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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Zen, quality and labels

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was first published in 1974 and is one of my all-time favourite books. It follows a couple of motorcyclists as they tour around the United States. Whilst on this trip the orator ponders the concept of Quality. Calling this discussion a Chautauqua, he begins with, “Quality…you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is.”  The geyser at Yellowstone National Park is used as one example of this, saying that by putting a sign on the natural wonder of the geyser, labeling it, the quality of the spectacle in diminished.  I agree with this notion. It reminds you that someone else has seen this before your own discovery. And not only that, but they have named it, described it, and labeled it. This robs you of some essential and unique experience. It places in your mind smaller notions of the possibility of the natural wonder that it is.

 

We could apply this to all natural wonders. Pristine environments retain the ability to inspire and fill us with humility. Put a sign on it, a fence around it, and describe it and the awe is gone. Our own sense of personal discovery and adventure is stolen by small minds.

 

This argument applies to people too. Do we all fall into the false habit of labeling people, if not out loud, then certainly in our minds? This person is a baby-boomer. That person is old. That one is young. And the labels go on. This diminishes the person and impedes the labeler’s potential for an authentic interaction with the person they label. It detracts from the Quality of the relationship and fails to allow for a deeper experience to the detriment of everyone in our community.

 

Librarians are labelers; if not by nature then certainly by vocation. It serves as a way to find stuff and that is the crux of the job. It can be a pitfall though if it becomes habitual and when applied outside of the realm of information and artifacts.

 

Pirsig later states, through his character Phaedrus; “Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is recognized by a nonthinking process. Because definitions are a product of rigid, formal thinking, quality cannot be defined.” To me that states that quality and labeling are mutually exclusive. Is this correct? Food for thought.

 

I’d like to see an end to this trend of putting people into small inaccurate categories. The reality is that we are all here now in this time and space experiencing this world together as humans! The similarities of that experience are far greater that the differences, and the complexities and ever-changing variants that reside inside each individual cannot be neatly tied up with one meager label.

 

I was interested to know if this discussion about quality had continued since Pirsig’s novel in 1974 and so I did a bit of web-searching. I was thrilled to find the Metaphysics of Quality website and this provides a very detailed and academic discussion.

 

I am taking an ebreak to explore this beautiful physical Earth of ours. Au revoir. A bientot!

Online personas

Walking briskly along the track after work I pondered the incongruity of online personas.

 

At the simplest level there are the super-hero cartoon avatars on Second Life that may represent the real life homely cake-loving knitter. (Not that there’s anything wrong with cake or knitting!) There are the more complex, fluent, grammatically-correct and over-wordy bloggers who write online like there’s no tomorrow.

 

Then there is Eckhart Tolle! He has my mind ticking over on so many levels. The content of his books shove my consciousness sideways as I consider his theories. But then there is the man! Seeing him on YouTube speaking to an audience while wearing a gold vest stunned me. In A New Earth he tells us that the path to enlightenment requires us to recognise our ego as being separate to our Self. So the vest seems at odds with his message.

 

The shadows from the Banksia trees grew darker as I followed the path. I wondered how to shape my words to find some clarity. Don’t mistake the message from the messenger, is wise advice to recall, and this applies to online personas as well. To criticise and be judgemental is not my intention. Finding integrity in both the message and the messenger is what I listen for.

 

The beauty of Web 2.0 is that it builds bridges across the chasms created by geography, distance, age, gender, race, education and lifestyle. We can connect with like-minded others in a positive way; reading, appreciating, connecting and affirming others lives; and this enriches us all.

 

Just be aware that even if people are honest online and aren’t hiding behind a fictional character, a wall of well-placed words, or a super-hero vest, we still can’t really know the real person behind the online persona. In the words of Mr. Tolle himself, “All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg.” And even less so online.

 

U2 3D at the cinema was fantastic. I swear drops of sweat from Bono fell on me as I reached out to touch his hand.  Powerful message, powerfully delivered by cool messengers!!