Thursday, 23 December 2010

Five lessons from 2010

Several people (Laura Woods, Andy Woodworth, Bobbi Newman) have written about the lessons they learned in 2010. This seems like a cathartic, end-of-year reflection exercise and it’s good to give some closure to a truly great year. So here are my five lessons from 2010.

Lesson 1: United we stand, divided we fall

Prior to this year, I’ve never really worked as part of a team (which was annoying because every goddamn job specification has TEAMWORK in big bold letters). My first job was in a bank entering data more or less on my own. My first degree was in philosophy – the epitome of ruminating quietly on your own. This year I’ve worked with other people: group projects for my Masters, as part of my various job roles, and now as part of a team spread across the country. I was so flattered to be asked to join the Voices for the Library team and I’m so happy to be working with this Justice League-like team of super-librarians (even though it makes me feel like Robin). Though I’m still finding my feet, it’s taught me a lot about working with other people and together we can accomplish much more than one individual ever could.

Lesson 2: Everybody lies

This refers to two institutions: the government and the media. I’m sure this lesson will elicit a hearty ‘Duh!’ from many but for me it’s been a revelation to learn just how much the truth is distorted and hidden from the public. WikiLeaks is revealing and has revealed an insane amount of information that governments have kept from the public. The leader of the Liberal Democrats lied to students and his party's supporters. Tabloid Watch and Minority Thought are now two of my favourite blogs on Google Reader showing how much the media lies and distorts stories for their own ends. 

Personally, I uncovered a mass media lie when I discovered Twitter. Before this year, I blindly accepted the media’s portrayal of Twitter: a site where narcissists broadcast banal pronouncements about what food they’re eating. When I finally joined, I discovered this to be a lie and it quickly became my defining communication medium for 2010. Without Twitter, I would not know half as much about what’s going on in the library community, I would not have attended any professional events, I would not have written my Guardian piece, and I would not have half as many professional contacts and, dare I say, friends.

Lesson 3: The fundamental interconnectedness of all things

This year I wrote my Masters dissertation. At 18000 words, it’s the longest thing I’ve ever written and – though still awaiting its result – I’m proud of it. It seems astounding that a dissertation ostensibly about library and information management – a very niche subject – allowed me to bring together everything I’ve ever been really interested in. I was able to bring together my undergraduate dissertation, my love of Alberto Manguel, Borges, and Wittgenstein, my interest in digital libraries, my belief in consilience, my interest in The Semantic Web, my strange devotion to Google, my obsession with labyrinths and mazes, my unwavering belief in logic; everything. It felt like a culmination: as if without realising, I’d been preparing to write it for years. This has reinforced my belief in consilience and the fundamental holism of existence. 

Lesson 4: Feel the fear and do it anyway

I owe this one to Katie Fraser.

From Indexed:
This year I’ve been scared a lot. And yet that’s made it one of the best years ever. I worked as IT Support, scared that I wouldn’t be able to fix any computer problems: turns out I’m (comparatively) good with computers. I got a professional job working with the military which forced me to move away from home: turns out the military are good people and I love living on my own. I sent off short stories and articles despite being terrified of rejection: turns out the lasting glow of success far outweighs the momentary sting of rejection. If you’re never scared, you’re never going to learn to cope with the things that scare you and you’re never going to improve yourself.

Lesson 5: Ask not what _____ can do for you but what you can do for _____

This comic represents how institutions actually are: in need of support from people who use them. If you take from an institution without giving anything back, then you’re not valuing that institution. When people complain about CILIP, they often say that it doesn’t provide anything for them. Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. The same applies to public libraries: if you don’t use libraries – if you don’t give – then you can’t get anything from them. 

Public libraries are facing a crisis and the next few months will be critical. All librarians have a part to play in ensuring the survival of our institutions: institutions that help people, that empower communities, that provide an intellectual bulwark against the advance of acceptable mediocrity. Over the next few months, we need people to campaign for public libraries and we need to support and connect campaigns across the country to present a united front rather than a community torn apart by division or blame. This is a time to show councils and Government that we value our libraries and won’t go gentle into that good night.

New Year's resolutions

So what next? Apart from my job, a few projects I'm working on for next year, and continued work for Voices for the Library, 2011 is wide open. Chartership is the next major career progression but there's no rush and technically I don't even have my Masters yet. I'll wait and see what 2011 brings.


woodsiegirl said...

Great post! Sounds like you've had a good year :)

I particularly like #4, could not agree more with that. One of the best bits of careers advice I was ever given is that if you're going into work completely confident that nothing you face that day will give you even a moment's pause, then you need to look for a new job. Obviously that's a slight exaggeration, but I agree with the idea that if nothing in your work makes you a little bit nervous then it isn't stretching you, so you should look for something that is. That doesn't all have to come from paid employment, of course...

Happy Christmas and New Year :)

Esther said...

Right. I'll have to do the "What I've learned in 2010" myself now... (not online though). With your permission, I'll copy your paragraph about Twitter! I also like #4 - in 2010 I wasn't challenged big time but I really hope at the end of 2011 I'll be able to agree more out of first-hand experience. Thanks!

Simon Barron said...

Thanks for the kind words.

It seems like #4 has struck a chord. "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Here's hoping next year brings challenges and adventures. Merry Christmas.

Bobbi Newman said...

I love lesson 4! I'm a huge fan of Indexed but missed that one. Great list!

Karrie said...

#4 is important every year I think. I know it has been for me, ever since I read "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers. A similar quote that I always turn to is "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"

Now, I need to get to work on my year-end list . . .

Katie said...

Hee hee: glad you're still feeling the fear! You're outdoing me on that front currently...I've got some fear grasping to do myself in the new year!