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.