[Our guest blogger is Jill Strand, Director of Knowledge Resources at Maslon Edelman Borman Brand LLP in Minneapolis, MN USA. She is currently a candidate for President-Elect, Special Libraries Association.]
Have you every read or heard something that immediately spoke to you? That jumped out of the morass of emails, blog posts, and Twitter and Facebook feeds and connected with you. It was big, and it gave you the feeling that someone understood what you were trying to do and who you were trying to be as professional.
It happened to me recently, and I got a double-dose:
- Reading a blog post from SMR International, with Michael Potters sharing his thoughts on branding for knowledge strategists
- Hearing Deb Hunt and Maureen Sullivan, leaders of the two largest library associations, speak about “Strategic Liaisons” at an event hosted by SLA Maryland.
Michael Potters is with Glenmont Group, an executive search firm in Montclair, N.J. He is known as a respected business leader, informal mentor and teacher. In the post Potters talks about how people moving toward the careers they want need to think in terms of re-inventing themselves, not just re-inventing their jobs. “You begin with self-assessment,” he says. “You’ve got to understand what you want to be when you grow up.”
This concept of self-assessment spoke to me, perhaps because it had been a literal process for me, asking myself what I wanted to do next as a professional. Ten years ago, thinking along those lines had led me to make a career shift, from trade publishing sales to corporate librarianship. It was a tough and time-consuming process but ultimately it was worth the effort, as it lead me to my current career as a librarian and information professional.
The idea of self-assessment also resonates with our thinking about SLA, since the Special Libraries Association is doing much the same thing. The process began a few years ago with the Alignment Project, a deep-dive effort to enable us to step outside the profession and learn how other professionals and business leaders (from all kinds of organizations) perceive us. While most of the people interviewed respect and value librarians, they didn’t always grasp how our skill set could support their organizational goals and success. And as with any profession or individual knowledge worker, when that disconnect exists – when your role isn’t considered critical to the organization – your job, our jobs, are in jeopardy.
So what should we do, both as individuals and as a profession? In their remarks and their dialog with the audience at the SLA Maryland event, SLA President Deb Hunt and ALA President Maureen Sullivan offered a mindset for where we might start, both as individuals and as part of a profession or association, advice for us for thinking about what we could be when we “grow up,” or when we decide to move on to the next phase.
For example, Deb Hunt suggested asking this question: are you an investment or an expense? As an individual, we need to consider what services are needed and how to provide them. Sometimes this means letting go of the things that matter to us (e.g. perfect MARC records in our library catalog) and paying more attention to what matters to our users (for example, to work with management to figure out how to deliver e-books to their devices). In other words, we need to be agile and adaptable. And couldn’t the same be said for our association, as we think about attracting and retaining members?
Maureen Sullivan noted that an association’s main purpose is the professional development of its members. Future information and strategic knowledge professionals will have to be expert in a broad set of competencies, including such challenges as being able to relate to others, learning new technologies, and – clearly important – how to apply new technologies in their organizations. As such, SLA, ALA and other professional associations need to offer educational opportunities that members can use for gaining these competencies.
For those of us with an interest in being seen as knowledge strategists within our organization, much of this work is just beginning. Michael Potters acknowledges that while jobs for “knowledge thought leaders” are not yet readily available (let alone conceived of, in many companies), we have to be patient. If you want to build a “knowledge strategy “ brand for your career, Potters suggests that you keep an open mind. “Be prepared to take some time.” he says. “Think about what you’ve learned and about how you can put what you’ve learned to work in the company, maybe even in a job you had not thought about. If you are in a hurry, don’t be.”
Even more than a decade into my own career as an information professional, I can see that it is time for the next stage of my own professional self-assessment. As director of knowledge resources for a law firm, my job is to make sure attorneys and staff have the resources, tools, and information they need to succeed in both the boardroom and the court room. Much like libraries, law firms have to work harder to compete in a new economy where clients are questioning their value. When clients are paying hourly rates, they want to have a good understanding of value received, and they are asking how firms utilize their own internal work product and knowledge resources to deliver services more efficiently and cost-effectively.
How does an information professional transform themselves into a knowledge strategist? By recognizing a need and filling it. In my case I am actively looking for ways to partner with firm leaders and other department heads on how best to inform and manage just such a project. How does SLA help me to do this? By offering a diversity of high-quality educational opportunities for learning more about knowledge management, including one full KM certificate program. My ultimate goal: to show my organization how this expertise can help us to reach this goal and remain competitive.