Demonstrate oral and written communication skills necessary for group work, collaborations and professional level presentations.
Group work is the lifeblood’s of the library science profession. This fact has only become more evident in our increasingly “flat world” of telecommunication, information technology and digitization of library services. Library services today are more varied than ever, demanding the attention of specialist librarians who must work together to produce complex, technically sophisticated systems. The librarians of the age can code, work synchronously with other institutions thousands of miles away and do not shy away from many tasks traditionally reserved for computer programmers and hardware specialists.
Luckily while the demands and knowledge required to study and practice library science has increased and become more varied, allied technologies have also emerged which support the profession. GoogleDocs and Skype immediately come to mind. While these services were not developed specifically for the library profession, they have become natural mates to facilitate group and collaborative work, surpassing what was previously possible. GoogleDocs allows for synchronous, real time editing of shared documents, greatly enhancing the effectiveness of group work: not only does this allow information specialists to work remotely, but it also allows for a consistent state of work. GoogleDocs supports a myriad of formats and has automatic optical character recognition ability. Skype is a chat service primarily designed for collaborative social communication. Perhaps it’s most powerful ability is facilitating group chats, retroactive updates of the chat log, sharing files directly and integrating voice and video technology. Together these two tools have fundamentally changed the way those in the field work together: we are no longer restricted to board rooms, projectors and powerpoint presentations; group work has become a fluid, fully integrated process fully accessible from any access point desirable.
Yet while technology has greatly enhanced group and collaborative work – the bare essential people skills, the art of oral communication should not be overlooked. Librarians are educators. We must be capable of painting a portrait of the complex systems we curate, to prepare professional presentations, to bring new personnel onto a project, to assertively participate in a group environment and be productive and faithful teammates. This is true now more than ever, as group collaboration has shifted from mere good practice to a professional necessity given the breadth of our services and allied professions. How to communicate well orally is another matter.
I fall back upon old forms while considering the new. Many undergraduate liberal arts degrees require a study in communications. This style of instruction, to which I have been a part of, is often business centered. Issues center on group theory, dynamics, group manipulation, and coherent/effective transfer of information, contrasting against the various factors of noise, distance, time and medium. All well and good, but such instruction is fixated on professional rather than holistic ends; the goal is to do one’s professional job in a uniform and often stifling manner which is as expected in western capitalist culture. Personally I find it important to consider such studies as to ground oneself, but to look further back for a normative foundation in communication. While the modern study of communications may often reveal insights into human communication (a particular thing I learned to become wary of from my communication classes is “groupthink”) it is prone to missing the heart of it. The greatest communicators were not businessmen but poets, warriors and philosophers. Aristotle immediately comes to mind as a model of a proper and well versed rhetorician or communicator. In his treatise On Rhetoric Aristotle argues that good rhetoric is based upon three persuasive appeals or “Pillars”:
Ethos: Credibility. You must prove to the audience that you are credible, can be trusted, are of good reputation, good character and authority. Credibility is the foundation for all further communication.
Pathos: Emotional connection. A good argument or communication connects emotionally with the listener. A good communicator does not abuse pathos by manipulating the emotions of the listener, but is able to express genuine empathy.
Logos: Logical argument. A good communication is coherent, contains factual or scientific support and follows a chain of reasoning.
So we see that a good communicator is of “good character,” a critical component missing from most business communication classes. Defining good character is far beyond the scope of this statement, but instead my definition of it can be deduced from my philosophy stated on this portfolio, as well as from my other philosophical writings. Nevertheless, I find it critical that in communication of any kind, the communicator be a genuinely respectable individual who can easily be respected. To this also includes the art of speaking and of being assertive, a mere sophistry if not attended to by ethos. Once good character is established, a communicator must connect to those he speaks to at both the emotional and logical level, using compelling anecdotes and figures to complete the whole of the picture. The “Three Pillars” are critical to being effective at oral and written communication, and they are elements which I study frequently.
I also am partial to the rhetoric of Cicero, whom I have quoted in the introduction to this portfolio. Cicero was perhaps the most skilled and virtuous communicator, and one whom we in the library field should attempt to emulate. Cicero expanded upon Aristotle’s pillars in Rhetorica ad Herennium, positing a six part standard format for argumentation and communication of ideas:
- Exordium: The use of pathos (anecdotes, stories, examples) to engage the listener.
- Narratio: Statement of the argument.
- Divisio: An outline of the argument, including a review of previous concerns, debate and questions.
- Confirmatio: Presentation of evidence to support the argument or communication.
- Confutatio: A complete treatment of contesting claims and arguments.
- Conclusio: A summary of what has been communicated, as well as a statement to importance of what has come before.
While Cicero’s rhetoric was designed for the transmission and consideration of arguments in oratory – they also represent an efficient and universal means to communicate effectively in general. Thinking before speaking, and speaking in a structured and reasoned manner is key to success, both professionally and in life. With a thorough training in the classical way of rhetoric, more contemporary research might be used as a buttress to mature and enrich one’s conceptual philosophy of communication. This synthesis of understanding can then be applied to professional work in library science or elsewhere, as I have mastered and done.
But what is a good rhetorician who does not master logical argumentation and grammar? For this I refer to the Trivium, the three disciplines of logic, rhetoric and grammar which I consider essential not only to good communication but also the rudiments of knowing and wisdom. Developed first in De nuptiis by Martianus Capella, Sister Miriam Joseph was the most staunch modern advocate for an education in these three essentials and defined them as such:
Logic is the art of thinking; grammar, the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought; and rhetoric, the art of communicating thought from one mind to another, the adaptation of language to circumstance.
Logic is concerned with knowledge, grammar with symbol, and rhetoric with communication. But the latter is pointless and groundless without awareness of knowing what is true, and of knowing the shape to which things come: logic and grammar respectively. A study of the Trivium is a study of what is fundamental to human expression and mind, without it one easily becomes confused with complex thought processes and defaults to rote memorization rather than truly excelling in the moment of oratory, to name one of limitless interactions. The Trivium is often neglected in our modern academic curricula: today students groan about philosophy and logic classes, while simultaneously becoming outraged when clever people take advantage of them. The study of etymology and grammar is all but gone, except for linguists and there often not in an educational or philosophical sense. Shame, as these jewels of the classics furnish a mode of communication which is rich, empowering and compelling.
I often find myself in leadership positions. From as early as I can remember I have risen, volunteered to lead expeditions, rolled my sleeves and generally taken the initiative first. People attract around me and seriously consider my input. I have had the good fortune of partaking in dozens of group projects and initiatives while attending SJSU, as well as working within my internships.
My first two pieces of applied work are PowerPoint presentations, converted into PDF format (note the annotation layer for the speaking notes) of professional presentations I helped contribute to during an internship at Credo Reference, a private company headquartered in Boston. I created the slides and speaking notes and participated in the presentation after consulting the group and conducting independent research. Clearly this demonstrates my ability to prepare demonstrations and to communicate complex systems. The audience were Credo employees during a “Breakfast and Learn” seminar, involving approximately thirty Credo employees on site and many more who were telecommuting. The entire presentation was also streamed over Go2Meeting, an online collaborative and presentation tool subscribed to by Credo.
The third piece of applied work I am offering for consideration is a project design statement for a group oral history project for Nancy MacKay’s class on the same topic. The project design statement outlines the basic parameters, essence and scope of the group project and was the summation of two group meetings on Elluminate, involving hours of debate, deliberation and discussion. Although the document itself is quite small, each word and iota was debated. While everyone in the group contributed, some members volunteered as chief executors of certain areas. I wrote the historical focus and sources sections. I was a central voice in the group discussions and the overall scope of the project can be tracked back to suggestions and arguments that I offered. At the end of this process the project design statement was presented to the professor and each individual student conducted a oral history of an individual matching the scope of the former document. The ongoing process of editing the document took place on GoogleDocs.
The fourth piece of evidence is another presentation I participated in, originating from Wayne Disher’s collection management class. In this example I was again responsible for creating the slides visual presentation. I also was speaker for one third of it, and was a prominent researcher. Leading up to the presentation the other group members and I had numerous meetings on Skype, in which we compared notes, deliberated at length on our research and conceptualized our presentation. I was again key in both the conceptualization of the presentation, leadership of the group and organizing both the Skype meetings and preparatory work. I was also the one who organized the group, leading from emails to real time communication and meetings. Needless to say, the presentation involved pitching renovation plans to a notional sponsor (Mr. Disher) and it was hugely successful. The first part is the presentation slides, the second part are the notes we droned over for weeks leading up to the presentation.
These four examples are just a few of many in which I applied my understanding of communication in group work.
Project Design Statement (PDF)
Aristotle. On Rhetoric.
Cicero. Rhetorica ad Herennium.
Joseph, M. (1982). The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 1-9.
Martianus Capella. De nuptiis.