Learning, the act of gaining knowledge, is a craft unto itself. It starts with questions - the what ifs, how abouts, whys, . . . leading from the unknown to the known, through inquiry, experimentation, travel, and of course pure accident.

This is about how it happens in my life.

Oh no, another L word

Attending TEDxLibrariansTO last Saturday was an inspiring experience on a topic near and dear to my heart: Librarians as Thought Leaders. While I'd never really put it that way, I figured I knew what was meant.  I  eagerly anticipated the day, having only dim notions of what to expect.

I loved the format: brief, fascinating talks touching topics that leave you wanting more from each one, rather than feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Shelley Archibald and Fiacre O'Duinn were consummate hosts, ensuring good food, good conversation and a wonderful opportunity to meet interesting people.  All told, a great day.

It brought to mind another inspiring experience regarding leadership and Librarianship: The Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute. I was successfully nominated by CASLIS for the 2007 Institute. After I came home I took some time to reflect on and write about this great opportunity:
I really didn’t expect attending the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute to be a humbling experience. Invigorating, yes. Inspiring even. Maybe just a little bit cheesy. Yet as I sat on the floor on our last day at Emerald Lodge and looked around the room I found myself feeling rather, well, small. For those who know me personally, that is a truly unusual feeling for me.

So there we sat in a circle on the floor. Every other time we had been in this room it was full of chairs and tables and food and flipcharts and bags and books and oh so much more. Now it was just us: participants, facilitators, mentors, organizers. I realized as I sat on the floor that I was looking at leaders, everywhere I turned! I had not learned how to be a leader at NEL; no, I had learned to recognize leadership in all its diversity. Wow.
NEL is a focus on the essence of librarianship. It is about what we do and how we do it. It is about recognizing our ability to facilitate change through facilitating access to the right information at the right time.

This was my daily bread when working as a Librarian in the corporate sector, where every day in some way large or small, the work I did had an positive impact on the work of others.  In serving the information needs of my colleagues I helped make change happen.  

In fact, one of the books that came my way during my NEL experience explicitly addressed the idea of servant leadership.  Facilitating the work of others in a way that they don't have to think about how or where, and just do their own "what", that is a form of leadership.  But please do not confuse servant leadership with notions of servility: leaders are sure of their presence, they know how to claim, own and share their contributions. 
Librarians struggle with notions of leadership and leader. This was expressed at NEL as well as at TEDxLibrarians, where talk turned at times to who are leaders in Librarianship (or Libraryland, a la Amy Buckland).  Along with it came that same expression of discomfort with the idea that a Librarian would aspire to be a LEADER, and that many of our current leaders work outside of Libraries (consultants, vendors etc).

Which brings to mind another similarity.
Librarians tend to conflate our whatness with our whereness. Talk about Librarianship easily, but erroneously, slips into talk about Libraries and hierarchies and infrastructure . . . and no one really notices. This was the case at TEDxLibrariansTO as much as it was at NEL.

What I wrote back in  2007 was 
It is almost as though the institution in which many librarians work becomes the entirety of the profession. Thinking about librarianship becomes a reflection on the boxes in which we work, rather than on the work we do.
Special librarians do not have the luxury, or is it the burden? of an institutional filter when thinking about librarianship. No, we in fact must reference and consider factors outside our workplaces and so are forced into bigger picture thinking.
I do think that special Librarians have an inherently different view on Librarianship. The focus has always been on what, how and who, rather than where; but ultimately, a focus on service.
Considering that the Special Libraries Association is now over 100 years old, there is evidence not just for the long term proliferation of Librarians throughout the non-Traditional realm, but of also of a long term overt recognition that to practice Librarianship in these environments requires a strong network and a keen interest in engaging with and learning from a highly diverse range of professional colleagues.  Associations are always the result of the collective work of the members, giving of money, time and expertise in service to their colleagues, in order that their colleagues can serve in their respective workplaces. Such voluntary associations don't survive without satisfying some essential need, one people are willing to pay to have filled.

I made a low tech story board video for the TEDxLibrariansTO video challenge which was a lot of fun, (not sure if it is on the youtube channel? forgot to mention my own name in the video, see, so . . . anyway it is here, and sorry in advance for any nausea you may feel!)

In it, near the very end, I state that Librarians have the power and wisdom to lead from the unknown to the known. I think that is true in any area of human enquiry.  It is with human insight and intervention that our collective knowledge is made accessible for human use.  And this is as true today as it has been for over 4 thousand years.

Librarians are Leaders. It rolls off the tongue so easily, alliteration and all, and we can get familiar with 2 great L words at once.  Let's say it together now.  . .

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