April 30, 2008

Report from the Joint Spring Workshop

Yesterday I attended the DCLA/SLA Joint Spring Workshop at the Library of Congress. This year's topic was "Knowledge Management: What is the librarian's role?" After a keynote address by Susan Fifer Canby on what the National Geographic Society has done in the realm of knowledge management (or "KM" as we were all saying by the end of the day), we heard from a variety of librarians doing KM in a variety of settings, with different degrees of buy-in from non-library staff.

I learned that much of what I am doing here can be considered knowledge management. I am doing it at a very grassroots level -- trying to figure out who knows what, who needs what, how knowledge is shared within the organization, and how to think about capturing and systematizing some of these implicit policies for the benefit of the organization and beyond. I learned that KM is more about people and processes than it is about technology. I also learned that you can do information management without doing knowledge management, but not vice-versa.

The highlights of the workshop were interacting with area library professionals (and realizing that I am starting to know people at these events!), participating in a KM case study of the Department of State's Bunche Library KM efforts, and of course, meeting Susan Fifer Canby. I even worked up the courage to introduce myself and share my blog address.

The more I meet librarians, especially in the federal sector, and hear people talk about the imminent wave of retirements, the more blessed I feel to have chosen this field. Events such as the Joint Spring Workshop are key for us as librarians to do our own knowledge management to train the next generation of library and information professionals.

April 11, 2008

Was Burnham Wrong? (Or "These Things Take Time")

Daniel Burnham is known to have said, "Make no small plans." (This is a paraphrase. See Bartleby for the full reference.) In an urban planning context (Burnham's) I do not disagree, but what about for libraries? This week marks the end of my fourth month in this position and, while my dream of starting a digital library here looms large, I think the smaller the plans the better in my situation.

As my readers will agree, I entered bright-eyed and gung ho....diving headfirst into the white spaces on Day 1. Don't get me wrong--I have no regrets about this, but I have come to find that my foray into the white spaces has to be taken more deliberately. This organization has been around for a while and most of its employees have been with it for the long haul. So I have decided that I ought step back and learn what has come before a little more intensely and intently before charging ahead with my hopes and dreams. This comes as much from bruised naivete as it does from a confirmed desire to stay in this position for as long as I am able to. I have time, and I should use it.

In an earlier posting I proudly announced my intention to convert our library into a sacred space by the end of my first year. It is still my goal to make the resource room wheelchair-accessible, and to request some furniture to make the room more user-centered. The rest can wait, or can grow slowly. I've found that it's far more important for me to invest my time in the people here than in that room. It's easy to immerse myself in the seemingly endless flow of acquisitions and emails, but I now have the challenge of quiet networking, day by day and person by person, to better customize my services for each of our dozen or so technical assistance specialists. I seek to change one thing at a time, slowly, rather than find a panacea and shout it from the rooftops.

Anne Lamott has said of writing (I think she may have attributed it to someone else) that it's like driving at night with your headlights on: you can only see a few feet in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. I'm going to try it that way for a while and make no large plans.

April 3, 2008

There and Back Again: From Microscope to Telescope

The librarian's been busy!

The scope of my responsibilities here is very well-defined. I am a content (read CON-tent, although I am most definitely con-TENT, as well) generalist and since I have virtually no background in the subject matter we deal with, I can remain neutral, and focus on the process of information management. This is telescopic in nature as often as it is microscopic: I have to take a broad view of where we are going with our information products based on the minutiae of individual reference calls, research requests, and email complaints.

An ophthalmologist will tell you that the health of your eyes relies to some extent on the frequency and duration of your eyes' transition from far sight to close-up focus. When driving long distances, check your mirrors and speedometer at regular intervals, not just because this is a good idea, but it also gives your eyes a break from the sometimes monotonous and all-too-regular view of a low-traffic highway (I'm imagining driving West on interstate 80 from Chicago to Iowa City).

In my job I have to take these breaks when they come and recognize the importance of that transition. Some days I sit on my floor stuffing packets of materials for our representatives in the field. Sometimes I think a particular brochure should really be reworked to cater to a different audience. Other days I sit in meetings where we talk about our "web presence" and where we are going with information architecture.

My ocular health, as well as my integrity as an Information Specialist, relies on this back and forth rhythm from microscope to telescope. Myriad views provide myriad perspectives. I know all jobs probably have aspects of this, but as a librarian in the digital age I cannot imagine a more important job qualification than being able to oscillate between the close-up and far-away views and weaving it all together while riding the tide of the information flow. Keep your eye on the horizon and you won't get seasick! And smile.