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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.

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:
Slide1Slide2Slide3Slide4Slide5Slide6Slide7

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

Since the Beginning of Time 

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!

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)

Back Tracking

31 Jan

As promised earlier in the week, I’m checking back in today with some thoughts on my Information Seeking Behavior Tracking experiment. As you might imagine, it wasn’t the easiest task. It’s hard to pay attention to all that you’re doing during the day that relates to looking for information, particularly when you’re in the information business. That said, I think I did well enough to draw a few conclusions:

  1. I don’t use my library’s website very much.
  2. I use Google a lot.
  3. I get side-tracked often, thanks to having so much information pushed at me during the day.*
  4. I still use the old fashioned, “first-hand experience” method of answering some questions that I have. For example, one day I didn’t even look at my Weather Bug app to see the temperature before taking my puppy for her morning walk. Instead, I just went outside to discover it was cold.
  5. I use social media to both give and receive information. As it should be.

*If I call this divergent information behavior, it probably sounds better, doesn’t it?

Of course, the first two items on my list help me appreciate the behavior of many of our patrons. My library’s website is filled with valuable information, but I don’t use it often because (a) I believe that I know where to go for the information I need (library bypass - guilty as charged), and (b) I’m lazy. I don’t want to go through multiple layers to get to the things I need. And I don’t think that I’m all that different from most of the folks who use our library. I also generally get “good enough” information by quickly searching the Internet (I use Google) and following one of the top 3-4 results. There may well be better information out there, but “good enough” is good enough. 

This brings me back to the question that I’ve been asking for awhile, the question that led me to track my behavior in the first place. As a librarian, I spend valuable time and effort packaging the best resources for my patrons. I create subject guides, websites, flyers, handouts, emails, and posters. I teach classes and give presentations. All of these are efforts to let students and faculty and researchers and staff know what’s available to them, but I’m not very convinced anymore that it’s the best way to get the message out. I’m not suggesting that I quit doing those things, but I do believe that I need to think as much, if not more, about how I get the message to patrons as I think about what the message is in the first place.

This morning, I read an article entitled, “Design Dimensions Enabling Divergent Behavior across Physical, Digital, and Social Library Interfaces” (Bjorneborn, L., Persuasive Technology, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Volume 6137, 2010, pp 143-149). Citing the work of B.J. Fogg and Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, Bjorneborn writes,

Human behavior may be seen as a product of three factors: motivation, ability, and triggers. … Motivation includes information needs and interests. Ability includes information literacies to navigate with integrated body and mind through physical, digital, and social information spaces. Triggers include convergent and divergent design dimensions that may stimulate convergent and divergent information behavior.

Our patrons come to us with motivation and we concentrate a great deal on improving their ability to navigate our resources, but how about triggers? What are the triggers that we have in place to make them use our resources, including US. How do I trigger people to call me for help? How do I trigger them to think of me when they’re in need of something that lends itself to my expertise? How do I put myself – how do we put all of our library resources – in the pathways of our patrons’ information seeking routines?

These are important questions that I don’t know we’ve spent much time thinking about and addressing. I also think that they become all the more important as we’re seeking to do new things and provide different services that don’t easily trigger “librarian” in someone’s mind. We reaped the benefits of the “book = library/librarian = book” connection for a good, long while, but when we’re trying to sell services like data management, that connection isn’t there. We need triggers.

Bjorneborn concludes his paper noting that, “Persuasive design may bridge ‘affordance gaps‘ between users’ perceived affordances and designers’ intended affordances.” Put another way, maybe librarians need to look to the literature of design, psychology, and maybe even the “Science of Shopping” to help us fill and/or bridge the gaps between what we want our patrons to know about us and what they do know.

A Snippet of My Tracking Tracker

A Snippet of My Tracking Tracker

Share and Share Alike

17 Jan

PMC ArticleBefore I even get started with this week’s post, let me first draw your attention to this little bit of awesomeness, after all, it’s not every day that you (well, at least I) get to see yourself in print. I feel that I just have to do a little shout out. Plus, my poetic welcome to the attendees of MLA 2013 may well be the most valuable legacy that I ever leave to my profession. 

———-

Back to the reality of our work at hand, I had a few experiences this week that got me thinking about where and/or how dissemination of knowledge fits into our role as knowledge and information management professionals. The first of these occurred during the weekly meeting of the mammography study team. This week’s meeting was different in that it involved bringing together not only the primary members of the team, but also the players from the technology aspects of it, specifically the programmers from Claricode, and the IT people from Fallon Insurance Company and Reliant Health Care. These individuals have played a key role in the study related to developing the software platform used to collect telephone interview data (the CATI system), pulling necessary data from insurance and health records, and coordinating the disparate data sources into a tracking database that can, ultimately, provide the data for analysis. It’s been no small task from the very beginning of the project. In fact, the very issues raised in the bringing together of these people to accomplish the necessary technological aspects of the study are the ones that led to Aim 2 of the informationist supplement grant that brought me to the study:

Aim 2: Assist investigators in identifying and reporting information technology issues that have arisen in the implementation of the study that may be of use to others.

Initially, we thought that the deliverable for Aim 2 would be a white paper; an outline of the different issues, along with references to the literature, that could be shared with both the clinical research and IT communities, with hopes that the information would prove helpful to those who sought to do this type of collaborative work in the future. In short, the team believes that they have learned some things, including some mistakes that others might want to avoid. However, as we began talking about the topic and I began searching the literature for relevant articles, I found that not much existed that touched on just what we were trying to articulate. This fact led us to discuss whether or not a white paper was the best way to go with this topic/issue. Perhaps a symposium, a meeting that could actually bring the different players – clinicians, researchers, computer programmers, software developers, etc. – together to share insights and brainstorm ideas for how we could all work better together. But this thought got us to wondering more about just who we’d invite. Who are the real stakeholders in this situation? Who would find this interesting? Do clinicians want to talk to developers? Do programmers have the faintest interest in problem-solving with medical researchers? We weren’t sure, so we decided the best way to begin would be to simply bring all of us together – all of the people who have worked on this project for the past 5 years – and see if this group, at least, could identify topics, issues, and/or projects in this area worth moving forward on. 

In short, we found out that the answer is YES!

That’s good news. We could easily list off any number of “lessons learned” and “things to consider next time.” Everyone agreed that we have knowledge that can be useful to others. Excellent!

Now let me tell you about a couple of other experiences of the week before I tie them all together. This one happened yesterday when a group of us from my library were taking part in a webinar for the current eScience Institute run by Duraspace, the Council on Information Library Resources, and the Digital Library Federation. The Institute is a continuation of a project funded by the Association of Research Libraries that began several years ago. It’s objective is to help research libraries assess the data and/or cyber-infrastructure needs of their universities, mostly through conducting environmental scans, surveys, needs assessments, and the like. It involves interviewing key stakeholders in each library’s respective institution, thus providing a better picture and/or road map for planning library services in the areas associated with data management. Our cohort consists of about 25 other libraries. Combined with the previous years, approximately 120 libraries have taken part in this initiative.

As we listened in, someone in our group asked, “Do we share our findings with the other libraries?” Our leader typed the question into the chat box and the answer we received was along the lines of “You can, if you wish.” Now this is, to me, well… well, it’s strange. I’ll just say it. Strange. It’s strange because of every profession on the planet, which one is best associated with sharing? I’m thinking that it’s us. Libraries. Librarians. Librarianship. We are founded on the principle of sharing. At least in part. One of the biggest forces driving the movement of libraries into data management is the concept (for some, mandates) of data sharing. We, of all people, know the benefits of sharing. That’s why we’re advocates here. So to me, it’s kind of strange to find a whole bunch of libraries involved in a project where all of the information, data, and most importantly, knowledge discovered in the process of going through these exercises isn’t being readily shared. Why? How can this be? Maybe I just misunderstood.

Also yesterday, my library’s journal club met and discussed the article, “The New Medical Library Association Research Agenda: Final Results from a Three-Phase Delphi Study,” (Eldredge, Ascher, Holmes, and Harris). The paper reports on the process undertaken by the researchers to identify the leading research questions in the field of medical librarianship as they were identified by members of MLA’s Research Section, as well as leadership within different levels of the organization. As we looked over and discussed the list of questions in the article, many people noted that they remain the same questions that we’ve been asking for years, e.g. questions of the value of librarians, the value of libraries, the information needs of our patron groups, etc. The comment was also made, both in our group’s discussion and in the paper, that some of these questions may well have been answered already. To this thought I commented, “Well evidently not well enough, if those with vested interests and notable involvement in our profession still have them.” Or maybe less cynically, my comment could have been, “Perhaps so, but if this is the case, we haven’t done a very good job of sharing that knowledge, because we still have the questions.”

All of this leads me back to a bigger question that’s become quite clear to me of late as I continue to observe or be a part of these type experiences, i.e. How do we share what we know with others?

To me, this is a HUGE need in the world of knowledge and information management where librarians can help. Quite honestly, I’m not clear on all of the ways that we can help, but I absolutely believe that there is a place for us here. We are experts in gathering and organizing information. We have the skills that allow us to make that information accessible. We know how to evaluate materials, weed out junk, and build strong collections (notice how I never use a certain trendy word in describing these activities). These are all foundations to sharing information and, ultimately, knowledge.

However, it’s the next step where we need to bring our own skills up to the task. It’s the next step that’s woefully missing in the whole “knowledge sharing” world. To me, that step is dissemination. Better put, effective dissemination. That is where the sharing of knowledge happens and I’m not sure that anyone is doing the best job at it today.

Researchers within their own institutions don’t know what their colleagues are doing; what their colleagues are discovering. How can we help them with this? They want to know. They tell us this. But so far nobody has been able to create the resources or the tools or the environment to make this happen, at least not in a seamless, integrated way. Libraries have tried, but as one of our Library Fellows said to me, “We have a ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality. We think that if we just build the resource, everyone will use it.” I agree. We are quite capable of building resource guides and special collections, but unless people use them, the information they contain just sits there. The knowledge that they are capable of spreading is trapped. A “Help Manual” is of no help when no one reads it.

I said to that same Fellow, “I have really no idea how to solve the problem yet, but that’s always the first step. Recognizing it.” But I do really believe that if we can become adept at whatever all of the skills are that we need to build and implement resources that fit into the workflows and the paths and the processes of our patrons, we will have discovered an entire new area of work for our profession. Part behaviorist, part ethnographer, part programmer, part librarian… likely a combination of these and more. It’s no simple problem to solve, but it’s an awfully big key to sharing and as we have long been the leaders in that act, I see no reason why we should stop now. 

*Interested in thinking about this more? Here’s a podcast and a paper that I’ve assigned as the material for the February journal club in my library. 

 

ONE Partridge, ONE Pear Tree

19 Dec
The Partridge Family first cast, 1970. Public Domain

The Partridge Family first cast, 1970.
Public Domain

I had lunch yesterday with a friend who used to work at UMass Medical School. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and so we began with the usual and mutual ritual of catching up. She has a new job, something that I somehow missed an announcement for months ago. We talked about her projects and tasks and the pros and cons of working remotely. Then we talked about my year, my own new roles, changes in the library and in our staffing, the new structure and directions we’re heading. My friend works in a technology-heavy world too, thus she knows of the challenges that libraries, IT, higher education, medical education… all of us are facing lately. 

One thing that she asked me in particular was how had I managed, over the past year, to build new collaborations and projects. “How do you get people to say, ‘Yes,’” she asked. It’s a great question. Roger Fisher and William L. Ury had a best seller in the 1980s that answered that very question. But the art of negotiation that they teach in their book is something different from what my friend asked. What she was more interested in is how to get buy in, trust, respect, and the “thumbs up” from your boss to try and/or to develop new things. Here are some of the tidbits of experience that I shared, with a little holiday twist for you, just because…

12 Drummers Drumming

Bang that drum! For the past 12 months, I have talked and talked and talked about what I do. In doing so, I have kept my Library Director, my supervisor, and my co-workers in the communication loop. This becomes all the more important when you spend less and less time in the library and more and more in the presence of the teams that you’re a part of. “Out of sight, out of mind,” cannot happen. Use all the means at your disposal to be both heard and seen. Emails, social media, shared reports, and face-to-face meetings every now and then keep folks from forgetting you or worse, thinking that you’re not doing anything.

11 Pipers Piping

Pipe up! Know what you can do, be able to articulate it clearly and succinctly, and then… DO IT! Much of the work that I find myself doing is not work that I think many people initially thought about a librarian doing. They were in the dark about the skills I could bring to their project or team. You’ve got to tell them. Don’t kid yourself. No one else will.

10 Lords-a-Leaping

Take a flying leap! Take risks. Try to do some things that maybe you’re not completely sure that you can do at the moment, but you’re positive that you can learn how in the future. Think creatively, just as we wish our patrons to think of us. When it comes to information, data, and knowledge management, there are so many services that we can offer and so many needs that we can fill. Go after them.

9 Ladies Dancing

Keep moving! Without a doubt, this has been the most filled year of work that I’ve ever experienced. It’s been challenging, it’s been exciting, and it’s been downright exhausting at times. But that’s how change goes and I wasn’t the only person and/or aspect of my library that experienced change this year. We’ve all gone through some big changes that resulted in a lot of dancing around to make sure everything is getting done. Hopefully, as we grow into our new model, we’ll have a few more seats along the wall to rest.

8 Maids-a-Milking

Milk it for all it’s worth! Receiving an administrative supplement grant from NIH/NLM was a big deal and we made sure that people on campus and in the larger library world were aware of it. It’s a thin line to walk between promoting something and bragging, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to the promotional aspects, using the award as clout to secure some other opportunities. Librarians aren’t always very comfortable with tooting their own horns, but sometimes, that’s just what you have to do.

7 Swans-a-Swimming

Swim against the grain. Assuming newer roles in our profession is not always readily accepted. Within our own ranks, we often argue and grumble over having to do new things, make new changes, and assume new roles that we don’t necessarily want to do. If you find yourself going against the fray, do your best to seek out colleagues and peers who are supportive and positive. Doom and gloom breeds doom and gloom. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Avoid the negative.

6 Geese-a-Laying

Lay an egg! Make some mistakes, or rather accept the fact that you will. I made some this past year. I had more than one hand-slap-to-forehead moment, those times when you can’t believe that you didn’t see something and/or understand something a certain way. It happens. To everyone. Enjoy the company.

5 Gold Rings

Find some gold medal champions! I have benefited tremendously from a couple or three researchers on my campus who know me, like me, and respect what I can do. They are my advocates and I never hesitate to use them for such when it’s needed. Convince a few people to take a chance on you, then come through for them. When you do this, you’ll have people in your corner for the long haul.

4 Calling Birds

Tweet! Tweet! TWEET DAMMIT! Social media – be it Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr, Facebook, or blogs – is a revolution for disseminating your work. These tools allow you to tell more people, more easily than every before, what you’re up to. They allow you to demonstrate both process and product. They let you share your expertise (and your amateurism, as Austin Kleon reminds) with such a wide audience that you’ll never know who you might net. Did I have any idea that Amy Dickinson would become an advocate for me as a librarian? Heck no! Who could have imagined it? But when she introduced me as such to the audience at the Lenox Public Library that night in August… well, THAT was one awesome highlight of my year. Stop thinking that social media is about nothing more than cute kittens. It’s your key to a powerful network of people who can help you grow professionally in countless ways.

3 French Hens

Go abroad! Maybe not literally, but do cross the waters that separate you from those you think you can help. Go to talks and meetings and other arenas where you can learn about what the people that you want to work with do. Don’t wait for invitations, but search the daily announcements of open forums and go. I have done this over the past year and one thing I’ve learned is this… we all share an awful lot of the same problems and talk about the same issues when it comes to communication, information overload, and addressing challenges that a bit of organization might improve. These are opportunities to identify the talking points that will connect you with people and groups that you may think you have nothing in common with. Trust me. You do. 

2 Turtle Doves

MAKE some quiet time to think. Doing something new, particularly becoming comfortable and good at it, requires time. Time to think and time to read and time to plan. I have a card over the desk in my studio that reads, “Practice Takes Practice.” Yes, this is one of the hardest things to do when you’re on the dance floor all of the time, but it’s really essential to both grow your role and maintain the relevance of it (not to mention, maintain your sanity). Over the past year, I’ve found a number of quiet corners in research buildings, out of the way places where I can go for an hour to read a few chapters of a book that will give me some new ideas or teach me a new skill, articles that will get me up to speed on a topic that a research team is addressing, or write a blog post that I hope will be useful to my friends and colleagues. 

And ONE Partridge in ONE Pear Tree

It only takes ONE! This is the bit of advice that my friend found most useful. Find one champion, one partner, and one project that you can pour all of your efforts and energies into, in terms of your new role. Make it work. Make it happen. Make it a success. Many, many times, just one success is all that you need to get the ball rolling. We got one grant and the success of that gave me an awful lot of confidence and grist for my argument mill when it came to persuading others that I could bring something of value to their table, too. When you’re feeling like the change is too big and the frustration too great, just focus on one thing. One partridge in one pear tree. 

I want to thank you all for following along with my adventures this past year. A safe and happy holiday season to all!

Get the Word Out!

7 Nov

Stay tuned for a report of a really full, really engaging, and really interesting few days of learning that I experienced at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association this week. It was a terrific opportunity and I look forward to sharing some of the insights and thoughts (and pictures – of course there will be sketchnotes) that I gleaned while there.

But first… there’s ANOTHER symposium that I have to attend to attending. Tomorrow is the 2013 Community Engagement and Research Symposium here at UMass Medical School. One of my embedded informationist assignments is on the leadership team of the CER Section of our Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I’ve been doing some work for them around the topic of research impact and research dissemination, so I thought I’d submit a poster for the symposium. It got accepted and I’ll be presenting it tomorrow, but you don’t have to wait. Here’s a preview for my readers:

IMPACT_CER-SYMPOSIUM-POSTER

HUGE thanks to my friends and colleagues, Kristi Holmes, PhD and Cathy Sarli, MLIS, for being leaders in our field in the area of documenting research impact. If you’re unfamiliar with the Becker Model, check it out. It’s a valuable tool and helping researchers better understand the many ways in which they can share their work is a perfect role for librarians to assume.

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