Postcards (aka Sketchnotes) from Texas

14 Apr

As I reported in my last post, I was off to the Texas Library Association’s annual conference in San Antonio last week. In a nutshell, it was a terrific meeting. As I usually spend my meeting and conference times with other medical, science, and/or academic librarians, the chance to mix and mingle with LOTS of kinds of librarians was great. I talked to many community college librarians, several school librarians, and even sat next to the retired librarian of The Alamo while waiting to get Henry Winkler’s autograph. I also visited lots of children’s book publishers and attended a few author talks and poetry readings. I gave my work time to my sessions, but outside of that, sought out some different fun.

I plan to post the slides and a synopsis of my talk on emerging roles in eScience in a later post. This morning, I wanted to share my notes from a talk given by Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Research Center’s* Internet & American Life Project, entitled, “The Future of Libraries.” This was the first talk that I attended at the conference and as it turned out, it set the stage really well for my own talk, as well as others that I took in.

The challenge facing libraries and librarians, Rainie  stated, was the need to grapple with several big questions regarding the future of:

  • Knowledge
  • Pathways to knowledge
  • Public technology and community anchor institutions
  • Learning spaces
  • Attention (and its structural holes)
  • Franchise

By “the future of franchise,” Rainie meant that we really need to discover and articulate the characteristic(s) of libraries and librarians that make them unique from all of the other entities in an information-heavy world. What makes us special? The answer(s) differ according to context, of course, but the need to know what the answer is and to be able to clearly communicate it to stakeholders is critical to our success.

If you know the work of the Pew Research Center, you know that they’re all about performing surveys to give a picture of our society and where we stand on politics, the media, religion, healthcare, and other social trends. Thus, after stating the “big questions,” Rainie offered the results of numerous polls to help us see how and where libraries and librarians stand today, and how this knowledge can help us shape our future. And as he stated, there are some real points in our favor, not the least of which is that by and large, people still love libraries and they still love librarians. When most every other institution has lost the confidence of the American people, libraries and librarians have not. Americans still believe that libraries are important to their communities (91%). They believe that they’re important for promoting literacy, providing access to technology, and for offering quiet and safe places (for adults and children). Rainie called these our pillars for success and based on them, proposed several areas where our future may lie:

  1. Knowledge creation, interface, and dissemination
  2. Information searching, aggregating, and literacy
  3. Information access (technology, security, property issues) 
  4. Learning space (without forgetting the role we play in providing quiet and safety)

One really interesting point made, to me, was the question of the role(s) libraries and librarians might play in attention allocation. What can we do to fill the gaps that exist in a world where people constantly multitask (called “continuous partial attention” by Linda Stone) and “snack” on information? How can we prepare resources and develop services that work effectively and efficiently in such an environment? Good questions to think about!

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the talk was, “Be a smart node in people’s networks.” When people have questions or concerns today, situations involving a need for information, they turn to other people. People turn to their networks much more than they turn to institutions. Be a node in the networks. I loved this description and could see clearly how it fit with so much of what I’ve discovered working on teams, being embedded in projects, and getting out of the library so that I know more and more people. As I said in my own talk about emerging roles in eScience, data is but one half of the eScience picture. The other involves networks. Hearing Rainie’s quote, I felt pretty good about the track that I’m on for my future as a librarian.

TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_1  TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_2    TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_3  TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_4

Sketchnotes from Lee Rainie’s talk, “The Future of Libraries”, #TXLA14

*Data sets from the Pew Research Center are available for download. Visit their website for more details.

If It Ain’t Broke…

4 Apr

There’s a world that exists independently of your presence. Sounds, lights, people – there is an entire space that functions quite well without you. It is necessary to see and understand that which already exists to know what contribution you can make. (Livingston Taylor, Stage Performance)

A friend recommended Livingston Taylor’s book to me. He told me it’s filled with terrific advice to help develop skills and techniques for performing on stage, something that I do with both my band and at open mics. What he didn’t tell me – because why would he ever think of it? – is that it’s also filled with terrific advice for librarians, the above quote but one example.

In interviewing researchers about their data practices, one thing that has become pretty clear to me is that most people follow certain processes and/or have certain habits because they work. It isn’t so much that they don’t want our help in managing their information and data, but rather they don’t see that they need it. Everyone knows a person or two who keeps an incredibly cluttered desk. The registrar at a school I once went to was one of these people. The man worked behind a mountain of files and papers and books. You couldn’t see one square inch of his desk. You could hardly find one square foot of clear floor space to stand, if you had to go see him for anything. That said, no matter what you went to see him for, he could reach his hand into the middle of some pile within a second and produce for you just what you needed. Was it a disaster waiting to happen? Sure! I feel for whoever assumed his duties when he retired. What a nightmare it likely was. And you can imagine the disruption and chaos that could have occurred if anything suddenly happened to him. But, you would be hard-pressed to convince him to adopt a different system of organization by arguing that his didn’t work. It did. It worked quite well for him.

I think one of the big mistakes that we can make when we’re trying to develop and sell new services to our patrons is forgetting to first gain a really good understanding of their world. Interviewing folks is really helpful to this end. So is simply observing people; paying attention to how they work. We can get a little insight into how a student finds a database on our website by asking her, but we can probably get a bigger picture by watching. We all describe how we do things a little differently than we may actually do them. If you ask me how I form a G chord on my mandolin, I’ll put all four fingers on the fret board. If you saw me playing with friends last night, you’d have seen me take a dozen shortcuts. If I want to develop some kind of tool that would help me play better (besides practice, practice, practice), I’d do well to take both situations into account.

For a long time, medical librarians have been claiming expertise in the area of searching the literature. We are “expert searchers,” we like to say. We get really frustrated when students or clinicians or researchers don’t come to us for help. We fret over their incompetency. We either get angry or suffer inferiority complexes when we’re brushed aside unneeded. “They don’t know what they’re missing,” we think. Maybe. But also, we don’t know what we’re missing – the fact that the way in which these folks are searching is working for them. Most of the time, it works just fine. With this being the case, it’s pretty hard to convince them otherwise. We need a different tact.

As we begin to promote the librarian’s role in data management, I hope we don’t repeat some of these same mistakes. We need to understand how people are already managing their data. When we talk about how important it is to share data, it’s good to know ahead of time that most of the people in the room already share data. Like searching, we claim expertise in areas that we believe can make the situation better, but we need to remember that “there’s an entire space that functions quite well” without us. With this mindset, we’re likely better able to see how we can fit rather than how we can fix. We hope that the final outcome is that we fix a thing or two, but saying (or even thinking),”You’re doing it wrong!” isn’t going to get us very far in finding where we fit. Accomplishing the latter will ultimately allow us to develop and provide the kind of tools and services that people will both want and use.

Next week, I’m off to the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. I’m looking forward to reporting some fun facts from there, all with a bit of Texas twang!

Playing Along

Playing Along

Librarians: Building Social Capital, One Problem Solved at a Time

26 Mar

I’ve been spending my nights and spare time lately working on a couple of presentations that I’ll be giving at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference in San Antonio next month. Doing such gets my creative juices flowing and as I was doodling some drawings for my talk (along with reading more about social capital), I thought of how long we librarians have been at the business of solving problems. More, I thought about the capital that we build over time doing just this.

I had an experience last week where I made a “house call” across the street to help someone and in my mind, it ended up looking something like this:

Librarians: Building Social Capital, One Solved Problem at a Time

Since the Beginning of Time 

How do I spell success? R-E-P-E-A-T

19 Mar

I was away on vacation last week, enjoying a wonderful few days in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal), thus my post is a bit on the short side this week. When we arrived at the hostel where we were staying, I promptly locked my work iPod in a locker off the main room and refused to look at it until Sunday evening, the night before returning to my cubicle. Vacation is about getting away and while I’ve been as guilty as anyone in terms of not leaving work behind during these respites, this time I decided that I would (and could) do just that. I’m hardly so important – nor my colleagues so incompetent – that I can’t leave work for a week or two without any serious catastrophes occurring. And as expected, nothing happened in my absence that required me being here. It was a nice break.

When I did peek at my email on Sunday night, I saw one note that was worth reading – a note from an investigator that I’ve been working with to put together a proposal for a new project. He was writing to let me know that it was a go. YES! It’s a really different project, compared with others that I’ve worked on to date, and I’m looking forward to learning some new skills and working with some new colleagues. Great news!

Then on Monday, I got a phone call from the project manager of the mammography study, letting me know that the principal investigators wished to continue supporting part of my time, i.e. keeping me on their team for a few more months as we write a paper together and work on hosting a panel at the Clinical Translational Science Center’s annual research retreat in May.

These two bits of news, for me, are real indicators of the progress I’m making in demonstrating the value of embedded librarian services here on campus. Repeat performances spell “success”!

My fantastic new laptop that I picked up while on vacation in Montreal! Cool, eh?

My fantastic new laptop that I picked up while on vacation in Montreal! Cool, eh?

Time Management is a Team Sport

7 Mar
March Madness!

March Madness means Clock Management

I had my annual review and goals chat with my supervisor earlier this week. Like probably every other year, the topic of time management came up. It’s not that I’m particularly bad at managing my time, but more that our working environment is one that requires we be pretty adept at juggling multiple projects at the same time. As I spend more of my time as an embedded librarian, time management also becomes more important. And more difficult. 

I’ve written about the topic in previous posts (one example, Don’t Forget to Change Your Clock), generally pointing out resources and a mindset to help an individual become better at the skill. This year, however, as Rebecca and I were talking about time management, I said, “You know, time management is really a team sport.” What I mean by this is that the saying, “Your time is not your own” has a lot of merit when you work on teams, committees, collaborative projects, and anything (everything) that involves other people and their time. One of the biggest challenges that I think we face when we list “improve time management skills” as a personal goal is that it doesn’t take into account this fact. And interestingly, neither do all of the gurus out there in the business world who write popular books claiming, “If you only do this, you’ll succeed.” 

I did a quick search at Amazon to find some of the best sellers in the category and noticed a common characteristic of the authors that I think may explain why they can espouse this… every single one of them works for him or herself:

  • David Allen, Getting Things Done, productivity consultant
  • Tim Ferris, 4-Hour Work Week, author, entrepreneur, angel investor, and public speaker
  • Laura Vanderkam, 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think, author and freelance journalist
  • Julie Morgenstern (no relation to Rhoda’s sister), Time Management from Inside Out, runs her own eponymous enterprise
  • Steve Chandler, Time Warrior, coach and “ultimate personal transformation guide”
  • Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog, motivational speaker and author

Now please don’t hear me saying that you can’t learn a thing or two or twelve from these authors’ work, or that self-employment frees you from having to manage your time within the context and/or limitations of others. I know plenty of people who work for themselves and I know very well how they have to work to deadlines or deal with customers’ schedules. Of course they do. No one is an island, so John Donne said so long ago. We all live and work with others and their priorities and their calendars. Still, I do believe that the more that your work involves answering to yourself first, the more control you have over your time. For most of us who work in departments and institutions and businesses, we strive to perfect the dance between our own and everyone else’s priorities and expectations and schedules. And that makes time management a team sport – a team goal.

When we were writing the grant proposal that ultimately led me to my first informationist role, the team worked out a detailed timetable for when the different aims would be worked on and deliverables delivered. I remember one of the PIs asking me specifically, “Do you think that you can do all of this in 18 months?” Looking at the work on paper I replied, “Sure,” but just like any fantasy baseball team, everything looks better on paper. My schedule on paper didn’t also include the rest of the team’s schedule. It didn’t include the Library’s schedule. It didn’t include the schedules of the other projects that would come along during those 18 months and the people and their schedules that came with them. And thus, at the end of 19 months now, everything isn’t finished. This isn’t a whine or a complaint or a “whoa is me, I’m overwhelmed” moment. This is simply reality; the reality of how we work. 

It’s easy to think you’ve failed at something or that you lack skills or discipline when this happens, but that seems pretty shortsighted and not terribly fair. Can we all improve, as individuals, in time management? Probably so, but let’s also be a bit kind to ourselves and others if/when we drop one of the balls during our juggling acts. And as we enter into March Madness, don’t forget what the coaches always say: There is no I in TEAM. Corny, but true.

Cashing In: Social Capital and the Informationist

3 Mar
Social Networks = Social Capital

Social Networks = Social Capital

I heard a great presentation last week by a recent library school graduate on the topic of social capital and its role in relationship-building between academic libraries and faculty. The idea of building trust in groups, what it takes to do that, and how it affects knowledge sharing piqued my interest. Knowledge sharing is collaborative, we were told, and thus I began to think about how the concept of social capital plays out in the role of an informationist and/or embedded librarian. If we want to be successful in building these collaborative relationships, what might we learn from the study of social capital?

The intangible and vague nature of social capital compared to other forms of capital has naturally been contested. Whereas economic capital can be estimated on the basis of supply and demand in the market, and human capital is an asset people have ‘inside their heads’, social capital is a product of their social relations. To possess social capital an individual must be in contact with other individuals who, in fact, form the source of potential benefits. Social capital can thus best be viewed as a structural asset based on relations between people.

Widen-Wulff et al, 2008.

Libraries have identified research teams as sources of potential benefit, thus what are the steps that librarians need to take in order to build some social capital with them? Being in contact with the researchers directly seems a good start, but casual acquaintance likely isn’t enough. What else builds capital? What else builds trust? I suspect there are a few things. Common ground, that place where researchers and librarians can come together is important. Such ground can be based on common experiences, shared interests, and shared knowledge. Is this, perhaps, the biggest advantage of and/or argument for librarians having subject knowledge in the areas they seek to work? I jotted this question down in my notes during the talk, thinking that it could lead to an interesting research project.

During lunch today, I read an article on espnW entitled “Tracking NFL Opportunities for Women.” While professional football remains an almost-exclusive men’s club, some women have found careers in representing players as agents, in marketing departments, and in other legal aspects of team management. A very few have carved out careers as scouts. Looking past the gender issue, though, one point made by Mark Bartelstein, an agent for both NFL and NBA players, resonated with me in terms of social capital:

From our standpoint, there is some innate advantage to having played the game. People in our office played or coached at a high level, which is an advantage from a player’s standpoint, that the person representing them really gets it, has been there and understands the little nuances.

If you haven’t played, it’s hard to overcome that hurdle. But it doesn’t mean you can’t. With intelligence and creativity, you can overcome it. But it is a hurdle.

I can easily hear a scientist say the same thing about librarians becoming embedded in his/her research team. “Have you played the game?”

Experience playing the game gives you some social capital to cash in. It’s not the only means of gaining acceptance and trust, but it certainly counts for something. But so do intelligence, creativity, interest in the subject area, and a record of success. The hardest part about building and promoting new library services around data is that we don’t yet have a track record. We can see (and often say) that we have the expertise to do x, y, or z, but we don’t yet have much of a body of evidence to prove that we can provide what we’re claiming we can provide. The body is growing slowly but surely, like women in NFL positions, but until it reaches a certain degree, we lack that piece of social capital.

Similarly, until it reaches that point, we need to utilize our creativity and intelligence, leverage the social capital that we have through established relationships, become aware of and interested in the research going on around us, and take advantage of opportunities to do new things that bring us into contact with those whom we wish to collaborate. Maybe you don’t have enough established trust with a research team to provide data services, but you can probably find some information need that they have that matches your skills and knowledge to meet it.

This happened to me last week as I went with my colleague, Donna, to interview a couple of our researchers who work in the area of gene therapy. This is an area way beyond my scope of knowledge, but as we talked about what the Library might do for them related to their research data, they began to describe certain scenarios where their work gets bogged down because they don’t know how to do something and the time needed to learn the new skill just isn’t worth it. For example, one of the researchers told us how he had tried in vain to figure out how to draw figures in Adobe Illustrator. He had studied tutorials and read some online manuals and worked through the “Help” provided with the product, but it was too much. All he really wants is to know the very select few features/tools within Illustrator that will allow him to do this pretty simple task. (For those unaware, Illustrator is a powerful, professional graphics tool that, like our brains, has way more capability than we ever tap into.)

The next morning, I sent Dr. Esteves an email telling him that I do know how to use Illustrator and if he wanted to share a couple of examples of the kinds of figures he typically draws, I could work up a simple “Here’s how you do it” lesson for him. He replied later that day, filled with gratitude, and copying a bunch of other people in his lab on the reply. Now I have a task to undertake and if I can give him something helpful … KA-CHING! … I’ll have some social capital for potential future projects with him.

Bottom line, I believe that if we put forth efforts now to creatively grow our banks of social capital in different ways, in different areas, and at different levels, over time we will be able to cash some of it in on some new services. 

Next week… “Time Management is a Team Sport”

March Madness!

March Madness!

In the Doldrums

24 Feb

When I was in elementary school, I had a subscription to National Geographic World magazine (today called, National Geographic Kids). One issue featured a story about Robin Lee Graham, a teenager who circumnavigated the world alone in his 24-foot sloop, “Dove.” I was fascinated by the story, searched for the stories he wrote for National Geographic, and later, read his memoir that he titled after his boat. Over the years, I’ve become somewhat like Mel Gibson’s character, Jerry Fletcher, in the movie, Conspiracy Theory; the guy who compulsively buys copies of Catcher in the Rye. I have six copies of Graham’s book, as well as original copies of those National Geographic issues in which he reported about his travels. There’s something about the story that touched me when I was young and it’s always stayed with me. It’s the story of adventure; it’s the story of a kid who doesn’t quite fit in, yet finds a passion to follow; and it’s the story of a person moving freely and slowly through life, discovering the world in which we live. (You can read more about Robin’s story here.)

One photograph in the book shows Robin sitting, legs outstretched and controlling the rudder, staring off into the distance. He has a paperback in his hand, held open by a finger while it rests on the bench beside him. There is not a ripple in the water; not a sign of a breeze anywhere. The caption: “In the doldrums.”

The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. ~ Wikipedia

I have never sailed in the geographical doldrums, but I have been stranded in a motor-less sailboat when the wind dies. I have floated for a few hours, waiting for just enough of a breeze to get home. There’s not much to do, save put on some sunscreen and read a book. 

I thought of this picture this morning and pulled one of my copies of Dove off the shelf. “Yep,” I thought to myself, “that about sums it up.”

Most of the time, I sail through work with decent winds. Sometimes they require that I take a different tack, that I zig-zag, taking that back-and-forth approach to get to my destination. Sometimes they blow a bit too hard, producing rough seas. But for the most part, work-life provides a steady breeze to make the days go by filled with plenty of interesting and fulfilling activities. But, every now and then, I hit the doldrums.

A lot of my focus at work of late is focused on how we define, present, and raise the awareness of our patrons as to the services we provide. As you know, many of these services are new and/or different for us. Providing support around research data, embedding ourselves to provide tailored knowledge and information management services, tracking scholarly communications and research impact are all areas that are evolving and/or coming into being. One result of working in this climate is that I find I repeat myself over and over and over again. Similarly, I hear others doing the same time and again. I sit in meetings and conference calls and webinars and training classes and can’t help but feel, sometimes, that I’m stuck in the movie, Groundhog Day. I have lots of comments in the sidebars of my notes that say things like, “We’ve done this already” and “I heard this at so and so” and “See…” There are a lot of “see…” references. 

Of course, much of this is just what happens – better put, it’s what has to happen – if/when you want to be successful at raising the awareness of others, and marketing new ideas and services. You have to repeat yourself many times to many different audiences. Similarly, you hear colleagues repeating the same message as we all try to chart these new waters (keeping with my nautical theme). The challenge for me is to not to get stuck in the doldrums of repetition, but continually find new ways to keep the message and the energy of it going. If you face similar challenges and/or have some thoughts to suggest for keeping the winds steady, please share them in the comments. 

One rule: Please do not claim that any doldrums are related to winter weather. I love winter weather and don’t want to hear others grousing about it. ;)

No doldrums here!

No doldrums here!


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