July 31, 2009

Get Your Gardener On

In an earlier post I described this job as "shoveling and gardening," affectionately of course. Today I had one of those pleasant convergence moments when three sources of information (one human, one analog, and one digital) were all telling me the same undeniable thing: Trying to do it all is not heroic; it is simply ineffective.

The first source was librarian James A. Jacobs, whom I heard speak at ALA in a session on Obama's information policy. In addition to all Jacobs' wisdom on how the "new" information must be able to be not only retrieved but also "used, re-used, and re-mixed," Jacobs said this very important thing: "A focused collection is an information service; an unfocused or overwhelming collection is a disservice to the user." The former is my new mantra; I don't think the latter refers to any collection in particular, but it may as well.

The second source was Bruce Rosenstein's new book, Living in More Than One World, in which Rosenstein quotes Peter Drucker as having said, "People are effective because they say "no," not because they say "yes."" The third, which I cannot quite connect the dots on yet, was a song by Adrienne Young and Little Sadie called "Plow to the End of the Row." But maybe I just like that song and I happened to be listening to a licensed digital copy of it when this all came together for me. The weeding is just as essential as the planting and don't let anyone tell you different!

Flying solo? Choose a focus. Better yet, ask your users what you should focus on. I spent a little time weeding our print library today and was trying to think of an interesting way to write about it for the "Library Day in the Life" initiative. The print library usually leaves me uninspired and daunted because I have never devoted the time to it that I think it deserves. Plagued by the notion that my predecessors kept the print collection in tip-top shape, I often wonder why I have relegated it to something I only do on overcast Friday afternoons when I need to get up from my desk and do something physical to make it to five o'clock. But while I was in there I realized that there is no way I could maintain that collection perfectly and still be out and about in all the ways that have helped me get to know my users. There are entire weeks when I never even go in the library because I work in my office, in other people's offices hearing about their projects, and in my team's weekly meetings and conference calls.

If I had one piece of advice for another solo librarian it would be this: Know your users. If the print collection does not serve them (or if they are just not interested) then you are not only allowed to "neglect" it a bit; you probably should. Be where they are. I have never shied away from asking people, "So, what are you working on?" and my boss tends to think this is a strength! Figure out which things you need to say no to today and it will reveal the YES opportunities very clearly. Lee LeFever wrote about this in terms of "being lightweight" and contemporary Buddhist writings often refer to this as having more "white space" in one's life. There is also a great passage in Romancing the Ordinary where the author recommends "losing something every day." I highly recommend it!

July 21, 2009

A Word of Warning About Web 2.0

Librarians are agog about Web 2.0 and this is a double-edged sword. Yes, we should embrace these tools for what they are worth, but that requires knowing what they are worth. Try everything, but be a skeptic. In other words - be a skeptic, but try everything. (Put the emphasis wherever you like.)

Don't like Twitter? That's fine, but find out about it in case someone asks you how it works or whether your organization should be using it. The same goes for Facebook and the like. Blogs are a technology that have finally been seen as independent of the content they were first used to communicate (i.e. rants). "Blog" is no longer a loaded term that sends people into fits. I think we are in a similar transition with Twitter, and it takes longer in some communities of users than in others. Twitter has enormous potential, especially for use in conferences, but we will have to get past the initial enthusiasm and opposition, listen to the skeptics, and then all sit down together to say, "Yes, this is cool, now what?"

Flying solo? Do not take it upon yourself to single-handedly convert your organization into a Twittering mass or to set up a Facebook presence without a clear goal in mind and a plan to sustain your page's activity. What you should take upon yourself is the responsibility of knowing that these tools are considered "the new books" by some - a way of transmitting information, so by all means the librarian should be knowledgeable about them.

The best way to be a resource to your organization is to know your organization, know these tools, and then be able to explain all sides of the application of these tools to your organization's mission. In our case, I am drafting a proposal for using Twitter heavily at our next annual conference but I will be sure to include all the potential disadvantages, such as how to appropriately launch this with our rural audiences for whom broadband access and mobile devices are not as ubiquitous as they are in DC (and how to establish Twitter etiquette in conference sessions).

Remember, don't use a Web 2.0 tool if it's not the best tool for the job. Also, make sure all your social networking tools are fully accessible. See the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s white paper on this topic for model policies.