Final Reflection: a meta-post

This week’s assignment is to reflect on the act of reflective writing itself, which is either perfectly timed to force me to pause in my headlong rush towards final due dates, or designed to trip up my momentum.

As I’m writing this I’m also working on an environmental scan for our management case study, but I have a live feed of the European Cross Country Championships playing in the background. It’s the final event of the day, the senior men’s 10km, and even though these are the world’s fasted men they hardly look like their moving. When you’re running a distance like a 10km it can be equal parts frustrating and exhilarating. On one hand you feel like you’re hardly moving, you become so focused that you begin noticing everything, the spectators, the countryside, the hardness of the ground, but on the other you can’t believe how fast you’re moving and the thought of keeping it up for another few kilometres becomes the biggest mental challenge.

Do you see where I’m going with this? [By the way, Michael Mulhare just came 15th]

If we hadn’t been required to pause and reflect during this, our first semester, I doubt that most of our class would have paused at all. Time has flown by, one minute it’s Monday morning and then it’s Thursday night, but once a week (or twice in my case) we have to sit down and think about our readings. Reflective writing, as I see it, is like writing in a diary with an audience in mind. The writer is forced to explain what they normally wouldn’t and to write in clear, correct grammar to do so. In running that’s called a race recap, something that many elite runners (often marathoners) do to analyse what went right and what went wrong. Something else is does is show the thought process of an elite runner while there running, something that’s very difficult to imagine when you’re watching them. My favourite recent race recap is this one by Rob Watson on his Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon because he manages to give good advice, good reflection on his performance and reaction, and do it in an entertaining manner.

Class ‘wrap’

I was pleasantly surprised by this class because my previous experiences with management courses have been with organizational behaviour, which I personally believe is a pseudo-science at best and a ‘re-branding’ of common sense practices at worst. However, in this class we learnt about management theories and styles and it mixed well with practical guest lectures so I could see how they worked in the real world. I enjoyed it as I enjoyed a class during my Library and Information Technology Diploma called Library Philosophy and Functions, which meshed the history of libraries and books with trends and issues in libraries. In that class we also had a charismatic teacher who taught using personal experiences as examples.

I’ve already used something that we learnt our first class. When you start a new job, always be suspicious of the person who’s overly friendly and welcoming, because they’re the person everyone learns to avoid. When I moved into my current residence I was welcomed enthusiastically by the room mate who turned out to be quite emotionally unstable, but I knew right away. It’s possible I knew this through previous experience, but that small nugget of information that we’d learned in class that week was swimming around my brain.

Of course we’ve learned more academic things, like flat versus hierarchical management and what makes the culture of an organisation, but one thing I thought we’d have an entire module on, rather than just two weeks, was finances and budgeting. My observations while working in libraries have led me to believe that librarians spend much of their time balancing budgets and working with funding, but a lot of what we’ve learned in our first semester has been research-based, not only in this class, but in our other modules as well. However, that’s feedback for the entire program, and not one single course.

I believe that my thinking has changed and I’ve become a lot more analytical about my relationships with other people when I work with them on a project or event, which may or may not be a good thing. People don’t like to be catered to or catered for, even in the name of diplomacy, but if you’re open about it, especially for a class assignment or project at work, then it can be appreciated.

Library Finances

Around the second page of Glen Holt’s editorial, “Getting beyond the pain: understanding and dealing with declining library funding” I went and looked at the publication date to confirm my suspicion that the article was written before the 2009 recession. Before. If the situation was this bad in 2005, then how is the situation now? Is it worse, or have our viewpoints and expectations changed? Holt paraphrases subject of John Buschman’s book, Dismantling the Public Sphere (2003), as this; cuts to funding are the result of a public that is beginning to think that public agencies, “can do more with less” (Holt, 189). This book was written a decade ago, during which time the global financial situation has worsened, what if libraries have turned public values on their head? What if, libraries have actually responded by defying expectations and doing just that, only on tighter budgets. Holt goes on to list the falling numbers of borrowers in UK libraries, but recent studies have shown that borrowers have increased since the recession, Dublin City Public Libraries have seen an 11% increase in visitors (S. Kelly and M. Leonard,  personal communication, 24 October 2013). Finally, Holt criticizes the ALA for viewing library funding as a mainly local issue, but libraries are constantly in the news now for being saved (or not) through crowd-sourcing methods; libraries are drawing on their own communities for assistance when their municipalities, nations, and other governing bodies are falling through. Overall, Holt’s editorial is very good as a snapshot of when times were better, even though we thought they were worse, at the time.

Innovation as needed

There’s a lot to reflect on this week so I chose one of the group questions from the end of the “Innovation and entrepreneurship in information organizations” chapter reading to start me off.

Describe an ‘innovation’ you were involved in.

I worked most of last year in a university library where, even though I was originally part-time and ‘only’ an assistant, I was encouraged to involve myself in changes and take charge of projects. In short, my library fostered an innovative organizational culture. This is how I came to be involved in the ‘waiting room’ rehabilitation of the periodicals and new books display.

What were the personal circumstances or drivers that led you to seek an
opportunity to do things differently?

In our library the Circulation Desk is directly across from the front doors, but also has a good view of an area with a couch, coffee table, and two chairs. Originally we had a periodicals display between this area and the entrance and a glass display case for new books on the other side. While working at the Circulation Desk, I noticed that the couches were being used as a meeting place for group projects; students who didn’t have each other’s phone numbers would plan to meet there before moving upstairs to the study rooms. At the time, one of my colleagues was trying to improve the system for tracking periodical usage. I suggested that we could improve the periodical and new book usage by arranging this area like it was a proper waiting room.

How did you go about locating and developing that opportunity/idea? How did you go about the planning for translating that opportunity
into action?

I spoke with our Systems Librarian who was our expert on access and also our Health & Safety representative about the best way to rearrange the chairs and displays and also the Library Technician in charge of our new book displays.

How did you go about capitalizing on the new opportunity?

My new arrangement worked really well for several months until a colleague who’d been put in charge of a book display completely rearranged everything without conferring with anyone. She made the area completely inaccessible a weeks before I left to come here and start my MLIS, so hopefully by the time I return they’ll have missed me so much they offer me a full-time job!

As I was reading this chapter, I was thinking back to a few weeks ago in my Systems Analysis & Design class when we read an article on creativity and innovation by Robert I. Sutton called, “The Weird Rules of Creativity”. Sutton’s management techniques for creating an innovative environment are very different and I’d take him more seriously if he had shown evidence that he had work experience to back it up, but some of his ideas had some merit. He spoke about the innovations that can happen when creative colleagues disagree, or when you hire someone who hasn’t had experience dealing with your current issues as opposed to someone who’s boxed themselves in because they have. I did come away from the article with the idea that creating an innovative environment is as much about managing people as it is providing the right technology. My take on J. Rowley’s chapter was informed by this view; the reading mentions both sides, digital entrepreneurship and public/social entrepreneurship. Overall, I think that with OSS and higher technical skills amongst everyday people, it’s not new technological solutions that we need, but management styles that focus on the management of HCI instead of a focus on one or the other.

Marketing

Last year Capilano University Library, in North Vancouver, began major renovations, participated in the LibQual survey, and held a feedback session with students. There were many changes made based upon the results of the survey and the session, but the most immediate and most noticeable was the creation of a Communications Librarian role. A recent MLIS graduate who had been working part-time on contract was given the position; he’s a personable, kind, and helpful person whose instantly recognizable to students for his infectious smile as much as his towering height. The lesson? I think that we can learn communication skills in the classroom, or at work, but nothing beats natural aptitude.

From this week’s readings, the study on perception of communication skills amongst instructors and students (Alshare, Lane, & Miller, 2011) made me think about my own assessment, so far, of this program. My impression of my classmates is that we’re all good communicators, and this is being tested by juggling, in my case, four group projects. It’s not the group dynamics, that’s the problem, it’s coordinating when we can all meet that’s turning into the true challenge. I find it the perfect combination of time management skills and communication, and I much prefer it to some of the examples in the article. For example, I flinched when they mentioned writing cover letters; I’m in my 8th year of post-secondary education, if I have to complete another resume and cover letter assignment I’ll go mental.

As much as I enjoyed the relevancy of the article, I have issues with their methodology. That the survey ‘was available’ for about half a year, explains why they only got 59 and 83 participants. I’m also surprised that socio-economic backgrounds weren’t taken as an external influencing factor because I feel that this can severely hamper communication in the same way as cross-cultural communication issues. I may be wrong however, the list of external variables in the Results section ends with, “and other variables” (Alshare, Lane, & Miller, 2011, p. 189), but if they did take this attribute into account, then it would have been interesting to learn it’s effect.

References

Alshare, K.A., Lane, P.L., and Miller, D. (2011). Business communication skills in information systems (IS) curricula: perspectives of IS educators and students. Journal of Education for Business, 86, 186-194. DOI: 10.1080/08832323.2010.497819.

Evidence-Based Practice

There were two articles we had to read this week that complimented each other very well I thought. They both discussed two different approaches to problem solving; evidence-based librarianship and practitioner research, essentially juxtaposing research and trial-and-error techniques. In fact, put that way, it’s rather odd that the 7 step practitioner research process has no step emphasising research when Rebecca Watson-Boone’s article is all about distinguishing librarians who practice from librarians who implement their research into their practice. I feel as though the EBL process, with it’s emphasis on research and evidence, belongs more in her article.

In the article in question, “Academic Librarians as Practitioner-Researchers” (2000), Watson-Boone makes the following observation:

“Within academic librarianship, it may be that the major difference between being a practitioner and being a practitioner-researcher is not one’s publication rate, but rather how deliberately each librarian incorporates these steps into routine work habits” (Watson Boone, 2000).

But I rather think that the major difference between being considered a practitioner-researcher and a mere practitioner is publishing one’s research as any academic librarian who employs evidence-based practice should be considered a researcher as well as an academic librarian. Ironically, it’s only a matter of evidence, of documenting your work (for KM as much as anything).

When it comes down to it, I think the best approach to take is to decided on your own process at the outset. Let’s say a patron gifts a large donation of Louis L’Amour, first editions in her will to a public library with an emphasis on providing books for patrons and not valuable collections. Then let’s add the complication of the head librarian discovering that her predecessor had never required a gift policy be included in the collection development policy.

What is the most time-sensitive issue?
– Temporary, condition-sensitive storage for the collection until a decision can be made.

What is the core issue?
– A policy is needed, and not just one that addresses this specific donation.
– KM. An assessment of library policies need to be made to seek out other possible gaps before they are discovered at an inconvenient time.

And what does either issue require of library staff?
– Is there even a librarian whose responsibility it is to deal with donations?
– If there isn’t, a similar KM assessment of staff qualifications and responsibilities needs to be made to assign the role.
– If there is, how have they been dealing with donations? Do they have a personal policy? Have they documented it?
– Library assistants and technicians will be more in touch with possible storage areas than librarians or other management staff.

Only after all this is complete, can a decision be made on what type of process to use (you could go either way; an in-house developed donation policy would be more tailored to the library’s needs, but researching other donation policies would help to make sure you cover all possibilities).

References

Eldredge, J. (2006). Evidence-based librarianship: the EBL process. Library Hi Tech, 24(3), 341-354. DOI 10.1108/07378830610692118

Watson-Boone, R. (2000). Academic librarians as practitioner-researchers. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 26(2), 85-93.

Further Reading

Here’s a good slideshow produced by staff at my university’s library on EBL: http://www.slideshare.net/eservice/use-it-or-lose-it-14374944

And here’s a picture I found when I Google Image Searched EBL:

cat in botanical gardens crop

I thought it was bad tagging and zero knowledge of SEO, but … nope. Click on the image to see the original site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Sheila Webber: Cat in botanical gardens, November 2012.