Technology, digital capabilities and the language of change

This talk by David Walker, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Sussex, was the first in our series of Learning and Research Support (LRS) Seminars.

The premise of David’s talk was that the language we use to describe, implement and travel through change does not reflect the (difficult) reality of how it feels (and is) to go through change. Therefore, language becomes a barrier to successful change.

Embrace the unruly

(Donna Lanclos)

Alongside this is a long-held belief that (new) systems will make everything better, when actually what we really need is to have difficult, “messy”, conversations and deal with what is already going on.

People are taught to want transformational change, but actually, in the Higher Education (HE) sector, change tends to be developmental rather than transformational [n.b. I don’t think transformational is a word, I think the word should be transformative. WordPress doesn’t think that’s a word either, though].  I.e. a shiny new library management system is not going to make everything better in one fell swoop. Well, we think we know this, but the idea that a new LMS is the answer to everything is still a prevalent myth within the library world  – perpetuated by the producers of such systems, of course.

The next big thing

(Dylan Williams)

Or rather the seductive temptation of the next big thing: we look for this amazing new thing that’s going to fix all our problems but actually we should just be getting on and doing things to improve the situation.

The nature of terms associated with change can breed uncertainty and resistance, says David. Let’s take a look at some of those terms (as we did in the seminar):

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Hands up who gets turned off by those words? *puts up hand*

Resistance is [not] futile

(David Walker)

It’s really not. I’ve been there (and I am there, currently going through a departmental restructure, and I can tell you that resistance to change is always going to be there, whether those in charge believe or know it or not. I sometimes think that the people who are responsible for implementing change (I know everyone is responsible for implementing change to some degree, but you know what I mean) don’t really believe that people are going to be resistant to it. There is still this idea that people will just to what they’re told and when this doesn’t happen the people in charge don’t know what to do. This is probably partly because, as David said, change is a complex process – it is not just about the actual change (which is enough) but also the ‘ripple effect’ of emotions and consequences for people’s lives and the service in the long term; things which will feed in to the resistance. As David also said, there is quite often a  failure to explain the rationale for change [in a way which is helpful to those most affected by it].

Resistance is a primary cause of failure of change. In my experience, it’s not a failure in terms of the change literally not happening, but rather to make the change a positive experience (if that is possible) or to run smoothly. If nothing else, resistance makes the change process longer, which is usually the last thing people need.

Higher education is dominated by

de-humanising language

This was a bit of a shocker (surely HE should be the epitome of liberal, humanistic thought?), but when I heard David say it, I already knew it was true, I just hadn’t thought about it properly before. I’ve thought a lot about how HE is now a market, using the language of the market and business and commerce (e.g. students are now customers), but I hadn’t made that leap to actually seeing it as being de-humanising. But, arguably, by seeing HE as a market is almost automatically envisages those whose lives are involved with HE less than human – currency, transactions – and the philosophy of HE seems to be no longer about education and thought but about the market: Universities don’t seek after truth or knowledge but rather the top ranking on the leader board, to be market-leading, world-beating, transformative, innovative, leading, leading, leading. In what? It’s not really about people, except as numbers or survey results, FTEs, cohorts. I feel tired just thinking about it.

At this point, one of my colleagues made a good point: people are so used to hearing these words [see word cloud above] that we don’t even hear them anymore – we are word blind (deaf?).

Another one of my colleagues also said, (I paraphrase) this is all bit toxic isn’t it?

“Transformative” makes people feel bad

(Brookfield)

Was what we were doing so bad that we have to do something entirely new and never be able to go back to what we did before?

What can we do?

  • Talk about improvement rather than change
  • Promote dialogue – legitimise everyone’s voices
  • Recognise that change impacts on culture and is an emotional process
  • Acknowledge concerns and give feedback
  • Change/improvement should be a sustained process – it takes time and is not a one off event
  • Use partnerships as an approach to engagement, including external partnerships across the HE sector – work with others, share expertise and experience instead of duplicating work and working against one another
  • Share a common language – learn to understand different professional languages (e.g. technical terms). This does not mean everyone has to do “management speak”
  • Gain an HE teaching qualification to improve knowledge of teaching practices and educational theories
  • Gain some other qualifications (e.g. PRINCE2 (project management), IT qualifications) to support meaningful discussion with colleagues in other departments

Myth busting makes me feel good

The idea of ‘digital natives’ is a myth. Just because most young people can operate a mobile phone or send an email or watch dodgy YouTube videos this does not mean they have digital capabilities that are “fit for living, learning and working in a digital society”. The skills they have are not transferable to (e.g.) an educational context – we  can make all the search boxes on our library management systems look like Google but this isn’t going to help people find the resources they really need or learn how to assess them or write a good essay or save their work safely or create a webpage or program something or print something out or turn the computer on (or off).

As David said, we need academic staff who are skilled in using technologies so they can pass these skills on to their students, or at least model them.

An avalanche is coming…

(Barber et al)

…and people generally don’t have the skills to deal with it. David argued that we need to increase focus on “maker pedagogies” – students (and us) as creators and researchers – students as producers. Although I think I understand what he’s trying to say (we need creative people for jobs in creative industries, the idea of students as producers seems again to be part of the language of commerce. Of course it’s good if students (and academics) produce work and research outputs but is it not OK to study for the action/work of studying  and learning and the improvement of knowledge as an end in itself? I think once we lose the idea of ‘study for pleasure’ it’s only a matter of time before reading for pleasure and visiting galleries for pleasure and listening to music for pleasure go out of the window as well. But I may be overreacting.

We do need people to be creative, but I’m not sure that HE is a very creative place anymore. Producing does not necessarily mean being creative in the wider sense of the word.

“Up-skilling” is killing me

Not literally. It just saps my soul every time I hear it. It is meaningless. Just say ‘learning new skills’. It’s a bit like my other pet-hate phrase, “going forward”. What happened to “in the future”?

Moving on…

Support staff are the best

Not surprisingly, support staff are needed to enable technology enhanced learning (TEL), in other words to help people use technology effectively when they’re studying, learning and/or teaching. A good thing which came out of the session with David was that we all recognised the need for us in the library to work together with people in IT and LTEU (Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit) to provide effective support to people. At the moment it’s a bit confusing for people – who should they go to for help? It would be good to sit down with colleagues in other department and have a nice chat about what we all do  and how we can help each other (and students and staff) out. I wonder if that’s possible?

Leadership for librarians

Yesterday, I attending ‘Leadership for Librarians’ a training workshop presented by Andy Priestner at the University of Kent, part of CILIP in Kent’s programme of events.

We started with the easy bit: thinking about absence of leadership (i.e. bad leaders). Sadly, examples of these came to mind quite easily for all of us! Then we thought about great leaders – I chose my cardiologist because she is ace, and we recognised that leaders are not only people in positions of authority.

The key to successful leadership today is influence not authority. – Ken Blanchard

I’ve seen this truth borne out plenty of time during my working life – library assistants often make the best leaders! This quotation was also the one I identified with most of those that were stuck on the seminar room wall (one of our tasks was to guess who said each quotation).  As I suspected:

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else through hard work. That’s the price we have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal. – Vince Lombardi

We then went on to look at the differences between managers and leaders, and had to try and identify attributes of management and attributes of leadership. This was harder than I expected and led to some interesting team displays of team dynamics!

Management is doing thing right, leadership is doing the right things. – Peter F. Drucker

We followed this up by asking the (obviously rhetorical) question:

Do libraries need leaders?

Of course! Not least because there are many specific leadership challenges facing libraries, e.g.:

WordItOut-word-cloud-1745556

And not so many (good) leaders – at least in the experience of those in the room. We talked a bit about why this might be. Various reasons were given, such as the natural temperament of librarians (which I personally think should be, err…shelved as an idea in 2016. We are way past that). I think partly it’s because we have a lot of managers who have come up through libraries and been promoted to management positions without having the qualities really necessary to be good leaders. They may (or may not) be good managers, but leadership is a different kettle of fish. It’s interesting that nowadays a lot of library leaders have come in without a library background – you don’t need library experience (or indeed a library qualification) to be a good leader. Leadership is more transferable across fields, whereas managers probably will need more specialised knowledge of their working areas.

Then we took a good hard look at ourselves though the medium of post-it notes.

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By Photoforia via Flickr

It turns out I value my family more than I thought I did. Which sounds wrong. I suppose it wasn’t really all that surprising – I’m always longing for home, whatever form that might take – literal or otherwise. I like the German concept of Heimat, for which there is no English equivalent, although for me it is most poignant in it not being its opposite – alienation, and it’s not to do with geography or nationalism in my case; more wanting to be a Hobbit.

To finish the morning off we looked at what qualities we respect most in leaders – time for more post-its!

We followed this with a discussion about leadership styles (including our own) – authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire (there are others). I scored most highly for democratic – I’m not sure if this is because I value other people’s opinions or because I can’t make decisions on my own (probably both). We talked a bit about situational leadership, which sounds like a good idea – having the most appropriate leadership style for the situation you’re in at the time. As we said, people have a tendency to want to label themselves, but it may not always be appropriate (or true) to say (e.g.) ‘I am an authoritarian leader’ because we’re probably not just one thing all the time, and if we are this is likely to be a mistake because we need to be sensitive to situations and respond appropriately.

After lunch (I think), we watched this video:

Not all of it, I hasten to add. Six minutes was more than enough for me. I totally got the concept, but I found Mr Sinek a bit irritating. To save you watching the video, the idea behind starting with why is that instead of telling people what and how you do things (like we tend to do a lot in libraries) we should instead tell people why we do them – this way they are more likely to engage with us and our services. The reason this works is because ‘the why’ speaks to our emotions, rather than our reason….as demonstrated by our next example of leadership…

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By Findntake via Flickr

In case you’re interested, @andytraining thinks Steve Jobs’ leadership style was a mixture of charismatic, autocratic and transformational. I’m sure Steve was a great leader, but I have a bit of a problem with him saying all those things he said about how Apple could change the world for the better and then allowing his phones to be made by people working and living in terrible conditions. Anyhow…

Now we were on to the really hard bit, assessing our own leadership (or lack of it). Actually completing the leadership challenge assessment wasn’t too bad, although people like me who are not currently in leadership roles found it harder to score highly because of lack of experience (even though you don’t have to be in a ‘leadership role’ to be a leader). I found that, in line with my democratic leadership style, I am allegedly good at enabling others to act (yay!) not so good at “encouraging the heart” (alas). I used to be better at encouraging people, I think – perhaps I have become more selfish over the years…I found it interesting to think back over my career, such as it is, specifically about how I used to manage people and I think, really, I tried to manage people with love (I know, yuck) which was (fairly obviously to anyone with sense) a mistake – I was an extreme teddy bear and wanted to keep everyone happy all the time, which, amongst other things (including other people’s poor management and leadership), led me to the edge of a nervous breakdown. This might be a form of servant leadership, but I’m not sure I was as selfless as all that. But we must move on….

To the personal leadership development plan. I was feeling quite positive about the day before I filled this in (lucky it was at the end!). I just didn’t know how I could practically do things to meet the leadership challenges I needed to meet. Perhaps I was just tired, but I was also thinking about my performance over the day. I am very concious of how I behave in groups, monitoring myself all the time. This is partly because I have got into trouble before for ‘misbehaving’ (e.g. being too negative) in group settings before and I know I can say things without thinking them through properly and end up sounding/being rude to people or making a fool of myself, or being ‘rebellious’ (which is often frowned upon in the workplace). A lot of workplace stuff makes me quite angry – partly because of my experiences at work (see above) and I do have a tendency towards negativity sometimes. Also, I can get bored quite quickly, which also leads me to ‘misbehave’, I fear. And then there are irritating people whose opinions I feel I must question. And so it goes on. Also (and so) I am very insecure and did I mention socially awkward and anxious?

Anyway, I thought I’d been rude to someone (by accident) so I was thinking ‘oh no, I’ve done it again, everyone’s going to think I’m rude, Andy is going to think I’m rude’, also I felt like I’d talked to much throughout the day and people would think I was overbearing, etc. I used to be so shy I wouldn’t speak in groups so now I think I say a lot because I might miss my chance if I don’t say it RIGHT NOW! I feel that I lack some kind of knowledge/instinct about what is good social behaviour – I may of course have behaved perfectly well all day, but the problem is I don’t think I did. I hate that uncertainty – I’m an adult, I should know these things.

So my filling in of the plan did not go well. I will have to look at it again and see if I can do better when I’m in a more positive frame of mind! However, I am generally feeling positive about leadership and what I could do with it, as it were. We are going through big changes at work at the moment, particularly (so far) in terms of management and leadership culture, so I’m hoping what we learnt on Tuesday will be of help in working through the changes, getting to know our new leaders and seeing how we can also lead within the library. I think, also, we can really use the idea of ‘starting with why’ in our relationships with our users. We need to tell them why we do what we do. Here’s a bit of Andy’s ‘why’ for libraries:

We work in libraries because we passionately believe in uniting people with the information they need when they need it so they can successfully educate themselves and learn more about the world around them…ultimately we are seeking to help you be the best that [you] can be.

Sounds good to me.

Notes from the second meeting of the Kent Special Collections, Local Area Studies and Archives Forum

Yesterday, I attended the second meeting of Kent Special Collections, Local Area Studies and Archive Forum, which was held at The Historic Dockyard in Chatham. The meeting was preceded by a tour round the new galleries at the dockyard – Command of the Ocean, about the glory days of the British Navy and the ships that made these possible, including a ship whose remains were found buried underneath a floor at the dockyard. It was amazing to see those massive beams of wood lying there after all this time and to think about what adventures they must have seen and experienced as part of the ship. We then walked almost the length of the dockyard (quite a long way) to our meeting.

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The Dockyard Gate

This was my first time meeting most of the people present – there were representatives from the Drill Hall Library at the Universities at Medway campus, Medway Council Archives and Local Studies Centre, and the Historic Dockyard. It was really interesting to hear about what’s happening at other archives/special collections in the area, and useful to be able to talk about our struggles at [my place of work] because it turned out that some of the problems we experience are shared by other places. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised! One particular ‘problem shared’ is that we would like to promote and increase usage of our archives and special collections but at the moment they are not properly housed or cared for (we don’t have the resources in terms of place, human beings or expertise) so we are not really in a position to have people using them on a regular basis. I’m hoping that we will be able to at least try to tackle this problem in the near(ish) future, but it is a bit of a long-term goal at the moment.

Norma from Medway Council shared information about projects going on there: the archives and local studies collections are due to move next spring so they are in a bit of state of limbo at the moment, but they are still putting on exhibitions – the next one starts on 30th June and is about the ‘Men of the Medway Towns in World War One’, focussing on events that took place in 1916 – the Battles of Jutland and the Somme.

The meeting was an excellent way to get to know about other archives and special collections in the area, and we decided that it would be a good idea to perpetuate this knowledge by gathering together information about our archives and special collections into some sort of document, preferably one that be accessed online. Amelia from the Drill Hall Library is going to try to collate this information together and make it available. In addition, we all agreed that it would be good to share projects  – if we all happen to be working on the same topic we can try to work together and share resources so that we’re not duplicating ourselves.

The meeting was followed by a visit to the Dockyard’s archives and library and reading room, which was a lot bigger than I expected! It was a very interesting afternoon and really good to meet fellow special collections people. We are not alone!

Who or what is a “professional librarian”?

This post is sort of in response to Tina Reynolds’ post about professionalism, which was pointed out to me by @ijclark. It is a bit of a delayed response – sorry about that – but I have been gathering information (aka emailing colleagues and looking at Twitter).

When thinking about professionalism and what it means whether in a library/information context or not, the first problem that becomes apparent is that people disagree about the definition of the word “professional”, never mind about who or what a “library professional” is. For example, one of my colleagues thinks that the definition of a “professional”  is someone who has to do continuing professional development (CPD) activities outside of  the workplace; for example, teachers, doctors, lawyers and pharmacists. Some people think that a professional is someone who is qualified in a particular field. In my experience this definition is the one most often used in the field of library and information work; if you have a qualification in library/information studies (e.g. degree or diploma) you’re usually considered to be a “professional librarian”. However, there are others, and I am one of them, who think that the definition of a professional person (in any field) is someone who works in that field; so a postman is just as professional as a lawyer, and a library assistant is as professional as the Head of Library Services.

So, I disagree with Tina. I don’t think you have to do any of the things on her list in order to be a professional – but that is mainly because I have quite a different idea of what “professional” actually means.

If we take what seems to be the majority view, which is that a professional librarian is someone with a qualification (usually, but not always, postgraduate) in librarianship/information science/management this presents us with several difficulties.

Firstly, as a couple of colleagues have pointed out, separating people into “professionals” and “others” (however this is defined) is potentially divisive and “not being on our own side”. It creates a hierarchy (or at least the idea of a hierarchy) where there doesn’t need to be one. I have a postgraduate degree in LIS, and I’m chartered, but this doesn’t make me a better librarian than my colleague who sits opposite me who has no qualifications and isn’t chartered. I know being “professional” isn’t necessarily about being better, but the connotations of superiority are there, whether we like it or not. I would argue that Tina’s post (perhaps inadvertently) highlights this. Something that upsets me is when my colleagues automatically think that either I’m better at the job than they are because I’m qualified (this has happened!).  Having an LIS qualification does not make me better at anything than anyone else, it just means I wrote some essays and got a piece of paper to prove it. By the way, my colleague who sits opposite me is doing the same level of role as me, which leads me on to my next point…

When is a professional not a professional? If we take the generally agreed definition of “professional librarian” (see above), I am a professional. However, I am not in a “professional” post (by which I mean that I don’t have to have a LIS qualification to be eligible for the post). Am I still a professional? Is my unqualified colleague a professional if one day she is, due to her skills and experience, accepted for a what is considered to be professional role, despite not having a qualification?

It seems to me that it is not being in a particular role, or at a particular level, or having a particular qualification, that makes someone a professional. To paraphrase another colleague, some people who are technically “professionals” can be very unprofessional, whereas some people who are not considered to be “professionals” can be very professional in their work. People I know who are actually the best at their jobs, at being “professional”, have no qualifications, don’t network, don’t do CPD, don’t read “professional literature”, etc. They just know their stuff and know how to deal with people – which is a lot of what librarianship is about. 

In my view, anyone who has a job is a professional, and that’s the end of it. To answer Tina’s question, “Should I accept that librarianship is just a job?”, well, yes, because that’s what it is, the same as any profession (except perhaps the caring professions (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.)) where you arguably need a greater sense of vocation to do the job well), and no better or worse for it.

And then there’s the word “librarian”. There is much confusion about who a librarian actually is. Technically, I’m not a librarian (this word is not in my job title), but to anyone who doesn’t work in libraries, I am. To a student, everyone in our office is a librarian, even though less than half of us have “librarian” in our job titles. In some places, you can be a librarian without having a qualification, in others you can’t be a senior library assistant without one, so, again, there is potential for confusion and inconsistency of thought and practice across the LIS sector.

I like my colleague’s neat summary of the situation:

Anyone who works in a library is a librarian. Anyone who gets paid (or underpaid …) for working hard is a professional.

What am I here for?

As regular readers of this blog may have gathered, my current role involves a lot of cataloguing. In fact, it is the main purpose of my job. I like cataloguing; I think it’s important, and I think it’s important that it’s done properly. By properly, I mean according to cataloguing rules and standards, although I’m not averse to adding or subtracting information from a catalogue record if I feel that doing so will make it easier for people using the library catalogue to find what they’re looking for. Usually this can be done without breaking any cataloguing rules anyhow (e.g. by adding a note).

Of  course I also want any downloaded records used on our catalogue to be of good quality. Good, not ‘good enough’:

…we must not cut corners and we must never think that “good enough” is good enough, because it is not.

This quotation is taken from the text of Heather Jardine’s paper on being a cataloguer in 2012, which has been posted on the Work and Expression blog. The last paragraph is particularly relevant to what I’m trying to say here.

What Heather describes in her paper is what we are experiencing in our library at the moment; in the sense that all acquisitions staff are involved in acquisitions and cataloguing, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on things like their particular post or the time of year. Although I still catalogue items ‘from scratch’, there are not a huge number of these items because the preference is to download bibliographic records from other places. This is obviously good, in some ways, because I’d never be able to catalogue all the items we order, and of course there is no point in duplicating work. If there is a record available from elsewhere, it is downloaded during the acquisitions process. The people downloading the records are not trained in cataloguing, but this is not a problem, because they have been trained in how to spot a lovely, full and accurate bibliographic record.

Or at least this was the case until recently. In the past few weeks, we have received new instructions about how we are to manage the acquisitions process.  One of these is that we are only to give downloaded bibliographic records the most cursory glance before ‘OK-ing’ them to go into the catalogue. This means only checking for the presence of the most basic fields. We were given no guidance as to what constitutes a basic record, so in the end I made a very short checklist for people to use. It is much shorter than the existing one, but I fear it is as much as we can get away with, because of the emphasis on doing things faster and “smarter”.

However, reducing the amount of time allowed to check downloaded records is not working smarter, because if records are not properly checked there are likely to be more errors creeping into the catalogue, which means more work in the long term. More worryingly, it increases the likelihood of people not being able to retrieve records when searching the catalogue and thus not being able to find items in the library. As Heather says,

If we neglect our cataloguing, if we cut corners and start to get slovenly, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down around our ears. If the data is wrong, then the management information will be wrong. If the data is inconsistent, then the LMS will not operate reliably. If we make mistakes, then when we get those books sent back to us with complaints, we will not be able to explain anything, we will just have to apologise.  Our colleagues will lose confidence in us and we will lose confidence in ourselves. And we certainly will not be able to sell skills that we cannot demonstrate that we have.

Even if people use the checklist, there are still errors that might be missed if people are not allowed to take the time to find a good record and not just a ‘good enough’ one.

Apart from affecting retrieval, the implications of the idea that it is OK to import incomplete or inaccurate records as long as they contain the basic information are not great for anyone who is a cataloguer, as well as not being very good for the long-term viability of the catalogue. It seems like a slippery slope to me: if we are happy to download incomplete records from other sources, then what is the point of the cataloguer (mainly me in this context) creating decent records when cataloguing from scratch? Obviously, I know there is a point to this (see above!), but does my employer? Why am I here if accurate catalogue records don’t matter anymore?

My job is becoming increasingly about things other than cataloguing. In more recent years it has become more of a mixed bag of cataloguing, acquisitions and working out in the library – none of which I have a problem with -, and now I’m also partly responsible for the upkeep of the institutional repository. Again, I don’t mind this, and it’s great to be able to get experience in other fields of library-related work, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the role of ‘cataloguer’ specifically is being eroded. As Heather  says in her post, this kind of mixing of roles is becoming par for the course nowadays, and it’s OK up to a point, but the role of cataloguer as cataloguer is still important and I fear that this, and the value of cataloguing in itself, is being lost sight of – at least in my workplace.

Things 20: The Library Routes Project

I blogged about my route into librarianship for Thing 10, so for Thing 20 I had a look at other people’s blog posts about their ‘library routes and roots‘ to see how their routes compared with mine.

So I’ve done that, and it seems that quite a lot of people’s roots into the library and information world were fairly similar to my own – degree, no idea what they wanted to do, work experience/graduate traineeship, postgraduate qualification in LIS, struggle getting first job, getting first job, etc. Unlike me, some people were sure from an early age that librarianship was the career for them, and, also unlike me, some people started out in other careers before they realised that library work was actually what they wanted to do.

The nice thing about reading about other people’s library roots/routes was that most people who are now working in LIS seem to really like it, and feel that they’re in the right job for them. It’s good to know there are people out there who are happy in their work!

I’m still not entirely sure what the right job for me is. My current job is the first library job since doing my traineeship that I’ve enjoyed (most of the time!), and even now I don’t feel massively fulfilled in my work, or particularly valued by the organisation I work for. So, I wonder if I’m really in the right career, or whether I’m just working for the wrong organisation!

Because of the way my career path has gone I quite often feel like a failure, even though I know that taking the steps down the career ladder was the right thing to do. I worry the profession doesn’t want people like me anymore – I’m not dynamic or extrovert. I’m rather like a stereotypical librarian, in fact. How ironic that this might now mean I’m in the wrong career!

Thing 18 is still on its way!