CategoryLibrarianship

Come Down and Play Around

One of the best things about the old biblioblogosphere… a term I will continue to use even though, or especially because, it probably annoys people. See also: webinar.

Ahem.

One of the best things about the old biblioblogosphere was when one librarian wrote a post, then another librarian picked up on that post and expanded it, and then another librarian took the idea into another direction. It wasn’t that we all felt we needed to have our own take on a topic (although sometimes it could feel that way). We were just inspired by each other and that inspiration lead to an interesting kind of collaboration.

The rise of social media platforms changed the way we interacted with each other. In theory, social media made conversations more linear and compact, but in practice it took away from the way we expanded on and cultivated our thoughts through our blogs.

It made sense for us to set up shops in social media. In “Back to the Blog,” Dan Cohen writes, “Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that ‘others are here’—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site.”

Meredith Farkas writes about what we gave up to join those centralized platforms in her post “We are atomized. We are monetized. We are ephemera. Do we deserve more online?

What was most frustrating about blogs was the distributed nature of the conversation, but moving to a centralized space destroyed the close sense of community, at least for me. In the move from blogs to the centralized ecosystem, what we gained in the ease of connection and the quantity of connections we lost in quality of those connections.

Kathryn Greenhill echoes the sentiment in “Ten years after Peak Biblioblogging.”

I think this move away from our self-hosted blogging platforms, as much as us all moving on to other responsibilities and interests, eroded that daily “I will post in my blog or comment on three others this morning because if I do then this great conversation and growth of knowledge and ideas will keep going.”

To be fair, we were able to create a vibrant community on particular social media services. Kathryn alludes to Meebo, which along with FriendFeed was part of the epicenter of that community. (If you’re not familiar with either, I describe them both briefly in “A Post About Slack That Isn’t Really About Slack.”) But that meant we ceded control of our conversations and our ideas to entities that would shut down our spaces as soon as it was no longer viable to keep them going. Moving to other social media platforms doesn’t really solve the problem. As Meredith puts it, “We’re also giving ourselves — or at least our digital representations and content — to companies that don’t protect us in any meaningful way (from others or themselves).”

Fiona Bradley expands on this in “What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts?

I posted about some of the reasons why I restarted this blog a couple of months back (with a note about some life changes). A sense of ownership and control over my identity is among them. I had the opportunity to work on policy and advocacy around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) before leaving the UK, which made me keenly aware of the ways in which many companies did not give us choices about what they collect and how, until they were forced to.

Taking all that into consideration, I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that a lot of us almost simultaneously started to think about this topic and started to blog about it. To wit: Chad Boeninger notes that he began working on his post “Is this thing on?” before Meredith published her post.

Also, I spent four days trying to come up with a summary of what I am writing about here and Chad just nails it when he writes:

Possibly related to my recent interest in writing again is social media has got me down lately. There’s lots of sharing but not much caring.  I’ve always liked the sharing aspect of blogging.

So I am giddy that folks like Fiona, Tara Murray, and Morgan Wilson restarted their blogs this year after long hiatuses. “These days, a librarian type blog which is active and has posted within the last year or so is kind of special,” Morgan says in “Return of the Blog Roll.”

But I think the time is right for more library blogs to come back or start up. In “Library blogs reach mid-career,” Tara writes, “It seems many of us are about the same age and are struggling with the same kinds of issues.” A long Twitter thread or a detailed Facebook post just doesn’t seem to be the right place for us to work out those issues and “Like” buttons aren’t enough to fully express our solidarity.

Be Who You Are

It’s been 10 years since I received my MLS from Maryland. Much of what I learned in library school has been supplanted by the progress of time, the faster progress of technology, and my ever-evolving duties at work. Like, does anyone still use AACR2?

It’s also been seven years since I took my current job. I was hired as a Cataloging and Metadata Specialist, but my title now is Program Evaluation, Applied Technology & Information Resource Contractor. It’s a bit of a mouthful and I am hoping we can make it more succinct on my next work order. But it does reflect how my job has evolved since 2010.

I probably have been a bit too over-eager to pick up new duties. My supervisors worry about burnout and, given my bouts of anxiety, I can understand where they are coming from. I can get overwhelmed and only manage the most humdrum tasks while I recover. Although proofreading spreadsheets is surprisingly relaxing.

But I am also happy to take on new projects because they keep me on my toes and keep me from being too complacent. (Not that it’s easy to be complacent these days.) They also give me new perspective on what I already do and inspire new ways to think about the tasks I already have.

It is easy for me to get bogged down in minutiae and worn down by day-to-day frustrations. I never want to lose sight of the fact that I am lucky to have the job that I have. Is it the same job I took in 2010? Nope, but I don’t mind one bit.

The Future Fades Away Too Fast

Did I just spend the better part of a week building a blogroll?

Yes. Yes I did.

I was feeling nostalgic for the days when librarian blogs were the newest in new, especially after reading Meredith Farkas’ terrific post, “Wayfinding and balance at mid-career.” It’s the type of thoughtful writing that blogs are made for. I risk sounding like an old fogey here, but a Twitter thread wouldn’t have done the subject justice.

My nostalgia was fueled further by reading “Small b blogging” by Tom Critchlow:

I think most people would be better served by subscribing to small b blogging. What you want is something with YOUR personality. Writing and ideas that are addressable (i.e. you can find and link to them easily in the future) and archived (i.e. you have a list of things you’ve written all in one place rather than spread across publications and URLs) and memorable (i.e. has your own design, logo or style). Writing that can live and breathe in small networks. Scale be damned.

Librarian blogs never were what he calls “big B blogging,” the type of blogs whose posts would populate Digg’s front page. Even if we sometimes made a splash on a site like Metafilter, we were always writing for a niche audience. You know, librarian blog people.

I lament that an era has passed where something like the Carnival of the Infosciences could thrive. More often than not, the blogs featured in the Carnival archives are either gone or long dormant. Hell, I contributed to the detritus myself.

So I hope that Critchlow is right and small b blogging is the wave of the future. Then the conditions would be right for the biblioblogosphere to grow again. Maybe I’m an old, sentimental fool, but I’ve got to keep writing just in case.

Fernweh

Just over 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-week study tour of Germany’s federal and state libraries. The tour was sponsored by the Initiative Fortbildung für wissenschaftliche Spezialbibliotheken und verwandte Einrichtungen e. V. and the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation. I was the webmaster for SLA’s Government Information Division at the time and was recommended for the tour by DGI’s then-chair Peggy Garvin.

I was still in graduate school at the time, but it was a pivotal moment in my professional career. Among the participants on the tour were Eileen Deegan from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Information Resources and Fran Perros from State’s Ralph Bunche Library. I stayed in touch with them after the tour (which was easy to do since I served as DGI’s chair-elect when Eileen was chair). Three years after the tour, they recommended me for a contract position at the Office of Information Resources. The office is now called the Office of American Spaces, but I have been there ever since.

While on the tour, I met with an Information Resource Officer named Sheila Weir. It was the first time I knew that there was such a thing as a foreign service librarian. (Or Regional Public Engagement Specialist, as they are now called. We like to change the names of things at State.) While I never did run off to join the foreign service like I thought I was going to, I am at least happy enough to live vicariously through the FSOs I work with now. Sheila eventually became my supervisor in the Office of American Spaces, because it’s a small world and Washington, DC is a small town.

Anyway, before the tour started, Dr. Curtis Rogers started up a blog to share information ahead of the trip. He was nice enough to make me an editor. I wrote recaps of the tour for my old website, but I eventually moved those recaps to the group blog. I had embedded photos from my old Flickr account into my posts. When I took the Flickr account down, I inadvertently broke all the photos on the site. So I spent some time this weekend uploading the photos to the blog. What can I say, I will look for any excuse to look through old photo albums. And old blog posts.

By the way, one of my favorite photos I took on the trip is the one to the left. It is a surfer in the Isar River. There was a bridge we walked over when we were heading to the Bavarian Parliament, and it just so happened that this spot acted like a little wave pool in the river. There were a group of surfers hanging out there and, fitting into certain German stereotypes, a couple of them had no problem changing out of their wetsuits in front of everyone.

I’ve wanted to go back to Germany ever since, particularly to Berlin. Outside of layovers in Frankfurt and Munich, I haven’t had the chance yet. At some point I need to, though, because the t-shirt I bought at the Ramones Museum isn’t getting any newer.

Scrawled Down On a Cocktail Napkin

I am going through old notes, long-deleted blog posts, and various weirdly-titled docs on my hard drive to generate ideas for the blog, for work, and for whatever else may come my way. I’m a habitual note-taker, so I figure I have a lot of stuff to write about if I can just extract it from my notebooks. And also read my own writing.

I’m just getting started, but I wanted to share a couple of things I scrawled down during the 2016 Computers In Libraries conference. These are both good guiding credos for this site moving forward.

1. Always communicate your value. It is not self-evident.

I had a colleague once complain to me that I shouldn’t have to justify the costs of research databases in our budget because everyone knows how important they are. But that’s not true. Every librarian knows that, but we are not everyone. We are not our users and we are not our stakeholders. We cannot assume that everyone values what we do, so we need to explain our importance in a succinct and memorable way.

2. Keep it clean and make it findable.

If there is any sort of sweeping, broad statement that we can make about our users, it is that they just want to know where they need to go to accomplish what they want to do. It is our job to make that as easy as possible. And they will expect that from us, because we communicated our value to them.

© 2018 Chris Zammarelli

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