Tag Archives: professional organizations

Librarians in Cars Driving Places

29 Mar

Have you ever watched the web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? It’s a funny show created by the very funny comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. Much like his classic television show, it’s kind of about nothing – just Jerry and some talented and funny comedians riding around in vintage cars, having coffee, and talking about whatever. I like it.

I also like The Late Late Show’s host, James Corden’s, carpool karaoke bits where he picks up famous folks and they ride around singing to songs on the radio. (My all-time favorite is the one with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Honestly … LAUGH OUT LOUD funny! I had to watch it again while writing this. Excuse the snickers.) 

And then there’s the sportswriter, Tony Kornheiser’s daily podcast, This Show Stinks. I started listening to it early this year during my afternoon walks. For many years, Kornheiser wrote a column in the Washington Post. Whenever it was about the Washington Redskins, my grandmother clipped it out and sent it to me. I’ve been a fan ever since. I love the podcast because it centers on discussions around sports, politics, culture, odd news stories. A regular, rotating crew of columnists, politicos, sports people, movie critics, and more join in for what’s always an entertaining hour or so. 

I think the common thread of interest for me is that each of these venues allows me to be something of a voyeur, a fly on the wall of the room (or car) with people I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. They’re always smart and funny and they create these shows that allow me to feel like I’m part of the group. Even when I’m clearly not. Not in that league. Not by a long shot.

ozarkland

Fish hat. Ozarkland. Yes!!

I was thinking about Comedians in Cars this morning while walking my dog. I got to thinking about a few times when I’ve been riding in cars with other librarians and how those drives turned out to be as interesting and fun as any of these shows or podcasts. I remembered the time that Kristi Holmes, Director of the Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University, and I rode all the way across Missouri together. At the time, Kristi was working at the Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis. We were both attending a conference in Kansas City, so I flew into St. Louis, Kristi picked me up at the airport, and we drove across the state together. On the way to Kansas City, we stopped off at the fantastically awesome, Ozarkland, and laughed ourselves silly at all of the kitchy souvenirs. On the way back, we stopped off at a for-real western wear store where I bought my very first pair of boots. Kristi grew up on a ranch. She was the perfect guide for this shopping adventure. And in between, we talked and talked. And we became friends.

Another time, early in my stint at the Lamar Soutter Library, I was invited to give a talk at  Cape Cod Community College. Donna Berryman, Senior Associate Director at the Edward G. Miner Library, University of Rochester, was the Outreach Coordinator for the New England Regional Medical Library (NN/LM, NER) at the time, thus we were co-workers. Donna also had to attend this event at CCCC, so we rode along together. We talked about libraries, librarianship, books, movies, our lives, our families, where we were from, how we grew up… in other words, in those hours in her car, we also became friends. Life-long friends.

I guess that I was thinking about these experiences this morning because I recently engaged in an online discussion about the importance of professional organizations. They’re dwindling, in case you were unaware. Membership is down at every level – national organizations, regional organizations, state and local organizations – and for a variety of reasons. If you, like me, have long been involved in a professional organization, particularly in leadership roles, you’ve likely felt the pressure that comes with trying to maintain an organization with fewer and fewer resources, as well as struggling with the emotional feeling of “we’re failing.” 

But we’re not failing. We’re changing, but not failing. The trick is to get in front of (or ride) the change in such a way as to prevent failure, i.e. change in ways to remain relevant, important, worth the investment of people’s scarce time and money. That’s the challenge.

My adventures riding in cars with librarians strikes at the heart of what professional networks and professional organizations are all about – relationships. Though I don’t work in a medical or health sciences library anymore, I maintain the professional relationships that I developed through car rides, meetings, shared office space, virtual spaces, and social media because they are invaluable. They provide every opportunity for support, professional growth, sounding boards, collegial spirit, and yes … friendship.

I think it’s really difficult to translate to anyone new to a profession (or even one who’s been at it awhile and sees the retirement door ahead) the value of the relationships that come from sharing a profession – from sharing rides in cars, both literally and figuratively. But I believe maybe it’s something that those of us invested in organizations need to work on, if we want to hang around awhile longer. Going it alone is hard and it’s also not the best thing for the overall health of a profession. People together makes a profession.

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. 🙂

 

Where Do I Belong?

10 Jun

[A colleague recently posed the question on a professional listserv as to what kind and/or which professional organization best fits an academic, health, and special library librarian – something that many health sciences librarians feel that they are, i.e. a mix of a librarian that doesn’t solely fit within the Medical Library Association (MLA), the American Library Association (ALA), or the Special Libraries Association (SLA). It’s a GREAT question and I wanted to share my reply both to the list and on my blog, as I feel the value of professional organizations, in general, is really up for grabs. I hope this will spark some discussion.]

Areyoumymother

Do I belong to you?
One of the best children’s book’s ever!

Your question is a really good one AND one that I know is being asked at national, regional and state-level organizations across the board. What is the relevance of these groups. Annual memberships, meeting costs, and service time add up quickly, and in this day and age when both time and money are in short supply, the return on one’s investment really needs to be clear.

I very recently joined SLA. I made this decision for several reasons:

    • My fairly new role as an informationist and embedded librarian requires many skills and covers many topics that I noticed SLA programming and resources (both regionally and nationally) support more than MLA, e.g. entrepreneurship, knowledge management, and embedded librarianship itself.
    •  I feel that my work is progressive in nature, meaning that I’m doing some things as a librarian that haven’t always been viewed as a librarian’s role. Quite frankly, I find MLA as a whole (please read this as a general statement and in no way a reflection upon any individual member and/or group within the organization) to be something less than progressive. We tend to put energies towards fighting a lot of battles that we have likely already lost. This is NOT to say that preserving our past and/or current roles is irrelevant, but I do feel that we often fight to keep things a certain way when we’d do better to fight for change. Again, this is simply my opinion and what played into my joining SLA.
    • I appreciated the fact that membership in the national organization of SLA automatically included membership in the regional and local chapters. To me, this is a critical piece that MLA has missed for awhile. We really need strong local associations in order for the national one to mean much. To paraphrase our former Speaker of the House, “all professional development is local.” We support one another a lot easier in our states and regions than we do at the national level. I have many, many wonderful friends in MLA who I LOVE seeing each year at the annual meeting, but when it comes to the day-to-day of my job, I get the most from colleagues nearby. I have felt for a number of years now that MLA could do a much better job demonstrating that it appreciates the value of the regional chapters.
    • And finally, along with the reason cited above (one cost for both regional and national membership), the fact that membership dues in SLA are based upon a sliding scale, i.e. based upon salary, is a fantastic idea. This didn’t make my membership much cheaper (maybe not cheaper than MLA at all, I can’t remember at the moment), but it demonstrated an effort and awareness on behalf of the organization that while no librarian ever makes a million bucks, there is a bit of difference across the board and those who don’t get paid much, in no way deserve to be left out of professional groups. While my institution has never paid any of my professional association dues, I know that some who experienced this benefit in the past are quickly finding it disappearing. Helping people belong is a good thing.

For now, I’ll remain a member of both MLA and SLA. I’ve not yet experienced enough of SLA to grade it long-term and I do value the relationships I’ve made in MLA, along with most of the annual meeting programming, to stay a member. Hopefully, I’ll be able to afford both for awhile, but I think that you raise a really good – and REALLY important – issue for all groups to grapple with today.