Transformational Roles: Breaking the Rules

The first thing I noticed when I entered the room for the Breaking the Rules session this morning was that one rule had already been broken: the chairs were arranged in a square with the presenters’ platform in the middle of the square, which was quite different from the traditional arrangement. This session was one of the highlights of the conference for me. A panel of distinguished professionals described the twists of their careers (and they were varied and unusual) and presented some of the lessons they have learned. 

(L-R) Gary Price, Chief Editor, Resource Shelf;
Jessica Baumgart, Quality Assurance Engineer, Renesys;
Mike Crandall, Chair, MSIM, The Information School, University of Washington;
Gloria Zamora, Field Representative to Sen. Jeff Bingaman and SLA President-Elect;
Stephen Abram, VP, Innovation, SirsiDynix and SLA President;
Jane Dysart (moderator); Principal, Dysart & Jones Associates
As you will see , despite the tremendous variety in their careers, several common themes emerged.
Gary Price
Some people think you should not put “librarian” on your resumé because many people have a stereotype of what a librarian is. We need to correct that. Many people come to this profession without ever thinking about it beforehand—something just “clicks”. I like representing the library community outside of it. It’s OK to ask for help—people appreciate being asked to share what you have to offer. Core skills: collection development (we should be building the internet and open core collections. Talk, speak up, sell what you have to offer. Learn how to talk and talk well—we all represent each other in this profession.
Jessica Baumgart
Many customer service inquiries are answered using reference skills. Think about your audience when you write. Do not be scared of new technology or of trying new things.
Mike Crandall
Take advantage of new technology to help people find information. Use metadata to support search and retrieval. Organizations need the skills that librarians have. Learn as you go along from great people. Three things forming a large part of what you need to know are people, information, and technology. Everything we do involves people—you must understand people, how businesses work, etc. If you do not understand technology, you are dead in the water. We need to think of how it serves people’s needs. Information is what people need to get in order to perform effectively. 
Do not be afraid to do something you do not know to do; just jump in and learn how to do it. Use your skills to find out how you can learn. Networking with others is critically important. Your network brings you opportunities, but you must have skills to back up what employers are looking for. Be curious and think about the big picture.
Gloria Zamora
How do you find information; how do you use it; how do you figure out what people want and give it to them? Open yourself and seize every opportunity that comes along. The grounding you get in a library education is the foundation of everything you do. It sets you up to learn how to do research. Your background in training helps you adapt to different situations. 
Stephen Abram
Overcome personal obstacles in your life and personality to become effective and cause positive changes. Get coaching if you need it. How do we make the world change? How do we influence it so we do the right things, make informed decisions? It’s not so much your skills (you can always add them) it’s attitudes. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you cannot do things? Get confidence. You have to think about it all the time. Sustain trust by being consistent enough that people know what you’re doing. Act professionally! You do not need to take personality out of personal interactions. Put your sense of humor into events—you do not have to be a cookie cutter!  The model of behavior is you, which you can transfer everywhere. Feedback is a gift; accept it and learn from it. Recognize that you are in control—if you give people power, you are giving up control.  Don’t be afraid of stereotypes; build on them and use them to advantage.
Concluding Thoughts
What is the single biggest threat (or need) in the profession? Some responses:
“We have seen the enemy and it is us”.
Recognize that the people now in library school will be managing our future. Offer them the curriculum that will give them the skills they will need.
Teach people that there is a difference between searching and researching and how to evaluate the quality of the information they find and not just take the first results from a search engine.
Two behaviors that must end: (1) do not run down the students coming out of library school, (2) if you cannot speak positively about your profession, resign and go somewhere else. Criticize what needs to be improved and use critical thinking—that’s important, but do not criticize without suggesting a solution.

What a great session this was!  I hope it’s repeated at a number of other conferences because I think that people who have been in the profession for a long time have amassed a wealth of experience that can be transferred to future generations.  We can ill afford to lose this.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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