Each year the ER&L conference, or Austin, or just time to myself after the busy semester start, or all three bring me to a precipice of reflection, questioning, and, sometimes, a crisis of conscience with my profession. In my first year, this was a great feeling. As a new ERL, I was eager to connect with like minds, and feel both grounded and unbounded in my ideas. Year two was more tumultuous. Upon reflection, I realize I had been much more confused, was going through much more learning and change, and experiencing dead ends and false starts to so many ideas. Frustrated. This year, my third ER&L conference and my first presenting, I’m trying to have a purposefully different experience.
On the plane I was reading a magazine article about Millennials and the changing nature of work and expectations of work. The piece described a series of stories where professionals left their corporate or tech work for completely different professions or activites. Anticipating how ER&L would get me questioning in a similar way, I wondered what it would look like if I wasn’t using my strengths and talents to be an ERL, or a librarian at all for that matter. Just after putting the article down, I got into a conversation with a leadership executive coach in the seat next to me. We talked strengths and he encouraged me to reflect on, make a list even, of the things I want to get out of this conference. Even if it was just one thing. The first one thing that came to mind was simply to remain steady and mindful, let frustration come and go, to learn, observe, and listen, simply. I also plan to take Bonnie’s encouraging advice to ‘expand my neighborhood’. I’ll let you know how it goes, but as I begin day two, so far so good.
How I missed adding Dr. Sarah Sutton’s presentation of Electronic Resources Core Competencies to my scheduler, I’ll never know. But, thanks to Twitter, I got there in time to catch the key points, just after Sutton’s overview of the competencies themselves.
Sutton gave high praise to many of the unique ways (mostly academic) libraries are already putting the competencies into practice. Most are using them to analyze, restructure, and define workflows and staffing, either at the department or unit level, and even across the entire library. The latter speaks to a significant takeaway of the competencies, that in most cases “one person can’t possibly do all of this”. The competencies document emphasizes how they are not a set of competencies for an e-resources librarian, but a focus on the collaborative nature of managing these resources throughout the organization. Other applications Sutton shared include informing MLS course programming and continuing education opportunities for both professionals and paraprofessionals, and creating job descriptions and hiring advertisements. The audience provided additional applications, such as assessing and targeting specific areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Sutton plans to continue her research by investigating how the competencies shape student learning outcomes in MLS programs. For myself, I see connections to my research interest in organizational communication, as well as pursuing the question of how you develop training in these competencies, especially in such amorphous concepts as “tolerance for ambiguity and complexity”. Now do you practice that, and how do you measure it?!
There was an important final question from the floor that spoke to how these competencies relate to Emery & Stone’s Techniques for E-resources Management (TERMS). Sutton aptly addressed the similarities between the two, while noting the two have differing approaches — TERMS being more practical in nature and the Core Competencies being more conceptual, addressing the knowledge skills, and abilities of the people doing the work of e-resources management. I shared my agreement with others in the audience that the two are complementary, pointing out that I posed a very similar question for the TERMS project — imagining how t techniques mapped to the e-resources life cycle could extend to mapping improved workflows and organizational communication.
The nature of e-resources evokes themes of constant change and adaptability. As such, the process for updating these competencies, according to Sutton, will be ongoing, and the opportunities for training and other applications of the competencies will continue to evolve. It will be interesting to see how the programming takes shape for the upcoming ER&L, and especially NASIG’s Annual Conference in Fort Worth, as its call for proposals were modeled on these Core Competencies.
Just realized while traveling that this might be my very first ALA Midwinter. I attended a midwinter pre-conference ages ago, but I don’t think I have ever attended a full midwinter conference. I always conceived of it so much smaller than annual — it’s just a bunch of meetings — but I find my schedule already jam-packed with interesting sessions and worrying how to fit in everyone else I want to see. Part of this is that I arranged to bring husband along, making this a trip for work and pleasure, because otherwise who in their summer-loving mind would go Philadelphia in the middle of winter?!
We spent a long 6 hours of travel yesterday, flying in and out of Chicago, where husband threatened to deplane and have me pick him up on the way back. But we settled for a birds-eye view of his favorite city as we continued the last leg. It was a long final descent into Philly, much cloudier, and with much more snow. Although the anticipation nearly drove me bonkers, it was pretty cool to see ever closer snapshots of the snow-covered quarries, rivers, and neighborhoods between each cloudy whiteout.
Unfortunately, except for the blessed view of the basilica right out our window, our room is a bit “meh”, mostly because there was either a mix up, or else simply no single king rooms available, despite my two and a half month advance registration. So husband I are making due with doubles. We may try to spice it up by taking advantage of separate beds tonight. We’ll probably sleep soundly, regardless, after taking the mid-day today to walk around Philly within a brisk 3 hours.
We took an early lunch at Reading Terminal Market where we chose Old City Coffee and a large slice of brick oven pizza. Then we walked ourselves down to Old City District where we saw a few Benjamin Franklins and his bridge, Christ Church and its cemetery, and the very quaint (even in January) Elfreth’s Alleyway. The sunshine and all this walking made the bitter cold bearable until husband lost his hat somewhere in the ALA registration area. So we made a final stop back at the Reading Terminal market for another coffee and some Pennsylvania Dutch treats before high tailing it back to the hotel. I chose Pineapple Upside-down Pie (brilliant!) and you can see for yourself in the obligatory foodie shot how delicious it was! Such pleasure has prepared me well for the work that will come early tomorrow.
I have come to observe that when one pulls back the man hole cover and digs deep into the inner workings of communication — whether personal or professional, individual or organizational, and especially when truthfully seeking solutions and actions for change — one (at least this one) ultimately uncovers a deep reverence for its complexity, an understanding of its fragility, and a humble patience for its path. That path, I must remind myself, is simply progress, and only very rarely, with quiet celebration, and in itty-bitty portions, ever perfection.
Yesterday I attended a presentation by strengths specialist and leadership consultant, Sondra Cave, where she addressed applying strengths in times of change. Obviously, with any organizational change, there are new assignments, roles, and relationships to figure out, and understanding the strengths of your people can be very valuable. Knowing and working in your areas of strengths has been proven to result in greater engagement in the work, fewer mistakes, and (while not necessarily applicable to my environment) greater profits (1).
After the structure of a big organizational change is rolled out, and questions of who and where have settled down, the focus shifts to the work to be done. The decisions in this phase seem to begin kind of haphazardly, in a thumb in the dyke (2) kind of way. This is especially true for the folks “running the trains” as they say. But, when those decisions begin with conversations, and those conversations have a bit more thought behind them, people start asking about the skills (or even better, the strengths) needed to get this work done.
I’d like to take a closer look at a skill that often comes up in my line of work: “attention to detail“. Anyone?
Well, if you plug that phrase into the top job finder sites, this skill is desired among 25,000+ advertised jobs, anywhere from accountant to electromechanical assembly technician. You might glean a little more context from the job title as to what details you might be attending. But even with the context of the job title, it seems we might need to be more specific — more attentive to the details of the “attention to detail” skill. Ba-dump-bump.
In my experience, librarians mostly mean attention to text (or numbers) details. They will sometimes call this having “eagle eyes”. What they mean is that they want you to be able to catch what the average Joe would miss, and thereby avoiding unintentional email miscommunication, a mislabeled book getting lost in the stacks, miscalculating expenses, buying a book we already own, or overlooking and agreeing to an egregious term in a license.
Confession: I am pretty bad at the traditional kind of detail my fellow librarians value. I often send emails (and publish posts) with typos and grammatical errors. Numbers alone actually jumble me up. I am not quick to calculate formulas or see how figures come out the way they do — at least not without struggle, trial, and error. But I’m not willing to admit that I lack attention to detail. And this, in a nutshell is
stubbornness the strengths concept Don Clifton started by asking:
What would happen if we actually studied what is right with people?
What I do have is a great attention to strategic detail. I can tell how something is going to work or not work in ways you might have not thought of. I am great at analyzing the numbers for which the details have already been attended, and can come up with various scenarios for taking action. I can also analyze the text-meaning of a license to know what wording and phrases might cause problems, or find strategies around problematic clauses. I am also very attentive to the details of people and their individual strengths. I’m not always empathetic. I don’t always openly relate well to people, or woo them. But I attentively listen, watch, and learn, and then find ways to help people succeed.
These are my top five strengths, although in order they are: Learner, Activator, Strategic, Analytical, Individualization. Just 5 of the 34 unique, strengths-based ways (3)* people may attend to details. I believe from experience that strengths offers a great approach to getting specific in the details of the work to be done and to getting a positive end result. Sondra Cave emphasized that there are many ways to get there, but the point is that we get there. By focusing our strengths toward the end in mind in this way, we get there faster and with greater…well, strength.
Sondra also emphasized the responsibility we have to use our strengths from a position of health, and not as label, or an excuse to do or not do certain things. One way this happens is by using your strengths to manage weaknesses. For example, I certainly use my analytical strength in my number-details weakness, and I often use my individualization and learner to manage my introvertedness — although, this is not necessarily a weakness (4)!
Point is, once you find out how you are using your strengths in the details of your current work you will be able to see how you might use those same strengths in thousands of other work and details, and how to use them to help you in less strong areas. This is how new teams are quickly formed, how new responsibilities are taken up, and how change becomes opportunity.
(1) Buckingham & Coffman (1999). First Break All the Rules. New York : Simon & Schuster.
(2) Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 23, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Brinker,_or_The_Silver_Skates
(3) Gallup, Inc. (2010) StrengthsQuest. “All 34 Themes Full Description”. Retrieved May 23, 2013 from http://www.strengthsquest.com/content/143324/themes-full-description.aspx *While there are 34 Strengths themes, the various combinations of top 5 results and how they work together differntly, mean there are even more unique ways to approach tasks and relate to others.
(4) Cain (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House.
lifelong learning, the MLS and beyond