Barnacles vs. Unicorns

Angela —  March 22, 2013 — 1 Comment

A few years ago, we had a staff in-service day. Our first speaker was a counselor who dealt with teen disciplinary issues. We thought that was the topic he would address, but instead, he gave us a rousing presentation on how we are  the only ones who place limits on ourselves. We use words like “can’t” and “won’t” to make choices that hold us back. More importantly, though, he spoke of those who embrace those limits — those personalities, processes, and decisions that slow an organization down. They act as barnacles, impeding a ship’s progress. He encouraged us to take a look at our ship and “Scrape those barnacles!”

Since then, we’ve scraped away any number of barnacles and we all scrub at the hull daily to make sure they don’t come back. We are often asked how it is that we have so much energy. We are asked how we all seem to get along so well. We are asked how we keep changing and innovating all the time. The answer to all of those questions is, oddly enough, “We’re headed toward the Land of Rainbows and Unicorns.”


This lives on my office wall. Art by Jen W., Head of Public Services

What started as a personal mantra turned into a management joke then transformed into an organizational philosophy. We have two departments; one manager is in charge of the rainbows, the other, unicorns. They make sure everyone stays on board for the journey. I navigate and make sure the helm is pointed in the right direction. I will tell you, if anything tries to pull us off course, I will cut that tow line quicker than you can imagine.

When talking with our technology supervisor one day, he asked “What if I don’t like rainbows or unicorns? What if I like something else like puppies or baseball?”

Hence there was born the Archipelago of Awesomeness. There are a number of islands, and each staff member can have their own or they can share. Some of them are named for my favorite things; some are other staff members’ favorites. Many are in-jokes. (Who doesn’t want to visit the Island of Misfit Books?) Each of my coworkers can have their own space that they are headed towards, someplace they can feel excited about and someplace we can help them reach. At the same time, everyone knows they are part of something greater than themselves.

There are always going to be day-to day issues to be taken care of in the library. There are always going to be long-term goals for library services that need to be achieved. We will always have to prove ourselves relevant to our community.

It just so happens that we will do those things with a tremendous feeling of unity and a good dose of humor.




Angela Semifero serves as Director of Marshall District Library, a relatively small library in Western Michigan where she has worked since 2006. She has worked in public libraries since high school, and she has a special love of working with small and rural populations. A regular presenter at conferences and workshops, she has been a trainer for several Michigan organizations and has taught as adjunct faculty through Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. Angela has served on a number of committees for MLA and Library of Michigan as well as national committees such as the Amelia Bloomer Project.   When Angela is not thinking about libraries, she is probably thinking about unicorns, musicals, her spouse, or Pretty Little Liars. Follow @somedayangeline

One response to Barnacles vs. Unicorns


    I have been to the Marshall District Library, and I assure you that it is exactly as Angela describes it.

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