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Remembering My Father

youngdadandkids_116 years ago today my father died. I think of him often, and miss his wit and guidance. It is also not lost on me that he was just about 10 years older than me now when he died. As I grow older, I remember him and our time together differently. There is a nuance where I am either understanding our time together differently, or I am simply projecting my own time as a father into his actions.

As a bit of a remembrance of dad, I’m posting another excerpt from my new book The Boring Patient. It is the first time that I have really written about my dad and his passing. I also think that my father, as the consummate salesmen, would appreciate me using his memory to drum up sales.


The Family

Once my medical team suspected cancer my wife called my mother to tell her the news. My mother, who lives in Ohio, was in a car in Tennessee on her way to Florida when she got the call. She found the closest airport and flew to Syracuse the next day to be with me and help out at home.

It took me a few days to truly understand the depth of my mother’s concern. Somehow in my 40s I had forgotten that I was still her son. If my son was diagnosed with cancer you better believe I would be in that hospital room. My mom was there for the first chemo, and she was there when we had to tell my two sons what was going on. In a way my father was there too, even though he had died over 15 years ago at just 55 years old.

I was at my father’s bedside when he died. He had gone to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain. He had a gallstone (thanks genetics). Normally, as I have said, this is painful, but not dangerous. Your liver makes bile, a soup to help you digest fats, and stores it in the gallbladder, which spits it into your small intestines via the bile duct when you eat. A gallstone is when some of this soup hardens sitting around in the gallbladder. If that “stone” finds its way to the bile duct and gets stuck? Ouch!

momdaddaveIn a small part of the population the bile duct joins up with something called the pancreatic duct before it joins the intestines. The pancreatic duct delivers digestive juices (technical term) into the small intestines. The problem is if a gallstone stops up a joint duct like this, particularly just after you have eaten: not only do you get the pain of a backed-up gallbladder, the pancreatic juices also back up into the pancreas, causing acute pancreatitis. There is no elegant way to put this: the pancreas begins to digest itself. If this can’t be controlled, these juices begin leaking out of the pancreas and this leads to organ failure. My father was part of that unlucky population.

I was 28 when this happened. I still think about my father every day. By the time I got home to be with him the doctors had put my father into an induced coma for the pain. He never woke up. He died surrounded by my mother and me and some friends. As we told stories and laughed celebrating his life his vital functions slowed. At the moment his heart stopped a doctor and nurse rushed into the room to revive him. However, he wanted no “heroic measures,” and his doctors had made it very clear that they had done everything that could be done and there was no chance for recovery. So my mother, with a strength I cannot fathom, stayed the hands of the doctor.

hatondavidI would note, however, that his heart, an organ that he had struggled with (a quadruple bypass, multiple stents, and endless battles over smoking and a bad diet) was the last thing to go. “Listen son, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” he would say as he downed a fried baloney sandwich. After his bypass he had me bring Kentucky Fried Chicken to his hospital room. I believe it was my father’s final “screw you” to the doctors that the heart went last. He was a man with a great sense of humor so I wouldn’t put it past him.

My father’s death made me (and still makes me) think a lot about my kids and being left fatherless. I have two sons that my dad never got to meet. Riley was 12 when I was diagnosed. Andrew was 9.

There was not much debate between my wife and me when it came to informing the kids. Be open and honest and ready to answer all their questions. I don’t think the idea of hiding my condition from my kids ever really occurred to us. Yet, I have had several folks tell me about having a parent die of cancer, and never being told what was going on. They told me they are still dealing with that as an adult. We didn’t want that.

For Andrew the talk was relatively easy. Daddy is sick. He has cancer. He will be tired and probably lose his hair. Andrew didn’t really have a grasp on death and such, so to him, it was just some more information. “Can I get ice cream now?”

Riley’s talk was tougher. There are way too many ways in which my eldest son is like me. One way that was evident during this conversation was using humor to mask our emotions and/or break the stress. With every bit of information he made a joke while clearly tearing up. Finally, at the end he said, “Yeah, but it’s not like you’re going to die.”

“Actually son, yes, I could die.” May you never have to say those words to your child.

The only thing that saved me from breaking down at that point was having my wife and mom in the room. “But grandma had cancer, and she’s fine. Uncle Joe had cancer, and he’s fine.” Never mind that he remembered Joanne who had died from cancer, and his good friend’s mother. Riley is smart. Riley knew the possibilities. Later, however, Riley would also be the first to make jokes about my lack of eyebrows and hair. All of Riley is smart, including his ass.


You can read more about my family and our trip through cancer in The Boring Patient, now on sale.

Behind the Scenes of Expect More

Some people have commented on how “prolific” I am with a new book coming out just a year after the Atlas of New Librarianship. What they don’t realize is that I actually finished writing the Atlas at the beginning of 2010. That also included doing all the illustrations and maps. It then went into a 13-month production cycle. Along the way there was printing out 1,300 pages of paper, stripping of all of Word’s automated indexing, and burning CD’s. It got me to thinking there must be another way.

So here is a behind the scenes in FAQ form of what lead up to the publishing of Expect More:

Who is the publisher of this book?

Short answer: I am. The paper book was created and is distributed by CreateSpace, a self-publishing platform. For that reason they assign the ISBN and show up as the publisher in places like Amazon. Same with the eBook and Smashwords.

What is Riland Publishers then?

It was useful to create a legal entity to process payments and do tax stuff, so Riland is a sole proprietorship that my wife and I run. That’s why the URL is riland.org.

Riland?

A combination of my sons’ names Riley and Andrew.

Why not use MIT Press and ACRL like you did with the Atlas?

Let me be VERY clear. I love ACRL and MIT Press as publishers. They do their work very well. The Atlas is a beautiful published piece, and I am still blown away they could make what is basically a coffee table book for $55 when every other library-oriented publisher I’ve worked with can’t seem to get the cost for a paperback under $75. Margy Avery and Katherine Deiss are brilliant, and absolutely committed to scholarly communication and forward thinking. They have also been very supporting of this effort and I could not be doing this without their ideas. I am also convinced that publishing with MIT Press and ACRL was instrumental in my promotion to full professor last year.

So why self-publish?

I was looking for more control over the process, a better return on investment, faster production, and to get an inside look at new possibilities in publishing (including the reality of selling ebooks). I also do a lot of talking about everyone being a producer and consumer, and I wanted to experiment more with the production side of publishing.

Why Smashwords for the eBook?

It is DRM free, and supports most eBook formats. I’m also hoping they will distribute it to other eBook stores like Barnes & Noble’s online store. Thanks Buffy Hamilton for the pointer.

Why CreateSpace for the Print Book?

I was intending to use Lulu.com for my on-demand printer, but CreateSpace has better tools and frankly better Royalty arrangements. They also have direct posting of my book into Amazon’s stores that I felt was important to reach the general audience.

Should we expect more books from Riland Publishing?

Anything is possible, but right now my intention is not to build yet another publisher. I look at this as a place for my self-publishing efforts. However, it would be great to use it to publish the work of promising students and librarians as well. We’ll see.

Why should librarians read Expect More?

My last book, The Atlas of New Librarianship was written exclusively for librarians. It has received a lot of good attention. However, one stream of feedback I have received was “it is great for librarians, but what about my board/faculty/provost/principal?” I have been often asked to help communicate the concepts of new librarianship to non-librarians (and frankly some resistant librarians who don’t go in for 400 page books with a map).

Since the Atlas has been published I have visited with friends groups, higher education administrators, public library boards, and school administrators talking about the possibilities of libraries and librarians. Over that time I have both honed the message to non-librarians, and extended my thinking. For example, the Atlas talked a lot about librarians, but not much about the institutions of libraries. That was deliberate. I wanted to see if we could define the profession outside of the building. In Expect More, I explore the value of the institution (as well as librarians).

Expect More adds three new ideas to the new librarianship discussion: Library as Platform, The Grand Challenges of Librarianship, and Defining Librarians Beyond the MLIS. It does so in a “read and pass” approach. What I really hope happens is that librarians read the book, then pass it on to their members to have a conversation.

So is there stuff in there you already know as a librarian? Yup. If you’ve read the Atlas will this just be a repeat? No. Certainly some of the Atlas concepts are there, and in some ways Expect More is a sort of gateway to the Atlas: A gateway for librarians to get a sense of new librarianship before they tackle the Atlas; and a gateway for the ideas of the Atlas to the wider community. But there is also new ideas, and new directions. What I intended was to give progressive librarians a tool for community engagement. Elevate the discussion of libraries in communities from books, ebooks, and nostalgia to action, community aspirations, and improving society.

Loved the Atlas and want to energize your board or talk to your administration about moving beyond books? That’s where Expect More comes in. I wrote it to be a fast one-sitting read for the busy decision maker. I wrote it for paper-back and ebook. I tried to make it affordable. It has a cute fish on the cover – everyone loves a cute fish!

One last note. I am fortunate to have an international readership. The Atlas came from a primarily North American perspective. Expect More is written with U.S. communities in mind. I use U.S. stats for example, and a lot of the roles of libraries in democracy have a distinctive U.S. flavor. However, as with the Atlas, the larger concepts I hope translate. If it doesn’t, I’d love to come over an ocean for a year and spend some time making the international edition.

Expect More Sampler

Here is a sample chapter (Chapter 1) and the Table of Contents of Expect More. You can see a slightly larger sample if you go to the SmashWords site and use the HTML viewer to see the sample.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements iv
Introduction 1
A Special Note for Librarians 2
1. The Arab Spring: Expect the Exceptional 3
2. The Argument for Better Libraries: Expect Impact 9
Collective Buying Agent 10
Economic Stimulus 13
Center of Learning 16
Safety Net 17
Steward of Cultural Heritage 19
Cradle of Democracy 20
Symbol of Community Aspirations 24
3. The Mission of Libraries: Expect More Than Books 27
I Love Reading…No Really 33
Mission to Nowhere? 34
A Mission Based on Higher Expectations 39
4. Facilitating Knowledge Creation: Expect to Create 41
Library as Facilitator 42
What is Knowledge? 43
Expanding the Definition of Facilitation 47
Teacher, Librarian, Tinker, Spy 58
5. Improve Society: Expect Grander 59
Expecting More Than Pie and Prostitutes 61
Of the Community 62
Walled Gardens 66
Grand Challenges 67
Is My Library that Grand? 71
6. Communities: Expect a Platform 75
Library as Platform 76
Libraries as Place 83
7. Librarians: Expect Brilliance 87
Librarian by Hire 87
Librarian by Degree 88
Librarian by Spirit 92
Salzburg and a Few of My Favorite Things 93
The Facilitators 96
Adding Up a Librarian 98
8. Action Plan: Expect More 101
Action Plan for Great Libraries 101
Action Plan for Bad Libraries 103
Action Plan for Good Libraries 111
About the Author 113
Index—Expect More 115

Sample Chapter:  The Arab Spring: Expect the Exceptional

The Arab Spring had come to Egypt. In early 2011, on the heels of a successful revolution in Tunisia, Egyptians took to the streets to demand reforms from a government regime that had been in power for nearly 30 years. While much of the media fixated on protestors who occupied Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, many protests started in the port city of Alexandria. In Alexandria, as in Cairo, people from across generations and the socio-economic scale rioted to demand liberty, justice, and social equity. In an attempt to restore the constitution, what was seen primarily as a peaceful uprising lead to the deaths of at least 846 people, and an additional 6,000 injured[1] across Egypt. On January 28 at 6 pm, after the prisons had opened, releasing murderers and rapists onto the street, all security withdrew from the streets of Alexandria. Roving gangs of looters took to the streets to take advantage of the chaos.

In Egypt’s port city, the violence and looting devastated government buildings. Where offices once stood, only burned-out rubble remained. Protestors went from building to building pulling down the symbols of corrupt power. Some looters and protestors then began to eye the Library of Alexandria.

President Mubarak, the focus of the uprising, had opened the modern library in 2002 at a cost of about $220 million. According to the library’s website, Mubarak built it to “recapture the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original,”[2] the famous ancient Library of Alexandria—one of the wonders of the ancient world.

As it became apparent that the library might be in danger, protestors joined hands and surrounded the Library of Alexandria. Their goal was not to attack it or raid it, but to protect it. Throughout the protests and looting, the protestors—women, men and children—stood firm and protected the library. In essence, they were retaking the library for the people. After the uprising had subsided, when President Mubarak had stepped down and the protestors were celebrating their victory around the country, not a window of the library had been broken, not a rock thrown against its walls. Why, in the midst of tearing down the regime, did the people of the nation protect the library?

Why?

Why are stories like this, while maybe not quite so dramatic, repeated across the U.K. and the United States? As cities faced with a devastating financial crisis sought to close library branches, citizens rallied. Protestors disrupted town halls and city council meetings. Citizens picketed, and in Philadelphia, the City Council went so far as to sue the Mayor over the closing of libraries.

In Kenya, the government is building public libraries throughout the country, in rural and urban areas alike. Where the communities are too remote, they have built book carts—5,000 books in a wooden cart pulled by donkeys. In the even more remote northern sections of the country, they strap carts and tents to camels. Inside the villages, the carts are opened and the tents erected to allow parents and children an opportunity to learn. In these villages, camels provide transportation, labor, milk, and meat; even their dung is dried to power stoves. Now this essential animal is seen as providing another critical service: bringing knowledge to the people.

In the countryside along the coast of Colombia, Luis Soriano urges along his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto. On the backs of the donkeys are crates of books. Luis, a primary school teacher by trade, carries a sign reading “Biblioburro.” He is bringing books to small villages and spreading literacy throughout the countryside to children who have seen too much violence and conflict for their years. He began with 70 books. Through donations he has grown the collection to over 4,800 volumes, far past the capacity of his four-legged friends. He now houses the collection in a half-built room that has become an official satellite to the Santa Maria Community Library, some 180 miles away[3].

We find libraries in the finest castles of Europe and in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street populist protests in the States. Libraries are embraced by the elite and the commoner alike. We find librarianship in jungles and deserts, in schools, corporations, and in government agencies.

When we try to discover why, we find that there is power in libraries and steel in librarians. It goes deeper than tradition, buildings, and books. The reason for the protests and protectiveness over libraries is not found in collections of materials or columns and architecture. To find the answer to this riddle, one must look past the buildings and the books to the professionals who, throughout history, have served humanity’s highest calling—to learn.

Libraries and librarians stood at the center of a growing Egyptian empire in the third century BC and the expansion of mathematics in Arabia in the fourteenth century.[4] Libraries helped bring Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, and helped democracy thrive in a post-colonial United States of America. Now, with the advent of the Internet and a new digital age, librarians are once again pointing the way towards a better society, founded in knowledge and giving respect to diverse views. This book is about what libraries and librarians can tell us about creating a brighter future and what kind of libraries and librarians we are going to need to make that future a reality.

Today’s librarians are using the lessons learned over that nearly 3,000-year history to forge a new librarianship based not on books and artifacts but on knowledge and community. They are taking advantage of the technological leaps of today to empower our communities to improve. The librarians of today are radical positive change agents in our classrooms, boardrooms, and legislative chambers. They built the web before we called it the web. They were crowdsourcing knowledge and searching through mountains of information before Google, before Facebook, and even before indoor plumbing. Today’s new librarians are not threatened or made obsolete by the Net. They are pushing the Net forward and shaping the world around you—often without your notice.

The field of librarianship represents an investment of nearly $7 billion in the U.S. and $31 billion worldwide.[5] In an age when traditional institutions are declining, library usage has grown steadily over the past twenty years. Did you know that there are more public libraries than McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. and that Americans go to libraries nearly three times more often than they go to the movies?[6] By understanding librarians and libraries we can understand how to build credibility and trust in a community overwhelmed with change and choices. We can discover how to create an environment to disagree and maintain a civil discourse. Ultimately, by understanding new librarianship, we can even understand something as grand as the role of a citizen in society.

Perhaps the biggest “why” question you can ask, and the one at the center of this book, is why do so many people see librarianship as antiquated, conservative, and less-than-inspiring? Why is it that while folks love the idea of libraries and librarians, they are quick to limit them to books or children, or simply think of them as historical holdovers? The answer is not that these people are wrong, but that they need to expect more. Too many libraries are about books. Too many librarians are reliving history and are stuck in a sort of professional conservatism that favors what they do over why they do it. Too many librarians see their collections, not the community, as their jobs. Too many libraries are seeking to survive instead of innovate, and promote the love of reading over the empowerment of the populations they serve. I am not claiming that these librarians are the majority, but they are too numerous and their communities (you) expect too little of them.

This book is written not for those librarians but for the people who either support or oversee libraries. This includes college provosts, students, parents, board members, volunteers, and, well, just about everyone who has ever gone to school or pays local taxes. You need to know what libraries are capable of, and you need to raise the bar on your expectations.

Throughout this book you are going to find examples of amazing libraries and librarians. Today, many in the field would call them exceptional, just as you might call the librarians in Egypt and Kenya exceptional. This is the root of the problem. These libraries may have been in exceptional circumstances, but their dedication to service and their connection to their communities should not be seen as exceptions to the norm. They should be the norm to which all libraries aspire.

In this book, you are going to read about a public library that has created a Fab Lab—a space where the community can work with 3D printers and make new inventions. You are going to read about a school library where the librarian is too busy helping teachers raise their performance to shelve books. You are going to read about librarians creating new companies in rural Illinois and transforming lives in Dallas. These are brilliant libraries and librarians, but if you see them as exceptional—as above and beyond the norm—you expect too little of your library.

Here is the key to a successful library: you. In a city or a Fortune 500 company, the library must shape itself around you and the goals of your community. If your community strives for greatness, the library should be great. If you are concerned about the future, or the economy, or the future of democratic discourse in this country, your library should be concerned as well. If you make these expectations known, if you arm yourself with what is possible and not what is, then the library and librarians can meet those expectations and goals. Of course, this is a two-way street. Great libraries expect a lot of their communities as well. Yes, great libraries require financial support, but even more than that they require open communication about your needs, your challenges, and your dreams.

This book will not be a love letter to libraries. I am not trying to turn you into a librarian. Instead, this is meant to begin an honest and realistic dialog about the place of libraries and librarians in your communities. Join me now as we explore the true potential of libraries and librarians.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Egyptian_revolution—Yes, a librarian and university professor just cited Wikipedia. I do it a lot throughout the book. There is nothing inherently wrong or non-credible in Wikipedia. In fact, it is more transparent in the construction of information than most published encyclopedias. I cite it because it is easy for the reader to get to, it is a great jumping-off point through references to other works, and I have verified the information in other sources…like we all should do.

[6] American Library Association (2010). Quotable facts about America’s libraries. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/ola/quotablefacts/QF.3.8.2010.pdf

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