Friday, October 26, 2007

On hitting the books, inspired by General Patton

One of my favorite books is Alex Axelrod's Patton on Leadership. I discovered it a while back (see my note here). There is a passage discussing how the general was an avid reader. Those who have seen the film with George C. Scott playing the general may recall the big tank battle where the general yells out about having read Rommel's book. Personally, I find that scene very inspiring as it highlights the importance of reading to know your rivals as well as to know your field and line of work.

The passage from the book is entitled "Hit the Books." Find it on page 78. You would think that for librarians this would be a piece of cake, but it does not cease to amaze me how some librarians can be poor readers. I don't mean their reading skill. I mean their breadth and scope of reading. But that would be another ranting post topic. Anyhow, here is the quote that Axelrod uses:

"The only right way of learning the science of war is to read and reread the campaigns of the great captains." --Napoleon, quoted by Patton in his reading notes.

I find so cool the idea of keeping reading notes. It is a big reason why I keep my blogs. Axelrod then expands on the quote:

"Patton added to this quotation, a comment of his own, 'And think about what you read.'"

That is a lot of what I try to do, to think about what I read as well as about my craft as a librarian. Here is more of what Axelrod wrote:

"It behooves any leader to know the history of his or her discipline and to read all the experts in the field, particularly experts whose knowledge is based on actual experience. The object is not to follow any example or method slavishly, but to develop a strategic and tactical vocabulary that will create solutions faster and more efficiently than having to reinvent the wheel with each problem that is encountered."

I will add that, in our case, we should be reading experts in our field as well as experts out of our field who are relevant to what we do. We should be reading in areas like information technology, education, communication, psychology, and a few others. We should also be looking to those with experience who write about those experiences well. Unfortunately, this may not be as easy given the nature of the literature of librarianship; you may need to work a little more at it to find something good. Notice also that Axelrod reminds us that we have to think. We are not just to follow any fad or trend. Are you listening out there, 2.0 cultists? You know who you are. Sure, there are some very good 2.0 tools that can provide a myriad of solutions. If they are examined and found to do the job, and they can be implemented, then go for it. Don't just do it to be cool or hip. Think as well as act. This keeps coming back to me because in one of my job interviews before I got my current job that point was one of the issues they were interested in. The question came up about my views on various 2.0 tools, and I said something along the lines that it was important to think about what a tool would be solving, if anything. We were in agreement at the end of the conversation about the need to examine and think, not simply act slavishly. An FYI for the curious readers out there, yes, I was offered that job. No, it was not this job. The point is that, in my humble estimation, one can easily get the impression from reading the many blogs kept by librarians out there that a substantial number of libraries and librarians are rushing to put in every 2.0 toy out there. Talking to front line people I know that is not the case. Thus, you read, you think, but in learning, you also seek out those with experience in order to learn from them as well.

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