Shifting Gears

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing."
- Ben Franklin

My brother used to have this quote hanging on the wall in his room when we were growing up. As he wanted to be a writer (which I’m happy to say that he is), it was a reminder to keep working on his craft and create stories and novels worth reading. It’s a writer’s version of Ranganathan’s law of “save the time of the reader” by working hard to make it worthy of the reader’s attention and effort.

I’d like to think that I have written things worth reading over the last five years I’ve had this blog. I’m appreciative of the compliments I’ve received and reports of post sharing within various workplaces. It’s been crazy look at the WordPress dashboard and see readers from all over the world in addition to pingbacks in different languages. It really speaks volumes about the power of the internet as a platform. 

This isn’t a “so long and thanks for all the fish” post, but a signal in a shift in gears. I picked that Franklin quote for both parts: writing and doing. The writing period is not completely past me, but with the new job I have shifted into the do things portion of the quote. I’m in a place where I can channel my creative energies so as to create, develop, and implement ideas and concepts for the library. When I get home these days, writing is the last thing on my mind (and I have some half finished drafts to prove it).

In closing, I had typed out a rant about the current state of librarian blogosphere in which I went on at great lengths. I took a long look at it before  erasing it; the whole thing just depressed the hell out of me. Since it would eclipse everything above it, I just left it out.

This blog isn’t dead, just dormant. If you need me, I’m still on Twitter.

Ciao.

Housekeeping

Call it “spring cleaning in the summer”, but I recently went through my social media stuff and took the time to figure out what I wanted to keep or delete. I’ve gotten bloated in the sheer number of social media accounts I have and I took a hard look at where I’ve signed up, what I still use, and how I want these sites in my life. The divide for how I use these sites is somewhere in the middle between personal and professional; while I maintain good contacts with friends and family, I also use it to promote my blog (read: myself). So, with some of those factors in mind, here’s how it went down.

Gone: My accounts on Google Plus and Pinterest as well as my Facebook author page. The first two I never checked ever unless I was at the brink of web boredom death. I never really saw much traffic from Google Plus to my blog and it turned into yet-another-place to dump a link. Even then, there wasn’t much interaction from my links and more often than not the notices were telling me how people I don’t know had added me to their circles. Or worse, that they have invited me to an event that I couldn’t give two damns about attending. Google Plus was the large annoying fly in the room and I finally just had to swat it.

I liked Pinterest, but beyond uploading the funny pictures I made, it didn’t hold much interest for me. I never remembered to pin things to it nor did I ever want to do so. I mean, isn’t that what Tumblr is for? (More on Tumblr later.)

As for my Facebook Author page, the apps were starting to get on my nerve. I had something that would import Tumblr and WordPress posts, but it was asking and re-asking permission every few weeks. When I realized that it had not posted in a few weeks, I was just plain frustrated. It didn’t bring much traffic either, but I will miss posting pictures with all the sharing ease it possessed. But, after all the other Facebook crap of the last couple of weeks, I just let it go.

On The Fence: Oh, LinkedIn. You’re like that person from high school who thinks that after graduation we should all stay in contact with each other. I keep getting emails from them so every now and then I go clear out all my messages and invitations. There are some people I know who really know how to work that site in terms of getting consulting and speaking gigs. God bless them, but it looks more exhausting to me than I care to do. I updated my profile and added my TechSoup writing to my experience, but I don’t know what else to do. Sure, I’d like more writing and speaking gigs and be able to help out libraries create social media strategies, but I’m still not entirely converted to the value professed to exist (nor am I willing to pay for the upgrade). I’ll keep it for now, but only because it’s a good passive billboard.

Keeping: Twitter is by far one of my strongest online presences professionally, so that’s certainly going to stay. I have lots of good contacts on Facebook so that will remain as part of my online “personal” life (yes, even if it is being supervised by the NSA). I’m enjoying being on Imgur, but I still have my toes in the water on that one. There is another social media website that I’m keeping, but it’s my last bastion of online privacy (I know, har har) so I have to defend it by keeping it secret.

I’m going to take another shot at Tumblr. All those Tumbrarian/Tumblrarian posts have made me take another look at the service. I enjoyed using it for the New Jersey Library Roadshow back in the fall since it can handle any kind of post, but I’ve had a harder time getting into the habit of using/checking it. The shame for me is that I really like how easy it is, how many formats I can post in, and how the new interface has moved along. I’ve used it in the past for "A View from Your Desk” (a collection of pictures taken from people’s library workspaces) and “LOLbrarian” (homemade memes). Right now, with it being connected to Twitter, it has worked well for things I want to post that are longer than a tweet. I’ll have to get better at tagging posts and adding content on a regular basis.

For what it’s worth, this cleaning has been very cathartic for me. In deleting some accounts and out of date blogs, I’ve removed some of the internet debris I’ve left lying around. I highly suggest taking a close look at your online footprint and taking action where needed.

It’s good to do a little housekeeping.

Tips for Blogging in Libraryland

As this month marks my blog’s four year anniversary, I thought about the lessons that I’ve learned since I started writing here. For those thinking about adding their voice to the online librarian community, there are certainly no shortage of ways in which to participate. Over the weekend, I jotted down some of those musings that I think will help those starting out or thinking starting a blog. So, without further ado, here we go.

Pick a Name

And for the love of God, pick a better one than mine. While I have grown to truly love the name over time, it really started out as a clever play on words but still doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. A compliment from a friend encouraged me to keep it but, really, take some time in choosing a name. Bonnie Powers was recently writing about her blog name love/hate (her blog’s name is Bring Your Noise) so it got me re-thinking about my own title.

In a quick non-scientific survey of librarian blog titles, a good number of them fall into the "[noun] librarian”, “[adjective] librarian”, or “[adverb] librarian” category. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that (although there are some doozies out there) and there are other library related names (think “biblio”, “libris”, and anything book related), but just take some time to pick out a name. Also, perform some due diligence by doing a quick Google search for any names you want to try out to see if anyone else has used it.

Whatever you decide on, just make sure it is an accurate reflection of you. You will be telling a lot of people the blog title name so you do keep that in mind as well. You may be stuck with it for a very long time.

Pick a Blogging Platform

Do your homework and consider your blogging platform options. Sites like Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Livejournal (do people still even use that anymore?), and Typepad offer an array of options both paid and free. You want to find a blogging platform that meets your needs.

For myself, I use a free WordPress site (obviously) and write my blog posts in Windows Live Writer (a good solid blogging program and less buggy than the WordPress browser interface). It has served me well for these four years and I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future.

If you decide to host your blog on your own website, that does change some of your options here but doing your homework will find you the right fit.

Write What You Know

It’s a devilishly simple sounding sentiment, but it can be deceptive. This isn’t saying that you should be limited in the breadth and depth of the topics you want to talk about, but an acknowledgement that some subjects will take more time and research to arrive at a coherent blog post. For example, I could write a library eBook post nearly off the top of my head based on what I know as well as remembering recent blog posts and articles addressing the article. If I was to attempt to write about AACR2 and RDA, I’d need to do background work so that I had the faintest of clues as to what I was talking about it. Even then, I’d probably have to focus on the most general of topics around it (such as whether to use it or not) rather than the nitty gritty cataloging details that make me reach for the whiskey bottle.

With that in mind, the quotation “you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts” springs to mind. Anyone can write an opinion piece on anything in libraryland but presenting a logical and factual persuasive argument is a whole other ballgame. It’s the difference between “AACR2 sucks, RDA rules” and “RDA is the future of cataloging for these reasons…” I may not be a cataloger, but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn as much as I can before weighing in on the debate in a meaningful manner. Honestly, you’re a librarian. The research aspect should be second nature.

Even then, no matter what topic you are writing about, do make allowances for corrections or edits. I’ve made mea culpas in the past and I certainly will make them in the future. There is nothing wrong with admitting you were wrong so long as you fix the error. Learn from these mistakes or missteps and move on.

Find Your Voice

As anyone who writes will tell you, it is an ongoing process that takes months, years, or even a lifetime to achieve. For the sake of simplicity, I’d say it is finding the writing style that most suits you. This is about tone, word choice, sentence construction, and cadence. Anyone could dissect my blog and find the words and phrases that I use over and over again as well as how I structure my sentences. Those aspects are a reflection of me as a writer and a thinker.

As I see it, it’s a translation of my personality to the computer screen. When I write like I would talk, think, or feel, the words come freely and naturally. When I try to make the text a bit fancier or with more flourish, I sputter and get bogged down. It reminds me of the studies about the brains of people when they are lying; they have to work harder since they are inventing the story as they go. When you aren’t true to your style, diction, or temperament, it’s going to be a struggle. Write as the person that you are for people can connect to that in terms of authenticity.

Links, Links, Links

This could also be called “show your work” or “cite your sources”. If you make a reference to another website, provide a link to it. If you got an idea or thought from somewhere else, provide a link to it. If you are talking about a particular issue or topic and there is a good explanation for it, provide a link to it.

I will admit that providing a link is a pet peeve of mine. I hate reading blogs that make a reference to an article, website, or another blog post and there isn’t a link provided. If you are going to take the time to write about something, don’t suddenly take some sort of magical internet “higher ground” and refuse to link to the offending/provoking article because you don’t want to encourage people to visit the website. That’s just completely asinine since it sends the mixed message, “I think this is important enough for me to comment on, but I don’t want you to read it and make your own decisions.”

As much as it irks me, I will admit that there are times when I don’t want to provide a link to something that I consider distasteful, unworthy of direct citation, or simply link bait. It puts me in a very bad mood as I balance out my own pet peeve against the loathing I feel for the article in question. Ninety nine percent of the time, I’ll swallow my disgust and link to the offender. For those rare one percent, I try to at least provide a breadcrumb trail for people to follow to get to the article. I might not link to it directly, but I’m not going to completely deny them the chance to read it themselves and make their own decision. Link as much as you can to cite your sources and references, but make provisions for when you can’t bring yourself to do it.

Edit When Possible

Before I hit Publish for the majority of my posts, I go through and do an edit. This isn’t a long drawn out process, but one to find the regular errors in spelling (usually words that are spelled correct but not in that context), my sometimes creative grammar problems, and my often “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” sentence construction issues. It also helps with organization of the post, allowing me to re-organize points, alter the cadence, or even eliminate unnecessary sentences and paragraphs. It’s not the finest polish I can offer, but it’s enough to take the easy mistakes out of the posts. The time you invest in your posts will show in the final product that you publish.

Be Brave

“Blog fearlessly” is a short mantra I say to myself before I hit the Publish button on a post that I think will generate some discussion or controversy. It’s a tough moment when you can feel the doubts creeping back and the “don’t rock the boat” urge pushing against the back of your mind. Some of the topics will elicit an emotional response or provoke a critical reaction. Be prepared for pushback, disagreements, and (in very rare cases but it happens) character assassination. My best advice is to roll with it: stand firm on the points you can prove or the opinions that you hold, concede the points you can’t, correct the mistakes you make, and try to foster the best dialogue you can. I’d also say pick your battles, but that’s never been a strong suit for me. If anything, it may help you finely tune your own positions as well as be a learning experience to the variety of viewpoints out there.

Promote, Promote, Promote

So, your blog post is up. Now what? Given the cacophony of the online librarian world, if you want to get your post notice you’ll have to do some publicity for it. Most of my traffic comes from Twitter, search engines, and other blogs that link to various posts. Google Reader tells me that I have over 1,700 subscribers and it shows in the number of syndicated views I get for my posts. In addition, I have a Facebook Author Page that helps me share my posts.

When I post something new, I set up some automatic tweets for the next day at different times (for different time zones) and share it on Google Plus (for whatever that’s worth); my Facebook page will automatically post the new entry. From there, I thank people for Retweeting, answer any comments on the Facebook or Google plus posts, and answer blog comments when I have something to say. When I was just starting out, I also posted to my blog on LISNews in order to increase the number of people who saw my writing.

Some people might balk at self promotion, but I believe it’s the best way to get as many eyes as you can on your blog post. If you’re not going to toot your own horn, who else is going to?

What else?

That’s not so much a topic heading as a question left for you, the reader. What else is there to know or consider when blogging in libraryland? Add a comment if you have a question or share from your experiences.

State of the Blog: Year Four

This month will mean that four years have slipped by since I put fingers to the keyboard to start a blog. I am hitting this anniversary at an odd point in my writing life since, well, the blog is not exactly a priority at the moment. While I’ve had cycles of writing and not writing before over the course of the last four years, this one has pushed the blog to near back burner status.

Over the years, I’ve had a couple different approaches to writing here. I’ve had frequent updates, longer essay posts, open threads, and probably some posts that don’t fit any of those categories. Overall, I’ve mainly kept it focused on library issues with the occasional personal post. That’s probably why I haven’t written much in the last month since the kinds of things that hold my interest for writing these days are far, far away from libraryland. I’m engaged to get married in the fall, my interests in country and ballroom dancing have grown as I’ve gotten better at them, and video games feel more rewarding (whether it is achievements in World of Warcraft or the thrill of battle in Team Fortress 2) as a leisure activity. When presented as a choice, spending time blogging tended to lose out in the recent past.

In trying to root out my writing ennui, I feel a distinct lack of inspiration that I used to get from the libraryland blogosphere. If I was to guess at a point of origin, it’s about when Will Manley disappeared off the scene. His daily posts and lively discussions were a good pulse on current topics and I miss them to pieces. Moving forward in time from that point, I still have people on my ‘must read’ list but they seem to be writing less these days as well. Even then, there are still excellent bloggers out there (some of whom I’ve grown to adore), but nothing they are saying wants me to set aside time and type up my thoughts on their post. I just nod, maybe share somewhere in my social media web, and then move on. There are times when Google Reader just becomes an exercise where I choose between skimming and clicking on Mark All Read. 

As I write this, I am realizing that this is perhaps the first time in a long time that I haven’t been in the midst of a bunch of projects, presentations, conference, and whatnot that had kept me tethered closely to the library world. I look at the notecards on my project board (divided into two sections, “NOW” and “FUTURE”) and it hasn’t changed in the last couple of months. I have a talk for a library science class in May and a note to remind me to check in with John about EveryLibrary… and that’s it. In the last three years, I would have had three or four ideas or projects in the each section. Perhaps I pushed myself too much in the past (I can remember some of the looks I got when I told people how much I was doing at any given time) and this is the inevitable burnout that was destined to happen. It’s something I’ll need to figure out over time.

(Funny enough, after writing the above paragraph, I actually wrote down a few I had forgotten and added them to the board. The big moment will be trying to figure out what to do with them. Since I’ve put up the board, I’ve kept every notecard I’ve posted on it, whether it panned out or not. I’m toying with the idea of making all of those notecards available to anyone who would want to pick through it and use one of them. If I’m not going to use them, they might as well go to a good home. -A)

I can’t say that I’m done blogging forever (so some people reading this can put their party hats down now), but I feel that this blog will be entering another era of change in terms of tone and content. I hope you’re willing to come along for the ride, no matter where it takes us.

Happy 4th of the Blog.

Why I Just Won’t Shut Up (or, Why I Blog)

I’ve been turning over Bonnie Power’s post “Why do bloggers blog?” in my head for the last two weeks. Every time my fingers have come close to touching the keyboard and writing something about it, my attention span would magically divert itself to something else like video games or social media stuff. In the past, I’ve taken that as a sign that I’m really not up for writing on a particular topic and just moved on. But, alas, her post planted a thought that simply wouldn’t die: why do I blog? In just letting it run its course, here is what I found.

Initially, it felt pretty self evident; I write because I have something to say and I want to be heard. The internet, the great digital soapbox of our time, has the capability of providing that platform for the second part of that sentiment. But “something to say” is just too neat, too tidy; I wanted to say something that would make people think. I wanted to offer something different, something new, something to push people into using their critical thinking skills. It is my desire to fill the role of a public intellectual for libraries, a position that I have not seen much in my travels around the web. It’s only been recently that I’ve found something that captured that sentiment:

An intellectual is not an expert, and a public intellectual is not an expert who condescends to speak to a wider audience about her area of expertise. An intellectual is a generalist, an autodidact, a thinker who wanders and speculates. As Jack Miles puts it in a stellar essay on the question, “It takes years of disciplined preparation to become an academic. It takes years of undisciplined preparation to become an intellectual.”

Setting aside the problems of such a label (and there are some) as well as whether my efforts are taking me there (perhaps, perhaps not), the underlying motivations have not exactly been what I expected. They seem to be rooted in a dissatisfaction with the status quo, the not-always-constructive need to argue, and a nearly unexplainable driving desire to offer differing and sometimes contrarian point of views. This is a writing arc that only seems to have me finish as a human form of Grumpy Cat, forever unhappy with anything. It’s a struggle not to end up in the gutter ball lane of internet humor, the short snarky retort written in Impact font over the picture of an animal. It’s the mantra of “try[ing] to add something worthwhile to the conversation” that keeps me on track most of the time. That ideal has killed more blogs posts than I care to imagine.

I would say that the keyword that has appeared within my own thoughts around why I blog is “challenge”. I want to challenge people to defend their beliefs so as to help make their arguments tighter or see an error in their thinking. I want to challenge people to step up to the plate, to have the courage of conviction to take on the pressing issues of the day, and to step outside their comfort zone to (as they say in the ALA Think Tank) make it happen. I want the challenge of saying something bold, something crazy, and perhaps something unexpected. I want the challenge of people telling me I’m right or wrong and assimilating what they say into either defending or evolving my own positions. I want the ultimate challenge that comes with failing; and failing grandly with an online world that never forgets, so as to take the lessons from it and move on.

I don’t want to squander my youth or my status as a still-new-to-the-field librarian in writing ‘safe’ blog posts, bland ramblings on mundane subjects that fade into the background of the online libraryland noise. I feel a duty to be reckless, impetuous, and antagonistic so as to reap the rewards of wisdom and experience that will shape my writing into my later years. This will ruffle a few tail feathers, but I consider that to be a statistical inevitability.

In the end, I’d like to imagine that I’d be writing this blog even if no one read it. But knowing that I have a following, that my blog posts are shared widely around the world, and that people are impassioned enough to take the time to offer a comment, that makes it so much more compelling to continue to write. I’d like to thank everyone who is reading these words, those who share them, and those who think they are worthy enough for discussion. I am humbled and honored by your attention in this world of distraction.

Salem Press Blog Awards 2011

This year, I will be a judge for the Salem Press Blog Awards. I won First Prize for Best Public Library blog last year and I was thrilled when Peter and Mirela asked me to judge the contest this year. I look forward seeing the nominees (as well as adding them to my ever increasing Google Reader feeds).

If you want to see the winners from last year (as well as the other blogs nominated), Salem Press has left them up on their site. You can also see who else was nominated in the various categories.

Not to co-opt this post with another contest, but TED is having auditions for TED talks. You need to create a one minute video to start (due April 25th) and they are looking for crazy fun uses of technology. So, take your chances with either/both!

State of the Blog: 2 Years and Going

I wanted to make a quick note of my second anniversary blogging.

I finally got to meet Blake Carver last week at the Computers in Libraries conference. It’s been a long time coming but I credit him with giving me my first big break by bumping one of my blog posts to the front page of LISNews. That encouragement has set me down the writing path that I have taken in these last two years. I really can’t thank him enough for that. (I will plug his business, LISHost, for those considering starting their own websites.)

I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring.

I’d like to thank everyone who subscribes for their support, those who take the time to comment for making this blog better, and everyone who finds their way here. I love writing in this blog and I’m happy that there are people who enjoy reading it.

(Man, I should do this for a living or something, right?)

Once again, thanks for your time and support.

End of the Year

After a few days of starting and stopping, I’ve decided to declare a holiday from blogging till after the New Year. There are some offline things that have been really grabbing for my attention and I want to give them some time in the sun (so to speak). My blogging pace has increased a lot over the past couple months, so I should recognize that some rest is in order. I’ll just put anything I want to comment on until after the new year.

You can still follow me on Twitter and/or my Facebook Author page. People can contact me there if there are problems with the Secret Santa. Also, the View From Your Desk Tumblr blog is still accepting your library work space pictures. And be sure to get yourself a Endangered Species t-shirt if you didn’t happen to win one!

State of the Blog: Google Reader

I thought a little “behind the scenes” look would be a fun change.

trends

For those who may have a curiosity as to where I get some of my content, that’s my running thirty day total in Google Reader. To be fair, not all of the Reader items are library related. I have a couple of Google alerts for specific terms and subscriptions to some pop culture and technology feeds. This also does it represent combing through a half dozen other news sites that I look through for tidbits that might spark an idea for a blog entry. I also comb through Twitter and Facebook for additional ideas.

When it comes to library and librarian blogs, I like a wide range of voices to choose from. I’ve started incorporating blogs from other library types (academic and school, mainly) and specific library aspects (reader’s advisory, cataloging) so as to broaden my world view. I won’t say that I’m able to understand everything I read, but I’m working on it slowly.

In sharing some of my own continuing education, my question to my readers is this: what online (or offline) sources do you use to get news in the library world? What works for you?

September Blog Banner

I made a new one tonight since I’m somewhat overdue for one. I know it is Library Card sign up month and Banned Book Week is at the end of it, but when I read this entry from the.effing.librarian, that quote stuck out for me. I plucked it out of a larger passage, so some context may help. However, I think I managed to save the meaning of it in the illustration.

As someone with a biology background, the notion that evolution doesn’t mean trial and error, risk, or loss is absurd. When it comes to the librarian profession, it is without a doubt something that is going to occur. But from the flaws and failures of others, I believe a hardier librarian will emerge.

What that really means I can’t say for sure. But I’m excited to find out.