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Month: April 2008

Theory Feeds My Soul

I’m sitting here hunting for articles in hopes of creating a little literature review for myself on a topic I’ll be presenting on next week, and I’m cursing the practicality of my profession. Everyone’s writing “how to help students avoid plagiarism by teaching the proper mechanics” articles. But what I need is “why are the mechanics the way they are” articles. We’re To Practical, I Tell You!!!

In library school I got frustrated with those classmates who complained about my favorite class because “there’s nothing practical there.” At conferences, I don’t participate in the “I hope there’s some good practical stuff here” conversations that happen before the sessions.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the practical. I live it. I get frustrated if there’s no practical connection or grounding when ideas get bandied about. But the theory and philosophy that forms the foundation of what I do, that is what feeds my soul, sparks my imagination, helps me judge the merits of practicalities, and helps me mold other people’s practicalities to my situation.

Maybe it’s the English major in me, I don’t know, but I feel starved for some well-thought-out theoretical research with a healthy mix of evidence (not all of which needs to come from practice), deep thinking, and logical reasoning. I look to blogs for my “how-to” needs, project reports, and increasingly for the philosophical musings that I would expect from journal articles. But our peer reviewed literature should be the strong-hold of our deepest thinking.


Modes of Communication

Yesterday reference and instruction librarians from the five Oberlin Group libraries in Minnesota. I always love these meetings. They’re a chance to reconnect with our colleagues at other libraries, to think together about issues that will shape our futures, and to take large issues and examine how they map onto our particular experiences. This time the issue was the future of reference service. Just a little topic… but it was really interesting to see the range of strategies these five libraries are taking employing to continue their quest to serve their faculty and students.

Not surprisingly, an underlying theme of the presentations and discussion sessions was communication. How do you communicate effectively in new media? How do you communicate the worth and weight and legitimacy of a reference question to an embarrassed student? How do you communicate the value of the library to faculty at a liberal arts institution?

These are posts for another evening, though, because what’s been on my mind today started as a lunch-time conversation on a similar theme. I was talking to Barbara Fister (who writes in too many places to make name-linking easy, so I’ll just choose ACRLog for her this time) and two librarians from St. Olaf when the topic of professional communication came up. Specifically, where is the professional discussion about librarianship happening right now, and what’s happening with email lists?

And it got me thinking (again) about the modes of professional communication that work for me and the ones that don’t. And for me, for most things, email lists do not work. Something about writing a post to an email list intimidates me to my very core. This feels odd to say, since I happily write here for all to see. And yet, the though of all those “lurkers” on email lists paralyzes me. Maybe it’s because whatever I’d post to an email list will end up in somebody’s inbox. I’m shy about “spamming” people who may not know me or care about what I have to say, especially when I don’t know who I’m spamming. At least with this blog, I know that if you click on my URL or subscribe to my feed, you meant to do that. And if I get on your nerves you can just not read me any more. This sense that I’m not intentionally intruding on people’s inboxes seems to be the key to my being able to actually participate in a professional community.

I’ll write later about why I think multiple modes of communication are important, but it boils down to this: different people are shy about different things. I’m shy about intruding on people’s inboxes. Other people are not, and I always appreciate when people email me. (Hey, I never claimed to be logical!) Email lists just don’t work for me. I’m glad they work for others.

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