Book Review: Invisibles

cover imageZweig, David.  Invisibles : the power of anonymous work in an age of relentless self-promotion. Portfolio/ Penguin, 2014. also available as an online audiobook

During my 33 years at Duke, I often hear faculty members say how much they love the Ford Library.  They cite deep collections, seamless data, and beautiful buildings, but it is rare for anyone to acknowledge the people who make this all possible.  To faculty members, the librarians who select materials in anticipation of their needs, the catalogers who make them “discoverable” online, and the IT managers who license and provide data at their fingertips, are almost invisible.  Even reference librarians, once the public face of the library, are now anonymous, as research assistance takes place through email and IM.

Journalist David Zweig explains why.  In his book, Invisibles, Zweig shows that for professionals with key technical skills, the better they perform, the more they disappear.  It is only when mistakes happen that these specialists are noticed at all.

While Zweig does not analyze libraries per se, he uses many other examples of complicated work.  He begins at the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta, where he interviews the man responsible for designing the cues (maps, signage, lighting, color) that direct millions of confused and disoriented passengers to their next destinations.  He then moves on to the world of perfume, where a “Nose” follows a meticulous process to create new fragrances for clients.  While Invisibles are found in all walks of life, many Zweig’s examples are from the arts, including architecture and music.

The people that Zweig calls the “Invisibles” are happy in their anonymity.  Invisibles develop an expertise within a field and find meaning in the challenges that the work presents.  As masters of their craft, they enjoy taking on more responsibility and working collectively with others.  Invisibles are deeply respected for their skills by co-workers but do not seek rewards or recognition from those outside their professional group.  For Invisibles, excellence is its own reward.

This book is recommended for all, but most especially for the Invisibles at Fuqua, as well as readers who enjoyed the best seller, Quiet by Susan Cain.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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