I read a couple of good blog posts this morning, over on the Medical Library Association’s blog, “Full Speed Ahead.” The first was by MLA President, Linda Walton, called, “The Time for Change is Now.” It offers a nice summary of the organization’s new strategic goals, each of which contains some level of a call for action. Like many professional organizations, MLA is challenged to find its purpose and goals in the ever-changing world of libraries, health care, and information. The second post is by MLA’s new Executive Director, Kevin Baliozian. “Words I Can Do Without” lays the foundation for what became the very strategic plan outlined in Linda’s post. Wondering what Kevin’s “no say” words are? SPOILER ALERT: They are “try” and “continue.” Again, you can see that MLA and it’s leadership are focused on moving forward, shedding the “same old, same old,” and making the organization as relevant and important to health sciences librarians and information professionals as its storied history shows it to be in the past.
I serve on the Executive Board of my regional chapter of MLA and we are engaged in much the same type of work. What do we continue doing? What do we cast aside? Who do we reach out to? What defines us and makes us different, unique, worthy of a colleague’s membership dues and energy? Important questions, all.
I’ve got nothing against change. I think it’s important to take stock on a regular basis and adjust accordingly. In my new job as an evaluator, that’s one of the main focuses (foci?) of my work. More, it’s one of the main reasons for my work. I evaluate the research cores and programs of the UMCCTS to track their progress and to make corrections; to identify where changes need to happen.
But all of this said, I do have one cautionary note about change: Change for the sake of change is no change at all.
I once counted the number of times that I moved between the ages of 20 and 30. I don’t remember the exact number today, but it was around 18. Eighteen moves in 10 years. I also had a number of jobs during that time. I changed all of the time, BUT I went nowhere. I never stayed in any one place long enough for it to feel like home and I never stayed in any job long enough to become very good at it. And it’s the latter that I sometimes fear when it comes to the bigger picture of organizational and/or professional change.
The other day, someone called me to ask for some “librarian expertise.” I told him that I no longer worked in the library, but I could still certainly help him because I still have librarian expertise. I have it because I stayed in a job for 10 years. My job in the library did not stay the same for 10 years, but I stayed true to a certain core ideal – to help the students, clinicians, and researchers of the Medical School with their information needs, whatever those needs might be. Whether I was building consumer health websites, answering reference questions, teaching how to better search PubMed, or building data dictionaries for research teams, in each I was staying true to that ideal.
As we search and investigate and try on new roles as librarians – at the individual, institutional, and professional organization level – I hope that we stay true to our ideals. It’s a big challenge, but not impossible. It doesn’t mean we don’t change, but that we purposefully change. Change is expensive. It costs time to learn new things and time to become an expert. It costs time to raise the awarenesses of the people we serve regarding the things we now do. It costs people jobs, when roles and tasks disappear. It costs people their identity, when they’re tied closely to one in particular.
In the past 2 months, I have changed jobs, moved offices twice, watched my mother-in-law pass away, and (just about – almost ready to sign the papers) bought a house. I seem to be forgetting another big thing, but that’s probably an innate defense mechanism, because let me tell you … all of this change has been exhausting. It takes a toll on a person physically, mentally, and emotionally. We all know this. So it’s all the more important to make sure that we undertake change that’s worth the expense.
I’m enjoying my new job, though it’s stressful to not be an expert anymore and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss the library. I’m going to love our new house, something that I’ve never had before in my life. And I do so love having an office for the first time, even if it’s across the campus from all of my old colleagues. All good changes. All worth it.
In the same way, I think that many of the changes that we’re talking about and making in the world of health sciences libraries and beyond are great – necessary and worth the cost. But I do wonder about some and I question their true connection to our ideals. Are we scrambling to change because we don’t know what else to do? Are we forced to change for reasons that have nothing to do with our work, e.g. budgets, space, etc. All very real forces of change, but I worry that sometimes the changes that they force aren’t necessarily in our best interest.
Change is difficult. Change is inevitable. And perhaps most importantly, change requires good leadership – whether you’re leading an organization or just trying to lead yourself in the right direction. In that respect, I feel pretty good about my professional organization. I paid my dues for another year. :)