Here’s the question posted in the discussion forum for one of my classes:
Should the job of a reference librarian in assisting patrons be to “Serve Their Needs, Not Their Wants?” In other words, if you couldn’t be both, what would you rather be: popular or right?
I’d rather be right than be popular. For one thing, we librarians have a responsibility to disseminate information, and to make sure that information is correct. Striving to be popular could put that information quality at risk. So, I’d strive to be respectful and right person, so that the patrons and other employees respect me. Also, what makes popular, “popular,” changes all the time, and it becomes impossible to please everybody at once.
Oh wow…while I was formulating this response, I was struck by how similar my stance on “popular or right” is to Machiavelli’s position in The Prince. In Chapter 17, Machiavelli writes about whether it is better for the prince to be loved, or to be feared. As he said, it’s better when the two qualities can be blended together, where people respect and love the leader. People are really fickle, and you could be popular one day, and then be disposed of the next day. If people respect you, as long as you don’t become bitchy or a jerk, they will respect you for a long time. However, if you do behave like a jackass toward people, they will be rude to you too, and that never ends well.
While many of Machiavelli’s prescriptions for leaders are a bit extreme to say the least, his advice here still rings true, centuries later. This is why I’d rather be right than popular. Being right brings respect.