Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE MAN AND THE LION”*

Posted by jlubans on March 27, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Hercules bringin’ it on. Book Cover, 2005.
“A Lion and a Man chanced to travel in company through the forest. They soon began to quarrel, for each of them boasted that he and his kind were far superior to the other both in strength and mind.
Now they reached a clearing in the forest and there stood a statue. It was a representation of Heracles in the act of tearing the jaws of the Nemean Lion.
‘See,’ said the man, ‘that's how strong we are! The King of Beasts is like wax in our hands!’
‘Ho!’ laughed the Lion, ‘a Man made that statue. It would have been quite a different scene had a Lion made it!’
It all depends on the point of view, and who tells the story.”

Indeed, there are two sides to most stories. Nor do we celebrate the times when the tables are turned and the lion scarfs up Bwana, the Great White Hunter. (A pretty monogram for your Abercrombie & Fitch Safari Jacket that, GWH, what?)
BTW, if you want to show Aesop’s lion who’s Bwana (boss), an unimpeachable source on the Internet reveals what you will need: “Any large caliber weapon with a well-placed shot, but I suggest a short knife for a REAL thrill.”

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available online at Project Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Tarrant County College Library, Ft. Worth, TX. USA

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

“A dog has the right to be a dog.”

Posted by jlubans on March 25, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

April 1 will be the something* anniversary of the self-declared Republic of Užupis, a creative and free speech enclave in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania in Northern Europe. Established sometime in the recent past* Užupis means “across the river”. Each time I’ve been there, the river has been up and flowing swiftly. As you can see, the mermaid in my photo is having second thoughts about leaving her sanctuary in a wall on the River Vilnelė:
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Užupis is remarkable for its eccentric alleys and galleries, its quirk, its creative spark – in evidence all about – and, most important of all, its offbeat commitment to freedom of expression. That freedom is made manifest in its 41 constitutional “Rights”, which, ala Luther’s Theses, are nailed to a city wall.
Written by Romas Lileikis, a poet, musician and film director, it
decrees people have “the right to be happy”, but, and this is a big but, they also have "the right to be unhappy.”
In my eyes, the Užupian manifesto of human, dog and cat rights is akin to the Tao.
Both employ paradox and contradiction to lead us to a deeper understanding of what we may take for granted.
From the Tao:
“We shape clay into a pot,
But it is the emptiness inside
That holds whatever we want.”
And, specifically to my theories about the democratic workplace: “Human beings thrive when least interfered with.”
Explains Lileikis. “(The constitution) is connected and also contradictory - Everyone has the right to have no rights! -
but it is only against one thing: the aggression that comes from inside of us.” He spells it out in the constitution as a non-right: “No one has the right to violence.”
Cats get top billing in Užupis, but dogs are not left behind:
Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
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Caption: Užupian Wall Art. Not sure who’s taking care of whom.

A dog has the right to be a dog.**
Here are a few non-rights appropriate to how we treat each other in any organization, national, corporate or not-for-profit:
No one has the right to have a design on eternity. (Maybe there should be a “take-a-dictator-to-work-day” in Užupis?)
No one can share what they do not possess.
No one has the right to make another person guilty.


And, then there’s something well worth contemplating daily, especially in these anxious times:
Everyone is responsible for their freedom. Freedom is not given to us; it is up to us to keep it. If an aggressor steals it, then hide the memory, like a burning ember in sand, and seek freedom’s return.

*#42 Everyone has the right to forget historic dates.

**. What I had to say about the Way of the Dog in the book:
"Both of us (Bridger, the year old dog and me) learned about each other. I like to think we met somewhere in the middle. In my study after our walks, she’d lay her head in my lap and look up at me with the most peaceful expression, as if saying “All’s right with the world, mate.” I’d turn to my work and she would lie for hours in companionable silence next to my chair – content to be near. Now and then, I’d look away from the computer screen and catch a glimpse of dog-ness: Happily contented, Playful. Trusting.
Time for a cookie!"

Leading from the Middle Library: Webster University and Eden Seminary, Missouri, USA

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Flies and the Honey-Pot”*

Posted by jlubans on March 21, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration from the Medici Aesop.

“A NUMBER of Flies were attracted to a jar of honey which had been overturned in a housekeeper's room, and placing their feet in it, ate greedily. Their feet, however, became so smeared with the honey that they could not use their wings, nor release themselves, and were suffocated. Just as they were expiring, they exclaimed, ‘O foolish creatures that we are, for the sake of a little pleasure we have destroyed ourselves.’"
“Pleasure bought with pains, hurts.”

Is that country western music I hear? Is that my good friend Hank Williams (“Hank Drank”) singing, “Baby, we’re really in love”? Could be. Even in libraries, office romance can flourish. My first job, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, my boss ran off with the “floater”, both married. Yes, she was called a floater (hah!) because she would fill in for absent staff in a system of about 300 people and 30 branch libraries. When my boss absconded, I was left pretty much to my own devices, a raw recruit.Then my second job, at RPI, an engineering school, similar story. Was it too much reading of romance novels or too many treatises on the First Law of Thermodynamics? I suspect the latter! There’s a price to pay when you go off the rails, and it’s not just a broken heart. Aesop’s flies know.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Roanoke College, Fintel Library.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

“3 Women in 1 Kitchen”: Books-to-Eat Teamwork, 2014

Posted by jlubans on March 18, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The outcome/result.

As readers of this blog know, I have the students in my Democratic Workplace class participate in the international Books to Eat (B2E) event. This spring, well ahead of the official April 1 celebration, five teams (of 4 people each) planned, shopped, baked and prepared their productions and 20-minute presentations. Our B2E deadline was March 13, during week 6.

The theme was a folk story or children’s book, chosen by each team, from Latvian literature.

Now, I know, some of you may be dismissing the concept: “I bet it was fun – and as a librarian I kind of like the literary link - but what on earth is Lubans thinking? Kids books and teamwork? Fairy tales and group development? Legends and leadership? Maybe fun, but what’s gained, what’s learned?”

Well, a bountiful plenty. For one thing the assignments are prefaced with lectures, readings, activities and discussion about groups, democracy, conflict, leadership, and teamwork theory. And, each group does a plus/delta debrief immediately following the presentations, just before we indulge in the baked goods.

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This year, as part of its 20-minute presentation each team – spontaneously - included an assessment of how the process went. From what they said, I am convinced that the teams were keenly aware of the reasons behind the project, their own development as a team and their overall successes and failures.

The five titles selected by the teams:
1. "Trīs tēva dēli" (Father of three sons. Latvian folk tale with a not-so0happy ending - anonymous)

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2. "Kaka un pavasaris" by Andrus Kivirähk. (“Poo and Spring”)
Illustrated by Heiki Ernits. Estonian. (A cleverly done and controversial kid’s book, just like it might be in the USA.)

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3. “Zīļuks" by Margarita Stāraste.* (An egotistical acorn.)

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4. "Kas notiek Dižmežā?" by Margarita Stāraste. (What happens Dižmežs?)

5. “Zvēri rok upi” (God’s digging the river Daugava.) Latvian folk tale – anonymous)

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From the teams’ own assessments (the + Δ) of what went well and what could have been better:

“3 women in 1 kitchen is explosion, but not in our case. ☺
(Note: team member #4 lived at a distance and aided the team in other ways)
“We saw ourselves in each other like in mirror and we could evaluate our leadership style.”

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“Improvisation.”
“The team was self-organizing.”
“We would choose different group, because it is complicated to have four leaders in four-member group. Too high competitiveness.”
“’Yes’ and ‘sheep’ followers could (improve and) become effective followers.”
“No leaders – the same; we all were on the same level.”

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“Lots of smiles.”

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Caption: One team included a chorus – the class! - as part of its presentation.

“The tasks we accomplished singing.”
“We could put to ourselves higher requirements.”

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Caption: Fairy food.
“We had some issues shopping for the right ingredients, since the shops don’t really cater for the needs of pixies and dwarfs.”

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Caption: Enjoyed by all!

*Margarita Stāraste, famed Latvian children’s book illustrator and writer, died on February 18 of this year at age 100. She was born February 2, 1914.


@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Aesop’s THE MULE*

Posted by jlubans on March 13, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: In Halcyon Days!
“One morning a Mule, who had too much to eat and too little to do, began to think himself a very fine fellow indeed, and frisked about saying, ‘My father was undoubtedly a high-spirited horse and I take after him entirely.’ But very soon afterwards he was put into the harness and compelled to go a very long way with a heavy load behind him. At the end of the day, exhausted by his unusual exertions, he said dejectedly to himself, ‘I must have been mistaken about my father; he can only have been an ass after all.’”
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Caption: In desperate need of Mulliner's Buck-u-Uppo

And so it is at work when bragging and braying reveals an unflattering side of one’s nature. Best to rein in our braggart-self on the good days since there’s bound to be a bad day on the near horizon. Rather, tuck away the good times for reflection when the hay turns sour and the well water goes bad.
Take note of the circumspect farmer who knows better than to tempt fate. He never has a good year. At best, with barns bursting with bounty, he remarks, “Aye, it’s a bit better than last year.” Last year was a famine.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: 
American University's Bender Library. Washington, D.C.


@Copyright John Lubans 2014


Fail faster!

Posted by jlubans on March 11, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Homer succeeding at failing.
I’ve been known to ask staff for more mistakes; more, not fewer. Originally, I did this while promoting innovation in an institution bogged down with minutiae - lovingly caressing its paperwork - and proudly risk-averse. The “process” had become more important than our “product”; in this case, providing books and services to university library users. My failure message – then and now: “try it; if it fails, learn from it.
Failing is a proven way to gain experience, an essential element in making decisions, something that endlessly debating the “what ifs?” never gets.
It is essential, of course, for the organization to have a supportive culture for mistake making. Quoting myself from Leading from the Middle:
“When (Southwest Airlines) Executive Chairman Herb Kelleher asserts his job is to liberate people, he means the people get to use all their skills and talents without fear of punishment for doing whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s known and practiced throughout the organization that if you make a mistake ‘leaning toward the customer’, you’ll be forgiven.”
That’s the supportive culture I was trying to install to replace the
mistake–intolerant culture. And, I was hoping to get a few early-on gains, ones that would inspire and make achieving the seemingly impossible something less Herculean. (N.B. I was particularly fortunate to have a leader who supported my efforts.)
SWA incorporates risk-taking in its statement of values: (btw, one of the briefest, easiest to understand, and most believable values statements from any organization!)
SWA’s values, aligned under Warrior Spirit, are to: “work hard, desire to be the best, be courageous, display a sense of urgency, persevere and innovate.” If you work at SWA you have permission to fail.
Now, let’s be clear. I am not advocating a directionless mistake making, a failing for the sake of failing. A BBC report suggests there are two kinds of failure, the honest and the dishonest: "If your venture doesn't work out, but you did everything you could to make it a success, that's what we call an honest failure, and that's seen as an honourable thing." Failing without a full effort is dishonest and something from which you learn very little.
Bear in mind, when we fail we have to reflect on the failure and draw out points of wisdom.
I’ve been influenced by failure. One of my epic snafus was at the University of Colorado where a large-scale (3000 students), painstakingly planned teaching project went awry. As my embarrassment diminished, we launched one of the first embedded librarian projects. We placed a librarian in the history department and another in economics. From the positive results of that experiment, I’ve come to eschew any kind of large-scale teaching effort, aka as “The Dump Truck Approach” in which the only worthwhile takeaway for the overwhelmed student may be the friendly faces of the librarians presenting the program. For me, the most successful information literacy programs come from small-scale efforts: bright “subject” librarians working with good teachers, each committed to students learning how to research and write well; it all harks back to my face-plant on the Boulder campus.
The BBC report quotes Heather Hanbury, headmistress of Wimbledon High School a private girls' school that held a "failure week" to teach its pupils how learn from their mistakes. "You're not born with fear of failure, it's not an instinct, it's something that grows and develops in you as you get older. Very young children have no fear of failure at all. They have great fun trying new things and learning very fast."

Leading from the Middle Library: Seton Hall University 
Walsh Library
South Orange, NJ, United States of America

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Lubans’ How the Rat Got Its Tail

Posted by jlubans on March 07, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Cute tail!

The animals, including man, who store food petitioned Zeus for help. It was about rat’s stealing the grain and nuts they’d gathered against the harsh times of winter.
The animals said it was not fair that the rat could sneak into locked storerooms and munch away on the food they’d accumulated through their planning and diligence. And, the rat was hard to spot; practiced in stealth, he could slip past and through most barriers. Once in, he’d chew in silence and then tiptoe away, leaving only his droppings and a depleted storeroom.
Zeus asked rat, “Have you been stealing?” Rat lied and denied. At the time of this story, the rat had no tail. Zeus doubted rat and, in his wisdom, gave the rat a tail, a long hairless one. The rat saw this as a reward and was proud of his new look, but quickly grew to regret it. Now when you go by a storage closet and see a little bit of a tail sticking out from under the door, you know who’s there. You can yank that giveaway tail and make the rat squeal and scrabble.

Moral: Taking too much for granted can get you in big trouble and sooner than you might think.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: University of Miami, FL


Copyright John Lubans 2014

Big Followers in Little Books

Posted by jlubans on March 04, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

One of the most engaging activities in my teaching involves children’s books.* I put the students into small groups (4 or 5) and give each group a blank piece of paper and a box of crayons. Then I have each team choose a children’s book from the several I’ve brought to class, and I tell them to go to it!
Why this assignment? Two reasons.
One is for the students to feel more comfortable with each other. Last week, I deliberately selected the just-appointed project teams to do the children’s book assignment. The project teams need to become effective groups as quickly as they can, so this is a low-risk way to begin the process of team-formation. I wanted them to see early on who on their project team has ideas (or not), who draws well, who synthesizes the assignment well, who takes initiative (or does not), and who keeps the group on task or not? Most of these questions got answered in this 20-minute activity.
And my second reason, equally important as the first, is to get the students thinking about the class topic – following and leading. All four of the children’s books included a few if not all of these stereotypical followers: The Yes Man, the Sheep, the Star, the Pragmatist and the Alienated follower. And, each book almost always has a least likely hero stepping up and succeeding. It’s a group dynamics’ concept well worth re-stating; the solution to a problem may come from the quietest member of the team or that the most creative person on the team may be the one perceived as the most different. These are workplace lessons worth repeating and where better and safer than class to make it manifest?
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Caption: Rācenis (Turnip) Illustrated by Jevgeņija Antoņenkova.
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Caption: Three hands drawing.
And, so it is that the mouse in the giant Turnip story adds his miniscule weight to the struggle, just enough to wrench the turnip free!
And, it is the humble page in “King Bidgood's in the Bathtub” that pulls the plug (an Occam’s Razor solution, no less) and gets the King out of the tub.
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Caption: Mēnesim robs : Liels un mazs. By Ojārs Vācietis.
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Caption: Reporting out to the class.
And, it is the little boy who among all those with good excuses to do nothing challenges the Putin-esque monster to give back the moon.
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Caption: Sharing a laugh.
And, finally it is the little chick in “Tippy-Toe Chick, Go!” that displays the most bravery when all others cower at the barking dog. The little guy is brave and resourceful enough to confront the dog and get everyone to the potato bugs!
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Caption: Reporting out.
So, how effective is this teaching technique? Is this over-simplifying a complex topic?
Not really if the students have done the several background readings prior to the assignment. The group work encourages creativity in their presentation and to draw the connections among the books, the drawings, the readings and the lectures. Could I not just let them read Kelley’s classic “In Praise of Followers” and leave it at that? Could I not just add my two-cents-worth in a lecture and let that suffice? Perhaps.
For me, the assignment helps the students better understand the concepts and, to form initial relationships within the team. This is clearly influenced by each team’s having to present their interpretation – their group work - of the story to the class; in most cases with everyone participating.

* The idea comes from Frances R. Yates, Director of the Indiana University East Library; it’s one she presented at the ALA conference in DC June 2010.

Leading from the Middle Library: University of West Florida


Copyright John Lubans 2014