“Eighty percent of success is just showing up” – Woody Allen
I’ve found the above quote to have a lot of truth in my career so far, but I’m not talking about just showing up at work. It’s easy to simply spend all your time in your office. You have a lot of work to do. It’s comfortable there. It’s safe. But I’m not sure that just showing up at your office is going to bring success.
What I’m talking about is just showing up in other places, especially outside the library. Go to faculty senate meetings. Go to community gatherings. Attend board or town hall meetings. Join committees. Go to conferences or informal gatherings of librarians. Go to social events or holiday parties. The benefits of just showing up at events or meetings quickly become clear. You begin developing relationships with others. People remember your face, know who you are, and know that you are from the library. By just showing up you become an ambassador of the library. You’re getting out of the library and spreading your message of information and helpfulness in multiple places. If you go where the action is, good things just start to happen.
You may be able to help someone on a project that they have been thinking about for a while. You may have a great suggestion at a meeting that utilizes library resources. You may find a colleague or faculty member to collaborate with on a shared interest. Informal conversations with community members, faculty, staff, or students outside the library can and do lead to much bigger things. But these things won’t happen if you are sitting in your office all day. The first step is to just show up.
On Friday I was at the LJ/Temple Library Future Symposium. I was on a panel with some great folks about bridging the culture gaps in our libraries. Courtney Young, our moderator framed the panel in terms of misunderstandings, and I found this to be really enlightening. Many of the problems we face when groups interact with one another, whether it’s the library vs. IT, change agents vs. resistors, or librarians vs. students, stem from these groups having different perspectives and a lack of mutual understanding of those perspectives.
Let’s take change agents vs. resistors as an example. For this example we’ll use changing the food policy as the conflict (though any change could be substituted here). On one side, you think that the food policy is outdated and that food and drink should be allowed in the library. On the other side there is a group resistant to this change who believe that it shouldn’t change. In order to get past this, there needs to be clear understanding on both sides.
You should first try to understand the other person’s perspective. And don’t just pretend to listen while dismissing what they say in your head. Pay attention and genuinely understand their concerns. Are they concerned about damage to the books or computers? Are they concerned with messes? Are they concerned with the smell? These are all genuine concerns and should be (and can be) addressed. Get to the bottom of why they are resisting the change. When you understand concerns you can then address them.
Then you need to communicate clearly to them why you think the policy should change and make sure that they understand your concerns. Do you think it will create a more welcoming environment? Do you see it happening other places (bookstores, etc.)? Are your users asking for it? Make a clear case for why you think the change is necessary. In discussing the change and coming up with solutions together make sure that their concerns are addressed. You can say something like, “I understand you are concerned with damage to our collection. I don’t want anything to get ruined either. Do we think that will happen a lot though? It seems like Barnes and Noble is not concerned with food or coffee ruining their merchandise. And at home I drink coffee and read books all the time. Does the benefit of making the library more comfortable and welcoming outweighs the risk of a few damaged books? Is there a way that we can limit damage while still allowing food and drink?”
Too often we assume that something is obvious or that someone is just obtuse when in reality we just have differing perspectives. The above approach might work and it might not, but it will be a lot more effective when we try to understand others and address them in terms of their concerns instead of only ours.
Two weeks ago I attended an event for the kickoff of the Native Creative Consortium of Vermont. They brought in Nathan Shedroff, a pioneer in Experience Design. His talk was fascinating. He talked about how everything is an experience and that companies and organizations, whether consciously or not, are creating certain types of experiences for their users. Instead of thinking that you’re a shoe manufacturing company, or a computer company, or library, you should be thinking more deeply about what experiences and expecially what meaning you are creating for your users. Shedroff’s main point’s are well captured in this TED talk:
Accomplishment - Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status
Beauty - The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit
Community - A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings
Creation - The sense of having produced something new and original, and in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution
Duty - The willing application of oneself to a responsibility
Enlightenment - Clear understanding through logic or inspiration
Freedom - The sense of living without unwanted constraints
Harmony - The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole, whether in nature, society, or an individual
Justice - The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment
Oneness - A sense of unity with everything around us
Redemption - Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline
Security - The freedom from worry about loss
Truth - A commitment to honesty and integrity
Validation - The recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of respect
Wonder - Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding
Thinking in terms of meaning when creating resources and services can be a really helpful framework in libraries. At a more professionally focused school (like my institution), accomplishment is likely a meaning that would be important to many students. With this meaning perhaps services would be designed in such a way that students could learn on their own and there are a lot of ways they can Do It Yourself (DIY). Perhaps at liberal arts college, enlightenment would be a more relevant meaning. For these type of users you may want to design more around the “a-ha!” moment. Using this model, you need to examine your own community and tap into what is meaningful to them.
We are not simply delivering access to e-books or databases. We are not only conducting reference interviews or doing information literacy. We are doing something much more important than that.