Information Professionals as Change Agents
How do information professionals act as change agents within an organization? How do I, as a new information professional, plan to serve as a change agent? To answer these questions, I must first define what a “change agent” is, then address the trends and resultant shifts in the information profession.
What is a Change Agent?
According to Grimsley (2015), a change agent is “a person from inside or outside the organization who helps an organization transform itself by focusing on such matters as organizational effectiveness, improvement, and development.” He adds that an effective change agent must be competent in at least four areas: broad knowledge, operational and relational knowledge, sensitivity and maturity, and authenticity.
Change agents with broad knowledge do not make change armed only with knowledge of their industry, but also other disciplines. In other words, effective change agents are multidisciplinary and possess knowledge of more general concepts, including the ability to evaluate and diagnose organizational issues, as well as the methods and organizational ethics needed to drive change.
One interdisciplinary knowledge set is that of what Grimsley (2015) calls “operational and relational knowledge,” which includes the ability to observe and form relationships with others. Forming relationships involves listening to people; developing trust; identifying their strengths, weaknesses, and issues within an organization, and reporting findings, such as ethical violations. Change agents must be adaptive and capable of handling different kinds of relationships with behaviors with organizational members at once.
Change agents must also be sensitive to the needs and concerns of others, as well as capable of handling them in a mature way. Furthermore, a change agent is incapable of making a difference in an organization (or using change as a mechanism to drive results) without being sensitive to its motivations and behaviors.
Finally, a change agent must be authentic. In other words, effective change agents “practice what they preach,” and demonstrate the values they espouse. Information professionals can reveal their authenticity in many ways. They can communicate with others openly, and not withhold useful information. They can collaborate and network with others, without trying to do everything on their own or dictating how others should work. An individual’s overall attitude (enthusiastic, not obnoxious) also reveals authenticity, as does their approach to problems (tackling them proactively, not reactively; and by troubleshooting, not by whining) (A. Almquist & S. Almquist, 2016).
Trends and Changes in the Information Profession
The information profession is inherently interdisciplinary. Information professionals need to stay on top of the latest trends and changes in many areas outside of information science, including technology, education, data science and management, business administration, and more. Information professionals that stay on top of interdisciplinary trends are better positioned to assess the efficacy of existing practices within an organization. Information professionals are well-suited to determine the necessary internal changes, thanks to their access to a wealth of literature that likely covers similar organizations with similar issues, what methodology they have used, and what their results were. When an organization seeks to make internal changes, the acting change agent must be capable of sourcing information from a variety of places, as well as possessing a range of personal resources and skills. Information professionals tend to be interdisciplinary thanks to their awareness of resources applicable to numerous fields, including databases, websites, periodicals, books, and other tools.
Information professionals that possess management or leadership skills are even better positioned to serve as change agents thanks to their interdisciplinary skill set. Such individuals can “encourage and empower individuals by listening to their ideas and soliciting solutions” (A. Almquist & S. Almquist, 2016, p. 61), act as mentors, form teams, assume risk, provide resources, and support employees.
Finally, people regard information professionals as trustworthy and reliable sources of information. Librarians and other information professionals do not benefit from biasing the information they provide. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that information professionals make great agents of change, and have served as “innovators,” “social entrepreneurs,” and “intrapreneurs” for years.
Why Information Professionals are Change Agents
The history of the information profession is full of change agents. Almquist and Almquist (2016) name Henriette Avram, pioneer of the MARC record, as one example. Others include modern language professor and librarian Charles Coffin Jewett, who developed “a catalog of library books and pamphlets [organized] alphabetically by author” (A. Almquist & S. Almquist, 2016, p. 8). Another is Charles Ammi Cutter, whose “Cutter Expansive Cataloging” system paved the way for organizational cataloging systems still in use today, such as the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system developed by Melvil Dewey (A. Almquist & S. Almquist, 2016). Why did they undertake these expansive projects, the effects of which we still feel today? Simply put, information professionals like Avram, Cutter, and Dewey acted as “entrepreneurs,” but with a focus on benefiting those in their work environment: other librarians. Almquist and Almquist call this “intrapreneurship,” using the term coined by American entrepreneur Gifford Pinchot. When librarians and other information professionals undertake entrepreneurial activities, they tend to be similar to social entrepreneurs, who Almquist and Almquist say “focus on societal change rather than personal or organizational profit” (p. 13).
My Role as a Change Agent
In trying to envision a short way to describe what it is I want to do, I came up with the phrase “Create, Connect, Inspire.” As a new information professional, I want to contribute to creating useful resources for people, whether they are in the form of finding aids, portals that link patrons to collections, or designing instructional units to improve information literacy. Creating such content only serves people if they are connected to it somehow –if they know about it– and if the information meets a designated need. By creating content that fills a gap or addresses an existing need, I can challenge myself, utilize my technology skills, and serve others.
I do not need to be assigned the role of “change agent.” Rather, I can be a change agent on my own, by seeking out opportunities to network with others, volunteering for projects, and getting excited about new initiatives. During my internship at the Peter J. Shields Library working with the University Archivist, I have encountered several opportunities where I can act as an agent of change. As one example, I helped inventory some of the items in a new University Writing Program (UWP) collection. The UWP’s internal library already included some of the materials, but the research librarian that brought the items to the Archivist’s attention thought that some of the items might prove useful to students if they were made available online through a special “portal” website. Spearheading a project involving the digitization of certain physical materials and getting them on a website that meets the student patrons where they are apt to seek information is one way I could act as an agent of change at the UC Davis Library.
Not every position in an academic library deals directly with patrons, whether those patrons are students, staff, or faculty members. However, academic library staff can still have an impact on their work environment by acting as change agents in their department, for projects they work on, or by volunteering for library initiatives. One way that I could do this in any academic library is by pushing library collections to meet patrons where they are: online, with more digital items. My personal interests are interdisciplinary; I am continually excited by the prospect of learning new things, and I tackle new projects with relish. Given the opportunity to take something (like a collection that doesn’t get much use, or new strategic data initiatives) and find beneficial uses for others, I can and will do it: I’m creative that way.
Whether I end up in an academic library or another library environment, I will be an agent of change there. I am passionate about the intersection of information science and technology, and I embrace ambiguity and change because, as Almquist and Almquist (2016) say, I “want to create something better: a product, a service, a social condition” (p. 41). When embarking upon a new career path, it’s not enough to have a passing interest in the building blocks of that profession. Librarians have to demonstrate care, if not passion, for things like information accessibility and literacy, transparency, privacy, and other fundamental aspects of librarianship. As a change agent, I will combine both the breadth of knowledge acquired through the University of Southern California’s Master of Management in Library and Information Science program with my interdisciplinary knowledge in areas like UX design, communication, graphic design, and marketing. I will seek to build relationships with others in a variety of different parts of my workplace, whether they are my peers or supervisors. I will demonstrate sensitivity and maturity with regards to ambiguity, a constant factor in modern librarianship.
Finally, I will always be my authentic, enthusiastic self, driving change by sharing information openly, honestly, and with a proactive approach to solving problems big and small.