January 27, 2011

Library Day in the Life

First thing first: this is my Week of Extreme Slow, part of my Embedded Librarianship Project. I was going to devote a whole entry to it, but I didn't want to miss out on blogging for the Library Day in the Life project. Then I thought, what better way to celebrate and explain my work than to explain how it looks under the microscope.

I started with a to-do list. I've never had a productive day at work without one. The list is not pretty, but by lunchtime about a third of its items had been crossed out, including the biggest, scariest item that I had been dragging my feet on forever.

One of my responsibilities is to plan, write, edit, format, and quality-assure content for a federal interagency website. The process is just a little bit ridiculous and resembles conversing via tin cans: I note changes to be made and transmit these to a federal officer who then contacts a government contractor to make the changes, who then contacts me... I'd have given up on this by now except that I have to document this dance in my quarterly progress report to our federal funders. While putting the changes together (slowly), I found a number of broken links and some mismatched content to repair--or, rather, suggest through my tin can that it be repaired--later.

The rest of my day was focused on cleaning out my inbox, which, although it is empty when I leave on a good day, has been growing fat with messages as if in preparation for this week's snowstorms. Most of the messages hanging around were events to be added to the calendar, alerts on special keywords that I like to find in documents, and notices that so-and-so is now following us on Twitter.

I tweet at least three times a day via two different feeds (different funding sources, different identities & voices, different rules & regulations). This is a treasure trove of activity and information, especially during a Week of Extreme Slow. I took a look at some of the new followers to each feed, and their followers in turn, followed through on some tweets that @mentioned us, and so on. One thing led to another, as they say.

Part of the inbox clean-up involved checking in on my dozens of Google Alerts. I monitor web traffic on the names (and acronyms, and web addresses) of each of our projects, specialized terminology, board members' names, federal grant codes, and more. I've learned to tell a good result from a phantom PDF-chaser. I've disambiguated terms that overlap between our content area and the work, presumably, of some special librarian in another hemisphere whose "LEP" means Local Enterprise Partnerships (not Limited English Proficiency). I've found, cataloged, put in context, and then promoted, hundreds of tiny wisps of information this way. Today I was making sure that each wisp found multiple, strategically-overlapping homes on our website, internal knowledge base, Twitter feed, as well as to see that any mention of us in the press, be it ever so humble, found its way to the communications staff.

The things that didn't make their way off the list were: drafting my "Power of the Hashtag" training for the next SMUG gathering, and putting the finishing touches on a new resource collection on social media and public participation. These will happen, slowly, tomorrow and Friday as I continue in my quest to slow down routine tasks in order to suckle every last bit of learning, productivity, and reflection out of the items on my list.

PS I did all this while listening to Danielle Ate the Sandwich and Neutral Milk Hotel. Great combination.

January 19, 2011

Passion, Profession, or Practice?

Last year I helped organize a session at our annual conference called, “Social Media and Public Agencies: Practices, Policies, and Potential Pitfalls.” When my boss introduced the session he said, “There must have been a sale on P's.” That goes for this entry as well.

I posted this title as being “On Deck” (see sidebar) a while ago, so obviously this has been on my mind for a while. Here’s what I know: your approach to doing your library job may be a matter of passion, you may consider it a profession, and it may be a deliberate practice (or even all three). Do what works for you, with your unique combination of skills and experience.

As for me, I used to be of the “Follow your passion” mindset, and I was fortunate to have been encouraged and able to do so. I went to grad school (the first time) to become a linguist, which I’ve written about here in the past. I still love the "Follow your passion" conversation--and it builds nicely on my interest in Daniel Pink’s work--but following my passion did not work out for me professionally.

When I entered library school, I found my profession. No matter what positions we hold at any given time, we are part of a community of librarians, and never is that community as strong and important as when you’re starting a new job or flying solo at an old one. You can reach out to others in the profession for guidance, as well as to enhance or maintain your skills when you're looking for work. We are also bound by a code of ethics. That makes this much more than a job. But is it a passion?

In September I had an exhilarating convergence of heroes when JD Roth posted a video of Mike Rowe (also in sidebar) that I sent him and wove it into a great piece called The War on Work. I highly recommend spending some time reading this, comments included. Although I had sent the video to Dan Pink simultaneously, he didn’t post it on his site but he got mentioned a lot in the comments over at Get Rich Slowly. Many people shared their thoughts and feelings about where school, work and interests had taken them, and what this has to do with satisfaction. It was in processing those comments that I solidified my belief that thriving as an embedded librarian is not a passion, nor does it have to be.

My passion is music, not librarianship. If we devised some metric we could prove this beyond any doubt. I used to just consume music, but now that I’m creating some, I see it as a practice above all else (the passion part just makes my fingers hurt less). And since I’ve taken the Happiness Project approach to my work now, librarianship seems more like a practice, too. Clay Shirky writes in Cognitive Surplus that, “Competence is a moving target.” So don’t get too comfortable. Keep practicing.

January 12, 2011

My Embedded Librarianship Project

Have you ever been too tired to take your contact lenses out at night, and so you stay up even later to avoid doing it? I have. Allow me to explain what this has to do with embedded librarianship.

At some point last year I became passively aware of a person named Gretchen Rubin who had written a book called The Happiness Project. Without knowing too much about it, I decided it was way too sappy for my tastes and I duly avoided learning more about it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being happy. Much of this blog is devoted to my own reflections on how to be happy at work. But I thought (without thinking too hard) that I would probably hate a book called The Happiness Project and that I would gain little by learning about its author.

Around the same time, I was “getting religion” about my debt by reading Get Rich Slowly, a personal finance blog about how people behave with money (as opposed to how money behaves in the stock market, for example). Something about JD Roth’s insistence that money management is a daily personal exercise—not a philosophy, as I used to ignorantly believe—led back to Gretchen Rubin, both literally and figuratively. I discovered a whole online network of bloggers devoted to Goals, Accountability, Money, Stuff and Time that includes Rubin, Roth, Chris Guillebeau, Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver and many others. (And they sometimes use capital letters to indicate how much mental energy we spend on things like "Stuff".) While I was still hesitant to check out Rubin’s book, I started following her blog. And that has made all the difference.

Rubin writes about happiness. And just as JD Roth’s exemplary daily writings on personal finance don’t launch readers into shame, blame, and angst at the very thought, Rubin’s daily tips and practical suggestions are indisputably helpful. Most importantly, she is not sappy. Just watch one video of hers and you will know what I’m talking about. She popularized the notion that making one’s bed every day results in greater happiness. (I dare you to try it for a week.)

I admire Rubin for consistently pointing out that everyone’s happiness project will look different. I am now reading the book, and I realized that I started something of a happiness project three years ago when I started this blog. It was initially a way for me to document my adventures “working in the white spaces of the organizational chart.” But what sustained this project was my realization that I am collecting work habits, productivity resolutions, and other heretofore well-kept secrets about flying solo as a new librarian.

Embedded Librarianship projects based on The Happiness Project will have as much diversity and variability as the librarians undertaking them. Every Wednesday is “Tip Day” on The Happiness Project blog, so I naturally think about each week’s tip on Wednesday nights while I am blogging. That’s what works for me. One week the tip was to try a “boot camp” approach to an activity you’ve been dragging your feet on. I used this to jump start the cataloging I had been avoiding for so long. (Yes! Catalog for an entire day to get yourself rolling.)

Today’s tip is to hold yourself accountable. While Rubin uses a Resolutions Chart to do it, I’m a big fan of to-do lists. (And as for my personal finance journey, I have a small, unavoidable copy of my financial goals in my wallet.)

Gretchen Rubin, like me, sings every morning.

Recently I considered Rubin's suggestion to try a Week of Extreme Nice, and I was already thinking of how to adapt this to the workplace. I decided that I would try a Week of Extreme Slow. Once when I was rehearsing for a play, the director had me practice my monologue at an ultra-slow pace for an entire week to focus on the emotion in each syllable, pause and facial expression. I think of this as an analogy to trying a Week of Extreme Slow at work, which will enable me to document the procedures I use, give more concentration to library tasks that I tend to lazily breeze through, and ask in-depth questions about the complexities of our work that I have never understood. A word of caution, though: You definitely need to pick the right week to do a Week of Extreme Slow without falling behind.

What would your library happiness project look like? There are little picky things in mine that are geared toward ending some bad habits (kind of like Rubin’s resolution to take her contacts out before she gets too tired.) I am also trying to incorporate more pro-active, positive measures, such as having a tech tip on my white board that people will see when they walk into my office. Another concrete step I’ve mentioned here is to start telling your colleagues about SLA annual conference as soon as you register. This way (ideally) they will be more interested in what you’ve learned there once you return. Let me know in the comments what your project would be like. And keep smiling.

January 5, 2011

Why Blogs Die

“There’s never an egg timer around when you need one.” ~The American President

Last September I wrote about professional blog projects. I suggested that they are often conceived to keep up with proverbial Joneses, and also that they are doomed to failure absent careful planning and consideration. I was not wrong, but I understand the problem better this week. Blogs die for the very same reason they are born: it’s so easy.

In his new book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky begins by laying out a simple, captivating summary of the history of American book publishing—one I’d have been glad to have at my disposal during my History of the Book course. To introduce the larger context of his argument, Shirky frames publishing in economic terms. Pre-Gutenberg, books were prohibitively expensive to reproduce in volume. Post-Gutenberg, the folks who owned the means of production still had such a sizable burden to shoulder that their job became a matter of both selecting and producing written texts for readers (not to mention promoting said works to said audiences). This is, needless to say, no longer the case in the world of new media Shirky shepherds us through in his (excellent) book.

Both the beauty and the curse of a blog project in its infancy is the lack of accountability. The barriers to “entry,” or publishing, do not include the time and expense of a print publisher or even the US Postal Service. These are accountability measures, with their own inherent deadlines, that we set up for ourselves in professional budgets to bind ourselves to the organizational mailings of old. We could be pushed through our own hoops by the beneficial entrapments we set up for ourselves by saying, “Let’s do a newsletter,” and then carrying out the various stages of that process. Blogging requires no such advance planning. Though, as I continue to believe, it would be all the better for it.

Blogging also confuses the lines between production and promotion for staff who think it's just a matter of pixilating a newsletter. Organizations can fall prey to thinking the two are similar simply because a blog is online, and that, “If you build it, they will come.” Organizational blogging may have to be a team effort, and the voice of the author--whether co-created or not--might be separate from the voice of the promoter. (Hint: This is also true of print, but somehow it doesn't cause as much confusion in the print medium.)

As expected, the would-be bloggers I cautioned not to promote themselves before producing a certain amount of content have been dormant for a number of months. But since I am not here to complain, I will offer a solution as opposed to an I Told You So.

Why blogs die is not the same as why blogs fail. I do not even know if a blog can fail, but anything is possible. Blogs are easily born, but even more easily reborn. As once proven here, a blog can be resurrected with very little initial effort, in terms of the technology. A project team need only revisit its original goals, division of labor, timeline, and promotional strategy to live again in the blogosphere. Whether it’s your own blog or someone else’s, think of the new year as a time to reboot. Keep blogging.