May 22, 2018

The Long Game

kingsnake2It took me many years to figure out my favorite exercise routine. Bear with me, I will make this topic come around to libraries in the end.

I knew that the typical “spin class” that many have found to be their groove simply wasn’t for me. But finally, after trying ice skating, roller skating, and goodness knows what else, I found it. It was hiking the Sonoma Overlook Trail. It is a loop trail that winds up into the hills overlooking the town of Sonoma, gaining about 300 feet in elevation as it does. The shortest loop takes 35 minutes non-stop, the longest is 45 minutes.

So for the last several years that has been what I’ve done for exercise. I hike it whenever I can, which is anywhere from 3-5 days a week. Over time, I became a volunteer who maintains the trail, called the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards. It is our responsibility to keep the trail being the kind of experience we all wish to have — close to wildlife, true to the California landscape, and as free from as many human impacts — from trash to dogs — as we can.

As a part of this stewardship, we are trying to eradicate the invasive, non-native Yellow Star Thistle (see it above the California Kingsnake in the photo; believe me, I let the snake slither away before I pulled those). This is the second year that I’ve participated in pulling this weed from the Overlook Trail. It is also the first year that I’ve come to understand what we are up against. As someone I spoke to recently said, it can take at least four years of concerted effort to eradicate this weed from an area. After a season of deep commitment to eradicating it, I get it. I’ve spent a month, off-and-on, pulling it from the area, including pulling some today from areas that I’ve walked 3-4 times before. As a part of this, I’ve come to understand that we aren’t fighting a battle, but a war.

We are in a long game. And so are libraries.

So how do we best play the long game? Here are some ideas, based on both my experiences in libraries and in pulling Yellow Star Thistle:

  • Be relentless.I count myself lucky that my father grew up working Indiana farmland with his father as a little boy. There was no such thing as a day off. Neither could you simply take a break when you felt like it. He passed on that relentless nature of work to me, such that now I climb mountains with as much of an intense focus as he likely spent driving a tractor when he was six. We need to be just as relentless in fulfilling our goals as institutions that serve and empower our communities. Anything less would be shirking our duty.
  • Focus on the “now” as a brick in the wall of the future. If you are relentless, you understand that the long game is built one brick at a time.If you allow yourself to be discouraged by looking at the big picture, then you have already lost. But if you get that long journeys are accomplished one step at a time, you can push back the discouragement by focusing on the present. You will do this one task then you will do that one task again. Before you know it, you’ve accomplished something you had no idea you could.
  • Understand that it will take years to reach your goal. Since the long game is, well, long, you know that it won’t come soon. But to get you past this, check out the next point. Also, focus on taking one step at a time rather than looking at how far you have to go.
  • Understand that it is worth it. If you have set your goals appropriately, then the long game is totally worth it. In fact, some of the most important, game-changing events are only acquired through playing the long game.
  • Enlist others to your cause. Not only misery loves company, but also delight. The more the merrier. Many hands make light work. You get the point.

Many of you are likely already playing the long game whether you realize it or not. I would be interested to hear your reports from the field in a comment below. Let me know about the good and the bad about playing the long game and how we can help ourselves and other libraries play it better. I’m all ears.

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.