This is the fourth post in the bloggERS Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority series.
As part of our “Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority” series, the bloggERS team asked five current or recent MLIS/MSIS students to reflect on how they have learned the technology skills necessary to tackle their careers after school. In this post, Anna Speth and Jane Kelly reflect thoughtfully on adapting their mindsets to embrace new challenges and learn from failure.
Anna Speth, 2017 graduate, Simmons College
I am about to celebrate a year in my first full-time position, Librarian for Emerging Technology and Digital Projects at Pepperdine University. In this role I work on digital initiatives, often in tandem with the archive, and direct our emerging technology makerspace. By choosing to center my graduate career on digital archiving, I felt well prepared for the digital initiatives piece. However, running the makerspace has been a whirlwind of grappling with the world of emerging tech. My best piece of advice (which we’ve all heard a million times) is to maintain a “learner mindset.” I’m a traditional learner who has mastered the lecture-memorize-regurgitate academic system. This approach doesn’t do much when it comes to hands-on tech. I am faced with 3D printers, VR systems, arduinos, ozobots, CONTENTdm, and more with minimal instruction. I watch tutorials, but these rarely offer a path to in-depth understanding. Instead, I’ve had to overcome the mindset that I’m not a tech person and will make something worse by messing with it. If the 3D printer doesn’t work, you certainly aren’t going to make it worse by taking it apart and trying to put it back together. If you don’t know how to reorder a multipage object on the backend of CONTENTdm, create a hidden sandbox collection and start experimenting. Remember that the internet – Google, user forums, Reddit, company reps – is your friend. Also remember (and I tell this to kids in the makerspace just as often as I tell it to myself) that failure is your friend. If you mess something up, then all you’ve done is learn more about how the system works by learning how it doesn’t work. Iteration and perseverance are key. And, as this traditional learner has realized, a whole lot of fun!
Jane Kelly, 2018 grad, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Developing new tech skills has, at least for me, been a process of learning to fail. The intensive Introduction to Computer Science course I took several years ago was supposed to be fun – a benefit of being able to take college courses for almost nothing as a staff member on campus. It might have been fun for the first three weeks of the semester, but that was followed by a lot of agonizing, handwringing, and tears.
I now reflect on my time in that course as an intensive introduction to failure. This shift in mentality – learning how to fail, and how to accept it – has been key for me in being open to developing my tech skills on the job. I don’t worry so much about messing up, not knowing the answer, or the possibility of breaking my computer.
As a humanities student, it simply was never acceptable to me to turn in an assignment incomplete or “wrong.” In that computer science class, and in the information processing course I took at the iSchool at the University of Illinois a couple years later, an incomplete assignment could be a stellar attempt, proof of lessons learned, and an indication of where help is required. The rubric for good work is different for a computer science problem set than a history paper. It has been a valuable lesson to revisit as I try to develop my skills independently and in the workplace.
I have acquired and maintained my tech skills through a combination of computer science coursework before and during library school, an in-person SAA pre-conference sessions that my employer paid for, and, of course, the internet. Apps like Learn to Code with Python or free online courses can be an introduction to a programming language or a quick refresher since I inevitably forget much of what I learn in class before I can put it to work at a job. Google and Stack Exchange are lifesavers, both because I can often find the answer to my question about the mysterious error code I see in the terminal window and reassure myself that I’m not the first person to pose the question.
More than anything, my openness to what I once thought of as failure has been pivotal to my development. It can take a long time to learn and understand exactly what is going on under the hood with some new software or process, but that’s okay. Sometimes a fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality is exactly what’s needed to push yourself to tackle a new challenge. For me, learning tech skills is learning to be okay with failure as a learning process.
Anna Speth is the Librarian for Emerging Technology and Digital Projects at Pepperdine’s Payson Library where she co-directs a makerspace and works with digital initiatives. Anna focuses on the point of connection between technology and history. She holds a BA from Duke University and a MLIS from Simmons College.
Jane Kelly is the Web Archiving Assistant for the #metoo Digital Media Collection at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America and a 2018 graduate of the iSchool at the University of Illinois. Her interests lie at the intersection of digital archives and the people who use them.