Betsy Blankenship, Ohio State University Marion
I’ve been teaching a newly revised online course about Information. Brian Leaf, who just presented at the ALAO conference, is the course designer. He has filled the course with readings that are designed to get the students thinking about various aspects of information; what it is, what it is not, how do you know, who creates it, why, etc. My students often have to respond to these readings in some context through assignments. One reading really got me thinking, too. Entitled “Are you an Expert”, (http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2009/02/are-you-an-expert.html), blog author Jeff Atwood discusses some key points about how people perceive an “expert” and what constitutes an expert. He says, “Being an expert isn’t telling other people what you know. It’s understanding what questions to ask, and flexibly applying your knowledge to the specific situation at hand.” When you think about it, how so very true it is. I have one child; I do not claim to be an expert in child rearing. But those folks who have raised four, five, six children – now that certainly makes them more of an expert than me. My assistant Pat is way more tech savvy than me. I see her as an expert when trying to resolve computer issues. I do know, however, how to ask questions when someone needs help, in order to better understand their need and resolve it. Once I know that, I can make a decision on what to do next.
We as librarians tend to think of ourselves as experts because we have a degree or we have specialized knowledge in different areas. But think about it; most of our patrons consider anyone working in a library to be a librarian. They don’t care that we have a degree or even three degrees. They do see us as trusted sources who can answer their questions which is why they seek us out. If anyone can be perceived as an “expert,” how then do we ensure that patrons leave satisfied? By making sure we ask the right questions so that we can point them in the right direction or show them where the answer can be found. Ever wonder why the reference interview is so handy? If helps clarify what is known, what is needed and what steps to take. Then we can apply our knowledge of our sources and answer that information need.
So simple, isn’t it? And it’s what we do so well, if we remember to ask the right questions and not just “tell” people what we know.
And finally, another great quote from our recent Leadership Retreat:
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” – Indira Gandhi
I took this to mean that to be a good leader, you need to be flexible. To be flexible, you have to be willing to ask questions and provide good feedback and encourage others. You need to know how to work as a team, to mold and meld the talents you have around you so that they complement each other; and be willing to seek out ideas and suggestions to improve your organization or institution. ALAO is a great example of this. We are a volunteer organization; the change in leadership on committees and interest groups and the board is constant. Those in leadership positions have to know to ask questions about what has been done before, but also need to be flexible enough to take the talent that exists and get them to work together in a successful manner. Success means a great workshop, a great conference, an informative newsletter, an active website, and a vibrant and active board.
So what does it mean to you?