Shall We Play Leap Frog?

In my earlier years as an academic librarian, I came up with a simple theory about change in academia. If you want to stay relevant and current with educational trends, you’ll often have to play leap frog. What does this mean? It means ignoring the next big thing and working towards the next, next big thing. By the time you jump through all the hoops, build all the necessary parts, and get the required resources, you’ll actually be current with the trends instead of falling behind.

When I was younger, staying relevant with the trends was a high priority to me. Now, not so much.

Leap frogging can be a great idea if you’re able to choose the right lily pad to jump onto. But what happens if the pad you choose doesn’t turn out to be the right one? I have a two-word example: Second Life. Alas, Second Life did not turn out to be the best investment for many libraries, though I’m sure many important lessons were learned from the experience.

Have I become more cautious? Not really. The crux of my change in attitude falls not on the concern in staying current but on staying relevant. I believe the need to stay on the cutting edge of library instruction and planning is not really the key to staying relevant. The key to staying relevant is the patrons.

Why do libraries need to change? I’m going to state the obvious, but we change because our patrons change, for better or for worse. We go where the people are or where we think they will be. Our main mission is to serve their information needs. It’s a fairly straightforward relationship (or is it?). In our efforts to improve the relationships we have with our patrons, we constantly try to improve our instruction.

If leap frogging is not the best answer to or perspective on instruction planning, then what is? I have some thoughts on the answer, but they require some ruminating.

More later.

Advice to New Librarians- Part Four

In my last post regarding making change happen as a new librarian, I focused on several steps one may take to address the concerns of one’s colleagues.  I specifically focused on the less personal concerns.  Today, I’m going to talk about methods for handling the more personal ones.

When colleagues oppose a new idea, it may be easy to assume that they don’t trust you as a new librarian.  It may be easy to assume that they don’t think it’s appropriate in some way for you to voice an opinion and/or to propose a new idea.  Perhaps they think that your idea falls under the purview of a different librarian or a different department.  Perhaps they think that you haven’t been there long enough to understand the library and the way things work there.

You do have a wide variety of options for handling this type of personal opposition.  I discuss some of these options below, but I’m not 100% certain which would be the best option.  I recommend following the steps in my previous post and pay particular attention to surveying your environment.  The best option for you may depend on your library.  As in most cases, a combination of these options may be the best idea overall.

Option 1: Prove Yourself.

If you have an area of the library that you mostly control, then perhaps your plans for change should start there.  Take on a small project and go through the process of developing the idea, emplementing it, and assessing it.  As your colleagues see your good work, then they may begin to trust you.  Showing that you can successfully follow through on an idea will only benefit your cause.

Option 2: Provide Evidence.

Consider all the work you did in surveying your environment (see previous post) and don’t forget to review the latest literature on the topic.  As you build a case for your idea, you then are ready to show the positives and negatives of the proposed change.  Don’t be afraid of discussing the negatives of the project.  You might be able to pull in people if you ask their advice (see option 3 below) on mitigating the negatives.  Also, as you build and present your case, you may find that cold hard facts are hard to dispute and make the idea less about you and who you are.

Option 3: Get Support.

Library staff rarely work in a vacuum.  Many of us work in teams or departments to accomplish even the most day-to-day tasks.  Think about the people most affected by your proposed change and see if you have any supporters there.  Ask them for advice!  If you have a more senior member of the staff on your side, you may be able to leverage the trust people have in this member to ease the fears of your other colleagues.  You won’t want to rely heavily on the senior members forever, but you might be okay in doing so until you’ve proven yourself a little.

Option 4: Go through the Appropriate Channels.

Depending on the structure of your library’s hierarchy, you may or may not have a logical path to get approval of an idea.  If your idea is to improve reference services, then talk to the head of reference (if there is one) first.  Showing respect for your colleagues and their positions may go a long way towards furthering your cause. I admit that this option may be a bit tricky, particularly as more and more library positions are overlaping.  If one person handles online reference, and another handles in-person reference, then be sure to talk to both if your idea affects both.  I don’t recommend blurting out potentially controversial ideas in a librarians’ meeting or other open forums without discussing the idea with those most affected by it.

Option 5: Break the Rules?

Stepping on other people’s toes can be dangerous, and I generally don’t recommend doing it.  That being said, there is the adage that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.  If you think that rule breaking is your only option, consider the importance of your idea.  Is it important enough to damage your relationships with your colleagues?

The above options are just a few of all that you may think to try.  There is a lot to think about when looking at your library and proposing changes in the hope of improving it.  My final piece of advice is this: don’t give up!

Never accept opposition to an idea unless you know it really is a crappy idea.  Go through the process of analyzing your library, your patrons, and the idea iteself to be certain, and then push forward.  If your idea needs tweaking, then tweak away.  Just don’t get stuck constantly revising the idea without moving forward!  You may not be able to move as quickly as you want, but you will develop professionally a lot through the process.

Advice to New Librarians- Part Three

Ready for concrete advice on handling resistance to new ideas at your library?  I hope so, because that’s what you’re getting today.

Step One: Find out why your colleagues oppose your new idea.  There are lots of different reasons why people might oppose an idea, and different colleagues may have different reasons.  Here are the few I often hear:

  • Someone at the library has already tried the idea, and it either didn’t work or was not supportable.
  • The current service, program, or whatever the idea is about works perfectly well.
  • The library doesn’t have the resources to implement the idea without cutting back in other areas.
  • The idea and the issues it’s attempting to fix are not as important or time-sensitive as other issues happening at the library, so your idea should wait.
  • The idea won’t actually fix anything and/or it is change only for change’s sake.

Note that none of the above reasons are particularly personal.  Here are a couple of the more common personal reasons one might assume as to why their colleagues oppose their ideas:

  • The new librarian’s colleagues don’t yet trust the librarian to come up with and implement a solid idea.
  • The new librarian is not in charge of the area of the library related to the idea and is therefore stepping on someone’s toes in proposing it.

Try not to assume that it is personal!  Listen to your colleagues when they voice concerns and try to figure out where the issue with your idea actually lies.  Once you know where it lies, you’ll then be able to come up with workable solutions and not make the situation worse.  At the heart of this advice is the recommendation that you learn as much about the issue as possible.  With that in mind, let’s look at my next piece of advice.

Step Two: Observe the library at work.  Ask yourself these questions: are people territorial at your library?  Do you have a territory to call your own?  Although the word territory is generally seen as a curse word around libraries, it is important to be aware of people’s perceived work boundaries.  Actually, let’s not use the word territory at all and instead use the words boundary and authority.  (Or are these also curse words?)

In any case, when dealing with an unfamiliar landscape, I recommend that you survey the field.  During the first half-a-year or so, spend a good deal of time observing how your library works.  While you are learning your specific duties, be sure to learn about others’ duties and how their work fits with yours.  Also look at the different services and see how one impacts another.  The key to this step is gaining a more global perspective on how your library operates.

Step Three: Document the area of the library your idea will most impact.  Look at data, chart workflows, and start to build a construct of how the current system works.  The bigger the idea, the more work you will need to do at this point.  If you don’t have data, then maybe you need to start assessing the system.  Does it really not work as well as you think it doesn’t?  In what ways does it specifically not work?

Step Four: Bring the information you’ve gained from the above steps and start analyzing.  The key thing to making change happen isn’t to just come up with a great idea!!!!  The idea is only great if it benefits the library’s patrons, services, programs, technology, or whatever area of the library your idea is about.  When you have opposition to an idea, you may need to build a case for the idea, argue its benefits, calculate the cost in resources, and plan out the change process.  The best way to do that is to gain information and then use it.  Don’t ignore the information you find.  If something doesn’t look right, then keep digging.

Think you’re done?  Not quite.  There’s advice to be had in my next Advice post.



Literal Instruction Nightmare

Last night I had a nightmare about the worst possible instruction session I could imagine.  I woke up this morning so happy it was just a dream that I had to share its craziness with the world.  Get this…

The dream starts off with me in front of a group of high schoolers, not my usual group but also not out of the ordinary, and I’m providing a fairly standard research instruction session.  There was a free-standing whiteboard behind me to my left, and the students’ teacher sat behind it with a colleague and a bunch of younger-aged kids.  My focus was on the high school students, who were not focused on me.  (Story of my life.)  As their talking grew louder and louder, I realized that I was losing them.  This is when things start to get crazy.

To gain everyone’s attention I scream.  And I’m not talking about a loud “Hey.”  I mean a blood curdling, horror movie scream.  It works on the students for the most part, but I sense screaming their ears off was not the most appropriate thing to do. (You know, not very professional and all that.)  Nevertheless, I proceed with my attention-getting mission by walking behind the whiteboard to ask the teacher and her colleague to be quiet.  I did not ask politely.  I don’t remember my exact phrasing, but her response definitely still echos through my mind.  She said, “No.”  I decide to negotiate by asking her to bring her volume down a little, and she agrees to do so.  My attention then turns to the random assortment of young kids around her, who readily obeyed my commands for quiet.  (Somebody listens!)

Feeling like I’ve gotten some control of the classroom again, I return to the front of the room and try to get back on topic.  (At this point in the dream, I have a vague sense that I was talking about information gatekeepers and access issues.  I have no idea why.)  My control does not last; the students in the back of the class start to get up and leave right in the middle of my lesson!!!  Soon all of the students have left, the teachers and younger students were gone, and I am left alone.  (*sigh*)  I chase after the high school students, who are heading up a walkway away from the classroom, and I just start yelling at them.  “SHEEP!”  “SHEEP!!”  At the time, calling them sheep made perfect sense.

At this point, I realize I have completely lost control of the situation, but I keep yelling.  One student who had sat in the front row earlier (I think) felt sorry for me so and decides to stay behind with me.  While happy that one student understands the importance of libraries, I feel pretty ashamed of myself.  I am a disgrace.  As I start to push ahead and continue the lesson with the one student, the teacher returns to the classroom and let’s me know that the school is closing because of an emergency.  We need to evacuate immediately.  That’s why all the students were leaving!  They got a text message about the school closing and didn’t bother to tell me!!!  So here I am sitting in the classroom, having gotten a student to stay with me and thereby put her life at risk, while everyone flees to safety.  At this point I wake up.

Hahahahaha.  In one little dream I scream bloody murder in order to get attention in a classroom, argue with a teacher, scare little kids, get ditched by a whole class of students, and endangered a student’s life.  Worst instruction session ever!  I’m so happy it didn’t really happen, or I’d be in so much trouble with my boss.

I admit, as I laid awake this morning all I could think about was more appropriate ways to handle such a situation.  (I’m such an instruction librarian sometimes.)  In real life, I don’t think I’d go for yelling so much.  I’m more a friend of uncomfortable silence.

Advice to New Librarians- Part Two

In my last post, I started to give basic advice to new librarians who face some form of opposition when they start suggesting changes at their libraries.  My first piece of advice is to drop any initial judgments you may have about you and your colleagues.  But why?

First, I think it’s important to stay objective and open minded in any situation.  When someone begins to pigeonhole themselves and their colleagues into “progressive” and “conservative” camps, he or she may worry more about winning arguments and being right than actually making change happen.

Second, your ideas may be crap.  Never assume that your initial idea is perfect.  Libraries and the communities they serve are complex, and many times a tool, program, or service that works well in one library will not do so in another.  Transforming a library is often a process of trial and error, so be ready to be wrong at some point in the process.

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about concrete steps one can take to make change happen in the face of opposition.  First, we’ll need to talk about territory.  Check out my next Advice blog post to learn more.

Advice to New Librarians- Part One

At last year’s ALA Annual, I attend the conference program sponsored by ACRL DLS.  The program explored the topic of leading from the side, and one attendee asked a question that has stayed with me.  She was a new librarian and wanted advice on making change happen at her library.  The question struck me because I remember being that young librarian who wanted to try new things but was uncertain how to handle colleagues’ reluctance or opposition.  I dreaded the phrases, “We’ve already tried that,” and, “Yeah, but who has the time for that.”

I wanted to answer the new librarian’s question, but didn’t have my thoughts together enough to do so at the time.  As I said, I’ve thought about the question off and on this past year, and now I’m ready to answer it.

When you are a new librarian in your first librarian position, you are going to approach the library and its services with new eyes.  You likely don’t know what your new colleagues have tried in the past, but you do have fresh ideas from library school and/or experience working at another library.  With this unique perspective it can be easy to jump into your new position and see things that need to change.  You look around and see mostly possibilities.

When your colleagues don’t respond positively to your suggestions (or your opinion in general), then you likely feel frustrated.  It may be easy at this point to criticize your colleagues for being too settled into their ways, for not being able to think outside the box, or for not using their imaginations.  How can you convince them to change when they can’t see the value of your suggestions?

My first bit of advice is this: stop thinking of you and your colleagues in this way!

Want to know why?  I’ll discuss my reasons in my next post.

It’s Me, Again

It’s amazing to look back on my early career and remember my angst-filled librarian youth (haha, three years ago).  Every time I attend a library conference now it becomes clear to me that I am no longer that young librarian just barely getting my feet wet.  I no longer feel impotent in a world unchanging.  These interim years between my last post and this one have been eye opening.

When I started this blog, I wanted to document my journey, and I’m happy that I did so during my early career.  Alas, I regret now that I did not continue to document these past three teeth-cutting years.  In any case, here I am again, ready to blog away.

Side Note: In 2011, I started to explore psychology with the hope to learn about cognition, attention, technology, and information, all mixed together.  Fun stuff!


Let the Reading Begin

New long term project!  I’ve decided to take on one of the most ambitious things I could think of, given my time constraints.  Over the course of the Fall semester, Winter break and (most likely) early Spring semester, I will be conducting a literature review.  Of what, well, that has yet to be fully defined.  I’ve started a cursory review of one general topic, brain changes associated with online learning/computer-assisted instruction and their implications.  Time and exposure will most likely craft the topic into unknown territory.

I admit I have a horrible track record of starting to blog about my long term, non-work-related projects.  At this point I can only say that I will try better than I have in the past!  As I begin to review articles (mostly), books (somewhat), and other sources (you never know in this day and age), I aim to blog my initial evaluations about outstanding sources.

Let the fun begin!

Changing Tides

Wow, it’s been forever since I’ve posted.  I certainly hope to start posting a bit more regularly, but my plans have changed so often.  Last year I had major plans to visit and tour different libraries throughout Chicago.  Sounds like a great idea, but my change in employment pushed that idea out the window.

Anyway, I hope to start writing again.  (I also hope to not use the word “change” so often in future posts.)