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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

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!

The Power of Positive Pete

7 Feb
Photo taken by Bobak Ha'Eri, on November 1, 2008. Used with permission.

Photo taken by Bobak Ha’Eri, on November 1, 2008. Used with permission.

Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, winners of Super Bowl XLVIII (the NFL loves those Roman numerals)! Congratulations to all of the players, the coaches and staff, the team owners and management, and to all of their terrific fans who have cheered long and loud for their team. 

Yes, I’m a sports fan. My dad and I shared practically every weekday breakfast during my years from elementary school through high school, taking turns reading the sports section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I love athletics, competition, games, and the many, many lessons that one can learn through playing and watching sports. Team work, discipline, self-confidence, striving to be one’s best, developing good habits around health and fitness, and having fun; despite everything that’s wrong with sports today (and there’s plenty!), these fundamental aspects remain at the core of all that’s good about sport. 

As a sports fan, I was one of the 108.7 million people who tuned in to watch last Sunday’s Super Bowl. I may have been about one of the 3 viewers who could care less about the commercials (I mute them, regardless of the show or event that they are part of). I tuned in to watch the game. And to watch Pete. I tuned in hoping to see Pete Carroll coach his team to victory. And he did.

Why Pete Carroll? Well, I’ve followed his career for awhile, from his early failures in the NFL (the Jets and the Patriots), to his success at the University of Southern California, to his return to the NFL with the Seahawks. If you’ve never paid any attention to him, even if you give not a whit about football or sports, once you see or read any story about him, it’s pretty hard not to be captivated by him. The guy’s outlook, his energy, his enthusiasm … it’s downright infectious. He makes competition and hard work and continued focus fun.

Now I live in New England and I cheer for an awfully successful NFL team (Go Patriots!) with one heck of a head coach (arguably the best ever), but seriously, if I’ve got to pick between Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick as to who I want to hang out with on any given day of the week, I’m looking for Pete eight ways to Sunday. I like upbeat. I like positive energy. I like fun!

And if I was ever asked to pick a head coach for a team of professional librarians, I’m going with Pete, too. Here’s why:

Last week, a discussion broke out on the medical librarian listserv, MEDLIB-L, around the topic of libraries closing. Sadly, this is not that uncommon of a discussion. Too often the list gets another email from another librarian who has recently lost his/her job due to his/her library being closed. This happens more often to hospital and/or clinical libraries, but even academic libraries are not immune from huge changes and the continual loss of positions (see my posts from this past summer for evidence of that very thing happening in my own library). For several days, people offered any number of ideas for how librarians, collectively and as individuals, could approach this problem/issue. Some were far-fetched. Some have been tried before without much success. Some were new and worth giving a go.

The discussion went on this way for about three days, i.e. in a generally positive tone, even when calling for big changes, until someone lobbed a “None of it matters anyway” grenade onto the gathering.

Now in truth, I take real issue with this kind of communication etiquette. Be it during an online discussion, face-to-face meeting, or supper table conversation, I don’t care for the practice of loaded comments that are thrown in for no other real purpose than to silence the whole talk. Some folks found the comment “realistic.” That’s fair. It may well be the reality of many a corporation and/or hospital with a highest priority being the bottom line, that libraries and librarians are an easy target for cutting. In an age of easy access to information, why do hospitals need libraries or more, librarians? Why do schools? Why do towns? Yes, it is a reality of the world in which we live that institutions and entities that do not generate profit are deemed less valuable. 

That said, I couldn’t help but feel my hackles go up when I read a colleague saying to a group of colleagues, “It doesn’t matter what we do, administrations will make the decisions that they make, regardless” (paraphrasing) and it made me furious when another gave thanks for a “voice of reality” begin spoken at last. If this is our reality, I thought, then why do I even show up in the morning? 

Perhaps the comments bothered me most because I took them personally. Many years ago, my friends had a nickname for me. This nickname grew out of a tendency that I had (still have, sometimes) to see the worst in reality. I often defaulted to the same, “What difference does it make?” attitude that I heard (interpreted) being shared by some of my colleagues on that list. My nickname was, “The Prophetess of Doom.”

Fortunately, since those days, I’ve learned some practices and the science behind them to be a little less “doom and gloomy” in my disposition and outlook on life. A lot of this centers around understanding how intricately connected our thoughts are with our behavior and attitudes. There’s an awful lot of evidence to support the fact that what we see and how we see it, what we say and how we say it, what we think and how we think it, and what we do and how we do it, are all intertwined. I’m not talking the Practice of Pollyanna, but of cognitive theory:

The basic proposition of cognitive theory is that information processing is a defining feature of what it means to be human, enabling individuals to make meaningful representations of themselves and their world. Humans are in a continual state of processing streams of information from their external and internal environments. They receive, encode, interpret, store, and retrieve information; this information processing plays a vital role in human adaptation and survival (Clark DA, Beck AT, Alford BA: Scientific Foundations of Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Depression. New York, Wiley, 1999).

When librarians say that our reality is, “Nothing that I do matters,” whether we believe that we’re being self-defeating or not, we are setting ourselves up for defeat. We are interpreting our environment as one in which we cannot win; where we cannot find value. How is this possibly a strategy for professional survival?

Enter my favorite coach:

After he got fired from the New England Patriots, Pete Carroll set out to purposefully articulate for himself his core values and beliefs, those things that were most true about himself and how he approached life (and by default, coaching). He dubbed his philosophy, “Win Forever“, and based it upon the value(s) of competition. For him, competition was at the root of his being. It made him aspire to always be the best that he could be, regardless of the circumstances. While it’s easy to see competition in sports, his larger point is that we all compete to be ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you have an opposing team, an opposing management, an opposing societal shift in information use and delivery that’s sucking away the foundations of your very profession; in the end, you are competing with yourself to be your best and when you succeed at that, you’ve succeeded. Period.

I believe that there’s a message that librarians can take from Coach Carroll, and not just because he won the Super Bowl on Sunday, but because his message seems to say that in a time when we may feel like nothing much matters, that’s exactly the time to believe the we matter the most. It takes discipline, a willingness to work hard, and a willingness to adjust your focus and attitudes so that you can make the changes that you need to make in order to reach the potential that you wish to reach. It’s a process of self-discovery, creating a vision that is true to yourself, and competing to hold onto your vision and ideals through any number of ups and downs in your career. It’s not about “nothing that I do matters.” It’s about “everything that I do matters.”

“If the goals, strategies, and techniques you have laid out for yourself are really true to your core self, you will always be able to get back to them. You will always want to get back to them.”  (Pete Carroll, Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion)

Making Tracks

27 Jan
Raccoon Tracks

Raccoon Tracks

I’ve been writing and thinking and talking about how we communicate information and/or knowledge lately and in a recent meeting, flippantly said, “I’m going to track myself and my own information seeking behavior for a week.” True to my own word, I’m starting this today. Check in at the end of the week to see both how well I track (I have a feeling it’s going to be hard) and any patterns in my behavior that emerge. I hope that in doing this for myself, I’ll have a better understanding of some of the issues, processes, patterns – general insights – into what I might find if I sought to do the same exercise for researchers or another patron group.

And feel free to join me and share your thoughts, too. Maybe collectively we can learn a thing or two.

(During a morning walk last week with Eliza the puppy, I saw a raccoon up in a tree. It was a first for me and I’ve been looking for his/her tracks ever day since.)

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Hyacinth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, 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.

 

Getting Cut from the Team

3 Jan
Doing the "Shark Attack" cheer.

Doing the “Shark Attack” cheer.

I love ice hockey. Ever since I was a kid and used to tag along with my season ticket-holder dad to the Richmond (VA) Robins games, I’ve loved it. I wish I could have played it. I wish I could put on all of those pads and fly around the ice, smashing into other people and the boards. I love the rough and tumble, blue collar nature of the sport. I love its northern roots. I love the cold, winter, snow, ice, and ice hockey. I live in the right place.

I grew up to be a season ticket holder myself; a fan of my hometown team, the Worcester Sharks, the AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks (baseball fans, think Triple-A; football fans think University of Miami). Early in December, I went on the season ticket holder bus trip to Manchester, NH, to cheer for the Sharks as they took on the Manchester Monarchs. On the ride up, we watched the movie, “Miracle.” Arguably the greatest American sports story, the movie tells of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team – at that time, a group of amateur and college players – who, against great odds, defeated one of the best hockey teams in history, the Soviet Union national team. It’s a movie and a story that makes me cry every time I see it. It’s a story that’s symbolic of so much that is the best in us in sports and in life. 

In the movie, there’s a particularly emotional scene where Coach Herb Brooks has to cut one last player in order to get the final roster to 20. He carried 21 players as long as he could, but when it came time for the Olympics to begin, he could only carry 20 guys on the team. The last player cut from the squad was Ralph Cox. Brooks himself had once been the last player cut from an Olympic squad (1960), so he knew a particular truth about the decision; (1) it was terribly difficult to make and (2) it wasn’t to be the crushing end of Cox’s hockey career. Both men went on to play hockey after this shared life event and both had success. But in 1960 and in 1980, neither would make their respective teams. They were each the last ones cut.

I got word last week that I’ve been cut from one of the research teams/projects that I’ve been working on for awhile. After a year of feeling like I was rolling right along in my new(ish) role as an embedded librarian and informationist, snaring opportunities and having  lot of success, I got cut. And I admit, it was a little bit of a blow. There’s not enough money on the grant to keep me, I haven’t been able to carve out the time necessary to do my best work, and there’s someone else who can do what I was doing for the team. I’ve been cut. 

By far, the hardest part of doing this embedded role is the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions, or perhaps better stated, having your foot in multiple doors. It’s hard to balance it all. I’ve tried to learn a lot about project management, prioritizing, organizing time and tasks, and the like, but at the end of the day, I still have a long way to go to be better at doing this. I don’t think I’m alone in my struggle, either. I think that we all have a bit of a hard time juggling multiple roles and projects, particularly as we continue to do more with less. Lots of people work in such an environment. And as it doesn’t appear that there’s any relief and/or change in this situation in the future, I need to do my best to get better at doing my best in this setting. It’s a goal for the new year.

So while the sting of being cut is still there, I’m also reminding myself that Herb Brooks and Ralph Cox went on to do good, even great, things in their lives. Getting cut from the team isn’t the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the season.

A clean desk for 2014. A clean "ice rink" for my Sharks bobbleheads!

A clean desk for 2014. A clean “ice rink” for my Sharks bobbleheads!

Change is Inevitable, but is Transformation?

12 Dec

Maria Sibylla Merian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My colleague, Mary Piorun, is defending her doctoral dissertation this afternoon. (Woohoo!! Go, Mary! Go!) To help her get ready, a bunch of us listened to her give her presentation earlier this week. Her topic is on transformational change in organizations, in particular, this type of change in academic libraries today. I found it to be pretty interesting stuff, not just as it relates to our work in eScience and data management (the focus of Mary’s research question), but the bigger topic of how organizations change, in general. Transformation suggests significant shifts in one’s thinking, behavior, environment, etc. How do such changes happen? What are the components of the change and how do leaders usher their organization through them? Don’t ask me, ask Mary. She’s the one who’s spent the last several years reading and thinking and writing about it. You can reach her at… 

But seriously, as a librarian in today’s changing environment, as an exercise physiologist who encourages behavior changes around exercise and diet, and as a member of a committee at my church called the “Transition Team,” I can’t help but be curious about how and why we change. And how and why we don’t. 

We often hear that change is inevitable and I won’t argue that, but there are lots of different levels of change. Compared to changing an institutional mindset, choosing a salad for lunch is pretty easy. Relatively speaking. Libraries – at least my library – are undergoing some significant, likely even defined as transformational changes. We have reorganized a few times since I came on board 9 years ago. We have made some big shifts in the services we provide and how we provide them. However, the latest changes require a different level of shifting and adjustment. We are, in many ways, redefining what it means to be a librarian on this campus. This is certainly the case for my role as a librarian here. I do very different things today than I did a couple of years ago. I think of myself and my role in very different ways than I did then. I operate with a different mindset – some days clearer than others – than I did before. As Mary outlined the process of this kind of change during her talk, I could see how it has played out in my own career the past years.

I remain curious, though, of how many times and how many levels of an organization have to go through this process before the whole of the institution experiences transformational change. I asked Mary this question and she said that it’s an area that certainly needs research. As a result of leadership taking us through transformation, I may experience a real shift in my understanding of who I am as a librarian. Similarly, our library, as a whole, over time, will hopefully achieve the same. But what’s next? Who is next? Because we are an organization within a larger institution, it seems to me that our work isn’t finished here until we can change the whole of the institution in how it perceives the library and librarians. It’s a big job ahead, no doubt.

Maybe we’ll get Mary to take it on as soon as she finishes up that defense! 

Don’t Reinvent the Milk Carton

25 Nov
US Patent 1,157,462

US Patent 1,157,462

One morning last week, as I poured the last bit of milk out of the carton and onto my raisin bran, I looked at the plastic spout poking out of the “roof” like a chimney and wondered to myself, “Who ever decided that this was an improvement on the original milk carton design?” I thought about how John R. Van Wormer’s ingenious idea to make a self-contained container – a single object that both held milk AND unfolded to give you a spout – somehow became “not good enough.” Why? Whoever thought that a carton needed a second spout, complete with three other small pieces of plastic that now, multiplied by a gazillion, take up space in landfills? What the heck was ever wrong with unfolding the spout?

I’ve thought about this for days. Literally. I’ve mentioned it to a couple of friends and/or colleagues. I’ve asked them if they know why this “improvement” came along? They don’t. And neither do I. But I’ve thought so much about what it represents that I’ve decided my new mantra is “Don’t reinvent the milk carton!” I even printed off a picture of the image shown here and gave it to my supervisor so that she could hang it on her office door. I’m bringing the message to the people.

But I bring this up on my “Library Hats” blog not so much because I feel like the research team that I’ve worked with the past year is engaging in such an act, but more because as my time as an informationist on the team winds down, I’ve begun to look back on the project and take note of some of the bigger (and maybe a few smaller) lessons that I’ve learned along the way. And one of these lessons does remind me of the milk carton mantra.

When we first approached the research team to discuss with them different ideas, options, projects, etc. that we thought an informationist could bring to their work, it initiated a terrific time of “big picture” thinking. Once we explained what an informationist is and what skills and/or services I could bring along with me to the team, we came up with all sorts of ideas for things to do. “It would be great if we could …” and “We’ve wanted to do …” were phrases that came up often. This was just what we wanted and we proceeded to write up several aims and a lengthy list of tasks and projects to undertake in order to accomplish them. These were all new things thought to improve the overall research project, not necessarily things to create extra work for the team. Work for the informationist, yes, but not more work for an overworked team.

That was our design, anyway.

As I prepared a report for tomorrow morning’s team meeting, updating everyone on the status of where I am related to the aims of the grant, I began to think about my milk carton metaphor and wondered if maybe we didn’t wreck a good design with the addition of me. Like the addition of that plastic spout to the perfectly perfect milk carton, throwing me on the top actually has created more work for everyone on the team. The projects that we thought about, particularly related to performing thorough reviews of the literature and examining information technology issues in research… these ideas were things that the team may well have wanted to work on, address, and delve into with an informationist on board, however I’m not sure we really considered how much of their time would be required to accomplish them. Like the milk carton, they were a single, self-contained unit that worked pretty well. Add me, the plastic spout, and now you’ve added the spout, the cap, and the little pull-tab plastic piece that you have to remove before you open the carton the first time. One thing becomes four. Better design? It’s debatable. 

I do think that I’ve provided some valuable tools for the team (and future teams) to use, i.e. the data dictionary, data request forms, and a growing catalog of relevant articles for their field of work. But writing a review article is another project. Writing a systematic review is, in its purest form, an entire research project in and to itself. Similarly, planning a conference or investigating big-picture issues like how research happens in teams… maybe these are terrific aims, just not necessarily aims for supplemental work. I think that this is something we need to consider in the future when drafting our proposals for these type of services. 

In a time when people, dollars, and all resources are stretched to the limit, we don’t need to be making extra work – or plastic waste – for ourselves.

 

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

15 Nov
Talking Dog

Hey, cat! Can you get me another cup of joe while you’re up there?

After back-to-back canine family members who rarely barked or made much of any noise, we now find ourselves with a talker. Eliza the hound dog is a bit of a barker, but more, she’s a talker. There’s no spellchecker for how to spell the sounds in her vocabulary, but  maybe “awhooowhooawwowwwohhawww” translates well. I imagine, though, that if you’ve ever cared for and/or known a hound, you know the sounds. She has a lot to say, that little dog – to me, to Lynn, and to our cat, Tater. Tater is, by far, her favorite family member to converse with. They have a lot to say to one another. 

I have been talking a lot lately. In the past month, I was on a panel with other NLM-funded informationists to talk about our projects; I guest lectured at a couple of library school classes (the third, last night, experienced some technical glitches, so we’ll try again soon); I taught a half-day CE class, facilitated a forum on the current state of health sciences libraries, and led a business meeting at the annual meeting of NAHSL; I attended the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association and spent a good deal of time talking with colleagues there; I presented a poster at the Community Engagement and Research Symposium of the UMass Center for Translational Science; I wrote up (kind of like talking) and submitted two proposals for next year’s annual meeting of the Medical Library Association; I worked with a researcher to submit a proposal for another informationist grant (again, you’ve got to talk a lot before you can write); I’ve worked with a team on an R21 grant proposal to NIH; and then I’ve had several road trips and meetings and other events with colleagues where you, you know, talk. A lot. Even for verbose, social me, it’s been one heck of a month.

All of these activities, though, were add-ons to the work that I do that gives me something to talk about and that, at times, is a conundrum. This month, I’ve been conundrum-ed. It’s easy to get sucked into giving so much time to talking with others that you lose the time to do the very things that got you invited to talk in the first place. My “walking the walk” has definitely suffered these past weeks. Don’t get me wrong. I’m really happy to get to talk about my role as an embedded librarian, to share some of our successes, to offer my opinions and insights into how this role fits in our evolving profession, to sell others on the roles that librarians can play in this area. I get inspired by colleagues, particularly those newer to the profession, who tell me how what I do is what they want to do one day. I get excited when I see the switch click on in researchers’ brains, the realization of the skills that librarians have outside of our hard-to-break stereotypes; when they recognize the real added value that we can bring to their teams and their work. I count each and all of these as measures of success for the work that I’ve been doing over the past year and a half or so.

“But keep on talking,” I tell myself, “and you’ll talk you’re way right out of work.” The month has been tremendously fun, but it’s really time to hole up and get back to the doing. I have deadlines for work promised, not deadlines for work that I hope to do.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but notice the past weeks just how much work is involved in preparing grant proposals – an awful lot of work to propose work that you hope will get funded so that you can do it. This is the life of my researcher colleagues. I realized that they balance the “talking and walking” all of the time. They constantly have to talk about the work that they’re doing so that they can be funded to do more work in the future – all the while, doing the work. No wonder they work so much!

For me, I’m looking forward to some weeks ahead that involve being right here on my campus, doing my humdrum day-to-day work. The work that gives me something to talk about. Then I’ll share it with you here. It is, after all, a big circle.

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For those of you who enjoy my sketchnotes, I practically filled up a whole sketch book these past weeks. I’ve shared them on a separate spot, if you wish to give them a look see.

Here, There and Everywhere

18 Oct
Eliza on the Cape

Eliza meets the sand and sea. Love at first sight.

It’s been one of those weeks filled with activities that took me away from my normal work routine. Monday was a holiday and I enjoyed a wonderful, long weekend on Cape Cod, introducing my new puppy to the Atlantic Ocean. Now that was fun!

On Tuesday, the staff of the NN/LM NER invited members of its Regional Advisory Committee to attend a day-long update of all of the activities and accomplishments they’ve experienced during the first half of their current contract. I attended as the representative from NAHSL. Besides getting a terrific review of the work of the NER (despite the fact that I work in the same Library in which the NER is housed, I don’t actually know everything that they’re doing), I also realized yet again how much our profession – and in particular, our professional organizations – need a knowledge manager. So many opportunities are available for librarians and other information professionals to learn new things, gain new skills, fund new projects, and network with colleagues in different (but related) fields, yet too often these opportunities go unknown by a good many people who could benefit from them. We lack any centralized way of informing those in the profession of all of that’s available to them. As I sat at the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that we really need to figure out a way to better coordinate all of our efforts. I also couldn’t help but think up a few ideas regarding how we might do this. Stay tuned as I try out a few on this blog.

Wednesday found me spending much of the day prepping for, getting to, and offering up a lecture to the students taking the Research Data Management course being offered by Simmons College’s LIS program this fall. This course, taught by my colleagues from here at UMMS, Elaine Martin, Andrew Creamer and Donna Kafel, has been a great success for students in the library science program who wish to learn about this emerging area of work. I’ve been invited both semesters it’s been taught to come and share my experiences and offer my thoughts on the role of the informationist and/or embedded librarian in research settings today. It’s always a tremendous chance to share with interested and engaged librarians and/or librarians-in-training about the work that I do. They always ask really thoughtful questions and along with my talking about what I do, we never fail to have a good discussion about the profession as a whole and where we might be heading. And then, as a bonus, when class was over, one of the students asked if she could have her picture taken with me. I asked why she would want such a thing and she said, “I just LOVE your blog!”  Now THAT is a sign that I have reached some sort of surreal place in the land of blogging librarians, isn’t it?!

Amy Dickinson_Superstar

If Amy Dickinson tweets it, it’s official. :)

 

Yesterday, I had another opportunity to speak to a group of LIS students, this time via a webcast to the Special Libraries class in the University of Alabama’s LIS program. Again, it was just wonderful to get to talk for an hour or so with a group of people so excited to enter into our profession. Their energy and the enthusiasm for being future librarians was palpable, even over the Interwebs. They aren’t without many of the same anxieties and questions that those of us already working experience, e.g. libraries closing, librarian roles changing significantly, etc., but they appear ready and willing to ride the waves of the future and personally, I think that’s just the attitude that will bring each of them success.

Today, a blog post that I was invited to write for the Special Libraries Association was published. Please give, Playoff Season for Information Professionals a read and let me know what you think. 

And lastly, those of you who have been reading this blog all along know that at this time last year I enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime when I got to be Curious George at the Boston Book Festival. Well, tomorrow will find me at this year’s BBF being TWO different characters. Multiple personality costume wearing! Tune in next week for pictures and a recap of the fun! And if you’re close to the City, do consider coming out to Copley Square and the Boston Public Library for the day. It’s a great event featuring 150+ writers, workshops, events for children, exhibits by numerous literary-related groups, and more. And it’s all FREE! And if you see Lyle, Lyle Crocodile or Bad Kitty along the way, say hi!

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