Let’s Decide!

6 Jun

The title of this post can be found written in large, bold letters in the notes I took during a meeting on Tuesday. “LET’S DECIDE!” It followed the side comment (my notes from any meeting are filled with side comments and/or digressions), “Basically, we can facilitate this work and see that as our role or keep doing our own thing.” I realize that it’s not truly an “either/or” situation, but…

Maybe I should offer a little background, first.

Initially, Aim 2 in the proposal for my work as an informationist on the mammography study was this:

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.

After spending a great deal of time searching the literature in fields from information technology to medical informatics to team science (or simply teamwork), I realized that not much existed that fit the issues that they’d encountered. Further, I wasn’t convinced that writing an article and/or white paper on the topic was the place to start in terms of reporting their experience. I thought that perhaps bringing people together, i.e. the different stakeholders, to talk about the issues, problems, lessons learned, etc. that occur when IT folks and a research team come together to work on a project. I felt that such a discussion would yield a lot of valuable information that could then, somehow, be collected, organized, and disseminated in a useful manner. After a lot of talk and brainstorming within the team, we all agreed that this seemed a good path to take.

Making a long story short, this idea took hold, evolved, grew, and a couple of weeks ago, took the form of a mini-symposium that was part of the annual research retreat for our Center for Clinical and Translational Science. The program, entitled, “Data Acquisition, Data Management, and Subject Tracking in Clinical and Translational Research: Seeking Solutions to Persistent Challenges,” brought together the researchers from the mammography study, two faculty members from our Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, a biostatistician from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and a representative from our Information Services department. My role now is to pull all of the content from the symposium, along with other useful resources, and make it available online for the benefit of our research community.

This is all a really happy story for me in that I’ve been able to help facilitate and see something come together that we have been talking about in my library for a number of years now. Finally… FINALLY … people are starting to talk about issues around data. For too long, the only folks that I’ve heard talking about managing data are librarians. And frustratingly, we’ve mostly been talking among ourselves. But over the past months, I’ve been able to watch people that we’ve been wanting to reach addressing the issue. And best of all, the different players are talking to one another and not just among themselves.

So why the frustrating digression in my notes from Tuesday? Well, it’s because in my position, I can see several things happening. First, I can see several different camps, including the library, trying to stake their claim on one or another aspect in the data management services suite. And there’s a lot of overlap.

Secondly, there’s a lot of the feeling of “we’re the experts, so we should be the ones to do this.” Going along with this is also a lack of awareness and/or understanding of what each stakeholder really is expert in. For example, I might think that the people in Information Services ought to address issues around data storage and security. This is true, of course, but it leaves out the expertise that some in that department have around the proper ways to build databases and thus best practices in file structures and naming conventions and other things that might make me want to say, “Hey! That’s my area of expertise, not yours.” Similarly, many libraries developing data management services are focusing a great deal on providing data management planning in grant applications, but if you asked my colleagues in Quantitative Health Sciences, they’d say, “That’s what we do. Why are you saying it’s your role?”

talk talk talkLastly, despite the success of the mini-symposium, there’s still an awful lot of “talking amongst ourselves” going on. I see this more easily, and thus get a little frustrated at times, because I have my foot in several different areas where I’m hearing the same message. In other words, despite the success of bringing people together for the mini-symposium, there’s still a lot of room for improving how well we communicate and coordinate our efforts, not only campus-wide, but even within my library. So when I wrote “LET’S DECIDE!” it was my reaction to what I see as a really big need that we can fill. There is a huge need for someone to fix the broken communication system, help eliminate some of the duplication of efforts, and facilitate the development of services around data within my institution. And I believe that someone is me and my colleagues in the library. 

One of the characteristics of the library that was lost when we brought our resources to the researchers was our place as the hub of a lot of academic activity. People used to come to our physical library and here the different worlds of campus would collide. Researchers and faculty members and clinicians were forcibly less isolated in labs or offices. They literally ran into one another and likely had a bigger picture of things that were going on, simply through the interactions. At the same time, librarians were more easily able to know a lot of what was going on, too. We had a front row seat for all of the collisions. What I’ve found, as I got out of the library and started working on research teams, is that by going to the people that used to come to us, I’m bringing that lost quality back to life. While it can be incredibly frustrating to observe different groups addressing the same issues, each unaware of what the other is up to, the fact is that I can make them aware.

The mammography study team didn’t know that a team in the library has been working and working and working towards a goal of teaching good data management practices to the students, but as I’m a member of both teams, I did. So, when the study team made a suggestion that we recreate the symposium via a webinar series, archive it, and make it available to the students as part of their curriculum, I immediately chimed in, “Wait! Let me tell you what we’ve been working on.” A similar thing happened with the data management group in Quantitative Health Sciences. And now, we have a meeting scheduled for next month where we will bring these groups together – the research team, the QHS group, IS, and the library’s data services group.

To me, being able to facilitate these gatherings is one of the most rewarding parts of this informationist work. It’s a great role for librarians to take in the area of data management. As I wrote a few posts back, it’s the networking aspect of eScience and a place where we can put our skills to good use. The library itself used to bring people together. Today, librarians do.

Postcards from Chicago

2 Jun

I was on vacation last week and the week before spent most of the days in Chicago, attending the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. As always, it was a meeting filled with great ideas, innovations, inspiration, and an awful lot of fun with friends and colleagues that I don’t get to see nearly enough. I wrote about one of the plenary sessions, “Reshaping Our Professional Identity,” over on the blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Inc. Check it out there!

MLA_Plenary4

As for my vacation, let’s just say I enjoyed some early dog days of summer.

Hanging out with Eliza

 

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.

Back to the Starting Square

2 May

One of my favorite singer songwriters is Lucy Wainwright Roche. Fans of folk music who don’t know Lucy may well know her familiar last names. The daughter of Suzzy Roche and Loudon Wainwright III, she comes honestly to her musical gifts. One of my favorites of her songs is, “Starting Square.” It’s a song about seeing an old love again and taking note of the changes that happen after relationships end. That’s my take, anyway. And it’s summed up in the line,

I can tell you can tell it from there
That I may have been everywhere
But I’m back
Back to the starting square

Enjoy Lucy singing it.

I may not have been everywhere in the first round of informationist work, but as I met with the principal investigator of my latest grant-funded project this week, I did feel like I’m back at square one. This latest project is really very different from the mammography study that I’ve worked on for the past couple of years. This supplemental grant is to provide informationist services to the larger grant entitled, “A Knowledge Environment for Neuroimaging in Child Psychiatry.” Our ultimate goal (and there are more than a few steps to take before we’ll get there) is “to establish best practices and standards around data sharing in the discipline of neuroinformatics so that it becomes possible to generate accurate, easy to obtain quantitative metrics that give credit to the original source of data.” In short, it’s a project that will hopefully deliver a means for researchers to cite their data for both the purpose of data sharing and to make the science reproducible. I’ll work on determining the proper level of identification for neuroimages, the best identifier for the images (is it a DOI?), and the most efficient means of organizing and naming new data sets that are derived from bits and pieces of multiple other data sets.

During our first meeting, the PI showed me a whole bunch of really interesting websites and told me of many interesting projects happening in this area (directly and tangentially). I came back to my desk and promptly created a new folder of bookmarks for this work. So now… I’m back to the starting square. I’ve got a mountain of stuff to read and watch and become familiar with. It’s like the first day of class. The first assignments. And I need a new notebook!

I include a few of the resources below, if you’re interested in the topic and want to play a little catch up, too. Enjoy!

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.

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