Buff vs. Cream

Mary Kelly —  June 6, 2013 — 4 Comments

exixbuffSXTrue story – A long time ago, a manager I worked for was making a decision about stationery for the company letterhead.  The color choices were buff and cream. To my eye, there was no difference. Several of us watched this poor woman obsess for hours on the buff vs. cream decision. Employees were polled. Meetings were held. To this day, I have no idea which color won. In my career, both in and out of libraries, I have been held hostage by buff vs. cream decisions. People get bogged down by decisions like this all the time.

Libraries are very vulnerable to the buff vs. cream problem.  Try to remember your last staff or committee meeting. I remember a meeting when we were supposed to be discussing the OPAC and 80% of the meeting was devoted to the color of the text. Granted, you want to have text that is visible, but seriously – that shouldn’t have taken more than few minutes of discussion. Naturally, everyone had an opinion.

Are you venturing into buff vs. cream territory? Check yourself on a few things.

What is the cost of the issue in question? Are we talking about a decision involving thousands of dollars on a technology overhaul, or are we talking about weeding a two dollar paperback? Budget your obsession time accordingly.

What is the worst that could happen? I am often working with newbies (and veteran library staff) that are paralyzed by possibly making the “wrong” decision. Generally speaking, there are very few life and death decisions that library employees have to make.  Use your best judgment and make your decision, and then own it.

Have you gathered all the relevant information? You are information professional so make yourself your patron.

I know everyone out there that has ever worked anywhere has seen this in action in other people. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has been in some meeting where people debated lunch options more than any particular library issue.  Unfortunately, this will probably happen for the rest of your working life. You can manage your own decisions and productivity by reminding yourself of the buff vs. cream scenario from time to time.

Mary Kelly


Co-founder of awfullibrarybooks.net and library utility player. Lover of: library data, spreadsheets, collection quality, cats and cardigans. Follow me on twitter @librarymary40

4 responses to Buff vs. Cream


    Love this example! Decisions seem to incredibly important in the moment, but as you say, few decisions in the library are life or death. I sometimes ask staff to think about what the worst possible consequence of a wrong decision could be, and once we think about it in that framework, it’s often in the buff vs cream territory.


    What a great illustration!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Found: June 3 – 7, 2013 | Library Lost & Found - June 8, 2013

    […] We moved beyond buff and cream. […]

  2. Don’t Overthink It: How Librarians Can Conquer Perfectionism with Mindfulness « Library Lost & Found - January 19, 2016

    […] creative where it counts. If the choices are buff vs. cream, then even a mistake isn’t that costly. Put your time and energy into the decisions that really […]

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