A piece of the puzzle

design, librarianship

Yesterday afternoon, I got the opportunity to give a brief presentation on the software project I’ve spearheaded at a gathering of the Arizona Read On community, a group of folks representing different organizations in the state that are interested in issues related to children’s literacy. More than interested in the issues, actually. It’s a group that’s interested in really, truly addressing the problems we’re facing.

I’ve met with the group (or different gatherings related to it) a few times now. It’s always a humbling and eye-opening experience. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve worked in government for so long, but, for the most part, my expectations of meetings and partnerships are pretty low. I guess, to at least some degree, that’s my own fault- these things are what you make them. But, all the same, a lot of strategic planning sessions of various collaborative efforts result in a lot of intangible, vague plans. I don’t like that. I like specific things I can actually do.

Luckily, this isn’t the case with Read On Arizona. Under the guidance of Terri Clark, the State Literacy Director, this community effort has already made significant progress. Many different organizations (government, education, nonprofits) have built complex webs of collaboration in many different communities. At the meeting, I met two people I’d never met before who were willing to help me with big things I’d been logistically stalled on. That’s really cool.

I’m excited that the software project I’m working on is big enough to be considered by the audience I met with today. From the beginning, I’ve done my best to make sure that the value of the software extends beyond libraries and into the larger educational community. Hearing from people like those I spoke with today reaffirms that those efforts were worthwhile. I love the idea that my vision, seen through other eyes, is taking on different applications and meeting different needs.

I really need to write more in-depth about the project here. I will do that soon. In short, it’s an open source summer reading management software. There are other proprietary services out there that do the summer reading thing, but there’s nothing as nice as what we’re building. It’s got built in literacy activities to help children learn, a badge-based incentivization system, and a robust administrative backend that makes statistical reporting a breeze. I’m happy to say it’s getting great support in the library community. I’m even happier to say it’s finding support outside of the library community.

At the end of the day, I like going home feeling like I’ve done something useful for my community, whether that refers to the customers I serve in my geographic area or the other people in my profession. This software has given me that feeling many, many times. In recent weeks (and yesterday’s gathering was a great instance), I’ve learned that I also like going home feeling like I’m supported and that other people value my contributions. I suppose that’s simply a sense of validation. But it feels like more. It feels bigger.

I guess, then, what I’m trying to say is that it’s wonderful to do great work. It’s admirable to create something that is needed. But don’t forget to support others in your community who are working toward the same goal. It would (and has been) very easy for me to experience a sort of software development tunnel vision, where I’m focused only on my own project. But talking with other people shows me that what I’m doing fits into a larger goal, a greater vision.

Make sure you experience the views from both sides: creation and support. Do something amazing, but remember to also support other people doing amazing things.

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