Previous month:
March 2007
Next month:
May 2007

Understanding Rothko

In 1984, with the long legal battle over Rothko's estate finally settled, the NGA mounted a huge show of his work on paper.  I'd been a fan for some time, and could hardly wait to see it.  What I remember the most about that show, which I saw several times during its run, is wandering through gallery after gallery, empty of other people.  Unlike most of the blockbuster shows that NGA puts on (the Modigliani retrospective, for example, from around that same time), the Rothko show was not popular.

But in 1984, fourteen years after his death, and a full thirty-five after the artistic breakthrough that gave rise to his mature work, Rothko wasn't very popular anywhere, despite his critical reputation.  It baffled me, because I found the pictures to be tremendously powerful and rich with emotion, and I couldn't figure out why most people who could be found strolling through the big museums thought his work either not worth a look at all, or, even more puzzling, deeply offensive.  Tourists, making the obligatory rounds, would become angry seeing these big glowing pictures.  More than once I saw parents nearly drag their kids out of a gallery of Rothko paintings, as if fearful that the work would do some damage. 

Over time, these perceptions change, and in recent years it has become much more common for me to see people sitting contemplatively in front of his work, taking the time (Rothko's work requires time) to become absorbed in it.  At some point in the last twenty years, whatever was so frightening about it has melted away.

And so it was that at the Tate Modern a couple of weeks ago, the room holding the Seagram Murals was crowded on a Friday afternoon.  What a difference from the very first time I saw those paintings, when I spent over an hour with them at the NGA in the late eighties, and in that time, scarcely two or three people stayed for more than a moment.      At the Tate, the benches were full and there were people standing in twos and threes in front of the work, whispering to each other, pointing things out and turning from one to another to see the relationships and to take in the whole.   As we were leaving the museum to walk along the Thames to the Archduke Winebar, I stopped in one more time, and saw two small children, with their parents, sitting on the floor with paper and crayons, the parents beaming at the kids, looking from their drawings back to the huge murals hanging on the walls.

The Tate Modern itself has taken some criticism for being too popular.  The guide on our boat up to Greenwich the next day had great fun, as we floated past, pointing out that the collection included a pile of bricks, a smashed up car, and a room with a light bulb that kept turning on and off.  He mentioned that it was free to get in -- otherwise no one would bother -- but that he'd heard it was ten quid to get out.  I was amused.  Fifteen years ago I suppose he'd've been talking in the same derisive tone about that room full of big purple squares.

The Weekend

Saturday.  Quiet.  No alarm clock.  No meetings.  How long since I've had a day open up before me like this?

We have a yardwork day planned, and the weather is perfect for it.  The forecast predicted cloudy with a 20% chance of rain; but at this point, mid-morning, it's clear with a slight breeze and a temperature just shy of seventy degrees. 

The desk in my study is piled high with things demanding my attention, but I'm ignoring them for the time being.  The prospect of spending some hours in this beautiful weather doing something physical and productive outside is extremely appealing.  It's been months since we actually had a weekend at home to tend to some of this.    While the wall was being replaced, all of the deck furniture got piled up in a corner, so that all has to be washed down and put back in place.  The camellia bushes and the ivy in the courtyard have run riot, so we'll trim all of that.    The courtyard has a wonderful sort of New Orleans feel to it when it's nicely arranged.  And this time of year is perfect for sitting out on the deck to watch the sunset.

I've never had much interest in being a homeowner.  I was perfectly content to rent for the twenty years from the time I left Elm Street to the time I moved into Lynn's basement at Ivy Hills.  Sandy and I never even talked about buying a house, and when she and I split up, the thought never occurred to me.  So even though we share the mortgage on this place, I think of it as Lynn's house and generally defer to her in all matters of design & renovation.  Which is not to say that I don't love it.  As I sit here, watching the finches at the birdfeeder outside my window, I am astonished and tremendously grateful that the path of my life has taken me here.

Resistance To Change

Resistance to change is not peculiar to libraries and librarians.   It's an organization thing.  And it's not new.

Some of the posts coming out of CiL describe the frustration of some of the participants at their (perceived?) inability to get their organizations to implement some of the changes that they think are essential.  You'd think, from reading some of these, that it is only in libraries that these difficulties appear, that there is something particular in the "traditional" librarian mindset that makes them unusually unwilling to make the changes that are blisteringly obvious to the clear-minded techno-savvy youngsters around them.  It simply isn't so.

If one spends any time at all perusing the organizational/business/management literature of the past seventy-five years it is quickly apparent that change management has been a constant theme and that in every decade, in virtually every industry, there have been a few, just a few, innovators who were able to push their organizations forward to adopt new ways of thinking, planning, implementing, etc.   You can describe it with the typical bell curve -- there are always a few early adopters, a huge bolus that gradually gets pulled along, and a trailing edge that is dragged kicking and screaming.  It is a continual, never-ending process and it is inherent in the nature of organizations.

Frustrated with libraries?  Try implementing change in the medical school curriculum.  Or consider working for GM or Delta.  Take a close look at how your state government operates.  Or just go to the business section of your library shelves and peruse several decades of books purporting to guide the early adopters in how, why and when to implement change in their organizations.

The depressing part of this fact is that implementing change in libraries is a much more difficult and longterm process than simply beating troglodyte tottering library directors over the head with L2.0 slogans.  The positive part is that there actually is a rich literature on change management and that change does, in fact, happen.  But if you are of the early adopter temperament and mindset, it will never happen quickly enough or go as far as you would like.  Just get used to that so that you don't get too frustrated and burn out.  Realize that you're in it for the journey, as they say.

(I remember, years ago, when we had taken on desktop & server support for a couple of the schools at my university and had subsequently hired a new batch of computer techs, I ran into the manager of that unit at the elevator and asked him how it was going with the new crew.  "Pretty good," he said.  "We're accomplishing a lot and they're working well together.  There's only one problem."  "Oh?" I said.  "They think we're going to get done.")

It's tough enough to implement change from the top of an organization (let me assure you of that!), and it is even tougher when you have less apparent authority.  So I have a great deal of sympathy for the people attending David Lee King's presentation who knew that they were going to face resistance when they got back to their home institutions.  But I'm not surprised.

King's presentation on guiding change is pretty good.  (Although, I think he overstates the notion that change is happening faster now than ever before -- that's a common claim, and I've been hearing it for thirty years.  But there's little actual data to support it.  It just feels that way.)  But his closing slides do touch on the most important elements -- you need to understand the mechanics of change resistance so that you know what you're really dealing with and you need to be able to clearly and explicitly describe why a particular change is an important one for your organization. 

That last point is absolutely essential and I'm afraid the importance of it gets overlooked.  I put it this way -- you need to figure out what keeps the person in charge awake at night.  There are certain things that the leaders of every organization worry about and they're looking for solutions.  You need to understand what those things are, and be able to describe how you can solve them.  If you can't tie the implementation of a particular technology directly to the solving of a particular problem that the leadership of the organization considers crucial, you will not be able to get any traction.  So you shouldn't be asking yourself, "How do I get my organization to accept X?"  Rather ask, "What is one of the critical needs my organization has that X can help to resolve?"  And it has to be something that your boss sees as a critical need, not just you.

You have to recognize the hard truth that most organizations are not going to be on the leading edge, and that some of them will be on the trailing edge.  Most of 'em are going to be bumbling along in the middle.  Patience and a sense of perspective are essential for your mental health.  A good sense of humor helps too.

Remember that the resistance isn't a library thing.  It's a human thing and it is inherent in the organizations that humans build.  So don't let it put you off.  Get smarter about change management -- like I said, there's a rich literature out there.  Enjoy the small victories.  And don't ever stop trying.

UKSG puts on a fine conference

I confess to having been somewhat puzzled at the lineup for the opening session of the UKSG annual conference.  I wasn't quite sure what I was doing up there along with Microsoft's "Director of Publishing Evangelism" (Cliff Guren) and Google's "Manager, Strategic Partner Development" (Phillippe Colombet).  Seemed a little unbalanced.  But as the program developed I began to think that Paul Harwood, the conference chair and guy who had asked me to come, had more of a plan than I had foreseen.  As Guren & Colombet's talks proceeded, one could see the nervousness among the librarians in the audience increasing -- but where does this leave us, being the perennial question.  So my focus on the opportunities for librarians, once we let go of the notion that our sole role is to manage libraries, was a perfect follow-up.  Google & Microsoft aren't our competitors, I said; they're not threatening to put us out of business -- they're simply developing great tools that librarians will be able to make excellent use of.   At any rate, I enjoyed it and got some good feedback.  Charlie Rappel posted a fine summary on the UKSG blog.  (And I must note that Guren ended his presentation with a Kay Ryan poem -- I was damned impressed). 

The conference as a whole was quite excellent, and the delightful thing about doing the opening session is that I could then relax and really take advantage of it.  While both NASIG and the Charleston Conference bill themselves as opportunities for librarians, publishers & vendors to meet together to talk about common issues, I've found them to still be librarian-leaning in their overall content and tone (NASIG moreso than CC, perhaps).  The publisher side of the equation was much more in evidence at UKSG (indeed, one colleague commented that it might be starting to lean too far in that direction), and I found that quite refreshing.

I thought the content level and quality of presentation was extremely high.  My favorite session was the one by Geoffrey Bilder on data-mining and text-mining (nicely summarized here).  I met Bilder last fall in a bar in Frankfurt with Jan Velterop during the STM association meeting and found him to be one of the most creative and penetrating thinkers about what is happening with publishing that I have ever talked with.  So when I saw that he was on the program, I was eager to see what he'd do with it, and I was not disappointed.  Not only did he do an excellent job covering the basics and the current state of text-mining tools, he went on to talk about what publishers can and should be doing to make this kind of knowledge retrieval easier and more productive in the future.  He's now high on my list of people that I'll go out of my way to see present no matter what the topic because I know it's going to be engaging and I'm going to learn something.

Overall, it was a great trip and I'm grateful to have had the chance to go.  Despite the gloom & doom that still seems to permeate much of libraryland, the more I talk with bright and creative people, the more optimistic I become.  This is a great time to be a librarian.

A Book Found Where I Least Expect It

I had an hour to kill at the airport before my flight home from Milwaukee.  The previous morning I had delivered the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Health Science Library Association, an expanded version of the talk I'd given a week earlier at the UKSG meeting in England.  I was pleased with the talk, and enjoyed spending time with the attendees, some of them people that I've known for decades, and some that I was meeting for the first time.  An added treat was that my mother had driven down from Appleton for the weekend, so she and I were able to spend some time together.  She came to see my presentation (the first time she's actually seen me in that role), as well as joining the group for lunch and the evening's banquet and entertainment.

I was feeling satisfied, but deeply weary.  I'd gotten back from London on Thursday evening, put in a full workday on Friday, and then I was back on a plane at 9:00 Saturday morning heading to Wisconsin.  I was prepared for the copyright lecture I'm going to give to a group of medical students this morning, so I wasn't thinking too much about that, but in two weeks I'll be participating with Andrew Booth in a debate in Durham about the value and applicability of Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, and I was planning on working on that during the flight home.

I wandered a bit aimlessly through the small terminal, just to see what was there.  I think I've only been to Mitchell field once or twice before.  It's fairly small, easy to get around.  At first I didn't pay a lot of attention to the bookstore that I saw out of the corner of my eye, assuming it was the standard airport bookstore, stocked with the latest bestsellers and not a whole lot else.   But getting closer I realized it was very different -- a branch of the venerable Renaissance Book Shop, whose main location downtown carries hundreds of thousands of items.

I was amazed when I went in and walked around.   Old wooden shelves, loosely categorized, stacks of books everywhere -- the very typical used bookstore vibe.  Not at all what one expects to come across in an airport.  I've been looking for a copy of Ellman's bio of Joyce for my mom, so I drifted over to the biography section.  No Ellman, but to my complete astonishment there was a copy of the first commercial printing of The Education of Henry Adams.

The book has appeared on a couple of lists as the best nonfiction book of the 20th century and when I first read it half a dozen years ago (in the Modern Library edition that Lynn acquired in college) I thought that judgment was pretty accurate.  He's an extremely funny and erudite writer, with a weary, self-deprecating tone that belies the tremendous insight and analysis he brings to the story of America trying to come to grips with the beginnings of the 20th century.   It is astonishing that a man who died in 1918 should have been able to describe how the century would unfold so accurately.

As with most of his work, Adams was dissatisfied with The Education... and felt that he hadn't really been able to pull it off as he had hoped.  He considered it unfinished and in 1906 had just 100 copies privately printed and distributed to friends and colleagues for comment.    Even so, by the time of his death, it had already become tremendously influential, and the Massachusetts Historical Society brought it out under the Riverside Press imprint of Houghton Mifflin only a few months after he died.  And it was a copy from that 1918 print run that I now held in my hands, standing in a used bookstore at General Mitchell field in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Of course, I bought it.  It's in excellent shape, the pages only very slightly yellowing and not at all fragile.  EBLIP was going to have to wait.  I went to my terminal, found a snack bar, ordered a glass of wine, and began to read.  By the time I got home, I'd finished close to 100 pages, and young Henry was in Rome, still searching for something that might give him education.

Getting On The Plane

Our flight to London leaves at 3:45 this afternoon and I haven't started packing yet.  It's not that I'm blase about the trip, just that packing has become such second nature I don't have to give it much thought and I know that it won't take more than 30 minutes.   I've got a long list of other things that need doing before we head to the airport as well.  It'll all happen.

I'm looking forward to the trip.   The fact is, I really enjoy traveling -- and by that I mean not just the being in different places, but the whole process of getting there.  I find airports intriguing, and I like being on planes.  The only time that I was ever really nervous on a flight was going through a massive storm somewhere over the Pacific coming back from Australia.  Mostly I'm content to settle into my seat and read or get some work done.

When Lynn and I started traveling together, she was far more seasoned (Delta tells me that I've logged 320,000 miles with them over the past decade; Lynn hit million-miler status last year), and I've learned a lot about how to manage it from her.  Part of it is having a routine system -- same bags, always packed the same way, same routine when going through security, same layout of unpacking when you get to the hotel room.  Bringing a routine with you, as much as possible, helps to cut down on the sense of chaos that can be so enervating when traveling.

But much of it is just a mental discipline about what you choose to pay attention to.  Lynn was the first person that I've ever met who, very consciously, when faced with a frustrating or unexpectedly difficult situation (not just with traveling, but with everything in her life), takes a mental step back to say, "What's good about this?"  There is almost always something if one looks hard enough.  Then she focuses on that.   So when travel plans go awry, it becomes an adventure rather than a burden.

We have our share of war stories, of course, that we can pull out whenever dinner conversation turns to the horrors of travel -- my favorite is the long trip to Dunedin on the southern tip of New Zealand's south island, multiply delayed and rebooked, where Lynn and I finally arrived some 32 hours after we'd left home, expecting to go to the hotel and crash, but instead were bustled into a car and driven to the conference venue where I watched her give a brilliant presentation before she'd had a chance to even brush her teeth, much less change out of her travel clothes. 

The "trip-in-vain" to Burlington, and the time we spent four hours on the tarmac in DC while the pilot refused to take off in an ice storm and the company refused to cancel the flight (the pilot eventually won out), make for good stories, too.

We're used to adjusting to the inevitable delays (as Lynn says, there's always another flight), the occasional lost bags,  the bored or imperious or just plain rude employees, and all the rest.   But it's much easier to remember the brilliant, helpful, friendly airline and airport staff who've gone out of their way to help us out of a jam so many times, to admire the professionalism of so many of the flight attendants, to seek out the spots in some airports where you can actually get a fine meal between flights, and to be grateful to the pilots who successfully whisk us safely, again and again, to cities thousands of miles from where we live, in a matter of a couple of short hours, for just a few hundred dollars.  And when I can get from Atlanta to London in eight and a half hours, at a cost of just over $900 (which the conference is paying for anyway) it seems a silly waste of energy to fuss about the seats being a little cramped.

But I suppose it's not really something that can be learned -- how one feels about traveling must be more a matter of native temperament.  I've a friend who really hates air travel, and several years ago took a job that requires him to do a lot of it, often over considerable distances.  I doubt that any set of tips and techniques is going to make it easier for him -- in the balance of what he's trying to do with his life, he tolerates it, but he'll never enjoy it.

I suppose that one day the charm will wear off for me, and the tedium quotient will finally overwhelm the rest.   But I'm not there yet.  I remember my first flight -- almost exactly 24 years ago, from Oshkosh, Wisconsin to Washington DC, to interview for the NLM Associate program.  I remember looking down at the Appalachian mountains on a perfectly clear day, while sipping a bottle of beer, and thinking that this was one of the most amazing experiences that I'd ever had.  And even though it is far from new after all this time, I still pretty much feel that way.


Correcting the Scientific Record

How do you handle a retraction when the journal in which the article originally appeared has ceased publication?  I recently became aware of a case of just this situation.  There are no apparent issues of fraud or scientific misconduct involved -- just a sequence of errors resulting in the protocol described in the paper differing from the protocol as it was actually followed (or not followed, as the case may be), thus putting the conclusions in question.  The authors are trying to do the upright thing, which would normally be to write to the editor of the journal, and explain the situation indicating that they wish to retract the article.  The editor publishes the retraction and appropriately annotates the online version of the article.  NLM picks up the retraction in the normal course of indexing and links the retraction citation to the citation for the original article.  This is the way it's supposed to work.

In the case at hand, however, the journal in which the article originally appeared ceased publication a couple of years ago.  So there's no editor to write to, no journal in which the retraction can be published, no way for NLM to pick up the retraction and fix things in Medline.  So what's to be done?  (In the course of any given day, I find all sorts of oddball questions showing up from who-knows-who in my inbox).   I've suggested referring the matter to NLM for advice.  I don't know if they've come across this situation before.  Their stated policy seems to make it clear that the retraction needs to be published in the journal in which the original article appeared, but perhaps in this case they'd feel it worthwhile to make an exception.  The only other option I could think of was to contact the publisher and see if the retraction could be published in a different journal.  Would they be willing to do that?

In 1986, I published a short article in the NLM Technical Bulletin describing the indexing policy on retractions and errata, so I've been interested in these issues for a very long time.  My interest was reawakened in the fall of 2001 when the notorious Human Immunology incident came to light (described in my editorial in the April 2002 issue of the JMLA).   I continued to pursue that topic over the next few years, doing a couple of presentations on it at the Charleston Conference, and, eventually, working with a number of other people equally concerned about the situation, to get policy statements issued by the ICMJE, the international STM Association, and IFLA outlining the very narrow circumstances under which it might be appropriate to remove an article altogether. 

I'm more of an absolutist on this than some -- I really don't think there are any circumstances in which it is reasonable to remove an article once it has been published (the ICMJE guidelines take this position as well).  This is particularly so in the digital world in which it is very easy to make very clear where there are errors or inaccuracies in a given report.  But it turns out that the lawyers are much more concerned about plagiarism and copyright violations than they are error or fraud.  So the STM & IFLA policies contain significant loopholes.

Still, the situation is much better now than it was five years ago -- I think the various policy statements do help, although there's nothing that forces journal editors to adhere to them.  And I can be sympathetic to the desire on the part of an editor (or an author) to make errors simply disappear, rather than suffering the embarassment of having to publicly point them out.   But the errors are just as much an important part of the history of science as the successes.  Digital technology makes it all too easy to tinker with that record in multifarious ways, and those of us who have a responsibility for the preservation of that record need to be sure that we guard against those easy solutions, and protect the interests of generations to come.

Play and Attention

"Whatcha' doin', Nonai?"  Josie dashes into my study a few minutes after she and her Mom arrive.  If I'm not downstairs when they get here, she knows where to find me, either working at the computer or sitting in my chair reading.  She'll crawl up into my lap, and we'll watch the pictures that slide by on my screen saver.  She's quite good at naming the people that she's met. 

After a few minutes she'll take my hand and we'll go back downstairs, out to the living room.  She'll pull out a book to read, or point to her Dora the Explorer matching game that's up on the shelf.  We sit down on the floor and play.

I find it very easy to give her my undivided attention.   Most of the time, in the swirl of activity that marks my days, no matter what I'm doing, there's always the hint of a suspicion in the back of my mind that I ought to be doing something else, that some other project or task or chore is really more important than the one I'm trying to focus on now.  When I'm with Josephine, that feeling goes away.  There is nothing more important than giving her my undivided attention.

I'm still working at getting my discipline voice right.  Too light, and she ignores me and keeps doing whatever it is I'm trying to get her to stop; too firm and growly and she dissolves into tears.  This happened last night when she started down the stairs while we were watching a movie.  Her mother told her to come back up, then I did as well, but she got ready to take another step.  "Josie!"  I used the voice, "Get back up here!"  I saw the shocked expression on her face and knew what was coming next.  She screws her face up and wails and the tears come.   She comes back toward the couches and I wrap her up in my arms and speak gently to her and tell her it's okay and in a minute or two her sniffling stops and she's fine.  Later in the evening she strays toward the stairs again.  "Jobug -- away from the stairs," I say.  She comes right back -- she doesn't want me to use that voice again.

I think about what I can offer her.  Is it that coming to this at my age, rather than in my twenties, I don't feel the imperative to protect her or to save her from sorrow and hurt that seems to drive many parents?   I want only that she should never feel that I've let her down, and that she can trust me completely.  There's little enough of that in the world.

The movie's over and I carry her out to the car and buckle her into her car seat.  She gives me a big kiss.  I give her mother a hug and come back into the house to start cleaning up in the kitchen.  It'll be a couple of weeks now before I see them again, and already it seems too long.  I'll send them postcards from London.

Slow Writing

Years ago, Lynn gave me a replica of Thomas Jefferson's favorite pen.  It's a simple silver cylinder, about five inches long.  At the base is an oval with his initials engraved, that he would have used to stamp the wax that would seal a letter.  The nib is long and larger than a typical fountain pen nib today -- it's a dip pen, so the nib had to hold a page's worth of ink.  It works superbly.

My replica was made in Germany; Jefferson had his made by William Cowen, from Richmond, and described it as one of the best pens he'd ever used.  I can't quarrel with him on that.  I use it regularly and it is certainly a finer pen than three-fifths of the rest of mine.

When I was teaching the honors course on intellectual property and the internet, I would bring that pen in to one of the early classes.   I'd send it, with a bottle of ink, and a couple of sheets of fine linen paper, around the seminar table, and ask the students to write with it a bit -- and then to imagine using that tool for all of those millions of words that Jefferson wrote over his lifetime.  How does it change the way that you approach your writing, I'd ask them, when you're using a tool like that, rather than a keyboard?  When erasing and revising is as much work as it is using that technology, you think much more carefully about every line before you even begin to write your sentence.

I've been thinking about that as I've been reading Gay Talese's A Writer's Life, in particular after the part where he describes his writing method.  After experimenting with using a couple of computers, he ended up back with his tried and true method -- pencil and yellow lined paper, working and re-working each sentence until he thought he had it right, before going on to the next one.  Then typing up the handwritten pages and going back to revise again.

When I was in my teens, writing by hand, or even at the typewriter, frustrated me because I couldn't get the words out as fast as they seemed to be forming in my mind.    In the late eighties, when I was able to write with a computer on a regular basis, I thought, at first, that this was much better -- but I found, instead, that I became sloppy.  When you're not forced to slow down, and carefully choose every word, then any word will do.  And when you're not being careful about the words you choose, you're not forced to be careful about your thinking.  Hence the very sloppy thinking that permeates most blogs.

Even when I'm traveling (except when the schedule just doesn't allow it), I start every day by picking out a fountain pen and writing in a bound journal on fine paper.   I try to sort through what happened yesterday and what my plans for the day ahead are.  I fuss about my failings and vow to do better.  I imagine the things that I still hope to achieve.

Now, when I'm writing at the keyboard, it is much like doing sculpture -- I get the rough mass laid out and then go back and refine and shape and polish.  I test each word and each sentence.  I sound them out aloud to see if the rhythms feel right and make sense in the context of what I'm trying to say.   Rarely do I feel that I've ever gotten it exactly right, but eventually you just have to let the sentences go and hope that you can do better the next time.

Thought and language are indivisibly bound together.  I was sitting at a breakfast counter once, sipping a bloody mary, my ears still ringing from the clubs the night before, writing in my journal.  The pretty waitress, who'd been trying to figure me out for some time said, "So, are you a writer?" 

I get that question a lot when I'm sitting in a restaurant or a bar scribbling away.  I usually just smile and say, "Not really -- I just don't know what I'm thinking until I've written it down."  It's a glib answer, designed to get a smile -- but that doesn't mean that it's not true.

The Spring Travel Season is Upon Us

Some years ago, Lynn and I took up one of those offers to stay at a resort for a few days at a ridiculously low price in return for getting a sales pitch to take out a time share.  This was for a Marriott property near DisneyWorld, and since we go to the land of Da Mouse every couple of years we were modestly interested.   On the last day of the trip, we dutifully went over to the sales office and sat down with the guy, knowing that his job was to get us to sign before we left the room -- and knowing, by that time, that he was going to be unsuccessful.  He was very nice and showed us pictures of the varieties of properties we'd have access to, asking us questions about our travel experiences to try to get a notion of where he might be able to hook us.  No, we don't golf and we're not very sports inclined.  We tend toward urban destinations.  Most of our travel is for business but we usually try to tack on a day or two of vacation.  Where have we been recently?  Vancouver, Chicago, Cairo, DC....  What do we like to do when we have a vacation day in a city?  Sleep late, have lunch at a nice restaurant, go exploring -- maybe some museums, have dinner, maybe a play or go find some local live music.  He was having trouble figuring us out.  Finally he said, "Do you mind if I ask you just what you two do for a living?"  "We're librarians!" we answered brightly, in unison.  He was dumbfounded.

That's not an entirely uncommon reaction, although I don't quite know why it should seem odd for librarians to do a lot of traveling.  We're in an era where travel is relatively cheap, I explain, and we're in a field that is changing dramatically, so librarians really do like to get together and exchange ideas and learn from each other and compare notes about the way the world is moving.  Despite all of the wonderful electronic tools that we have for communication, there is still no substitute for spending time with people.

My travel tends to cluster in the spring and fall and much of it the last few years is dependent on who is asking me to speak.  I've had to become far more selective, so I try to accept only those engagements that give me an opportunity to speak to a group that I might not normally meet, or where I think I might have something unique to contribute. 

So on Wednesday, we'll head to London, spend a couple of days strolling around (sleeping late and finding nice places for lunch) and then go over to the University of Warwick for the UKSG conference where I'll be giving a keynote.  Back home on the 19th which gives me a day in the office before I head up to Milwaukee for the Wisconsin Health Science Library Association meeting for another keynote.  Essentially the same talk, although I've got twice as much time in Wisconsin so I'll be able to do an expanded version.  An added treat there is that my mother is going to come down from Appleton to join me and will be able to see me present, which she's never had an opportunity to do before.

Back from Wisconsin, I'll have a week and a half before heading to North Carolina for the Evidence Based Library & Information Practice conference.   Joanne had asked the Bearded Pigs to play for one of the events, and since it's convenient for many of us we agreed.  Then she asked, as long as I was going to be there, if I would be interested in participating in a debate with Andrew Booth.  Oh sure, why not.  Although I do kinda wish she hadn't scheduled our presentation for 8:00 the morning after we play.

Then it's back in Birmingham for another week before flying up to Philadelphia for MLA.    Another Bearded Pigs gig, MLA Board meetings, trying to be in three places at once.  All the usual stuff.  I need to leave a day or two early to take care of Josie while her Mom is off at a conference of her own.

One more week at home and then it's the Grinnell College reunion.  Lynn is on the planning committee for this one -- we've been to the two previous and its been a splendid experience.  I have no responsibilities, although I am hoping to sit in with some of Lynn's classmates who will be trying to reform their college band from 35 years ago.  It'll be a fine way to end the spring travel season.

Five trips in eight weeks.  The only thing that makes it possible is internet access and the ability to stay in close touch with the people at the library no matter where I am.  It usually takes me an hour to an hour and a half a day to keep up with necessary email, and as long as I make good use of the days that I'm at home things keep moving along relatively smoothly.

Sure, it's exhausting, and when we get back from Iowa on June 3rd I'll be very glad that I'm staying put for awhile.  But four weeks later, when I'm finishing up my packing for Tokyo, I'll be eager to get back on a plane.