In the forecourt of his temple were inscribed the words ‘Know yourself’, since it was only with self-knowledge that a human could unravel the confusing tangle of the priestess’s words.
Charlotte Higgins, Greek Myths: A New Retelling
I read an interesting column in University Affairs that argues work in academia is often task-focused. The authors, Alexander Clark and Bailey Sousa, gives task-focused examples such as organizing meetings, responding to email, and teaching. However, they advocate that to be a happy academic, you should adopt a core-skills based approach. This includes improving your learning and writing skills, being creative and influential, and working well with others and yourself. While Clark and Sousa’s advice is interesting to think about and certainly aspirational, I can’t help but think of my work as task-focused, but at the same time I want to continue to develop core skills.
As someone fairly new to librarianship, I like to think I am actively cultivating the habits that Clark and Sousa write about: by challenging myself and applying and volunteering for opportunities, practicing my formal and informal writing, and taking time to reflect on challenges and success alike. Many of us in academic librarianship continue to build these core skills. Our jobs consist of short- and long-term tasks, projects, advancement, professional development, and so on. I think there’s room for both core skills and tasks.
At the University of Manitoba, our library is currently going through a reorganization by implementing functional roles for liaison librarians, things like research data management, collections development, and instruction. At the same time, we’re evaluating our current level of liaison library services and determining which services to prioritize. Within our library, we will be holding focus groups with liaison librarians to ask what it means to be a liaison, what the core parts of our job are, and what tasks are we doing as liaisons? I appreciate having my voice heard during this process and it gets me to reflect on what I do in my role.
I think it’s important for all academic librarians to think about the work they’re doing and whether they find meaning in and are actively engaged in librarianship. I am reminded of the words of Kim Leeder, in her wonderful article from 2010, My Maverick Bar: A Search for Identity and the “Real Work” of Librarianship, wonders what exactly her job is. Ultimately Leeder discovers what her job consists of: “[m]y real work is Knowledge. If I hold that goal in mind, the details of how I accomplish it on daily basis begin to fall into place.”
Some of my duties, like instruction, support Knowledge directly. Other tasks, like tracking how many reference questions I respond to, are not tied to that higher goal–they’re more administrative–but are necessary for the reality of my workplace. If I want to continue in my job, I can’t just stop doing those less crucial tasks, but I can prioritize my efforts and most of all, reflect on what our work really comprises.
I challenge each of you to think about your real work of librarianship and how you build your core skills and continue with your task-focused duties.