On Being a Librarian

Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives

It’s all about other people: it is, really.

Every week opportunities are offered to develop advanced interpersonal skills; taking such opportunities helps me to become more compassionate, appreciative, and empathetic to those persons with whom I work, live, and play.  These opportunities range from company sponsored workshops, seminars, and courses to personal classes, in-depth research and reading, professional association webinars, MOOC’s, and informally through various people and support agencies.


I am truly blessed to have been surrounded by empathetic people throughout most of my professional career. These people have become close and supportive friends. Empathetic workmates have demonstrated that they understand my point of view and treat me as someone they sincerely value.   It is from these workmates that I have learned much. Fundamentally, I have learned to be an empathetic listener. My workmates, past and present,  have taught me to:

  • Listen attentively
  • Reflect from both head and heart
  • Understand that saying “I’m sorry” is not the same as “I failed”
  • Know when I can apologize
  • Never assign blame (it’s non-productive)
  • Paraphrase emotional state or what I thought I heard (seek clarification)
  • Restate the issues and turn the conversation into a problem-solving conversation

“Idling Porsches”

Living near Stratford, Ontario, for many years afforded me many opportunities to attend plays, performances, and art shows. During that time, I learned of Loreena McKennitt, who schlepped her small Celtic harp to the St. Laurence Market in Toronto to busk, frequently. Since that time, she has become internationally acclaimed for her music and support of the arts.

During a concert in Stratford at the Avon Theatre, she introduced the musicians with whom she worked. She called them “idling Porsches”, explaining that those musicians were highly gifted, talented, and extraordinarily creative and she felt it an honour to take them out on the road with her when she toured so they could perform and demonstrate their playing prowess.

Most every day I am keenly aware that I work with idling Porsches that practice their skills every day.  These are talented, creative, dedicated, and supportive people.

Shortly after I moved to a new position at a small comprehensive college, I decided to continue with a practice I had had in place at previous workplaces: random acts of acknowledgements and kindness. I arranged with the on-campus cafeteria to deliver trays of pastries to the IT and Facilities Departments – anonymously. Why? The technicians and staff of both departments had been so helpful to me when I started by setting up my office, moving furniture, arranging desktop and laptops, re-orienting monitors, and shifting shelving. The staff in both these departments continue to receive acknowledgements from me; they are anonymous because I feel that they need not know it is me thanking them, so that it might feel like a collective acknowledgement from their community.

For my workmates, those with whom I have the great honour of sharing a work-space to deliver outstanding experiences to our students and faculty, I try everyday to demonstrate my appreciation of their talents, abilities, and their quintessential selves. Upon arrival, I welcome them to the day with more than a hello. I might say that I am happy to see them or ask them if they spent a pleasant evening. When leaving, I make sure I say goodnight to everyone whenever possible. I don’t interrupt conversations, nor phones call to do so, but a passing wave is well met. During the day, I tell my workmates they are amazing, helpful, and supportive. I mean it, emphatically and sincerely. Every day I am humbled by the knowledge that these people have accepted me with open arms and hearts, supporting me, answering my questions, pointing me in the right direction, and becoming my friends.

Our college uses Yammer, a social media site where everyone can share in conversations, groups, and ideas.  One of the features of Yammer is a “Praise” tool.  Using this feature allows me to give acknowledgement and praise to an individual or group of people, and all college Yammer members can read about the contribution to the college made by those whom I have praised.  Praising others is an opportunity for me to focus on others because my contribution to my work community is centered on everyone else – my workmates, colleagues, peers, community of practice, and students.

Praise tool Yammer

I also leave notes or wee little treats as gifts. One workmate found a small jug of chocolate milk with a ribbon tied to its handle, complete with a note, at their work-space. Another received a small pottery bowl. Once in a while, and for the entire group of workmates, I set up displays of treats and food for our breaks and lunchtime. There has been a lemon cream cheesecake from a bakery in Invermere, BC, gluten-free macaroons and muffins, bowls of apples and bananas, candies and more. I always write a note telling them why I have left them a gift or treat.

Smarties in a Jar!

Smarties by the spoonful!


On the window to my office, I had taped a small poster “Free Positive Thoughts”. I was surprised one day when one of my workmates came by and took one of the positive thoughts. They were comfortable enough to take one as I watched, stating that that particular positive thought would do them good on that particular day. That act brought me comfort in the idea that they were taking care of themselves.


Free Positive Thoughts

Weekend Goodies!

There are many weekends throughout the term when I arrive to get some work done; however, it is all about the students. It is a pretext that I am there to work in my office; I am really there to offer research help, and I always arrive with some goodies.  It might be apples.  Other days I arrive with bundles of chips and cookies.  I leave the goodies on the circulation desk with a small sign stating that research has found that having healthy snacks improves brain function.  Ha!  That gets their attention, and the stock of goodies depletes quickly.

Julie brings treat on weekendsMy 5 Ways to Say Thanks and Show Appreciation

1. Verbalize my appreciation.

I comment on the work my workmates do.  I am sincere when I say, “You are the best” or “kudos to you” or “thanks, for your help because without it I would be totally lost”.

2. Empathetic listening

This skill has been developed over a period of, well, probably two decades, or more. The competency with which I listen has been refined and refocused many times.  I am aware that being listened to creates an environment of trust, openness, and support.  That is the kind of environment in which I want to work.

3. Be authentically interested in others.

I know myself and what I bring to the table. What do I know about my workmates? Well, I ask them about their interests outside work, their most wonderful vacation experiences, the kind of car they want to drive, where they buy their John Fluevog shoes. I ask in an unobtrusive way, a way that lets them determine what content and how much they want to share.  I also take an interest in what they do at work. To better understand and function in my role within my work community, I need to understand what others do, their skills, talents, and competencies. Boy, do my workmates have intense, finely honed, and broad suites of competencies.

4. Offer and ask for help where appropriate.

I am the subject-matter expert on information literacy skills development and library instruction for this library.  In the early months of my arrival, I offered to make available the contents of lesson plans, my schedule for instruction, links to the ACRL standards to which most academic libraries in Canada and the USA adhere, and any other materials that would help my workmates when they are delivering reference services to our constituency.  They overwhelmingly supported this offering, and we now have a dedicated shared folder into which I upload materials on an ongoing basis.

I do not know much about the technical nor clerical aspects of this particular library,so I ask for help.  I do so because I genuinely want to know more about an academic library’s functioning and services, to help me enhance my professional career and competencies; however, my workmates have a far wider knowledge-base in those areas that I ever will, and while it is under their purview, I benefit from them and will continue to learn.

5.  Say “thank you”

From the bottom of my heart. Profoundly, sincerely, and passionately.  I am thankful.  I am grateful.  I am blessed to be working with these idling Porsches who get out of the garage often.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: