December 22, 2010

Tag, You're It.

Well.

This post was originally going to be called "End of an Era," but not only was that already used for several articles on the topic at hand, The End is not as certain as it seemed last Thursday.

Long story short: A Yahoo! meeting slide that showed Delicious as one product to be axed was leaked last Thursday on Twitter and the rest... Let's just say it went the way of Internet rumors and then morphed into a scrumptiously unorganized (though not disorganized, thanks to Twitter hashtags like #SaveDelicious) grassroots "campaign" to send Yahoo! a message.

By Friday morning the news was a patchwork of conjecture, export instructions, and lists of alternatives from Amplify to Zukmo. There were premature obits, emotional laments, memorable tweets, bold assertions that we should have seen it coming, or that we shouldn't rely on free food, and a pointed question from the Washington Post: If this many people love Delicious this fiercely, why can't Yahoo! figure out how to make some money off it?

Yahoo! has still not released an official statement. The Delicious blog confirmed that something was going on, but very little in the way of actual information was provided last week, and below are 1,000 words from the Delicious blog today:

As for me, Yes, I traveled through brief devastation, acted the town crier, set up news alerts, and roped Gretchen into a Farewell, Delicious happy hour. Then I calmed down and started reading as much as I could in order to filter fact from fiction.

My tagging reflexes have taken a hit this week...my bookmarklets are like another appendage, and let's just say it's in a sling right now. I haven't bookmarked anything since Thursday because I didn't want to add to my collection (lingering hysteria mixed with a bit of conservatism for the future) and I didn't want to commit to a new service. One upside was that my tendency to tag everything remotely interesting as "TimePermitting" was tempered, so I had to refine my criteria quite a bit for what I truly thought I would read later. (For all those articles, I emailed them to myself using my AddThis toolbar...it made me much more selective and much more likely to read the things I had grabbed.)

I enjoyed the absolute Meta of seeing articles about Delicious tagged in Delicious, which was more fun than Facebook groups protesting Facebook or tweets about Twitter. It showed that this is a community of users whether you like it or not. I felt part of something, and not primarily because we were venting in unison, but because we were sharing: tips, thoughts, and memories.

(And by the way, I saw some funky versions of the Delicious logo...I'm not sure if that was stylistic in nature or maybe intellectual property paranoia, but don't forget you can use Photoshop to find the exact color mix of an image.)

December 15, 2010

INTJ

"Extroversion: The act of turning outward; the condition of being so turned."
~The Universal Dictionary of the English Language (1940)

My mentor Dave Shumaker over at EmbeddedLibrarian.Wordpress posed the following question last week and I can't help but respond: Can introverts succeed as embedded librarians? His answer was a resounding Yes, and mine will be, too.

As is my standard practice, I will start with two disclaimers: (1) I do not claim to have any knowledge of this topic except first-hand knowledge from my own experience; (2) I acknowledge than many people would not consider me introverted. However...

When I read Dave's post last week I stumbled down undergraduate memory lane. In college I did a double major in French and psychology, the latter being somewhat of an afterthought and a major academic challenge for my (then) anti-science brain. The best psych course I took was Tests and Measurement. As things came to pass, I ended up with a job in educational testing before I went to library school--to the delight of my Tests and Measurement professor. In this course we basically ripped apart every reputable test, including the Myers-Briggs (now MBTI), and we learned to think critically about testing in general. I took this a step further and approached every known assessment with skepticism and disdain. Dave's post made me realize that it was high time for me to revisit Myers and Briggs, at least as an exploratory mission to respond to his post. Lo and behold, I am an introvert.

I had started to suspect as much. Dave makes the crucial point that folk definitions of introversion and extroversion are not sufficient; it has more to do with where you find energy and insight. As for me, it's true than when I'm with others I tend to talk a lot (and loudly), but I enjoy spending time alone more than would likely be healthy for a true extrovert. As my neighbors will attest, I prefer to spend my commute reading rather than discussing local politics (although I will be forthright in saying so), and my coworkers will tell you that I have my headphones on whenever I am at my desk, drawing a lot of strength from my own reactions to music.


My "I" score was not as clear-cut as other dimensions, but it would be dangerous to correlate that with a measure of success in embedded librarianship. True, I often speak about "walking around the office asking people what they are working on," which may sound like a behavior tipped toward extroversion, but where do I get the courage to do that sort of thing?

The real "E" in this job has been entrepreneurship. I had very little to build on except my own skills and strengths. There was so little structure that I had to go out and find staff members to collaborate with, and to learn from. But it was in equal part a matter of deep and careful reflection on how to make my way here, what I had the capacity to do, and what would be of service to others. (Service is perhaps another way to view the "outward turning" in the 70-year-old definition of extroversion above.)

It would be interesting to look at correlations between MBTI scores and entrepreneurial activities, as well as "measures of entrepreneurialism" as a characteristic of embedded librarianship.

December 14, 2010

(Special Edition) My Year in Books: 2010

My book life this year, by the numbers:

I finished 22 books, nine of which were fiction, and 13 non-fiction. Five of these were memoirs, and three were books of short stories. Nine were written by male authors (2 by Kurt Vonnegut), and twelve were written by female authors (4 by Lorrie Moore). One was written by a man and a woman (Your Money or Your Life). I published a review of If We Can Put a Man on the Moon in a trade magazine for transit professionals.

I met one author: Chris Guillebeau. (See photos from the DC stop of his Unconventional Book Tour.) I contacted five authors besides Guillebeau: Marlee Matlin, Lorrie Moore, David Carr, Michael Idov, and Daniel Pink. I heard back from Marlee Matlin, David Carr, and Daniel Pink (and Michael Idov reTweeted me – does that count?).

THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2010 are:
(Fiction) The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Ground Up by Michael Idov; and
(Non-Fiction) The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell and Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn.

Here is the entire list:
(*=highly recommended)
1. I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin
2. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
3. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell*
4. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore*
5. If We Can Put a Man on the Moon by Bill Eggers and John O’Leary
6. Like Life by Lorrie Moore
7. Emergence by Steven Johnson
8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett*
9. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
10. Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
11. Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins
12. The Night of the Gun by David Carr*
13. Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn*
14. Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
15. Ground Up by Michael Idov*
16. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez*
17. Cleaving by Julie Powell
18. The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
19. The Case for Books by Robert Darnton
20. Drive by Daniel Pink
21. A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
22. Lucky by Alice Sebold*

Some of the books burning a whole on my shelf for 2011 include Your Money: The Missing Manual, There Will Be Rainbows, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, Sundown Towns and The Happiness Project. Stay tuned.

December 8, 2010

Ten Weeks to Prepare and Ten Seconds to Tweet


When I was in library school, wading through Bopp & Smith's tome on reference, I read something about the responsibility of the public librarian to "index the community." It was a passage about how a librarian fulfills a role much like that of a hotel concierge in some communities. This phrase stuck with me, likely because when I was in high school planning my majors in French and communications (one of which came to fruition)--loving learning the ins and outs of Chicago city blocks--I wanted to be a concierge when I grew up.

While I do love showing DC visitors the best pizza place and tea shop in town, I became a librarian, not a concierge, but I'd like to think I still do my best to "index the community," whatever that community may be in my small special library. One of my favorite ways I have succeeded in doing this is to run the Twitter feed for our annual conference. You may think this is a no-brainer, but let me tell you how to do a bang-up job of it as a special librarian and make yourself indispensable in the process.

We had a "gently used" conference feed from the previous year hanging around. About ten weeks prior to the conference I was offered the reins and the password. Unlike some conference Twitter feeds where the username indicates the date/year of the event, this one was general enough that we could reuse it once we rebranded the profile with the new conference locale, logo, conference dates and themes.

I looked up the Visitor & Convention Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and local media outlets in our destination city, followed their feeds, and looked to see who they were following. I also found a number of feeds from restaurants near the convention center, and from big attractions like the aquarium and museums that conference attendees might want to visit during free slots. I tweeted for a while as the conference before doing much promotion of the feed, which I highly recommend.

When I had a rich feed going, I worked with other staff to have a link to the conference Twitter page in all the marketing pieces we were using leading up to the big event. This included our website, Facebook page, and correspondence with people who had already registered. When people completed their registration in Cvent, a link to the Twitter feed would appear with the phrase "Get conference updates on Twitter!"


For a few weeks I would tweet three times a day, mixing the announcements to have a good combination of logistical information for people who had already registered, and tweeting the allure of our conference subject matter with strategic hashtags. I looked up the speakers slotted for various sessions, and the sponsors for conference events, and found their Twitter feeds. At this point I was getting great use of the mention feature, which led to a lot of followers. (Much of what goes on in Twitter operates on the vanity principle, and there is no shame in that.)

When we were a couple weeks out I worked with the webmaster to get a demo of the Twitter feed on our home page so we would know how it would look. It took a little bit of code to upgrade the standard widget so it would include both manual and automatic retweets, and we were glad we had started early. Three days before the conference started we went live with the new page, and then I had to really keep up the tweets (which by this point were about weather, schedule changes, and last ditch efforts to get more registrants).

Then the fun really began. I was running around the convention center for a week posting fliers about the feed in strategic places, handing out stickers for people to display their usernames on the official conference badge, and switching between two Blackberrys as I ran the official feed and a separate feed for one of the pre-conference meetings. Conference organizers were great about announcing me if I was live-tweeting a session so attendees could jump on board, mention us, and have us mention them. I was also taking a lot of pictures and tweeting those.


While I was in sessions it occurred to me that my broad knowledge of the organization, a good lock on who's who in the field, my ability to think fast and know a good soundbite when I hear one, and the discretion required when anything mildly political spills into the soundbites--those library skills enhanced each and every tweet. And hey, the local Greek restaurant started following us and then offered free appetizers to any attendee with a badge from our conference!

After the conference I was asked to give a presentation on how all this came together and I talked about the 700+ messages we had generated as a way of codifying our institutional knowledge, our impact on the field, and our outreach to new stakeholders by putting ourselves and our issues into the Twitterverse.

December 1, 2010

Librarians with "Issues"

I found that by looking at the white spaces on the organization chart--the gaps between jobs, where no else had responsibility--that there were new job opportunities, like building an intranet, starting a corporate university, creating a daily business intelligence report, that needed to be done. As it turned out, sometimes I was promoted into a job and sometimes I was promoted because I created the job that needed doing. ~Susan Fifer Canby

Two posts over at Gypsy Librarian have gotten me thinking about librarians, neutrality, and advancing issues beyond information organization and literacy. The specific issues Angel addresses (LGBT suicide, for example) are ones that arise in his context, not mine, but the topic is a good one for embedded librarians. The closest I have come in this forum to advancing any "issues" was when I wrote that modeling good reading habits should not be outside the domain of the special librarian, even in a corporate setting. Let's start there.

Information literacy in our specialty is certainly within our scope. This is without question, and general information literacy or search strategy is a natural offshoot of that topic. These are all "safe" issues for us to get behind. Taking on web accessibility can be a bit risky, and very difficult, but it falls very naturally within a librarian's scope of responsibility and influence. What about other issues? The farther into the white spaces we move, the more complicated it becomes, and the more opportunities there are for advancing important issues.

I found myself being the cheerleader for Census 2010 in our office--both in terms of encouraging our stakeholders to be counted and in terms of what the results will mean for our work--and I did a lot of good by sticking with it. I recently took on a voluntary research project about Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and what it has to do with transit agencies' outreach, and this has been productive and praised as well. There are also the innocuous issues that I take on, like partnerships between libraries and transit agencies, that may or may not bear fruit and probably won't offend anyone along the way.

Whatever the topic may be, we are sure to do more good, create better job security, and get greater satisfaction from our work, by following the issues rather than hiding from them.

November 24, 2010

On Writing Fan Letters

I am thankful for good books to read, time to read, and the freedom to read.

Last year at this time I discovered Lorrie Moore. That's her, at left, in the irresistible photo I had on my Twitter page for a long time until I gave into my music cravings again and changed the backdrop. Although I'd had the same favorite book for almost twenty years, once I found Lorrie Moore there was no going back. I read all her stuff in four months and decided I could have two favorite books. Now (and possibly forever), Lorrie Moore is my favorite writer.

In February, when I decided that Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? was worthy of sitting beside The Pigman each time I answer the Favorite Book question, I decided I ought to tell Lorrie about it. It has been my standard practice for a while to write fan letters when someone's creation moves me. Normally I do not experience much pressure during the process (except to find the right address) but this was different: writing to my favorite writer. About writing.

I spent about two weeks agonizing over how to express myself, and how to talk about the way Frog Hospital had affected me. I didn't want to come off as a presumptuous intellectual (like the kind who would attempt to shorten her title as in an industry write-up). Then one evening I reread her short story Go Like This and in the middle of that night it hit me--a voice in my head repeated, "Just tell her you like her." I got up and wrote two pages to her about how much I like her writing, and asked her to keep doing it. It was an emotional outpouring that I refined over a couple of days before sending, cleverly disguising it in a way that was *sure* to get it delivered to her University of Wisconsin office. It's one of my best pieces of writing.

When I finished Cartwheels in a Sari I wrote a fan letter to Jayanti Tamm, and she wrote back! We ended up organizing a DCPL event together for her book tour, and I've recently corresponded with her about how to get my own novel published. When I wrote to David Carr to tell him how often I refer people to his article on Why Twitter Will Endure, he wrote me back the sweetest message. I've written to dozens of journalists to thank them for particularly well-researched and well-written articles, and they often reply to thank me, and sometimes to say I've made their day. (Hint: Tell celebrities you are a librarian; they love that.)

Writing fan letters is an act of thanksgiving. It's often the only way to calm the gratitude--yes, gratitude--that spins inside me when I read, see, or hear something beautiful. Do you know that feeling? When something is done so well that you have to tell someone? Tell the creator. Write a fan letter.

November 17, 2010

*Results Not Typical

I finally finished Daniel Pink's Drive after a long, interrupted reading that began this summer. Since Pink went to the trouble of providing a "Twitter Summary" of his book, I will reproduce it here: Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.

He also provides a discussion guide. For me, the most intriguing question in it was, "Pink draws a distinction between “routine” work and “nonroutine” work. How much of your own work is routine? How much is nonroutine?" While my attitude toward the lack of structure in my job oscillates wildly, one thing is clear: I have autonomy. I believe that many of the successes I've blogged about are directly traceable to the very high level of autonomy given to me by my employer in general, and by my supervisor in particular. This may render my advice useless to those who have fewer options in their libraries or organizations, but it's a nice applied study of Pink's ideas. Most of my work would fall into the "nonroutine" category.

My primary project is conducted through a federal cooperative agreement which outlines discrete quantitative deliverables for the library: items added to the events calendar, publications announced as being added to our holdings, and print resources disseminated by staff at events around the country. These tasks are routine. They also take a maximum of 90 minutes per week (on average), and perhaps another 90 minutes at the end of the quarter to report on them. Coding web pages would also likely fall under "routine," except that each page requires a sufficient amount of creativity. And replacing complex code (which I generally refer to as "surgery") takes so much concentration, at least for me, that the routine aspect of it is overshadowed by the caution required.

The rest of my work is nonroutine by Pink's definition: "Creative, conceptual, right-brain work that can't be reduced to a set of rules." I was acting as de facto marketing specialist on one project for a while and came up with a bunch of good ideas for promotional items. I've been working on "blog empowerment" lessons for a set of independent contractors who write (somewhat reluctantly) for us from the field. I was searching for a penguin costume. At times I have blogged about these adventures, and other times I got so carried away with my nonroutine work that I didn't want to stop to document it. Suffice it to say that the creativity and autonomy I have for most of my work have led to great, and perhaps atypical results.

So, what can you do about it? Last week I wrote about how this blog is becoming more about effective work habits than embedded librarianship. If your work is largely routine, figure out a way to do it more effectively. I know this doesn't always mean Faster, but it may pave the way for more nonroutine work in your future.

November 12, 2010

Revisiting Web Accessibility


“Accessibility is not a box to tick; it is a call to action.”
~ Richard Hulse

In the past few months I have realized that this blog is more about effective work habits than embedded librarianship. I'll take it. After all, the whole of life is not so much about what you know, but what you repeat. It takes effective work habits to put into practice everything I learned in library school. One thing I learned was to be user-focused, and this includes focusing on the needs of users with disabilities.

It's been about two years since I was studying and speaking about web accessibility in a significant way, but I always try to make it part of my work here. Some of the main principles--especially if you frame the issue as "universal design"--remain constant: make your technology (information technology or otherwise) easier for everyone to use. But a lot of the details change and, as with all things tech, we have to keep up.


Today I reread a lot of the great web accessibility resources that have been gathering dust in my sidebar. I was reminded of the unique role of librarians in advancing the issue of web accessibility, because of our special place at the intersection of information technology and outreach to underserved populations. I installed the Firefox add-on for accessibility, and I ran a few of our social media tools through an online accessibility check. Now I just have to figure out how to interpret our Twitter report card (below).


One of the things I read gave a description of web accessibility that just sounds like a good habit in general: "Give all users more options and control when accessing web resources and support the interoperability concepts of the web." How do we make it happen? The same way we do everything else:
  • Know your users. We recently started rolling out an online magazine to replace the print version. We did a lot of "ground softening" for older, less tech-savvy users. If we have a good sense of which parts of our web content present challenges to users with disabilities (Do we? Jury's still out.), then we should be able to help all users through the transition.

  • Plan ahead. Have you checked your site for keyboard-only navigation? This is a key piece of web accessibility that could fall through the cracks during project management if you don't plan ahead--just like everything else that falls through the cracks if you don't plan ahead.

  • Work together. It's hard to be a one-man-band/one-woman-choir on web accessibility, or on any issue for that matter. You need to recruit allies.
If you are slow to start, or don't know where to start with web accessibility, I recommend reading the first few sections of Dive Into Accessibility, which gives great profiles of real users with disabilities--users who are much more colorful characters than just Jane Doe with a screenreader. These profiles remind you of the complexity of ability and disability, and of the human beings trying to access your web content.

November 3, 2010

These Things Take Time

"How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked.
"Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually and then suddenly."
~ The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I've been thinking a lot about New Year's resolutions. When January 1 rolls around I want to be able to commit to three priorities for 2011. It will take me a while to settle on a list that I am likely to be successful with. As part of the process I am reviewing where most of my resolve has settled in 2010, and while it's not critical to discuss what they are (okay, okay, they are bike empowerment, money management, and music), the larger point is that they are all things that had to be built up slowly over time, rather than discrete events or accomplishments.

One of the laws I have discovered is that most things operate this way: gradually, and then suddenly. It's how I got comfortable using a bike instead of a car for grocery shopping, how I finally started learning how to save money, and how I am learning to play guitar. It's also (sometimes) how relationships are destroyed and how people get cancer. Time is the undeniable factor in it all, and I am now branded with the lunar cycle so I never forget it.

Librarianship is not to be crammed for. There are aspects of it that are best applied by quick thinkers through rapid-fire protocols and honed instincts, but doing it well is not something to be achieved overnight. There is a lot of listening and marinating that has to go on for a while before you even have a frame of reference for how things work in your particular organization, and you won't even know what your goals should be for a while.

I would have thought that by now the print library would be a heck of a lot more organized. What have I done with it in three years? Very little, but not because I wasn't paying attention; it's precisely because I was paying attention that I put my efforts elsewhere. I realized that people don't really use it, and they are not necessarily going to use it if I make it fancy or put out a candy dish. I realized that the job is not necessarily as originally described because a job description is always a somewhat artificial construct.

I would like to think that some of what I am learning is transferable, but it is also quite specialized. Each organization is different, and delving into the differences is what makes you an asset: How does it work here? What does this mean in our context? You can ask these questions all you want in your first two years (and a ton of other questions), but there are all these other subtle and unspoken things that you'll glean, and Time seems to be the only dispenser of these particular pearls of wisdom.

So be patient. With yourself, your staff and your organization. These things take time.

October 27, 2010

Wikipedia and Me: It's Kind of a Long Story


When I was in fourth grade I was double-promoted to fifth grade. This practice, commonly known as "skipping a grade," while lauded in some circles, did nothing but exaggerate the social misfittedness of my adolescence (which was later corrected when I went to library school). My first day of fifth grade was October 27, 1986, and every year on this day I reflect on the relative worth of that move.

I don't believe in entering into the dicey calculus of what might have been, but I do believe the whole grade-skipping affair launched me into a life of know-it-all-itude. It didn't take me all the way 'til library school to correct that one, though. That one flew out the window during my Peace Corps experience, and whatever was left after that evaporated when I took on a humbling masters program in linguistics that was my most challenging academic undertaking. (I did finish, but not with flying colors).

At one point during my first graduate school adventure, I attended a meeting of a student environmental group that was using some weird thing called a "wiki" to organize its content and calendars. This was 2003, and to put this in proper historical context, imagine that Arnold Schwarzenegger had just been elected Governor of California---during a World Series playoff game in which the Cubs scored 8 runs. (I was there, and it's one of my favorite memories.) I had not yet heard of Wikipedia, and didn't find out about Arnie on it; I heard someone shout it out in the packed corridors of Wrigley Field as heartbroken fans filed out after 11 dizzying innings.

When the leader of our student group said we'd be using a website that anyone could edit, I put my still-thinking-I-knew-it-all hand up and asked how we would control the website if anyone could edit it. His answer was, "The community will govern." Indeed, he was right.


I've never been a very good hater of Wikipedia. I probably made a half-hearted attempt at some point to be one of those librarians who frowns on folk sources, but it never stuck. It's partly because Wikipedia was not my first exposure to a wiki. I got schooled on the wiki ethos long before I went looking for data about the Dixie Chicks when I first saw Shut Up and Sing. I had no doubt I would get a good estimate when I wanted to find out how old Kirby Dick is, and I fully enjoyed reading along about the history of Paranormal Activity while I was watching it. Suffice it to say that outside of IMDB and the print version of People magazine, Wikipedia is my favorite go-to resource on matters of pop culture.

I trust that the people behind the Dixie Chicks entry were at each other's virtual throats to appropriately document all sides of the controversy. But I'm a librarian. People look to me for guidance on reputable sources, and lurking in every conversation or reference question is the notion that there may be a Wikipedia entry leading the way to a bunch of resources, or providing valuable information itself. What's a girl to do?

In my first semester of library school I heard a panel discussion in which one alum proudly announced that she sported an "I hate Google and Wikipedia" T-shirt at the middle school library where she worked. Surely this is not a solution. Later I had a great class in which the professor said, "Wikipedia is a fact of life," and encouraged us to use our library skills to fact-check and improve its articles. That sounds more like it.


Since the Facts of Life lecture, I have come to embrace Wikipedia as more than just a competing resource that my colleagues are tempted to consult before asking me a reference question. I'm coming around to it, and starting to have more courage to speak out about it. Several experiences have made this possible. One was hearing Cory Doctorow speak at ALA this summer. He said something along the lines of, "How many major newspapers alert you that an article has incomplete citations or contains information that's currently being debated?"


Another turning point for me was reading Daniel Pink's account of Wikipedia's creation in his book Drive, and reflecting on the importance of this in explaining new theories of human motivation. A third experience was reading Chris Guillebeau's manifesto, in which he laments the days of old media: "People would sit in front of the screen and watch 'the news' presented in a hierarchical fashion based on what a small group of media barons and editors thought was important."

In Guillebeau's "alternative graduate school" proposal, one of the things he recommends it to set your internet browser to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Randompage and read the article that comes up each day. I've been doing this for two weeks and it is both more entertaining and possibly more educational than reading a whole GAO report every month.

One last memory: it was unsettling to say the least when, on the morning of April 16, 2007, I first heard of the Virginia Tech Massacre by reading its Wikipedia page. The page was a single scroll at that point, with a rudimentary timeline and no links. It was set up before major news outlets had picked up the story and was sent to me by a coworker. This was a revealing moment in our history. The lesson here is less technical than sociological: more people are creating and sharing information. And, even though I learned in library school that, "90% of anything is crap," I think having a mass historical record created by many minds is inherently a good thing (especially when it's so well organized).
We should go forward and evaluate Wikipedia articles with the same rigor we would any other resource--no more, no less.

October 20, 2010

Information in Context

Last week after SMUG, I attended the DC meet-up of Chris Guillebeau's Unconventional Book Tour. (There's Chris in the picture to the right, which I took with my phone. While it is not of great quality, I actually own the rights to it, unlike most of the images in this blog.) It was a great chance to hear more about the Art of Non-Conformity project and meet some of Chris' 'small army of remarkable people' in DC who are leading non-traditional lives. One remarkable attendee shouted out "#AONCDC" and, Presto, we had ourselves a list of remarkable people to follow-up with after the reading.

I about made a fool of myself when I met Chris, what with being starstruck and wanting to tell him my Guinea story and all, but I managed to recover enough to answer his "What do you do?" with "I'm an embedded librarian." From there, though, things unraveled a bit and I almost left him with the impression that embedded librarians are like embedded reporters, which they are not. Chris said it sounded like I worked for the CIA or something, which led me to say, "No, think of it more as a librarian without a library," to which he replied, "So you're the Book Lady," to which I replied (re-establishing my credibility as one who can think on her feet), "No, more like the Tag Lady."

The main idea of Chris' blog and book is that you don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to. When I wrote him a fan letter, one of the things I said was that, "This book came to me at just the right time, or maybe it's just that good." Truthfully though, the reason I got so much out of the book and started following Chris is that the information was put in context for me just the way I like it: in the form of a book review, by someone I admire and whose recommendations I trust (that person is the inimitable JD Roth).

Flash sideways, Lost-style, to a big database project I was working on during the time I read Guillebeau's book. Not only do you not have to live your life the way other people expect you to (although we sometimes need reminders and encouragement to embrace this), you also do not have to organize information the way other librarians expect you to, especially if your guiding principle is always to put information in context.

I was tasked with taking a richly structured federal interagency database designed for public input, figuring out why it was impoverished in terms of records, and then writing a "concept paper" for a new design. I did it. (Not that I didn't procrastinate as per my standard practice, but I did it and it was even, dare I say, fun!) The new design is about as far as you could get from anything I learned in library school about how to organize information (except that HTML is involved and it helps me organize thoughts). However, my guiding principles for it were to put the information in context (I am sure that came up once or twice in library school) and to put users' needs in front of my own, knowing I will be the one to implement the design I proposed.

Instead of records in a database, we will have individual web pages for each case study included. Instead of a fancy interface with scroll upon scroll of drop-down criteria for searches, we will have three simple gateways that list all records by one organizing principle (chronology, geography, topic). I will have to code all the pages, and I will have to list each record three times to ensure that they all end up in the appropriate place on each gateway, but this design will provide a better user experience by scaling back all the architecture that scared away the original users. We will favor browsing over search, since known-item searching is not a high priority for users of this database (rather, it's more of a serendipitous user experience as people will be using it to find out what is going on in this area in general, and not looking for specific program data).

It took me a while to embrace the new database concept because voices from library school were telling me to use some complex code or machinery that really wasn't necessary for this particular project. Many things here are like that, and may not even seem like library tasks to the outside world (or the inside world, for that matter). But I will approach each project as a librarian, and each project will be better for it.

October 13, 2010

Feeling SMUG

Today was the first meeting of our Social Media Users Group (SMUG). We had about eight people there out of about 14 who had been identified as using or preparing to use blogs or Twitter for official business. The meeting was structured around my colleague Kendra's wise words, "There is no exact recipe for success, but there are known ways to fail." While we enjoyed my not-so-original recipe for rainbow chip cake, we brainstormed known ways to fail, and here are some we came up with:
  • Tweeting without a picture, or changing the picture too often (in my opinion you should never change your Twitter picture);
  • Tweeting without a bio or with a bio that is not sufficiently descriptive of what people should expect from your feed;
  • The "Do-Not-Tweet" List: a need for proscriptions from above on specific content (such as ballot measures) that we are forbidden to Tweet or ReTweet;
  • Using automated share tools without knowing how they work (lest you inadvertently Tweet that you are "Currently Browsing.....");
  • Duplicating another program's feed;
  • Proliferating or initiating negative content about a partner, sponsor, funder or federal agency;
  • Using irony, sarcasm, provocative questions or ambiguous language that could be misinterpreted;
  • Accidentally ReTweeting your favorite off-color comedian;
  • ReTweeting a link without knowing what it leads to;
  • Having an ill-defined scope or voice for your blog (or none at all);
  • Having too much voice, or using an organizational blog for personal purposes;
  • Duplicating everything from your website on your blog;
  • Blogging negatively;
  • Posting infrequently or abandoning the blog altogether.

We made a list of all the current or proposed blogs and Twitter feeds that we know of and talked about the next steps for an approved social media policy. We also discussed the power of the hashtag and my top ten tips for building a following. The two best rules of thumb that I heard mentioned, for both blogging and microblogging were these: "Assume the whole world is watching," and "Be interesting." I felt these were great guidelines to get the most out of the tools and avoid most of the common pitfalls. It was a great first meeting and I hope to have more of them to blog about!

October 6, 2010

Greatest Hits

It's time to talk about hits--great ones if you'd like--but more importantly, the kind generated by Google bots and the ones oft' overestimated by your staff as genuine human interest in your web content. Lately, everyone's favorite word seems to be "hits." I keep finding myself in meetings where someone asks breathlessly, "How many hits are we getting on that page? Have our hits gone up? Are you tracking?" If you hear one of these questions, take a deep breath, put your enlightened librarian face on, and calmly explain the following:
  • A 'hit' is not as easy to define as some might think. Your own web system may define it differently from services such as Google Analytics, and you may have to wade through your server logs and crunch the numbers yourself to get an accurate count. (I'd say more, but I obviously don't know any more than this; I rely on our webmaster to interpret the server logs.)
  • Your own hits may be included in the numbers you are looking at. I don't know about you, but every time I am building a page, I check it several times in several browsers because I don't trust the preview screens. All those hits and refreshes (to fix apostrophes that are turning up as question mark diamonds) may be counted as veritable web traffic to a page. Which brings me to the next point...
  • You need to create a baseline to make sense of the numbers. You may choose to start tracking hits or growth after a certain date to filter out some of the set-up hits, especially if the page in question is brand-new. If the page is not a brand new URL but you have changed or added content, then it becomes even more important to think carefully about the date ranges you want to look at.
  • Don't track hits on pages you do nothing to promote. Marketing may not be in your job description, but if someone is asking you how a page is doing, and that page is not either (a) linked very prominently on your site, or (b) being actively promoted through some other method, do not spend time looking at the numbers until you've made some effort to drive web traffic to that page.
  • Be clear on what you are looking for in the numbers. Have you ever heard that HITS stands for 'How Idiots Track Success'? (I originally heard this attributed to Gerry McGovern, and it has also been attributed to Google's Avinash Kaushik, but I'd like to think it was first coined by Toby Ward.) I don't know if I truly believe that, but I think the extreme point of view occasionally helps move us to a more reasoned middle ground. Yes, you want to know if people are using your site, but hits could be bots not people, and even if the hitmakers are human, do you know how satisfied they were with your content? As JD Roth says, "Do you know the best way to get search engine traffic? Get linked from other sites. Do you know the best way to get linked from other sites? Write content that people want to share with others, content that makes people go, “Wow. I’m glad I found that.” That’s only SEO trick you need to know."
A website is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If you throw out some numbers that indicate page traffic is up, the temptation may be to think everyone is doing his or her job. Other forms of feedback and evaluation may be more effective unless your goal is just to generate hits. Let's leave that to the great songwriters of the world.

September 29, 2010

Day in the Life: The Three Most Important Things I Learned in Library School

I am working on a post about Information in Context, and it's taking shape while I slog through a huge database project, but I had to pause to capture this Day in the Life and the laws I cannot break myself against. There are three things I learned in library school that today seem like the three most important things. If every day were like today, then here is your guide to being an embedded librarian.
  1. HTML: Thank you, Bill Kules, for making me learn to code in HTML by hand and not use Dreamweaver! I use this skill every day in this job. And the importance of this goes well beyond just being able to help out with web tasks in a small organization. When you know code, you have a better understanding of how to organize information. It expands your imagination on all projects. Our content management system can automate a lot of things, but if you can get in there and mess with the code (or even be able to look at code without recoiling in fear), you can be a resource to your webmaster and everyone else.

  2. Web Accessibility: I cannot tell you how important it is that as a librarian you know a thing or three about how to make your electronic information accessible to people with cognitive, visual, or other disabilities. It is the perfect marriage between the person-centered approach of libraries, and the technical knowledge and skills that are increasingly important to our profession. If you are the only one in your organization singing this song, SING LOUDER.

  3. Copyright: Embrace your duty to educate your staff about their own "copy rights," and speak up if you feel they are infringing on others' rights. Your organization may routinely give its resources away for free and without a vested interest in getting credit. However, you as the librarian, and I as the librarian, and we as librarians, have to work extra hard to communicate that not everyone feels this way about sharing information. When I was in Copyright Camp during library school, the SIIA's message to me was, "Don't copy that floppy!" I feel I am slowly making a mantra out of "Don't post that PDF!" Make your staff aware that you have copyright knowledge, and if you don't have some, make a list of your questions and ask another librarian.

September 22, 2010

Advising Work Teams on Blog Projects

I noticed that I have been advising teams on blogging a lot lately, and in listening to myself talk, I decided that I know, or think I know, something about this, so here goes... If you are asked to weigh in (or, perhaps, even if you're not), here are some talking points to guide a content team toward better blog decision-making.

To blog or not to blog? Do not be afraid to ask someone to take a step back and more thoughtfully consider the decision to start a blog. You may find that people assume they should have one for their project or other misguided assumptions along the lines of "everybody's doing it." Have the conversation; the team may gain a lot just from being led through a thoughtful discussion about their current information outputs.

What will be this blog's focus? If there is not a topical focus, personal narrative structure, or unique point of view in the blog, the team may wish to redouble its efforts with current communications platforms rather than adding a blog. If the blog is meant to replace some other current output, such as a newsletter, have a conversation about whether the exact same content will be shared via a blog. This is a good opportunity to talk about blogging as both/either a genre or a technology. The team may be considering blogging just because the mechanics are easier than something they are currently using, or they may be looking to personalize their content a bit more--both good reasons for choosing to blog, but the team may not have given this any thought and may be headed down a path of repeating much of what is available on your website.

How will we build an audience for this blog? The team has probably done some work to promote (and get readers used to) other forms of communication. Do not let them assume that those constituents will just slide right over to their blog. This point is larger than just the learning curve that may be an obstacle for some members of your audience; it also has to do with building interest in the new focus of the blog, if it has one, as well as getting readers used to using comments features. (In fact, you may be dealing with a project that wants to start a blog but never even considered the comments feature...which is a whole discussion in itself.)

How will we sustain an audience for this blog? You may fulfill the important role of 'cautionary tale,' or helping people put the breaks on if they haven't fully thought this through. There will be a lot of genuine enthusiasm among some people about starting a blog, but they should resist the initial excitement and channel it into a solid long-term plan for evaluation and follow-up after a test phase. They should also think about posting to the blog for a while as practice, and slowly releasing the content to larger and larger circles, starting with internal staff (although they may heartily resist staying in any sort of "Beta" phase).

*Who will do it? This is not as simple as it sounds. It may be a team effort of people contributing posts and/or content for sidebars, even if the blog appears to be coming from a director or project leader. Everyone can help, but have a clear division of labor chart that indicates who is doing what, by when, and who the back-up person is for each task. If there are going to be multiple authors, or guest bloggers, hammer out the details of how this will work.

How often? A team may think they have to blog every day to be effective. It all depends on the focus and scope. A monthly entry may be appropriate depending on the project. Posting at regular intervals is more important than posting often. In fact, advise teams to have a white board (electronic or otherwise) to help continually plan the next series of posts, which helps people resist the urge to post something as soon as they think of it.

How will the blog integrate with our current web presence? If you have a website, or a portion of one, for this project, and you are adding in a blog, be careful. If the sites co-refer, do this strategically. If one of the goals of the blog is to get people back to your website, then do that, and do not re-post on your blog everything that is available on your website. Think about what the process will look like when new content arises and everyone is sitting in a meeting trying to decide if it should be posted on the website, the blog, both or neither.

How will we integrate the blog into our overall information/communications strategy? This is the part where you inventory all the current outputs and make sure any overlap is strategic. If you Tweet, will you Tweet the new blog posts? Is the blog replacing another current task or are additional staff and resources required? Will you use the blog to draw attention to new publications and then link back to your website? Will you discuss publications on the blog and is the blog one of your publications? What policies, such as web accessibility or company approval, that govern other communications need to be applied to the blog? If your stakeholders will think you are pushing out too much information, are the tools you're using customizable so people can select how much they want to get?

Should we use a stand-alone blogging platform? Platforms like Blogger are great, and easy to use, but there may be a clear advantage to using your own system if it keeps people on your website (or it may be a policy not to use an outside platform for official communication). Your content management system may also have built-in tools for blogging, but these may or may not make subscriptions easy for readers to unify with the other blogs they read. There are probably advantages and disadvantages either way--explore them.

What will be the role of the librarian? This is a great time for you to step up the kind of services you offer any team you're embedded with. If you are involved from the beginning with any sort of blog project, you can think about things like archiving the posts on your own server (if there is a concern about that), cataloging the entries (if applicable), and helping with tech support and troubleshooting if you know the selected software.

If you engage people on these points and they say something like, "Let's not overthink this; it's only a blog," be ready to point out (very diplomatically) the flaw in this approach. You need only point to a few abandoned and/or inactive blogs to show what can happen if people do not undertake blogging decisions with the same rigor they would a print publication. A colleague of mine once said, "There is no exact recipe for success, but there are known ways to fail." Be a resource to all the potential bloggers on your staff so their work, with your help, will be successful.

September 15, 2010

Help Yourself

I usually write about my successes. I need to learn to write more about my challenges, but without complaining.

I am a terrible cataloger. I avoid it at all costs, and when I do finally manage to do some, I cringe to look at the Date Modified on my catalog, which is just an Excel spreadsheet. I have piles on my desk, and in the library, of items to catalog. All this from someone who was lucky enough to have an actual set of the LCSH 'red books' in her office on Day 1. (Not that they are current, but still, pretty cool for a no-budget choose-your-own-adventure library job, right?)

Note: Early on in my tenure here, I was told not to catalog. And after I came to, I asked why. Basically, this is not really that kind of library. If I get something in print (or electronically, for that matter), they would rather have me share it right away with the appropriate staff member rather than take the time to catalog it. They are ultra kind people, but that doesn't mean they understand the importance of cataloging. And yes, it's partly incumbent on me to communicate that. A few months after the 'don't catalog' conversation, when I had gathered ample confidence and the right talking points, I approached my supervisor about this. We had a nice conversation about being user-driven versus being library-driven and it was very useful. As an embedded librarian, I have one foot in the content world of my staff and one foot in the library. It's a balancing act. I explained that if I am expected to find something later, then I should catalog it sooner. My memory is good, but not that good.

This is never the kind of job where there is 'no time' for something, so it's not as if taking the time to catalog would be at the expense of some other urgent activity. My supervisor and I were able to clarify that it's not a priority for anyone but me, but I am more than welcome to spend my time doing it as long as I am also delivering the deliverables, which are more reflective of the embedded nature of the position.

Now I am at the point where I definitely feel I should be doing better on cataloging but it's entirely on me -- both the desire and the responsibility -- unlike all my other work which is either a deliverable or a team-oriented task. I know I can do it, but I just don't. Despite the fancy label maker I have in my desk drawer.

So, I've decided to help myself. I have added in all kinds of things to my work routine that no one is making me do. I'm a librarian; why can't I catalog? I make myself read an entire GAO report each month, in addition to all kinds of other non-required activities. I know how easy it will be to find something once it's cataloged. I love playing around in Excel. I can do this.

I cataloged one item yesterday and one today. Each day from now on, until I have cataloged at least one item, I will keep my label maker right in front of my keyboard, which is terribly inconvenient, to remind me that this is really not that hard unless I continue to overthink it. Wish me luck.

September 8, 2010

To Do, Ta-Da, and Everything In Between

One of the quotes in my Embedded Wisdom list (see sidebar) is, "You cannot break the law; you can only break yourself against the law," and if you follow me in any way shape or form, you hear this over and over again. You hear me stumble through how it relates to my new tattoo design, why it's the middle epigraph in my novel, and why I insist on bringing it up over and over. I have not yet found a way to articulate it for best effect, but I've transcended ever questioning whether it is the most important bit of wisdom I have ever heard or read. In a nutshell, some ideas keep falling into your path or getting in your way over and over again until you recognize them.

Here is one for you: Make a To-Do List. When I try to come up with something for the Task Mastery 101 sidebar, it usually ends up being about To-Do Lists. Sometimes I hesitate to post those tips because, really, what could be more of a snooze than having someone recommend that you make a list of the things that you'd like to accomplish? But over and over again I find that it often is just that simple. Here are a few reasons I decided this was post-worthy:
  1. The act of making the list organizes my random thoughts into discrete tasks;
  2. The act of making the list facilitates prioritization and decision-making; and
  3. The act of making the list moves me from inaction to action.
If that is not enough, consider this: Keep your lists. See what you checked off and what you didn't. Build evidence of what you are actually spending your time on, and what things you did not get to because you were fixing the printer or making name tents. Write in what you actually did instead of something on your list. If someone asks you what you've been working on or what you have accomplished today/this week/this year, consult your lists. Use them to revise your job description when it's time, or to draft a work plan for your library.

Last year on the Solos list-serve someone posted a great document of what she does daily/weekly/monthly/annually in her library and it was quite detailed. Parts of that could become an intern's project description, or the scope of work for a contractor, or a part of your professional portfolio. It becomes the documentation for you and everyone else of how you spent your time, and how much time things take.

In the spirit of "something for everyone," here is a new take on an old idea, that of the "To Not Do" List, which will surely be referenced when I post my magnum opus (portions in Latin) on Selectivity. Stay tuned.

September 1, 2010

C.U.R.T.?

Can yoU Read This? Or is it "brief and incomplete to the point of discourtesy" if I initialize it instead of spelling out what I am really asking? That is the definition of curt I found in the mammoth 1940 Universal Dictionary of the English Language that I keep in my office. Granted, in a previous post I explained that my background in linguistics makes me much less of a prescriptivist than you'd expect, especially when it comes to dictionaries, but I think the general concept of curtness is an apt metaphor for what happens when we do not control one ubiquitous and possibly confounding aspect of our work: Acronyms.

I had a great teacher in library school who encouraged his students to approach Wikipedia as a "fact of life" and not an inherently bad thing, just one that librarians should use with more thoughtfulness and caution than the average user might. I feel the same way about acronyms: they are there for a reason and they can make our life easier. Nevertheless, acronyms pose obvious problems to new staff at an organization, visitors to your meetings and conferences, and even you if you don't know what they mean.

The first rule of acronyms: Ask. If you hear one in a meeting, write it in the margin of your notes and ask what it means at the first appropriate opportunity, which may be right away if it's crucial to your understanding of a task. It may be the case that you figure it out from context and double-check it after a meeting, or follow up with the person who used it.

The second rule of acronyms: Keep a list. The librarian is a key person to document miscellaneous knowledge in an organization, and making an acronyms list is a great way to start. This list will have 101 uses. Make it available via your intranet (or via a public web page if appropriate) and have a way for people to suggest or add changes. Offer it to conference organizers to include in the program if guests from outside your knowledge speciality are attending. Include it, or a relevant portion of it, in your organization's standard publications.

Think about how you feel when you get a very short email from someone without a lot of context or elaboration (especially in customer service situations) as opposed to a thorough explanation. The longer explanation usually adds to your understanding, makes you feel valued, and shows that the person on the other end gave some thought to your point of view. The same is true for acronyms. Avoid seeming curt or exclusive by giving everyone who interacts with your organization an opportunity to be "in the know" and figure out what people are saying.

August 25, 2010

Notarizing in the White Spaces

Two years ago I became a Notary Public in the District of Columbia. While my husband chided that becoming a notary is "what nerds do when they grow up," I contended that this was a natural extension of my role as a steward of authenticated information.

As the District's Notary handbook attests, the role has evolved from that of designated notetaker to one "certifying the truth" by witnessing signatures on important documents. I knew that my organization often had a need for this service, and I correctly predicted that becoming qualified to fulfill this role would help me get to know my coworkers. It's a public service you can provide that fits well with other solo/embedded duties as part of working in the 'white spaces of the organizational chart.'

You may find that a member of your finance staff is already a Notary Public, but often the documents that need to be notarized are financial in nature and so a third, disinterested party is necessary to witness signatures. I've also been pleasantly surprised by all the non-work/personal business I have received in my office, now that people know I am a Notary Public. I have probably notarized documents for half our staff and only half of those were work documents. It's been a great way to get to know people, and for them to get to know me. (I have the "Notary Public" nameplate on my desk so people know when they walk by that I can provide this service.)

Requirements vary state to state, but you will likely have to go through some level of training, provide references, get bonded, and buy your stamp(s) before you register with your state and take your oath. And, yes, you will be offered many additional customized products when you buy your stamp. But, yes, you can write off your set-up expenses on your taxes, as well as any income you make as a Notary Public (in fact, you have to declare that). While this is not a huge money-making enterprise, it's a nice complement to other skills, talents and certifications that librarians naturally have, and it's a great way to enhance your visibility in the workplace. It could be the starting point for long-term work relationships, and when people see you as a competent and trustworthy agent of the state, they tend to think of you as a resource for other matters. It's also a great way to learn about local and state laws, legal documents, and other procedures handled by state government.

Although I moved to Maryland after starting my commission as a DC notary, my employer wrote a letter on my behalf to the Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications so I could continue notarizing in DC until my commission expires in 2013, noting that this was a valued service I provide to the organization.

August 18, 2010

Works in Progress

Two years ago I wondered "aloud" whether this position was really an "embedded librarian" position, and that is still up for debate. However, one of the characteristics of embedded librarianship that Shumaker and Talley (huge final report here; summary here) note is "providing specialized information services." If I judge my current position exclusively on that criterion then I am unequivocally embedded, at least as evidenced by my two current projects described below.

Thing 1:
For one of the teams I am "embedded" with I am drafting a training on "information overload," which I am modeling around Clay Shirky's idea that, "It's not information overload; it's filter failure." I am having a lot of fun with it. This was requested for a set of part-time independent contractors who work on our behalf in the field and receive tons of electronic information from our staff, in addition to memoranda from the project director.

(Click images to enlarge.)

I was asked to craft this presentation with the goal of explaining all our electronic messaging and how these contractors can strategically use it to help and not hinder their work. I am focusing the presentation around the topics of "Filtering" and "Filters," explaining the general approach and then the tools. I want to build on the idea that we are all already using some filters whether we know it or not, but the filters sometimes have to be adjusted for the specific types of information in our intake, that being the information I am to be the "specialist" on.

Thing 2: For another team I am "embedded" with, I am helping them draft what I am calling an "Overall Information Strategy" as part of a website relaunch and renewed marketing plan. It's not supposed to be a communications plan so much as a prerequisite for a communications plan--first documenting all the information sources and then outlining the appropriate outreach that matches each (and by "outreach" I mean to include internal staff communication).

To do this, I am first documenting the OIS for the team in Thing 1 (my primary project), and it has been just as much fun as the Information Overload presentation. These are both going to be tools I reuse and refine again and again.To start the OIS document, I just made a matrix showing all the types of information that come in on one axis, and all the possible actions and dissemination outlets on the other axis. And yes, there is strategic overlap: creating a new web page could be either the cause or the result of one of the other actions, and a new publication, if it's ours, would probably have dots filled in across the board.

August 11, 2010

31 Flavorful Months of del.icio.us

It's been 31 months since Gretchen introduced me to social bookmarking through del.icio.us (now, officially, "Delicious"). Aside from Google Alerts, this is the most important free tool that I use to organize my work. I consider my Delicious toolbar to be another appendage: I need it and use it all the time, and I usually only stop to appreciate it if it's impaired in some way.

When you get really good at tagging it can be seamlessly integrated in your work and can increase your speed and efficiency considerably, all the while creating a nice metadata record of the parts of your daily web traffic that have either caught or demanded your attention. It also acts as a great search engine later for an addled brain that remembers seeing "something" on a certain topic but then forgot about it. (When I was in library school and I would forget where I read something, I used to just ask Gretchen about those info-wisps. She seemed to have an almost clairvoyant sense of my own brain's organization and could usually figure out what I was talking about.) Nowadays, if I spend any time at all on a site, I tag it.

One of the things I like about how it works, or rather, how my work behavior has evolved since I've been using Delicious, is that having tagging fully-integrated with all my online behavior helps me know in a passive, low-effort way what the hot topics have been. Then when someone asks what theme we should focus the next newsletter on, I can contribute meaningfully by saying something like, "Gee, there seem to be a lot of things going on right now with women in transportation." It has also been very interesting to see my tags develop as new topics shape our field. My bookmarks for ARRA, livability, and Mobility Management have grown steadily as our projects and work plans have developed over the past year.

Since I asserted in a recent post that one of my guiding principles is not to complain, I will try to frame my Delicious Dilemmas as questions rather than gripes. One of the things I wish I could do is bundle tags so that, for example, if I tag something "Rogoff" it automatically gets tagged "FTA" as well (but not vice-versa, or this would be a true redundancy...I just want to reflect subset-superset relationships). Is there a way to do that? I have finally learned how to search for tags within tags, but I would also like to have some kind of option to apply them that way, which I realize would require a lot of concentrated set-up time. (Or to search by what the first tag was that I used...yes, I know, this is starting to sound like a love song for actual taxonomies.)

I also wish you could bundle tags to apply to more than one resource while you have all those related windows open. For example, sometimes I follow a story or an issue and I have several windows open that I want to tag with the same ten terms, usually when I am doing research for a staff member and I do administrative as well as topical tags. Is there a way to do this? As a short-term work-around I have adopted a simple copy-and-paste method through Notepad so I can insert a string of terms in the Tags field as soon as the Save-a-Bookmark window opens.

I love my tag cloud. It's the best portrait of what I've been looking at and working on, and it's a good reflection of the strange slice of the transportation world that I am charged with researching. It also reflects the idiosyncrasies of how I think in this place, and how our vocabulary might diverge from a traditional controlled vocabulary. “Recommendations” means something like a GAO report or a policy proposal, whereas “Recommended” is my shorthand for all those links my boss sends me that I deem important but not urgent. Also, I am finally in the habit of using my "Ready Reference" tag for all those publications our staff quote all the time, have taken pains to post in strategic places on our website, but occasionally want to see links to all in one place.

My bookmarking is only marginally "social" although I am starting to use it in that direction, and now that I am very familiar with the "back end" I think I am ready to do more sharing of the "front end" with staff so they can find things they know I have without having to go through me if they don't want to. I have not experimented with Digg or Stumble Upon but maybe I will. (But I have a feeling that that comparison may lead to breaking, or at least bending, my 'Don't complain' principle.)