Show Me The Awesome: Stop Calling It Self-Promotion

Artwork by John LeMasney,

It’s almost impossible for me to think of three librarians I admire and learn from more than Liz Burns, Kelly Jensen, and Sophie Brookover. They have acted as sounding boards, cheering squads, hand-holders, and inspirations for me in all aspects of my professional life. So, it was no surprise to me that they came up with an amazing way to help librarians talk about self-promotion: what it means, what it looks like, why we do it.  They called this project SHOW ME THE AWESOME.  Here’s an intro post from Kelly explaining it all.  SHOW ME THE AWESOME will run over the course of May, with a ton of librarians participating.   Already the past two weeks have been chock-full of great writing and insight into not just what self-promotion means but even great examples of  successful programs and outreach worth promoting. Believe me, you’ll want to read through all these amazing posts – they’re energizing and inspiring. So make sure you bookmark  this on-going round-up of SHOW ME THE AWESOME posts from Sophie.  It’s constantly updated and there’s SO MUCH good stuff there!

When I started thinking about what I wanted to discuss about self-promotion I thought of several programs I’d love to talk about or how I created a teen non-fiction collection or how I grew our manga collection and used it to wildly boost teen circulation.  Those were all serious thoughts and things I wanted to share and promote.  But then I came back to an idea that was even simpler.  I wanted to get all meta and talk about self-promotion itself.  And that’s when I realized that if you’re having problems with self-promotion, with the concept, with what it can do for you – it’s really very simple.

Stop calling it self-promotion.

Self-promotion is focused on self.  It’s the first word, after all.  Self-promotion sounds like someone who is focused on talking only about you, you, you.   It’s even has connotations that, gosh, if that person were any good – if what they were doing was any good – someone else would surely notice and then talk about and promote it without their interference.  So a self-promoter?  That must be someone who just wants to talk about their mediocre work because no one else will.

Think, instead, of having a conversation – of talking to someone about what you do and why you love it.  Think about your part in this conversation: how you’ll talk about what you did, the work you put into the project, the results you had in mind.  Think about this moment, this conversation, as one of sharing.

That sounds much better, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact, that probably sounds like something you do quite often, something you probably even enjoy.  That sounds like something you do at the salad bar and the grocery store and in small talk and, sometimes, without even being totally conscious of it.

It’s time to change that part.  It’s time to start thinking of ALL those conversations: the ones you have with colleagues, the ones you have with library and community stakeholders, the ones you have with friends who want to chat about your job,  as what they really are: self-promotion.

And yet you still don’t have to call it that.  You still don’t have to think of it as something you’re doing because you’re not good enough for someone else to do it for/about you. You can think of it, instead, as just the regular conversation about what you do, what you do in your library, and what you do in your professional life.  You can think of it as the way you explain to people that, no, actually, libraries are still very well used even though Google exists and yes, actually, lots of children and teens still love reading.  When you do this, when you do this with the clarity and passion that comes so naturally to every librarian I’ve ever talked with who believes in what we do, you are promoting not just YOURSELF and the work you do in your library and your daily life but the work all of us in our profession do.

And that, I think, is the most important lesson of “self-promotion” – it SAYS self right there and sometimes it FEELS like it’s all about self, self, self – what it’s really promoting is the value and critical importance of librarianship.  You might feel like you’re only talking about yourself, but you’re not.  You’re talking about the libraries and librarians a person has loved their whole life.  You’re talking about the things they had no idea we do now days.  You’re talking about the kind of dedication and innovation libraries in every single town in this country bring to work every day, determined to push on in the face of budget cuts and public naysayers.

In the end, self promotion, that word and concept you might struggle with or might even think doesn’t apply to all that “regular” stuff you do, is as simple as one thing:

you’re sharing the truth of what we do when you talk about what YOU do.