CLA 2009 Recap: Tech / Copyright / Leadership

Last weekend I attended the 2009 CLA Conference in Montreal. Although I’ve already reviewed some sessions that focused on tech/people intersections, I haven’t given a good re-cap of the conference as a whole. And I don’t think I’m willing to start now that a full week has passed  since the conference ended. Many other bloggers, far more eloquent than I, have already written about the weekend so it would be just as well to look them up. Instead, I’m going to render my experience into three broad categories. We love the number three, especially when categorizing and listing things, so it should work out well in the end.

1. The Tech.

I’ve written a few times about the tech conversations I had already, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse much longer except to say that CLA 2009 confirmed to me the fact that technology and social media are great tools to help people but remain secondary to the relationships we have with our communities. I’m more than happy to start a Twitter account for any organization I work with or for, but I’m going to use that Twitter account get in touch and keep in touch with the organization’s community and not just because Twitter’s cool. The People Factor remains essential to librarianship.

2. Copyright in Canada.

Copyright is a bit of an academic interest and pet project of mine, so I made a special point to attend several sessions dealing with copyright legislation, debates, and struggles in Canada. Bill C-61 may have fizzled out in Ottawa last year, but it was only by the mechanics of Parliament that it did, and we can be sure that the next iteration is in development and soon to hit us over the head again. Tony Horava at the University of Ottawa and Olivier Charbonneau at Concordia University both gave good talks that reminded us of the current lie of the land and hopefully reinforced the fact that the status quo is not good for any one or any organization. Whether you represent a culture industry, Big Media, or the average citizen, you are likely demanding and expecting change regarding copyright, digital use, and fair dealing. More librarians need to become informed about the byzantine frameworks, policies and debates going on about copyright and then get vocal on this issue.  To do so is not just to act in the interests of the profession but also to act in defense of our civil rights.  Both copyright holders and copyright users have rights and privileges under the Copyright Act, and we must see to it that ours are not eroded.

3.Librarianship and Leadership.

Our profession (let us all reserve judgment on the “whither a profession?” debate) is rather fortunate relative to other fields in the culture industry. We are part of an organized, international group of managers and leaders who know more than a thing or two about preserving and promoting the cultural, social, and intellectual interests of our communities. But the proper administration of LAMs demands more than an expertise in virtual reference, government documents and cataloguing. Our profession, privileged as it may be, needs to “take care of its own” and improve its ability to manage its resources. What’s more, I’d go so far to suggest that it’s not enough to lead only our institutions.  Rather, we must “use our skills for good” and play a larger, leading role within society. As librarians, we have a developed expertise in the organization, dissemination and use of information, and as a profession we owe it to ourselves to use this expertise to improve the communities in which we live. By developing and nurturing our profession’s leadership skills, we stand a greater chance of not only strengthening our cultural institutions but also leaving an indelible mark in society. I may only be at the start of this new career in information science, but I know enough to applaud initiatives like the National Summit on Library Human Resources that was held in October 2008.  When we consider the future of the profession, we must consider how we’re going to govern it and why we’ll govern it in such a manner, all the while reminding ourselves to question how it will fit in with and shape society at large.

That’s enough pontificating for one evening. Carry on.

80/20 for librarians

At the ETIG pre-conference camp at CLA 2009, a couple people suggested that what the library world needs right now is something like Google’s 80/20 time to kindle and kick-start all of our imaginations onto new and wonderful projects. It’s hard to be against such a proposal and frankly, I’d love to see it done in any workplace I do (or will) set foot in. 80/20 time would be a boon to any organization, be it library science or googlizing the world – sign me up and count me in.

I’ve been giving some thought to how 80/20 time could meaningfully work, though. A friend of mine works – in spirit, if not in hours – in an 80/20 labour situation. He decided to take on an MPA while holding down his full-time position. To facilitate this, he played around with the length of his lunches and the time that his days began in order to ensure he always had Friday off to get some school work done. Three years later, he finished a two-year degree with a thesis in hand. That took a lot of hard work on his part, but since his organization was willing to bend, he came away with a lot more practical knowledge that has been useful to the workplace since.

Whether any 80/20 time would be spent on professional development or on developing little side projects that might turn into bigger projects for the organization (e.g. like how the Gmail side-project turned Google from a simple search engine to a social gathering space), the logistics and the evaluation of the outcomes are outside the bounds of the everyday work experience. How does one plan for a certain number of individuals to accomplish new goals that on the surface might appear tertiary to the organization’s main focus, and then how does one judge the work when its complete? The former takes skills, knowledge, and experience in strategic planning and management, of course, but the latter requires faith on the part of leadership. Organizational leadership would have to sit back and understand that for the long-term health of the organization and its professionals that the side-projects would have to be allowed to both stumble and succeed over time. After all, one is going to get dirty when playing in a sandbox.

I don’t think a cynic could work with the concept of 80/20 time. If one is more likely to say “give a man an inch and he’ll take a mile” than, “teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life” (*), then the thought of giving staff time to work on their own projects might not ever work out. 80/20 – in any organization – requires a healthy dose of faith and optimism on the part of the leadership for it to succeed.

(* – I know the metaphors don’t match. My point is that for 80/20 to work, a certain amount of time and labour-hours must be freely given to the staff. There can’t be reservations about this, and it must be given with excitement for what the time might bring to all involved.)

CLA Musings – The Library Profession

Why are you here?  I don’t mean to ask why you are here at this blog, or there at home, or somewhere else like a hotel room (as I am now), a convention floor (where I will be shortly), a C@P site (where I sometimes go), or anyone other location.   No, I mean, why are you here, at the 2009 CLA?

That’s still beating around the bush,I think.  In asking why you came to the 2009 CLA, I want to ask why you got yourself into librarianship and/or information science (a rose by any other name is still as sweet).  Sometimes, I tell people I came into this profession because I was looking for something to do, but when I’m being serious and on the ball, I tell them the real story – that I like technology, and I like people, and I really like to help people, especially when helping people can either inform them or help them empower themselves.  Now, you might be saying to yourself, “blah blah blah etc etc” or “there’s a mission statement and a purpose in life”, but I generally hold dear to those words.  I like it when people learn.  And I hate it when people are prevented from learning because of the things around them.

So, librarianship and me, we get along real well.  If I’m not thinking about information literacy, then I’m thinking about information policy. and if i’m not thinking about policy, then i’m thinking about social responsibility and civic rights.  and when i say “social responsibility”, I don’t mean it in a “let’s be corporately socially responsible” sort of way. That’s all well and good, indeed, but what I really mean is more like “we help people read and write and inform and be informed. let’s not only encourage it, but protect it.”

That’s why I’m here this weekend.

(I’m also here for the bagels.  and the cheeses.)

talking tech

I’m here in Montreal, QC, to attend the 2009 CLA Conference.  But before the big show got going, I first sat in on the Emerging Technologies Interest Group‘s pre-conference session, which was spectacularily rescued and then hosted by some fine people over at McGill’s SLIS.  You guys are awesome – thanks.

I had to step out at the lunch hour since I had to bring to bring some work along on the trip  – there are many papers to mark this week, and my own deadlines to return them are fast approaching – but it was all in all a nice little morning.  Although I don’t think the three speakers (John Fink, Jason Hammond, and Jessamyn West) really had anything revolutionary to say this morning (that’s not necessarily a bad thing, guys), they all spoke on the difficulties us librarians can have dealing with, tech, tech people, and the people we serve.

I think there is something more to these problems than just “dealing with tech”, and it becomes evident if you were to mash up the speakers’ talks into one.  The problems we encounter when dealing with tech isn’t necessarily tech so much as it is “translating” the needs of our patrons/clients/neighbours to the tech people who get their feet dirty dealing with code and hardware all day long.  Our profession may not be tech experts, but we can at least speak their language. Likewise, we can also evaluate how to best fill the “tech needs” (if their is such as a thing – I’d rather just say “needs”) of the people we serve.  We can mediate between the two groups to achieve vibrant, happy endings full of mini-successes and rainbows.

We do an alright job of this most of the time, but as Jessamnyn noted, sometimes we falter and we don’t see the forest for the trees.  we need to remember that we try to implement tech and social media not because its cool or savvy or hip with the kids, but rather because these tools can sometimes actually help people.  If the tech isn’t going to help a person, then let’s find another way to use our skill sets to enlighten some one’s day.  That might be teaching them  to differentiate between files and folders on a desktop, or it may also be explaining how to just use an OPAC or even how to best compile (dare i say it) print sources.

i suppose what i’m trying to say is that yes, tech is awesome, and yes, i love the tech very much.  And i also want to use it to make my job easier and other people’s lives better. but in the end, i’m in this job for the people.  i want to help people.  librarians can bridge the gap between tech and people because we have a foot in each camp.  let’s just be sure that we’re always attuned to the needs of the latter..