12 Nov

and on the 11th day…

She refocused. She being me, and the 11th day being yesterday.

I kind of lost my writing momentum a couple of days into #acwrimo. I got some feedback from one of my supervisors about my draft categories and I spent most of last week working with that. This initially involved playing around with pens and paper and thinking a lot about how my categories fit together to form a theory.

And then I spent a couple of days building my categories and sub-categories (and yes, there are sub-sub-categories here, but these aren’t really sub-sub-categories – just points I want to make sure to note in the discussion of these categories).

Spreadsheet of categories

And then I took this spreadsheet and built myself a new codebook in HyperRESEARCH (I’m planning a blog post on using HyperRESEARCH for coding in grounded theory down the track, because I’ve worked some things out that I would like to have known from the beginning).

Screenshot of codebook

Then I coded a couple of transcripts with my new codebook and I realised my findings are finally starting to sing. At long last, I am not adding stacks of codes to the codebook as I work. I’m no longer finding variation, but instead, I’m just coding up new examples. Cue overwhelming sense of relief.

A short-lived sense of relief, though, because yesterday I realised I only have six weeks left of my sabbatical. And a lot of writing to do. My workload next year won’t allow me to spend very much time on my PhD at all – if any. At least for the first half of the year. So I am pushing hard for the next six weeks to get my findings written and my lit review revised.

Yesterday, I did the last bit of work on conceptualising how my categories fit together. I refocused and revised my timeline as well as my practical plan for getting this thing done.

And on that note, I think it’s time to write.

11 Nov

why i don’t use public libraries and how they might lure me back

Disclaimer: this post is written by Kate-the-person. Opinions are all mine and my comments here are based on my own experiences as a public library user and do not reflect the views of any organisations with which I am affiliated. I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a loooong time because I’ve felt a bit hesitant about being critical. Which is really unlike me – If I’m anything, I’m the girl who says what she thinks. I think my hesitancy here has been that on a personal level, as well as a professional level, I love libraries and I love what they stand for. I also love the libraries in my city. They are well resourced and I have nothing but fond memories of the time I spent in them as a child… Anyway, I digress… My comments here are about public libraries in general, because I use / have used more than one public library service, and they are my personal opinions only… yadda yadda.

This post has been in draft for ages… Since June, actually, when a post from Hoi prompted me to start writing it. Over the last several months, a few things have prompted me to add to this post, and to publish it today.

The first prompt for this post was watching the Twitter stream for a future libraries event many months ago. As I watched the stream, I couldn’t help thinking: can’t we just stop talking about what the future library looks like and become the library our users need right now?

The second prompt was visiting the brand new public library near my house. It is an amazing space and I can see myself spending some time in this library, particularly in the awesome kids’ section, which features funky animals that are in fact chairs, a kid-sized nook that’s like a little reading cave, and a slippery slide. We loved it!

The third thing was a #ylibrary event at State Library of Queensland last month, which I watched via a live stream while I worked on this post.

And finally, the Queensland Public Libraries Association conference is on today and I saw some talk in my Twitter feed about wifi speeds and accessibility in public libraries. You can follow the conference with the hash tag #qpla2013.

So here’s the thing- the real reason for this post. As an individual, I actually don’t use my public library. Ever. Sometimes I use it with my niece and nephew specifically to do things with and for them, but I never use them for myself. I live in a city that has awesome libraries and awesome collections and I’m intimately acquainted with how good they are because I used to work there. As a rate payer, the service I value most from my local council is the awesome library service. (In second place: fabulous parks.) I have access to some of the best libraries with the richest collections in the country… And yet… I don’t use the libraries or their online collections.

I am a firm believer in the value of public libraries. I love them. I teach my students about them with enthusiasm. I believe they have an enormous role to play in supporting the leisure and lifelong learning needs of their communities. They prepare kids for success and make an enormous contribution to the economy.

As a child and a teenager, the public library was my second home. On school holidays, I’d go to the library with my grandfather. He’d read the newspaper, and I’d ‘do research’ on whatever my current interest was. As a teenager, I went to the library after school most days. When I started working in these libraries in my 20s, I worked with the librarian who ran the story times my grandfather took me too, and with the branch librarian who patiently helped me with my assignment research. When my niece and nephew were toddlers, we borrowed books from the library as a try-before-you-buy scheme. And the twins loved going to the library, especially the one with kids’ ‘puters’. I have so many good memories of libraries and I love them because they have been an enormous part of my life.

There are two things I want from public libraries: fiction ebooks, and fast, free, unrestricted wifi (preferably wifi I can use while I sit on a comfy lounge and drink a good coffee).

To make sense of my needs as a library user, there are some things you need to know about me.

Instant gratification

First and foremost, I don’t have a lot of down time, and I don’t want to spend the down time I have browsing physical bookstores or trying to find a car park at the library. I want to spend my down time (or some of it, anyway) *reading*, not trying to get something to read. I rarely go to shopping centres, instead I buy everything from clothes to homewares online. When I want to read a book, I want to read it right then and there, and I don’t want to have to hunt to find my next read. (Difficult to please, I know!)

E only

I only read ebooks. It used to be a preference, but now it’s a rule. I prefer to read on my phone or my iPad mini. I always have them with me. It used to be that I couldn’t buy all the books I wanted to read as ebooks, and that kept me going back to the public library even when they didn’t necessarily have the ebooks I wanted – at least it was something. But things have changed and I can now get almost everything I want, when I want it, from Amazon.

Good wifi

Finally, I work from home most days to avoid a long commute. Sometimes, I want to get out of the house to work somewhere different but I don’t want to drive for at least two hours (my commute time) to work in the office. The only thing I need to take my office with me is good wifi. (A powerpoint helps too!)

The ebook issue

I stopped checking to see if the library had the books I wanted in e because the hit rate was so low (and I should note here, I am a member of several public libraries so I was routinely checking multiple collections). I just can’t be bothered looking there and then ultimately having to go back to Amazon anyway. Then there is the issue with ebooks being ‘out on loan’ (ludicrous concept!). If I’m actively seeking a book, it’s because I just finished one and I need something to read. I don’t want to wait for the book to come in, and frankly, the fact that I have to really pisses me off. It pisses me off because it demonstrates just how broken ebook distribution models are for libraries. It’s not a physical item, for crying out loud! Why should it matter if someone else is reading it? Why can’t I read it too? (Yes, I know all the answers to those questions. But your average customer doesn’t. And nor should they have to.)

This is not something the library can fix – at least not at a local level. It’s a problem that libraries need to act on collectively. Libraries need to hurry up and get active on this or they will no longer be relevant to people like me – at least not in terms of their role as content providers.

Up the game

I think there are a few places where public libraries – all public libraries – could up their game and meet the needs of customers like me.

Fuel my consumption!

The library doesn’t encourage me to use the library. It doesn’t draw me back in. It doesn’t keep me in the loop on books I might like to read (at least not based on knowledge of what I *actually* read). In short, the library doesn’t keep data about my reading habits and consequently, it can’t exploit what it knows about me to keep me coming back for more.

Amazon knows what I read: what authors, what series, what genres. Amazon emails me recommendations. I don’t even need to think about what I’m going to read next because when I log on, Amazon tells me what I might be interested in. They alert me of forthcoming titles I can preorder. In an average month, I buy a minimum of three or four books. I aim to read one a week, but even when I’m not making that quota, I still buy anything that Amazon recommends that I want to read, so they’re sitting there ready to go.

Amazon fuels my consumption. Amazon knows me. I couldn’t care less that Amazon knows my reading patterns and habits and what I buy and how much I’m likely to spend and how long it takes me to read a chapter and whether I bought Fifty Shades or Anna Karenina. But libraries assume that customers *do* care how much ‘the system’ knows about their reading habits. They don’t keep this kind of data and they don’t exploit it. I know there are many, many complex reasons that libraries are cautious with user data, and I don’t mean to trivialise these reasons. In fact I value the effort libraries put into protecting patron data.

But the reality is, I like getting my books from somewhere that knows what I read and that pushes new books to me. I don’t want to trawl for ages to find something to read next. I just want to log in and hit that one click purchase button and get reading in a flash.

Can’t the library give me the chance to opt in to a recommendation service based on my reading habits?

It’s readers’ advisory at its personalised, targeted best. Customers expect it because they can get it everywhere else but the library. Libraries need to give this some serious thought. And if they decide not to store and exploit customer data, then they need to come up with another way to hook their customers and real them back in time and again.

Unthrottle the wifi

I don’t go to physical libraries for the collection. I go for the wifi, and let’s face it, not many public libraries do a good job of wifi. Connections are throttled, there are clunky password systems in place, and access is for a fixed amount of time. Hot tip, libraries: stop worrying about how much bandwidth your customers are going to use; stop worrying about how long they’re going to sit their for; stop putting up barriers to access by requiring passwords.

Libraries are about access to information and ideas. They’re about connecting people. They’re about facilitating lifelong learning. They’re about facilitating knowledge sharing and knowledge creation and creativity. Crappy wifi is not helping libraries realise any of these visions. All of the practices we have in place to limit access and restrict connection speeds are barriers that stop customers from doing what they need (and want) to do.

Am I a lost cause?

Winning me back as a user of the online library is not going to be easy. The ebook issue is a big one, and it’s not going to be easy to solve. Publisher, distribution, purchasing, licensing, lending… All of these models are completely and utterly broken. Libraries need to collectively get loud on this, and fast. Ultimately I’d love to get my ebooks from the library. I’d save $50 a month at least. But right now, I’d rather spend the $50 on a delivery model that meets my needs than save it and waste time – a rarer commodity – looking for, and ultimately not finding, the ebooks I want at the online library.

I can’t see the library collecting and exploiting data about me to offer personalised recommendations, the way Amazon does – but I really wish they would. I guess I could get around this – I could get my recommendations elsewhere… From GoodReads for example. But I want integration. I want to click straight through and borrow the book that’s recommended. I don’t want to jump through hoops and go round in circles. The fact is people like me will pay for books to avoid the hoop jumping. If public libraries don’t get onto this, they are going to lose people like me.

Getting me back into the physical library won’t be so difficult. I just need somewhere to plug my laptop in and fast, unrestricted wifi that I don’t have to jump hurdles to access. It doesn’t even have to be free. I’d pay for the wifi if I had to (though obviously I’d prefer not to). I know wifi is often restricted to avoid racking up a big bill, but perhaps we need to rethink how much funding we pour into this part of the business. Libraries are *information organisations*. Surely they should be hubs of good connectivity? In many cities I’ve visited, I can get better wifi with less barriers at McDonalds than the local public library (and I’m not just talking about guest access here – I’ve looked at access policies around the place and these issues exist for library members too). That is a *big* problem.

As a non-library user, I’m not a lost cause. But I am greedy. And I want more.

[PS. I feel the need to add a postscript… I edited about 600 words out of this post in which I waxed lyrical about comfy armchairs and decent coffee. The upshot of those 600 words was that I think the perfect public library looks a lot like the ground floor of State Library of Queensland. The only thing it’s missing is a service that delivers your coffee so you don’t have to pack up and go get it.]

10 Nov

the hidden costs of doing a phd (and 7 tips for minimising them)

In a single hour the other day, I moaned to a friend three separate times about being broken. First I had a headache, then sore hands, and then my eyes were blurry. Which prompted her to ask me if I read the latest Thesis Whisperer post about the ups and downs of PhD research.

I did read the post, and the first thing I thought was how much the entire thing resonated with me. In particular, I could relate to the idea of becoming a she-devil during analysis (will this phase ever end?!) and the impact on your body. I had a laugh to myself about how hilarious it would be to write a blog post about how much I’ve spent on physio and massage since I’ve been on sabbatical. I thought to myself, ‘Ha ha ha! Let’s share my physio’s joke about this being the most expensive dissertation in the world!’

And then I decided it wouldn’t be hilarious at all. It would just be a bit sad, really.

On reflection, I decided to write the post for realz. The fact is, no one tells you about the impact full time PhDing can have on your body, so I was really glad to see the physical impacts of PhDing come up in the Thesis Whisper post. I kind of expected it to have an impact on my body, but not to the extent it has. I usually work long hours anyway so I didn’t envisage it being a huge problem. But this PhD work is different. It’s more intensive, and involves a lot more typing, lots of mousing as I code transcripts, peering at the screen as I work with spreadsheets, and a lot less variety. I don’t stop for meetings or to make videos (things I do frequently in a ‘normal’ work day), and in this phase, I’m not really stopping to read away from the computer either.

I was already a bit broken before I got into this six month sprint, so I booked in a massage every fortnight and physio in the alternate week from the get go. The reality is I’ve been to all those appointments plus had some additional massages.

And that means that by the time Christmas rolls around, I will have spent almost $2000 on massage and physio in my 6 month sabbatical. (Bill not helped by having used up the majority of my private health coverage for physio.) And that is assuming I don’t have any extra massages between now and Christmas, and given I’ve had a headache for about the last week, that’s probably pretty unlikely.

Granted, if I wasn’t compressing my analysis and write up into this chunk of time and trying to hit a pretty ambitious daily writing target for #acwrimo, I wouldn’t be working as intensively. But I still think this PhD gig would have a big impact on anyone’s body, regardless of how well you pace yourself across your candidacy, or how young, fit or healthy you might be when you start out.

So as well as sharing about my massage and physio spend, I thought I’d also share about the things I do to help minimise the impact (and cap my massage spend!). (Do I need to say I’m not a health professional and this isn’t advice? Probably. I’m not the former, and this isn’t the latter – just sharing what works for me.)

1. Stretch

I use my 15 minute Pomodoro breaks (I do 45/15 Pomodoro sessions instead of the usual 25/5) to get up and stretch. I do hand and arm stretches and neck stretches regularly. These are easy to do because you don’t even have to get up from your desk. You can even buy a poster or cards with these stretches on them – I just ordered a set of the cards to keep on my desk. I also lie on a foam roll (I use a pool noodle but you can get proper stretching rolls) to stretch my back (or you can use a rolled up towel), but if you work in an office, you could do seated back stretches.

2. Free massage

Nothing beats a good massage but there are some tricks I use at home in between. I use a tennis ball for trigger points in my back – just put it between your back and a wall and roll it into place. I also massage the back of my forearm by running my other forearm across it (you can also use a tennis ball). Lastly, I have a Posture Pro (cheapest I’ve seen them is about $35) and it is pretty awesome. It’s a similar idea to the tennis ball but great for getting in just either side of your spine. There are heaps of self-massage tutorials around the web so whatever ails you, odds are you can find a way to help yourself.

3. Variety

Ideally, I try to get some variety in my down time – but I have to confess I’m not great at this. Unfortunately, one of my favourite down time activities is sewing and I have learned this only makes my headaches worse. When I sew, I sit in a similar position as I do when I’m working and I lean in to the machine, so it just makes all those tight neck muscles even tighter. So I either have to not sew or be really conscious about my posture.

4. Check yourself

While I’m talking about being conscious of things, the other thing I try to keep a check on is what I’m doing with my jaw. When I’m thinking I tend to kind of squint my eyes and tense my jaw at the same time. So I try to consciously check my jaw to make sure I’m not clenching it. I don’t grind my teeth but I do clench and it is a really, really hard habit to break.

5. Hydrate

I drink heaps of water. I get a lot of headaches and while I know they come from my neck, they only get worse if I’m dehydrated. I have a huge (and I do mean huge – typically 800mls) green smoothie for breakfast and I keep a 1.5l bottle of water on my desk (I am to drink two bottles a day). I definitely feel better if I drink a lot of water.

6. Break up with codeine

I have learned that my relationship with codeine is built on unrequited love. I love it when it gets rid of my headaches, but it just turns round and repays my love with vagueness and rebound headaches. So I’ve pretty much stopped taking it, which is a big thing for me because codeine has been my friend (crutch?) for a very long time.

7. Prevent problems

Lastly, you’ve got to do all this stuff consistently to avoid issues rather than using them to treat issues when they arise.

Six months ago I would have told you my top tip for managing PhD-induced headaches was codeine washed down with some caffeinated drink (preferably Coke). It’s kind of nice to write a blog post about being proactive with getting to the root of the issue rather than just masking the symptoms with codeine and caffeine. I am just a little bit proud of myself!

04 Nov

#acwrimo update: day four

I blogged last week about challenging myself to write 1666 words a day with my own version of NaNoWriMo, which I called DisWriMo. Since then, I’ve jumped on the AcWriMo bandwagon but my plans haven’t changed – I’m still aiming to write 1666 words a day on my thesis in November.

Except today I didn’t write any words at all. But I’m not beating myself up about it, and here’s why.

Over the first three days in November, I managed to write 4704 words. This is more than I’ve written on my thesis since my confirmation seminar in April. April 2012, that is.

I didn’t realise it had been so very long since my confirmation. And that meant I didn’t realise it had been so very long since I wrote anything related to my thesis. I think I had a mental block about thesis writing and the first three days of AcWriMo helped me to break that.

This is really important, and not just because I need to churn out words, stat. It’s important because I sense-make by writing. I know that. I’ve always known that. And yet I haven’t been accommodating that particular work style. I felt like I had to code All The Transcripts before I started writing, and I’ve been putting off writing while I did that. The trouble is, I have found coding really difficult. Not intellectually (although it’s true that it is challenging), but motivationally (I’m not even sure that’s a word). I’m okay one I’m coding, but making myself get started – in the morning, after a Pomodoro break, on a new transcript – has been bloody hard. I think this is partly because I really got into the spirit of initial coding and I was generating codes like a crazy woman. I had nearly 2000 by the time I’d done the first five transcripts. And then I spent weeks and weeks and weeks sorting them, resorting them, recoding the same pieces of data to check myself…  So I was stuck at this really detailed level of coding and I couldn’t quite figure out how to move forward, and I think that happened because I wasn’t letting myself write and so I was struggling to sense make. The writing I did over the first three days of AcWriMo has helped me to conceptualise the structure of my emerging findings.

This morning I sent 3000 words about the structure of my categories to my supervisors. It feels like I’ve actually *done something*. Finally.

So I’m just going to celebrate that and accept that what I did today was just as necessary as writing and see what happens tomorrow.

Since I still have transcripts to code (I hoped I’d be done by the end of October. Or September. Or August. But let’s not go there.), I am revising my daily goal a little bit for the next week. This week I’m going to aim for 750 words a day and one transcript coded. But for now I’ll leave my monthly target at 50,000 words and see how I go.

02 Nov

are simple, happy and meaningful mutually exclusive?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I wanted to stop glorifying busy and live a simple life. My Simple Life (with caps, because it’s very much an entity in my mind) vision is a very pretty picture. It looks like an isolated house with a view of green fields and sugar cane. It looks like contentment and calm and valuing people over possessions. It looks like creativity and financial freedom and (one day in the future) home schooling. I even know where this simple life should be situated – just south of the border, a little bit north of Byron Bay. I indulge in this simple life fantasy whenever I drive through this area, but I suspect that in my case, the Simple Life fantasy is very much full of fancy.

I have another simple life fantasy though. This one doesn’t get caps because it isn’t a mythologised, fanciful, indulgent and unattainable dream. This one looks like doing meaningful work, nurturing my family, achieving a ratio of work to life that sits well with me, being creatively fulfilled, investing in relationships, valuing people, being present, having time. While I might indulge my dream of the Simple Life, it is the simple life that I am invested in achieving.

A couple of week’s back, Penelope Trunk posted about happiness and meaningfulness, and suggested that the pursuit of happiness or (as one commenter suggested) contentment might lead to a life that isn’t meaningful. This post really resonated with me because it suggested that pursuing meaningfulness is not a simple thing, and that made me feel a lot better about this season I’m in. I’ve been thinking about the post and the way I responded to it quite a bit over the past few weeks.

In this post, Penelope Trunk argues that it’s not the happy or fun part of the day that matters (picking apples), but the serious interruption (saving the calf). She suggests that happiness isn’t memorable or valuable or rich in the way that making a difference is.

This is what resonated with me:

… Your real job, not necessarily the one you get paid for, is to find the opportunity to infuse meaning into your life by challenging yourself to give in a way that jeopardizes your happiness.

Look around for where you can make a big difference. It is likely a place that will shake you up…

Interestingly, I read this and interpreted it as validating this complex phase of my life, in which I am not all that happy. It’s okay that I’m shaken up and challenged right now, that things are messy, because I’m working on something that will make a difference.

Another interesting thing: subconsciously, I made a linkage between ‘happiness’ and ‘simple’, and another between ‘being shaken up’, ‘meaningfulness’ and ‘complexity’. This says more about my state of mind than it does about the blog post: I’m really craving simplicity and I’m reading it into everything.

As I’ve been sorting through this in my head, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I subconsciously linked ‘simple’ and ‘happy’, and they way I put these linked-in-my-head ideas at the opposite end of the spectrum to ‘meaningful’.

Contentment and happiness are the hallmarks of the simple life – or they are for me, at least. Both my Simple Life and simple life visions are about being content with what I have, with my family life, with the moment I’m living in, with being present.

Being happy or content doesn’t preclude meaningfulness. Contentment isn’t just about passively accepting things as they are, or pursuing the quick happiness highs that come from picking apples. It is about feeling content with the choices you’ve made, the place you’re in, and the destination you have your sights on. I think you can be in a space of discomfort, where you’re being shaken up and doing something that matters, and still be happy.

In fact, I don’t think I could be happy if my life wasn’t full of meaningful work and I wasn’t making some kind of contribution to the lives of others. I become unhappy when I’m coasting. When a job or a project stop challenging me, I’m out. I find it really hard to stay motivated and keep pushing through, and this is usually when I start hunting through job ads.

Happiness and meaningfulness can co-exist. But more than that, I’m not sure one can exist without the other – at least not for me. I simply wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t doing meaningful work or connecting with people in a meaningful way. And I think I’d find it difficult to live a meaningful life if there wasn’t some joy in the things that I was doing, even if that joy is sometimes tempered by uncertainty or ‘being shaken up’.

My simple life vision is a picture in which I am content and my life is full of meaning.

Simple, meaningful, happy. These are three words that describe the life I want to live. So no, I don’t think these terms are mutually exclusive. I think they are actually mutually dependent.