Information Services Today: The Consistency of Change in Our Information/Learning Landscape

April 10, 2015

Given all we read and hear every day, we could easily (and mistakenly) assume that being overwhelmed by information and a rapid technology-driven rate of change is a new phenomenon—but it’s also relatively easy to discover what a consistently-important challenge the flow of information and the pace of change has been, if we delve into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction.

Information_Services_Today--CoverWhile the entire book is—among other things—a richly rewarding exploration of the changing nature of librarianship/the work of information professionals, one important moment of change- and information-management revelation comes in Christine Pawley’s contribution (Chapter 2, “Libraries and Information Organizations: Two Centuries of Experience”) as she writes about how “new technologies lead to information overload”: “…William S. Learned noted a ‘phenomenal improvement in speed and accuracy of communication’ and complained that even the trained student finds the time required thoroughly to examine a topic in an unfamiliar field almost prohibitive”—not today, but in 1924 (Information Services Today, pp. 13-14). If we pursue this theme by revisiting Sarah Houghton’s “Being Wired or Being Tired: Ten Ways to Cope With Information Overload” (originally published online July 30, 2008 in Ariadne), we find the reminder that “As far back as the sixteenth century people were complaining about the wide range of information they had to consume in order to contribute to society.”

Flip_Your_Classroom--CoverAny of us involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries and other learning organizations viscerally know and understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by information and change. We recognize that an important component of our learning-facilitation efforts is to help learners come to terms with the changes they face within any learning opportunity. We also are struggling to find words evocative enough to describe what we do so we recognize the ever-expanding breadth and scope of our work and offer terminology that helps others understand how much what we offer has changed. And we do understand that the goal of “keeping up” with educational technology and even with the basics of how to learn in a world where the way we learn is continuing to evolve (e.g., through the flipped classroom model, through massive open online courses—MOOCs—and through innovative blended-learning opportunities) is about as easy to reach as the pot of gold at the base of a rainbow.

At a certain level, it’s somewhat comforting to read those words that Learned wrote in 1924 and that Houghton wrote in 2008: we realize that others have faced and survived the challenges we continue to face. It’s also comforting and inspiring to read those words within the context of Information Services Today’s book-length exploration of our changing learning and information landscape: we see that the nature of library collections is changing—but that has always been true. We see that the nature of libraries is changing—but that, too, has been true for many decades. We see that library users’ expectations are changing—another consistent element within the library and information services world. We see that the tech tools that information professionals use continue to evolve and that the need to continually upgrade our skills is essential—but the best of our current and former colleagues have always recognized that their work required and continues to require a commitment to lifelong learning. And I suspect many of my best training-teaching-learning colleagues in a variety of learning environments would have little argument that continual learning and a responsiveness to change are among the requirements and the pleasures of the work we do.

The theme of change is particularly apparent in Lisa Gregory and Amy Rudersdorf Information Services Today chapter on “Digital Resources.” As they discuss a digital librarian’s roles (cataloger, collector, educator, legal expert, manager, negotiator, researcher, and technologist), we see some terms that would be familiar to most librarians/information professionals as well as to many trainer-teacher-learners, and we see some terms that reflect how quickly our professions are evolving. Nowhere is the need for adaptability among all of us more apparent than in the section about technologists: “The technology skill sets needed by digital librarians are as varied as the technologies that surround us. However, most digital librarians should—at the minimum—have a basic understanding of content management systems, databases, some metadata standards, and web technologies (p. 102)”—advice that can easily guide our training-teaching-learning colleagues to greater opportunities for success.

All of this would seem to be the fodder for nightmares among those who despair of ever keeping up with the flow of information and the rate of change within our lives. But some of what we gain through contemporary learning experiences themselves is an understanding that keeping up has long required an ability to sift through what comes our way. Filtering out what is less important. Applying what we can apply. Relying on our colleagues and other members of our personal learning networks to help us fill the gaps we face. And developing what might be coined as yet another form of literacy: “information-overload literacy”—the skill and the ability to know when it’s time to step away from the flood of information and rapid pace of change long enough to relish what we have absorbed.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


The Spirit of Volunteerism (1st of 3): Sarah Houghton-Jan

June 2, 2009

 

Sarah Houghton-Jan, our wonderful Librarian in Black, has volunteered a teaching-training-learning moment so breathtakingly profound that it begs to be acknowledged before the largest possible audience.

Some of our colleagues continue to try teaching and training by the old fire-hose method: shoot a stream of lessons so strong, so relentlessly forceful, that they leave learners soaked, nearly drowning in information—an educational version of waterboarding that leaves no one unscathed. 

Sarah, on the other hand, draws us in and serves as an open and engaging partner in a teaching-training-learning process where all of us are partners, members of a community of learning. Hearing her, reading what she writes, and talking with her always brings us unexpected pleasure. When Sarah, for example, wrote a wonderfully detailed article on “Being Wired or Being Tired: 10 Ways to Cope with Information Overload” (published online in the July 2008 issue of Ariadne), she inspired many of us to carve out time we didn’t have to read the piece. And think. And breathe. The only reader who may not have benefitted from the writer’s wisdom was Sarah herself, as I noted in an article originally posted on Infoblog and reposted here on Building Creative Bridges for those who missed the original; the result of her posting was an increased number of requests from people wanting her to speak on the topic she had just covered in writing. Requests which she accepted, of course. 

Those of us who follow her work see her as an engaging and prolific writertrainerconsultant who appears inexhaustible and completely dedicated to improving everything she touches. That would be one of the many reasons why she was honored this year by Library Journal as a mover and shaker. 

But perhaps nothing will move and shake her readers more than the article she recently posted to make everyone aware of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and what it means to her and others who have it. Don’t go looking for a single word of self-pity here; that’s not what Sarah offers us, nor is it something to which she willingly succumbs. What she has voluntarily offered is free entry into the challenging world she and others among us inhabit. 

And it works.

A topic which would hold little interest for most of us suddenly becomes compelling. Understandable. And real. Because of Sarah’s writing skills. Her personality—all that makes her the person she has become. Her humanity. And her decision to share personal and painful information in the least painful of ways

In case it isn’t absolutely clear from all I’ve written here, let me be blunt: I love volunteers and the spirit of volunteerism. I work with volunteers and am an active volunteer myself. So when I see the sort of volunteerism that Sarah displays through the posting of her article, I stand in awe of all she does and all she represents. And hope that by taking the time to call additional attention to what she is teaching us, you will too.

Next: The Spirit of Volunteerism–Lori Reed


Best Practices: Sarah Houghton-Jan on “Being Wired or Being Tired”

June 2, 2009

 

Infopeople instructor and Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton-Jan has hit another home run, and it would take someone like Sarah to pull this off.

In “Being Wired or Being Tired: 10 Ways to Cope with Information Overload” (published online in the July 2008 issue of Ariadne), she produces a journal-length article of more than 6,000 words for those of us who don’t have enough time to do everything we want to do. The piece ends with 16 references for those wanting more information. And she manages to entice us into making the time to read the entire piece.

“I am still here, I am still alive, and my brain has yet to explode, so somehow I must be finding a way to make it work,” she writes at the beginning of the article, and we’re with her all the way from her brief history of information overload, through the techniques for managing overload, to her conclusion that “as information professionals, we are best equipped to recognize information overload and deal with its effects.”

There is lots of common sense here: filtering the information we receive; controlling rather than being controlled by incoming email; not feeling compelled to answer every phone call or instant message as it comes in; and having no hesitation about turning off a cell phone when interruptions will interfere with our ability to complete important tasks or be attentive during meetings.

We also find some uncommon yet easy-to-implement suggestions here for those of us congenitally afraid of cutting ourselves off from any information source: “Cancel subscriptions to periodicals you rarely read. If you do not get to read the Sunday paper until the following Saturday, that is a clear sign that you need less information,” she counsels in a section on print media overload techniques.

Nearing the end of the article, she takes us to the heart of the matter in a paragraph on balancing life and work: “If you find yourself tapping at a keyboard next to your partner on the sofa while you are watching a movie, instead of sidling up next to him or her, you may have a work/life balance problem…”

“Being Wired” is obviously resonating with readers: Sarah is receiving quite a few queries from those interested in having her speak to their groups on the topic. Which, we can only assume, is adding to her own overload while she is helping us reduce our own.

This item was originally posted on September 26,  2008 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.


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