Technology, Reflection, and the Good Life

slide to power off

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania went on a social media blackout this week starting Monday in order to get students thinking about their use of technology in their lives. This seems like a very interesting experiment, especially for a technology school. Depending on how it is executed it could be an educational success or a failure in which students are simply trying to thwart the university’s efforts.

Whatever the outcome, I like the sentiment behind this experiment. As librarians and educators we should be teaching students to be thoughtful, reflective individuals and to integrate technology meaningfully into their life. These skill are integrally tied to information literacy and are ones that they will desperately need as connected citizens in this society.

The value of digital fasts such as the one at Harrisburg are debatable (found via Librarian By Day). As we all know email can pile up, and important messages could be missed. Steven Bell suggests that simply taking time occasionally to power down and leave the screen for a while can be useful for reflection and rejuvenation. Like anything, I feel that it is best to maintain balance. Completely shutting down for a week and then playing catch up will have you stressed that whole week.

We realize that there is value in disconnecting sometimes. I recently started reading the book Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. Powers draws on philosophers of the past to gain practical insights into our present technological age (ironically I’m reading this book on my iPad which is another piece of connected digital technology). He says that in order to make meaning of our digital interactions we need to create gaps in between them for reflection. These gaps allow for “epiphanies, insights, and joys.”

This makes sense. This has happened in my life and happens to everyone. My colleague Sarah is constantly talking about the great ideas that she comes up with in the shower. Periods of reflection allow us to create meaning. But do students feel the same way? Do they see the value in unplugging and taking time for reflection? In one of our information literacy classes at Champlain College we devote time to this. We talk about how research is not just finding information and throwing it all together. It is necessary to take time to think about how different pieces fit together and what your next steps will be. We actually give students five minutes to reflect in class. I like this lesson and want to flesh it out more and improve on it.

We don’t have all the answers ourselves as professionals. Some of us over-tweet, are buried in emails and are constantly re-acting when we should be acting. I don’t think a social media blackout is the answer for everyone, but I do appreciate additional attention to this issue. We should be creating more dialogue on our campus that discuss this issue of technology, reflection, and the good life. Librarians could be thoughtful leaders in these discussions.


Reflections on Two Years as a Librarian

andy holding up the number 2

Today marks my second full year as a librarian and I’m still in love with this profession. My job is to assist people who are curious like me, people who want to learn, and I get paid for it! There have been a fair amount of changes around here recently, like the fact that we’re getting a new librarian, but it keeps things fresh. I posted at this time last year a few reflections and am still learning things, so I wanted to post some lessons I’ve learned this year.

  • Go with the flow – Sometimes things are going really great. You sometimes come across one of those moments that make it all worth it. Other times everything seems to get fouled up, or everything hits your desk at once and you get overwhelmed. This is true in any career and in life. Don’t dwell on failures because they’ll soon turn around. You’ll learn from your mistakes and be successful. On the flip side, don’t get too caught up with your successes or start boasting when things are going well. You don’t stay on top forever. There are lots of highs and lows in your career. Enjoy the good times and learn from the bad ones.
  • Give back – If you want your job to exist in 5, 10, or 20 years give back to the profession. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and join an ALA committee (though that’s an option). It does mean to give back in a way that’s meaningful and works for you. I helped organize a virtual version of the ACRL New England Chapter conference for Vermont librarians who couldn’t make the actual one. It was a great learning experience for me, benefited other librarians and the organization, and was a lot of fun. Giving back could mean presenting at conferences cool ideas your library has tried, it could mean mentoring a younger librarian or MLIS student, or it could mean volunteering with your local library association. With our actions we’re creating the future of librarianship; make sure you have a say in that future.
  • You can’t do everything – This one is especially hard for me to remember since my interests are really varied and I love trying new things. But sometimes you have to drop things. This goes for libraries in general as well as each of us in our personal careers. You can’t serve on every committee, take on every interesting project, write every paper, or teach every class. The same goes with libraries. They can’t try to be all things to all people. Once you start getting overwhelmed and stretched thin you have to think about what you can drop. Take time to reflect on what’s important to you and your career and concentrate on that.

I’m still a new librarian and am constantly learning. But I don’t think I can get away with saying, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know, I’m new,” anymore. This year’s been a good one personally and professionally. Now I have to look forward to year number three.


Sink Deep Into Your Mind

Sink deep into your mind, and all the answers you shall find.

A couple weeks ago when I was down in our stacks I noticed that someone had written the above message on one of the signs telling you which call numbered books are where. Apart from it being a cute little saying I read more into it. I took it as meaning that the real answers are not simply out there in a book or on the web. To get to the real answers you need to sink deep into your mind and reflect.

These real answers come when you actually reflect and think more deeply on bits of information you’ve found. How does this information connect to me personally and what I already know? What is the significance of this information? Does this look like anything else I’ve seen and can I connect it to another piece of information?

The web is great for getting answers. Who wrote Jenny (867-5309)? You can settle a bet at a bar. You can get information from the web, libraries, TV, friends, anywhere. But libraries in specific are good environments to get to those real answers, those deeper answers.

I was helping a student last week come up with a topic for how she could connect her major (business) to the constitution. We did a little searching online, but then we decided to go down to the stacks to the section on business ethics. There we thumbed through a few books. I asked some questions and suggested a number of different things topics or ideas that I found. We eventually hit on social responsibility and business and the student seemed pretty excited about it as a topic.

Librarians are good at connecting people not just to information, but information that has meaning to them. We provide guidance and another perspective. Going to the business ethics section was simply another approach to the problem. In addition, the library purposely creates a space where people can “seek deep into their mind” and be reflective.

Google is good at getting us facts. Libraries and librarians assist people in creating answers  from those facts that have personal meaning to them.