In praise of small things


A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling a bit despondent about whether our Emerging Technologies Group is going in the right direction. We’ve chosen our first project – it is joyous, creative and collaborative and can involve lots of our staff and our community, but is a bit… well,… “fluffy”. I can see the value in it, but I wondered whether more traditional librarians would find it lightweight, and whether it looked like we were putting energy into trivia.


Avalanche uploaded to Flickr on October 19, 2006 by ben-der

So, I was extremely heartened when I read the May 2007 issue of Walt Crawford’s Cites and Insights. He’s begun a new column celebrating “small successes”. Here’s the passage that cheered me up and made me feel like our small project was worthwhile.

A note about “small successes”

When I use that term, it is not intended to demean the success. It’s an attempt to honor it, noting that something doesn’t have to be world changing to matter. The growing set of microloan programs for third-world mini-entrepreneurs is a classic “small success” approach: $25 here and $100 there may mean more in some cases than a multimillion-dollar project. An effective reference blog in a library may do more than a universal blogging program, even if it begins and grows slowly. Two local libraries making a handshake agreement and using (gasp!) the telephone as a basis for communication: it won’t revolutionize either library, but it does provide significant additional resources at the point of need.

Small successes add up over time.

This week I was reminded that not every librarian who can see the benefits of Library2.0 technology is lucky enough to have management willing to embrace it.

Helene Blowers, who designed the Learning2.0 social software course, posted about being at the Computers in Libraries 2007 conference and meeting many, many frustrated librarians who want to start projects using new technologies but are:

stippled [sic] and oppressed by stale management and old world politics.

She wonders

if what the profession really needs is just to give some administrators a good swift kick in the head.”.

In conclusion, however, she joins the chorus in praise of small things:

It’s hard to fight battles through small change, but with enough small battles, it creates some erosion. And the thing about erosion is … that if it continues long enough, it eventually leads to an avalanche of new opportunity!

So next time I feel like a project that brings new attittudes to our library is small and insignificant, I’ll be chanting my mantra “Small successes are potential avalanches, Small successes are potential avalanches”.

9 thoughts on “In praise of small things

  1. Where I work, I call it “baby steps”. I try to celebrate every move forward no matter how small. These small successes build momentum.

  2. Yes, and as we know, babies grow into running and leaping adults. You’re right about celebration. This is so important, along with publicising those successes.

  3. When I first started my library career (a little over a year ago), I kept on telling people about “big” things that we should do. Everyone smiled, nodded and continued doing exactly what they were doing already.

    I then started coming up with little ideas to improve the library experience for staff and clients, and they seem to have had a bigger impact.

    Death by a thousand paper cuts!

    Also, hello Kathryn! I didn’t even notice your comment on my somewhat neglected blog until today.

  4. Hi Kathryn,

    Hallelujah! You speak what I would like to say… it is so difficult to infect others with my enthusiasm and unshakable belief that these “small successes” can lead to something big (like an avalanche!).

  5. Matthias. I think it’s even harder for a new grad, even someone with your tech background, as you don’t have the years of experience to give you “tradlib cred”. You can be easily dismissed as an eager puppy who really has no idea – which would be sooooo frustrating when you probably see the gaps in service more clearly because you haven’t been working around them for years.

    Do your small projects sometimes feel like you are building not only credibility for the tool, but for yourself as a professional also? I guess it happens for all of us, but even your little projects would have more riding on it personally, I’d imagine? Keep on hacking away with the A4.

  6. Janice. and Aaaa-men. That’s why I think it’s so important for us to sing to the choir sometimes and for librarians who have small successes to share them. So we can keep on being enthusiastic and know that in some library out there, someone is implementing what we’d like to do, and that their action is bringing our library that bit closer.

  7. Well, the new “Making it Work” section in Cites & Insights isn’t specifically about celebrating small successes–but I am a great believer in small successes. I don’t know about avalanches; maybe I’m not one to believe that avalanches are what we need. I believe small successes can become continual improvement–and that, to me, is a lot more important than avalanches or revolutionary change.

    Anyway, thanks for the mention. Maybe my response to “administrators who can’t see the value of Library 2.0” is that you shouldn’t try to sell the (amorphous, ill-defined) package. Sell one small piece with one fairly clear benefit. Then another small piece with a related benefit. Then show how they fit together (do they?) and how patrons respond (do they?). And it all starts to add up.

What do you think? Let us know.