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.

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 . . . .