What’s Your Signature Statement

Most academic librarians go through their careers performing a host of jobs and filling a multitude of functions. From selection to reference to instruction and more we are true workplace multi-taskers. But amidst all these different activities have you ever stopped to ask yourself what’s at the center of it all? What defines you as a librarian? What’s your signature statement?

Before we get to the statement let me share my source of inspiration. It involves revealing a guilty pleasure. I watch little television outside of the occasional sports event. But the one show I never miss since it began several seasons ago is Hell’s Kitchen. I have no rational explanation for this other then to say I get a kick out of shows involving restaurants; I never even watch food channel programs. I got hooked when I caught a few episodes of the short lived reality show featuring Rocco DiSpirito that chronicles his effort to open a restaurant. If you ever thought your job was stressful, demanding or just plain crazy, you are not even in the same league as to someone trying to open or run a restaurant.

Without going into great detail about Hell’s Kitchen just know that in the first episode each aspiring chef must prepare and present his or her signature dish – which Gordon Ramsey promptly trashes in the most humiliating fashion possible. Nearer to the end of the show the surviving two contestants usually prepare their signature dish for a panel of food experts in one of their final competitions. A chef’s signature dish, according to Ramsey, defines the chef. It sums up in a single presentation all their skills, and expresses their creativity and accumulated experience. The signature dish says “this is who I am”.

I’ve not thought much about this idea until just recently when reading through the book Crucibles of Leadership by Robert J. Thomas. On page 80 Thomas briefly profiles Bill Russell, perhaps the greatest basketplayer of all time; Russell played center for the Celtics team that won eleven championships. In the book Russell reveals that his earliest source of inspiration was his public library. He recalls a fascination with art books. He realized he couldn’t draw or paint, but marveled at the works of famous artists. The valuable lesson that he took away from his reading was that all the world’s great artists had a distinctive quality that Russell thought of as the signature statement. While he didn’t become the next Michelangelo, he did create his own signature statement and applied it to his overpowering defensive style to become the dominating player of his era (you Wilt fans may beg to differ). No one else could capture Russell’s signature style.

I have never heard an academic librarian express his or her signature statement. It’s not uncommon, I believe, for educators to have a statement of teaching philosophy, but if we’re educators how come we have no way of concisely stating what defines us as a librarian or educator. So my humble proposal is that academic librarians should develop their own signature statement that provides insight into the distinctive characteristics that define them as a librarian. To guide you, consider Thomas’ definition: a phrase or sentiment that serves as a source of inspiration that guides both the heart and the mind. Since my personal philosophy is to avoid asking others to do something that I wouldn’t or haven’t done myself, it’s only fitting that I take a shot at my own signature statement. I think my passions for keeping up, blended librarianship and design thinking certainly contribute to my signature statement. So here’s what I came up with:

Ideas and innovation inspired by a desire to learn in the service of my community.

Well, just like most of those signature dishes, it needs some work. If you are willing to create a signature statement for yourself, share it as a comment.

18 thoughts on “What’s Your Signature Statement

  1. Nice challenge Steven. I went through an exercise like this here in Australia last year and ended up with this, which sums up what I am about professionally:

    “To identify, communicate, publicize and provide training in the ideas, skills and tools our libraries need to ethically and peacefully enrich their communities”.

    But – if I was asked to be more concrete about my signature statement, I’d say it was scanning the horizon for new tools, ideas and ways of relating to each other and information, then banging them about enough to suggest future models and application. Then sending them downstream to someone else.

    I’m not focussed on being a good, steady plodder able to maintain large production projects or to manage staff (I’ll happily try to inspire and mentor, … but tell them what to do – Gah!).

  2. Being that I thrive best in a innovative, changing, and continually challenging environment, mine is very similar to Steven’s. I would break it up into two area, my present job and the profession as a whole.

    Inspired by innovation, change and constant challenges, I strive to give the TC3 community the best service and experience possible and I strive to be an innovator and change agent within the librarian profession.

  3. Hey, who are we cooking these signature dish-statements for? Each other, or our users?

    “Here’s the information you need. Here’s how you can find it, too.”

  4. Great, and challenging question. Here’s my crack at it: “Learning more IS doing something.” An explanation in full is fleshed out on my blog but I think it incites a level of activism as well as echoes the value of libraries as essential to the learning process.

  5. “Demystifying rare and special materials, to encourage an active, ongoing engagement with hands-on history.”

    Colloquially, “rare” doesn’t have to mean “scary”.

  6. To be there when I am needed, to help when I am asked and to share my knowledge with others.

  7. Good question from Robert. I don’t think it is for each other or the users. I think it is for you – as a source of inspiration and to keep you focused on why you make a difference. You could share it with others if you want them to better understand why you do what you do.

  8. Robert, I’d presume it describes the “package” that your library gets when they have you working there – what makes you special and stand out from other librarians … and then influences the flavour of the services given by the institution.

    For example, we all want to focus on excellent customer service and providing the best information possible – but what is your special blend and methodology to get there? Like all chefs (should) aim to create wonderful food that creates the experience that the user seeks, however they have a distinctive way of achieving this- which is epitomised in their signature dish.

  9. Not sure this entirely fits the bill, but:

    I’ll have the constant intellectual challenge with sides of service, creativity, comfort, coaching, and downright wacky fun! What’s on your plate?

  10. I try to live my life not reducing it to an elevator pitch.

    No slur intended on anyone commenting here… I just think the idea of making a slogan or a logline for one’s life is kind of comical.

  11. I’m a librarian because it’s indoors and doesn’t involve heavy lifting. Oh just kidding. I love all these mantras, they are great!

  12. Signature statement for patron interactions:
    “Together, we’ll get you to what you want.”

    Signature statement for what I do in libraries:
    “I do everything… except catalog.”
    or
    “I will do anything necessary for the library’s success, please do not ask me to catalog.”

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