Having experienced numerous career changes in my lifetime and mid-life exposure to higher education, I am in my third semester in Library School at the age of 47. Each semester, my distance learning program places us with a new team of students, designating a team leader on our behalf. I was designated team leader my first semester in. I was scared but up to the challenge.
I tapped into my formal corporate office environment experience and followed protocol to a T. When the team discussed how we would communicate, I was absolutely resistant to any talk of using text for formal communication. My 47-year-old mind couldn’t imagine having ever texted with bosses of my past. I felt it was completely unprofessional, never mind the logistics of keeping up with the conversation on a particular subject – having to scroll up and down. I flat out refused. We used our school’s Gmail or our Moodle Community Forum. Our team fared well and I was thankful for the leadership experience.
The onset of our second semester had me concerned that the next leader would embrace their turn at the leadership role, yet I was looking forward to team membership without being concerned about leadership. And, I was craving the intellectual stimulation of a new group of like-minded library school grad students. My approach was business serious.
So when my second semester team was forming and we were discussing modes of communication, of course I recommended the properly subject-threaded email system. “Oh no!” was the hearty reply I received. Two of my four-member team had been on a team together the previous semester and they had approached team environments far differently than my team had. I was joyfully informed that they do things very laid back and that group text was the preferred mode of communication. They enthusiastically exclaimed that they were open to texts any time day or night and please feel free to reach out.
I gasped. I slumped in my chair. I took a deep breath. I had flashes of images in my mind of utter team chaos and me chucking my phone against a wall.
I kindly told them, “But I just made a New Year’s Resolution to text almost never and to call as much as possible. You know…for deeper human connection?” They understood yet they persisted. I listened to them. I didn’t want to hear them. But I listened to them. Thinking to myself that I didn’t want them to perceive me as the old “You get off my lawn!” lady that I tend to be from time to time, I told them that I would give it a try and that I would let them know if it wasn’t working for me. My team was encouraging and promised not to abuse the mode.
Flashback. We had a rotary dial telephone throughout my 1970s childhood. My dad installed an extra-long spiral cord for maximum distance when stretching that wire from the dining room to the living room, or the other direction to the kitchen. Touchtone phones came much later and were not an option my dad was willing to consider on our small family farm. We were progressive though as we had a second phone in the barn. We were ahead of our time.
Cordless telephones were all the rage in my 20s, and I invested wisely so I could continue to chat on my way to the laundry room in my apartment complex. I got my first DOS-based home computer at about that same time.
While those technological advancements would be considered rapid for their era, they pale in comparison to the speed at which smart phone devices have evolved in just the past 10 years. And, apparently, business environments have evolved right along with them.
My new team commenced group texting right away. As it started, I grumbled to myself yet felt compelled to participate. There were moments where an email would have been better for keeping team deliverables clear and organized, yet the speed at which we were able to ask questions and get answers couldn’t be beaten. Soon, we were using emoticons to high five one another for a high score on a group project or for a worthy contribution during an in-class discussion. We celebrated the high points and we complained about the annoyances while we hashed out new library business perspectives.
Then came the collaboration over things that weren’t necessarily Library School related.
“How do I get this squirrel out of my house that my dog brought in?”
“Are you having a power outage too because of this thunder?”
“My husband just brought me dinner so I can finish this paper.”
“Did you see on Facebook that our classmate just had her baby? So cute!”
“Did your financial aid come through yet?”
We were bonding. And through this bonding, we were communicating more, not just about LIS matters but also about personal things.
I was enticed via text to take a leadership role in our library school program’s student chapter of the ALA. I reluctantly agreed and a new group text was formed with the student chapter ALA leadership. Here was a new conversation with new leadership mates. New bonds were forming while group tasks were being swiftly checked off the list.
And then it occurred to me. We were constantly debating in our class discussions about ways in which libraries could be more connected to their patrons. We were also constantly analyzing ways in which to better lead library teams. And it rang true to me that group text was one of the best things that had yet happened to me since my foray into library school. Why couldn’t it also serve me as a library professional, post-graduation? Of course it could!
Through group text, my team was moving a quick and efficient pace while at the same time becoming more bonded with each character typed. New friendships were formed through text which manifested into volunteer and internship possibilities. By the end of the semester came, “I’m worried about my next team. I hope you all are on it. I can’t imagine library school without you on my team.” And the responsive, “I can’t wait to walk with you when we all graduate next spring.”
Similar to our library school team texting experience, why couldn’t librarians also text their way into the hearts of their patrons? Why couldn’t library leaders text with their library staff teams for specific projects? Who says we must stay stuck in any official modes of communication if we are organically moving into a new technological space? I mean, my dentist confirms my appointments via text. Political campaigns are texting for confirmation of your support and reminding you when to vote and where and if you are registered to do so. Library leaders and library staff ought to be able to do the same.
Texting with my library school teammates has made me less serious in my business approaches. I’m more bonded with my cohort and my LIS program. Librarians could use text to bond with their teams and patrons while also taking an efficient approach to strategic library goals. With everyone bonded and feeling more valued, everyone wins, including library stakeholders.
Even in group text settings, the conversation can feel very personal, very one-on-one. Wouldn’t you like a personal textual relationship with your local librarian? I would! Because, well…deeper human connection, right?
Dione is a graduate candidate in the MMLIS at USC’s Marshall School of Business. She also volunteers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Research Library as she works her way through her library program. “What I am not is complacent. I am passionate about this life experience. I strive to make a difference, leave a legacy and set a higher standard.”
Image credit, “Texting” by babytomtom Flickr