Librarians: Ultimate Inter-Disciplinarians

We’ve been having a lot of students coming in recently working on a really challenging literature review assignment for their junior year Core classes (interdisciplinary common curriculum). They often need 20-40 sources about some technology related to globalization in human rights. This task often seems overwhelming to the students who come for help. But I have started using a really effective method to help students focus and get them to start structuring and planning their paper.

image via Richard Scott 33 on Flickr

I’ve begun using mind-mapping as a tool at the reference desk to get students to break their topic down into different pieces and begin seeing the connections between ideas from across disciplines. Once students actually see their topic broken down on a piece of paper it begins to take shape for them and they begin to feel a lot less overwhelmed. 20 or more sources doesn’t seem as daunting when they are about ¬†various aspects of the same topic.

Making connections is one of the things librarians do best. We’re the ultimate¬†inter-disciplinarians. I admire people who have deep, rich subject knowledge and are experts in their fields, but I could never concentrate on just one thing like logical positivism or Emerson. The reason I got into librarianship is because I’m interested in a lot of different things. I read about and explore a variety of subjects from psychology and philosophy, to business and education, to science, space and dinosaurs. I got into librarianship because I’m curious, and want to further the cause of human curiosity.

We see, and help others see, connections that they might miss due to tunnel vision or simply being too immersed in the problem. If their topic is social media we might ask about the cultural or marketing impacts. If their topic is women and human rights we might bring up the recent example of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. If their interested in biomedical technology we might mention nanobots or bring up possible ethical issues.

The silos of different disciplines continue to increasingly break down to solve 21st century problems that can’t be solved with a single way of thinking. In this environment, librarians will be well positioned to help people make these important connections between science and anthropology, between psychology and economics, not to mention previously unexplored connections between information problems and solutions. The world isn’t separated along clear fault lines, it’s richly interconnected. And being able to make those connections are skills that we can provide and help teach our students, so they can go out and solve the big problems.


My Top Five Non-Library Blogs

Photo by Laura & Chris Pawluk on Flickr

Photo by Laura & Chris Pawluk on Flickr

There are a lot of great library blogs out there, but only reading library blogs leads to narrow mindedness¬† and circular thinking. To truly innovate we need to look at disciplines outside our profession and bring their ideas into the library world. So in that spirit I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorite blogs outside the library world that are still relevant to what we do:

  • Mashable - This blog provides social media news and web tips. They have a lot of great posts about Twitter or Facebook, or new web technologies that are coming to the forefront. This blog is a great way to stay current on what’s going on in the social web.
  • Chris BroganChris Brogan blogs about all kinds of stuff, but he primarily focuses on marketing, building relationships and communicating using emerging web tools. He always has a lot of great content and really cares about his audience. A must read for anyone interested in marketing and PR in relation to your patrons.
  • Read Write Web – “ReadWriteWeb is a blog that provides analysis of web products and trends.” This blog is a good one to stay up to date on new technologies. I’d call it the “thinking man’s Mashable.”
  • Harvard Business Blog – This blog offers a lot of great info. Libraries could learn a lot from the business world. There are posts on innovation, leadership, marketing, and effective communication. These are all things libraries should be thinking about and doing.
  • Seth Godin – Marketing guru, author, speaker, and generally dynamic individual, Seth Godin’s writing is inspiring. His blog posts are almost always thought provoking and his latest book Tribes really got me energized.

My favorite blogs have a lot to do with web technologies and business/marketing, but library and information science could benefit from a lot of disciplines. What about psychology blogs or anthropology blogs? What about history or media/communication blogs?

Often new ideas aren’t new, they’re just transplanted from somewhere else. More interdisciplinary thinking in libraries is what will drive innovation. What are your favorite blogs outside of the library world?