“Welcome to planet Tatooine. That’s what it feels like outside…..”
Star Wars nerds and public librarians united on Friday for a hilarious and important panel about managing a circulation desk with moxie to match the Rebel Empire at “Boba Fett at the Circ Desk: Library Leadership Lessons from The Empire Strikes Back,” sponsored by the Public Library Association. Library directors Brad Allen, of Lawrence (Kans.) Public Library, and Susan Brown of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Public Library, shared the important lessons learned from The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) and how we can apply those to managing employees. Their goal? To fight the “imperial” status quo.
Both Allen and Brown are relatively new in their directorships and found themselves relating to ESB because they themselves are sequels. They follow in the footsteps of the directors that came before, and they are laying foundations for whoever will follow. However, they maintain that just because you are a sequel, doesn’t mean you have to suck. They encouraged attendees to stay true to their unique vision as, chances are, they were hired to be bold.
So how do you get employees excited about your vision? First, seek out your Solos. While Han may start out as a gun for hire, he is transformed by the hero’s journey. Allen and Brown are emphatic in their belief that you have Solos in your library right now. There are people who are ready to help you out and fight for your vision.
Second, good communication is critical. In the Battle of Hoth, you see a dichotomy of leadership styles. The Empire is closed off; you have to interrupt Lord Vader to convey information, there is no conversation, and the staff understands that speaking up or asking questions is dangerous. The Rebels are completely opposite. As we see them preparing for battle, they are constantly talking with each other and their leaders. The Rebels are also given critical and inspiring information when necessary to motivate each other in their work. Their command structure shows that there are leaders all throughout the Rebel Alliance. In contrast to Vader, General Rieeken is subtle and soft-spoken. He recognizes he can’t do it all and has developed leaders to execute his strategy.
Allen and Brown believe this should be emulated in the library. There are informal leaders in your institution who are waiting to be noticed and developed.
“But wait! Didn’t the Rebels lose the Battle of Hoth?” you ask. Yes, they did, and this is Allen and Brown’s next point. It is important to embrace failure. Beyond that, it is critical to reassess and offer new ideas. When Han, Leia, and friends are escaping Hoth, C3PO knows there is a problem with the Millennium Falcon and has the solution, but is ignored. If we get bogged down by the minutiae of the crisis, we can miss potential solutions. It’s important to ask everyone for ideas.
After the battle, Luke finds himself stranded on Dagobah, where he begins his training as a Jedi. Yoda informs Luke that it is easy to turn to the dark side. “Fear, anger, and aggression are quick to join you in a fight.” When things go wrong in our libraries, it is essential that we challenge the negativity. We all have the instinct to share our frustrations about our workplace by griping with our friends and coworkers, but as Yoda says, we must unlearn what we have learned. We can raise our metaphorical ship.
Lastly, we return to the title character of this session. Boba Fett is an ancillary character in the Star Wars world, yet his actions have incredible repercussions on our heroes. Much like Fett, there may be people at our institutions who are not on board with the mission and vision. Their attitude and actions have the potential to impact our coworkers and patrons in a dramatic fashion. It’s critical to be aware of these possibilities and work to bring them into the fold.
Overall, it’s important to celebrate the humanity and success of the “rebels” we work with. The library mission won’t always be easy, but the tools to succeed exist within ourselves and the people on our side. May the Force be with you.
JENNIFER PETTI is a recent Kentucky graduate and enjoys mac and cheese. Like, a lot. You can find her shelving books in Seattle, as well as tweeting and tumbling @sassafrassj.
See, hear, and read more about what’s going on at Annual—in real time and after.
Twitter: @alaannual and #alaac14