Instructional Design Librarian at the A Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
I love libraries. I have since I first learned what they were. Though I’ve only been working in libraries full time for about six years, I’ve been volunteering (and spending a lot of time in them!) for the past twenty-five. When I was a child I loved libraries because they were filled with books. I loved that they were familiar, no matter which one I went in, and I loved how safe they felt. Now that I’m an adult, and working in libraries, I love libraries just as much but for very different reasons. Though I still love books, I love that libraries are expanding our brand and what it is that we offer. I love that libraries adapt to the local community and their needs, and that if you look a little deeper every library is customized to their community. I love that we’re adapting to the changing information environment, that I know my job will continually change, and that my I will need to continue to learn and adapt to stay relevant. There’s nothing like a good challenge!
In college I took one of those personality test to find out what I should be “when I grew up.” I remember being disappointed that the results stated that librarianship was one of the last choices I should consider. However, after working in the field, I realize that the traits that the test results suggested would be best suited to other professions are the very ones that make me good at what I do in libraries.
So what are some of those skills? I think they’re some of the same skills that can be helpful to all librarians today:
- Service ethic: We all know that all jobs in the library are about serving our community. The community might be students, neighbors, or members of a corporation, but fundamentally, their library exists to serve them. We all have a service role no matter our role in the library. Good cataloging creates a good experience when in the looking for books in the building. Designing and coding good systems creates a positive online experience. Every person that interacts with a patron is shaping their view of the library. A strong service ethic, focused on meeting the needs of our users and helping them succeed, goes a long way.
- Flexibility: I’ve been in the same job for the past two years, but the job changes with regularity. The things I’m spending most of my time on these days were not even part of the picture six months ago. Our field is changing rapidly and we have to be flexible enough to roll with it and adapt to new expectations and challenges. For some of us, this is great fun. For others, it can be stressful. However, remembering that we are here to meet our patron’s needs can help us understand the importance of adapting when it might allow us to serve them better.
- Entrepreneurial spirit: Sometimes it’s not clear what changes we need to make. Maybe no one is making recommendations, but it’s clear that the patrons are changing or their expectations aren’t what they used to be. Approaching our work with an entrepreneurial spirit allows us to think about new services, different ways of reaching our patrons, and ways to re-imagine the role of the library in the community. Taking measured risks, adjusting for new demands in our community, and adapting what we do to new expectations are important parts of keeping the library relevant.
- Design thinking: While we’re busy reinventing ourselves and the work we’re doing in the community, we should also keep in mind that we’re not just doing things for the sake of doing them. It’s worth taking the time up front to think through the design of the new service or product to make sure it is something that is really needed. Design thinking can apply to all facets of library work: web design, instruction, the user experience… by thinking carefully about design, and holding focus groups or usability testing sessions, we can make sure that the new services and products we offer really do meet the needs of our users and do what we’ve set out to do.
- A tendency to self-educate: But perhaps above all else, librarians need to have a tendency to self-educate. We learn what we can in school, but things change rapidly and there are times when we all have to take on a role we know less about than we’d like. Knowing where to find information, how we learn best, and how to incorporate this new knowledge is fundamentally important to being able to adapt and change to meet whatever new needs and expectations are on the horizon. We often think about this with technology, but self-education extends to all aspects of library work, whether it be the subject area we are assigned to collect in, the new responsibility we’re given, or even how to do a new task such as hold a focus group or assess a library instruction session.
Librarianship is an amazing field, and libraries are an amazing place to work. I am thankful every day that I get to work in a profession that is making a difference in the community as well as one that is facing the challenge of redefinition and adaptation. With a focus on the users, a little flexibility, entrepreneurial spirit, design thinking, and continual learning, we can do great things. There’s nothing like a good challenge–and I am glad to be working on this challenge with you!