Category Archives: Professional identity

Humility & liaison

I’ve never seen my librarian role as being a leader of clients but for a long time I’ve seen it as a partnership with clients (both academic & student) & library colleagues. More than once I have been told that leading academics is the way I should see it & I’ve often worked with librarians who embrace the concept of liaison librarian as leader of academic clients but I just couldn’t see it for my own practice.

The partnership understanding of, & approach to, the role probably came to the fore of my practice about ten years in when I finally started coming to the view that librarianship is about people creating & sharing knowledge rather than about information. A partnership approach is also consistent with strong teamwork which, when genuinely applied, is incredibly useful in librarianship.

A few years ago I bought a book (Tom Harley’s Standing tall: confidence, teamwork and learning to lead) for that part of the collection I was developing for first year engineering & spatial sciences undergrads who were started on a journey to develop  a set of generic attributes including strong teamwork skills. I added it to the collection because it wasn’t an academic treatment of the subject ( we had so very many of those), but a successful leader talking to boys & young men about teamwork, leading & intelligent following. Although Harley wrote the book for boys and young men, I thought that it was a quick & valuable read for anyone, especially the non-readers who were well represented in the cohort & the ‘over the top busy’ who were practically everyone in the cohort.

The book also spoke to me as someone who, in the team context, saw myself as a critically thinking follower – a role that I think is much under-rated in workplace teams these days. So, yes I have to admit that there probably was some confirmation bias operating when I chose the book for the collection 😉 This morning Ockham’s Razor got me thinking a bit about leadership again, but from a different perspective – humility as the core of leading.

This eleven minute talk was given by an expert & trainer in leadership from UNSW, Tom Frame. Frame’s talk has also got me thinking about partnership & its possible relationship to strong leadership & humility in leadership. And, as I’m thinking about the factors that influence liaison for info lit, I’m wondering if there’s something here to inspire the consideration of another factor.


Ways of testing out value of 4Es-inspired liaison

I wonder if, when I have an early framework up, this can be one of the ways to assess its value? On a repeat episode of Future Tense about problem solving, I heard Nicholas Gruen run through five ways to test whether we are really doing strategy.

If I don’t move on to testing it with research evidence, I will need other ways to test its practicality. I think that I have an organisational behaviour perspective to run it up against, but I will need more than that. As I’m really on about strategy & liaison librarianship, rather than an operational perspective, Gruen’s work could be useful. He talks about five things that really do speak to impactful liaison librarianship as I have experienced it & observed it:

  1. Critical intelligence – imagination & evaluation
  2. Meritocracy – difficulty & discourse as an ethical quest
  3. Openness
  4. Socratic humility
  5. Systematic approach.

4Es – can they inspire a helpful reflective starting point or am I really talking about a research-based tool?

I realised yesterday that maybe I am actually trying to undertake the early thinking related to the development of an initial concept framework that starts off a research process. The thought had been sitting quietly in the back of my mind but I was so strongly focussed on my concerns about blame culture and how that can possibly lead to us disempowering & demoralising ourselves, that I kept pushing it aside.  Now that I’m listening to myself, I’m wondering (and not for the first time) can what I am doing actually be of sufficient rigour to offer librarians a tool to help begin reflecting on their info lit liaison if it’s not tested through a research process? I had seen research being necessary as a validating process of a “proper” tool but thought that perhaps it wasn’t necessary as a point to help people explore objectively when they are immersed in concerns about their work.  mmmm ….

Update on possible academic client experiences of IL cluster & resulting thoughts about lib management cluster or subfactor/s

Well, I’ve started my lit review & am not terribly far in but it’s clear that academic experiences & understandings of info lit definitely needs to be a cluster.  It doesn’t look like there’s a bucket load of stuff since my last lit review, but there is definitely nice work out there & so far it’s looking like it does justify a cluster rather than a subfactor. As we’d expect, it’s phenomenographic work that’s providing the insights.

As I look at the findings related to academic clients’ experiences & understandings of info lit, I’m sometimes finding how these do & don’t coincide with standard librarians’ conceptions of info lit. This is interesting to me as it’s something that I have almost always tried to do – come to a shared understanding of info lit (in fact the library service as a whole) with my (student & academic) clients. Also, my approach has not always been seen as legitimate by the “info lit powers”. It has even been cited as a form of “disloyalty” to the library.

I have never understood how truly understanding clients & engaging with them could be a measure of incompetence or disloyalty but I’m starting to wonder a little differently about this now. If, when they were less powerful practitioners, these librarians didn’t produce strong info lit liaison outcomes, did they (subconsciously) learn to blame clients for the limited outcomes rather than look for ways to empower all parties in the “info lit game”? And, with this mindset of disempowerment, could they have become managers &/or leaders who can’t/don’t find ways to influence their organisations?

I wonder this because I have experienced some (not all) work environments where liaison librarians seem to be expected to turn around organisational culture as it relates to info lit without any or with very limited simultaneous & ongoing work from managerial roles higher up the organisational food chain. Is it just left to liaison librarians because these managers see no other option? Has their earlier blame mindset continued during their rise up the ladder & continued to disempower them in this area?

Does this suggest that there may be a library management cluster (perhaps of its own) or library management subfactor in some kind of organisational culture cluster that considers whether/how the ground for info lit liaison is appropriately prepared & nourished by the appropriate higher level library people? My early & very limited thoughts are in favour of a subfactor in an organisational culture cluster (should such a cluster be relevant). But this is just a note to self for future work. My priority is still the lit review on academic clients’ understandings & experiences of info lit & I’VE GOT TO STAY ON THAT TOPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Concepts used to “teach” info lit can be used to promote strong client liaison

Over many years I have listened to a good number of liaison librarians complaining about their lack of traction with the academics in their liaison portfolios. Discussions around these concerns never seem to improve the situation as blaming (even mocking & demeaning in some cases) the clients seems to be a response from which these librarians cannot move. I don’t say this as a negative judgement of these librarians. I think that this is probably a natural consequence of a combination of:

  1. The profession’s behaviourist information-centric identity & practice in what is actually a people-centric & knowledge-centric environment
  2. The supporting service role that the library plays in universities which seems frustrating for those who have a need to be at the forefront
  3. The theory void that gives us few thinking tools for professional practice & so can lead to unproductive “emotional” responses when this need not be the case.

Below I have taken a Twitter discussion which is typical of the kinds of things that I have heard over nearly 15 years & linked some foundational learning & teaching concepts that are often used to create information literacy learning opportunities & promote learning at the reference desk, etc. I think that these concepts are important to creating truly productive relationships with academic clients &, therefore, can be used by librarians to empower themselves & their clients in liaison relationships.

There may be disagreement about some of my concept choices but the foundational message would, I think, stand. I’m going to let this mull in the back of my mind, perhaps talk to a couple of people about it & then maybe write it up as a paper.


Libraries as “havens of future-ready skills lessons”

Liz McGettigan posted an article on LinkedIn. As usual it was a short but thought-provoking article – often the very best kind 🙂

By Megan Borgardus Cortez (& in EdTEch: Focus on K-12), it is called Are libraries the key to teaching computer science? Floating the idea that libraries could be the key to teaching computer science, intrigued me – libraries as the key to teaching computer science seemed incredibly over the top.

As I read the article, I was struck by how Megan was advocating the possibility of libraries becoming what many working class Australians of generations previous to mine actually experienced them to be – providers of the “opportunity to become havens of future-ready skills lessons”. I got to thinking that’s exactly what libraries used to be in the 19th & at least the first half of the 20th Century, so how was it that someone had to tell us that we could become this?

… [begins as a comment on a conversation of comments] Although your conversation is very short, I think that it says a lot. Increasingly our libraries seem to be dividing into the haves, the have nots & the “not anymores”. The reasons for these divides are no doubt complex; more complex than I understand. Obviously resourcing comes to mind immediately & trying to find the funds to provide more access to more things may be an obvious not-so-easy answer, & may be particularly difficult to contemplate for passionate but burnt-out library staff reduced to trying to hold things together for the well-being of their much loved communities.

For me, Cortez raises a fundamental issue when she says, “Libraries have the opportunity to become havens for future-ready skills lessons”. In earlier generations of my family (& many other Australian families) that’s exactly what libraries were (along with places like Mechanics Institutes). These people couldn’t afford high level schooling & opportunities weren’t plentiful in working class neighbourhoods in the days when transport was limited. Libraries, even though they weren’t plentiful, were the places people went to give themselves the educations that they needed for their present & their future. They saw libraries as the very things that Cortez thinks that libraries can become. Libraries were an essential ingredient in lifelong knowledge building.

So, I ask myself how did we move ourselves away from this role? Now, I am no expert in the history of libraries & librarianship, but I wonder if it happened when we decided to become “information professionals” providing “access”. And, I don’t just mean access to books, electronic journals, etc. This applies to what some (perhaps even many) may consider to be “progressive” practice. I have seen libraries (& I’m NOT saying that all libraries & library staff do this & I’m not saying that there isn’t a role for this) using social media to tell people what to do (eg. follow our referencing tips & your grades will sky rocket) rather than genuinely conversing OR discussing the makerspace without any reference to one of its fundamental purposes – helping people create their desired learning outcomes.

We can continue on this path of providing access &, often times, measuring our outputs. But, what if we took ourselves back to that past where we saw our roles founded in the knowledge building & knowledge sharing happening in our communities, & partnering with our clients/users/members/patrons/etc to help them achieve their desired outcomes? Would we, once again, give ourselves avenues to be seen to be “havens of future-ready skills lessons”?

And, what forms might those lessons actually take? If our goals were truly the goals of our communities, might we create ourselves a transformational foundation from which to practice? Give ourselves thinking tools for meaningful strategic change that allows us to continue in “future-readiness”? Might the have not libraries begin to find themselves a position of greater strength over time, & might the not-any-mores actually have a chance of finding their way back?

Don’t our communities deserve this from us? Don’t we, as a profession, deserve it for ourselves? Of course, I’m not the only librarian on the planet who has been asking these questions over a period time. Others, much smarter & more eloquent & more able than me, have also been doing it & they are gearing up to challenge us to embrace a people-centric & knowledge-centric (& future-ready) foundation of practice.

Finally, we have a theory from which to apply our practice (New Librarianship). No longer do we have to rely on augmenting & applying the theories of other disciplines to create ourselves roots of professional practice; though doing so is incredibly useful & intellectually stimulating 🙂 Perhaps this new theory will encourage the development of more new theories, even theories in opposition to this approach. WOW!!! How exciting would that be for our current & future practice. How useful would that be to our future-readiness? A gift to ourselves & our communities; to our present & our future.

Possible relevance to libraries seeking to shift from conventional to New Librarianship approach? – it has certainly got me wondering.

Asked David Lankes what he thought of potential relevance & he has responded, This is brilliant and I agree right in track. Building knowledge and narratives in a community certainly seems like sense making.

So, perhaps has milieu links in application of personal pedagogy to librarianship????