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The Story of My Profession

Well, this is a first. I fully intended to blog, twitter, upload pictures to Flickr, and do all the other things I’ve done at every other conference I’ve attended in the last 3 years. But a combination of technical and social factors have gotten in the way. Lack of reliable internet is a perennial problem at CIL. (This year they seemed to have made a concerted effort to improve… but the wireless routers kept failing and kicking whole rooms full of people off the network.) And this year I discovered that if you know a lot of fun, cool, engaged, and social people, you might not get a whole lot of one-on-one time with your laptop. This I take as a wonderful thing, and I had the best time meeting the majority of my until-now-only-virtual friends (more on this in another post). So the upshot is, I’ve spent every moment so far either fighting with wireless connectivity or actually talking with people, not blogging… not uploading photos (or even really taking photos… sorry), not even twittering a whole lot (my phone doesn’t do the whole web connectivity thing, either, and I just don’t want to pay for a conference full of twitterers’s ideas 10 cents at a time). Does this mean I have to hand in my 2.0 credentials?

Ironically, this lack of communication directly contradicts what I think has become the unofficial theme of this conference: telling stories. A few sessions have mentioned this theme explicitly (I’m thinking particularly of the Day 2 Keynote, presented by a trio known affectionately in these parts as “the Dutch Boys”). But even when presenters didn’t actually talk directly about story telling,they’d stir our interest by invoking stories of their own. Who wasn’t captivated by the clip from Mary Poppins in the Day 3 keynote? Who didn’t love Greg Schwartz’s fairy-tale-turned-Pecha-Kucha talk?

I found this underlying focus on Story compelling. At its heart, Story requires interaction, communication, and therefore community. I’ve also found that narrative stirs some deep and vital part of people. We’ll believe a narrative that hangs together even without the “evidence” that we train ourselves from school onward to interrogate. And we’ll often remember evidence-based narratives but forget all the actual evidence itself. On the flip side of that, facts without a narrative to tie them together are just about the epitome of “boring” and “forgettable” for me. And what’s more, Story is fun! It taps into the not-work-but-fun part of my psyche and sets my default mode to trust and enjoyment rather than skepticism. (Why do you think it takes so long to teach students to read fiction critically?… because it’s made up of good stories.)

All this talk of Story has inspired me to be on the lookout for the narratives we present and narratives we could present to our communities. I know we do, and we often even do it intentionally. I’m just interested in being mindful, myself, of the power of Story for my library.

But I actually think it should be more than just an inspiration. I think this idea of Story should be a great comfort to those who feel forced to think that the only way forward is to obliterate everything on which libraries are built. Quite the contrary. Our history of service and of meeting our community’s needs is fundamentally part of our story. It’s the part that’s implied when we start in medias res. It’s the part that sets the stage when we begin “once upon a time.” It’s the part that, if forgotten, renders the rest of the narrative stilted, limp, and ultimately boring. Moving forward is the rising action of the story, not a new story.

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Published inLibraries and LibrariansProfessional Development


  1. Mark Mark

    Missed you my friend, but I’m happy to miss you if you have this much social fun and you come back and write something like this. ;)

    This is the best CiL post I’ve seen so far! And I’ve waded through dozens, if not scores.

    Thank you!

    PS Ooh, ooh, I feel special. This is the 1st comment I’m making here with my new gmail “cred.” Boy do I feel special. :)

    And all those folks with Blogger blogs who have ’em locked down to Google/Blogger folks only had best look out now. ;)

  2. Iris Iris

    Thanks, Mark. And congrats on being a “real person” in Google’s world. :P

    Greg: Dude… you were so awesome. Made. My. Day.

  3. waltc waltc

    Since I’ve been preaching the Story sermon for years now, I can’t help but applaud this. Maybe I do need to get to CiL some year…

    Good post. I’m saving this one.

  4. Iris Iris

    Thanks, Walt. I wish you’d come to CIL this year, but maybe some other year. How else will I get to meet you?

  5. […] whole approach to and concept of teaching has changed. I’ve thought a lot about the power of story, about solving one key problem rather than all the possible problems, and about the relative luxury […]

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