Tag Archives: New York TImes

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.


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.

If You Insist…

5 Apr

… or, my case against being a data curator.

Pastor Shep © Susan Mattinson, 2012.  Reproduction permitted with permission of creator.

Pastor Shep © Susan Mattinson, 2012. Reproduction permitted with permission of creator.

Perhaps it is because I am married to an artist. Maybe it’s the fact that I have a sorority sister from my college days who has her doctorate in art history. Maybe it’s because before I became an exercise physiologist and a librarian, I was a member of the clergy, the profession from which the word “curate” originates. Maybe I’m nothing more than a real stickler for people using the correct word to describe what they do. But regardless of the reason, I simply cannot stand how my profession has co-opted the word “curate,” and worse, morphed it into a noun by calling it “curation.” If I had a dollar for every time the word was used at this week’s eScience Symposium, I’d be on vacation today.

Whenever I get on my soapbox about this, people remind me that the meanings of words change all of the time. Similarly, we create new words quite often, our attempt to get at what we really mean. To these comments I say, “I agree, but that’s not the point.”

“So, what is the point?”, you may ask. The point is this – I am bothered by why we feel the need to attach this word to what we are doing. In case you haven’t noticed, curate and curation are two of the hottest, trendiest little words today. Suddenly, everyone is a curator, from boutique store owners to night club promoters to everyone and her sister who slaps a picture of a wonderfully decorated cake on their Pinterest site. Maria Popova, the “curator” behind the delightful website, Brain Pickings, is an absolute darling of the New York Times; their very favorite curator.

First, this clamoring for my profession to be hip bothers me because I fear it’s a reaction to something bigger. As John H. McWhorter, a linguist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute points out, “It’s an innocent form of self-inflation. You’re implying that there is some similarity between what you do and what someone with an advanced degree who works at a museum does.” (This quote is found in one of my favorite pieces on the subject by Alex Williams of the New York Times.) It’s true that there are archivists in the mix of librarians doing this curation stuff, and it’s true that they have advanced degrees in archival work, and it’s true that there is a great deal of overlap between archives and museums. But archivists are archivists, and curators are curators. They do actually have different educational and practice backgrounds.

Further, librarians in particular have a short fuse when it comes to non-professionals, i.e. those without the essential ALA-accredited MLS degree, calling themselves librarians. The battle cry in my profession of medical librarianship has been, for years now, a call to take back our profession. A hospital needs a medical librarian, we say, not simply someone who can oversee a room filled with journals and computers. We have a special role, a certain expertise. THIS is what we keep claiming.

So…  Why then are we being quick to take on the moniker of another profession? I think it’s a question worth asking or at least one to think about.

Secondly, I return to the fact that if we do really want to call ourselves curators, then we need to practice curation, and I do not believe that this is what we are doing at all. As mentioned previously, the word originated during medieval times when members of the clergy in Europe were entrusted with the “cure of souls.” (WikipediaLater, the Church of England used the term as a description for the ministers who took care of a parish. From this, then, we get the aspect of the museum curator, the one charged with the care of a collection. In this sense, librarians have always been curators, though interestingly, we chose to call ourselves a particular kind of curator, i.e. a librarian, entrusted with the care of a collection of books.

Taking care of a collection is very much part of the role of a curator, however it is not the only role. A curator is also assigned the task of selecting the materials to be in a collection. When we say that an art show has been curated, we mean that an individual(s) has looked at each piece of work submitted and made a judgement, based upon some theme or idea or standard, of whether or not it fits. This involves a particular relationship with the art, the artist, and the public and/or the institution that one serves.

In an interview for Art Journal, Helen Molesworth, the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston says,

Don’t pause in front of weak work. Just keep moving, pause in front of strong work even if you don’t like it, even if you don’t understand it, even if it’s not to your taste, even if it’s not going to work in any of the rooms that you have to fill, stop in front of the strong stuff and walk by the weak stuff. And that is harsh. I don’t stop. Now, how I figure out what is weak and what is strong, that is a harder question. Because your question really goes to: What are the criteria, how do I ascribe value? … It’s a poetic and nice way of asking the hard question, which is, How do you end up making the choices to show what you show? (Art Journal)

Librarians, or more to the point, those librarians (and computer scientists and engineers and information technologists) calling themselves data curators, are not, by and large, doing much of anything along the lines of selection. If anything, subject specialist librarians who practice collection development, these individuals are doing the curatorial work described by Molesworth. They are the ones who look through a large pool of content and select, based upon certain criteria, what they deem important for their collections.

I have yet to hear anyone practicing data curation touch on this aspect. To the contrary, the conversation usually revolves around how to save and preserve everything, how to make everything accessible. This quest is, to me personally, ludicrous, not to mention fraught with countless problems in regards to infrastructure, workload, ethics, and more.

And so, a curator, in the purest sense, both selects and cares for a collection. You need to do both. And you need a certain level of education and a certain set of skills to do both. As long as librarians are content to pass along the task of selection to others, be it of data sets or the list of citations generated in a systematic review, we are not acting as curators. Our role is important. Collecting, storing, preserving, and making materials accessible is not something to snuff at, but it is not curation (if you insist upon using that word).