Archive | Skills RSS feed for this section

Politics is an Eight-Letter Word

26 Feb

A number of years ago, the librarians at Lamar Soutter Library, UMass Medical School, received the directive, “Get Out!” Our Library Director wanted us out of our cubicles and away from our desks. She wanted us to go to the people that we served. If people didn’t need to come to the Library anymore, the Library needed to go to them. And thus was born our embedded librarian program.

One of the very first lessons that I learned when I started getting out of the Library was that I needed to learn about politics. I remember going to my Library Director and asking if she could give us a lesson on the topic during one of our professional development meetings. Fortunately, she understood where I was coming from and from that point on, was open and willing to answering any questions any of us had regarding who was who and how things worked, politically, at the Medical School.

Our political system has become so broken the past few decades, it’s easy to think of politics as a dirty word. We think of corruption and conniving and backstabbing and the like. But the truth of the matter is that most, if not all, organizations and institutions exist in some sort of political atmosphere. If we’re lucky, it’s NOT a destructive framework, but it is an existing structure all the same.

Reframing 5th coverWhen I was earning my library science degree from Syracuse, I had to take a course on management and one of the required textbooks was Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal’s book, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. The “Political Frame” is one of four organizational frameworks that they present and they describe it as follows:

The political frame views organizations as alive and screaming political arenas that host a complex web of individual and group interests. Five propositions summarize the perspective:

  1. Organizations are coalitions of various individuals and interest groups.
  2. There are enduring differences among coalition members in values, beliefs, information, interests, and perceptions of reality.
  3. Most important decisions involve the allocation of scarce resources – who gets what.
  4. Scarce resources and enduring differences give conflict a central role in organizational dynamics and make power the most important resource.
  5. Goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiation, and jockeying for position among different stakeholders.

(Bolman & Deal, Reframing Organizations, 2nd ed., p. 163)

Now that I work in a different environment than the Library, I’m learning a different political landscape. Different people, different personalities, different programs, different priorities. I’m still in the same institution, so I have a slight head start, in that I at least know the people; by name and position, if nothing else. I also know, thanks to my years in the Library, that walking into situations without respecting the politics is not only naive, but can be downright disastrous to any efforts you’re attempting. It’s a really important lesson and a skill set that’s not necessarily taught in graduate school or in continuing education classes. That’s a shame, because when we pretend that politics doesn’t matter or that it’s a dirty game that we want to avoid, we’re setting ourselves up for trouble. Politics is an eight letter word. There’s no need to not talk about it.

The Lost Art of Being Frugal

29 Jan

Worcester, Massachusetts got slammed by a blizzard this week, bringing out the hearty nature in all of us New Englanders. What’s a little (34″) snow to dampen our spirits? I made a big pot of chili, watched a couple of movies, read a little, and hung out with my pets while the snow flew. Then yesterday, I joined everyone else in the neighborhood in the first great dig out of the winter. It’s what you do when you live here. No complaining needed. Born out of the spirit of the Puritans that settled here, New Englanders have a reputation for hard work and frugality. Granted, it’s been some time since the days of the Pilgrims, and regional distinctions fade as we’ve become a much more migratory society over the centuries, but we still think of Southern hospitality, Midwestern friendliness, Western pioneers, and hearty New Englanders. And yesterday, we hearty folks were shoveling. 

Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While we praise hard work and frugality, these traits also run counter to much that Americans dream to achieve today. Retiring early, becoming a millionaire overnight, achieving fame and fortune by winning a talent contest … these are the ideas behind bestsellers and top rated television programs. We talk the talk of hard work, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, scraping and scrapping and saving for our dreams; these are the bedrocks upon which America was built and, thus, they remain a part of our societal DNA. As one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, said, “The way to wealth depends on just two words, industry and frugality.” In theory. But in reality, for more reasons than we can count, they are less and less the walk of America. 

Economists speak of “frugality fatigue” as a driving force behind folks living in debt. As a species, we aren’t always very good at delayed gratification. We want what we want now and we’ve built a society that feeds this human habit in so many ways. Thus, when we also hear the popular mantra “do more with less” in our workplaces and business, it’s not something that we necessarily want to hear. It becomes a very negative thing. It wears us out, after awhile. We get stretched too thin. We simply cannot do more and more with less and less. In this sense, frugality becomes our enemy.

But is it? Was Mr. Franklin wrong? Or is there a way to look at “do more with less” that prompts something beyond stress?

According to Navi Radjou, an innovation strategist in Silicon Valley, the answer to that question is yes. In his thought-provoking TED Talk, Creative Problem-Solving in the Face of Extreme Limits, he outlines his theory of frugal innovation. In this brief talk, he gives lots of examples of people living in conditions where resources are often extremely limited, yet rather than limiting their ability to solve problems, the situation actually enhances their creativity and results in solutions that they would likely never come up with in a land of plenty. 

They can magically transform adversity into opportunity, and turn something of less value into something of high value. In other words, they mastered the art of doing more with less, which is the essence of frugal innovation.

~ Navi Radjou

We hardly need to live in abject poverty to take advantage of this idea. Librarianship, and any profession struggling with finding its footing and value in tough times, can tap into the one resource that’s common in most every situation, human ingenuity. Radjou calls it our most abundant resource. We need to find ways and create situations that foster our ingenuity. Maybe, the pressure cooker of a “do more and more with less and less” work setting can be the impetus for this. Maybe not knowing what’s coming next, not knowing where we belong, not knowing how to define and/or redefine ourselves is just the environment we need to push us towards creative solutions.

In many ways, I’m glad that I’ve entered my new role as an evaluator without a lot of traditional knowledge and background in the subject. Yes, I’ve been reading and studying up on the basics, but lacking the resource of years of experience and know-how, I find that I’m able to come up with some different thoughts and ideas and solutions that I probably wouldn’t have come up with otherwise. It’s like the team that enters the big game for the first time. They don’t know enough to know to lose.

One of the great things about evaluating the impact of clinical and translational research is that nobody really knows exactly how to do it yet. This is what I tell myself. It helps me put aside any anxiety of knowing that I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing, and sets me free to try all sorts of things in doing my job. It’s my way of making the most out of my limited resources and thus practicing frugal innovation. And that can be downright exciting. 

 

 

Why Not Us?

21 Nov
Credit: NIH/NLM

Dr. Donald Lindberg, Credit: NIH/NLM

A couple of weeks ago, Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, issued a gracious and thoughtful statement on the announcement of Donald Lindberg’s retirement as Director of the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Lindberg has held this post for more than 30 years and as any and everyone knows, the past 30 years in libraries and/or information science has seen monumental change. Dr. Collins lauded Dr. Lindberg’s leadership throughout this time. He also said this:

Trained as a pathologist, Don re-invented himself as an expert and groundbreaking innovator in the world of information technology, artificial intelligence, computer-aided medical diagnosis, and electronic health records.

Doctors seem to do this all of the time or at least they seem to be able to be many things at one time. We celebrate doctors who are also writers, doctors who are also artists, and doctors who are excellent teachers. We think little of showcasing their ability to be multi-talented. In this statement, Dr. Collins praises Dr. Lindberg for being able to be something else besides a doctor, or better put, to be an expert in medicine AND an expert in informatics. 

I share this because I was recently speaking with a doctor about how I was an expert in library science and something else. More specifically, I was explaining how my expertise in library and information science lent itself to being an expert in something else. And when I said this, the doctor looked at me somewhat quizzically. “Really?” she asked, the implication being, “I can’t even imagine.” 

I was hardly resentful about the encounter because to tell you the truth, it happens all of the time. While we don’t bat an eye at the fact that doctors can be multi-talented, the challenge is always there for us to convince them that they’re really not the only ones on whom this characteristic falls. And that’s part of our job. There’s no use grousing about it or getting all bent out of shape. Instead, we need to simply get out there and demonstrate that librarians can be experts in lots of things, too. Sometimes, we can even re-invent ourselves as experts in completely different areas without forsaking our expertise in librarianship. 

As we celebrate the many skills and talents of our patrons, let’s celebrate them in ourselves, too.

Librarians: Perfectly Aligned to be Opportunity Makers

10 Nov

Anderson

I subscribe to a couple of TED Talks feeds and thanks to that, I found a link in my email this morning to a talk by Kare Anderson, a columnist for Forbes who writes about how and why people make connections with one another. I took the 10 minutes required to watch the talk and couldn’t have been happier that I did. Not only was it inspiring on a personal level, but also because it was inspiring on a professional level. As Anderson shared a story about how she connected several people that she knew over a shared interest in public art, I couldn’t help but think and see how she’d make a great librarian (if she wasn’t a great journalist already). Bringing people together, connecting them, is what we need to do in our profession today, perhaps more than ever. As I’ve written before, the library long served as a physical place where different people gathered and found connections. If/when you’re working with a patron group who rarely if ever come to the library anymore, they’ve lost that opportunity to connect. We, the librarians who go out and meet them where they are, we bring that connectivity of the library to them. That’s a big part of our job. And as Anderson says, that work is the work of OPPORTUNITY MAKERS.

Near the end of the talk, Anderson lists the traits of opportunity makers:

So here’s what I’m calling for you to do. Remember the three traits of opportunity-makers. Opportunity-makers keep honing their top strength and they become pattern seekers. They get involved in different worlds than their worlds so they’re trusted and they can see those patterns, and they communicate to connect around sweet spots of shared interest.

Can you see where and how librarians fit this mold? I sure can!

Where the Buffalo Roam: Adventures in Health Sciences Librarianship in North Dakota

27 Oct

I’ve been on the road a LOT this month, traveling to North Dakota and Maine and, later this week, Virginia. It’s been a full schedule and I’ve missed catching up with my blog post each week. Here’s an attempt to begin filling in the holes.

Roamin' with the buffalo in North Dakota.

Roamin’ with the buffalo in North Dakota.

Last year, I was invited by members of the Program Planning Committee of the Midwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association to present a keynote lecture at their Annual Conference. As the meeting was to take place in Bismarck, ND and North Dakota was the only state of the 48 states in the Continental United States that I’d never visited, I jumped at the chance! I was flattered to be asked to talk about my work, too. 

I shared the first morning’s sessions with Betsy Humphreys, the Deputy Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. When we realized that we would be speaking back-to-back at the conference, Betsy and I arranged a quick phone call to talk about what we thought we were each going to say. It proved to be a really beneficial chat, as our keynotes ended up complementing one another very well.

Betsy’s talk, entitled “Points of Departure,” offers a survey of the current landscape in which medical libraries and medical librarians find themselves, and sheds light on the MANY places that professionals can insert themselves and their skills. From electronic health records to patient advocacy to health literacy to informatics, the opportunities abound for those individuals and libraries who are willing to step out (or step up) to the challenges, rather than saying the future holds no place for us. “Set out from any point,” we were reminded. They all lead to opportunity. (You can see my sketchnotes of Betsy’s talk here.)

I titled my own keynote, “Making the Case: Health Sciences Librarians Staking their Claim in a ‘New World.'” You can download the slides here, but I’ll provide an annotated version of the talk in this post.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_01

I confess that in those times when I’m facing many deadlines, feeling stressed, feeling bored, or feeling tired, I have a particular vice that I indulge in. Fortunately for me (though not necessarily for my practices in discipline of any sort), my vice is pretty easy to partake in, as it involves a certain television show that one is hard pressed to not be able to find airing at any hour of any given day. As the deadline for this talk loomed larger, I found myself giving in to my vice so often that eventually, I figured I’d use it as a framework for my talk. Here goes…

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_02

A disclaimer.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_03

Imagine the infamous “duhn duhn” sound. (It played during the talk.)

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_04Our episode starts at a dinner party in Louisville, Kentucky, some time in the late 1980s. Everyone had finished eating and gathered in the living room, sitting in a circle and chatting, when someone said, “I know. Let’s go around the room and everyone share a dream.” 

The usual suspects were offered up; “I hope for a family.” “I want to have children.” “I want to travel around the world.”

When it came my turn, I shared what has, for as long as I can remember, been my life’s dream,” I want to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.”

“GET SERIOUS!” shouted this woman who, by the way, I’d never met in my life. “Tell us something that you might ACTUALLY do!”

Sigh… My dream. Busted.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_05

Thank you, Lenny.

 

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_06So, what’s your dream for libraries? When you think of what a library is and/or can be, what do you dream? Do you imagine the “Library of the Future,” complete with no books and lots of modular furniture, spaces for gaming and tools to help students and faculty and researchers fuel their innovative spirits? Do you dream of tranquility and order and the beauty of our National treasures, like the Library of Congress? Or do you see the library as not a place at all, but people embedded in research centers, bringing the services of libraries directly to the patrons?

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_07

And what do you dream for librarians? Do you miss the “good old days” when we held the keys to the information kingdom; when we were the gatekeepers that everyone had to pass through and by in order to access what they needed? Do you miss the heady power of those days? Or do you dream of times when librarians are no longer associated with libraries; when we’re not even called librarians anymore? What do you dream?

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_08

And for all of those dreams, do you have any kind of plan in mind for how to get there?

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_09My own library recently had our annual all-staff retreat in which our Director, Elaine Martin, delivered her “State of the Library” address. She covered where we’ve been the past year, where we are now, and where we’re likely headed over the next months. One of these future places involves the development of a new strategic plan. Looking ahead five years, where do we think we’ll be? That’s the question Elaine posed to her staff.

When I think back on all of the change that’s happened here in the past 10 years (the amount of time that I’ve worked at UMass Med), I find it pretty hard to even imagine that I ever could have imagined the things I’ve seen come and go, the transformations we’ve endured, and the many different roles we’ve taken on as a library (and as librarians). The thought of imagining the next five years seems daunting, if not downright impossible for me, and it got me to thinking about how I do go about planning my work, my roles, and my future as a health sciences librarian.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_10

Backyard camping!

I grew up in a camping family. We camped weekends and summer vacations. We camped in the mountains, occasionally at the beach, and often in New England and Canada. My father was also a backpacker and he took my brother and I on week-long backpacking adventures, alternating years between us, during spring breaks. The first time I went on one of these trips, I was probably about 10 years old. My dad, being a good bit taller than me, often hiked ahead on the trail. He’d make his way up the path, me following behind, always being sure that he never got too far ahead that I couldn’t see his pack. (It was always a bright color – red or orange – so that I could easily see it.) 

As I thought about how I strategically plan my work, I came to realize that I do so very much like I strategically made it through the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I call my strategy…

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_11

It works. Not just for hiking along unknown trails, but also for making one’s way down the mysterious, always developing and ever evolving paths of medical librarianship.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_12And as every strategic plan needs goals and objectives, these are the ones that I propose for my Backpacking model:

  • Know yourself – what you do well, what you don’t do well, what you like to do, what you don’t like to do, etc.
  • Know your environment – the people, places, and things that surround you and make up your workplace.
  • Know how to bring these two things together – YOU and your environment.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_13We talk a lot in our profession about the gap between what students, faculty, staff, and researchers want from health sciences libraries and what health sciences librarians know how to do. We’re very focused upon identifying the skills that we need to develop to close this gap and become, again, a vital and relevant resource to our patrons. The gap produces a great deal of anxiety for many of us; we don’t know how we’ll ever keep up, ever gain the skills we need, and/or ever meet our patrons’ needs again.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_14

So I propose an exercise…

I've had LOTS of jobs.

I’ve had LOTS of jobs.

Take some time to think about every single job that you’ve ever had in your life. Write them down. Every job, everything you’ve ever volunteered for, every class that you’ve ever taken in formal education or not. List them all.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_16

And then, take that list and from it create another list of all of the many, many, many things that you know how to do. Yes, you’re a librarian and you have a whole host of skills that come with that, but think of others. Think of how all of the other things that you’ve done in your life have helped you gain expertise in information management or communication or team building or organization. And once you have that list, look around you at all of the many, many, many needs your current environment offers. Can you now, with all of these lists in hand, find one or two or a dozen matches, opportunities where you can put yourself, the librarian, to good use to meet these needs? As Betsy Humphreys noted in her talk, these opportunities are our POINTS OF DEPARTURE. They are our keys to relevancy and the future of our profession.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_17

My list looks like this.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_18

And it defines me, the health sciences librarian, as a person who does all of those things. As we each redefine ourselves and our roles, we will, ultimately, redefine our profession. Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_19

And our value will no longer be such a mystery.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_20

This plan, I think, pretty much closes that gap that worries us so.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_21

Next, I provide a bunch of examples from my own work. For each, I offer the project that came to be and the skills used to meet the needs of each.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_22

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_23

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_24

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_25

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_26

I can imagine some new projects and dream up some new places to perhaps find myself working.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_27

I can dream of really BIG things on the horizon, areas that could offer countless opportunities for a librarian.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_28

For my closing argument, I offer up my good friend, Cindy Stewart. If you’re a medical librarian, you may well know Cindy, for up until just a few weeks ago, she was an Associate Director for the health sciences library at Dartmouth’s medical school. Today, though, she’s the new Program Manager for Dartmouth’s Clinical and Translational Science Award. Do you think she stopped being a librarian, simply because she assumed this new position? NO. Do you think that she got this position in large part because of all of the skills she honed over the years as a medical librarian. YES. Cindy was able to sell herself as the person for this job because of all of the things that she knows how to do, from being a librarian, that fit all of the information needs (and more) that the researchers at Dartmouth and their CTSA program have and/or are going to have over the next few years. She closed that gap, but good.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_29

Next I read a great passage from this book, but I’m not going to post it here. Suffice it to say, it summed up how we do a lot of things in life, develop a lot of habits and patterns and trains of thought, based upon not much more than a couple of horse’s asses. (The story is about why railroad tracks are the width that they are.)

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_30Did I make my case?

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_31

You decide.

*********************************************************

There were other tremendously great talks at the conference. I won’t recap them all here, but I’ve posted my sketchnotes for each:

 

 

Teaching Like a Ninja!

1 Oct

Massachusetts Health Sciences Library (1)I attended a really terrific continuing education event last Friday, co-hosted by the Massachusetts Health Sciences Library Network (MAHSLIN) and the Western Massachusetts Health Information Consortium (WHMIC). It featured two excellent speakers and a “sold-out” crowd.

First, Rebecca Blanchard, PhD, MEd, from Baystate Health, Academic Affairs Division, led us through a session focusing on the idea of “stealth teaching,” i.e. teaching people without them knowing that they are being taught. This is a great approach to education and one particularly suited for those of us who work in harried environments and with people who generally have little time or attention to give towards learning something new. From one-on-one encounters to small group instruction to formal classroom teaching, we learned and practiced ways of moving people from the place where they don’t know and/or don’t even know that they don’t know, to a place of knowledge, all by ways that facilitate learning. Dr. Blanchard has coined her approach, “ninja teaching” and by the time the session was over, we’d all earned our white belts in ninja school! 

After learning about teaching, we enjoyed a time of stress reduction – a perfect thing for a Friday! Donna Zucker, RN, PhD, FAAN, from University of Massachusetts, School of Nursing taught us all about the use of labyrinths in stress reduction. We learned about the very long history of labyrinths and the practice of walking them, including their modern day use in clinical settings, health care, and rehabilitation. We got to see a short video about a project that Dr. Zucker is involved with at a county correctional facility, where the inmates built a labyrinth and use it for improving their own stress management skills, something that benefits them greatly when they return to society.

Perhaps the coolest thing … We learned about the use of labyrinths in libraries! Sparq Meditation Labyrinth is a portable, projected labyrinth that was developed by Matt Cook who works at the University of Oklahoma’s library. His project has been installed in his library, as well as at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst’s, W.E.B. DuBois Library. I found this FASCINATING! The science behind labyrinth walking and stress reduction abounds and it was really great to see libraries and librarians aware of the anxieties students face and using this incredibly unique tool to help them manage their stress. I’m going to keep up with this project. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get to install it in my own library one day.

Big thanks to Margot Malachowski of Bay State Hospital’s (Springfield, MA) library for arranging this event for her colleagues, and to MAHSLIN and WMHIC for supporting it!

Here are my sketchnotes from the day:

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

Slide4

Slide5

FlipQuiz: A Great New Teaching Tool

24 Sep

I’m teaching Health Sciences Librarianship for the University of Rhode Island’s Library and Information Studies graduate program this semester. Sometimes, I think we can learn as much being a teacher as we do being a student. In this case, I’ve been learning to use a number of new tools, new concepts, and new ways to teach online, and for distance learners. I’ve had to read a lot of theory and try out a bunch of resources and it’s still only September!  Fortunately, I think my students are both patient and open to the trial and error of my learning. 

This week, I discovered a terrific new tool that I want to share via this blog. I think others will find it pretty useful, too. If you’re a fan of learning via games (as I am), give FlipQuiz a try!

NCBI Game

Feel free to click on the game board and play, but don’t share answers with my students! :)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,633 other followers