I had lunch yesterday with a friend who used to work at UMass Medical School. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and so we began with the usual and mutual ritual of catching up. She has a new job, something that I somehow missed an announcement for months ago. We talked about her projects and tasks and the pros and cons of working remotely. Then we talked about my year, my own new roles, changes in the library and in our staffing, the new structure and directions we’re heading. My friend works in a technology-heavy world too, thus she knows of the challenges that libraries, IT, higher education, medical education… all of us are facing lately.
One thing that she asked me in particular was how had I managed, over the past year, to build new collaborations and projects. “How do you get people to say, ‘Yes,'” she asked. It’s a great question. Roger Fisher and William L. Ury had a best seller in the 1980s that answered that very question. But the art of negotiation that they teach in their book is something different from what my friend asked. What she was more interested in is how to get buy in, trust, respect, and the “thumbs up” from your boss to try and/or to develop new things. Here are some of the tidbits of experience that I shared, with a little holiday twist for you, just because…
12 Drummers Drumming
Bang that drum! For the past 12 months, I have talked and talked and talked about what I do. In doing so, I have kept my Library Director, my supervisor, and my co-workers in the communication loop. This becomes all the more important when you spend less and less time in the library and more and more in the presence of the teams that you’re a part of. “Out of sight, out of mind,” cannot happen. Use all the means at your disposal to be both heard and seen. Emails, social media, shared reports, and face-to-face meetings every now and then keep folks from forgetting you or worse, thinking that you’re not doing anything.
11 Pipers Piping
Pipe up! Know what you can do, be able to articulate it clearly and succinctly, and then… DO IT! Much of the work that I find myself doing is not work that I think many people initially thought about a librarian doing. They were in the dark about the skills I could bring to their project or team. You’ve got to tell them. Don’t kid yourself. No one else will.
Take a flying leap! Take risks. Try to do some things that maybe you’re not completely sure that you can do at the moment, but you’re positive that you can learn how in the future. Think creatively, just as we wish our patrons to think of us. When it comes to information, data, and knowledge management, there are so many services that we can offer and so many needs that we can fill. Go after them.
9 Ladies Dancing
Keep moving! Without a doubt, this has been the most filled year of work that I’ve ever experienced. It’s been challenging, it’s been exciting, and it’s been downright exhausting at times. But that’s how change goes and I wasn’t the only person and/or aspect of my library that experienced change this year. We’ve all gone through some big changes that resulted in a lot of dancing around to make sure everything is getting done. Hopefully, as we grow into our new model, we’ll have a few more seats along the wall to rest.
Milk it for all it’s worth! Receiving an administrative supplement grant from NIH/NLM was a big deal and we made sure that people on campus and in the larger library world were aware of it. It’s a thin line to walk between promoting something and bragging, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to the promotional aspects, using the award as clout to secure some other opportunities. Librarians aren’t always very comfortable with tooting their own horns, but sometimes, that’s just what you have to do.
Swim against the grain. Assuming newer roles in our profession is not always readily accepted. Within our own ranks, we often argue and grumble over having to do new things, make new changes, and assume new roles that we don’t necessarily want to do. If you find yourself going against the fray, do your best to seek out colleagues and peers who are supportive and positive. Doom and gloom breeds doom and gloom. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Avoid the negative.
Lay an egg! Make some mistakes, or rather accept the fact that you will. I made some this past year. I had more than one hand-slap-to-forehead moment, those times when you can’t believe that you didn’t see something and/or understand something a certain way. It happens. To everyone. Enjoy the company.
5 Gold Rings
Find some gold medal champions! I have benefited tremendously from a couple or three researchers on my campus who know me, like me, and respect what I can do. They are my advocates and I never hesitate to use them for such when it’s needed. Convince a few people to take a chance on you, then come through for them. When you do this, you’ll have people in your corner for the long haul.
4 Calling Birds
Tweet! Tweet! TWEET DAMMIT! Social media – be it Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr, Facebook, or blogs – is a revolution for disseminating your work. These tools allow you to tell more people, more easily than every before, what you’re up to. They allow you to demonstrate both process and product. They let you share your expertise (and your amateurism, as Austin Kleon reminds) with such a wide audience that you’ll never know who you might net. Did I have any idea that Amy Dickinson would become an advocate for me as a librarian? Heck no! Who could have imagined it? But when she introduced me as such to the audience at the Lenox Public Library that night in August… well, THAT was one awesome highlight of my year. Stop thinking that social media is about nothing more than cute kittens. It’s your key to a powerful network of people who can help you grow professionally in countless ways.
3 French Hens
Go abroad! Maybe not literally, but do cross the waters that separate you from those you think you can help. Go to talks and meetings and other arenas where you can learn about what the people that you want to work with do. Don’t wait for invitations, but search the daily announcements of open forums and go. I have done this over the past year and one thing I’ve learned is this… we all share an awful lot of the same problems and talk about the same issues when it comes to communication, information overload, and addressing challenges that a bit of organization might improve. These are opportunities to identify the talking points that will connect you with people and groups that you may think you have nothing in common with. Trust me. You do.
2 Turtle Doves
MAKE some quiet time to think. Doing something new, particularly becoming comfortable and good at it, requires time. Time to think and time to read and time to plan. I have a card over the desk in my studio that reads, “Practice Takes Practice.” Yes, this is one of the hardest things to do when you’re on the dance floor all of the time, but it’s really essential to both grow your role and maintain the relevance of it (not to mention, maintain your sanity). Over the past year, I’ve found a number of quiet corners in research buildings, out of the way places where I can go for an hour to read a few chapters of a book that will give me some new ideas or teach me a new skill, articles that will get me up to speed on a topic that a research team is addressing, or write a blog post that I hope will be useful to my friends and colleagues.
And ONE Partridge in ONE Pear Tree
It only takes ONE! This is the bit of advice that my friend found most useful. Find one champion, one partner, and one project that you can pour all of your efforts and energies into, in terms of your new role. Make it work. Make it happen. Make it a success. Many, many times, just one success is all that you need to get the ball rolling. We got one grant and the success of that gave me an awful lot of confidence and grist for my argument mill when it came to persuading others that I could bring something of value to their table, too. When you’re feeling like the change is too big and the frustration too great, just focus on one thing. One partridge in one pear tree.
I want to thank you all for following along with my adventures this past year. A safe and happy holiday season to all!