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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 65 – Planning for the year ahead

We have reached the end of the first week of the year – yes I know it’s only Monday, but today is the 7th day of the brand new year. That means we only have 51 more weeks to complete those things that we say we want to do and achieve by the end of 2008. My first question to you then is this – do you know what you want to achieve / do / be / see? Or are you going to take things as they come?

January is always a good time to re-visit the topics of planning, preparation and continuing professional development, especially in light of my previous comments, so re-visit we shall.

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In this issue we will look at:
• What not to read
• Planning on studying?
• Life skills
• A Thought to ponder.

What not to read
Rather a strange comment for information professionals – but given how much information is readily available it can be overwhelming to keep up to date with it all. So how do you determine what is useful and what is not in today’s information rich society?

1. Read items that have a direct impact on your day-to-day work / study activities: Rather than subscribing to and reading everything regardless that is available, just because you can. I’ve noticed that what tends to happen is people subscribe to new areas of interest without discarding old areas. Say for example, you used to work in the Public Library sector and subscribed to the many lists associated with that area of the profession. You then decided to change direction, and moved into the corporate sector. Wanting to keep on top of what is going on in the industry you subscribe to all the relevant lists and discussion boards. But you don’t unsubscribe from the old lists. You reason that you may decide to go back into that sector one day so it’s important to stay on top of all the issues.

 How many journals / news items pass your desk each week? How many of them do you read? How many of them do you read in their entirety? How many bits do you photocopy for reading later? How many times do you find these same bits yellowing in the backs of drawers at the end of the year during your annual clean up? How many of these same journals do you hold onto for “when you have the time”? How many times do you get journals and magazines that are months old because the people above you on the distribution list didn’t have time to read these journals either?

2. Be ruthless in removing yourself from distribution lists and areas that no longer serve you. Start 2008 by removing your name from those lists that no longer serve you. If you delete messages without reading the contents, if you cross your name off the distribution lists of hardcopy versions without opening them, then you obviously don’t need to be on them at all. So remove yourself and remove the distractions.

3. Add your name to the distribution list for areas you would like to move into. Continuing Professional Development means that you are constantly looking at ways that will challenge your current thinking and working practices. If you have done the same job in the same way for twenty years, you don’t have twenty years worth of experience, you have one year of experience – repeated twenty times. So know where you want to be “when you grow up” and build your reading and study time accordingly. And if you don’t know what you want to be “when you grow up”….

Planning on studying?
Where do you want to be at the end of 2008? Are you hoping to move into a new position? New company? New area of interest? If you said yes, then chances are going to be good that you will need to do some kind of studying or on the job training to get yourself up to speed with the requirements.

Obtain a copy of the weekend paper, or get online to the many job boards and have a good look at the positions that are currently on offer. While some of you may be able to apply for a new position straight away, some of you may have gaps in your personal knowledge and skills base. 

What you will note is this: there will be a group of core competencies that apply to any position. These include:
• good communication skills,
• good time management practices,
• dealing with difficult people,
• being able to work autonomously and in a team environment.

It is essential you spend some time on a daily basis to ensure these core competencies are taken care of. You cannot claim to have good time management if you routinely arrive late. A simple reference check will ascertain this information, so make sure your referees have only good things to say about you.

In addition to these core competencies there will be job specific skills that you will need to have: For example,
• what kinds of software experience do you have,
• do you need to be able to catalogue, index.
• do you have the skills needed to be a research librarian or do you need to add to your skills base.

Chances are going to be good if you are moving into a new area, you will need to find a way to bridge these gaps should you have them. Whilst you can explain that you have experience in a related field, the candidate who can show they meet all the selection criteria stands far more chance of being invited to an interview than those with a “no experience but willing to learn” answer.

For a good example of the skills required under the Intellectual Access and Information Organisation category – go to http://www.ala.org/ala/alcts/alctsmanual/conted/cepolicy.htm (viewed 24 May 2007)

Of course, the higher up the corporate ladder you are planning on moving will add yet another dimension to your learning and development needs.
• managing other people – to be a good manager or people means experience, it also means being a director of sorting out problems, so some Human Resources skills would be appropriate.
• are you hoping to “lead” your team of people? Quite different from that of a Manager. In my opinion – to be a leader means you need a team of people who can manage the day-to-day operations, whilst as the captain of your particular vessel you look to the horizons for new areas to explore and expand into.

Now that you have identified the kinds of positions you are interested in, you need to have an objective look at your CV. Where are your skills and / or knowledge gaps? How can you fill them?

Life skills:
One of the areas that is often overlooked is that of life skills. These things can rarely be “learned” from a text book or a course of study, but are gained through experience. Experience can be a hard task master, because you have to learn how to act, react and learn from events that are happening now. As you know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. But there are some things you can do to ensure you don’t land flat on your face too many times.

1. Attitude: This can be both a good and a bad thing. You can have an attitude that says, I will only do what I am being paid to do, and I will do it, but don’t ask me to do anything outside my job description. And you know what, I know it’s part of my general duties – but I don’t like that part of my job – so I shall whinge and whine and make everyone around me miserable. After all I’m miserable so why shouldn’t they be as well. Or you can have an attitude that is a joy to be around. Now I am not saying that you take on more work than you can handle, nor should you do other people’s work, but you can have a genuine appreciation for your own self worth (and no that does not mean you are arrogant) and that of your colleagues.

The attitude that says I will dress properly and appropriately. I will arrive on time and leave when I should. I will speak kindly towards other people – including internal as well as external clients. I will act in an appropriate manner at all times. I will do my job to the best of my ability all of the time, as I am being paid an honest wage for the work that I am doing, and in doing so will be rewarded at the right times for all the right reasons.

2. Honesty: If you don’t know how to do something, then say so. Don’t try and be something you’re not. This can of course be a little difficult if you have oversold yourself and your abilities at the interview, in which case, you are going to have to do some very quick thinking and on-the job learning to bring yourself up to speed. But in general terms, you cannot hope to know all there is to know about every part of your job – on day 1, and rarely on day 7 of your new position. You only have to read some of the entries on the many list servs to know that experienced professionals don’t have all of the answers all of the time. Ask your questions, but be prepared to listen.

3. Take responsibility: It is important that you take responsibility for your actions and your decisions to date. The reason you are where you are now is because of decisions that you made at some point in the past. Accept that some of those decisions could have been better. Accept that some of those decisions were perfect for you at the time. But do not live your life in regret as all you will do is go back over and over those decisions you consider were “wrong”. Every decision that you make has the essence of something valuable within it “do more of this” “do less of that”.

If you are willing to incorporate these three strategies into your personal and professional lives you will achieve far more than those who think the world owes them a living.

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A Thought to Ponder
“Books are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ‘em, then we grow out of ‘em and leave ‘em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development”
Dorothy L Sayers
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