Resolution, 2013

I have to admit that the end of the year turns me into a optimist. In that brief window of time from Christmas Eve to waking up on New Year’s Day, the cynicism that has built up over the course of a year stubbornly melts away. Perhaps it is the magic and the wonder of the season, maybe it is the marking of the end of the calendar, but in that brief glorious time frame, everything seems fixable, solvable, and otherwise capable of closure. It doesn’t diminish the efforts required to reach such resolution, but it looks like an attainable goal.

I hate when that feeling slips away as the holiday makes its way down the memory hole. It’s as if the solutions that have presented themselves are somehow hitched to that feeling; they are being carried out in the same motion that the holidays are leaving. But I know, deep down, that I can’t keep prolonging the holidays in the hope of keeping the spirit. I need to find a way to continue it forward of its own accord.

In writing this out, I guess my resolution for the year is to remember that the issues in my life (personal and professional) can be solved. It seems silly to write or even say out loud, but sometimes it takes something simple to remind yourself that “crushing reality” of a situation or issue is neither crushing nor reality. It just looks that way.

I hope we can all remember that this year as we tackle those professional issues like eBooks, Big Data, and copyright. I especially hope I can remember that when I am wrestling my own personal demons (and likewise as you deal with yours). Here’s to a year better than the last.

Are We in the Midst of a Lost Generation of Librarians?

I’m working on another post right now, but there’s a question that keeps lingering in the back of my head. I can’t quite seem to resolve it so I’ll share it in the hopes that additional minds can help me out.

Are we in the midst of a lost generation of librarians?

It’s not a single thing that makes me think this, but several. It’s the common story of newly degreed librarians not being able to find positions within a short period of time after graduation. This creates a delay in terms of professional experience if new librarians are taking one to three years to find a job. So, for a profession that is generally a second career (as it was for me), it’s a double late start.

Does this lack of near immediate employment delay entry and involvement into professional organizations? I feel it does. While people are encouraged to join organizations as students, I feel that membership is the first to go if they are struggling through the job market. This generates another delay as it relates to professional involvement. Nevermind the fact that some libraries are cutting back on offsetting professional association dues, funds for conference attendance, or other professional development activities. Even then, in a place that recognizes seniority, those opportunities still may not present themselves.

Combined with the changing role and place of the library (technology! embedded! eBooks and eContent! classroom based!), it becomes a moving target in terms of skill sets. Even though the common complaint is that “my graduate school did not teach me how to do X”, there is an expectation of the skills and knowledge needed for the library at that current moment that the coursework is geared towards. While it is true that certain skills will never go out of vogue, the desire for employers to hire someone who can do the latest and best is not completely unexpected. Are these librarians going to be eventually bypassed on that basis if they can’t find a library job within five years? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

In writing this, I’m hoping to get additional ideas, thoughts, and perspectives on this question. I would be happy to be shown that we are not in the midst of a lost generation, but I don’t have the data to point to an answer in either direction. So help me out here, please.

Librarianship as a Journey

For me, librarianship is a journey into ignorance.

In walking past the rows of books, I’m reminded about how little I know about the breadth and depth of the universe. Hundreds of thousands of published works around me combined with numerous online databases and resources represents a daunting amount of information. I wouldn’t even dare say the percentage of my knowledge would reach a whole number; it might be one of those comical numbers where the first number at the end of an absurdly long line of zeros appears far far away to the right of the decimal point. It is a moment where you feel just how confined your awareness exists; it is most akin to thinking about just how tiny you are in comparison to the scale of the universe. The profession has made me painfully aware of the limits of my knowledge about the world, even when thinking just about the parts that someone bothered to write down in print or online and share.

It is a constant confrontation with my own ignorance. It is a reminder of how frail, limited, and symbolically mortal my knowledge is. It makes the difference between locating and knowing look like a chasm, for the superficial understanding of most subjects that I possess is generally just enough to do my job without missing a beat so I can move on to helping the next person, phone call, email, or IM. While I thank people for the compliment when they praise my intelligence for locating something or answering their question, it often belies my actual knowledge in the subject matter. I personally cannot explain the nuances of quantum mechanics, Impressionism as an art movement, or the cultural causes behind the Stonewall riots, but I know where to find that explanation or recounting.

But, little by little, in answering their questions, I am pushing back the borders of my own knowledge limitations. Each day brings a new fact, topic, or tidbit of information that I didn’t know the day before. I may not be putting a significant dent into the sum total of what could be learned in this universe, but I am pushing back the boundaries just a little bit each time. It is this tiny benefit that makes me appreciate the journey even more.

For me, librarianship is about being self aware of one’s own ignorance and embracing it as an impetus to stay curious, to seek answers, and to continue to grow. It is truly a journey into ignorance.

Dream Big

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch or listen to the President’s State of the Union address last night. I was in bed feeling ill after an otherwise good day. I was following it on Twitter as people tweeted the points they liked and made their own observations about the proceedings. There was something in the tweets at the end of the President’s speech that stuck in my mind and compelled me to look up a transcript of the address hours later. It was people talking about the ‘dream big’ ending to the speech. I lay in bed for a long time, staring at the screen of my laptop as I let the words sink in. A couple of things came to my head.

Does libraryland have dreamers? The answer came back as an immediate and resounding yes, but current conditions call for realists. Realists in the sense of keeping library issues grounded to the limitations of staff, facilities, and funding. People who can tell the profession and the public about the consequences of funding loss, the smaller resources, and the diminished services. It is a time for serious people; those who can crunch numbers, present bare facts, and engage all parties for the continued use and funding of libraries. What does it matter if the library has a mobile website or video games or employment assistance computer labs if they can’t keep their doors open? Numbers are king as door counts, program attendance, items circulated, and database accesses drive advocacy efforts.

Without a doubt the realist has an important place in the overall picture. You need to have someone who can ensure the future through the basic necessities (in this case, money). But for all the worries, concerns, and other issues, do librarians give themselves enough time to dream about the future?

To that question, I wish I had an answer. My instincts say no but my brain says that the jury is still out. Which, to me, brings up more questions instead. When people dream about the the future of the library, do they think of the next financial year? The technology that exists now that they want to incorporate into their collection? The programs they’d want to schedule next month, next summer, or the next year? What they want to accomplish on their state association or ALA group at the next annual conference? How far into the future do people think when they are asked to dream about the future of the library?

These are all good thoughts on future concerns, but for myself, it is still a bit smallscale. Where are the big dreams? Or, more importantly, what are the big dreams? What are the visions of fulfilling the mission of the library in twenty, thirty, or even fifty years from now? Will it still be a place? Will it be entirely person to person focused, whether physical or virtual? What is the future of information access? How will the library be involved in the lives of members of society?

It’s important to remember that dreams are not about accuracy but about possibilities. No one knows how technology and communication will change in those periods of time because they are moving along so quickly. But to deny dreaming big under that reasoning is to deny most (if not all) future thought as well. I hope that after reading this that you take a moment, clear your mind, take a deep breath, let go of the immediate future, and just dream big for libraries. Maybe just your own, maybe just your type, or even the field as whole. But just stop for a moment and dream.

And if you do, dream big.

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’.

Hide ‘n Seek

Camouflage. Both prey and predator species use it in nature for their own purposes.

Prey species use it to hide or blend in. Whether they match with the foliage or the rest of the herd, it’s a survival technique. You can’t get picked off if you don’t get picked out. Never stand out, that’s the name of the game.

Predator species use it to hunt. They meld in shadows and landscapes, either by coloration or clever disguise. The deception is revealed only when it is too late for the quarry. Lure them in and then strike when they least expect it.

To a librarian, the library is our natural environment. Amid the desks, stacks, computers, and other benign furniture, we work as a greater part of the information exchange. We dress the part, looking (more or less) like we work and belong at the library. To our patrons, we are part of the institutional landscape.

As you think of yourself as part of the overall library scene, consider about what your library camouflage means: are you just fitting in to go without notice, or are you biding your time for the right opportunity to impress patrons with knowledge of materials and resources while demonstrating how it fills their needs?

Are you that of a prey or a predator?

(Author’s note: The alternative title to this post is “An ode to Seth Godin” since I think it closely resembles his style of postings.)

Tuesday Night Deep Thought: Information Future?

Today I found myself pondering the following question:

“Where will information content be in five years? Ten years?”

And after a long bout of deliberation this evening, I couldn’t really come up with an answer. I think that’s part of our professional problem, really. I can’t think of one person who has more than the most speculative of an educated guess. I’m sure there are some who might read this and take umbrage at this statement, thinking that they are or know someone who could provide an answer. But my guess is that if we were to take the answers, seal them in an envelope, place them in a time capsule, and open them in five or ten years, they would be mostly (if not completely) wrong. (There could be a wager in this, I reckon.)

In thinking about the future, I did a survey of the past. I took a look at some of the sites I use now (and some related ones) to acquire a proverbial snapshot at what existed, what just started, and what was yet to be five years ago. Here are the results:

  • Established five or more years ago: Amazon, Blogger, Livejournal, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Google Picasa, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, WordPress, LISNews, TinyURL.
  • Infancy/just started five years ago: Gmail, Facebook, Bebo, Flickr, Yelp, Netvibes, Ning, Reddit, Library Thing, Digg, Kayak, Vimeo, Newsvine, Renren (formerly Xiaonei; it’s the world’s largest social network based in China).
  • Didn’t exist five years ago: Google Calendar, Reader, & Maps; YouTube, Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Diigo, Foursquare, Jaiku, Plurk, Good Reads, Brightkite, Scribd, Hulu, Fancast.

This doesn’t mention the leaps in technologies like mobile phones (iPhone, 2008) or e-readers (Kindle, 2007) within this time period, nevermind the announcements of the last few months (the iPad and the Nook). Nor does it include the general decline in printed newspaper and periodical readership that has trended during this time period. And, to toss something else into the mix, it doesn’t account for the change in design of library spaces that make them more community oriented (this would be more of something of the last ten to fifteen years, give or take).

There is simply a lot of things going on; too much, I believe, for anyone to grasp in terms of the big picture. And I think it’s time that the librarian community admits that we really don’t know where exactly information content is going to end up in that time. Sure, we can say where it will be in the short short scale of maybe a year, perhaps two, but beyond that is lost to us.

Am I wrong?

(Edit: Fixed a spelling mistake.)