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The Doctor is Out

10 Jul

Psychiatric BoothAdmit it. We all know a lot better, a lot of the time. People know that sitting around all day isn’t the best thing for one’s health, but here we sit. We know that the label says there are 6 servings of macaroni and cheese in the box, but it really divides better by 2 or 3. We know that being distracted while driving isn’t the safest thing, but we text and we do our makeup and we fiddle with the radio and we play our ukuleles while we drive, anyway. And when it comes to information and data, of course we know that it’s best to back-up our files in multiple places and formats, to name our files a certain way so that we can find things easily, and to write down instructions and practices so that we, or others, can repeat what we did the first time. Of course we know these things because let’s be honest, it’s common sense. But… we don’t.

Personally, I get incredibly frustrated at librarians who think we’re adding something important to the world of data management, just by teaching people these notions that really are common sense. I think that there’s something more that we need to do and it involves understanding a thing or two about the way people learn and the way they behave. In other words, lacking a behavioral psychologist on your research team, librarians would do well to study some things from their camp and put them to use in our efforts at teaching, providing information, helping with communication issues, and streamlining the information and/or data processes in a team environment.

I’m preparing to teach a course in the fall and thus I’ve been reading some things about instructional design. In her book, Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen explains that when you’re trying to teach someone anything, it’s good practice to start by identifying the gaps that exist “between a learner’s current situation and where they need to be in order to be successful.” (p. 2) Dirksen describes several of these gaps:

  • Knowledge and Information Gaps
  • Skills Gaps
  • Motivation Gaps
  • Environment Gaps

More, I believe she hits the nail on the head when she writes, “In most learning situations, it’s assumed that the gap is information – if the learner just had the information, then they could perform.” I know that I fall into this trap often (and I bet that I’m not alone). I believe if I teach a student how to conduct a solid search in PubMed, that’s how they’ll search. I show them a trick or two and they say, “Wow!” I watch them take notes. I help them set up their “My NCBI”  account. We save a search. They’ve got it! I feel like Daniel Day Lewis in the movie, There Will Be Blood, “I have a milkshake and you have a milkshake.” I have knowledge and now you have the knowledge. Success!

Now if you do any work that involves teaching students or clinicians or researchers or anyone, you know not to pat yourself on the back too much here. I teach people, my colleagues teach people, all of our many colleagues before us (teachers, librarians at undergraduate institutions, librarians at other places where our folks previously worked) teach people. We all teach the same people, yet we keep seeing them doing things in their work involving information that make us throw up our hands. How many times do we have to tell them this?! 

Well, maybe it’s not in the telling that we’re failing. This is where I think understanding and appreciating the other gaps that may exist in the situations, addressing them instead of simply passing along information, could lead us to much more success. And this is where we could use that psychologist.

Earlier this week, I tweeted that I was taking suggestions for what to rename the systematic review that I’ve been working on with my team, for it is anything but systematic. A’lynn Ettien, a local colleague, tweeted back the great new name, “Freeform Review.” I loved that. Another colleague, Stephanie Schulte, at the Ohio State University, offered up a really helpful link to a paper on the typology of reviews. But it was what my colleague, Eric Schnell, also at OSU, tweeted that led me to this blog post:

Schnell

BINGO! Every person on my team knows what the “rules” are, but they keep changing them as we go along. I spend time developing tools to help this process go more smoothly, but still get a bunch of notes emailed to me instead of a completed form. I give weeks to developing a detailed table of all of the elements we’ve agreed to look at. Except this one. Oh, and this. Oh, and should we also talk about this? I put my head down on the table.

But Eric is exactly right. This is how most people deal with information. This is how we work. And it’s not a matter at all of people not knowing something, but rather it’s a problem of people not doing something. Or better put, not doing something differently. Sometimes people do lack knowledge. Many times, people lack skills – something that a lot of practice can fix. But an awful lot of time, what we really need to address are the gaps that have nothing to do with knowing what or how to do something.

Why won’t my people use the forms I’ve created and the tables that I’ve prepared? They said that they liked them. They said they were what they wanted. So… what’s the problem? I think it’s something that each of us who works in this field of information wrangling needs to become proficient at, i.e. learning to see and address all of the gaps that exist. At least the ones we can.

And I, for one, am still learning. 

 

Interesting People Want to Know

15 May

Sally and AmyA couple of weeks ago, the phone rang in my cubicle. It was an outside call and I didn’t recognize the number, but when I picked up the receiver to “Hey, Sally!”, the voice was quite familiar. I hear it most often on the radio, usually telling funny stories or making wise cracks at the weekly news stories on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.” It was the syndicated advice columnist, author, and humorist, Amy Dickinson on the other end of the line. She had sent me a note a day or so earlier, asking if she could call me and ask me some questions about librarians. Yes. That’s right. The advice columnist asked me if she could ask me for advice. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was a darned thrilling moment. I love Amy’s columns, her bits on the “Wait Wait” panel, and her social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. I loved her memoir about a small town and strong women. And when I had the chance to meet her in person last summer, I found that she was as lovely in person as in the media. Funny. Engaging. Downright nice. The kind of person that you like to say that you know. At least I do. And now, here was Amy asking me questions while I sat at my desk in the library. “Don’t blow it,” I thought to myself, “This is the closest you’re ever gonna get to being Kee Malesky.”

It turned out that Amy had been invited to speak at a conference of librarians in Detroit and upon hearing that many in the audience would be academic librarians, not the public librarians a popular author might be more comfortable with, she called me for some background info, some of my thoughts and opinions on how technology was changing libraries, changing reading habits, changing everything related to information. While we were chatting, Amy told me a story about how she was once sitting on an airplane next to a librarian and found it kind of odd that the librarian didn’t seem much interested in the fact that Amy was a writer. How could a librarian not be interested in someone who wrote a book? Don’t we all love books? Isn’t that why librarians become librarians?

The truth is that I have plenty of colleagues who cringe at the very suggestion of connecting our work with books. The stereotype is killing the profession, or so they believe. Maybe. And it’s also true that my work has very little to do with books. Most of my colleagues don’t do a lot of work involving books. But still, I don’t particularly mind the connection. I love books. I love writers. I love people who write for a living in any form. I wish I was one of them. If Amy Dickinson sat down next to me on a plane, she’d probably soon wish that she’d never opened her mouth. I’d talk her ear off, I’m sure.

But the librarian > book > author disconnect that Amy experienced wasn’t what bothered me so much about the story. What bothered me more was that it was a story of a librarian not finding another person interesting. Granted, lots of people (myself included) don’t like to talk to strangers on a plane. We like to travel in peace and quiet. We’re generally absorbed in work or a puzzle or… heavens! … a book. I understand this completely. Still, there was something about not being interested that stuck with me.

Last night, I went to an author reading at the Medical School. I wasn’t planning on it, but I walked right through the pre-talk cocktail party as I was leaving work and noticed it was a small crowd. I decided to stick around and support the event and my co-workers who’d worked hard to put it on. I don’t attend these events often and I wonder why, because every one that I’ve been to has been really interesting. They are hosted by the Humanities in Medicine Committee, so they always have a humanitarian theme, or put another way, they focus often on the human side of either being a doctor or being a patient. And they’re always, as I said, interesting. Last night was no different.

I looked around at the many empty chairs and I also took in the demographics of the audience – older and almost entirely male. There were no medical students. There were no younger docs. And it was a shame, because it was a story about the importance of doctors being interested in the people that they care for, in the importance of knowing their patients. Sadly, it didn’t seem a topic of much interest.

When I got home, I told my spouse about the evening and I told her the story that Amy had shared with me about her encounter with the librarian and I asked, “Do you think we’re just not interested in one another anymore? Do you think we’re too overwhelmed with our own lives to care much for what others do? Do you think we’re all too tired? Do you think we’re self-absorbed?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.” That was Lynn’s reply.

When I think about the skills that make an informationist successful, one of the most important is curiosity. I didn’t necessarily become a librarian because I love books, but I became a librarian because I LOVE looking stuff up. I find lots of things fascinating. I find what people do to be interesting. Watching the screen saver images of brain scans on a PIs computer, I can’t help but ask, “What’s that?” It’s my nature. And one thing that I’ve learned as I’ve worked with researchers over the years is that, by and large, they really do enjoy telling you about what they do. They like explaining the science. Maybe they don’t have time to give you a primary introduction, but most of them can tell you a pretty good story or two that explains the experiments they’re doing and the questions they’re asking and the problems that they’re trying to solve. 

As I was leaving a meeting with the PI for the new study that I’m working on, I told him that I was really enjoying learning about all of the issues around data citation, DOIs, and things particular to neuroimaging. “It’s a lot of new stuff for me,” I told him. His reply was, “Good. I was afraid it would be boring; just the same old thing that you do all of the time.” He’s an interesting person and it seemed obvious that he knew how awful not doing something interesting can be.

I’m heading to Chicago in the morning for the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. I’ll be blogging (probably sketchnotes) about the plenary speakers and link those posts to here, so that you can follow along, if you wish. In the meantime, I hope you meet someone interesting today. And that someone meets an interesting you. 

The Limitations of Self-Service Start with “Self”

9 May

I went to my public library last weekend. It was the first time that I’d been there in several months and “WOW!” was I in for some surprises. The first thing that I noticed was the space that used to be the Friends of the Library’s book store was now reconfigured and contained a really long series/system of conveyor belts and other such equipment. Bright red. My first thought was that they’d purchased an on-demand printer, the kind that prints copies of books that a library doesn’t have right there on the spot. “Cool!”, I thought. But then I saw a sign that explained that this was the new material return system. Quite fancy, indeed. 

Next, I walked the few steps forward into the main area and noticed the entire front desk was gone. The check-out stations, the reserve shelves, the people there to help… all gone. In its place was a cafe stand with coffee, tea, and assorted other goodies, some tables and chairs, and a very nice new bookstore for the Friends group. Then I saw an “Information Center” (round) prominently placed in the middle of the main entry. It was staffed with several people, each one of them helping patrons. I saw more self-serve check-out counters/machines for videos, DVDs, and books. I saw more stand-alone computer stations for searching the library catalog. In brief, I saw a complete “Do It Yourself” library.

The DIY movement is big, you know. You can check-out your own groceries. You can add channels to your cable package through your remote control. You can serve up your own yogurt at the frozen yogurt store. And of course, you can pump your own gas. This we’ve been doing forever.

Back in the 50s and 60s, my grandfather, Granddaddy Gore, owned a service station in Alexandria, Virginia. It was right on Route 1, the main thoroughfare into and out of Washington, DC. I remember stories my granddaddy told of senators and members of congress, and often their drivers, stopping in for service on their way to and from work. We used to kid him that he knew everyone in Alexandria and it really wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Friendly and outgoing, Granddaddy Gore would strike up a conversation with anyone. When I delivered his eulogy, a number of years ago now, I said, “The world is a little less friendlier today, without Granddaddy in it.” 

Granddaddy Gore_ESSO Pics_Page_2

Gore’s Esso Servicecenter

I thought of my grandfather and his SERVICEcenter this past week after visiting my public library.  I thought of him again as I was putting gas in my car this morning and couldn’t get the darned gas cap off, spending a good 10-minutes prying the door open with a screwdriver. And as I thought about how much we’ve replaced with self-service in our lives, I thought about some of the things that we’ve given up for the sake of “convenience.” 

My own library has moved many once-mediated tasks to self-service. It makes good sense, economically. You really don’t need people to staff a desk and check-out books now and then. You don’t need a person to get a reserve item for a medical student. We’re an academic health sciences library. We don’t check out many books and we serve a bunch of people who are used to doing things themselves. Their way. And that’s A-OK by me. 

However, as I sat in a planning meeting for a symposium that the mammography study team is hosting in a couple of weeks and I listened to the discussion between the researchers, the representatives from Quantitative Health Sciences, the representative from Information Services, and the representative from the Library (moi) each offer our input and stake our claims to the aspects of data management we provide, I thought again about my grandfather’s servicecenter and what perhaps is an unplanned (and unwanted) repercussion to our self-service world… we do everything ourselves

"How can I help you?"

“How can I help you?”

Now don’t get me wrong, the idea of self-sufficiency is a good one, for sure. It’s good to know how to do things for yourself. It saves time and effort and money. It saves the hassle of fitting into someone else’s schedule. It saves the embarrassment of admitting you don’t know how to do something that you think you should.

But does it?

Are our efforts at doing everything ourselves really the most efficient? When multiple people end up duplicating work, are we really saving money? When you continually have to teach yourself something new, rather than going to someone who already knows it, are you saving yourself any time and/or any effort?

As I’ve written in the past, I believe that one of the biggest hurdles preventing us from making great strides in research (in many things) is communication. People simply don’t know what other people know. They don’t know what other people do. And when you don’t know these things and you live in a culture that promotes DIY behavior, that’s exactly what you end up getting, i.e. everyone doing everything for themselves. And more than a little frustrated in the process.

I once took an auto mechanics class in the adult learning program of a local public school system, just so I’d know how to change the oil in my car. And I did it. I changed the oil in my car. Twice. After crawling under my car, getting filthy dirty, trying to find the right place to recycle used motor oil, I figured that really this is a job better suited to the folks at the oil change place. The folks that do this every day. The folks that have the skills and the tools and the expertise to change my oil in under 30-minutes. I’m glad I learned how to do it, but I’m more glad that they exist to do it for me. 

Making a House Call

Making a House Call

As we find our places on research teams and in other settings that allow us the opportunity to say, “You know, I can do that for you. That’s really what I know how to do,” the more value librarians will add to the working order of things. When it comes to information, data, and knowledge management, there are a thousand steps to take and tasks to be done. No one group needs to do them all and surely no three groups need to be doing them all! I was incredibly frustrated when I first stepped out of that planning meeting, but afterward saw that it was a great opportunity to begin really dissecting these tasks and processes, and figuring out which of us does what part(s) best. Once we know that and can communicate it widely to the research community here, we’ll greatly improve the work we do. And I’m glad to report that we’re on our way in this task.

Everything I Know About eScience, I Learned from My Mother*

25 Apr

Title Slide

Regular readers of my blog know that I recently attended the Texas Library Association’s annual conference in San Antonio. I was invited to talk about both emerging roles in eScience and embedded librarianship.

Going to San Antonio also means, for me, visiting my father who moved there from Virginia about 20 years ago. Details of family drama are beyond the scope of this blog (if you’re interested in my take on that, you can read my other blog), but as I told the audience for the first talk (the one on librarians’ roles in eScience), before I prepared my talk on the subject, I had to work through the existential crisis that always arises at the thought of family visitations. In a nutshell, visiting my dad means thinking about my mom and oddly enough, from those thoughts emerged a theme for the talk. The live audience appreciated it. I hope you do, too. What follows is an abridged version:

Before we begin...

It’s always good to start your talks on the same page, particularly when you don’t know your audience very well and the subject you’re talking about is bantered around in different ways in different circles. For clarity’s sake, I start with a definition of eScience, a guide to where I’m going and where I’ve been in terms of the roles I play in this arena, and a disclaimer. There’s always a disclaimer. 

eScience defined

My colleague, Donna Kafel, is the project coordinator for the eScience initiatives that emerge from my library and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region. One of her jobs is to develop and maintain the eScience Portal for New England Librarians. Don’t know much about librarians and eScience? Give it a look-see. It’s packed with great resources and information.

It’s from the Portal that I take the definition of eScience that I use. Bunch of words, but the highlights to remember are that eScience is big, computational, and done in teams that are connected via sophisticated networks. It involves collaboration across disciplines and across geographies, something that is possible today, given where we are with technology.

Informationist Map

One of the reasons that I’m invited to speak on this subject is because I do it. Since we received a grant from the National Library of Medicine to embed informationist services into an existing research study/team, I’ve been charged with developing and expanding these same services across our campus. I’m happy to report that it’s been a successful couple of years, as you can see from my campus map that shows all of the projects, connections, routes, and services that have come to be. I’m also happy to report that the “under construction” line is now complete. We received word recently that our latest proposal for grant funding to bring informationist services to a large neuroimaging project on campus has come through. I’ll be starting work on that very soon.

DisclaimerAnd a disclaimer; when it comes to eScience and libraries (or eScience in general), two fairly distinct camps arise. For many, the focus is on the data. It’s all about the data – creating it, managing it, saving it, making it accessible, sharing it, etc. There is MUCH talk of the role of librarians here. It’s important work and an extension of many of the services we’ve always provided (think cataloging, archiving, and digital repository work). eScience institutes tend to give a lot of attention to our emerging roles with data management. These are good roles, but my disclaimer is this… it’s not my personal favorite part about eScience. I’m also sometimes concerned that we pass on the second camp, i.e. we don’t think enough about what our roles can be when it comes to developing and supporting the network aspect of eScience. I believe that there’s much that we can do here and this is pretty much what I focus on in this talk; what’s our role in the network? Where do we fit with the people and what skills do we have or can we work on to make us effective?

Linda Jean Brittain Gore

It’s here that my mom, not a librarian but a teacher, can maybe teach us something. She taught me, that’s for sure.

Make your bed

Lesson #1 – “Make your bed.” When you get up in the morning and you put your feet on the floor, the first thing to do is turn around and make up your bed. In doing so, you’ve started off your day by cleaning up one clutter. When it comes to working with researchers and research teams involved in eScience, keeping things in order and cleaning up the clutter is a key role that librarians can take on. Juggling multiple tasks, projects, times, and people isn’t easy – not for anyone involved in this work. Keeping things neat and organized from the get-go (e.g. make those data dictionaries before you start collecting data) will help everyone find success.

Do your own laundry

Next, do your own laundry. And do your own laundry as soon as you’re able. When my brother and I were growing up, the rule was that as soon as you could reach the controls on the washing machine, doing your own laundry was your own job. My mom worked full time and had a number of things that she enjoyed doing outside of our home and family. She felt it was only fair (and a good lesson in responsibility) if we took care of our own clothes. One of the really exciting things about working as an embedded librarian and/or informationist in research is that I get to take some control over my job. In fact, it’s my responsibility to take that control. Being fully embedded into a team means that you have certain responsibilities, certain tasks and roles that you and you alone have to do or they don’t get done. It’s the difference between supporting work and partnering on projects. Take control and do what you’re able to do – as soon as you’re able. That’s the lesson.

Do what you're good at

Along the same lines, my mom often told us (and showed us) to do those things that you’re good at doing. KNOW the things that you do well and become really good at articulating them. Interestingly, when we recently interviewed a number of people on our campus regarding how they work with their data and what they see as the role of the library in that work, more than a few admitted that they’d never thought of any role the library can play here. They never connected data with the library. That’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. However, it only becomes an opportunity when you know what you’re capable of doing and you know how to express it clearly. One of the best ways to convince people that we’re up for the task of providing new services in eScience is to “start with why.” Per Simon Sinek, we often tell people what we do and how we do it, but it’s the why we do it that gains their trust. Check out his TED Talk on “The Golden Circle,” if you’re interested in his theory.

Make FriendsMy mom was an elementary school teacher. She started out as a kindergarten music teacher. Of course she taught us to make friends. She taught us songs about it. One of the really cool skills that I’ve been working on acquiring during the past year is social network analysis. In a world where demonstrating the success of networks and the spread of your science is essential for both the evaluation of funding and securing the same for future projects, social network analysis is a powerful tool. I’ve also noticed that it’s not a skill that too many people around my university have. This makes it pretty valuable. Being able to do something that’s both needed and wanted puts you in a winning position. 

Lead

My mom was the president of her garden club, the vice president of her needlework guild, a mentor to younger teachers, a leader in our church, and a coordinator of outings or parties for friends. She taught me the importance of service and the importance of leadership. She taught me that you have an obligation to lead people in those things that you know, you do well, and you enjoy. For librarians seeking to work in team science, the desire to lead is an imperative. We might not be the principal investigators on these studies (the leaders on paper), but we have to take the lead when it comes to managing and organizing the information flow that makes teams effective and efficient. That’s our job. Take the lead in doing it.

Show Your Work

“Show your work! No one else is going to.” This is but one of the great lessons you can find in Austin Kleon’s latest book. He’s writing to artists, but it’s really a good lesson for librarians, too. Show and share what you know, what you do, and what you’ve done. We can no longer rely upon people simply finding all of the resources that the library has to offer. Our electronic resources are vast and often buried. Our professional services are stereotyped. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to get the message that we want people to know out. It’s our responsibility. Tell people what you have to offer, what the library has to offer. My mom entered her original pieces of needlework in competitions. She shared her skills with others by teaching and mentoring. Years before I came across this nice little book, I learned the same lesson from my mother’s example.

Answer the phoneWhen I was off at college and called home (we’re talking once a week, maybe – such a different world than today), I’d talk to my dad about the latest sports scores or about camping trips he was taking with the Boy Scout troop. Fun stuff. Then I’d always say, “Can you put Mom on the phone? I have something important to say.” If I needed a check for tuition or if I needed to say that I was coming home next weekend, I had to tell these things to my mom. I could tell my dad the same, but if I want it remembered or needed some action taken, I told Mom. She got it done. The lesson? Be the person that people know to seek out when they need something done!

Take time for yourself

Just as my dad was the one to talk fun stuff with, he was also often the one to do fun stuff with. One of these things was backpacking. Alternating between my brother and me, he’d take us on week-long backpacking trips along the Appalachian Trail throughout Virginia. I was probably around 12 years old when he took me for the first time. I remember my mom drove us up to the trail head, several hours from home, and as she was about to leave I asked her, “Are you going to be okay without us? Are you going to miss us?” She smiled, gave me a hug, and said, “Oh, I’ll miss you, but I’ll be just fine,” code for “I can’t wait for a week by myself!” It was a great life lesson, not just an eScience lesson. To be good at what we do, we need time to ourselves. We need the time to figure things out, gain new skills, and keep up-to-date on current trends. We also need the time for things we enjoy, things outside of work, and things that keep us happy and healthy. We’re better at pretty much everything when we have that. Do yourself a favor. Leave the email alone until tomorrow morning; until Monday. Really. It will be just fine.

Be Creative

Over dinner during my first night in San Antonio, I was asked where my creativity comes from. I answer with no hesitation, “My mother.” Art, sewing, music, cooking, gardening, and flower arranging were all things that my mother loved to do and she did them all very well. And like any good, creative person, she never stopped trying new things and learning new things. There is so much in both scientific and popular work today regarding creativity and how important it is to success in almost any vocation. Creativity as an informationist is seen when we come up with new ideas, new solutions; when we see new connections and patterns that make the science happen. That’s a role we play in the network, i.e. the role of seeing the possibilities of where and how connections can be made. That’s creativity. I got many a thing from my mother, but this is likely the thing that I’m most grateful for.

Perspective

The last lesson that my mom taught me was one that she didn’t plan on teaching, at least not the way that she taught it. My mom’s life ended suddenly on a snowy day in January of 1985 when the car she was driving was hit by another whose driver lost control of it on an icy road. Life – including everything of life that’s related to work – needs to be kept in perspective. A bit of stress over meeting deadlines, meeting budgets, dealing with people, dealing with changing times and the uncertainty of the future… these are all to be expected in our work lives, but the bigger picture is always bigger. Helping people is our job. We help who we can, when we can, and how we can. The “data deluge” and the “information explosion” and the “crisis of librarianship” are each due their share of our attention and concern, but the lesson that I learned from my mom is that things can change in an instant. Life can change in an instant. It’s in the showing up and building relationships and doing what we’re both good at and what we enjoy that we find real success – the kind that lasts through every economic cycle, every new technology developed, every new service rolled out. eScience with its big data, networks, and embedded services are one playground for today. Who knows where we’ll be next, but it’ll surely be somewhere else. Keep perspective that today is today. And do your best now. I can hear my mom saying it.

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)

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