Archive | August, 2013

The Future is Now

30 Aug

(This is the second part to last week’s post. If you missed that one, you can read it here.)

We said our goodbyes yesterday. We shared donuts, coffee, memories, and hugs, and then our colleagues of the past many years moved on. The next chapters in their post-LSL lives have begun. And for those of us still here, we’ve a bit of a blank page staring us in the face, as well. But like my former colleagues, our new journey isn’t completely without structure. There is a plan. There are ideas. There are theories that we will now attempt to put into action. As I’ve repeated often, no one knows all of the answers nor how it will all turn out, but in this post, I’ll shed some light on the big-picture plan, and where and how we hope it will lead us.

Manage Your Day-to-DayI’ve been reading a book this week entitled, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (ed. by Jocelyn K. Glie). It’s the perfect Kindle book for those times when you’re forced to spend hours in the dentist’s chair and on the couch, battling a nasty infection. It’s a great collection of tips from a lot of recognizable voices in the creative world. A product of 99U, the brainchild of Scott Belsky and his company, Behance, it’s a web-based clearinghouse of all things for creatives. Personally, I’m hanging my hat on the idea that creativity will be the thing that fixes and/or saves a lot of things in our society and workplaces, and if not, learning about it and adopting many practices of creatives makes me feel a lot better about myself and my work, so if for no other fact than that, I keep up.

But back to the book. The title “99U” comes from the quote by Thomas Edison, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” In the intro to the book, Belsky writes, 

For too long, the creative world has focused on idea generation at the expense of idea execution. … To make great ideas a reality, we must act, experiment, fail, adapt, and learn on a daily basis.

While he limits this thought to the creative world, I expand it to the world of libraries, education, and health care; three large and powerful institutions that merge in my academic health sciences library workplace. Implementation is always the sticking point. Putting theory into practice is hard work. It’s messy. It’s risky. And it’s bogged down at every step, it seems, by the roadblocks of resistance to change, fear of the unknown, or perhaps the most sinister bedeviller of all, apathy. So often, in an unceasing world of work stress, after awhile people simply no longer care. We just want to hold on until we can find the exit door to retirement or the winning lottery ticket. And that’s pretty sad, because for many of us, those options are no longer. Personally, I never imagine being retired. I don’t see it as a possibility in my future. But rather than let this be some kind of depressing bell toll on my work life, I’ve chosen instead to see it as a call that I’d better find and/or make my work life something that I darned well enjoy because I’m going to be doing it for the rest of my life. Whatever it may be.

So how does this fit with the changes in my library now? Well, for one, it’s a message that I’ve been reminding myself of daily. It’s not the easiest time to believe it, but I’m saying it anyway. I’m believing it anyway. I’m writing it here to those who read this blog, colleagues and friends, who are facing the same. As the current president of my regional chapter of the Medical Library Association, I’m preaching it to folks in the pews. They may be sick of hearing it now, but I’m going to keep on saying it… the future is now! If you honestly believe that health sciences libraries and librarians are of value in health care, then the time is now (actually, it was about a decade or two ago, but… better late than never) to put some of our big ideas, our new ideas, our challenging ideas, into practice. We must redefine who we are and what we do, in the mindsets of both ourselves and our patrons. This is not because there isn’t value in our past, but rather that our past is not going to make it in the now or the future.

Am I completely comfortable with this idea? Heck no! In fact, when I sit and think about how different my job is today, I can really struggle with the ideas that I both like the new work and that it feels like it’s taking me further and further away from what I once thought I’d do as a librarian. But that struggle is my struggle to redefine. And if it this is hard for me, I can only imagine how difficult the challenge is for someone without a 24-7 dedication to the institution of libraries and the profession of librarianship. Challenge. Capital “C”. 

At the Lamar Soutter Library, we’re bringing “4 Rs” to meet this “C”. This is a pretty different approach, i.e. a big change for a big challenge. It involves the nurturing of new librarians, those recently out of their graduate programs, by giving them hands-on, professional work in an area that interests them, i.e. health sciences librarianship. It brings together those of us with long term experience and expertise, with those who are fresh out of school, filled with energy and ideas and a desire to implement some of the things that they’ve learned. On paper, it’s a win-win. Those of us who need help in our new endeavors will get it through our library fellowship program. Library fellows will get a full-time, professional job where they can both learn and contribute from the get-go. And our profession, overall, will gain in the recruitment of new blood, new energy, new people to work and serve and hopefully, one day, lead. 

As like last week, my Library Director, Elaine Martin, prepared a presentation that describes the fellows program in detail. She’s graciously posted it on her slideshare account, making it available for others to view, utilitze and comment (Implementing the 4 Rs: Moving Forward and Defining a New Model of Librarianship). You’ll note that first and foremost, this change is about providing opportunities for new health sciences librarians. “Why?” you might ask. Why opportunities for them when we’re struggling to keep our own jobs? Well, maybe because if we don’t invest in our future now, there will be no profession tomorrow. People have been bemoaning the fact that we’re dinosaurs for too long. One way to silence those critics is to invest in the future. Was seeing people lose their jobs in order to make room for the future difficult. 110%. It was hard and it was sad and I didn’t cry crocodile tears yesterday when I said goodbye to one of my closest colleagues during my tenure here at LSL. The feelings of hurt are very real, but the hope for a different, more effective, more relevant future is what I’m holding on to now. And I believe that this program has a chance to get us there.

We’re placing an emphasis on research and professional development in these fellowships. We will address “mission critical areas” in their day-to-day training and work, but will also provide an environment where they will be expected to grow as professionals and this includes gaining experience in doing research. (I have tooted this horn forever, so you can guess that it’s a BIG happy spot in the program for me.) It is at last seen as a priority that, as a profession, librarians must be competent at doing the kind of research that will, over time, build the body of evidence necessary to prove our worth and value to evidence-based administrators. Enough with the “we search better.” Prove it. Enough saying that we have a place in getting health information into electronic medical records, that we have a role in data management. Get out there and do it and then do the research necessary to evaluate these programs so that we have something concrete to stand on when we sing our praises.

When are we going to manage doing this in already overloaded schedules? I don’t know! But I know that I like the idea of operating much more like the patrons that I serve (granted, they are researchers); constantly questioning, constantly researching, constantly watching and constantly stressing about where the next dollars will come from, the next grant opportunity will raise its head, the next opportunity, in general, will arise. As an exercise physiologist, I learned a lot about eustress; good stress. Eustress is the kind of stress that we need to help us grow. Muscles need to be stressed in order to get stronger. So do our minds. There may well be something to be said for embracing this kind of stress in our work today. Stability is grand while it lasts, but over time, it leads to a sense of complacency and entitlement that may well prove our downfall. Maybe it’s good to have a little stress, not so much in the area of work overload, but in that of pushing ourselves into new areas, knowing that if we don’t, we’re done. 

To close, I want to return all the way back to the beginning, where I mentioned that book. I’m reading that book because I absolutely know that one of the skills I have got to master in my role as an informationist, as an embedded librarian, is efficiency. I have to learn to set boundaries, plan a schedule and stick to it, take care of the big things first, and know how to say “yes” and “no” appropriately. I need to be a whole lot better at managing multiple, complicated projects at the same time. I need to articulate reasonable goals (in time and in skill) for myself and those I seek to work with. I need to take the time to know (even catalog) the things that I do really well, utilize them the most, and improve on the areas where there are gaps that can prevent success. 

I once heard a doc say that the hardest thing about developing and implementing an EHR system is that it’s like trying to change the engine of a 747 while it’s in mid-flight. You can’t stop what you’re doing long enough to make the changes because you risk crashing the plane. But you have to figure out how. So do we. 

And now I’m off to a meeting of one of our Transition Teams, the one charged with coming up with how we will provide needed reference services without staffing a service desk, a pager system, or an “on call” librarian system of any kind. Our recommendation to the Management Team is due October 1. Out of the box thinking, folks. Let’s go!

NOTE: If you or someone you know is interested in applying for our new fellowship program, the announcement is now available on the Human Resources site of the University of Massachusetts Med School. If you have any questions, you can feel free to contact Elaine Martin and she’ll be more than happy to answer your questions. 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

23 Aug

Changes“The only thing in life that is permanent is change.” Someone said that. I’m not sure who, but I surely know that I didn’t think it up on my own. Regardless of who first uttered the truism, its truth remains unchanged, change after change after change. The only thing that we can ever really count on staying the same is the fact that things will always change.

I write this not because the summer season is coming to a close and new students are arriving at my university, but because new chapters are beginning here in the library where I work. I went on vacation a few weeks back aware that some restructuring would happen during my time away. I returned to learn the details – at least as many as we know so far – of the reorganization of services, roles, missions, and personnel. It’s not really a very easy time here at work right now. I’d be less than truthful if I said differently. The restructure means the loss of jobs for some, changing roles for others, and a very different way of thinking about the library for those of us still here. As my library director, Elaine Martin, stated in her presentation to the staff, we are now in a time where we will focus on 4 Rs:

  • Reject outdated notions and ideas of what libraries are.
  • Rethink how we do things – EVERYthing, if need be.
  • Redo our modes of operation, focusing on those areas that are now our priorities.
  • Rejuvenate our careers, our mission, and our professional goals as we move forward into a very new world.

If you’ve been a follower of this blog over the past year, you know that my thoughts and beliefs about my profession and the work that we do fall pretty much in line with these “Rs” that my director is calling the staff to focus on now. I’ve been saying for a long time that I believe our ways of doing many things in the library have left us outdated and irrelevant. We need to change and, as was noted by my director, not in small ways. We’ve been tweaking for years. We’ve been cutting out nickels and dimes as needed. But now… now we need to do something much bigger, much more radical, and much more progressive. And for all of the talk that I’ve talked over the years, when the change really hits, it’s not always so easy.

How did we get to this place? Anyone who works in academic and/or health sciences libraries surely knows the answer to this question. At my own institution, we’re facing a $20 million deficit that results in 5% across the board cuts to all departments. The sequestration at the Federal level affects us via major cuts to NIH-funded research. We’ve also lost money from the state government. Our clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, faces their own financial crisis and this, of course, has repercussions on us. Couple these revenue losses with unceasing (and way too often, unfounded) astronomical increases in journal subscription costs and key clinical resources and… well, this is where we are. It’s where many of us are.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that people use libraries very differently than they once did. In our setting, students, faculty, researchers, and clinicians do not need/want to check out materials. The resources that they need most are available to them online and if not, they pressure us to make them available that way. Fewer people come to the library needing library assistance. Note that this doesn’t mean that our gate count is down and/or that we’re a quiet, deserted enclave on campus. We are an incredibly busy place, but the reason that our patrons come here is not necessarily related to the fact that librarians and/or library staff are here. By and large, they come to use the non-human resources that we provide. Yes, THAT is a frightening thought when you’re a human resource. And yes, it is a driving factor in the changes we’re now making.

For a number of years, library administrators have been able to refine and retune services, dropping many things that were at one time standard operations in favor of more efficient and less costly alternatives. However, there comes a point when there is nothing left to cut in these areas. There’s very little left to “stop doing” so that we can focus on new things. There comes the time when some really big changes have to happen. There comes that time when the cost of fixing your old car just doesn’t beat out buying a new one. Here in my Library,  we reached this point. We’re trading in our old model for something new.

In short, a half-dozen colleagues that I have worked with for many years now, will not have jobs at the end of next week. To say that these are difficult decisions and that this is a difficult time in the library is an understatement. Neatly stated, the work is no longer there – circulation, cataloging, binding, interlibrary loan, and even ready reference – to financially justify employing full-time staff to manage it. It is really difficult to make an argument against these facts. But neat and tidy justifications are never such when people are involved. Despite the number of times that it is said, truthfully, that the decisions are not personal, they are. People are losing their jobs. This cannot not be personal. Everyone recognizes this.

I’m not sure what all of these changes will mean for me directly. Fact of the matter is, no one really knows. Not here in my library, nor in our profession as a whole. We’re a work in progress, this profession, and no one is quite sure how all of the new ideas and roles and work will play out. Still, I believe that more often than not, it’s a lack of risk taking that does a person – or an institution – in. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Another good quote from someone other than me.

There are an awful lot of BIG questions facing health sciences libraries today. Our changes highlight this fact. I have to say that the one question that keeps milling around in my head during this particular time is this – Does a librarian really need a library any more? While it’s pretty clear that our patrons certainly need library resources, do they still need the human resources of the library when they come here? I like my cubicle as a place to sit and work, but does it need to be here in the library? With a heightened emphasis and dedication upon embedding librarians in research projects and teams, in curriculum and classrooms, and in physical sites outside the library itself, are librarians themselves now another library resource that can be divorced from the library? I know that my library isn’t the first one to experiment with embedded models and thus it’s unlikely that I’m the first librarian to ever think about this question, but right now, it’s what I’m wondering. For me, it’s the biggest question that I wait to see answered in the coming months and years as we explore new ways of doing things here at my library.

Time will give me the answer to this question, as well as to others I have. And in the meantime, I’m remembering to tell myself that the changing day-to-day aspects of work that may cause some bumps and bruises and slight headaches along the way, these are but that – bumps, bruises and headaches, and simply part of my job. In times of change, it’s good time to remember to keep all things in perspective. (Note: I’m speaking only for myself and not minimizing the much bigger unknowns that some of my colleagues face. To do otherwise would be a very callous thing to do.) 

Elaine Martin has graciously offered to make her presentation available for readers to view, in hopes that it provides clarification and further detail as to the changes made, as well as a reference for others in similar positions at this time. Additionally, in next week’s post, I will describe the new programs and models that we are launching during this transition, along with a presentation from Elaine on that topic. Stay tuned.

An Illustrated Vacation

12 Aug

As noted in my previous post, I was on vacation last week. Vacation is important. Sadly, too few of us are afforded it, take it, and/or enjoy it. Many lament that taking a vacation only results in more work, either before you go away (all of the prep involved in going away) or upon your return (the pile of email and phone messages and “to do” items that await). I know very few people who actually go away for a week or two and stay away, i.e. don’t check email, answer calls, follow-up on things. Somehow, we just feel like we cannot be away. And this is a shame, because time away is really important. We need breaks from our work and the stresses of the everyday work-a-day world. We need some time to do nothing. We need a change of scenery every now and then.

Determined to follow my own convictions, I went away last week (well, for 5 days, anyway). I checked email only occasionally and I don’t believe that I actually replied to any until I returned home on Thursday. Even then, I answered only a couple of them; ones that just really needed to be answered. I tried really hard to simply enjoy being away and to engage the parts of my brain and my body (physically, because I sit way too much in my job) that don’t get the attention they deserve when I’m working.

Not out of the ordinary, I took along a journal and recorded our adventures. What was different this time, though, was that I illustrated the week. I owe a great deal to Suzy Becker, Mike Rohde, Sunni Brown, the folks at AlphaChimp, and others who have inspired me over the past year+ to think with both words and pictures. If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve mentioned all of these people before. They inspire me with their illustrated memoirs, their sketchnotes, their doodles, and their scribing. I took them all with me, in a way, on my trip. Here’s a little bit of the result (a few selections from my notebook):

Vacation_Page_1 Vacation_Page_2 Vacation_Page_3 Vacation_Page_4 Vacation_Page_5 Vacation_Page_6 Vacation_Page_7

Fitting the Bill

2 Aug
Sweet, old Zeb loved to listen to the band.

Sweet, old Zeb loved to listen to the band.

This was a pretty rotten week. It started off fantastically as I met a bunch of my favorite colleagues for fun and games (aka brunch) in Boston, saw Alison Krauss give a freebie concert at Copley Square, and dusted off my old seminary skills to deliver a summer sermon at my church. And that was all on Sunday. But driving home from the big city, I began to have the worst toothache. I stopped at the rest area on the Mass Pike to take some extra-strength something or other, and by Monday, the throbbing reached that horrible place that it seems only toothaches and earaches can ever reach. Tuesday morning found me in my dentist’s chair for 3 hours undergoing an emergency root canal. The rest of the day and the better part of Wednesday was spent lying on the couch, praying that the penicillin would start working soon.

It did. Thankfully. Just in time to receive a phone call from my dad’s wife telling me that my dad was back in the hospital. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. I live in Massachusetts. As you might imagine, this doesn’t make for smooth and/or easy communication about all that’s going on for him.

And then my mother-in-law decided that it’s time for her to move to another state. This month. That took my spouse away for a couple of days this week and likely more in the weeks ahead.

By the time I went to the hospital cafeteria yesterday morning, simply looking for some nice, soft, scrambled eggs to eat, only to find that they’d pulled all of the breakfast foods and were setting up lunch (and it wasn’t even 10:30 in the morning)… well, I admit that I almost cried right there in the hallway. It seemed like just one too many things for the week’s pile-on.

And today marks the one-year anniversary of saying goodbye to our sweet, old dog, Zebediah. He was special in so many ways. We miss him a lot, still.

HOWEVER, not to be lost in this story of the sad and pitiful week is the fact that on Monday, after months of waiting and searching and hoping and juggling, we FINALLY filled my former position of Head of Research and Scholarly Communication Services at my library. Rebecca Reznik-Zellen joins us, bringing our staff up to the full-staff number of 3! It might not sound like much, but as the Schoolhouse Rock classic reminds us, “Three is a Magic Number.”

Rebecca comes to us from the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she was the Digital Strategies Coordinator for the W.E.B. DuBois Library. I’ve been lucky to call Rebecca a colleague for the past few years and feel even luckier now to have her as a co-worker. I once wrote a letter of recommendation for her and in it I summed up my feelings for her work abilities by saying, “If I was ever in a position to build a library staff, Rebecca would be the very first person that I would hire.” As you might imagine, I was pretty happy when she first talked to me about the possibility of applying for the position, and even more delighted when she applied and the search committee decided to hire her (let it be known that I was not part of that committee).

Of course, when someone is hired to take your former position – the one that you’ve been managing, along with your new role, for months on end – you naturally assume that it means at least part of your current workload will finally ease. Something in the back of my mind knew that this wasn’t likely the case with Rebecca’s hire, though. I’ve worked for my library director too long to know that while the job title remains the same, the person filling that role brings with him/her a set of skills that may well be utilized in a completely different way. Rebecca has a skill set much different from mine (hence the reason I’d hire her to be on my Fantasy Library Team) and thus the things that I did well when I was the Head of Research and Scholarly Communications aren’t necessarily the things she’ll do well.

Similarly, the department is at a very different place today than it was when I assumed that role. At that time, it was a brand new role and the kind of services that we needed to develop were based a lot upon establishing relationships, making contacts, and raising awareness of the things that the Library could provide while utilizing our current resources (like our institutional repository, my expertise in the issues surrounding the NIH Public Access Mandate, our push towards open access, etc.). Today, the Library has very solid relationships with many research departments on campus, the kind of relationships that have allowed me to move into the informationist and embedded librarian role that I’m so enjoying. We still have work to do in the promotion of our now-traditional services to this population, but it’s also time to begin boosting up the new areas and roles that we’ve hoped to do for awhile, namely, data services.

Enter Rebecca and her strengths in strategic planning, the issues around data, and the library/librarian roles here, and we have a terrific opportunity for expansion. But yes… expansion means just that, i.e. more work to do, not less. I pretty much have to accept that I’m not passing off my old job to someone else. That’s not how things work today in anyone’s work world. And complaining about it is nothing much more than a big waste of time and energy. Instead, what we need to do is find the ways to share roles, morph needs, kill two birds with one stone, so to speak (I love birds and would never do such a thing). That’s the challenge ahead.

In his book, Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, Keith Sawyer calls this part of “‘problem finding’, creative style.” (p. 25) He says that too often we get stuck asking the wrong questions and that the very first skill to master in developing greater, everyday creativity is to practice finding the right questions. In terms of juggling and managing my workload, both old and new things, the question of “How can I do all of this?” is likely not the right question. Maybe there’s a better solution in asking, “Do I have skills that I’m not taking advantage of?” or “Can I combine x with y when I’m teaching different topics?” or “Can I reach a larger group of people at one time?” or “Can these tasks be broken up into more manageable (i.e. share-able) pieces?” or likely dozens more. I don’t know, but I do know that there is plenty of work to be done and a seemingly limitless list of opportunities that we could take on.* And personally, I find this a much more advantageous position to be in than the one where you have not enough to do and can easily be dismissed.

I also read an interesting editorial last night written by Janice LaChance, the CEO of the Special Libraries Association, in the latest issue of their magazine, Information Outlook. Entitled, “The Promise of Skills and Expertise,” LaChance notes that when it comes to the roles that librarians and information professionals assume, there is much to be said for distinguishing between one’s education and one’s expertise, as well as one’s job title and job role.

Even though the market for jobs is sluggish, the market for expertise is thriving, and there will always be positions for people who know how to identify, use, disseminate, and analyze good information. By learning to highlight and use your expertise rather than depend solely on a job title, you can open doors to roles you may never have considered. (Information Outlook, Vol. 17, No. 4, July/August 2013, p. 2)

I’m seeing this first-hand in my current work. Rebecca was hired to fill the same job title that I held, but the role is quite different. Similarly, my title of informationist or an embedded librarian or a research librarian really is not much more than something to put on my business card or a way to introduce myself to a group. What matters more is what I bring to the role and how well that I can explain this to the people that I wish to form partnerships with.

Case in point, last week I went to a department to teach about issues related to the NIH’s Public Access Mandate. One of the PIs of the group walked in with a printout of the latest RFP from the National Library of Medicine for the next round of informationist grants. “I’ve seen this word, informationist, twice in one week now,” he said to me, indicating that he’d come across both that RFP and my signature line in an email within a few days. “What exactly do you do as an informationist?” he asked, and following the class, we had an introductory discussion about what I’ve been doing the past months in my new role, as well as some ideas he has about how he could use a similar person. Is it a collaboration in the making? I sure hope so, because it’s an awfully interesting project. But more importantly for this post, it’s a great example of how the opportunities to do new things and take on new tasks come to us all of the time. They are rarely limited to any particular job title or job description. And the expansion isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

I’m really happy to have a new co-worker on this adventure and look forward to the questions we’ll come up with together. The everyday work-a-day will continue to be full and yes, sometimes a little frustrating in that I can’t get everything done that I’d like to do, but in all honesty, the diversity of the role is why I became a librarian in the first place. Who wants to do the same old thing over and over and over again?

I’m on vacation next week. I may post a muse that emerges from my relaxation time, or I may just relax. We’ll see! :)

*In that same issue of Information Outlook, there is a thought-provoking (and inspiring, to me) article by Colleen Shannon, manager of technical intelligence at the Hershey Company in Hershey, PA, called “Stop Trying to Serve Everyone.” The story she tells of how she led her group to match its goals with specific corporate initiatives, thus becoming its own functional group as opposed to a support unit is pretty interesting stuff, and a pretty big shift in some of the basic principles of how libraries operate. It also happens to be a thinking that I fully support when it comes to providing embedded librarian and/or informationist services. In other words, I’m perfectly content providing in-depth expertise to a few, rather than a minimal level of service to many. But yes, such work has limitations, I agree.

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