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Improve Your Soft Skills

I’ve got a guest post up on the blog Hack Library School. If you are not following this blog, I would suggest subscribing. It’s a collective blog about rethinking library school and the future of librarianship. Here’s a short snippet from the post:

In librarianship, speaking in public is necessary if you want to be in academia, present at conferences, or hold any sort of leadership position. We have to teach classes, run meetings, present to faculty, other librarians, and the public, and sometimes even give presentations to land a job.

Read the rest here

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3 Insights From ACRL 2011

acrl keynote

image from Susan Sharpless Smith on Flickr

ACRL 2011 wrapped up this past weekend and much like the last time I attended, it was a great conference. There was a lot of great content and ideas in the papers, panels, posters and Cyber Zed Sheds. There were also some excellent keynotes that challenged us to think outside of the echo chamber of the library world. But my favorite part of ACRL conferences are the people and the networking that goes on. I love connecting with smart, like-minded people who are thinking about the same problems that I am. I got a lot out of the conference and figured I would share a few of the ideas that got my mind buzzing:

Planned abandonment

One great session I attended was called When Interdependence Becomes Codependence: Knowing When and How to Let Go of Legacy Services by Katherine Furlong and Mary Evangeliste. I’ve thought a lot about the idea of dropping services, but this presentation really brought the idea home for me. Libraries often keep adding new services, but we rarely drop them. We need to examine services from time to time to see if they are still really best serving our users. The presentation drew from literature in the field of management and exhorted people to ask two big questions of their current services: “would we do this service again” and “is it still relevant?”

Image is important

Clinton Kelly talked about how to be stylish. But he also talked about why style counts. On a personal level, Kelly says that image is important because “how you dress tells the rest of the world how you expect to be treated.” This can also apply to the profession as a whole. The way we act and present ourselves will be how others treat us. If we are quiet or deferential we’ll be treated accordingly, but if we own our expertise as information professionals and assert that expertise, then students, faculty, and administrators will treat us as such.

Intentional Innovation

David Dahl, in his session Lightning in a Bottle: Managing Ideas to Spur Innovation, discussed innovation, but he didn’t use it as the buzzword that it is often used as these days. He talked about it as an intentional process as opposed to something that just happens. It’s something that can be fostered and recreated. We need to set aside time just for idea generation. He also said that there must be people who select and champion ideas or the ideas will never go anywhere. In addition, ideas come to us all the time, but if we don’t purposefully collect these ideas, we’ll lose them. Having a process and structure in place are necessary in order to consistently generate and implement useful new ideas.

There was so much awesome stuff going on it couldn’t all make it into this post, but there’s another great writeup over at Library Journal . Did you attend in person or virtually? What was an insight that you had?

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New Ideas: Separating The Chaff From The Grain

a scythe on grass

I enjoyed both Karen Schneider’s post and Meredith Farkas’ follow-up post about devil’s advocates. They talk about new ideas and how they require a lot of experimentation and iterations as well as people to challenge them to make them stronger.¬†I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while, and I think it’s a very important one for people in the library profession to think about, especially those in leadership positions.

Like I mentioned in my last post I am reading the book What Technology Wants. In this book Kevin Kelly relates a story about a missionary in China introducing a new technology which serves as an excellent parable about the resistance to new ideas:

“The missionary wanted to improve the laborious way the Chinese peasants in his province harvested grain. The local farmers clipped the stalks with some kind of small hand shear. So the missionary had a scythe shipped in from America and demonstrated its superior productivity to an enthralled crowd. “The next morning, however, a delegation came to see the missionary. The scythe must be destroyed at once. What, they said, if it should fall into the hands of thieves; a whole field could be cut and carried away in a single night.” And so the scythe was banished, progress stopped, because nonusers could imagine a possible — but wholly improbable — way it could significantly harm their society.”

Devil’s advocates are useful people to have around, but they can also stop new ideas in their tracks. If we try to imagine every negative thing that can happen with a new idea it will surely die. Often devil’s advocates imagine unrealistic or unlikely situations that have little chance of happening. Looking at something new as a threat leads to no new ideas.

A new idea is a very fragile thing. It needs a healthy environment to germinate and time to grow. We as librarians and people in leadership positions should try to cultivate this environment among our teams and in our workplaces. There is a place for devil’s advocates and looking at possible challenges that a new idea could face, but it seems that should come later in the process. Libraries are desperately in need of new ideas. Just as in the case of the scythe in the story above, if we only see the negative aspects of an idea or technology we will become really good at maintaining the status quo.

So when people are proposing new ideas, listen first instead of¬†criticizing. Bobbi Newman shared an excellent sentiment recently about contributing more than criticizing and it very much applies here. I know at times when someone is proposing a new idea I think to myself, “that’s stupid, it’ll never work.” But instead of dismissing it or nitpicking it, the more productive course of action would be to contribute to the idea to refine it or make it better. Not every new idea is a polished gem, but there may be the beginnings of something great in it. We just have to give it the proper environment to let it flourish.