To be a better librarian, break into museums and archives

2017-05-22 Library-Archives-Museums

An archivist, librarian and museum professional walk into a conference …

In 2016, 18 librarians, archivists and museum professionals came together as “field anthropologists” for the “Collective Wisdom: Libraries, Archives and Museums (LAM) Conference Exchange” to find out more about each other’s practices and cultures. They attended three major LAM sector conferences, working together to look for new opportunities for collaboration.

As an administrator to the Collective Wisdom cohort, I saw firsthand the group’s deep insights and renewed resolve to connect across all kinds of boundaries. They had never crossed paths before embarking on this experience—but by the end, they had cultivated “professional relationships and friendships that will endure well beyond this project.”

And their readiness to find intersections between each sector’s silos is testimony to a wider desire for collaboration among knowledge professionals. Reflections and recommendations for strengthening cross-sector community and collaboration are captured in their newly published white paper, “Collective Wisdom: An Exploration of Libraries, Archives and Museum Cultures.”

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Converging needs, practical advice

Through their conference observations, the group recognized convergence across the sectors on topics such as advocacy, digital technology and diversity/equity/inclusion. The white paper includes many practical recommendations for collaborative actions to take place on three levels, including:


  • Immerse yourself in other sectors.
  • Join and/or follow LAM social media groups, blogs, listservs and websites (p A3).
  • Articulate the value to your supervisor of expanding your LAM horizons by attending a conference outside of your sector (p B10).


  • Promote cross-sector service to board members, funders, the public and other stakeholders to foster and encourage enthusiasm for this kind of work (p A3).
  • Adopt policies that provide time and financial support to pursue continuing education and professional developments across LAM boundaries (p A5).


  • Create continuing education opportunities to explore topics of shared relevance and make them available to a variety of LAM professionals (p A6).
  • Develop a Library, Archives and Museum track/focus as part of a conference program (p B7).

Recommendations for conference organizers include ways to enhance cross-sector involvement and promote participation in conferences outside of their sectors. I encourage you to take any of these actions—you can help break through silos and cross-pollinate sectors. It’s good for you professionally and will strengthen all professions.

From wisdom to action

Taking their own advice, members of the cohort took concrete actions to connect across sectors and gain distinct benefits from their participation. Outcomes ALA-Conversation-Starter-sessionincluded:

  • redesigning a library website to remove divisions between library, museum and archive content (as this distinction isn’t helpful to users);
  • starting a joint museum/library professional development program focused on technology; and
  • a participating archivist actively contributing ideas to her Library Council Committee.

Several cohort members received professional opportunities (promotion, raises, new jobs) that they attribute, at least in part, to their participation in the project. Above all, there was unanimous agreement that they’d increased their ability “to have better conversations with colleagues from different sectors.”

Stronger together

The Collective Wisdom project was itself a demonstration of how cultural heritage institutions can work together on shared challenges. Cross-sector connection is happening in institutions, sometimes spontaneously, often based on an immediate need to join forces with another sector. The more this will to collaborate is endorsed and promoted by field leaders, the more vigorously we will reach beyond perceived boundaries.

In the words of a cohort member, “We all hold some pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle that should create one picture if we can determine how they best fit together.”

This project was sponsored by the Coalition to Advance Learning in Archives, Libraries and Museums, a three-year project led by OCLC and made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The white paper and its appendices have practical recommendations for collaborative actions to take on multiple levels. Appendix A offers ideas and recommendations on three levels of leadership inspired by the LAB Layers of Leadership Framework—self/individual, institutional and professional/field-wide. Appendix B includes recommendations for conference organizers to enhance cross-sector involvement and for individuals to promote participation in conferences outside of their sector.