Focusing on a single question can be a compelling way to guide a personal career. It can also be an intriguing way to guide an organization.
Visions, missions, strategic plans. We’ve all got them, along with committees and studies and reports that can seem like they weigh us down as much as they light a path to the future.
Here’s another way to think about where you’re taking your library: Ask a question, just one question. It sounds too simple, but that’s the beauty of it. The hard part, the interesting part, is finding the right question.
In “What’s Your Question,” social changemaker Jeff Raderstrong recounts a conversation with Lucy Bernholz, Stanford’s self-described “philanthropy wonk,” on how articulating a single question can shape your professional life. Bernholz “never came up with quarterly goals or yearly plans,” writes Raderstrong. “Instead, she has always followed the path of what she called her ‘one question.’”
She said all of her career has been built around the answer to this one question that has been nagging her in the back of her head for years. She said she didn’t know how to articulate it at first, but over time she has been able to understand it more clearly.
To her, that question is, “What’s private, what’s public, and who decides?” If you know her work, that question makes perfect sense. If you don’t, you might not understand what she means, but that doesn’t matter, because she understands it. And she has been working to find the answer, or at least get closer and closer to the answer.
Focusing on a single question is a compelling way to guide a personal career (OK, so Bernholz gave herself a three-part question; it’s a complex world out there). It’s also an intriguing way of guiding an organization, especially in an era when the organization’s purpose is already being pondered. Could we apply the concept to the library itself? What if we thought of the library as a living entity with a single question, a core purpose that drives her very existence?
Your library probably has some sort of mission or vision statement that’s meant to guide and inspire everyone affiliated with the library. Could that statement be turned into a simple human question, one that would lead the library and her community along a path of curiosity? A question that would truly inspire her? One that would point her in the right direction, toward answers, at the same time it let her discover new tools and skills and opportunities along the way? A question that would channel her energies, drive her decision-making, and direct her use of resources over time?
“How do people capture and share their stories?”
“What do people need to become engaged and informed citizens?”
“How can I help my community become fully literate?”
“What resources best support lifelong learning?”
What question is your library trying to answer?
Website of Lucy Bernholz, visiting scholar at the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.
Illustration by Cherezoff, courtesy of Shutterstock.
What if we thought of the library as a living entity with a single question, a core purpose that drives her very existence?