Friday, March 31, 2006

Response to NMRT Question: Fostering Collegiality

Here's my reply to another question from the New Members Round Table

"Question: Many new librarian professionals encounter colleagues that have been librarians for several years and, in many cases, decades. Oftentimes, there seems to be a ‘disconnect’ or reluctance, from one side or the other, to meet in the middle where a collegial relationship can flourish. As ALA President, how might you encourage communication between the generations and nurture these relationships?"

In most circumstances, library workers can accomplish very little on their own.
Collaboration is a key philosophy for success within the library field. The ability to work well together in the workplace can lead to grant funding, increased productivity, enhanced reputation, good morale, and personal fulfillment. How do we encourage good collaboration and collegiality? How do we adopt an attitude of accepting, welcoming, and seeking roles as mentors and team members?

First, this may be a topic that can be explored through a research approach to gather a view of communication styles among library employees. Such a study might ascertain the extent of this concern, the role of management style in influencing workplace communication, and perhaps even lead to identifying successful communication models or best practices.

Second, we might review whether library workers concerned about this issue have sufficient resources to enable them to address this topic in their work settings. Librarians might welcome resources such as bibliographies, case studies, and opportunities to discuss their concerns with others. Managers might want support in leading their employees in successful team building.

Third, we can suggest ways that library staff can reward collaboration and especially to recognize good mentoring teams. Workplace incentives may include local recognition, support to attend conferences as mentoring teams, and so forth.

Fourth, we all need to learn how to communicate better with each other and to build a community of trust. Experienced employees, especially those nearing retirement, have much to offer and are in privileged positions to serve as teachers and mentors but may need to learn how to adopt these new roles. Newer employees need to learn what they can bring into this relationship as a fair exchange.

One strategy we can use to help staff to negotiate the transition to retirement is life term review. This is a process of integrating an individual’s past and present through recollection and reflection. Life review may also be initiated through shared memories of communal activities. Group life review session of librarians might begin, therefore, with members commenting about their experiences at professional high points such as special conferences or institutes. Often, individuals who are supported in recounting their professional pasts naturally expand this role of sharing into own of nurturing and assisting others.

As President of ALA, I would encourage developing programs and strategies to record and learn from the wisdom and experience of long-standing library employees.
Finally, sometimes we build our supportive communities outside of our own organization. We become refreshed and enlightened through the opportunities we bring to each other.