Any gift-giving occasion often prompts us to make lists. The same can be said for markers in time, particularly the end of a calendar year. As we’re almost to the mid-point of December, it’s double-duty list-making time, as many are planning what to give others for the holidays, as well as making resolutions about what they might do or change or accomplish in the New Year. I grew up celebrating Christmas and making my yearly list to Santa Claus, asking for whatever I wanted him to bring me. I asked for a bicycle one year, a pogo stick another, a Hoppity Hop a third. These are things I remember. I also remember getting some really cool gifts that I never thought to ask for. Once, my dad gave me a small, square, metal box with plastic drawers, each filled with a treasure like brand new Pink Pearl erasers, scissors, a tiny stapler, and colored pencils and crayons. I still have that box. My mom co-opted it from me years after I’d received it and used it to organize her embroidery thread. That’s it’s purpose, still today. Other surprises include a djembe from my partner a few years back and sewing lessons last year. The latter was not a surprise, per se, but I was surprised that I could actually operate a sewing machine. It’s great fun!
In Informationist-landia, I’ve been making a list of things – services, skills, areas of expertise – that I can bring to a research team. We did this exercise, somewhat quickly, as we prepared the supplemental grant application that ultimately landed me on the breast cancer intervention study, but I’ve been working on it more since then. You might recall that the whole group of funded informationists did this exercise back in early November when we gathered here in Worcester. I shared that list in an earlier post. Now however, as I’m about to embark on this work full-time, I need to really become familiar with this list. I need to practice articulating it to those on campus with whom I hope to work. I wrote to a researcher just this morning and mentioned the change in my role. I also asked her if we could grab a cup of coffee sometime so that I can share more about how this role could benefit her and others in her department.
As much as I cringe at the thought of it, this is about selling something; specifically, it’s about selling myself. I don’t much like that thought. I’m fine with self-promotion and I have no real trouble talking to people, but there’s something about the word “selling” that leaves me queasy. It’s not really fair, as I know plenty of honest, decent, nice, funny, every-other-kind-of-pleasant-attribute-you-can-name people who sell things for a living, but for whatever reason, I can’t get past the image of myself with slicked back hair and a bit of a sleazy smile, pulling the wool over a researcher’s eye as I convince him/her that I’ll deliver 180 articles per gallon of coffee and index from A-Z in 4.2 seconds. Best deal this side of Pecos, Texas, pardner.
Considering I’m short on both Brylcreem and sleaziness (thankfully), I’m willing to consider sales in a different light. Fortunately, in just about a month, one of my favorite business authors has a new book coming out that will (fingers crossed) help me do just that. In January, Dan Pink (MLA members might recall him as our keynote speaker at the annual meeting in Washington, DC a few years ago) offers us, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. Per the website, Pink’s book can help the employee “pitching colleagues on a new idea”. That is, after all, exactly what informationists and embedded librarians are doing. We’re trying to convince our patrons, our colleagues, that library services go well beyond access to articles, database searching, and inter-library loan. One item on my list: Dan Pink’s new book!
Another salesperson that comes to mind is likely one of the greatest of all times, Steve Jobs. Plenty has been written about Mr. Jobs, both during and after his lifetime, much of it detailing his brilliance at pitching new ideas, new products, entire new ways of living. He was a master. As I’ve been reading and thinking and writing about the task of convincing researchers of their need for an informationist on their teams, I’ve often thought of a particular, quite popular, quote from an interview with Jobs that appeared in a May, 1998 issue of Business Week:
It’s true, isn’t it? And it was the genius of Jobs and Apple that they consistently, over the years, give us things that we never knew we needed before we saw them, before we had them in our hands, before they became integrated into our lives. Can you remember typewriters and carbon paper? Can you remember dial-up modems? Can you remember not having a cell phone? Can you remember when music came on vinyl records? Can you remember when you had to actually buy a CD in order to hear your favorite band? Desktop computers and iPods and iPhones and email… we can’t function without them nowadays, but it really wasn’t that long ago when we didn’t have any idea that they were indispensable to our lives. But Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and other giants of Silicon Valley changed our world over the last few decades. They changed it for good, both in that it will never again be the same, and in the sense of making it better. Some things, anyway.
We may be lacking such a visionary in our profession today (or maybe not), but individually we can each work to have a vision of what researchers need in terms of information management and organization, data management, information literacy, etc. We can formulate a vision of what we each bring to the picture and then, paint that picture for those we hope to work with. Maybe researchers just don’t know what they want from us yet. Maybe it’s our job to show it to them.
… as it is the time of giving and receiving, I wanted to share a story that is for me perhaps the very best example of receiving something that I didn’t know I needed before I got it. It’s also a story of the real meaning of this season – whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or even Festivus. Regardless, the Season is about sharing gifts with one another, be they material or otherwise. And oftentimes, the ones we least expect are the most special…
When I was in college, I worked in the dining hall. These were the days before Aramark or Sodexo or other large corporate big-box food service entities. They were the days when students still ran the dining hall; where we worked side-by-side with a handful of adults, cooking and serving and running the dish line. It was, in all seriousness, one of the most fun jobs that I have ever had in my lifetime. It was akin to belonging to a large fraternity. I did belong to a sorority in college, but D-Hall was a separate group. We had fun at work and we had fun outside of work. It was a blast.
After a year or so of working on one of the serving lines, I got promoted to the position of Cook’s Aid. The job was what it says, I was an aid to the cook’s in the kitchen. The cooks were full-time working adults. They supervised us, watched out for us, mothered us (in the case of Mary, the chief cook), and barked at us (in the case of the two guys who were retired Navy cooks). I loved working with them.
During my junior year of school, over the winter break, my mom was killed in a car accident. I went back to school a few weeks after it occurred, grateful for classes and a job that filled up time. When Christmas break was looming the following year, I was working one of my last shifts during finals when Robin, one of the cooks, found me as I was clocking out and took me to a break room where she gave me a small, fully decorated, Christmas tree. It was the kind that would fit on the top of my dresser back in the sorority house. She had tears in her eyes as she gave it to me and as she told me how worried she was that I was going to go home and find no tree. She knew how hard that Christmas was going to be. She knew that I needed a tree to get through it. I didn’t know that, but she did. And she was right.
It’s a story that really hasn’t much to do with being an informationist, unless you think about the fact that being an informationist means being a person. And sometimes people do the kinds of things that show us the very best of the human spirit. I wish everyone this spirit throughout the Season and into the New Year.
Thank you for reading my blog the past few months. I’ve received so many kind words and thoughtful responses to things I’ve posted. It’s a real gift.