The title of this post is a quote from Christopher Miller’s presentation on Tuesday, March 24 at the first of three in-person sessions for ILEAD USA. ILEAD is an initiative started by the Illinois State Library and supported by grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (currently under threat of elimination). The initiative has been adopted by 9 additional states, including Pennsylvania, which launched its first immersive experience this year. There are many ways to discover more about ILEAD: On Twitter, follow #ILEADUSA; ILEAD USA on Facebook; The ILEAD USA blog; R. David Lankes blog and more. While ILEAD is the genesis of this post, and I encourage you to follow us in our journey, that’s not really why I’m writing today.
I’m writing because ILEAD has reminded me about the “Why.” In his presentation last Thursday during ILEAD, David Bendekovic said to always start with the “Why.” Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you do what you do? There is often very little time to think about these questions much less answer them. We are so busy with the day-to-day that the high altitude questions and answers sometimes get neglected.
What initiatives like ILEAD really do is give participants time to think. Time to step outside of our collective boxes and really think about what we do and why we do it and consider those thoughts through a new lens, with fresh ideas and a fresh perspective.
We are all familiar with training. Training is very important and essential to teach us the skills we need to do our jobs. However, the importance of initiatives like ILEAD, which cannot be easily defined or classified, cannot be underrated. Conferences and wokshops are important, too, for professional development and networking. BUt ILEAD is different. There are so many concepts, ideas, assignments and revelations thrown at participants in rapid fire sequence–concepts, ideas, assignments and revelations that may seem random or unrelated to each other (at least at first)–and so little time to digest all of the information that it feels at first overwhelming and a bit intimidating. Until one takes time to think about it.
The beauty of ILEAD is twofold. First, it provides a broad spectrum of information and ideas so that teams can work together to incorporate that knowledge into their projects. The presentations (some are live and some are live streamed) foster individual thinking that can translate into group collaboration.
Second, and I would argue even more important, is that it reminds participants that creative thinking is crucial to successful libraries and librarians. Investing in time to think is a wise investment. Sometimes an experience (like ILEAD) is not directly related to one’s current position. Sometimes there is no immediate gain or learning. Sometimes one cannot draw a definitive link between the “training” and a grand idea. But chances are the grand idea was a result of cultivating the time and ability to step back and think.
Setting aside time to think is not a waste of time. There are many organizations that ask staff to “justify” their need to attend training or development opportunities. Sometimes that requirement exists in order to make the most of limited funds available for staff training and development. Sometimes that requirement exists due to a lack of higher level thinking on the part of administrators–thinking that would allow for the possibility that ideas come from lots of different places at different times and for different reasons and inspire different people in different ways. While sending a cataloger to only cataloging workshops may seem like the right thing to do, it may not be the best thing to do. It’s impossible to determine who may see possibility in any given idea and bring that possibility back to their organization to act upon. Whether the idea relates to a particular position or service is irrelevant as long as it will benefit the organization as a whole.
I am grateful to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, the Illinois State Library and IMLS for giving me the opportunity to participate in ILEAD as a mentor. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a terrific team and to help them see their project through to fruition. I am grateful to my organization and my administrator for permitting my involvement.
But mostly, I am grateful for the opportunity to take time to think about why I do what I do and why libraries and librarians exist in the first place. There is no one answer to the second question and not everyone agrees; however, by taking the time to think, our own answers may surprise us.
As David Lankes said during his presentation last Tuesday, “Most conversations are with ourselves.” Give yourself time to ask yourself the hard questions. And take time to listen to your answers. But don’t keep your answers to yourself. Share them with others and ask others the “Why” questions, too.
Create a space where someone can invent the time to think.