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.

Creating Value in the Information Continuum

Following serendipity is an intricate exercise. Sometimes it is like a great centripetal force pulling together disparate elements, creating a sense of destiny and fulfillment at the same time.

Either way, there is definitely a recurring theme in how I find, use and think about information. It all comes down to a notion drawn from the world of physics: potential energy.  Translated to the information continuum, it means that any given tidbit of information has at very least some amount of Potential value, and at best yields vast amounts of Actual value when put to use. Put simply, I am drawn to the question of how information and knowledge are valued. 

A few weeks ago a post by Rebecca Jones on Facebook that ultimately took me to this item by Joe Esposito here added to my whirlwind on this topic. She pointed to an item at Infodocket (the new site from Gary Price and Shirl Kennedy) that ultimately tracks back to an entry at Scholarly Kitchen, from the Society for Scholarly Publishing.  I recommend that anyone working in the information continuum, especially those in Libraries, take a few minutes to read the entry. His comments are applicable to all Libraries, not just those in  academia. 

His comments brought to mind an event I attended last year at Concordia in Montreal:  a pre-Congress workshop exploring the topic of social sciences and humanities research/knowledge as a public good.  I jumped at the opportunity. 
My career to that point had made me acutely aware of the value of SSH content through a number of avenues:  
  • I was a frequent user of SSRN in my pursuit of economic, financial services and business oriented academic research; 
  • I saw the invoices from many of our data suppliers and so had a sense of what it costs to ensure access; 
  • I understood the intricate connections between raw market and deals data, internally and externally published research that relies on and integrates that data, the publishers and aggregators who facilitate its dissemination; and
  • appreciated the differences between the wide range of consumers who make use of the end products.  
This was built on my first formal exposure to the subject matter back at U of A in 1998, which was in turn built on an undergrad that incorporated a passion for research with course work in enlightment europe, economics and philosphy.
All of this to say that the workshop was an interesting experience. On the one hand, it was quite exciting to hear about successful initiatives around knowledge mobilization and integrating research with policy and real world outcomes; on the other, I was frustrated by the lack of appreciation (or maybe even awareness!) of the real dollar costs involved, and the scope of intereconnections into the busines world.    

What ever information "wants", what I think it wants most to be valued.  Value is highly contextual.   Insight into context - relationships, causes and effects, barriers, needs, capacities - creates an environment where information can be best used and applied.  

Libraries of all kinds are physical embodiements of this insight.  Libraries create an environment where information flows and Potential becomes Actual.

When does learning happen? Lessons from False Mastery

So I've just come across an interesting bit of research from a prof at Williams College,  via a newsletter I get called Cool News of the Day. It is published by Reveries.com , where you can also find The Hub Magazine, white papers, research and other interesting content related to marketing and spreading ideas. It's another one of those sources that I cannot for the life of me figure out how I learned of it.

Yesterday, Tim Manners at Cool News included an item about the disconnect between ease of learning and ease of remembering in False Mastery. On one hand it seems odd that learning can happen independently of remembering; however, I think this phenomenon can be understood by considering the differences between learning and knowledge.  Learning is how we gain knowledge, through instruction, experience, study etc; knowledge is learning made actionable.  There is no doubt in my mind that turning learning into knowledge entails the ability to remember.
What I find so, well, cool about the research mentioned in the post is that it neatly encapsulates what Andrew Carnegie is quoted as saying "Anything in life worth having is worth working for".  You see, it seems that when we have to work harder at learning something - even if it is just plain English words written in a hard to read font - our brains encode the material more readily.   And apparently this is the exact opposite of what we expect of ourselves when it comes to learning, memory and knowledge.  Check out the Nate Williams' faculty profile here.

The role and function of libraries ties into this kind of research so intimately, especially in regards to services to children and youth.   Study after study demonstrate the positive linkages between appropriately funded and staffed school library services with improved learning outcomes.  Libraries physically embody and virtually embrace learning and knowledge as an essential part of our culture.
I'd love to hear Nate talk about his research.   Librarianship really is the ultimate cross-disciplinary profession, best fostered by continuing to engage broadly with other areas of study.

"Readin' is good for ya" *

There is something tragic in the concept of "not reading". I don't mean illiterate: can't read.  That too is a tragedy, with potentially catastrophic results.
But choosing not to read, as in "Oh, I don't read" or "Reading is boring" or "Why bother?" . . . that is a sadness beyond sad.  It's one of those things I can understand, yet is incomprehensible to me at the same time.
Of course an appreciation of reading develops through positive experiences in a range of settings.  The habit of reading needs to be modeled and molded, cultivating a sense of inquisitiveness, and finding enjoyment by diving into the world of words.  Audio books, other alternative formats, ebooks and print: it's all reading.

Me, I love reading. My Mom could have written the book on raising a reader.  And my Dad was always impressed when he came home to a smudge of newspaper ink on my face, even if it was only from the funny pages. Both my Grandpas like to write, and most of the family loved Scrabble. Words, and reading, were all around me, every day: novels, cookbooks, newspapers, encyclopedias, dictionaries, games, first aid training manuals with rather gory pictures, trips to the library, and of course children's books of all kinds.   Endless amounts of information. I learned to browse at an early age and was always rewarded for my curiosity with some nugget of knowledge.

Reading is a gateway to learning, acquiring knowledge, gaining perspective.  Exposure to new ideas throughout life hones critical thinking skills, keeps us sharp. It's like living out the Socratic Method.
I've developed some specific online reading habits over the years, hitting various news sites and blogs almost daily.  One site I've really enjoyed (wish I could remember where I first learned of it!) is The Big Picture blog, written by Barry Ritholtz.  He's an equity analyst, author and a pretty smart guy, as far as I'm concerned.  He works with FusionIQ , a successful quant firm.**
The whole point of quantitative analysis is objectivity: find the relevant data points through testing and modeling and create a strategy based on the results.  It is an iterative process, requiring the ability to change course when circumstances warrant.  Check your bias at the door.
He regularly posts what he calls a LinkFest, and yesterday's subtitle reminded me again why this site first caught my attention.  Go check it out.

With more materials available than ever before, and opportunities to explore the knowledge accumulated over centuries in ways only imagined in science fiction, it seems impossible not to find something.
Yes indeed, reading is good for you.

*Barry Ritholtz on The Big Picture Blog April 19, 2011. 
** I have no relationship whatsoever to this firm

At the intersection of Knowledge and . . .

Ulla's post yesterday about  defining KM/IM opportunities  caught my eye.  The message I took away from her post is that it really is up to us, as the educated, experienced credential holders, to claim our abilities and be ready to define our own opportunities.

Now if anyone knows about the tremendous transferability of the library-based skill set it is Ulla.  She's followed a path that refuses to be bounded by stereotypes or unimaginative notions of the power that comes with a keen understanding of the information continuum.

Now I'm not saying (nor do I think Ulla is saying) that the IM/KM skill set gained from a library-oriented education is sufficient for all opportunities.

It isn't.

But, the foundation it provides is robust: the right information at the right time in the right hands changes lives. It becomes less about gaining NEW knowledge as much as it is about aligning new concepts to existing knowledge, such as learning the unique lingo that goes along with various work domains.  
For me, that meant taking the Canadian Securities Course early in my career, and I've just recently completed
Fundamentals of Business Intelligence  at U of T.  When asked what my goals were for the course  I said one of mine was to understand how BI concepts mapped to my existing IM/KM knowledge.   I'm happy to say the course delivered that and more!
And here's the good news: our instructor, Bill Chadwick, made clear that successful BI initiatives were ultimately a human endeavour, involving subject specialists, metadata, preferred terms and an intimate understanding of how the application of information makes a difference. The technology is just the tool.

I've been reading KMWorld for years, and have frequently taken advantage of web presentations done by various vendors in the KM space.  I recall one that had, as it's underlying premise "what can librarians teach us about KM?"   More recently was the article  Rise of the Knowledge Librarian in 2009  - The Future of the Future, as the authors put it.   

Call it what you will: information management, KM, librarianship, data mining, BI, business analysis . . . Wherever knowledge is, we will be there!

Not the Audience*

Canadian broadcasters don't like Netflix. They are asking for their regulatory muscle, the CRTC, to do something about it (see here) ; but Netflix is only the latest to chip away at the monolithic Canadian broadcasting environment.  It's arrival comes amidst the reality of more folks like me just walking away from that whole dedicated, 1-way entertainment model completely (see here).

I can see the appeal of Netflix - in some ways it is a return to the promises of cable - no commercials, preferred content. And now it is about watching when you want, as much as what you want.  I remember that enthusiasm when we got cable back in the day:  What excitement! So many choices!  My small town BC experience even included MTV and the Movie Channel for a little while, until Canadian equivalents and the CRTC saved me from too much un-Canadian content.

Mind you, we were a family of news hounds, so ultimately cable meant new news more than new shows.  I didn't see shows like SCTV or Kids in the Hall until adulthood.  I liked MASH. I watched Quincey when I could, and loved Jack Webster.

I see a day soon when the cable feed model disappears completely, and something more akin to the Netflix model is the norm. Want to watch Bones in Canada? You become a member of the Global TV community. Maybe the CSI shows are more your style? CTV is for you!   Love PBS and would rather fund it that CBC? Here's how!

The impact of television on our culture cannot be underestimated; and I'm drawing a distinction between broadcasting (television, radio) and cable - they are not the same!
I came to a new appreciation of television during a course on 20th c Canadian History in university.  The prof mentioned that some years before, he had assigned a question to categorize Canadian federal elections over the 20th century and explain the choices, with one particular answer standing out: an examination of Canadian elections pre- and post- nationally televised elections.  What a difference it would have made! After all, only some 7-10% of communication is the words we use - facial expression, tone, body language all comprise the remainder.
Just think about the most recent election debates - can you imagine not seeing them in action? Just listening?

We're continuing to find new ways to communicate and engage with each other across distances. New ways do not always supplant old ways  - the language of drums is still used, for example.

So, dear broadcasters, thank you for your hard work over the years - I sincerely value the synergies created by pulling together a range of technologies, and the educational and entertaining programming you provided. I encourage you to keep developing the content - content matters!

But please! stop trying to push me into the audience!

*with gratitude to Jay Rosen et al at pressthink.org

It's a big world!

I had the opportunity to be inspired by an old friend last week.  He's been around the block a few times, and will freely admit he's made some bad decisions over the years. Living with the legacy of our choices is not easy, especially when they can constrain us so firmly.

Yet somewhere along the road, call it coincidence, persistence, serendipity or luck, he met a few people who showed him that just as the world can be made smaller through choice, it can also be made much bigger.   In making those expansive choices we are so often choosing to learn,  and that is exactly what my friend did. He discovered that like all living things, if you are not growing you are decaying; that for humans, growth ultimately is in the form of accumulating knowledge and understanding. 

He is 50 years old and just wrote his GED.

Too many times I have encountered an attitude towards knowledge and learning that would be almost humorous if it wasn't so destructive; you know the caricature mean.   Seeking understanding, finding order in chaos and making sense of the world is part of the human condition. We are hard wired to learn. And perhaps taken a step further, we are hard wired to create institutions such as libraries (Consider: Defunct Libraries from Wikipedia) to support or need to learn.

I hope to never ever hear again some one say, as my friend did recently, "I wish I knew how big the world is when I was younger!" 

It is too great a tragedy, with today's range of technologies in support of information of knowledge sharing, that anyone should be constrained by not knowing.

Learning the Future

Back in my first week at SLIS in '98 I learned about the importance of the alphabet soup that is the library association landscape from Dr Altmann in LIS 501. I learned that such bodies help create the professional infrastructure of Library work, and being involved would be an important part of developing as an individual in the context of the larger community. After all, 2 years in library school is only the tip of the ice berg of a life in Librarianship.  Learning would be part of our futures.

It made sense to me that if such bodies were in the position to influence any aspect of my Librarian life then I should join.

My reasoning was quite simple: I tend to speak up when I have some thing to say; but I know that just because I have something to say doesn't mean I will be heard; being heard is more likely if I am a member of the group I want to engage with.
So I joined Canadian Library Association in my first week of school, because it was clear to me that a national Association is important in a different way than provincial, regional or type of practice focused associations.

Well, I can say after 3 years now on the CLA Executive Council, and the past year and change working on the CLA restructuring, have exponentially reinforced my initial perspective.  The fact is, the Canadian Library Association is essential on so many levels; not just to the libraries and those who work in them, but to the millions of Canadians who use and rely on libraries of all kinds to support them in their hunt for knowledge.

As per the published timeline (CLA Future) the Executive Council is in the process of reviewing the resolutions that will bring the new structure into being. Moving forward from our crisis moment last year, to developing the plan and now seeing it as a codified, structured set of governance documents is the result of a lot of hard, emotionally exhausting work.

It has been worth it.

The new structure is flexible, and respectful of CLA's history and traditions. It creates multiple new avenues for engagement and participation. The opportunities for knowledge sharing and mentorship in the context of important Association work will grow.
I look forward to the AGM in Halifax CLA Conference and am confident the plan will be adopted. And then, we will collectively learn what the future can be.
After all, CLA is about people coming together to work towards shared goals; names of our sub-groups have changed and disappeared over the years, but the people and the work continue.

I am proud to have made the decision to join CLA back in 1998. I am proud to have attended a school that continues to advocate for association involvement.  The library landscape in Canada needs vibrant associations and passionate volunteers.

Can you help?

Synergy to spare

I've just finished Clay Shirkey's Cognitive Surplus (see here and and here for highlights), a fascinating and insightful read about the changing "free time" landscape resulting from new media technologies.  It ended up on my reading list at an interesting time: notably, we had recently made the decision to cancel our cable subscription outright, freeing up that 1% or so of my time to be occupied with something, well, more meaningful. And active.

I am heartened by Shirkey's many examples of individuals using social media not just to entertain, but to engage with each other on matters of civic and societal importance.  Can such media help us change - or save - the world?
Well, it turns out it can at least help me learn guitar. It struck me the other day as I was practicing that I've been benefiting from the cognitive surplus of other guitar players through my use of Ultimate Guitar which has been instrumental ;-> in finding lessons and song notation. I'd just been lurking these last few months, but it has been such a wonderful experience that I've joined the community.

Well, all the new media certainly helps, but it isn't necessary.  After all, consider the history and work of library associations. The depth and breadth of collective work done by volunteers sharing their cognitive surplus in the context of library services is astonishing.
  • Early periodical indices were volunteer efforts. 
  • Creating cataloguing/RDA standards is a volunteer effort. 
  • Developing principles and position statements relevant to the work acquiring and providing access to information is done by volunteers. 
  • Working internationally on common issues in the library and information spheres requires the time and resources of volunteers
  • The structures and notions by which we understand "library" as place have been the work of individuals giving of their time and insight through the auspices of library associations. 

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being a panelist in an iSchool Institute course led by Kimberly Silk (Professional Preparation Strategies) - we were discussing Associations and the importance of being involved.
I pointed out to the students that the the professional bodies of the many hard/true professions include in their mission statements some measure of public interest. Doctors, lawyers, engineers - their accrediting bodies are about service of the profession towards the greater good - not about compensation and benefits for the individual.
In so far as Librarianship is a "soft" profession, there is no obligation to join anything. 

It follows, then, that what ever claim we can make towards professionalism must embody a similar emphasis, with each individual having a sense of compulsion to literally pay their dues and engage with their colleagues through our many relevant Associations. 

Maybe we can turn Pareto on his head?