Marian, Madame Contrarian

I’m starting to feel like I’m setting myself up to be a contrarian of the library world. I recently posted to Facebook “Librarians have no business teaching IT courses.” While I think that’s mostly true, I’m worried that people will get the impression that all I can say is no. How do I get to yes when I’m feeling jaded about librarianship?

Librarianship Isn't About What We Have, It's About What We Do

Vancouver Public Library Info Staff
photo by Maria Hernandez

Librarianship isn’t about what we have; it’s about what we do. It’s taken us a while to realize that our full shelves (or loaded databases) aren’t our greatest value. It’s human interaction: over the reference desk, through informal one-on-one instruction, in teaching a workshop or facilitating a program, and by enabling conversations, bringing people together, and building communitywide experiences.

An excellent quote from Brian Kenney’s “So You Think you Want to Be a Librarian“. It dovetails nicely with a presentation Kay Cahill and I are giving at the Beyond Hope Library Conference on Monday on Designing for Humans: User Experience and the 21st Century Librarian.

Ours is a customer service profession. We’re a high-touch profession that works best when we nurture, teach, coach and motivate others to learn, explore and grow. We exist to serve others. While we’re in one of the few professions that is named after a building, the true “rockstar” librarians remember to put people first in everything that they do.

The Next Evolution of iSchool

I read an article from Good about the next evolution of business school, and it got me to thinking about the current state of MLIS education. I put a few of the ideas on Twitter this morning.

Librarians spend a lot of time talking about grooming the next generation of librarians. Because my library is nearing the end of a (huge) transformation, it’s understandable that my interests in change management and visionary leadership have grown in the last couple of years. Last week’s Lead the Change leadership program taught me that leadership is a choice we make, not a job title. That being the case, I’ve made the choice to develop my leadership skills and to learn as much as I possibly can to become a more effective leader who focuses on the structural (analysis), interpersonal (human resources), political (coalition building) and symbolic (charisma) traits that I need to develop to be a better leader.

I think librarians at any stage of their career (present and future) would benefit from LIS education that is includes courses on leadership, change management, organizational design, and transformational planning.

When I was in library school (has it already been 9 years since I graduated?!), I remember hearing a frequent complaint from many of my classmates: library school wasn’t teaching them any practical skills that could transfer to real world library work. I understand the reason for those complaints: my fellow students and I were expressing our fears around unmet needs and our uncertainty about our future in the profession. As well, much of the curriculum was focused on theory – maybe too much. If you hadn’t worked in a library before, the only opportunity you’d get to do so would be during your (too short) practicum, or, if you were lucky, if you happened to score one of the few graduate assistant jobs on campus.

Learning about leadership, strategic planning, and development may not have seemed practical at the time, but they would have introduced us to concepts and ideas that would be transferrable no matter what kind of information organization we ended up in. Developing leadership skills and learning more about organizational culture and politics would have served me better than taking a course on how to develop programs for adults in the library.

I’m fortunate that I spent a lot of time as a student leader and in sororities, and had opportunity to practice a lot of these same skills.

(If I had to offer advice to a future librarian it would be this: (1) join a sorority – yes, even as an alumna; (2) volunteer for that sorority so you can make use of the free leadership workshops; (3) run for office or volunteer to lead some student organization that is tied to a larger international organization.)

This sort of stream would attract librarians who have library leadership as a professional goal. I know many librarians who want to be reference librarians, or who want to work at the entry level for the rest of their careers. That’s great! We need people like this in the library! But just because a librarian doesn’t want to lead a department or a library, it doesn’t mean she wouldn’t benefit from some of the lessons she could learn in this kind of curriculum.

I think we need more people who want to step up, who are interested in building influence and directing their personal passions for libraries toward envisioning and building the libraries of the 21st century. I think that teaching librarians that leadership is not a dirty word or something to be feared is vitally important.

As living, breathing, organisms, libraries continue to change, adapt, and grow. As they change, our curriculum and approach to developing librarians should adapt along with them.

(flickr photo from Wonderlane)

Vancouver Public Library Releases 2013-2015 Strategic Plan

sky light

I don’t often talk openly about my workplace on this blog, but I’m making an exception today.

Vancouver Public Library has released our 2013-2015 Strategic Plan which envisions the role the Library will play in helping to create an informed, engaged, and connected city. Some of the highlights include:

  • Library staff enabled with mobile devices will deliver services to the patron at the point of need.
  • Constructing and re-energizing new and existing branches
  • Exploring the use of digital technology as a platform for discovering, creating, and sharing community knowledge
  • Adding 2,300 more opening hours per year
  • And the biggie – planning our Garden in the Sky – opening the rooftop garden at the Central Library to the public

What does this mean for me? As a librarian in the Digital Services department, we have more projects and action items to carry out over the next two years than almost any other division. I’m gonna be busy, y’all.

I feel extremely fortunate to work for a library system that values community consultation, that supports innovation and creativity, and is fundamentally committed to remaining a free place that provides access to all.

I’m ready to get to work.

On Library Signage and Patron Interactions

Rochelle is on fire with this post:

Librarians have a tendency to behave as if patrons walk through the door needing to know practically everything about their journey before they take their first step. We haul out the maps, give advice about the weather and what footwear they need for the first half, and trace the entire experience out before they get past the turnstile. We may never see that patron again; we’d better make sure they’re well-prepared. For each and every leg of the journey. Then we leave them to their own devices, unless they want to seek us out again. What if we focused on reducing confusion and anxiety if all of our patron interactions by guiding their decisions in small pieces, manageable ones, rather than infodumping right at the start?

A couple of years ago I participated in a working group that was charged with making recommendations for new directional signage in the library. As a result, we now have these rather large, 8ft. tall black pillars placed right in front of our escalators; depending on the floor you’re on at the time, the pillars obscure the public’s sight lines to the information desk (and our sight lines to the escalators). Even though we did the best we could with what we had, I wonder if our efforts would have been better spent on reorganizing the floors, or, as Rochelle suggests, focusing more on reducing anxiety.

(Previously on this blog)

The Future of Librarians in an Ebook World

Sarah Goodyear wrote a fantastic piece about how libraries are meeting the challenges and changes brought about by ebooks and our patrons’ changing information needs:

“(L)ibraries are about more than just e-readers or any other media, as important as those things are. They are about more than just buildings such as the grand edifices erected by Carnegie money, or the sleek and controversial new design for the New York Public Library’s central branch. They are also about human beings and their relationships, specifically, the relationship between librarians and patrons.

(emphasis mine)

Granted, libraries have always been about the relationship of humans to technology and humans to information, but it seems as if the general media hasn’t ever grokked that, instead preferring to wax rhapsodic about mausoleum-silent temples of knowledge that aren’t filled with life and vitality.

It’s one of the best general interest pieces about libraries I’ve read in a long, long time. No panic. No hysteria. Just lots of optimism, realism, and tangible examples of how some libraries have prepared themselves.

Thank you, Sarah Goodyear.