Thursday 14 May 2015

Learning to See

On the weekend I was coaching a teenage friend of mine in learning to become a netball umpire. Among other pieces of advice I shared, I reminded her that when you are an umpire you look at the game in a whole different way. You are not a player, you are not a spectator. You are looking for different things, and your experience of the game is quite different. Later I reflected that this is quite similar to experiencing libraries, depending on what you are doing there.

As a library user, I am assessing libraries in quite a different way than I do when I am working there, or when I am touring a library as part of a professional development visit. This is one reason it's so valuable to visit, use, or tour other libraries.

I recently started working in a public library. Once I knew I had secured an interview for the position, I looked at the web presence of the library and took myself in for a look around, seeing it as a user. In my mind I was comparing the physical space, the collections, and services to other libraries of which I am a member. Later I thought about it more in the way I would if I was touring a library as part of a professional visit. You can't really see the problems or challenges clearly, and this is part of the way we all present our workplace to peers, but you can appraise things that are working well and assess them to see if that success is translatable to your own workplace. Then, on a quieter moment I was talking to a long standing staff member who told me about plans to renovate the library and change the floor plan around, and pointed out parts of the library that needed renewal. Until then I had been blind to those faults, so this gave me a different perspective.

It's a natural progression when you are new to a workplace to take all these different views. But it's pretty hard to generate a new perspective of your own workplace when you've been there for a while, to put yourself in the shoes of the other. It's conversely easy to discount the familiar as being boring or underwhelming, to look and see only the problems or frustrations or the things that could have been, if only. This view is also valuable, because it's only through dissatisfaction with the status quo that advancements are made. In the book "Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy" by Eric G Wilson, the Publishers Weekly review mentions that the author "argues forcefully that melancholia is a necessary ingredient of any culture that wishes to be innovative or inventive." The work concentrates especially on art, but I think it's true of many things. However, a constructively critical eye needs a balance, and to be able to assess both the parts and the whole, to recognise the ideal and work with the possible.

So I encourage you to continue to seek out new ideas, share successes and failures, and store these ideas and insights safely, even if they are not relevant to your situation now or don't even seem remotely possible under current realities of budgets and permissions and competing needs. You never know how a different perspective may work it self out in the future.

Lauren Castan

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