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

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