Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
Strategies for Keeping Current
Even as technology makes it easier for us to gather information, the explosion of technology makes it harder than ever to keep up. Ten years ago most libraries weren't on the web. XML was born only five years ago. Yet both technologies are now key pieces of the foundational infrastructure of nearly every major library. But do the math: if you exited library school prior to 1993, you're toast--unless you've kept up. Awareness of new technologies and what they have to offer is one thing, but taking that awareness to the level of knowledge--and eventually experience-- is an even greater challenge. How do we maximize the little time we have for professional development? Before I share some strategies, let's acknowledge that it takes time, effort, and commitment to keep current. Depending on your "tech" comfort level, it may involve a good deal of tolerance as well. But if you want to use current information technologies fully to address the problems and opportunities that your library faces, then you must quit complaining and lock and load. Learn as you breathe Learn all the time without even thinking about it. We are born to learn, but somewhere along the way many of us pick up the idea that we must be taught in order to learn. We think that if someone doesn't stand up in front of us and talk to us with either a chalkboard or PowerPoint slides, we cannot learn. We must regain our sense of wonder and our desire to learn. Make strategic learning decisions Even if you are learning all the time, you can't learn everything. Luckily, there are many things that you can safely ignore. We do this all the time without thinking much about it, but professionally it can be dangerous to blow things off without first doing some investigation. When you hear about a new technology or issue, take a quick look and categorize it. My categories are "trash" (not worth my time), "monitor" (still in distant early warning phase, can be safely ignored for now), "dabble" (what's this about?), and "need to know" (I can use it in my job now). Revisit such categories as conditions dictate. Use professional filters Consider the old-fashioned, preweb kind of filters: people who make decisions about what is important. Today these include current awareness services, such as Current Cites, the Research Libraries Group's ShelfLife, and portals like Steven Bell's Keeping Up and LIS Feeds (which provides access to a variety of library-related, RSS-syndicated, current awareness services also known as web logs). They are all produced by professional colleagues who select items of interest and provide context and commentary. Quiz trusted colleagues As hard as you try, it's unlikely that you'll ever know as much about most technical topics as some of your colleagues. If you have passing acquaintance (or better) with your local technology experts, ask them key questions. What is essential to know about this technology? Is it important now, in the near-term, further into the future, or possibly never? What are the three things this technology does or enables that I should know? Learn by doing Build prototypes and make mistakes. Prototypes can provide a better way to elicit feedback than a description ever could. Simply creating a "smoke and mirrors" prototype of HTML pages that mimics the system you're after can be much better than trying to explain how it should work. It is trite but true that you can learn a lot from your own mistakes. Be responsible You are accountable for your own learning. No one is more responsible for your professional development than you. Don't expect the organization that hired you to make sure you are developing as a professional. Take the necessary time Your place of employment owes you the time and training to do the tasks at hand, unless you were hired because of specific knowledge and skills. Beyond the requirements of the job, you must heed your calling as a librarian and information professional. To be effective in our profession you must constantly learn and retool. Accept that change is constant, and constant learning is the only reasonable response. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when everything you need to know about being a librarian could be learned in library school. Learn to thrive on change. Anticipate it, smell it out, and chase after it. If you do this well enough, instead of being the victim of change, you will be its agent. And you will be able to mold change to serve your public better. __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST Current Cites sunsite.Berkeley.edu/CurrentCites Feed Your Head: Keeping Up by Using RSS libraryjournal.com/tennant5-15-03 Keeping Up Web Site staff.philau.edu/bells/keepup LIS Feeds www.lisfeeds.com ShelfLife www.rlg.org/shelflife