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How to be “famous” (wink wink, nudge nudge)

I was an unrepentant smoker for many years. I considered it my business and nobody else’s until the day in 1988 when I walked outside a building at Hahn Airbase to light up, and an airman who had wandered outside for the same reason said, “Oh, cool. An officer who smokes!” Then lit up a cig himself.

In 17 years of smoking I had never seriously tried to quit, but sudden self-awareness, followed by guilt, were great motivators. Two months, untold quantities of Nicorette gum, and one cracked tooth later, I was a successful, if cranky, ex-smoker.

Which leads me to today’s post, which is a bit of beginning-of-year, pre-ALA-conference thought-gathering. Without ever intending to, I have become well-known in my profession, and at some cycles in my librarian career have been quite visible. (Outside of librarianship, I’m anonymous, and that’s fine. I use quotation marks in my title because industry-specific fame is highly relative; I am sure there are star-quality ichthyologists, not that I can name one.)

Along the way to “fame” (wink wink, nudge nudge) and (mis)fortune, I’ve learned a few things, sometimes the hard way; some of them are strategic tips; some are observations; and some have to do with responsibility.

Like it or not, you are a role model. I list this first because if you don’t hear anything else, hear me when I say that old coots like me may take you with a grain of salt, but if you are an It Girl or Boy, everything you say or do has a good chance of being absorbed by newer librarians. Women in particular often have difficulty with the idea that they have power and influence. Get over yourselves: what you say matters.

Pace yourself. I’ve watched more than one flavor-of-the-month librarian take it all on and then flame out in a year or two. It’s easy to agree to do it all; actually executing all those tasks is another issue. Your family and friends may not appreciate how when you return from your big speaking gigs you need to hole up to finish some shiny project before you leave for the next gig.

One reason I backpedaled on filtering gigs was after giving dozens of talks in one year (on top of a day job) I was travel-fried, to the point where the slightest hitch or problem (a delayed flight, something I forgot) could cause me to burst in tears in the middle of an airport — as I did when I expensively cabbed to the wrong SoCal airport too late to get to the right one. (I have a friend who travels a lot who once was so burned-out she arrived at a conference with an empty suitcase; she had forgotten to pack her clothes.)

Slow down, cowboys and cowgirls. You don’t have to take on every single speaking gig, every book or article, or every extra-cool project. Pick strategically and pick well.

Pull your weight in your non-famous life. Probably the highest compliment I ever receive is to hear that at work I’m “just Karen.” I work hard to be “just Karen,” and that includes being careful to do my part of the effort. I don’t rationalize that the special opportunities I get, such as speaking engagements, are a fair exchange for whatever work they actually hired me to do. Likewise, I always said I was elected to ALA Council three times simply based on name recognition (as were some people who clearly don’t belong on any governing body), but I worked hard to pull my weight on Council as a peer.

All About EveDon’t let ambition turn you into Eve Harrington. Remember All About Eve, where an ingenue claimed to be Margo Channing’s biggest, bestest fan, then walked all over her? Let your friendships be sincere, and don’t use people or filch their ideas and then “forget” to acknowledge them.

On the flip side, some people will latch on to you for no other reason than you’re well-known and you’re useful to them. Don’t worry, they’ll disappear when your star fades.

Help up-and-comers, especially people who may have a hard time getting selected for particular roles. I’ve served in at least one professional capacity where it was obvious that female predecessors had slammed the door behind them. Keep that door open and pull people through it. For example, Code4Lib is offering minority and female scholarships this spring to their 2008 conference. Can you recommend someone? Can you give someone the inspiration to go? This is a great conference, and could even be a career-maker for the right person.

Also, share your favorite dark horses with the people recruiting speakers and writers. They will appreciate hearing about fresh voices, and the new people will appreciate the leg up.

Tap the peer network for advice and insights. Do you suspect an honorarium is too small? Are you being asked to ride in a truck with chickens and goats in order to get to a speaking gig? (Actually, that sounds rather fun, but maybe not more than once.) Does that great publishing opportunity benefit everyone involved — except you? Does something not smell right, feel right about an “opportunity”? You’re probably right. Email other people who have boldly gone before you. It could be you just need to negotiate a little harder or be warned about a handler’s goofiness, but forewarned is forearmed.

What goes up must come down. In the Internet filtering wars of the late 1990s I was a flavor of the month. I gave over 40 talks about filtering, published an influential book, wrote articles, and had a website on the topic. At some point LibraryLand’s focus shifted to other issues; additionally, other people became well-known on this topic, too. Yielding the stage is an act of graciousness.

Don’t be shocked, shocked when people approach you for your influence. You clearly don’t mind being visible, so why would it bother you when you’re approached to comment on a book or report, or provide a recommendation for someone? Where you don’t want to take action, a simple “No thanks” will suffice. That doesn’t mean you have to spend every minute responding to requests; if the request is truly absurd, you may ignore it without comment.

Some stuff needs to stay unsaid. When you’re highly visible, a little self-awareness and discretion go a long way. So-and-so at Your Place Of Work may be a creep or a jerk, or your boss may have done you seriously wrong, but ask yourself if you’d want to read tell-all blog posts where these people listed their takes on your shortcomings. (This reminds me of a time when my sister and I fumed to an older friend how our mother was making us nutty, and she replied with a grin, “You’re probably doing the same to her.” Oh.)

Similarly, you may be in the throes of a personal or professional meltdown and feel the need to share the details with several million of your closest colleagues, but consider carefully how much of your life you want to share in perpetuity — as in, like, forever.

Be gracious about proffered advice. Even if you don’t agree with the advice, unless it’s entirely outlandish (drink Drambuie for breakfast! go braless to job interviews!), thank the person who took a risk sharing it with you, tuck it away, and revisit it later. I remember some years back when my friend Nann advised me of mannerisms that flawed my speaking style, and I’m still glad — not just that she gave me that advice but that I had the good sense to think about her comments with an open mind.

Be gracious about solicited advice. In a similar vein, a lot of people may come to you for advice, some of which you may be able to provide. Even when I can’t help someone, I try to give them a reasonable referral.

Some people will resent you no matter what. I’ve had to get comfortable with the fact that some people really do not wish others well. Some will badmouth you publicly, and even worse, some will badmouth you sotto voce. I hesitated about even writing this post, which I’ve been thinking about for close to a year, because in my head I hear a voice making snide remarks about so-and-so thinking she’s hot stuff (hence also the cautiously qualified title). But hence the next piece of advice:

Own up to your own feelings. I spent years whining that “so-and-so doesn’t like me” before I got honest with myself and acknowledged that the feeling was mutual. Likewise, boycotting an activity because another famous so-and-so was invited is also not cricket (yup, seen it happen, thought about doing it myself). Be an adult, please. You may not think highly of this person, but someone does, so put on your best public face and do what needs to be done.

Keep a sense of proportion. Don’t assume that because you’re well-known, your poop don’t smell. We’re all a bit broken, just like we’re all a bit wonderful. There are many amazing librarians who don’t happen to be well-known, and will do many amazing things and yet never be “famous” (wink wink, nudge nudge). Being well-known (even on the miniscule professional level) is kind of a fluke, like being able to sing or having a photographic memory, and the skill sets that led to your wink-nudge-famousness don’t have a heck of a lot to do with how well you do in the rest of your life — the full span of which will turn out to be much, much larger than all of your “famous” moments set end to end.

Posted on this day, other years:

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  1. Sorry for any confusion — I gave it a post-date that was in December!

    Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  2. Dan Kleinman wrote:

    What an EXCELLENT post! And how did you break a tooth quitting cigarettes?

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink
  3. David Fiander wrote:

    One really must wonder what part of your smoking cessation program led to a chipped tooth.

    (Don’t you hate it when all the comments are completely irrelevant to the point of the post?)

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  4. David, I let the comments wheel and dive where they want to go, so it’s fine. :-) I chomped on Nicorette gum nonstop and with such ferocity that I cracked a molar (my back teeth are vulnerable anyway, as they have short roots).

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  5. Thanks for a great article written in a style I adore.

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  6. Julie wrote:

    Terrific advice! And you are sounding more and more like yourself, which must mean you’re happy :) Good for you!!

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  7. Linda Absher wrote:

    Thanks for the advice, Karen. Just remember: if you hear the awkward clicking of Manolo Blahniks behind you, don’t say you weren’t warned. ;-)

    Linda “It’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride” Absher

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  8. A movie with great lines! “I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.”

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  9. Excellent advice! But I always go braless to job interviews, and I aspire to drinking Drambuie for breakfast (but for the cost). Anyway, I’ve been saying, sotto voce, for years, “she’s great!”

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  10. Steven, didn’t you get the memo about always wearing a “man-bra” to job interviews?

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  11. Oh yeah sure, fancy pants. Another great blog post with all that wisdom and tried and true advice stuff. When are you going to develop a real talent for phoney-baloney eh? :)

    Seriously, the parts that I ken ring true and the parts that I do not ken I am taking to heart as great advice. Thanks for bring this post forth, however long it was stewing in the brew.

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  12. Meredith wrote:

    I believe it’s called a “Manziere”. Or maybe “bro”? ;)

    I think that holding the door open thing is something everyone should take heed to; “famous” or not. No matter what position we’re in, there’s always someone out there greener than us who we can give a leg-up to.

    I totally agree with you about the finding balance thing; it can be hard to say no sometimes and then you end up so over-committed that you finally snap. The best thing about turning down a speaking engagement is being able to talk up the people you think are fabulous and just aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

    I struggled for a while with the “do I deserve this attention?” thing. The fact is, there are lots of people doing great things who get no recognition and there are people who are recognized for not doing all that much (I hope I fall somewhere in the middle). And, while it has some pretty great benefits, it’s hard sometimes to be in the public eye because there will be people who really don’t like you and not even based on you as a person (since you’ve never met) but what you represent to them with your writing or speaking or persona. On the other hand, there are people who like you/idealize you just as irrationally as those who don’t. It probably evens out in the end.

    Interesting post. I’m with Ryan; may not agree with everything, but I like anything that makes me think.

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  13. Anne in AZ wrote:

    Once again you’ve said it well. By golly, I’ve starred the post via my google reader to my personal blog and shared the post via my google reader to a shared google stream on another person’s blog.

    Then I’m putting a link on the internal word document newsletter I post on the work intranet.

    FYI: good luck with the finishing smoking stuff. I used the lozenges and still cracked a tooth. Ask your dentist, I don’t think it’s unusual for anyone who is setting smokes aside.

    Best wishes and thanks for your insight over the years. Long may you wave!

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  14. Aw, thanks, Anne! Yeah… the mouth does know what it misses. Took me another five years to really not have days when I wanted a cigarette.

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  15. Laura wrote:

    Aw, don’t tell me that another five years stuff on the cigarettes – I’ll make a year in March (and I will make that year, followed by the one after and so forth). I’m in the middle of planning what I get to do to celebrate.

    But this is all good advice, even for those of us who aren’t “famous” – whether in library land or elsewhere.

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Permalink
  16. Laura, the good news is I don’t miss them at all now! But even in that five years, most of the time I didn’t think about cigarettes. Just watch out for crises and vulnerable moments. Keep candy at hand ;)

    Monday, January 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  17. My great grandfather is supposed to have said, when asked about how he quit smoking (cold turkey), “The first ten years were the hardest.”

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  18. Doug Johnson wrote:

    Hi Karen,

    I really, really enjoyed this post and will recommend it to a new cohort of up and coming ed tech “stars” as well.

    All the very best,


    Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  19. Thanks Doug! I peeked at your blog — lovely stuff.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  20. Ouch, I’m not a star and some of those hit too close to home for comfort. Thanks for writing about them and sharing.

    With appreciation,

    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  21. thanks, I plucked this pin-feathers from my own, wiser body. Miguel, I see you shining in your own firmament…

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  22. Kathy wrote:

    Thanks for the great advice!! I’m president-elect of state library association and keep thinking “who am I?” I especially appreciated your comments about being a role model, being gracious and whining. This one is printer-worthy!

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  23. alice wrote:

    I’m a stranger that just wandered in here but some of this advice is good for the general populace too. I would dearly love to send it to my boss (anonymously of course! Meow.)

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  24. You mean “fundament” don’t you?



    Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  25. Alison wrote:

    This is a post full of great advice, and it’s particularly well-timed for me. :) Thank you for sharing and keeping the door open!

    Friday, January 11, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  26. Karen, this is a great post! As a relative newcomer to the profession, having you provide a “how to” list is really great. I’ve just starting publishing, taking on book reviews and blogging. Your post is a reminder that I don’t have to become “famous” overnight. Just participating in the profession, seeking out opportunities and taking the time to learn will help. Thank you!

    Friday, January 18, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  27. Laurel, don’t let this hold you back — but I agree (and so does Jessamyn), pacing is key!

    Friday, January 18, 2008 at 7:44 pm | Permalink
  28. Jonathon wrote:

    Meredith said, I think that holding the door open thing is something everyone should take heed to; “famous” or not. No matter what position we’re in, there’s always someone out there greener than us who we can give a leg-up to.

    I think that for a lot of people, they’re afraid that if they give someone a leg-up, they’re just going to get kicked, or stepped on. . .

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  29. Jonathon, once or twice in my life I have been stepped on or kicked by people I have helped, but in the long run, it’s been a good thing, not just for the people I’ve helped but for me as well. You have to have faith that most people will do the right thing.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  30. Bill Drew wrote:

    Great post.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

9 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Flavor of the Month | Library Stuff on Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    [...] K.G. Schneider – “Along the way to “fame” (wink wink, nudge nudge) and (mis)fortune, I’ve learned a few things, sometimes the hard way; some of them are strategic tips; some are observations; and some have to do with responsibility.” [...]

  2. LibrarySupportStaff.Org » How to be “famous” on Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    [...] particular post, titled How to be “famous” (wink wink, nudge nudge) is a week old, and by some magic involving RSS, the internet, and some type of little creatures [...]

  3. Shameless Self-Promotion « Collections 2.0 on Monday, January 7, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    [...] Range Librarian, Karen Schneider suggests that, perhaps, one should be care what one asks for! But her post is full of great advice. So, as I move [...]

  4. links for 2008-01-11 « Spinstah on Friday, January 11, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    [...] How to be “famous” (wink wink, nudge nudge) (tags: tips careers) [...]

  5. Good peoples « Library Peon on Saturday, February 2, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    [...] probably doesn’t hurt, though, that she wrote a post about how to be a good role model. OK, so it wasn’t entirely about being a role model; it was about how to be good peoples at [...]

  6. Shine Like a Star, Star (Update) « Agnostic, Maybe on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

    [...] looking to get notice) within the field and what it entails. He makes reference to an older post “How to Be ‘Famous’” by Karen Schneider that works as a good companion piece. The focus of her piece revolves around [...]

  7. Top Ten Links Week 44 | Librarian by Day on Monday, November 8, 2010 at 7:48 am

    [...] read it. then read it again. even if you aren’t “famous” How to be “famous” (wink wink, nudge nudge) I came across this old post by Karen Schneider through the magic of Twitter and the Internet last [...]

  8. Last Week in Library News (D’oh!) « The Litbrarian on Monday, November 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    [...] posts from David Lee King, Andy Woodworth, and Nancy Dowd (there was also a link to an old one from K. G. Schneider floating about). All of them have to do with relative fame, how to get it, how to keep it, and what [...]

  9. [...] felt even better when a few months ago I stumbled across an old post of Karen Schneider’s How to be “famous” (wink wink, nudge nudge) in which she writes: Some people will resent you no matter what. I’ve had to get comfortable with [...]

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