Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Where we're coming from; where we're going.

This semester has already been quite a journey, and as far as I can tell will only continue. As I've gotten busier, this blog has started to languish. I have every intention of getting back to it, but for now, expect to see a transition over the next month or so as I attempt to turn the blog into my portfolio. Chances are quite good that most of the post content you'll see will be my writings from other places: I write for InfoSpace, and am both writer and co-managing-editor for Hack Library School, and over the next few months will be trying to gather most of my work from those sites here.

I'll also be adding content to the other pages on the site. One of my ongoing projects this semester has me thinking a great deal about portfolios, and a personal take-away has been the importance of presenting my work to the outside world. At least until I'm gainfully employed, and probably beyond, I want to share my work publicly, and this is one of the best forums for me to do so.

So it will be interesting. I'll be working hard on it--stop by and check out the new info!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

...so what the hell. Jump!

About to get started with the second day of R-Squared, the Risk & Reward Conference. I'm almost acclimated to the 9,500ft-plus altitude, after spending Sunday exploring the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, Colorado. The location couldn't be better for a retreat-style conference, and more than 350 librarians have come into town lately to prove just that. In and amongst the mountain peaks, we've been tackling the thorny questions of risk and reward in the library setting.
As a library student, I've been fortunate to participate in a bunch of library conferences, and all of them have their own themes and undercurrents. R-Squared is proving among the most closely aligned with my own interests in the library world, with its focus on flexibility and risk, entrepreneurial thinking, and creative solutions to age-old problems. Even nicer than that, though, is the population that chose to attend. Every person I've talked to - and they're a diverse bunch - proves through their interests and actions that the library world is changing. As a personal affirmation that I'm not crazy for caring about this stuff, it was worth attending, but more exciting than that is the chance to engage the conversations I care about in a proactive way, avoiding the endless explanations and justifications that "yes, these are issues we should be talking about."
I'm fairly sure I'm the only student here, and I think the lessons I'm learning apply just as much to me as they do to any of the librarians working in the field. To whit:
Stay curious! It's simple, but vital, for information professionals to stay just as curious as we wish the members of our communities would be.

Ask engaging questions! Question design can make all the difference between engagement and apathy.

Work publicly, fail big & often, and don't be shy, even when you aren't certain.
All of these have been said before, but they're worth saying again. We're entering a changing field, and we have the privilege- and the responsibility- to change it for the better.

Keep it up!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Heads up!

Wowzers, this semester started with a bang! My blog updates have suffered a little-here's why:

The summer flew by, what with an internship at Frederick County Public Libraries, and a trek to California for ALA Annual. Suddenly, it was the end of July, which meant it was time to get packed for three weeks abroad!

I spent the first two weeks of August in Florence, Italy, studying librarianship in the global context as part of a pilot program from the Syracuse iSchool. I had a fantastic time, forging connections between my understanding of librarianship and the Italian approaches we saw.

From there, I made my way to Helsinki, for the World Library & Information Congress, IFLA's annual conference. The city was astounding, and what a climate for libraries! Finland was a blast, the conference was a great place to network, and the conversations I had are helping me define exactly what it is that I want to do with my degree.

Arriving stateside with less than a week to spare to move, get settled in Syracuse, and prep for classes made for an exciting end-of-summer. Now, though, I've gotten a handle on my classes and have started to look ahead. This semester is filled - finally - with the content that inspired me to apply to LIS programs: Information organization and architecture. I have a nice mix, with the introductory/core Information Resources: Organization & Access class, an in-depth Information Architecture for Internet Services course, and a tech-heavy Social Web Technologies class in which I'm learning to program and design web interfaces and smartphone apps. The classes I have this semester are more related (and as such, jive better) than either term last year, and I'm excited to see them all coming together.

It'll be a good year, I think--I'm currently in Colorado, getting ready for the next adventure, and between conferences and job hunting and finishing all that pesky coursework, I'll be sure to stay as busy as I like to be.

Can't wait! I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I struggled for a while with the topic for this post. While in Florence, my personal attention was on all the myriad implications of space and place—while there was no way to do more than just scratch the surface in a place as storied as Florence, it was useful as a guiding lens to help me focus. The experience of place in Italy was overwhelming, and I’m still processing, connecting new dots and reaching new conclusions.

One of the things I believe to be true (and I thought this long before my current trip) is that librarians need to be laser-focused on outreach. No matter how fantastic the collection, if no one is aware of it, or willing to come to the library and engage with it, the collection will languish. In Florence, the libraries are clearly centers of culture, learning, and history—one can feel the weight of the centuries simply by walking into any of the historic libraries we visited. I realized, though, that in the bulk of cases I hadn’t seen or been presented with any efforts that showed the librarians leaving their libraries. Certainly, we saw libraries that made a great effort to welcome the world into their spaces, and we saw libraries that were truly leading the way in terms of digital access, making their collections available to anyone with an internet connection be they scholar or curious schoolchild. I’m also very aware that we spent relatively little time in all of the libraries we saw—while the librarians were very generous with their time throughout the city, it’s difficult to make any sort of blanket statement about library services after just one day’s tour and experience of a library.

Still, with all of that said, I think I’ve finally hit upon the reason I was always a bit unsettled in Florence. In the last year, I and my classmates have spent a great deal of time considering exactly what it means to be a librarian, and for me, the answer almost never had anything to do with the physical space of the library. Even in those possible futures in which I’m working for a traditional library, I’m outside of the building, working with project teams and holding steady as a mobile librarian, accessing library and internet resources from my station in the local café or community center. I’ve said that I’m not a rare-books librarian or an archivist, and I think what I may have meant is that I’m not a collections-focused librarian at all; rather, I’ll forge ahead with my communities and the people within them even if we don’t have a well-stocked research collection backing us.

In direct opposition to those ideals stand the great Florentine libraries, which have for centuries served as havens for learning, and as the repositories for the information in physical form. When faced with buildings that housed—or STILL house—some of the finest collections in Europe, what am I to do with this notion that ‘the books don’t matter’? For most of the libraries we saw, clearly the books not only matter, but are paramount. The librarians, then, are servants to the collections, carefully, skillfully adding to and conserving them regardless of the world outside. If people want to come to the library and use the collections, so much the better, but outreach was never high on the list of priorities for the libraries we saw. 

The oddest piece of it all for me is the realization that there’s something to be said for their approach. I still can’t see myself in that role, not really, but on some visceral level I think I “get” some of the notions that motivate the archivists I know. Bringing it full circle, I think, now, that I understand the unadulterated joy of creating the physical place of a library, and filling it with materials that will help distinguish the space. While I will likely focus my efforts on outreach, I now see the value of the other side of the coin.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Persistent Spaces, Flexible Collections

While in Florence, I and my colleagues have visited a number of libraries that were originally designed to house a specific collection. I was continually surprised to find that these collections—dating from the 16 and 17thth centuries—not only had their own cataloging schemata (not very shocking), but also that the spaces holding the books were designed specifically to accommodate the collections in question.

The implications are staggering.

Imagine a library in which the architecture of the physical space reflects the underlying logical design of the collection. Suddenly, interactions with a collection become more than simply finding the relevant materials, and expand to include an entire vocabulary of information-seeking behavior. Admittedly, the aforementioned Florentine libraries only showed the connection to their collections with built-in ornate shelf labels, designating precise location for the books in question, but the expansion of these ideas could mean anything from museum-style planned interactions with materials to full discovery-driven browsing in rooms that invite library patrons ever farther into the building, and into the collection.

Some might argue that libraries are already starting to borrow ideas from the fields of museum design and education for these sorts of interactions, but I think that the act of keeping space multi-purpose negatively affects the opportunities for planning this type of experience. The rooms in Florence were successful in part because the collections were very defined, circulated only a little to a relatively small audience, had a specific purpose, and grew very slowly, if at all. No matter the size of a collection, if the exact contents are stable, creating a space that will maximize the potential interactions with that collection will be easy. In modern libraries, however, the need to leave spaces that can be changed at will, because a collection is being weeded, because the film club is coming in and needs chairs set up like an auditorium, because new acquisitions are constantly growing (but changing the focus of) the collection, or because of any one of dozens of other reasons, is preventing the creation of specific, single-purpose spaces in many libraries, even if those spaces would otherwise be successful.

I admire libraries that display a great degree of flexibility. Until these two weeks in Florence, I would have argued for dynamic spaces with modular furniture every time. Now, though, while I still think that flexibility in librarianship is vital, I recognize that libraries with the luxury of designing for a defined collection may have a better deal. When I return to the states, I want to spend some time looking into this type of question: I know there may be answers I simply don’t have time to find at the moment.

Still, I wonder what possibilities might be out there that can address the need for flexibility while still customizing a space for specific interactions. The libraries in Florence that inspired me also serve as a sort of warning; They were customized for collections that in the intervening centuries have moved or been broken up, and now the customizations mean very little. While we might be able to design phenomenal spaces for fantastic experiences, if we don’t succeed in making them relevant into the future, how long will it be until they’re simply an unused relic?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Location, Location, Location

As long as I can remember, I've studied the masterworks of art history, either directly, as in my high-school Art & Architecture survey, or indirectly, providing context for my music history courses in undergrad. I thought I had a decent grasp of the importance of the works themselves, and even some of the historical implications (as documents for the study of Renaissance art, as evidence of the changing cultural attitudes in Europe at that time, as artifacts adding weight to claims of the Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy, and more), but what I realize now is the simple reality that studying the works from afar cannot possibly approach the heady experience of seeing them in person, in Florence.

No matter how perfect the reproduction, there are characteristics of the original that are hard to capture, including the fact that thousands-upon-thousands of people had been in exactly the same place, having their own reactions to a masterwork. Add in the realization that this was the work over which a master labored, this was the work in which a patron invested, this was the work that inspired the scholars and critics and people before considered a "masterwork", and it's a powerful experience. When the masterwork is a building, such as in Florence's Duomo, then there's no comparison to reproductions at all.

Location matters. Being in the same location as a work that is part of the world's cultural heritage is a feeling that can't really be described. Here, in Florence, I've seen the masterworks of the Renaissance, and I've held the books that were banned by the inquisition. I could write about that feeling all day, describing facets of the whole without ever being able to impart the nuances of the feeling.

Until this trip, I wouldn't have considered myself a rare-books/preservation/archives-focused librarian. I still doubt that I'll end up in one of those jobs, but I have a new respect for that sort of work. I appreciate, more, the effort that librarians and curators choose to spend on replicating a space that once existed, or creating a new one to showcase the works under their purview (which is technically an information-design problem, but that's a can of worms I don't want to open now).

I applied for #SUiSchoolFirenze because I wanted to travel more, and because I thought that talking about non-American librarianship would be easier and more enriching if I was outside the country. I knew there would be opportunities here I would never get in the States. The pleasant surprise, though, has been the places themselves.

Our locations change us, and partially determine what we can experience in a given situation. Here in Florence, I know that I'm faced with history I never would have understood if I hadn't been able to walk through the streets, to feel the weight of the traditions and the culture. Certainly, I have questions, but they are informed by the places I see, the places I go, and my questions are the better for it.

I'll be asking many of those questions as these reflections continue. Hopefully, I might even come to some conclusions, even if I don't get "answers" in the traditional sense. Bear with me?

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Somehow, I've ended up in Florence!

Well, it wasn't exactly a surprise, I suppose--I was fortunate enough to be selected for the iSchool's study-abroad pilot program. There are six of us here; myself, four other iSchool students, and our professor, Dr. Sarah Webb, who is teaching a modified version of her International Librarianship class and helping us parse the experiences we're having in the field.

I've been here almost a week, and have a number of blog posts in the works, most focusing on a theme of "Place." Of the libraries I've seen so far, there are some interesting implications of space, certainly, but I'm also very interested in exploring international librarianship through the perspective of location. My background in Renaissance music history is rearing its head once again, as I'm surrounded by the names, the art, and the culture of Florence.

We get a bit of free time this weekend, which is likely to be when I'll blog the trip. We've been going full-steam-ahead, and that also means that we've not had much time to process our thoughts. Personally, I enjoy being busy, but there are some things (including blogging) that find themselves lower on the list of priorities--especially when there's gelato involved. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Fishbowl Model

In-looking-out, or out-looking-in?
How do you facilitate a conversation in a conference setting when you don't want to settle for a "classic" Q&A, roundtable, or panel? Have a Fishbowl Conversation!

I first encountered the fishbowl model in a conference at which I presented in undergrad. One of the sessions at that conference was strikingly different than most traditional conference presentations. Chairs were arranged, not in rows, but in a large circle, with a number of aisles to the center remaining open. The presenters were quite deliberately spaced out, about evenly around the 25-or-so chairs in the center ring, and they were explaining their set-up as we entered:
"Come join us! We hope to have an active discussion, and we'll be calling on those people around the center of the room to contribute. If you'd like to participate less actively, please feel free to take one of the seats outside of the center ring--but know if you sit in the 'fishbowl' here in the middle, you'll be watched by everyone outside the bowl."
And it was true--the "presenters" served as facilitators, conversing with other participants in the center ring and leading the discussion by setting the tone. People in the center changed around, too--as they felt they had said their piece, some got up and moved back a few rows, freeing up seats in the center for others who wanted to come forward and speak. For the majority, who came more to listen to the presenters and the ideas than to advance a position of their own, it was information design at the very best; they could sit outside the center ring and absorb the scene in the middle, quite literally gazing into the fishbowl and watching the fish.

I've been looking forward to repeating the experience from the center of the fishbowl, and it looks like I've gotten a chance! The Hack Library School Conversation Starter at ALA annual will be fishbowl-style, so come hang out and join the conversation!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dangerous Ideas & Killer Questions

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending "Dangerous Ideas & Killer Questions," the final session of the Maryland Five Quarters program, a statewide, collaborative staff development effort. As the only student taking part anywhere in the state, I found myself observing, more than taking part. While I did jump on a few questions when I simply couldn't bite my tongue any harder, I was so aghast at some of the things I was hearing that I was shocked speechless. Rather than a direct reflection on the day and the process, there was a deeper issue that I am compelled to address. 
I am earning a degree in Library and Information Science. Nothing makes me want to drop the "Library" from that title and run screaming from the whole institution of libraries more than an afternoon spent rehashing old ideas packaged as innovation in a room full of practicing librarians.

I'm beginning to think that libraries are doomed. Not, as many claim, by market forces and the rise of readily-accessible information on the Internet, but by inexorable librarians who are so busy clinging to the sinking ship that they can't see the lush islands just off the starboard bow. We can reach the archipelago--but only if we start swimming now. And the sharks are hungry.

Any conversation of ideas--"dangerous" or not--in which I've taken part since beginning my relationship with Library-land has had a chorus of people saying "We can't do that; we've never done it that way before." If even half of the energy and innovation used to rephrase and reuse that statement could be applied to invent new ways of doing in libraries, libraries would be wildly exceeding expectations. Instead, library workers are so attached to keeping their safe little jobs in their safe little communities that they're deliberately obstructing progress. When a truly dangerous idea comes up, they get scared and self-censor that idea into oblivion within moments.

Here's a thought:

Life is scary. Suck it up and ACT.

Librarians have done great things, incredibly brave things. They've educated their communities, they've led political change, they've harbored some TRULY dangerous ideas, and they've only grown stronger for it.

Libraries are dealing with problems everywhere, and it hardly seems a secret that while they may win an occasional battle, they aren't yet winning the war. With a truly dynamic change, I am convinced the tide will turn, and that is one of the primary reasons I've chosen to pursue librarianship.

I can already hear the responses--that I'm too young, that I don't know what I'm talking about, that once I get into the "real world" my enthusiasm will tarnish, that I should shut up around my "elders and betters" who have worked in libraries for decades, that I have no leg to stand on before I've earned my MSLIS.

My response to those people is that it's often the newcomers in a field that make breakthroughs, if for no better reason than we don't know what rules we're breaking.

To that end, I'm forced to wonder why "library innovation" sessions are always so closed. We shouldn't be hiding away in a bunker, but instead should be inviting comments from doctors, artists, engineers, academics, and (heaven forbid) the actual communities that our libraries serve! Assuming that "we know better," simply because we work in libraries or hold the degree, is more than incredibly elitist: it's also incredibly short-sighted.

Change is good. Talking about change without doing anything? Not so good.

Try again. Fail early and often, and try something else. Shorten the timeframe of evaluation, and get rid of dead wood to make way for new growth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Barb Stripling for ALA President!

It's mid-April, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one in the #libraryschool world with piles of homework, final projects, and all of the little things that come with life outside of school. Still, this post needed to be written.

Along with all of the end-of-semester tasks, it's also time for the ALA elections. As a student member of ALA, I have the same right to determine the leadership of the organization that claims to represent my interests as any other member.

I intend to use it.

I'm voting for Barb Stripling. For the full-disclosure portion of our evening, it's important to note that I am a student at Syracuse University, and Dr. Stripling is on the faculty here.

Announcing my vote, though a nice touch of narcissism, isn't the purpose of this post. Explaining my logic, however, may help others with the same decision.

I'm voting for the person who makes a deliberate effort to reach out to library school students. Barb Stripling has done everything possible to be approachable, both here in Syracuse and around the country. I've watched her prepare for webconferences with ALA Student Chapters throughout the US, and I've seen her enthusiasm for student opinions. Barb genuinely cares about libraries, but she also cares about librarians, and as a future librarian I want her leading the charge to revitalize our libraries.

I'm voting for the librarian who is directly involved in Library & Information Science education. Barb stripling is actively engaged in the practice of teaching--more than that, she loves it. Her passion for educating us, the next generation of librarians, is obvious. Barb is infinitely patient, and I know I will become a better librarian on her watch. Her drive for teaching is also reflected in her commitment to conversations. As one of her students, I truly feel that Barb listens to me, that she considers my views, and that she can help me refine my thinking on the tough issues. I believe that ALA is most effective when ALA members can guide the organization, and so I want my president to listen to me, my fellow students, and all of our colleagues in the field.

I voted for Barb Stripling because she is the candidate who follows the style of librarianship I want to practice. She cares deeply about the conversations happening in libraries and out of them, and can lead ALA into the next generation of librarianship. As a future librarian, I know that with Barb at the helm, libraries will be places I want to work.

Library students, the decision is yours. Join me in voting Stripling for ALA President!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Honors

While visiting my alma mater these past few days, I was asked to step into a class and speak briefly to some of the Franklin Pierce Honors Program students. Reflecting on that experience, I realized there was more to say, and surely there were more coherent ways to say it. Here's take two:

To the Students in the Franklin Pierce Honors Program,

Congratulations are in order--you've embarked on a challenging program, and by making that decision have altered the course of your education. Honors education at the undergraduate level is designed as a launchpad for impressive work, and also as a training ground for the people who will take leadership roles in society.

Dream Big. The Honors Program is one of many experiences at Pierce that can make you stand apart from the multitude. Each of you can leverage Honors education (and the concomitant feather-in-your-cap) into graduate school or jobs as you wish. Expect great things, and Honors will help you make them happen.

Collaborate. Though Honors may seem like a personal journey--especially if you choose to Honor-ize classes in your major instead of taking the core with Honors--never forget that you have a cohort. Speaking from personal experience, the other Honors students are a phenomenal asset to your education; take advantage of the opportunity to work with students outside of your field(s) of study, as they provide perspective that you can't find elsewhere. Also, faculty may make time for you because of your Honors designation. See what projects of theirs you can join, explore mutual interests with them, or even just stop by their offices--they may have ideas for you, so don't be shy.

Similarly, don't hesitate to get in touch with the Honors alums--we're a small-enough group, still, that finding virtually all of us is fairly easy. We're all happy to network with Honors Program students, and having been through it, we know what it means. If you need advice, or have a project you'd like to share, or want some support for the Honors Program or another proposal, reach out.

Work Publicly. Academe is not a vacuum. Find ways to share what you're working on, whether that's a blog, a newsletter, a website for the Honors Program (which has been sorely needed for years now), the Academic Showcase, or conference presentations. Start building your public face now, and you'll be well on your way to getting the support you need for future endeavors.

Lead. Franklin Pierce is to this day a grand environment to work in--it's possible to know all of the faculty and most of the students on sight. Honors students can easily position themselves to make a difference in this environment, and can see concrete changes happen. Be clear on what differences you want to see, and lead the way to make it happen. Talk to your administration, your faculty, your staff, and your fellow students--be vocal, and don't give up easily. The Honors Program can be an incubator for great ideas, so use it as one.

Finally, don't be afraid to take risks. Your education will be radically different from a non-Honors-Program degree, and you should take advantage of that. Explore classes that take you out of your comfort zone, design workshops and lectures you want to take, and (respectfully) fight for what you believe in. A former provost at Franklin Pierce once exhorted that, "Honors students should be able to write their own syllabi, for life!" and it's fantastic advice. Know where you're going, know who to ask for help along the way, and make the journey your own.

Friday, February 17, 2012

They Know What We Want Before We Do.

There's a fantastic New York Times article by Charles Duhigg out now, focusing on the intersection between data, marketing, the habits of shoppers, and the science of habit-forming. It's all over twitter today, with a great deal of focus on a relatively small portion of the article--namely, that Target is able to use statistics on shopping habits to determine when someone is pregnant, and even get a ballpark due date. I can understand why that might have been the section that was pulled out (after all, what could be a better tagline than TARGET KNOWS A BABY IS COMING BEFORE THE FAMILY DOES) but it's a relatively minor anecdote in the article (People tend to change habits during major life events; pregnancy, marriage, divorce, etc).

Here's what I think people should really be talking about:

  • Humans are creatures of habit, just like all other living things.
  • The habit cycle is predictable, and can be harnessed.

As an information scientist, I'm certainly drawn to the predictive aspects of big data and statistics. As a mind- and program-hacking student, however, I'm especially interested in the analysis of the "habit loop." It goes something like this:

The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic (Duhigg).

Duhigg goes on to say that as habits form, we become less conscious of them, making them harder to break. Still, it's possible, especially if you're familiar with the various cues and rewards in your life.

If not, start experimenting! Rewards are easier to pinpoint--just ask yourself "What am I getting out of this?" When you think you have an answer, try an alternate reward that would provide the same benefit. Cues, on the other hand, can be tricky, but tend to fall into a few major categories: Location (Where are you?), Time (When is it?), Emotional State (How do you feel?), Other People (Who's around?), or the 'immediately preceding action' (What did you just do?). If you see yourself starting your habit, ask those five questions, and you might gain some insight into your habit loops.

Science is cool - Go use it!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Hats

Last week in IST613 (Planning, Marketing, and Assessing Library Activities), I was introduced to de Bono's "Six-Hats" system of collaboration and brainstorming. In a nutshell, each participant in a group "wears" a figurative hat. The hats are referred to by color, and each hat carries with it a role in the group:

White Hats--Responsible for bringing factual information to the table, white hats map out the pathways to required information.

Yellow Hats--Responsible for a deliberate approach to positive thinking, yellow hats strive to find the good points in each idea discussed.

Red Hats--Responsible for opinion-based thinking, red hats analyze ideas that may have no grounding in reality by a purely visceral approach.

Green Hats--Responsible for wild and crazy ideas, green hats take the creative angle in a discussion.

Black Hats--Responsible for constructive criticism, black hats focus on the bad points of any idea.

Blue Hats--The facilitators in a conversation, blue hats take the meta-conversation angle, serving as referees and making sure the other perspectives are balanced.

Any one of these roles can be a challenge, but I particularly want to focus attention on two of them. For me, good librarianship is about wearing the blue hat--certainly, we're encouraged to make our own decisions and contribute our own thoughts, but I see our position as being uniquely suited to facilitation. Good librarians bring resources and a multi-disciplinary background to bear on any problem, and have training to help disseminate ideas and solutions among disparate groups.

In tonight's exercise, however, I played the black hat of my group. I expected it to be easy--finding a negative position is often easier than backing up a positive one. However, it soon became astoundingly clear that if I was sniping at my teammates and tearing down our ideas, we wouldn't get anywhere as a group. From that realization, I reinterpreted the role of the black hat--though, certainly, black hats are meant to take the pessimistic side of a discussion, it's more about pointing out flaws as problems to solve. There's a distinct skill set involved in breaking problems into solvable chunks, and black hats - productive ones, anyway - need to focus their energy that way.

As more of a personal note, I tend toward blue-hat thinking and positioning within a group. I'm glad we explored this idea in class, because the other perspectives offered within the six-hats framework will likely prove useful, especially knowing that they might not be my instinct. (Also interesting--two of the other students in my project-group also identified with the blue-hat approach. I wonder to what extent we self-selected because of it?)

It's another concept to add to my toolkit. If only all of my classes had such concrete additions!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Difference that Makes a Difference" [ID Part I]

This semester, I'm taking Information Design, a studio class led by the inimitable Jaime Snyder. As part of an experiment in radical information sharing, I'll be making my notes available publicly, in blog form. Please add your own thoughts to my synthesis of material in the comments.

Week One, 1/18 "Designing with Information"

We dove right in, exploring the possible definitions of information (something that will doubtless be a semester-long task). The mutability of useful information is best illustrated by this YouTube video, and it helps to show that one key definition of information is "difference that makes a difference" (Gregory Bateson, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972).

The class looks like it'll be quite an exploration. There aren't "right" answers, and the approach will vary from week to week as we look at different applications of information design. (Hint: Everyone designs their information. Yup. Everyone.) There is a class blog, which will start to shed some definite information on the course as posts accumulate there. I should warn you that the studio environment is something that can't translate easily to written notes, and seems to be the primary focus of the coursework. I'll do what I can to share that with you.

As an example of the studio work, we tackled a seemingly-basic problem:
Say you have a jar of jellybeans, in five colors. You want to pick out the blue ones. The problem has two facets--One, to isolate EVERY blue jellybean; Two, to isolate ONLY blue beans. We split into groups of five or six people, and thought of a few solutions, but the real illustration came during the debriefing. It turns out we'd just solved a classic problem in information retrieval--Precision vs. Recall. In essence, the need for fidelity (only blue jellybeans) and completeness (every blue jellybean) thread themselves throughout the information field, but in this particular example of information design, we found an easy, metaphorical way of approaching the problem, without the seemingly-overwhelming "Go build a search engine."

I get the feeling that most good information design will feel like that--in fact, one of the best quotes from David McCandless (Who gave this TED talk, another thing we watched in class) is that "Design is about solving problems, and providing elegant solutions." Elegance is something that's hard to find in poorly-designed information, but it's completely vital. Well-designed information experiences can convey concepts that would be otherwise hard to grasp, as in Charles & Ray Eames' classic Powers of Ten. Even though the video was made back in 1977, it's still one of the clearest examples of scientific orders of magnitude available.

Powers of Ten is noteworthy for another reason. Information changes, of course, and viewing Powers of Ten quickly led us to a discussion about the expansion of scientific knowledge since it was made. Though it's a digression, it's important to note that even "false" information can provide a window into the past. I'm reminded of an incident when I was working for the Boston Early Music Festival on L'Incoronazione di Poppea. The translator had been struggling with the word "Fiaccole," which in modern Italian simply means "torch"--not exactly the most evocative language. However, the breakthrough came when she found an Italian-English dictionary dating from the early 17th century, "little falling stars" being a significantly more elegant translation, and a fitting description of Poppea's eyes. Though it wouldn't be a correct translation of modern Italian, it was perfect for Monteverdi's use of the language in 1643.

Once again, it all comes down to "Difference that makes a Difference." The next few months should be fun--Keep an eye out here, and I'll keep posting each week.

What differences have made a difference in your information design and usage? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Aaaand we're back!

Well now. I'm back in Syracuse, two-thirds done with my first week of classes at the iSchool. I know things will be busy, but I've every intention of keeping on with the blogging. Here's your roster:

I'm taking three classes: Database Administration Concepts & Database Management; Information Design; and Planning, Marketing, & Assessing Library Activities. They're all going to be a stretch, for various reasons (I don't have the tech background for DB-Admin/Mgmt; PMA is project-based, which is fairly new for me within non-science courses; and Info Design is going to be a mental stretch in awesome ways, I can already tell).

My writing will be appearing in four places. Here, of course, but also on the class blog for Information Design, on a weekly basis. Less often, but still on a regular schedule, look for my writing on Information Space, the official blog of the School of Information Studies here at Syr. Finally, I've just joined the team over at Hack Library School, an opportunity for which I'm incredibly excited.

Apparently, I'm starting to be real on the internet as well as in person. Last semester, I was one among a number of current iSchool LIS students who took part in interviews to show what New Librarians are doing. If you're curious, check us out!

Posts here, this semester, will mostly be personal reflections, notes on classes, commentary on pedagogy, and anything else that doesn't quite fit with other places. It'll be a journey--come with me! As always, you can also follow me on Twitter @HieAnon.