Collaboration and the Library World

06/05/2013 § 2 Comments

I recently went to my first conference for librarians, the Minnesota Library Association’s annual ARLD Day, and I greatly enjoyed hearing from librarians and interacting with some of my library school peers in that environment. In the keynote presentation, Jenica Rogers provided a wonderful reminder that librarians should stop accepting what people offer as the terms of foundational work relationships (with vendors, legislators, what have you). More importantly, she encouraged librarians to stop thinking of ourselves as helpless against the people we collaborate with in making libraries work. I look forward to attending many more conferences, unconferences, and other gatherings of librarians to learn and partake of the energy that circulates in such spaces and the validation of our shared values.

This conference reminded me of something that I think is crucial to a solid LIS education. As much as we worry over the specific content of an LIS education, librarians-in-training must constantly remember to reach out to people in other fields, whether they are faculty in academic disciplines (for academic librarians), vendors of information materials, information technology specialists in their institution, social services agencies in the community (for public librarians), or teachers in schools (for both school media specialists and public librarians). We must learn how to work with others with different skills and training, and we must learn how to think about our work not just as supplementary to other people’s work but as complementary and mutually beneficial.

Although this idea of collaboration is perhaps commonplace in the library world, it seems significant enough to revisit regularly. Micah Vandegrift’s #HackLibSchool inaugural article, for example, discusses transliteracy as an important concept for librarians to embody. To take a slightly different approach, I would argue that librarians should have a basic understanding in a whole range of disciplines and platforms, but more significantly, we should be able to interact with a diverse group of professionals (which requires that basic literacy). This idea is also at the basis of Jenica Rogers’s point about understanding how profit-making publishers operate (to make money) and to know how to navigate the world of commerce even as we struggle to hold on to a different set of values for libraries.

In particular, I think it is worth thinking about how our LIS programs might encourage and facilitate a professional habit of collaboration. LIS programs could provide some training in soft skills (how to interact with people and work well with others). Programs could actively connect students with people and institutions they may find useful as partners in their future library careers through internships, independent study projects, and other types of learning experiences. Programs could foreground the many relationships that make up each library and information center, including conversations about how to negotiate with partners coming from very different contexts. Morever, programs could teach students how to navigate institutions (in all their bureaucratic, hierarchical, and idiosyncratic complexities) as part of workplace training.

In my experience, there are always resources in place to help students explore these types of collaborations, but they may not always be marked explicitly for these ends. One example is that I have used the professional development funds available to students in my program to participate in roundtable discussions at a nonlibrary professional conference (the Association for Asian American Studies–full disclosure: in my previous life I was a faculty member in the field). In the past two years, I have helped organize roundtable panels with the intention of creating conversations between LIS professionals and teachers/researchers in the field. As a result, I have had a chance to meet other graduate students and librarians interested in librarianship for the interdisciplinary field of Asian American studies. I have also been focusing my independent study this semester on considering different ways that librarians can work with teaching faculty in the context of Asian American studies. These explorations have deepened my understanding of why it is important for LIS professionals to engage with people in other fields and especially how to think about explaining what librarians and archivists do for people and institutions who often know little about what goes on behind the scenes to make information available.

This semester, I have also started working with a friend and recent graduate of my program to foster conversations about the connections between librarianship and social work. We recently started up a blog, Information + Publics, as a place to carry out that conversation online (please join in if you’re interested!). The aim of our project is to consider the many ways that librarians and social workers might benefit from talking to each other more regularly, even perhaps exploring how training in the master’s programs for our fields might intersect. We are excited for the possibilities in our own program, as faculty in both LIS and social work seem interested in seeing where we might encourage students to cross departments for their coursework or otherwise share in the learning experience. Part of this collaboration is about learning the institutional and organizational culture as well, a skill that all librarians (and workers in any field, really) should develop to be effective in their jobs.

What kinds of collaborations have you explored in your program? Are there courses you think would be an excellent place to explore collaborations? Are there resources you have found useful for developing collaborative relationships?

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