Collaboration and Teamwork – practice makes perfect.

So the 2010 World Cup ended this past Sunday and I’m going through withdrawals. (I am a bit fanatical about football/soccer. I’m card carrying member of Wednesdayite, that’s seriously a burden of love.) So pardon me, if I use a picture of La Furia Roja to illustrate this post that I’ve been thinking about for some time.

There’s a cliche we joke with here at my work: “When it’s teamwork, it doesn’t seem work.” Feel free to roll your eyes, but it’s sort of true. If you can work and collaborate as a team, it can make things more enjoyable and less tedious. Idle chit chat can work wonders. I think lots of people could agree on that. Teamwork is also important for committees and group projects. Writing a strategic plan? Need lots of input? Work together! Again, it can make something bearable. This isn’t really a new concept and I think most people would agree on it.

My problem (other than the way England performed at the World Cup) is that I’m tired of the culture that we will only collaborate or share in formal settings. It’s all fine and dandy to have a committee to tackle a group project, but how can you find out a committee is required? What if it’s not so codified?

What I’m getting at is that I want librarians to be more open with what they’re doing with their colleagues. This goes for all of us. It sort of reminds me of some of the talks I’ve had about data sharing – people want to see other people’s stuff but don’t want to have to share their own. Perhaps this is residual from SLA networking, but it just astonishes me how little we know about what each of us do. I want to know about your work minutiae because you might have a technique to tackle it that I could borrow, or vice versa. Yeah, we all have different jobs and different responsibilities, but none of this are really all that unique. I say this as a member of a relatively small cadre of transportation librarians.

The thing that killed me recently was seeing one of my colleagues talking about an idea that they had which there is actually a committee working on tackling. This person, rather than participating in said committee, has decided they need to write a formal proposal on their own and then present it to the group (which group?) later. This seems akin to playing basketball by themselves when there’s a game they could join the next court over. They might want to play with others, but it has to be on their terms. I can understand wanting to have organized thoughts and a proposal, but if there is a group already working on the problem, get involved! Otherwise you’re just adding to the silos.

Last week I sort of put a call out to my colleagues about a project I’m working on – making a taxonomy for navigating/organizing transportation websites – looking for potential collaborators and just to let people know what I’m thinking about. It was great because turns out somebody else is working on the same thing. I made it clear that I wanted to work together because I want whatever the outcome is to be usable for as many people as possible, so they don’t have to do this work. It was not revolutionary, but it’s also not a common goal (without a committee that is).

So what’s the point? I think we need to promote a culture of sharing and openness of practically everything. Not just finished projects, but just sharing your work opens up opportunities for collaboration and working with people you might not even think about. It’s amazing how it also sort of humanizes people. (“Oh you’re doing that on top of all that other stuff? Wow. Nevermind about my silly request…”) If you value the community, you need to be a part of it. Networks need nodes to have value, so be a good node!

Really? What are you up to? I want to know!

Turf Wars: Stepping on toes in Libraryland

I always like to joke about the number of committees I sit on. Librarians love to complain about the number of meetings we attend, and of course meetings are just the time consuming playthings of committees. (I suppose teleconferences/webinars are the time consuming playthings of groups that meet at a distance.)

Maybe this is old hat to most of you, but I had a realization about all of these committees last week at SLA 2010… they set up turf wars. There’s a couple ways I’ve seen this manifest – either it’s the same people in variations of the same committee, each with a slightly different scopes and missions, or it’s different people in different groups trying to assert themselves in same area, vying for supremacy of a narrow strip of libraryland. Turf wars are the logical extension. A very wise librarian, in the middle of a committee meeting that was trying to distinguish itself from another committee meeting, said that the problem was, “[we’re] stepping on each other’s toes, and somebody’s going to get hurt.” They’re right though I think the hurt and pain is sort of what keeps us in check.

Someday, when I finally make sense of the tangled mass of committees that feed upon transportation librarians, I will go into gory details, but for now I’ll just stick in vague generalities.

The funny thing about libraryland turf wars is that the stakes are usually fairly low. Occasionally, the committees are working on something big that matters, that will have a legacy that will actually leave an impact, but overall I think it’s all pretty incremental and low. That’s not to say things don’t matter, but the perspective is off. I am often guilty of drawing my personal lines in the sand in preparation of some sort of battle, but upon reflection I realize that not getting my way is not the end of the world. (Though this also plays into my personal belief that you have to be the change you want, or “put up or shut up.”)

Maybe I just need a better separation of work/life?

LibPunk Essay Contest Essay: How I walk the contradictions

I’m slow on the uptake, but here’s my entry for the LibPunk Essay Contest.

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of LibPunk for a while, and trying to determine how I could be both LibPunk and a professional librarian. It’s not to say that it’s not possible, but where do I draw the lines? Well, I think the easiest line is no profanity in professional arenas. It can really hurt the message and gives people an excuse to discount my ideas. This is a tricky one though because the professional arena is sort of shifting all over, but it’s something I’m trying hard to maintain.

Really though it’s an attitude and belief that I don’t have to accept the status quo. I’m sensitive to the fact that we can learn from the past (I have studied history), but that doesn’t mean that I have to be tied to it. Too often, when I talk about ideas for the future and change, somebody will chime in with a long winded explanation of why a decision was made to do it a certain way 40 years ago without mentioning the fact that the world is a very different place now. It’s a hard line to draw – when do I stop caring about they “why” we do things a certain way? When the “why” comes off as an excuse, a justification for complacency, and doesn’t really address the problems facing libraries or librarians. Actually, I would say the tendency to always explain why things are, and accept those as a reason to maintain the status quo, is what’s holding many librarians back and it drives me up a wall. For me, LibPunk is about breaking that down. Being loud. Being snotty. Being willing to acknowledge where we need to change, that’s LibPunk for me. If I want things to change, I have to embody them.

The other thing, and perhaps this is because I just got back from SLA 2010, but LibPunk is a fine blend of the irreverent, trying not to take it too seriously, but also working for a better sense of community. Library conferences have a lot of fun to be had. We should enjoy ourselves! I love SLA and I love talking to all of my colleagues. I also think there’s a fair amount of unintended silliness that gets in the way of a productive exchange of ideas. I look around and see many librarians just floating along with the stream. They aren’t engaged, but I can’t blame them because it’s not like people are really trying to engage them. I mean, sure the leaders talk about needing the members, and the members sort of spoke up (and out) about SLA alignment stuff, but I still see an attitude of many librarians, that they just don’t want to get involved. Maybe it’s because I have no really balance between work/life, but I want to see people engaged and feel like they can effect change. LibPunk, to me, is a way to call people to arms. Unhappy? Speak up. Do something. Make your voice heard and show that you count. Yeah, it’s a struggle, but that’s life. Without doing that, you’re just letting yourself (and the library profession) be held hostage to miscommunication, misconceptions, and other people’s agendas.

The contradiction is that many people would say, “That’s the problem with professional associations.” It’s true, but that doesn’t mean professional associations are the problem. We (the members) are the reason they are that way because we don’t demand better, we don’t try for better, and we don’t engage. I’d like to think that librarians aren’t unique in their massive egos and turf wars, but we have a lot of territorial issues. Everybody wants to be king/queen, and you see factions and competing groups spring up as a result. I want a better sense of community and I will work my hardest to foster partnerships. Yeah, that means some compromises, but it’s sad to me that this idea of community is sort of punk at all.

What’s in a name? SLA vs. ASKPro

Patty_Hearst.jpg, originally uploaded by ojo maravilloso.

Today, my professional association, currently called SLA, or Special Libraries Association, announced their proposed new name: ASKPro, or Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals.

SLA members have been waiting eagerly to see how the SLA Alignment Project would pan out. A similar vote took place in 2004 (when I was still an undergrad), and the members voted to change the name but rejected the proposed alternative, so we lived with SLA for 5 more years. Will ASKPro pass? I have no clue.

There’s been an interesting discussion about the name in the LSW FriendFeed room. You can see the ambivalence of SLA members, as well as the reaction of non-members. It ranges from apathy, derision for ASKPro, and derision for people who think ASKPro is rather silly. (That’s really the value of LSW, a whole spectrum of really opinionated librarians offering lots of food for thought.)

So will I vote to approve the name ASKPro? No idea. It’s too soon to say. I do want to just briefly go over some of my impressions:

  1. I’m not bothered by the exclusion of “librarian” from the name. Yes, I do work in a library but I know lots of people feel it’s holding “us” back. Whatever. It’s not that important.
  2. ASKPro and Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals just screams, “We picked the snappy acronym and then forced the meaning afterwards.” True, “strategic”, “knowledge”, and “professional” tested well with the focus groups, but string them together and they don’t make sense. What is a strategic knowledge professional? I don’t know, but I know what a librarian is.
  3. I am a little shocked that “information professional” is not a part of the new name, has the sun set on “infopros”?
  4. I said this on Twitter – if we really are professionals, we don’t need it in the name. Having “professional” in our association name just seems insecure to me, like we’re not entirely convinced we actually belong in the professional world.
  5. From all of the testing, it’s clear SLA/ASKPro is targeting corporations and managers who might hire us, not the members, to the apparent exclusion of the members from academic institutions. Does this mean the organization no longer cares about academic librarians in small, special collections? What about government librarians? Are we then expected to go to ALA, who doesn’t really fit our needs, or are we essentially out in the cold?
  6. Is ASKPro meant to help members get better jobs and make more money? Or is it meant to increase the organization’s membership with a catchy name? (OK, I’m just being cynical.)
  7. “Strategic” makes no sense and is as jargony/vague as “special”. I guess it’s an update for a new generation? Will that make the name obsolete in 5 years?

I really want to see what more people say. So far, following the #slaname chatter on Twitter hasn’t yielded much insight either way. I’ll be listening.

(Oh and the picture of Patty Hearst is because I’ve always been enamoured with the other SLA and when I joined this SLA, decided to get the hydra tattooed on me. (Not just because of my professional association, but also because I grew up a couple of miles from the old Crocker Bank and that SLA was a part of my childhood mythos.) I guess it’s pointless now?

Pssst… don’t let tell anybody I’m a Librarian.

A couple weeks ago I went to a Wall Street Journal marketing event called Taste & Talk. We’d get to taste their wine as a promotion for WSJ Wine, and then we’d listen to people talk about how to use information in tough economic times. It was ostensibly a pitch for their Business Smartkit, which they wanted us to go back to our organizations and recommend. I commend them for only spending a couple of minutes talking about that, and really focusing on the food and wine (which I couldn’t have because of the whole vegan sXe thing) and networking. I like soft sells.

When I first received the invitation, I was confused why I was invited. It was clear once I got there librarians were a target audience. My friend was surprised that I could spot all of the librarians in the room, but I tried to explain that we sort of have Spidey-sense about these things. It was nice talking to corporate librarians about their roles in their organizations and how their careers have changed over the years. The most interesting part, to me, was the fact that none of them had the word “librarian” in their job title. It’s as if “librarian” is too dowdy or simple for the corporate world, but “information manager” is OK. This is why lots of people want to be called “information professionals” instead of librarians. I know the name issue is not new, but it still always astounds me.

I do like the idea of all these corporate librarians being SLA members and doing library things but under the cloak of “information professional”. It’s somehow subversive to me, like the fundamentals are still important but the branding isn’t.