Career Series: Paths to Employment, II

In this post I’m going to discuss how our cumulative diverse experience is sometimes the exact background needed for a position.

Shortly after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I married a submariner. Being a Navy family guaranteed a steady rate of moving. This mobility helped inform my decision to become a librarian. We could be stationed just about anywhere and there would be potential employment. I attended the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY-Albany) and earned my MLS shortly after our third child was born. My career began with two short-term jobs. I was first a reference librarian at Utica College and then a hypermedia development librarian at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. These experiences grounded me in instructional theory, user services and technology.

As we left the military to explore civilian life, the economy was challenging and I once again found myself working through short-term positions. I gained architecture experience at Roger Williams University. This is also where my classes began to integrate web resources. Rhode Island College included a broad range of instruction and expanded reference experience. At Helix Technology Corporation, a manufacturer of cryogenic vacuum pumps, I had my first permanent, full-time position with benefits. My undergraduate engineering experience was used daily as I served scientists and engineers. I was thrilled!

Wanting to build on this technical experience and continue to grow, I next went to MIT to work as a business librarian. My science and technical background served me well as I developed industry research guides and worked with a range of statistical products. By now I was grounded in the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences. I had several years of teaching experience and could leverage technology to create tools and services.

We faced a family move once again, and this is when we headed to Oregon and I had my Weiden + Kennedy experience. I could now add advertising and library start-up to my background. When the 2001 dot-com bubble burst, I was laid off. While temporarily devastated, I decided to use the opportunity to explore my own business, first with a partner and then on my own. This entrepreneurial period taught me a great deal — about business plans, strategy, marketing, finances and the like. Perhaps my most valuable lesson was that I was passionate about the work, but not about finding each new client.

I believe that opportunity frequently aligns with readiness. Parallel to these years of career growth across multiple sectors was my increased involvement with SLA. I had been most active with the Information Technology Division and the Information Futurists’ Caucus. A colleague and mentor from both units sent me a message asking if I was interested in applying to be the library director at a new engineering college. The school was back east, and the opportunity felt right on many levels. Remarkably, the school wanted a library leader with a sci-tech background who also had start-up experience. An entrepreneurial background was a plus. The position almost defined my path. I applied to Olin College of Engineering, and the next 11 years were full of creativity, new growth and relationships, and partnership-building within the school, to other colleges and universities, and to the vendor community.

I would not have been offered the position at Olin College if I had not traveled my diverse career path. Each experience was valuable. Each experience was an opportunity to grow. SLA was with me throughout my development, and my increased involvement helped lay the path to Olin College.

What to learn from this? Value your life experiences. Be alert for opportunities. Share your gifts with your colleagues. Your own career will blossom.

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Fear and Leadership

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We all have fears. How we acknowledge and work with them has an enormous impact on our leadership style and on our organizations.

Roger Jones, of Vantage Hill Partners, recently published a piece on “What CEOs Are Afraid Of.” Studying CEOs and executives across a range of demographics, Jones found that the number one fear of leaders is “being found to be incompetent.” The impact? Diminished confidence and quality of relationships. Other top fears include underachieving, appearing vulnerable, being politically attacked by colleagues and appearing foolish.

  • The five top fears resulted in these dysfunctional behaviors: a lack of honest conversations, too much political game playing, silo thinking, lack of ownership and follow-through, and tolerating bad behaviors.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar? No organization – or family – is exempt. When my own children were going through elementary school, I encouraged them to substitute “I’m learning” for “I’m sorry.” This encouraged an emotional growth mindset and sometimes made admitting mistakes easier. In the workplace silos are frequently built to protect turf and budgets. When people can reach out and build bridges across silos they create more connected and well-run projects.

Jones found several paths for a leader to reduce fear, including being aware of one’s own fears, valuing emotional intelligence, sharing personal stories, and encouraging open and honest communication.

Fears exist. Leaders within organizations need to work with teams to build trust, communication and shared values.

IMG_3461Resources:

  • Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence: A groundbreaking work which posits that being emotionally aware, or having a high EQ, can be more critical than having a high IQ in the workplace and beyond.
  • The work of Robert Putnam. A Harvard Kennedy School professor, Putnam is best known for Bowling Alone and Making Democracy WorkBetter Together, which followed Bowling Alone, addresses our social currency and our need for community.

Career Series: Paths to Employment, I

We’ve all been told that most jobs are found outside the classifieds. So true! What is your story? What has been your path? I have many stories from my career, and will be sharing them in this blog series.

For my first post I’m going to flash back to circa 1997, when I worked as an engineering librarian at Helix Technology Corporation, aka CTI Cryogenics. I was active with SLA’s Information Futurists Caucus, and decided to begin a discussion of Peter Schwartz’s Art of the Long View.

The book introduces scenario planning, and caucus members joined me to discuss looking forward, thinking win-win, and understanding current culture and events to inform future context. Nearly a year later, while at MIT, I was contacted about a position at Weiden + Kennedy, an advertising agency. A member who followed the book discussion on the Information Futurists’ Caucus list wanted to know if I would be interested in applying for a position in advertising. I would have the opportunity to create a corporate library in a new facility.

When I interviewed for the position, my prospective manager had a copy of Peter Schwartz’s book on his shelf. I noticed the title, and asked him about his connection with scenario planning. We spent the balance of the interview discussing the book, the author, and the Global Business Network. I became the Agency Librarian at Weiden + Kennedy, and my discussion of Schwartz’s title on the Information Futurists’ Discussion list had a direct impact on my career path.

The take-away? Step up. Volunteer. Start a discussion. You never know who is listening!

Putting Competencies to Work for Information Professionals

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In June 2003 SLA published Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century, Revised Edition. I had the great honor of authoring that document along with my co-creators: Eileen Abels, Rebecca Jones, John Latham, and Joanne Gard Marshall. The document defines an information professional, an information organization, and provides two core competencies before turning to professional, then personal competencies. Information professionals and organizations can use this document to create development plans, position descriptions and service portfolios.

The 2003 edition was an update to the original document and now, in 2015, the competencies are once again under revision. Our profession continues to evolve, and the skills and characteristics necessary to succeed as an information professional must keep pace. Other library and information associations and groups have created competencies to serve their own members, and I have begun a Competencies Pinterest board to track these documents.

All of the competency documents break down skills into groups or clusters, and the FLICC document for U.S. Federal librarians provides levels and descriptions of competencies. The Medical Library Association document has an action document that includes recommendations for health information professionals, the Medical Library Association, employers and library & information science educators.

While each set of competencies provides important career material, none of the documents has, as of this writing, taken the step to turn skills into actionable development tools. For this purpose, I have assembled a team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library. The purpose of the team is to create a custom set of competencies that map to the Lab’s and the Research Library’s mission and goals, together with tools to leverage those competencies. Skill levels are important so that staff members can gain depth in individual competencies. A grid is being created. To gain depth a person will work horizontally across the grid, and to learn a new competency a person will work vertically down the grid. Lab courses along with association and online learning opportunities will be mapped to competencies and levels. This particular tool will allow staff to create individual development plans. We will also create a competency database. When new teams are formed, the database can be utilized to find the skills needed to execute team goals.  Our project goals are ambitious, but promise to yield powerful personal and team development tools. Team members include myself, Helen Boorman, Michelle Mittrach and Adrian Romero.

Competencies provide important career coordinates. Tools and resources are needed to create the rich development mosaic each of us requires to move our careers in new directions.

Gates Foundation 2015 Letter: Major Goals, Optimism for Future

Health, farming, education, and mobile banking are addressed in the Gates Foundation 2015 Letter. Full of pop-out sections and imbedded videos, the letter is a media-rich report on upcoming advances and a call to action.

The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.

There is a fifteen-year timeframe, and in that time child deaths (< 5-years) will be cut by half. Polio, Guinea worm and potentially two other diseases will be eradicated. Only one other disease, smallpox, has been eradicated in human history.

Food yields in Africa and other parts of the world can increase by half through knowledge of crop rotation, fertilization, and knowing when and how to plant specific crops. Mobile phones in the hands of farmers will drive education. More varied and nutritious food will drive food security.

Mobile phones will also transform banking for the poor, allowing more control over assets through mobile banking and micro-lending. Finally, global education will be transformed through smart phones, tablets and online learning. This is where we, as library and information professionals, may have the biggest impact. Whether we help develop courses, make resources available through repositories and digital libraries, or participate in the one laptop per child program, we can impact the lives of thousands through global education.

In the Call for Global Citizens section, Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks about putting boot prints on the moon, and how that accomplishment made everything else seem possible. He asks:

Will there be an end to war? Possibly. Will there be an end to hunger? Possibly. But you have to envision it first. You have to bet on it. Then you’re invested in the outcome. That’s where change comes from.

The Gates Foundation 2015 Letter is inspiring, and calls for each of us to imagine a better future and to help create that future. Interested in becoming a Global Citizen? Sign up here: http://www.globalcitizen.org/

Belfer Center Meeting on Solving Societal Challenges

Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center sponsored “Inventing the future to address societal challenges.” The meeting discussed 2 AAAS reports: “Advancing Research in Science and Engineering II” and “Restoring the Foundation Report.” Attendees spoke of the need to move from interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary thinking to solve today’s problems. There was a call for greater public dialog and improved K12 education. Major topics included Challenges to a More Effective U.S. Science and Technology Enterprise, Bell Labs 2.0, the University of the Future and Addressing Global Grand Challenges with Science and Technology.

Moving beyond silos, disciplines and borders to solve problems together will be essential for tomorrow’s success. What steps can we take as individuals and professionals to move beyond our own borders?IMG_3666