Data Viz Sing-Along!

13 Sep

I was invited to give an 8-minute lightning talk at this evening’s SLA New England event in Boston called, Organizing Our Digital World. My topic is data visualization. Easy, right? Normally, yes, but in this case I have to give a talk on data visualization without the use of any visuals! I love a good challenge and this was just that. I mulled for weeks over how I might pull this off until it finally came to me, Schoolhouse Rock! Remember those? I loved them as a kid. I still know many by heart. And so I thought, if I can still remember conjunctions thanks to Conjunction Junction, maybe folks will be able to remember a few things about choosing the right chart for presenting data if I put the rules into a song.

Well, per my usual, my song became lengthy and wordy and without a good hook like, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function…” but I still think it will work for tonight. Now I just need 2 minutes of fill to get to the 8-minute mark!

A huge credit for the basis of this song goes to Stephanie Evergreen. Her book, Effective Data Visualization, is a constant companion in my work and what I know of choosing the right charts, I learned from her books, tutorials, blog posts, and more. If you need some expert advice in this area, do seek her out.

So here’s the song (truly, a one-shot practice filmed in my studio last night). You’ll find the lyrics below. Feel free to sing along!

Data Viz: A Lesson in Verse
Sally Gore

I was spending time looking at some data
Figuring out the story it could tell.
Taking time studying the data
Lots of rows and columns in Excel.
I needed to get a report to my boss,
I needed to get it to her quick.
And though I wasn’t shooting for form over function
I still wanted to make it something slick.

I took a moment, pulled some books from my shelf.
Seeking out some expert advice.
Two books by Stephanie Evergreen,
I think they’re worth much more than their price.
I flipped to the page that talks about the science,
The work of Cleveland and McGill
Turns out that humans aren’t innate at reading data
And choosing the right charts takes some skill.

One of the books has a “Chart Chooser Cheat Sheet”
That I find an awful handy tool.
Plus a deck of “Chart Chooser” cards
Together they help me learn the rules.
So when I was invited to give this talk
Without the use of any picture cues
I thought I’d try and turn the rules into song
To quickly teach them all to you.

So here we go …

When you’ve got a single number
That you’re trying to convey
A single number of great importance,
The simple, single thing the numbers say.
The easiest means to get that thought across,
Is forget about charts of any kind,
Just write that number big and loud on the page
There’s no need to clutter people’s minds.

Other times you need to describe,
How two numbers are alike or not.
Bars side-by-side or back-to-back,
Try these or else a dot plot.
If you’ve got one group in particular
That changes while the others stay the same
Consider how a slopegraph can easily show
The difference that you’re trying to claim.

Many times you’ll find you’ve got a benchmark
And the story’s all about meeting goals.
Often times we measure performance
It’s important when we’re talking bankrolls.
A benchmark line across a line of columns
Will easily get the point across.
So will a bullet chart or indicator dots,
Pick and choose from these for the boss.

Now you know we LOVE to give surveys,
So what the survey says, we’ll need to show.
For this task there are lots of choices
Involving bars stacked up in a row.
Stacked or diverging, aggregated, too,
Or a bunch of small multiples across the top.
And if you get tired of plain old bars,
Show the same thing with a lollipop.

What about when there are parts of a whole,
Like a bunch of demographics of a group?
It’s easy to default to that famous old pie chart
But listen up folks, here’s the scoop.
Pie charts are old, pie charts are boring
But most they’re often difficult to read
Try a histogram, a tree map, a stacked bar instead
Or perhaps no visual is what you need.

Sometimes you’ve got some data that shows
How things changed over time.
It’s really pretty common, we see it quite a lot,
Did our numbers shrink or did they climb?
Well a few chart types that I sung about already
In this case will also do the trick
Think line graph, a slope graph, a dot plot, too,
Or a deviation bar’s a perfect pick.

Now you might be asking, “How about a scatterplot?”
I learned of those in Stats 101.”
And I must admit finding patterns in a scatter
Really can be a lot of fun.
A bunch of points plotted ‘cross an “X” and a “Y”
Show relationships between “A” and “B” –
When “A” does this, “B” does that,
And is there any trend that you can see?

Sometimes your data isn’t numbers at all,
But rather lots of words said or wrote.
Qualitative methods produce the kind of data,
Where the words give the meaning to take note.
Callouts are useful, heat maps can help,
Or you can make a cloud filled with words.
Each of these is handy, each of these works,
And your meaning won’t get lost on numbers nerds.

So that’s a few tips, I hope you find helpful
When you think about the story you can tell
As you’re sitting there staring at a spreadsheet of data
And all you really want to do is yell.
Start at step one, learn the different charts
And when and how and where they work best.
Once you’ve conquered that you just need to learn to make them
Step-by-step, you’ll have passed the test.

And no one will sit there staring at your PowerPoint slide or your report or your article wondering, “What the heck does this mean?!

Rabbit Rabbit!

1 Sep

Wild_Rabbits_at_Edinburgh_ZooHappy September, everyone! Cooler temperatures and warmer colors are on their way. Fall is my favorite season of the year and the arrival of the “-ber” months makes me happy. I know many are sad to see summer ending, but it’ll be back again soon enough.

I’ve stumbled across a few cool sites and tools and such to share. No better day than the first of the month to do so. I hope you find some of them as interesting and/or helpful as I have.

First off, The Pudding: A Weekly Journal of Visual EssaysWhat an amazing find! This is a fascinating (and growing) collection of articles about topics ranging from culture to politics to sports to music, each enhanced by some terrific graphs and tables. It’s a great way to see how data visualization can be used to make essays more readable, understandable, and fun. Check it out!

If you want to get cracking on your own data visualizations to accompany your writing, you can find all the inspiration and quick start you need at Stephanie Evergreen’s new collection of step-by-step guides to a whole host of charts. You will bookmark it and visit often. Guaranteed.

ChartsBin is a useful site for finding and creating data visualizations. If making dynamic/interactive visuals for the web isn’t your forte (it’s not mine), a site like ChartsBin can come in very handy.

Helping professionals write and speak without using the jargon of their field is a challenge. For scientists, the new De-Jargonizer tool can help. It’s a quick way to check how well a written piece translates to different levels of the general public. I’ve popped a few abstracts from articles into it and the results have been pretty good. It’s helpful to see which words/phrases might be edited for a lay audience. 

Lastly for today, my next big learning adventure in life is to launch a podcast. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but I struggled to come up with the right bent for it. I finally did and am now in the process of learning all about the ins and outs of creating podcasts. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll stay tuned for updates and tune in, once I take off. I can’t wait!

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For those celebrating the long weekend ahead, Happy Labor Day! 

 

A Rose by Any Other Name…

9 Aug

Yesterday, I posed a question on my Facebook page:

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I found the responses really fascinating and they got me to thinking a good bit about language, the words we choose, why we choose them, and the like. This is hardly a new fascination. I became a librarian, in part, because of my interest in cultural studies and linguistics; specifically, why research that involved females as subjects always stated such in publication titles, whereas the same involving males did not. Why were males the norm? Why could findings for men be generalized to the entire population, but the same never (or very, very rarely) be said for women? I was curious and it sent me down a path – and an independent study – that led me to discover that there are people within the field of library and information science who study this kind of thing. Who knew? And so I finished up my degree in exercise physiology and headed off to library school. Or something like that.

I asked the question about reading/listening to audiobooks because I was on the Audible website, trying to decide what audiobook to spend my monthly credit on and while reading the reviews, noticed that lots of reviewers referred to the experience of listening to an audiobook as “reading.”  A good number of my friends agreed, pointing out everything from the history of storytelling as a verbal act to the limitations of people with visual impairments. My friend and librarian colleague, Rachel, argued that it’s a “content/container issue,” that if we limit “reading” to absorbing a book through the eyes, then people with limited sight could never say that they “read” a book. It’s a valid point, though it also made me wonder if a person who’s hearing impaired would ever read a book and then say that they listened to it. Do people who are visually impaired recognize a difference between reading Braille and listening? And I also wonder about the neural pathways that form in the brains of individuals who have visual and/or hearing impairments, though that’s a topic that requires a lot more research on my part. It’s too much for discussion here.

People shared that they’re busy and/or have long commutes and if they didn’t listen to audiobooks, they’d never have the time to read anything. But still I wondered, why would you say, “I’d never read anything” when you admit that you listened? My friend, Matt, asked, “So what would be the right verb to cover either?” to which I replied, “How about just saying you listened when you listened and you read when you read?” Or something along those lines. Why do we need another word? Listening is listening and reading is reading. One is no better than the other, they’re simply different.

But do we really believe that? Do we believe that they’re the same? I did sense a slight tone of defensiveness about reading versus listening in some of the comments. I wondered if I didn’t unknowingly imply it when I posed the question in the first place. And I admit that I argued that we do place a lot of value in literacy, that we teach children to read for a reason. (For LOTS of reasons, actually.) So do I believe, deep down, that people who read books are just a little better than people who listen to them?

I wonder if I don’t think of reading as something that’s active, something we do, something we put some effort into, while countering it with a belief that listening is passive, somehow a little bit lazy? I think of the NFL Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders, who I once heard comment that he never quite understood the enthusiasm of fans; the exuberance of simply watching people play a game. “Playing is what’s fun,” he said, with a kind of, “Get up off the couch, lazy bones!” hint to it. I try to imagine everyone at work on Monday morning saying that they played for the Patriots the day before, instead of that they watched them. How nutty is that? Who would say that?

Maybe it’s some of this. Or … maybe I just prefer that people use the right word.

And it’s that last statement that’s stuck with me the most. A few friends commented that to say you’ve read a book when you’ve listened to it is lying. I find that a little harsh, though it’s exactly what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about the president when people said he lied about the Boy Scouts calling him on the phone. “I wouldn’t say it was a lie. That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call. … He had them in person.” It’s harsh. It’s “pretty bold.” And does it really matter, anyway?

One can argue that there’s a pretty huge difference between the President of the United States lying and people lying when they say that they read something when they, in fact, listened to it. I’ll go along with that. But maybe it’s the times that we’re living in that made me ruminate on this topic for a good 24 hours. There’s an awful lot of excusing people for poor word choice nowadays. And some pretty big consequences in doing so.

Thanks for reading this post. When I turn it into a podcast, you can listen. 🙂

Summertime … and lazing about

21 Jul

The summer months at work are often filled with projects; nothing that needs to be done yesterday (too often, the pace of the rest of the year), but things that allow one to plan and process and maybe implement a newly-learned thing along the way. It’s the last part that often leads me to stumble across lots of interesting – even if unrelated – things. Looking for one thing, I find another and another and another. Serendipity. The best. So here are a few of late. Maybe you’ll enjoy them, too.

Showing off at the SLA NE booth in Phoenix.

A couple weeks back, I wrote a piece for SLA New England’s blog on different perspectives gained from stretching one’s self in different situations. You can read it here

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Being on a journey, stretching, growing – be it in one’s career or one’s life – anyone who reads my blog and/or knows me knows that this is the subject that intrigues me the most. I’m fascinated by the idea that life is a journey. I’m inspired by anyone who lives his/her life in such a way. I love the ideas of life-long learning, of following new interests, of seeking new paths. Ann Telnaes, the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post is a favorite of mine. In an interview with CTNexpo she says, “Have a plan, but be open because sometimes that’s not your destiny. Sometimes it’s something else.”  Yup! That’s it in a nutshell.

***** 

As an evaluator and a sports fan, I absolutely loved the article “Analyze This” by Sue Bird, a future Hall of Famer for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. It’s just a perfect piece on the importance of data collection, data storytelling, and … the never-ending gender gap in everything sports-related.

Data helps drive conversations, strategy, decision making. But data on its own isn’t terribly interesting. It needs context. It needs a storyteller. Data helps tell the story of a player, a team, an entire career.

There’s a need to value data in the WNBA because there’s a need to value the stories of our league. Think about baseball, for example, or men’s basketball. Fans, players, executives and media value stats and information because it helps to tell a story that many are already invested in. And if they’re not already invested, then it gives them a reason to be. It helps GMs make decisions. It informs contract negotiations. It enables player development.

*****

Just for fun, here’s the Definitive Guide to Typography and Fonts – in one, handy infographic! Who doesn’t need this?

*****

LFL

My Little Free Library

Finally, let’s do a quick summer reading list. We’ll call it, Sally’s Summer Reading List, since that’s what it is. Here are the books I’ve read and/or am reading of late:

Hope-in-the-Dark-solnit-300-400
Early in the summer, I read both Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I came across her via an article she penned for The Guardian and am now a devoted fan. Both are examples of brilliant, thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous writing. 

Hornaday-Talking Pictures

Last month, Washington Post film critic, Ann Hornaday, published a wonderful guide to watching movies entitled, Talking Pictures. Not only does Ann provide a rich understanding of the different aspects of movie-making, but she teaches the reader how to enjoy movies with a critical eye. What makes a scene work? Why do you remember some movies forever and others are forgotten before you’ve left the theater parking lot? How do all of the pieces fit together – or not? It’s a terrific guide complete with suggestions, at the end of each chapter, of films to watch to accompany the lessons learned. It’s perfect preparation for the chilly months that will be here soon enough, those that find us in front of the fireplace, seeking a good movie for a Saturday evening.

 small-great-things-hc-400wIf you’re looking for a page-turner with a point, you might want to read Jodi Picoult’s latest, Small Great Things. An unexpected death and the story that follows examine the issues of race relations, prejudice, and justice from the differing perspectives of the characters involved. I picked it as the book for an Action Book Club that I’m trying to get started in my community. It’s a good choice for that, as well as an excellent read.

 strangeresFinally, I’m sure it’s no surprise to any of my regular readers that I pre-ordered Amy Dickinson’s latest memoir, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, about a year before it came out. It arrived in my mailbox on publishing day and I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. True enough, that was in the spring and thus not a summer read, BUT I did purchase the Audible version this summer, just so that Amy could read it to me again. It’s Amy as good as ever (true, despite any bias I may have). Read it and enjoy.

 

Sally and Amy

We need a new photo.

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Miller’s Crossing (SLA 2017)

27 Jun

I SURVIVED

Hot on the heels (pun intended) of my post about the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association yesterday, I offer up some thoughts and sketchnotes on my time at the annual meeting of the Special Libraries Association that took place last week in Phoenix. Did you see the news from Phoenix last week? If not, well, it was hot. Really hot. But the conference was fantastic! Here’s why…

This was my very first time attending SLA and I have to say that I was impressed beyond impressed! The keynote speakers were inspiring, the sessions chocked full of useful takeaways, the colleagues that I met interesting and nice, the schedule (and the program, overall) was really creative, and my own presentation … it went pretty darned well, if I do say so myself. Kudos to the conference planning committee, the SLA staff, and the organization’s leadership for putting together a stellar event.

I took more notes than I’m going to share here, but I want to highlight a couple of sessions that kicked off the event for me and really set the tone for what I could and would expect over the few days. The very first session that I attended was a talk by the local author, Susan Cummins Miller, titled “The Curious Case of a Geologist-Turned-Crime Writer.” It was Sunday morning and my internal clock was still several hours off after traveling cross-country the day before, so honestly, it was that title that drew me to the lecture. It was just too interesting to pass up. What I received from attending was an incredibly personable – and to me, incredibly relatable – story about a person with many interests and the winding career path that often accompanies such. “The Life History of a Writer,” is the framework Miller used to tell her story, offering up a lot of tips and inspiration along the way. It was the perfect start to the morning.

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Following Susan Cummins Miller’s talk, I made my way to the first general session and the keynote presentation by Lulu Miller, a journalist and writer and the co-host of the NPR podcast, Invisibilia. [Tangent: I titled this post, “Miller’s Crossing” because of the shared surname of the two speakers and because that reminded me of the title of an excellent movie. An early Coen brothers’ film. Seek it out.] I will share at the get-go that I have attended LOTS of professional conferences in my years as a librarian and I have heard a number of great speakers over this time, but Lulu Miller’s talk may well be the BEST that I’ve heard to date. It also serves as the perfect model for anyone outside of the library profession who gets invited to deliver one of these talks. Why? Because she prepared it entirely for us, the audience. It was obvious from the very beginning. It wasn’t a talk that she had tucked away to be tailored to any audience. Nope. It was, start-to-finish, a message put together with no other group but a group of special librarians in mind.

For me, the key to the talk hinged upon the question, “What if you (meaning a bunch of research librarians) did your job worse?” Put another way, in our rush to answer a patron’s request, is it possible that what we end up doing is confirm their biases? We point them to what they are looking for, not necessarily what they need to find. What would happen if we perhaps sent them down a path that they didn’t expect to go? What might they find then? What unexpected discoveries might be uncovered?

To illustrate the point of these questions, Miller told an engaging story of how just such an experience led her to some discoveries, some history, and an amazing mystery that she’d never have encountered had she not been led astray from her own biases. She talked about how many people and how many sources and how much dumb luck (the latter being a bit of me editorializing) it generally takes to get to the truth and how at every turn in the process of truth-seeking, our biases can get in the way. Our task, then, as information professionals, is to help people overcome their biases and we do so, first, by changing some of our own behaviors. (You can see her instructions in my notes below.)

“Disobey!” was her commandment to the crowd. Disobey those “tried and true” information professional rules of searching and seeking and delivering, and see what happens.  You never know where it may lead and the discoveries perhaps uncovered.

I’ve not stopped thinking about this talk since I heard it – a sure sign that it was worth hearing the first time!

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Be Ye Kind …

26 Jun

[The following post was written originally to appear on the blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association.]

… and other lessons from the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association.

MLA17_LOGO_500X500I want to thank the members of NAHSL’s Professional Development Committee, as well as all of the membership of NAHSL, for the award that I received to cover the cost of registration to attend the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association that took place in Seattle, WA last month. As always, it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, meet lots of new people, network with those who do similar work, learn some nuggets of gold to put into practice back home, and of course, to see and to share the work that we all do as medical and health sciences librarians – or in my case, a Research Evaluation Analyst, aka a “Librarian by Any Other Name.”

I experienced a few highlights of the meeting including participating on a panel discussion with colleagues from several other institutions to talk about our work measuring and tracking the impact of research. I also really enjoyed Julie Sollenberger’s Janet Doe lecture. I have the honor of knowing Julie a little bit, so her choice of topic – kindness and how practicing it shapes not only our work, but our very beings – was spot on. She is a wonderfully kind person – one who lives what she preaches. It was a special plenary.

For this post, though, I want to reflect on another plenary session, i.e. the McGovern Lecture, given this year by Julie Angus, a scientist, bestselling author, and winner of the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Award for her accomplishment as the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean, mainland to mainland. When I first saw that she was one of the keynote speakers this year and I saw the title of her talk, “Rowing Across the Atlantic: Strategies to Reach Your Goals,” I admit that I said to myself, “What in the world does this have to do with medical librarians and/or libraries?” And in truth, much of her talk came across as canned, meaning it struck me as likely the same talk that she gives to any audience. Yes, she threw in a few library references, but it was pretty general in nature – your typical motivational talk by a motivating person. Don’t read this as negative criticism. I enjoyed the talk and I’ll likely borrow a copy of her book from my local library and read it. It’s a great story – and she told it well. And I did take away two important things from it – two points that made it into my notes:

First, was the importance Angus placed on baby steps. In her talk she said, “When people ask, ‘What’s the most important thing that you’ve brought out of this journey?’, undoubtedly, it’s the importance of baby steps. Eventually all of those baby steps added up and as a result, we achieved our dream.” This point reminded me of the words of another adventurer, the climber, Joe Simpson. (If you like adventure and you’ve never seen the dramatized documentary, “Touching the Void,” seek it out!) Stuck in a life-or-death situation during a climb, he says, “You have to make decisions. You have to keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed.” (He’s British, in case you wonder the “stuffed” reference.) Baby steps and continuous decision-making are crucial not only in big adventures, but in day-to-day life. It’s how we get from Point A to Point B, how we continue to be relevant in a changing work environment, how we continue to find fulfilment in our work. Complacency, apathy, dullness in the daily work is a career killer – not only for an individual, but for an entire organization. THAT is a message I found quite relevant – a great take-away from the talk.

The second thing I noted was the discussion that I followed during the Lecture; the back-channel, if you will. Following the #MLANET17 Twitter stream, I discovered that while I was thinking Angus’ talk was a bit predictable, LOTS of my colleagues did not. She would say something and someone would immediately apply the thought or the message to something in his/her career or workplace. It was wonderful to see all of the connections people were making between the Lecture and their lives. I love following the Twitter stream throughout the conference, generally to see what others are learning in concurrent sessions that I’m not attending, but it was also a real treat to see a motivational speaker truly motivating an awful lot of the audience with her talk. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t just what the planning committee wanted when they signed her up and I credit them for the good pick.

I’m off to the Special Library Association’s annual meeting in Phoenix this coming week. I had a paper selected for presentation. It’s going to be interesting as I don’t know many people in SLA. It will be like going to my first MLA meeting many years ago now. I’m a little nervous, but the one thing that that eases my nerves is that I do know that it’s pretty hard to find a librarian conference that doesn’t leave me wanting for good stuff. I look forward to that – and again thank NAHSL for helping me get to Seattle. It’s a terrific benefit of belonging to and serving the organization.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

23 May

goodbaduglyThe following first appeared as an article for the Social Media column (edited by Lara Killian, AHIP) in MLA News, the monthly membership magazine of the Medical Library Association. Originally, I planned to simply repost it here without any additional thoughts or comments, but in the past 24 hours, a couple of things have occurred that make me wish to add just a quick note. First, I read the New York Times article, The Internet is Broken: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It. It’s an interesting piece about Evan Williams, a co-creator of Blogger, one of the founders of Twitter, and the founder of Medium. Much of the article focuses on the the struggles of the latter as a successful business model, but the underlying theme is about the Internet and what social media has fostered, negatively, in our society.

The second thing that happened was last night, someone who I’ve never encountered in my entire life but who clearly disagreed with something that I posted on Twitter, called me a paid troll, an idiot, and a waste of oxygen. I’m grateful that they stayed away from any comments about my body and my dead mother, but … I blocked the individual before he could think of that. I’ve used Twitter for years. I know that it has an earned reputation as a platform for bullying, for hateful comments, and for even inciting violence, but until last night, I’d been immune from any of that. Twitter is a way for me to aggregate news sources, share interesting and helpful information with friends and colleagues, see pictures of puppies, and even form a few new friendships. I’ll not shy away from it due to this incident, but I imagine that I’m not alone when I observe the horrid behavior of too many people today, virtual and otherwise, and shout, “STOP IT!” 

But enough with the commentary. Here’s the piece that I wrote about why I’m a blogger. It’s been one of the best professional and personal decisions that I’ve made. It’s the Good, to the Bad and the Ugly.

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Way back in September of 2012, I started writing a blog, “A Librarian by Any Other Name.” I chose this name because my official job title had recently changed from “research and scholarly communications librarian” to “informationist.” I didn’t particularly care for the latter term, but it came with an administrative supplement grant from the National Library of Medicine, which was my impetus for starting to blog in the first place. I also chose what I thought was a fun name for my uniform resource locator (URL)—librarianhats.net—to capture the fact that librarians have many job titles, in part because we wear so many different “hats.”

I began my blog to track my experience and progress for the grant. I’m not very good with note taking in any traditional sense, but I do like to write a narrative and I enjoy the world of social media, so blogging seemed a good choice. It became a way for me to share not only with other members of my research team, but also with other librarians and/or interested readers. When the project ended, I realized that I’d developed an audience and that I really enjoyed writing for my followers, so I continued.

Since that first post, I’ve written 192 more and had 62,224 visitors from 156 different countries. Reviewing these statistics makes me feel both proud and humbled. I’ve received many kind words of appreciation, engaged in interesting discussions about blog post topics, and discovered lots of colleagues with similar ideas and in similar situations. As a direct result of contacts made through my blog, I’ve accepted at least 1 invitation each year to speak at librarian conferences, allowing me to travel to fun places and meet many wonderful people. All of this happened because I started writing about what I do and what I think about as a librarian, an informationist, and, most recently, an evaluator for the UMass Center for Clinical & Translational Science. I believe it’s one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

Want to start your own blog? Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Be yourself

My blog is a mix of the professional and personal me. I found early on that it was difficult for me to write completely objectively, as I might do for a professional publication. Besides, this wasn’t the point of Librarian by Any Other Name. I wanted to share my personal experiences and thoughts, but in a professional manner. As such, I adopted a style that allows me to be myself: fairly informal, folksy, and hopefully funny at times, but also on point in regard to sharing content that my audience will find interesting and relevant. Finding your voice may come easily or not, but with time and practice, it develops.

Be consistent

In her piece, “Making Time to Stay Social,” Lara Killian, AHIP, notes the importance of making a schedule and sticking to it. This is important both for the writer and the audience. People follow a blog when it stays current. In the same way, they stop visiting when a site sits dormant for long periods of time. When I first started A Librarian by Any Other Name, I wrote and posted a new piece each week. When I finished the initial project and especially when I changed jobs a couple of years ago, I found it harder to maintain this schedule due to both time and material. Once or twice a month is now my norm. The key is to maintain engagement.

Be brave (if you want to)

Early on, I made the decision to announce every new entry to A Librarian by Any Other Name on multiple platforms. I wanted people to find it. I wanted to develop an audience. My primary audience—in other words, medical librarians—prefers receiving information via different means. Some subscribe; some follow on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google; and still others click from the link that I send in an email to several email discussion lists. Some may feel this is overkill, but the reality of social media platforms and information flow is that if you want an audience, you need to utilize multiple channels. You may have naysayers who think self-promotion is simply ego, but it isn’t. If you’ve taken the time and effort to write something that you want others to read, you need to tell them it’s there. After all, it’s social media, not a diary.

Final thoughts

Too often, we struggle in our profession to be visible. We feel that we are overlooked and undervalued, and that what we do is misunderstood. The easiest remedy for this is communication. Blogging is one means of accomplishing this goal—and a whole lot more.