Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

I will readily admit that I’m lifting this title from one of the great all-time sports columnists, Bill Lyon, who not long ago retired after writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer for many years. Published every couple of Saturdays, “Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts” was something to look forward to, as it provided a delectable mix of miscellaneous observations and reactions. I hope he won’t mind me using it. Here are a few I had recently:

  • Infolust
  • A couple of bloggers mentioned the April 2006 briefing from about “Infolust“. It’s a good read, so take a look if you haven’t yet. Your comments on this piece will be appreciated as I’d like to know what other academic librarians are thinking. See if “Infolust” doesn’t describe some of the research behavior you see at your library. The question – or challenge – for academic librarians is how do we respond to users driven by Infolust. While Infolust is certainly about instant information gratification, one observation I make is that Infolust is also about power and empowerment – making users feel empowered. Can academic libraries somehow tap into the user’s Infolust so that we can develop within them an appreciation of satisfying one’s Infolust in the library’s information environment? I know what you’re thinking. The instant gratification factor is not there. But wouldn’t having the ability to master more sophisticated information tools – especially when they can enable you to kick butt on academic research assignments – offer a form of information gratification. That’s something worth thinking about.

  • Microsoft Academic Search
  • There was a fair amount of blogging and discussion list chatter last week about Microsoft’s big news – a new Academic Search engine. Microsoft will be going head-to-head with Google Scholar. I think I’ve seen no less than five or six librarian bloggers giving their personal reviews, but if you want the basic facts go to Resourceshelf. Since more than a few academic libraries have invested resources in creating connections from within Google Scholar, will they seek to do the same with Academic Search – or choose one over the other? On their well-placed link for librarians Microsoft wastes no time pushing for open URL link resolver connections from within Academic Search. Although the content is rather limited right now, there’s a lot to like. If you haven’t done so yet, take a closer look this week.

  • Who’s a Self-Promoter
  • Just because you blog, does that make you a self-promoter? What about publishing an article in a library journal? Are you just communicating ideas or research with colleagues, or are you out to be an “A-list” academic librarian? These are some of the questions raised by a blog post by Walt Crawford last week. Apparently he had some concerns about a reference to “movers and shakers” (LJ’s annual collection) made by The Shifted Librarian. I won’t rehash what created a fair amount of commentary; you can read Walt’s post for that – which will give you a better sense of why I’m writing about self-promotion. From my perspective the vast majority of academic librarians who simply publish, present, or blog are not self-promoters. If you’re good, others will know it and that may result in some unintended recognition. I think that’s how most folks end up as LJ Movers & Shakers. And like every award handed out in libraryland, there are many deserving folks who are not recognized. So I just linked to a post I wrote a while ago. Am I self-promoting my own writing? What if I link to an article I wrote in a journal? I think I’m just trying to get you read something related to the conversation. You may think I’m trying to broaden my personal sphere of influence. Certainly we all occasionally see evidence of shameless self-promotion in an attempt to obtain speaking engagements, requests to contribute articles, or to broaden one’s reputation in the profession. We have to accept it will happen, and live and let live. If you have a good idea or something worth communicating, share it with ACRLog (like Brian Mathews did – which garnered a few mentions in the LISblogoverse). Don’t let concerns about being accused of shameless self-promotion keep you from communicating ideas or news that could benefit your colleagues. I think most academic librarians have the good sense to know where the line is between enthusiasm for sharing ideas and shameless self-promotion – and to avoid crossing it.

    3 thoughts on “Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts”

    1. Following the various “self-promoter” threads was interesting, and I’m smart enough to see that going into too much detail is dangerous (is the label of “self-promoter” the 3rd rail of academic librarianship?).

      A couple of very general comments:

      1) there is clearly a difference (as several have noted on other blogs) between being a “mover and shaker” and an LJ-approved “Mover and Shaker.” I think this bears a little unpacking, and, coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about a post on this subject ever since I got the annual listing. How are academic librarians represented on this list – both this year and historically? What areas of academic library work (and there are many) are likely to get one tagged as an LJM&S? I think a content analysis of the LJ comments on academic library M&S designees over the past, say, 5 years would make for an interesting study. Sadly, I haven’t had time to do it. ACRL 2007, anyone?

      2) one of the comments on one of the blogs asked exactly what is wrong with being self-promoting, i.e., why is this a brush with which one can be tarred? I don’t think that writing high-quality articles, blog posts, or opinion pieces defines one as a self-promoter, but, even if it did, would that be so bad? Seems to me that we talk a lot about the need for libraries writ large to be more effective self-promoters, and certainly promotion of innovative and successful local programs is an important part of recruitment and retention efforts, so it seems to me that self-promotion (and, more importantly, organizational and professional promotion) are skills we should all seek to acquire.

      In writing the above, I’m reminded of a book that I read more than 20 years ago in my first class as an undergraduate in Sociolinguistics that identified a critical difference in what was then referred to as “Black English” between “boasting” and “bragging.” (Thomas Kochman, Black and White Styles in Conflict, c. 1981). The analogy is not precise, but I think it does reflect the distinction that (Steven, I think) made between promotion of good ideas and good services and promotion purely of one’s self (which may or may not be, as Steven puts it above, “shameless”).

    2. Hi Steven,

      I’m a little slow in getting a comment up, but I wanted to express my appreciation for your thoughts on all of these topics, and the Infolust topic in particular. I think you are absolutely on-target in identifying Infolust with empowerment. The ability to immediately access desired information is a very gratifying experience, and in fact, one of the things that drew me to this profession was the promise of helping others feel empowered by their ability to find that thing that is “just right” for their question. It’s important for academic librarians to be aware of these trends and consumer demands because they will shape patrons’ expectations when it comes to our services, and, with regard to many ready-reference kinds of questions, we could probably do a better job of delivering information quickly and in various formats. However, we have to be careful that we don’t cave into these demands in every respect. Ultimately, we’re not selling the latest gadget or burgers, rather we’re “selling” critical thinking and information literacy. We have a responsibility to teach students about the nature of information, sophisticated search strategies and evaluative criteria so that they can make good decisions in an infolusty world. We academic librarians are not simply victims of expectations established in the commercial setting, we can (and should), set expectations of our own along with our teaching faculty.

      I’m beginning to think that we can do this in an attractive way by appealing to this desire for empowerment and applying our expertise in new ways. One such way is to help faculty and students be successful in creating, organizing and maintaining their own information. Increasingly, we see that people don’t simply want information thrown at them, they want to be in charge of it and we can help them do that while educating them about the finer points of information and research. No one ever comes to libraries because of all of the great things librarians or their databases are able to do; they come because of the things the libraries/librarians enable them to do. What’s changing now is what people want to do (social tagging, content generation, etc.) and we have to adapt our services accordingly. We don’t have to give up on the basic purpose of the academic library though, to be more like the infolusty Google or Wikipedia. In fact, that’s a huge mistake because these entities became successful because they fulfilled their purposes well, and not because they copied someone else or gave into every whim.

      In an academic setting, we all have to take classes or learn things even though we may not get the point of doing so until later in life when we are grateful we took that “useless” math class along with our history coursework because people who knew more than we did told us we should. Similarly, we librarians have a great deal of expertise to share and we understand that not all questions are well-suited to instant answers, so we shouldn’t be afraid to encourage our students to learn the difference even if it’s not palatable at first. Some questions are lifelong quests, and we were hired to help prepare our students for the journey. It’s a disservice to students to sell them short and assume they won’t be interested in learning about research because of stereotypes like “students just want things quickly” and “students don’t care where information comes from,” because I know from working closely with them that this is definitely not true in many cases.

      Thanks again for bringing this topic to readers’ attention and I hope that we continue to give this some further thought!

    3. I really like what you say, Jill. Wouldn’t it be cool if the amount of investment people make in becoming part of an online social experience (that often requires patience, thought, expressiveness, technical skills, reading and writing, etc. etc.) could be mapped to what happens when thoughful people (frighteningly called “scholars”) get obsessed with joining a virtual community of people who care about similar things and are busy building together a piece of our understanding of the world. Scholarly communication is very much social networking – with living and breathing people, with dead people who left their thoughts behind in texts and ideas, with contemporary events and issues – but how often do students feel empowered by a traditional research paper? Somehow the invitation they get in an assignment doesn’t make it look like any fun, or that they are actually being invited to join something. The social networking of research (and the fun!) are not visible to them. If they understood what it really is about they might care about it and they might feel empowered instead of simply being given a series of tiresome hoops to jump through.

      Wow. This is really interesting. Now I want to think about what makes that signficant investment in social networks (often with total strangers) so inviting to so many people, and why they have no idea that learning and becoming part of the conversation that goes on among scholars producing knowledge can be just as creative and exciting and empowering as Second Life.

      Gotta fix that invitation…. it makes it all look so lame.

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