That sound you heard was the door to Alchemy creaking back open after a long, long pause. Besides the backlog created by snow day closures, there’s been a serious uptick in the amount and kind of work I’ve been doing, which has hampered my efforts to put together anything coherent in these chronicles. It’s really difficult to be witty and poetic when you’re up to your eyeballs in journal title spreadsheets.
It is not, however, impossible. Ergo, I give you my Hepburn post.
The day I received my MLIS, one of my professors shook my hand, gave me a very nice coffee mug as a token of the school’s appreciation, and proudly proclaimed, “Congratulations Leigh Anne! You’re a change agent!”
I was somewhat nonplussed by this. Remember, it was 2004, and the phrase hadn’t yet become a buzzword — at least, I don’t think it had. Despite the fact that I opted for electives in both management and library marketing, I’d never heard it. I figured it was a compliment, though, because the professor looked so happy. So I smiled and said “thank you,” and that was the end of that…for the moment.
The memory hasn’t faded, though. Off and on over the course of my career I’ve asked myself what that phrase means, or could mean, and how it compares to leadership. I’ve been watching leaders and managers for a while now, operating under the premise that I want to be a leader. But what if I’m just a really good change agent instead?
Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Which brings us to Audrey and Katharine Hepburn.
A Theory, With Disclaimers
Broad sweeping generalizations are fairly odious; moreover, I am the least qualified person on the planet to speak to possible archetypes of male librarianshp. Although I’ve admired the gentlefolk from both afar and anear for many a day, I would not presume to try to describe what it’s like to be a “guybrarian.” So one of you will simply have to pick up the “Gary Cooper / Cary Grant / Harry Caray” metaphor and run with it. Or craft something utterly delightful of your own. Or be a good sport and try to find your inner Kate ‘n Audrey as you read along.
That being said, ladies, let’s get down to brass tacks.
Even within the limitations of the archetype structure, it seems to me that you can tell a lot about librarians by determining whether they are more like Audrey Hepburn or Katharine Hepburn. To illustrate, I will examine both archetypes, listing strengths and weaknesses, and determine whether their qualities tend toward leadership or change agent-ship.
Please note that by no stretch of the imagination am I speaking of the historical personages Audrey and Katharine, the ones who had private lives and histories that obviously went much deeper than a superficial library blog-gloss can go. I refer, however, to the iconic Kate and Audrey we’ve built up in our minds, the ones we think of when we hear the name “Hepburn.” That is the whole point, after all, of an archetype: it’s a broad portrait of a certain ethos, not a granular portrait of a complex human being.
One final warning: you may already think you know where you are on this particular spectrum. Try to suspend your judgment until you get to the end of the essay. You may be surprised by what you find in yourself.
Audrey Hepburn: The Ladylike Leader
Three words: little black dress. Three more: Breakfast At Tiffany’s. One more for good measure: Givenchy. The Audrey type is redolent with class and sophistication, gentleness and grace, poise and good manners, humor and kindness. An open face with a lovely smile. Everybody loves Audrey, because you simply can’t hate her: she’s too darned nice. Even if you did hate her, she’d probably continue to be sweet and kind to you anyway.
The Audrey librarian is service-oriented to the point of self-sacrifice. Even if she’s drowning in her own work, she’ll gladly help you with yours, and never complain about it. The surliest of problem patrons melts in her presence because nothing ever seems to faze her, and she knows how to turn bad transactions into good ones with skillful listening and speaking. She has an uncanny knack of knowing when to enforce a policy and when to bend it, and because she is always kind and gracious to everybody, she can never be accused of playing favorites.
Audreys serve on every committee that invites them and volunteer for every extra opportunity they can. They’re also prone to bringing in donuts, cookies, or other baked goods to the office, most likely baked from scratch. If she does bring store-bought, she springs for the cute cupcakes from the gourmet cupcake emporium in the hip neighborhood. And again, all of this would be utterly unbearable if they weren’t really good cupcakes.
She’s good at readers’ advisory, reference, cataloging, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, storytimes, and organizing teen art clubs and Super Mario Kart tournaments. If the circulation desk is short-staffed, she volunteers to pitch in. If the library’s closed due to weather, she starts calling down the phone tree. She gives 110% all day, every day, and never, ever, ever complains, even though she hasn’t had a raise in 5 years.
Lest you think Audreys are too perfect to exist, let me assure you they have a dark side. Audreys have a bad habit of squelching their true feelings and accepting poor working conditions, because they don’t feel they have a right to complain. If they are not given enough praise and recognition by their supervisors, they will start to feel bitter. Audreys are also prone to overwork and martyrdom, and if they keep their frustrations bottled up too long, little things can set them off. Audreys also have a hard time asserting themselves, and tend to avoid conflict like the plague. Audreys may also grow to resent always being asked to take the leadership role, but are often unwilling or unable to delegate responsibilities to colleagues. Audreys are prone to burnout, and tend to suffer when their high ideals don’t match up to the sometimes dull realities of library service, especially in its administrative aspects.
Katharine Hepburn: The Challenging Change Agent
Two words: Desk Set. One more: trousers. Kates are loud, vivacious, and opinionated. They actively question policies, eye “the way we’ve always done it” with suspicion, and subscribe to the theory that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Kates avidly read professional journals and library blogs looking for cool new things to try in their libraries, and when they’re at the reference desk, the problem patrons tend to give them a wide berth, because they know no shenanigans will be tolerated.
Katharines love to learn new things. If they’re reference librarians, they’re curious about cataloging; if they’re children’s librarians, they want to know more about adult services. They loathe getting bogged down in the minutiae of administration, but at the same time they want to be a part of the bigger picture of library service. Kates are generalists rather than specialists, and don’t like to be pigeonholed as any one kind of librarian.
Much to the dismay of people around them, especially the Audreys in their organization, Kates like blunt, direct communication. If you want a Kate to do something, you can’t hint around or be subtle. However, once you tell her exactly what you want and when you want it, she will bend over backwards to deliver it. Kates don’t tolerate abusive behavior from peers or patrons, and they ask pointed questions about new policies or initiatives. If the emperor has no clothes, they not only say so, they take a photograph and put it up in their library blogs, and if you want constructive criticism about anything, you should ask a Kate first.
Like their Audrey counterparts, Kates too have a dark side that must be acknowledged. While they sincerely love and respect their colleagues, Kates don’t always play well with others, and may have difficulty finding a job situation where they fit in with the group. Kates don’t “do” the social graces very well, perceiving them as fake and phony, and may therefore come across as tactless, thoughtless, or just plain rude. Kates want to move forward as quickly as possible, both with their ideas and within the organizational structure, so they may become impatient, frustrated, and angry with those in her organization who resist change. They don’t always know how to communicate their visions in such a way that the rest of the group can relate to, and they may sometimes be overly critical of colleagues whose work styles and habits are very different from theirs.
Hepburns as Leaders and Change Agents
I’d like to stress that while the archetypes are very different, there’s no wrong way to Hepburn. After a lot of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that both Kates and Audreys could make very effective leaders, and that the variances are primarily of style rather than skill set: Audreys, who tend to catch more flies with honey, are excellent choices to lead departments whose employees already have strong working relationships; although their fear of conflict makes them less effective in situations where there are interpersonal conflicts, an Audrey who is willing to work with her shadow qualities can learn to become a compassionate, yet firm, leader who can graciously lay down the law, an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Kates, I must confess, lend themselves far better to being change agents. Change is scary and unsettling for most people, but Katharines thrive on it, and are extremely skillful at creating things that don’t yet exist. It’s not that Kates can’t be good leaders – the problem is, their visions are usually so outrageous that people might be afraid to follow. And unless a Kate is willing to work with her shadow qualities, and smooth down her rough edges a little, she may have a hard time convincing people that the horizons she’s pursuing are worthwhile ones.
In an ideal situation, you’d have co-leadership situations where an Audrey was paired with a Kate – say, an Audrey manager with a Kate senior staffer, or a Kate dean of students with an Audrey head librarian. Since the real is always far less than the ideal, however, a good place to start is with yourself: are you more like Katharine or Audrey? In which ways? What do you need to work on a little? Is there a Kate or an Audrey in your organization who could help you with that?
Now look at the organization as a whole. What’s the Kate-to-Audrey ratio? Who holds the major position of power – Kates, or Audreys? How do you feel about that? What archetypal qualities of either figure would best move your organization forward? How can you cultivate those?
Because this is a philosophical ramble, and not a scholarly study, I’m sure there are gaping holes in what I’m trying to do here. But I think it’s off to a good start. Now it’s your turn. What, if any, archetypal qualities rang true for you in this essay? Where did I miss the mark? Do you have another archetypal structure in mind that communicates your own perceptions more effectively?
Okay, that was entirely too much fun to think and write about. Back to more traditional work it is. But the next time we talk, I’ll have some things to say about anger, and how to handle it in an appropriate, professional manner.