Friday, May 23, 2008

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: Change, communication & connectivity

My first professional medical librarianship job began on May 1st and it's been quite a ride over the past 3 weeks. At one point I had spent as many business days in the office as I had working days for various class, work meetings & one-day-only MLA conference activities in Chicago. My brain has not had a break from active work mode since Mother's Day on May 11th until tonight!

The future is now I missed out on a substantial amount of conference activities and face-to-face networking opportunities, but did have the benefit of briefly being there in the first place. Combining that experience with being able to attend the first live webcast of an MLA plenary at 7am with my son while semi-mini-blogging about it on Twitter was somewhat surreal. Thanks to the careful logging eye of the Emerging Technologies Librarian, I found out I talk way too much even when I'm getting breakfast wrapped up and everyone out the door for work & the school bus (lunches were packed at 6:30 am) then telecommute by working on my web class design in Moodle for the rest of the day. Sorry, housecleaning in heels and pearls was not on the agenda then or ever.

I'm only becoming more fascinated by all the discussion about change in the medlib field especially where the integration of recent communication technology with our work is concerned. Strip the 'Web 2.0' jargon and that's all it comes down to. Since I'm completely new perhaps I don't quite understand the full history and context, but what exactly is the big deal here? We as a society have put on our pants, picked up the phone, then took our phones everywhere with us to connect with others. How is this any different?

Lucretia McClure & I Then I read posts regarding how this year's face-to-face conference experience is apparently quite different than the norm and I have to take a step back. Lucretia McClure, whom I had no problem stopping in the hall to introduce myself and take a picture with then walked hand-in-hand with her into the Bearded Pigs gig, said at the New Members Breakfast that she didn't know another person at her first conference.

That was anything but the case for me, not only due to the rather strange combination of real life connections I have in both Texas and the Pacific Northwest, but because I talk too much on Twitter. There was a whole legion of people planning to be in Chicago who actually wanted to spend their valuable time meeting this total newbie. I've been involved in online communities since the early 1990s so I know how that online to face-to-face meeting dynamic goes, however this is the first time that I have been the newbie not only as far as the communication medium but the entire field to begin with.

I have never felt so simultaneously intimidated (the knowledge/experience factor) yet comfortable in a community as I did whenever I was with one or more of them. They offered me cash (I had lost my debit card), drinks, conversation, and even called out to me to connect when I was unaware of who they were in the massive sea of humanity at our conference. I still hate that I wasn't able to connect with several of them. I'm fairly certain that, like Lucretia McClure, I have met people at my first conference that are going to be my friends for life.

However, I'm not satisfied by this. The plenary webcast is a start, but what's next? Where is a collective online community for our organization that integrates all communication methods and honestly welcomes new member participation and leadership? I know for a fact there are plenty of other bright medlibs out there who aren't involved nor feel particularly welcome, but we need the collective strength of everyone and not just yearly conference attendees. Geographic location, family commitments, funding (even driving instead of flying is too expensive now!), time off from our jobs, and our own organization's infrastructure not only challenges community-building but in some cases actively discourages it.

We promote anytime/anywhere access to information and resources in the most efficient way possible for our users, and I want to be part of whatever it takes to do the same for our own organization plus encourage this vital sense of community. I have other online community friends of 8+ years I have never met yet we're closer than family. My dear mentor has given me everything with a fellowship for my education and has asked for nothing. The time for me to give back and have the most effective and lasting impact is now. Highly ambitious words for a 3-week-old, I know, but it's a vision I have and can't let die.


T Scott said...

I was talking to one of the newer librarians on my staff today and he echoed some of your comments -- "what's the big deal? this is the way the world is now..."

I love it.

If you haven't seen Mark Funk's farewell post ( check it out -- the vision he has for the association is strongly shared by the board of directors and headquarters staff, but it'll take the involvement of people like you to help make it happen. Associations move & change slowly and we all get frustrated with it at times, but the commitment to make the changes we need to make is definitely there.