Creativity, personalities, librarianship, and Susan Cain’s Quiet – A TTW Guest Post by Sarah Liberman

Back in 2012 I had watched Susan Cain‘s TED Talk on how introverts can share ideas, a talk otherwise known as “The power of introverts” (video below). I purchased her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking… And it sat on my (virtual ebook) shelf for long time — a very bookish, very librarian, guilty habit.

Until now. After several years in the MLIS program, listening to and conversing with classmates, this report became an opportune assignment! As I read Cain’s book, I found myself reflecting on creativity and motivation, the diversity of personalities we encounter in libraries (or, really, anywhere), and how being quiet (and learning to become quiet) holds importance to librarianship.

Creativity and motivation

Innovation has cropped up often in our forums and course materials. It’s a challenging concept to grasp — like sighting a muse! Consenting to be quiet — moments of solitary thought, the freedom to deeply research a topic or task, and permission to daydream or become temporarily bored — becomes a source of creativity and motivation.



As Dan Pink did in Drive (2011), Cain encourages us to allow ourselves, introverted or otherwise, to play with or focus on (depending on your inclination) the concepts of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Those pathways, I believe, will likely lead us and our colleagues towards innovation.

For mastery, Cain cites psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the intellectual-emotional state of flow:

Flow is an optimal state in which you feel totally engaged in an activity—whether long-distance swimming or songwriting, sumo wrestling or sex. In a state of flow, you’re neither bored nor anxious, and you don’t question your own adequacy. Hours pass without your noticing. (Chapter 7,

In the software world, we said we were in the “zone” when highly creative or productive — this is flow! As a counter example, I had found flow impeded when working in an open office layout. One day, a manager demanded I answer the door; one of my peeves is answering doors and phones when am not expecting someone — surprise avoidance is strong in many introverts. I was in the middle of troubleshooting, and there were others closer to the door. Why me? Because I’m female, because I was younger at the time? (I’m a GenX-er, and the manager was a Baby Boomer. Perhaps there was some internalized/subconscious sexism on the part of the manager.) The big aggravation was the expectation to be easily interrupted and hurry-up-act-now. Suffice it to say, once I raised my head, paused, and explained that I was in the middle of work (in spite of continued protests to “Just get up and open the door!”), another colleague (closer to the door and more interrupt-driven) had already let the visitors in.



That incident from many years ago occurred within the space of less than a minute or two. It also demonstrated how introversion (and motivation) could encourage autonomy — unless stifled. Had the office space been less open (e.g., cubes or simply divider screens), I think I and other introverted engineers would’ve felt (and became) less…of a target, as it were. Moreover, persons of all temperaments (and ages and backgrounds) could benefit from stepping back to offer more flexibility and tranquility.

If solitude is an important key to creativity—then we might all want to develop a taste for it. We’d want to teach our kids to work independently. We’d want to give employees plenty of privacy and autonomy. Yet increasingly we do just the opposite. (Chapter 3,

Introversion, extroversion, and the diversity of personalities

Or, how the old Shhh! from librarians can be transformed into something more welcoming and liberating. Along the scale, I fit somewhere as an ambivert with strong introvert tendencies. I love meeting up with friends and going to conventions, and having enriching one-on-one conversations. But if I’m busy or ill, I can become overwhelmed, wanting to isolate and insulate myself from the world. My compromise is to slow down — or, rather, remind myself that I can slow down, do less, select what to do, and when necessary, say How about later? or even No.

After reading Quiet, I hadn’t realized that the fear of public speaking is more widespread than the fear of death. So I have a lot of company there. Despite this, I learned a heartening approach: a presentation, a lecture, a speech can be treated like a passion project. Moreover, this touches on Pink’s final motivational idea of purpose. For my reference information and services course (Libr 210 with Dr. Johanna Tunon), I was anxious about presentations, but three things settled my mind: First, I’ve always been fascinated by controlled vocabularies, an LIS topic that many find opaque — why not create a tutorial? Second, it wasn’t live (whew!), so recording allowed me to do the project in small bites. Third, the instructor pointed us to many possible tools to play with, to let us select something that best suited us and the project.

prezi screenshot.fw


It’s a bit rough around the edges and has a few omissions, such as forgetting that taxonomy is a commonly used term (oops). But my Prezi tutorial on controlled vocabularies using food resources wasn’t too shabby (requires Flash for interaction, but there are free Prezi mobile apps) — and was fun to develop. It also helps that food is a topic that fills me with zeal. I’m still nervous about giving live talks, but I think Cain’s advice definitely orients me and others in a helpful direction.

If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. (Chapter 7,

Furthermore, this quote brings up some relevant issues with the introversion-extroversion spectrum — that we are more than a collection of “simple” dichotomies. I appreciate how throughout her book, Cain emphasizes how diverse we are; for instance, how there are anxious introverts, stable introverts, anxious extroverts, and stable extroverts (Introduction, Yet part of me wants to super-simplify this by using the following quick and dirty definition, because it removes the “baggage” of unhelpful terms such as shy, loud, productive, leadership, thoughtful, perceptive, sensitive, compassionate, sociable, warm, wise, communicative — because any of these terms could and do apply to people anywhere on the spectrum.

Introverts get exhausted by social interaction and need solitude to recharge. Extroverts get anxious when left alone and get energy from social interaction. (Kiosowski, 2015)

Stromberg also points out the risks of getting caught up in labels and dichotomies, by describing how the Meyers-Brigg test might seems fun at first blush, but could be narrow-minded in the long run. Such quizzes might wind up becoming pigeon holes where people are separated not only by subject areas, knowledge, and skills — but also where opportunities for collaboration, personal development, and organizational evolution and success might evaporate.

Librarianship and being (becoming) Quiet

Quiet illustrates multiple ways where we could act to avoid the stagnation of librarianship, and to work towards breaking down silos within LIS institutions. Mathews’s “Think Like a Startup” (2012) demonstrates how cross-disciplinary collaboration can inspire creativity and innovation in a library. Consider how effective use of Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads can spark ongoing, many-to-many discussions and readers’ advisory exchanges among librarians and patrons.

In addition, the future of libraries means more than preservation and access to resources and service — though believe me, those are mighty important! To remain relevant, the LIS field should recall these two huge points:

  • You want to share all this knowledge, right? Regardless of formats, tools, or abilities.
  • You want to aid everyone on how to best access and assess information integrity, yes? Finding the best ways for users, viewers, students, patrons, and researchers to find, to create, to investigate, and to evaluate are fundamental tenets of information literacy.

If we fall into complacence, misconstrue disruption, or disregard the user-centric experience, then as Denning described, libraries could become irrelevant and more likely to fail.

dinosaur comic-631.fw


Sure, the Library of Alexandria burnt down — but libraries exist, great and small. They can and do offer programs and items that connect organizations with individuals (DOKLab in the Netherlands, Oak Park’s Idea Box, the Darien Library Catalog, just to name a few). True, libraries these days need to struggle for funding and increase advocacy, such as a convenient book burning.  Also true how we can clash among ourselves due to differing interests, priorities, or personalities. But if we learn to become and recognize quiet, however briefly in however a manner, we can improve library innovation and continue to inspire others as well as ourselves.


Anders, C.J. (2012, August 9). The right way and wrong way to let your mind wander. io9. Retrieved from

Bored and Brilliant. (2015, January 12). The case for boredom, part 1. Retrieved from

Burnett, L. (2011). Save the Troy Library, “Adventures in reverse psychology.” Retrieved from

Cain, S. (2012, February). The power of introverts [19:04 video]. TED Talks. Retrieved from

Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking[ebook]. Retrieved from the Apple iBookstore.

Denning, S. (2015, April 28). Do we need libraries? Forbes. Retrieved from

Kiosowski, T. (2015, June 25). Let’s quit it with the introvert/extrovert nonsense.Lifehacker. Retrieved from

Liberman, S. (2014, December 8). A tutorial on using controlled vocabulary [interactive Flash presentation].
Retrieved from

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup.

Munroe, R. (n.d.). Loud party. xkcd. Retrieved September 19, 2015, from

North, R. (2005, August 2). The great library of Alexandria. Dinosaur Comics. Retrieved from

Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us [ebook]. Retrieved from from the Apple iBookstore.

Quiet Revolution. (n.d.). Unlocking the power of introverts. Retrieved September 19, 2015, from

Stromberg, J. (2015, April 14). Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless.Vox. Retrieved from


To embark on her third career, Sarah Liberman is an MLIS student at San José State University. She has a passion for information accessibility, user-centric design in software and LIS services, intellectual freedom, and metadata wrangling. She enjoys technologies new and old, natural history, food, webcomics, podcasts, and speculative fiction. Occasionally she investigates things that glow in the dark. She can be reached at sarah dot liberman at sjsu dot edu.

Author in the basement at Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, © 2015 S. Fraser