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David Lee King

Be a Forward-Moving Thinker



Our deputy director asked for input from staff on being a 21st-century librarian – what skill sets are needed for the librarian of today/tomorrow/next year.

I had some thoughts, and I also poked around on some articles and posts discussing the topic. A lot of them mention “the ability to embrace change” as an important skill set.

I don’t think “embracing change” is necessarily the end result we’re looking for. Here’s why. It’s quite possible to do nothing until you are told to change, and then to embrace that change. One of those “ok, the boss says I have to blog now. I can do that.”

You could be patting yourself on the back for your mad “embracing change” skills, but are missing the point entirely. I think there are some librarians in our profession that go about change in this passive way – and to be fair, many of them are well-meaning. They’re just doing their jobs. The job changed, so they accept – even embrace – those changes as they occur.

Let me ask: Managers – is that what you meant by “embracing change?” I’m guessing the answer is “no, not quite.” It’s part-way there, but not all the way.

Here’s what I’d like to switch the “embracing change” idea to: “Being a Forward-Moving Thinker.”

To me, being a “forward-moving thinker” means that the librarian is actively pursuing and making and suggesting changes – to the boss, to the team, to the library – rather than passively waiting for those changes to happen. To me anyway, this hits on that active approach I’m thinking about. It’s a librarian DOING SOMETHING to make his or her job better, to adapt to new technology as needed (maybe even a little before it’s needed). It’s a librarian thinking strategically about their job.

See the difference? Thoughts?

Photo by Eric Magnuson

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  • pkw

    Another great post! It’s exciting to look at existing technology and then think about how it could be used in the library. These approaches seem to lead to new ways to think about our collections or ways that just don’t work, both of which are progress!   

  • Sachauncey

    Totally agree — the librarian as innovator!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, yes, yes!  That is such a wonderful distinction and I thank you for making it.  Love what Sachauncey says “librarian as innovator”. 

  • http://twitter.com/AllisonMennella Allison Mennella

    Great topic!  To add to that, I would also say that Forward-Moving Thinkers should also reflect on how to integrate the new with the old.  It is one thing to suggest new ideas and keep on top of trends and another to find ways to integrate new ideas into previously designed and carried out plans so that the overall “change” isn’t as harsh or abrupt as it sometimes can be.  For example, say your Library wants to start loaning out eReaders.  Forward-Moving Thinkers wouldn’t stop at just suggesting the idea, they would look at current loan processes and find a way to integrate eReaders into that process, tweaking a few things here and there as needed.  That way big changes don’t have to feel so daunting and in the future, staff would be more open to integrating new ideas.  Just a thought!

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Agreed – just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s not a good way to do things. I’d say always work on improving those traditional services. Is there a way to do it better, even though it’s worked for 30 years? You don’t know (and won’t improve) if you don’t re-examine.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Steven Bell

    I agree that what you describe is a generally desirable trait in a worker in any industry or job classification. But isn’t it just another way of saying “demonstrates initiative”? That’s someone who doesn’t wait to be asked to do something, but rather is coming up with ideas for new possibilities or new ways of doing things. It’s something we tend to put in our job ads “looking for someone who shows initiative….”  Two issues to keep in mind. Being a forward moving thinker may not imply you embrace change – you may only embrace the changes you come up with – but not the ways in which others want to change (sometimes those with initiative only see the value in their own ideas). Second, while we would hope these FMT would always have good ideas to make jobs or the library better, sometimes we have colleagues who take initiative and have ideas, but they don’t think critically about them and don’t see the inherent flaws – that’s not necessarily good either. But in general – it’s helpful to have motivated individuals who think positively about moving the library forward  especially if they are able to work well on a team. As far as skills that are needed – consider design thinking or as folks now like to refer to it: employing the design approach.