I went to an arts magnet school for high school (and yes, it was a bit like Fame with people dancing and singing in the halls — not exactly the typical high school experience, thank goodness). My “talent” was creative writing. In 9th grade, Frank Cerabino, a columnist for the Palm Beach Post came to speak to my class. He writes interesting — and sometimes snarky — observations about local politics and life in South Florida. I loved his cynical and humorous take on things. I would bet that most of my classmates don’t even remember his talk, but it made a real impression on me. I remember telling my parents when I got home from school that being a columnist sounded like the coolest job ever and that’s what I wanted to do with my life. All through high school I was an avid reader of Cerabino’s column and I started writing more essays than fiction. By college, I’d sort of given up on writing, thinking that I wasn’t good enough to ever really get published. I still wrote short stories, poetry and essays for myself, but I never showed my stuff to anyone. When I worked at the Boca Raton Public Library while in library school, Frank Cerabino would often come to the library to take out books. That again reminded me of that 14-year-old who dreamed of having a column of her own. What happened to her?
I’m thrilled to announce that, starting with the January 2007 issue, I will be writing the brand new monthly “Technology in Practice” column for American Libraries. I am incredibly honored to have my work sit beside the writings of people I admire so much, like Joe Janes and Andrew Pace. What a thrill! Like the rest of my writing, this column will be a no b.s. look at technology through the lens of library success stories. Each month, I will highlight some terrific thing that a library (or librarian) has done with technology that others can easily replicate without much money or hard tech-savvy (no coders needed). I think the stuff that the Ann Arbor District Library did with their Website is amazing, but I’ve messed around with Drupal and I know I couldn’t do what they did. And I am in awe of NCSU’s catalog, but most libraries have neither the money nor the tech expertise to make that happen. The successes I plan to highlight are simple, but inspirational, examples that any library can copy to use technology to improve services to patrons, better collaborate behind the scenes in libraries or increase the tech savvy of their colleagues. It’s stuff that’s easy to learn, easy to implement and won’t cost the library a fortune. I’m a very concrete thinker, so I usually need to see a technology successfully implemented somewhere else before I figure out how I can use it here. Hopefully these success stories will inspire some of you as well. If you have any suggestions of cool things I should definitely be bringing to the American Libraries readers attention, please feel free to e-mail me at librarysuccess at gmail dot com.
I want to tell you exactly how I ended up with this opportunity, because I always wondered how things like this happened. What I’ve learned is that there really is no one clear path to these opportunities, and they often come from a mixture of chutzpah, good timing and networking. A while back, I had mentioned to Roy Tennant that one day, a long time from now when I’m as well-respected as he is, I’d love to have my own column. I’m pretty sure this information got filtered down from him to Andrew Pace who IM’ed me one day and wrote “I hope you don’t mind, but I told Leonard Kniffel that I thought you’d be a good columnist for AL and he agreed.” (Mind??? As if!) Andrew told me that he didn’t know if anything would come from it, and I figured that nothing would either. I didn’t hear anything for a while. However, when I was at ALA Headquarters teaching people about wikis in September, I had the good fortune to have lunch with a lovely group of ALA folks including Don Chatham, the head of ALA Publishing. Those who know me know that I can be a cheeky smartass from time to time. Well, I came right out and said to Don “you know… y’all should really give me a column in American Libraries. I could help spice up the magazine.” Don instead thought I could maybe write a book for ALA Editions and told an editor there about me. But I was undeterred and told her that what I really wanted was a column, though writing another book was a future possibility. Less than a week later, I had an e-mail from Leonard Kniffel, Editor-in-Chief of American Libraries in my inbox and the next day I called him to talk ideas.
I guess the moral of the story is: never be afraid to ask for what you want. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. And “no” could never hurt so much as giving up on a dream. Believe me, I’ve gotten plenty of rejections and let-downs, but persistence can sometimes pay off.