Learning, the act of gaining knowledge, is a craft unto itself. It starts with questions - the what ifs, how abouts, whys, . . . leading from the unknown to the known, through inquiry, experimentation, travel, and of course pure accident.

This is about how it happens in my life.

Milestone, not Millstone

I have been given some lovely, funny, moving and treasured birthday cards over the years.  As much as I am definitely not a pack rat, my sentimental streak is wide and deep, and so I have a few small boxes stuffed with mementos.
With so many changes this year, and with more and bigger changes still to come, well, let's just say that as a cynic bordering on pessimist, I humbly say "my cup runneth over" with the goodness and grace of the people in my life.
Anyway, back to cards.  I have to share this one:

Some people turn 40 and start asking
"Where am I? How did I get here? And by the way, how do I get back?"
But not you.
You've got your bearings, and you're right where you should be-
at 40 and at your best, right smack dab between
experience and possibility,
and pefectly possitioned
for a great new decade of you.
I'm good with that. 
Thanks to D D A and J (and Hallmark)

About the Papier Mache Project

When The Star started appearing on my door step as part of an unsolicited trial I was conflicted about what to do with all the paper.  I decided to experiment with papier mache, (this page shows all the works) something I had not done since I was a kid, and knew held great creative possibilities.  The one site I found most useful for learning the basics again was http://www.papiermache.co.uk/.   It also gave me inspiration for what else can be done with this amazing and accessible medium. 
You need some space to make a mess for a few days, some kind of plastic (old shower curtains are awesome for crafts!) for a work surface, and some paper. Don't used newspaper to protect your table unless you want to papier mache your table top while you are at it (you could do this, of course, finished with a good coat of lacquer!)
I used sunshine and a small heating fan in the bathroom to assist with drying times.  The faster things dry the greater chance of warping, of course.

the snowmen, pre painting
I used paper from the September 2011 daily delivery of The Star, including much of the non-glossy inserts.

here you see the unfinished versions of all the bowls

 To make the glue I used about 1kg of flour in total, 1/2c per batch with 5 cups water. Here's what I did: bring 4c to a boil, add in the remaining 1c which has the 1/2c flour mixed into it. Turn down heat to med and let simmer while you keep stirring, about 4 min. To test when done:  dip spoon in and lift out. run your finger down the back of the spoon. the mark should stay, with very little bleeding at the edge.
The glue thickens as it cools, but can be easily thinned out with more water as needed.
It would take me until Tuesday to catch up from Saturday; that day alone required more than 2 batches of glue.
 I used about 1ltr of acrylic paint/gesso/mediums, and all items noted as food safe are finished with shellac, (the excretion of the female lac bug, which is native to India and Thailand. Honest. see here) and has been used by the confectionery industry for years to create shine. You've eaten this stuff, so it's okay on the bowls etc!

Each piece involved hours of work, not including time for drying. I used a combination of techniques to build up the shapes, with stainless steel bowls and other household objects acting as forms.
you can see the trees in the background, some of the papier mached bags, some coffee tins used as forms and all sizes of paper ready to be used.
The plastic bags shielding the paper from the rain were used to ensure easy release, since the glue won't stick to it. Some of the shapes were formed around other paper (the trees and pumpkins), while others are paper all the way through, such as the snowmen and penguins.  
It has taken me as long to paint the items as it did to create them.
Out of just over 100 pieces, about 15 didn't work out for various reasons and have been recycled already.  All the items I made when I tried making paper clay got caught in a rain storm while I was away from home. They were out on the front porch drying at the time.



 There are still many items that haven't any paint on them at all yet. The bowl to the left was one of the first things I made and is still just newspaper.

'off kilter red' uses an lcbo bag which I papier mached to make it rigid


As the pieces piled up I had to decide what to do with them. I decided to give them away as an incentive to donate to the Santa Claus Fund, since all the pieces are made of The Star and all.
I was interviewed by Vit Wagner at The Star about my papier mache project after I emailed them about it. I didn't want to get in trouble for "soliciting" on their behalf, which is why I've made it clear from the start to donate directly to the fund, and pick a piece free.

Here is a link to the article and video: crafty approach to philanthropy

These items are remarkably strong, even before the acrylic paint is applied.  As few as 6 layers of paper is rigid enough to remain horizontal as a 16x16 square, just holding it at the edge.
I'd like to use this kind of technique on a wall, maybe with maps or blue prints . . .I'll keep you posted on what ever comes next!

What Were You Expecting?

I readily confess a love of words. Words are marvelous playthings, with the power to move and shape the world around you, even if they don't actually "take you anywhere."  I grew up playing a rather cooperative form of Scrabble with a garrulous assortment of relatives which provided fertile ground for speaking poly-syllablicly (an making up words!) an early age. 
Some times words come together in a particular way that perfectly captures an idea and resonates through time. The world of tropes, idioms, cliches, memes, proverbs, metaphors and such works as an underlying architecture for our thoughts, words and actions.   I happily employ such turns of phrase on a regular basis, because they are such useful building blocks for a bigger idea.

Take for instance, Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong, will.   This form (if X is possible, and if X is bad, X will happen) along with myriad new memes yields many humorous extensions and variations.   Like most adages, there is a significant, universal truth embedded in this simple phrase:  with a perfect state being just one of  (any whole number greater than 1) possible outcomes, the likelihood of it occurring, let alone occurring every time, is far from certain.

I'm particularly fond of this one:
Necessity is the Mother of Invention

It is first credited to Plato in The Republic (a useful read today for anyone thinking about alternative forms of governance!), and by the 1600s it was a well known English phrase.   As with Murphy, this particular form (X is the Mother of Y) is ripe for modification and play.
For instance:
Expectation is the Mother of Disappointment

Consider a recent CIBC poll of Canadian high school graduates on financial literacy.  It found that the majority of respondents figure they'll be making $90,000 a year by age 30 (so, in about 10-12 years). Never mind that  $90,000 a year in Canada puts you in the top 10% of earners; even accounting for inflation 10 years out I bet that income would still be in the top 20%.
Add in an overwhelming belief in their ability to pay off student loans in 5 years as they enter a bloated workforce with a fancy piece of paper and no hard essential skills, well . . . Let's just say that our current economic woes are not going to be resolved any time soon.

Even Santa understands this. This NY Times article on the 2011 class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus school shows how seriously these Santas are in gently and sincerely managing the expectations of the kids who sit on their laps. They support the mystery and wonder of Christmas finely balanced with the constraints of reality. I don't doubt many a parent has left one of these dedicated Santas relieved and grateful, with a happy child whose holiday dream might just be more manageable.

Which brings me back to Plato. He is, of course, right about Necessity.  It is a driver of innovation, change, ingenuity. It is expansive and opportunistic, and favours those who want see beyond what's here, now.  And it is most successful when it is tempered by the expectation of what is possible, what is probable, and what must wait for another time.

Satisficing on Service

There has been much ado in Libraryland with regards to ebooks recently.  Over the 10 or so years that OverDrive has been working with Libraries to provide ebook content,  it is only in the past few years that we've seen significant movement in this area.  Portable ereaders only started to come of age in 09, many developed by the retailers themselves. This created the necessary momentum for further ebook development, and was a first step in changing the relationship between publishers, readers, retailers and Libraries. As Libraries started to lend readers as well as provide access to content, it seemed the universe was unfolding as it should.  More recently, the landscape has shifted yet again, with Amazon deciding to get into the lending through Libraries game, and Penguin deciding to get out of it as a result.

As I've been following the comments (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) and pondering all of this. I am starting to think that when it comes to lending popular fiction as ebooks, Libraries are fighting an un-winnable battle.

There are a few quite diverse reasons leading me in this direction:
  1. Economic: higher costs to Libraries with no ownership as compared with same title in print is a tough sell with tight budgets
  2. Economic: ereaders themselves are still not ubiquitous in the general population. I imagine those that have them were prepared to acquire content independent of Libraries.
  3. Functional: using an ereader while soaking in the tub can be problematic
  4. Behavioural:  people do not generally feel the need to keep the popular fiction they might purchase - used book stores are a testament to this.
    This means that for both the publisher and the reader-consumer, the ebook licensing model, if priced right, makes sense.  It means that from the publisher perspective, Libraries just may not be part of the fiction ebook landscape. 
Facilitating access to content is something Libraries do very well, regardless of format. They always have.  But it is always a balance.   For instance, my reading interests fall outside of the Toronto Public Library's scope a number of times every year or I can't take the materials out.  I'd be quite happy to forgo the money spent on fiction ebooks to so there could be a lending copy of  some of the 250 books on Librarianship that are reference only.

I'm no Luddite, but I am, I guess, a skeptic of high tech.  I am much enamoured of how it makes many things easier, including the simple act of recording one's words.   But the idea of lining up for hours or even over night in order to get the next new device strikes me as, well, ludicrous.  It reminds me of distracting a toddler with shiny keys while you continue putting groceries in the cart.

The term satisficing was coined in 1956 by Herbert Simon, a polisci/econ/psych/sociologist. It is about figuring out what is adequate verses optimal.   It is about understanding constraints, variables, relationships and desired outcomes.  I think it is a useful concept for Libraries and all of us in Libraryland to keep in mind as the ebook landscape is continually re-formed. 

Curiosity and Craft

Yup, I like to make stuff.*  It's a very experimental process for me - a chance to explore, to exercise my curiosity physically.  The combination of question and creation has led to a lifetime of learning in all sorts of interesting ways. 
When it comes to many types of art and craft, access to materials along with uncertainty about how to use them are equally large barriers. The first has always been and still is primarily a question of cost; the second would often be bridged with knowledge passed along via family and community.  For the most part neither factor was an issue in my youth. Both my parents created and crafted, shared knowledge and did their best to provide opportunities for my sister and I.

I've learned from my experiences with curiosity and craft.

I remember what I guess you could call my first experiment. We still lived in Kelowna, up the hill above the highway, so I was no older than 4.
I took a small paper bag and filled it with water in the bathroom.  With surprise I walked out to the kitchen and announced to my dad that paper bags held water! just as the paper gave way and water splashed all over the floor.
 Sometimes it isn't clear what the outcome will be. That's okay.

I learned to sew before it was a subject in school because my mother sewed. Mom has an amazing eye for pattern and colour, and has made amazing things over the years from every day clothes to holiday outfits for us kids to amazing curtains and slipcovers for a sofa.  She'd turn every day plain into something unique, crafted with care. Long before I was sitting at the machine myself I remember going to the fabric store with her to pick patterns and fabrics; then I watched, and some times helped, as my Mom wrangled the pattern and fabric and pins and thread into some thing new for me.   I remember her frustration when I crouched down to experiment with the foot pedal, making the machine go unexpectedly faster . . .
Sometimes its best to go slow on purpose.
The first time I made a pair of shorts for myself I used the same pattern than my mom had used many times before. I followed along, but somewhere along the line I decided that the pockets should be lower.  Mom tried to convince me otherwise, but I proceeded with my plan.  When I was done the shorts fit just fine, hemmed evenly, and with functioning pockets.  Of course, I had to do a side bend to get my hand down to near my knee to get something out of them.  I never tried that particular experiment again.  I've made enough things now that I know what I can tweak and how I can tweak it.
Sometimes curiosity gets ahead of the craft.  
Process has to be honoured before it can be challenged.

My first exposure to water colours was self-directed. I would sit on my bedroom floor with the kit I received for Christmas one year. .  There might have been some kind of booklet along with the paper, paints and portable easel/portfolio; I'd like to think I'd have looked through it if it existed.  The short story is that I didn't take to water colour painting at first. I wasn't keen on, well, the watery-ness of it all. I wanted the vibrancy of colour I saw right from the tube, not the thinned out hint of colour when used "as directed". Colour bleeding into the wrong places and endless drying time?  There is so much of leaving space empty just so it would be white. Ugh!  (You can imagine my the depth of my envy at the acrylic painting set my sis received that same Christmas.)
Sometimes it's what's not there that matters. Sometimes it's what you leave out.

My Dad was happiest when working with his hands. He worked on projects like the Revelstoke Dam, the Railway Museum (including a mock up of a rail car - engine, maybe?) and the Gift Shoppe out at Craigellachie, at least one house in town,  a heli-skiing lodge in the Bugaboos. . . But my first experience with my dad's ingenuity was when he made beds for my sister and I. There were decorative knobs on each post, and to paint them my dad attached the threaded metal that would go into post to his drill and dipped the knob into the paint and out again. Using some kind of shield for spatter, he turned the drill on for just a few seconds. This avoided any blobby drips as it dried by eliminating excess paint.  One thing is for sure: he took pride in his work, in his ability to figure things out, in being part of something that will last.  He shared this enthusiasm in many ways over the years. What I remember most are trips up to the Dam construction site with ice cream cones in hand, to watch the overhead cable crane deposit concrete or other materials, or better yet see the huge earth movers up close. He'd point to where he'd been working, explain what was going on . . .  
Sometimes just sharing your passion is enough to create big change.

I figure that living things are either growing or dying. There is no stasis, no steady state.  For humans, growth comes in the form of learning, exploring, creating, sharing.   So, ask yourself these 2 questions: 
What do I want to learn?
What can I share with others?

Just think of what we can achieve!

*And indulgence, if you will: I've created a Picasa web album of various and sundry creations (although one is certainly not my doing, but it seems fitting to the theme, and took some doing to snap).  It can be found here, and as a slide show in the side bar to the right of this blog.  It will continue to grow with current, future and older projects.  I'm motivated by the memory of the tremendous number of works my Gran did over the years - constantly sketching and painting - which we didn't know of until we cleaned out her house in 2010.   All the family and friends who came to celebrate her life were able to leave with some memento from my Gran's own hand.   It's not that she didn't share what she'd created - she did. A few wonderful pieces she framed and hung on her walls.  Having lived a life of making do, moving constantly until age 13, as the middle child of what, 17 kids? she was clever and crafty with crochet, gardening, sewing and cooking as well; practical stuff, for others.  The sketching and painting? I think Gran pursued that for herself, it was just a part of her.

The pursuit of craft, the exploration and work it requires is it's own reward.


Finding the Future


hwy 48 east early morning
Yesterday I came across this great article from the Columbia Journalism Review titled "How the Past Saw the Future", thanks to http://www.stumbleupon.com/home/.  (if you've never checked this great free site click on the link now! it will open in a new window, you can finish reading here and then start stumbling your way to great sites you'd never find otherwise!!)


The author, Megan Garber, engages the reader in an insightful reflection on the practice of Journalism and the role that Journalists play in our communities.  Her thoughtful articulation reminds me again why Journalism has always exerted such force on me. 
It also reminds me of just how much Journalism and Librarianship share in terms of values, perceived and actual roles in society, asking questions, providing context for answers and supporting informed decision making.  The work of neither is unbiased, but that doesn't inhibit balance and objectivity in the result.

To demonstrate, let me quote Garber:
Writing about journalism has always meant, to some extent, writing about the future of journalism. Reporters are, constitutionally, restless. We want to know what’s coming next, particularly when it affects us and our ability to do good work. And that has been true, of course, even prior to our present moment. 
We can insert Librarianship, and the rest of her statement rings equally true.  This is not the case with every profession, soft or hard, especially the sense of restlessness, of constant (not merely continuing) education and engagement in the whys and wherefores of the work.  Mike Ridley's tweet on November 18 on the future of academic librarianship drives home this essential characteristic of Librarianship
If the real gap in academic librarianship is "curiosity" then we do have some very serious work to do (@mridley 12:26 pm Friday Nov 18 2011)
(as an aside, I've been wondering why there is not more happening at Libraries in terms of gathering and disseminating local news.  Media concentration aside, the fact is that geographically disparate areas will have different needs and abilities to satisfice.  I can see some keen synergies and value creation . . . Then again, even local Libraries are really so "local" any more, and their larger structures may hinder such explorations.  The efficiencies gained by consolidating some aspects of a system are built on the backs of less autonomy and flexibility elsewhere)

Thanks to Garber, I have been re-introduced to Neil Postman (I went through a semantics and language reading phase in the mid 90s).  She quotes him from an 1996 CJR article asking the question
What is the problem to which the profession of journalism is the solution?
Again, the parallel with Librarianship is clear: How do we collectively answer this question? And perhaps more importantly, how do we embody that answer in our individual behaviours?  

(another aside, I  wanted to know the origin of the Postman quote. The best I can tell is that it was from an interview with a K. Fulton and published in CJR back in 1996.  This is the reference given in Mark Pearson's 1999 Doctoral Dissertation at Bond University in Australia, called  "The New 'Multi-Journalism: Journalists and educators perceptions of the influences of the Internet upon journalism and its implications for journalism education"  And you'll never believe it, but he talks about this New Multi-Journalism the same way Lankes talks about New Librarianship, which I'm currently "reading")

It is vital that we ask questions about what we do, and why.  We need desperately to move beyond the curse of knowledge about ourselves. We need to start with an acceptance that
Libraries don't exist to employ Librarians.
Library education and the formalization of "the degree" are recent constructs and probably have less impact on improved access to content than economic growth and new technologies.
To our Members, any one who works in a Library is a Librarian
The questions we need to ask are not about us, or about the boxes in which we work.  When we start asking the questions that put our Members first then we'll start finding the answers we need.

Fabricating a Fascinating Future

The recent announcement of a Fab Lab at Fayetteville Free Library has created a lot of buzz - and justifiably so! It is a huge investment of multiple resources, and from what I can see on the MIT list, will be the only one run by a Library. I really like how the folks at FFL talk about their Fab Lab as an enhancement of existing collections and services. 
I agree.
There are huge opportunities to extend the creative potential of Libraries in new and dynamic ways using a wide range of technologies.
When I first saw a 3-D printer on Daily Planet or some such show I was impressed - it's a pretty cool technology, without a doubt.  Mind you, it wasn't fast, involved large, expensive pieces of equipment, and was expensive to use as well.  But the things you could make with just a few taps on a keyboard! 

After the initial ooooohhh factor wore off I found myself thinking of The Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, and  Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.

And then I found myself thinking: how is this different than what is already done in wood and metal shops around the world, and for years at that?  You want to reproduce the original 19th century trim and wrought iron for your heritage building? No problem, we'll just program the profile into the computer and run the raw material through the ________ (lathe, router, break, plasma torch . . .)
Mind you, fabrication shops with such modern automated systems tend towards the industrial scale, or fill a niche that allows for a premium price. 

Yet for many people who make their livelihood with the crafts and trades, the tool kit is much more basic and hands-on. Myriad physical things that make up daily life - clothing, furniture, buildings - come to us via centuries old techniques combined with modern day materials and tools. 

So imagine this

Jane logs on to her Library account and looks for books on figure drawing.  She loves to "doodle" as her nephew says - he keeps asking her to draw him, and now the notion of trying something like that is stuck in her head! 
She finds some materials that look useful, and places holds on a few of them.
The Library catalogue notifies Jane that the library has additional holdings relating to this book:
1) drawing pencils
2) charcoal sticks
3) pastels
4) samples of paper
5) poseable figurines for humans and other animals


Realizing that purloined hotel pens and stubby eraserless pencils may not be the best tools, Jane requests pencils, charcoal and a human figurine.  She'll practice on what ever paper she can find for now. 
Finally, Jane sees this in the catalogue:
Expertise Library: portrait artist
A note on the site explains that The Expertise Library is a collection of people who have skills, knowledge and experience covering a range of  trades, crafts and other areas of expertise, all of whom want to help others learn that same thing. The lending conditions for each human book vary, and may permit consultation on specific issues.
Jane sees an open time slot in the following week and considers for a moment.  She'd heard about this Expertise Library from a friend who needed to make a theatre costume for her son. The daunting task was demystified when her friend was able to check out a sewing machine and a seamstress human book. It turned out so well other parents asked for help! 

With a few clicks Jane has booked her human book visit with a local portrait artist.  The confirmation screen encourages Jane to bring along materials, works (in progress or finished) for discussion/assistance.
Just a Jane logs off she receives an email with a calendar reminder for next week, and notice of when she can pick up her holds.  She can already picture the smile on her nephew's face when she hands him his portrait! 




Pretensions? or Pretentious

That's it. I'm claiming, and proclaiming, my artistic pretensions.  The drive to create, fueled by imagination and curiosity, has always been a part of my life, although I have not always shown it the honour it deserves.  Some how it just didn't fit me when I was younger: I swam and ran and jumped and read and wrote and tested all very well. It all came easily, working at doing it better was fun, and had real results in the real world.  All the artistic stuff - singing and performance or visual arts - I enjoyed doing them, but rarely in public, rarely showed to anyone.  In hindsight I can see it was fear: the subjectivity of success was terrifying to me. 
Nonetheless I have been creating since a young age. I still have and use a portable easel kit that is well over 30 years old. The easel was part of a water colour set. I used it to do this painting in 1982.


I gave it to my Grandpa Iverson for Christmas that year ("love Tanya xoxoxo"). He was special, and I trusted him.   It was one of the few times I willingly shared something I created, right up to the past 8 years or so.

I also have a sewing box from the same time, and have been making clothes and other items since around age 8. My own sewing machine has graced many a table since 1993. I made my own wedding dress with it.  The funny thing is, since such items are useful and functional, rather than "artistic" I've never had qualms about claiming them as my own creations.  This in spite of making my own patterns and designs  . . .
Ah such is the human psyche. 
Which is why I am claiming my artistic pretensions, not my artistic talent.  I claim inspiration, imagination and the need  to create.  That's enough for me. 







Thinking about an occupation

This is a letter I sent to Macleans Magazine after reading Andrew Coyne's opinion piece A phony class war which I read on October 25, 2011, the same day I sent this letter.  I  have no idea if they've published it - I don't subscribe to the magazine and I don't think they put their letters online . . .


I cannot quibble with Mr. Coyne as to the content of this piece, although the title rings a bit false. The situation in Canada is indeed very different from what is going on in the U.S.A, where fraud and illegal activities on the part of banks etc (mortgages, securitizations, improper disclosures . . .) will take years to resolve and leave many home- and securities-owners with a cloud of uncertainty over their heads. This is not the case here.
He has, however, missed an important nuance to this widespread discontent. When people are losing their jobs because of "cut-backs" while executives enjoy ever larger compensation packages something is off. When managers are told to pretend inflation doesn't exist and to keep operational budgets "flat" for years on end, almost any organization ends up teetering like an upside-down pyramid. It is a failure to invest in people - and not in terms of salary, but the information, tools and environment in which they work - rather than the product, and profit, they produce. By ignoring the human in their human capital many companies are in fact hollowing out their own employees.

The dissatisfaction cuts across many lines: political, socio-economic, ethnic, employment status as well as nature of employment. It is rooted in the experiences of the suit-wearers and the work-a-day folk alike that tells them logarithmic compensation growth for the mucky mucks in the face of ever constrained budgets seems, well, hypocritical. I am one of the lucky ones: mostly satisfied, enjoying simple pleasures of love, home, friends and family. I give no thought to those who have more - so what? I give thought, action and dollars towards those who have less. I greatly value the goods and services that come with paying my taxes, believe there are ways to do things better with what we have, and have a preference for keeping as much of my own money as possible.

With all this, I just cannot believe anyone is worth tens of millions of dollars a year for what they do, be it in professional sports, acting in a film or running a company. The idea that one person delivers that much "value" is nothing more than a cult. And when you see the disparity in a graphic like the one here: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Distribution.png, well . . . .


When reading something makes you think, what do you do?

Look out: another outbreak of sticky note syndrome.  

I admit to happily scribbling in books I own (The Information by Gleick is well marked!) but will never do so in a Library book - it just isn't right.

As much as I would love to own most of the books that make me think, I am quite sure that the cost of the books will far out weigh that of the sticky notes (especially since the latter is a frequent give away compared to the former!)

Mind you, I also have assorted notebooks full of titles and authors and page references. And for the past few years I have occasionally transmitted such bookish thoughts into 0s and 1s (such as here).

In the process of cataloguing the books I own via LibraryThing I found myself immersed in memories associated with every item.  While I cannot claim to have read every book in its entirety, I am deeply familiar with the vast majority.  They all proclaim their salience as vessels of learning, and reminders of what is known.

When we find ourselves in a formal learning environment the natural output of the interaction between substance and sponge is in the form of research papers, writing up experimental results and other assignments.   Most people don't live their lives in such environments, but that doesn't mean the learning process stops, right?   The idea of life long learning has a long tradition, whether it is on the basics (think Frontier College) or beyond. 


I've come to think of learning as an expression of what it means to be alive. There are so many things to learn, so many ways to learn them.  And the power of sharing what is learned has never been greater.

September is Life Long Literacy Month, and today is International Literacy Day.  Check out ABC Life Literacy Canada for more information on these initiatives.

Sense-Making and Symbolism

We've all experienced the ease of understanding that comes when we're engaged, as much as the difficulty of learning something we don't find meaningful.    The notion that we are more invested in learning what interests us surely comes as no surprise.

And it just might be built into our DNA.

On one of my recent browsings at S. Walter Stewart I found The First Idea how symbols, language and intelligence evolved from our primate ancestors to modern humans, by Stanley I. Greenspan and Stuart G. Shanker.  It is a powerful read, presenting a new theory of language acquisition and learning that is intertwined with a novel perspective on the evolution of human cognitive capacity. 

The crux of their argument is that language and learning is rooted in our human capacity to be emotionally affected by the world around us. 

The authors reject as unsatisfactory the Big Bang theory of language acquisition  (e.g. Chomsky and Pinker), which implicates sudden genetic mutations during the Pleistocene as primary forces in the development of language.  One such mutation created a change in human anatomy: the descent of the larynx, permitting the kind of vocalizations we now call speech. The Big Bang theory ties this ability to speak to the notion of language skills, reducing the acquisition of language to a set of innate heuristics set free from their physical constraints.


Greenspan and Shanker, on the other hand, present a compelling argument that our linguistic abilities have little to do with the noises we make, both now and in our evolutionary past. The authors draw on research with infants and children across a wide spectrum of developmental ability, as well as work with non-human primates, to show that our ability to employ symbols and provide meaningful signals to others is grounded in an emotive response to our environment which can be expressed in many ways, not just speech.

In other words, we developed language skills so we could communicate about what matters.

Knowing the importance of an emotional investment in learning means that culture and behaviour matter more than ever, especially in the presence of developmental disabilities.   This is perhaps the most significant aspect of the authors' research: positive outcomes for children and families living with Autism and other developmental disorders.

All this certainly seems to reinforce the importance of being passionate in what we do, reflecting the wisdom of the cliche "follow your heart" 

You can read more about Shanker's work at York University's Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative




Lessons from Literature Part 2

I have always been an avid mystery fan.   Of the few books I actually purchased for myself as a child, Agatha Christie mysteries easily made up half (the other half being works by C.S. Lewis). 

Poirot and Ms Marple fascinated me in their seemingly quirky ability to ferret out the many truths of a situation - the story is never just about "who done it" - though of course they each had a method, coupled with discipline and discernment.

Method, discipline and discernment.
In many ways these words also describe the research process. No surprise, really. The art of detection, be it in a fictional character or the real world, is a process of research, figuring out what is possible within the context of any given problem.   To quote Holmes himself:
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Just a perusal of the Wikipedia page of Sherlock Holmes quotes demonstrates this recurring theme across many stories. 

I personally find this mystery/puzzle motif a powerful motivation for learning, and I've used it for years when sharing my knowledge of business research tools and techniques (presentation at CLA 2010 here).  By imagining the process through this lens I think it demystifies unfamiliar content by placing it in a familiar framework that combines 1) fun and games on the one hand,  and 2) existing skill sets on the other. 


So much of research and reference is figuring it out as we go - Librarians don't know all the answers, but we have a method, coupled with discipline and discernment, to know how to look for the answers.   It is about the unique relationship between what is known and what is needed, and creating that improbable bridge that links them.

Are you being served?

Recent events in Toronto have significantly raised the profile of Public Libraries in Canada.   Alexandra Yarrow has a great summation of and rebuttal to much of the press over the past few weeks at her blog Only connect.  CBC Radio's interviews with  Moe Hosseini-Ara, with Markham Public Library, and Ken Roberts with Hamilton Public on The Current provide powerful messages about the power of the Library to change lives. And just today Brian Hutchinson  at the National Post weighed in, declaring Public Libraries eclectic and vital.

Indeed, they are, and in ways that can be quantified and enumerated and used to bolster support.

This was Ken Haycock's very essential point in his 2 blog posts on July 25th regarding the brouhaha.  Advocacy that appears self-serving will do more harm than good.  Instead, craft advocacy messages that
  • show an ability to connect with patrons; 
  • are based on data that documents unique value; 
  • result from relationships with decision makers; 
  • reflect an understanding of priorities; 
  • offers solutions, not problems.
Librarianship is about service. The thing about service is that it is never about the one doing the serving.  I would even argue that the best service is the one that is invisible - what you need is there, when you need it, because some one else is anticipating your needs so well.  
It is this kind of service that turns a dining experience - regardless of the food - from merely good to sublime.


Back here in Toronto Councillors themselves have already foregone a salary increase and cut office budgets.   While many will call this purely symbolic, the fact is real dollars are involved, dollars that hopefully will be used in some front line service activity.

I'm not sure any library of any kind can ever achieve that seamless perfect service. Inevitably the choice of one resource denies the possibility of another. I have purchased many books simply because my Library doesn't have them, or has only a single non-lending copy.   I have read yet many more books I did not even know existed because of all the materials my Library did acquire, and it was just there on the shelf waiting for me.
And I think this is where we find the beauty, power and value of Public Libraries - with so much to learn in such a big world, the Public Library brings it down to scale.

Even down to a single shelf:



what do you want to learn? you'll find it @ your library! 
This was taken earlier this summer at S. Walter Stewart. Titles include Project Orion (nuclear explosions 629.4753 DYS), Professional Microsoft Robotics (robotics 629.89 JOH) The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it (home economics - rural 630 SEY) and Apples to Oysters (cooking, Canadian (630.971 WEB). 

Books: antique technology for a new age

A blog post on Information Today recently posed the question: is the future of books and libraries intertwined? 
The question frustrates me in the same way that the never ending pursuit of some word other than Librarian frustrates me: it is a false problem, scattering our focus away from what I think are more useful ponderings. Surely the question is rhetorical (“no, they are not!”), and therefore of limited use in discussing what the next incarnation of Libraries might look like. 

If we were to consider the relationship between publishing and Libraries, well, that would be a much more fruitful discussion. 

It provides us a broader, and I believe more appropriate field of inquiry.  As much as the book came before publishing, the advent of publishing (via printing technology) changed the role of the book forever. It was no longer a rare item of great value representing human artistry and skill, but rather the artifact of a mechanical process that enabled the broader transmission of ideas.   Libraries are about what's between the covers; Librarianship is about getting at the knowledge, whether it is found in a printed book or otherwise.  

I took a course on publishing during my MLIS studies at U of A. It simply made sense to me that I should understand an industry and process that is so fundamental to the work of Librarianship. I grew into Librarianship just as Google was getting started. Web search had been around already for a number of years, and of course electronic databases had been a mainstay of Librarianship for decades. We considered the antecedents to the publishing environment in the late 90s, pondered the future.  I doubt anyone in that course could have accurately foretold the extent to which electronic access to content would take hold: Google barely existed; the thought of Google Books within a decade would have seemed audacious.

Despite the News Corp and McGraw-Hills of the world, publishing generally is not a high margin industry. Navigating the fickle and changeable marketplace of ideas has always been difficult. It has its quirks, as do most industries. For instance, the handling of remainders: unsold titles sent back to publishers from retailers, ensuring the publisher faces the responsibility for a misjudging demand.

And As Andrew Pettegree notes a number of times in his fabulous tome The Book in the Renaissance, it has always been this way. The publishing industry, not just of books but of pamphlets, legal notices, and newspaper broadsheets, all of it emerged very directly from Gutenberg's revolutionary invention in the mid 15th century.  Publishing, after all is the process of deciding what to print, and how many; and then investing considerable cash outlay against unpredictable future earnings.  Presses were expensive to set up; recouping this investment by printing saleable materials was essential.  Gutenberg was the first of many printers to learn the hard way, facing financial ruin because of publishing decisions gone awry.
Pettegree's Book is a delight to read. I am life long bibliophile, and still prefer paper to a screen.  To the extent that I discovered this book while snaking through the stacks at my local TPL branch in search of serendipity, it is entirely possible I would not have read it otherwise.  
what to do when a book gets stickynoteitis? or is it sticky note plague?

Having said that, The Book in the Renaissance sheds light on the publishing environment today.  The early printing industry faced many hurdles, not least of which was availability of paper. The absence of linen or other appropriate rags for paper production in Northern Europe slowed the spread of printing establishments, as importing it was prohibitively expensive. 

It equally gave me tremendous appreciation for the realities of publishing today. As publishing and the trade in ideas developed, it did so based on which ideas sold the best. Despite the humanism of the day, the spread of the printed word was driven purely by economics. The best selling titles, then as now, were not of an intellectual bent. Printing succeeded at centers of trade, not university towns. 
And with good reason, as there was certainly money to be made. As early as 1466 the value of stock of a Paris book merchant was equivalent to the annual income of a leading nobleman of France. Keep in mind, however, these books were unsold.
Many more printers and publishers failed than succeeded in the first 400 years of our relationship with the book; there was similarly halting success in the emergence of formal or institutional Libraries.
Ultimately the humanist ideals were achieved via the market place anyway. If looking for causality in history, here's one that seems quite clear to me:
Following the development of the movable type printing press, printing indulgences became a significant source of steady income for printers; indulgences were easier to print therefore it was easier for the Church to use them to raise funds; it was abused enough to provoke the ire of one Martin Luther who in turn used the same technology, but in the vernacular, driving a wave of literacy and increased demand for reading materials in addition to tremendous religious upheaval and a wave of exploration and discovery. 

Hmmm  . . . accessible materials and a captivating idea drove the early spread of literacy. Interesting. 

Every industry has it's cost drivers, some primary element without which the industry does not function. Beyond basic start up costs, for printing and publishing the main driver was  the cost for the paper itself; experienced workers would also factor in, with compensation for content developers being a mere blip in the overall scheme. 

Only very recently have content developers become a more significant cost driver, resulting from a combination of international copyright, and growing demand for materials of all kinds,  educational or otherwise. Now, of course, content is king. Creators of content command significant sums of money to share their thoughts with the rest of the world, be it via a best selling novel, investigative journalism, research and advice from consultancies, or a blog.  Just as the cost drivers have shifted, so have the conditions around codifying and sharing knowledge: 
the physical barriers to production represented by an older information technology ie a book are replaced by technological barriers to access in the newer information technology.
Clearly the printed word is still with us, still instrumental in facilitating the sharing of human knowledge and experience. The legacy of the book, of print and publishing will live on: not every idea survives.  Just as always, content has to be findable, has to be accessible, has to captivate and drive us forward. Just as always we will need some kind of technology to enable access.  For millions of people around the world, including me, this will happen at and through our Libraries. 



Oh no, another L word

Attending TEDxLibrariansTO last Saturday was an inspiring experience on a topic near and dear to my heart: Librarians as Thought Leaders. While I'd never really put it that way, I figured I knew what was meant.  I  eagerly anticipated the day, having only dim notions of what to expect.

I loved the format: brief, fascinating talks touching topics that leave you wanting more from each one, rather than feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Shelley Archibald and Fiacre O'Duinn were consummate hosts, ensuring good food, good conversation and a wonderful opportunity to meet interesting people.  All told, a great day.

It brought to mind another inspiring experience regarding leadership and Librarianship: The Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute. I was successfully nominated by CASLIS for the 2007 Institute. After I came home I took some time to reflect on and write about this great opportunity:
I really didn’t expect attending the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute to be a humbling experience. Invigorating, yes. Inspiring even. Maybe just a little bit cheesy. Yet as I sat on the floor on our last day at Emerald Lodge and looked around the room I found myself feeling rather, well, small. For those who know me personally, that is a truly unusual feeling for me.

So there we sat in a circle on the floor. Every other time we had been in this room it was full of chairs and tables and food and flipcharts and bags and books and oh so much more. Now it was just us: participants, facilitators, mentors, organizers. I realized as I sat on the floor that I was looking at leaders, everywhere I turned! I had not learned how to be a leader at NEL; no, I had learned to recognize leadership in all its diversity. Wow.
NEL is a focus on the essence of librarianship. It is about what we do and how we do it. It is about recognizing our ability to facilitate change through facilitating access to the right information at the right time.

This was my daily bread when working as a Librarian in the corporate sector, where every day in some way large or small, the work I did had an positive impact on the work of others.  In serving the information needs of my colleagues I helped make change happen.  

In fact, one of the books that came my way during my NEL experience explicitly addressed the idea of servant leadership.  Facilitating the work of others in a way that they don't have to think about how or where, and just do their own "what", that is a form of leadership.  But please do not confuse servant leadership with notions of servility: leaders are sure of their presence, they know how to claim, own and share their contributions. 
Librarians struggle with notions of leadership and leader. This was expressed at NEL as well as at TEDxLibrarians, where talk turned at times to who are leaders in Librarianship (or Libraryland, a la Amy Buckland).  Along with it came that same expression of discomfort with the idea that a Librarian would aspire to be a LEADER, and that many of our current leaders work outside of Libraries (consultants, vendors etc).

Which brings to mind another similarity.
Librarians tend to conflate our whatness with our whereness. Talk about Librarianship easily, but erroneously, slips into talk about Libraries and hierarchies and infrastructure . . . and no one really notices. This was the case at TEDxLibrariansTO as much as it was at NEL.

What I wrote back in  2007 was 
It is almost as though the institution in which many librarians work becomes the entirety of the profession. Thinking about librarianship becomes a reflection on the boxes in which we work, rather than on the work we do.
Special librarians do not have the luxury, or is it the burden? of an institutional filter when thinking about librarianship. No, we in fact must reference and consider factors outside our workplaces and so are forced into bigger picture thinking.
I do think that special Librarians have an inherently different view on Librarianship. The focus has always been on what, how and who, rather than where; but ultimately, a focus on service.
Considering that the Special Libraries Association is now over 100 years old, there is evidence not just for the long term proliferation of Librarians throughout the non-Traditional realm, but of also of a long term overt recognition that to practice Librarianship in these environments requires a strong network and a keen interest in engaging with and learning from a highly diverse range of professional colleagues.  Associations are always the result of the collective work of the members, giving of money, time and expertise in service to their colleagues, in order that their colleagues can serve in their respective workplaces. Such voluntary associations don't survive without satisfying some essential need, one people are willing to pay to have filled.


I made a low tech story board video for the TEDxLibrariansTO video challenge which was a lot of fun, (not sure if it is on the youtube channel? forgot to mention my own name in the video, see, so . . . anyway it is here, and sorry in advance for any nausea you may feel!)

In it, near the very end, I state that Librarians have the power and wisdom to lead from the unknown to the known. I think that is true in any area of human enquiry.  It is with human insight and intervention that our collective knowledge is made accessible for human use.  And this is as true today as it has been for over 4 thousand years.

Librarians are Leaders. It rolls off the tongue so easily, alliteration and all, and we can get familiar with 2 great L words at once.  Let's say it together now.  . .

Some Information Cannot be Ignored

I came across an interesting bit of research into how monarch butterflies navigate via NYTimes.com today.  In addition to being beautiful and excellent pollinators, monarchs are known for their lengthy north-south annual migration. Given that it takes multiple generations of monarchs just to make the trip even one way, scientists from different disciplines have long taken an interest in these tiny marvels.

We've understood for some time that monarch's use a combination of sun light and the earth's magnetic field to travel between their winter and summer homes. Since this ability is passed on from one generation to the next along the migration path, a genetic factor was pretty much a given, right?

And lo, not only have they identified the gene, but it appears humans are also predisposed to be influenced by magnetic forces around us.

Some how I find this possibility unsurprising.

Don't get me wrong. It is absolutely fascinating to me that we can look at our world the way we can, opening up the possibility of learning. 

It's just that, well, when the collective WE learn X for the first time, it's not the same as creating the circumstances that led to X being there for us to learn.  We've found another missing piece of the puzzle. When it is in place we say: oh, of course! 

See, we live on a planet dominated by magnetic phenomena. How could anything, living or otherwise, not feel it's presence in some way? 
Our earth today is a function of a molten core acting as a super magnet which ultimately influences weather, along with earth shifting stuff like volcanoes.
But more than that: earth's core has literally flipped itself around, along with our planet's poles, a number of times in earth's history, creating crazy weather unlike anything we've ever seen, along with  increased geothermal activity (did you know every piece of pottery ever fired records the earth's magnetic field? Same, of course, goes for molten rock as it cools, hence a very good geologic record . . .)

And if it isn't our core, there is that fiery ball in the sky, which has it's own internal roiling to deal with.  The occasional storm on our Sun far away wreaks havoc here on earth as the solar radiation slams into earth's magnetosphere (courtesy of our core), creating geomagnetic storms.  Our reliance on satellite communications is at risk even from one of our sun's more normal storms.   Fact is, our fate could be more like poor Venus, a planet thought to once have an atmosphere like earth's; that is, until the sun's increased radiation a few billion year's ago and literally blew Venus' atmosphere away.

Magnetism is a force we all understand, both as a metaphor and a real world information process. It can be made to push or pull, or both at the same time; and with remarkable outcomes, from the speakers at a rock concert to hanging artwork on the fridge.  

At a more life size scale, every one of us generates an electromagnetic field: technology beware! We may not give magnetism much thought, but it clearly cannot be ignored. 

Wisdom of Crowds, Corrupted

Hosting the Olympics in 2010 appears to have had a lasting effect on the beautiful city of Vancouver.  Throughout the NHL playoffs during home games the crowd belted out O Canada with such fervour, as though all that practice last year left them wanting more.  The crowds in the streets showed again and again that enthusiasm for the team mattered more than the local liquor store closing early.
Until Wednesday June 15, 2011.  That night, the wisdom of the crowd was corrupted.
There is little doubt in my mind that the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 would have happened regardless of the outcome of the game itself.  At the same time there is no doubt that the majority of people in the streets that night were appalled by what happened around them, only wanting to be safe.  Of the remaining minority, some of them showed up with intent, while the remainder are now wondering why they behaved so badly asking, "what got into me?"  

At some point in the evening wisdom gave way to noise and chaos, a la Shannon and Weaver's Information Theory.  Large crowds with even the best of intentions present great cover for any one up to some mischief. Think of the Black Bloc or radical cheerleading for example. 

The similarities between Toronto during that stupid summit in 2010 and game 7 in Vancouver are interesting: businesses closed, streets blocked to traffic, designated areas for congregating. Mind you the differences are all the more so, with bad behaviour correctly predicted resulting in a huge police presence, perimeter fence, and many businesses closed out of fear in Toronto.  It seems Vancouver was operating on a more hopeful model, one that turned out to be unfortunately incorrect.

What strikes me as more instructive is what happened the day after.  I don't recall news items about Torontonians coming out to help clean up post-protest.  I looked for and found very little official commentary from the protest community condemning the hooliganism taking place in their midst. Granted, much of the media was legitimately focused on police and policy abuses as well as the protesters.

Still: the response in Vancouver is one of a community rejecting such behaviour, while grappling with the recognition that it came from that same community.

If there is anything to be learned at all from history it is that there is always some one grasping for more, who will take or make any advantage to get it. It is found across all ideologies, professions, religions, nationalities and cultures throughout time, with perhaps the exception of Buddhism.

Vancouver Police may have missed the mark the other night; however, the approach taken in Toronto was as useless as the current approach to airline passenger screening when it comes to security. 
Consider: 
The Wednesday before the Summit last year I bought an Estes model rocket kit from a store at the corner of King and Bay streets in downtown Toronto, one block north of the much vaunted Security Fence. 
I was literally walking around in an area with probably more police officers than regular folks with a rocket launcher in my bag.
How's that for security? And before you scoff, consider this:
with some scissors, a knife, glue, tape, batteries and a mere 60 minutes you can build a rocket with an ejection module that will fly 1200 feet high and, depending on the wind, travel equally far.
As long as you can prove you are 13 years old you can purchase one of these kits and they are quite inexpensive.  These rockets are loads of fun to build and fly, and would be a great gift for Fathers Day.

It's what we do, not where we do it

Back in the day when I was pondering what to do with my very interdisciplinary yet very general BA in History, one option I seriously considered was Journalism. I really enjoyed the process of finding the story, when I had a chance to try my hand when writing for The Phoenix at Okanagan University College (now UBC Okangan).

This, of course, involved asking lots of questions, and not just in the sense of interviewing some one else. Rather, it was a question that would eventually give rise to the story, which in turn would involve asking more questions in the form of interviews.

There are a great many similarities between Librarianship and Journalism, including aspiring to such lofty goals ensuring an informed and educated citizenry, which is so fundamental to a well functioning democracy.

In other words, we're both all about content: 4 ways content management systems are evolving & why it matters to journalists | Poynter.
So much to learn, so many places to learn it!

Cost, Worth, Value and Markets

Being a Librarian, and one who firmly believes that any answer is only as good as the question that prompted it, I think the value of pretty much anything, including Information and those who serve it, can be found at the intersection of "What does it cost?" and "What is it worth?"  

Cost, of course, is not purely a monetary concept.  As much as economists get so many things wrong, the concept of "opportunity cost" is a useful one.  If I spend a dollar today, what purchase might I be foregoing tomorrow? If I play this video game for the next 4 hours, I will not be cooking dinner or studying.   Pretty much every thing comes down to this, or that.
As to "what is it worth?", well, that's a bit more nebulous.  I find the following instructive: the collapse of the planned economy model a la the USSR, what happened to Cuba post cold-war, and emerging issues in China, with entire shopping centres being built despite the lack of tenants or shoppers.
In other words, worth is variable, but far from arbitrary.

Somewhere in the analysis of cost and worth we find value.

I've mentioned before about my interest, both academic and practical, in how information goods, and thereby the services and people who work with such goods, are valued.   This is an important question, with implications for the continued existence of a (reasonably-) well functioning,  informed and engaged civil society.  Libraries that live in a more public sphere (public, academic, school) have historically been stalwarts in demonstrating how information is powerful only when it is accessible. They have amassed goodwill as a result.  The thing about goodwill, though, is that it is an abstract concept; you can't take it to the bank, it won't last forever, and can be eroded. 

Libraries, going forward, will need proof.  And since we're talking Value ie Cost vs Worth, we're talking about figuring all this out in some kind of marketplace.

I am intrigued by the hypocrisy found in almost every knowledge work environment, including Libraries, in regards to valuing information goods:
wages should reflect the vital and important contributions made by knowledge workers in some theoretical "here", (and they are never high enough!); 
meanwhile . . . .

the knowledge products (books, databases, subscription/fulfillment services) used to serve clients "here" acquired from some theoretical "there" are all over priced and "those people' should know better!*
(*this last bit a sentiment perhaps more common, but no less troublesome, in Libraries receiving some kind of tax dollar funding.)

Really truly: the idea that anyone in any work environment is above question as to contribution, activities, cost/benefit or otherwise is nonsense.  Leaving aside the utter ignorance of the school board lawyers in LA vis a vis teacher librarians, any response akin to "how dare you question the value of my work!?" is already starting from a point of dubious value.  

And really truly #2:  if you do great work and change lives, wouldn't you take advantage of EVERY OPPORTUNITY to tell people about it?

I've now paid over due fines to Toronto Public Library on 2 different but equally insightful books touching on this rather broad topic: 
The Price of Everything solving the mystery of why we pay what we do, by Eduardo Porter (ISBN 978-1-59184-362-7)
and
Moral Markets: the critical role of values in the economy, edited by Paul Zak (ISBN 978-1-4008-3736-6).

Porter's work is truly fabulous.  Chapter 6, titled The Price of Free, could be cribbed as justification of any kind of mediated information service.  While the proverb "the best things in life are free" is a satisfying appeal to heart and soul, I'd put my wager on "you get what you pay for" or "if it's worth having it's worth working for" when it comes to anything bigger than the warm fuzzies. I think Porter would agree.

The collection of essays in Moral Markets is a bit more work, but worth it.  Zak, along with the many other authors, riff on Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments as the essential companion to The Wealth of Nations. As much as the latter embraces the power of markets, the former insists on paying attention to the role of each individual in creating the wisdom and success of markets.   Homo Economicus would be as foreign to Smith as it is to us.

It is a shame when a profession wholly dedicated to helping people craft better questions, find better answers and generally be empowered by the breadth and depth of information available to them, seems in turn unwilling or unable to use those skills to ensure the profession is sustainable via the identification, documentation and communication of that empowerment.  Goodwill must give way to good evidence.

The fact is, every Library of every kind is operating in a dynamic marketplace dominated more by choice than quality.   Each Library must make quality the best choice by living it every day.

This is a reminder?

Dear Mr. Chief Statistician of Canada,
I would kindly like to suggest you purchase a dictionary. The missive you recently caused to be delivered to my address, complete with secure access code, is NOT a reminder, despite your subject line (bolded even!)
Subject: Reminder -- National Household Survey
You see, Mr. Chief Statistician of Canada, every dictionary definition I have found for the word reminder is along the lines of "cause to remember".  That would require that I simply forgot to complete it, or was unaware of it, following as it did on completion of the Census.

I, like you, know the difference between Census and Survey


So let's stop pretending. Considering you are essentially asking me for a favour, can I suggest less of a "we're watching you" tone?

May 30, 2011
Our records show that we have not yet received a completed National Household Survey questionnaire from you. This survey questionnaire was provided to you online at the time you submitted the 2011 Census questionnaire. Please complete the survey now by doing one of the following: 
  • Complete it online at . . .
or
  • Call 18773082777 if you need a paper questionnaire . . . 
By law, your responses will be kept confidential
If you have recently completed this survey, please accept my thanks. It is important that you participate in this voluntary survey so that your community has the information it needs for planning services such as child care, schooling, family services, housing, roads and public transportation, and training for knowledge and skills required for employment. 

Thank you for your cooperation. 
It would have been hard to get that VOLUNTARY part any further down in the letter, Mr Chief Statistician of Canada. It could only have been after all that bumph about apple pie and fuzzy kittens . . .

We both know that Statistics Canada can be a bit slow getting around to analyzing data once you get your hands on it. You'll still be releasing 2011 Census data by the time you are ready to do the next one. That's just the way it is.

Your data might eventually be able to say something about the state of affairs in Canada in 2011. But when?

If those community minded sentiments meant anything I would not be writing to you today.  If you had sent me a Census form with all those questions I would have happily completed them.

Which raises the bigger problem, going back to the difference between the Census and this Survey: discontinuity with historical data sets.  The old Long Form captured data that proved useful in a range of planning and development activities at all levels of government; the time lags for analysis were there, it is true. But the continuity of the data over time gave it strength, so that researchers could have confidence to use it in exactly the ways you outline,  Mr. Chief Statistician of Canada. 
Your new survey, on the other hand, will be little more than a snapshot for a long time to come.  I know your people have been pouring over the methodologies trying to figure out how to make this work.  We'll see.

There is no substitute for good, raw data. Just like with processed foods: the more ingredients on the label, the further you are away from the good stuff you need. 

I know you have a tough job to do, Mr. Chief Statistician of Canada.   I bet you'd much rather have been working with that tried and true Long Form.  Maybe you have dreams of perfect data. 
But please don't send me any more reminders.

We both know, it's just a survey.

Book Review: The Information and Knowledge Professional's Career Handbook

In order to succeed in a competitive employment marketplace nothing goes without saying.   It is good, then, that the Library and Information Management community has Ulla de Stricker and Jill Hust-Wahl who have recently collaborated to produce The Information and Knowledge Professional's Career Handbook.  From the informative and descriptive Table of Contents through to the insightful Epilogue and Resources, Ulla and Jill cover the essentials of developing an engaged and dynamic career.

Starting with a simple declaration of intent with Why this Book, the authors point to a gap common to many specialized educational paths: that of translating knowledge, skills and expertise into a successful employment role that delivers value. In response, Ulla and Jill have crafted a succinct guide to navigating an Information Management career in any environment. The Handbook brings together commentary on resumes interviewing and image, good questions to ponder at any career stage, interesting interviews along with great scenarios, how-tos and examples.

The subtitle, Define and Create your Success, hints at a theme woven throughout the book: the importance of pursuing learning opportunities as a cornerstone of a career management strategy. Whether it is better understanding of oneself or a subject matter, Jill and Ulla make clear that taking the long view means putting time and money aside for learning and engaging with colleagues.

The personal interviews resonate with the power and value of Librarians, Information, and Knowledge Management professionals. They are an excellent depiction of the expansive career horizon for anyone in the field. As a mid-career Librarian I found myself inspired again by the breadth, depth and passion found in the Library and Information Management community.

This small book is bursting with useful, practical advice. It will be equally at home in a syllabus as in a personal library.

The Information and Knowledge Professional’s Career Handbook By Ulla de Stricker and Jill Hurst-Wahl. Chandos Information Professional Series, 2011. ISBN 9781843346081

Know your Acronyms

Acronym for today: IPCC
International POLITICAL Climate CONSENSUS.


Having some geography and meteorology under my belt as a result of a very eclectic undergraduate education, I have always struggled with the whole anthropogenic global warming industry.  It wasn't that long ago - and I'm pretty sure what I learned then still applies.  For instance, consider the image above showing global wind patterns.  There were many images available, all the same. This one is from an educational resource portal for secondary school students.  It is the same image I was drawing into my lecture notes in university almost 20 years ago. Any thoughts why that warm moist air at the equator RISES? Maybe it has to do with the SUN shining down on that part of the earth more than anywhere else?  Wind drives weather patterns around the globe. Wind is a function of differential heating. The heating of the earth comes from the SUN.  El Nino and El Nina correlate with solar flare activity; the Mayans figured this out centuries ago.


So imagine my lack of surprise when I discovered that the UN (a political body) sponsored IPCC phenomena has only one solar physicist writing about the solar influence on climate.  Imagine that sinking sense of  futility to learn that the vaunted consensus is in this case a consensus of ONE! Not only that, but the primary scholarly article on which analysis was based was, you guessed it, written by that same solar physicist.
Other solar physicists, who's data this "scientist" was using, complained to the IPCC of improper manipulations and apparent lack of understanding of the primary data.   But no, there is  CONSENSUS!

FYI: Science doesn't operate by consensus.  When some enlightened Librarian is shouting me down about "10,000 scientists agree!" rather than having a reasoned discussion based on data and provable positions, I'm pretty sure we're in the realm of faith, not science.  When any and everyone who does not agree with the IPCC line is in the pay of "big oil" or some other nefarious bad guy, or essentially demonized, we are not talking about science.  Science may start with opinion, also known as theory, but it never ends there. It operates through theory development, testing, trial and error, changing hypotheses to fit the data, and retesting.   It does not CHANGE data to fit the theory.

Yes, there have been many theories that have help up over time even without the robust experimental data to support it. Evolution is one such theory. The "big bang" is another.  But these theories were adopted as reliable explanations because nothing else did the job as well as those theories AND there was no extant data to PROVE THE THEORY WRONG.  If the theory either didn't explain or was falsifiable we would not have the theory with us today.
In fact, as far as evolution is concerned, I'm inclined to say that at this point there is data that actually proves the theory right.  When you can tweak a few genes in a chicken to cause it to develop both permanent teeth and a tail more at home on a lizard than a bird, I'm thinking there must be some ancient chicken ancestor that looked upon us as dinner, not the other way around. 
But this is not the case with the global warming/climate change industry.  And it is an industry.  Billion dollar  non profits, based in the UK and US, for instance, are at the forefront of funding attack ads on numerous Canadian economic activities, including oil sands development and aquaculture.  Such attacks directly benefit US interests such as the Alaska fishery by undermining demand for comparable products.  Have you seen the reclamation success where oil sands developments were located? Are you listening for the First Nations voices that are working constructively and happily along side these companies?
Mis-information is one thing; deliberate obfuscation of scientific data in the name of politics and supposedly well meaning billionaires is another beast all together.

The Universe is expanding. Librarianship must keep up

So Ulla de Stricker, by way of LinkedIn, pointed to an absolutely bang on post by Connie Crosby over at the Future Ready 365 blog: We Are Not Alone.  Please, DO NOT make the mistake of thinking this might be covering "old ground" for you as in "oh I understand all that stuff about transferable skill sets of librarians."   I'd like to believe that IS old ground by this point for those working in and around Libraries and the Information Continuum.
Rather, Connie points to the fact that we work in and amongst many others with equally essential skills and knowledge in driving forward the access to information in any environment.  And ultimately thinking of it as a hierarchy, even between (or especially?) MLS and technical degree level educational qualifications is counter-productive.  Yes they are different paths with different pieces of paper; but when it comes to service outcomes as measured from the patron's perspective, there is an entire value chain behind every event that has very little to do with the educational attainment of any one person providing the service.  Tongue in cheek and all, consider that "reference" is generally the domain of the Masters, yet how true is the Annoyed Librarian's description of the the Scowling Dragon approach to reference?
I know there has been a push on for a more rigorous approach to certification in Librarianship, one more akin to Engineers and Lawyers.  At least here in Canada, unless every province agrees to some thing like this it is rather meaningless (check out your ss 91 and 92 of the BNA/Constitution for more on that topic.)
Me, I figure that will just make Libraries more expensive,  as the Master's are segregated by a wall of paper. 

Don't get me wrong. I love my MLS degree - the technical route wasn't even on my radar, but that's because I really enjoy all that goes along with university education: research, writing papers, (hypothetically) environments wide open for debate . . .  But Libraries are bigger than a piece of paper, a credential.  The shame of school boards cutting Libraries will be the curse of the next generation, and we'll all pay for it.


Big world, getting bigger all the time.
Libraries are the ultimate interdisciplinary environment, and are essential to navigating the Information Continuum.