Monday, 14 September 2015

First 24 hours in Berlin...

First impressions...

1. Every time I see the word wilkommen, this tune pops into my head...

2. Bicycles!! It's lovely to be in a place where lots of people cycle around town.
3. Even on Sunday morning, people dress up to go out to brunch. Every other person is a young tattooed hipster or possibly an ageing rockstar.
4. Bottleshops. People buy 500ml bottles of beer, open it at the counter (there's an opener handy) and then drink in the streets / on the trains. In fact, you can buy a beer on the train platform, and drink it on the spot.
5. Speaking of public transport - it's a little rusty around edges, but it's so easy to get about town! Plus on Saturday night it runs until 3am!
6. Variety of food! So many options again! My breakfast consisted of a green juice and multigrain toast with cream cheese and avocado. So good. And I had Vietnamese for dinner. It was pretty good. There's also a ramen place in town I need to find! Oh, and McDonalds has a quinoa vegie burger...
8. Literary events. I attended a few of the sessions for Graphic Novels - definitely want to check out more of Joann Sfar and Riad Sattouf's stuff, if I can find it in English. Then this evening, I attended a passionate and inspiring panel discussion on the state of feminism, with guests Mona Eltawahy, Laurie Penny and Josephine Deckard, who certainly didn't hold back, and with hundreds of people in the audience, the energy was electric - I walked out of the auditorium ready to do my part in destroying the patriarchy. And it was so refreshing to be at an event like this again - I feel like some parts of my brain have been left dormant since I left Australia, and it's moments like these that remind me of the things that I forget are still important.

Anyway, it's time to sleep, finally. More adventures await tomorrow...

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Libraries as places for Coaches, Creators and Challengers.

So, yesterday I attended the second day of the Listening Skills workshop, facilitated by Barry Goldberg (I made a point of listening and remembering his name this time!).

It was more an extension of the ideas that were introduced on the first day, but there was one particular take-home message that struck a chord.

Whilst we were role-playing some exercises in talking and active listening, Goldberg observed that a number of us (including me) were following a common pattern. That is, that we were setting up relationships where we saw ourselves as either the persecuter, rescuer or victim.

He attributed this to Karpman's Drama Triangle, which identifies the three roles that we often play, in situations where there is a problem present, and how they relate to one another.
Attribution: Steven B. Karpman, M.D.
The main problem with this model is that the victim completely without agency, and is reliant on the rescuer to deliver them from the predicament, at the hands of the persecutor. However, without a victim, there can be no persecutor or rescuer. It focuses on the problem, rather than the solution.

Goldberg suggested that we take this model, and turn it around, according to David Emerald's "Empowerment Dynamic":
Here, the victim is now empowered to create their own solutions, where the focus is not on being rescued by somebody who has the solutions, but by being coached by somebody who can provide support. Similarly, the role of the perpetrator is now that of the challenger, who forces the creator to clarify their goals.

So, what does this have to do with librarians? As with my previous post, I would point out that traditionally, librarians have been the go-to person to seek out and deliver information, where they were the gatekeepers of knowledge, and the client was reliant of them for the solution, in a time where information was scarce. However, in this information age, there is far less need for librarians being information providers (rescuers) to powerless clients (victims), because they have access to a plethora of online content. Instead, we need to see ourselves as information coaches, who can support and empower our clients with the ability to create their own successful information-seeking strategies as the basis for developing their knowledge, and contend with those who would challenge them to clarify and articulate their outcomes.

Not only does this help empower those who have information needs, but it also manages an awareness of the roles that librarians still need to play in the community, where their perceived need would be otherwise redundant.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

On listening and providing the right answers...

All my life, I've been primarily involved in helping people by listening to them and finding the right answers and solutions.

In the context of working in libraries, this is obvious - people come to the consult me with their information needs. I listen to them, asking questions to clarify their needs, and then proceed to identify a number of resources to meet their needs.

Similarly, in development work, I've participated in capacity building of organisations, by asking questions to ascertain what it is that they want to achieve, listening to their answers, identifying skills and knowledge that they should develop to meet these needs, and then share my own relevant skills and knowledge, guiding them through training and establishing new procedures, infrastructure and knowledge products.

In both of these examples, my role is set up as an expert, who clients consult to find solutions. More often than not, their expectation is that I will deliver the solution to them. And whilst it is far more sustainable for me to teach them to do it themselves, sometimes the timeframe is too short, sometimes they just aren't willing to learn, and of course, there are many other intervening factors, least of all being that deep down, I just want to help people and use my specialist skills and knowledge to make a difference, one way or another.

But after attending a training workshop today, I'm starting to question whether this is a good thing.

The workshop was on developing my listening skills. There was a lot of theory and psychology involved, mostly related to bonding patterns, and then there were videos like this one:

When I watched this video, I was totally with the guy - wanting to help the girl by offering a solution, since she was talking to him about her problem. However, as the training continued, it became clear that one key point about being a good listener is that we should not be taking on other people's problems and trying to fix them, but rather exercise empathy, and provide opportunities for the our clients to reflect on what it is that they are saying, and find their own solutions.

Furthermore, it's misleading to believe that there is a "right answer" to every problem, and it's unreasonable for somebody to expect me to deliver that answer for them. To quote the trainer, "There are no right answers - there are just choices that people make." When people thrust their problems onto us, we need to deflect them back onto the complainant, not asking "why" (thus forcing them justify their view) but "what" and "how" (i.e. describing the situation), empathising with them, and allowing them to reflect and make their own decisions.

In the context of being a librarian, I should listen to the client, and advise them on their options in order for them to make their own informed choice. Similarly, in development, I should help clients develop their skills and knowledge, but ultimately they need to use these new tools to make their own choices in implementing them.

I'm still not sure that I agree 100% with this attitude. Asking other people to tackle the hard problems for us and help find the "right answer" is something that's so embedded in our lives, whether it's done by our teachers, professionals, government, work colleagues, partners, etc that it's hard to remove those expectations from our everyday consultations and conversations. We defer to the judgement of experts and mentors because we believe them to have a better perspective, where ours might be lacking. And ultimately, when forcing people to make their own decisions, one of those decisions is for them to quit or withdraw, saying, "It's too hard. I can't do it" or "I don't have time". That's a lose-lose situation.

Then again, maybe I just need to get over myself, stop trying to help people, and support them in helping themselves.