Communication Successes and Challenges

As the semester winds down to a close, I’m finding myself thinking often about communication within our libraries. Like many colleges and universities, mine is still firmly in a hybrid work mode — on any given weekday we have some library personnel working onsite in the library, and others working remotely. Since this is my first semester in my new position I’ve been spending a lot of time in face to face and online meetings with colleagues, but as I’m settling in I’m thinking more about how we all communicate with each other, and ways for us to feel connected to one another and reduce the barriers in our work.

This month I’m the ACRLog blogteam collaborative post coordinator, and I’m wondering about how we all communicate at the different libraries and institutions where we work. What’s been effective and successful? What still needs some refining?

Angie: As Maura knows, *I* *am* *always* thinking about communication, both theoretical and practical. So I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to collaborate on this topic. Almost a year to the month before COVID changed our work dramatically, I wrote this post (mission statement?) on how I understand communication and work in libraries.  

Still rings true — maybe more so — in a post-pandemic work environment. The short of it calls for an intentionality we may take for granted when experiencing work the same way – onsite or remote.  


The first communication hurdle I hoped to solve returning to a hybrid work environment was making schedules more transparent. Right? I’ve found any and all ways one can communicate their particular schedule definitely worth the effort. I used to be the first to call out these extra, sometimes duplicate approaches as inefficient. Now I realize how fundamental their role is to whether communication happens at all. 

Some practical examples include physical IN/OUT cubicle signs. I created these and have used them for years at my office. The email signature is another opportunity some use to share onsite vs remote day. This creates visible and regular reminders through something you use everyday, as well as a subtle model for your recipient. My department also uses MS Outlook’s “Work Time” Settings and “Working Remote” free/busy status. As a department head, this makes it way easier to see everyone’s differences at a glance, plan for in person meetings or celebrations, and assess for schedule adjustments that may be needed. Harder to get library-wide adoption on this one, but baby steps!

Observing my own overreliance on email communication since working remotely, I try to build simple intentionality by starting emails with a greeting and gratitude. Like “Hi, Angie. Thanks for doing this.” Yes, I have to intentionally remind myself to do this. I learned this working with folks on this blog team and others in my library for whom this comes naturally (or else struggle, but remember). While “This meeting could have been an email” remains relevant, there is also benefit to flipping this adage around on the regular. Now when I’m inclined to email, I ask myself if there is a better opportunity to connect in this communication in person.

 

I still sometimes wish face to face communication could be thought, typed, backspaced, cut, rearranged and sent as fluently and coherently as an email – or this blog. But the more intentionally I seek connection and dialogue through all types of communication, the less often it tends to feel like a jerky dance of mouth words, awkward pauses, and apologies. 

Hailley: As a department head, I’m frequently thinking about how I communicate with my team. We have a Teams group for the department, which functions for throughout the day chats and information sharing that feels too informal for an email. Sending a Teams message is definitely the quickest way to get a hold of me; I try hard to not have email up unless I’m actively sending emails. I send emails to the department for more formal purposes and it usually involves providing updates, reminders, and next steps. If possible, I try to gather several things I want to share before I send out an email. Recently, I’ve noticed that I started to use more headers and formatting in these emails, in the same ways I use headers in other types of documents. Helps me ensure I share all the information I want to share and hopefully it allows for easier reading from the people receiving it. 

Two other miscellaneous thoughts related to communication: 1) timing is important! Everyone has different gaps in their days/weeks and that is often when big emails go out. However, for some folks, receiving an email late in the day or close to the weekend can be stressful. Sometimes that timing is unavoidable, but I try to think strategically about when I’m sending things out. 2) I just finished reading Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley. She provides some useful tips and pointers about communicating across hybrid and remote teams. I’m still mulling the book over but it was definitely a good way for me to reflect on my own communication style! 

Maura: What we’re doing now is, I imagine, similar to how many libraries are communicating internally. Our institution uses the Microsoft suite and we in the Library use Outlook for shared calendaring. My colleagues and I each try to keep our own calendars up to date, and we have 3 shared calendars: planned vacation or other absences, remote workdays, and the reference desk schedule. I also put my institutional meetings on the shared calendar so that everyone knows when I’ll next meet with the Provost or the university’s library leadership. Our shared calendaring is working fairly well, and while Outlook is not my personal favorite it does have the advantage of being a system that all of us have access to both onsite and remotely.

Where I think we could use some discussion and perhaps change is for sharing files and communicating electronically. For filesharing we’ve got a shared drive that’s only accessible onsite or via VPN, Sharepoint via our institutional Microsoft suite, and the ever-present Google docs which many of us use with our personal Google accounts (we don’t have an institutional license). The shift from the shared drive to Sharepoint was well underway when I got here and I suspect will continue fairly organically. But Google is trickier — many (most?) of us have used Google docs heavily for years: outside of work, in our research, or (in my case, at least) at previous jobs. It’s hard to disinvest from the Googleverse, even if we know we should.

Electronic communication is the one I’m struggling most with right now. We have email, of course, and there is a Slack instance with multiple channels that all library faculty and staff have access to though not everyone uses. I’ve been thinking about Teams — again, not my personal favorite (I find the interface to be much less intuitive than other platforms), but my primary goal is to find a way for us to communicate that isn’t as overwhelming (for some) as email or as separate from institutional platforms as Slack. I’m happy to conform to whatever all of us decide on — it’s my strong belief that while we’ll never find one platform that everyone prefers, if we can find something that’s good enough *and* make sure that everyone is trained and supported in it’s use, that’s a reasonable goal.

Alex: We have a few different things going on as far as knowing who is where in this hybrid set-up we’ve had for two and a half years. The staff who cover the service desk have a set schedule that’s mostly in-person, but they each have their time to work at home. There is a group of three librarians who rotate being the in-person “manager,” which just helps everyone to know that (1) there is a librarian there every day, and (2) which one it is. We print a copy of the monthly schedule for us three and stick it to the service desk for quick reference, but it’s also on the shared Outlook calendar. That calendar was already in place in the before times, to share library closures and everyone’s time off (to reduce the number of “is Alex working today?” emails). There are a few other individuals with their own hybrid schedule, and those are on the shared Outlook calendar too. Most of them work with in-person things like interlibrary loan and the 3D printer, so this helps us know when we might expect those things to take place. Some people are still 100% working from home, so they aren’t listed on the shared calendar except for their days off. Beyond Outlook, we are a Teams institution, although some people dislike Teams enough that you’re better off emailing those individuals. We have an unspoken but ubiquitous assumption that everyone actively checks their email throughout their workday. So even our communication is pretty hybrid: email and Teams combo is usually all we need. We are also a Sharepoint institution, although I don’t think I’ve ever used that among my campus library colleagues, only with the wider institution.

Maura: Many thanks to my blogteam colleagues for all of this useful detail on communication in our workspaces! After the winter break I’m hoping to convene a communications working group of library faculty and staff, full-time and part-time, and I will probably recommend that they begin by reading this post. And we’d love to hear from readers in the comments — what’s working/not working in communication at your workplace?

A November Check-In from ACRLoggers

Time is flying and somehow we are entering the last two months of the year. Where did 2022 go? As we head towards wrapping up this fall semester, we wanted to get a pulse on how our ACRLoggers are feeling. We hope some of these answers resonate with you! Feel free to use the comments section to respond to one of these questions if you’d like.

What’s something you’re proud of and or excited to celebrate that has happened (or is happening) this fall semester? 

Justin: One thing I’m proud of is having an article published on relational practice of Canadian academic librarians, research that was done collaboratively with a colleague. I feel relational work is invaluable for academic librarianship and oftentimes invisible work, in many ways.

Emily Z: I am mainly proud and happy that I’m making my way through my first fall semester as a full-fledged librarian! It’s been challenging to establish my own workflows, get to know student workers and faculty, and being in a new state, but overall I think it’s going well.   

Alex: I finished co-writing a chapter with a colleague that I’m really happy with about the toxic culture of rankism in higher education. The book won’t be out for a while but our writing and editing is done, and it was a new and educational experience for both of us!

Hailley: I’m currently teaching a seven-week asynchronous course and I’m just happy to be mostly staying afloat with the content and student grading. I’ve taught a version of this course before but it’s my first time teaching it asynchronously for seven weeks. I’m learning a lot and establishing some of the materials as I go.

How do you feel this fall semester has been as compared to other pandemic semesters? What has felt different or new about this fall?

Justin: After coming back to a largely deserted campus in the Winter 2022 term, it’s been great having the campus full (and masked!) for Fall. I’ve been able to get my legs under me with in-person teaching again. Doing things like the human Boolean game has been fun and engaging, and of course being able to talk in-person to students again is great – sometimes I change around what I’m instructing on, based on their non-verbal (and sometimes verbal!) cues.

Now I just wish the coffee shop line was smaller…

Emily Z: I have been hearing from colleagues that this fall has some of the lowest energy AND the highest anxiety they’ve ever seen in students. I think everyone is dealing with burnout, and understandably so. I’ve seen this manifest a bit in my instruction sessions – students just can’t be bothered to do something like create a RefWorks account beforehand. Given the last three years, this isn’t necessarily surprising; I was in their shoes too in my last semester of grad school just a few months ago.   

Alex: This has been the semester when our social distancing and masking guidelines were lifted on the college side of our buildings (the hospital and any areas where you are around patients still have the same rules from 2020). It doesn’t so much feel like a “return to normal” as it does “another version of new rules” like every other time they’ve been updated.

Hailley: Campus feels more active and we’ve seen an increase in one-shot instruction requests. I also feel more established now that I’m a year in, so maybe campus feels more active because I can pay attention to that energy (vs just trying to get on-boarded and learn my job last fall).

What’s a topic that you’ve been thinking about/thinking through on the job recently? 

Justin: I’ve been thinking a lot about values-based practice and a values-based approach to librarianship, specifically. I really appreciate the work of Christopher P. Long and the HuMetricsHSS initiative in this regard. I think identifying values and tying your work – in all respects – to your values is important.

Emily Z: I’ve been thinking a lot about digital humanities, as well as physical data visualization – so think temperature blankets, bullet journaling, etc. I wonder about the impulse to track these things in an analog way – why are folks gravitating towards this? Does tracking your own data manually change said data eventually? How can I tie this interest of mine back into librarianship, too? Given the new Data Science major at my university (and the fact that I am their liaison) I think there could be a lot of opportunities there for us to work together on assignments and lessons for students.  

Alex: I have been thinking about slow productivity a lot. I have not been successfully implementing it, but I have been thinking about it.

What’s something you’ve moved over to the “Think about next year” list?

Justin: I have a lot of things on my “to do next year” list – there’s never enough time to do all the work you want to get involved with. My library hosts researcher workshops geared towards grad students and faculty and I am continually thinking about what topics I want to present on.

Another long, long-term project I’ve been mulling over is starting a librarian-focused radio show on our campus radio station. I have a radio show on another campus station and it’s been rewarding putting it altogether. Who knows if that’ll ever happen, but it’s fun to think about merging two of my interests.

Emily Z: Oh, there’s so many things I want to do, and so little time to do it. One thing I want to bring to my university is more on-demand or scheduled workshops in which students, faculty, and staff sign up on their own for. I particularly would love to teach things like visual design, Canva, and infographics. For now though, I’ll need to focus on settling into my job (as well as the looming Gen Ed overhaul at my university…).

Hailley: Department goals! Our annual review work starts in January and that will be the perfect time to co-create departmental goals. I’m keeping some notes about ideas but am waiting for the new year to devote the brain space to that level of strategic work.

Reflecting on the Leadership Orientations Questionnaire

Throughout this academic year I’m participating in a leadership institute at my university. I’m part of a cohort of nine colleagues, from across the university and in various leadership roles. We meet once a month to discuss chapters from Reframing Academic Leadership, hear from leaders across campus, learn how to be better leaders, and discuss the challenges and opportunities we see and face in our roles. I’m really excited to be a part of this institute and learn from my colleagues across the institution. 

For October’s meeting, we took the Leadership Orientations questionnaire. This was created by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal and published back in 1991. They developed four frames for understanding leaders: structural leaders, human resources leaders, political leaders, and symbolic leaders. You rank a series of choices based on how true you feel the statement is to you and your leadership. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, you add up your scores and you see which of the four leadership frames you scored the highest. 

I scored highest as a human resources leader (followed by symbolic, structural, and political). When I looked at the definition of a human resources leader, I wasn’t surprised that was my highest score. In particular, my attention caught on the last line in the definition of a human resources leader: “A good leader is a facilitator and participative manager who supports and empowers others.”

As I shared with my cohort, I feel like the last year as a department head has really pushed me into strengthening and sharpening my facilitator muscles. I’ve always enjoyed facilitation, but in my current role, that’s a huge part of my work. I’m leading department meetings, working through theoretical questions and decisions around our reference services, and overseeing a library informatics bachelor’s degree program. In doing facilitation, I hope that the people who participate in these meetings do feel supported and empowered. That’s certainly my goal and how I think about setting up those opportunities. 

The phrase “participative manager” also resonated with me. I feel my leadership style is influenced and informed by the participatory design work I started while I was at my last institution. As much as possible, I like to collaboratively work with the department to make decisions, especially decisions around our priorities and work. This has resulted in meetings where we draw vehicles representing our digital learning objects or where I solicit feedback on a proposal for a way to move the work forward within the department. I feel that style has worked both for me as a manager and for my team (see my last post about laughing with the department).

In thinking about being a participative manager, I also started thinking about how I help, support, and often do the day-to-day work of the department. This is definitely something I struggle with; I feel strongly about “pulling my weight” and being an active participant in the department. However, my job now involves other types of work and sometimes I can’t do all the participating I want to do. In discussing these frames with the cohort, I mentioned that I struggle with balancing participating with some of my other department head tasks and someone in my cohort shared something along the lines of, “Well just don’t do as much.” 

While I appreciate the straightforwardness of that answer, I don’t think the solution is that easy. In some ways, it reminds me of the ideas I was sorting through in my coordinator role particularly around my identity. When I started in this department head role, I felt pressure (whether internal or external) that I needed to prove myself. So I jumped right into the teaching and the outreach work of the department. I wanted to prove I could do the work and that I could do it well. And now I’m at a point where I’ve got to start making decisions about where I can step back. I need time to do the departmental work of keeping a department moving forward. I’ve got to find new ways to balance my understanding (and participation) of the day-in-day-out work and strategic department head work. I know it’s always a work in progress and having the space to reflect on my style has helped me bring this a little higher on my priority list. 

I appreciated the chance to take this questionnaire and dig into some of my thoughts on how I lead. As a cohort, we had an interesting conversation on how our frames change over time, as we step into new leadership roles and grow as humans. I feel that I’ll always have the human resources in me but there are definitely opportunities for me to strengthen some of those other frames. Knowing where I feel most comfortable can help me think strategically about ways I can lean more into my structural, symbolic, or political side.

Have you taken this leadership questionnaire (or something similar) before? If so, what lessons did you learn about you and how have you tried to use that framing in your job moving forward? 


Featured by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Story Swap

“If a picture is worth a thousand words,
then a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.”
-George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By

In this collaborative post from our ACRLog team, we’re sharing some of the “stories”–allegories, analogies, anecdotes, images, memes, metaphors, and more–that we use across the domains of our work to make abstract concepts more concrete, prompt meaning making, demonstrate relevance, communicate impact, bring a dry concept to life, or simply connect with our colleagues, users, and stakeholders.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to information literacy and research skills?

[Jen] I’ve recently become very interested in using stories as a pedagogical technique. I don’t have a large repository of stories to call on yet, but a few examples I’ve been using to good effect come to mind:

  • Source integration – Images of a container ship and a cargo train help me illustrate the goal of synthesizing sources in a literature review versus stringing them together one-by-one. I start with the train photo and ask students to imagine that each container on the train is a source. I describe how the train illustrates a style of writing where the author treats each source individually–the author might summarize, analyze, or otherwise comment on each source one by one in a long string of paragraphs. By contrast, I note that the ship is full of the same containers (i.e., sources) as the train but draw students’ attention to how the containers are instead stacked in groups, that each column is made up of many containers. In this image, I suggest that each container still represents a source but a paragraph is this time represented by a column of containers illustrating the goal of weaving sources together for more skillful analysis and writing around themes across sources.
  • Source evaluation – Wineburg and McGrew’s study serves as an anecdote regarding approaches to source evaluation (as well as the idea of relative, or domain, expertise on occasion). The researchers observed 45 people evaluating websites: historians with PhDs, Stanford University undergraduates, and professional fact checkers. When I ask students to guess which group was best at evaluating information, they typically vote for the historians with PhDs. Yet findings showed that the “fact checkers arrived at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time.” A primary difference in their approach? Fact checkers read laterally, not vertically. Because lateral reading is a departure from the kinds of information evaluation that are commonly taught to high school students, this story helps illustrate the effectiveness of an unfamiliar approach.  

I’m motivated to use stories more (and to better effect) in my classes because I think it can be so powerful; the sense of clarity and connection these stories can offer for students is incredibly productive and gratifying.

[Alex] I have referred to truncation as “my favorite library magic trick” when demonstrating searches in databases, and it’s true! It’s such a simple thing to do but can really change the list of results you get back. I also refer to it as advanced… I don’t normally go into the details of truncation until the learners I’m addressing have mastered some of the other concepts like Boolean operators and selecting keywords. But when I do introduce truncation, I love to tell this story. I was working with someone who needed information on radiation and adjuvant chemotherapy. Looking at my list of search terms, I saw radiation, radiotherapy, radiation therapy, etc… so I thought, truncation time! Radi*, easy. Because of the complexity of the rest of the search, there were about two pages of results so I looked through all of them and behold, one of them was about… radishes. You can’t anticipate every possibility when you truncate, but that one was a real surprise. Truncate responsibly, everyone!

[Justin] I like to use the metaphor of gardening for the research process:  

  • Prep your garden: determine a topic and a focused research statement or question, along with background research.  
  • Care for your garden as it grows: identify keywords, makes a list of databases and sites to find information, create search strings, and save sources.  
  • Inspect your produce: evaluate your sources for relevance and credibility.
  • Cook! Use your sources in your writing to make something new.
  • Modify your approach if nothing is growing.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to teaching and learning more broadly?

[Alex] This is so common it hardly feels like a story or metaphor but teachers as coaches is such a great framework. I can run you through practicing a skill, I can tell you the plays, but I can’t make the shot for you from the sidelines. You have to be able to apply what we did in practice while you’re on the court.

I’ve also used my experience as a DM for Dungeons & Dragons to explain outlining activities and learning objectives for a class. (Not to students, to other educators.) If you tell your players “you’re going to go here and do this, then go here and do this, ad nauseum” that’s called railroading and it isn’t as much fun as letting the players make decisions for themselves. Giving them multiple threads to follow and seeing what they value and decide to do is part of the game! Same goes for the classroom: here are all the objectives we need to meet, but you can help me decide which one we’re going to address next, and exactly how that’s going to look.

[Justin] I’ve used the example of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”. One of my favourite ways to illustrate the hero’s journey is using Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. I find it relates to learning quite well: there’s a problem, you set out on your journey with help from mentors, there’s transformation and atonement (and learning a lesson?!) and finally return. 

[Jen] I’ve gotten a lot of mileage over the past few years out of an anecdote I’ve drawn from Carrie Brownstein’s memoir in which she reflected on some of the key experiences of her adolescence that helped shape her as a musician. In short, Brownstein first described how enthralled she felt watching pop music giants perform in stadium-sized venues. The spectacle of those huge performances entranced and inspired her but they felt opaque and unattainable. “I had no idea how it [the music] had been assembled or how to break it apart,” she wrote. “I remained merely a fan …with no means of claiming the sounds as my own.” Brownstein went on to describe her experiences a few years later, this time at shows in small clubs. Here, Brownstein could get close to the musicians and observe their techniques and interactions. This is my favorite quote about her realization: “It seems obvious, but it was the first time I realized that music was playable, not just performable—that it had a process.” To me, her story showcases the power of uncovering process. At huge, heavily produced shows, she was an onlooker with no discernible entry point for her own participation. When the making of the music and the performances’ component parts were made visible at smaller shows, the performances felt more accessible and attainable; Brownstein could imagine doing it for herself. I’ve used this story time and again– when consulting with faculty on the design of research assignments, for example–to illustrate the power of uncovering the process of scholarly and creative work rather than focusing on polished products.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to library services, procedures, workflows?

[Maura] As a director I often find myself having to explain our work in the library to faculty and administrators on campus in a range of contexts: as library faculty progress through the tenure track, when sharing the institutional questions we get at our service desks in the library with Student Affairs staff, and especially when advocating to fill vacant faculty and staff lines in the library. The analogy I’ve found most useful is from the restaurant world: front of the house for Public Services, and back of the house for Technical Services/Technology. In my previous position I worked at a college that offered Hospitality Management degrees and this analogy was widely understood across campus. But with greater visibility in the media into food and restaurant services over the past few decades I think it could be a useful analogy for anyone trying to make visible the often invisible work that keeps the library functioning. 

[Justin] I’ve heard an interesting comparison from a friend of a librarian’s role to What We Do In The Shadows: there’s so much intellectual work happening behind the scenes, that not all of our students and faculty know about or are aware of. 

[Jen] I just started a new book and was struck by the proverb that the author used as an epigraph: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” I’ve never personally used this proverb although I’m sure I’ve heard it before. But I’m thinking about it with fresh eyes through the lens of this post’s theme. It seems to me that it might serve as a “story” to illustrate the interconnectedness of different domains within library work not to mention the value and importance of the many small details in our day-to-day work. 

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate library impact and value?

[Justin] My friend mentioned the metaphor of weight of books to me recently. He’s interested in knowing how much our library collection weighs – why? I have no clue. But he’s right: it makes for an interesting metaphor of the weight of information.

[Hailley] I’ve been recently working on updating our library’s mission and vision statement. In our revision, we did a lot of looking at other library mission and vision statements and the idea that kept coming up is how the library is the “heart of the university.” I don’t have any brilliant thoughts on this at the moment, but it’s definitely a phrase I’ve been thinking about and thinking about if this phrase is useful in defining the impact, value, and place the library has at an institution. 

What stories do you use? To what effect? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Work We Do: Reflecting on CARL’s Competencies for Librarians in Canadian Research Libraries

The CARL Competencies

How do you envision your role as an academic librarian? With your job description? The vision and mission statements of your library or institution? Direction from your supervisor or administration? And do you have the knowledge, skills, and values to support this work?

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) developed a list of competencies for academic librarians, which were updated in 2020. CARL lists eight competencies including collaboration, leadership and vision, equity, diversity, and inclusion, curation, and assessment, among others.

I like how the 2020 CARL competencies spell out the difference between skills (“learning capacities to carry out specific tasks”), mindsets (“collection of attitudes, inclinations, or habits of mind useful in achieving an outcome”), values (beliefs and opinions that people hold regarding specific issues or ideas), and knowledge – and each competency has a combination of these listed. The CARL competencies are comprehensive because they combine hard and soft skills into each competency; I am learning both are integral to working as an academic librarian. For example, under collaboration, listed are skills to build relationships, knowledge of inter- and intra-institutional organization, knowledge of critical and scholarly engagement, and an understanding of how to work with and engage users of diverse backgrounds.

In searching for other academic librarianship-wide competencies, I noticed a lack from other large academic library organizations, such as ACRL or ARL.  There are the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, the Medical Library Association’s specialized Professional Competencies,as well as the Reference and User Services Association’s Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians, but not profession-wide competencies.

Why competencies?

Competencies can be useful for envisioning the landscape of academic librarianship: what youshould know, where and how you should professionally develop, developing vision and mission statements, and what is included in LIS curricula.

I think competencies help guide our profession. Competencies give bounds to a profession, but do we need bounds? Who has the authority to define a profession? What do I care if a large library association says I need to collaborate, engage, and curate?

The point of competencies shouldn’t be to dictate what work we should be doing — whether that’s an opportunity that comes up (e.g. leading an association or chairing a committee) or something I propose and develop (e.g. a library symposium or new library service) — but if you need ideas for areas of growth, you have a guide, useful for early-career librarians. They could also be useful for mid- or late-career librarians, who feel directionless or adrift, or otherwise want to continue to develop in different areas. By their very nature professional competencies are broad, to capture the wide-ranging work we are involved in.

Competencies add professionalization to our field. Those looking at academic librarianship can see our values and skills. This begs the question, are competencies for us or are they for someone else? Are they to crystallize and focus our work or are they for the people we help, so they have a better idea of the work we do?

I am reminded of the public presentations held for entry-level librarian candidates at the University of Manitoba. Many of the candidates based their presentations around the CARL competencies in answering the assigned question on what is required of today’s academic librarian. I know I referenced the 2010 CARL competencies in my own interview in Fall 2019. Here you have new LIS graduates looking to the competencies to envision their work and publicly present their idea of an academic librarian. In this way, competencies help students and new graduates have an idea of the work of academic librarians.

Identify your values and meaningful work

I find competencies useful in identifying work that is meaningful to me. Another way I identified meaningful work was when I came across the idea of personal librarian philosophies after attending a 2021 WILU (Workshop in Library Use) pre-conference session on teaching philosophies. The instructors — Dr. Betsy Keating and Dr. Margie Clow Bohan — suggested while teaching philosophies can be helpful for librarians, it may be more useful to develop a librarian philosophy that could guide not only your teaching, but your entire professional practice, including goal setting.  

After the conference, I set out to write my own librarian philosophy. In my philosophy, I commit to building relationships and community, doing meaningful work, lifelong learning, and supporting myself and the work of others – both inside and outside the profession.

I am reminded of Christopher P. Long, the Dean of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University, and his idea of values-enacted leadership: identify core values that are meaningful to you so you can guide your work and check-in with yourself to ensure you are keeping to those values and infusing them throughout your work. My librarian philosophy identifies values that are meaningful to me and help guide decision-making and goal setting.

Our future as academic librarians

Does academic librarianship need more voices to tell us this is what we should be doing? On the one hand, I don’t think so since there’s so many voices already, and voices that need to be amplified. But on the other, we need new direction, vision, and leadership. Professional competencies can unite a profession, by identifying what work is important, or necessary, or meaningful.

By identifying and putting bounds on our work with competencies, we can envision what we’re doing now and where we want to go. Competencies give the profession a starting point, a place to think about the work we do. There won’t be unanimous agreement on which competencies to include. I think that’s okay. There’s something positive about looking inwards to identify the bounds of academic librarianship to expand and strengthen our profession. We need to continue to have discussions on the direction of academic librarianship, continue to identify what it is our work entails, and continue moving the profession forward to better support ourselves and our users.

The CARL Competencies for Librarians in Canadian Research Libraries are available at https://www.carl-abrc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Competencies-Final-EN-1-2.pdf