Friday, June 29, 2012

Ideas that I hope will become trends: communication

If you missed the first post in this short series, you can catch up here. The first post was about user stories and focused on a presentation that I saw at the Heads of Technical Services IG meeting.

The second idea that I hope becomes a trend is open dialogue between catalogers and, well, everyone else. The genesis of this was a bullet point from the presentation that Scott Piepenburg gave at the Competencies and Education for a Career in Cataloging IG meeting.Piepenburg's presentation was about what Catalogers would need to be able to do in a post-AACR2, post-MARC world. One thing that he suggested is a must is that Catalogers need to not only understand what their ILS can (and cannot) do, but they must also be able to communicate these limitations to others.

It took everything I had not to jump for joy or to stand on my chair and cheer. I didn't, though. It was a small room and kind of crowded.

I think that catalogers do a pretty decent job of understanding the limitations of our ILSs. We spend a lot of time working with them and, as a general rule, get what they do both well and poorly. Where it breaks down, sometimes, is communicating this information to our colleagues. Whether it's our colleagues in IT or our colleagues staffing the front lines, it is our job to communicate well with them.

Having a basic knowledge of coding can help us communicate more effectively with IT staff. We don't have to be coding wizards, but we should be able to talk about how our systems do parse out data in MARC records and, perhaps more importantly, how we wish they did.

Having a basic understanding of how users search for information can help us communicate more effectively with front line staff. We don't have to spend a lot of time on the Reference Desk (though it wouldn't hurt), but we should be able to talk about how users can do more effective searching.

So, how do we become better at communication with others? I have a couple of ideas:

  • If you want to learn the basics of coding, Codeacademy can help. They even have a program called Code Year which will walk you through the basics of languages like Javascript. And if you're looking for support, there's a CatCode wiki whose function is to support dialogue between coders and catalogers. In this case, I suspect it's a lot like learning the language when you visit another country. You don't have to be proficient in it, but the natives appreciate that you're trying to speak their language.
  • Attend (open) meetings in departments other than your own. At my former place of work, there was a monthly meeting of subject librarians that was open to all interested staff. I didn't go every month, but I tried to go fairly regularly. Attending this meeting helped me understand the challenges that subject specialists faced when helping users which, in turn, helped me think differently about the work I was doing. This meeting was also sometimes the only way that I learned about issues that I could help solve but that nobody thought to tell me about--not because they were trying to leave me out of the loop, but because they didn't realize that the problem could be solved.
  • Get your hands dirty in projects that involve other departments. Though the bulk of my job duties involved cataloging, I taught in my former place of work's Freshman Writing Seminar. I also worked with our Digital Library Services unit and our Web 2.0 initiatives. I made valuable contacts and learned a lot about what other people the organization do. 
I think the moral of the story is that it's all about relationships and empathy. Learn to speak the language of the people you work with. Be friendly and empathetic and take the time to answer questions that your colleagues have about the work that you do. 

What are your suggestions about developing rapport with other units? How have you opened the lines of communication?

Be visible. Be proactive. Be awesome.

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