Tag Archives: empathy

What is it again that you do?

7 Mar

Question-MarkHave you ever noticed how if you’re thinking of something in particular, it begins appearing more often in your life? It happens all the time. If you’re thinking of some old song, it pops-up on the radio. If you’re thinking of a person you haven’t heard from in awhile, you get an email or a letter from them. And if you’ve been thinking about something related to your work – some general idea or a belief about how things go – all of the sudden, everyone is thinking of that idea; everyone believes this (or is actively arguing against it!).

One thing that I’ve noticed the profession of librarianship talk about and/or think about and/or explore over the past decade that I’ve been a librarian is our identity. My role now, as an informationist, is a direct example of this exploration. Informationists are another kind of librarian – another way that we’re doing our job. We try on different names a lot. It’s one strategy for trying to sell our skills and our value to others, oftentimes new groups and/or patrons. As such, we spend a lot of time explaining what we do.

I was in a meeting just this morning where I was asked directly, “So what is it that you’re doing, specifically, for the CER group?” I was asked a very similar question on Tuesday, while giving my lecture to the graduate class on Team Science. It also happened in a meeting last Thursday. It happened in a conversation I was having with a church member the other night. It happens at the supper table on a fairly regular basis. “What is it that you do again?”

I used to think that this was simply a side effect of being a librarian. It’s a profession with such a strong stereotype that whenever I’d share something about my day with someone, s/he would be taken a little aback. When I say, “I couldn’t check out a book to you if I had to,” people are aghast. I say that I do a lot of information and knowledge management, but that jargon (as I was reminded this morning) means little of nothing to most people. I’ve come to see, in my line of work, that what people really want to know is the answer to the question, “What do you do and how will it help me?”

But what I’ve also come to see in my new line of work that takes me out of the library and into the worlds of my patrons, is that my patrons also struggle a lot with answering that same question. Just the other day, I heard a researcher say, “Nobody knows what the hell I do!” And inside, I shouted to myself, “WE’RE NOT ALONE!!”

And it’s true. Do you really know – do your really understand – what your friends, family members, colleagues, or patrons do? As an aside, I always wondered what Ward Cleaver and Steven Douglas did when they went off to the office. My parents were teachers, so I knew what they did, but what the heck did people do in offices all day? I had no idea. Similarly, I can stand on the new sidewalk and look up at the new research building on my campus and wonder just what’s going on in those labs.

As an informationist and/or embedded librarian, one of the skills I’m learning to master is interviewing. Part of a good interview involves clearly explaining to the researchers what I do. This involves practice. I need to think about it (a lot), talk about it with others, make sure that I’m making sense to people both in and outside of my profession. A good interview also involves my being flexible. I need to turn the tables on the researchers and ask them, “What do YOU do?,” and then, as I listen to their answers, I need to be able to think critically and creatively about when and where and how I can insert my skills and expertise into their work. I need to really be able to answer the question, “Where do I fit here?” I’m getting better with this as I do it more, as I’m gaining practice on and off the field.

But the real nugget of new-found knowledge that I want to share here today is this… we’re not alone. The people that we’re trying to help, struggle as much as we do in explaining what they do to others. We can make that easier for them in the interview. I asked a cardiologist last week, “What is that?” while pointing to these two medical devices that he had framed on his wall, looking liked crossed sabers. And in explaining what they were, I learned a lot about what he does. Changing the tone of the conversation, making it more personable and comfortable and often times less formal, helps both parties involved understand one another better. I wrote a couple of  posts back about empathy. That’s what this is – putting one’s self maybe not so much in another’s shoes, but in the same room and on the same level. Being part of the team.

It’s been a big week out of the library. Teaching the Team Science class went really well. I found a couple of other good opportunities for collaboration. I’m exploring another possible grant-funded part on a research team that looks really promising. And by golly, yesterday I spent the last hour of my day figuring out the H-index for an author based upon a long list of his citations he sent me, i.e. some good old fashioned librarian work! It’s still winter and we’re wearing a bunch of hats!

 

The $64,000 Question (Odds and Ends)

27 Feb

My week of birthday celebration is behind me now and what a week it was, filled with a party and a holiday and a lecture to a data management class and a professional group board meeting. One is hard-pressed to complain about a full, fulfilling life. Thanks to all of my friends and colleagues near and far who helped me celebrate well.

The full schedule left me with a bunch of notes in my notebooks, things that I don’t have the time to expound upon right now, but I want to offer as “odds and ends,” in case you might find something useful in any/all of them.

First, the word of the week appears to be EMPATHY. It’s come up in two different books that I’m reading; Dan Pink’s, To Sell is Human, and Lee Lefever’s, The Art of Explanation. I recommend both, by the way. Pink’s book offers advice on moving people, getting them to buy what you’re selling – a service, an idea, or an area of expertise. Lefever’s is about… well, it’s pretty self-explanatory … the art of explaining things to people. It’s an art, he argues, and thus something that we can learn to do. For both of the author’s, a significant key to success in these areas is empathy. Being able to put one’s self in the mind and shoes of another helps to get our point across.

It seems a pretty good message for me as I seek to find my place on research teams. The better I understand the people that I’m trying to sell on the idea that they could use an informationist on their team, the better my argument will be. Likewise, the better I can explain what the heck an informationist is in the first place, the better I’ll not appear to them as an alien from the planet Librarius.

I have the opportunity to give a lecture next week to students in our graduate program in Clinical Investigation. It’s a course on Team Science and the faculty member teaching it said to me, “You’re always going on about how it’s important to have an informationist on the team. Come teach my class one day.” It goes without saying that I’m working up my empathetic nature so that I can both explain and sell this group of clinicians and researchers on the idea. Stay tuned for a report of how well I do.

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I really enjoyed giving a lecture last week to the students taking the Data Management Planning class in Simmons College’s GSLIS program. It’s a small class and the majority of students are auditing it, as they are already professionals working in the field. We had a great discussion about the skills one needs to find success as an embedded librarian. I’ve posted my slides from the lecture to my Slideshare account. As you might imagine, they are more visual in nature than textual, but you may be able to get something from them.


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On my embedded days, when I’m not in meetings, I often search out a quiet spot somewhere on campus (not in the Library) where I can work uninterrupted. We have a new research building on campus and during this transition time when people are slowly moving in to the new lab spaces and the cafeteria has yet to open, there are many good places that fit the bill. Yesterday morning I was sitting in what will eventually be a bustling lunch area, preparing for the weekly team meeting, when a few students came and sat at a nearby table. Recalling an assignment that I once had for a writing class, I eavesdropped on their conversation and took a few notes. They looked like this:

Conversation

Ignore the “Also overheard…” bit in red. I just found that really funny and worth a doodle. No matter how new an HVAC system, it seems we just can’t help but complain about the temperature in a room. Must be encoded in our DNA.

No, the part I want you to notice is what I heard the students saying AND the question it prompted me to write. I don’t have an answer for them. Do you? Is a plan the same thing as a solution? If I went up to them and talked to them about creating a plan for managing their data, would this be helpful? I’m not sure and my lack of sureness left me with the question, “Have we got a solution we can offer?” As you note, it could be “masterful,” if we can create it. (By the way, that was a quote from one of the students. Not my word.)

EDITORIAL: A Colleague emailed me after I first posted this, telling me that my notes didn’t make sense. He was right. Here’s a bit of clarification – They said, “I could have saved a whole day of work if there were standards and consistency in file formats.” Then one said, “That’s a masterful idea if there is a master table.” But such a table doesn’t exist and they don’t have time to go back and make one now. Do we have a solution for them that helps them now or can we just make suggestions for the future?

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Finally, I’ve been looking for a tool that will help me keep my projects and tasks and ideas and such in order. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to trade in my notebooks. (As a matter of fact, I got a fresh supply of Field Notes journals on Sunday, courtesy of my wonderful spouse.) No, pen and paper and doodling will remain a staple for me, but I need an online tool to help me organize a working schedule and working demands that aren’t quite as routine as they once were. Yesterday, I stumbled across Curio 8 and downloaded the free 25-day trial to my Mac laptop. In a word, “Whoa!!”  It’s pretty rare nowadays to find something that you can figure out how to use in about 10 minutes. It’s not a high-powered project management tool, but that’s probably to its advantage for me right now. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, but rather something that I can put into use quickly and easily. I have a feeling this is it. Is anyone out there using it? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback before I decide on purchasing. It’s not overly expensive ($100), but I like hearing from others before putting my money down.

That’s it for this week’s check-in. Oh! Except to say that I realized this morning that you can enlarge the font size on an iPad to make reading an ebook on it easier. Is this a new feature? Nah… but my 50 year old eyes are!