Becoming proactive

June 13, 2014

I saw a Tweet this week that said that librarians are trained to be reactive rather than proactive. I think, at least in the past, this has been very true.

How can we become more proactive in our profession, and break the cycle of merely reacting to our environment?

Defining the concepts

Reactive: reacting in response to a situation or stimuli

Proactive: controlling a situation by making something happen, rather than responding after something has happened

Reacting: Good, bad, or indifferent?

In various library functions, we tend to function in reactive ways:

  • Reference:  sitting at a desk, waiting for a question
  • Instruction: faculty contact us, tell us the assignment or what they would like for the session, and we create the instruction around that interaction
  • Reporting: compiling reports based upon the specific parameters we have used in the past and what our administration has expected
  • Programming: responding to a patron requests, or expectations of our administration (for example, displays for Women’s History Month, participation in an Earth Day function, the types of programs that tend to be a “given” each year)

To be clear, I don’t think the above are wrong ways of doing business.  Of course we should be reactive and sensitive to our students, faculty, and community.  We should have involvement in activities that are expected of us.  But perhaps always doing business as usual no longer serves the world we live in.

Being proactive: can it be the new norm?

What if we were given permission to try some truly proactive techniques, without fear of being labeled failures or wasting our patrons’ money? Here are a few examples:

  • Reference: going outside of the library’s physical building to popular areas on campus as a reference desk; roaming librarians with tablets within the library; personal classroom visits at times of high research needs; 24/7 research help in partnership with other libraries in different time zones
  • Instruction: incorporation of information literacy into every class with a librarian seen as partner in the process; a la carte instruction with well-defined objectives for each part, anticipating general needs but allowing for freedom to react to the individual need of the classroom; flipped classroom opportunities that allow students to begin instruction online before an in-person class, letting them learn on their own time; simple online assessments  that help librarians, instructors, and students understand where the greatest instruction needs are.
  • Reporting: specialized reports for specific offices (student life, president, veterans affairs, public) that showcase the library’s strengths and talents, rather than just the standard reports that are expected
  • Programming: undertaking topics that may be outside of the typical offerings, and providing staff the ability, permission, and budget to try something completely new to your community

Other ways libraries (including ours) have worked to become more proactive:

  • Pop up chat on webpages
  • DIY help on each webpage that allows for patron-driven problem solving
  • Easy sign-up research appointments
  • Active social media
  • Individual meetings with faculty to partner about their needs and the needs of their students
  • Attendance at department meetings to gain an understanding of needs and help the librarians to focus on possible instruction and programming opportunities

Relationships are key

The most common thread running through all these ideas is the need to build relationships, understand the challenges, and then gain understanding of where we can be most useful in the learning process.  The relationships you build with your faculty, patrons, students, and even your fellow librarians will all help in creating an atmosphere of proactivity.



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