I planned to write about “change” when I was reading Library 2.0 because the concept of “Library 2.0”, as I understand it, is all about adapting to changes and involving users in those changes (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007). Given the current circumstances, we must all have something to say about the changes we are experiencing in today’s world and in our own professions. However, as I proceeded with the readings in Module 3, I found myself emotionally triggered by David Weinberger’s idea when he stated that “Every business is dysfunctional because everything human is at least a little bit broken” (1999). Something hit me, strongly. As I finally started reading The Heart of Librarianship (Stephens, 2016), that “something” finally revealed itself to me – the “heart”.

Long before I joined this MLIS program, I had decided to learn more about new technologies and tools which I believe would serve me better in my future career. Things like database management, website designing, programing, video production, etc. have all struck me as mysterious and fascinating. The reason for me to feel that way is simply because I don’t know anything about them, and seeing other colleagues working with these “cool stuff” makes me feel that what I do as a service staff is not promising and contains little value. To me, a “tech-savvy” librarian sounds much more capable and smarter than a “warm-hearted and helpful” service staff. I know this doesn’t sound right and it may offend other service staff (I’m sorry!), but I want to be honest about my own feelings here.

Believe it or not, this is why the “heart” hits me so hard, because it feels like someone understands me. “Everything human is at least a little bit broken” (1999) – thank you for saying that Mr. Weinberger.

Emerging technologies, new trends, data, social media…these terms have been incepted into our head and pushed us forward into a dynamic information era. We are told to be adaptive, trained to be competitive, and also required to be productive at work. To build a successful organization, we must be professional and avoid mistakes in every possible way. We calculate numbers, communicate with charts and reports, analyze pros and cons, and then implement or cancel a service as our statistics have suggested. I understand how it works and why it works this way, but still, something is missing for me.

Coming into library work as a service staff, I mostly work at the front desk and interact with our users face to face. They come to me with questions about the location of a book, a dysfunctional printer, the time of an upcoming workshop, and a broken stapler…Simple questions like this can surely be solved by technology, but why do we still need service staff at the circulation desk? We are so used to approaching users with reasons, numbers and new technologies, to an extent that we forget about the essence of providing services – the heartfelt interaction between humans – no matter how “inefficient” or “unproductive” it is.

Technology isn’t going to solve every problem for an organization, but people can. Technology appears to be so cool and sometimes they make people like me feel so small, but people understand your feelings and empathize with you. No one wants to be perceived as stupid or less capable, so when users come to us with a seemingly “silly” question, they are also revealing an unconfident self to us. What they need is someone who is empathetic and understanding, someone who does not judge them by their “silly” questions, someone who recognizes the “broken” bit within a human being and protects it gently. In my humble opinion, that’s the bit technology can’t provide, and that’s the “heart” of librarianship.

Source: Pinterest

References:

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Information Today.

Levine, R., Locke, C., Searls, D., & Weinberger, D. (1999). The cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual. Basic Books.

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.

13 Comments on “Everything human is at least a little bit broken”

  1. Hi, Ye,

    Your post really resonated with me; I couldn’t agree more that it is the human interaction that can make working in a library so rewarding. A colleague and I were discussing exactly this topic this afternoon after she had had a successful and pleasant interaction with a student. I work in a college library and spent the first week of classes showing first-year students how to print, where the staplers are, where the bathrooms are, and where the classrooms are—all necessary information for them to know. I also spent part of that week helping faculty adjust to hybrid classrooms and showed them how to use the new technology that was installed over the summer, so they understood it before presenting to a class. I try to “read” library patrons, calming down or reassuring those who are nervous, praising those who grasp something new. As you so beautifully state, it is “the heartfelt interaction between humans” that is the “essence of providing services.” Technology is definitely helpful, and I use multiple forms of it daily, but at the end of the day, it is “the heartfelt interaction between humans” that makes us smile and gladly return the next day.

    Best,
    Jodi

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts Jodi! I can imagine how wonderful it must feel to receive heartfelt services from your colleague as a student and I can also imagine how she felt after helping that student out. What you do for those first-year students can mean a lot to them, even though they are only asking about really simple questions.
      As a service staff, I really think it’s important to find our inner motivation and see our own value in fulfilling our role. All too often we remember those unpleasant encounters with users and tend to forget the “thank you” they say to us. Hope we all learn to look at the bright side of this job. 🙂

      Stay well,
      Ye

  2. What a wonderful perspective! I was heartened to hear how you are valuing the desk interactions which can seem simple or easy, but really do bring the “heart” to patrons. The constant push toward technology and looking to the future can often obscure the very human interactions with real physical books which remain a vital part of librarianship.

    • Thank you for reading my post Sarah! Our library is preparing for the Fall semester reopening and we are seeing a lot of freshmen coming in these days. As front desk service staff, we are the first group of people they see at the library, so we are trying to leave great first impressions! 🙂

  3. Hello Ye,

    I really resonated with your post. I appreciate your comparison between a tech-savy librarian and a librarian who is heartfelt and warm. Ideally, librarians should strive to have both qualities, but it is the warm culture of the library that continues to bring patrons back to the library every day. Being heartfelt and approachable is also how libraries will continue to entice new patrons to use library services. One of the reasons that libraries are unique is because they are safe spaces for everyone, and only a heartfelt librarian can create a space in which people feel comfortable.

    Thank you for a thoughtful post!

    Ciera

    • Thank you Ciera! I totally agree with you!
      Allow me to share another story here. Last year, we had a student asking about an online tool for her assignment, but nobody in our Access team knew about the tool. So we reached out to several departments and finally found the point person to help her. And guess what? The student applied to work for us as a student worker! She told us the biggest motivation was the heartfelt service she received from us (although we were not the people who really solved the problem for her). That was really a special moment when we heard that in the interview. No matter how hard and tedious this job can be, it’s all worth it!

      • I love that story! It must feel great to know that you made an a signigificant impact on them and that they wanted to apply to work at the library! Thank you for sharing!

  4. “Technology isn’t going to solve every problem for an organization, but people can.” Powerful insight. Thank you for sharing and reminding me.

    I loved your mentioning the patrons who come in asking a “silly” question. They are sometimes so embarrassed or bashful to approach. It’s so important for libraries to continue providing a kind and encouraging point of connection in offering the human connection in that moment. I’ve definitely had my moments of frustration while working the desk, but I have to always remind myself that all the things keeping me busy, the tasks I have to get done, have nothing to do with the person in this moment asking for my help. Even if it’s the millionth time I’ve been asked the same question today, for this person, it’s the first. And hey! Sometimes getting a million of those “silly” questions on repeat can make us change the way we offer a service, or the signage we have in the library, or something else, to help them out. It’s all about learning, adjusting, and listening together.

    Thanks again, I look forward to your future posts!

    • Hi Ariel,
      Thank you for your comment! “Even if it’s the millionth time I’ve been asked the same question today, for this person, it’s the first.” This is spot on! We only have to imagine situations where we go to a place for the first time, we would also have a lot of “silly” questions. Our users must feel the same.
      And what a powerful point you have when you say “sometimes getting a million of those ‘silly’ questions on repeat can make us change the way we offer a service”! I believe this mindset stems from the empathy and understanding you have for your users. We definitely need to be proactive and willing to take an extra mile to improve our services. After all, that’s the whole point of the human interactions – to support and bring out the best in each other.

      Really appreciate your comment!
      Ye

  5. Such a great post! I have always felt the library was about the people and community- about human connections. I think your post touches on that in a personal and great way.

  6. Wowza – this post resonated and the conversation here is great.

    This: “Everything human is at least a little bit broken.” Amen. Might be a good thing for all to take to …heart!

    One note: I think we can carry human interaction into the virtual, as evidenced by the numerous Zoom Happy Hours people had during our lockdown. My friends and I met every Saturday for 12 weeks. It was very human and most encouraging.

    • Thank you Professor! And yes, virtual interactions can be encouraging as well! Just look at all the fabulous comments I got under this post! Human interactions cannot be blocked as long as people are willing to reach out and share and be there for each other. How sweet is it that you and your friends have regular meet-ups despite all this! Thanks to technology, we are still able to stay in touch.

      Be well,
      Ye

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