Friday Fable. Lubans’ “The Rope and the Cleat”.

Posted by jlubans on September 27, 2013  •  Leave comment (1)

20130927-nice boat small.jpeg
Caption: Well berthed boat, ship/shape, rope and cleat.
“(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay”, the cleat was berating a rope tied to a boat: “You are such a wuss, you give in and surrender to the waves; you are a real slacker! And you, unlike me, are easily cut in two. An iron bar between me and the boat would be much stronger and safer; anything would be better than a slinky like you to face the storm’s winds and waves!”
A fisherman, overhearing the cleat’s tirade, began to think (not his strong suit) that the cleat was right. With the coming storm a rigid iron bar would be better than a flimsy rope. While he should have known better, he went ahead and cast aside the ropes and replaced them with iron bars, secured with D-rings to the boat at one end and to the cleat at the other.
A storm came up that night and was gone by the morning – along with the boat! When the sad fisherman looked down into the murky water dockside he saw his sunken boat with its starboard side impaled by the two iron bars. The cleat, torn out when the boat sank, was still attached with its D-ring to the iron bar.

And so it is at work when the adamant change opponent finds herself slowly sinking below the waves, going down with the boat instead of working towards change. We should aspire to be like the rope and dip with the waves, emulate the movement of the wave, judiciously accommodating and riding out the storm. Be able - like we are advised in the Thirty-six Stratagems -to win without battle, “use the enemy's own strength against him.”

Library of the Week: Foley Center Library, Gonzaga University.
Leading from the Middle is featured in the library’s 2013 "Organizational Leadership Guide" (to resources).
Link to it here.


Copyright John Lubans 2013

More Music for Managers.

Posted by jlubans on September 24, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130925-merleand Jukebox.jpeg
Caption: Merle Haggard (“The Hag”). Born April 6, 1937, Bakersfield, California

This is the blog’s fifth listing of country western song titles for managers to manage by. Written and sung from the heart, this music offers us – when we are ready – solace and wisdom.

“How Can Anything That Sounds So Good Make Me Feel So Bad?”
You’ve been there. Someone is telling you how great it’s going to be and yet you have some doubts. You inner hype-detector is flashing. “Trust and verify” worked for the Ronald and the Roos-kies; apply the same skepticism to those "never-again" promises of a wandering lover or the absolute certainty of the in-house work flow expert about the breakthroughs to be had with more equipment and more staff.
“From the Gutter to You Is Not Up.”
That’s the song that reared up in my head when the boss, after firing me, told me he’d give me a good reference. The last thing I wanted was an obligation to this boss, nor would my disdain permit me to accept the offer. I never did.
“I’ve Got a Funny Feeling I Won’t Be Feeling Funny Very Long.”
That dawning realization that you are no longer the “golden boy” in your organization. Indeed, there may be a piano about to drop on your unsuspecting head as you slip on a banana peel on the sidewalk of life.
“I’m Too Low To Get High.”
There are workplaces with a “Culture of Complaint.” Even when the pay is OK and the work is hardly arduous, nor is the boss all that bad, for some reason, morale is low. After a while, moving is the only cure if you want to be happy in your work. Or, if don’t want to move, then renounce your role in the culture of complaint: stop agreeing with the grousing and speak only in terms of how to make things better.
“I Can’t Afford to Half My Half Again.”
A song for that fiscally reeling feeling most libraries (and many other businesses) have had since October of 2008. How many cuts can a budget sustain before the cupboard is bare and it’s time to shut the door?
20130925-nouserunning.jpg
Caption: Don Williams. Born May 27, 1939, Floydada, Texas.
“There’s No Use Running If You’re on the Wrong Road.”(By Don Williams).
I used to be one of the Pooh-Bahs in the user education movement, now termed “information literacy” (after molting out of “instruction in library use”, “bibliographic instruction” and “library literacy”. ) Some of our ideas were well intentioned, but not the best – we were running on the wrong road. I see some of the same ineffective ideas still supported – for example, mandatory information literacy classes. Everyone knows since the mid-60s that help at a “point-of-need” is when the student library user learns best.
20130925-merleolder.jpeg
Caption: Merle, older & wiser.
“It’s Not Love, But It’s Not Bad.”
When your deal won’t float, you take what you can get. It’s the “I can live with that” type of consensus. You may have no choice or inclination to do otherwise. But the best result is when two good ideas merge to produce a third, the best idea. So, Merle is onto something, love may come.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s “The Two Mules.”*

Posted by jlubans on September 20, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130920-twomules.jpg
Caption: Before the fall.
“Two mules were bearing on their backs,
One, oats; the other, silver of the tax.
The latter glorying in his load,
March'd proudly forward on the road;
And, from the jingle of his bell,
'Twas plain he liked his burden well.
But in a wild-wood glen
A band of robber men
Rush'd forth upon the twain.
Well with the silver pleased,
They by the bridle seized
The treasure mule so vain.
Poor mule! in struggling to repel
His ruthless foes, he fell
Stabb'd through; and with a bitter sighing,
He cried, ‘Is this the lot they promised me?
My humble friend from danger free,
While, weltering in my gore, I'm dying?’
‘My friend,’ his fellow-mule replied,
‘It is not well to have one's work too high.
If thou hadst been a miller's drudge, as I,
Thou wouldst not thus have died.’”

Phaedrus appended this moral to his version of The Two Mules:
“That men of modest means
Can disdain the dangers that dog the rich.”


The fable and moral remind me of working in public and private institutions of higher learning; viz., at RPI, University of Colorado, University of Houston, Duke, North Carolina Central University and Rutgers. And, I have many professional colleagues in both sectors. While the privates (may) have a smidgeon more prestige, I wonder if it is not better to toil in public venues? As a rule, privates pay better, but unless you are of the culture, either born to or adopted, you may be regarded as an outsider, somehow not quite "the right fit". Many of the privates are church-related and amidst great kindnesses there are times when cloistered whispers aid and abet the inevitable organizational intrigue.
By law, state institutions are more open than the privates; skullduggery exists but its darkness may be circumscribed by the bright beams of sunshine pouring in through open portals. And, in the public realm, it is harder for the capricious boss to let someone go without explanation. Yes, these same protections may secure mediocrity but don’t be fooled; a subservient mediocrity exists at the privates. If you are an earnest and hard working person with creative ideas, your prospects are good in either type of institution; yet, over the long run, I’d pick, like the mule, the modest public enterprise.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [Original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: College of the Mainland

Copies of “Leading from the Middle,” and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership can be purchased at every online bookstore in the universe. If your library (pubic, college or university) does not have a copy, correct this egregious selection mistake!

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Democracy: “The mustard on the hot dog.”*

Posted by jlubans on September 18, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130918-dent hat.jpeg
Caption: Dent caused by wayward Brazil nut followed by much jeering.
I’ve been going on about the democratic workplace, as if I knew what democracy is. E. B. White – in wartime England – was asked to write a statement on “the meaning of democracy.” His entertaining – indeed Australianesque** - response appears in full below. For my immediate purposes, I have separated out and annotated those defining points I think especially relevant to the democratic workplace in hopes of illuminating some of the concept’s nooks and crannies.
The Meaning of Democracy:
“It is the line that forms on the right.”
Egalitarian, democracy is. If you break into line, someone will mention it to you, probably not in the kindest of words.
“It is the ‘don't’ in don't shove.”
Mind your manners; say please, thank you, and would you mind? As a boss you have no inherent right to push people around. In stressful times, keep a sense of humor.

20130918-Stuffed Shirt.jpg
Caption: Finishing touches, “Ain’t I something!”

“It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles.”
Ahhh, probably my favorite. Democracy anchors the easily inflatable, like a boss, down to earth. The boss who claims full personal credit for the people doing the day-to-day and making the wheels of industry hum, does so at his own ego-tripping risk. The stockholders will believe the stuffed shirt in good times, but the workers – no sycophants, they - know better, much better.
“It is the dent in the high hat.”
You bet; enjoy your high hat; just don’t expect everyone to think you are somehow above the rest of us, the hoi polloi. If you do, your hat – in a democracy - becomes a magnet (and target) for the stray slingshot walnut or biscuit.
“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.”
In the workplace, the best boss knows her idea can only get better if she shares and builds on it with ideas from the staff – the people doing the work.
“It is … the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.”
Libraries have changed but when you go into one and think about it, yes, there is a communion in the hallowed purpose and tradition of the “people’s university”. As for vitality, that’s in scarce supply these days. However, I did observe plenty of vitality (and a surfeit of communion), at a recent Vermont town hall meeting, a walking, talking, breathing example of democratic decision-making.
“It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet.”
Lincoln’s unfinished work at Gettysburg comes to mind: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” Democracy in the office is also unfinished work.
20130918-hot dog.jpeg
“It's the mustard on the hot dog.”
That’s the piquant sense when people feel equal and effective, when they stress “We” over “Me”, and mean it. It’s when the group achieves what no individual can and everyone concludes, “Wow, we did it!”

*SOURCE: E. B. White as quoted by ROBERT KRULWICH in his essay
Democracy, My Mother And Toast” on National Public Radio on July 02, 2013:
“Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the "don't" in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.
Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It's the mustard on the hot dog, and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”

**By Australianesque I refer to that nation’s healthy anti-authoritarian bent. Yes, they have rules, some silly – which few obey – and while the population can be quite dependent on government services they hesitate not to cut down the tall poppy or deflate the overblown boss.


Copyright John Lubans 2013

Copies of “Leading from the Middle,” and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership can be purchased at every online bookstore in the universe. If your library (pubic, college or university) does not have a copy, correct their egregious selection mistake!

Friday Fable: Phaedrus’ “The Cock and the Pearl”*

Posted by jlubans on September 13, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130913-Phaedrus1.jpg
Caption: This Aesopic Steinhowel illustration (ca. 1500) is from a hand-colored edition at the University of Munich.

“A cock was digging desultorily on a dunghill,
Foraging for food, when he found a pearl.
‘How splendid,’ he said, ‘in such sordid surroundings!
If anyone interested in your intrinsic value
Had come across you, what a coup it would have been –
You’d soon have been restored to your appropriate setting.
Bad luck to be liberated by a lout like me,
Who am far more intent on finding food:
We’re neither of us any use to the other.’

For people who fail to appreciate my work.”

“Pearls before swine”, sayeth the parablist. And so it may be with any “pearl” on the Internet. Not only does something good have to compete with so much god-awful stuff; many users are looking for the god-awful. So, like Phaedrus, in his epimythium, one’s hard work and effort can go unappreciated. Venue matters: the pearl glows in the jeweler’s window and blog entries may dazzle when edited into book format (the codex).
And so it is in any workplace, a library or a factory. A leader’s role is to glean the good ideas from however barren a field. She fans the spark of a good idea into a flame and succumbs not to the plentiful reasons (a ratio often 10:1) not to try out a new idea.

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus. Translated by P. F. Widdows.
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1992. p. 70. For more about Phaedrus see The Proud Frog.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of West Florida


Copyright John Lubans 2013

More Scoundrels, Knaves and Varlets.

Posted by jlubans on September 11, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

As regular readers know, I’ve been inspired by Travis McCade’s new book about historic book thievery in NYC to consider the book crooks I’ve encountered. Last week I touched on the Felonious Flier and the Magazine Mutilator.

Two more for the line-up: The Literary Lurker & The Elusive Eviscerator

The Literary Lurker dates from my days at a large research library. He was eventually caught and sent to jail, but only after stealing (and keeping!) thousands of rare books – valued at over $20 million - from a hundred and more prestigious and well-guarded special collections in the USA and Canada. A library staffer worked with the FBI in recovering the loot taken from this library’s Rare Book Room. Originally the staffer thought he would find a few dozen pilfered items, but it turned out to be many more, in the hundreds. Fortunately, most of the thief’s ill-gotten gains were stashed in a large house in Ottumwa, Iowa. His m. o., for this library – as confessed to the library staffer - was to secrete himself under a table in the back of the Rare Book Room reading area. How, you might be asking, could this be done? The room’s lighting benefited the malefactor. Since it was a replica of a gentleman’s lounge-like personal library the lighting was dim; if someone slid under a table, he’d be out of sight and not missed. He’d stay hidden – with a sandwich and a thermos? - until the library closed, then he’d ramble around, taking a bit of this and some of that – he allegedly knew his stuff – and then, most remarkably of all, evacuate the building through an alarm-armed door. When the police checked out the furiously clanging alarm, the door was closed and no one about, so they’d chalk it up to a malfunction or, more likely, a prank. Remember, the Rare Book Room was in a vast building serving many undergraduates; some of whom would hide and spend the night. Why? Well, let it suffice to say it was not for lucubration.
As someone said, all’s well that ends well. The library eventually got its books back, and ramped up security for its special collections.

The Elusive Eviscerator – encountered at the University of Colorado and Duke – is perhaps the most heinous of the ilk. His specialty is to gut a book, rip out the innards and discard the covers - very much like the “Unman” character in the C. S. Lewis novel, “Perelandra”.
Why the violence? There are two possible reasons: When libraries started using security strips – back in the 70s - the strip was usually glued inside the spine of the book. If you wanted to steal the book, you’d rip out the strip. If the cover got in the way, too bad. Then you and your book bag could stroll in a leisurely way through the un-sensing security screen devices.
A second reason is made apparent in McCade's book. There is a market for books that have been “sophisticated”. The thief erases all library markings, tears out perforated pages, bleaches stamps, and rips off covers with library markings and bookplates. Then the thief inserts any missing pages (copies), re-binds and offers the “sophisticated” book for sale as a formerly beaten-up book purportedly stumbled upon in some yard sale. In McCade’s book, most dealers winked when presented with a newly bound book with faint marks of a previous, possibly more monastic, life on library shelves.
We never caught the Eviscerator(s). At large, shoot on sight.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Friday Fable. The Grasshopper Saves for a Rainy Day!

Posted by jlubans on September 06, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130906-aesop21.jpg
We all know the story, the Ant and the Grasshopper – it is probably one of Aesop’s best-known fables. The grasshopper fiddles away his summer and starves in the winter. The industrious ant – not to be diverted from storing food by the grasshopper’s sweet music - has the last (literally) laugh. It’s a harsh lesson for the grasshopper.

Well, that fable suggests the adage: Saving for a rainy day. The notion derives from farming. There will be times when the blue bird of happiness absconds and you find yourself shoeless on a dirt road with nothing for market. That’s why farmers save for a rainy day.
20130906-P1050237*.jpeg
Caption: “The Storm Aftermath” by my friend, Perry Harrison, 2006. Perry sketched this North Carolina couple shortly after a storm, the farmer looking forlornly out the farmhouse window at his ruined crop.

Southwest Airlines' former CEO, Herb Kelleher had this to say in a presentation at the Stanford Business School about “managing in good times for the bad”: "We figure there's going to be at least two crises in every decade, and we'd better be ready for them. My slogan has always been, ‘We manage in good times so that we'll do well in bad times.'"

Indicative of Southwest’s resilience and anticipation was its being the first airline back in American skies after the terrorist assaults in September of 2001. Mr. Kelleher offers us good advice. Unfortunately, too few of us see the storm clouds gathering while we enjoy the clear skies of a seemingly perfect climate. Changing for the better is doubly hard in good times. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is the all too-ready refrain to keep the status quo. So, one of the most challenging parts in leadership is keeping an organization focused on getting better, wisely using all of its resources and avoiding waste even when it does not have to. Once ingrained, that mindset will serve us well when the bad times come.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Georgia Public Library Service.


Copyright 2013 John Lubans

Book Thieves and Other Library Scoundrels.

Posted by jlubans on September 04, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130904-Philosophical-Transactions-1665-Royal-Society.jpg
Caption: Title Page, Philosophical Transactions, 1665.
Travis McDade’s engaging new book, “Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It”. (NY: Oxford University Press, 2013) set me reminiscing about the book crooks I’ve run into during my library career. While “Thieves of Book Row” is about the booming used book trade in Depression-era New York City, the book provides antecedents to current skullduggery and book thievery in libraries. Librarians are today more vigilant and diligent than ever, but the book thief is still at large and doing his mischief. (Hard to believe, but I have never encountered or heard of a female book thief! Bibliokleptomania appears to be a guy-thing.)

Here is my reminiscence of The Felonious Flier:
My first library job was at RPI, the engineering school in up-state NY. One of my many tasks was to secure the thousand or so rare items in RPIs historic collections dating from the early 1800s. Underscoring the importance of this assignment, my boss told me of his recent unhappy experience with a supposedly reputable book dealer. This dealer’s cover/scam was microfilming early journal holdings – he’d pick up the hard copy from the library’s stacks and fly it on his personal plane to a filming company. He’d pay the library a fee and gave it a “free” microfilm copy along with the returned hard copy journal. Presumably, he would then sell the microfilm to other libraries that wanted that journal. (This was a time of mega budgets for science libraries.)
All was well until one weekend when the library director chanced upon the dealer loading the complete set of the rare “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society” (including the first issue from March 6th, 1655) into his car to go to the airport. The “Philosophical Transactions” were not on the to-film list. The director smelled a rat and realized his mistake in letting this dealer into the books stacks unsupervised. (McCade mentions many book thieves ingratiating themselves with library staff and being permitted into locked collections, even after hours. We are indeed all about service!) Because of an open stack library’s “normal” attrition, It is hard to say how many rare items Felonious Flier stole before my boss caught him. I do not recall the punishment, beyond the dealer’s being banned from campus. McCade points out that book thieves rarely get the maximum jail sentence. And, there is the victim’s tendency to avoid embarrassment, so many thieves go free.

Another scoundrel:
The Magazine Mutilator or “My Teacher Said I Could.”
The campus police interrupted my usually quiet lunch hour at the University of Colorado Library. They’d nabbed a student – on the prominent front steps of Norlin Library, no less - tearing pages out of one of the library’s hardbound magazines.
When confronted, he claimed his teacher told him he could. I learned that the teacher, as part of a term paper, required full copies of any cited articles. While I understand what the professor was trying to do – stop plagiarism and make students locate and use original information – I think she could have been clearer about wanting photocopies, NOT ripped off library articles. (But, then, really?)
We re-claimed the torn out pages and glued them back into place. And, as a penance, I had the student write us a letter in which he explained why it was wrong to do what he did. I have to admit, his explanation was like one of those ubiquitous non-apologies from wrong doers, “If I have offended anyone with my actions, I wish to apologize.” No admission of wrongdoing. Nor any acceptance of responsibility for unethical behavior.
I doubt if the student understood (or cared) that ripping out articles deprived other readers. Very likely he had been, since grade school, clipping articles and pictures from magazines as part of teacher-sanctioned assignments. True, those articles were from home subscriptions, but it was not much of a leap –for the literal minded - from ripping up dad’s copy of “Time” or “Life” magazine to doing the same with ones at the library.

In a future blog, I’ll have more recollections of pilfering professors, literary lurkers, petulant patrons and other enemies of books, including librarians.

NOTE: Linked to by American Libraries Direct!

Copyright 2013 John Lubans