SunSpec: Inspiration

I have to confess something. I woke up this morning after passing out very early last night and realized that I had not written a Sunday blog post. And while my first thought was to skip it this week (as I have accidentally done in the past), I know that keeping a posting schedule is one of those things I need to do. Otherwise, I just drop out of the habit completely.

Determined to write something, I got out my iPad and decided I was going to write it on that as opposed to my laptop. This would allow me to stay in bed (my laptop is one of those huge 17″ ones) and be able to tap one out while remaining under nice warm blankets. Although typing on the iPad is not as easy as the keyboard and raises concerns about the legendary autocorrect changes, I decided to risk it in the name of comfort.

Then, it hit me. I really don’t know what I want to write about. The blank page and flashing cursor sat in front of me like a crew awaiting orders. As the theme of the Sunday posts are about speculating on something, I could not think of anything I wanted to ponder on. I sat there, staring around the room as if the answer was written on a piece of furniture or a wall. I don’t know how many other bloggers get that feeling, but I’m willing to guess it’s a majority. It is one of those topics you don’t write about… except when you are looking for something to write about.

For myself, inspiration can be a hit or miss thing. Some stories or topics that I come across lend themselves to commentary; I want to share the story and add my own thoughts to it. Other times, the words fight me as I get them from the brain to the page. I know the point I want to make, but the translation from thought to coherent writing becomes a slog. There are some outs; I can just opt to share the story on Twitter and be done with it. Or just write” a brief thought on it and publish it rather unadorned. But usually I try to put something together, an entry of substance even if it feels far too brief.

For those who write as well (either blogging or otherwise), where do you find your inspiration? What helps you in putting thoughts to screen or paper? What are your frustrations?

Sunday Speculation: Uncomfortable Literature

In writing the recap on the Bitch Magazine YA feminist literature list situation, I couldn’t help but think about how librarians are by default put into defensive positions about materials in their collections. Each added item has a potential for igniting some sort of objection; even if that chance is miniscule, someone can find something objectionable in it (and if they go hunting for it and have some creativity, they will find it). Often times, this sheds the light on the profession that librarians are smut peddlers, pornographers, politically and/or emotionally insensitive, and otherwise defenders of society’s deviance.

It is the price that is paid for a near absolutist stance. Only the most morally deplorable items (such as child pornography) gain no refuge. But when literature covers incest, suicide, bullying, homosexuality, cutting, eating disorders, racism, blasphemy, and rape, the profession defends the choices of inclusion of unpopular, controversial, and/or otherwise socially abhorrent topics. It is never a matter as to judging whether the topic is acceptable or not; it is a matter of allowing individuals to make their own decisions whether to read it or not. Generally, like the comments to the original YA list post revealed to me, there is a divided opinion. A divided opinion is not a rationale for exclusion, but an impetus for insuring that it remains. As Ricky Gervais said recently after the row over his jokes at the Golden Globes,

“I’m not sorry for anything I said… Nobody has the right not to be offended. And don’t forget: Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re in the right.”

Such is the model and cornerstone for free speech guarantees in countries like the United States.

In noting that the three books that were removed from the Bitch list all involved the topic of rape, I remembered the George Carlin bit, “Rape can be Funny” (very NSFW, as if you needed a warning). Some will find it funny, some will find it offensive, but it has a kernel of truth to it: just because the topic is uncomfortable to others should not preclude any discussion of it. One cannot have ask rape victims to speak out against their abusers and about their ordeals as a means of educating people on the topic while simultaneously demanding that any other discussion outside of this scope cease. It is when we as a society stop talking about a subject for fear of offense that the issue will continue to linger on in the shadowlands of conversation, present yet unresolved.

Sunday Speculation: Copyright Cynicism

(I’ve always liked Will Manley’s sunday posts in the past, so now I’m going to steal the idea of asking a weekly philosophic question of the library community. YOINK!)

Ok, be honest: have you ever looked at a patron checking out the maximum number of audio CDs (either music or books) and thought to yourself, “That person is just going to go home and rip them into iTunes or burn them onto CDs”?

[raises his hand] I know I have!

But when it comes to people borrowing movies or books, the thought never crosses my mind. Even though we are now in the age of DVD and Blu Ray copyright crackers and the home photocopying machines, I don’t think that a person taking out the maximum number of movies is going home to copy them.

Is this just me? Is it just the history of music and computers has followed a different path? What do you think?

Would You Like Fries With That Checkout?

In watching the ever brilliant Sir Ken Robinson’s most recent TED talk (seriously, read this post and then go watch it above, or vice versa), I thought of one question to ask my professional peers in libraryland:

Are you a fast food or Zagat/Michelin type of library?

Fast food is structured around standardization; the ability to create a reliable product quickly and efficiently. There are policies, there are rules, and there are no exemptions. It is about getting a product to a patron; they can take it or leave it.

A Zagat or Michelin restaurant is made around the local tastes and influences; in essence, a local experience. These are places where chefs create meals that resonate with the local populations, tailored and customized to the local flavors and traditions. It is about a personal product crafted to the person; it is made for them.

People can easily find a standard product for books, movies, magazines, and music in other places: it’s called a bookstore. Why on Earth would libraries attempt to recreate such a standard presentation and product? Is it the difference between doing what it easy and doing what is good?

So, I ask again: are you a fast food or Zagat/Michelin type of library?

Creativity & The Invisible Fence

Photo by Martin Gommel/FlickrThe invisible fence is a product that is designed to keep pets (like dogs & cats) within a set of boundaries without the need for building a physical barrier (e.g., a fence). The boundaries are set by a transmitted signal from either a buried wire or an above ground positioned object. The pets wear a collar which will give them a mild shock (*bzzzt*) when they approach the limits set by the owner. With a few days of training, the pet becomes familiar with their new limitations and will not venture past them.

I think creativity in the workplace is sometimes given the same treatment. But minus training about the collar and boundaries part.

This is not an objection to conditions or requirements to creativity in accomplishing tasks in the workplace; at face value, there is nothing wrong with applying such guidelines to an assignment given out by an employer. My objection is to the illusion of a free range and the enforcement of punishments without prior criteria.

What results are people who end up working as if they are boundaries when none exist; people who are unwilling to explore the range of options for fear of getting zapped; and people who would seek to avoid projects requiring creativity for the safety of rote and defined assignments. These are not the conducive conditions for innovation and progress.

Does the place where you work have an invisible fence for creativity? As a supervisor, what are you leaving out when telling an employee to be creative in the course of completing a task? As an employee, how do you learn of guidelines or criteria for your assignments?

I think everyone is creative when they are given the chance. It’s just that no one likes to get zapped. Not even our cats and dogs.

 

(I like writing these Seth Godin-esque posts, even if they don’t reach to his level of mastery. He has the uncanny ability to capture big moments or thoughts in small blog posts. I hope I did that here.)

The Infernal Sunshine of an Overactive Mind

19371730147_ORIGTonight, I went through my notepads and organized them. As you can see, I have a little love affair for the legal pad. If I forget to bring one, I will deputize another one to take its place. This creates multiple notepads on the same subject and can make the statement “I don’t have my notes in front of me” more ominous as I have to pore through multiple notebooks to find what I seek. Even then, some notepads get pulled into other services in a pinch. Tonight’s effort was to take pages from the pads and match them to the right ledgers. While loose paper is not an ideal solution, it is better in the long run to have it organized than to have it neat and tidy.

If it’s not obvious, I love a good legal notepad. Combined with a decent pen (none of those disposables, this pen better have some grip to it), it’s my tool of choice for conferences, meetings, and working on thoughts and ideas. As I looked through some of the filled pads, I can see inklings of stuff that eventually came to fruition. These are in the minority compared to the sum total of the ledger; there are many other jottings that never came to pass, whether it was from change in direction of thought or not enough time or simply left aside. It makes me think about the amount of castoff concepts and ideas that get left behind everyday. I know I can drag out these notepads and go over them as a reminder of what I was thinking at a certain time, revive past concepts, or find inspiration for something new. With the notepads, I can block out any of the usual online distractions that take away from my writing and really focus on the words, sentence cadence, and paragraph fit.

(Just a quick aside: this is not a repudiation of the smartphone, netbook, or other device people use to take notes, tweet, or post blurbs about conferences. It’s just that it doesn’t work for me. There is something about having the words enter my ear, go to the brain, then translated into writing that makes the experience more memorable. I’m not worried about getting the right hashtag or the wifi dropping me and other aspects that really distract and derail my train of thought. I can just write, make notes in the margins, and let stuff just flow out onto the paper.)

Some of my blog posts are born on these pages. There are snippets of sentences and paragraphs that I wanted to capture before they disappear. Jumbled on the page, I think it might give one a glimpse of the disjointed thought process that sometimes plays out in my brain. It is a strong start and a strong ending looking for a middle, or a essay in search of a stirring conclusion, or blog post in search of a catchy title or introduction. I can get hung up on a phrasing or word choice so easily that there will be parts in brackets just so I can keep writing the rest of the thought and agonize over it later. Even then, it’s just me, the pen, and the paper trying to hash something out.

At this moment, the notepads are a reminder of all the things I want to write: blog entries that have been hovering around my mind, a (long overdue) blog post for 8 Bit Library, perhaps another entry for the Young Librarian Series, thank you notes to speakers, and letters to all sorts of people. The list of prose grows, for certain, and there is much to write, read, edit, and send. And, hopefully, with a little luck, I can keep all those notes in order.

Here’s hopin’.