learning to be a librarian: communication is key.

At this point, I’m halfway through the modules in INFO 5300, Management of Information Agencies, and I have to say that the one component that keeps coming up as vitally important is Communication.

Now I know I’m biased. I have multiple degrees in English, and I’ve been working as a writer in the marketing field for more than 15 years. But I can’t imagine a library – or any business, for that matter – thriving without good and open communication. And this has been underscored by the three modules we’ve gotten through so far, on change, planning, and organization. Communication is an essential part of all three.

For example, a good business is always evolving and changing, and communication is essential when an organization is going through change:

  • Communicating with staff that they are valued and that changing the structure of the library doesn’t mean that they won’t have a job
  • Communicating with patrons that the library is changing to meet new needs and improve experiences.
  • Communicating with shareholders that their investment in your organization is a worthy endeavor.

The most successful example we read about for planning, in my opinion, was a library in Palatine, Illinois, that was constantly communicating with the community about their plans and progress (Schwartz, 2019). Their plan began through a survey of their constituents in 2016, where they learned their community wanted more books, movies and services.

After careful consideration of what the community wanted and how best to meet their needs, the library realized they needed more money. So they worked with the city to propose a tax increase, and then communicated with the people of Palatine about why they needed more money, and what it would pay for. Even after the referendum passed, the library continued to educate the community about their improvements, and they have implemented their transparency as a permanent aspect of their communications.

And of course, the larger the business or library, the more important communication becomes. Whether it’s communication from the top to the bottom, or among teams and committees, good communication ensures that everyone knows what needs to be done and how each individual can contribute.

These are all things I’ve seen for myself, whether it’s through working for smaller companies as a freelancer, or being a part of a much bigger organization at SMU. Good communication has allowed me to plan for changes to websites and to build marketing plans with my clients from a distance — my clients have stayed in California while I’ve moved from Los Angeles to Hoboken, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Bethesda, MD; and now Dallas. It enabled me to grow my position from simple content management to Director of Production for one of them, managing subcontractors and eProfessors across multiple timelines — and state lines.

I will be shocked if communication does not continue to play a key role in our upcoming modules on human resources, leadership, and especially collaboration. And I look forward to seeing how my past experience in marketing communications ties into these new lessons on how communication ties in to the management of libraries in the 21st century.

Schwartz, M. (2019). Clear & simple. Library Journal, 144(9), 24.

learning to be a librarian: assignments that teach pragmatic skills

I’m wrapping up my second draft of my IOP for INFO 5200 this week. (That’s the second part of my Information Organization Project, for non-UNT folks.) It’s a project that we work on all semester, to show mastery of the ALA’s 3rd core competence for librarians: Organization of Recorded Knowledge and Information. We’re basically considering every step of the process to organize and build a database for a collection.

The assignment is turned in throughout the semester as we work on building the collection. Stage one was turned in at the end of January; it was about two pages long and primarily focused on user needs for our imaginary collection. But this portion of the assignment built another 13 pages, between the sections describing my ideal system of organization and database, as well as the reality of reshaping it after I started using the software, and a variety of appendices that demonstrate the organization of my information.

The prep reading was heavy: Five textbook chapters and about 25 articles, plus ten written lectures and five video lectures. And I had another research assignment for this class due in the middle of the month, delaying my start on this section.

But here’s the thing: This is the most realistic assignment I’ve had to prepare me for what I might do as a librarian. Read to learn about new technology. Juggle multiple projects and deadlines. Analyze and report on how we’ll make this system work, since this is what we have to deal with, rather than an ideal software.

As much as I complained about the reading, and how much my forearms hurt the day after I typed the majority of my new section, I know this is one of the most pragmatic assignments I will ever have. And I can respect that. I appreciate that the work I’m doing now prepares me well for what I’ll be doing once I have my degree.

learning to be a librarian: new tricks

Thinking back to our institute for INFO 5000, I remember being particularly daunted by the idea of our term paper and doing a literature review. When I did my previous M.A. in literature, I had not done such research, and I was hesitant about how I’d even begin to tackle such a project.

I was thankful that our class broke down how we’d be turning in our papers, giving us time to refine our topics, and the chance to get feedback before turning in a final version. But for me it was the literature map that helped me envision my final paper.

Out of many new concepts I tried to master during my first semester, this one probably resonated the most. I have always been someone that prefers to work from an outline, but this was even better.

I had reviewed my articles and looked for common themes before starting my review, but I saw that using a graphic like this would allow me to have one image that could drive all of my writing. It helped me to create a focused review without forgetting any one article as I moved from topic to topic. And it helped to build an overarching organization that made my writing more coherent. (See the final product here.)

If and when I attempt another literature review, whether for a class or for publication, I know I’ll be keeping this tool in mind to use again.

learning to be a librarian: teamwork

Since I started my internship at SMU and my classes at UNT at the same time, I had a steeper learning curve than my intern peers when it came to understanding how to answer questions at the reference desk. In addition, I’ve been working as a freelancer for more than 10 years, a position where I needed to figure out things on my own without a team to turn to for questions or guidance.

At the beginning of November, I returned to my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Missouri, for a women’s leadership conference. As I listened to our keynote speaker, who had just retired from a long career as a television presenter to start a new business, I was reminded that starting over means that I need to acknowledge that I don’t know everything about my new field. If librarianship is complicated enough to require a master’s degree, it is complex enough that I will always be asking questions and discussing new ideas with my colleagues.

I realized that I had been struggling with asking my peers and my mentors for help while working the reference desk. I had felt that it would show weakness if I asked questions or needed guidance. On my return trip to Texas, I pledged to turn to my fellow librarians more in order to improve my work.

Postscript: When I had my end of term meeting with my supervisor, he mentioned that my work had greatly improved during the month of November. I was thankful to be reminded that it is better to ask for help and guidance as I learn my new trade rather than struggling through on my own. I will continue to remember that as I learn more — and challenge myself more — as a librarian.

learning to be a librarian: frustration

I have been working on websites for more than 15 years, and I’ve taught myself a great deal of content management through Googling for tips and tutorials. I consider myself fairly tech savvy when it comes to figuring out new software.

But NVivo has bested me.

Our job description assignment for INFO 5000 required that we use NVivo software to create charts and infographics for a presentation analyzing several different job descriptions. I was able to learn how to mark text in the descriptions in order to track different phrases or skills. I thought creating the graphs would be a simple next step.

I was wrong.

I searched for tutorials. I asked my classmates. I asked my fellow interns at SMU (who also have completed this class at UNT). I found plenty of ways to mark and categorize information, and no guidance that led to the graphs I was envisioning in my head with multiple nodes. I worked on the project for nearly 12 hours, trying to create the desired graphics, without success. I woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning unable to get the project out of my head, and I continued to play with the settings for creating graphs.

No dice.

So I decided to step back and re-envision my data. If I couldn’t create the graphs I originally sought, there were other ways to create data visualizations using the software, as well as other ways to create additional graphs within PowerPoint.

In any job or project, it’s likely that I’ll hit a stumbling point. It doesn’t help anyone to repeatedly try something that isn’t working. My goal is to work on becoming more flexible, so that when one approach doesn’t work, I can always step back, analyze the situation, and figure out a different approach that WILL work.

And possibly take a class on NVivo if I ever need to use it again.

learning to be a librarian: research. read. learn. repeat.

It has been two weeks since I attended the day-long institutes at Denton for INFO 5000 and INFO 5600, and one month since I attended training for working the reference desk at Southern Methodist University’s Fondren Library.

Today is my first day on the reference desk without a librarian behind me to answer questions or to guide my responses. What on earth am I going to do when I get my first question?

I never realized how much knowledge is necessary for becoming a librarian. Where things are. WHO people are. Who to ask for specific information, and to whom to refer specific questions. It’s been a long time since I had to reorient myself to a new job and a new field of study.

I learn more every day, and my assignments for INFO 5200 are particularly helpful as I navigate the ref desk and help people find information in the library. But every answer leads me to another question; as I refer a question to the Digital Collections librarians, I want to learn more about what they do and how they accomplish it.

I am setting a goal for myself to learn more about the varieties of jobs here at Fondren Library and beyond. While I am glad to see that we have assignments in INFO 5000 that will facilitate this, I will go beyond to meet people within the departments and learn about how they fit within the broader community here at SMU.