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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.

 

 

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
GoodLuck.JPG

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.

 

 

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.

New Year, New You (Me)

11 Jan

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and that 2017 will be good to you. I always enjoy a new year. It’s like a clean slate, an open field, the first day of school. And I don’t so much make resolutions as I make lists. I make lists in my new planner. (This year, I’m trying out a nice model from Baron Fig.) I list things that I might want to do, songs that I want to learn, books that I want to read, concerts that I want to attend, movies that I want to see, etc. I add to the lists throughout the year, but it’s not quite the same as starting them up on a blank page in a new calendar at the beginning of a new year. It screams, “Possibilities!”

My list-making this year also reminds me of how unsettled I feel right now. The political climate is unsettling, for sure, and there seems so much uncertainty and fear throughout the world. These things don’t particularly help me address my own anxiety, but they’re also not the only thing contributing to it. This I know. I just feel I’m ready for something new, something different, some kind of change. I think I’m ready for a new me. 

For a good while, I was finding myself frustrated with me because I kept thinking/believing that I’m not the person that I once was and I liked the person that I once was. I kept thinking/believing that if I could just go back to be my “old self,” I’d feel great – happy, fulfilled, energized. But then I started reading this book:

miller

It was recommended to me by a young woman who used to tend bar at a neighborhood pub that I frequent. It’s a young person’s bar and I’m not a young person, but I like to pop in on my way home from work once a week or so, often on Thursdays when my wife goes to yoga, and I have a pint and I read. Young people don’t go to bars until later at night, so it’s generally quiet when I’m there, conducive to reading and/or watching whatever sports show is on. 

Anyway, Taylor, the bartender, evidently noticed my habit and found it interesting. She was there last Thursday with some friends and came over to me to say “hi” and ask what I was reading. (I was reading another great book, The Lonely City.) We talked about the holidays and the new year, and somewhere along the way I must have hinted about my unsettledness. In response, she recommended Donald Miller’s book. She said she just knew that I’d like it. She said that she was re-reading it herself right now. I told her I’d get it, read it, and we could have a book club-type chat the next time we saw each other. She liked that. The bartender working last Thursday, Nate, liked the idea, too. Maybe we’ll get a book club going – early in the evening, of course, before the young people (besides these two) show up.

I’m about half-way through at the moment and so I’ll not offer up a review of “Thousand Years” just yet, but I will tell you this much – and I’ll tell you why I know Taylor told me that I’d like it. It’s a memoir – kind of, sort of – that tells the story of how the author learned to write a screenplay and in doing so, discovered it was the perfect metaphor for writing one’s life. If you want to live a good story, you have to write it. Said another way, if you’re not living the story that you want to be living, you need to write yourself a better one. The book follows along in such a way that as the author learns about how a story is structured (character construction, story arc, inciting incident, etc.), he starts writing not only the screenplay, but a whole new life story for himself. And then the reader is inspired to do the same. And I am. It’s inspiring! 

It makes sense that Taylor recommended the book, because what I was saying to her about liking the person that I once was, but maybe not so much the one that I am now, and wanting to go back to that “old me” – well I’m reminded in reading this book that we don’t ever go backwards. We only go forwards. It’s the only direction that we can go. And I also realized that the person back there in my past that I like, that person was always going forward. That me was always moving, changing, growing. That’s what I like about that me. I’ve been in a rut too long. That’s what I don’t like. That’s what’s unsettling. Change isn’t unsettling. Stagnation is.

It’s time to write some change back into my life.

Earlier during this lunch break, I read (in the chapter about inciting incident), “Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they (humans) won’t enter into a story.  … The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.” (p. 104-105)

I think of how often people are afraid to write in a new journal or notebook, for fear of messing it up. And I always think, “How silly! What else is a journal for?” Donald Miller’s book has me thinking, “What else is life for, if not for writing a good story to live.” 

So I’ve added to my New Year’s lists the line, “Write yourself a better story.” We’ll see what happens!

What’s on your list for 2017? How will your story go? I hope you’ll share along the way.

Soundtrack for writing your story, courtesy of Catie Curtis. It’s been playing steadily during my morning commutes:

 

 

 

Here’s to a Happier New Year!

29 Dec

This will be my last post of 2016, friends. Thanks again for following along for another year – or thanks for finding me this year, if you’re new to my blog. I appreciate having a venue to share thoughts and ideas and observations and such, and appreciate even more everyone who finds something worth reading here.

My wish for 2017 is a more peaceful world for us all to inhabit. For any number of reasons, 2016 seems like it’s been an extraordinarily rough time. People are fractured and societies around the globe fractioned. One of the very things that makes us our best, diversity, is frightening to so many. I only hope that in 2017, we can begin to mend the deep, deep wounds that have festered for too long.

I woke early this morning – too early to get up – and couldn’t get back to sleep. Instead of lying there letting my mind run on and on, I decided to practice a body scan meditation that I learned at the Center for Mindfulness here at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program has reached countless many, helping bring the science of mindfulness practice to the healing art of medicine. If you’re fortunate enough to live in Central Massachusetts, you can take advantage of the many programs offered by the Center, but even if you live on the other side of the country or the globe, there are lots of resources available to help you learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your life. I dare say, if ever there was a time for everyone to be more mindful of ourselves and others, it’s now. 

So this morning, I put my earbuds in and followed along through the guided meditation and sure enough, I felt my heart rate lower, my mind quiet, and my soul get a little break from all of its worries. It was great. And I hope I remember it later today and tonight and tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon and … well, you get it. 

But should I forget – or should you not be into meditation – I share this gift from the people at the social media management tool, Hootsuite, with you. Truly, I think watching it for 45 minutes is akin to meditating. Enjoy!

Happy New Year to everyone! May peace find us all.

 

Iterations on a Profession

6 Apr

PencilsI’m currently taking a 4-week course, Fundamentals of Graphic Design, via the online learning platform, Coursera. In pulling together the content for the Data Visualization course that I’m developing for a local college, I realized that I need to include a crash course, i.e. one week in the basics of design, thus I thought taking this online course would give me some ideas for how to cover the topic myself. Plus, I could learn some things and improve my own skills. The first week we covered the image and the assignment was to create at least 10 iterations on an everyday, common object. You can see here my takes on a pencil.

Creating these images reminded me of my professional journey and in particular some of the struggles I’ve been feeling of late regarding where I fit in professionally. Since I started my career in librarianship, I’ve belonged to several related professional organizations – the Medical Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the American Library Association, the Special Libraries Association, plus regional chapters and state organizations associated with each of these. I’ve tried different groups at different times, looking for the best fit as my work changed. Among these, the one organization that I’ve invested the most time and effort (and felt the most a part of) for the past dozen years has been the Medical Library Association. It makes since, since I worked the first decade of my career in an academic medical library (and even today still work at the same medical school). Regardless of how many times that my job title and/or role changed within the Library, I still worked in a medical library and thus, MLA worked for me.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about being a member of MLA is attending the annual meeting. It’s where I get to see so many of my friends and colleagues, where I’m always renewed and energized by the sessions and speakers and topics, where I get to share some of my own work with colleagues, and where I remember where I belong professionally. It’s such a highlight of my professional life.

Last week, I withdrew my accepted posters from this year’s meeting and accepted the decision that I’d not be attending MLA 2016 in Toronto. I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sad the choice makes me. But it’s the choice that I had to make. As I looked through the content of the meeting this year, there simply wasn’t enough related to the work that I do as an evaluator for the UMCCTS. There aren’t any sessions devoted to librarians working with and/or as part of their CTSA offices. There aren’t enough talks about measuring research impact and evaluating programs (outside of evaluating library programs). Given that I’d be paying to travel and attend out of my own pocket, and knowing without enough related content offered I’d have to take personal vacation time to attend, I just couldn’t justify the expenses. And it makes me really sad.

Since I left the physical library to use all of the very same skills that I possess as a librarian, it’s become harder and harder to face the fact (or is it “harder and harder to ignore the fact”?) that most folks, even many I consider colleagues, don’t think of me as a librarian anymore. What makes it all the more difficult is my “new” professional home, the American Evaluation Association, hardly feels like home either. Despite the fact that our skill sets overlap in so many areas, despite the fact that I got the job I have today because I have the skill set of a librarian, it seems like evaluators are evaluators and librarians are librarians, and a librarian who happens be an evaluator is an odd duck, alone in the pond. 

I don’t wish to turn this post into a pity party. I enjoy what I do, I’m very proud to be a librarian, and I know that despite the inability (or at least difficulty) of our professional pigeon holes to expand, those of us willing to seek out new and different opportunities will find them. It’s not always easy, but it’s okay. Yes, I’m sad about the particulars of this year’s MLA annual meeting and I’m grieving a little, knowing I’ll not be having fun with friends in Toronto, but more than anything, the situation has caused me to think a great deal about the benefits, the purpose, and the future of our professional organizations. Why do we have them? What do they provide? Why do we belong? I’ve been part of executive boards of these very groups, asking these very questions for awhile. It isn’t new, but it did hit me differently this go ’round.

The instructor for my graphic design course said that when you do iterations, you need to push the boundaries; work with the image until you get right up to the point where it falls apart – where it no longer resembles the object you started with. I’ve been thinking a good bit if that’s not the perfect metaphor for my professional journey as a librarian. I’ve pushed many boundaries of the profession and now I wonder if I’ve pushed to the point that the image of me as a librarian has fallen apart.