Posts tagged ‘books’

Being Indispensable

You get paid to go to work and do something of value. But your job is also a platform for generosity, for expression, for art. – Seth Godin

I read Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin about a year ago. I meant to review it right away, but perhaps it’s better that I didn’t because now I’ve had some time to chew on it and digest it. I love the basic concept – the idea that people (regardless of their position) need to commit to being indispensable linchpins rather than mere cogs in the machinery of their organizations.

I read a few articles and things that Godin wrote about this book, and he seemed to think the chapter on Resistance might be the most powerful. It is powerful.  But the idea that resonated most strongly with me was his discussion of emotional labor. Being a linchpin is about more than just completing a list of tasks. You have to put in the emotional effort to turn your work into art, into a gift. It’s how you add the value that only you can add, and what makes you indispensable. And he’s right – it’s a big investment to make, but the emotional labor pays tremendous dividends for your organization and the people you encounter in your work, not to mention yourself.

Emotional labor is hard. Really hard. But I find that the more emotional labor I exert, the more energy I seem to have. When I start phoning it in and just doing the job, I’m exhausted at the end of the day even though I haven’t worked as hard. It seems like a great paradox, but it’s not that hard to figure out  – one path feeds your soul and the other doesn’t.

I also love what Godin says about optimism:

Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow. And all artists have this optimism, because artists can honestly say that they are working to make things better.

This is why organizations under pressure often crack. All parties can see that their current system isn’t working, but they’re unable to embrace a new one because they’re certain that it won’t turn out perfectly, that it can’t be as good as what they have now. Organizations under pressure are stuck because their pain makes it hard for them to believe in the future.

I know a lot of people and organizations experience this. We fall into the trap of waiting for the “perfect” solution. Our inability to tolerate failure or even uncertainty holds us back. Godin again:

What does it take to lead?

The key distinction is the ability to forge your own path, to discover a route from one place to another that hasn’t been paved, measured, and quantified. So many times we want someone to tell us exactly what to do, and so many times that’s exactly the wrong approach.

The higher the stakes, the harder it is to take that risk, to go off the map. I found this book was a good reminder of how I want to approach my life and work on a day to day basis. It’s not a perfect book. The chapters are broken down into short chunks and stories that don’t always gel into a cohesive narrative. But you could turn that weakness into an advantage; read a chunk or two at a time for inspiration – your daily kick in the butt.

I was given an extra copy of this book, and I’d like to give it to someone who’d really like to read it. If you’re interested in a free copy of Linchpin, leave a comment on this post by noon on Monday, February 14th (Pacific Time). I’ll do a random drawing on Monday to determine the winner.

February 11, 2011 at 12:25 am 7 comments

Great user experiences: Tor.com

Why am I so much more motivated to complain about bad experiences than to praise good ones? It’s certainly not because it’s easier – it takes as much or more energy to complain because you usually get resistance in return. Anyway, I’d like to make more of an effort to point out great user/customer experiences when I have them, and to kick off I’m going to tell you about one of my current favorite websites.

Tor.com is a site geared towards science fiction and fantasy fans. Built by the good folks at Tor Books, it’s an intriguing enterprise in that it’s separate from their corporate site and practices something they call “publisher agnosticism,” which means that some content (actually, a lot of content) is contributed by people who don’t work for or publish with Tor Books. They also sell non-Tor books and merchandise in their store. Cool.

But beyond that, it’s just an excellent site. The blog is consistently interesting, even for a sf/fantasy dabbler like myself. The quality of writing is good, and the topics are varied enough to keep me reading without going so far afield that I lose interest. What hooked me initially were the “re-reads” – they take a popular series (Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time), and write about it in-depth, with plot summaries, commentary, and lots of reader discussion on each post. I totally want to steal this idea for my library – what a great way to run an online book club! And they don’t limit the discussion to books – they also talk about sf & fantasy film and tv, art, the creative process, and more.  I also love the weekly “Saturday Morning Cartoons” post, which highlights wonderful animated shorts.

Another feature I love: they do periodic themes for the site. October was Steampunk month. In December they did 12 Days of Cthulhumas. The theme permeates the whole site – blog posts, giveaways, highlighted items in the store, even the logo gets transformed:

Standard logo:

Steampunk logo:

Cthulhumas logo:

Even though I subscribe to the blog’s feed in Google Reader, I routinely click through to the site to make sure I’m not missing anything – I can’t say that about any other site I subscribe to. Details like this aren’t enough to create a great user experience, but when you have consistently good quality the details can push you into greatness. As I’m working on the redesign of our library website, this is the level of quality I aspire to.

February 10, 2010 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Hard Questions

I came across this post from Scott McLeod (not to be confused with Scott McCloud) about the future of libraries, books, reading and more. It’s focused on school libraries, but he asks a lot of good questions that are relevant to public libraries, too, particularly questions 5 through 8:

5.  When books, magazines, newspapers, reference materials, music, movies, and other traditional library content all go electronic and online – deliverable on demand – what does that mean for the future of the physical spaces known as “libraries?” Mike Eisenberg said to me that we already should be taking yellow caution tape and blocking off the entire non-fiction and reference sections of our libraries. As content becomes digital and no longer needs to be stored on a shelf, with what do we replace that now-unused floor space: couches, tables, and cozy chairs? computer stations? meeting space? And if we head in these directions, what will distinguish libraries from other institutions such as coffee shops, community centers, and Internet cafes?
6.  Our information landscape is more complex than ever before. We still need people who know how to effectively navigate these intricate electronic environments and who can teach others to do so. But does that mean we still need “librarians” who work in “libraries?” Or will their jobs morph into something else?
7.  How much of a librarian’s current job could be done by someone in a different location (for example, someone in India who answers questions via telephone or synchronous chat) or by computer software and/or an electronic kiosk? I don’t know the answer to this question – and I suspect that it will vary by librarian – but I do know that many individuals in other industries have been quite dismayed to find that large portions of their supposedly-indispensable jobs can be outsourced or replaced by software (which, of course, means that fewer people are needed locally to do whatever work requires the face-to-face presence of a live human being).
8.  Can a librarian recommend books better than online user communities and/or database-driven book recommendation engines? For example, can a librarian’s ability to recommend reading of interest surpass that of a database like Amazon’s that aggregates purchasing behavior or a dedicated user community that is passionate about (and maybe rates/reviews) science fiction books, and then do so for romance, political history, manga, self-help, and every other possible niche of literature too?

These are some of the things that prey upon my thoughts . I suspect that the library world is going to reach a “change or die” crisis point more quickly than many of us would like to believe, and I sometimes wonder if even rapid change will be enough to save libraries as we know them. I think we need to take a hard look at our profession and think about how we need to position ourselves in the short-term if we want to have any hope of long-term viability.

Incidentally, I’ve started playing with Google Wave, and I started a Wave on this topic in order to get some discussion going while learning the features of Google Wave. If you’ve got a Wave account and want to join the discussion, let me know and I can add you.

November 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm Leave a comment

Rise of the ebook

I used to be an ebook skeptic. I’ve been a big believer in the affordances of paper, and as a lifelong reader I thought the emotional appeal of printed books was too strong, that ebooks would never be able to get significant market share because that obstacle was too big. I figured there might be a niche market for textbooks and professional journals – things which are expensive to produce and expensive to buy – but I was convinced that fiction ebooks would not really take hold until we had used up all the trees and exhausted the paper supply.

And then I got an iPhone and had a baby.

One of the hardest transitions of my first few months as a mother was the lack of reading time. Yes, babies sleep, but usually when they do you’re either trying to sleep yourself or frantically trying to accomplish something before the baby wakes up. I found that I had little pockets of time while trying to get the baby to sleep or during the middle of the night when I was trying and failing to get back to sleep myself, but I couldn’t manage a regular book while I was holding the baby. Then I heard about the Kindle app for the iPhone. People, it changed my life.

I can hold the iPhone and navigate the books with one hand, no problem. The screen is bright enough to read by in a dark room, but not bright enough to disturb the baby. Best of all, I always have books with me, wherever I am. I used to choose purses based on their ability to hold at least one book in addition to all my other gear, but now I always have a selection of books on my phone, and can easily download another if needed so I never run out of reading material. I now use two different reading apps – the Kindle app and Stanza. Yes, I pay for new content, but there are also plenty of public domain books that are available for both apps for free. I can bookmark significant passages and go back to them later. I can adjust the text size according to my preference. Sure, it’s easier to flip back and forth between sections in a printed book, but I’m finding that the benefits of the ebook format far outweigh the inconveniences. In short, I’m sold.

In a professional capacity, I’m also very intrigued by some of the collaborative options that are becoming available for online books (CommentPress, BookGlutton) and by new publishing models (Free). The long-term implications for libraries are going to be huge. But ultimately it comes down to the question: “does this work for me?” Surprised as I am, for me the answer is a resounding “yes”!

August 6, 2009 at 3:34 pm 3 comments

A Teaser

I don’t usually write a recommendation for a book until I’ve finished it, but I’m only 2 chapters into Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody and I’m really excited about it. I saw Shirky on the Colbert Report a couple of weeks ago and was intrigued by what he had to say. The book deals with technology, but that doesn’t begin to sum it up. What I really like so far is that he’s examining social changes and technology without relying on buzzwords and oversimplification. Also, his writing style is very engaging – the book is not the least bit boring. Anyway, I can’t wait to read more and will post again when I finish the book.

April 24, 2008 at 6:25 am Leave a comment

Hitting the books

pile-o-booksOne of my ongoing goals is to organize my home/life. I tend to start this project several times a year and then get completely overwhelmed and quit without accomplishing much, and sometimes having made things worse. This year I’m trying something different: as much as possible, I’m tackling small projects and doing them from start to finish. Today I organized my bookshelves.

Since I started working in libraries I don’t buy nearly as many books as I used to, but I still have quite a few. Many of them are in storage, but the ones in the house tend to get disorganized pretty quickly. When I don’t have places to put things I just start stacking, so today I was sorting through piles of books and other stuff and putting them in order back on the shelves.

BookshelvesIt’s very dusty work, so I weeded and cleaned as I went, and I’m quite happy with the result. I have room for all the books I want to keep in the house plus a little extra for growth, and everything is in order and visible. I am one happy librarian!

January 26, 2008 at 6:25 pm 3 comments

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing

The Little Book of Common Sense InvestingAre you mystified about the best ways to invest your money? Then check out The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle. This short book is not exactly thrilling reading, but it packs a lot of good information into a small package. And the good news is, Bogle’s done the math and makes a great case for the idea that the best thing you can with your money is also one of the simplest: buy low-cost index funds and hold them for the long term. By doing just that, you can beat the returns of about 80% of investors. Why? Because most people invest emotionally (e.g. buy high because they have to get in on a “hot” stock, sell low because they freak out when the market dips) and pay too much for the privilege (through fees and taxes). I’m all for strategies that make my life simpler, and it turns out that this one is really sound.

If you just can’t resist the temptation to play the stock market, you might try the strategy that The Motley Fool calls “Index Plus a Few” – put the bulk of your money in index funds and spend a small portion on individual stocks (2-5, but no more than you can reasonably keep up with). There are plenty of low-cost online brokers to make the process easy. Zecco.com even offers free trades (with some restrictions), although their site can be a bit clunky to use.

January 5, 2008 at 5:57 pm 1 comment

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