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.