Making Things Happen and Getting Things Done

This post has been a long time in the making. Several weeks ago, my fellow librarian and friend, Meg Ecclestone, wrote about maintaining subject expertise in LIS. This is a good topic to discuss in any profession, but it’s especially so within academic librarianship since we’re constantly interacting with researchers from so many different fields. Of course, how exactly a librarian should maintain subject expertise is not a new concern that’s recently bubbled to the surface, so I won’t speak too much about it, especially since Meg did a good job summarizing some tips on this issue. Instead, it got me thinking about Making Things Happen and Getting Things Done (which are two unofficial slogans of the MLIS programme at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management).

At the heart of things, Meg was talking about professional development. How do you stay ahead of the game? How do you keep up with new developments in your field, or how do you stay proficient in your work? Some professions require constant credential re-certification (which is a good thing – think about that the next time you’re in hospital), while others have a more informal approach. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have started a new position, so I’ve had a number of conversations with people about how to keep your skills sharp and find positive gain. For those of you looking for a quick way out of this post, know that the answer is found in hard work and perseverance. For those of you looking for detail, I offer some advice, below. These suggestions are not new, profound, or original. But I think they bear repeating because they are so consequential to getting ahead and finding personal fulfillment on the job.

Steeleworthy’s Advice on Making Things Happen and Getting Things Done (Regardless of Your Profession)

  • Meet People.

Whatever you want to do in life, you’ll never get to do it unless you get out there and meet people. Most people are good people, most people want to meet other people, and most people want other people to succeed. We are social creatures. People like to share knowledge, expertise, and experience, so you have a lot to gain by going to events, arranging informational interviews, and developing a presence on social media. The message here is clear: meeting people helps you learn things and do things. You stand to live and work in an echo chamber if you do not meet others inside and outside the library. And you never know what sort of opportunity these new colleagues might bring. If you are not convinced, I invite you to read Graham Lavender’s post on how networking brought clear gains to his everyday life.

  • Do Things (or: Make Mistakes) (or: Learn).

My advice is to just do things. Understand that some mistakes will happen along the way, and that is okay. Do not be afraid to try a new workflow, to take on a new project, or to state an opinion. If you don’t give yourself the opportunity to try new things, it will be very difficult to master anything at all. I promise you that you will make mistakes. There will be times when you will do something wrong or will be completely misinformed. But so long as you keep yourself open to new ideas and are willing to treat these experiences as learning moments, you will likely come out ahead in the long run. Have faith in your ability to get the job done and in your colleagues’ ability to offer help and guidance along the way. And remember, there is no try. Only do. It’s cliché now, but it’s true.

  • Read. Write. Learn.

I don’t care if you prefer the scroll to the codex or the stone tablet to the electronic tablet; your preference for format is inconsequential. What matters is that you read. You must read and you must stay informed on advances and arguments and debates in your field. But it doesn’t end there. For the love of all things holy and sacred in your world, write. Reading the latest material and the classic volumes is not going to get you anywhere if you cannot explain your opinions on the subject matter. The act of writing will help you understand what you have read, and it will help you express your thoughts on the matter. This is why I blog. When I blog, I force myself to think closely about a subject and to express an opinion. That opinion may be wrong or misinformed at times (see: Do Things, above), but it’s part of the learning experience. Reading – and writing – is how you can take command of your subject matter. So start a journal or a blog, or create a Tumblr to get all your thoughts in one place (like commonplace books of old). And consider writing for publication. You will be better for it, and you will help others better themselves, too.

  • Form Opinions.

Open mouth, insert foot. This kid is going in for the kill.

This is related to reading and writing, but it’s important enough to be its own action. It’s important that you formulate opinions on topics, and not only in your writing. Remember to speak up, be heard, and contribute to the teams you are a part of. The workplace is a team environment and people are going to want to know what you think. Don’t worry too much about being misinformed. It’s worse to be stubborn than it is to be misinformed, because those who are misinformed still have the chance of taking in the bigger picture and learning an issue fully. I want you, whoever you are right now, to not be afraid to open your mouth and insert your foot at your next meeting.  You can always take your foot out and apologize and learn from the mistake (see: Do things, above).

  • Ask Questions and Take Advice (See Also: Meet People).

When you’re new to the workplace or the field, you will be surrounding yourself with people who have a lot of knowledge to share, so pick up this wisdom whenever you can. Show yourself as willing to listen and learn (be willing to listen and learn, for that matter). Don’t be afraid to ask questions; there are no stupid questions. And though you may have to schedule a different time, never turn down an invitation for coffee with a colleague. Listening to people and taking advice are the first steps you can take to turn your book-smarts to street-smarts.

  • Make goals, set timelines, and assess your work.

I’m not asking that you let Google Calendar rule your life. I am suggesting that you’ll never get something done until you turn it into something you can work toward and schedule time for. And be prepared to assess your work. Don’t aim for perfection on all things or you will start suffering from the law of diminished returns. Instead, aim for excellence, pat yourself on the back when you get it, and evaluate how you can do better the times you wish you did.

So there you are: good pieces of advice to live by. I’ll summarize it all by mentioning the official slogan from the university where I took my BA: Age quod agis, or, What you do, do wellI am certainly no wunderkind in my field and I don’t profess to be one at all. But I do give it my all at work to carry my load, contribute to the team, learn from my colleagues, and make a difference in my field.  And there is fulfillment in that.

The former director of my library school once playfully remarked that many people are ultimately hired based on whether the hiring committee wants to work with them at 8:30 on a Monday morning, and I think there’s some truth to that. So many of my suggestions above are social in nature. They are about learning from and contributing to the workplace.  And that’s how you make things happen and get things done: find your niche and do whatever you can to make a meaningful contribution and to make yourself amenable to your peers.  That’s how you make positive results for yourself in the end.

Reflections one year out of library school

This past June marked a year’s time since I graduated from library school, and this July marked the end of a one-year contract that I started just weeks after crossing the stage.  I was real fortunate to find work so quick after getting my MLIS degree, and I thank my lucky stars for that everyday.  Of course, there was some skill and good grace involved, but I know that finding work often involves being the right person in the right place at the right time, and I’m happy that things worked out as well as they did.

Anyway, July was a whirlwind for me.  Between wrapping up projects and clearing off my desk, using up the last of my vacation, and taking in a few more short conferences, I had little time to think about what I’ve done since graduating and what that meant.  But now that I’ve found a moment’s peace, I can lay out some advice to recent LIS graduates, based on what I’ve learned the past year.  It’s imperfect, I’m sure, but nothing is ever 100% or complete in this world, so I’m okay with what follows.

Advice to LIS graduates from a recent LIS graduate:

  • Share your opinions with your employers and colleagues
    • You still have a lot to learn, and these people can help you along the way.  But more importantly, these people want to know your opinions, too.  You may be new and green, but to a lot of people, you represent vast potential because you can bring different and new ideas to the table.  You shouldn’t ever take over a meeting with your opinions and antics, but you should definitely speak up and be heard.  Remember: you won’t be hired to be a bump on a log, so make sure your contribute to your library and your team.
  • Don’t shoot for the moon
    • Once you land a job, you may be so full of enthusiasm that you’ll want to tackle everything at once.  Don’t do this.  Prioritize what needs to be done against the library’s timelines, your schedule, and also against your own learning curve.  Taking on too much will burn you out and potentially let others down.  Instead, create a schedule with your supervisors or mentors, and return to it regularly to adjust it up or down.  This shows foresight: they’ll appreciate that you’re balancing your duties and also keeping them in the loop.
  • Ask Questions
    • You’re going to be a brand new hire at a brand-new-to-you organization.  Your co-workers will know this and expect you to have some questions.  Frankly, it would be weird (if not unfriendly) if you never ask them anything about how things work locally.  These people will become your mentors, and they will be expecting you to be looking for guidance on some things and instruction on others.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s best the way to get to know your new workplace, colleagues, and duties.
  • Spend time at the end of the day planning for the next one.
    • For your mental health, turn off your e-mail 20 minutes before your day ends in order to focus on what you’ve accomplished today and what’s in store for the next.  This is a simple planning technique that will make 830AM Wednesday not appear so daunting because you’ll walk into Hump Day knowing already what ought to be worked on first.
  • Keep reading.  Keep learning
    • Librarianship (especially academic librarianship) is an awkward blend of theory and practice.  Take time in your schedule (mark it in your calendar) to research what’s going on your field:  look at academic and professional journals; read some blogs; get in the conversation on Twitter and Google Plus.  Since you’ll have just started work (or will soon be starting work), it will be easy to fall out of the loop on account of the duties you’ll be taking on while on the job (see my points above).  Therefore, plan ahead and reserve time to keep yourself up on LIS news and research
    • Look ahead to what you will formally study in the future.  Whether it’s professional development or a part-time degree or certificate, you should be thinking about what you may want to study in the future that will help you get the Next Great Job You Really Want, or that will help you stay informed about the Great Job You Just Found And Don’t Want To Leave.  “Continuous Learning” isn’t just a happy PR line.  It’s a requirement for life, in my mind.
  • Keep networking.
    • I don’t care if you do it in person or online, but don’t stop meeting people.  Networking isn’t greasy.  Networking is just what people do – getting to know other people, which will be helpful at work and at play (you never know who your new Best Friend Forever will be).  And make a point to meet people outside of Libraryland, too.  There are a lot of people working outside of LIS whose interests are similar to our own, and they can bring you new perspectives and ideas that you may not be thinking about simply because they’re working with a different network in the first place.
  • Keep writing job applications.
    • Don’t fret when you don’t find work right away.  And don’t fret when the term position comes to an end, either.  Like I said at the very beginning of this post – finding work is a combination of your hard work and a little bit of chance.  Find postings that appeal to you for whatever reason, and then apply to them.  Don’t worry about what you can’t control (i.e., the candidate pool).  Just write the best damn application you can every time (but never lie), and know that you’ve given it your all every time.  And keep applying.  The world may be going broke, but there are still jobs out there.  And your perseverance will pay off, I promise.
      • (Sidenote: Are you interested in academic postings only?  Keep in mind that the hiring process in academic library land can be real slow, and that often, postings open three times in the year: Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Don’t let this get you down: it is what it is.)
Have you got any advice to share?   Comment below and share your insight!

Micah Vandegrift on the librarians of the future

Micah Vandegrift of HackLibSchool has written great post on the future of libraries (or on the librarian of the future, anyway you cut it) on his own blog; it neatly parallels some of the things I’ve been ranting about on blogs and on Twitter this past week.   He, too, sees the need for librarians to increase their technical knowledge and abilities, and to increase these competencies fast:

My advice to LIS students? Get digital skills, whether you want to or not. To those who want to work in academic libraries? Get deep knowledge of digital trends, including CompSci, Data science, information architecture, digital humanities, digital archiving practices, CMS’s and yes even programming . . . To current academic librarians, maybe its time to use some of your free continuing education credits and update your skill set to remain in the know.

Kudos to Vandegrift for calling it as he sees it.  It’s high time that we stop acting like we’re the kings of the library technology castle unless we actually have the ability and are willing to defend these statements.  We need to not only walk the walk but also talk the talk when it comes to information technology as it affects our workplaces, other people’s lives and their research, and our culture in general.  Librarians aren’t so removed from this sphere that we can’t accomplish this, but we have some catching up to do in order to make it happen.

On a sidenote, I’d like to note that Micah makes this call to arms without have to deal with any of the off-base assumptions made by Jeff Trzeciak (recipient of the 2011 Jeff Trzeciak Award for Just Not Getting It) in the run-up to and during #fulmac11.  I believe this IT question presumes that credentialed librarians are the experts on librarianship and should be the people who organize and run our information centres and libraries.  What matters here is the amount of IT knowledge we’re bringing to the profession when we enter it, and also what we’re doing to enrich ourselves and our organizations once we’re there.  The letters MLIS (or MLS, etc) will remain compulsory;  Let’s just find a way to emphasize the IT within the degree.

 


 

2011 Action Items

It’s nearly the middle of January, so these resolutions are a little late.  I made a conscious decision to Stay Off The Blog in December so I could take a proper vacation.  This past fall, I took on a number of projects at home and at the office that was pulling me in too many directions, so going off the grid for a while was good for the soul and mind. (For what it’s worth, I visited family in Palm Springs, California for 2 1/2 weeks.)

Here are a few New Year’s Action Items I’ve been mulling over these past few weeks.   I don’t want to call them resolutions because I don’t want to resolve to do these things so much as I want to do them:

  • Develop better work plans. My colleague in Saskatchewan, Brian Dewar, has some good advice on this one: making (and owning!) a plan can make all the difference on the job.  I’ve taken his thoughts and modified them to fit my own game plan.  I believe it’s vital to think about the long term, but it’s important to be nimble about these things, too.  Don’t let one part of your work overwhelm all of your goals.  And, always be prepared to congratulate yourself for the little victories – you’ll never make it through the week if you don’t find ways to pat yourself on the back for the little things you do.
  • Redefine my position’s role and duty within the organization. My work in instructional technologies this year is largely task-oriented.  I was asked to join a team because of my ability to create online learning objects and because I have a wealth of experience in reference and research services.  My place of work has been working with instructional technologies for many years now, but we’re at a stage where it’s time to redefine our online strategy. I may be on a short-term contract with Dal Libraries, but I wholly believe that what the organization needs right now is not a mechanic (as my colleague has nicely put it) but an engineer.  I’ve held roundtables within the library so we can openly discuss what our success are, what our failures have been, and how we can go forward.  A big part of the winter term will be to develop a plan the library can take forward.
  • Learn more about librarianship. I’ve worked in academic support services for five years and have studied LIS for two years, but there’s still much to learn.  I’m aware of so many issues that affect our profession, but I’m hardly an expert. I intend to spend more time studying pedagogy instead of just talking about it, and involving myself with collections and access instead of just watching colleagues discuss it at reference meetings.
  • Write more about librarianship. Even in our profession, which is made up largely of practitioners instead of academics, we hear the phrase, “publish or perish.”  However, I’m not worried too much about publishing right now. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous that new professionals have the expectation – and burden – of publishing put on them.  It is my professional opinion that new professionals should spend as much time on praxis as they can.  We need to learn what we’re great at doing before we can teach others about it. However, this won’t stop me from writing on this blog.  I’ve made plans to lay down my opinions on things twice a week, and I hope you might find the time to write back and tell me where you think I’m wrong or what you think I should more of.
  • Talk more about librarianship. I have two speaking engagements lined up this winter and spring, with another proposal to be vetted by an organizing committee.  I’m making a point to speak and be heard in venues that are informal and collaborative (which is similar to blogging, in my mind).  This January, I will present on screencasting in education at PodCamp Halifax 2011, and this spring I’ll take part on an IT panel at the Canadian Library Association 2011 conference, also in Halifax.
  • Build communities.  I’ve been floating around an idea for a long time to build either an online LIS blogging community that shares tags and categories or to build an online magazine/portal that can do for LIS what Open Letters Monthly can do for literature and literary criticism.  (In fact, I originally bought thezeds.com because I saw its potential as an LIS brand, even if it doesn’t reference librarianship in its SEO.)  We’ll see if anything happens – stay tuned for possible calls to action on this front.

Happy 2011, all.   I’ll see you on the interweb and in real life.

-Michael.