help each other out. And we need to be very skeptical. This is something I found appealing given that I am often surrounded by worshipers of the happy thoughts who are more than happy to exclude me if I express what they see as a "negative thought." And in a society where you can be fired for being "too negative," those of us who are realists have to pick our battles. Yet in the end, as the financial mess has proven, it was the naysayers who saw what was coming, but they were disregarded. It is a harsh lesson that needs to be learned and remembered.

I am not saying don't have a positive outlook. I am just saying you should temper it with realism, as Ehrenreich seems to say at the end. If you want a real explanation of why things are as bad as they are, skip all the financial analysis books and such and read this instead. Only reason I did not rate it higher is because it does get a little repetitive at times. The ideas Ehrenreich presents are not really new ones. Anyone with half a brain who has critical thinking skills probably has thought of some of this. Her strength is in taking all that and putting it together in an accessible form.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Booknote: Quiet, Please

I just added this review to my Good Reads page. I think this is a book that many people have to read, so take a look at the review and pick the book up if it interests you.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches From A Public Librarian Quiet, Please: Dispatches From A Public Librarian by Scott Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If I could have, I would have rated this book at 3 1/2 stars. It is not because the book is bad, but I do have some very mixed feelings about it overall. I am not sure if I am supposed to recommend it to people as a true look of what our work is like, or if I am supposed to recommend it to people as way to scare them away from libraries, especially from working in a library. Much like Douglas, I have been in librarianship long enough to have my own battle scars and the stories to go with it. So I can relate to a lot of what he is saying. I have had the fortune (or misfortune depending on your point of view) of working in academic settings, but they are settings that in some ways are very similar to public libraries. In other words, I do not work at some fancy, Research 1 (that's Carnegie rating for my non-library friends) where we they just serve often brilliant students, faculty, and scholars. Working in a small town campus or working in an inner city university are very different balls of yarn. So in that sense, I could relate to a lot of what he wrote about because I have seen and experienced many of the types of patrons, coworkers and bosses that he writes about. That I am also a state employee works to further help me identify.

I think this book should be handed out to library school students or anyone considering a job in a library, especially a public library. Most public libraries are part of the city services, and with that come all the related politics. You also get all the dysfunctional people who probably should not be working in a public service capacity, but they end up doing so anyhow. That it took so long to get rid of Brenda, who is was a toxic employee and a perfect example of what Bob Sutton would define as an "asshole" was something I found hard to understand, yet, I could understand because it was city politics. We all know getting fired out of a city (or state) job is next to impossible. So let's say those jobs do attract a certain type of toxic people. The problem I found with Douglas's story is that it seemed his environment was saturated with toxic people. There really is not anyone he works with that you might find endearing in some way. To be honest, those people don't really have any redeeming qualities if at all. Naturally, the author comes out looking very heroic (is is the nature of the narrative), but again, since I know he is not the only one, he comes across as credible. I have met a librarian or two who are as beleaguered as he is; heck, I have been that librarian.

The strong negative wave aside, the book does have some very nice endearing moments. Just when you think you can't take another negative segment, Douglas throws you a lifeline and reveals a small epiphany here, or a little warm and fuzzy moment there. These serve to provide relief to the reader, and to librarians like me, a small reminded of why it is we do what we do in spite of the bad odds. Thus, this blend of very negative and depressing with some positive uplifting moments is why I don't rate the book higher. I really want to like it more, but I can only take so much before I end up depressed and wanting to go look at the job ads. And yet, I believe that this book is a must read.

Politicians should read it so they actually get an effing clue of what actually happens in public libraries. It is not all about the sensational (but rare) story about catching someone looking at porn. Libraries really do a major service to their communities, and they often provide things that the government otherwise does not provide.

Community members need to read it. The people that really need to read it are the whiners who are always saying libraries should be closed because they do not want to pay taxes for it. Maybe we should send the homeless to your home if we close the library, for instance. Libraries provide things like story time for children, internet access, help with looking for jobs, and many other things. It is not all about those selfish whiners. Sure, those people may buy their books on Amazon, but a library does a lot more for the community. Get a clue.

Librarians need to read this. For one, they may well find a kindred spirit in Douglas. Some of them may get angry (why the hell did he put up with X or Y so long? I know I asked that question once or twice while reading this). But librarians will also find some uplifting moments that, if nothing else, will maybe remind them of why they do what they do, at least for another month.

Finally, library school students and anyone considering attending library school, or just getting a job in the library, needs to read this. This book basically tells it like it, and it pulls no punches. You need to read this so you can go in with your eyes open.

So, at the end of the day, I do recommend it with some caveats.

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