Tag Archives: change

New Year, New You (Me)

11 Jan

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and that 2017 will be good to you. I always enjoy a new year. It’s like a clean slate, an open field, the first day of school. And I don’t so much make resolutions as I make lists. I make lists in my new planner. (This year, I’m trying out a nice model from Baron Fig.) I list things that I might want to do, songs that I want to learn, books that I want to read, concerts that I want to attend, movies that I want to see, etc. I add to the lists throughout the year, but it’s not quite the same as starting them up on a blank page in a new calendar at the beginning of a new year. It screams, “Possibilities!”

My list-making this year also reminds me of how unsettled I feel right now. The political climate is unsettling, for sure, and there seems so much uncertainty and fear throughout the world. These things don’t particularly help me address my own anxiety, but they’re also not the only thing contributing to it. This I know. I just feel I’m ready for something new, something different, some kind of change. I think I’m ready for a new me. 

For a good while, I was finding myself frustrated with me because I kept thinking/believing that I’m not the person that I once was and I liked the person that I once was. I kept thinking/believing that if I could just go back to be my “old self,” I’d feel great – happy, fulfilled, energized. But then I started reading this book:


It was recommended to me by a young woman who used to tend bar at a neighborhood pub that I frequent. It’s a young person’s bar and I’m not a young person, but I like to pop in on my way home from work once a week or so, often on Thursdays when my wife goes to yoga, and I have a pint and I read. Young people don’t go to bars until later at night, so it’s generally quiet when I’m there, conducive to reading and/or watching whatever sports show is on. 

Anyway, Taylor, the bartender, evidently noticed my habit and found it interesting. She was there last Thursday with some friends and came over to me to say “hi” and ask what I was reading. (I was reading another great book, The Lonely City.) We talked about the holidays and the new year, and somewhere along the way I must have hinted about my unsettledness. In response, she recommended Donald Miller’s book. She said she just knew that I’d like it. She said that she was re-reading it herself right now. I told her I’d get it, read it, and we could have a book club-type chat the next time we saw each other. She liked that. The bartender working last Thursday, Nate, liked the idea, too. Maybe we’ll get a book club going – early in the evening, of course, before the young people (besides these two) show up.

I’m about half-way through at the moment and so I’ll not offer up a review of “Thousand Years” just yet, but I will tell you this much – and I’ll tell you why I know Taylor told me that I’d like it. It’s a memoir – kind of, sort of – that tells the story of how the author learned to write a screenplay and in doing so, discovered it was the perfect metaphor for writing one’s life. If you want to live a good story, you have to write it. Said another way, if you’re not living the story that you want to be living, you need to write yourself a better one. The book follows along in such a way that as the author learns about how a story is structured (character construction, story arc, inciting incident, etc.), he starts writing not only the screenplay, but a whole new life story for himself. And then the reader is inspired to do the same. And I am. It’s inspiring! 

It makes sense that Taylor recommended the book, because what I was saying to her about liking the person that I once was, but maybe not so much the one that I am now, and wanting to go back to that “old me” – well I’m reminded in reading this book that we don’t ever go backwards. We only go forwards. It’s the only direction that we can go. And I also realized that the person back there in my past that I like, that person was always going forward. That me was always moving, changing, growing. That’s what I like about that me. I’ve been in a rut too long. That’s what I don’t like. That’s what’s unsettling. Change isn’t unsettling. Stagnation is.

It’s time to write some change back into my life.

Earlier during this lunch break, I read (in the chapter about inciting incident), “Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they (humans) won’t enter into a story.  … The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.” (p. 104-105)

I think of how often people are afraid to write in a new journal or notebook, for fear of messing it up. And I always think, “How silly! What else is a journal for?” Donald Miller’s book has me thinking, “What else is life for, if not for writing a good story to live.” 

So I’ve added to my New Year’s lists the line, “Write yourself a better story.” We’ll see what happens!

What’s on your list for 2017? How will your story go? I hope you’ll share along the way.

Soundtrack for writing your story, courtesy of Catie Curtis. It’s been playing steadily during my morning commutes:




How I Spent My Summer Vacation

13 Aug

Granted, it was only a week, but I got a lot done during my summer vacation.

Family visited. (That was fun.) We had the memorial service for my mother-in-law who passed away last January. (It was a meaningful and special time. I know she’d approve.) We went to Cape Cod for a couple of days. (Can’t beat that.) I built a patio in our backyard. (Yes I did.) And I read a book. (Of course I did.)


I read the book, “The Shepherd’s Life,” by James Rebanks. It’s a beautiful story, beautiful writing by a contemporary shepherd; a story of people who straddle the line between a long, deep history and an ever-encroaching modern world. I loved it. I also read it for fun and thus wasn’t thinking much about work or libraries or evaluation or any such stuff that feeds my blog posts as I turned the pages. But along about page 58, I found the need to fold over a dog-ear edge to remind myself of a paragraph that was a good one for this space:

My grandfather worked hard and turned that run-down farm around. He supplemented his farm income by working on other neighboring farms. He was a good horseman. He dealt in livestock. Was an opportunist, like so many of his peers: If pigs paid, breed or fatten pigs. If Christmas turkeys paid, fatten turkeys. If selling eggs paid, get hens. If wool was wanted, grow wool. If milk paid, milk cows. If fattening bullocks paid, buy bullocks. Adjust. Adapt. Change. Do whatever you needed to – because you stood on your own two feet, there was no one to pick you up if you fell down. The geographic constraints of the farm are permanent, but within them we are always looking for an angle.

As I read these words, my mind went to the the “geographic constraints” of the library and librarianship. Traditionally, the physical library has been a boundary for librarians. It’s been a constraint. Even the professional title of “librarian,” a derivation of “library,” has dictated where and how and what librarians do. But this, of course, has changed of late. Why else do people like me do librarian work in other places and under other titles? Like Rebanks’ grandfather, we’ve adjusted, adapted, and changed. We’ve done what we needed to do in order to keep going.

I’m not really sure which profession is older, librarianship or shepherding, but they’ve surely both been around since the dawn of time. We’re surviving professions; ones that survive by being opportunistic. When we refuse to take advantage of opportunities, when we refuse to adjust and adapt and change, when we trust too heavily on some larger entity to make us relevant and/or keep us going, we die. When we can no longer figure out how or lose our desire to do these things, family farms cease and libraries close. It’s a fact of life for both.

I took a lot away from this book. I was inspired by the landscape, awed by the amount of work that goes into this livelihood, and stirred to make my own life (both at work and at home) to be a bit more honest. By this, I mean having something to show for my day at the end of each day. I find it’s too easy for me to slip into a cycle of doing a whole bunch of tasks, e.g. answering a hundred emails, going to meetings, taking notes on this and that, watching television, running on a treadmill, noodling around on my guitar or mandolin; things that, when I reflect upon them at the end of the day, I’m not sure have led me to accomplish a whole lot. Thus, I built a patio. And I returned to my office this week with a goal to be a bit more aware of how I’m working and how I’m spending my hours behind my desk or in front of my computer.

It was only a week of vacation, but I believe that these type of renewals are exactly why we need them. I hope you’ve found some time for vacation this summer, too. If not, it’s still not too late!

Stay Put!

6 Mar
Sit, Eliza. Stay.  Our puppy on her first day home, Aug 2013.

Sit, Eliza. Stay.
Our puppy on her first day home, Aug 2013.

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. 🙂


The Great Candy Cane Caper

29 Dec

There I was merrily absorbed in the holiday spirit, running my daily Jingle Bell 5K and sharing a candy cane a day with my dear blog readers, when all of the sudden …


It may be more appropriate to say that my two feet hit the gas pedal – VAROOOOOOM!!! – than the brakes, but regardless of how you see it, my holiday streaks were tossed off the rooftops and my blog posting has been MIA for 2+ weeks now. That said, I refuse to let 2014 close without one final post, so here goes:

If you read my last post (12/15), you know that as of that date I began a new job as a Research Evaluation Analyst for the University of Massachusetts Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I still work at the UMass Medical School campus (right down the hall from the Library), still enjoying all of the relationships I’ve built over the years. In fact, it’s those very relationships – both around the campus and in the larger academic medical library world – that helped me land this job. And while it’s immensely different in so many ways from the work that I’ve been doing for the past years as an embedded research librarian and informationist, it’s also a position that will allow me to expand on many of the skills I honed during that time.

So what am I doing now? That’s a question pretty much everyone, with the exception of my new colleagues in the UMCCTS, has asked. Right now, I’m working madly with the rest of the grant writing team, pulling everything together before the January 15th proposal deadline. The UMCCTS is funded through a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health, a 5-year grant that expires this year. As you can imagine, I came on board at one heckuva time to come on board. I’ve been playing catch up and keep up at the same time; reading accepted, past proposals from other universities, reading articles on the state of evaluation of the CTSA program as a whole, reading articles on different evaluation research from individual CTSA awardees, and reading the many different components of our own proposal in their many different iterations. 

And I’ve been writing; writing a section on the measurement and evaluation program for our Center as a whole, writing annotated versions of the evaluation pieces for the individual components, writing tables and charts, and writing my list of all the people that I’ll send Christmas presents and/or cards to after the middle of January. What I’ll be doing after the grant goes in (and, fingers crossed, gets awarded) is working on all of the evaluation pieces and projects that I’ve spent these weeks describing. I’ll also be working actively with other CTSA award sites, in particular their evaluation teams, on collaborative research projects that will help us determine the effectiveness of the program on a national level. It’s in this latter part that I’ll get to maintain a number of librarian connections, as well as build some new networks of colleagues (and, if evaluators are like librarians, friends).

Do I like it? That’s the other question I get of late. Honestly, I don’t know yet. I like the subject of evaluation and measuring the impact of research. I like the bits that I was able to dabble in while working in the Library. I like research. I like reading and learning new things. I like seeing UMMS from a different perspective. I like the people. I even like the change of pace, even in its whirlwind form. I’m glad that I followed-up on an opportunity and that it’s come to be what it is right now, but it’s still awfully early in the change; too early to give a definitive “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” 

My highlighted, coffee-stained notebook from that year of hard study. Despite the years, I've never been able to throw it out.

My highlighted, coffee-stained notebook from that year of hard study. Despite the years, I’ve never been able to throw it out.

However, what this early experience reminds me most of is being in graduate school. In particular, it reminds me of the amount of time and effort and work that was involved in learning all of the systemic and cellular physiological mechanisms of exercise for the two courses I took on that subject. I can clearly remember one very bright, sunny, Saturday afternoon in late fall, sitting at the conference table in the room on the 2nd floor of the health sciences building (outside the grad students’ office) with my good friend and classmate, Suzanne Connolly (say it with an Irish accent), working our way through every little step and every confounded enzyme and every change in positive or negative ions to open this or that Calcium channel … all to make one heart beat happen. I can remember talking it through over and over, drawing pictures on the white board, trying to get it, to understand the process, to put all of the pieces together in my head until finally …  BLING!! … the lightbulb went on. And I remember feeling REALLY satisfied. Because it was hard. It was hard, but I’d stuck with it until I got it. And I think that’s why this study day memory stands out so clearly in my memory bank.

I’ve felt that way at other times, too; learning a particular riff on the mandolin or learning to cross-country ski. It takes focus and effort. And it’s about learning, not necessarily about competence. I was (am) a very competent librarian. There was certainly a period of time, early in my career, when I had to put forth a good bit of focus and effort to learn something new, but whenever you’ve been doing something for a good while, the amount of effort you have to expend towards the work decreases. You may still spend the same amount of time and you may still have the same amount (or even more) tasks to attend to, but the amount of effort is different. You’re efficient at what you do. You may not be completely on auto-pilot, but you can probably get to and from work without always remembering the drive.

My first couple of weeks (less a 2-day Christmas break) have been about learning. I’m a long way from being a competent evaluator. The learning curve is steep and challenging, but when I feel overwhelmed, I remember that study day and I remember piano recitals and I remember cruising along on the successes that came from the hard work of learning to be a good librarian. I remember the satisfaction that came with those experiences and I trust that in time, I’ll enjoy the same in my new role. 

Between here and there, I’ll keep sharing the journey. After all, a librarian by any other name is … still a librarian.



Change is Inevitable, but is Transformation?

12 Dec

Maria Sibylla Merian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My colleague, Mary Piorun, is defending her doctoral dissertation this afternoon. (Woohoo!! Go, Mary! Go!) To help her get ready, a bunch of us listened to her give her presentation earlier this week. Her topic is on transformational change in organizations, in particular, this type of change in academic libraries today. I found it to be pretty interesting stuff, not just as it relates to our work in eScience and data management (the focus of Mary’s research question), but the bigger topic of how organizations change, in general. Transformation suggests significant shifts in one’s thinking, behavior, environment, etc. How do such changes happen? What are the components of the change and how do leaders usher their organization through them? Don’t ask me, ask Mary. She’s the one who’s spent the last several years reading and thinking and writing about it. You can reach her at… 

But seriously, as a librarian in today’s changing environment, as an exercise physiologist who encourages behavior changes around exercise and diet, and as a member of a committee at my church called the “Transition Team,” I can’t help but be curious about how and why we change. And how and why we don’t. 

We often hear that change is inevitable and I won’t argue that, but there are lots of different levels of change. Compared to changing an institutional mindset, choosing a salad for lunch is pretty easy. Relatively speaking. Libraries – at least my library – are undergoing some significant, likely even defined as transformational changes. We have reorganized a few times since I came on board 9 years ago. We have made some big shifts in the services we provide and how we provide them. However, the latest changes require a different level of shifting and adjustment. We are, in many ways, redefining what it means to be a librarian on this campus. This is certainly the case for my role as a librarian here. I do very different things today than I did a couple of years ago. I think of myself and my role in very different ways than I did then. I operate with a different mindset – some days clearer than others – than I did before. As Mary outlined the process of this kind of change during her talk, I could see how it has played out in my own career the past years.

I remain curious, though, of how many times and how many levels of an organization have to go through this process before the whole of the institution experiences transformational change. I asked Mary this question and she said that it’s an area that certainly needs research. As a result of leadership taking us through transformation, I may experience a real shift in my understanding of who I am as a librarian. Similarly, our library, as a whole, over time, will hopefully achieve the same. But what’s next? Who is next? Because we are an organization within a larger institution, it seems to me that our work isn’t finished here until we can change the whole of the institution in how it perceives the library and librarians. It’s a big job ahead, no doubt.

Maybe we’ll get Mary to take it on as soon as she finishes up that defense! 


23 Aug

Changes“The only thing in life that is permanent is change.” Someone said that. I’m not sure who, but I surely know that I didn’t think it up on my own. Regardless of who first uttered the truism, its truth remains unchanged, change after change after change. The only thing that we can ever really count on staying the same is the fact that things will always change.

I write this not because the summer season is coming to a close and new students are arriving at my university, but because new chapters are beginning here in the library where I work. I went on vacation a few weeks back aware that some restructuring would happen during my time away. I returned to learn the details – at least as many as we know so far – of the reorganization of services, roles, missions, and personnel. It’s not really a very easy time here at work right now. I’d be less than truthful if I said differently. The restructure means the loss of jobs for some, changing roles for others, and a very different way of thinking about the library for those of us still here. As my library director, Elaine Martin, stated in her presentation to the staff, we are now in a time where we will focus on 4 Rs:

  • Reject outdated notions and ideas of what libraries are.
  • Rethink how we do things – EVERYthing, if need be.
  • Redo our modes of operation, focusing on those areas that are now our priorities.
  • Rejuvenate our careers, our mission, and our professional goals as we move forward into a very new world.

If you’ve been a follower of this blog over the past year, you know that my thoughts and beliefs about my profession and the work that we do fall pretty much in line with these “Rs” that my director is calling the staff to focus on now. I’ve been saying for a long time that I believe our ways of doing many things in the library have left us outdated and irrelevant. We need to change and, as was noted by my director, not in small ways. We’ve been tweaking for years. We’ve been cutting out nickels and dimes as needed. But now… now we need to do something much bigger, much more radical, and much more progressive. And for all of the talk that I’ve talked over the years, when the change really hits, it’s not always so easy.

How did we get to this place? Anyone who works in academic and/or health sciences libraries surely knows the answer to this question. At my own institution, we’re facing a $20 million deficit that results in 5% across the board cuts to all departments. The sequestration at the Federal level affects us via major cuts to NIH-funded research. We’ve also lost money from the state government. Our clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, faces their own financial crisis and this, of course, has repercussions on us. Couple these revenue losses with unceasing (and way too often, unfounded) astronomical increases in journal subscription costs and key clinical resources and… well, this is where we are. It’s where many of us are.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that people use libraries very differently than they once did. In our setting, students, faculty, researchers, and clinicians do not need/want to check out materials. The resources that they need most are available to them online and if not, they pressure us to make them available that way. Fewer people come to the library needing library assistance. Note that this doesn’t mean that our gate count is down and/or that we’re a quiet, deserted enclave on campus. We are an incredibly busy place, but the reason that our patrons come here is not necessarily related to the fact that librarians and/or library staff are here. By and large, they come to use the non-human resources that we provide. Yes, THAT is a frightening thought when you’re a human resource. And yes, it is a driving factor in the changes we’re now making.

For a number of years, library administrators have been able to refine and retune services, dropping many things that were at one time standard operations in favor of more efficient and less costly alternatives. However, there comes a point when there is nothing left to cut in these areas. There’s very little left to “stop doing” so that we can focus on new things. There comes the time when some really big changes have to happen. There comes that time when the cost of fixing your old car just doesn’t beat out buying a new one. Here in my Library,  we reached this point. We’re trading in our old model for something new.

In short, a half-dozen colleagues that I have worked with for many years now, will not have jobs at the end of next week. To say that these are difficult decisions and that this is a difficult time in the library is an understatement. Neatly stated, the work is no longer there – circulation, cataloging, binding, interlibrary loan, and even ready reference – to financially justify employing full-time staff to manage it. It is really difficult to make an argument against these facts. But neat and tidy justifications are never such when people are involved. Despite the number of times that it is said, truthfully, that the decisions are not personal, they are. People are losing their jobs. This cannot not be personal. Everyone recognizes this.

I’m not sure what all of these changes will mean for me directly. Fact of the matter is, no one really knows. Not here in my library, nor in our profession as a whole. We’re a work in progress, this profession, and no one is quite sure how all of the new ideas and roles and work will play out. Still, I believe that more often than not, it’s a lack of risk taking that does a person – or an institution – in. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Another good quote from someone other than me.

There are an awful lot of BIG questions facing health sciences libraries today. Our changes highlight this fact. I have to say that the one question that keeps milling around in my head during this particular time is this – Does a librarian really need a library any more? While it’s pretty clear that our patrons certainly need library resources, do they still need the human resources of the library when they come here? I like my cubicle as a place to sit and work, but does it need to be here in the library? With a heightened emphasis and dedication upon embedding librarians in research projects and teams, in curriculum and classrooms, and in physical sites outside the library itself, are librarians themselves now another library resource that can be divorced from the library? I know that my library isn’t the first one to experiment with embedded models and thus it’s unlikely that I’m the first librarian to ever think about this question, but right now, it’s what I’m wondering. For me, it’s the biggest question that I wait to see answered in the coming months and years as we explore new ways of doing things here at my library.

Time will give me the answer to this question, as well as to others I have. And in the meantime, I’m remembering to tell myself that the changing day-to-day aspects of work that may cause some bumps and bruises and slight headaches along the way, these are but that – bumps, bruises and headaches, and simply part of my job. In times of change, it’s good time to remember to keep all things in perspective. (Note: I’m speaking only for myself and not minimizing the much bigger unknowns that some of my colleagues face. To do otherwise would be a very callous thing to do.) 

Elaine Martin has graciously offered to make her presentation available for readers to view, in hopes that it provides clarification and further detail as to the changes made, as well as a reference for others in similar positions at this time. Additionally, in next week’s post, I will describe the new programs and models that we are launching during this transition, along with a presentation from Elaine on that topic. Stay tuned.

The Potential to Have Potential

19 Dec

A quick keyword search of the word “potential” in the books collection at Amazon yields 35,937 results including such bestsellers as:

  • Boundless Potential: Transform Your Brain, Unleash Your Talents, Reinvent Your Work in Midlife and Beyond by Mark S. Walton
  • The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness by Deepak Chopra
  • The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential by John C. Maxwell
  • Achieve Your Full Potential: 1800 Inspirational Quotes that will Change Your Life by Change Your Life Publishing
  • Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential by Joel Osteen

Be it business, education, health and diet, parenting or investing, we are at no loss for advice on how to be our very best; how to reach our full potential.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines potential as “existing in possibility: capable of development into actuality.” Potential is the promise of everything that we could do or be or become.

In 1998, the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League used their first pick in the draft to select Peyton Manning. The San Diego Chargers chose second, selecting Ryan Leaf. Prior to this draft, there was a great deal of discussion and analysis ad nauseum regarding the professional potential of these two young men. In my opinion, it’s probably the best example one can offer to show that potential is just that – potential. It is not without significance, but alone, it really proves little of nothing in terms of what a person will become. Even the most casual of football follower likely knows that Manning is a future first ballot Hall of Famer. Ryan Leaf, last I heard (early in the summer) was, sadly, off to jail. Again.


Bubble Rock, Mount Desert Island, Maine. Credit: dgrice

When I studied the concept of energy transfer in exercise physiology (probably physics, too), I learned about potential energy. It’s often described using the example of a boulder resting on the edge of a cliff or water at the top of a hill, before it goes over a waterfall (McArdle, Katch, and Katch, Essentials of Exercise Physiology, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2006). The boulder and the water have to fall, in order for any transfer of energy (potential to kinetic) to occur. If someone cements the boulder in place or builds a dam above the waterfall, the energy will remain potential. Nothing but potential.

As I slogged my way through David Haynes’, Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval yesterday (Note: The use of the word “slogged” is a reflection upon the reader more so than the author of the text.), I underlined several passages that refer to the library profession’s attention to metadata, the debate(s) over the differences between creating metadata and cataloging resources, and the emerging place of metadata in the curriculum and syllabi of courses within information science degree programs. Haynes’ book was published in 2004. The debate, he writes, began in the 1990s. When I read this last statement, I wrote in the margins, “And it continues today.”

Talk about potential. In fact, talking about our potential seems to be exactly what we’ve been doing in this area for 20+ years. Talking. However, inroads made in educational programs and an entire new field, information science, have risen from the discussions, and the more traditional skills of librarians are now being augmented with ones that prepare them to work as informaticists, informationists, and/or metadata librarians. Small cracks in the dam are appearing, as we start to really tap into the potential once trapped upstream.

With an old year ending and a new one about to be upon us, it seems appropriate to both think and write about potential. I walked into work this morning in front of a few med students on their way to an exam. They were jokingly (I took it as a good sign) quizzing one another on different aspects of diabetes that they’d been studying. The beginning of a new semester always marks a time of great potential – things to learn, assignments to be done, projects to complete. The end marks the time when we can measure how well one lived up to his/her potential. When you look back on the previous months, did you learn everything you’d hoped? Did you make the best use of all of your time? Can you now, at the end of the class, clearly explain to another person what the subject is all about? Did you reach your full potential or do you look back with regrets?

The end of a calendar year is the same. We make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions, often based upon things that we wished we’d accomplished the year before. This striving to be better is what drives the self-help industry. So many people so deeply desire to reach a higher height. We want to be more fit, lose some weight, remember people’s names. We want a promotion or a raise, a better job, something that makes us feel like we’re making the most out of our days and our talents. We have so much potential.

We have so much potential.

Do you ever wonder why there are so many folks ready and willing to tell/sell you how to reach your potential? Is it, perhaps, because we so seldom fall off the cliff? Is it maybe that we like the dams that we’ve built to hold us in place?

Leaving the library, inserting one’s self into a research team, taking the risk to say you’ll do something that you may not be the most expertise in… these are acts of falling. Learning new skills, seeking out new challenges, and redefining our profession release our potential energy. They involve movement and action. They involve change. Perhaps the reason so many people make so much money off of our desires to change is because deep down, we really don’t want to change. And so we don’t. And we buy another book or join another gym.

Carol Dweck, the well-known Stanford psychologist and researcher (and author of a few self-help books), has devoted her career to studying mindsets, particularly fixed versus growth. Libraries, from both inside and out, have been saddled with a fixed mindset. I say “from both inside and out” because it isn’t librarians alone who have a fixed idea of what a library is. In fact, from where I sit (in an academic library), it’s often our patrons who have the more permanent idea of what a library is and what a librarian does. We often say, “They don’t have a clue what we do!” (I’m not going to go into why this might be. Not in this post, anyway.)

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (How we can learn to fulfill our potential),  Dweck explains why those with a fixed mindset have such a difficult time taking risks. The reason, she states, is because “effort is only for people with deficiencies.” She goes on to say:

When people already know they’re deficient, they have nothing to lose by trying. But if your claim to fame is not having any deficiencies – if you’re considered a genius, a talent, or a natural – then you have a lot to lose. Effort can reduce you. (p. 42)

Truthfully, I don’t know many librarians who believe they are geniuses. I do, however, know a profession that believes it’s greatest value is expertise, particularly expertise in locating, organizing, and providing access to information. But the truth is that this expertise is valued less and less today. In a world of networked knowledge, knowledge itself is redefined. Everyone is an expert. (For more on this, read David Weinberger’s, Too Big to Know.) And so perhaps the biggest challenge we face as librarians and/or informationists is the challenge to put forth the effort; to take the risk that comes with trying.

We probably all know a person for whom we have said or heard, “She has so much potential.” Who knows? Perhaps it’s been said about you. Too often, I’ve noticed, we hear or say that phrase with a tone of regret. “She could have done so much here.” “He could have been so successful.” The “could haves” and “would haves” of life are often tied to untapped potential and untapped potential is often tied to lack of effort and/or the fear of taking a risk. The higher the cliff, the harder the fall.

Libraries and those of us who work in them are filled with potential. It’s my own hope that when I come to next December and I look back on my full year as an informationist, I will see that I’ve fallen down a lot.

(Find out more about Carol Dweck’s work, particularly as it relates to students and learning, at Mindset Works.)