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Cancel Culture?

12 May
Beach chairs on a deck

I keep a note going each week with thoughts and ideas for this space. For some reason, earlier in the week I wrote down, “Cancelled meetings – what does this say? Apathy?” I don’t recall having any meetings cancelled this week, so I’m not sure what prompted the note. I do know, however, that I’ve had standing meetings in the past that often got cancelled. And after awhile, I’d wonder what, if anything, I was supposed to feel about that. I’m certainly not against cancelling a meeting rather than wasting everyone’s time if there’s nothing on the agenda, but I also wonder why one would feel compelled to schedule a standing meeting if s/he/they found it so easy to call off. I’d feel slighted, at times. I’d feel as if whatever I was doing and scheduled to report didn’t really matter. So why do it? Hence the thought of apathy. For whatever reason, I jotted this down. (For the record, my supervisor did cancel a meeting with me yesterday, but this note was jotted down well before that. And that meeting was called off for good reason.)

On Monday, a meeting that did not get cancelled was the annual conference of the Massachusetts Library Association. It was held in Falmouth, MA this year and as you can see by the picture here, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Even better, the sessions were interesting enough to pull people inside on such a day. That says something! The session that I led on using creative freedom to build empathy and justice went pretty well. People were engaged and we had some thoughtful discussion. We also practiced some activities to help us both think more creatively and, in turn, more empathetically. I learned a lot putting the session together and was glad for the opportunity to lead it. It was also great to spend some time with librarians from other realms, i.e., not health sciences librarians. There were some academics, but mostly public librarians in attendance. There was much on the agenda about intellectual freedom and the fight that public and school librarians are having to fight now against insane stabs at censorship. Bless these folks on the frontlines.

The afternoon keynote on the day that I attended was given by Tommi Laitio, the inaugural Bloomberg Innovation Fellow for Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University. His talk was entitled, Learning Ground for Convivencia. Convivencia is a Spanish word that came into use in the Middle Ages to refer to the interplay between the religious, social, and cultural practices of Christians, Jews, and Muslims at that time. Laitio said that the closest English word is conviviality, but feels that this word doesn’t quite capture the sense of shared cultures and social practices that he’s studying in his research. Per the blurb on the Center’s website: “Laitio is currently conducting research on the topic of Partnerships for Parks and Libraries, which includes case studies in the following cities: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Fortaleza, Brazil; Los Angeles, CA; Mecklenburg County, NC; and Philadelphia, PA. His research explores the idea of conviviality and seeks to identify institutional and relational practices that recognize friction as a natural state of affairs.”

During the Q&A portion, Laitio was asked his thoughts on how libraries can balance friction with their charge to be safe places. I loved his reply, “I want libraries not to be safe places, per se, but rather to be BOLD places.” I feel this sentiment gets right to the heart of one of our greatest societal problems right now, i.e., our fractured state. We live in our own bubbles, communing almost solely with others who think like we do, believe what we do, value what we value, are educated as we’re educated, vote as we vote. That’s not a safe space. People arguing (in a healthy manner) their positions and beliefs, even passionately, is an essential part of societal discourse. And we’ve lost it in the United States. (Interesting, this very topic came up in my session.) We need the friction of differences. We like to speak about the importance of diversity, but too often forget that diversity can be really uncomfortable. And discomfort does not, in and of itself, mean unsafe. So let’s be BOLD. Let’s create spaces that welcome differing points of views, even, no especially, when they counter our own.

Laitio is from Finland and he shared with us that in his home country, libraries rank second only to drinking water as necessities for society. (Juxtaposed with the first keynote, The Evolving Movement to Ban Books and Censor Education, by Jonathan Friedman, Director, Free Expression and Education Programs, PEN America, I was once again envious of life in some real developed country.) Along with outlining his project and discoveries to date, Laitio spoke of Oodi, the Central Library of Helsinki. I was gobsmacked. Truly. Even now, when I visit the website again. This beautiful place at the heart of everything – culture, politics, literacy, physical and mental well-being – is the library. It got me to thinking of what amazing collaborations we can do when we expand our ideas of what libraries are, even libraries in academic medical centers. It was a great talk!

My last jotted-down-note was the website for Magazine Art, the collection of advertising in magazines throughout history, brought to us by the good people at the Internet Archive. From cars and trucks to household items to tobacco products and more… it’s a treasure trove of materials to remind us of the products we’ve used over the years and how they’ve been sold to us. Lots of fun.

I’m off to Detroit on Monday for the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, taking in all of the great content, and visiting a new city. I’ve got a list of things I want to see: Tigers ballgame, Motown Museum, and the HandleBar. And hot dogs. I always look for the best hot dogs.

I’ll be blogging for MLA during the conference, but will be back here with a personal recap when I return. Until then…

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:


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.



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: 


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!


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…