social anxiety and social software

For various reasons, I’ve been trying out a few new social networks lately, and I plan, gradually, to add a few more.

This past weekend, I went down to Denver to a wedding. The bride is an old, old friend–we’ve known each other since first grade, though we haven’t been in touch regularly in several years. The only people I knew at the wedding were the bride and her parents. One woman there remembered the column I wrote for an independent weekly newspaper in Iowa City, and a couple of people looked vaguely familiar, like I might have met them around campus in the late ’90s.

I suffer from a certain amount of free-floating anxiety, some of which attaches itself to social situations when it has the chance. One of the reasons I live in such a small and out of the way place is that in a place as small as this one with as many eccentric people as this place has, my own eccentricity and awkwardness don’t stand out very much. Going to a wedding where you have to dress nicely and converse with people about potentially mine-field-laden topics such as What You Do for a Living and the State of Your Social Life is not, therefore, generally my idea of a good time. I put myself in these situations, though, because I don’t want to lose the ability to function in them at all, just as I don’t want to lose completely my knack for driving in the city.

A lot of people have social anxiety of some sort, but lately I’ve been thinking about the ways that sort of anxiety might translate to social software, where you have both friends and “friends,” where you can poke someone but no one will tell you what doing so means, and where, in some cases, people are not who they seem.

When Meredith and Sarah wrote awhile back about their disliking of the rush of “friends” one gets when one joins a new social network, and how that makes it hard to use the network with your actual friends, I saw their point, but then I immediately began to worry. Had I become “friends” with too many people? Were these people adding me back out of obligation or out of interest? When I tried a new site out, was I a librarian trying to learn more about the tools her patron uses, or was I Laura, trying to make more friends, not just more “friends?”

Very few of my actual, non-librarian friends have much of a presence online. There are a smattering of Flickr accounts, and recently there’s been a small rash of Facebook accounts, and there are a couple of blogs. I know of a few LiveJournals and MySpace accounts, but as I’m not on either of those networks (yet), I don’t really keep up with them. Everyone I follow in Twitter is a librarian. Twitter is fabulous that way, as is the LSW Meebo Room–or rather, it’s fabulous if you’re a library person with an interest in the internet. I’m sure to many people–even many librarians–the conversations we have there would sound very much like the biblioblogger sounds to the local branch librarian. If you were hoping to use Twitter to keep up with your college friends, it would be maddening.

Though I didn’t know anyone else at the wedding I went to, I had probably known the bride longer than anyone there other than her family. But she and I haven’t been in touch in a few years, and though I can remember playing with her in the outdoor fireplace at her house in grade school and smuggling rated R movies into the house to watch when we were in high school (and were not, by her parents’ dictate, supposed to be watching such things), I don’t know much about her day to day life in the past few years. On the way down to Denver, I stopped overnight in Laramie and got to meet Kaijsa, and the day after the wedding, Steve Lawson drove up from Colorado Springs and we had lunch. I had never met either of them, but I knew all sorts of things about both of them quite well. I’d seen Kaijsa’s shoes and Steve’s son’s model rockets. In some odd way, I know some of my “imaginary” friends better than some of my oldest “real” friends.

There’s nothing new about the different ways in which we know our new friends verusus our old friends, but there is, perhaps, an added dimension–the ways we know our friends and our “friends,” and how sometimes people morph from one to the other.

My various online presences are currently listed in the sidebar of this blog under “meta laura.” Please feel free to add me as a “friend” or a friend, or both.

some heroes

One of the most fascinating things about watching this meme, conceived by Walt and begun by Dorothea, has been seeing not only what blogs people highlight but also reading about what criteria they used to select them. The people below all do something blog-like, and they also all do some good in the world. In some cases, that good is manifest in the content of their RSS feed; in others the blog serves more as a chronicle. In all cases, they are people whose works I admire greatly.

Deb, blogging at REAL PUBLIC LIBRARIAN. I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about Deb, particularly in YA circles (of course, I’m kind of disconnected from YA circles at the moment, so perhaps they are all feasting on her wisdom and I’m just unware of it–all apologies if this is so). John Gehner, who will show up on this list in just a bit, writes frequently about social exclusion and the devastating effects it has on the poor and homeless. Deb works with youth within a similar framework. Check out this classic post on different kinds of youth and different kinds of youth spaces in libraries and this more recent one about the role of libraries in community development.

Michael McGrorty, blogging at Library Dust. If you’ve ever met Michael or gotten some correspondence from him, you know how charming he is. If you read his blog, you also learn that he’s smart and witty. And, in the course of doing some investigative blogging, he wrote one of the best tributes to the labor movement that I have ever read.

Jenna Freedman, blogging, answering questions, rabble-rousing, and inspring awe at Radical Reference. Some day Jenna and I are going to switch lives for a couple of months so that she can experience life in a town without stoplights and I can impersonate a Lower East Side librarian. In the meantime, I just admire her from afar.

Shinjoung Yeo, both people named James Jacobs, and assorted guests blogging at Free Government Information. You’d think everyone would be out to save free government information. These people do their best in a sadly uncrowded field.

David Bigwood, blogging at Catalogablog. Catalogablog is one of my all-time favorite blog names. It’s one of the first blogs I ever subscribed to, I think because Jessamyn linked to it, and though I rarely understand what it’s about, I admire the heck out of David Bigwood for keeping the world so up-to-date on the shadowy world of cataloging. (Cataloging itself isn’t inherently shadowy; there’s just something about the subject that lends itself to the adjective–all those tech services people hidden away in the back room, crouched over their machines.) Also, I’m still honored that he left a comment on my post about OPACs and children’s materials.

John Gehner, posting at the website of the Homelessness, Hunger, and Poverty Task Force. HHPTF is a subset of a subset of ALA. John revived it from the ashes a few years ago pretty much single-handedly. He has put together killer lists of resources and organizations, and he has consistently drawn out the best thinking about libraries, homelessness, and poverty going on today and compiled it for you all in one place, with an RSS feed.

There are many more heroes out there. These are just some of mine.

bibliobloggers at the round table

Some time last year a few folks in the biblioblogosphere were tossing around the idea of having a Bloggers’ Round Table in ALA. I rather liked the idea, although it did occur to me fairly early on that since half the bloggers I read aren’t ALA members (and many don’t plan to be), it might not make much sense.

I have, despite my idiosyncratic and uncompromising nature, almost always been involved in a group of some sort, from Operation US Out (a coalition that opposed the “first” Gulf War) in high school to Vassar College Campus Patrol to UI Students Against Sweatshops (it seems I specialized in groups with under-construction websites) to, now, the biblioblogosphere (I love that word, but damn it’s long!). Of course, the last is a rather different sort of group. Though we’re often in agreement (let’s hear it one more time–just how badly does the OPAC suck?), we don’t have a mission. Though some of us get to meet occasionally, we don’t hold regular meetings. And, of course, though many people list their blogs on their resumes, no one that I know of adds “The Biblioblogosphere” to the list of groups to which she belongs.

A lot of people become bloggers, I think, because they have ideas that they wish to express that aren’t getting expressed in any organizational or institutional way. Those ideas are often quite good, which is why organizations try to latch on to the people who have them, which is how you end up with something like Karen Schneider’s most recent post on the ALA TechSource blog. Many of us have a somewhat uneasy relationship with institutions (or so I would assume–if I didn’t have a somewhat uneasy relationship with institutions, I wouldn’t be shelling out the money to pay for my own webhosting) and with groups in general.

I would argue, however, that despite the many and large ways that it differs from other kinds of groups, the biblioblogosphere nonetheless is one, and that even though Blake Carver is right (in the cover story of the March issue of American Libraries–gosh, it’d be nice if I could link to the actual article) about the difficulties of getting bloggers to do things together, we are all, in our alternately blundering, sophisticated, discursive, clever, and downright uncompromising ways, working toward the same end, or at least a similar one.

We want better libraries. We want better librarianship. We want to discuss our ideas with others who may have wildly divergent ideas but who are similarly fired up about them. We want to be around others who are as passionate as we are. And, perhaps frivously but perhaps most importantly, we want to be colleages, comrades, friends.

Last week, when everyone was Twittering, debating Twitter, denouncing Twitter, defending and defining Twitter as the next big thing, wondering what the hell Twitter was, and, in probably more than one case, wondering why no one had invited them to Twitter or why no one cared what they were Twittering about, I was feeling somewhat downcast. Twitter seemed wonderfully, and horribly, symbolic of everything wrong with the world and my place in it: it was a fun but largely pointless tool that all the cool kids were playing with and I was missing out on. Missing out on the latest Web 2.0 trend is sort of like missing out on prom–you know it’s probably not all that great and that most of the people involved are probably just posturing, but it seems like a seminal experience that you’re missing out on that will divide you from the rest of the world for the rest of your life, or at least the rest of next week (which in high school tends to feel like the rest of your life).

In the midst of that general train of thought, I went down to get the mail (there’s no mail delivery in Meeteetse, so every day I walk down to the post office to pick up our newspapers (no newspaper delivery, either) and whatever catalogs and interlibrary loan packages and journals have shown up in our box–when my IM away message says “getting the mail,” that’s what I’m generally up to–that and chatting with all the people I meet along the way–it’s all library outreach). In my PO Box was this postcard from Australia from Jessamyn. It put a lot of things in perspective. For one thing, I really had no idea Australia was that big–and now I hang my head in shame for my Mercator map view of the world, with all apologies to my colleages down under. But it also reminded me that Twittering (or whatever) is not the only way to communicate, or to belong, and that sometimes it takes awhile for a message to get around the globe, or even across the room.

Impatience is another trait of the biblioblogosphere (I want a standards compliant social OPAC with relevancy ranking, faceted navigation, command line capabilities in a user-friendly format and, of course, more cowbell–and I want it NOW!), and that’s often a good thing. But it’s also worth remembering that sometimes the news takes time. I worked with UI Students Against Sweatshops for over three years, and in terms of broader world impact, about all I can say is that there is one factory in Mexico that has a union now that didn’t before. I can also say that the UI has more policies and procedures in place that might help make that kind of gain a reality in more places, but I can’t say it’s happened yet. The biblioblogosphere isn’t working with a list of demands or even a list of points of unity. We’re just firing rockets into the night, hoping they ignite something and that that ignition causes a conflagration, and that that fire is the kind that does not simply destroy but also makes way for new things to be born. I’m eager and interested to see what will happen.

in defense of the dinky library, among other things

I was hugely amused, in the wake of myriad posts on politeness, or on rocking or not rocking the boat, to read this post from Josh Neff about a post he wrote, and then deleted, and then rewrote, for his library’s blog. I’m glad that the library went with the post, albeit somewhat revised, and I’m glad that there’s already one comment on it.

I’m often glad about a lot of things. If you go back and read some of the earliest entries for this blog, they’re very much of the isn’t-this-cool-I-think-so-too variety. Partly that was because I had this idea that maybe my blog would be read by people at Dominican who weren’t reading other blogs, and partly it was because, well, I did think was cool. If Jenny Levine has said something, I kind of doubt that any of us need to repeat it in order to get the word out, but I didn’t know that in May 2005, and I kind of doubt that Jenny begrudges me for linking to something she wrote and saying “me too!”

I haven’t done as much me-too-ing lately, in part because I simply haven’t been doing much blogging lately (new job, exciting outdoor stuff to be doing, still finishing up school, etc., etc.), but also because I know there are many things that I don’t really need to say. Other people have said them or are saying them.

That said, though, in the spirit of honesty before politeness and of writing in my own blog instead of just commenting on other peoples’, here’s my little rant about one of last week’s memes, the suckiness of the physical library space.

I was a little shocked by the number of people who said that they don’t use their local public library (see the comments, and also many posts I’ve lost track of). Really. Of course, I am a public librarian, and I run, or help run, a dinky little library with terrible lighting, incredibly beat up books, tempermental computers, no outlets for laptops (though I’m working on that), and, in many areas, a seriously dated and sometimes nonexistent collection. We do have comfy chairs (which, incidentally, were a patron suggestion in our totally 1.0 locked suggestion box some years ago, before I got here). And cute story time chairs.

I have used public libraries and branches in just about every place I’ve lived. I was lucky enough to grow up with the wonderful Iowa City Public Library. I started going there in preschool, when my father took me and my friend to story hour every Saturday morning and the library was still in the old Carnegie building. I “studied” there in high school (read: listened to LPs and read young adult novels and children’s books), I saw that library through two renovations and innumerable OPACs (remember the very early touchscreen ones where you drilled down through alphabetic lists of titles, authors, and LC subject headings?), and, when I was in graduate school at Iowa, I’d guess that I went to the library almost every day for a book or a movie or just to feel refreshed.

But we’re talking dinky libraries here, right? I’ve been to some of those, too. A branch of the Indianopolis Public Library, before it was expanded. The Eastlake Branch of the Minneapolis Public Library (again, before renovation). The main library in San Francisco, actually, was kind of dinky at least in terms of its book selection when I was using it back in 1996. I once got some books a suburban public library near Boston when I was visiting a friend, though I’ve forgotten which one. It was tiny but cute, and they had a lot of Danielle Steel. I used the Poughkeepsie Public Library a few times when I was babysitting in college, when it still had a card catalog. I loved all of these libraries, and quite frankly, I would far rather go into any of them, or any other public library you care to toss my way, than into Saks or Nordstrom (which, despite Meredith’s delineation of the differences, seem about the same to me–big well-lit places where people want to sell me stuff I don’t want) or into your average big box bookstore. At the library I never feel like people think I’m out to mooch when I sit down and start reading the books.

I realize, however, that I may be in the minority here. I realize that many people want clean, spacious libraries full of fancy gadgets, just as many people prefer department stores to thrift shops. But whenever I read about snazzy new libraries or see pictures of them, all bright and shiny, I can’t help but think about the people who aren’t going to feel comfortable there. I can’t help but think about what policies are being written to keep homeless people from using the library and messing up the carefully planned decor.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, librarianship-wise and biblioblogosphere-wise, of late. Now it’s back to figuring out how to cut my juvenile and young adult book order in half, if there’s anyway to rearrange things in the library to give us more space, if there’s some useful way I could do a presentation on Medline for seniors and other interested people of wildly varying technical abilities, how to go about designing an independent study so I can finish library school. . . .

Oh, and for the record, I don’t get Second Life either. Of course, I should really say that, since I’ve never tried it. But if building a library there is your thing, I say go for it! After all, not everyone would want my librarian job, either.

wyoming librarians on the web

While it’s true that Chicago still ranks as the center of the library webiverse, we’re not doing too badly out here in the West.  Here are a few Wyoming librarians I know of on the web.  If you are one and aren’t listed here, or if you know of others, please let me know, and I’ll add them. 

Meg Martin and Katie Jones run the Library Law Letter, which contains “summaries for recently decided Wyoming Supreme Court opinions and Wyoming State Law Library Information: announcements, how-to tips, and services.”  I’ve already learned several good things from their tips, and they’ve given me some great law-related collection development advice.

A librarian at the University of Wyoming in Laramie runs a blog called Jag soker job (that o in “soker” should have an umlaut over it, but my keyboard skills are lacking), and she’s got a Flickr account with some gorgeous photos of Wyoming scenery. 

Erin Kinney, the Digital Initiatives Librarian at the Wyoming State Library, has been adding photos all summer to a Flickr set on the state library’s relocation

the phoenix in the gulf

Last night I went to the Bloggers Bash/Reception for Gulf Coast librarians hosted by Leslie Burger. Over the past year, blogger gatherings have been among the most vibrant and memorable (and fun) parts of conferences. Blogger gatherings are where you get to meet your imaginary friends, talk shop with people who speak your language, eat and drink courtesy of people with more money than you have, and get stars in your eyes when one of the people you most admire recognizes the name of your blog

Last night had all of those features, but it had something else, too, and that something else, of course, was the librarians from the Gulf Coast. They were there, from New Orleans, from Louisiana bayou, from Mississippi. We heard some of their stories of loss and of renewal. We heard about what they need (money) and what they don’t (1980s encyclopedias, old books). We saw them, face to face.

On Friday, thanks to the great generosity of Beth Oliver, a librarian at Delgado Community College, Heidi Dolamore and I had the opportunity to see face to face some areas of New Orleans and Slidell that were hit by hurricane and flood. I haven’t begun to digest the experience yet, but you can see some pictures (more captions to come) on Flickr under the tag damage. I had a hard time deciding how to tag the photos of the effects of the hurricane: I need a word that describes both damage and the possibility of renewal, a word that shows an embroynic phoenix, rising from the ashes.

across the great divide

If you haven’t already done so, take a few minutes of your continuous partial attention over to A biblioblogger visits the local branch library over at See Also. . . .  Really.  Right now.  It’ll be good for you.

I’ve been thinking a great deal in the past few days about what one might call the librarian digital divide: the gap, in Steve’s skit, between the way the biblioblogger talks and sees the world and the way the branch librarian does.  It’s a gap none of us has figured out how to bridge.

Here’s a small list of reminders I’ve been giving myself when talking to folks who may not be quite up to “Ajax OPML Creative Commons radical trust mashup widget!”.  Please add, edit, confront, what have you.

  • some people are going to be put off when I talk about the OPAC just by my use of the word “suck” (which has, at least in the biblioblogger world, attached itself to OPAC in an epithet like way)
  • just because I treat John Blyberg and Casey Bisson (to name just a few) like rock-star household names does not mean that everyone knows who they are
  • not everyone is ready or willing to treat blogs as a reliable and trustworthy resource
  • people who aren’t content creators on the web probably don’t get why I am so insistent that everything should have a permalink

Time for me to go swimming, but there may be more to come–and I’ll be interested to see what others come up with.  Only connect. . . .  (Hey, that’s another of those literary references!  Books!  Yes!)

the techie mission and the library mission

I don’t consider myself a techie, much less a geek or a nerd, by these definitions or any others. That’s not meant to denigrate any of the terms–I simply don’t feel skilled enough to claim any of the titles. I’m still at the “take the server out of the box” phase.

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology and libraries, though. I’ve been teaching a Digital Photography 101 class at the library (you can see the Web version of the insanely long handout). People bring their cameras, and we practice taking some pictures, and then we load their pictures onto the computer using the handy card reader that the library bought at my urging. Then we play with them a little in Picasa, and then I show them a couple of online photo sites, usually Flickr and Kodak Gallery. Then they ask questions, and sometimes I can answer them, and sometimes I have to say, “Let me look into that and I’ll get back to you.”

I often think of myself as in some weird trough between technical know-how and technical incompetence. I can talk about blogs and wikis, and I did all the html for my website by hand. But then there are days (which I like to blame on my being more familiar with Macs than PCs) when I have IM conversations like this one:

me: stupid question. . .
friend: yes?
me: what do you use to unzip files in Windows?
friend: WinZip
me: duh. . .

I am as excited as everyone else by ventures like and Pay IT Forward, but sometimes I think the techie help that our libraries need is at an even more basic level. Not just, “What do I do once I’ve taken the server out of the box?” but some of the questions people ask me that I can’t always answer. What are the security risks posed by letting patrons use various peripheral devices on the computers? Can we let them plug in their digital cameras? Burn CDs? I know we can let patrons do these things, because I know there are libraries that do, but I don’t know how to explain why it’s safe, or how to make it safe.

I’m trying to learn, though. Many of the reference questions I get in the small rural library where I work are technology related. As a librarian, it’s my mission to answer those questions as best I can. In more and more cases, answering those questions means learning more about technology. And that makes me grateful to my techie friends: the people out there, some of them librarians, some not, who know that part of their mission is helping to make technology work for people, not the other way around.

If I thought that the whole of the techie mission was getting everyone to develop technolust, I’d probably have a problem with it. But I haven’t seen that. Instead, I’ve seen techies working their tails off to make libraries and library services work better. Whether they’re hacking around the OPAC to make more functional or teaching people to use e-mail or contributing to online conferences or the Library Success Wiki or the Library Instruction Wiki or projects like Pay IT Forward or answering my stupid IM questions, they’re all furthering the library mission of helping people find, use, and enjoy information. I think that’s a good thing.


Update: the link for the Bloglines account should work now–thanks to Mom for the tipoff.

Have I mentioned lately that my job rocks? And that librarians rock?

A few weeks ago, several of my colleagues attended Michael Stephen’s OPAL talk Ten Top Technologies for Libraries in 2006. They came away intrigued but slightly overwhelmed, and so my director has asked me to do a little talk about new technologies for libraries at the all-county staff meeting this Wednesday. I’m going to be talking about blogs and RSS, wikis, and IM. Actually, I’m thinking of subtitling my talk “How to Steal Stuff from Your Librarian Friends,” since I’ve pretty much been swiping (with Creative Commons or other permission) slides from other people’s talks right and left. Or, as I wrote to Michael Stephens shortly after I was asked to do the talk, “I get to be you!”

I’ll post a link to the talk when I get it up, probably later tonight. In the meantime, though, you might like to check out the little Bloglines account (with some Wyoming specific blogs, some general ones, and some fun stuff, but not too much of anything) that I put together to demonstrate the power of RSS. And, if I should happen to IM you on Wednesday, I’m probably doing so in front of a live audience. Consider yourselves warned.

how i got my job

The short story: I got lucky.

A year ago at this time I was a semester and a half into library school, and I’d been reading library blogs for several months. I went to library school because I already had two useless degrees (they call the MFA a terminal degree, as I like to say, because it leads nowhere), and librarianship seemed like a far better option than, say, law school. (I have great respect for the many good lawyers of the world, but after a friend told me that in law school they had lockers and bells, “just like high school!”, I knew it wasn’t for me.)
I had a terrible time finding a part-time library support staff job, both before I started library school and after. I got one letter that said, essentially, “Sorry, we were looking for someone with an education background and customer service experience.” (“Oh,” said a friend of mine, “they wanted an education major who worked at Wal-Mart.”) Apparently my three years of college teaching and four years of teaching at a whacky alternative elementary school didn’t count for anything.

Blog reading led me to follow the struggles that people like Dorothea and Meredith, people with educations and skills equal to and in most cases surpassing my own, were having finding jobs. I began to get worried. So I began to do the kinds of things that people suggested

  • I eventually got a job as a youth services assistant at a library in the western suburbs (and had the pleasure of being a co-worker of Rachel Gordon Singer for a few months)
  • In my archives class, we could either write a research paper or do an internship–I chose the internship even though it meant a 13-hour day and eating dinner in my car
  • I subscribed to the RSS feed for Job Postings on the Internet so I could get an idea of what was out there
  • I read articles at and Info Career Trends
  • I joined ALA and got involved by helping plan the Free Speech Buffet for the ALA conference in Chicago (had I wanted to stay in Illinois, I think joining the Illinois Library Association would have been equally if not more beneficial)
  • I started asking my savvy friends for advice on how to arrange my resume so it looked less like I’d spent the past five years or so meandering through graduate programs. (You can see the result; sorry it’s a PDF).
  • I started lis.dom and got to know, virtually and sometimes personally, a bunch of enthusiastic, energetic, and extremely talented library people

Last August, I ran across an ad for a job in Meeteetse, Wyoming. Since Wyoming was high on my list of states I wanted to live in, I whipped out my road atlas and looked it up. It looked pretty good. So even though I had a full year of school left, I sent off a letter and my resume, just in case.

In the next few months, I sent out a couple of other letters, both also for branch manager or director positions in small rural libraries. I was asked to interview at two of the three places I applied; the third called to say that they’d love to interview me, but needed to hire someone ASAP.

I had a telephone interview for the Wyoming job in November and flew out for an interview in January, so it was a long process. But, as it turned out, well worth it.

I don’t know why I got lucky in the job market when so many other talented people have struggled. It may have helped that I was applying almost exclusively to places with populations under 10,000. It probably helped that I found ways to emphasize how my other work experience–writing and teaching–was applicable to librarianship. But ultimately, I don’t know; I’m just grateful.

So what about my blog? I put the url of my website on my resume, chiefly as a way saying “look, I can make a website!” but also because even without the website and the blog, I had a fairly sizeable web presence, and I preferred to have some control over its presentation. (Having just Googled myself, I’ve found that the results have been pretty much overtaken by biblioblogosphere comments, but it used to be a much odder assortment of links).

I know that a few people on a couple of the search committees looked at lis.dom. It didn’t come up in any interviews, and I don’t think anyone decided to hire me or not hire me based on the blog or anything in it. I do think, however, that blogging gave me stake in librarianship that nothing else did. It let me get my feet wet, and it let me join in a conversation about the profession with many of its best and brightest.

I enjoyed first listening to that conversation and then joining in, and I’m deeply grateful to all the people whom I’ve exchanged comments and e-mails and IMs with over the past months, and to those whose writings I’ve just read. You all rock.