Thursday, January 17, 2013

30th Year Reflections/31: Personality

“Whatever the circumstances of your life, the understanding of type can make your perceptions clearer, your judgments sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire.” — Isabel Briggs Myers

The opening quote is found on the web page for the Myers & Briggs Foundation, the folks connected with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test/instrument. I think I’ve taken the MBTI® at least three times in my life and each time I’ve arrived at roughly the same personality type result. I mention this not to disclose my type, but to say that it was very much on my mind last week as I screwed myself up to attend an event on the East Coast that is important to me and my work. I say “screwed myself up” because I do not find comfort in large crowds of people. I work better in small groups and one-on-one situations. For me to enter into the fray of a dinner or cocktail party with a multitude of people in attendance takes some effort on my part. Once I’m there and engaged in individual or small group conversation I’m fine, no problems. But the amount of effort it takes to crank up any level of excitement and motivation to get myself from the comfort of my hotel room to a large venue is at times mind boggling.

Some who know me well might be surprised by this revelation. After all, I speak regularly to large groups and classes and find enjoyment in those acts. But I think those cases are different, for I am engaging a group in a different way. In a more social setting, where the conversation can at times be, frankly, a bit tedious, I am not in my comfort zone. And yet my work calls me to such venues, to such conversations, as a way to engage people with similar interests in the work that I and others do here in my own setting. I need to bring my best game to such situations, to be engaging and personable, to call on other reserves in my own character and being to create meaningful relationships and engage people where they are, at their own point of need or interest. At those times I need, in some ways, to break out of my “type” and become something a little bit different or more expansive. I don’t in any way view this as artificial or “phoney.” It just means that I need to stretch myself in those circumstances to something larger, and perhaps even better, than that place where I feel the greatest comfort and where I reside most of the time. Stretching ourselves is good and we should probably do it more often.

I mention this, in part, because of the continuing stereotype that exists for librarians. I generally don’t like to talk about our professional stereotype because I think, for the most part, it is nonsense. Collectively we’re a varied bunch, a wild garden of delight, taste, and color. And yet, we’re viewed by the majority of the populace in certain set categories. Everyone has their own idea of the prototypical librarian. And they’re wrong.

I remember another time I took a personality test as part of a professional development exercise with a group of librarians in the Chicago metro area. In this case it was the 16PF [Personality Factor] Questionnaire. As I recall, the test was administered by someone associated with the FBI. The questionnaire was administered during one session and some time later we reconvened to have the results explained. What I remember most from that second session was the look of utter amazement on the face of the examiner as he passed the results back to us and began his analysis. We were, he explained, all over the map with our scores; it was not something he had anticipated. He had his own set view of what librarians were and they were false. Our scores on these personality factors “blew him out of the water.” He admitted to his own stereotype and felt chastised by our results. It was a good day to be a librarian.

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