…breakdown silos

This post is adapted from the one originally posted on the NNLM NER Blog here on May 17th, 2017.

If you listen to the worries and anxieties of other professions, one, you start to realize that they often have the same concerns as librarians; and two, you start to repeatedly hear about breaking down silos. We talk about silos in librarianship as well – which may be a topic for another day – but it seems to be a major and constant refrain in medicine, research, patient care, and the sciences in general – often because of the dramatic innovations that are possible and the depressing results when it doesn’t happen. In research, one lab won’t know want the lab next door is doing, even when they are working on very similar topics. In the clinic, the public health worker doesn’t realize that a problem they are facing is also being addressed by an internal medicine doctor. An intrepid student makes headway on a problem that has plagued a seasoned faculty. Those who work by the bedside don’t always know what is happening at the bench – let alone the public knowing what is going on. We all live in, and are concerned with, the bubbles immediately around us. Innovation and growth occur when we can get these bubbles to intersect.

I propose that librarians serving any field or population – from health science to public librarians – are in the perfect position to help breakdown these silos – to serve as the intersection points for different bubbles. Librarians’ jobs necessitate that they interact with a wide variety of people and information within their institutions and beyond. Librarians are also masters at creating connections; from one resource to another, from a resource to a person, and hopefully, from person to person. We pride ourselves on ensuring access to information. Well, that guy you just helped could be the source of information someone else is looking for. Through our ability to organize and make connections, we could provide the access needed to bridge silos. Librarians are generally curious, inquisitive, and well informed. We also love to share what we know. You know the department you work with better than most. A public librarian knows her community and its needs intimately. A manager may see the business trends or funding implications well before others. A systems librarian knows the tech and works closely with the IT department. How can we work together to employ these connections and intersections, while using them to increase the access and innovation of our communities?

Many librarians already do this, and do it well. What I suggest is that the profession more consciously, explicitly, and deliberately leverage this skill and our positions at the intersections. Librarians are in a very unique position. We must promote ourselves as the facilitators, the connectors, the means to move others beyond their silos. Move beyond the question of, “How does this apply to me?” or “How does this apply to librarianship?” Rather ask, “How does this apply to those I serve?”, “Where is the connection and how can I position myself to provide information and service at that intersection?” Focusing on the informational connections between communities and people, rather than just the connection between the resource and the person, will be the strength librarianship needs.


(P.S. I apparently wrote about something similar almost 2 1/2 years ago, so I guess you could say my attention hasn’t strayed too far from this topic.)


…make a good impression

Alternatively titled: A Librarian Can…give a little advice to library school students.

My piece of advice for today concerns the importance of making connections and impressions. Library school is tough, and not because of the course work. Yes, you have to learn skills, but more importantly, it is the time to learn what it means to be a librarian and navigate this new professional field. I may be fairly new to this field myself, but one of the things that I learned very quickly while in school and on the job was the importance of making connections (some say networking but that concept often makes people cringe). Basically, you have to hustle, put yourself out there, build relationships, and make good impressions. This is very difficult. I am not a very outgoing, socially engaging person. I find networking and small talk incredibly anxiety producing and exhausting, but I think it is essential to my success and longevity in this field. I may not know how or when, but every interaction could have a long-term impact. I strive to make every interaction as positive and productive as possible, because who knows what will be next. It can be difficult, but the more I practice, the stronger the skill becomes. We will all have missteps, especially working on something that does not come easy.  In general, people who love what they do, love to talk about it and dole out advice to others (usually the next generation). Recently, I have had two experiences with library school students that have made me want to share.

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…cross disciplines

Librarians constantly interact with knowledge from a vast number of information sources from a variety of disciplines. We are good at managing, compiling, synthesizing the information part but sometime lose sight of everything else that exists in other disciplines beyond just the information and resources. It has been said many times in various ways, but I think it is true: innovation takes place at the cross-roads of ideas and disciplines. Librarians, always worried about the future of the profession, would be wise to take every opportunity to interact with and learn from other areas – beyond just what information sources they need, but really looking at how others think, how they operate, how they interact with the world. Working with and learning from those well outside librarianship, may be the key to how we can really grow and improve this profession.

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Delegation is not always something librarians like to do, or think they are good at doing. We are a “nice” profession of crazy, organized, micromanagers. I am very guilty of this. We often fall into a paradoxical trap of thinking, “who am to think I to ask anyone else to do this?” and “I can do it (better, faster, etc) myself.” We not only feel bad asking for others to do something, but we often, secretly, maybe unconsciously, don’t want to anyway. And yet, librarians delegate all the time. We have to. There is too much to do, with too few people and resources. Delegation is not reserved for managers and the boss. Whenever we work in teams or collaborate, we are essentially trusting others to not screw up. Like I said, we are a “nice” profession, and we play really well together. We just don’t often associate what we are doing with leadership or managerial practices. But explicitly recognizing and working on the skills necessary to delegate and get things done will enhance teams and may come in handy when you are the boss.

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