Competency C

Recognize the diversity (such as cultural and economic) in the clientele and employees of an information organization and be familiar with actions the organization should take to address this diversity.

Competency Definition

Information professionals work in organizations that serve diverse populations and are staffed by diverse employees. Conceptually, diversity can be understood in three ways: the level of heterogeneity in the composition of an organization and its clientele, the exploration of various characteristics of specific groups and their needs, and the genuine interest in supporting efforts to increase awareness and inclusion of historically and currently marginalized groups due to exclusion, prejudice, and discrimination (Wong & Figueroa, 2015). These three conceptualizations act together on a regular basis from initiatives started at the institutional level to one-on-one interactions between information professionals and their clients. Diversity then must be an emphasis for practice by all information professionals, especially for those who are in leadership positions. In particular, recognition of diversity in personality and communication styles is necessary in order to begin conversations and action plans that recognize, address, and support diversity in all its forms (cultural, race/ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation, age, religious belief, etc.) among an organization’s employees and the communities that organization serves.

Recognizing diversity of personality is an imperative for information professionals who are called to positions of leadership within their organizations and in their involvement with various projects and initiatives. These leaders need a strong emphatic response across various situations towards the development of their emotional intelligence, especially in relation to addressing and supporting diversity among their subordinates and the communities they serve. A leader with emotional intelligence has abilities of empathic listening, attentiveness, and facilitating honest dialogue about their emotions and the emotions of those that they work with (Martin, 2016). These skills come from self-awareness in working with their strengths and building from their weaknesses. As observed in the earliest leadership-personality literature, extraversion, one of the Big Five personality traits, has been said to be most important quality of a leader. Extraversion allows a person to be perceived by others as a leader and as a person that achieves goals effectively (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002). This conventional notion of the leader represents an individual who is sociable, strong-willed, and active, rallying people together to achieve shared goals.

Yet introverts, who are at the other end of the extraversion continuum, have been called forth to become leaders in their own ways, because they recognize situations that need to be addressed and do so in ways authentic to their personality. Introverted leaders have the capacity to connect with their employees at an individual level, recognizing their own unique communication style and those of their subordinates, and take advantage of their solitude in commitment to purposeful decision making (Cain, 2016). Extraverted leaders may be able to rally non-proactive employees easily towards a goal, but can potentially drown out the ideas and work of proactive employees. Introverted leaders on the other hand, are able to tap into their quieter nature and work with and apply the suggestions of these proactive employees. Extraverted leaders are less likely to listen to the advice of proactive employees, which can lead to lower group performance, while introverted leaders are more likely to listen to those proactive employees, which can lead to higher group performance (Grant, Gino, & Hofmann, 2011). Being a successful leader that respects the diversity of personality then involves this cultivation of self-awareness of one’s extraversion or introversion tendencies alongside other personality factors. Such awareness will lead to greater emotional intelligence and authenticity, towards cultivating a “sense of greater purpose” that will “bring forth the best in people, inspire hope, and encourage a commitment to addressing challenges” (Sawyer, 2015, p. 384).

Yet respect for diversity of personality at an individual level is not enough for the information professional in a leadership position. Diversity work is responsive to the community being served, in seeking to understand that community better and adapt to their changing priorities towards equal access to an organization’s provided services in relation to other user groups (Wong & Figueroa, 2015). In order to respond actively and purposefully to diversity, information professionals in leadership positions must look at the current landscape of the organization and the communities. A formalized way of approaching this task is through the environmental scan (ES).

Organizations conduct ESs to observe, document, and study as many aspects of the environment as possible in order to bring together a meaningful account of trends in an organization’s services, information systems, programs, etc. (Goodman, 2011). ESs proactively identify internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats in response to ongoing change (Koontz, 2015). The purpose of ES is to uncover what is actually happening in an organization, not what researchers and administrators think might be happening (Simons, Ke, & Wallace, 2013). The process combines both quantitative and qualitative methods, such as surveys, focus groups, active observation, and participation, to give meaning and context to quantifiable and observable data. These techniques can inform ES projects, which have implications for strategic planning and decision making for budgets, collections circulation, programming, and other functions (Simons et al., 2013). Relevant information involved in ESs includes sensitive information such as salaries and budgets, as well as making sense of publicly available information of an organization’s services and the programming offered by other similar institutions. ES is best done in ongoing collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, from people within an organization providing the actual services to people external to that organization who can look at the landscape objectively and provide relevant research skillsets and resources (e.g., survey building, interview training; Goodman, 2011, Simons et al., 2013). Cahoy (2010) outlines essential steps in the ES process:

  • identification of needs,

  • analysis of external environment,

  • assessment of the library’s strengths and limitations,

  • evaluation of identified trends, opportunities, and issues based on relevance and impact,

  • communication of results to library stakeholders,

  • decision to apply the collected and analyzed information into the strategic planning process,

  • the continuation to conduct ESs on a regular basis.

Of these points, the first, identifying needs, is arguably the most important in relation to recognizing an organization’s diversity towards tailoring relevant services to support this diversity. It is also important that the ES process does not become a “witch hunt,” a strict evaluation process that punishes employees for their mistakes, but rather an “accurate snapshot” of what is happening in an organization that helps in improving its services and workflows (Moser, Heisel, Jacob, & McNeill, 2011). This initial identification of needs paves the way to providing access and fostering inclusive environments that value diversity, in the form of the unique skills, perspectives, and experiences of an organization’s employees and communities (Wong & Figueroa, 2015).

From my group projects and previous work experience, I see that recognizing and supporting diversity happens at an institutional and individual level, the effects of which can work from both the bottom-up and top-down. At an institutional level, recognizing and supporting diversity involves periodic ESs to develop targeted, relevant services; at an individual level, this involves implementing those services with strong, fluid customer service ethic rooted in emotional intelligence. I explored ES techniques through an ES group project of a small liberal arts college in the Bay Area for INFO 220: Embedded Librarians/Embedded Libraries (a topic of Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines). I also developed my personal brand of customer service in a previous work position as a transcript entry data specialist for the Office of the Registrar (OOTR) at a private arts university in the Bay Area, in building up personal workflows that recognizes and act upon the diversity of my clients.

Discussion of Competency Supporting Evidence

Te_Mills College_FW Olin Library_Environmental Scan (Group Project).docx

In INFO 220: Embedded Librarians/Embedded Libraries, students explore the concept of “embedded librarianship,” which can be seen as the efforts of academic libraries to place librarians and library services at patron points of need, providing services to where patrons are outside of the library. This level of service involves developing expertise in one’s patrons, their information needs, the environment in which they work, and opening communication channels to collaborate with other stakeholders in student success. [For further discussion of embedded librarianship, see Competency I.] In this course, I worked in a team to conduct an ES of the F.W. Olin Library (OL) at Mills College (MC), as a first step towards a hypothetical strategic plan proposal to implement embedded librarian services in one of MC’s academic departments. This ES was tailored to discuss MC’s environment and context, in relation to other similar colleges and how it is currently impacting OL and its current service offerings, towards demonstrating the need for OL librarian integration into a specific academic context.

In this ES, I worked with my group members to uncover information about OL from a variety of sources. We used information posted publicly on OL’s and MC’s webpages, a recent OL annual report, demographic statistics and enrollment data at both the undergraduate and graduate level, focusing in particular on the School of Education’s graduate programs, and news articles about trends in higher education. We were able to obtain OL usage information (e.g., material circulation numbers, gate counts) with the help of our group leader’s connections with people at OL. [For a brief discussion of the group dynamics in this process, see Competency M.] Our observations are summarized in the following statements on OL’s internal strengths and weaknesses that formed our report’s subheadings:

  • OL has collection strengths that support key undergraduate majors.

  • Circulation and usage numbers for books and databases have decreased.

  • Students are increasingly using OL as a space for study and collaboration.

  • OL has a vibrant program in reference and information literacy instruction.

We then discussed these internal factors in relation to more immediate factors external to OL that stemmed from MC as a whole institution and other general trends in higher education, as summarized in the following subheadings:

  • MC has declared a financial crisis in May 2017 and is undergoing restructuring.

  • Increased costs of higher education present a profound threat to higher education as a whole.

  • MC’s graduate schools represent an untapped opportunity for library service.

  • External trends show the increased importance of providing unique, often high-tech spaces to create active learning environments.

  • Diversity in hiring has become key in order to better represent and meet the needs of the student body.

  • There has been a shift in delivering course content and library services from in-person to online.

As we discussed in the ES report, OL is facing many challenges and has opportunities for innovation. OL’s small staff reaches a large number of students with instruction in library research and overall information literacy. Yet OL’s declines in circulation and e-resource use suggest more work must be done in establishing and strengthening connections with its patrons. This is especially apparent in relation to its lack of virtual presence and lack of integration with electronic courseware in both undergraduate and graduate colleges, falling behind with the movement of libraries becoming less “building-centric” in delivery of their services towards placing their services where their patrons are. We then proposed that the School of Education presented an untapped opportunity for collaboration or a degree of embedment, as the department’s coursework features high level work in research and professional praxis that would benefit from librarian input, even in light of MC’s financial crisis. Taken from our discussion, we concluded that “New collaborations may stretch the library’s capabilities, but they may also further enmesh the library in the academic life of the school as MC and academia in general evolve in still-to-be-determined directions.”

The ES techniques demonstrated in this project, from identifying needs to drawing reasonable conclusions regarding the state of an organization and its opportunities based on data, are needed in a critical thinking process in responding to the needs of diverse communities that an organization serves. Being able to observe, document, compare, and act upon information about the internal state and external situation of an organization is necessary to begin the discussion of implementing services and goals that support an organization’s diversity in its employees and its patrons. It is impossible for an organization to develop targeted, relevant services that recognize and support diversity without first analyzing the factors that shape the organization’s current landscape.

Evidence 2: Customer Service Ethic Narrative

In my position as the transcript data entry specialist for the Office of the Registrar (OOTR) at a private arts university in the Bay Area, I engaged with various clients and fellow employees as I reviewed incoming high school and post-secondary academic transcripts, logged them in PeopleSoft, and routed the digitized versions of those transcripts through ImageNow (now known as Perceptive Content) for subsequent processing needs. I coordinated with OOTR’s collections team to troubleshoot transcripts with missing academic information and sent foreign language transcripts to translation agencies to have approved English translations of transcripts on file. [I discuss the more technical, database input and retrieval aspects of this position in Competency G.] In the process of my daily duties while at this position, I interacted with a very specific, yet diverse clientele. These clients included students (prospective, current, alumni), parents and family of students, the university’s admissions representatives, and random people calling for general information. From this work experience, I felt like I developed my own personal brand of customer service, which stems from my introverted nature and my desire for personal efficiency, acknowledging and responding to the diversity of my clients across various interactions while maintaining OOTR and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) policies. (FERPA only authorizes students to request and view their own academic information; third parties such as family and employers must provide specific paperwork to request authorization from the student and the school to see a student’s academic information.)

A significant portion of my duties involved sharing the responsibility to answer the phone on the main office line and covering the front desk person when she went on her hour lunch break. I often had to explain to students how to fill out internal OOTR forms to request transcripts, enrollment verifications, graduation-related information, and other services. I had memorable phone call experiences, from the angry uncle who wanted to know the academic status of his nephew over the phone at that moment (which I could not disclose because of FERPA), to the older gentleman wanting a conversation about an art piece seemingly associated with a faculty member of the university (a case early on in my time at OOTR that sent me on an unnecessary wild goose chase). I had numerous calls where I had to clarify for confused callers the name and location of the university, explaining the differences between the university where I worked and other higher education arts institutions in the Bay Area and around the country. I also had frequent internal calls and email threads where I had to explain important transcript details to university admissions representatives, ranging from the transcript hold that appeared on a prospective student’s account because that person did not submit a transcript, to the notification that a particular student could not enroll because their transcript was from a “diploma mill” (an unaccredited academic institution), and even explain policy to students who had financial holds who wanted to order official transcripts (students who owed money to the university, whether it is tuition or library fines, could not order official, color, sealed-envelope and registrar-stamped transcripts; they could only request unofficial, black and white transcript copies).

In this position, I noticed the diversity of the interactions that I had with various OOTR clients. The majority of prospective students were from all over the US, and they were calling in just as they were entering their final semesters of high school or they were leaving their community colleges desiring to transfer to the university. Both interactions require a different level of conversation and understanding of the client’s information needs, in explaining that they needed to submit complete high school transcripts that have their graduation date printed and complete academic history, and in being prepared to transfer them over the phone to academic advisors regarding what coursework could apply for transfer credit when applicable. Then there was the more interesting population of students whom I interacted with face-to-face at the front desk. I saw how the university drew in many foreign exchange students, mostly Asian (from mainland China or Hong Kong) and Middle Eastern (Afghan, Iranian, Syrian, etc.). There were always interesting language and cultural differences to navigate every time I was at the front desk trying to address their needs. The more memorable of these interactions was when a student wanted their university diploma notarized. I personally never knew about the significance of notary services until this work position, but I knew that OOTR did not offer notarized services officially. This particular student was adamant that she needed her bachelor’s degree notarized so she could go back home in the Middle East and apply for a job. It got to the point where the situation could have escalated poorly had I not calmly and clearly reiterated OOTR policy and told her that I would forward her case to my manager. I remember doing so in such a seamless way that the student was able to bring in her own notary and worked with my manager to notarize it on a very limited exception case.

For more general cases, I developed various scripts and methods to make my telephone calls, both to students and to admissions representatives, and face-to-face front desk interactions more efficient. I made these personal talking scripts not with the intention to make my work robotic and impersonal, but rather to free up what I personally call “mental bandwidth” (my capacity to juggle multiple thoughts amidst external stressors in a given situation). With scripts, I allow myself to be more personable rather than worried about what specific policies I need to keep in mind when discussing a particular transcript request. I felt like I was troubleshooting with the client, rather than troubleshooting at the client (I find that working together with someone to reach a solution makes for a collaborative effort at problem solving, rather than telling a person that there is an issue and leaving them to solve it on their own.) My command of the knowledge of OOTR transcript policies was refined with time and experience; the planning and experimenting that I made myself go through with each interaction allowed me to develop a personal script and various talking and email templates. These templates included an acknowledgement of the client’s question, the act of providing assistance and relevant resources via emails with the relevant forms attached ahead of time, and the offer of further clarification should the client need it at a later time. This process also included my own backend processes for identity verification, in which I asked a student for their personal information and matched it with their PeopleSoft entry (to ensure that there were no FERPA holds or other kinds of system indicators). I was then able to tailor relevant information to fit the diverse backgrounds and needs of my various clients, which allowed me to focus on my tact and politeness instead of remembering and reiterating policies blindly.

Looking back on all these work interactions as a whole, I see that I have set a solid foundation to continue building my emotional intelligence, in working on my personal processes that provide me the space to recognize and acknowledge the diversity in the clients that I served. I saw that many common OOTR inquiries had very similar answers, and could be escalated in a seamless way when necessary. I developed the ability to explain office policy with a customer-service mindset, and my techniques for creating email templates and pre-prepared, targeted explanations alleviated some of the personal stress from interactions that could have (and have gone) awry due to student contention with various aspects of OOTR transcript policy. Being able to do this freed my “mental bandwidth” to troubleshoot issues with a student’s information and materials across PeopleSoft, SalesForce, and ImageNow, and respond in a way that respected that student’s diversity in mindset, educational background, culture, and opinion in relation to my own and that of OOTR.

Future Directions

Diversity is a broad, abstract term, with many interpersonal interpretations and implications, at institutional and individual levels. I have approached discussion of this competency from a leadership perspective, infused with insights from personality and organizational psychology. From my coursework and previous work experience, I see that diversity is a concern for leaders and for giving quality, adaptive customer service. Emotional intelligence recognizes that diversity, culture, and personality are interrelated, which in turn influences how ESs are conducted to ensure that diversity among an organization’s employees and the people that it serves is recognized and supported. Being open to diversity then must happen at individual and institutional levels, and in particular, it must be held together by an organization’s leadership.

In everyday practice in my future workplace, I will strive to apply the lessons on diversity I learned here in clarifying and working towards an organization’s diversity goals, whether I am engaging with patrons with strong customer service ethic or in situations where I am called to serve as a leader for a project or a department. Working with my own introverted personality, I have experimented with various styles of group work participation and leadership. [See Competency M for more on this discussion.] I see that emphatic, active listening is the first step in order to flesh out issues relating to diversity, in bringing a human voice and perspective to the abstract concept of diversity. Diversity is built up from diverse groups of people, in the communities and among the employees of an organization. Further ways to document and analyze this diversity include semi-structured interviews with key people involved in the organization’s functioning and community activities, as well as randomized survey sampling of users to measure an organization’s impact on its users. Such data collection will influence an organization’s long-term planning and introduces opportunities to further emphasize and support diversity in all of its forms towards equitable access of an organization’s services. An organization’s ongoing recognition of the diversity of its communities will ensure the sustained quality of its services that continuously adapt to its patrons’ unique experiences and perspective (Wong & Figueroa, 2015).

Diversity plays out the most at an everyday, individual level, especially in various customer service interactions. Handling questions requires tact, and, in my personal experience, some degree of foresight and preparation. Being equipped with a general script with the focus of the organization’s purpose and goals in mind helps me focus more on working on generating rapport with an inquiring client, so I do not have to worry about remembering the general details related to that client’s query. At the institutional level, ESs are necessary for an organization to do good work in alignment with its goals. These scans allow information professionals to see the state of an organization in relation to other similar organizations and in the context of its diverse communities, in order to direct appropriate resources that support these communities.

In essence, recognizing and supporting diversity involves leadership, participation, and innovation. Information professionals in positions of leadership must be able to recognize themselves in their strengths and weaknesses and know how to adapt in finding creative solutions to effect change when exploring, embracing, and supporting the diversity of their team members and the communities that they serve (Sawyer, 2015). They learn best when directly participating and interacting with the diverse groups of their communities, through community outreach services that take time and genuine interest in the engagement of intercultural exchange (Wong & Figueroa, 2015). Strong leadership and participation ultimately fosters an organization’s innovation and continued relevance to the communities that it serves, built upon the contributions of the unique perspectives of its employees and its patrons working together in advancing an organization’s commitment to supporting diversity.


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