Blog Impossible

Read Blog Impossible, a.k.a. the FutureReady365 blog, in this month’s issue of Computers in Libraries and get the inside story of how a handful of volunteers with no budget generated 4 million hits, 400,000 unique visitors and 365 posts. The article is authored by me, Meryl Cole and Christian Gray.

Information Overload Soul-ution

We all know that information overload is a growing problem. We’re drowning in content, and the resulting paralysis significantly impacts productivity and impedes our ability to innovate and grow.

As past president of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), I saw first-hand how information professionals can harness these ever-growing streams of information into useful insights, and I knew that when I finished my term, I wanted to get involved on the solutions-side of the equation.

As of January 2012, I am joining forces with Attensa, an innovator of information management systems that delivers the right information to the right people at the right time.  I intend to help make Attensa a key vendor because I believe it has the solutions that information professionals and their customers are clamoring for.

From SLA’s Future Ready initiative, I learned first-hand that there are opportunities to apply the skills of librarians and info pros in new ways. Our clients and patrons can’t drink from the fire hose of information any longer. They need single-serving snippets that are easy to digest and spot-on relevant. In other words: they need more relevant information rather than being drowned in information overload.

Recently, Intel conducted an internal study that concluded that they lose $1 billion every year in lost productivity due to interruptions from information overload. But you donʼt have to be an Intel-sized enterprise to be adversely impacted.

If you can share some of your insights on what you’re facing at your organization, we can help you in the future. We’re conducting a brief survey and would like to get your opinion on specific pain points and solutions. The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete. Sound good? Let’s get started: Click here.

Top 11 Lessons from FutureReady365

Just 365 days ago, the first post went up on FutureReady365. From its inception, the FutureReady365 blog had one big, wild, hairy, audacious goal. We sought answers to a single, provocative question: How are YOU Future Ready? A dedicated team of volunteers committed to publishing a new post every day of 2011 and—WE DID IT!

Over the course of 2011, information professionals from around the world posted solutions, strategies, tactics, and tips. They showcased how they are preparing for a future that is indeed bright. It was a great conversation on an important topic, and your contribution made us smarter and better informed.

So before I look back, I’d like to thank my team of stalwart volunteers. And I have to express my admiration for everyone who posted for us. And I have to thank the readers who participated, posted comments, and kept coming back for more. Thank you all!

For me, personally, it was a great experience to serve as a catalyst to this conversation. As I bow out as SLA President and we prepare to re-invent FutureReady365, I want to share a few lessons I learned from the posts and from the experience of running a daily blog.

Great members, great posts

1. What’s Hot. We’re faced with a lot of seemingly orthogonal issues, related only tangentially, but they do connect to the issues of the day. The blog followers are amazingly adept at connecting the dots and reacting quickly. There were three issues that we kept hearing about, in one form or another:

  • How information pros are adding value.
  • The importance of collaborating constantly.
  • The necessity of embracing technology.

2. Already There. Many SLA members and information professional are already engaged in some very interesting, completely future-ready activities. Whether you are working with data fusion, e-readers, or mobile apps, you get it and you’re there.

3. Business Savvy Required. The most savvy members have survived and thrived in an amazing technological revolution. But the best geeks don’t make the best information professionals. There are some core attributes on the business side that can make or break your career. Technology AND business acumen are required in order to be Future Ready.

4. It’s Quotable. There was some great writing on the site, and it is impossible to narrow it down, but here a few examples of one-liners that I liked:

  • “Pick yourself.”  ~ Dale Stanley, April 6
  • “Stick your nose into other people’s conversations.” ~ Gloria Miller, March 3
  • “They call it ‘data fusion.’ I call it sexxxay!” ~ Juliane Schneider, April 15
  • “… define your library as a place for innovation and experimentation….” ~ Helen Josephine, March 10

Embracing the Daily Grind

I had never managed a publishing effort on this scale, and none of the FutureReady team had either. But at the end of the day, it all came down to something many SLA members are exceedingly good at: project management. We created a schedule, assigned roles, and became a well-oiled machine. Here are some random musings about how we did it.

5. SLA is made up of tribes. The divisions and chapters have their own interests and personalities, and they’re never shy about expressing their feelings. And that’s good! It took us about half the year to figure that out, and to tap into it efficiently. When we did, it was like rocket fuel.

6. Go Team! It’s hard to overstate the enormous contribution and dedication it took to implement this project. Here’s a shout out to the team: Meryl B. Cole, Michelle Mayes, Arik Johnson, Christian Gray, Jill Strand, Chris Vestal, Tiffany Renshaw, Jamal Cromity, Lorene Kennard, Dennie Heye, Sharon Rivers, Cindy Shamel, Kendra Levine, and many others.

7. The power of social media is in the connections. Sure, I know what you are thinking: “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” But seriously, human beings are social creatures. Something deep in our DNA makes us love to share and learn from each other. Camaraderie was essential to the FutureReady365 success, and just like with the holiday spirit, it’s as much fun to give as it is to receive.

8. Social media is free, but it is not cheap. It takes many man-hours to staff a robust social media program. It takes planning, hard work, and energized people who make and keep their commitments. There was nothing accidental about our success. We improvised, overcame, and adapted, all with amazing agility, and we walked the talk about what it takes to be Future Ready while doing it.

It was good for me

The FutureReady365 blog benefited me on a personal level, too. I always had something to talk about with fellow professionals. “Always be recruiting” became my mantra, and I learned to be boringly consistent so that others would know what to expect from me. Here’s what it meant to my personal journey:

9. I can rise to the occasion. I learned that I can reach deep inside of myself and pull out something that I did not know was there. I can be outside of my comfort zone pretty much all the time and still breathe. It was taxing, and sacrifices were made, but, at the end of a terrific year, I can say—it was worth it.

10. Go big or go home. I also learned that when people put their trust in you and give you their vote, you can’t be shy. You can’t plan a modest agenda. If you try hard and fail, at least you tried. If you try hard and succeed, you can feel really, really good about it.

11. SLA Rocks. Finally, recently, I led a delegation to Cuba for a professional exchange. Frankly, it is not a wealthy country; internet connections are slow or non-existent, and the computers are seriously outdated. Can you say 3.5-inch floppy? Yet somehow, the librarians manage to put together useful collections and provide good services, so their spirit gets an A+. All this made me realize—yet again—that this is a pretty darn good profession to be in.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what will become of FutureReady365 in the future. Turn it in to an HBO Special? Or should I go with a Discovery Channel reality show? How about a New York Times best-seller? We’ll have to wait and see. Then again, in his December 30 blog post, Brent Mai, SLA’s 2012 President, challenged me to take this blog to the next level. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be hearing from me AGAIN!

Thanks a million – truly.

American Librarians visit Cuba

Recently, I had the honor of leading a delegation of fourteen librarians and information professionals to a series of information centers in Havana, Cuba. Susan Fifer Canby, VP Emeritus of the National Geographic and Past President of DCSLA, was part of the group, and she filed this report.

By Susan Fifer Canby

“I have to work within my reality.”

This is the way the Cuban National Library Director Dr. Eduardo Torres Cuevas described managing libraries in Cuba.

Cindy Romaine, SLA President and Mary Nell Bryant listen to presentations.

Under the guidance of SLA President Cindy Romaine we traveled to Havana to see for ourselves what that reality is. We visited the National Library; a public library now housed in the former US Embassy; a Latin American foundation, Casa de las Americas; the National Center for Medical Science Information; the University of Computer Sciences and Informatics, located on a former Russian military base; a special library of the Ministry of Natural History only accessible up five flights of stairs; and the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity.

In our travels, we met and talked with Cuban leaders and practitioners from the Cuban Library Association, the Cuban Academy of Science, the Society of Scientific and Technological Information, the Institute of Documentation and Scientific and Technical Information, the Cuban Book Institute, and even the library at the barricaded American presence in Havana

Documents waiting for indexing and preservation.

Faced with an impoverished economy, subjected to rationed electricity, and set in a humid physical environment, with limited technical or exchange opportunities, Cuban libraries face daunting challenges.

Libraries have no library management systems, although the University of Informatics is testing Koha, http://www.koha.org/about, an open source LMS, for potential use.  Except for the University of Informatics, which is tasked with building the technical foundation of the country as well as developing software, libraries have few computers, and these are antiquated and use outdated versions of MS Office.  There are no photocopiers, and library supplies are limited or not available (no acid-free papers, archival boxes, etc.)

Many Restrictions

Cuban policy restraints, combined with severe shortages of electricity, are made even worse by extremely limited access to the Internet. Librarians are not sharing cataloging, even though institutionally they rely on intranets.  Other than at the American offices, the Internet is available only on a very restricted basis and to select professors and their students, and with narrow bandwidth.  Book acquisitions must come from Mexico or other nations unaffected by the embargoes, and pass through eagle-eyed censors.  Materials that made it to the shelves looked well-used, though sparse and mostly published before 1980.

The environmental Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity

Several of us seek to donate books and other materials, and we are advised libraries cannot accept them, because of Cuban concern over ‘imperialistic’ propaganda.  Librarians putting such books on the shelf (no matter how apolitical) could lose their jobs.  Although there is clearly a desire for library cooperation, the book trade is tightly controlled.  Americans entering Cuba have had even children’s books confiscated, and mail is also restricted.  We nevertheless shared business cards, and hoped for an improvement in government relations.

Our guide Jesus proudly shows a National Geographic Atlas.

Cuban librarians are using intranets to share limited information institutionally. This has enabled some to build reference content, apparently captured for free during brief access to the Internet, by hacking what they can, and bringing back materials when anyone travels outside the country.

An intractable problem exists in the area of materials storage, stemming from the island’s humidity, and acute shortage of electricity and air conditioning. Libraries also face limited resources for maintaining their physical space. We visited several libraries currently being refurbished with help from NGOs or UNESCO.

Despite these adversities, librarians are holding their own.  Librarians graduate from the University of Havana with degrees in library science. Studying for an MLS involves a work-study arrangement, so that students are studying and applying their learning at an institution where they will later work.   The librarians we met were focused on improving access for their users and using metrics to determine where to ramp up services where possible. They understand the need for preservation, and are very interested in collaboration.  We were advised we are the first-ever American colleagues to visit their libraries.

Observations on Culture

Everyone is paid by the state, and we were told that the average salary is $15 a month. Here’s the math: 24 pesos = 1 convertible peso = USD $1.  Cuba has a dual economy: one for tourists (pricey) and one for residents (low cost).

Three delegates including Susan Fifer-Canby cram into a coco cab.

Our group crammed in a little sight-seeing throughout our work-filled days.  We visited El Morro Castle, one of several castles built by the Spaniards during their lengthy occupation, used to store gold on its way from the new world to the old. On arrival, we were introduced to Cuban rum on the bus ride from the airport; we savored rum in Mojitos, rum straight, and rum in Cuba Libres (the drink combining Coke with rum and made famous during the revolution).  Some of us tried smoking the celebrated Cuban cigars, which along with rum and coffee we couldn’t bring home because of the U.S. embargo.

Part of our group visited the bar where Ernest Hemingway wrote “Old Man and the Sea” and toured his animal-head and book-filled home on the outskirts of Havana. We visited an old rum factory. We tested out the new restaurants in people’s homes, called “paladars,” that are emerging as restrictions are loosened for those wanting to become entrepreneurs.

At the paladars, we saw a marked leap in the quality of service and food.  In all public places – hotels, restaurants, and bars, we were treated to live Cuban music.  On the street we sampled sweet coconut cones, wrapped in palm leaves.

The waves are dramatic.

Havana is a set on a dramatic bay with waves crashing over the sea wall. The architecture, once grand, seems mostly rundown colonial and art deco, often dramatically decorated with murals, statues, and artwork exalting Fidel and Che and Viva la Revolution.

Motorized traffic is sparse and consists largely of classic American cars from the 1940s and 1950’s. Tourists are ferried in little clam-shelled coco-cabs, operated by a driver on a motorcycle engine. In their state-run economy, Cubans pay no taxes and have free medical care, education, and housing. The latter is often inadequate and, like food, rationed.

The Director of the National Library, Dr. Torres, proudly told us that a new law on libraries has been issued, clarifying the library code of ethics and supporting shared resources. While we were there another new law allowed Cubans to buy and sell their homes. While the legal system is not yet in place to deal with these changes, we left hoping they’re a harbinger of a new reality and more freedoms to come.

For more photos go to: SLA + Cuba. A longer report will be published in the January/February issue of SLA’s Information Outlook.


The delegates preparing to return to the USA.


The center of your profession

Last night I attended the launch of Biomimics Oregon in downtown Portland, and I just had to file an instant field report. It isn’t often that you get a ring-side seat as a new discipline gains traction. Talk about energizing!

According to Janine Benyus “biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then uses these designs and processes to solve human problems.” The idea is that you should look to see how nature solves problems and use that solution as mentor, measure and model for solving vexing human problems.

Geckos possess the remarkable ability to climb vertical walls without using any adhesive glue. A gecko’s feet are covered by tiny hairs that stick to rough and smooth surfaces using van der Waals forces. Inspired by the gecko design, Ali Dhinojwala and researchers at the University of Akron have developed carbon nanotube-based gecko tapes that stick to most surfaces (even Teflon) and have self-cleaning abilities. Transmaterials.

A few years ago, I installed an exhibit on biomimicry which took over the Nike Design Library. We had modules on geckos, chameleons, iridescence, mountain goat hooves, and more. The designers loved it and I still get “remember when” notes years later. We created a very inspiring toolbox for new solutions and gained an invaluable, useful perspective we hadn’t considered.

One of my favorite colleagues from that event was Darcy Winslow, founder of Design of Designs for a Sustainable World Collective. Darcy spoke at the launch party last night. On the topic of  professionalism, she told us:

If you want to be at the center of your profession you have to be at the fringe.

Let that sink in for a moment—what a wonderful contradiction. And so relevant to information professionals.

In the interest of full disclosure—and even a little chest- thumping—I’m now working with Darcy as a “citizen” at DSW. Check it out:  Citizens ~ Cindy Romaine. Thrilled.

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