13 Jun

does anybody actually care? blogging and professional discourse

I’ve spent the first couple of weeks of June thinking and blogging about professional discourse and whether we are missing something as a result of a significant downturn in blogging on topics related to the library and information professions. (I think we are.)

The response has been… interesting. Some people have responded on their own blogs to say yes, they would be keen to contribute to a collaborative blog on professional issues. Others have retweeted tweets about my posts, suggesting there’s some interest. A very few people have commented on any of my posts.

Today I planned to share a sign up form to gather together a group of people who might be interested in contributing to a collaborative blog designed to ramp up informal professional discourse. But I’m increasingly thinking that maybe I’m out on a limb here, and that there aren’t many others who share my concerns.

noun_49812So instead, I want to ask you: do you care?

Do you care about robust professional discourse? As a professional, does it matter to you? (It’s okay if it doesn’t. This isn’t about judgement, but about me understanding whether there’s a need for this or whether I’m talking crap.)

What do you see as your role in professional conversations?

Are you a reader, consumer, thinker who is content to watch, observe, consider without getting involved? Are you a reader, consumer, thinker who would like to get involved but is hesitant to for some reason? (And what is the reason?)

Do you want to provoke conversation? Do you want to be a conversation starter? Do you want to share ideas?

Do you want to actively participate in discussions that other people start?

Would you be likely to comment on posts?

Would you even read them?

Are there professional topics that get you fired up? What are they? What do you care about? Are you prepared to put your money (or your time) where your mouth is and contribute to conversations on these topics?

I still wholeheartedly believe that blogging is not dead, but maybe professional blogging in the LIS space *is* dead, and maybe I should leave well enough alone.

What do you think? Do we care? Do *you* care? Do your colleagues care? Or should I just get down off this soap box?

#blogjune 13/30

10 Jun

what are the big professional issues we should be blogging about?

noun_89109So in the last week or so, I’ve written a couple of posts about professional blogging. And there’s been some interest in kicking off a group blog that focuses on professional issues in the library and information professions.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to get a conversation going about this and perhaps even get a new collaborative blog off the ground – or at least get plans in place to do that.

I think it makes sense to start by talking about the topics we need to be engaging with; the stuff you really want to be reading – and hopefully writing! – about.

So this post is more a bunch of questions for you than content from me.

What are the critical issues in library and information organisations right now? What things things interest you? Where is critical discourse needed?

And what’s happening outside libraries that we should have our eyes on? What can we learn from other industries? What are the big issues for libraries’ parent organisations?

In later posts, I’m going to ask you whether you’re interested in blogging with us (not sure who the ‘us’ is yet!) and who you’d like to hear from (so we can go out and tap people on the shoulder to contribute). But for now, let’s talk content. These could be general, broad ideas, Big Issues, very specific topics, or stories you’re busting to tell.

I’ll start the conversation with two things that are at the front of my mind: one broad, and one narrower:

  • Changing educational paradigms in higher education and the impact on libraries (think MOOCs, connected learning etc).
  • How can public libraries better support parents in engaging very young kids in reading (because have you seen school readers lately? It’s no wonder our Miss 6 has no desire to read!).

Please add your thoughts in the comments. It would be great to scope this collaborative blog thang with a good idea of where the focus should be initially.

#blogjune 10/30

07 Jun

blogging is dead… except it isn’t

Yesterday, I posted over on Libraries Interact about the state of the biblioblogosphere, which is the hipster term for the complex of blogs written by library and information professionals about professional issues. In the post, I reflected on the noticeable decrease in robust critical commentary and discourse on professional issues.

As I wrote that post, I thought a lot about my own blogging and blogging more generally. I wrote the post in response to a few stimuli, one of which was a conversation on an elist for admins on a collaborative blog. In that conversation, someone asked whether blogging is dead, and someone else asked if maybe the giddy pace of change has slowed and the impetus for blogging has consequently died off. We also mused about the fact that many of us have broader, more diverse interests these days. This conversation prompted me to think about my own use of blogs and my own blogging practices, so I’m sharing these thoughts here in this post.

Blogging is dead

Except it isn’t.

We’re not talking about blogs as a container so much any more (which is really an indicator of how mainstream they are), but blogging as a tool to push out serialised content is still huge. Look at the big magazine-style platforms, like The Conversation, Mamamia, and BubHub (yes, I just put The Conversation in the same category as Mamamia. I know. Scandalous!). These sites all run on blog posts. We just don’t necessarily talk about them being blogs. This semester I asked my undergrad IT students whether they use RSS. Two of 60+ do. Many of the others didn’t know what it was. I asked them if they read blogs, and they said no. Then I started talking to them about how they engage with content on the web, and I realised they *are* reading blogs, or engaging with syndicated, serialised content. They just don’t necessarily know that’s what they’re doing, or care about the container the content comes in, or the technology that delivers it to them.

I am a huge reader of blogs. I read blogs daily. I have a well organised subscription list in Feedly and I have a morning routine where I sit down with my coffee and I go through the latest posts. I cherry pick, reading the most interesting ones first, and invariably coming back to some of the others later when I’m procrastinating. I read everyday fashion blogs, sewing blogs, educational technology blogs, technology blogs, news blogs, education blogs, interior design blogs, and craft blogs. I read blogs written by friends, a couple of whom happen to be librarians, but I don’t read them for their library content. They are categorised in Feedly as ‘Library lovelies’, which probably tells you a lot about why I read them – they’re lovely blogs, written by lovely people whose lives I like to keep up to date with, rather than blogs about librarianship.

I’m just not reading blogs about librarianship at all, and not for lack of interest. Rather, it’s because there just aren’t that many great or active ones any more.

Closed for business

I shut up shop on my blog Virtually a Librarian about the same time I established this one. I started that blog as a very green new graduate and blogged sporadically there for five or six years. I shut up shop for a number of reasons: because my thinking had moved on and I didn’t really identify with who I was in that space anymore; because I found it challenging to blog and produce research articles at the same time; because I started my PhD and my brain filled up with that; because the twins came along and my life dramatically changed.

But not for lack of things to say…

I didn’t stop blogging because I had nothing to blog about. On the contrary, I’ve got a long list of topics for blog posts that I never get around to writing. My interests have diversified but I’ve still got plenty to say about professional issues, and plenty to say about related topics like educational technology, learning innovation, creativity and creative practice, leadership, social technologies, and my research. I’ve also got stuff to say about my personal life – things I want to share about what I get up to away from work.

I just rarely get round to saying any of it.

And I don’t think it’s true that the biblioblogosphere has died off because there’s nothing to talk about. Libraries are operating in a time of enormous change. In the good old days, there was a lot of blogging about social technologies, and yes, there was an invigorating, exciting and urgent vibe around technology and innovation, and that fuelled blogging. But there is *so much* happening in the library and information professions right now that we should be pulling apart, inspecting, interrogating, critiquing.

There is stuff to blog about. It’s just not happening.

And not because I’ve moved on…

Obviously I’m no longer working in libraries, but I am teaching librarians-in-the-making, and I am invested in the profession. I used to blog about front line service issues and about technology in libraries, because those were the things I was dealing with on a daily basis. My interests are more diverse, but they are still relevant to libraries and with a bit more professional maturity under my belt, I’ve probably got more useful things to say than I did back when I was blogging about Library 2.0 (including about how much I hate that term). I have a broader perspective on the industry, having seen it from a different angle for the last five years.

I’m still thinking about and working on things that have relevance to the profession. I’m just not blogging about it.

Now I was never a great blogger, but I think I can still call some of the great bloggers from the giddy naughties my ‘contemporaries’. It’s true that some of those people have moved on somewhat too, but they haven’t strayed that far either. They’ve moved up, moved into academia, and moved around, but they’re still hanging around libraries and they still have useful insights we could all benefit from.

… But because I’m poor

Time poor and thinking-space poor.

I know I’m not alone in having a busy work life. But I’m often surprised by people’s perceptions about academic workloads. I think there’s a real misconception about what we do, the volume of work we are lumped with, and the pressure there is to perform (particularly for people like me who go from contract to contract). I’m also constantly met with incredulity when I say I work from home because I get more done. People who don’t work from home imagine it’s either a lovely life of pottering around the house or an enormous challenge to fight off distractions. The reality is I don’t go to the office because I’ve got too much to do. Working from homes saves me hours of commute time and forces me to rationalise the time I spend in meetings. Anyway, I digress. The point is this: You know that image of academics squirrelled away in their cozy offices, reading and writing and just thinking? It’s a ginormous myth. To be a successful academic – to establish a solid academic career in the current climate – you have to do a lot more than have a strong research output and churn out good publications. You’ve got to have your fingers in multiple research pies, because while the applied, industry based research is fun and necessary, you still need to create an intellectual footprint that has value beyond the profession. You’ve also got to be an excellent teacher, which is a *lot* of work, and when you love teaching, you tend to spend even more time on it. It’s also a time sink because it’s so incredibly satisfying, and you can see immediate payoffs through student success. Then there’s the service component of the job: providing service to the university through committee memberships, advisory groups and leadership activities, and to industry through similar external activities. To do what I do – teach in and coordinate a program for an applied discipline – you’ve also got to be entrepreneurial, plugged into industry, and visible both in the profession and in academia. On top of the run-of-the-mill teaching, research and service, I run a program of continuing professional education events, I take on consultancy work, I do heaps of marketing by stealth, I spend a significant amount of time on pastoral care, I get involved in external engagement programs… And the list goes on.

I used to carve out time outside of work hours to blog, but the reality these days is that I’m working significantly more than I used to – more than twice as much as I was when I kicked off my first blog, and approaching twice as much as I did when I started this blog. If I was to actively blog again, I’d have to trade off somewhere, and right now I’d be trading blogging for sleep, and I gotta tell you, I am absolutely useless unless as I get a solid seven hours sleep. I can do all-nighters and consecutive nights (even weeks) on minimal sleep, but only when I’m under pressure, and it has consequences in terms of the quality of my work and my well being.

I’m suffering from another type of poverty, too: I’m thinking-space poor. My brain has a limited capacity and it is maxed out. It’s a tricky balance to pump out good content for a blog and good research publications simultaneously. I used to think blogging would eat up all my words and I wouldn’t have any left for academic publications. The reality is that the words are plentiful, but the room in my head is not, so I find it tricky to carve out the time to think and write anything that’s not explicitly work related. I am fortunate to be a really fast writer. (Please universe, I need to live that out today to finish this thesis chapter!) But sense-making takes time. Getting my thoughts together, thinking them through, takes time and writing and drafting and editing and more writing. Take this post for example, and the one I made yesterday on Libraries Interact. I’ve been thinking about these posts and working on them on and off for about eight days. (It was supposed to be one post, but it ended up ridiculously long. There’s another reason I struggle to find time to blog: I sense-make by writing, which means I write *heaps* and then I find it really hard to edit it down, so I never hit publish.) And then there’s the (internal) pressure to get it just right, to craft beautiful posts that I won’t regret making (you really have no idea how long I’ve spent on this post, and I know I need to cut it back even though I’ve split into two, but I’m going to have to embrace the Cult of Done here or it’s never gonna make it out of draft).

Time poor + think poor + inner perfectionist = terrible blogger.

Which leads me to…

In my world, blogs aren’t dead, and in fact I don’t think they’re dead at all, anywhere. I read them, and I think you probably do too, even if you don’t necessarily think of them as blogs.

The biblioblogosphere isn’t dead either, but it is a little bit sick and I’d really like to see that change. I think we need ongoing professional conversations and I think we need blogs to support this. I also think that as an academic, I have a responsibility to contribute to professional discourse, and I think I’ve got stuff to contribute related to teaching and learning that’s relevant for the profession, too. I also think senior members of the profession have a responsibility to contribute to professional discourse, and I would like to see more of these people blogging. And *you* have stuff to say, even if you don’t think you do.

A return to collaborative blogging?

I’m up for getting back into blogging about libraries, but I don’t want to do it here, because this is my personal space. I also know I can’t sustain a solo blog related to the LIS profession because I have other foci for my blogging, too (namely, my teaching and learning blog). But I’m totally up for collaborative blogging; I’m up for helping to coordinate a collaborative blog; and I’m up for actively calling on academics and senior members of the profession to contribute, too.

Is anybody with me?

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.]