Young librarians, technology, and language

Happy Friday! I hope you are having a good day. I’m enjoying a weekend break with my family before the fall term starts. I thought today I might write a bit about some intersections among librarians, technology and language. The first two concepts won’t be surprising to anyone who has been reading this blog for a bit, but the third might seem a little odd. Allow me to explain. I study changes in language in archives and libraries as part of my research; I’m slightly fascinating (okay, I’m actually super-fascinated) with how language shapes our perceptions and why this discourse matters to librarians and archivists. So that’s what is up for today.

Why young librarians and not just librarians for today’s focus? Mainly because I recently read get in the goddamn wagon and the associated comments. Really, go click through the link and read it, I’ll wait here. I agree with the main argument that younger librarians need to be the ones starting to push agendas and change in the slow-moving organizations. But I also agree that age is really just a number, and just because someone isn’t in the 22-35 year old demographic doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t have awesome ideas to contribute to the profession. The post plus comments remind me of one of the best definitions of “old” I’ve ever heard: you are old when you refuse to learn and refuse to change. I think that as soon as you utter the words, “I’m too old to change,” you are old. I’ve heard people my age (yes, I fit within the 22-35 demographic) who refuse to change and to learn and to grow and frankly, I want them out of the profession a lot more than the “old” colleagues I have that are cool with texting and tweeting students, write blogs, and can argue coherently with me about the pros and cons of iOS and Android.

I also thought about my fellow librarians, young and old, while reading Seth Godin’s post about whatever happened to labor? Just start changing and becoming irreplaceable and opportunities will open up. The up and coming generation of librarians (and archivists) can’t wait around for jobs to open up–because we all know how the supposed “glut of jobs on the market because of retirements” has played out. We need to work together, not in committees, but on small scale, local ways to help each other and get into positions of power to change the institutions and “way we’ve always done things” from the inside. And once you’ve “made it,” don’t forget to give back and to keep learning and growing so you don’t smother the possibility for changes in your institution (oh, and don’t form a ton of committees if you want things to be done rapidly). As Godin would say, race to the top, not the bottom.

Oh, and if you would like to see why age isn’t as important as a willingness to learn, check out the report on an increase in older adults using social media. Yay for adopting technology, making it work for you, and not fulfilling the stereotypes that “old” people can’t be comfortable with technology.

As we are on the topic of technology, I’d like you to check out the stream of digital consciousness photograph from a presentation. I direct your attention to the line that says “Don’t Obsess about Metadata.” Now from the rest of the points on the slide, I think this must have been a very interesting and wonderful talk. I even agree with a lot of what is said on the slide, but not worrying about metadata makes me twinge. I’m probably especially sensitive to talk about metadata as archivists have to worry about it when it comes to digital preservation, and we think about metadata, a lot. I also wonder if the presenter ever thought about metadata in the context of Google’s Book search. This article aptly points out the problems of having inadequate, inaccurate, and plain outrageous metadata. I especially like the line that says, “But books aren’t simply vehicles for communicating information, and managing a vast library collection requires different skills, approaches, and data than those that enabled Google to dominate Web searching.” Metadata is important, so let’s do it right (you can still be innovative and have good metadata.)

Metadata is a very structured type of language and all language shapes how we talk and think about life (at least in my opinion). Check out this incredibly interesting article on different languages and different realities. It’s interesting even if you aren’t a language geek, really, and something to keep in mind when you are writing for your library or posting signage.

In the midst of lots of reading for my research, I like to take breaks to read fiction, pop non-fiction, and assorted “popcorn” books as my friend, Hanna, calls them. One of the books I’m currently reading is The Power of a Positive No because, quite frankly, I’m really, really bad at saying no to people. So far the book is quite good and I’m looking forward to implementing some of the techniques the next time my gut reaction is to say no, but I’m waffling because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Find out a little bit about the concept through Lifehacker’s article on how to use the power of a positive no. Yet another example of the power of language and the difference between saying no without destroying the other person and saying no in a way that hurts people’s feelings (and makes you feel guilty). Connotations and discourse matter–a key principle that my fellow young librarians need to remember as we try to improve the library world (and get more people to see technology as a tool and not the enemy).

And finally, an extra for all the students that are back in school, tools and tips for better online reading. Save yourself some eyestrain because you know you’ll be reading a lot of articles online. You can thank me later.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Friday post without something fun, so check out some of the cool new stuff over at ThinkGeek and a clip from The Big Bang Theory.

Have a wonderful weekend with lots of time for reading and relaxing (and going outside to talk to people). The Waki Librarian will be back next week.

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