I was for several years quite uncomfortable with the idea of reflective practice when that meant turning the spotlight on myself (to a quite considerable degree this is still the case, but I’m getting better at it). Years of reading fairytales (stepmothers) and mythology (Narcissus and the Lady of Shalott) had clarified all the dangers of contemplating one’s own image – looking back at CPD Thing 3 (Considering your personal brand), such feelings may have contributed to my unease re: looking closely at how I represent myself; it may not only have been my distaste for the term “brand”. I am becoming more comfortable with such exercises now, and so I think I can safely conclude that my work with my reflections will have a happy ending, for, unlike its fairytale and mythological antecedents, it doesn’t have a body count.
As I’ve worked through CPD 23, I have occasionally mentioned the origins of my blog, set up as I prepared for a research trip to Canada. Each blog entry written in advance of and during the trip will form the basis of a report to be submitted to the John Campbell Trust. The Trust emphasises the importance of successful applicants using reflective practice to report on their travels – “On return, the Award winner should disseminate to the profession the information or understanding gained from the programme. A report should be submitted to the Trust, but this should be combined with an article in the professional press or other form of dissemination. The Trust is planning to put future reports from Award winners onto the Trust’s website, as an additional form of dissemination”. Thus Thing 5 is good preparation for producing these reports and articles, in both the writing and the editing processes.
Like many of my fellow CPD 23-ers, I’m working towards Chartered Librarian status, and a successful portfolio depends upon good reflective skills, and good reflective writing skills. Having looked at the Librarians on the Loose blog set up by two librarians working towards Chartership, I wish I had started my own blog when I first registered for Chartership. As it is, I have a drawerful of notebooks and a virtual folder full of Word documents which contain my reflections on all Chartership-related activities. It is obvious that organising these into a coherent portfolio will be more complicated than working from a single primary source such as a blog, but I am confident that my ongoing examination of my organisational skills through CPD23 will make that process simpler than it would have been previously.
Reading back over the above paragraphs, I may have given my dear readers the impression that my reflective practice is a wholly extra-curricular activity, but this is not so. It is very much part of my librarian role, and without it I would not be able to develop the service that my library provides. For example, after a few months of studying how the students worked with the library’s resources and spaces (physical and electronic), it became obvious to me that we had to offer more user education training. I had been taking notes on my observations and used these to gradually develop a year-round programme of library and research skills. We begin the academic year with a Powerpoint-based induction, delivered to all MA students, in a lecture theatre. Within the next two weeks, I follow this up with small group visits to the library, tailored to the different courses, and this is accompanied by a classroom-based practical seminar on the use of our e-resources, again done according to courses; other training sessions – for groups and for individuals – follow throughout the academic year. I have been careful to apply reflective practice from the beginning of my work in this area. After each of these visits and seminars, I make notes on questions asked, reactions to the presentation and resources, and attempt to honestly evaluate my own knowledge and skills, and my presentation/interaction styles. Each time I do this exercise, I always find changes worth making to further improve our user education scheme. I repeat this process at every stage of our user education programme throughout the year, from induction to dissertation submission, and it is making a very real and practical difference to the quality of my work and the quality of my library’s service, and my confidence in both. In real terms, we have seen a considerable increase in the number of students using the library compared to the previous year (sometimes a 100% rise, sometimes even more than that!), and the library and its staff have a much higher profile than before.
I am planning to look in more detail at the further reading suggested in the Evil Geniuses’ Official Introduction to Thing 5. I’m sure that I won’t be the only person who noticed that various models of reflective practice cited in this introduction all work in three stages, to keep the process simple. Yet there are – of course – other models which use four steps or six steps, both of which are discussed in a Februrary 2011 entry at the blog Thoughts on learning processes and other musings.
So what lies in my future as regards reflective practice? It starts with looking back. I’m on a career break at present, with some research papers and journal articles to be written and submitted. To write these, starting with my report on my Canadian research trip, I need to read and evaluate my notes and drafts to produce the final versions. Once all such papers have been completed, I plan to study the further reading suggested for CPD Thing 5, to help me get back to working on my Chartership portfolio and to learn how to use my reflective practice skills to better effect in the workplace. Through looking back and evaluating what has gone before, I will move forward. In work, in writing, in life.
Reading the various discussions of reflective practice reminded me of the ideas behind mindfulness. Both are about paying attention, evaluating situations and experiences, thoughts and feelings, learning from them and putting those lessons into practice in the future. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present, which makes me wonder how much more effective a reference interview a librarian could have with a researcher simply by paying more attention. Would this increased level of attention then allow for a fuller evaluation when later reflecting upon this event? I am only starting to consider the potential for using such practices together, but already an initial Google search (“mindful librarianship”) brought up some interesting possiblities, for example the work being done in this area at Western Connecticut State University Libraries. One of their librarians, Jenny Innes (Public Services) even successfully submitted a poster on the subject to CILIP’s annual conference last year. As with reflective practice, however, the problem is finding the time to properly apply mindfulness techniques to one’s work. Despite that, I believe that making the time available to use such strategies and techniques will make me a better librarian, and, accordingly, will make the library in which I work a more productive research and study environment.