Summer Solstice and Summer Reading

21 Jun
Summer

Just hanging out in the summer sunshine.

Today marks the longest day for us here in the Northern Hemisphere. Time to welcome summer! I read an article this morning on STAT listing 23 of the best health and science books to read this summer and it got me to thinking about my own picks. In my last post, I mentioned David Epstein’s new book, Range. I’ve almost finished it and give it two big thumbs up. Here’s what else is in my pile for the summer:

First, a couple of things for work. Being new to management, I picked up Kevin Hoffman’s, Meeting Design, which talks about how to use design principles to plan and facilitate better meetings. If there’s one thing I quickly remembered when I returned to the library last summer, it’s that we have LOTS of meetings. I might as well learn some ways to make them both more efficient and maybe even a little fun.

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I also have Julie Zhuo’s very readable, The Making of a Manager, on my desk. A Silicon Valley product designer, Zhuo found herself in a management role a good bit before she expected. She offers up first-hand stories of lessons she’s learned, along with great tips for finding your own way. And it’s got fun comics by Pablo Stanley throughout. 

Zhuo

Finally, my fun summer read (it’s likely gonna take me all summer to read it, too), is the really enjoyable Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s the choice of my book club for the summer and I’m finding it fascinating. Great pick!

PF+Pulitzer+sticker

What’s on your list for the summer? Share in the comments section.

BONUS: It’s also Make Music Day, a world-wide celebration of the joy of music. I hope everyone is able to find a good book and some good, live music to make this a wonderful day!

Practice, Practice, Practice … or maybe not

7 Jun
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Retreating is Hard Work!

Sorry to miss last week’s post. Just as I was getting back in my Friday writing groove, we had a joint department retreat here in my library. GREAT stuff happened there, but it kept me from writing. Not from thinking, though. Oooh… have I been thinking. 

I’m in the midst of reading David Epstein’s latest book, Range. I read the NY Times Book Review about it and immediately ordered a copy. It’s a fascinating read and so very relevant to the work that we do as librarians and/or information professionals. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, so I can’t give a complete overview of the theories discussed, but so far, I’m pretty well convinced that the argument he is making rings true.

In brief, Epstein suggests that in a world that’s becoming more and more specialized, it’s the generalists who will thrive. He builds on the work of psychologists Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman who have studied human decision making, and in particular, how the contexts in which decisions are made affect gaining expertise in an area. Robin Hogarth, another psychologist, goes further, identifying these learning environments as either “wicked” or “kind.” In a kind learning environment, “patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is extremely accurate and usually rapid.” (p. 21) Think swinging a golf club or learning Chopin’s Prelude in E minor on the piano. Over and over and over you’ll need to practice, in order to be any good at it. 

Compare this to what’s required to become really good at addressing an ebola outbreak or finding solutions to the climate crisis or figuring out if we can really do long-term space flight. Compare it to becoming really good at helping people not only find credible facts in a sea of opinions, but also determining the difference between the two. Think about problems that have no easy answers – or any answer at all. This is much more the world we live in and our habit of relying on past experience over and over again, much like practicing a golf swing, just might not be the best for us.

Perfect example… I subscribe to and regularly read the STAT Morning Rounds newsletter that appears in my inbox daily. A recent piece on the opioid crisis highlights the work of Dr. Stefan Kertesz, a primary care physician in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Kertesz has many patients who, over time, have developed a dependency on opioids thanks to the practice of overprescribing that’s been well-documented over the last few years. In reaction to this past behavior, the CDC proposed guidelines for prescribing in 2016. The issue, as often occurs, is that guidelines quickly become mandates. It’s simply easier for agencies or insurance companies or governing bodies to enforce a mandate rather than accept a guideline.

The problem with this, it seems, is that setting hard and fast limits on prescribing is applying a “kind” solution to a very “wicked” problem. It strips the patient and all of his/her variables and uncertainties from the equation. As Dr. Kertesz states, while tapering patients off of opioids is certainly to be encouraged, these are choices that physicians need to make in conjunction with their patients. “Backing mandatory limits, he said, assumes that what’s going to happen at the systems level will effect the best clinician.” 

To bring this all back to my work as a librarian, a terrific piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education* last week spoke to the affect that Google (and other search engines, not to mention the structure of the Internet, in general) has had on our presumptions about knowledge. We’ve become so accustomed to the practice of having a question, typing it into a search engine, and receiving back a lengthy list of results, that we’ve been lulled into believing that a list of results equates to an answer to our question. As the author so succinctly states it, “Search engines have created the illusion that vastly more information exists than ever before and that this information lies just a keystroke away. Today people ‘search’ rather than ‘study.'” Spot on, I say.

*My apologies if you cannot get to the article in the Chronicle. It requires a subscription.

I’m often leery of the swooning love affair I perceive when it comes to research, science, decision-making … you name it … around the role of both big data and artificial intelligence (not as a single thing, but the two separate “Ooooooh… it’s the solution to everything” mindset attached to both). Will they bring us significant breakthroughs in complicated problems? No doubt. Will they solve everything? I’m not so sure. I find a bit more truth here:

The progress of AI in the closed and orderly world of chess, with instant feedback and bottomless data, has been exponential. In the rule-bound but messier world of driving, AI has made tremendous progress, but challenges remain. In a truly open-world problem  devoid of rigid rules and reams of perfect historical data, AI has been disastrous. IBM’s Watson destroyed at Jeopardy! and was subsequently pitched as a revolution in cancer care, where it flopped so spectacularly that several AI experts told me they worried its reputation would taint AI research in health-related fields. As one oncologist put it, ‘The difference between winning at Jeopardy! and curing all cancer is that we know the answer to Jeopardy! questions.’ With cancer, we’re still working on posing the right questions in the first place. (Range, David Epstein, p. 29)

But then, of course, Watson never played Emma the librarian in Jeopardy!, either. 🙂

Happy Friday!

 

 

A Prompt Plus 2

24 May

I’ve spent most of today preparing for a joint department retreat that I’m co-leading next Friday. We’re incorporating some of the tools learned through participation in the EXCITE Transformation for Libraries learning program that several of us in the library have attended over the past year. One of these tools is the use of picture cards to prompt responses. For example, I give you a picture of a chicken and you share how you’re like the picture and how you’re not like it. You can really ask any kind of question. The goal is to use the images to help you think creatively.

Here’s one to try: 

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Kangaroo Island, South Australia

How is this picture like your job? How is it not like your job?

My answers: It’s like my job because I always have something going on, some movement, some project, some task to tackle. They ebb and flow, like waves, but never stop completely. It’s not like my job because it’s repetitive. The waves have a rhythm to them. My job can be different every day. Now you’re turn. Feel free to add your answers in the comments section. 

 

New Arrivals!

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I was most excited when my brand new, hot-off-the-press copy of Stephanie Evergreen’s Effective Data Visualization, 2nd Edition arrived early this week. The 1st edition has been an invaluable resource over the past few years. The latest offers up a whole new section on charts for qualitative data, plus additional types of charts and graphs for quantitative data. Evergreen is a terrific instructor and her knowledge jumps from the page. I’ve touted her work numerous times on my blog. Count this as one more. She’s a go-to resource, for sure.

I also treated myself to her new, The Data Visualization Sketch Book. It’s filled with tips and templates, all designed to get my thinking cap and my pencil going before I sit down at my computer. This is a vital step in good data visualization and one that too often gets skipped. The sketch book is a nice tool to build the habit into your process.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, enjoy the holiday weekend (here in the USA), and happy graduation to many! Until next time…

Chapter Three: Good Luck!

17 May
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Sit Back. Hold On. Good Luck. (Luna Park, Sydney, Australia)

How has it been NINE MONTHS since I returned to working in the library?! Time has flown. But I have returned. I did so last August, after a 3-1/2 year immersion into full-on embedded librarianship. If you follow this blog, you know that I worked in the library here at UMass Medical School for 10 years, then, to shake things up, I took a position in the UMass Center for Clinical & Translational Science as their Research Evaluation Analyst. I learned a lot about clinical research, a good bit about evaluation, and I honed my skills in bibliometric analyses and tracking the impact of research products. It was a worthwhile time, without a doubt, but when the opportunity presented itself to return to the library and manage the Research & Scholarly Communications group, I was happy to say, “Yes!” 

Since returning, practically every Friday has found me saying to myself, “Get your blog back up and going.” My colleague, Jessica, has also often reminded me to do the same. And when I was in Chicago for the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association a couple weeks back, a good number of people introduced themselves to me by saying, “I really like your blog” and I’d have to say, “Thank you, I need do need to get writing it again.” I guess I was starting to get the message. So here it is, Friday again, but this Friday, I’m writing a post. It feels good. Sometimes, all you have to do is sit down and write.

A number of years ago, I was in the public library of the town where I lived (in Maine) with a friend who was a disgruntled and frustrated artist. We were browsing the fiction section when she made a snide comment about Danielle Steel, who’s books, as you can imagine, took up an entire row and then some. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a single one of Danielle Steel’s 179 books (yep, 179 and counting). Romance novels aren’t my thing. That said, when my friend made that comment, all I could say was, “The woman writes.” Because she does. Every day. Sometimes 20 hours a day. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It’s inspiring. 

My thoughts went to Danielle Steel this morning – and I was inspired to sit myself down and write a blog post – because an author that I like, Austin Kleon, sends out a weekly email of things he’s discovered during the week and this recent piece about Steel in Glamour magazine was one of the things that he shared today. I like her thoughts on work, even though I hardly follow them. I like her belief in discipline, though I sorely lack that trait at times. But it got me going, for today. It got my thoughts going, my fingers going, and words appeared on the digital page.

So the lesson: One person’s regular practice (Kleon’s) led to the story of another’s (Steel’s) that led me to getting back to my own. As they say in Australia, “Good on ya, friends! I appreciate the kick in the pants.”

Anything inspiring you to get moving today? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

New Year, New Month, New Project!

1 Feb

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You may recall that I’ve mentioned more than once how I wanted to start producing a podcast called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” The podcast features interviews with people who have interesting hobbies and/or activities outside of their regular 9-5 working life. People like an X-Ray technician who organizes ukulele clubs all over town, a biomedical researcher who plays drums in a rock band, a science center director who grows hops and brews beer, an IRB director who travels all over the country as a birdwatcher, a medical librarian who writes about baseball, and on and on. The thing is that while we may live in a society and a culture that tries hard to define us by our work, not everyone falls prey to such thinking. I’ve met many people who live full lives outside of their jobs and while their jobs are often quite meaningful, they get a lot out of the other pursuits, too.

One theme that I’m exploring with these interviews is the role of creativity and how being creative in one aspect of our lives influences and benefits others. It’s something that I’m always wondering about and thought it would be cool to explore it via these chats.

And so … I’m super excited to report that I published my very first episode yesterday! I’ll be posting future episodes to this blog (my goal is a couple each month), but you can also visit my Libysn site and subscribe to the RSS feed there. You’ll also be able to find the feed soon, i.e. by the end of this week, in iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Downcast, and other popular podcasting spots.

If you’re interested, I hope you tune in! (Click the link below to access my podcast page.) I’d love to get feedback and love even more to have volunteers for interviews. If you’ve got a cool gig outside of your workplace, tell me about it!

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Episode 1: A Guy Walks into a Bar with a Ukulele

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Favorites of 2017 – Music / The Fab Five

27 Dec

I wrote in my first post of this series that my list of favorites wasn’t ranked in any order and/or that I can’t really produce the “5, 4, 3, 2, this is my very favorite” kind of list that most year-end “Best of” lists are. That said, after reviewing my listening habits, my purchasing trends, and my iTunes playlists I can say that these five records probably rise to the top as my favorites of 2017. A couple I listed in previous posts:

David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack

Valerie June, The Order of Time

Tyminski, Southern Gothic

Dan Tyminski is best known as the leader of Union Station, Alison Krauss’ band. He’s released solo records before, but Southern Gothic is something different. For an accomplished bluegrass picker, these songs rock. They’re also the kind of songs with catchy tunes that make you not really hear the words until the third or fourth listen and then … they go to a whole other place. This record has a lot to say.

Deb Talan, Lucky Girl

Deb Talan started out as a solo artist, making the rounds of the familiar singer-songwriter spots in Boston and throughout New England. Then she met Steve Talan. They would marry, form the greatly popular duo, The Weepies, and start and raise a family. And then, in 2013-2014, Deb was dealt and dealt with breast cancer. During her treatments, Deb and Steve wrote, produced, and promoted the record Sirens (2015). As I imagine happens to anyone after a life-threatening event, Talan says that after a whirlwind couple of years, she was forced to address some issues and feelings that needed to be expressed personally, i.e. as herself, solo, not part of The Weepies. Lucky Girl is the result. I pre-ordered it and, had it actually been an LP and not a digital recording, I’d have worn it straight out during the first week that I owned it.

Aimee Mann, Mental Illness

Okay! Okay! If you pinned me to the floor until I cried “Uncle!” to give you my favorite of the year, I’d cry, “AIMEE MANN!!” Start to finish, this is a magnificent work from an artist that, if you’re a fan, you expect magnificence. Maybe it was my year, but these songs so resonated with me. I bought the digital copy. I bought the LP. I bought the fun activity cards. This record will stick to my “Tops” list for many, many years to come. I’m sure of it.

So that’s it for my year, in terms of music. I’ll think about books and television next. Still got a few days left (and a few days off) before the New Year. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Favorites of 2017 – Music / Those Who Do Not Disappoint

27 Dec

Part 3 of my Favorites list for the year includes artists I know fairly well and who produced records in 2017 that did not disappoint in the least. You can easily like an artist without liking every one of his/her/their offerings. It happens. But when it comes to these recordings, it didn’t happen for me:

Iron & Wine, Beast Epic

Sam Beam can write a beautiful song, filled with sparse melodies and layered lyrics. His 2009 record, Around the Well, is a favorite in my collection. When I first heard Beast Epic, I thought to myself, “This is just as good.” His label, Sub Pop, makes the entire album available via YouTube. 

Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway

Giddens first caught my attention in her work with the fabulous Carolina Chocolate Drops. As a group, they are an American treasure and a very important link to our country’s musical heritage. As a solo artist, her EP Factory Girlher participation in The New Basement Tapes project, and her work on the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davisall demonstrate her abilities as both collaborator and singular performer. It’s no wonder she’s a recent recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award. This is a beautiful and essential recording. Give it a careful listen.

Rodney Crowell, Close Ties

An offering from one of America’s finest songwriters and musicians, Rodney Crowell’sClose Ties, is a wonderful, reflective collection of songs from one who knows full well that he has more years behind him than ahead on the horizon. He shares the experiences and feelings of aging with humor, a little melancholy, and just enough “I’m too old to give a damn” to strike a chord with any of us past a certain age – physically, mentally, or emotionally. And of course, he recruits some of him many amazingly talented friends to accompany him through the songs. “It Ain’t Over Yet” is one of my favorite songs of the year. I’ve listened to it many, many, many times.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound

Whether solo, with his band, or with his wife (an artist who can easily stand on her own), Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell stands comfortably among the greatest of our contemporary singer-songwriters. His music is perfect for any Saturday afternoon or any road trip. It’s just got that kind of “sit back and enjoy it” vibe. 

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters, self-titled

I first became a fan of The Honeycutters a few years back at MerleFest. They were one of those Asheville, NC treasures you find at such events. Amanda Anne Platt has always been the lead voice of the band, but this year’s record placed her fully front-and-center as they opted to rename themselves, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. The name change seems to have given the group a boost, putting them back in touch with the groove of their earlier releases. I was personally delighted. 

Rose Cousins, Natural Conclusion

My favorites list rarely coincides with the lists that I read from music critics or others in the music business, but I notice that I’m not alone in putting Rose Cousins on my “Best of” list this year. I’ve been a fan since seeing her open for Mary Chapin Carpenter in Lowell, MA last summer. She was an incredible performer with terrific stage presence. She is no less the songwriter. This record is tops. And by golly … she’s from Prince Edward Island! What’s not to love about that?!

Ruthie Foster, Joy Comes Back

Another necessity for a difficult year, Ruthie Foster’s, Joy Comes Back could not have come at a better time. Her voice! Her incredible guitar playing! Her absolutely beautiful spirit! They all shine through in these songs. If you ever need a lift, see her live. You will feel better. You will!

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet

I’ve followed Allison Moorer over the years more closely than Shelby Lynne, but the sisters together give us that magical harmony that really only comes from siblings. This collection of covers and one original tune will not disappoint for a long time to come. It was a nice gift from the sisters to their fans. 

The Sweetback Sisters, King of Killing Time

It seems like it took forever for this record to be released, but once out it immediately zoomed to the top of my “repeat” list in my iTunes. One of my absolute favorite live acts, if you live in New England and get the chance to see their annual sing-along Christmas show, treat yourself. With King of Killing Time, the gals (and guys) give us the harmonies and swingin’/stompin’/rockin’ music to love. Woohoooo!! 

BONUS

Two singles that came out this year that received much play in my iTunes came from Bob Schneider (an artist that I have loved, loved, loved forever) and David Myles (another Canadian jewel). I can’t put them in my favorites list, per se, since they didn’t release full albums, but it doesn’t mean that these aren’t worthy of a shout-out.

Bob Schneider, Lake Michigan

David Myles, Night & Day (will be included in 2018 release, Real Love)

Next post … my five favorites of 2017. A couple I’ve already revealed, but the rest are next.