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Visions of Communication

I'm not a huge fan of Weinberger's book, and the bit that Rothman quotes epitomizes much of what I find wrong with it, but the analogy that he makes to the relationship of journals and articles is fairly sound (although whether the articles in a given journal issue are "mostly-unrelated" or not depends on how you think about relationships).    We still use the volume/issue convention because we're comfortable with it, and we haven't really figured out an adequate replacement yet.  But if we were inventing scholarly publishing fresh, it's probably not the way we'd organize things.

When I spoke to Elsevier's senior managers two years ago, one of the points that I tried to make was that not only is "the journal" as a collection of articles quickly becoming an anachronism, the journal article itself is becoming less important as the primary unit of information.   And I argued that as things continue to evolve, the journal article itself will essentially disappear as it morphs into something much more interactive and dynamic.

It's not surprising that this view caused some consternation among some in that particular crowd (one of the other speakers -- a journal editor -- challenged it directly saying that the journal article would definitely be the primary mechanism for sharing scholarly information for a very long time to come), but it was clear that my views were shared by many in the room.

When I met with the some of the folks at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (as part of their library advisory panel) a few months ago, we had a great discussion about how their view of their content is shifting.  Like many publishers, they consider the electronic version, not the print version, to be the "publication of record", and, as is the case with many other publishers, they are shifting their publication processes so that articles can be made available as soon as the editorial work has been done.  They are also starting to experiment with incorporating multimedia into the article content.  The more that this happens, the more it will be impossible for the print version to adequately reflect the content of the version of record.   They're not quite sure how they'll handle this, but they are very clearly excited about the possibilities.

At my first meeting of the New England Journal of Medicine advisory board (January 2003), the point was made that they viewed their job as bringing research results to clinicians, not "publishing a journal".  For 150 years (give or take), publishing a journal was the best way to do that, but they know that they need to transform what they're doing if they are going to adequately fulfill their mission in the digital age.

In October of 2006, I did a presentation for the annual meeting of the International STM Association in Frankfurt.  As I commented here at the time, my talk was well received and the people that I spoke with clearly welcomed the participation of librarians in reimagining the future of scholarly publishing.  But it was also abundantly clear that they weren't going to wait for us to show up. 

I mention all of these dates because I've been very concerned for a long time that librarians have been late in getting to the table.  The contentiousness of the open access debates has been a terrible distraction and has highlighted how little librarians actually know about the publishing process.  So I was very excited, and am feeling more optimistic than I have in quite some time, by the energy in the room at the meeting of the AAHSL/publisher liaison taskforce in Chicago last Thursday.  There is much planning and follow-up yet to do, but I think we've planted the seed for a truly collaborative effort among librarians and publishers (and editors and authors) to participate in reshaping the scholarly communication enterprise into something that takes full advantage of digital media and serves the needs of scholars and scientists and students far better than the current systems have been able to.

I've argued for years that we cannot create the kind of future that we want in isolation.  It's not up to librarians and it's not up to publishers and it's not up to editors or authors.  It will require all of us, listening to and learning from each other with patience and goodwill.  The meeting in Chicago was a tremendous step in the right direction.

Online Life

During that splendid dinner at Aria, the woman sitting next to me asked, "But how does it feel to expose so much of yourself on your blog, and know that you're sharing all of that with hundreds of people that you don't know?"  It's the kind of question that pops up periodically when bloggers get self-reflective.  They ask, "Am I 'oversharing?'"

Since I consider myself to be a fairly private person, there's an apparent paradox here.  But as I pointed out to my dinner companion, "There is so much more about my life that I don't reveal, that it really doesn't seem to me that I'm revealing very much."  It's an illusion.  I try to write with an intimate tone.  There are rhetorical tricks.  I almost never address the audience directly.   There is no hint that I even think that I have "readers," much less that I'm writing for them.  The effect is that each reader feels as if they're being let into a very private rumination on whatever I'm musing about on that particular morning.  It's an illusion.

Someone who read the blog regularly and studied it would be able to put together a handful of facts.  They'd know where I work and what my job is, but next to nothing about what I actually do in my job on a day to day basis.  They'd deduce that my mother is still living and that we're close, and that my father died some time ago, but nothing about my siblings or my relationships to them.  They'd know some stories about Lynn and I, but none that I haven't told a dozen times in social settings.  They'd know I'm bonkers about my granddaughter and that I take my role as an amateur musician pretty seriously.  They'd get a pretty good idea about what I think about the present & future of my profession and maybe a little bit about my political views.

There is so much that they wouldn't know.  The image that they might construct of me would be a caricature at best.  And I like it that way.   I never write anything here that I don't believe to be true, but in the very act of carefully choosing what to reveal, I protect the things I wish to keep most private.

It is striking how often bloggers, coming home from a conference, write about how great it was to finally meet, in person, people that they've come to know online, sometimes for many years.  And I love the pictures that get posted, the grins on the faces of people in bars & restaurants, laughing and joking with people they've known, but haven't really known.

In Mark's inaugural address last year (Mark -- would you put that up on youtube?  Would you mind if I did?), he spoke eloquently and very perceptively about why we continue to meet in person when we have this growing armamentarium of tools that enable us to communicate and work effectively from the comfort and privacy of our own rooms.  The simple answer is that we gain things from that in person contact that none of the other modes provide.  Second life is no substitute for first life.

However, as he pointed out in his presidential address this year and in his farewell post yesterday, the tools give us the opportunity -- indeed, the responsibility -- to transform how we spend our time when we get together.  We should not be wasting time in committee meetings delivering reports that should have been electronically distributed in advance -- we should be taking that time to argue and discuss the implications of some of those reports.    Rather than spending fifteen minutes listening to someone present their ideas and then not have enough time for discussion because we've got to get on to the next paper, we need to figure out how to restructure our meetings so that we're distributing the information ahead of time and taking advantage of the time together to interact.

LiB writes about her frustration at not being allowed to participate in some ALA activities because they require in person attendance at both ALA meetings every year.   I'm sympathetic to her frustration, but only to a point.  The MLA Board of Directors does an increasing amount of its work at a distance, and it certainly makes us more efficient and effective.  But I can't imagine the Board being as productive as it is if we didn't come together three times a year and spend a day and a half in the same room getting to know each other and each other's views.  There are discussions that you can only have when you've got the full range of in person communication elements at play.  Similarly, the group of librarians and publishers that met at the O'Hare Hilton on Thursday could not possibly have come to the end of that day feeling as bonded and exhilarated as we all did if we hadn't spent all of that time physically in the same space.   The wine at dinner the night before was important, too.   Associations shouldn't reflexively require in person attendance just because it's always been that way, but there are circumstances where it is still essential.  Figuring out which is which is the challenge.

Lynn and I fell in love via email.  If it hadn't been for that primitive tool (we're talking 1993), we never would have gotten together.  The transformative power of all of these communication media is fabulous and allows us to develop friendships and working relationships that would never have come about before.  In our working lives (and, specifically for me, within the Medical Library Association) we have to experiment and play and see what we can do to take the utmost advantage of the opportunities provided to be more inclusive and to make more and better connections (to echo Mark's theme).  But the energy and excitement that pervaded the Hyatt as people who knew each other only online were able to spend time in each other's company is persuasive proof of the critical importance of spending time face-to-face and hand-in-hand.  We're humans.  Even a nonsocial guy like me knows how badly we need it.

It's Not The Future Anymore

We have a post-meeting meeting over lunch on Wednesday.  We've been in Chicago for a week and we're all pretty wired and exhausted.  But we're giddy and happy.  There is general agreement among the members of the MLA Board of Directors that this has been one of the best MLA meetings ever.  Carla talks about the incredible energy that seemed to swirl through the conference.

We know why.  It's these guys.  Not just the four on the stage, of course (although that's a damned impressive quartet right there), but what they represent -- so many amazing librarians who've come into the profession in the last few years with a degree of passion, smarts, wit, exuberance, and joy that absolutely thrills me.   They were all over the place this year.

I think it was Bart, in that last plenary (although in the whirl of trying to remember everything that's happened over the last week I could easily be wrong), who said that we need to become familiar with the tools and the social networks and all the stuff because "that's where our future is."  I'll quibble with that a bit.  It's not where the future is.  It's where now is.  I feel like we've spent the last decade or two as librarians trying to catch up to the future.  It's time to quit running after it and just dig in and have fun with what's going on all around us right now.  No fear.

I ran myself ragged, of course, and didn't get to half of what I thought I was going to try.  But we had the bloggers this year, and that helped.  I checked in with 'em every night and morning, and they did a great job (despite the infrastructure issues that Krafty talks about).   I hope that as they get home and get rested, they'll each put up a few more posts before we all get on with our lives next week and the memories of this exhilarating week start to fade.

I've enjoyed every one of the twenty-five MLA meetings I've been to, but I don't think I've ever come home feeling quite so much that this year marked the turning of a page.  Mark (no relation to Carla) Funk gets huge amounts of credit, of course, but he'd be the first to point to all of the other people -- past presidents, board members, incredible headquarters staff, and all of the people who participate in sections & committees & task forces and all that stuff.  But he had the wit and foresight to seize this particular moment in time and demand that we live up to the opportunities facing us on all sides.  The right president at the right time (may the nation be so lucky, come November).

As Rothman quite rightly points out (and as Mark described in his inaugural speech last year), the point of the conference is the people you spend time with.    And even more than with most meetings, that's what I'm going to remember about this one.  There are still those in libraryland who will whine endlessly about the imminent demise of libraries and beat the doom drum that says we're all going to be obsolete in just a few years.  Fine.  If that's what makes you feel better, go ahead.  For my part,  I'm not worried.  You can't spend time around these people without getting excited about what's going on now and tomorrow and next year and the decades after that. 

I've been saying for years that it's a fabulous time to be a librarian.  It just keeps getting better.

My favorite single moment?  Monday night, late.  I felt honored.

Lurching Toward Transparency

At yesterday's MLA Board of Director's meeting, Mark presented his update on his presidential priorities.   The essence of his presidential theme ("Only Connect") has been to encourage the association to make more use of the new communication technologies to create a more vibrant, more transparent organization that more effectively embraces all of the association's members.  We're not close to where we'd like to be yet, but we've made substantial progress in the past year.   Blogs & wikis are proliferating throughout the association's units.  The plenary session on Wednesday will be webcast live.  There are ten official conference bloggers who are having their wifi paid by the association. 

Most important for the long run, the Board of Directors and the Headquarters staff are solidly behind these efforts.   Mark has done a superb job during his presidential year of inspiring all of us to be more experimental, to stop worrying about getting it "right", and to try to foster a spirit of innovation in our association and in our own libraries.

The pace starts picking up today.  The board meeting starts up in another hour.  At 5:00 I'll go to the NLM/AAHSL Fellows & Mentors reunion, and after that I've got a three hour credentialing committee meeting.  I don't expect to get much rest between now and next Friday.

But it's great, as always, to be in Chicago.  I stopped at Andy's on Wednesday evening to hear some excellent music, and walked over to the Museum of Contemporary Art yesterday morning for an hour browsing some of the highlights of their permanent collection.  To my delight I found that they were also featuring one of William Kentridge's classic films.  An hour or two in a great museum is just the thing I need to store up energy for the week to come.


When I leave for Chicago tomorrow, it'll be to attend my 25th annual meeting of the Medical Library Association.   It'll be the third I've been to in Chicago, and the previous ones were memorable.  In '93 the meeting was at the Palmer House.  I remember seeing Jackie McLean at the Jazz Showcase and sitting up late talking with the guys in his band.  I remember sitting in the lobby of the Palmer House at dawn, with a companion, watching the hotel come alive for the day's meetings.  Most significantly I remember accepting Lynn's late invitation to join a group that she was taking to the Parthenon for dinner.   And later that night, she showed up at Excalibur where I'd gone to meet some of the Dakotans (a reunion that, alas, no longer takes place).  I remember stopping on the Michigan Avenue bridge that night as I walked back to the Blackstone and looking down into the water, seeing all of the twists and turns my life had taken in the past few years and wondering what would happen next.  I had no idea...

By '99, MLA had outgrown the Palmer House and the meeting had moved to the Hyatt.  I was on the National Program Committee that year (the only year for which I can actually recall the theme -- "Present Tense -- Future Perfect?").    Lynn and I were married, and for her birthday I rented a limo and we drove along the lake on a beautiful sunlit evening, drinking champagne, before being dropped off at Charlie Trotter's for dinner.  That was the year that I applied to be the editor of the JMLA.  I had no idea...

When I was an NLM Associate in 1984, it was simply assumed that one of the things one did was to join MLA and go to the annual meeting.  I was a sponge in that year, and if my mentors told me that one of my responsibilities as a medical librarian was to become involved in MLA, who was I to question it?  So my attitude is a little different from that of some of my colleagues who think carefully about whether or not association involvement is worthwhile for them.  I do it because contributing is one of the things I'm supposed to do.  I get an awful lot out of it, of course, but I've remained involved and active because I believe it's part of my responsibility to the profession.  It's one of the ways that I try to pay back all of the people who have mentored and helped me along the way.  It's a debt that I don't ever expect to fully discharge.

This is something that we take seriously at my library as well (and that was the case long before I got there).  There will be ten of us at MLA this year -- three are section chairs (current or incoming), there's a committee chair, a SIG convenor, several people doing posters or moderating panels.  One's a member of this year's NPC and somebody else is teaching a CE course.   I'm quite proud of them.

As for me, it'll be long and busy.   It's not as hectic as the years when I was JMLA editor, but I've got a very tight schedule -- the MLA board meets Thursday afternoon and all day Friday.  I'll be at all the plenaries, of course, and attending several section & committee meetings on behalf of the board.  There are a handful of other meetings that I've set up to talk with people about various projects and there are even a few papers that I'd like to get in to see.  Of course there's the Bearded Pigs event on Sunday and the flurry of logistics surrounding that.  The evenings are lined up with receptions or dinners.

To finish it off, on Wednesday I'll move over to the O'Hare Hilton for the Joint AAHSL/Publisher Task Force meeting that will take place all day on Thursday.  By then I'll have been gone more than a week, but I'm really looking forward to that session.  And then I get home very late that night.

I'm eager to dive into it.  I know I'll get a lot done and I'm sure I'll have a fine time.  And what will be the singular memories that'll rise to the fore when I look back at this Chicago meeting years from now?  I have no idea...


I forgot to tell my mother I was going to Scotland.  Things have been a little hectic lately.  (And now I'm wondering if we remembered to tell Marian!!)

The Scotland trip feels as if it's a long way off, but in fact, we leave just three weeks from tomorrow.  But MLA in Chicago is between now and then, and that looms much larger.

My ostensible purpose in going to the CILIPS conference in Peebles is to deliver a talk on how librarians are delivering health information to their communities.  There's been a tremendous shift over the past quarter century in the focus that medical librarians have had and it's going to be great fun to go over some of those issues and talk about some of the things that MLA and NLM are doing, as well as some of the things that are happening locally.  I haven't actually started to put the talk together (it's still three and a half weeks away, for heaven's sake!), but I've been thinking about it in spare moments and I think I've got a good handle on how I want to approach it.

The real reason they want me there, though, is so The Bearded Pigs can play at the awards banquet.  We won't quite have the whole band -- Cogman, SG & Russell can't make it.  But the nice thing about having an eight piece band is that there are many subsets of the whole group that can perform as The Bearded Pigs (or The Nucleus).   We'll have a ringer for a  bass player -- a local librarian.  We've corresponded just a bit by email and he seems unfazed by the prospect of sitting in and playing with people he's never met on songs that he's never heard.  Sounds like our kind of guy.

So on the Tuesday evening, I'll play guitar and sing my heart out, and on Wednesday afternoon (thank god it's not the first thing in the morning!) I'll spend an hour or so talking about health information and the impact that we can have on the communities that we're a part of.   

There's been some chatter lately about the perennial work/life balance issue.   These discussions often emphasize the importance of having a "life outside of work."  I resolved that for myself a long time ago.

I don't have a "life outside of work."  I have a life.  It's comprised of many things -- many responsibilities, many joys, a handful of deep sorrows, a continual sense of wonderment as the days unfold.  I never stop being the library director, but I never stop being the musician, friend, grandfather, lover, writer, or endlessly curious little boy, either.

When a "job" is what you go to for eight hours a day, five days a week, within rigid time & place boundaries, I suppose it makes psychological sense to think of "work" and "life" as two separate things.  But in the networked world in which we now live, for many people that time & space separation simply doesn't exist.  It certainly doesn't for me.    When I go to Peebles, whether I'm playing guitar or talking about health information, I'll just be living my life as best I can.

City of Hogs

When Gatha Snowmoss, roving photojournalist, spent some time with the band in Memphis this spring, she showed her appreciation (no other reporter has been afforded the kind of no holds barred inside look at the Pigs that she got) by giving each of us a book -- a pig-related book, of course.  Each one perfectly tuned (or so it seemed to me) to our individual personalities.  I'm sure her ability to size her subjects up so quickly accounts for much of her recent success.

I'll leave the others to comment on their own books, but for me it was The Pig and the Skyscraper (Chicago: A history of our future) by Marco d'Eramo.  I've been reading it over the last couple of weeks and enjoying it tremendously.  D'Eramo is an Italian sociologist and the book was published in Italy in 1999 (translated into English in 2002).    So reading it is like eavesdropping on an Italian professor trying to explain America (through the lens focused on Chicago) to an Italian audience. 

I wonder, as I'm reading it, if Europeans, reading books about Europe written by Americans, have the same sort of reaction that I'm having -- some of it is wonderfully perceptive, but some of it just seems so bone-headedly wrong, like the anthropologist coming across a "primitive" culture and devising all sorts of esoteric explanations for what he or she sees, while the ostensible subjects are laughing behind their hands at the foolish scientists.  (Remember the Margaret Mead controversy of a couple of years ago?)

The fact that so much housing stock in the US is wood fascinates d'Eramo and he gives it great significance in explaining the American character -- in Europe wood is apparently seldom used.  He makes much of the American invention of the suburb, and exaggerates the social/cultural divides that occur in many parts of the States.  His description of race relations is extremely one-dimensional and diminishes the actual complexities that the country wrestles with.  In the America that he describes, Obama's ascendancy would simply not be possible.  There is always truth in his observations, and yet there is also a clear skewing of facts and interpretations in order to hammer home his rhetorical truths.  D'Eramo comes from a decidedly Marxist bent, and this lens opens up some wonderful observations, but also seems to blind him to some obvious contradictions between what he claims and what seems to me to be obviously the case.

At any rate, it is a great fun provocative and challenging read and perfect for these last few days before I spend a week in Chicago.  And it is another stark reminder that the way the rest of the world views us in the States is not necessarily the way that we see (or would like to see) ourselves.

Of Camels and Beauty Queens

"But what are you doing about her hair?" seemed to be the question uppermost on the minds of my female colleagues when they found out that I had Josie to myself for a week while Lynn & Marian were off at a convention in Seattle.

Actually, I'm pretty good with her hair.   And Marian left me clear instructions -- each day's outfit was in a separate plastic bag on which was written "ponytail" or "hair down" so I'd know what to do. Staying_with_nonai_008 Marian has complete confidence in my ability to care for Josephine -- she has less confidence in my ability to pick out the appropriate clothes to enhance her cuteness.

Marian also left me two pages of instructions -- details of getting her to dance class on Tuesday afternoon, and to her Gymboree class on Thursday, along with the requisite phone numbers & chart numbers for the doctor.  Overall, Josie made it pretty easy.  She had a major "missing Mommy" meltdown on Tuesday morning and sobbed all through her bath, but once she got that out she cheered back up and I could hear her singing along to Little Einsteins while I shaved and took my shower.  She didn't give me a bit of trouble about going to bed on time in her own room.

I did manage to get some work done at the library -- I took Thursday off, but kept pretty much to my regular schedule the rest of the week, dropping Josie off at school about 8:00 every morning and picking her up at the end of the day.  But I was definitely distracted.  It was a stark reminder of just how much compartmentalizing a parent must have to do in order to focus attention where it needs to be.   I had the luxury of being able to put the rest of my life pretty much on hold (I kept my meetings to the bare minimum) and devoting all of my attention to her.  I didn't let her get away with anything (I'm very good at holding to the Mommy rules), but in the evenings I let her make the decisions about what we were going to do (which turned out to be a mix of playing with puzzles, reading stories, and watching Peter Pan or Shrek 2, along with the occasional playing at being tigers).

Lynn and I had gotten cameras for our laptops, so we were able to make video calls a couple of times -- Josie was quite excited to see Mommy & Nonni on the computer.  The first time we got it set up,Josie_trophy_2 she went running downstairs to get the trophies she'd won on Sunday (judges' choice for "most beautiful" in her age group in the photogenic babies contest).  And then she spent much of the call writing "Mom" on little slips of paper and holding them up to the camera.

Thursday morning we went to the zoo -- rode the train, did the camel ride, saw a great big alligator move (mostly they just sit there), visited the new kangaroo enclosure, took a look at her favorite tiger.  We were passing the butterfly house and she said, "Oh, can we go in there?"  And we did and she found a place to sit and we sat very quiet for a very long time watching the butterflies.  "They're so beautiful!" she whispered, over and over.

So we had a good time, but she was sure glad to have her Mommy back by Friday night.   And I hear via Lynn that she's being a real pain this week.  Not entirely surprising, I'm afraid.  My Mom sent me a note in which she mentioned the first time she and my Dad went off on a vacation by themselves (he'd won a sales manager trip) when my younger sister was three.  We stayed with my aunt, and Carrie was pretty well behaved, but when my folks got home, Carrie really gave my Mom a hard time -- how dare you go off and leave me like that!

When I look back at our week in San Francisco (nearly two years ago now), I have a handful of mental snapshots that I love to look back on -- Josie at the Matthew Barney exhibit, or playing in the fountains in the Yerba Buena Gardens, or talking with the Chinese women on the Embacadero, or sitting with me having lunch at the little Italian place down the street from our hotel.  Sometimes, when I'm falling asleep at night, I'll shuffle through them just for the sheer pleasure of it.  At the time, one never knows which moments are the ones that are really going to stick with you.  They're not always the most dramatic things -- sometimes what sticks is a moment you barely paid attention to at the time.  I don't know yet what moments from last week will be the most memorable -- but I do know that I will often go back to revisit them, and will always be grateful for having had that week.