Saturday, 28 November 2015

Advocacy through Photojournalism

On Wednesday, I finally got to spend a book voucher a friend got me for my birthday.  Since my birthday was in July you can imagine what it was like for a librarian to have that sitting in her purse for months!  I just never made it to the independent book store the voucher was from.  Anyway, I am so pleased with my purchase.  I had a look at the non-fiction finalists for Goodreads' 2015 awards and then bought "Humans of New York: Stories" because I vaguely remembered seeing posts from "Humans of New York" (HONY) occasionally shared in my Facebook news feed.

It is just a beautiful book.  Obviously I am a bit late to HONY fandom, it has over 16 million likes on Facebook.  I have subsequently read up a lot on Brandon Stanton, listened to podcasts, watched YouTube clips...over-researched as per usual!  But I find the idea of what he does so fascinating.  He goes up to strangers in New York and asks to take their photo.  Then he interviews them and puts a caption or a paragraph, in their own words, alongside their photo on his website and Facebook page.  You get a little insight into the life of an "ordinary" New Yorker, it is captivating.

Being the obsessive librarian that I am, I immediately starting thinking about how this technique could be used in a library.  I have often heard people talk about "always carrying a camera" and "making sure you share the stories from your library" - this is a way to combine both these ideas.  It's a chance to advocate for your library through photojournalism.

This year I started a "Caught Reading" Facebook album that has evolved in a similar way to Brandon's work.  Initially it was just one photo a week of random children who were reading in the library at lunchtime.  Recently I started including a reference to the book titles that the students were reading.  The one I posted on Monday was one of the most popular this year, and was a result of me talking with my subjects a little longer than usual.

Aren't they cute?  Now that I've read Brandon's book I wish that I had been able to use a quote to make it more personal.  So that is my task for Monday - see if I can take a photo and find a good quote to go with it.  Brandon asks about people's saddest moments, happiest moments, who has influenced them the most...lovely, deep questions.  To get a library vibe I've been thinking about asking why they decided to come to the library, what they like about the library, what they are enjoying about the book they are reading, and what their favourite book is and why.  That way, I'll hopefully not only get a good quote to accompany the photo but also more insight into what students are reading and how they feel about the library.

By doing this I can also continue the advocacy that comes from posting to Facebook and hopefully build up my followers.  What parents don't love seeing photos of their children?  The more followers I get, and the more exposed they are to what is going on in the library, the more support I will have for the library from the community.  Hopefully it will also encourage our parents to come along when the library is open to parents - on Friday mornings and in the summer holidays.

I'm excited to get started.  Of course I only have three more weeks this year to give it a go, but that is OK because next year I'm going to start a new album "Stories from the Library", so that I can also show other things the students do in the library at lunchtime.  Launching a new album will be a good time to publicise our page on the school's Facebook page and newsletter.  Then all I have to do is try to be half as good as the amazing Brandon Stanton!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Managing Information Overload

Last week I moderated the #LibChatNZ chat on 'Managing Information Overload'.  It's a topic I deal with on a daily basis!  In fact, I blogged about this in 2013 - Confessions of an Info-holic.  When I look at that post it reminds me of the stress I was under back then and the steps I took to try and overcome my information addiction.  I did have some short-term success but I find myself as buried as ever in emails and websites, blogs and webinars, Facebook and Google+.  

Monday night's chat reminded me that I am not the only one with information issues.  @CorinneHinton described the vicious cycle of information overload really well, "collecting too much stuff and not reading it, watching it, or listening to it before more stuff arrives".

The responses to the chat have me pondering whether librarians are in fact the most vulnerable to information overload.  After all, information is a big part of our job.  As @Maree Silver said "We deal with information constantly - it's who we are".  In a way our strengths as librarians - our curiosity, our connections through networks and our knowledge of a wide range of information sources and platforms - are the very things that create our susceptibility to drowning in information.  We value information to such a degree that we find it hard to ignore any of it.  And we're very good at finding LOTS of it.  The internet gives us more sources than we will ever need.  As @ForrestC8 said "It's like being a kid in the sweet shop!"  @DavisonNicki talked about "thinking that one day [we] will have time to "catch up"!"  Ain't that the truth!  But with a continual supply of information at our fingertips we can't catch up unless we get better at managing our information intake.  

I found an interesting article as I was researching information overload (from multiple sources of course!).  My new favourite phrase comes from it - "Stop Compulsively Learning".  That's what I do!  It's like an addiction, that anticipation of the new things I might learn.  And it doesn't seem as bad as being addicted to other things but when you think about it, trying to know everything keeps you from having the time to do some of those things you are learning about.  

Sometimes I wonder whether this is a form of procrastination.  Once I've read all thirty articles I've collected about Makerspaces THEN I'll start to set one up.  Do we really need new information or are we avoiding that hard first step of getting started on something new? 

Or is it that we set ourselves such high standards that we dare not start until fully prepared?  Does perfectionism come into it?  And will this mindset work in these changing times?  Kathryn Schravemade said during her keynote address at the SLANZA conference that we can't worry about being perfect in a world that changes so often.  She said "You don't have time to be perfect!"  I think this definitely applies to information too.  For me, the perfect amount of information is all of it, but if we are to keep up with our changing world we need to be more selective.

At the same time, we can't totally ignore the world around us.  Roger Dennis, another keynote speaker at the SLANZA conference, talked about missing paradigm shifts.  He said that it is easy to miss them if you are focussing on what you do and not noticing what is going on in the world around you. It is important to notice what is going on in other industries as it may impact on you.  So we can't put the blinders on altogether, it's just a question of balance.

In the chat there were a number of useful suggestions on managing information overload and you can see them in the archive here (Q5).  One platform I use is Diigo, a social bookmarking tool. I admit that sometimes storing a website there is simply a way of soothing my anxiety that I might lose it.  By dealing with information that looks useful but I have don't have time for, it relieves my stress even though I know I probably won't ever go looking for it again.  Crazy, huh?!

Some of the #LibChatNZ discussion reminded me of a story I heard once about a man who was chopping a tree with a blunt ax.  He was asked why he didn't sharpen it but replied "I don't have time for that!".  We need to sacrifice a little time in the short-term, looking at our information processes and making them more efficient, so that we save more time in the long run.

I think it is time for me to be a lot more deliberate about managing my information consumption.  I need to trust my ability to get the information I need when I need it.  I don't need to know everything now, and I can't keep up when I try to.  This is the way education is moving now anyway - the way our students will be approaching information. But it's harder for us than for our students because our love affair with information has been a long-term one. 

Equally important is the shift in education from consuming information to creating it.  Information overload can mean you get "stuck" in consuming.  Many of us are looking at bringing more creation activities into our libraries.  In order to do that we also need to change how WE approach information so that we are open to using information to create new things.  That is what Makerspaces are all about.

Even though attending the chat meant gaining more information, I'm glad that I did it.  Talking with others helped clarify my thoughts on this issue and comforted me with the knowledge that I am not the only one getting overwhelmed with information.  It's not something I face alone, in a way it's a side effect of the profession.

I will probably be blogging about the same issue a couple of years from now, and that's OK!  The solutions are not simple and require vigilance and perseverance.  For the future, stressed me, reading this post again as a plea for help, remember this:
  1. Be a better information gatekeeper - think about whether what you are about to read, sign up to or participate in fits your priorities right now.  If not, trust yourself that you can find more useful information when, or if, you need it in the future.
  2. Set aside time to regularly manage your information (particularly those pesky emails).  In other words sharpen your ax!  Unsubscribe from mailing lists, delete read emails, put important emails in folders and prune the blogs you are following in Feedly.  Be ruthless!
  3. Check your consumption/creation balance.  Are you making the hard choices around information and leaving yourself enough time to create things with your knowledge?
  4. Get over your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and Stop Compulsively Learning!!!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

How to get the most out of Twitter

It's no secret that I love Twitter.  I've blogged about how to join and how it helps me in my work.  It's not just me either, in a recent list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning, taken from a survey of over 2,000 learning professionals, Twitter came out on top.

At the SLANZA conference I attended recently I met people who were on Twitter but needed help with what to do next.  There are a few things that I think you can do to get the most out of Twitter:
  • Try to get in the habit of using Twitter regularly.  For a long time I would open up Twitter on a Saturday or Sunday morning, look through my feed and retweet anything interesting.  And that was enough to keep my presence up and keep exposing me to interesting things.  
  • Mornings can be a good time to catch up as you will see more tweets from overseas.
  • Aim to follow at least 50 people.  Then you will get a variety of tweets to look at in your Twitter feed.
  • It's great to follow NZ school librarians, but to widen your perspective you can follow educators, authors, publishers, tech gurus, makers, public librarians and libraries from NZ and overseas.  By the way, you don't have to know someone to follow them!  However, it is nice if you put in your Twitter bio that you are a librarian, and then people will realise why you are interested in them.  
  • I've done a short list of people you might like to follow (see my "Twitter Starter Kit" below). I'm currently following 743 people so I haven't included all of them!  I've chosen just five people in each category who have a lot of tweets and/or followers.  
  • Have a look at the bios of the people on the list and some of their recent tweets to see if you might be interested in following them.
  • Once you are following a few people, Twitter will start giving you suggestions of people you might like to follow who are in similar professions.  This can be a good way to find more people to follow.
  • Another good way to find people to follow is to join in or watch a Twitter chat and see who is tweeting things that interest you.  I have also listed some chats below.
  • Speaking of Twitter chats, here's a couple of things you should know if you want to join in:
    • I write myself a note - 'Don't forget the hashtag!".  You don't need to reply to the person asking the questions but you do need to put the hashtag at the end of your answer.  For example, if you join in the #libchatnz chat then @libchatnz might tweet "Q1 What's your favourite colour? #libchatnz"  to answer you would start a new tweet "A1 red #libchatnz".  
    • Once you've shared your own answer you might like to read what others are saying and reply to them, or retweet or favourite their answers.
    • If you arrive late to the chat, just pick up from the latest question.
    • The easiest way to follow a chat is by using a tool like TweetDeck on your computer.  This allows you to set up columns - you can have a column #libchatnz to see the chat, one for @LibChatNZ so you can easily see the questions, and one for notifications so you can see if anyone is replying to your tweets.  There are some good tutorial videos on YouTube you can watch to learn how to set it up.
    • Adding a hashtag doesn't have to happen only during a Twitter chat.  If you are tweeting about your library you can add #libchatnz to the end of the tweet so more people will be able to see it.  If you are using Tweetdeck then you can glance at your #libchatnz column whenever you are on Twitter to see if anyone has shared anything new.

Twitter Starter Kit

NZ School Librarians                                        
@MSimmsNZ (me)

NZ Public/Academic Librarians

NZ Teachers

NZ Principals/APs/DPs

NZ Public Libraries



NZ Tech Gurus

US Librarians

US Tech Gurus

Australian Librarians

Makerspace Experts

@LibChatNZ (NZ School Librarians)
@OZTLNet (Australian Teacher Librarian Network)
@L2_S2S (National Library - Services to Schools)
@Schoollibsnz (SLANZA)
@ALIANational (Australian Library and Information Association)
@sljournal (School Library Journal)

#libchatnz (NZ school librarians - 8pm, 1st Monday of the Month)
#austl (Australian teacher librarians)
#tlchat (US teacher librarians)
#uklibchat (UK librarians)

#edchatnz (NZ teachers - 8.30pm every 2nd Thursday)
#engchatNZ (NZ English teachers - 8.30pm every 2nd Tuesday)
#aussieED (Australian teachers)

#makered (US maker-teachers)
#makerEdau (Australian maker chat)