What makes an expert?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a couple of months, probably since I started getting queries from other librarians about virtual services after doing my study tour. Its been further churning away in the back of my mind since not long before the VALA conference, as besides the showcase session I did there, I have another 3 presentations coming up on Libraries and Web 2.0 – one of them a day long workshop!

So how did I come to get these ‘gigs’ – what makes me the expert?

In my case its a combination of things. First off, I know a bit about Web 2.0 and libraries. After all, I have been reading about, immersing myself in it and blogging about it for over 2 years. Which is more than most people in libraries. So my expert status comes from having a degree more knowledge than my audience.

But there are many librarians who know more than me on this subject, so what else is there? Another important consideration is geography. Two of the upcoming presentations are in Melbourne, the city I live in. Always easier to get a local – cheaper too.

However, the workshop I am doing is in Sydney – so that limits geography a little. I say a little, because there are some great Library 2.0 experts in the US – I read their blogs regularly – but again there are limits to what people and organisations will spend, especially if expertise can be found more locally. (and Sydney is only an hour’s flight away).

So, I know a little more than my potential audience, I have geography on my side – the more local the better. Then there is another issue altogether. Availability. The Sydney thing again – I was not the first person asked. From what I can gather, I was at least the fifth person asked (if not further down the list than that). So even considering all that’s come before, you have to be willing and available to be that expert.

Now that’s a personal decision. I don’t know why the others asked before me didn’t take up the invitation – could be many reasons: time, priorities, not interested, etc, etc – it doesn’t matter really. The opportunity came to me and I decided to take it – which makes me the expert in this particular situation, regardless of how far down the list I was.

And how did my name come up to be asked (even down the list) – somebody was kind enough to recommend me. I don’t know who, but I thank them for this opportunity.

Its been an interesting journey already this year for me, as I have never considered myself to be a public speaker – in fact the only other presentation I did before all this was at a conference in 1999 and I was so nervous – got through it by will alone I’m sure. But I have done 2 presentations since my study tour, (and 1 before) with 3 still to go and I am getting more confident each time. Maybe its because I am older, know my stuff a bit better, know myself a lot better and have a real passion for the subject. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

Whatever it is, I think it finds its roots in something that Kathryn at Librarians Matter blogged on not long ago in “My raucous week of putting my meat in the game” – its about putting yourself out there. I have been blogging about these things for going on 3 years, have been initiating them in my library and have been encouraging others to look at them for their libraries. I haven’t been worried about putting my name to any of this, but neither have I been seeking anything, except the chance to share my experience.

So what makes an expert? Someone who has learnt more than most about a subject dear to them (its easier when you have a passion for it), in a good location, who’s available, recommended and putting themselves out there.

But an expert is not what I planned to be – all I planned to be was a librarian loving what she is doing – which happens to be Web 2.0 and Libraries. If people want to hear what I have to say – then I am happy to go and share that with them – not for my benefit, but for theirs. I have learnt a lot from other people’s experiences, so its only fair that others may be able to learn from mine.


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    • Helene on February 20, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Go girl! πŸ™‚ IMHO you don’t have to worry about the “expert” thing. Earning the title of a so-called “expert” only means one thing to me… you’ve never given up the quest for learning and understand that a individual can only grow when they stretch themselves and their skills.

    Sorry to have missed VALA this year. From all that I read it sounded superb!

  1. Thanks Helen,

    Always appreciate your feedback and encouragement and I agree, as a priority it is the learning journey. VALA was great, sorry you missed it and that we missed you.

  2. A colleague once pointed out that an expert was someone who knew and practiced more than others, and actively strove to maintain that knowledge gap to stay ahead of the game. Which I thought was pretty astute. I think it also helps that you’re a practitioner as well. πŸ™‚

  3. Ivan,

    Thanks for that. I have pretty much come to a similar conclusion as your colleague. Thanks for helping me to put my thoughts into words!

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