Lessons to Library School Grads – Don’t Be Vader.

Since I last posted on this blog, my new position as Director of the Chapel Hill Public Library has completely consumed me, or so it feels most evenings after the kids are in bed and I sit down and think, “Tonight’s the night I’m going to revive the blog!”  A few hours later, when I wake up with an imprint of keyboard keys on my forehead, I groggily think, “I’ve either got to get serious about the blog or shut it down.”  My hope for 2015 is to again regularly post useful words about practical marketing for public libraries – and throw in some words about leadership, public service, and serving readers (I’m still an RA gal at heart).

Today, I’m posting the text of the commencement speech I gave yesterday at the December graduation of the UNC School of Information and Library Science.  Lots of folks have asked me for it, so I thought I’d put it here.  Enjoy – and see you in 2015.


From Manning Hall to the Ice Planet of Hoth: Lessons for SILS Grads from The Empire Strikes Back

There are many books that graduates often receive as gifts – Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, The Tao of Pooh.  They all have some sort of deep and meaningful message for grads as you start out on the next stage of your life and career. But there’s another story that I think resonates just as much for you today. One that is also full of deep and meaningful messages as you start out on your careers. And it’s not a book. If I could, I would give you each a copy of The Empire Strikes Back.

Why this movie? I think it’s a treasure trove of wisdom – right up there with Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh.  And it’s got AT-AT Walkers and the Millennium Falcon and a Wampa, so it’s even better.

Why this movie? I myself have learned a lot from it. When I took my current position at Chapel Hill Public Library – my first director’s gig – I did what any librarian might do. I read up. I went and cleared the shelves around the 658s and checked out every leadership and management book I could find and slogged through them. At the same time, my kids were deep into their Star Wars phase. One Friday night just after I came back to Chapel Hill, as I donned my Princess Leia hair and grabbed my lightsaber and sat down to watch The Empire Strikes Back for the 4,000th time with my boys, I realized that this movie provided as much information and inspiration as any of those leadership books had. And it’s got Cloud City and carbon freezing and Lando Calrissian, so it’s even better.

I can’t afford to buy each of you a copy – although I can recommend a great public library right here in town where you can check it out at no cost. I encourage you to set down soon and watch it – for the first or 4,000th time – and see if you see what I do.

I’ll start with what I’ve learned from considering the director of the film. Irvin Kershner – not George Lucas – directed the movie. He had his own unique vision for what the next film in the Star Wars series should be – and it was quite different from what had come before.  Throughout the movie, he stayed true to that vision.  He had disagreements with Lucas about the script and faced the challenges of making an outer space action movie in a pre-CGI world, but he persevered because he knew what he wanted – he could envision something greater than had come before.

I bet that many of you sitting in this room today have a unique vision – a big idea.    Whether your field is bioinformatics, children’s librarianship, metadata, or preservation & archives.  You have ideas that might change the field you work in – or perhaps change the world. Don’t forget those ideas that are in your head today. Stay true to that vision in spite of all the challenges – fight for it. In the end, like Kershner, you just might produce something greater than what has come before.

Here’s the other thing about Kershner – he starts out strong. The movie starts right up with Luke and the Tauntaun, then the Wampa Cave, then the Battle of Hoth. It’s hard to think of it now, but at the time, this was all completely mind-blowing stuff – no kid sitting in the theater expected all of that – especially in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie.  It was totally different from what had come before and we knew from the start that it was going to be amazing. Kershner staked his claim early in the film and showed the world what he was all about.

As you set out on whatever’s next for you – career, more school, maybe your own startup – I encourage you to start out strong like Kershner did. Whether your new job starts next week or next year, bring that vision, those new ideas, and whenever you can, stake your claim early and often. Show the world – and your boss or dean or Board – what you are all about. From the start, take every chance you can to blow their minds.

So be like Kershner. And don’t be like Vader.  Do I have to say that?  Don’t be Vader.  It’s easy to say – and I hope obvious – that you don’t want to end up like him.  But what does that really mean? What makes Vader Vader? Here are two important things to remember about him:

One of the things that defines Darth Vader is how he deals with failure.  All of those leadership books I read talk about how important it is to embrace failure – not to fear it and to learn from it. How you deal with failure is an indicator of how you will manage success.  What happens when you fail under Vader’s command? It’s simple. You get force choked. Admiral Ozzel comes out of light speed a second too early and he’s dead.  Vader refuses to deal with failure in any meaningful way – his own failures or those of others.

Let me tell you all something that is certain.  You will all fail.  Big or small. Epic or mundane. Today or tomorrow.  Or maybe today and tomorrow. Failure will be a part of what you will do – professionally and personally. Get used to it.  Don’t force choke yourself or others. Instead, learn from it.  Take meaning from it. Don’t be Vader.

Here’s the other thing about Vader. He is who he is because he has lost his humanity. Why? Where has it gone?  He has lost it to the system he serves.  Joseph Campbell, in his iconic interviews with Bill Moyers, talks about Darth Vader in the great scheme of heroes and villains and myths.  He points out that Vader is a slave to the system he serves – he’s been eaten up by the Empire. Moyers asks if, therefore, we should fight to change the system.  And Campbell says that we can’t always change the system, but we can “resist its impersonal claims” and choose to live as human beings within the system.  And use the system to serve a human purpose. I love this answer.

Whether you are going to work for a public library, an academic library, the Library of Congress, Google or Microsoft or an emerging, edgy, innovative company, there will be a system, a bureaucracy, of some form. With 22 years of service at a variety of institutions, I can tell you that bureaucratic, hierarchical systems exist everywhere. You can’t avoid them. You can’t always change them – and trust me, I’ve tried – but you can choose to exist as a human within them. Choose to remember the human purpose of the work we share.

Bureaucracy is the enemy of humanity. You are a human, with a purpose of serving humans, not systems – no matter how complex the database you are developing or how important the policy you are writing or how lofty the committee you’ve been appointed to. You are a human being, and your purpose is to serve other humans. Remember that, because the systems are out there, and if you let them, they will change you. You will begin to believe that the system you serve is more important than the people you serve. Don’t be Vader.

Here’s another thing to remember.  That piece of paper you are getting today signifies that your time at SILS is ending, but I will tell you that your education is just beginning. I got my MLS here at SILS but I got my real education at Cameron Village Public Library in Raleigh, where I took my first post SILS, “professional” job.  I worked alongside “paraprofessionals” who knew more than I know to this day. Grey-haired volunteers who came in to shelve books schooled me on what it means to serve the public.

What does this have to do with The Empire Strikes Back? I think of the scene when Han and Leia and Chewie and 3PO are fleeing Hoth after the big battle.  They can’t get the Falcon into hyperdrive to escape and they are in full-on crisis mode.  Han takes control, barking orders, flipping switches, trying everything he can think of – and ignoring C3PO. The droid who actually knows what the problem is – the hyperdrive motivator! But Han is in charge here and he can’t/won’t/doesn’t listen – in fact, he threatens to power him down.

As you set out into the world as a “master” or a “doctor,” don’t forget to listen to others, especially those C3POs out there.  A part-time library assistant or departmental receptionist might just know how to jump into hyperspace when you don’t. Remember, your real education is just getting started and there are teachers for you everywhere.  Seek them out and listen to what they tell you.

After talking about a droid, I need to briefly touch on the Muppet in the movie – Yoda.  In the middle of the film, there is a slow and meditative section where Luke Skywalker is in the Dagobah swamp with Yoda. Luke is down, depressed, doubting everything – himself, the Force, the Rebel mission.  Yoda continually counsels him that the Dark Side is precisely what is causing those feelings. The Dark Side. It is the easier path.  It is seductive.  It feels good. And Yoda tells Luke that he must actively resist it.

As engaged and energized and enthused as you are today, you will face the Dark Side soon enough.  You will doubt yourself, your work, and why the heck you spent all of this time and money getting that piece of paper.  Or maybe you will start your first job and encounter colleagues who have gone over to the Dark Side themselves.  Those that have lost their humanity to the system they serve.  They are jaded and negative and petty and gossipy. You think, I’ll never be like that, but in a few weeks or months or years, you start making snarky comments about library patrons or bitching about a colleague – you feel that negativity, The Dark Side, creeping in.

Don’t let it. Resist the Dark Side.  Remember how proud you feel today.  Remember how purposeful you feel today.  That is The Force that will carry you through your first job or your fifth. The Dark Side is out there, and as Yoda would say, resist it you must.

After that serious talk about the Dark Side, I’m going to give a very important directive – Laugh It Up, Fuzzballs!  This is my favorite line in the movie – and believe it or not, one of the most important for you as you head down your career or academic path. I can’t overstate the importance of humor and lightheartedness in the workplace.  It can get you through a tense meeting or a tough project. It can help you resist the Dark Side and help you exist as a human within that bureaucratic system.

I think work should be FUN.  But fun doesn’t mean goofing off or playing pranks on coworkers.   For me, fun at work comes from shared mission, purposeful work, and remembering that we are all humans, serving humans. So don’t forget to laugh it up, Fuzzballs.

To end this speech today, I’d like to return to the beginning of the movie.  In the opening scenes, Luke Skywalker rides out onto the frozen plains of Hoth, all alone. He ends up getting into a pinch with the Wampa and his comrades back at Rebel HQ are going to close the gates, as protocol dictates, and leave him out there for the night.  Han Solo chooses to ride out and find him, risking everything to help his colleague. Han finds Luke nearly frozen to death and what does he do?  He slits open his TaunTaun, stuffs Luke into it, and stands guard overnight, saving his friend’s life.

Just as I can guarantee that you will fail, I can also guarantee that sometime in your life or your career, you will need help.  You will ride out on your own – with some crazy idea or on some new adventure – and things will go wrong.  You will need someone to save you. Someone to slit open a Tauntaun and stuff your butt in it.  You will need a Han Solo.

Look around – your Han Solo might be in this room right now. As you move forward with your new jobs and big ideas, remember to rely on the people right here.  Your fellow SILSers, your professors, your advisors, and of course, your family and friends. They will be the ones to stuff you into a TaunTaun if need be and ride out a cold, dark night alongside you.

And don’t forget to be a Han for someone else.  Be kind. Be generous. When everybody else wants to shut the gates on your colleague or friend, ride out, find them, support them.

Now it’s time for True Confessions, Librarian Style. Truth be told, I’ve never read Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Or The Last Lecture. Or The Tao of Pooh.  But I have watched The Empire Strikes Back 4,264 times.  And I am continually inspired by it.

  • Inspired to be like Kershner and stay true to my vision.
  • Inspired to not be Vader. Inspired to embrace my failures and remember the human purpose of work.
  • Inspired to listen to the C3POs out there. Who generally know more than me.
  • Inspired to resist the Dark Side. And reminded that it is easier and ever present.
  • Inspired by the Han Solos I’ve had in my life. And inspired to be a Han for someone else.

And there’s more! But in the interest of time, I won’t be able to cover Cloud City, or the significance of Boba Fett, or deconstruct the epic light saber battle between Vader and Skywalker.  There’s more inspiration to glean from this movie – I encourage you to go and find it.

And inspiration is important.  Important to the product you create and the perspective you bring.  Some days, inspiration is necessary just to get up out of bed and head to the office for another day.  That inspiration is all around you – in Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, or Star Wars. I hope I’ve provided a little for you today.

Congratulations, graduates. And may the force be with you. Always.

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OMG! We got a JCD!

Recently, I received two great phone calls within a few weeks of each other.  The first was from Chapel Hill, NC, offering me the position of director at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The second was from the John Cotton Dana Award committee, letting me know that a project I spearheaded at Lawrence Public Library was selected to receive a 2013 John Cotton Dana Award.  If good things come in threes, I hope that Publisher’s Clearinghouse pops up on my Caller ID next!


The John Cotton Dana Award is called “the most prestigious award of the American Library Association.” Here’s a little more about it:

“The John Cotton Dana Award, provided in conjunction with the H.W. Wilson Foundation, the American Library Association and EBSCO Publishing, honors outstanding library public relations, whether a summer reading program, a year-long centennial celebration, fundraising for a new college library, an awareness campaign or an innovative partnership in the community.”

LPL received the award for our Banned Books Trading Card project, which we summarized for the judges:

“With seven collectible trading cards featuring art inspired by banned books and created by local artists, Lawrence Public Library’s Banned Books Trading Card project sought to raise awareness of Banned Books Week in a unique way, engage the local arts community, and bring wider exposure to the talented artists living and working in our community.  The project achieved these goals, garnered national media attention, and resulted in a few surprising outcomes that have given the project an extended life, long after the end of 2012’s Banned Books Week.”       


The cards were a hit locally and nationally (and internationally!) but more importantly  they were right in line with our marketing goals.

  • A huge part of our marketing efforts at LPL involves building partnerships and engaging different segments of our community.  For this project, we created new partnerships with arts organizations and directly engaged local artists, a large segment of the local population.
  • We have worked to position the library as both a gateway to our community and a showcase for all of the unique aspects of it.  By limiting the project to local artists, we were able to highlight just how artsy Lawrence is. Also, the project gives a very good glimpse into this college town’s values and their collective belief in intellectual freedom, the power of literature, and the importance of art.
  •  As any successful library does, LPL also seeks to align ourselves with broad community and civic goals.  Lawrence is currently working to become a regional and national arts destination, with a coalition of community groups marketing all of the artists, galleries, festivals, and venues.  With the local, regional, and national media attention they received, the cards effectively highlighted the amazing artists living and working in Lawrence.

To read more about the project – or if you’ve ever wanted to know just what goes into an entry – check out our submission for the award.  This three page narrative outlines the whole project, from concept to execution to the local (featured on the front page every day during the week) and national press coverage (Hello, HuffPost!) we received.

Little-Red-Riding-HoodResized-280x381While the idea was unique and the press coverage was great, what really made the project great was the amazing artwork from artists living and working right here in Lawrence.  The beautiful and engaging local art was my favorite part of the whole project.

My second favorite part of the project is yet to come.  I received many, many emails and phone calls from libraries around the country asking if they could steal the idea. I told them “Of course! And we’re librarians, we borrow, we don’t steal!”  I hope that for the 2013 Banned Books Week, we will see more libraries doing cards and they can be traded by libraries around the country.

For those who hold the purse strings at LPL, their favorite part is probably the  money attached to the project.  The $10,000 check that comes with the award is great, but what was really neat about the project was that we were able to meet national and international demand for the cards by selling them via our website.  By doing a second print run of cards and quickly setting up a PayPal account, we were able to not only create a small revenue source for the library’s marketing budget, but we were also able to give a little something back to the artists, who submitted their pieces with no expectation of monetary gain.  And yes, the cards are still available for purchase.  We only have about two hundred sets left, so if you want one, order yours soon!  To date, we have shipped cards to every state in the US, as well as England, Australia, and Canada.

And speaking of money, the project was made possible by the good folks at the Freedom to Read Foundation and their annual Judith F. Krug Memorial Grants.  If you aren’t aware of them and their work, check out their website and Facebook page – Jonathan Kelly and crew are fighting the good fight!  Also, LPL’s Friends of the Library generously matched the FTRF grant, providing additional money for printing, artist’s reception, and more.

And since this post is starting to run long like an Oscar speech, I have to thank two more people who were integral to this project.  LPL is so lucky to have a Foundation to support it and an amazingly talented Foundation Director in Kathleen Morgan.  She wrote the FTRF grant application and supported the project every step of the way.  Also, I had tried to turn this idea into a reality for a few years without success.  LPL’s fantastic new director, Brad Allen, greenlighted the project in his first month on the job last year. He saw not only the creative potential in the project but he also realized that it was a project that would resonate deeply in Lawrence, a town full of artists and intellectuals.

Although I’ll be working for Chapel Hill Public Library then, I’ll be at ALA in Chicago and will attend the John Cotton Dana Awards Ceremony on Sunday. I look forward to meeting the other award recipients and “trading” great ideas for innovative marketing and PR projects…

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From Tarheel to Jayhawk to Tarheel….

I am thrilled to announce that I will be the next director of the Chapel Hill Public Library in Chapel Hill, NC. Almost seven years ago, my family left Chapel Hill to come to Lawrence, KS and we are pleased at the chance to return to a town that we love and a town that loves its library. I’ll spend the next few weeks wrapping up my marketing duties at Lawrence Public Library, and will take the helm of CHPL on May 20. I’ve had a great time and amazing opportunities here at Lawrence Public Library, where I’ve helped position the library as a deeply engaged community anchor and essential destination. I look forward to helping CHPL do the same!


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Better Book Displays

In my newest column for NoveList’s free newsletter, RA News, I update this older blog post about book displays. Hands down, this is *the* most popular article I’ve ever posted here – even beating out posts about social media and content marketing.

Why is this? Clearly, lots of libraries are doing book displays and lots want to do them better. And why are book displays important? I offer this answer in the conclusion to the article:

“And if you are wondering why displays are important at all, I have just two words for you – book discovery. It is the buzzword of the moment for libraries, booksellers, and publishers, with conferences devoted to the concept and new products that aim to make it easier. There are some librarians who will lament that this fancy new buzzword reflects what we have always done – help readers find their next book. However, in an era where readers can find discover books in the supermarket, on their iPhone, via Amazon, and from social sites such as Goodreads and Pinterest, we need to make sure that libraries are engaged in book discovery and consider it a priority. Better book displays are just one way of helping readers discover great books.”

Read the full article here…

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Six Questions with Kathy Dempsey

TheAccidentalLibraryMarketerFor this edition of  the 658.8 Interview, I reached out to Kathy Dempsey, library marketing consultant and author of The Accidental Library Marketer.  I’m a longtime follower of The M Word, a blog co-written by Kathy and Nancy Dowd.  Kathy’s consulting business is called Libraries are Essential and if you aren’t already following her on Facebook, stop what you’re doing and go do it!  You’ll get lots of great ideas and information every day.  Done? Okay, now you can read her answers to my six questions.   Continue reading

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Greetings from Seattle!

alamw13I’m in Seattle for the next few days, attending ALA Midwinter 2013.   There’s lots of good stuff for marketers on the schedule – I’ll live tweet from as many events as possible and post a roundup of the conference next week.  I’ll be at the PRTalk gathering this afternoon and if you are here in Seattle and want to connect, shoot me an email at 658point8@gmail.com or find me on Twitter at @658point8.

Also, I’ll share how I got here.  I was awarded a sponsorship by the the fine folks at EBSCO and ALA.  The competition asked for 250 words in response to the question, “The conversation starts here: How would you lead the discussion in your library to bring about meaningful change to an existing process, service, or procedure?”  Here’s what I wrote:   Continue reading

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Social Media on the Move – Part 1

As a $19 million renovation and expansion project begins, my library – Lawrence Public Library – is in the process of moving into temporary headquarters.  We are closed for two weeks while we move our collections and offices into – wait for it – a building that last housed a Borders bookstore!


This is not only a huge logistical undertaking, but it has been a major communications initiative as well. We have successfully used traditional tools – flyers, signs, e-blasts, press releases, etc. – to keep our community informed about the move.  However, we have turned to new media methods to keep our community engaged and excited about what’s happening at their library.   Continue reading

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