For Future SAKEBy Laura Soto-Barra, Published on October 30, 2011
Three years ago, I attended a presentation at the Knight Digital Media Center; Prof. Ernest J. Wilson III, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California welcomed us, NPR leaders attending a seminar in his campus on planning our digital future. Dean Wilson's main idea was to encourage us to prepare for the future by understanding the digital environment and transform ourselves to accept the disruption. It was then that I learned that that there is a capacity gap in e-leadership that needs to be closed. He said e-leaders are the innovators and early adopters that spread new technologies in their communities and organizations and that e-leaders are scarce. According to Dean Wilson, it is not easy to find the right kind of talent to provide e-leadership and he lists the competencies needed in this new environment as SAKE: Skills, Attitude, Knowledge and Experience.
Translating these competencies for the library field, I believe that there is enough talent among information professionals that makes us e-leaders in our organizations; I'm afraid that we have not been able to unleash that talent because we don't want to fail or because we don't have enough confidence in our skills. In this digital workplace there is space for failure. Do a search on "failure:" and you will see how much these days people are talking about it. "Fail fast," they say and you will learn. Let's take a look at SAKE.
For Future Ready we need Communications skills that go beyond a reference transaction or a training session; we need to share ideas and concepts and listen and be able to change our behavior after capturing what we have heard. Librarians know how to do this but we need more flexibility in our concepts. How many times do we alter our procedures when a new librarian arrives in the team and suggests new ideas? We need political skills to navigate an organization to put words into action. This is what we have heard from Steve Abram for decades: work without a desk and walk and talk; Laurence Pruzak told us once in an SLA conference, that librarians engender trust and that we should take advantage of that talent by talking to people.
The Attitudes competence Dean Wilson describes is the description of a librarian: we are passionate, have empathy, our intellectual curiosity has no limits and we know about tenacity in face of opposition and failure; we are constantly asking for inclusion. But something difficult for us is to have high tolerance for ambiguity. Our training is based on rigid concepts and our practices demand consistent accuracy and rigor in applying rules and standards. Can we keep standards and accept ambiguity? We have to take risks and accept that all around us, the environment is inconsistent, contradictory, unstructured and unexpected.
Our professional training gives us Knowledge: we know theories and concepts and have a deep understanding of how to translate and migrate manual practices to digital workflows. We have adopted technologies for decades but now everyone searches, tags content and creates metadata. Go beyond the comfortable and understand web development. Continue traveling as a hobby and participate in multicultural networks that allow you to know people different than you. Cultivate networks outside your library world and apply the new knowledge in your library.
Finally Dean Wilson mentions Experience as a requirement to fill the capacity gap; this experience is obtained by working in different environments, organizations and settings. We should not apply ourselves the label: "academic," "legal," "public," "special"; we are information professionals whose training is transferable. Experience is obtained by taking risks, by moving to work in different cities and different organizations.
If you are a library manager you have tools to prepare your staff to be Future Ready. Prepare budgets that allow travel so that your staff go to conferences and get training; sacrifice collections or furniture for your staff's training; be creative, inclusive and transparent by designing meaningful jobs that reflect your team's skills and give them autonomy to modify your practices. Predicate and advocate for SAKE and read John Berry's article who recommends seeking out the new librarians. That column impressed me and I understood that the new librarians are better prepared than me to close the capacity gaps in e-leadership in the very near future.
Laura Soto-Barra is NPR's Senior Librarian. She is a Chilean-Canadian-American librarian who has worked in many library settings. She has first hand experience in that information science skills are transferable and highly valuable, that libraries are libraries are libraries, and that you have to re-locate to find the best jobs. Her last two jobs have been in newspapers in Jacksonville, Florida and in Syracuse, New York; in both newsrooms - as well as at NPR - she worked with highly competent and smart librarians, obtained strong management support, job satisfaction and professional rewards.