April 20, 2018

Reflective Practice | Office Hours

Michael StephensHappy New Year TO ALL.

I promised myself I would look for ways to be more mindful after a wonderful but exhausting semester. One thing I’ve done is return to yoga, the hot kind. In a recent morning class, the instructor ended by asking us to focus on the coming day. “What will you do with it?” she asked. “How will you be mindful today?”

The turn of a calendar year is a good time to remember reflective practice, whereby you take a moment, think about what you’ve learned, the experiences you’ve had in your workplace and career, and pull all of those things together as you encounter more choices. This process is cyclical.

Reflective practice is mindfulness to the nth degree. Be thoughtful about the decisions you make, about the projects you take on, and about how you put yourself out there in the online world. It might be what you present at a conference or what you write on a blog or in an article. Those things become part of your practice as well.

How did you come to be where you are in the field? What decisions did you make? If you found your way to this profession, you’re looking to help people be the best they possibly can be.

Try to be visible

This is a fragile thing. It’s something we have to work at all the time: our own practice and the collective practice of everyone who works in your particular environment, as well as our profession as a whole.

We must always keep working to be there, to be present, to be at the edge of what’s happening, and to be very visible while focusing on people, not technology, not the collection. Those are merely tools.

There is a wonderful quote I return to again and again: in The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch writes, “There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level institutions can and should have a heart.”

Putting a face on the library

This reminds me that the library should be human. It means that behind the keyboard, behind the blog, and behind the Facebook page, there’s a person ready to have a conversation: ready to help, ready to listen.

For example, New Zealand’s Christchurch City Libraries’ Twitter page includes the photos of all of the official “tweeters” for the library. I toured Christchurch recently. The city suffered in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The libraries there adapted, sometimes changing locations, sometimes working in adverse conditions. Through it all, there has continued to be this strong Twitter presence that includes the human face of the library: those six smiling folks with their initials beside the thumbnail pics. They sign their tweets, in effect saying, “This is what I have to say. I’m representing the library, but this is me and this is my sort of human face on the library.”

It pains me when I encounter librarians who refuse to share their photo online or wear a name tag while on duty. If we’re seeking to build that human connection, that human relationship, it should start there. Stephen Abram said it best to me over dinner one night: “Would you go to doctors or seek out lawyers who refused to put their picture ­online?”

Lawrence Clark Powell wrote, “A good librarian is a librarian, a person with good health and warm heart, trained by study, and seasoned by experience to catalyze books and people.” That, my friends, is reflective practice. In 2014, I might paraphrase just a little differently: ”Seasoned by experience to catalyze knowledge, information, and people.”

Infinite learning

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the concept of infinite learning. I believe the library—all types of libraries—can be a focus, a hub for the potential for people always to learn. Think about how you might encourage people to learn and be curious, to show them how things work, and show them how to find their way.

I’ve written in this column previously that I believe librarianship is the ultimate service profession. As such, you may find yourself in a library job doing things that you did not anticipate you would do.

It might be taking care of the restrooms when no one else is around, or getting someone to leave the building because they’re being inappropriate. What we do is not simply what is written in our job descriptions. I’ve never known anyone who worked in a library who didn’t, often, stray far and wide from the tasks they were hired to do. We cannot afford such siloed mind-sets. We go where we are needed and do what is necessary to serve those who come to us.

Those are the things that we don’t teach you in library school but do become part of your jobs, especially if you find your way into public service, being out there and being the face of the library.

Wishing you the best with your practice in 2014.

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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  1. “Be thoughtful about the decisions you make, about the projects you take on, and about how you put yourself out there in the online world.”

    This is exactly what I needed to read as I prepped for what promises to be a busy Spring semester.

    Thank you!