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Shame of a Bad Face Memory

If I only see you a few times a year, chances are good I’ll either not say hi or try to introduce myself to you. This isn’t because I don’t think you matter. Nor is it because I think I’m better than “the little people.” I’m simply afflicted with what seems to me a below average memory for faces. It’s like I live in a world of Cheers where everyone knows my name, but half the time I simply can’t return the favor.

This makes me sad. Especially in my profession and my current role in it. At it’s best, librarianship is a welcoming, caring profession. We acknowledge people, give them a safe place to be, answer their questions and sometime steer them to books and other materials they might like. We do much more of course, but my two current primary areas are technology training and public service. Both areas, but especially technology training, benefit from a good memory for people. I think it helps build confidence that a trainer is both caring and mentally sharp when they remember your name at in-person trainings and conferences.

Not such a good impression when someone walks across the room and addresses you warmly by name and you look blankly at them. Only to find out that they have either taken some of your in person sessions, or worse, are a volunteer on a project you manage remotely. Most people are polite about introducing themselves (again) and reminding me where I know them from. But I feel like I’ve let them down. I can be disappointed when someone I met and found really interesting draws a blank when I saw them again. It’s happened a few times. What usually happens is a moment of sadness, then I remember that if our positions were reversed, I’d be the person with the blank look. I reintroduce myself and we move on. But usually, I’m the one with the blank face – even in situations where the person and I work together a lot online and I really appreciate they work they do.

I have to admit that sometimes I’d love something like a “Google Glass Mark 2 (3?)” that ran continuous facial scans against a photo database of all my contacts. Then I could pretend to be someone with a solid grasp of faces. But then the Big Brother aspect of it all kicks in.

I do what I can when I meet someone. I try to repeat their names a few times in conversation. Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.

So if you know me, but don’t see me every week, please know it’s not arrogance or lack of care that I can’t come up with your name right off. It’s me, not you.

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