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”.