Welcome to the new version of my blog. If you’re seeing this in your feed reader, woohoo! You’re all set. If not, I know one of two things about you. You either a) landed on this page in its native habitat and should really subscribe to my new feed, or b) REALLY aren’t seeing this post at all, and there’s not much I can do about that. Most people in the world will fall into Category B.
While you’re here, let me know if there’s something that’s not working the way you think it should (internal permalinks are definitely one of those things, I know — I’m investigating my options there). Perpetual Beta, Baby!
This past week, Dorothea sent a link to FriendFeed on the art of writing and designing for readers. It’s called In Defense of Readers, and it’s one of those pieces of writing that pulls me in, engrosses me completely, makes time stand still, and then leaves me thinking about it for days afterward. I loved everything about it, but two very different things keep coming back to me as I cook dinner, walk across campus, or drive through town. I want to make sure this space reflects those principles to the best of my ability, and I loved the reminder that the best writing assumes the best of its readers.
The blog template portion of my reflections probably isn’t very interesting. Little by little I’m tweaking small things like line spacing, distribution of white space, and figuring out how to keep the sidebar from competing for eye-time with the body text. (Just as a side note, I’ve realized that for the kind of writing I do, the sidebar and the navigational function it represents isn’t the most important piece of the site, and therefore shouldn’t have the coveted left side.) I know just enough CSS to mess up a good template, and I use it so rarely that every time I do, I have to relearn it. But little by little I’m tweaking the site to allow for easier reading. And this challenge is enough fun that I’m ignoring the little voice in my head that screams, “But everyone’s reading this in their feed readers anyway! Who cares what the site looks like!!”
The article’s respect for the reader, though, has much farther reaching implications. It stretches into the far corners of my experience to touch everything from interpersonal relations to prose. For example, my co-workers and I were talking over dinner about how the best managers are those that assume that their employees have good intentions and want to do well. This assumption helps them approach difficult situations in constructive ways, and goes a long way toward helping employees to actually do well. I realized that this was analogous to the epiphany I had in graduate school when I realized that the best articles and essays assumed that those who did or would disagree with them had arrived at their conclusions in perfectly reasonable ways. Up until that point, I’d thought the best “argue against those who disagree with you” portions of my papers should be point by point deconstructions of my opponent’s arguments with the goal of showing how much smarter I was than they were. But as it turns out, in the real world this just makes people think you’re arrogant and a bit of a rhetorical show-off.
No, what I like about Mandy Brown’s writing is that she didn’t take the easy attacks on either side of the debate about reading online vs reading in glorious everyone-knows-this-is-aesthetically-more-pleasing print. Her writing could be appreciated by those who think books are the only way to go and those who rarely curl up with anything other than a laptop. It embodied the kind of attitude toward potentially disagreeing readers that I’ve always hoped I could pull off, if I tried very hard. And by pulling this off, Brown’s writing was not only “In Defense of Readers,” but it also defended its readers from the gratuitous barbs that might have prevented them from hearing her underlying arguments.
Something’s shifted. Maybe it’s just that I’ve shifted. My life has become almost unrecognizable compared to a year ago, so I wouldn’t rule this possibility out just yet. But even so, I’m inclined to think that the landscape and function of librarians’ blogs is in the process of a transformation.
Two years ago, I mentioned that participating in the biblioblogosphere was like attending a conference every day. A year ago, a good portion of my evenings were spent reading, thinking about, and responding to other librarians’ blogs. This was what kept me feeling connected to the larger world of librarianship. This was what made me feel useful beyond my own patron community. And this was a major source of contact with librarians whom I had come to regard as friends.
But lately, I wake up to find that my RSS aggregator has very few new posts from this once-prolific core of librarian bloggers, and I certainly haven’t been contributing to anyone’s aggregator overload recently. Not by a long stretch.
In my darker moments, I worry that we’re a little bit burned out, or that we’ve given up trying to change the world by weighing in on issues large and small. But while there may be some of this at work, I think it has more to do with a shift in communication patterns. Two years ago, blogs provided a venue for people’s carefully thought-out ideas as well as for their off-the-cuff thoughts, gut reactions, and general banter. In this way, they were like the sessions and the between- and after-session banter at a conference. Today I think that blogs have begun to take on the more focused character of the actual sessions at a conference while places like Twitter and FriendFeed have become the venue for the between-and after-session banter. We pass each other in the micro-blogging hallway, have conversations about everything from OCLC’s latest craziness to weekend entertainment plans, shout hello to other passers-by, and show each other our pictures or the latest new gaget we’re playing with. Then, when we have something more formal to say, we take the time to sit down and compose a blog post to present to our peers.
Then again, maybe this is just a very long justification for the decline and fall of a small portion of the librarian blogosphere.
You wouldn’t know it to look at this blog, but I’ve really wanted to write more here lately. When I started writing this thing, I could never have predicted how much I’d grow to love the act of writing (I typically hate writing and am embarrassed by it, which you’d probably never know seeing as you mostly only know me through writing, which seems like the biggest oxymoron to me and makes me giggle a little inside every time I think of it). But then, I kind of stopped writing very much here in recent months.
It’s not for lack of things happening or anything like that. As far as I can tell, it started with a sudden surge in readership (which made me suddenly quite shy), coupled with extra-crazy-busy schedules, all of which coincided with my starting to work on projects with people that I didn’t think would be comfortable with their work being blogged. I also had a 6-month slump in energy, which didn’t help any of this stuff.
But I don’t think that’s all of what’s changed for me. I think that fundamentally, this space has changed. For one thing, I’m not a brand new librarian any more, no matter how much I know that I still have a world of expertise to acquire. I’m not constantly figuring out what my place is in this profession like I was when I started writing here. But more than that, like Dorothea I’m finding that changing context is changing everything, and that I’m trying to figure out either how to make this back into my living room or how to come to terms with the fact that it’s not my living room. All of which means that I’m kind of inventing a new purpose and context for this space as I go along. It’s turned far more essay-ish than it was before, with far fewer links, and I’ve felt more compelled to have “complete thoughts” than I used to. And I’m not sure if that’s good or bad or just different, or if I like it or not, but that’s what’s happened.
I’m hoping to step back into this blog and fit it to myself again. I really do miss the burning desire to get home every night and write something. And while I’ll probably never write every day, I think there’s hope that I’ll figure out my contexts, especially now that I’ve taken some time off this summer and have started to feel a little more energetic.
Everyone should be lucky enough to know a graphic artist! Just hours after I mentioned that my ultimate dream was to have a Pegasus image for my blog header, the amazing Tim Keneipp emailed me an image. I fell in love with that statue Pegasus instantly.
Of course, then came hours and hours of fighting with Blogger to make it sit right on the page (I’m sorry, Tim. I didn’t know it’d be such a hassle). But now each time I look at my blog I think about how talented and generous Tim is.