Editor’s Note: I am pleased to share the NC LIVE blog spotlight with guest blogger Andrew Pace. Andrew and I worked together at OCLC and, during that time, I was continually impressed by Andrew’s passion, focus, and tenacity in overcoming the inevitable obstacles associated with building a complex service for a complex market. Andrew arrived at OCLC from NCSU and, in the post below, shares some of the formative lessons learned during his stint in North Carolina. – Rob Ross
In my mind, I’m still in Carolina
Recently, I blogged about my 20th year as a professional librarian. I gave short shrift to North Carolina as a very formative part of what I hope is only half a career. I thought maybe the NC LIVE blog might be a better platform for a little Carolina love.
My colleagues, including Rob Ross, will tell you that I have an annoying habit of tracing all great accomplishments in library land back to North Carolina. But at Rob’s urging, this got me thinking about the lessons I took from my 9 years there in the IT department at NCSU Libraries. The following list isn’t meant to be a recipe for success. If I had one of those, I’d use it all the time. Instead, these are just some general rules that started in NC and have matured over the years.
1. Solve real problems.
“Wanna see something cool?” is still the most dangerous phrase in IT. Since libraries typically lag just slightly behind the technological curve, we’re sometimes late to the party when it comes to new trends and solutions. As such, it’s easy to fall into the trap of having a solution that is looking for a problem. Instead, librarians should use their intimate familiarity with library problems and start there. Starting with the problem and not the solution is always better.
For example. Federated search or metasearch was not a problem. The problem was consortial collection development and resource sharing across libraries. Finding better ways to share led to better solutions. Had UNC, TRLN, or NC LIVE started with the tools available, the solution would have been much harder to attain.
2. Lead from the front.
If you have an idea or a passion, you have to own it. Yes, you will stand on the shoulders of giants. Yes, it takes a village. Blah, blah, blah…save it for your speech at the award ceremony. Reluctance to lead from the front is simply fear of failure. Get over it. Due to our altruistic nature, we tend to look out the window of success and into the mirror of failure. But the key characteristic of a successful project is a visible and vocal advocate…earnest, passionate, even dogged in his or her desire to see dream become reality.
I’ve tried to lead on many fronts, OPACs (and the death of that very word), Electronic Resource Management, Standards, Library Service Platforms. Some of these efforts can take years. I first wrote about dismantling the ILS in February 2004. WorldShare Management Services launched as the first cloud-based library platform in the summer of 2011. But I did my best to stay at the front of that effort the entire time (and to this day).
3. Deal with the closest alligator to the boat.
I stole this phrase from my operations manager at NCSU Libraries, Rob Main. As I would drop yet another problem on Rob, he’d often ask me, “Is this the closest alligator to our boat?” Rob was good at multi-tasking, but he was even better at prioritizing. Not all of us have the luxury of separating development and future-thinking from day-to-day operations. If the alligators are climbing in your boat, it might be a good idea to ignore the one on the shore.
Library land has lots of examples of ignoring the circling gators in favor of headier and more distant problems. One of my great honors is coining the phrase “The OPAC Sucks.” My mother is so proud. This early library meme led to lots of articles, speaking engagements, a great blog series by Karen Schneider (part 1, part 2, part 3), and even a theme song on Youtube. But setting the historical record straight, here’s what I actually said at the 2005 ALA Midwinter Top Tech Trends Panel: “There’s so much talk about portals, metasearch, learning objects—the list goes on—that we have been distracted from the fact that the OPAC still sucks.” In other words, “Look, that alligator is waaaay closer to the boat.”
Just three lessons from a rewarding 9 years spent in North Carolina. I’ll continue to trace as much as I can back to that great state.
Andrew K. Pace is Executive Director of WorldShare Community Development at OCLC, leading new efforts to scale and accelerate library learning, research and innovation by building more effective OCLC advisory groups, facilitating deeper library community engagement, and managing the OCLC Community Center.