Some thoughts on professional identity

I’ve been thinking about professional identity.

I’m not talking about online identity or attempting to shape how others perceive me as a professional (although I’ve been thinking about that too, especially in advance of next month’s Creating and Managing Your Online Presence workshop). I’m talking about my sense of myself as a professional: what I believe about myself, my goals, and my values.

Last month, with my department head and another colleague who has also participated in an ACRL Immersion Program, I co-facilitated a workshop for the instruction librarians in my department. Articulating a teaching philosophy was one of the workshop outcomes; we also asked each librarian to develop a statement of how they will apply their philosophy to their practice. I’m not ready to post mine here, but I did share some thoughts on teaching a while back.

Developing a teaching philosophy is one way of thinking about professional identity, but, while I identify as a teacher, I don’t *just* identify as a teacher. I’m also a librarian and an instructional designer and have thought of myself as a blended librarian since first hearing the term. From the Blended Librarian Online Community:

An academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist’s hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer’s ability to apply technology appropriately in the teaching-learning process.

Disability and accessibility are part of my professional identity, too. My work at Vanderbilt and the Area Agency on Aging & Disability, the interest in library services for people with disabilities that led me to graduate school, my enthusiasm for inclusive design and making technology usable by all people: these are important parts of who I am and what I value.

This is on my mind for a few different reasons.

For a while, I’ve framed my professional identity around my interests; in conference programs, in online communities, and, until now, on the About page, my bio typically reads “My professional interests include the provision of access to information for people of all abilities and the use of technology to support teaching and learning.” Those are my interests, and I’ll probably continue using that statement occasionally because it’s a neat, concise description of what I like and what I do. However, over the past couple of months, I’ve heard, read, and identified with some things that challenge and inspire me to better express my sense of myself as a professional.

Sarah Alexander on Hack Library School: Too Gay, or Not Too Gay? That is the Question.

I was particularly struck by these words in Sarah‘s post about balancing her personal identity as a lesbian with her professional persona :

With all the professional emphasis on personal branding and creating a clear professional persona, I worry that we are being asked to succinctly sum up our complex and constantly shifting identity in a catchphrase and a photo and this makes me uncomfortable, anxious and tired.

I feel the same way, and, while editing a page on my website isn’t going to resolve this for me- I remain happily unsummarizable, personally and professionally- I feel compelled to try.

Inside Walt Disney Imagineering- Version 1.0

Earlier this week, I attended a “Workplace Expectations” session led by trainer Pete Blank. Pete showed the YouTube video embedded below, and when I heard an Imagineer describe their work as “blending creative imagination with technical know-how,” I thought, “Hey- that’s what I do!”

Derek Featherstone at Accessing Higher Ground: “Everything I Know About Accessibility I Learned From Star Wars”

In November, I attended the 15th Annual Accessing Higher Ground media, web, and technology accessibility conference. Accessibility expert Derek Featherstone gave a Star Wars-themed keynote in which he likened the accessibility community to the Rebellion:

Recognizing the worth and value of every human being and celebrating the multiplicity of the human experience: these are my values and the implicit values of the disability community that make it feel like home.

Hacker Values ˜ Library Values* on ACRL TechConnect

Shortly after I started working at UA, I told a colleague I try to “hack the library” by engaging with users and helping them make the library work better for them. He has teased me about it a couple of times by greeting me with “Hello hacker!,” but I think he understands what I mean. I was so pleased to see this post discussing the core values shared by librarians and hackers, and I keep talking about it because they are my values, too.

First, a working definition: hackers are people who empower themselves with information in order to modify their environment and make the world a better place. That’s it. Hacking doesn’t require intruding into computer security settings. There’s no imperative that hackers have to work with code, computers, or technology–although many do. Besides the traditional computer software hacker, there are many kinds of crafters, tinkerers, and makers that share core the hacker values. These makers all share knowledge about their world and engage in hands-on modification of it in order to make it a better place.

I’m going to keep thinking about this stuff for a while, but, for now, I’ve revised my statement of professional identity to better reflect not only my interests but also my goals, values, knowledge, and skills. Also found on the About page, it is:

I blend curiosity, creativity, and technical know-how to support effective use of technology in teaching and learning and enable access to information for all.

This post is navel gazing in its purest form, but, because I also value authenticity and bringing my self to work, I’m sharing it with you.

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