Librarians and related information professionals are hyper-aware of the challenges we face for recognition, remuneration and respect. Libraries continue to be closed or downsized. People lose their jobs, and when someone retires, the position often remains unfilled. Yet all professions are undergoing challenges and pressures, including once seemingly safe areas like medicine and the law (which of course has ripple effects for libraries in those specialties).
Many of the talents, skills and attributes that librarians/information professionals possess are prized in the current world of organizations, and some indeed have become trendy and fashionable. We need a new way of thinking about and conceptualizing what we do, how we do it, and who benefits from our work. What follows is a new framework I’ve developed for rethinking and repositioning this work, one that relies less on functional areas and more on benefits, positive results and outcomes.
The following 10 qualities are valued and prized within today’s organizations. Librarians and information professionals tend to exemplify and embody these qualities and abilities. Why should others get the credit? We must embrace, express and “own” them for our future success, and for the success of our organizations. Where do you see your own work within this framework, and how can you turn it into a future advantage?
Serendipity and “aha” moments: Serendipity is becoming a field of study in its own right. When it leads to “aha” moments, the effects can be stunning. All the more reason to consider the role serendipity plays in our own information work, online and otherwise, and how we can guide our clients to “aha” moments for the benefit of our organizations and their missions.
The Power of Questions: More and more leadership books and articles are built around the need for leaders to ask the right questions in order to receive relevant answers. Needless to say, questioning has always been a cornerstone of librarianship. What does this mean for our own leadership journeys?
Packaging and “selling” relevance: Many people do not innately understand how to spot and cultivate relevant information. Yet this is woven into the fiber of our being. Can we “sell” relevance in our own particular packaging of online and printed material?
Curation of data, information and knowledge: The amount of times you see the word “curate” in a variety of contexts is multiplying daily. Curation is part of what we do as professionals, whether or not it is in our job title or description. And of course “data curator” has become a popular job title. This leads to obvious implications for librarians and archivists who work in museums and related institutions, but is not limited to them.
Sensemaking Skills: Sensemaking is usually thought of in relation to the theories of University of Michigan professor Karl Weick. However, it can mean something broader in this context. How do we, as information professionals, help make sense of the world for the people we serve and collaborate with? The world is a confusing place, and part of our task is to make it less so for our clients and colleagues.
The Power of Introverts and “Quiet”: While not all librarians are introverts, many fit the description. Fortunately, introversion is hot and becoming more valued each day, especially due to the groundbreaking work of Susan Cain and her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts. Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of Quiet Influence, discussed librarianship and introverts at the 2014 ALA annual conference. Quiet can mean lots of things in this context, but if we can provide a physical area of quiet in today’s noisy and intrusive world, we are providing something increasingly rare and valuable.
Servant Leadership/The Power of Service: Librarianship is built on the foundations of service. And the concept of servant leadership, originally articulated by the late Robert K. Greenleaf 40 years ago and now championed by such popular authors as Ken Blanchard, continues to gain traction. Our style of leadership seems attuned with the times, and perfectly poised for the future.
Discovery: We often hear about “discovery tools.” Yet those same tools need information professionals in the background to design them, or make them work as they are intended to do. With or without these tools, how do you help people discover the information they need, whether or not they realize they need it?
Architecture: Architects and architecture are trendy subjects. Thus information architects and related specialists should get their due in providing crucial service and insight to their institutions. And information professionals who are not called information architects often provide a similar function. How can you literally build on that success?
Healing: This includes but is not limited to medical and health sciences librarians. There is much talk in the information world about “pain points,” and when done well, our work heals and eliminates that pain. Taking away pain by providing the right information at the right time can be profoundly healing.
This framework can even represent a new professional specialty. Our central challenge is how to consider all ten of these areas, and devise optimum ways they work together to create new pathways of thinking and operating. The bottom line is how our work can improve lives and help organizations run more effectively and become better positioned for an uncertain future.
Editor’s note – this article republished with the permission of the author – first published in 2014-15 Best Practices for Government Libraries: Strong Roots, New Branches: Embracing Core Skills, Building New Ones and Expanding Your Impact in the Organization.