This brief looks at how academic libraries can integrate digital storytelling in its practice of marketing, managing, outreaching, and providing opportunities of professional development for library staff. Academic libraries, in order to stay connected to their dynamic communities and adapt to the rapid changes in the digital world, need to be creative in their daily operations and practices. By combining storytelling, new media and trending technologies, digital storytelling will bring great value and serve that purpose effectively.
I am focusing on Professional Learning Experiences for the Infinite Learning adventure because it speaks to my heart in so many ways. I’m a firm believer of lifelong learning because I think that’s the only way to stay connected in this ever changing world. I started this MLIS program because I care so much about professional development and it seems to be the most effective way to get me through a career plateau. However, I also went through a hard time figuring out if it’s worthwhile joining this self-funded program. Now I’d like to share the process of my transition from an “excluded cynic” to a “curious introvert” and then a “self-driven go-getter”.
In his book Wholehearted Librarianship (2019), Michael Stephens puts forward the Formula for Success:
Essential Skills + Mindset² × Support = Success
There’s no doubt that success can be defined in many ways, but this formula really brings out some very interesting points which resonate with my own professional learning experience. Having been a service staffer for more than five years at an academic library, I see myself grow tremendously when it comes to essential skills that are needed to do my job well. But the problem is, when I reached a certain period in my career, instead of feeling content and comfortable, I started to feel unsettled and anxious because I realized that there was nothing more I could learn from my work. I understood that not all organizations could afford expensive learning programs or conferences for frontline staffers, but still, the “excluded cynic” persona started to shape in me. I secretly complained about the lack of learning opportunities and let those negative emotions get the better of me. As described by Michael Stephens, my mindset during that time was “just give me the paycheck” (2019) but did not take any actions. Clearly, I was wasting my own time and it blocked me from so many possibilities that could have happened for me if I were more rational and proactive. Luckily, I picked myself up from there and started to find learning opportunities on my own. I observed how other people work and learned from our collaborative projects; I reached out to my manager and asked for feedback and suggestions; I was curious about areas that were out of my own expertise and let that curiosity guide me to explore the things I didn’t know… I had become a “curious introvert” by that time and that was also when I felt the power of a positive mindset.
Thanks to my manager and colleague’s support, I was then introduced to online MLIS programs like this one. They helped me compare different programs and offered constructive advice when it came to work-study-life balance. After more than one year’s consideration, I finally applied to SJSU and got accepted. Learning new things and connecting with new people in the information profession has inspired me so much and it also helps me build confidence at work. I learn from this program, share the things I learn with my colleagues, and I even come up with new ideas and create learning opportunities for other team members. There’s still a long way to go for me to reach the “success” I expected, but I have surely become a “self-driven go-getter” by now.
Professional learning can happen in many different forms. The transition of my own learning persona has taught me that no matter how the outside world looks like, we must find the ultimate driving force in ourselves and treat it as a lifelong process.
I am a big fan of stories. My huge interest in movies and fictions stems from the curiosity I have for people’s lives and their fascinating stories. The power of stories, as Michael Stephens puts it, lies in the fact that they “…[break] through prejudices and preconceptions” and that they “remind us of our humanity and our better natures”. Readings from Module 10 and the Director’s Brief Assignment really resonated with me and they also remind me of my own experiences at work.
As the supervisor of a team of 14 student employees, I’ve always been trying to find the best way to “manage” them. Quotation marks are used here because the word “manage” does not reflect my way of thinking in the process of working with these students. For me, to manage is also to balance my role as a supervisor and as a team player. A manager may assign tasks, give orders and set boundaries for employees, but a team player needs to understand what others think and learn from them in every possible way. Stephens in his article commends that narrative inquiry (NI) is “one of the best ways to gain first-hand knowledge of … the specific stories of our community” (2020). Although I came across this article only very recently, it was proved true in one of the encounters I had with a student worker.
At our library, we don’t include student workers in our library group email because we want to make sure that library users always get the most accurate answers from fulltime library staff who are well-trained in what we do and are also more experienced in communicating with users professionally. We don’t explicitly discourage students from doing that because it has never been an issue in the past. Plus, they are not able to do it in the first place (or, as we assumed). However, there was one time when we discovered that a student emailed a user from our group email address, which was both surprising and concerning. It was surprising because the student solved the user’s problem in a very professional manner and even received a thank you letter (which was also how we discovered this case); it was concerning because nobody knew how the student managed to send the email from the group email address and we even thought the student had hacked into our email account on purpose.
Before taking any further actions, I decided to interview the student and hear her side of the story. It turned out that the student had conveyed a misleading message while she received the user at the circulation desk. By the time she finally found out the accurate information, the user had already left. In order to find the user and get in contact with them, the student made use of our circulation system and located this user’s information from the circulation history which was recorded with a timestamp. Then the student sent an email to the user from within the circulation system because the email icon was right there on the interface! While we were all wondering how the student “broke” into our group email account, none of us was aware of this function in our circulation system, although we’ve all been working with this system for so long!
Instead of blaming the student, we decided to send her a gift just to thank her for her “new” discovery. As quoted in Eberhart’s article, “Storytelling is an important tool for libraries to engage their communities” (2018). We also believe in the power of stories and now we keep sharing this story with our colleagues and new student workers just to nurture their curiosity and goodwill. The lesson I learned from this experience is that we should never prejudge anyone if we have not listened to their stories. Because who knows? You might be pleasantly surprised!