At the last ALA conference I was in a session with a handful of people ( in a very large space) and as the speaker droned on and on about her topic I heard bursts of laughter from another room - LOUD bursts of laughter. Suddenly I was no longer paying attention to this speaker but instead concentrating on how I could inconspicuously leave the room to see what was going on next door. I managed to "escape" and what I found next door was a room packed and I mean packed with people laughing and having the best time of their lives.
What a contrast to the room I just left. And sadly not only did that session have a really important message for libraries, the speaker was nationally recognized. But nationally recognized is a far cry from being a celebrity.
I've noticed there are a few people in our field who understand what it takes to be a celebrity. The man who had the packed room at ALA was Stephen Abram, he understands. Some other people who understand are Michael Stephens and Patrick Jones. Celebrities aren't always on a national level, I worked with a woman named Zarita Mattox who knew how to be a celebrity in her own community- remember that name because she will eventually be national as well. I'm sure you have your own list.
We are a nation obsessed with celebrities. It begins early in our lives when we begin to look at the most popular kids and think they have something we don't possess. Our culture attaches value to the rich, the successful, the famous... I heard recently that a group of kids were polled and indicated they would rather be famous than smart! So it is no wonder that some in the library field would like to be a celebrity.
Being a celebrity isn't being in an ivory tower. Celebrities are bigger than life but they are loved because we still believe we can be like them. They do all the things we wished we could do and more and give helpful hints every step of the way. Celebrities create makeup and perfume lines to help young girls look like them.... of course no girl is going to, but that is the allure after all.
When the State Library asked Stephen Abram to New Jersey last year there was an air of excitement. I hadn't met him before but a quick look at his blog gave me the idea that this was someone who was innovative. I was impressed that he offered his PowerPoint presentations freely and even more impressed at the list of other speaking engagements. His presentation was witty and informative- a speaking style that won over the room. His superstar attraction is that incredible intellectual humor spiced with a wee bit of "clean but off the cuff" Canadian humor. Its him and it works beautifully. Abram loves librarians and so he can poke fun at how they are while getting the message across of where they must go. What we can learn from him is that celebrities love their fans and offer everything possible to help them improve themselves.... not to be like him but to be a better them.
A link to Tame the Web was my first introduction to Michael Stephens and his blog. On my first visit there I read about where he was touring - all over the world. Then I noticed the graphic he used for his photo- a neat comic- and then began reading and noticed that not only did it seem he knew about every innovative librarian in the field, he loved what they had to say and shared the information in such a clear and concise manner that I could scan it all without ever getting bored. After that, it was like buying a Volkswagen and all you see are VWs on the road. Blog after blog seemed to mention Stephens. When he appeared in person there was a buzz of excitement and it seemed people wanted to be seen in pictures with him. It would seem that he is that cool guy who knows how to be laid back and excited all in the same breath. What we can learn from Stephens is that celebrities are humble about their own accomplishments but proud of all accomplishments because they produce a result that matters.
I first met Patrick Jones when he came to NJ to speak about teens and loved his personality. When I looked him up, it was evident that I was not alone in my admiration for him. He was dubbed Mr. Inspiration by Library Journal and that is indeed what he shares with his audience. I had video taped him and when I played it back there were moments when his voice was identical to the late Leo Basclia who had created a generation of "huggers". Jones is the "I'm Okay, You're Okay" guru . He lets everyone know he was the kid that didn't fit into libraries and then shows you how you can attract others so they don't miss out on what libraries can offer them. What we can learn from Jones is that celebrities remind us that before they were a celebrity there was mentor that made a difference- and that sometimes it is more important to be a mentor than a celebrity.
I think the most important lesson about becoming a celebrity is not to strive to be a celebrity. Celebrity marketing is telling your story fully. You can't name yourself a celebrity anymore than you can dub yourself "popular" - it is what it is. But along the way, you can do the things that you admire in others. It may or may not result in celebrity status but you'll be further along being the type of person you admire and that's really how celebrities are born...