Thursday, March 31, 2011

Post-ICOLC musings: bats and serendipity

Last week I visited Austin for the first time. The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) meeting was held there at the AT&T Conference Center. It was a great facility for the 100 or so attendees of this rite of spring for consortium professionals from around the globe. While I didn't see enough of Austin to form any real opinion, I did learn about the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.

These Mexican Free-Tailed Bats apparently comprise the largest urban colony of bats in the U.S. Our wonderful hosts for ICOLC, Amigos, TexShare and the University of Texas System Digital Library, were able to arrange a boat tour for us to go and witness the nightly graceful exodus. Tom Sanville of Lyrasis shot this video.

As I understand the story, the engineers of the bridge were unaware that they were creating a perfect bat habitat when they designed the bridge with hundreds of crevices running beneath the roadbed that spans Lady Bird Lake. But once the bats stumbled across this hospitable space they continued to return each spring and summer to have their pups. Today the colony can swell to well over 1 million bats, roosting under the bridge by day and emerging at dusk like clockwork to spend the night on the prowl.  It was truly awe-inspiring to watch them, and of course it made me think about . . . collaboration.

Specifically, I was back to thinking about the role of intent. Here this structure was built to link two land masses. Serendipitously, it created a wholly unexpected result. The bat colony seems to serve Austin quite well. It's a tourist attraction, generating its share of revenue (boat tours, t-shirts, bat-related kitsch, etc.). The bats serve to keep insect populations manageable. And the bat spectacle even supports Austin's motto, "Keep Austin Weird." In another city, the bats may not have fared so well. Guano oppositionists may have rallied city hall, pushing for the eviction of the beady-eyed squatters. But Austin seems to have embraced the opportunity, turning the proverbial sow's ear into a silk purse. As organizations committed to collaboration we would be wise to take a lesson. Sometimes (dare I say often?) disruption is a springboard to potential.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are the tools of collaboration working for us?

In a post this week on ReadWriteBiz John Titlow writes about the benefits of online collaboration tools. The title of the post is Despite Hype, Companies Doubt the Benefits of Collaboration Tools, yet the content of the post doesn't support that thesis. I would reach a different conclusion from the data drawn from a cited Forrester report, which was the basis for Titlow's posting. According to that report "64% said they saw anywhere from zero to four benefits after implementing collaboration software." But a single benefit could be significant enough to warrant continued support of and investment in collaboration solutions. It's not the number of benefits, but the value of those benefits that matters. Only 3% said they had seen no improvement since adopting collaboration tools. This means 97% saw some benefit! Perhaps the Forrester Report provides more evidence for the doubt this post suggests. But without more to go on I think the title of the post should be Collaboration Tools Are Changing the Way We Work!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Embracing curation

On Sat. I was listening to WAMC in the car and on the short drive between home and Cafe 333, where my husband and I were having dinner, I heard a story broadcasting from SXSW about the important role of the content creator as curator. Because I was multi-tasking (i.e. carrying on a conversation with Bill, adjusting the heat, checking my purse to make sure I had my cell phone, etc.) and because the restaurant is only a three-minute drive from our house, I didn't get to really lock in on the story. But the main theme was that those who are creating content should embrace the opportunity to serve as curators of content; to become trusted sources of information. I'm pretty sure it was Steven Rosenbaum talking about his book, Curation Nation.

In that short ride I was struck with the realization that I haven't heard librarians talking much about curation. Librarians and other information professionals are in the midst of a sort of identity crisis, and I've listened to lots of conversations about how we market our skills and the value we add in the new information economy. I think curation is an apt term for much of the work we do.The goal of branding ourselves and our libraries as trusted sources is exactly our goal. I'm curious to see if Rosenbaum thought about libraries. I've ordered the book and I'll let you know.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Can we question the impact of technologies without fear of marginalization?

I admit I've been stewing about this for some time. So here's my rant. Having evolved right along with technology, embracing and exploiting it at every opportunity, I consider myself a 'digital settler,' to steal John Palfrey's term from his book, Born Digital. I was not born into a digital world, like digital natives. And I don't identify with the term digital immigrant, which suggests someone out of their element. Rather, I feel that I and many of my generation have been the engines of change. We've been involved in designing the technological landscape where we now dwell. I have the utmost awe for our current information age and the technology available to us.

And yet I nonetheless have an intellectual curiosity about the true, enduring impact of technology on our culture. Where is all of this exciting, empowering and wonderful stuff leading us? How is it affecting our ability to develop interpersonal relationships? Is it changing the way we process information and create new knowledge?  How is it changing our concepts of time? Place? Is multi-tasking a valuable skill or a character flaw? Can we, from an evolutionary standpoint, continue on this trajectory or will there be a regression? Will we hit the wall?

Too often I feel that this kind of inquiry is readily dismissed as ludditism or change resistance or fear mongering. Two recent posts have me thinking about this again.

In a post by Simon Fodden on Slaw I was fascinated to learn that there continue to be competing theories about what the original Luddites were really protesting. Were they simply opposing the mechanization and modernization of fabric making or was there something deeper behind their actions? Another post last week by Kent Anderson over at the Scholarly Kitchen argued that concerns about the possible effects of the internet are really just power struggles between those who seek to retain control of the message and the medium.

I think engaging in continued and open dialogue about the impact of technology is necessary and desirable. We put ourselves at great risk when we chill discourse in blind devotion to the wonders of technology. End of rant.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tracking your consortial relationships

A post today over at Stephen's Lighthouse really caught my attention. Stephen Abram suggests using a venn diagram to map out your library's consortial relationships. Genius! This could be a great tool to add to your collection development policy and to your selection and acquisitions work flow. A quick visual like this could save you time and money by reminding you to leverage those relationships whenever possible!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Consortium of Consortia

The next few weeks are busy ones for me. Next week the NELLCO Board of Directors meets in New Haven. I always look forward to these meetings and the opportunity they provide for engagement and reflection. We have a jam packed agenda, and I apologize in advance to the members of my Board. I know it's exhausting. But isn't it fun?

After that I'm off to Austin for the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) meeting next Sun. ICOLC is one of my favorite meetings. I've been attending for 10 years now; I started with NELLCO in 2001. ICOLC is a smallish group (100-150ish) of library consortium professionals from around the world who gather to exchange ideas, share information, and talk to and about information vendors. ICOLC has no formal organizational structure. No officers. No standing committees (just coalitions of the willing). No dues. No members. Yet it's one of my most high-value affiliations. My ICOLC colleagues understand my world. They know about libraries, consortia, running a business, working with boards, negotiating deals, engaging members, implementing new technologies. They are a treasure trove of ideas and strategies that help me do my job better. I'm so glad to be able to tap into this group and I know I'll always return to the office with some new ideas and a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Social Media and Collaboration

I just came across this very useful site produced by the Research Information Network, "a policy unit funded by the UK higher education funding councils, the seven research councils and the three national libraries." Of particular interest is this pdf: "Social Media: A Guide for Researchers." Described by the authors as a 'warts and all' overview of social media use, this seems like an excellent tool for librarians to have in their toolkit when working with faculty members. So often I hear of faculty who are reluctant to enter the social media fray. This quick read could be a very helpful introduction and open new avenues of collaboration for scholars, researchers and faculty in their work.