I’m here for the ‘why not?’ people

Image with orange and cream stripes around a circle containing text. The text says The most dangerous phrase in the language is "we've always done it this way". Rear Admiral Grace Hopper


Reality check

Since studying my undergrad and then finding work in a library I’ve been frustrated by the slowness in our profession. Slow to change, slow to adapt, which sometimes verges on a dogged unwillingness to do anything different at all. (I’m well aware that external factors like lack of support from parent organisations, layer upon layer of bureaucracy and lack of funding et. al contribute to a lack or inability to take action).

Should I have been surprised? How was I to know? And to be honest part of the reason I began exploring work outside libraries, even though I was so new to the profession, was because of this lack of action. (Plus a realisation that that I’m more information than library . . .a post about this is seriously overdue).

Anyway, I was surprised and frustrated and annoyed to find that my new profession seems so stuck. Particularly because I could see innovation, change, rebelliousness happening, just nowhere near me!

Twitter was and is my lifeline. If I wasn’t directly disrupting and changing things in my own workplace, I could talk about it online. And learn from and admire these Twitter folk. Stealth mentoring anyone? And it’s these people who give me hope for the future of the profession. Because part of me believes that our profession can be less “this is how we’ve always done it” and more “just say yes, you’ll figure it out afterwards“.

What has been confirmed for me over the last seven years is that change happens slowly. But it can happen and you need to be immersed in the profession if you want to be part of change, both in your workplace and as a member of our diverse profession.

Don’t just dip your toe in, dive in!

Co-convening NLS8 has meant spending a lot of time with smart, radical, big thinkers . . . dreamers who have taught me to SLOW DOWN, be patient and that the best kind of change comes from within. It’s also confirmed for me that there are plenty of people who are happy with the way things are. That will never be me, I’ll always be asking how about this? and that? why do we do it like this?’ because that’s me and I love finding patterns, making connections and figuring out other ways of doing things.

I got involved with NLS8 because having attended NLS6 and 7, I knew what an important event it was and still is for GLAMR students and new grads and wanted to be part of the next one. Plus I had ideas about how to make it a better learning experience, and wouldn’t you know, so did the people who joined me on the organising committee. After the symposium is over (and we all have a good long lie down, it’s been a long eighteen months!) I want to rejoin the ALIA Students and New Graduates group. Because as a regional person I don’t think there are anywhere near enough PD opportunities outside of the major cities. So I’m going to change that by working with a great group of people and asking for support from ALIA state managers and the Twittersphere. If there’s one thing that NLS8 has taught me, it’s to ask for help. What’s the worst thing that can happen? They say no. Oh well, ask someone else!

Repeat after me, change is good

Back to change. I think our profession can be better, we can dare to do better. Change goes beyond just turning up to an occasional event. And let’s be real, there’s only a small proportion of people in this industry who do get involved (as with any community). And that’s the group I am a part of, because it’s where the change happens. And the people who do get involved, they are my kind of people, my tribe. The more time I spend with them, the clearer my professional path becomes. And the clearer the path to the kind of profession I studied hard to join becomes. I don’t hope for the future of libraries and information professionals. I drive and push and argue, sometimes badly, but mostly quietly and by taking part, staying connected and surrounding myself with why not? people.

This isn’t for everyone. And some of us choose to use this passion for being involved in other areas of life, that’s cool. Whatever works for you! For me, driving and supporting change in our profession is what I’m going to put my energy into, it’s where (after many years of trying to find my tribe) I know that my skills and knowledge can be best used. Feels good to know that, and I can thank the people I’ve met and teamed up with for helping me figure it out.

This is a GLAM Blog Club post. Follow @ausglamblogs and #glamblogclub on Twitter to read more posts by other GLAM people.

11 thoughts on “I’m here for the ‘why not?’ people”

  1. Great post Sally! I agree with everything you have said and I too feel that change in our profession is slow. Yes there are red tape things that stand in our way but it is interesting how quickly things happen when “everyone” wants them to.

    Often I have found that those who seem adverse to change didn’t start out that way. They have been worn down by years of the same struggle we face and “it’s up to you young ones to fight now”. Whilst I understand their perspective, I still find this view frustrating.

    Another thing that I have noticed lately is people believing they are open to change, being flexible and client focussed, but this is not what I see in them. They may have been change agents previously but have they just gotten used to calling themselves that and don’t see that they are no longer this person?

    We need people like you who are committed to the professional – in whatever form that may be – and willing to speak up. We also need more people in regional areas to provide PD opportunities for their colleagues. We know there are awesome people (like you) in all parts of the country and awesomeness is not confined to big cities.

    1. Thank you Amy. I agree with your point about change agents who have run out of steam, although how to work with them is something I need to learn more about. Speaking up is slightly nerve wracking, especially as a new grad, but I’m always up for a discussion and to be disagreed with!

  2. Great post, Sally. And nice comment, Amy.

    I’ve had eight jobs since I graduated from MLIS in 2002. Five of those were new jobs that no-one else had done before. I’ve never been afraid to jump in at the deep end to try something new and I’ve even worked in change management roles, but it can still be really hard sometimes. I have “run out of steam” as Sally puts it more than once as a result.

    This may be a little off topic, but the more experience I get the more I think a contributing factor to how difficult it is to do new things (especially if you want to do them quickly) is that as a profession we are terrible at stopping doing old things. We keep services going well past their use-by date and then wonder why we don’t have the time or energy left to be creative and innovate.

    Reviewing services and shutting things down isn’t sexy like creating new things but if we want to put time and energy into innovation (and into the transformation of those new products and services from pilots and prototypes into something sustainable – which is a whole other ballgame!) then it’s a really important part of the service lifecycle. I see lots of interest in innovation and coming up with new ideas, but much less in working out when and how we need to shut things down – without an elastic budget (and who has one of those these days? we can’t have one without the other.

    1. Wow Sam, you are so ON topic with your comment. To me it’s the next step in the point I was trying to make. Review and closing down things isn’t sexy as you said, but it’s crucial. The reluctance in letting services go seems to be because some people think closing down = criticism of the project itself and of the people who developed it. This sort of change seems to be taken very personally, when really, maybe it was a great service that can be replaced with something better or more aligned to what that particular community needs. One way I’ve worked with this mentality is to introduce new projects that will run concurrently with older ones, which will eventually be phased out. I figure people need to see the value in the new thing and get comfortable with it, before the old stuff goes. I do work in a really small office though, so this may not work in bigger libraries and institutions. Thank you, there’s more thinking to be done!

  3. I have these frustrations almost daily! I often feel as if very little about librarianship has changed in the last 20 years, even as the world has convulsed around us. Usually I alternate between ‘I’m gonna make change happen today!’ and ‘ugggh there is no point change will never happen’.
    I also admire your optimism in the face of such inertia. What is your secret?

    1. Hey Alissa, sounds like we are thinking the same things. I take inertia and reluctance to change as a challenge and am a pretty persistent person (I’m sure some people find me very annoying!). When I was studying a few years ago, I was consumed with the “there is no, point change will never happen” thoughts and was ready to quit. Finding people who feel the same as me has really help me keep up the optimism and momentum, you really can’t stay positive when you’re isolated. Barbara Sher said “isolation is the dream-killer” which I totally agree with. It helps if those people are ok with you having an almighty whinge when needed too!

  4. Nothing like getting things done in the face of institutional inertia to bring a smile to one’s face 🙂 That said, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked for an organisation over the last 12 years that is open to change.
    It hasn’t been all plain sailing but we’ve managed to get through the hard tines together ands come out the other side with some real wins. Persistence really is the key. And a very, very, good sense of humor. Thanks for the post!

    1. It is very satisfying when it does happen and I agree, a sense of humour is vital! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. Hi Sally, great post thank you (and excellent discussion in the comments!) – I’ve just sent it round our leadership team here 🙂

    We’re working on letting go of/stopping doing things at MPOW at the moment and have given most of our teams the opportunity to completely review services and processes over the past 12 months. It’s been cathartic to say the least and has led us to quite a few new challenges – which is great.

    Let’s continue the conversation at NLS8 🙂

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