Sins of Omission

8 Jan

I want to thank everyone who took the time to comment, via the comment section or email, on my last post. I’ve been writing this blog for awhile now and written a number of posts (84, counting this one), and my post from last week may have received the most “this is my favorite” comments from readers. Evidently, I struck a chord and of course, I immediately began to wonder why.

It’s not a big stretch, given my picture on this blog and my social media name, mandosally, that I play the mandolin. What you might not know, however, is that I also play the drums. In fact, I’ve been a drummer many more years than I’ve been a mandolinist. It started when I walked into a drum shop in Portland, Maine, and said to the fellow working there, “Is it weird for a 30-something year old woman to want to play the drums?” Chris, the fellow running the shop, gave me an enthusiastic, “Are you kidding? Heck no!” response and I signed up for lessons on the spot. I was in my early 30s then. I’m in my early 50s now. You can do the math to figure out how long I’ve been percussing (not to be confused with cussing). You might not also know that the mandolin is the traditional percussion instrument of bluegrass and/or old-time music. I didn’t know this when I started playing the mandolin about 8 years ago, but it makes a lot of sense to me today.

By Hyacinth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Hyacinth (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

What does any of this have to do with why I think people resonated with my “getting cut from the team” post? Well, in percussion (music in general), there are notes called “ghost notes.” They’re also called “dead notes” or “false notes” and basically are notes that you either play very quietly or not at all. They accentuate the moment by being silent, or at least very quiet. It’s different than a rest, though for the purposes of my point here, you can think of both as what’s left out. 

In the literature, what’s often left out are research studies that didn’t prove anything, case studies that found nothing, and brief communications and/or “in action” articles that report what didn’t work or what not to do. This is a shame, isn’t it? We learn an awful lot when we experience something that doesn’t work; when we set out to do something and fail at it. But rarely does anyone want to write up a failure and even more rarely does a publisher want to publish it. What we don’t write, report, share… these things are like the ghost notes of our work. And unfortunately, the result of this “musical pattern” is too often that we repeat failures that we could have easily avoided, if only our peers and colleagues had shared them. In other words, what we don’t write has as much, sometimes more, of an impact than what we write.

The gist of most of the comments that I heard from people after last week’s post was, “Thank you for sharing what didn’t work.” I believe that the reason people appreciated it is because we don’t share these experiences nearly enough. The other really gratifying sentiment said to me was, “Thank you for showing how a negative (aka “a failure”) isn’t a bad thing. Thank you for being positive.” Truthfully, there wasn’t a darned thing personal about the decision (it was all about grant funding and a PI’s decision to go with another person already a part of the funded work) and that makes it pretty easy to stay positive. We are a grant fund-driven institution. That’s the reality. If librarians (and libraries) want to get into this arena, we have to accept that reality. We will come and go on teams and projects, we will juggle multiple tasks, and we will never have enough time to do everything that we wish we could do. It’s everyone’s reality. If you approach it that way and reflectively look at experiences, noting what you can learn from them, you’ll remain a lot more positive. You’ll also become better at what you do. That’s my belief, anyway.

During the mammography study team’s weekly meeting yesterday, I was asked about what I think has worked and not worked during my time as an informationist on the study. My formal, funded time working with them is up at the end of this month, though I’ll continue to work with them to wrap up some projects. As I’ve said all along, the team has been a terrific one for me to work with/on because they’ve been as interested in the value of this role as we in libraries are. I shared with them what I think has worked well and what I think hasn’t work so well. They offered feedback and their individual perspectives, too. The discussion wasn’t planned, but the fact that it happened was great. 

One thing that I heard myself saying during the discussion (what I’ve heard myself saying for months now) is that there are very few rights and wrongs, pros and cons, and clear answers to what makes – or will make – an informationist a viable, sustainable, alternative or complementary model for librarians and the library. There are so many variables that it’s hard to pin down. Similarly, there are still a lot of unknowns about what the library and librarian of the future, meaning next week, will look like.  We work in a rapidly evolving field, something pretty ironic for such an old, old profession, and the clash of these two characteristics is clearly evident in most of our professional issues and discussions today.

Moving forward, I hope we will all be encouraged and inspired to share our experiences – good and bad – in open venues so that we can all learn from one another. In a time when we’re often feeling our way through the unknown, sharing is good for any number of reasons.


One Response to “Sins of Omission”

  1. devine2013 January 8, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Great idea, Sally! Another arena in which negative (or no) results need to be shared is clinical trials. Many outcomes are not published which could result in much saved time by others. Likewise, your experience on research teams, along with the other institutions which received the informationist grants, is a valuable tool for those following in your footsteps. I’d like you all to get together and write an article to be published in the research literature, rather than JMLA, so that health professionals can benefit, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: