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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Choose your Guru

Have you noticed how many self-proclaimed gurus there are on the internet now? With the blossoming of online social networking there have emerged, dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people happily doling out advice to anyone who will listen.

Who are these experts? And what makes them so knowledgeable? Many I’ve noticed are perhaps 20-something in age. Have they lived? Learned? Made mistakes? The confidence, certainty, and arrogance with which many espouse their views stun me. They preach and prattle and fill blog after blog with dot-point precision. Here is a random selection: How to become a Level 80 Twitter Ninja; How to go tribal and sell a truckload of books; Nine Ways To Build a Bridge Between Who You Were and Who You AreThe You, the Me and the We – How I’m Changing How I Use Twitter | Stayin’ Alive; Choose the Bigger Life; No Pressure Knitting. And I could add many more examples but I’m sure you’ve found your own. Everyone is an expert.

Now I realise that many use the social networking neighbourhood for their own self-improvement and education and blogging about it is their way of sorting through the crap and working out their own ideas. But to offer these often infantile notions firmly as well thought out, tried and true rules for living is ridiculous in my humble opinion. I don’t mind reading some of these blogs and twitters but the increase in the number of people doing this is astonishing. And some appear to have all the authenticity and credibility of a Snake Oil Salesman. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this.

mandelbrot-set

Where are the humble folk who stumble through life like me? The older I get, the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. Life is chaos and can present things to you that you had never imagined. Life can’t be totally planned, controlled or “manifested”. Perhaps because this is my belief then it is my experience. But I do find solace in the Chaos Theory because I don’t have much faith in the attempts of Man to tame the world to the one I would choose. I prefer to believe a higher power holds the aces and will create a world that is far more enriching and awesome and unbelievable than what my humble mind can imagine. So I enjoy seeing the weeds appear in the cracks in the concrete. I am in awe of the Mandelbrot set. I love to see the NASA images from the Hubble telescope of the worlds beyond this Earth.

The philosophies I like to live by in dot-points and at this point in time are:

  • Leave no footprints
  • The Theory of Chaos
  • Live in The Now
  • Be Kind
  • Create your own life
  • Do stuff
  • Keep it simple
  • Appreciate and be grateful
  • Learn more stuff
  • Be optimistic
  • See The Big Picture
  • Be authentic

There remain the constant big names in personal development who have written books on the topic, established themselves as leading thinkers, and have now joined the social networking scene: The Dalai Lama; Deepak Chopra; Dr. Wayne Dyer; Marianne Williamson; Eckhart Tolle, and others. Of course the wisdom of the ages can’t be ignored and these sources stand apart: The Bible; the teachings of Buddha; the words of Jesus Christ; A Course In Miracles; etc, etc. You know them as well as I do.

Newcomers to the scene who are making an impression are: Leo Babauta of Zen Habits; Gary Vayerchuk. But the stampede for recognition in this area is scary. What are they hoping for? A well paid talking circuit? 68,000 followers on Twitter or Facebook? Nirvana? Bliss? Who knows? Not me!

Here are some more dot-points which form my humble advice about how to live a happy fulfilling life:

  • Turn off the computer/laptop/mobile phone/handheld device/whatever
  • Look up from the screen
  • Pat your cat and hear it purr
  • Look out the window
  • Go outside – yes outside!
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Take your kids to the local park or playground
  • Kick a football or throw a ball
  • Walk down the street
  • Talk to a local – then really listen to what they have to say
  • Have a coffee and a chat with a friend at a local cafe
  • Return home
  • Have a conversation with a family member
  • Cook a healthy meal
  • Smile
  • Get a good night’s sleep

Indeed reject my advice in favour of your own self-discovered words of wisdom and lifestyle.