Five months ago tomorrow, I left one library job for another. I went from being a cataloger at the Library System of Lancaster County to being the District Consultant for the Capital Area Library District based at Dauphin County Library System’s McCormick Riverfront Library in Harrisburg as the District Center for Dauphin, Cumberland, and Perry counties. Part of a district consultant’s job is to help others learn; however, as is more often than not the case, I have certainly learned more than I’ve taught during these first several months on the job. I’ve learned lots of specifics–new processes, new procedures, new skills–everything new. But I have also been reminded of some universal truths that apply to all library jobs, jobs in general, and life overall. They are simple, common sense abilities but so fundamental to success. I’m not saying I’ve achieved success in my new job–the verdict is still out on that and will be for some time. But here are five things I’ve learned in five months that have kept me moving forward-
1) Never make assumptions. Do not assume that something is known, has been tried before or said before. Don’t assume that an idea is not original but also don’t assume that it is. Don’t assume that you are lacking the knowledge, information, or experience that would make your input more valuable. Don’t assume that others know your background or what you have to offer. Assume nothing. Assumptions always create an immediate, invisible barrier that can’t easily be broken through because no one knows it’s there. There’s just a lingering sense that something may be in the way.
2) Don’t pretend. Do not pretend to know something that you don’t know even if you can find out after the fact to avoid revealing your lack of knowledge or inexperience to someone in the moment. It may feel uncomfortable to admit ignorance, but acknowledging a lack of understanding allows for an immediate infusion of information and answers and prevents the other person from assuming that you know something that you don’t. It also creates trust.
3) Communicate. Just put it out there. Tell everyone what they need to know. Share information. Don’t assume they know and don’t pretend that you don’t know. Don’t assume that they don’t want to know. If they don’t want to know, then they don’t have to listen (see below). Communication is a two-way street; however, you are only in the driver’s seat of one vehicle. You can’t control the other side but you can make sure there are no roadblocks in your lane.
4) Be transparent. Hidden agendas are not good. Selective communication is not good. Having secrets is not good. Be an open book as much as possible. The same information should be shared as widely as possible without editing on a case-by-case basis. If you’re editing your communication on a regular basis depending upon your audience it could be that you are trying to keep everyone happy or telling everyone what they want to hear rather than simply stating the facts and the truth in a very clear and direct way. Not always easy and not always possible. But it’s a great goal to strive towards.
5) Hear. I first typed the word “listen” but really the operative word is “hear.” People listen all the time without hearing. Hear what someone tells you and consciously use that information or consciously disregard it. But hear it first. Don’t waste someone’s time by “listening” to them without hearing them. And if you’ve listened to and heard what someone has to say but you know you’re not going to act on it, then be transparent enough to say so.
I plan to learn much more in the months to come. And it’s not that I didn’t know these five things before. But I’ve come to understand how important it is to remember them and put them into action whenever and as often as possible. I know I will fail and fail often–we all do. The best we can hope for is to be mindful of the ways in which we can circumvent potential pitfalls along the way. Sometimes it’s tempting to assume, pretend, remain silent, hidden, and deaf. There’s a certain safety in doing your job and doing it well while flying under the radar.
But doing great work while existing within a vacuum prevents others from learning from you. Everyone has something to teach; everyone has something to learn.