Playing with a Better Future

I am deeply honored to receive the 2019 AASL Distinguished Service Award. Thank you, Rosen Publishing, for supporting this award.

Examining the list of past award recipients is a humbling experience. It reminds us all that we stand on the shoulders of giants in the form of such generous mentors as David Loertscher, Blanche Woolls, Violet Harada, Keith Curry Lance, Debra Kachel, Marcia Mardis, Lesley Farmer, Sharon Coatney, Michael Eisenberg, Jacqueline Mancall, Ann Martin, Hilda Weisburg, Nancy Everhart, Carol Kuhlthau, and the many others I did not have the honor to know.

Back in 1931, Dr. Ranganathan shared his Five Laws of Library Science. My favorite has always been the fifth: The library is a growing organism. It’s been my north star. Consider how it liberates us from being ordinary and leading ordinary practice–from looking at the floor rather than the ceiling of practice. That law has illuminated so much of what I’ve tried to accomplish. In a longer than forty-year career, I’ve seen over and over again how librarians can transform cultures, engage learners, and creatively move communities forward; how they avoid being stale; how they respond to changes and opportunities in the environment; how they hit the start button to make a little magic happen.

In 1976, my first job straight out of library school was leading a team of biomedical research scientists in creating the first online bibliography on carcinogen for Stanford University. It was a prototype for a paradigm shift. I was 22. I was terrified. But I observed the power of primitive information and communication technology to address life-and-death issues. Things that we take for granted now, were once brand new. That will always be the case. It’s our job to recognize when a shift happens, how it translates for our communities, and how we might lead those communities in playing with better futures. If we are doing this job well, we are always seeking opportunities to exploit, translate, and amplify traditional practice.

As suggested in Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators, those who innovate successfully exploit the critical confluence of timing, technology, and team.

I have been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time with my eyes and my mind wide open to connections and to the translation of our practice and values. What fun it has been to explore with you new ways to lead and share and build our online community of practice! Together, we recognized the potential of library websites, of transparently blogging our practice, of launching hashtags, of embracing our emerging wikiness, and slow and fast Twitter chats, webinars, open-space conferences, and leveraging powerful apps, as well as new ways to curate collections, engage learning, tell stories, and create and share new knowledge. Together we learned about the power of our networks, especially when they are diverse and robust.

While our work has the potential to make deep, meaningful, and sticky impact on learners, it cannot be static. And, it is not brain surgery. While we work with solid understandings of the needs of our communities, keeping our professional values and standards in mind, no patient will die if we take responsible risks, try something new, unleash our personal passions, talents, and best efforts. Even if they do not immediately or completely work, we model dispositions of agility and growth for the entire learning community.

Throughout my career I have been grateful to a series of powerful and underrecognized partners–Joan Schumer, Joanne Supplee, and Casey Arlen, who made always me look better than I was and all the classroom teachers who took a chance when I assured them I had their backs for any necessary rescues. Thanks to principals like Joe Roy and Otis Hackney who were willing to explore the way a library might lead a school’s learning culture. And dear Bill Leary who recognized that libraries–no, librarians–might lead districts.

Thank you for allowing me to be your co-worker, your colleague, your committee buddy, your mentor, your instructor, a member of your PLN. Thank you for allowing me the honor of reading and amplifying your blogs, your tweets, your experiences, and your innovative experiments. Thank you for playing Lucy to my Ethel or Ethel to my Lucy.

Nearly 20 years ago, I met a charming young woman during a long layover in an airport. I struck up a conversation and she described how she was very creatively building a business empire. (We’ve come to call these brew pubs.) When we parted company, I said, “Julie, you really think outside the box.” She responded, “Joyce, what makes you think there’s a box?”

There is no box. So, dear friends, please let’s play with a better future.

Author: Joyce Valenza

Categories: Awards Spotlight, Community

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2 replies

  1. Inspiring words, Joyce. A well-deserved recognition for a beacon in our field!

  2. Congratulations, Joyce! I always love learning from you.

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