Information Services Today: The Consistency of Change in Our Information/Learning Landscape

April 10, 2015

Given all we read and hear every day, we could easily (and mistakenly) assume that being overwhelmed by information and a rapid technology-driven rate of change is a new phenomenon—but it’s also relatively easy to discover what a consistently-important challenge the flow of information and the pace of change has been, if we delve into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction.

Information_Services_Today--CoverWhile the entire book is—among other things—a richly rewarding exploration of the changing nature of librarianship/the work of information professionals, one important moment of change- and information-management revelation comes in Christine Pawley’s contribution (Chapter 2, “Libraries and Information Organizations: Two Centuries of Experience”) as she writes about how “new technologies lead to information overload”: “…William S. Learned noted a ‘phenomenal improvement in speed and accuracy of communication’ and complained that even the trained student finds the time required thoroughly to examine a topic in an unfamiliar field almost prohibitive”—not today, but in 1924 (Information Services Today, pp. 13-14). If we pursue this theme by revisiting Sarah Houghton’s “Being Wired or Being Tired: Ten Ways to Cope With Information Overload” (originally published online July 30, 2008 in Ariadne), we find the reminder that “As far back as the sixteenth century people were complaining about the wide range of information they had to consume in order to contribute to society.”

Flip_Your_Classroom--CoverAny of us involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries and other learning organizations viscerally know and understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by information and change. We recognize that an important component of our learning-facilitation efforts is to help learners come to terms with the changes they face within any learning opportunity. We also are struggling to find words evocative enough to describe what we do so we recognize the ever-expanding breadth and scope of our work and offer terminology that helps others understand how much what we offer has changed. And we do understand that the goal of “keeping up” with educational technology and even with the basics of how to learn in a world where the way we learn is continuing to evolve (e.g., through the flipped classroom model, through massive open online courses—MOOCs—and through innovative blended-learning opportunities) is about as easy to reach as the pot of gold at the base of a rainbow.

At a certain level, it’s somewhat comforting to read those words that Learned wrote in 1924 and that Houghton wrote in 2008: we realize that others have faced and survived the challenges we continue to face. It’s also comforting and inspiring to read those words within the context of Information Services Today’s book-length exploration of our changing learning and information landscape: we see that the nature of library collections is changing—but that has always been true. We see that the nature of libraries is changing—but that, too, has been true for many decades. We see that library users’ expectations are changing—another consistent element within the library and information services world. We see that the tech tools that information professionals use continue to evolve and that the need to continually upgrade our skills is essential—but the best of our current and former colleagues have always recognized that their work required and continues to require a commitment to lifelong learning. And I suspect many of my best training-teaching-learning colleagues in a variety of learning environments would have little argument that continual learning and a responsiveness to change are among the requirements and the pleasures of the work we do.

The theme of change is particularly apparent in Lisa Gregory and Amy Rudersdorf Information Services Today chapter on “Digital Resources.” As they discuss a digital librarian’s roles (cataloger, collector, educator, legal expert, manager, negotiator, researcher, and technologist), we see some terms that would be familiar to most librarians/information professionals as well as to many trainer-teacher-learners, and we see some terms that reflect how quickly our professions are evolving. Nowhere is the need for adaptability among all of us more apparent than in the section about technologists: “The technology skill sets needed by digital librarians are as varied as the technologies that surround us. However, most digital librarians should—at the minimum—have a basic understanding of content management systems, databases, some metadata standards, and web technologies (p. 102)”—advice that can easily guide our training-teaching-learning colleagues to greater opportunities for success.

All of this would seem to be the fodder for nightmares among those who despair of ever keeping up with the flow of information and the rate of change within our lives. But some of what we gain through contemporary learning experiences themselves is an understanding that keeping up has long required an ability to sift through what comes our way. Filtering out what is less important. Applying what we can apply. Relying on our colleagues and other members of our personal learning networks to help us fill the gaps we face. And developing what might be coined as yet another form of literacy: “information-overload literacy”—the skill and the ability to know when it’s time to step away from the flood of information and rapid pace of change long enough to relish what we have absorbed.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Information Services Today: What We Call Ourselves

April 8, 2015

We don’t have to go very far into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction to reach the first of the challenges many of us face in the contemporary workplace, where job descriptions and workplace responsibilities evolve and increase at a dizzying, overwhelming pace : our language has not been keeping up with the changes taking place within our professions.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIt’s not as if the words “librarian” or “library” are in any danger of disappearing anytime soon; they do, at significant levels, remain evocative, familiar, and comforting even though they inadequately describe the people and the organizations under discussion. On the other hand, we see throughout Information Services Today the use of “information professionals” and “information organizations” (defined at the beginning of the book’s preface as “all places that manage, create, store, or provide information”) as terms more suggestive and reflective of what those organizations and those people who staff them offer to members of the onsite and extensive online communities they serve.

Proposing and supporting changes in our workplace nomenclature is far more than an intellectual exercise; it’s an essential element of the process of acknowledging change by seeking and adopting terminology that reflects what we do and—equally importantly—helps others understand what we offer in our continually-evolving workplaces. It’s the same issue described by Theodore Levitt in his widely-read Harvard Business Review essay about how railroads made a mistake by describing themselves as being in the railroad rather than transportation business. It’s visible in the discussion about using “information professional” and “information organization” as alternatives to “librarians” and “libraries”; it’s visible in the continuing discussion of using “library member” or “library user” in place of “library patron,” which I first documented in an article for Infoblog in 2008; and it’s visible in the field we most commonly refer to as “staff training” but more accurately could be described in numerous other ways, including “learning facilitation.”

signorelli200x300[1]This challenge of deciding what to call ourselves clearly isn’t new for any of us involved in training-teaching-learning—an endeavor that is a core part of what many library staff members/information professionals do every day. Four years ago, Lori Reed and I (in our book Workplace Learning & Leadership) were already documenting some of many terms being applied to those of us involved in training-teaching-learning just in libraries and nonprofit settings: “…director, volunteer services and staff training; training coordinator; training and development manager; training manager; training officer; chief learning officer; learning and development coordinator; staff development and training coordinator; staff development librarian; staff development manager; continuing education coordinator; learning manager; and organizational development manager.” The situation has only become more challenging as our ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) colleagues began the process (in 2014) of changing the organization’s name to ATD (the Association for Talent Development) and replacing “workplace learning and performance” with “talent development” to reflect the idea that “talent development” is the overall, far-more-nuanced description of what our efforts are designed to offer and foster.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandThe importance of what we are facing and attempting to address became even clearer to me during a dinner conversation with colleagues at the 2014 New Media Consortium Summer Conference (held in Portland, Oregon). My personal moment of revelation struck as I listened to a colleague describing how a “school library” had been replaced by an “innovation center” and how school administrators, teachers, and students were struggling to come to terms with what that change meant in terms of what was available to them within that redesigned and renamed space. As I noted at the time, “the challenges we all face as our learning environments quickly change to reflect the rapid rate of technological change…reflect the rapid rate of technological change that is all around us: we literally don’t have the words to describe what we are doing in a world where our old labels (e.g., teacher, trainer, learning facilitator) are simply not broad and rich enough to capture the nuances of all we are doing. It’s as if we’re facing a vocabulary deficiency…”

As we read through the 39 chapters provided written by a large group of information professionals for inclusion in Information Services Today, we gain an understanding of the magnificent range of services and resources information professionals provide through information organizations. And, in the process of absorbing that content, we gain a better understanding of why it’s worth looking for alternatives to “library,” “librarian,” “library patron,” and “trainer” within the dynamic and enticing worlds we are lucky enough to inhabit, foster, and support.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


From ASTD to ATD: Naming Opportunities

May 9, 2014

Being virtually present earlier this week at the formal announcement that the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) is immediately beginning a year-long process of transforming itself into the Association for Talent Development (ATD) provided, in many ways, a stunningly positive view of how a well-managed branding campaign rolls out.

ASTD_to_ATDAssociation managers including President and CEO Tony Bingham used the presence of approximately 9,000 association members at the 2014 International Conference & Exposition (ICE) to build excitement throughout the day with notifications that were also disseminated on the conference backchannel feed. He and his colleagues, furthermore, also took the much-appreciated step of arranging for the announcement to be available via live online streaming for those of us who could not be at the conference. Joining the backchannel discussion via Twitter as I watched and listened to the announcement online gave me the sense that I was there, with colleagues, sharing and reacting to the changing of the name. The backchannel exchanges gave the impression that initial reaction was fairly positive, although—not surprisingly—there were also questions and concerns expressed onsite and online during and after a brief question-and-answer period; many colleagues were acknowledging and applauding the direction the name-change implied; onsite vendors with space in the exhibits hall posted congratulations; and Chief Learning Officer was quickly among the first to spread the news throughout the industry it serves.

Even more interesting as an example of how to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in renaming a dynamic 70-year-old membership organization with an international clientele was what conference attendees saw upon returning to the conference site the following morning:all conference signage had been changed overnight to reflect the change of name; viewing even a few of the numerous photographs posted online via Twitter suggested the magnitude of planning and execution that went into making the transition real and immediate. And the online transformation was equally obvious: the ASTD website had a new graphic displaying the old and new logos side-by-side; chapter leaders had immediate access to new individual chapter logos so they could begin using them as soon as they are ready to do their part in making the year-long transition successful; and the transition webpage had plenty of background material for those curious about the process and the repercussions.

So the obvious next step was for ATD members themselves to absorb and further respond to all the change implies—both in terms of opportunities accepted and opportunities missed. For anyone interested in how managers and members in any association interact or don’t interact, reading Tricia Ransom’s online open letter to Tony and the organization’s board of directors is instructive. She includes a confirmation that she likes the new logo and that she is more positive than negative about the new name. But at the heart of her letter is a concise summary of why she feels left out of a decision in which she very much wanted—and felt entitled—to be included: “You said that you’ve spoken with countless CEOs and other leaders who recognize our efforts and how important our field is. You highlighted three executives, Senior Vice Presidents and higher, to tout the change. You emphasized the fact that you kept this change a secret for 2.5 years. Listen now to the voices of the tens of thousands of us who will never be an executive. Listen to the vast majority of the organization you lead. Listen to the people you are supposed to serve. We wanted to take this journey of change with you. You denied us. Why? We wanted to share our ideas, thoughts and suggestions about how we can grow. You denied us. Why? We have opinions to share with you. You never asked us. Why?…You don’t have to implement our choices, but at least ask.”

ALA_LogoReading Tricia’s note made me once again compare and contrast two membership organizations which I adore and which I consistently strongly support—ATD and the American Library Association (ALA)—because they have a lot in common. Both are large, well-run organizations with members in many countries. Both have a long history rich both in tradition and innovation to serve their members’ needs. Both work with people playing a strong role in training-teaching-learning. Both fulfill an impressive educational role by producing books, magazines, webinars, and other resources including first-rate conferences to support their members’ lifelong efforts to professionally serve their constituents. And both offer opportunities for volunteer engagement.

What is consistently different about the two, however—and what I believe is a core element of what Tricia is expressing—is that ASTD has, at least in the years I’ve been involved, tended to make huge decisions that leave members (correctly or incorrectly) with the impression that they were not part of the decision-making process. I repeatedly hear trusted and cherished ASTD colleagues express the theory that there are two ASTDs: one run by association managers rather than practitioners (which unfairly ignores how much Tony has done to consistently serve as a thought leader in our industry and how inspiring he is as a public speaker) and a second comprised of the practitioners themselves. Exploring this with an ALA staff member a few years ago, I was surprised by an insightful question he asked: how many volunteer opportunities does ASTD offer in comparison to what ALA offers? And my answer was “significantly fewer.” One of ASTD’s strengths is the streamlined nature of the organization; it doesn’t have the absolutely labyrinthine structure of committees, divisions, and round tables that sometimes absolutely drive ALA members to distraction. But, as my ALA colleague noted, it also doesn’t have the thousands of volunteer opportunities that come with the large number of committees, divisions, and round tables. We simply can’t be members of ALA without knowing that there are abundant opportunities to engage and participate in the decision-making process in ways that are custom-made for our numerous and varied roles in that industry.

Moving from Tricia’s open letter to a blog post by Clark Quinn, I found a wonderful exploration of a second theme consistent among those who are—at least initially—less than enamored of the new name for the organization: “To me, Talent Development is focused only on developing people instead of facilitating overall organization performance. And I think that’s falling short of the opportunity, and the need. Don’t get me wrong, I laud that ASTD made a change, and I think Talent Development is a good thing. Yet I think that our role can and should be more. I wish they’d thought a little broader, and covered all of the potential contribution[s].”

What Clark notes is something with which many of us in ATD and ALA—managers and members alike—struggle: finding terminology that accurately, concisely, and inspirationally captures all of what we do; I believe, because of the breadth, scope, and depth of our contributions to the communities we serve, that it’s ultimately a fruitless endeavor that will never produce a completely satisfying result. My own less-than-adequate term in the ASTD/ATD context for the past several years has been “training-teaching-learning” since I believe those are three core elements I consistently observe in the colleagues I most respect. But what Clark’s note suggests is that there is still a hole, and he concludes with this observation: “I just wonder who’s going to fill the gaps.”

To myself, to Clark, and to all my colleagues who are wonderful enough to passionately engage in and contribute to the work of our associations, I suggest that it is all of us who are going to fill the gaps. And not just by spending time trying to find the perfect name; ASTD was a far-from-perfect name, but somehow inspired results that contributed magnificently to the communities we serve. But by continuing to do what we do best: facilitating learning opportunities that serve the numerous workplace and lifelong learning/professional development/talent development needs of the individuals, organizations, and communities who rely on us to help “create a world that works better.”

N.B.: Additional thoughts on the change have been posted by ASTD staff, Tony Bingham, Jay Cross,  David Kelly, Alan Montague Marc Rosenberg, and others.


Nurturing Change: Resistance is Futile/Resistance Is Necessary

March 23, 2014

One of those catch-phrases that sticks with anyone familiar with Star Trek is “resistance is futile,” and I’m among those who jokingly mutter the phrase when facing seemingly insurmountable challenges.

But a conversation this morning with a wonderful colleague who is facing numerous difficult challenges made both of us propose a complementary thesis—“Resistance is necessary.” Because it hints that many of our best and most productive endeavors will be accompanied by tremendous resistance. Because an alternative to resistance is resignation. And because refusing to succumb to despair when we are facing our most daunting professional and personal challenges ultimately carries us through our darkest times.

It’s a fact of life that we all face those dark nights that San Juan de la Cruz captured so beautifully, so poignantly, and so poetically in the sixteenth century—and that if we are willing to work our way completely through that darkness toward whatever light awaits us rather than turning back and remaining without hope, we emerge transformed in ways we could not have previously imagined.

We can’t, however, do that alone—which is why the conversation my friend and I had his morning meant so much to both of us. She’s one of an ever-growing group of people I know who are currently facing extremely challenging and discouraging situations. They are very talented. Very creative. Very well respected by colleagues in their tremendously different industries. They were hired for their commitment to and reputation for inspiring positive changes meant to benefit the people and organizations they serve. They willingly accepted the challenges they face because they believed they would receive the support required to reach the goals they agreed to pursue. And they have found themselves, at various times, pushed to the point of despair—wondering what they “did wrong” rather than asking why some who should be supporting them are, in essence, betraying them and those who might ultimately benefit from the energy, heart, and soul they put into their endeavors.

It’s hard for them to avoid depression and resignation. And it’s hard for those of us who admire them to see what they are experiencing. But just as each of them has reached bleak moments in their darkest nights, they have found or are finding glimmers of light from kind words and expressions of support from family, friends, and colleagues. They hear from the beneficiaries of the efforts they have been making. They are finding hope because members of their communities are reaching out to support them in their individual moments of need, writing to them, and writing about them.

HGS--Gratitude[1]--2013-10-31This provides us with an important reminder after we have passed through our own dark nights: the smallest act of kindness or well-timed expression of understanding verbally or in writing, the willingness to simply listen to a friend or colleague in need, can make a world of difference for that person. And for everyone else that person touches directly or indirectly.

Resistance makes us reexamine what we are attempting to accomplish. It helps us to be sure we are following the best possible path. It helps us eliminate the weakest aspects of our approach. It forces us to ask a very important question: Is what we are doing worth doing? And, ultimately, resistance leads us to better understand, appreciate, and react effectively to the opposition our efforts are creating so all of us can find the common ground that produces positive change.


Technology, Change, and Learning: Smiles Replacing Stress

August 25, 2010

If we want to initiate a lemming-like run from our workplaces, all we need to do is make the following announcement: “We’re going to make some huge, wonderful changes around here with a new piece of technology we just purchased.” Want to make this even better? Disseminate the announcement early Monday morning or late on a Friday afternoon—particularly just before the beginning of a three-day weekend. Then notify the staff of your Human Resources division that you’re trying to help the economy by creating new job opportunities for those willing to apply for positions recently vacated by the staff that you have chased away.

When we approach technology training face-to-face or in online environments, we need to remember that we are proposing some of the most emotionally wrenching concepts we can inject into our colleague’s lives: change (“Why me?”), technology (“I’m so done with new technology”), and learning (“I’m too busy trying to do my job to take the time to learning something new”). If we find colleagues avoiding us in the hallways or at our local coffee shop, we only have ourselves to blame.

To turn the situation around, we need to start by putting ourselves into our learners’ shoes. And classrooms. And online learning sessions. We need to remember that technology is a tool, not the focus of our attention. If we work with our learners to determine how new technology helps all of us do our jobs more effectively and enjoyably—and we had better be sure this is true before we start offering that promise to prospective learners—we’re on the road to creating enthusiasm and effective communities of learning.

If we make the technology we are introducing an integral part of our face-to-face and online learning opportunities, we show that we have embraced what we are helping to facilitate and disseminate. We also, at the same time, can see how learners are absorbing or struggling with what they are attempting to master. Empathy as a learning tool, anyone?

And if we are honest about the benefits and the problems of what we are offering to the members of our learning communities, we are helping to strengthen those communities to the benefit of all whom we are serving.

When we move into online learning, we need to remember that we are introducing an additional level of stress into the lives of those who are new to distance learning: not only do they need to struggle with the specific technology they are attempting to learn, but they face the additional challenge of learning how to learn in ways that may not initially be comfortable for them. By making ourselves available before, during, and after the formal presentations of online learning opportunities, we demonstrate our commitment to our learners and to online learning and we offer, by example, the sort of support which is essential to successful learning.

Learning, as our colleagues at Fort Hill Company have documented, is not an isolated event, set apart from the rest of our lives. Nor is it distinctive from what we often mistakenly think of as “our real job.” In a world where change is constant and in which those who do not learn are quickly left behind, we are responsible for helping our colleagues learn. We need to find ways to make the learning process enjoyable and rewarding rather than dispiriting. If we are successful, we contribute to the building and the nurturing of communities of learning, and everybody wins.

N.B.: Paul is facilitating two 90-minute online sessions—on September 16 (“Using Technology to Enhance In-Person Library Training”) and September 23, 2010 (“Using Technology for Remote Library Training”)—under the auspices of ALA TechSource. Participants can register separately for the September 16 or September 23 sessions, or can receive a discounted rate by registering for both.


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