don’t sit your life

6 Nov

I have a print made by someone who went to the Maine College of Art with my spouse many years ago now. It’s worn around the edges and has holes in it made by the many thumbtacks that have held it up on the boards above my different desks. It’s a series of drawings – five in total – that run, left to right: highchair, toddler’s chair, table chair, lounge chair, and wheelchair. And it has the caption, “don’t sit your life.” The message, of course, is to keep moving. Sitting can kill us, so the research says.

I personally sit way too much. I’ve struggled a lot with my weight over the past few years, in large part because I don’t move enough. My job is fairly sedentary and as one gets heavier, it gets all the harder to exercise. Kind of a double-edged sword. Or a catch-22.

IMG_7937One thing I’m fairly consistent about, however, is the morning walk with my dog. It’s one of the benefits of having a dog. We get up each morning during the work week and take a half-hour to 45-minute walk through our neighborhood park. It’s a routine that I like very much and it’s the very first thing I do, Monday thru Friday. 

I’ve always enjoyed walking as both a form of physical exercise and also as something that improves my mental health. It helps me think. It clears my head. It lets me focus on things around me – weather, birds, trees, paths – rather than all of the thoughts rambling inside my head. 

Back when I studied exercise physiology, I was drawn to the connections between physical activity and mental health. Studies show that exercise benefits childhood development, improves cognition both in young people and adults, is effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and helps in slowing the decline of our cognitive functions as we age. Bottom line, exercise is good for our brains. 

I got to thinking about this more recently after hearing a keynote lecture by Lesley McAra, director of the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The lecture, “Who or what are universities for? Reflections on the communication and use of scientific knowledge” was a stellar opening for FORCE19, held in Edinburgh last month. Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 4.13.45 PM It was the last slide, too, her closing thoughts, that really impressed me. Quoting from the contemporary British author, Robert MacFarlane, she reminded us all that we live here now, following countless many who’ve come before us. And she asked us to reflect on how and why and what we do as we tramp along our daily paths during our lives, will ever be remembered by those who come along after us – thousands of years from now. Great question.

And as I stated earlier, I enjoy walking. Walking around the streets of Edinburgh, it was easy to be mindful of how long people have been roaming the planet. It is a city so very much older than any in the United States where I live. I walked along, thinking of all of the others who, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago, walked on the same roads. And when I got home from the meetings, I ordered Robert MacFarlane’s book, The Old Ways. The one that Dr. McAra had quoted from in her talk. I’ve been carrying it with me since.

Reading this particular passage, I got to thinking, again, about the importance of walking, the changes to libraries and the delivery of scholarly works, and how the two might be interconnected – and not necessarily in a good way:

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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert MacFarlane, pg. 27.

The convenience of information at our fingertips means that we can sit and type and search and find the article(s) we need, all without ever having to get up and walk to the library, or walk through the shelves. I’ve read in the past how the journal article evolving from something couched in-between other articles, bound up in a journal, to a stand-alone entity that you find and download (or read online), can have an effect. We risk the loss of those moments of serendipity – when reading something in a journal leads you to notice the article that comes before it, or the one a few pages away, and you make a connection that you can’t and won’t make when the connection is broken. Browsing shelves, one title can lead to another and another and our minds draw lines and create intersections and some incredibly creative solutions or ideas can occur. 

But more, is there not something else happening simply by our moving that helps to spark these creative moments? Does taking a break, walking away from a desk or a computer screen, walking to a physical library to seek out that article, can this be something we really don’t wish to sacrifice? Might our minds work better when we move?

One of our best contemporary singer-songwriters, Mary Chapin Carpenter, has spoken often of her habit of “song-walking” and how important it is to her creative process. Research and science and medicine are all creative processes, too. I’ve no doubt that if I asked researchers on my campus what they do when the get stuck trying to figure something out, any number of them would answer “take a walk.” Once upon a time, that walk may have been to the library or more, once upon a time walking to the library was simply part of a day’s work. And that natural pattern may well have nurtured some ideas and solutions, without them ever having noticed.

IMG_7919The floors of my library look like this today. We’ve been undergoing a renovation that will result in our collection being about 1/3 of what it once was. This isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. It opens up space that students need for all kinds of study set-ups. It gives us a chance to think of how we can utilize our space differently. Better. It’s exciting. But it also makes me aware of what’s lost. The shelves of my library left footprints behind. And I can still remember what they held.

I need to take more walks to generate more thoughts for blog posts. I’ve missed spending time here.

 

 

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.

Meeting-Design-front-cover-640x960

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
retreat.JPG

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

Podcast-Art-1

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.