0

The Short Game And The Long Game

“Librarianship is not a set of skills to be learned, or a set of degrees to be mastered. Librarianship is a conversation that has taken place over millennia.”

David Lankes recently had a great post about engaging in the big questions in the profession. He said that “bad conferences are filled with ‘how we do it good’ pieces.” His point is that what is really important is to invite others into a bigger conversation as opposed to talking about just what you do or how to do something.

There is a great deal of value in talking about how to do something. It’s practical and people can see the tangible effects right away. My posts on this blog about iPad apps or Twitter are by far my most popular. But our profession isn’t solely about keeping up on the newest tech or trends. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of your job or focus on new technologies that you can bring back from a conference, but if we don’t regularly ask bigger questions we’re compromising our future.

I see this other places as well. In library instruction its easy to concentrate on tools or how to do things, such as how to successfully navigate the databases. We’re experts in these things and students need to know how to use them to succeed on assignments. But they are just tools. If we only spend time on them we’re giving students skills for the present, but compromising their future. Tools change. We have databases and catalogs and discovery and Google today. There’ll be things we can’t imagine yet. That won’t be true in the future. In addition to teaching students how to succeed now, we also need to give them the skills to succeed in the future. We don’t want them to succeed just in their upcoming assignment. We want them to succeed in life. And knowing how to use a database is not the answer, or at least not the whole answer.

We need to be helping students develop the habits of mind that are crucial in research and lifelong learning. These are things like critically evaluating different pieces of information, perseverance in the search for information (not just giving up after a failed Google search), and a spirit of inquiry and constant questioning. These skills will last much longer than learning a database whose interface will change in the next few months.

We need to be playing both the short game and the long game in teaching and in the profession. There are tangible, practical skills that students need and that we need as professionals to succeed in our short term pursuits. But we can’t get so caught up in what we are doing right now that we forget to teach habits of mind or have the bigger conversations that will shape our future.

4

New Job Title: Innovation Catalyst Librarian

image via WilzDesign on Flickr

There are a growing number of positions that I’ve seen that are focused on new technologies and fresh ideas in libraries. From time to time I get questions or emails asking about my previous role as an Emerging Technologies Librarian and advice that I might have for people starting out in a similar role. While I think these roles are going to be very different from institution to institution I think there are some bits of advice that will contribute to success in a role dedicated to new tech and ideas. People in these roles should not think of themselves as the “tech person” though. Thinking only about tech is extremely limiting. They should think of themselves as innovation catalysts. That is the reason they were hired, though it’s not always that explicit. They were hired to make meaningful change at their institution. To do this sort of work, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Spend time in the future

For someone who wants to be a leader of meaningful change in the library, it’s necessary to focus on the future, not just incremental improvements. Being aware of trends inside and especially outside of libraries will allow you to more easily change course or seize opportunities you might otherwise miss. The thing is though, this takes time. You have to regularly set aside time to read, research, explore and engage with others. You have to purposely spend time in the future. Some of my favorite spots include blogs, people on Twitter, and even print magazines.

Blogs:

Twitter:
List of some Twitter Folks focused on the future (people like Anil Dash, Seth Brogan, Joi Ito, Richard Branson, etc.)
Magazines (a lot of this content is free online but I like the print design and can’t I check my email on a magazine):

Experiment…a lot

Not every initiative that you try is going to work. This shouldn’t  be discouraging though. As Churchill said, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” As a librarian who is trying to invent the future, you have to do a lot of experimentation. You have to have multiple pilot projects going and be learning from them, especially the ones that don’t work. To do this type of work you need to develop an experimental, entrepreneurial spirit. A couple of great resources for this are Think Like a Startup and Too Much Assessment Not Enough Innovation, whitepapers by Brian Mathews.

Stop talking to librarians

Librarians are awesome, but they’re not always the best people to talk to if you want fresh, future oriented perspectives. That’s not to say that librarians are stuck in the past, for the most part we’re not. But being professionals we bring a certain perspective and it becomes hard to see through different lenses. The most important people you can talk to are members of your learning community. Talk regularly to students and faculty, not about the library but about their needs and what they feel success looks like. Attend faculty senate meetings and student advisory boards. Create opportunities to talk with and better understand your users and see the world with fresh eyes.

Whether you’re an emerging technologies librarian or an innovation catalyst librarian (I hope someone uses this title)  it’s necessary to be aware of larger trends, develop entrepreneurial habits, and get outside your limited perspective and your curse of knowledge. What other habits or perspectives do you find necessary in inventing the future of libraries?

0

Change Drivers in Higher Education

I just began taking another MOOC called the Current/Future State of Higher Education (CFHE2012). I’ve already talked about why librarians should join a MOOC, and this one is really relevant to our work. It has to do with the change taking place in higher education. It’s also not simply a linear course but uses connectivist learning where participants create knowledge as opposed to simply consuming it. The first week has been focusing on the different tensions in higher education and factors driving change. In my view, after doing the reading and watching the webinars, some of the most prominent are:

Value

The value that institutions of higher education provides is being called into question by parents, students, and society. Books like Academically Adrift ask the question, “Are students actually learning?” Consumers of higher ed are asking if huge costs and crushing student loan debt are worth it, especially as less new grads are finding jobs. A question that those in higher education need to be asking is, “how can we better demonstrate value and what are the places that we provide significant value over other options?” Jordan Weissman argues that professional help, formative experiences, a seal of approval for businesses are still things that students cannot get other places. I would say that experience as a whole is the main advantage for higher education. A degree is not simply a stamp of approval or a ticket to a job, but a life changing experience.

Increasing Options

Students now have more choice than ever in their education: two year schools, four year schools, public, private, for profit, certificates, free online classes, MOOCs, learning communities. More than ever, students are mixing and matching different pieces of their education, and in this way education is becoming unbundled. It is no longer a single package like an album, but much more customized like a playlist. Now instead of institutions vying just for a student, they are vying for a piece of that student whether it’s the sophomore transfer student or a student needing continuing education.

Changing Perspectives on What Higher Education Should Be

With the various disruptive factors at work today in the world — the economic slowdown, ever-increasing connectivity, high costs of education, political polarization, etc. — more and more questions are being raised about the role of higher education. Is it a means to a job or is it to help produce thoughtful engaged citizens? Is it a public good or a private good? Should higher education be accessible to everyone globally or only the elite who can afford it? Are those seeking higher education consumers or are they students? The way that we answer those questions, and the other questions we ask are going to dictate where we put our energy and what is really important in higher education.

I am really enjoying the class, readings, and videos so far and I’m looking forward to the next several weeks!