February 28, 2008

Week 11: Perfection will not be tolerated!

In his book Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Marketing, Harry Beckwith devotes a whole chapter, albeit a two-page chapter, to the idea that perfection is not perfect (and another to the idea that failure is not failure). This idea has applications in fields as diverse as marketing, music, carpentry, and...librarianship! Beckwith introduces this idea in the context of sales and marketing: your clients do not necessarily want "the best" or perfection, but what they do want is competent, thorough work done. My brother who is a music teacher once said to parents in the midst of a concert, "Be proud of your children's progress...it is very hard to work toward something that you know you will never be able to perfect." My husband who is a carpenter said in his business the conventional wisdom has been, "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the very good," with the implication being (in each of these cases) that if you do, you will never move on.

My experience as a librarian so far has shown me that not only is perfection not expected, but it is often quite counterproductive. As I expressed in Week 6, much of this work is shoveling information. I use the word "shoveling" not to liken information to dirt (it's soil!) but to express the volume of it, as well as its granularity and precarious containment. You can do a great job shoveling, but there will always be residual spills, even tiny ones, and that's the bit that makes the difference between "perfect" and "very good."

I don't think I will ever find all the information I need, and even of what I find I may miss a link or two when I try to disseminate at the speed of light. It will never be perfect. Our goal should be "very good" - timing, coverage, depth, and attitude. We're capable of that, and it's a good goal. So put on a good smile, not a perfect one, and keep shoveling!

February 20, 2008

Week 10: Librarian Out and About

I've been away, but for good reason. My organization has seen fit to send me to the same professional development trainings offered to other staff. Last week we learned effective methods of focused conversation, action planning, consensus building, and other facilitation skills expertly packaged and taught by the Institute of Cultural Affairs. This training is part of the "Technology of Participation" training curriculum, a fitting phrase for anyone committed to both service and cutting-edge technology, as librarians tend to be. In addition to the great opportunity to spend more time with co-workers (extending my white space endeavors "off campus"), I was glad to be included in this training opportunity. My supervisors saw the value in this, so they can be congratulated for not trying to keep me in the library, but rather out "there" with everyone else in our office environment. The leaders of the training session, on the other hand, wondered what the librarian was doing out and about...I guess our efforts at redefining the profession's image have to happen always and everywhere.

I've also been asked to be deputy webmaster, another nod toward getting me involved and recognizing the contribution I could make to our web presence. Although I will not name my employer for reasons of anonymity, I want to salute their forward thinking in affording me so many important opportunities! I will continue to blog, if for no other reason than to serve as an exemplar not just for new special librarians, but also to chronicle what the ideal organization does to onboard a special librarian. Take this to your employer and demand inclusion! (And smile when you do.)

February 1, 2008

Week 7: Spinning Webs

What does it mean to process library acquisitions in a world of free information? My regular readers (I'm ever the optimist) will note that my Acquisitions Processed count to the right doesn't climb nearly as fast as my Research Requests count. So how do I deliver research results?

My organization's constituents want and need free, web-based information almost exclusively. In the rare event that we possess a document not freely available on the web, we put it on the web and then publish the URL, as long as the document is not confidential or proprietary. So, needless to say, this is not your grandmother's library!

My job is not so much acquiring documents as it is knowing what exists "out there" and then making sure others who need to know about a given topic get the appropriate resource alerts. Of course, URL listings periodically need to be checked and updated, so my responsibilities are much more in the realm of spinning and maintaining webs of information than tending to the physical library -- so much so that I feel our physical library should be renamed the "Resource Room" toward the aim of thinking of our "Library" as a set of services. This week those services included suggesting a webcast as one of the best ways to coordinate outreach to our partnering organizations on an issue for which they are desperately looking to us to provide leadership and guidance.

Spinning these web often feels like spinning plates. It takes a lot of energy but it is also energizing. Keep spinning and smiling!