How can we collectively contribute to the future of the profession?
I recently attended a talk given by Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith where she shared her experiences of being a researcher. She spoke of the importance of creating spaces for emerging practitioners to learn how to be part of the research community of their discipline and the wider national & international research communities. She shared anecdotes about providing both physical and mental space for PhD & postdoctoral students to be able to safely learn and practice how to be confident public speakers, committee members, lecturers to become active participants in the professional community. She spoke about service back to the profession and about the importance of giving people the space and support to learn how to contribute to the profession.
When I turn this lens to librarianship, I see a number of ways (big, small and every level in-between) in which we can give service back to the profession, which both strengthens the profession and supports its future.
Professor Tuhiwai Smith spoke of inviting experienced researchers to sit and talk with new researchers, to create a space for conversations to take place. She doesn’t determine what topics will be talked about, but by opening up the opportunity for conversation to happen, it allows the ‘magic’, or the ‘potential for magic’, to be invited in. Not every conversation will end with an ‘I’m going to change the world today’ moment, but by creating the space, it allows for seeds to be planted for the future.
She also spoke of PhD and postdoctoral students leading discussion seminars, with the overt presence, but not direct involvement, of supervisors and experienced practitioners. The emerging researchers are given a supportive environment to explore ideas, debate ideas, discard ideas, develop new lines of thinking, in a space where they are not being judged but are encouraged to play with the process of being part of the profession. This then lead to discussions of how to adapt key messages to address different audiences, which leads on to discussions of being strategic and future thinking.
For me, creating the space for emerging practitioners to learn the ropes of governance and service, is allowing people to learn how to affect change. How can an emerging practitioner learn how to be a leader, manager, committee member, teacher if they aren’t shown the way forward, if they aren’t given the tools and taught how the skills to use them? If we can’t, or won’t, create space for the new professionals to practice, succeed and fail in a supportive environment, then I believe that the future of our profession looks pretty grim.
What if … we invited emerging professionals to observe a week in the life of our senior Library managers?
How will emerging professionals know what it takes to become a branch manager, a head of section, a CEO or the National Librarian if we don’t show them what it means to walk that path? Show them *all* parts of the role, from the adminstrivia of daily rosters and blocked toilets, to high level strategic planning meetings and funding propsals. Allow them to identify what skills & knowledge they need to build into their future professional development opportunities along their career journey.
Yes, it is scary to open ourselves up for scrutiny, and it might indeed show us how things aren’t working, and how future practitioners will change the way things are done. By allowing emerging practitioners to observe, and then ask questions, it also gives us an honest opportunity to reflect on our own professional practice.
What if … we included more conversation time and discussion spaces on the programmes of our formal professional development events like conferences and weekend schools?
Instead of always having a program full of ‘talk at you’/’sage on the stage’ sessions and ‘focused outcome’ workshops, we could invite people to be part of a less formal conversation-style space. This experience might take some practice, as it may feel uncomfortable for many, however it could start as a guided conversation to begin with ‘seeded’ questions or topics to start the conversations in each group. We could run it knowledge café-style, inviting open conversation about a topic or idea, creating a place for questions, discussions and idea-sharing. It’s not about achieving a specific outcome, the purpose is to have a conversation.
For me, this would also create an opportunity to role model how to facilitate open conversations. It might also be an opportunity for emerging practitioners to demonstrate this skill set to experienced practitioners, because the learning experience works both ways.
How can New Zealand Librarians collectively participate in the future of the profession on a global scale?