Thursday, February 11, 2016

Advocacy Through Narrative.

Today, I find it completely necessary to look into the action of finding value in one's self as a support person.  This is an integral part of library advocacy, and also very beneficial to non-tangibles, like feelings of self-worth in the face of obstacles, and understanding the elements of successful community building.  When we consider important tangible tasks, such as allocating funds, creating budgets, offering achievement awards in recognition of accomplishments, or defining accomplishments, et cetera, we must have something on which to base decisions and value judgements. Two types of evidence support an argument: statistical and narrative.

It is my understanding that funding in library land seems to rely too heavily on quantifiable measurements.  How many people walked through the door of the library each day?  How many items circulated?  How many reference questions were addressed?  How many times did the phone ring, and how many times was it answered?  How many items were overdue, and how much money was lost or raised based on items lost and fines created and then paid or not paid? These are all useful measures, I am sure, but in my heart I know that there must be more to understanding the value of supporting others than by these quantifiable measures. Studies have shown that well employed narratives can be even more effective in persuasion than statistics.  (

Sharing a touching story about an individual visiting the library with a problem, building a relationship with a librarian, and then resolving the problem (and others) more fully than they imagined possible, is an essential tool.  Librarians are charged with the task of helping both rescue individuals struggling in poverty, and also uplifting those precious people leading our community with outstanding achievements. Librarians are true catalysts for the continued existence of the American dream, even as some argue it is no longer possible.  Librarians find ways to prove these nay-sayers wrong, and the credit for the achievements rarely lands on their names because they are facilitators. Librarians are essential community members.  Yet, many towns and cities have fallen into wrongly thinking that librarians are an unnecessary expense, and libraries will be replaced by a massive robot  known as the Internet.

I adore narrative in another way that is worth mentioning.  It can serve as an outstanding source  of unexpected inspiration.  Sometimes, when I am reading fiction, I discover characters or events begin to remind me of people I know, or circumstances that exist in real life.  The fiction narrative begins to truly come alive for me.  I find I am inspired to think about things in a new way.  My perspective freshens.  I develop ideas.  Sometimes the likenesses are not quite clear cut.  A character reminds me of both myself and another person with whom I feel conflict or perhaps a person I don't know well.  Again, my perspective shifts.  I must stop reading and think carefully.  What meaning might I gather from these budding seeds this narrative has planted in my own consciousness?  How will I allow my understanding of true life to change?  Sometimes the ideas that grow are weeds, and sometimes they are beautiful blossoms.  I must take care to think critically about insights gathered from fiction narratives, as it is a powerful tool in deepening my understanding of life.

As a librarian, I wonder if I might help others by offering narratives that might be inspiring sources of information leading to a valuable shift in thinking.  On a good day, it is intuitively easy.  The resource I need to describe the idea I want to communicate comes to mind instantly.  Other times, people may be oblivious or even hostile to opening their minds to resources that facilitate new thinking.  It's a mixed bag.  I find it easiest to play with picture books, or comics, because the short, digestible length and and multiple pathways to meaning allows both words and visual images to create a quick, strong hook.  Sometimes I really love it when others find narratives that hook me, and other times I really wish this person and their narrative would just go away.  Far away.

Normally, we carry stories around inside us like they are some sort of secret, or they are filed away deep in an archive and irrelevant to the day's activities. Life is easier to live without constantly looking backwards.  But it is important to stop and take time to reflect.  We are all on a quest to explore our world, to sharpen our skills, to be entertained, to grow our neural network actively or passively.  There are consistent themes that serve as pathways to greater wisdom, visible across time and space.  Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung wrote about universal archetypes, and what joy it is to find aspects of ourselves in these stories. How I love discovering these themes and using them to deepen my understanding of life.  We must remember to be gentle with each other as we grow our minds together, because this is the beautifully vulnerable nature of building intelligence.  Sometimes we discover we need to make changes in ourselves.  And that can be scary. It requires work.

Reflecting on daily life may be useful source material for advocacy purposes.  We are all members of communities, and we must all work to support each other.  It is unsettling, but the majority of us are undervalued and disempowered. The current social order requires it. No one wants to see the massive upheaval that is necessary to make the changes that are needed to restore the planet to its proper balance.  But changes are coming, so we best prepare.  Wouldn't it be great if we could find more and better ways to advocate for ourselves and each other and things that matter by utilizing the powerful emotional force inherent within narrative?  

Examples of stories that show me myself and others often arise unexpectedly as literature containing information enters my life in an entirely haphazard, unorganized manner.  That's the way it is for a librarian without an actual library or book budget. You had better believe that my life has been quite a story.  And that story may never be told.  It seems counter-productive to stop the day to day flow of work and life, the act of endlessly supporting my family and online community, to reflect upon the way I offer value by being a volunteer Internet librarian between jobs and a single mother of two.  I am humbled by my incredible, interesting collection of friends, contrasted against my own apperntly terrible failure of a life. 

Online, I watch my social network grow, and we all build knowledge and become together. There is much amusement to be had, and high aspirations to reach, and dreams to explore.  Yet, in my own life I fear I've dug a deep, deep hole rather than aspired to reach a towering summit. A blog is a uesful tool to make note of my professional achievements.  I am told it is important that I take time specifically to write about the mile markers I encounter on my journey.  Some days are so rich with discoveries, I am a loss for words.  Ideas are beautifully abundant, and I imagine my Online friends take these things I offer and use them in powerful ways .  Other days are quieter, and I wait and wonder what great idea will find its way to me next? How I can notice the treasures before me right away, so that I may identify where the information needs to go so it may serve the best and highest purpose?

It’s tempting to talk a lot about myself, my story, and my life achievements in this blog entry.  I want to resist that urge. It feels self-indulgent.  It might be like wallowing in my inadequacies, or bragging about natural good fortune.  It might be like reliving things that I would rather keep to myself and allow to stay in the past.  Even as the years have pressed on, and the challenges of my journey have grown into a mountain whose summit has yet to appear before me, I don’t think that telling my own story will serve the best purpose.  Plus, there parts of my story that really hurt.  And then there is that time I was subbing at Arnett branch and the new page asked me questions about myself until I answered then he acted as if I was busted and in trouble for talking about my own life while I was working.  It sometimes seems as if I am living in a novel that is only partially created without a formula or a map of the plot.  There is so much meaning in each experience, but I'm not sure how to organize them or allow them to provide their best value to others.  Talking about my own experiences feels self-indulgent and wrong. Yet, people need inspiration, and courage, and love, and when I see others find a piece of their puzzle in my story, I find my life has created the meaning I’ve been seeking.  I am supporting others by having lived these challenges.

I can't explain how many times I've asked myself how to better improve my journey.  I have searched myself endlessly, thought I'd found my internal limits, and then another seeming impossible challenge would present itself. And then another.  The endless message seems to be that librarians aren't innovating enough!  I'm not innovating enough!?  How can I possibly earn professional achievements without being granted paid opportunities to work toward them? I live in a Facebook void!  The way out is slavery, I mean volunteer work. That's what I must do?  Might I offer my colleagues my life story as if it were a novel that brings tears to eyes from time to time? I fear they don't even care.  They are detached and self-interested.  We are all too humiliated to share.  We have been shamed by our communities, by Amazon, and by Google.  And our value persists.  Because all those people that thought libraries would become irrelevant were dead wrong.  And in many communities, libraries budgets have been gutted and everyone suffers.

I've worked a bit, but nothing that meets the needs of my family.  The bosses mostly just want to pass me around as a sub, and the amount of frustration that my family suffers from a lack of financial stability and a variable schedule is detrimental to my children and myself.

Here I sit, bleeding at the altar of my desk before a cheap computer and social media.  Sacrificed to those that have played games with peoples’ lives siphoning wages and personal security away from people that make a positive, valuable impact on the lives of others in order to line their own pockets or finance innovation that may or may not enjoy success.  Libraries are tried and true institutions that add value to communities. They are just as essential to the intellectual health of a community as a public school.  They serve everyone.

I have so many stories to tell, and in all honesty, I’m scared to tell them.  The stories of my ideas, the stories of my contributions, the stories of my successes, and the stories of my failures will all leave me feeling exposed to greater pain and greater frustration. I know that I have suffered enough.  I think people will use me as step stool, then forget about the person they’ve just stepped on to reach their own selfish goal.  The goal being a part time job without benefits!  I love it when people reach goals.  But I do not want to be walked over.  

How might I measure the impact of my activities in supporting my community through research and informal encouragement? It just so happens I have a real strength in understanding problems.  I can break things apart into manageable pieces then are then simpler to solve, but I'm also able to take a great deal of other ideas into account as I conceptualize solutions.  I am a creative thinker.  I do feel called to community work and serving through leadership, but developing the librarian skills and experience necessary to form that strong foundation of accomplishments to cite as evidence for my qualifications to lead, is, in essence, the greatest barrier to my long term success.  I’m climbing a sheer cliff with few foot holds. 

There must be a way to communicate the value I offer my patrons as I donate endless hours following hundreds of unorganized Facebook feeds and friends.  I offer people solutions.  Social networking is amazing and powerful.  But it doesn't fit on a resume. My friends, please share your thoughts?

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