ALA Webinar: Taking on New Job Responsibilities

This post summarizes an ALA webinar entitled “Taking on New Job Responsibilities” which featured two senior public library professionals, Catherine Hakala-Ausperk and Robin M. Hastings. The objective of this webinar was to provide advice for librarians who may face changes in their workplace. The two panelists discussed the topics of change management, time management, training, skills, and institutional memory.

The presenters began by discussing their experiences of taking on additional job responsibilities and how they handled this situation. Cathy described this situation as common to all library situations and impacting both front-line staff and managers/administrators. She has seen this trend since the introduction of computers and automation in libraries back in the 1980s. She stresses the importance of thinking of both the library and oneself. When new responsibilities are presented, employees and managers should think about what is important to the library and how additional responsibilities will impact services. Individual employees and managers need to consider work-life balance when new responsibilities are accepted. Robin also mentioned the importance of self-care. She found mentors to be very useful in situations where new responsibilities are added. If librarians can’t find a mentor in their own library, then they can look to associations or broader professional networks to find people who have had to learn or take on similar responsibilities. Robin described taking classes to expand her skills, for example an introduction to supervising class at a local community college.

The next discussion topic was on the strategies used to help prepare for change. Robin pointed to training as the best way to prepare people for change. She emphasized training people early and often. She trained constantly for a two month period prior to a change in email systems in her workplace and this training made the transition go smoothly. The more people know about a change, the more comfortable they are about the upcoming change. Cathy recommended trying to create a culture of innovation in the library rather than just focusing on an individual employee. To create this culture employees need to think about ongoing change. Changes are constantly coming to our organizations, so we need to be prepared for them at the cultural level.  She recommended the book “Out Iceberg Is Melting” as a good introduction to change management principles and innovative cultures.  Cathy also stressed that employees at all levels of the organization can contribute to creating an innovative culture that embraces changes. Transparency and communication are vital aspects of change management. People are often reluctant to accept change because they worry about how it will impact their ability to do their job well. Employees should share new ideas and innovative practices and managers should be willing to listen to and try these ideas.

The third discussion topic in this webinar was time management. For Robin a key aspect of time management for professionals that was identified in this webinar was prioritization. In order to manage time effectively employees should be able to “gracefully let things go” – or abandon tasks that are not priorities in order to better manage their time. Priorities should be identified through conversations with supervisors and managers. Cathy began by emphasizing trust as a key aspect of time management. She noted that no supervisor wants their employees to burn out and that they trust their staff to come to them in advance of deadlines to let them to come to them to let them know when they feel that they aren’t going to be able to meet deadlines. She recommends learning as much about time management as possible by attending courses or reading books. Robin provided a few helpful tips for employees seeking to better manage their time.  The first was to create a list of what you want to get done at work tomorrow at the end of each work day.  The second was not to keep checking your inbox through the day – you don’t need to respond to every new email the instant it arrives. A third tip was to match your tasks with your energy levels during the day. When you start to feel burnt out, stop working on a task.  She cited a presenter who advised people to think not about time management, but about work management. Work management is about managing tasks and priorities, because we all have the same amount of time available to us.

The fourth discussion topic was training. Robin emphasized taking baby steps when you need to learn about something new. Focus on learning one thing at a time to build your skills in order to make a new topic more approachable – or less intimidating – for learners. When you have one basic skill under your belt, everything else is going to be easier. Managers should help employees learn by identifying and prioritizing the skills that they are going to need. Librarians also need to remember that they should never stop training. There are lots of excuses not to train, such as lack of time or money, but in our line of work we should never stop training. Cathy agreed with Robin’s emphasis on continual training. She promoted the use of the Internet as a starting point for training because this can be a less costly way of building new skills than going to off-site training sessions. She noted that librarian networks offer a great deal of training such as webinars. A question from participants emphasized the importance of instruction in library work, particularly in academic library studies. The participants encouraged librarians to look at resources on instructional design, which may include networks of other librarians who are already engaged in library instruction. When faced with new responsibilities we should try to learn as much about they as we can. There are books, articles, classes, conference sessions, webinars, and other resources (both paid and free) that librarians can access either at work or on their own time, to educate themselves.

The fifth discussion topic was skills. The discussion question was “what are the most important skills for information professionals to have today”. Kathy emphasized learning as the most important skills. This refers to the ability to take in new information and build new skills. As a starting point, people should understand how they learn or what learning style works for them. The next step is being able to manage the information that you have received. Kathy described personal learning networks or PLNs that allow you to manage the information that you have picked up. This is a tool that allows you to record and come back to information that you have learned. Robin emphasized volunteerism as a key skill. She stresses that librarians should be willing to volunteer to perform new tasks and learn new skills. This helps them not only to build their own skill set but also to help make their organizations more innovative. Soft skills are also vital, especially in public library settings where library staff are encouraged to go out and build partnerships in the community. If librarians are committed to continuing to grow, they will discover that there is no shortage of resources available.

The final discussion topic was thinking ahead, in which the speakers were asked to describe the best ways in which institutions can retain institutional memory. Cathy stated that the starting point for retaining institutional memory is sharing. Institutions should encourage information and knowledge sharing throughout the organization through either informal or formal means, such as job shadowing or training. Working together and knowing what other people do helps us to appreciate each other’s jobs and the work they do. Robin also values cross-training in organizations, but understands that this is not possible for every organization or type of role. In her system she described an emphasis on documenting information that needs to be passed on when people leave a role. The only problem that she has with documenting information is that documentation becomes outdated really quickly. People don’t tend to update the documentation until they are ready to leave.

The theme that seemed to underpin the entire discussion throughout this webinar was the importance of librarians engaging in continuing learning activities. By engaging in learning of any format (formal/informal, in-person/virtual, etc.), librarians help themselves and their organizations to embrace change and develop innovative services.

Featured Image by Courtney Dirks


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