librarianship

A decade in Libraries: it's more fragmented now, but that's okay

 

10 years ago last month, I started my first job in the Information profession.

This is the New Horizons space probe, which launched in the same month as my own journey through librarianship (**HONKINGLY TRITE JOURNEY METAPHOR KLAXON**) trying to get to Pluto. It got there last year - my daughter was 2 that day and I deeply regretted not taking annual leave for her birthday. Other things that happened in my first month in this profession included Charlie Kennedy resigning from the Lib Dems and a whale swimming in the Thames. #AbsoluteScenes

This is the New Horizons space probe, which launched in the same month as my own journey through librarianship (**HONKINGLY TRITE JOURNEY METAPHOR KLAXON**) trying to get to Pluto. It got there last year - my daughter was 2 that day and I deeply regretted not taking annual leave for her birthday. Other things that happened in my first month in this profession included Charlie Kennedy resigning from the Lib Dems and a whale swimming in the Thames. #AbsoluteScenes

It was a Customer Services role at the University of Leeds: back then I was fine with the term 'customer' in a library context, actively pleased about it in fact, and right away my Dad began the process of helping me understand how wrong I was... I had no intention to stay in library work - it was a temporary measure, and I wasn't even first choice for the job: I'd been interviewed months earlier and was first reserve for if anything came up! But it turned out to be about a million times more interesting than I expected, so I stuck around. (There's more on my library roots here. Remember the Library Routes Project? That was great. The wiki has gone but you can still find people's blog posts about how they got into this profession.)

A lot has happened to the industry and the profession in the last 10 years (there are many fewer libraries open, for a start), and there are people who'd be much better at documenting it than me. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the profession has become much more fragmented. There are many groups and sub-groups and splinter groups, and we don't speak with one voice very often. This is undoubtedly sad, but it's also completely inevitable.

People tend to regress towards the mean, by which I mean most of us see what's normal and that at least influences our thinking. The great thing about social media and the connected world is that there are so MANY means, so many normals - everyone can find their tribe. (This, of course, has its downsides in the wider context - idiots and hateful people can find other idiots to legitimise their hate. But that's not what this post is about.) So if you have a set of views, and you find others who share them, then you can DEVELOP those views rather have your rough edges smoothed off and your rebellion derailed... So I don't think we can really bemoan our fragmented profession - in a way it should always have been like this, but people couldn't find each other so easily before. Views and voices were more homogenised than they are now. It's true it would be easier to get things done if we all felt the same and agreed on everything - but given that isn't going to happen, we can all make progress on a local level, making our services the best they can be, and contributing to our communities in meaningful ways.

Over the last 10 years I've fallen in and out of love with various library organisations, I've said and done some things I'm proud of and some I cringe when I remember, and I've had amazing experiences I could never have predicted. The constant through all this has been the people - librarians are, for the most part, a magnificent community to be a part of. We are supportive. We share things. We talk openly about failures so others can learn from them, and we don't closely guard our successes so others can benefit from them too. We build meaningful networks online and in person and help each other get things done.

Of course there are exceptions to this happy picture, but that's the case in any large group of people. The trick is to work out who needs to blend into the background noise, and who might be on to something useful that can change the way you think...

If you read this blog, or are / have been part of my Twitter network, or if I've chatted to you at conferences or via email, thank you for helping shape my views and experiences over the last 10 years.


Image by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Applied Physics Laboratory - "PEPSSI Instrument Tastes Pluto's Atmosphere" from the Applied Physics Laboratory New Horizons website., Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41340864

 

Some changes to my blog & how I write about librarianship

 

For a while I've been planning to create a new website, so when my hosting of thewikiman.org came up for renewal, I took the plunge and switched over to squarespace. If you're reading this in a feedreader, go to ned-potter.com and have a look! I'm also changing focus somewhat.

A subtle change to the blog

The blog is still the main thing people will look at on the site, and this has been cleaned up a little in keeping with the site's revamp, with a less fussy design.

The tagline used to be 'Ideas about Information' - but I've changed it to Ideas about Communication. That's where most of my interests lie now, and although I'll probably write about librarianship, those posts will be about the communication side of that too. Edtech, scholarly comms, social media, marketing, presentation skills - it's all communication in one form or another.

Librarianship is fairly divided at the moment, at least in the online bubble I inhabit, and I find myself in the tricky position of both disagreeing with a lot of what is said and some of the prevailing ideologies, and agreeing that the increasing infighting isn't getting us anywhere. So I'm choosing, for the most part, not to add to the fractious noise.

When I started blogging, in 2009, it felt like a lot more of us were on the same page, and there was a greater harmony. I may, of course, have simply had too small (and like-minded) a network to form a proper overview of the dialogue within the profession, and just missed all the fighting that was happening back then. Either way, things feel a lot more complicated now - like some cliched coming-of-age movie, where the characters grow apart as their lives become more complex. Part of me thinks this is an almost inevitable consequence of the fragmented world social media enables - as more and more of us get online, and find our tribes, those tribes get more and more granular and specific. We're all finding our people, which is great. But as we sub-divide further, consensus becomes ever harder to achieve.

I'm not sure what we can do about that. Everyone is fighting for what they believe in, and it's very difficult to sit back and not challenge things you find troubling (although I've been doing that a lot on Twitter this year, and it's getting easier) - but if there are very different view-points, from lots of people who don't want to leave things unchallenged, inevitably you get a lot of disagreement. And as a lot of people have been saying recently, it's not really helping anything all that much. There have been times in the past where I've wanted to try and change librarianship or libraries per se, and even felt able to (if only on an absolutely minute scale). But I'm not sure if that's a realistic aim at the moment, so why add to the conflict?

As it happens, I do still believe I can help change individual libraries and organisations for the better, especially in the field of communicating well - and I'm happy with that less lofty aim. So I'll stick with that, for the most part, from now on.

Anyway, on to less contentious things!

What's new on the site?

I've added a couple of pages I should have had years ago. There's a Library Marketing Toolkit page linked from the main Publications page, including details of how to order and lots of reviews (some of which I found whilst preparing the page, having not seen them before, which was nice!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've also added a Training page to detail the various workshops I run. This has got fairly comprehensive information about the four main types of training (Presentation Skills, Emerging Technologies, Social Media, and Pure Marketing) I do for various organisations, as well as feedback for previous courses in each area. Part of the reason I've not had a proper page like this before is I've not been actively pushing the training - I have a steady stream of freelance work coming in and there's only so much time in which to do it. But for various reasons I'm looking to increase that side of things slightly in the short term, so if you'd like me to run something for your organisation, please get in touch.

The Publications page has been revamped to be a little less messy, and the Events are now split into Past Talks and Upcoming things, that last one now being now much more useful with proper location details including maps, etc.

Where's thewikiman.org gone?

All the old links to thewikiman.org URLs still work, but I've decided to go with ned-potter.com. I may blog about this at a later date but basically if I knew in 2009 what I know now, I would have done everything online under my own name... So I'm trying to do that now where possible. Speaking of which:

Where's @theREALwikiman gone?

I've also changed my Twitter name to @ned_potter. The name 'thewikiman' was born out of a) the fact that I orginally set up a blog to document the creation of a wiki (I know! I'm sure there IS a less exciting idea in existence, I just can't think of it right now) so it was relevant for about a month until got bored with writing about a wiki, and b) because I didn't really know anything about online footprints, so thought having a sort of 'nom-de-2.0' was important.

@theREALwikiman came about because '@thewikiman' was already taken on twitter at the time - but what I chose was a ridiculous name, and stupidly long for Twitter. People conversing with me used up most of the available characters just on my username and had hardly any space left for conversation... So, it's dispensed with. I feel like back when I joined Twitter and started blogging I was playing at having an online identity, whereas now I actually have one - and I'd rather it was under my own name.

Why make a new site?

If anyone has read this far down and is interested, the reason for doing this is basically that my website making skills are really limited so I wanted a way to make a nicer, more functional site than I had previously. I designed the old version of the site just writing in raw xhtml, and it was fine, but web publishing has moved on. Only the blog part of the old version worked well on mobiles, and that was adaptive - this whole site has a responsive design, which is the way forward. Try resizing your browser window and you'll see all the elements of the site are retained, just repositioned to suit the adjusted size of the screen. So it works well on all sizes of mobile devices without losing anything - adaptive design means you have a separate mobile version, often with some content stripped away. Anyway, overall I think the whole site feels fresher. I like the fact that the shift in focus of the blog is reflected in a shift in the way the whole site works too.

I loved my old wordpress.org blog but there were so many plugins that constantly needed updating, or which no longer worked, and I paid for hosting costs based on the bandwidth I guessed I'd need, which always stressed me out (previously having had to upgrade when the site went down due to the bandwidth of my old package having been exceeded!) - so I've swapped something which needed a bit of upkeep to something with one package that covers everything in a fairly easy to manage way. I've found squarespace to be very helpful with good support etc, so I'm pleased with it all so far.

The only thing I don't know about carrying over is the blog subscriptions. This is the first post under the new system - I really, really hope I've made it so the old thewikiman blog feed still produces posts, as there are between 1500 and 2000 subscribers to the feed - I know that these days that doesn't mean all those people are actually reading the posts, of course! But I'd prefer to keep them as subscribers than have to start afresh. So if you're reading this in a feedreader then can you let me know via a tweet or something?

And if you're reading this in a reader then woohoo, it worked!

 

 

A guide to networking for new librarians

I was really pleased to take part in the Annual programme for the ALA's New Members Round Table, last week - it was a webinar and the whole thing was recorded. You can watch and listen to it online here (it opens in Adobe Connect) - I talk about the 'What' of networking (starting around the five-and-half-minute mark) and finish things off with the 'Why' (around 42 minutes) - in between the How, Who, Where and When are covered by Loida Garcia-Febo, Courtney Young, JP Pocaro and Pat Hawthorne respectively. A screengrab from the webinar

Huge thanks to Bohyun Kim for inviting me to present - it was nice to take advantage of the technology to do something with the ALA without having to be at the conference in the US, and I enjoyed the webinar a lot. Appropriately, I made a few connections at the event and found it to be good networking experience.

Being forced to define networking for the purposes of the talk, and take a step back and look at what it means and involves, was a revealing experience, in particular because it made me realise how much of what I think about having a brand can apply to networking. In particular:

  • Networking, like developing a brand, is a means to an end and that end is opportunities to do interesting or fun things - you meet and connect with people who expand your horizons, expose you to new ideas, and collaborate with you to do cool stuff. (Unlike brand networking is also an end in itself - it's just fun to talk to nice people.)
  • If developing a brand is a natural byproduct of pursuing your professional interests in as networked a way as possible, then developing a network is a natural byproduct of the same thing, really.
  • Related to the above: in my experience it's easiest to develop a network by positioning yourself as part of the dialogue in librarianship and contributing, than for example saying 'I'm going to make X connections' and actually setting out specifically to develop a network or market yourself .

I find my network (essentially: you lot) to be THE single most useful thing in my professional life, and in the webinar I reflected on a clear delineation (marked by the 2009 New Professionals Conference) of pre-networked-Ned and networked-Ned - all the interesting things have happened in the latter period. I could neither have written my book nor got my current job without my network. So a: thank you! And b: if you're wondering about taking the plunge and networking more, it's worth it. Becoming part of something bigger is a great thing.

- thewikiman

Average is no longer enough? Noted. Now let's move on.

Picture of a spoon A lot is being made of the fact that in librarianship, Average is No Longer Enough. Was average enough at some point previously? Possibly; it doesn't matter. What matters is that there are enough librarians in the profession who love it enough that they don't want to be average, rather than reluctantly excelling themselves because they've been told to do so at a conference or by a blog post.

I predict that the total number of information professionals (in the current understanding of the word) will shrink at a fairly steady rate during my career. The Average will probably be the first to go (the Really Bad being, in my experience, remarkably stubborn). It'll be a Darwinian process - the people that really love this will probably be strong enough to survive, because they're the ones likely to be enthusiastic about embracing new challenges.

In a job market where there are far more qualified professionals than there are professional posts, the whole idea of trying to turn the drifters into yet more super-librarians is perverse anyway. The people who think average is enough are probably never at the kind of events where people say it isn't. Let's stop telling each other what we already know, take the non-existence of THE SPOON as read, and use our time in conferences and on social media to talk about something more useful - like specifically HOW to find your 'extra' rather than just the fact that you need to.

- thewikiman 

p.s Please use the Comments section for all puns about what mean-spirited post this is. :)

Libraries are about people - so where's the personality?

Picture of a lovely robot I think we can all accept that people have become very important in librarianship. It is the people who make the difference between the library and the internet, the people who add the value which makes libraries more than a warehouse full of books, it is the people who teach and educate and train users, it is the people whose visions inform the new directions libraries are taking.

At SLA2011, a lot of people said “There are loads of presentations, across loads of chapters and divisions – but it’s the people who that you really want to focus on. The value lies with the individuals.” The tweets emerging from ALA11 seemed to indicate the same things - @JustinLibrarian saying “What I learned at #ala11: sure, exhibits and panels are great, but the true power of the organization is in people” for example.

I think that while we can accept this as true, it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the deeper professional psyche as to what libraries are, and what they are for. When there are grants or external funding, they seldom get spent on people. When there are marketing campaigns, they rarely feature the people. (Library marketing books often talk about The Four Ps of marketing. Guess what - none of them are People.) When there are cuts, it’s often the people who go first.  It’s still the resources which are king in libraryland, and I’m not sure this will work as well in future.

At his spotlight session during SLA2011, Stephen Abram said the key thing about all the new tech changing the way we all work is not the technology itself, but about representing our role (as information professionals) within that technology. Which is to say, we’re the people who can make it work for our patrons and customers. We need to remind people more explicitly that the value lies with us - each particular 'us' that works at each specific library. Stephen later pointed out to me that automated process are increasingly common, so eventually we could keep libraries open but get rid of almost all staff - but they will find it a lot harder to do that to us if we can successfully  emphasise more clearly the role of the individuals. We know that our value lies in our expertise, but does our approach to marketing, funding, finances etc really reflect that? We're still promoting books and databases most of the time.

So if we position ourselves as experts in new trends and technologies per se (rather than just, for example, a guru in a certain area such as micro-blogging) then when the technology goes mainstream, people will know to come to us for help and further information. It’s not about saying “Hey the library is an expert in FourSquare!” – it’s about saying “The librarians know about new trends and technologies, come to us and we’ll guide you through it!” and then when FourSquare (or any other geolocational social media app, or anything else) goes mainstream, our patrons and customers already have as in mind as potential experts. Like so much of what I write about on here, it’s about positioning ourselves successfully within the wider global narrative.

A more personality driven approach to promoting librarians, as opposed to just libraries, is needed.

- thewikiman