February 17, 2018

Seizing the Day or Seizing the Opportunity? | Not Dead Yet

“Carpe diem”: “Used as an admonition to seize the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future” [from The Free Dictionary, accessed 9/26/13]

When I was a new librarian I was continually looking for opportunities to add to my experience and to my résumé. I was on high alert to find chances to practice my craft (while I stopped short of offering reference service to passersby on the street, uncannily enough I’m continually stopped on the street and asked directions by strangers—is there a palpable librarian aura?), present, and publish, as well as to try out new technologies and develop new services.

For instance, a colleague and I wrote a short internal grant to get a CD-ROM station in the nascent days of that technology (the 1980s). We set it up and trialed the first commercial library CD-ROMs from Wilson and SilverPlatter on it. So when Danuta Nitecki, editor of database reviews for RQ, advertised asking for reviewers I signed right up. That’s how I got started reviewing e-resources. I volunteered for more reviewing, and as my reviews got published I had others get in touch with me offering more opportunities to write, present, and publish.

When I found other opportunities I jumped on them, too. I team taught with many colleagues, learning from them along the way and increasing my skill and confidence levels as I did so. I had to “stretch” the boundaries of my job to gain this experience; it wasn’t originally in my job description, but I realized that if I wanted to grow in my profession I needed to get experience that wouldn’t necessarily just come along by itself; I needed to seek it out and establish my interest and my commitment to the work.

What I wonder now is, are you seeking out new opportunities and “seizing” them? Or do you have different priorities for your life/work balance? I’ll admit that at times my colleagues and I have been workaholics, although at the same time I’ll say that we enjoyed just about every minute of it and learned a lot as we collaborated on different projects. But I realize that this may not be for everyone; many folks may just want to do what’s required of them and focus on their lives outside of work. I also realize that there are some who seem to manage to do both very well (and they’re my library heroes).

Since so much of what I’m reading and hearing about teaching and learning involves collaboration, and since my own experience testifies to its worth, I’d love to hear newer librarians’ thoughts about collaborating, expanding your work horizons, and how you go about gaining knowledge and experience in a profession in which change is a constant (a very good thing!).

ARL on Change in Libraries
Speaking of change, I had the chance to read the top-notch paper, Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries, by Janice Jaguszewski of the University of Minnesota and Karen Williams of the University of Arizona (it’s the third in the very useful ARL series, New Roles for New Times). In it the authors identify six trends in the development of new roles for library liaisons:

  • Develop user-centered library services
  • A hybrid model of liaison and functional specialist is emerging
  • Organizational flexibility must meet changing user needs
  • No liaison is an island
  • Collaboration is key
  • Create and sustain a flexible workforce

The report comes from interviews with administrators at five ARL libraries (Duke University, University of Guelph, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, and Purdue University), and the authors’ extensive experience in research libraries (and their experience is enlightened and insightful). I was especially pleased to see in the report the statement “user engagement is a driving factor in identifying which services are, or should be, offered by research libraries.” I highly recommend the paper—it describes what needs to be done and how to do it in a positive way, bringing library staff together with users to create user-centered research libraries.

I later “attended” the eponymous ARL webcast about the report, New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries, in which the authors presented highlights from the report’s findings. Following the authors, several folks discussed their reactions to the report, noting the importance of marketing our services (hear! hear!), forming partnerships with offices around campus, and emphasizing innovation and experimentation, collaborating with others inside and outside the library. They had me right along with them until a couple of comments went into what I perceived as “Us versus Them” mode. They talked about how change doesn’t happen for those unmotivated to make it, how asking for change isn’t enough, and that they’ve found it necessary to make outreach in connection with faculty a requirement with actual numbers as targets for each semester. Other comments noted the importance of being firm about the direction in which we are going, another saying that training has to have some teeth to it—and I didn’t much like that phrase.

I was somewhat bemused by one reactor’s emphasis on the need to hire candidates with “more tech skills” while hoping that they’ll also have the more traditional “soft skills” liaisons really need, such as political savvy, content knowledge, and the ability to work with scholars. That’s a tall order for one person. On the other hand, I really like the hybrid models discussed, which involve collaborating employees combining their skills to effect liaison work (which is something we—and many others—have been doing for some time).

If you have a chance to read the report, and/or view the webcast, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about it. I’m very jazzed that ARL has reemphasized the importance of library liaisons’ roles, and that they chose such exceptional folks to do this report.

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.



  1. Ruth Ann Czech says:

    One of the things I love most about our profession is the constant change! I do a lot of reading to try to keep up – through on-line journals and new professional materials. I participate in many listserv discussions and webinars to stay abreast of new trends. I stay in touch with former colleagues to find out what they and their libraries are collaborating on and creating. And on and on it goes….