When it comes to storing grain or missiles silos are good places to use. On the other hand as librarians and various other flavours of information professionals, silos are places that it’s all too easy to end up in, buried happily alongside the other librarian grains of corn, awaiting the day when the farmer finds the right job for you. Blissful that the farm noises outside aren’t something that directly impact on your working life.

Ok, I’m straining the metaphor a bit, but most librarians it seems are comfortable in their own librarian silos.

Years ago, when trapped in a pretty awful job in a pretty uninspiring work landscape, I referred to being ghettoised from the rest of the library, heck the rest of the university, by a management culture that discouraged unauthorised communication. I’d love to say that libraries aren’t still like that, but I’d be lying – there remains in my experience a strong dissuasion from communicating latterly. The difference is today there are many more tools that enable the discovery, communication and engagement with a broader culture. As I posted last time, for me that route is twitter; but for others it could well be any of umpteen web2 technologies.

But as librarians we’re still in silos. ‘How so?’ you may well ask, ‘When as fully enabled web2 savvy librarians we’re engaging in networks left right and centre across the net.

The answer is simple. We might well communicate within networks broader than LIS, we might (if we’re lucky) even socialise with them. But, hand on heart – when was the last time you went to a professional conference or external workshop not primarily targeted at LIS? I’ll put my hand half in the air, since I’m, writing this coming back from a conference on the REF attended by librarians, academics and administrators in HE. Good start, but if you read the blurb for the day it was specifically targeted at ‘those people who work with information in HE such as librarians…’, so I’d be guilty of misleading you dear reader if I claimed to be breaking the mould.

Actually I did recently attend a conference (in house mind you) aimed at teaching academics in the sciences. I did this last year, and it was where I made potentially the two most powerful professional connections that would shape my working life for the next year. And I was totally out of my comfort zone.

Then again, when some of the academics I was talking with at this conference realised I was a librarian, they went outside their comfort zones as well – a librarian with an interest in teaching? How remarkable. A librarian with an interest in teaching, science and research? Good heavens, they fair had an attack of the vapours.

What, in a somewhat characteristically long wined way, I’m trying to get across is take a look at your personal development plan or appraisal documentation again. Is it all inwardly focussed towards your service or at best the library world only?

Then. Tear. it. up.

Innovation can come from within, but inspiration, collaboration and real personal development has to come from without as well. And if your stuck at the bottom of the silo, sill covered in grain – it’s high time you opened the side dawn and explored the rest of the farm. You never know just where it might lead.

Stay in the silo, and all that will happen is that one day you’ll be ground down and shaped into what someone else wants you to be.


3 thoughts on “Silos

  1. By engaging with other professionals, disciplines and discourses we can develop and understand our strengths and what makes us distinctive, as well as areas where our claim to leadership can be weaker.

    For example, we now have student learning devlopment in the department. Think librarians are the best at one-to-one work with students, researchers because of the reference interview? Not entirely. These colleagues are able to work with learners often in very emotional states, providing support without directing, and applying strong professional values and ethics to their practice. They can be more comfortable with the ‘thus far and no further’ setting of boundaries, but on the other hand a subject librarian knows subjects or departments sometimes from the inside, so can be a more engaged advisor.

    And, we shouldn’t underestimate the value placed on librarians by colleagues. We don’t need to scuttle into our silos and moan about people not caring or understanding because they can, do and will. Just go out there.


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