Work Culture

I grew up in the Libraries at MIT, an institution founded on the principles of practical education.  The motto of MIT, Mens et Manus, captures the spirit of that philosophy–mind and hand.  For a young librarian it was a great experience to provide service to a bright and engaged campus community and to serve Nobel Prize winners, former Presidential Science Advisors, and the best of the best in terms of students from all over the country.

One of my favorite faculty members was Harold “Doc” Edgerton, an electrical engineer from Fremont, Nebraska, who, among other accomplishments, invented strobe photography.  (View the Edgerton Digital Collection (EDC) Project.)  Doc kept a collection of postcards of his photographs with him at all times and when you answered a reference question or held a door for him, you were rewarded with a signed card.  I still have quite a collection!


Milk Drop Coronet, 1957.  By Harold “Doc” Edgerton.

Doc’s life philosophy closely mirrored that of MIT:

  • Work Hard
  • Tell Everyone Everything You Know
  • Close a Deal With a Handshake
  • Have Fun
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13 Responses to Work Culture

  1. Yesssss! I like that philosphy–all four elements ring true to my Fedland experiences. Oh, and the “Have Fun?” Totally do wear blue hair on a day you are assigned to research room duty. (Yes until no?) Well, it was the day of our lunchtime Halloween costume contest, LOL. Thanks for posting this, Big Dude.

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  2. PS I like the typo after signed (cared for card). Unintended metamessage about how people in workplaces should treat each other? Hah! Actually, that worked out well for us in NARA/NLNP back in the day.

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  3. David Ferriero says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Maarja! Glad you appreciate the philosophy as much I as do.

    David

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  4. Dyung Le says:

    The fact is “having fun” is very important, if we want to be any good at any activities, be it work, hobby, volunteerism, exercises, etc. My former NARA boss – Dr. Ken Thibodeau – was very intrigued the first time I mentioned “having fun” as a requirement for my project. After a while, he became a convert and always ask me whether I’m having fun for future projects I worked on.

    “Doc” Edgerton was well known at MIT for having a very “open door” policy. You can drop in to see him anytime he’s in and muck around all you want with his lab set up. He was mostly gone by the time I got there, but his graduate assistants kept the spirit alive.

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  5. Donna Read says:

    Love the philosophy, particularly the second bullet, “Tell Everyone Everything You Know”. It is those who share their knowledge abundantly that create a culture of giving and support. The old school thought of keeping your cards close to your chest and not sharing information is a penurious mind set that stifles progress.

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  6. Cholewczynski, George says:


    Greetz from New Orleans . . .
    When Marie came on board at the “Toot,” I told her she was in “workers paradise.”
    It was the best employer I ever had, and remember our softball team – the “Biblio-Techs,” which went on to win the league championship – burning book tee-shirt stood up to the heat !

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  7. Great philosophy, even greater to see it starting to spread.

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  8. @Donna Read – to say nothing of the old school archivists who thrived on and defined their value by being individual sources of knowledge and didn’t take succession planning and institutional needs into account, LOL. So not the way to roll (“it’s not about you, archivists!”). Yep, knew a few in my time at NARA.

    On the larger issue, I think it goes beyond asking people directly whether they are having fun at work. Sometimes you have to intuit things and read unarticulated needs.

    Cool to see a convo going here, u go, Big Dude!

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  9. Jerry says:

    Great post, David. Reminds me of my University of Georgia days working in the main library’s cataloging department … Trying to understand MARC format, filing paper subject cards and helping the one Chinese-speaking librarian decipher the vast, uncataloged Chinese monographs. Good times. I want to see more of Doc’s photo post card collection! – Jerry

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  10. Reference question for you, Big Dude (taking you back to the old days, LOL.) I looked at the Edgerton Collection at your link at the start of my lunch break. Really cool stuff there. Aren’t these Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in this photo? http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/galleries/museum/hee-nc-40015?nowrap They aren’t identified as such. If so, do you know how he came to photograph them? I’m thinking of using that one in one of my weekend posts. Can do it as a generic photo but many more layers of meaning to examine, if they are who I believe they are. (Have read a number of bios of Garland.) Thanks!

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  11. Mike Wash says:

    I met Dr. Edgerton in the late 1970s when I was developing a xenon flashtube manufacturing capability at Kodak. His work with stobe photography was fundamental to our efforts to deliver this capability in Kodak cameras. He signed copy of his book me that I still have. Great guy!

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  12. Question withdrawn, Big Dude, I Googled that at the end of my workday. A Smithsonian site suggests it may be this picture (their youth in the photo does indicate 1940 to me; I’ve seen a number of their films from that time period). http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=38556 I don’t know how Edgerton came to photograph them, but I’ll research it myself over the weekend as I ahve time.

    Have a good weekend, thanks for a fascinating post that took me down the usual rabbit hole of thinking about and looking up related information.

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  13. Big Dude (aka AOTUS), I made a mistake here at your blog. And then blogged about it. And then blogged about my mistake. Transparency. LOL. Sorry, Big Dude and thanks for your patience.
    http://nixonara.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/i-made-a-mistake-not-the-first-or-last-time/

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