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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.

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?

Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

13 Feb
Winter forest near Budapest, Hungary. Wikimedia Commons.

Winter forest near Budapest, Hungary. Wikimedia Commons.

“The most important thing that the library does is make it possible for me to get the articles that I need to do my research. That is absolutely the most important.”

This is what one of our most prominent and influential researchers said to me and a colleague the other day when we were interviewing her as part of our environmental scan of the University related to data services and technology infrastructure. Does she believe that the library provides other services? Yes. Does she think that we may have a role or two to play in the areas associated with data services and/or eScience? Without a doubt. But when asked the question, “What role can the library play in supporting your research?,” without hesitation, this was her answer. Our researchers cannot work without access to the literature and the library provides that. That role is the most important one.

I think it’s easy to interpret this comment in a negative light, after all, librarians have little of nothing to do anymore with making access to journals possible, at least not beyond negotiating license agreements and fulfilling the occasional ILL request. Once in awhile, I still walk up to the 3rd floor of the stacks, pull a print journal off of the shelf, and scan and email an article for a researcher too busy to walk to the library and get it him/herself. I don’t mind. It’s good exercise. But in terms of the many tasks that librarians once did that made articles accessible, from cataloging to systems design and maintenance, these are jobs that we have long since passed along to third party vendors; OCLC, Serials Solution, EBSCO, Thomson Reuters, and the like. These are the businesses that build the databases, aggregate and package our resources, provide the catalog records and metadata for articles, journals, books, et al. Librarians today simply purchase these products, put them in place for our users, and then let them use them. Oh sure, we still do some teaching and training and even a little searching ourselves from time to time, but when it comes to the most important thing that we do, in the eyes of countless patrons, we do very little. At least I do very little in that regard.

But I don’t necessarily want to see that as a negative thing. Instead, I hope that it’s something that we don’t lose sight of, because when it comes to what people think about the library, they still, overwhelmingly, think of us as a collector and provider of resources. In my library’s case, those resources are journals and journal articles. In the public library’s case, those resources are books. Fight it all you want, call yourself what you want, offer any number of other services that you wish, but for now, it remains the most important thing. People expect us to build collections of relevant resources and then make those collections easily available to them. If we do nothing else, we’re expected to do this.

This is likely because the task of building collections and making them accessible is what we do best. I’ll argue that it’s certainly what we do better than anyone else on my university campus. It’s what makes the library different from an archive or a museum or a storage unit or a high performance computing center or a networked drive or shared folders or… the Internet. Like an archive, we preserve things, but we don’t treat our things so special that you need white gloves to touch them. Like a museum, we collect things, but unlike the Metropolitan Museum of Art that’s only able to display a small percentage of the more than 2 million pieces in its permanent collection at any one time, we make our entire collection available to our patrons at all times. Like a high performance computing center, we accept and store data, but we also supply the necessary metadata to it and link it to other relevant sources so that users can both find it and put it in context. We share, just like folders on a shared drive, but (hopefully) in a much more organized and logical fashion.

In other words, the library has some very unique and very important characteristics in our role as collector and provider of resources. The ability of a patron to get an article easily may well be the tree that they see as the most prominent and we need to not lose sight of that tree as we’re trying hard to see the bigger forest. Instead, I think we need to remember to see both. Listening to this particular researcher this week, I was reminded to do just that.

Brush with GREATness!!

22 Jan

Now this is some highlight in my career! For a librarian who was in the 5th grade when “Happy Days” first aired, sharing a spread with the Fonz is … AAAAAYYY!

Me and the Fonz

If you happen to be attending the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in San Antonio in April, look us both up!

My schedule:

  • eScience: Emerging Roles for Librarians in Research Data Management - CPE #449, Thursday, April 10, 11-11:50
  • Embedded Librarians are Everywhere… and They Tell All! – CPE #547, Friday, April 11, 10-11:50 (I’ll be sharing the stage w/ Sarah Jones, Spencer Stuart, & Cassandra Kvenild from the University of Wyoming Libraries, David Shumaker from Catholic University of America’s Dept of Library and Information Science, and Laura Young of Austin Ventures.)

Mr. Winkler’s schedule:

  • General Session III, Friday, April 11, 1:30-3:10

Sins of Omission

8 Jan

I want to thank everyone who took the time to comment, via the comment section or email, on my last post. I’ve been writing this blog for awhile now and written a number of posts (84, counting this one), and my post from last week may have received the most “this is my favorite” comments from readers. Evidently, I struck a chord and of course, I immediately began to wonder why.

It’s not a big stretch, given my picture on this blog and my social media name, mandosally, that I play the mandolin. What you might not know, however, is that I also play the drums. In fact, I’ve been a drummer many more years than I’ve been a mandolinist. It started when I walked into a drum shop in Portland, Maine, and said to the fellow working there, “Is it weird for a 30-something year old woman to want to play the drums?” Chris, the fellow running the shop, gave me an enthusiastic, “Are you kidding? Heck no!” response and I signed up for lessons on the spot. I was in my early 30s then. I’m in my early 50s now. You can do the math to figure out how long I’ve been percussing (not to be confused with cussing). You might not also know that the mandolin is the traditional percussion instrument of bluegrass and/or old-time music. I didn’t know this when I started playing the mandolin about 8 years ago, but it makes a lot of sense to me today.

By Hyacinth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Hyacinth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

What does any of this have to do with why I think people resonated with my “getting cut from the team” post? Well, in percussion (music in general), there are notes called “ghost notes.” They’re also called “dead notes” or “false notes” and basically are notes that you either play very quietly or not at all. They accentuate the moment by being silent, or at least very quiet. It’s different than a rest, though for the purposes of my point here, you can think of both as what’s left out. 

In the literature, what’s often left out are research studies that didn’t prove anything, case studies that found nothing, and brief communications and/or “in action” articles that report what didn’t work or what not to do. This is a shame, isn’t it? We learn an awful lot when we experience something that doesn’t work; when we set out to do something and fail at it. But rarely does anyone want to write up a failure and even more rarely does a publisher want to publish it. What we don’t write, report, share… these things are like the ghost notes of our work. And unfortunately, the result of this “musical pattern” is too often that we repeat failures that we could have easily avoided, if only our peers and colleagues had shared them. In other words, what we don’t write has as much, sometimes more, of an impact than what we write.

The gist of most of the comments that I heard from people after last week’s post was, “Thank you for sharing what didn’t work.” I believe that the reason people appreciated it is because we don’t share these experiences nearly enough. The other really gratifying sentiment said to me was, “Thank you for showing how a negative (aka “a failure”) isn’t a bad thing. Thank you for being positive.” Truthfully, there wasn’t a darned thing personal about the decision (it was all about grant funding and a PI’s decision to go with another person already a part of the funded work) and that makes it pretty easy to stay positive. We are a grant fund-driven institution. That’s the reality. If librarians (and libraries) want to get into this arena, we have to accept that reality. We will come and go on teams and projects, we will juggle multiple tasks, and we will never have enough time to do everything that we wish we could do. It’s everyone’s reality. If you approach it that way and reflectively look at experiences, noting what you can learn from them, you’ll remain a lot more positive. You’ll also become better at what you do. That’s my belief, anyway.

During the mammography study team’s weekly meeting yesterday, I was asked about what I think has worked and not worked during my time as an informationist on the study. My formal, funded time working with them is up at the end of this month, though I’ll continue to work with them to wrap up some projects. As I’ve said all along, the team has been a terrific one for me to work with/on because they’ve been as interested in the value of this role as we in libraries are. I shared with them what I think has worked well and what I think hasn’t work so well. They offered feedback and their individual perspectives, too. The discussion wasn’t planned, but the fact that it happened was great. 

One thing that I heard myself saying during the discussion (what I’ve heard myself saying for months now) is that there are very few rights and wrongs, pros and cons, and clear answers to what makes – or will make – an informationist a viable, sustainable, alternative or complementary model for librarians and the library. There are so many variables that it’s hard to pin down. Similarly, there are still a lot of unknowns about what the library and librarian of the future, meaning next week, will look like.  We work in a rapidly evolving field, something pretty ironic for such an old, old profession, and the clash of these two characteristics is clearly evident in most of our professional issues and discussions today.

Moving forward, I hope we will all be encouraged and inspired to share our experiences – good and bad – in open venues so that we can all learn from one another. In a time when we’re often feeling our way through the unknown, sharing is good for any number of reasons.


2013 in Review

31 Dec

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 33,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


9 Dec

The Google Doodle rarely fails to inspire and inform us about really interesting people or events, but today’s Doodle, honoring Grace Hopper, is one that EVERY librarian, data geek, computer scientist, information hound… heck, every person, would do well to visit. Not just the Doodle, of course, but the facts about the person for whom the Google honors. Here’s a wonderful interview between Admiral Hopper and David Letterman. Be inspired!

Pre-Drone Deliveries

4 Dec

I saw my first “Best Of” list for 2013 today. It was from this past Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Book Review, the 100 Notable Books of 2013. It goes without saying that there are plenty of books and authors worth checking out on this list. A few I’ve read: Andre Dubus III’s, Dirty Love and Jamie Quatro’s, I Want to Show You More (I saw these two together on a panel at this year’s Boston Book Festival), and Megan Marshall’s wonderful biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Several also appear on my “to read” list: Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink and The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, to name a couple.

Over the past year, I’ve mentioned a number of books that I like and find useful for my work. Since it’s that time of year (and because the blog post that I started to write for this week was depressing me), I thought I’d list a few favorites that I read in 2013, that currently reside on my Kindle, and that I’ve not noted previously. They weren’t all published in 2013, but they landed on my virtual bookshelf within the past twelve months, thankfully before the start-up of drone delivery.

innovation generationInnovation Generation: How to Produce Creative & Useful Ideas,

by Roberta Ness

Roberta Ness, MD, MPH, is the Dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health. This book is based upon the course, “Innovative Thinking”, that she teaches at the School. It gives practical examples and a host of exercises that the reader can do to develop his/her own habits for thinking more creatively, whether you’re a scientist or not. (Published: 2012)

The Science of Serendipity

The Science of Serendipity: How to Unlock the Promise of Innovation,

by Matt Kingdon

I often think how one of the things we’ve lost in moving scholarship to the desktop article level is the random act of finding relationships between unrelated things, aka serendipity. When an article was physically bound next to others, your chances of seeing something besides the one thing you were looking for were greatly enhanced. Strolling the stacks led you to also notice the other journals and/or books nearby, each filled with ideas that could unlock a whole new train of thought. Kingdon’s book is written for the business world, but I found it highly insightful for learning about how ideas and products are often born out of seemingly random connections. The key to success, he argues, is learning how to see these connections and then move them to the level where things happen. (Published: 2012)

100 Things

100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People

by Susan Weinshenk

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know that I write a lot about how to design and deliver presentations. This book adds to that topic, but also brings in some science about how people listen and take in information. We know that the best presenters are those who can give their audience what it wants. This book gives some tips (100 of them) on how to become better at doing just that. (Published: 2012)

reinventing discovery

Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science

by Michael Nielsen

Librarians talk a lot about our possible role(s) in eScience as it relates to data. For me, though, the more interesting place to work is in the other side of eScience, i.e. networks. Nielsen’s book is a fascinating read into how science happens today via vast networks of people and talent and interests, all connected by the internet (and subsequent techie tools that harness its power). Read this book along with David Weinberger’s, Too Big to Know, and you’ll likely never think about knowledge and discovery in quite the same way again. (I also recommend wearing headgear while reading them. The ideas can make your head explode.)  (Published: 2011)

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

by Colonel Chris Hadfield

Canada’s best known and likely best loved astronaut offers up a memoir filled with lots of lessons for all of us stuck on Earth. This book just came out in late October. I downloaded it and read it over a weekend on my couch. It’s a virtual page turner. If you love space (I sure do!) or just a great story about someone doggedly reaching his goals (imagine wanting to be an astronaut when your country doesn’t even have such things), give this one a go. You’ll enjoy it. Follow @Cmdr_Hadfield on Twitter, too. Great stuff!

Now it’s your turn. Share some of your favorites from the past year. One can never have a “to read” list that’s too long.

Sustainability: It Means More than “Tit for Tat”

19 Nov

Two innovative and inspired doctoral students at my University saw a problem and decided to do something about it. There is too often a disconnect between scientists and the public. The public struggles to understand what scientists are doing and unfortunately relies too often upon unreliable and unfounded sources for explanations. Scientists, for their part, do a fairly poor job of communicating what they do in a manner that makes sense to the average person on the street. To help address this gap here in our community of Worcester, these students secured sponsorship from NOVA and last summer started Science Cafe Woo. Their tagline? “Come listen to what scientists do while having a fun evening too!”

For the past several months, I have taken in the fun, sitting in the booths at the Nu Cafe in Worcester and listening to scientists from our local universities tell fascinating tales of how they spend their days. It is a wonderful opportunity for the community to gather in a non-academic setting, a non-research environment, to listen to, ask questions of, discuss with, and even debate people who often do work on the community’s dime (lots of government-funded research happens in our community). At the same time, the scientists get the chance to share their work with the community; to take on the challenge of explaining it in a way that non-scientists will get. It’s truly a win-win. AND it’s incredibly popular. I’ve arrived on more than one night to find it standing room only. For me, the entire experience – from the students’ initiative to start the Cafe, to the researchers’ willingness to talk, to the community’s positive response – has been a joy to observe and take part in.

This month, the featured speaker was Dr. John Baker, Associate Research Professor in Biology at Clark University. Dr. Baker teaches in the Environmental Science major at Clark, a nationally-recognized program that produces graduates who are “working is such wide range of areas as environmental regulations of pollution, water and wetlands conservation, clean technology, hazardous waste cleanup, public health protection, environmental planning, field and laboratory studies of endangered species and conservation planning.” (program website) His talk was called, “Ecology, Evolution, and the Most Misunderstood Word in the World.” The word? Sustainable 

This file is in the public domain because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that "NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted".

This file is in the public domain because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted”.

Sustainable forestry. Sustainable design. Sustainable agriculture. Sustainable energy. The word appears in many places and many contexts, and is generally accepted as the behavior where you consciously replace what you use as you use it, so that whatever it is that you’ve used can continue. Cut down a tree, plant a tree. Even Steven. Tit for tat. Except, according to Dr. Baker’s argument (and a pretty darned persuasive one, in my opinion), such behavior is not sustainable. It is not “sustainability” as sustainability is defined. 

One example that he provided made his point clear to me; when you cut down a tree in a forest, you take much more than the mere carbon-offset that it provided. Replace the tree with another and yes, you replace its role here, but what you don’t – what you can’t – replace are all of the other disturbances that occur in the ecosystem by removing that tree. Dr. Baker explained that when a tree naturally dies, it falls to the ground where, over time, it decays and is reabsorbed into the soil, giving to the soil the nutrients it requires to really keep the forest sustainable. Disturbing the ecosystem of the forest is what cutting trees does. It changes the system entirely. Maybe we won’t see these changes for tens of thousands of millions of years, but to suggest that our practice of replacing trees is really a practice of sustainability, Dr. Baker argued, is false. 

“I’m not a fatalist, I’m a realist,” he said. It may well be a hopeless endeavor that we’re attempting, this whole “save the planet” venture, but the professor’s point – the one that I took from his lecture, anyway – was that we don’t do ourselves any good by lying to ourselves through talk and behavior(s) that claim we’re doing something that we are really not doing at all.

In my experience as an embedded librarian, I hear a lot of talk and questions regarding the sustainability of this kind of work. I couldn’t help but think about this tonight as I took in what Dr. Baker was saying. I wonder if the role is being seen akin to a tree in our library forests – send us out and replace us with another librarian in the library. Even Steven. Give us one new job, take away one we used to do. Tit for tat. But just like the trees and the forest described above, is this really addressing the issue of sustainability? Other staff may well provide the librarian equivalent of carbon-offsets (on paper), but in the ecology of the library, is that all that needs to be replaced? I find the questions fascinating. I’m not sure if the forest metaphor applies to the library, but I do think that thinking of the bigger system – the ecology of the library – is a worthwhile pursuit. It may yield some insight and answers for us as we try to move forward in this arena.

Similarly, it’s interesting to think about this in the context of how the librarian and libraries have been replaced in our educational and healthcare systems, overall. What have we been replaced with? Open databases, journal articles at the desktop, Google (I’m positive that someone is thinking “Google”) and gadgets. Is it an even swap? Does the overarching goal of solid biomedical research and safe healthcare practice suffer in these trades or do they disturb something bigger in the evolution and ecology of our “environment”? What do you think? Can we make a stronger argument for our value when we think of the bigger picture? I’d love to hear what others have to say. I hope you’ll comment below.

Knowledge: It Knows No Bounds

31 Oct

Freshly back from the annual meeting of NAHSL, frantically meeting deadlines before trekking off to APHA this weekend, I wanted to at least share a little bit from the former on my blog this week. It was a terrific meeting, complete with thoughtful, thought-provoking, and engaging speakers, wonderful food and entertainment with friends and colleagues, and the not-to-be-outdone location of Falmouth, MA, right on the water. One great benefit of our region is we’ll never run out of lovely spots to hold our meetings!

Too Big to Know As has become my practice, I did some sketchnoting during the conference. Since I wrote an earlier post mentioning his book, I thought I’d share my notes from David Weinberger’s Plenary Talk here. Entitled, “Library as Platform?” it took much of the content of “Too Big to Know” and put it into the context of the role of libraries (and librarians) at this time. “Too Big” was one of my favorite books from last year. I really enjoyed getting to hear the author share the thoughts and ideas in person, and as you can see by my notes, it left me with several of my own:

Weinberger_Page_1 Weinberger_Page_2 Weinberger_Page_3 Weinberger_Page_4 Weinberger_Page_5


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