By Meredith Farkas | March 8, 2009
I have been so touched by the kind words people have written about me with respect to my winning the LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Outstanding Communication in Library and Information Technology (or as my father-in-law started calling it to everyone he saw last weekend “tech librarian of the year” — lol). I always feel weird about awards — it’s such an honor to receive them, but I always feel uncomfortable with the recognition. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t feel I deserve it or if it’s because I know so many others do as well, but it’s how I feel, and, other than telling two close colleagues, I’ve kept this one under my hat until now. When I read Dorothea’s post reminiscing about my very first national conference talk (and how ridiculously nervous I was over it), I started to think about how close to not doing it at all I’d been because I was utterly terrified at the idea of public speaking. It made me think about what I’d like to tell the nervous Meredith of 2006 or even the Meredith of November 2004 who’d just started a blog and never could have imagined doing any of the stuff I’ve done since. And really, what I’d tell them is the same thing I’d tell any new-ish librarian — that the only limits to what you can accomplish are your own imagination and belief in yourself.
I know a lot of people out there have great ideas that they never try to make happen because they don’t believe in their ability to make them happen. I was always one of those people. I could always find a good reason not to do something and was always very good at talking myself out of things. So many opportunities were wasted. But when I stopped doing that — when my response to trying something new and scary went from “why should I?” to “why not?” — my life got about 100,000 times better than it was before. Everything hasn’t always gone right and most of the things I’ve done have ended up being a ton of work, but I’m now a true believer in doing things that scare me and I no longer make excuses for why I shouldn’t.
What I found is that every time you do something that scares you, you feel more capable of doing something that is even scarier for you; until the things that seemed insurmountably frightening feel quite achievable. Most of the time, having whatever the worst case scenario you’re fearing happen is actually worse than the fear you feel in the first place. Putting myself out there on the web with a blog was scary, but when I started that, I never would have imagined that I’d put myself out there with a book or on a stage with hundreds of librarians looking at me (that was the stuff of nightmares for me). Not in a million years. And each thing was scary at first. I spent hours crying over the book, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I was shaking like a leaf (and sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News) when I gave that first talk at CIL. But once I did it, I realized that it wasn’t so bad and I could do it again. Now I love public speaking. I love the adrenaline rush I get from getting up in front of people and I love teaching. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing that someone learned something useful from you — it beats any award you can get.
What helped get me started was having people who made me think I could do the crazy things I’d been thinking about. I was lucky to be encouraged very early on (even before I had my first professional library job in some cases) by people who for some inexplicable reason believed in me. Paul Pival (without whose resume and cover letter coaching I probably wouldn’t have a job), Dorothea Salo, Roy Tennant, Rachel Singer Gordon, and Michael Stephens were amazing mentors and cheerleaders early on, and their faith in me was so instrumental to any success I’ve had. And through it all, of course, my husband Adam made me believe I could do anything. I’d never have started this blog without him. Thank you all so much! I’d like to say that I could have done all this on my own, but before I had evidence that I could achieve the things I dreamed about, I really needed that encouragement. I admire people who can do it all without encouragement from others, but believing in myself has never come naturally to me.
We are very lucky to work in a profession where someone fresh out of library school (or even IN library school for that matter) is allowed to achieve so much. I have respect for experience and have learned a lot over the past few years, but I’m glad that no one ever said to me “what does she know about social software in libraries? She’s a brand-new librarian!” It never happened. I was allowed and encouraged to create and contribute and I still find that extraordinary. So folks out there who are LIS students or are just settling into their first job: the only barriers to your contributing to the profession are you. If you have a vision and are willing to work hard to achieve it, you really can make it happen.
This award came at such a nice time. I know that once my baby comes (in less than a month — ack!) I won’t have much time to devote to my extracurricular activities. I know it will take me a good long while to get back to a place where I can start focusing on the million project ideas that are banging around in my head like pinballs. And I know that I will never be as single-mindedly focused on my career again because that’s the choice I made when I decided to have a child. But this award reminds me that I did make a difference with what I’ve done over the past four years and that I do want to continue to contribute in any way I can in the future. My priorities have changed, but contributing to the profession is still something I feel passionately about and will always be a priority in my life.