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.

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.

Lessons from Literature Part 1

Years and years ago I enjoyed the company of some good friends who had developed the habit of giving gifts of words - that is, sharing the writings of others gleaned through an eclectic and reverent approach to reading - rather than giving gifts of things.  Indeed, entire books might be "given", but such occurrences as often included reading these works out loud. 
In my case, thanks to the realities of Canadian geography and necessities of work, this sharing was done via old fashioned hand written letters.  Invariably there would be some quote, or poem or snippet of something said so perfectly . . . I still have many of the quotes and references, if not the letters. Most are tucked away in journals or sketch books, revealing their wisdom through the accidental: what is in that box? 
But one poem by Emily Dickinson has always been hung visibly in what ever space I've inhabited
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
This poem, like so many of Emily Dickinson's works, was published posthumously.  I'd love to be able to reach back into history to ask how this poem came about: was there an inspiring incident? a culmination of observations? or just playing with words?
Of course, such an endeavour is, on the one hand impossible, and on the other hand immaterial, to the power of this poem.  Dickinson shows keen insight into both Truth and human frailty i.e. Children.  Truth must be valued for what it is: a sharp edge capable of carving out something both fascinating and terrifying at the same time.  It stakes out that territory where even relativism and constructivist notions must bow down.

Just 8 simple lines, written over a century ago, and they'd be perfectly at home as a syllabus for a PR course today!  

One of the things I've come to like about blogs, twitter and FB is the sharing of quotes and insights (or misquotes, as in this recent case) by friends - you never know where insights and ahas will be found.  I like to think that my fundamental job, as a living thinking breathing human being is to be a  sponge: to soak up as much as I can with all this knowledge floating around.
There are lessons to be learned every where we go, every day, and that's Truth enough for me.

An Online 'SafeHouse': is it possible?

At some point in my wanderings today I came across this item from the WSJ:   Wall Street Journal Launches 'SafeHouse' Submission Site 
My first thought was one of incredulity: has no other MSM outlet done this yet? It seems almost impossible that he answer is "No", not just in light of "Wikileaks" but just generally in the evolution of the role of "whistle blower" in the internet age. 

It sounds like a suggestion box on steroids; and in some ways it is amazing to me that there are folks in this day and age who might actively eschew their 15 minutes.  Mind you, fame can come in 2 flavours: famous, and infamous. 

For those friends, and friends of friends, practicing the Journalistic Arts: what do you think of this WSJ initiative? Might it be a proactive measure in fear of erosion of journalistic privilege and confidential sources? Or is it just window dressing?

For cat people: A new take on HCI?

I came across this item about pink fluffy cat ears via a post about synaethesia at MindHacks - given the EEG leakage noted in the article that contributes to the ears likely having a "mind of their own" any serious cat lover could tell you this device should have been a tail!

The Inevitability of Information

In some ways this post has its origins in a lecture I attended in April 2006 by Seth Lloyd,  MIT Professor, author and self professed "quantum mechanic". We got tickets through a friend, and happily made the trip to Bloor Collegiate for this Perimeter Institute sponsored event.  I quite enjoyed it, and can honestly say I understood not just what he was saying, but the implications of it (you can read an interview with SL where he discusses his research here.)
Now, I make no claim to even neophyte status when it comes to understanding quantum stuff. What I can claim is an active interest since at least 1993 thanks to the Star Trek Next Generation episode in which Worf goes through a quantum rift.  I bless Serendipity that my circle at the time included a few people who already knew something about the underlying theories; I found myself quite intrigued. It occurred to me then as much as now that the more we learn about the very very small i.e Quarks, and the more we learn about the very very big i.e Universe, it seems that the knowledge converges on itself.
So if this post has its origins in the lecture, the Star Trek episode certainly created the conditions to "make it so".

You see, it turns out that, in many ways, everything ultimately comes down to Information.  This is what makes a movie like The Matrix both compelling and unsettling. That on the one hand there is a way to "read" our environment as 1s and 0s, see patterns, identify threats and work proactively; on the other, it is a world where secrets are impossible and actions are at best telegraphed, at worst unavoidable.

Yet some how all this information appears to have come with it's own root kit.  All that Information, when combined with a means of making sense of it, turned into, well, you and me.

As Seth Lloyd comments in the interview noted above,
"My vision of the world as processing information arose out of my day-to-day work building quantum computers."  
He was working on the very small, and it turns out he was working on the very large at the same time.

So, the universe is one big information processor. Of course, theory also holds that the entropy in the universe is increasing . . . is the process of processing information yielding so much more information that it can never all be processed, hence entropy? I'll leave that avenue of exploration for another day.

If the quantum world unites universes and subatomic particles through information, then genetic research  certainly does so for living beings. Here it is study of RNA, DNA, bio polymers and the like. Researchers use concepts like "encoding", in the sense that RNA carries and transmits information, to discuss the interactions between the various elements required to create life.
The relevance of Information Processing to this research grew, shall we say, organically:
“The big realization is that biology has become an information science,” says Dr. Yang Huanming, cofounder and president of BGI. “If we accept that [genomics] builds on the digitalization of life, then all kinds of genetic information potentially holds value.”

Which bring us in a round about way to an idea that is integral to the concept of Library, and one that Libraries do very well: Taxonomy. It's origins are ancient Greek: Taxis, or "arrangement"; but that's not really the story. Rather, it is the way Carl Linnaeus used that word in 1735 to define his system of structuring the existing knowledge regarding differential biological elements and forms into a coherent schema we still use today that loads Taxonomy meaning.  Sure, one might posit that some other enlightened individual would have come up with a similar usage of the word, or even another word! to denote a means of arranging knowledge;  I'd equally posit that any system that helps bring order to Information chaos - tames entropy, as it were - is useful.

I don't know if the some aspects of bits and bytes approach to life a la The Matrix will be (or already is?) reality.  I do know that the Star Trek franchise provided ample inspiration for a number of now ubiquitous gadgets; and those ARPA folks had a good long view of what their little network might deliver (personal note: it sounds like 1971 was a good year for good ideas ;-)

Given the inevitability of Information in our entropic universe, I'd say there is a both a biological and quantum inevitability of Libraries,  and equally of the unique group of people who desire to work in them.  We work in the information continuum, and are perfectly placed where ever information is found.