July 28, 2010

The Events Calendar is a Collection.

As part of my other duties as assigned I manage an events calendar. It's easy to think of this as just another administrative duty that falls in line somewhere near the name tents, although requiring slightly more advanced computer skills (it runs as a database in our content management system, WebArticles, and appears in three different sites' customized style wrappers). Actually, though, the events calendar is another collection of information deserving of some concentrated attention, planning, and library skills.

The events I collect and post may be webinars, conferences, legislative rallies, colloquia, meetings, calls for papers, and other items of interest to our staff, members, partners, and the general public visiting our site(s). Managing this calendar has not always been my responsibility but I have taken it on with a perspective of collection development. I mine all incoming publications--print and electronic--for events that could fit the scope of our calendar. I am selective, as I would be with keeping and promoting publications. I am consistent, in terms of how I make decisions about the scope of events that would be appropriate. (We do not, for example, post all things transportation.) I also try to be consistent in how I present the information so that the metadata, as it were, for each event is displayed the same way for each event. This includes the sponsoring organization, date, location, link to registration, and any publications that participants are encouraged to review in advance of the event.

This last point is key: events are often tacked on as a way to promote a new publication, so I may as well promote the event when I promote the publication. Events also sometimes lead to publications, such as proceedings from a conference or a report on a national online dialogue, so being aware of the events keeps me appraised of where the next important pubs will come from. You can also use a well-managed events calendar to drive traffic to other parts of your website. If it's your own calendar you can feel free to work in links to your own resources.

Taking the events calendar seriously can advance strategic partnerships, organizational alignment, and future collection development. While the calendar events are ephemeral, they typically arise from fertile research questions in the field and often produce resources, at least some gray literature. It lets you know what people in your content area are talking about, giving you and the staff you serve a competitive edge, or at least a sense of being in the know.

July 21, 2010


I don't require much in the way of specialized or expensive office supplies but I'm a big fan of plastic sheet protectors. My "ready reference" library on my desk consists of about fifteen pieces of paper that I regularly refer to, each in its own plastic sheet protector, and lovingly housed in a magazine holder within my reach. There I have a list of webpage IDs for content I frequently update, a page of Microsoft Office Keyboard Shortcuts, timesheet and other internal billing codes, contact information for other members of the Eastern Transportation Knowledge Network (when in doubt, ask another librarian!), and a copy of my job description. I also have an article from last summer's Information Outlook entitled "What's in a Name?" by Mumtaz A. Anwar.

Although I opposed the proposed name change to Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals, I held onto this article about professional identity because it contains a passage that I like to read often enough to warrant this document's close proximity to those other plastic-protected items: "I am supposed to possess the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to identify, evaluate, select, acquire, organize, maintain and disseminate relevant information for the use of my clients."

I think about this a lot when I need to refocus on what I am supposed to be doing with my day, my career, or just a free hour. That passage helps guide me back into the white spaces, where I long to act as a strategic knowledge professional, and very often I succeed. (This week the main project I work on published a paper I wrote about search mythology in our content specialty.) But the fact of the matter is that I am still a librarian with a sense of some of the mundane tasks that will keep the library alive and well.

No one who has met me would say I am anything short of an idealist, but when I read that passage I also have to remember that I was hired to do a specific job that is not in the white spaces, which has among its listed duties such things as "Receiving, responding and maintaining records on telephone and email inquiries on diverse topics of public and community-based transportation issues." I sometimes neglect the more quotidienne and less glamorous aspects of my work as I venture out into the choose-your-own-adventure aspects of it. (I even suffer from regular angst every time I am asked to make a name tent.)

I think we need to learn to carefully balance the regular duties our employers expect us to do with the more exotic ventures, and I don't think this is easy by any means. If we spend all our time in the white spaces we overlook some of our most important duties (no, not the name tents, but perhaps some of that record-keeping). I recently read something that said you cannot achieve balance in the short-term but only over the long haul. I think it's coming, and blogging alternately about tools and tenets surely helps keep me grounded in both Dr. Anwar's vision and my job description as written. Maybe the next step is to get all of those little tasks automated to the point where my job description could be rewritten!

July 14, 2010

Why I Blog

This post, like many others, has been brewing in my head (and on several scraps of electronic paper) for a while, and seeing that one of my favorite bloggers posted a "My Life as a Blogger" entry recently was just the motivation I needed to finally put this together.

Last night I kept mentioning my blog while addressing a group of library school students at my alma mater. There was a time when I wouldn't have done that, for fear of what someone would find here. There was even a time when I deleted the whole thing (after creating copious archive files of everything from the entry links to the ‘DC Speak’ list), but Blogger must be used to people doing that and then changing their minds because reactivating it months later was frighteningly easy.

Part of my trepidation in keeping it going is that when I started, I felt certain that my position was an "embedded librarian" position, and before I determined that maybe it's not, I snatched up this blog address as well as the matching username in del.icio.us. So I am always a little embarrassed about the blog address and the questions it invites. Furthermore, there are lingering suspicions in my mind along the lines of what one of JD Roth’s friends said in the linked entry above:
  • "Weblogs are narcissistic.
  • Weblogs make a mess of Google’s search results.
  • Bloggers present a biased view of their world." (original post)
Well…yes, yes, and yes.

This is truly a self-centered activity, but centering is inherently good, and no one is going to do it for me. Therefore, look at your blog as “self-centered” in the best possible use of the phrase. Blogging helps me figure out what I have been working on, how to synthesize it into a decent piece of writing, how to explain it to readers outside my content area, and what it means for the field. As for it making a mess of search results, well there are ways to control for that but more importantly, if you wanted to learn about solo librarianship, wouldn’t you like to read some solo librarians’ blogs? And as for the third objection, if I have a biased view of my world, it is there whether or not I blog about it. Blogging is an opportunity to identify the elements of that worldview that may be inhibiting my work, and inviting comments is a way to seek candid contributions from others.

Keeping this blog going is also a way to take a weekly deep breath about my job and figure out where I’ve been and where I’m headed, especially if I have time to go back over some of the old entries. Maybe I will discover that I have encountered the same challenges before and remember how I resolved them. Maybe I will find renewed motivation, or at least scratch my head and wonder why I sounded so hopeful in all those early entries. Maybe I will dust off my librarian adventurer boots and jump in anew and refreshed.

As for how to do it, here are my guiding principles:
  • Imagine an audience.
  • Put some thought into it.
  • Don't complain.
  • Read other blogs and learn from them.
In those early hopeful days, I used to close each entry with “Keep smiling,” but now I’d like to say, to myself and my readers, Keep blogging.

July 7, 2010

Why I Have a "ReadThis" Tag in Gmail

Okay, I admit, my Gmail tag count (see Stats in the sidebar) is getting a little out of control, but I still feel I am able to find almost any email of which I have a vague recollection (and some that have already flitted away into non-memory). And having a "ReadThis" tag may seem just as silly as my "Today" and "Resources" tags if I told you that any email still in my inbox is considered an action item, and that my entire job is managing resources. Nevertheless, I have a system. Just as cataloging an item is both more than and less than reading that item (depending on how you look at it) dealing with an email may require different levels of "reading."

When I train people on Gmail and tags, I try to avoid the term "metadata," although that's exactly how I use these tools. (My terms are just sometimes a little folksier than others'.) I emphasize that the system has to make sense to the user, and your tags should be something you will remember. That is a retrieval-biased explanation, but the truth is that I manage so much email on any given day that I need to use my tags to organize my work tasks as well. (I once kept a count and found about 60 active Gmail conversations on an average workday, with an average of four messages per conversation.) I use the "ReadThis" tag to group things that require a different attention span than other tasks. Which brings me to the latest update from the Carr Barn.....

I have been struggling with some of the ideas put forth in Nicholas Carr's work, specifically his article in the June issue of Wired in which he argues that The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains. I disagree with the assertion that quick thought is shallow thought; indeed, we librarians need to do a lot of quick, deep thinking to do our jobs. However, I find myself thinking a lot about one of the experiments Carr cites in which participants' reading comprehension suffered when certain terms in a passage were hyperlinked. (Tracking down this citation--given Carr's scant details--has been one of my best library moments, so please click through.) I encounter a lot of material at work that requires deeper concentration and attention, and often a reread or two, not to mention a pen in hand. I tend to print this type of content and, if I am so inclined, I read it in the guest chair that looks out into my office hallway rather than at my desk, both so that I am not distracted by my computer and phone, and so that people see me reading.

I often lament the fact that I do not work in a public library or other setting where I would regularly encounter and promote ALA's Celebrity READ posters, although I did put up the Brain Food Pyramid one here. Modeling good reading habits should not be excluded from the domain of the special librarian. Besides my office idiosyncrasies (which may well go unnoticed), I have only ventured as far as sharing resources such as Clay Shirky's "It's Not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure." video, a great article about minimizing social media distractions at work, and Leon Neyfakh's hilarious article about the bizarre set of behaviors some of us have that now require us to guiltily "Mark all items as (not) read" in Google Reader. Sometimes I think a good focused reading (and knowledge management) exercise would be to make all staff read each other's publications for a day and do nothing else. I can't make that happen, but I have vowed to read at least one entire GAO report per month out of the dozens that I process. My July choice is a bit daunting, but I am committed.

What else should we do to incorporate professional reading education in our information literacy and technology training? (Feel free to print and read this post to minimize link distractions, and please recycle.)

July 2, 2010

ALA 2010 Round-Up Part 2: The Requirements

I have a mini-project at work to document partnerships between public libraries and transit agencies. Both are facing devastating challenges in the face of depleted tax revenues and precarious federal funding, and in many communities they serve the same customers and are trying to better serve special populations.

I started this project because I felt I was hearing the same advice being given to library leaders and transit leaders at various conferences and meetings I attended: "Reach out! Get creative! Join your local Chamber of Commerce! Partner with other community agencies!" I was hearing this in particular from the employment transportation side of our work, and it resonated with me as a librarian because of all the recent discussions on libraries as de facto career development centers, as well as doing literacy and ESL classes and outreach.

As part of getting this project started, I attended a great session at ALA called Outreach 24/7. Not only did I take courage and make an announcement about my project so people could contact me...one of the speakers mentioned outreach to transit agencies! (I was so excited.) The Schaumburg Township District Library in Illinois puts donated paper backs in local Metra stations with stickers that say "Brought to you by your library," and they are looking for other ways to reach out to commuters. This may be a small start, but the library leaders had to make contact with the transit leaders to get this to happen, so a relationship is forming.

I am collecting any and all examples of library-transit partnerships, even if it's as simple as a "Ride the bus to the library" or "Read on the bus" campaign, or a library that has found a creative way to display transit information, or a reference desk that helps patrons understand their local community services, including transportation. If you hear of anything, be sure to let me know!

July 1, 2010

ALA 2010 Round-Up Part 1: Electives!

I think it's important to have "requirements" and "electives" at ALA since there are so many great sessions, and it's always fun to do things outside your comfort zone or work focus.

The two "elective" sessions I went to were actually the two best sessions I have ever attended at ALA (I have now attended 3 times - 2007, 2009, and 2010). One was on science fiction, which I know virtually nothing about, and one was "Blasphemy! When Religious Values Clash with Intellectual Freedom Values," which I attended with Gretchen so we could dialogue about it afterward.

Cory Doctorow

The science fiction session featured three speakers: Eric Rabkin, Cory Doctorow, and Neil Hollands. Rabkin went through a short (and entertaining!) history of the development of "scientifiction" and one of the most interesting things he said was that, "The first novel was necessarily a work of science fiction." I thought this was interesting in light of a discussion I was following last fall about Margaret Atwood (btw, Happy Canada Day, Madge!) saying that she writes "speculative fiction" and not "science fiction" - comments which caused a buzz on many book blogs. Doctorow was wonderful as expected, and said we should take advantage of the fact that "people look like jerks when they rip on libraries." He meant that the sometimes questionable "reverence" paid to librarians could be leveraged to advance key issues. Yesterday I tweeted this comment in conjunction with the Fox News report about whether we need libraries and then @doctorow retweeted it, leading to a wave of mentions, followers and general giddiness for me.

Neil Hollands was the best. What a guy! He listed off several brilliant points about how to do readers advisory appropriately for science fiction readers. First he cautioned librarians not to assume that these readers share too many of the same personal characteristics, but he did say that they are generally more independent readers, and that any outreach approach has to be built around this fact. He talked about being "series-aware" as a librarian so you know whether a particular series has to be read in order, and not to get rid of the series even if its first two installments aren't circulating well (evidently some series don't really take off until Book 3 and then patrons will go looking for the first two books). He also said not to start a SciFi Readers' Group from scratch but to tap into local networks and build from there. He specifically encouraged librarians to attend a local "game con" and speak with organizers about how to reach potential readers.

Irshad Manji

Monday afternoon I heard Sir Paul Sturges and Irshad Manji speak about religious values and intellectual freedom. I'll admit that I was "offended"by some of the things said, but more importantly, I learned the differences between blasphemy, offensive speech, and hate speech. It was an engaging session about how to open up dialogue around topics that are sensitive and possibly offensive. One of the take-home messages was not to be afraid to ask questions that you fear might offend someone; not asking those questions can do more harm than good. I was even empowered to tell Irshad something during her book signing something that I knew might offend her, but she had empowered me to speak out: I think of her as a Muslim Rachel Maddow. So when she signed my book, I told her this, and we had a good laugh about it.