Future Ready is an initiative, a north star, and an attitude. It’s like the string on your finger that reminds you about those four bullets from the Alignment Project. I believe that being more adaptable, flexible, and confident will help us ALL build success.
Change or Transformation?
I’m no Pollyanna, who only sees the bright side of everything. I see that there are seismic shifts going on in our industry, and it is wrenching to hear first-hand how many of our colleagues were laid off in the latest contraction. But for every layoff, there were eight or nine survivors. Many of you have been walking the walk and talking the talk for most of your careers, even if you didn’t have all the latest buzzwords and phrases pinned down.
In our industry, change is ever-present. It feels palpable on days when you read about three new products that you would like to try and don’t have time to. I’d love to curl up with a new iPad for a weekend and learn all about it, but justifying that much of a time-sink is an issue we all face.
The average SLA member has a ten-year tenure in the organization. So, let’s look at what was happening ten years ago, in the year 2000. We were in the midst of the Y2K issue, and all of our data was going to disappear in one magical New Year’s Eve celebration if we didn’t bring in a contractor to give us more digits. Al Gore and George Bush were running for president, and American voters were torn between a vote for change and a vote for the status quo. The events of September 11 had not yet happened; we were not at war.
Now think about what was going on in your library or information center. Did you have a beeper? Did you use a fax machine with curly paper? How big was your cell phone? Could you insert graphics into your email? Social networking, wikis, tweets, and blogs were still on the horizon. There were no e-book platforms. You have seen tremendous developments in technology in the past 10 years, and you have weathered every single one.
To provide value-added intelligence, and not just data, we need to know our customers and our tools equally. We need to understand not just what they ask for, but the underlying need. That predictive skill is what sets us apart from search engines. In your vision of your desired future, what kind of work will you be doing next year that you are not doing now? What are you doing now that you will no longer be doing? Where do you want your profession to be in five years, or your career in ten years? As an SLA leader, it’s my job to assess our strengths and push strategies that position us for a better future. I feel a sense of urgency to do this, and I hope you do, too.
For the last few months, I’ve been traveling, talking, blogging, and collecting stories about what Future Ready is starting to look like. But I’m not done yet; if I could, I’d talk to every single member and solicit their opinion about it. I’d like to learn what you see as opportunities for aligning with emerging roles in the information industry and beyond. Maybe you have an idea about tactics and trends, or maybe you have a success story that should be shared with everyone else. Many members are weathering this storm and are ready for the future, come what may. I’d like to hear how you did it, and help inspire others who are at the cross roads.
I’m reading the book Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, which is about global warming, the rise of the middle class in developing countries, and the possibility of 9 billion people on planet Earth by the year 2050. He forecasts some very dire circumstances for human beings if immediate measures are not taken to curb greenhouse gases. But at the same time, he sees an opportunity in the transition from a carbon-hungry economy to a more sustainable future. He sees opportunities for innovation in sustainable products and services, for the US to take a leadership role in greening the planet, and for energy independence.
I see a similarity between what Friedman outlines for sustainability and what we’re witnessing in the information industry. Many of the activities we had been expert in are no longer valued as highly as they once were. For example, one statistic, from the Alignment Project report that stands out for me, is that 28% of information providers value managing a physical collection, but only 8% of users value this service. Instead of physical collections, users value information provided at the desktop. And they are pushing us to change.
There is opportunity in the transformation of our roles and utilization of our skills in the new knowledge economy, if we look at the issue with a new frame of reference. I’ve been talking to a few people in the sustainability arena, and it turns out they are focused on similar ideas—adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. In sustainable enterprises, there is an advantage to having alternative pathways—such as renewable energy sources—rather than maximizing one pathway over all the rest. It’s another way of saying, “Your mileage may vary.” For information professionals, it is an important concept as positions that use our skills open up new areas, such as those that are embedded in project groups or in functional areas such procurement, IT and market research.
A robust and energetic SLA community is vitally important for positioning ourselves for value. Recently, I read an inspiring article by Chip and Dan Heath in Fast Company, where they talk about “bright spots” and shifting our frame of reference to the activities and concepts that are working. We have a lot of really bright people in our organization. We can use them as exemplars and scouts. That’s why I’ve been collecting stories from successful individuals, and I encourage you to send me yours, either at this blog or to my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). I think those stories are far more illuminating than anything I can say, because they are authentic, real-life experiences.
Our community is also rich because we have so many generous people. I have gained tremendously from stepping up to the plate and taking on leadership roles within SLA. It may keep me up at night, but it’s never boring. I get to talk with smart, engaged, caring people about a topic I am completely passionate about. I feed off the energy of students who are just starting out, with their whole careers before them, and I struggle to find the perfect advice for them. I make no bones about it – I am here to recruit you. I urge you to step up to participate more actively in SLA and within your division and chapter, as it will help your career by engaging you in project management, cross-functional collaboration, and deep networking with peers and mentors.