Among the readings for the Reflection module, Michael Stephens’ two blog posts, “Librarian superpowers” and “Librarian superpowers activate!” caught my attention and stood out from the rest. In “Librarian superpowers” Stephens discusses a library conference held in Aarhus, Denmark that was devoted to the reenvisioning and reinterpreting of the role of the librarian in the 21st Century. From activities that required participants to share characteristics that they envision the perfect librarian having, the following comments were made:
an oft-mentioned element identified as “librarian superpowers” was defined as the ability to listen closely to the community, take a fearless approach to community engagement (“daredevil,” read one sticky note), and leap obstacles to service in a single bound. One group added a shield to their info pro, emblazoned with these mottoes: collaborator not competitor, model best practice, neutral and safe place, open to all, and, simply, “Research!” (Stephens, 2017)
Comments also included the desire for the librarian to offer a judge-free, safe space to meet with and help patrons with their information needs and that librarians as well, refrain from offering an air of judgement when working with patrons, especially concerning sensitive, controversial, or delicate topics (Stephens, 2017). As I read the different kinds of characteristics that others want to see emulated in the information profession, I too felt inclined to make a list of how I envision the perfect informational professional. Then I decided to reflect on my own traits as an up-and-coming information professional and point out some areas that could use some more work and improvement in the future.
Characteristics I want to see in the librarian assisting me with my information needs:
- Not projecting an air of boredom/not wanting to be at work
- Committed to helping the patron, willing to put in the work to offer patrons a fair and equal opportunity to discover the information they need
- Ensure patron privacy and intellectual freedom
- Not treat others differently based on the topic being researched or based on any physical traits or expressed beliefs
- Not try to influence my research, redirect me or interject their own opinions/knowledge of the subject as factual and requested
Characteristics I want to see reflected in myself as a librarian (how I interact with the patron and the technology):
- Everything mentioned in the above bulleted list (and yes, I realize there are a LOT of additional characteristics/behaviors/attributes that I did not list).
- Eager, excited and prepared to work with any technology the patron needs assistance with. Not overly concerned/afraid of failure and the struggles associated with trying to work with unfamiliar technology.
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading “Champion of Confidence,” another thought-inspiring blog from Michael Stephens (2018), that briefly touches on the experiences and mindsets of librarians in a technology-rich world. Stephens points out the following observations that he and New Zealand librarian, Sally Pewhairangi, discussed in a friendly conversation about librarians’ response and comfort in a rapidly evolving information world:
- Librarians struggle with doubt, they are afraid to interact with certain websites (Facebook) or software/programs/or anything else that the librarian has had little to no experience working with.
- The solution: in light of self-doubt and a fear of technology, librarians must be confident in their abilities.
I know for a fact that I have not come close in listing every possible “best quality of the perfect librarian”, but that was never really my point. One, because there is a lot about the information profession that I still do not know, so I am sure there are a number of qualities, characteristics, and ethical considerations that all affect the duties of the librarian and how that librarian works with the public, with patrons. Two, because the blog post “Champion of Confidence” (Stephens, 2018) basically sums up the kind of librarian that I hope to be and that I hope to deal with, in the profession, and in my own personal work and research:
Having the confidence to try things and fail is probably more important than the step-by-step competencies you mention.
Right. For example, if I had more confidence I would create a video to accompany this column in which viewers could see and hear my enthusiasm for librarians embracing things digital. It would be awesome! But I am afraid to try. Even though I know how to make a video (and actually have), I have no confidence in my video-making abilities. This sounds irrational. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
There are lots of reasons why you might lack confidence. Most of them boil down to fear: of failure, not being good enough, and what others may think. (Mine is the latter.) But if you can overcome your fear, the benefits are huge
Perhaps it was Sally’s honesty, her admitting that she has her own doubts and fears concerning the information profession, that caused me to appreciate her words; maybe it is because I, too, fear working with some of the technologies that currently exist, even though I know I am more than capable of using whatever it is, and making something great with it. Being a semester away from becoming a professionally recognized librarian, there are a great number of concerns and fears already running through my head. Having taken several classes now that have covered trends and emerging technologies, I would be lying if I said that I am not currently terrified at some of the duties (and the resources and skills needed to accomplish those duties) that will be required of me upon graduating. Hell, it has taken me four semesters to finally appreciate the fact that books don’t make a library, so it is going to take me a while longer before I am going to be able to confidently/comfortably work in some areas of the information profession.
Sally Pewhairangi works as a librarian and has spent years helping other information professional, both new and experienced, to be better confident in their working with and implementations of new technologies. Well guess what?! Sally, a library school graduate since 1994, with 25 years of LIS experience (Pewhairangi, My library journey) has expressed that she experiences fear when dealing with new technologies. She is afraid others won’t like what she is able to create. She is afraid of failing.
Even in light of her fears, Sally continues to successfully provide instruction and support to librarians struggling to use new technologies, programs and inventions.
A few final characteristics of the ideal librarian (as influenced by Sally Pewhairangi):
- Willing to try to learn new things
- Willing to admit apprehension
- Willing to fail and then learn from that failure
- Not be overly concerned about what others think (of your ability to use certain technologies and help patrons requesting assistance)
- Be human, don’t try to be anything but. Accept your flaws and move on.
- As information professionals, we already know that learning is a messy experience. Librarians are not an exception. A librarian must be willing to change as technology changes.
Throughout this class, throughout this graduate program I have had numerous opportunities to reflect on my studies and my expectations for the future. In this reflection, there were a number of “characteristics” I suggested as necessary to be what I would consider to be a successful librarian. I’ll be honest, I need to work on everything I listed here (and then some), however my biggest concern has been working with technology that I am ill-equipped to work with and less than eager to learn. Having had the chance to listen to an experienced librarian express the same fears about emerging technology, I feel a little better going into the future.
After all, I won’t be the only librarian working with new technology and emerging trends, we are all in this together.
Pewhairangi, S. (n.d.). My library journey. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://findingheroes.co.nz/contact/my-library-journey/
Stephens, M. (20 September, 2017). Librarian superpowers | Office hours. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=librarian-superpowers-office-hours
Stephens, M. (7 August, 2018). Librarian Superpowers Activate! | Office Hours. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=librarian-superpowers-activate-office-hours
Stephens, M. (7 June, 2018). Champion of Confidence | Office Hours. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=champion-confidence-office-hours#