The Paradox of Relevance

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So often in the library literature we read various prescriptions for “remaining relevant”. Some librarians adopt that as an unofficial mission statement. Their strategic goal is to “stay relevant.”

I think we should stop talking about how to remain relevant. Being relevant isn’t a goal, it’s a by-product. If we focus outward, on how we will contribute to our communities, and not inward, on our own “relevance”, we will discover much to our surprise that we have become not only relevant, but indispensable. And that’s the paradox.

Let’s go a step further. In an interview (Harvard Business Review, March 2014, p. 128), John Cleese (of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame) talked about his foray into management training. He said, “…we decided that the ideal leader was the one trying to make himself dispensable.” Let’s be those leaders. Let’s adopt the goal to empower our communities and contribute to their success. Let’s build and field the tools and resources they need, even if especially when it might mean they don’t keep coming to us for the same old things. If we keep trying to work ourselves out of a job, we might find the next job they’ll want us to tackle is just crying out for our attention. And that’s the paradox.

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One Response to “The Paradox of Relevance”

  1. Anita Says:

    As a Library and Information Science student, I found your comments that librarians/information professionals need to stop talking about staying relevant truly eye-opening. You’re absolutely right that we need to focus more on our communities. The “dispensable leader” is an interesting management model; work ourselves out of a job and into the next one.

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