2011: The Year of Artists and Art

In Linchpin:  Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin shares his working definitions of art and artists and why art and artists matter more than ever in today’s world.

Who/What Are Artists?

I’m going to quote liberally from the book and share a compilation of Godin’s descriptors for artist:

“Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done…An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally..The artists in your life are gift-focused, and their tenacity has nothing at all to do with income or job security. Instead, it’s about finding a way to change you in a positive way, and to do it with a gift. There’s a strong streak of intellectual integrity involved in being a passionate artist. You don’t sell out, because selling out involves destroying the best of what you are.”

What Is Art?

In Linchpin, Godin describes art as:

“…a personal gift that changes the recipient…I think art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace..Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people..Art is unique, new, and challenging to the status quo. It’s not decoration, it’s something that causes change…Most of all, art involves labor. Not the labor of lifting a brush or typing a sentence, but the emotional labor of doing something difficult, taking a risk and extending yourself. It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.  I call the process of doing your art “the work.” It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.  The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.”

In his blog post “Making Art“, Godin asserts “By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.”  He identifies three key qualities of art:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

Why Art and Artists Matter to Librarians

So what do art and artists have to do with librarianship?  To be a linchpin, the person who can “bring it together and make a difference”,  Godin says we must:

Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.”

Not only does framing our work as art and seeing ourselves as artists re-envision us as library professionals, but treating our patrons as artists and providing them learning experiences to help them see themselves as artists cultivates their participation literacy.  If our mission is to help others learn and for the library to be a place and experience of creating art and sharing that gift, then “..the ones you freed to be artists, will rise to a level you can’t even imagine.”

As I reflected last month on my what I learned and how that was reflected in my work and the learning of my students and teachers, I posed these questions:

1.  What did they (your patrons or those you serve) learn through your library program and the conversations for learning you facilitated?  What do you hope they will learn in 2011?
2.  How do we know what they learned?  What tools did you use for assessment?  Did the patrons engage in metacognition and self-reflection on what they learned?
3.  How are you privileging and honoring what they learned?   Where are their stories of learning shared in your physical and virtual library spaces?

I think those questions dovetail perfectly with these essential questions:

  • How will you create art in 2011?  What are the gifts you have to share as an artist?
  • How will you help those you serve, whatever setting you are in, create art and nurture their growth as artists?  How are you and those you serve purposefully cultivating and reflecting on your art?
  • How are you spreading your gifts and your art?  How are your empowering those you serve to share their gifts and privileging their art?

Not only will I continue to try and share the answers I’m discovering along with my students and teachers to these questions here in this space and through my library’s virtual spaces, but I also hope that you will use social media and cloud computing in 2011 to share how you and those you serve in your library are creating and sharing your gifts of art.

How will you invite participation for art and artists through your library in 2011, and how will you participate as an artist in your learning community?

How Will You Use Your Gifts in 2011?

Whatever your feelings may be about Jeff Bezos, found and CEO of Amazon, I encourage you to watch a commencement speech he gave earlier this year at Princeton in which he talks about gifts and choices. Bezos asks these questions to the graduating class of 2010, and I think they speak to us as librarians and educators as well–how will you answer these questions through your practice in 2011?

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

What Running Can Teach You About Librarianship

On July 4, 1998, I happened upon live television coverage of one of Atlanta’s legendary sporting events, the Peachtree Road Race. In spite of the fact I have never had an ounce of athletic ability in my life other than being the hula hoop champion of Midway Elementary from 1976–1983, I was transfixed and inspired by the grace, strength, and determination of the multitude of runners fighting the hills, heat, and humidity for 6.2 miles.   I remember watching the race and thinking to myself, “I want to do that.” And within a year, not only did I go from being a walker to someone who ran a 10K ,but I also ran my first half-marathon in 1999 because this goal was something I really believed in with all my heart, a goal that required dedication and perseverance.  Before going back to graduate school while working full time in 2001, I ran countless 10Ks, several half-marathons, and one full marathon before giving up my 50 mile a week running habit to have more time to devote to travel and study to the University of Georgia. After a ten year hiatus, I began reclaiming my running life last year.  It has been a slow road and taken longer than I anticipated to finally get into a regular running groove (things feel a lot different when you are nearly 40 as opposed to 30), but it is a joy to experience running as a regular part of my life these days.    For the last few months, I’ve been thinking about what running can teach us about librarianship, so here are a few observations:

  • The First Steps Are Sometimes the Hardest:  even when you know the run will be good for you, sometimes the most difficult part is actually getting out there on the road or the track.    We can easily find all kinds of challenges in making time for running:  adverse weather, other life commitments, not feeling energetic, nagging aches and pains.   It is just as easy in library life to find reasons to stay on the sidelines and stay off the road:  lack of funding, lack of support from stakeholders, lack of time, fear of failure or the sting from a previous less than successful effort at a particular project.  I find that motivation comes much more easily when I focus on the benefits of the run and envisioning success; the same is true when I’m knee-deep in a new library project or learning initiative.  Keep your energy focused what you CAN do and visualize yourself accomplishing those goals successfully.
  • Embrace Discomfort: some days, running feels effortless.  Most days, though, I find myself working through some level of discomfort at various points in my run.   Now that I’m older, I find it sometimes takes me a good mile into the run to get warmed up and feeling good; through experience, I have learned to work through the initial feeling that I am a slug and to feel confident in knowing that with a little time and distance, my muscles will start firing up and that I’ll soon feel good.  The same is true when I’m starting a new unit or library project—at first, I may feel awkward, less than graceful, and uncomfortable, but before long—with patience and practice—I find my rhythm and settle into an optimal zone.
  • Tuning Out is Dangerous: While many people I know enjoy listening to music while running, I never have, and I never will.  Why?  It is dangerous to tune out your running environment.  Noise from your headphones allows unseen dangers, such as a car, approaching you.   In addition, by focusing on the noise, you miss out hearing other noises, such as birds singing, that might soothe your spirit, or you may be distracted from noticing important elements in your running environment.  The same principle is true in our work as librarians–it’s easy to be distracted by “noise” and to not pay attention to the things that really matter in our immediate professional environment as well as the information world at large.  I find that by tuning into the environment around me and my own thoughts while running, I can better channel those energies, which translates into a better and more satisfying run; by tuning into the landscape around as library professionals and reflecting on what that might mean for our own practice, we can run stronger and more efficiently.
  • Learn to Love the Hills:  if you only run flat courses or trails, you  miss the opportunity to build endurance and only work a certain set of muscles, which limits your ability as a runner.  By building hills into your regular running routine, you learn how to deal with a challenging running terrain while building strength, stamina, and a broader range of muscles.   This is true in our work as library professionals—if we avoid difficult situations, if we choose to not take on challenges in our work, we become stagnant and unable to grow our professional selves.  We also will find ourselves unprepared when we encounter difficult situations and have no option but to tackle that “hill” directly.   Prepare yourself for adversity and become a better rounded librarian by regularly tackling those hills head-on rather than avoiding them.
  • You Are Going to Fall Down Sometimes: sometimes, in spite of your best efforts to avoid them, there will be environmental factors that will cause you to fall.    I’ve skidded on loose gravel and taken a few tumbles that resulted in scraped knees and hips.  However, some falls are more devastating, such as the time that I failed to notice an obscure and nearly invisible hubcap wire on Peachtree Street—after momentarily blacking out, I realized I had hit the pavement face first and was lucky to not lose a few teeth or have a serious head injury.  I could have let these tumbles stopped me from running, but I did not.   Instead, I learned from experience about these potential hazards/pitfalls, and I learned to watch for them in my running environment.   The same is true in your work as a librarian:  sometimes, you are going get tripped up by unseen obstacles, and sometimes, it is going to hurt.  However, you have to get up, do damage control, and learn from the experience, and keep moving ahead.
  • Learn to Love the Sweat: running is messy and sweaty because you are working hard.  You are putting your body into motion and pushing your body systems to work harder than normal, which will often lead to varying degrees of discomfort.  However, I often find that this is where I find joy, even when it sometimes feels uncomfortable, because I’m working hard and pushing the boundaries of what I thought I could do.    In our work as librarians, it is not enough to merely talk about ideas, but to put them in motion and to immerse ourselves in the actual effort, the “sweat”, of acting on those ideas and then sharing that evidence based practice with others via social media, articles, or presentations.  In this case, people do need to see you sweat so that they can learn from your experiences.
  • Set a Goal and Go After It:  whether your goal is to run five days a week or to run a marathon, set a goal and develop a game plan for going after that goal.    I find that setting both short-term and long-term running goals helps me stay motivated and energized.   In my work as a school librarian, short-term and long-term goals for myself as a professional as well as my program prevent stagnation and complacency.    Find inspiration from others in thinking about goals and drawing upon their help and wisdom as you devise strategies for reaching a goal.
  • Cross Training: most runners I know supplement their running with another activity, whether it be walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, weightlifting, or a team sport.  The cross-training stimulates a different muscle set and can also improve coordination, balance, and stamina.  As librarians, we need additional creative outlets to “cross train” our librarian brains, whether it be art, music, a hobby, or recreational activity; this “cross-training” gives us perspective on challenges we face in our daily work and helps us find creative solutions.  Variety is also needed in our diet—you obviously want to follow a healthy diet, but you also need to allow the periodic treat, such as dark chocolate, in moderation.    The same is true when we think about constructing our personal learning networks—we need diversity in our “diet” of people and places from whom we draw idea and inspiration as well as  “healthy” voices that will both inform and challenge our thinking.  I tune in to a diverse range of librarians, educators, and authors as well as leaders and innovators outside the world of K-12 education to expand my world view and “cross train” my thinking.
  • Everything in Moderation: your body needs rest days to recover and repair from the workouts of your week.  The same is true in our work as librarians—no matter how much you love what you do, how passionately you feel about it, you need to periodically step back, unplug, and “rest” so that you can function more effectively when you return to your daily work.
  • Half of Running is Mental: I have found this maxim to be true, especially for distance running.  When I trained for my marathon, I found that developing concentration and mental stamina was just as important as developing my physical endurance.    If you are in librarianship for the long haul, you have to develop this mental toughness as well because you will encounter many highs and lows over the course of your career.  Attitude, perseverance, and the ability to focus on what really matters will carry you through even the most trying of situations and help you pace yourself in your work.
  • Just a Few More Steps Makes the Difference:  you will find days in which you think you can’t go another step and the thought of another half mile, mile, or five miles seems overwhelming.  So it goes in our profession—all of us face overwhelming and daunting challenges at times and feel discouraged to the point that we think we cannot go any further.  This is where we have to draw on our inner mental strength and focus on baby steps that eventually lead to significant gains.   When I am running and feel like stopping, I tell myself, “Run to that mailbox” or “Just five more minutes” and focus on that short-term goal.  I usually find that I work through the discomfort or sense of wanting to bail and can push myself further than I thought I could go; before I know it, I have run another mile and the discomfort has passed.  As Mary Ann Fitzgerald has oft told me, “Eat the elephant one piece at a time.”
  • Leave It All on the Road:  when you go for that run, give the best effort you can that do and don’t hold back.  The same is true in our work as librarians—you owe it to yourself, the patrons you serve, and the profession to give your best effort for that given day, whatever it may be.  Celebrate your passionate and your unique abilities that you bring to the table by being the best “you” that you can be.

Inspiration via My Friend Fran, Kiawah Island Marathon Training 2000

In running, I find that I often experience a sense of flow or what runners often refer to as “running zen.”  For me, it is the experience in which I feel strong, creative, and free as my mind and body transact in ways that release happy endorphins and stimulate my thinking during the run.  Not every day is a “zen” kind of day on the road, but I live for the days that are, which thankfully, happen more often than not.  So it goes in my work as a librarian—when everything comes together, when I am immersed in my work, and I see our library program making a real difference, all the hard work, struggles,  and pain (yes, everyone experiences it) are worth the joy you feel when you spread the library and learning zen to those with whom you work (in my case, teachers, students, administrators).  When I have a successful and empowering run, I can’t wait to get back out there and do it again; that is the exact same experience when I see the “aha!” moment with a student or I see one of my students blossoming into an independent, savvy, and engaged learner—I can’t wait to get to work the next day to see what will happen next.

If you are a running librarian, what other lesson or insights would you add to this list?


Here, at the End of All Things

Warning:  this post is a particularly sentimental one, so if you are not a hopeless sap or dreamer, then you may bypass this entry!

Image used under CC license from http://bit.ly/avU6z9

The end of the school year is the intersection of many bittersweet beginnings and endings.  One school year’s dreams, hopes, activities, and memories come to an end while those of the upcoming school year begin to incubate over the summer.   It is a time in which we let go and say goodbye to people and phases of our lives and prepare to usher in new eras and journeys; we turn the page from one school year to the next.

At no point in my eighteen year career have I ever felt so acutely the joy and sorrow of this intersection.   For me, this past school year has been an amazing metamorphosis in which so many dreams have come true and in which so many amazing people–colleagues, students, friends, family, mentors, inspiration agents—have graced my life with their wisdom and generous spirit.   The positive changes that have come with the last 12 months have been nothing short of astonishing and fill me with a sense of wonder and optimism even in the face of changes happening that are not so happy.

I am keenly cognizant of how blessed I am to do something I love so much daily and to be in a place, The Unquiet Library, that is so incredibly unique and special.  In the movie Field of Dreams,  Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham says, “This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.”   As I reflect on this last year, those words ring truer than ever in my heart for me—the people I work with and the environment that allows me to grow and thrive cause me to be more appreciative than ever and to feel a tremendous sense of humility and awe that a girl from a small rural town in Georgia gets to live out her dreams and more on a daily basis.   What an honor it is for me to be part of an experience that is truly extraordinary.

On this  final day of academic year 2009-10, I want to share a few words of gratitude and reflection:

  • To Susan Lester and the students of Media 21:  how can I ever thank you for letting me learn side by side you with over 120 days of this school year?   You demonstrated faith in a vision of learning even when the way sometimes seemed challenging and uncertain.    From all of you—I learned so much and hope I can take what you have taught me and pay it forward to others in 2010-11.  Never will I forget the unique and transformative journey of learning we forged together.  Thank you for your unwavering confidence in me.
  • To This Year’s Senior Class: it seems you were just freshmen the other day and now you are just a day from graduating.   To learn and grow with you the last four years has been special and remarkable, and your presence in the library will be greatly missed.   Thank you for all you have contributed to the library and know you always have a place with us.   Carpe diem!
  • To Dr. Bob Eddy:  thank you for giving me the professional freedom the last 4.5 years to create the magic known as our library program.  I sincerely believe the best is yet to come.
  • Friends, Colleagues, Teachers, Mentors, Near and Far: so many of you touch my life on a regular basis even if we don’t see each other face to face regularly.  Whether in person, via chat, via email, via text, via Skype—your encouragement, wisdom, leadership, and generous spirit—I thank you with all my heart for imbuing your wisdom into my work and for giving flight to all I do.
  • To Vicki Watton: was it just the other day I was in your class when you student taught?  Or that you took me under your wing as I began my teaching career?   You are a class act inside and outside the classroom—your grace, dignity, and sage spirit will forever be a part of me.  As you leave your classroom for the last time today, know what a difference you have made in the lives of so many and given so much—go forth now and enjoy this newfound time for yourself and your loved ones.
  • My Creekview High Family: thank you for all you do to help me blaze trails and move mountains.
  • Tammy, Roxanne, Todd, Wayne, and Phil:  simply, you are the best and the unsung heroes in this story—nobody does it better.
  • To My Late Friend Tom Haney: four years ago,  you listened patiently as I finalized the details for opening the library.  You shared your office with me and listened to my dreams, ideas, worries, and sparks of inspiration as I undertook the birth of The Unquiet Library.  Then you listened to all the joys and angst of growing the program the last four years.  I can’t stand the thought of the first postplanning without our annual ride to lunch with the top down in your VW, but I know you are with us in spirit.  There isn’t a day I don’t miss your friendship, but I know you are at peace.
  • To My Family: you are my rock, my inspiration, my compass.  Simply, I love you.

If you are or have been an educator, you can appreciate the mixture of emotions the final day of school brings.  I firmly believe you can’t look forward unless you periodically pause to look back.  Next week, I will share an additional and special post of thanks as well as some exciting new posts that will hopefully generate more inspiration and excitement than the urge to grab the nearest Kleenex!

Until then, farewell 2009-10 and thank you for an amazing ride!  I look forward already to 2010-11 with excitement and optimism.