My Professional Heroes

Let’s hear it for the front-line grunts who make service happen

April 27, 2011


When I hear the term “movers and shakers,” I think of Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton. These are the innovators, power brokers, and pioneers that move us to places where we haven’t been and don’t necessarily want to go. They are the catalysts who wake us from our slumbers and give us a good push out of our comfort zones. They are more than just leaders: They are agitators and change agents.

Ten years ago, when Library Journal unveiled a new set of annual awards for librarians called “Movers and Shakers,” I was delighted. While our professional image is anything but “moving and shaking,” the little-known reality is that librarians have not only endured but actually embraced each new wave of communications technology. Libraries are barely recognizable from their rubber-stamp and card-catalog days. Clearly there’s been a lot of movin’ and shakin’ going on. So why not celebrate those who push us out of our professional comfort zones?

That does not mean that I think the M&Sers are the most important people in the profession. Absolutely not. That honor would go to the “plodders and toilers,” or if you prefer, the worker bees. There’s a lot of grunt work to be done in libraries and someone has to do it. There are books to be shelved, shelves to be read, books to be mended, catalogs to be maintained, storytimes to present, reference questions to deal with, and phones to be answered. These tasks may not “edgy,” but like it or not, these services are what keep us in business.

Of even greater value are the worker bees who work nights and weekends with smiles on their faces. The absolutely worst part of management is motivating library employees to work odd hours. The irony, of course, is that nights and weekends are libraries’ busiest times.

Given all of that, I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive a number of negative comments and e-mails following my blog post about the Movers and Shakers Award. To be pointed about the matter, it seems that many working librarians resent the award. I suppose that’s the case with any award. The winner wins, and everyone else goes home feeling, well, like a loser.

But the comments I received seem to go beyond mere disappointment. Basically they can be paraphrased in six ways:

  • The Movers and Shakers Award proves nothing more than the importance of networking.
  • A mover and shaker showed up at our library and put on his desk a name plaque that said “Change Agent.”
  • I resent that while they are moving and shaking, we are serving the patron.
  • We have a mover and shaker on our staff who was fine before winning the award. Now she is a diva.
  • Thanks to this annual award extravaganza, the library world has its own little elite clique. Well, I suppose they need the recognition since there are no longer any promotional opportunities.
  • If I see the Mover and Shaker Award on a résumé, that application ends up in the circular file. I want workhorses, not show horses.

My guess is that much of the negativity toward the Movers and Shakers has to do with cutbacks in staffing. The line of reasoning here is probably: If you’re not pulling your weight with the public, you’re a slacker.

On the other hand, you’re not a real mover and shaker if you don’t irritate and annoy people in order to bring about change. Every bona fide mover and shaker I have known was an expert at ruffling feathers and stepping on toes, and these are not exactly traits of endearment.

WILL MANLEY has furnished provocative commentary on librarianship for over 30 years and in nine books on the lighter side of library science. He blogs at Will Unwound.


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