october 16, 2016
As I hinted in my last post, I'm off to speak at the New England Library Association 2016 conference tomorrow and Tuesday. I'll be around the conference center for a good chunk of tomorrow, but I haven't plotted out my day yet. As per usual with library conferences, there's tons going on during each time slot, so the harder thing won't be finding things to do as much as deciding between 'em.
In preparing for the panel I'll be on tomorrow, I've been thinking a lot about silos - particularly those that exist between library IT and just about everybody else, but there's so many others to tilt at, too. For instance, in my office we have a constant back-and-forth over whether or not we should spend time at monthly meetings debriefing each other on what we've individually been up to since we last convened. While I've seen these things devolve into tetchy "who's the busiest" competitions, I do think there's value in sharing our work.
The reality of it is that we seldom work together on projects or programs with more than one other person in the office, and our two-person teams have a specialization that's unique among our staff. Unless we sit around a table filling each other in, it's hard to know how any of us would know what everybody's up to at any given time. As it stands today, we've got at least five silos, exacerbated in part by the horseshoe-like layout of our office. I'm in the middle of the horseshoe, and whole weeks go by when I don't walk all the way down to one or both ends.
This siloing is just in one little office, too. This isn't between one institution and the next, or one professional subcategory (e.g., public vs. academic vs. school, etc.) and another. And I'm going to refrain from even touching a toe into the ways libraryland is siloed from all of the other lands. Why is it that we skew anti-collaborative and, I'd argue, actively desire individuation? Take the state library organizations in Massachusetts - many people in the field have a hard time knowing who does what, and how can you blame them? There are striations within striations, differences within differences, subcategories within subcategories. Is it because librarians are charged with slicing and dicing the world into categories and classifications? Or is it because we're a bunch of recovering introverts who really just need to chill?
Long story short, I'm going to take a stand against silos at NELA and try to break away from the usual technologically-oriented programming I tend to gravitate towards at conferences. Librarianship is a many-splendored thing, and conference tracks are yet another silo. I made the shift from academic to public years ago; I might find myself reversing flow, or taking an entirely different path, either in terms of library type or in terms of responsibilities and focus. And in the meantime, I think IT folks need to be embedded everywhere they can be. To manage websites, to set up equipment, to contract with vendors, to proactively problem-solve, to hold steady in an ever-changing environment with a demanding user base - we gotta step out from the cubicles in the basement already.
Also, I get bored with my narrow world from time to time. Doesn't everyone? I want my focus disrupted and challenged; I want my mind blown every now and again. Maybe I won't encounter anything quite so superlative at NELA, but there'll be hundreds of perspectives that aren't mine on offer for a few days, and that means a chance to think and work alongside people from beyond the usual walls...
...well, we'll be within the walls of New England. But that's still way more space than I usually get to consider.