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Professionalism in the Workplace

What does professionalism mean to you? It might be that I was not paying attention, but I remember my professors in library school only touching on professionalism a couple of times. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person”

This could be understood in a different manner of ways. However, I always thought that to have professionalism was to have common sense. Don’t be mean, don’t make crude jokes, and don’t do anything that you would not want someone to do to you. But we do live in a time where politicians use social media as their main way of communicating with their constituents, where we use social media as a way to network, and where we make our opinions known to hundreds and hundreds of people. While maintaining a professional social media appearance, we must also remember our everyday interactions with our colleagues. Over the past two years, I have gained more institutional knowledge and have learned when to stay out of office politics or how to navigate through them. While I am not an expert and recognize that everyone is at different institutions or work places, here are some tips on how to grow and learn from your own professionalism. 

  • Observe and learn from the successes and mistakes of other colleagues. I personally learn best from observing others. How did they handle tough situations? What did they say? What was their body language like?
  • Pick your battles. This is a tough one. Sometimes you feel so frustrated at certain things, but stop and think about it. Is this worth all the effort? Is it worth your time? Will this get resolved? And realistically, what will probably happen?
  • What is the root of the problem? This might be a tough one, because a lot times, the root of the problem is a much bigger problem of the institution as a whole. This is not something you can take on on your own, but might be worth bringing up.
  • Know your strengths. How can these strengths help you contribute to problem solving or group work?
  • Recognize your weaknesses. What do you need to work on and how can you improve?
  • Who is your support system at work? Sometimes, you might get frustrated with either people or situations at work. Who has your trust and who can you turn to in these times?
  • What are your personal rules? While every institution has their issues, ultimately, you’re the one that has to look out for you. What are your own rules in terms of getting involved in office politics? You don’t have to write them down, but it’s a good idea to have a mental list

I have only been an academic librarian for the past 2 years. While I have learned and observed a lot, I also feel like it’s only the tip of the iceberg. For those middle-career and more seasoned librarians, what lessons have you learned? What tips do you have?

Relationship Priorities from the Forest to the Library

A post shared by True Rath (@truerathbrarian) on

I just returned from my annual family vacation in Colorado.  Amidst the forest bathing and a slower daily pace, I always experience a deep dive into relationship building on these trips.  Riding in a compact Fit for the eight hours it takes to get there, and living for a week in a different “home”,  does test and stretch patience.  The physicality of hiking and even adjusting to new altitudes requires a certain reckoning of oneself.  This year we were battling swimmers ear in high altitude and an overall slack in physical fitness. Both required accepting limitations in ways we weren’t used to and spending a greater amount of time in quiet inactivity.  With each year, however, I always discover new strengths and unique differences in myself, between fathering and mothering, wifery and husbandry, sibling to sibling, and among hikers who want to push on versus those who want to rest. 😉

This thinking on relationships helpfully segues my mind to the arrival of August and the start of a new school year. As the students return and faculty prepare course syllabi, my more isolated, internal, summertime work turns externally, patron-oriented.  As my library is also discussing its strategic priorities for the next two years, words like collaboration, partnership, engagement, and development abound.  In every practical discussion around seeing our own work in these priorities, the actionable path forward always points to relationship building.  Just me?  Perhaps.  As one of my favorite quotes suggests, I have come to believe relationships are key to how we accomplish real goals.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to far GO TOGETHER.”

– African Proverb

I didn’t always think this way.  I usually preferred fast and alone.  Both personally and professionally, my default is still often internally-focused and analytical.  One of the stories I tell about my path to librarianship — besides it being the only result of my junior high career test — is that in my first job as an elementary school music teacher, I was much more interested in discussion music theory than singing songs.  Now, it’s true, I justifiably lacked the necessary accompanist skills.  Moreover, I know preference for the analytical side to just about everything was to blame.  “What a great match for librarianship!” I thought at the time, conceiving the profession as solely concerned with how things ought to be organized.    Working in libraries quickly taught me that the most efficient and organized ways involved learning from others.  My favorite analytical question soon became “Who?” rather than “How?” or “Why”.  Eventually learning to build relationships with vendors became the best way to get what was needed on both sides of a negotiation.  Understanding vendors’ relationships within their own organization helped alleviate undue aggravation and reduced miscommunication.   My first aha moment as a new leader (and still a magnificent daily challenge) is what comes from just listening to others.

Taking an analytical approach to building relationships made it easier for me in some ways.  But, like too much process thinking,  it has sometimes kept human connection at a safe distance.  I often got by using my analytical side to figure out how I respond to others and circumstances rather than in relationship together with them.  Let’s be fair. The relationship business is messy and time-consuming.  I’ve learned that can be OK, and how analysis is just one step of many to decluttering it.  Working through problems, successes, new ideas, and ultimately changing with others creates bonds.  As bonds suggest, I believe stronger relationships and work/life places result.

Thankfully, I can continue analyzing to my heart (or brain?)’s content with ACRLog and in my research.  My analytical passion now focuses on seeking ways in which technical services can get beyond mere transactions to richer, more interpersonal communication and sense-making.  It’s proven to be messy, challenging, and very worth it.

 

 

 

Silent Fireworks, HRC, and #ALAAC2017

Battling summer sinobronchitis — not allergies as it turns out — certainly puts a damper on conference travel.  It has also contributed to feeling less than celebratory leading up to the Independence Day holiday. The fact that July 4th fell on a Tuesday made celebrating all the more awkward.  This year I noticed recirculated articles advocating  silent fireworks which seemed an excellent alternative given the current mood, and certainly spares animals (and the rest of us) the anxiety.  Alternatively, quiet bursts of colorful light seem to aptly juxtapose my idyllic reminiscence of this holiday with the grief and frustration I’ve felt about the state of my country in the past year.

Similar highs and lows marked my experience of ALA Annual in Chicago the weeks prior.  I always hope, perhaps naively, that conferences will both reassure and challenge me as a professional.  These competing emotions are familiar companions to learning or undertaking anything enormous or new, and I can usually always find something new at ALA. This year there were only a few glimmers as far as programming and my usual professional networking.  I got much more out of the professional-social networking I experienced both online and  in serendipitous face-to-face meetings.

One particularly spectacular session I attended gave an overview of how libraries are supporting researchers’ text and data mining needs from both the licensing and technical ends.  While the session also had a good balance of presentation and discussion, I still left feeling like a whole pre-conference could be devoted to this topic.  The terrifyingly relevant session, Hacking the Web of Science data?…, also had me hanging on every word and  fighting the familiar existential dread.  Eamon Duede, executive director of Knowledge Lab & Metaknowledge Research Network at the University of Chicago,  analyzed particular combinations within the Web of Science haystack to discover patterns in the attention research gets versus the disruption it causes.  He found that big teams of researchers, who get a lot of attention and funding, aren’t the ones with disruptively new discoveries.  He also noted patterns that show the majority of biomedical funding goes to helping address lower-level societal suffering, rather than targeting society’s more critical ills.

On the networking side, I joined a social gathering of those interested in FOLIO development. In addition to free craft beer and grilled cheese shooters (brilliant!), I got to talk to a wide range of colleagues, from friends working very closely with FOLIO functionality, to meeting others with no idea what FOLIO is.  At an ACRL University Libraries Section social hour,  I met and talked shop with several very cool Arizonans, and got a tip on the “wild librarian party” underway in the ALA presidential suite.

On a more professional note, I had a successful discussion with one of the four big deal publishers with whom my library will be negotiating in the coming year.  I had intended to arrange this meeting in advance, but time got away from me.  So, I was impressed that I got two reps to sit down with me on the spot and have a productive discussion on some pretty complex issues.  Although it was just handshakes and elevator speeches to three other publishers,  I navigated the exhibits floor with a refreshing confidence for a change.

One of the more disappointing events, unfortunately, was the highly anticipated closing keynote by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  I decided to extend my trip and work in a visit to see my dad in southern Illinois where an extra overnight stay would be more manageable.  This meant a three-hour drive through farmland highways.  Since the weather and 55 mph roads permitted,  I had the windows down and filled up on the olfactory memories of my fourths of July spent here as a kid.  Perfectly timing my arrival back in Chicago just three minutes before the keynote start spared me the long line and still offered a pretty good seat up front.

Clinton’s keynote certainly sparked emotions, laughter, cheers, and even a bit of dancing.  Her calls to “fight to defend truth and reason, evidence and facts” were reflexively encouraging, but the rest was nothing I’d not already heard top-name speakers say to librarians before.  Given the brevity of the talk and without Q&A (but I get it), I just found it lacked the engagement and inspiration I had imagined. Call it silent fireworks, I guess just seeing the “first woman candidate of a major national party” in real life was apparently all there was to it.  I left asking myself, how did that even matter?

Looking back,  I am realizing how this naive disappointment and my subsequent desire for an quieter 4th of July is nothing noble or humble.  In fact, I suspect it illustrates my own privileged denial and fears more than anything.  What’s worse, I know it perpetuates inaction.  With the help of my social networks, I’m impatiently trying to move beyond just thinking on this.  I do see ever deeper glimpses of privilege and the problem that presents to my professional values.  For starters, though, I’m pretty sure my introverted conference fatigue on day three is privileged. I haven’t unpacked many good practical actions in response yet.  But, I must now, knowing that this spark has been ignited for some time.

 

Changing Roles: Mentee to Mentor

Like many of you, I just came back from ALA Annual in Chicago. I had the opportunity to attend some interesting sessions, meet new people, catch up with some old classmates, and see some librarians that I knew in library school.

In my previous ACRLog post, I talked a little about finding your own cohort. I found myself catching up with librarians that were supervisors at UIUC, as well as a classmate. We had a good mix of early career librarian and seasoned librarians. 

It seems like in any setting like that, we end up talking about our jobs, the profession, the job search, and telling each other of the future plans you’d like to accomplish. One of the things that I look forward to the most during conferences is catching up with people, hearing about their future plans, and also asking for advice on something I may have.

Mentorship is something I have touched on a lot during my time with ACRLog and it has gotten me thinking of the mentorship that I have received over the past 4 years. As a student, I received advice and help from not only the librarians supervising me, but the classmates who left and went off to great jobs. I would ask them for feedback on classes I would possibly take, professors I should avoid, and how to go about the job search. Two years later, I found myself being that person to a friend of mine who began library school last year. 

Now, I was the one getting asked for advice on classes, professors, the job hunt.  When did the mentee become the mentor? When I began American University, I was assigned to a mentor. By sheer luck, we were a perfect fit and I will probably continue to ask for her advice for the rest of my career.

I think that we never truly leave the roles of mentee and mentor, no matter our age or amount of time we have been in the profession. My thought or question to other librarians is, how do we manage both roles?

The Importance of Community

As everyone knows, library land is small. Having a profession where we all know each other or know of each other, can be a plus (but also has its drawbacks). This allows us to form our own smaller networks and build our own community. Being an early career librarian, I have quickly realized that while I have treated librarianship as a profession where one works alone, librarianship is in fact a team sport.

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a conference-like event for my residency program. As most of you are familiar by now, I am part of the Diversity Alliance residency cohort. We have these conferences/gatherings about once a year. This year, we had a dual conference between Virginia Tech and American University.

The program included workshops, guest speakers, presentations and group dinners. Most importantly, all the residents were able to see each other again. While we occasionally see each other at conferences, these diversity alliance gatherings are an opportunity for the residents to catch up. We are able to talk about our jobs, our lives, any updates, and it’s a chance to catch up and learn about the exciting things that the residents are doing at their institutions.

I have been a librarian for only two years, but have realized the importance of having your own cohort. It does not necessarily mean that the people in this cohort are your best friends in the whole wide world. It might be a group of people who are not only your colleagues, but those who are able to be honest and frank with you. This is the group of people that you ask for advice, whether it’s library world or personal life. Above all, they are a support team. They support and mentor you–and you support and mentor them.

I would really encourage other librarians to think about the people they surround themselves with. I was basically put in a cohort as a diversity alliance resident, but after we all met, it just felt natural. We had shared experiences that brought us closer together and built a trust that you just can’t get out of thin air. I was lucky enough to be placed in a cohort, but I have also taken some time to slowly form other cohorts I want to be part of. I try not to force it, so I ask the readers, what is your advice to finding, forming, and nurturing groups like these?