Adapt. Survive. THRIVE!

By John J. DiGilio, National Manager of Research Services, Reed Smith LLP.  Originally published on Future Ready 365 here.

Back when the internet was still young, so was I . . . well somewhat. I was fresh out of law school and fresh out of work. Two things were certain to me back then: I had no desire to practice law and I was happiest when I was researching in the library. When I made up my mind to pursue a degree in information science, one of my closest friends and an early tech guru, asked me if I was crazy. According to his digital crystal ball, once this “internet thing” took off, libraries and librarians would surely go the way of the dinosaur. All of these years later, I am pleased to say that not only have I failed to fossilize, but that I am happier than ever to call myself a librarian. Librarians are survivors!

It’s a new millennium. Yes, the internet is bigger than anyone imagined. Yes, libraries have gotten smaller in many respects. Maybe we saw that coming. But in a stroke of tenacity and adaptability, librarians have become, in my opinion, more integral than ever. In this age of easy access and information on demand, we are more than the gatekeepers. We are the curators of relevance. We are information quality control at its finest! Staying relevant has not been an easy road and many of my colleagues in the industry are struggling with changing technology and tightening fiscal belts. Yet, I have just to look around to see many others adapting to new roles and processes that few of us might have expected even just a few years ago. Call it a “can do attitude” or even career Darwinism. I think of it as the very nature of librarianship. It is quality, innovation, and service despite and in response to changing circumstances. It’s what we do!

Being future ready means being adaptable and responsive. It requires keeping your finger on the pulse of change and meeting it head on with new methods, fresh ideas, and unwavering enthusiasm. It is also embracing the fact that as times change, so too will the definition and domain of the librarian. It is only natural. Librarians can and do adapt. We do survive. Above all, we can thrive in the face of change. Here are just a few of the skills I believe that can keep us from getting voted off the island (OK, bad “Survivor” reference!):

  • Anticipate change.  Change is a given, whether we like it or not. Yet it seldom blindsides us. Librarians are imminently positioned to see what is coming our way. We are out there interacting with the resources, vendors, and information – the very agents of change – on a daily basis. If you are not already leveraging your contacts, networks, and conferences to help you prepare for tomorrow, you really need to start doing so. Change cannot sneak up on you if you have eyes in the back of your head. Old librarian stereotypes aside, you do have eyes in the back of your head right?
  • After you ask WHY, ask HOW!  Like I said above, change is a given. So is the fact that we are not always going to like the changes that occur. It is only natural to lament when the rug is pulled from beneath you. But once you get done sweating over why something has changed (an important question in and of itself), it is time to start thinking about how you are going to adapt. As librarians, our goal is to continue to deliver quality service and work regardless. Shrinking budgets and spaces be damned, our goals do not change. Regardless of the size of the institutions we serve, we are each part of a team that keeps that place running. Want to show them how integral you are to the team and your workplace? Show them just how much you really can do with the resources you are given. As Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work!”
  • Don’t just shift . . . SHINE! Finally, it is not enough to just make the most of change. Shifting approaches and expectations may be the bulk of the battle, but they are not enough to win the war for survival. What good is besting change if no one knows what you are doing? You have got to be able to talk up what you and your department are doing in ways that are meaningful to your institution. From raising the bar on the quality of information and results to saving money, the powers that be need to know the impact of your work and changes. Don’t be shy about tooting your own horn. Just toot it strategically.  No one wants a cacophony of self-congratulations. A sweet tune of success is enough to tempt the ears of those at the top.

I could go on and on about the ways in which librarians can thrive in changing and even uncertain times. I have at times even been accused of being too optimistic about the changes that are shaping our industry and its future. You can call me a Pollyanna. I really do not mind. If I did not believe it and practice it, I would not preach it. Librarianship, in all of its evolving names and forms, is every bit as exciting to me as it was when I was starting info school. I still love what I do and, most importantly, I am still doing it. That friend, the tech guru with the gloomy prognostications? He is not in tech anymore. In fact, I am trying to get him to try librarianship too. I am certain there is a future in it!

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