Creativity, Innovation, and Evolution in Publications

July 8, 2010

I’m not among those who feels compelled to worry about the future of magazines and newspapers. The way we share information in print and online is evolving so quickly that discussions of the future can’t possibly keep up with the reality of current innovations.

Attending the semi-annual meeting of the American Libraries magazine Advisory Committee while I was in Washington, D.C. for the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference last week helped bring a lot of the picture into focus for me. Editor and Publisher Leonard Kniffel and his colleagues provided an intriguing summary of what they’ve been sharing with the magazine’s readers over the past year: a print publication which has been seamlessly interwoven with an online presence including featured videos, a photo gallery, and archives of the print editions and digital supplements; a readership that is responding well to a variety of information resources including the print and online versions of American Libraries; a weekly online publication—American Libraries (AL) Direct—which provides dozens of summaries and links to articles of interest to the more than 60,000 members of the American Library Association; an editor’s blog that is an integral part of the mix; and a growing appreciation for print articles which tackle larger themes rather than focusing on the sort of breaking news items which are more effectively disseminated via the online resources.

The result is a family—in the best sense of the word—of offerings that serve as a focal point for Association members and others interested in the state of libraries. It’s an early 21st-century version of the old local newspaper as center of a community, but serving a much larger and geography dispersed population than small-town papers ever imagined reaching.

I think Kniffel and his colleagues are doing a great job of drawing from the publication’s best traditions while taking advantage of opportunities offered by online resources. Articles which begin online can find their way—in revised versions—onto the pages of the print publication which, in turn, is posted online to reach an even larger audience than would have been possible a few years ago. Thematic publications, in the form of magazine-length digital supplements, give readers even more opportunities to explore issues of interest to them. And the creative use of eye-catching and easy-to-read design makes the offerings visually as well as intellectually appealing—an aspect of publication that is all too often ignored in a world where thoughts and imagery are extremely ephemeral.

While members of the American Libraries Advisory Committee spent little time during their meeting discussing articles and presentations on the state of magazines and publishing, their conversations implicitly acknowledged many of the innovations receiving attention in a variety of venues. The 2009 TED talk about a Polish newspaper designer’s innovative efforts to make each issue of his publication an event for readers is not far from what American Libraries accomplishes through its digital supplements and its annual print edition dedicated to innovations and achievements in library architecture. James Fallow’s article in the June 2010 issue of The Atlantic magazine“How to Save the News”—about how Google is supporting the evolution of newspapers is consistent with the moves American Libraries has already made to be present where readers are congregating rather than bemoaning the loss of print-publication readers to online sources. And Clay Shirky’s thoughtful presentation and discussion on “Internet Issues Facing Newspapers” explores new models for publications which American Libraries appears to be embracing.

Because our newspapers and magazines have—far longer than any of us have been alive—served as centers of the communities they serve, we have a vested interest in being sure that they continue to meet our needs and that we continue to support them through our patronage. It’s clear to me that their evolving onsite-online formats connected to print counterparts are continuing to reflect, support, nourish, and even help create new communities of interest, and those who are mourning their loss are simply not paying attention to the underlying health that print and online entities like American Libraries are displaying as they continue to evolve to meet their readers’ needs.


Pew Report on Millennials: A Generation of Learners?

February 28, 2010

Trainer-teacher-learners who took the time to read the Pew Research Center’s fabulous new report (Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next) when it was released a few days ago found plenty of cause for joy.

The opening lines of the executive summary suggest that members of this group—born after 1980 and currently 18 to 29 years old—“are on track to become the most educated generation in American history,” and the wonderfully nuanced report helps the rest of us understand why this may come to pass.

This trend, according to those who produced Millennials, can easily be explained as one “driven largely by the demands of  a modern knowledge-based economy, but most likely accelerated in recent years by the millions of 20-somethings enrolling in graduate schools, colleges or community colleges in part because they can’t find a job” (pp. 2-3 of the full report).

The report is balanced enough to note that the situation for Millennials may still change: “Millennials have not yet matched the educational attainment of Gen Xers. So far, 19% are college graduated compared with 35% of Gen Xers. About four-in-ten Millennials are still in school,” and “30% of those not in school say they plan to go back to earn a college degree” (p. 40)—a situation which could evolve as Millennials face the same challenges many of their predecessors faced when trying to implement their best laid plans.

Obstacles they currently face include “too little money and too little time,” yet only “14% say they are not attending school because they don’t need more education” (p. 43). Their challenges have also been well documented in an article recently published in The Atlantic (“How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America”).

So what we’re seeing is a trainer-teacher-learner’s dream: a new group of employees and prospective employees attempting to enter the workforce with a firm recognition of and commitment to the importance of education; a highly educated and motivated group that remains optimistic in spite of some of the worst challenges to face young workers in decades; and a group that is going to keep the rest of us on our toes if we want to be able to serve them effectively to take advantage of all they appear to be willing to offer us and the organizations we support. It looks as if we, too, have challenges to which we must rise.


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 2 of 2)

February 15, 2010

“Many…won’t be able to simply pick up where they left off when growth returns—they’ll need to retrain and find new careers,” Deputy Managing Editor Don Peck tells us in his thought-provoking, in-depth, and beautifully written article “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” which appears in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic and on the magazine’s online site.

There will be new jobs, he predicts—“But many will have different skill requirements than the old ones.”

Which is awful news for those who thought they were finished learning after they graduated from high school. Or college. Or finished earning a Master’s degree. Or a second or third Master’s degree. But for trainer-teacher-learners, this is nothing if not an absolute calling to rise to the challenges of our profession.

It’s been clear to a lot of us that learning has been a life-long necessity for many years now. That’s why we spend so much time continuing to hone our own skills, attend workshops, and occasionally return to more formal academic programs at times when our predecessors were reaching the peaks of their careers or even winding down in anticipation of retirement.

What Peck does masterfully is take a relatively long view of jobs and joblessness stretching from the Great Depression to the current devastating recession, catching us up on sources ranging from Mirra Komarovsky—a sociologist whose work on the Depression included The Unemployed Man and His Family—to Gary Burtless from the Brookings Institution, who is quoted as saying that “every time someone’s laid off now, they need to start over. They don’t even know what industry they’ll be in next.” And in the course of his explorations, Peck indirectly reminds us that the need for first-rate trainer-teacher-learners is far from limited to times of economic distress: “the recession has merely intensified a long-standing trend,” he writes. “Broadly speaking, the service sector, which employs relatively more women, is growing, while manufacturing, which employs relatively more men, is shrinking.” If we’re not there to provide training and support for those in what we all-too-dispassionately call “transition,” we’re missing a life-changing opportunity to make significant contributions to the communities we serve.

Peck seems to be thinking globally when he concludes that we “are living through a slow-motion social catastrophe, one which could stain our culture and weaken our nation for many, many years to come. We have a civic—and indeed a moral—responsibility to do everything in our power to stop it now, before it gets worse.” And if those of us with training-teaching-learning skills take that message to heart, we can be part of a much needed solution.

Which brings us back to the experience that inspired this two-part article: by continually educating ourselves, exploring new tools which become available to us, and sharing what we learn through online social networking tools including Google Buzz, we contribute to and help develop the communities of learning we so desperately need.


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 1 of 2)

February 13, 2010

Being the pseudo-troglodyte that I am, I have not joined Facebook, Twitter, or any number of social networking services that friends and colleagues enjoy on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’ve found LinkedIn, Ning, and a few other tools to be tremendously effective for what I value: using online tools as tools rather than letting them demand minutes and hours I simply cannot spare.

Google, this week, shifted my thinking a bit by pushing a new free and easy-to-use add-on into my Gmail account: Google Buzz. It turns out to be an interesting variation on the theme of microblogging a la Twitter and LinkedIn updates by allowing participants to connect to each other very easily through the posting of short messages back and forth over a shared network.

What really drew me to experiment with Buzz over the first few days of its existence was the realization that I could view—or not view—Buzz entries as time and desire allowed. Friends who use Twitter tell me that if I don’t want to check for updates frequently and respond rapidly, there’s really no point in using Twitter; Buzz, on the other hand, approaches me as I love being approached: it’s available, but not demanding.

Twitter, on its own website, bills itself as “a real-time information network powered by people all over the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now…[w]hether it’s breaking news, a local traffic jam, a deal at your favorite shop or a funny pick-me-up from a friend.” The result is that users post an overwhelming amount of personal information which can quickly drown readers in minutiae.

Facebook clearly provides a playfully social gathering place for people looking for the online equivalent of the “third place” away from home and work that Ray Oldenburg described so well in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community more than 20 years ago. With the online Facebook community comes an expectation that responses from community members will be swift and plentiful.

LinkedIn offers a relatively unobtrusive business- and career-oriented variation on the theme, serving as a way to “find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.” Controlling the flow of incoming information is easy to manage, which is one of its most attractive features for me.

And now we reach Buzz, which attempts to provide a way to “start conversations about the things you find interesting,” according to the introductory video posted by Google. It’s already clear that much of the information overload seen through other microblogging tools is possible, and it’s equally clear that its success as a valuable information source depends on how we all use it.

While it’s far too soon to know how it will play out, I have to admit that I’ve already been delighted with a few of the results. While several people are posting exactly the sort of personal ephemeral updates which keep me away from Twitter and Facebook, a few are exploring the possibilities of sharing useful resources along the lines of meeting notices and professional print and online resources we might otherwise overlook.

UC Berkeley E-Learning Librarian Char Booth, for example, posted a link providing information on her forthcoming book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators right at a time when I had been exploring and writing about the need for more reflection in learning. Writer-instructor-librarian Meredith Farkas initiated an exchange soliciting recommendations for “a really good book (or books) with concrete suggestions for engaging library instruction activities.” And ALA Learning colleague and co-writer Lori Reed posted a link to “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic, a fascinating article with interesting repercussions for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning.

So I’ve been Buzzed. And I’ve already absorbed that wonderful article from The Atlantic. And am now ready to Buzz others with thoughts about what that article suggests to the trainer-teacher-learners among us.

Next: What the Atlantic Article Suggests for Trainer-Teacher-Learners


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