A kick from an Information Flaneur

Back in August last year I responded to a blog post by another Librarian – but didn’t publish it. It sat in my files forgotten and the busy-ness of life took over.

Now six months later I notice that this Librarian has not published anymore content on his blog. I wonder why? Perhaps some of the possibilities I suggested in my response could have made an impact. But I’m only guessing based on my own imagined restrictions. Here is my response:

So yes Hugh I agree! I agree with everything you said. And I love the term you have coined “Information Flaneur”. It is the perfect label for this concept of today’s librarian that you promote. It has that sophisticated French ring that resonates with the ideological salon discussions for which the French are famous. And who would not love a random wander around Paris? Pick me!

And….I love the minimalist design of your website – very cool! (Maybe about to undergo a facelift, refocus, or hiatus?)

So to the content of your blog post; because our job is all about the content don’t you think? Here is my response to your challenge:

I wrote back in 2008, that I see the “reference interview” as a unique conversation of shared discovery. So I agree with you. There is no pat model for new librarians. We need to find our way in a flexible, open, responsive, and helpful way that suits the needs of the customer. Our small advantage, even in this era of easy access to the information pile, is that we understand the architecture of how that information is created, gathered, stored, and distributed. So that allows us to be able to take some shortcuts that others might not know. We can shine a torch on our partnered wander in the dark, and hope not to end up in the catacombs – unless that is where we’d want to go; or where we enjoy going by accident.

I love this notion that you suggest by using the term “flaneur”; we can browse, not knowing what it is that we will find, and then be inspired to learn something new and random that could launch our lives into a direction previously unperceived. We don’t know what we don’t know. I love searching the subject headings in library catalogues using terms like “resilience” and then discovering a new book and author that I had not previously heard about. Such as Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment by Katrina Kenison. It is a great read for older women, empty-nesters, new at grieving for lost friends and family.

Back in 2011 and 2013, I researched Aussie Librarian bloggers because I enjoy reading about current trends and thinking in our field (like you). I wanted to know who was saying what. I was searching for opinion, but found little, except for a handful, of which yours stood out; and I complimented you for that.

Back in 2013, I researched library podcasts and found these and still listen occasionally.

You set the bar high Hugh. You are insightful, knowledgeable, well-read, and articulate. You display a generosity of spirit by inviting others to join in the conversation. But I think you do not want “yes-men”. Your online jousting with heavy-hitters such as R. D. Lankes about the pros and cons of 3D printers in libraries makes me think you enjoy getting your adrenalin pumping from these kinds of debates. You want to have your mind challenged and opened with new insights provided through passionate discussion, somewhat like the French salons of yesteryear. Me – I prefer mulling quietly.

So here are some possible reasons or excuses for the lack of meaningful and well-considered opinion online that we crave:

  • Organisational Policy – have you read the Social Media Policy of your governing organization? Silly question – of course you have. It is so restrictive that who would want to even peep (or tweet) about anything that could be remotely interpreted to be about work by your employers? And I have worked on a committee that created a Social Media Policy and Procedure for local government, so I realize both sides of the discussion. I notice though, that your posts talk about our profession rather than your employer. You are smart in that regard, but it would deter many others.
  • Time constraints – after a week of full-time work, who has time? How much time is left in a day after commuting, exercise, grocery shopping, cooking, eating, yoga, meditation, chores, reading (for pleasure and work), watching the next episode of Breaking Bad legally borrowed from the library, watching my son play football, and more. Who gets the time to write a well considered blog post, let alone read any?
  • Blank stares – you know that look you get when you say the word “blog”? You and I know it is all about the content and the web is just the platform and distribution media. Maybe we need to come up with a new term for blog? Got any French terms that would fit?
  • Powerlessness – further to the discussion about the mechanics of blogs is the lack of awareness there seems to be about how to harness the power of blogs by using software platforms and apps such as Feedly. This is another area where Librarians excel and can lead the way (if we manage to work past the glazed eyes). It astonishes me how many library professionals don’t know about this simple tool and how to use it for personal and professional development. To me it seems like a gardener who doesn’t use a wheelbarrow. (Although my wheelbarrow is a bit full and needs emptying and refilling.)
  • Self-protection – how open do you want to be online? Do you really want to reveal everything? You don’t and nor do I. But where do you draw the line? There is a valid push for people to be authentic online, and I applaud that approach. But really? And who cares? And what about trolls, haters, fraud, and opportunists?
  • Work versus personal – it’s important to have a focus for a blog I think, and our profession is perfect for writing about online, but even when you try to focus on our line of work, without discussing our employers, over time personal stuff gets in the way and affects what is on our mind and what we are willing to put up for public knowledge. I can think of a few blogs that I enjoyed reading that were sidetracked because cancer came into their lives. Over recent years I have had enormous personal life changes that have influenced the circumstances of my professional work.

So there you go Hugh: how’s that for a comment? I hope others in our industry jump to your little challenge. It has only taken me six months.

P.S. Good luck with the changes in your work scenario.

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Re-imagine your truth with IN-Q

I am listening to a podcast by Rich Roll, hearing him talk to IN-Q. I am inspired by their discussions about vulnerability, authenticity, honesty, and truth. IN-Q is a modern-day poet of note, rubbing shoulders with Cirque du Soleil, President Obama, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others.

Poetry is a beautiful genre that allows people to share their stories and speak their soul. ~ IN-Q

As a teen IN-Q wanted to be a rapper, and his poetry reflects modern day America. It is raw, witty, intelligent, spiritual, gritty, and moving.

The power of the passive

Typically as a Librarian, reader and book lover, I am an introvert. So I tend towards being quiet, reserved, shy, aloof, socially awkward, not fond of big groups of people, and private. I think, ponder, listen, discern, assess, appreciate, analyse, observe and evaluate: before I speak- usually.

MC900434752I like to weigh up arguments and information. Sometimes appearing wishy-washy, non-comprehending, or a fence-sitter; I can usually appreciate both sides of a situation, and without a vested interest, nor a full understanding about all of the facts of the matter, I am reluctant to side with either polarity. Life is not black and white, but yin and yang with a little bit of each in the other.

I don’t like small talk, but I admire the way extroverts so easily begin with small talk and quickly move a conversation into a more meaningful depth. I can’t do this. It’s not that I am not interested in the opinions or lives of other people; I just don’t like to pry. Over the years I have learnt to manage and overcome my fears to some degree, of course.

Lately I’ve realised that the conversations I am listening to and a part of, have taken place in a variety of ways. My conversations are virtual, online, via podcasts, in person, while involved in activity, with special groups such as Buddhists, Librarians, and local government staff.

This week I attended some presentations in Second Life. The topic was “preservation of audio-visual materials”. It was strange to be sitting at home at my desk looking at my PC, whilst also being involved as an avatar seated in a virtual room with other avatars listening, observing, taking photos, and being a part of the discussions. Two robots, a pirate, a girl with wings, and other cool guys and girls congregated – alter egos for the librarian-techie-geeks, seated in our homes across the country, enjoying a topic in which we share an interest.

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At work I gave a presentation in real life to a group of people about social media for our organisation. As a quiet listener, this does not come easily to me. But as they grapple with trying to control Facebook for work purposes, I tried to lead them deeper into the Web 2.0 world. They are only dipping in their toes (faces), while I was encouraging them to see the bigger picture. I tried to encourage them to create their own Personal Learning Network by providing them with a brief overview about how to do this. They looked at me with blank stares. These weren’t Librarians or people who work in libraries. Thankfully the library staff I work with are well up to speed with online tools.

Other conversations I am part of take place while cycling or enjoying the compulsory coffee afterwards. Also after sitting in meditation with a group of like-minded people, we chat about the meaning of life and how to be better at it.

I travel alone each day; a 50 minute trip to and from work; and I love to fill this time listening to podcasts. There are so many available now on a range of topics. So while I listen to someone speaking as if in conversation directly to me, I consider the absurdity of the situation. This person, who I don’t know, is sitting at their home alone speaking and recording into their PC, hoping that someone like me will find, listen to and appreciate their ramblings. I am currently listening to Dean Dwyer’s Make Shift Happen, Michael Hyatt’s This is Your Life, Steve Thomas’s Circulating Ideas, and others.

Feeling inferior and apologetic for most of my life for my bookish ways and failure to be extroverted, I am finally validated by the words of Susan Cain about the value of being quiet. I have read her book Quiet and enjoyed her TED talk. Thank you Susan.

Besides, all of these talkers, performers, teachers, and show-offs need an audience and who better than someone who is quiet, listens, observes, evaluates, and knows how to appreciate their efforts?

I am currently reading an eBook version of Make Shift Happen by Dean Dwyer, I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson, and The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain Ph.D. I am also reading my study materials for the subject Social Networking for Information Professionals.

On the radio

Ray Jones is a radio commentator on the local community radio station 3RPCFM in the Western districts of Victoria Australia. He is an older guy who has been around Portland his whole life.

Yesterday he interviewed me for his program. The purpose of the interview was to advertise an upcoming event. Maura the Clairvoyant Librarian is touring Victoria as part of the Victorian Public Libraries Summer Read program organised and sponsored by the State Library of Victoria. Maura will predict your next great book to read. She will be in Portland on the Town Green on Friday 15th January from 11:00am until 2:00pm. The pre-recorded radio interview goes to air on Sunday 10th January and Wednesday 13th January during Ray’s program.

It was an interesting interview and Ray posed some tricky questions, that I was unprepared for. He posed the problem of the possibility of the internet crashing with far-reaching effects, and how our community depends so heavily on its functions. He talked about the deterioration of the English language and asked me who was to blame. He asked if I remembered Cuisenaire. I do.

I responded as the thoughts came to me. I told him (and the listener) that I had recently listened to the talk by Bill Thompson at The Big Issues conference held at the State Library of Victoria. Bill is a journalist from the UK and a commentator on technology and future trends. He stated that the current wave of online based technology is just in its infancy and no-one can predict what or how we will be using this type of technology in five years time.

I commented that the changes we see in English language usage – the deterioration of spelling and grammar (and perhaps our ability to express ourselves and communicate effectively) will only continue to get worse in my opinion. This is mainly due to the growing popularity and accessibility of online writing and conversations, such as this blog. I know my English language skills are not great and I do in fact blame the schooling system in the Victorian public schools in the 1970’s. Grammar was scrapped from the curriculum. (At least it was at the school I attended). I have had to work hard since then to try to bring my writing skills to an acceptable standard.

But further to that we all see how people abbreviate words for SMSing and the sentence constructions when using Twitter and Facebook. How long will it be before teachers start seeing this type of spelling appearing in school work? Maybe it is already.

By the way, Maura is not really clairvoyant, but a performer!! I think so anyway. I have been asked by customers if she is really a clairvoyant.

I have just finished reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. It is the second in the trilogy and I loved it as much as the first one The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I can imagine the movie with Bruce Willis playing the role of Mikael Blomkvist. What do you think?

Blogging in 2009

Many people still don’t understand the power of blogging. And many others who think they do, try to run before they can walk, in my opinion. So to begin with often you first need to explain what a blog is, and often “online journal” does not come close to describing what a blog can do for you. Even when you feel you have adequately explained it, you may still get glazed-over eyes staring blankly back at you. Because, really, who wants to read the ideas of some random stranger rambling on and on, and worse still promoting themselves shamelessly?

So first take baby steps before trying to run. I think you really need to read and listen to others first before launching yourself straight away into preaching to the masses. By reading varied blogs from many different sources it educates you and you learn many important steps in the process – some technical, some social, some literary, and much food for thought. This all helps you to develop as a blogger before you set yourself up and start adding your voice to the noise.

Having a list of favourite blog sites in your delicious account or favourites list on your pc is a clumsy way to manage this regular reading task. The backbone of blogging is the RSS delivery method, so the easy way to do this is to set up a blog (RSS) reader. Google Reader handles this beautifully. I can’t understand why so many people don’t get this part of the process because in my experience this has been the major means for my online learning and professional development.

In 2004 when I first set up a blog reader and started subscribing to blogs to read I had 28 feeds from different bloggers. I surveyed the Australian libraries at that time to see who was supplying news via RSS feeds and I found only two. Now you would be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t use this means as part of their marketing and advertising program. I presented a how-to session to a group of local librarians so they could set up blog readers for themselves and hopefully launch themselves into an efficient and effective learning experience, like I had done.

Setting up the blog reader is The Tool for becoming a Master Surfer of the Web.

It allows you to tailor your information needs to suit yourself and effectively ignore the things you have no interest in. It allows you to listen first, then learn, then grow, then develop, so that finally you might be worthy of publishing your own ideas online and finding an audience for those ideas.

Now in 2009, this week I have sorted my RSS feeds. I had 116 feeds. Of those 15 had not updated in the last 12 months or more and I deleted these. Another 12 had not updated in the last 6 months so I am watching those and may delete them too. I now have 94 feeds and these are organised into the categories of: Art, Books, Creativity, Design, Education, Football, French blogs, Friends, Humour, Jobs, Library, Marketing, News, Real Estate, Travel, Web Technology, and Zen.

After reading blogs first, then learning, in 2006 I felt I was ready to write online.  I wrote a blog titled Blog of a Footballer’s Mother chronicling my son’s experience as he worked towards AFL selection. This blog had a single focus and a necessary end point.

I began my personal blog Sues Bent in March of 2008 and it offers ideas that come to me in my work as a Librarian. I simultaneously write about my interest in French lifestyle and culture at French Accent. I am humble and hesitant about offering my contributions to the growing noise and garble online. I continually question the validity of the process and try not to publish if I have nothing worthwhile to say. I always use my own original ideas, text, and images and never steal from others online or otherwise. It is obvious when people do this and it immediately robs them of credibility and integrity. It is heaps more fun to be original anyway, so start creating your own images to illustrate your blog posts.my desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See my presentation on this topic here.

Zen and the Art of the Reference Interview

Recently I have been prompted to examine the procedure I follow when undertaking a typical Reference Interview. The Reference Interview is the enquiry process that occurs when a person asks a Librarian for some information. It is something I do without thinking about and I follow a procedure that is typical of all Librarians working in Information Services for customers. It is the nature of our work. It is the basis of our training and study. It is second-nature.

So the process is that the customer approaches (sometimes hesitantly) and I smile and ask “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help you?” The questions will vary from: being direct, well-defined, and fast and easy to accommodate, to vague, unsure, complex, deep and involved. They will often ask “Have you got the book “Such and such?” or “Have you got the latest book by “Whoshewhatsit?” or perhaps “Can I order the next DVD in the series “TV show?” I will check the library catalogue at the PC near me and advise the customer. If we don’t have it I will try to determine the age of the item and look online to see if it is still in print, check at other libraries via the Libraries Australia website or Libraries Link and advise the customer. I will order it in for them whenever appropriate and that is more often than not. I will use Google and Amazon as last resorts but most often I have located the information before that.

When a question is vague, general, or ill-defined I will often take the customer to the book shelves where we can browse together while continuing with the conversation and the “reference interview”. This helps the customer hone in on their needs and also introduces them to the arrangement and scope of the collection we offer.

Sometimes a question may go beyond the scope of the public library; questions like “I want to read the history of the Australian 15th Battalion in World War 2. Can you help?” Of course I will follow the same procedure of checking our resources, but inevitably I will end up at the Australian War Memorial website and search their online resources. In this case the gentleman had already visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and asked the staff there the same question, so he was way ahead of me. This came to light in the course of our conversation.

The point I wish to highlight is that each question is unique, as is each person who asks a question. I approach each question afresh and with the aim to open a conversation with this person; a conversation that is fluid, natural, flexible, unique, and engaging. I will follow my intuition and try to respond accordingly. There is no pat academic explanation to a process I follow by instinct, despite the fact that I do indeed loosely follow a procedure that is typical of all fellow Librarians or Information Professionals. I do not want to appear automated, stilted, academic, procedural, like I’m ticking all the boxes, robotic, bureaucratic, nor condescending. I merely want to engage in an exploration of resources with a fellow human being and in that interaction discover things together.

I relish the challenge and mental gymnastics required over the course of a days work helping people find the answers to their diverse questions. I love the thrill of the hunt that draws on my detective skills and lateral thinking ability. I enjoy the new things I learn by default from other people’s enquiries. And more importantly I feel my life is enriched by the small everyday relationships that develop along the way.