Making Time

I read around a lot on the various librarian blogs that discuss keeping up or learning new things, especially techie things. This is one I like that discusses both the how and the why of keeping up. The reasons to change are many, and I’ve discussed before that to persuade librarians to adapt to new technologies, one has to show how it benefits them somehow. I try to do this by highlighting the way new technologies can save one time or effort.

The “why” is difficult enough, and the “how” might be even harder. A lot of librarians recommend things like “set aside 15 minutes a day to learn new things,” or they’ll recommend spending some time before opening the morning email to play around with new technology. Some librarians complain that they just don’t have the time to keep up with all this new stuff, and the “15 minutes a day” approach is to show how easy it can be.

I have no problem with recommending this sort of approach, but I don’t think it will do much, for a couple of reasons. First, that’s generally not how those of us kept-up people keep up. Just spending the time reading around on what’s going on takes up more of my time that that, not counting actually playing around with new stuff. If I find out about some new tool I think might be interesting or useful, I usually just immerse myself in it until I learn how to do it, at least at a novice level. That usually takes more than 15 minutes, but I don’t think about the time because I like doing it and I think it’s worthwhile.

Secondly, time is not necessarily the problem, despite the complaints of a lot of librarians. Sure, a lot of librarians work hard, but how many really spend 8 hours a day completely on task? That means without reading the news, or shopping online, or gossiping with their officemates, or any of a variety of other ways people can kill time. Librarians already spend at least some time doing other things, else they would end up like those factory workers in Modern Times, the ones who stop chasing the little tramp and get back to work every time he turns the conveyor belt back on. Drudgery doesn’t make good librarians.

The difference between these librarians and some of us more kept-up librarians isn’t that some of us work like we’re in a library sweatshop and others of us just goof off playing around with social software or something. It’s a difference of priorities. Some people like online shopping or gossiping. I like playing around with new stuff, so that’s one way I break up my work day to keep myself sane. I even do it at home, because I enjoy it. Along with other things, this explains why, for me at least, “work” is no longer identified with a single location.

Also, I suspect it’s sometimes a matter of definition concerning what is library work and what isn’t, which is why the rationale has to be there. I could learn how to to do something new that might benefit library users or make office communication more efficient, or I could do something that seems more “library-like,” especially as libraries were in time past.

It could be a matter of definition, but ultimately I think it’s more a matter of temperament than anything else. A lot of librarians just don’t enjoy learning new things, especially techie things. Perhaps learning is just too slow and painful, and keeping up with the bare minimum seems too much of an effort. Eventually, there won’t be librarians like this, because I don’t see how many people uncomfortable with change could enter the profession these days. But for the time being, we need to persuade people that some changes benefit them and their libraries, and then we won’t have to worry about making time to learn new things. People make time for what they enjoy and what they think important.

2 thoughts on “Making Time

  1. Nice post. I agree. 15 minutes a day is nothing like what I spend finding out about this stuff.
    I think that you are right that people should just get over their resistance to learning new things, accept the fact that this is a profession full of constant change for which technical skills are essential…however it is the last thing I would say to a room full of staff already destabilised by the pressure of change.
    I see the 15 minutes as day as a “gateway drug”. If people set aside just this much, they may find that as they play, their priorities change.
    To me it’s already fun, I need no incentive or reason to set aside time to find out about the new tools of our trade. It’s not the same for a large number of librarians and this is a way to ease the way.
    If 15 minutes a day is advocated by management, it is a way of giving permission to staff to change their priorities, while not totally alienating those who do not yet see the need.

  2. I totally agree with your post. Learning in our profession should be lifelong, and not confined to the 9-5 routine (or as you put it very nicely “work is no longer confined to a single location”).
    It’s fine for employers to give employees time to play in the tech sandbox (is 15 minutes enough time ??), but ultimately, life long learning is our own individual responsibility.

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