...demonstrate oral and written communication skills necessary for group work, collaborations and professional level presentations
Meaning and Importance of Competency
Effective communication is an important need in any organization, and libraries are no exception. As librarians and information professionals, not only do we need to be effective in communicating with library users, whom we are there to serve, but we also need to be effective in communicating with colleagues, directors, managers, our own staff, and representatives from partner organizations. In addition, it is likely that we will, at certain points in our professional careers, be called upon to make presentations in meetings or at conferences, to serve on committees or project teams, or to write research reports, blog posts, tweets, or articles for publication. Therefore, it is clear that effectiveness in oral and written communication is a critical skill for librarians and information professionals.
The ways in which people communicate and work together in organizations are changing, particularly in the wake of the rise of Web 2.0 and the social web. In my blog post “The Hyperlinked Library Encourages the Heart” (Scott, 2012, February 12), I discuss a fundamental takeaway from David Weinberger’s chapter “The Hyperlinked Organization” in The Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine, Locke, Searls, & Weinberger, 2000, chapter 5): “As communication and collaboration move online, the ways in which businesses and libraries interact with their customers, and the ways in which employees within the organization interact with one another, change” (Scott, 2012, February 12). As our organizations grow and change in relation to society and new technology, effective communication in a variety of settings becomes even more important.
In addition to oral and written communication, there are other types of communication that we should strive for effectiveness in. These include non-verbal and electronic communication. Non-verbal communication consists of the messages that we send out with our bodies rather than with words. Much is communicated through facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture, and it is helpful to be mindful of what our body language says in different situations and in settings that include both the public reference desk and the staff work area.
Electronic communication can encompass oral, written, and non-verbal communication, but it presents some unique challenges and opportunities. For example, electronic communications such as chat reference transactions in a public or academic library lack non-verbal cues such as facial expression and tone of voice that are present in face-to-face exchanges. However, the use of emoticons in these types of conversations can convey emotional cues in the absence of visual body language and help to ensure that messages are understood. Electronic media also offer opportunities for new and unique forms of communication, including social media, blogs, and digital video. The unique challenges and opportunities presented by electronic media suggest the need to consider it as a distinctive form of communication.
Although everyone seems to agree on the importance of effective communication, in reality, we sometimes encounter barriers to it. Since communication involves multiple parties, these barriers can come from one or more of the parties involved, in forms such as emotional resistance or avoidance, or from the environment, in forms such as physical distance between two parties or the library computer network going down. Because everyone encounters communication barriers, it is important also to have knowledge of techniques for breaking down or overcoming barriers. These can include interpersonal techniques such as smiling, making eye contact, and demonstrating empathy or skills such as the ability to communicate in a variety of media and settings.
Preparation and Evidence
To demonstrate my oral and written communication skills necessary for group work, collaborations and professional level presentations, I present evidence from two courses I took in the online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University (SJSU). My first piece of evidence is a class wiki to which I contributed, alongside my classmates, for LIBR 210, Reference and Information Services. My second piece of evidence is a recording of a team meeting I participated in via Elluminate as part of a group project for LIBR 266, Collection Management.
First Piece of Evidence: Class Wiki, LIBR 210
In Spring 2011, I took the course “Reference and Information Services” with Dr. Michelle Holschuh Simmons. As part of each of the two practice reference questions assignments, Dr. Simmons assigned students to contribute to a class wiki, which was set up as a Google Doc. The wiki included a list of reference works, both print and online, that could be used to answer the practice questions. As part of the assignments, students were instructed to select from the list two reference works to annotate. For one of the works, we were the primary author, and for the other, the secondary. As primary author, our role was to give a brief annotation about the work, including a) a full citation, b) an explanation of the purpose and content, c) an explanation of unique features, d) an explanation of the organization of the text, and e) one question, with answer, that could be answered by using the work being annotated (Simmons, 2011). As secondary author, our role was to add to the primary author’s annotation any additional information that we gathered for letters a through d above as well as our own question that could be answered using the source. Students were instructed to make our annotations “interesting,” “helpful to everyone in the class…[and] enjoyable to read” (Simmons, 2011).
For the Practice Questions #2 assignment in LIBR 210, I did my primary annotation (p. 8) on Paul Dickson’s Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms (2006) and my secondary annotation (p. 9) on the third edition of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996). My annotations are included in the Practice Questions #2 class wiki, a resource that represents a collaborative effort between a group of MLIS students, which I am submitting here as evidence of my written communication skills necessary for group work, collaborations and professional level presentations.
My primary annotation of Paul Dickson’s Slang (2006) includes all of the elements Dr. Simmons specified should be included. I open my annotation with a full citation in APA style. I go on to describe the book’s purpose and content, unique features, and organization. I conclude with a question I formulated that can be answered using the book. My secondary annotation of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996), while shorter, includes the elements specified in Dr. Simmons’ assignment. My annotations, written clearly and grammatically and with proper spelling, punctuation, and citations, demonstrate effective communication skills. Once each student had contributed his or her annotations to the wiki, we were all able to draw on our collective contributions in completing our practice questions assignments. Because this writing was done in the spirit of collaboration and for the purpose of contributing to a useful resource for budding professionals, it demonstrates my competency in this area.
Second Piece of Evidence: Team Meeting, LIBR 266
In Spring 2011, I took the course “Collection Management” with Wayne Disher. One of the major assignments of the course was a two-part team project which aimed to give students experience working in groups, challenging us “to reach consensus and work together to present recommendations regarding the library’s collection and to think critically and strategically about the roles and responsibility of collection management in libraries” (Disher, 2011). Students were placed in groups of four to five students; my group had five. Part 1 of the assignment consisted of a visualized critique of each student’s library of choice. We were instructed, as individuals, to visit a library and take photographs of areas where the collection could be perceived as “failing in a certain mission” (Disher, 2011). We were instructed to “think big,” recommending solutions to underlying problems (such as way-finding or signage) rather than to specific instances of problems (such as a particular sign). Each student was to produce ten improvement recommendations for the collections and collection management of that library with the intent that “if library management implemented [our] recommendation, there would be a significant improvement to the collection” (Disher, 2011).
The objective of Part 2 of the assignment was group consensus and work synthesis. Each student was instructed to present her recommendations to her group members and to work with the rest of the group as a team in discussing and deciding on the top ten most critical improvement recommendations from among those proposed by all group members. The ten recommendations could be from any combination of libraries that group members visited. The assignment’s emphasis here was on working as a team to come to a consensus. We were to then work together to prepare and present a presentation to a fictitious “megamillionaire” (played by our course instructor) who would be deciding whether to fund our proposed improvements. Our grade would be based on the number of improvements our instructor deemed critical and therefore worthy of funding (Disher, 2011).
The assignment sheet specified that an important aspect of the project was “to help students learn the benefits of working in teams”; we were encouraged to “work quickly, establish deadlines, and communicate effectively” (Disher, 2011). Initially, my team communicated via a discussion forum in ANGEL and via email. As we worked out the details of our collaboration on the project, we each took on individual responsibilities. At the outset of the assignment, I volunteered to serve as team leader for my group, and the rest of the group agreed to it. As team leader, I focused on facilitating the team effort in establishing and meeting deadlines, communicating effectively, and reaching consensus.
Besides ANGEL and email, my group used a couple of other collaboration tools to do our work. Several of us set up Google Docs that we used to share our individual photos with the rest of the group, and after we each had the opportunity to present our individual work, we also used a Google Doc to collaborate on the initial stages of developing our presentation. As team leader, I set up and facilitated a series of group Elluminate sessions in which we first shared and discussed our individual work, looking critically at each and every recommendation to narrow them down, and distributed responsibilities among group members, and later ran through our individual presentation parts and decided on the details of our final presentation. The process of working as a team on this project demanded that each student communicate effectively, both orally and in writing. For this reason, I am submitting a recording of one of my group’s Elluminate sessions as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
The Elluminate session recording that I submit here as evidence is a recording of my team’s final synchronous meeting before our presentation to our course instructor. In this recording from April 17, 2011, in my role as team leader, I served as the meeting facilitator, so I can be heard speaking throughout. The meeting itself begins at approximately the 13:30 mark. I open the meeting by going over the meeting agenda and focusing on the importance of reaching group consensus on various matters. Each team member takes turns speaking and going over her portion of the presentation, reporting on changes made since the group’s previous meeting. We also raise questions and make decisions about our final presentation. From 51:14 through 1:00:43, I go over my own portion of the presentation.
After everyone in the group has spoken, at approximately the 1:03:39 mark, I open up the meeting for discussion, engaging the group in a conversation about how best to utilize the time remaining before our presentation. We discuss the best method for compiling and unifying all of our individual slides into a single PowerPoint presentation, deciding to submit them to one group member who volunteered to compile them and setting deadlines for getting our work to her and for her to return a draft of the final presentation to the group. We discuss how we will stay in touch and complete the final steps in preparation for our presentation. At approximately the 1:25:00 mark, I do a final review of deliverables and as a group we decide on the order in which we will present. After verifying that there are no final questions or comments, I close and adjourn the meeting.
In the Elluminate recording that I submit here as evidence of my mastery of this competency, which includes both audio and visual elements, my teammates and I used oral and written language to communicate and collaborate on a professional level presentation. My teammates and I agreed that we worked very well together as a group, and I received positive feedback on my leadership of the team. My group received an A on our final presentation, and our instructor gave us some valuable suggestions for strengthening our presentation skills even further while recognizing the good work that we did. This recording therefore demonstrates my oral and written communication skills necessary for group work, collaborations and professional level presentations.
As a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program at SJSU, I have gained valuable experience working and communicating as part of a team. Not only have I participated in several group projects as part of my coursework, but I have served as an officer in both the student group LISSTEN (Library and Information Science Students To Encourage Networking) and SLISConnect, the student and alumni organization that formed after the merger of LISSTEN with the Alumni Association. Because the SJSU SLIS program is completely online, I have often worked on teams with students or alumni who live in other states and even other countries. I have therefore become very comfortable using a variety of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools, including email, wikis, Google Docs, Elluminate (now Collaborate), discussion forums, and instant messaging applications. Furthermore, through my many years of library and customer service experience, I have developed effective oral and written communication in the workplace. I have served on multiple project teams in my past and current roles at The Seattle Public Library, including the Library Innovation Team, of which I am a current member. I recognize that effective communication is one of the most important skills that I can possess as a library professional, and I am committed to growing into an even more effective communicator and team member in the future.
Burchfield, R.W., ed. (1996). The new Fowler’s modern English usage, 3rd edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Dickson, Paul. (2006). Slang: The topical dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Walker & Company.
Disher, W. (2011). Your portfolio—Group project—Unit 5—Visualized critique. Unpublished assignment sheet, San Jose State University.
Levine, R., Locke, C., Searls, D., & Weinberger, D. (2000). The cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
Scott, S. H. (2012, February 12). The hyperlinked library encourages the heart [Web log]. Retrieved from http://community.tametheweb.com/uberblog/2012/02/12/the-hyperlinked-library-encourages-the-heart/.
Simmons, M. H. (2011). Practice questions #2. Unpublished assignment sheet, San Jose State University.