Literacies for the 21st Century Academic Librarian
It astonishes me how little we know about what each of us does at the library. In my experience, technical services staff and librarians are often separated by doors and walls and corridors, situated well away from one another, partitioned in such a way that seeing each other is limited and working together near to impossible. I want to know about the work my colleagues are doing and what projects they are interested in pursuing. I want to know about their work minutiae because they might have a technique, a skill, a strategy to approach a problem, task, or project that I can learn and use. We should be sharing what we are doing, more readily, too, creating possibilities for collaboration no matter how small the project. I think we could benefit from promoting a culture of sharing and openness in our daily work. We share our finished work and projects, but opening up and being a little more comfortable in revealing what you are doing could draw more people to offer their expertise, become interested in your work, or think about asking you to work with them on their next project.
Just under two weeks from the launch date of LibQual+ at our library, a 4-person team met to lay out the strategy, plan communication, and ensure the back-end technical requirements were met and working. I was thrilled to be on that team because opportunities to participate on teams and in projects are limited and rare for part-time, sessional librarians.
The timeline was excruciatingly short to prepare for LibQual+, excite the university community to participate, and heighten awareness among library staff of the importance of the survey. I was given the task of creating some buzz by organizing an event aimed to encourage users to complete the survey – for a reward.
The LibQual+ team determined to have two events to bookend the survey period – one during the first week and another in the last week of the survey. Creating a time and place where students could complete the survey and enter and chance to win movie tickets AND get a free piece of pizza was my project. To do this would require help from many of my colleagues – librarians and technicians – with whom I have never shared my work, asked about their job, nor participated on a team.
Various steps were taken to get the project going, including:
My organizational skills are well defined and sharp, so I was not concerned about leading this project, but I was apprehensive because I did not know the interest level nor skill sets of those who had volunteered to help.
Then I found myself with competing or conflicting priorities, only I didn’t know it. I was heading away from campus for 4 – 6 days, arriving back the day before this do-the-survey-get-a-pizza event, a rather critical time to be away when I was project lead. It was during an interview for a position in which I am keenly interested that one of the selection committee members pointed it out. I was startled. I had not thought that leading the project AND preparing for and participating in a tremendously important interview was conflicting. Yet, it was.
I reflected on that position.
This is what I found.
Yes, it was a situation of competing priorities.
No, it did not feel like a conflict.
I had the support of my colleagues to actively seek rewarding, full-time, and permanent library work. This gave me great confidence and assurance as I prepared for the interview, taking time away to travel and research.
Even though I had not a good understanding of the skills of those who were helping with this event, I realised that I trusted them without reservation. It was that foundational trust that reduced the potentially prickly conflict in priorities. Before I left the campus, we had agreed that all work could be uploaded to a file in the organizational drive on the server where I could see the work progress and contribute to documents and creative pieces. Email was the easiest mode of communication knowing that I would not be checking nor responding during for a couple of days. When I returned to campus the day before the event, all of the draft work was completed, facilities booked, pizzas ordered, and volunteers scheduled.
Competing or conflicting priorities were managed in part because I trusted my colleagues. The event ran smoothly, the interview was rewarding, and I learned much about my colleague’s skills, interests, talents, and willingness to contribute.
I sent out a Survey Monkey for feedback from everyone who volunteered to help with this event. Assessing the project in the context of resources used, scope, set-up and tear down logistics, and communication proved valuable as the next event is less than a month away. I will use the feedback and revamp the process for organizing and executing the event.
A few of the volunteers working closest to me on the project casually discussed the experience offering me additional insights. They found that having a leader who accepts the varying levels of participation from the team fostered trust. They trusted me to accept their contributions no matter how small. I realised that my interpretation and managing of these competing priorities struck a balance in the context of trust. I trusted my colleagues to happily participate at their own pace with varying levels of interest and expertise and they trusted that I would be encouraging, supporting, and accepting.
The next time I have a project, I am confident my colleagues will participate to the best of their abilities and I trust the outcome will be aligned with expectations. Why am I confident? Because I will ask for help and show my colleagues on what I am working.