Last week, I attended the three-day joint conference of the Kansas and Missouri Library Associations, “Libraries Without Borders.” I attended half a dozen sessions, learned about some useful projects and products, met lots of people – all the things you go to a conference to do. It was an enjoyable and productive few days. Every night, I went home excited to talk about all the new ideas in my head.
But the part of it that I keep going back to, the bit that sticks with me most powerfully, is the awards reception that was held at the end of the second day. Representatives of both the KLA and MLA handed out awards to various individuals for meritorious service, distinguished professionals, best library, etc. Pretty standard, as awards ceremonies go. What struck me about it is this:
Every single person who received recognition that evening made it a point to pass on credit for their work in their acceptance speech. Every one of them made it clear that they didn’t do their work alone, and that their awards belonged as much to their staff, or their director, or their board who supported them. Every one of them acknowledged that their success was the result of the efforts of many other people, working on many fronts.
Scott Bonner, famed director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, who helped lead his community through the violence and tumult of the past year, stated unequivocally in his acceptance speech that he doesn’t think his library did anything that every other public library in this country doesn’t already do, every day. He believes the only difference between his library and mine is that his had national news cameras pointed at it. *
I overheard someone in the audience say, “Librarians sure are humble.” While I don’t think this commentator is wrong per se I don’t think humility is what drove these award-winning librarians to pass on credit as they did. I don’t think it was false modesty, either, and it certainly wasn’t politicking.
It was a celebration.
It was a celebration of what it means to be a librarian and to do this work. None of us work alone. Librarianship is a team effort, fueled by a belief in the necessity of service. None of us succeed without the support of a team, without the support of our coworkers and supervisors, without the support of our leadership, without the support of our community and the people we serve. This is the bedrock reality of what we do.
To hear this truth acknowledged and celebrated by every person who walked across that awards stage was empowering. It’s a tremendous thing when passionate and committed people join together to work toward a common good. This is what librarians do, every day.
I’ve never been more proud to be a part of it.
* With all due respect to Mr. Bonner, whom I admire tremendously, my library hasn’t had riots raging outside its doors, either. We can’t completely discount the significance of that.