Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Devising a Conference Strategy

I am often told about the great merits of attending professional conferences. Having never attended one myself, I can't write from experience. However, it seems like these events are beneficial in several ways ranging from learning about the newest techniques and tools, networking, job hunting as well as a bit of tourism. However, unlike some others, if I attend confernces in 2009, I will be paying for these entirely out of my own resources. As a graduate student in the field, it is difficut to get funding for these sorts of things.

Here's what I'm looking at attending next year:

Association of Canadian Archivists Annual Conference - to be held in Calgary, Alberta (May 14-May 17)

Canadian Library Association Conference - to be held in Montreal, Quebec (May 29-June 1)

Special Library Association Conference - to be held in Washington D.C. (June 14-17)

I would estimate that attending each of these would probably cost me around $1300-$1500, which is a fortune as a student. I wonder if there is some better way to decide which ones offer the best value or "return on investment." It is something that is difficult to decide, certainly.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Text is said to be linear; or musing on Web 2.0

Many of you have probably already seen this great YouTube video that explains Web 2.0. I watched it last year in a class and again last week in class. According to the counter on YouTube, it has been viewed 6.5 million times and rightly so. It explains how XML, social websites and more change how the Internet works. Another video that covers some of the same ground is Information R/evolution; it focuses more overtly on how information organization is evolving.

I've just been thinking if there are some new ways of getting archivists to make greater use of Web 2.0 tools. Sure, there are archivists blogging here and there and some make use of social software, but adoption is still too slow. Canada is estimated to have somewhere over a thousand archivists, but how many are making use of these tools?

I wonder if Web 2.0 could contribute to problems like these:

- post a list of undescribed or unprocessed materials online and encourage users to comment, vote and discuss on what their priorities are

- let archivists share ratings and reviews of archival software systems, products and other services (rather than relying on email listservs as is the current custom)

- encourage users to submit their stories of what they think about their archives; I wouldn't want it to be a corny testimonial but something along those lines. One could start with a list of academic works that mention a given archives (that's public information that should be better organized and brought to light)

- build in tagging functionality to archival databases as well as permalinks, so that users can share what they find easily (it is a bit sad that this even needs to be suggested...)

- bring users into the description process in some fashion (comments on descriptions perhaps?)


I wonder if the historical/preservation perspective of archivists plays a role in slowing the embrace of new technology? Maybe I'm simply missing out on the archival innovation but that's my impression from where I sit.

Building a Professional Presence

Recently, I've been thinking that I need to work more on my professional presence. This thinking has been sparked by a few recent events. Recently, I met a librarian who had emigrated to Canada from France (she noticed I was reading The Accidental Systems Librarian by Rachel Singer Gordon and struck up a conversation. After we parted ways, I thought it might have been interesting to keep in touch but I didn't have a business card. In addition to that, I recently read one of Stephen Abram's articles where he wrote, in part,

Either way, it's time to again find our voice as professionals. Anonymity just isn't working for us. Professionalism requires that we learn how to present ourselves, promote ourselves and be where our market of users can discover us, and be impressed that we are the sharks in the tank of the emerging information and knowledge economy. Our reputation will play out in the social Web space as much as anywhere else. We need to get good at this.

- Stephen Abrams, Time to Step Out of the Box and Start Promoting Ourselves, Information Outlook

To that end, I think I need to do at least two things:

- Create a professional website (I know some things, but I wonder if it might be better to pay a company like LIS Host to design it for me?)

- Create business cards (but what do I put on it? "Graduate Student"? How can I describe my varied interests?)

I very much welcome any suggestions that others might have on this subject. I am looking at attending several conferences in 2009 and it would be great to establish these things in advance so that I can connect with others more effectively.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Joys of a Colloborative Environment

I am tremendously enjoying my studies this year - there is such excitement in the air, so many new projects in progress. In addition to my stimulating courses, I also have a research project underway with a fellow student and I am in the progress of developing a podcast series. I am especially interested in the latter; Canadian universities (Canada, generally actually) have been sadly slow in getting into podcasting... I am reminded of the old adage about Canadian stars; we wouldn't accept you unless you make it big in America first. It seems like something like that might be true for the information services sector when it comes to technology; budget problems and a culture of risk aversion often put the brakes on innovation.

That all said, I'm pleased at the progress of both my own projects and some of the great things that other people are starting up.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Career Introspection

As part of own of my assignments, I have to discuss my career goals. It has been a while since I have thought about this substantially. At my part time job at the University, I am frequently asked what I study and what my career plans are - it is a bit frustrating to constantly give open-ended answers. On the one hand, I'm interested in investigating new career possibilities as they present themselves. On the other hand, I wonder if this lack of a specific goal indicates that I lack focus. At the moment, I tend to think that remaining open to new career prospects is a good thing.

In trying to answer this question, do you know what occurred to me first? The fact that I've just barely tolerated most of the jobs I've ever heard. Whether it was shelving books in a public library back in high school, working my current tech support job at the University, and sadly, this is also true of the archival positions I've worked in. I've often felt either painfully bored by my duties or that the specific tasks I was doing were a poor match for my interests and skills. I've managed to keep going by focusing on duty and the vague prospect that this is a temporary "paying one's dues" sort of situation.1 This assignment has made me realize that this kind of attitude may not be wise.

Like many people, I could talk at great length about what I dislike about work but ultimately that is not helpful in trying to decide a path. What can I say on the positive side of the career interest ledger? I can think of activities that I enjoy and have ability at, certainly. Conducting research (mostly humanities in the past, but I have a growing interest in social science these days) has always been a great delight. I enjoy teaching and working with others on stimulating projects. I need autonomy in my work to follow my own interests - I'm not a bloody cog. Thus far, the only career that matches these interests so far is "university professor," but sadly, the employment prospects in that field are quite poor.

I'd like to have a career (and indeed, lifestyle) of the sort that Richard Florida has described in his books (esp. The Rise of the Creative Class), but I don't know how to go from my dissatisfied present to a happier future... I'm very much enjoying the classes I'm taking this semester (an interesting blend of management, history, policy development and educational theory/technology); perhaps I should pose the following question to my professors: "I love studying this - how can I translate this into a well paying career?"

1. Incidentally, this notion of "due paying" doesn't make a lot of sense in the professional context. This phrase makes some sense if one is aspiring to join a skilled trade as a unionized member. But does it make sense here? If it does make sense in this field, where is the dividing line between "do this uninspiring task to get experience" and "this is a waste of your talents, but do it anyway for a few years; that's the tradition here and we're not going to rethink it."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Drifting from archives

In my courses this year, I am not taking a single course about archives. This is not entirely by choice since the university has elected to schedule courses in such a way that forces my hand in ways that I don't like. When I listed off all my courses to a fellow archives student I'm friends with, it felt sad to admit that I wasn't taking anything abour archives.

That's not to say that I no longer find archives interesting or worthwhile, but I suppose I'm getting new interests. I'm now in more than one professional association as well. I remain interested in matters archival but I'm branching out into other things.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Rethinking our purpose - reflections on reference inspired by Stephen Abrams

I've been reading one of Stephen Abram's articles today and, as usual, it is inspiring and thought provoking.

I think there is a historical transformation underway here that is still not being met by the profession in far far too many places. In the founding days of librarians and archivists in the late nineteenth century, these people held all the cards. I am reminded of that famous quote from the Matrix: "We have survived by hiding from them, by running from them. But they are the gatekeepers. They are guarding all the doors, they are holding all the keys which means that sooner or later, someone is going to have to fight them." One could almost imagine this as inspiration for Google's famous mission statement: "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." In a way, that mission is in direct competition with information professionals and in some ways, these kinds of companies are killing us.

The fact is that we hold fewer cards than ever before. That's not entirely a bad thing since learning in a variety of ways is good, but that doesn't make us irrelevant. Parts of this older mission remain relevant today though such as stimulating self-directed education and providing democratic access to information. However, the old assumptions that motivated so much of the traditions in this field - e.g. that users can only get what they want from our institutions - are no longer valid. Given the social and cultural assumptions that underpin the 19th century view of librarianship have changed so much, it only makes sense to reimagine our purpose.

Abrams makes many stimulating suggestions about new directions we could take, but I think there is a more general way to state the matter. We need to think the service provided rather than the object provided which has been the focus of the work in the past. Part of this may only be solved by marketing - more people have to be shown the value of mediated access to information. There is a lot of garbage information in the world - we'll help people find the good stuff.

I certainly recommend reading the article and considering some of its points.