by Robert Hulshof-Schmidt, Oregon Chapter, Government Information Division
The old adage says “it’s not what you know but who you know.” For 21stCentury professionals, I would amend that to acknowledge that what you know and who you know are inextricably linked. This is especially true for information professionals.
In an age of rapidly increasing sources of information and reduced resources for most libraries, noone can afford to go it alone. Fortunately, librarians are, by and large, a collaborative bunch. We use interlibrary loan to supplement our local collections; we rely on cooperative licensing to drive down the costs of information tools. A future ready information professional needs to remember to apply these same principles more broadly to succeed.
This is especially true for solo librarians or people who work in small libraries where they are the only person performing a specific task. Even the best, most well-trained person can benefit from other insights. So where do you turn?
This is where your professional associations are a great resource. The members of SLA and your state association are your peer support network.
Take advantage of discussion lists, blogs, and forums to post your tricky questions. Someone else has almost certainly faced the same issue; even if they can’t give you *the* answer, they can give you great advice on where to turn. (Or, perhaps even more helpful, where *not* to turn!)
In the crush of staying on top of every day’s deadlines, it is easy to hunker down and just try to get things done. It’s also easy to say “I know my mission and business, I can handle this.” When facing a new challenge, an unexpected assignment, or a tough question, stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Think about who else might be able to help you.
I recently took on the task of redesigning my team’s performance measures. I know a fair amount about statistics, but I wanted to get a sense of what other people measured and why. Numbers should tell a story, and I wanted to be sure that my story was compelling. I reached out to my Oregon Library Association colleagues and to other state managers from a training cohort. I received dozens of great examples, not just of what data to present, but how to frame it for my audience (in this case, the Oregon Legislature). I also got some great ideas for getting an MBA intern to help with the project, including a sample workplan. By asking one question twice, I had a much clearer path and built a much stronger set of measures than I could have done alone.
Oregon’s library workers have access to a good, old-fashioned email distribution list called Libs-Or. The topics that flow through that list every week are fascinating and the answers that people take the time to provide are insightful, often ingenious, and frequently entertaining. A recent question had to do with libraries maintaining traditional reference desks (and what to call them), a topic that has also been featured on this blog. A constant refrain is “thanks for asking, this helps me, too!”
Networking for your own benefit will almost always benefit your colleagues.
It’s great if you can attend a conference or training, spend some networking time, and learn all kinds of things to take home with you. But there’s nothing like just-in-time collaboration to feel the love of your profession.
The future is all about connections, and being future ready means being ready – and willing – to collaborate.
Robert Hulshof-Schmidt is the Program Manager for Government Research Services at the Oregon State Library, a position he has held since 2005.
Robert is currently the President of the Oregon Library Association and Past President of the Public Management Association of Oregon. A long-time SLA member, he has held leadership roles in the Georgia Chapter and the Gay and Lesbian Issues Caucus. He received his undergraduate degree in English from Willamette University and his Master of Library Science degree from the University of Washington. Robert has worked for a variety of government and research libraries and non-profit organizations ranging from solo library shops to managing member relations for SOLINET (now Lyrasis), all experiences that proved the value of collaboration.