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The problems of communication… or some of them, at least

Today, a few of us were kicking around ideas for better communicating our individual stores of professional knowledge with each other and with others in the library, and I realized that this is something I’m terrible at doing. It’s not for lack of knowing things that are happening in the wider world of librarianship, or library technology, or social tools online, or any number of other things I keep half an eye on every day. If anything, my communication problem has its cause rather than its solution in the fact that I keep half an eye on these things every day.

Day in and day out, I hear people talking about librarianship, social web tools, and library technology. Last night I was chatting with somebody while he coded modules for Evergreen. Today people discussed whether all LIS students should learn at least a little programming. In the past couple of weeks we’ve debated the merits and characteristics of unconferences, teased apart copyright issues as they apply to emerging formats, shared ideas about discovery platforms for libraries, matched people up with the bibliographic software that best suits their needs, discussed centralized virtual reference, and talked about what options exist that could help us make our catalogs more usable. That’s a lot of conversations, and many of them don’t arrive at clear conclusions or “ah HA” moments. And yet, drop by drop, they add to my knowledge of what’s going on out in the world of librarianship, and they become the back story that informs my reaction to more formal library-related “news.”

So at what point does this kind of thing become “news” that I should spread around amongst my colleagues? I’d never think to get to work the morning after such conversations and write up the equivalent of a conference report for my colleagues. Not only would this normally mean a daily email from me, but even if that were requested, I’d have the hardest time figuring out just what to include.

Here’s what I mean. Have you ever fallen out of touch with a good friend and then found that when you finally manage to contact them again, you have very little to say? And it’s not for lack of news to convey. It’s because any piece of news you convey will require too much explanation, too much back story. And really, it’s the back story that would be interesting to your long-lost friend, but you’d have to figure out how much of it to tell, and how to explain all the tangents, and… and suddenly it all seems like too much. Nobody has that kind of time. And so the conversation lags and only the vaguest information or the highlights pass back and forth, revealing nothing about the interesting and complex issues that lurk beneath those highlights.

So here I am, stuck in an odd space where it feels like I never really learn anything news-worthy because of the paucity of epiphany moments, but where I’m inundated with information all day long, and where communicating anything coherent about this information would take more time and effort than seems warranted (especially since I can never be sure which information will be useful to my colleagues).

Seems like I need a blog or something…

4 thoughts on “The problems of communication… or some of them, at least

  1. Iris, you are so incredibly brilliant. The problem you decide is, I think, exactly the problem so many of us face when talking to our colleagues. I don’t know how to convey information to people about what I learn from my community–it’s precisely because I am in that community that I learn things. And I don’t know how you duplicate that.

  2. I am big on Otto Scharmer’s theory-U. He would say that the problem is that you do not have the opportunity to learn as an organization. Or if I may generalize, the “emerging technology” librarians around don’t have much of an opportunity to drag their co-workers into the quagmire of this learning curve along with them. So you are now in a space where you have to somehow convince/compel others that what you know is important. It’s not particularly healthy for an organization to work this way I think, but I don’t have any quick alternatives either.

    This reality (in my view) is not unique to librarians though. I’m hearing from all sectors that we can no longer expect a “techy” to bring organizations into the new space whatever it is. Humanists and Technologists cannot be inside their own bubbles anymore, nor can they expect one or two in their organization to be able to keep those bubbles from going off in their own directions.

  3. Okay, I think I need to make greebie my new BFF…

    I was going to say it sounds like they’re not interested in following the conversations you are (excusable if they’re busy following they’re own), and therefore might not be interested/understand anything you would be willing to write-up.

    My only frustration with where I work is exactly what greebie has outlined. I have emerged as the techie librarian and can’t convince those around me of the wonders they can experience if they’d just commit to trying something new for a week… Stuff as simple as finding two or three relevant blogs to see how other librarians do stuff.

  4. Wow, I’d be *so* frustrated if people around me didn’t care about emerging technology or the other things that I keep up with. Luckily for me, that’s not the root of my problems. (I’m really sorry you two have to deal with that!!)

    For me, the problem is that we’re all kind of in the same boat at my library, though we’re all keeping up with different conversations and doing so in different ways. But this means that I don’t know when I’ve learned something that’s new to my colleagues or when what I have to say is old news to them because their networks have been discussing these things, too.

    Ironically, it’s the very fact that we’re all engaged that leads me to worry that we may not be able to communicate this kind of thing well.

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