From Roy Tennant in LJ: Managing Personal Change
Posted by Editor on September 30, 2010
Tennant’s Digital Libraries, September 29th, 2010 here:
I’m no spring chicken. My white hair is certainly an indicator of that. But another is that I have probably forgotten more technologies than many of our young librarians have ever known. And they will know more than I have ever known in my lifetime. That is the impact of the increasing pace of change, and we must get used to it.
I went from working at a library that still had cards written in “library hand“ to libraries on the very bleeding edge of change, and many places in between. Along the way I’ve learned and forgotten many things.
I have mimeographed cards for the card catalog. I have used manual typewriters. I have set up slide and film projectors. I have programmed in BASIC on a Commodore PET microcomputer, which stored the program on a cassette tape. I have used WordStar for word processing and Pagemaker for page layout. I have used Usenet news, Gopher, Veronica, Archie, WAIS, and all kinds of other Internet-based technologies that are no more. I have known all kinds of arcane LISTSERV commands, although at times those still come in handy. Not that I can remember them, or should.
We have all learned and forgotten many things, and we will learn and forget many more. So what are the skills we need to foster to do this well — both faster and better? I don’t claim to have the perfect formula, only a personal opinion. You will have to judge for yourself what speaks to you and your learning style and what doesn’t. All I know is that these strategies have done me well over the years, and they’re well worth considering.
- Learn as you breathe. You breathe all the time without even thinking about it. That is how you must learn — picking up bits of knowledge, new skills, and a fresh perspective every single day simply as a part of living. As human organisms, we already do it to some degree, but we all need to get really, really good at it.
- Learn only what is required to accomplish the task before you. Knowledge grows stale — fast. What you don’t use you tend to lose. If you need a particular skill, such as programming in a particular language, learn as you must to do particular tasks, but don’t seek to know it comprehensively. Just about the time that you do, you will be moving on to something else. Cultivate a “just in time” learning style.
- Don’t be afraid of forgetting. These days you don’t need to remember very much. You can look everything else up on the Internet. And in the age of the smartphone and tablet devices, you can often do this at times where you never could before.
- Don’t clutch old technologies when you should be tossing them aside. The natural human tendency is to cleave to what we know, and to view anything new with suspicion. There are good parts of this tendency, but so too there are some bad. Staying with outdated technologies too long because they are familiar and we feel comfortable in our mastery of them are reasons that are weak and unjustifiable.
- Don’t blindly embrace the new. Not every technology that comes down the pike is worth your time and attention. It may be worth enough time to assess it, but don’t think just because it is new and shiny that it should be immediately embraced. For my money, virtual worlds — at least at this point — are of this variety. There was a time when Second Life was the toast of the Internet. Is it central to what you do now? Likely not.
- Continually reassess your assessments. Just because Second Life — or some other technology — may not be important to you today, it doesn’t mean that it won’t become so at some point in the future. Knowing when that point arrives can be important — sometimes very important.
- Look back. We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I learned more from wrapping a whitewater raft on a rock in the Stanislaus River than all the other times I ran that rapid successfully. I learned more from nearly losing my life on a freeway than all the times I drove that highway safe and sound. And I learned more from choosing to implement Gopher at the UC Berkeley Library over the World Wide Web, and especially from all that followed in extracating ourselves from it. Learn from those experiences. Remember them, and take their lessons forward with you. It’s called “wisdom”.
- Look forward. Ever, ever, look forward. Because that is the present you will soon inhabit. Because that is the force that will shape your life — with or without your permission or acquiescence. Because that is what you hope to make better.
- Be grateful. You’re in a great profession, in a truly fantastic time, with an incredible cohort of colleagues, facing an amazing array of challenges. We can meet those challenges together, with insight, skill, and good humor. We always have.
I don’t claim to have cornered the market on how to manage personal change. This is my opinion, but an opinion based on 35 years working in libraries. I’ve seen many things come and go, and I will see more, life willing. So will you. We’d all better get really good at it, since managing personal change is required to do well at managing the organizational change that is increasingly necessary in today’s world.
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