stop worrying and use my smartphone

propaganda poster at the International Spy Museum
Darth Vader?

Yesterday I took the train up from Richmond to Washington to visit with Kathryn Greenhill and family. They’re on a whirlwind holiday spanning the globe, and since it’s not often I get to visit with folks from the other side of the world, I snatched the opportunity to spend most of the day with them.

I learned quite a few things on this visit — from vocabulary like rubbish bins and biscuits (trash cans and cookies, respectively) to how to avoid being uncovered as a secret agent. I also learned that a smartphone and a useful mobile web interface can take a lot of stress out of travel.

After visiting a farmer’s market near DuPont Circle and the Gertrude Stein exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery, we toured the International Spy Museum. The museum is enormous, with displays that bleed from one to the next and never seem to end, until suddenly you find yourself at the exit. We had been there for two hours when it occurred to me that my time was running out.

After we made our way back to the Metro stop and said our goodbyes, I had just enough time to get back to Union Station and catch my train home. Or, I would have, if I had made sure I was going the right direction on the Metro. Two stops later I realized I was on the wrong train, and I assessed my options.

By the looks of things, the correct train wasn’t going to be coming by anytime soon, so I decided to hoof it to DuPont Circle (where I landed instead of Union Station) and catch a cab. Union Station was fairly close, and the cab maybe could get me there in time. Luckily, an available cab pulled up soon after I started looking for one. Not so luckily, we ran into too much traffic and I missed the train.

Normally, this would have prompted a huge breakdown with frustration and tears directed at myself for screwing up. However, by the time we were half-way to the station, I already knew that I would miss the train (it was early and left on the dot), and that there were three more trains going to Richmond this evening, so I’d get home one way or another.

Without my smartphone, and the information it provided me, I would have had to sit in worry and self-directed anger for the long minutes it took to get from DuPont to the Amtrak ticket counter at Union Station. Knowing I had plenty of options meant that worry was unnecessary and avoidable.

My smartphone is a lot of things to me (my calendar, my communications, my social connection) and it’s also the antidote to one of my biggest stress triggers — the unknown.

a response to rewarding conference speakers

As I was sitting in a CIL2009 session that was essentially something that could have easily been a blog post with a bunch of annotated links, I wondered to myself why this was chosen to be a session over something else, and why I had chosen to attend it rather than something else. I concluded that sometimes I need to have something whack me upside the head to “get it,” and a good presentation is often the best tool to do it.

Kathryn Greenhill writes, “I suspect it’s not that I *know* it all, but that I know how to find out at point of need and that I am more likely to use my human networks than to look back at conference notes or handouts to find out.” I rely heavily on my human networks, both in person and online, to keep me informed of the things I need to know — much more so than professional literature and formal presentations. However, sometimes even those things can spark an idea or clarify something that was previously muddy in my mind. I’m happy to reap the benefits of shared information, regardless of what format is used to deliver it.

That’s all fine and good for me, someone who is only moderately on the side of information creator and more on the side of information consumer, but what about those “shovers and makers” out there who are generating new ideas and, well, shoving and making in libraryland? Greenhill notes that she has “found much, much more value hanging about talking to other presenters than in attending the formal sessions,” and she suggests that rather than cheesy speakers’ gifts, they could instead be given “something to stimulate the presenters’ brains and challenge them.”

I like the idea of this, but I also worry that it has the potential to widen the gap between creators and consumers. I benefit greatly from being able to listen in on the discussions between the speakers in LobbyCon/CarpetCon settings. And, even when I am in sessions that challenge my skill set, I am motivated to expand that skill set, or at the very least, I know more about what I don’t know. I’d rather have that than continue in ignorance.

Greenhill, along with Cindi Trainor and John Blyberg, spent many hours during Computers in Libraries secluded away while crafting The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians manifesto. The end result is available to us, but I wonder how much more we consumers would have learned by being able to listen in on the process of its creation? Isn’t that part of what the unconference movement is about?

CI 2009: Unconferences

Presenters: Steve Lawson, Stephen Francoeur, John Blyberg, and Kathryn Greenhill

KG began by asking the audience to share what questions they have about unconferences while SL took notes on a flip chart. Lots of good questions covering a variety of aspects, including all the questions I have.

Keep in mind: who ever comes are the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened; whenever it starts is the right time. Also keep in mind the law of two feet. If you are in a situation where you are neither getting nor receiving anything of value, then change that or leave.

Many people indicate that they get a lot out of the space inbetween sessions at traditional conferences, and this is what unconferences try to capture. Libraries can also host general unconferences, such as what Deschamps did in Halifax. It doesn’t have to be just library stuff.

You can’t prepare for every aspect of an unconference. You can prepare the space and request that specific people be there, but in the end, its success is based on the engagement of the participants.

Unconferences are casual. You do need to decide the level of casual, such as how much you want to borrow from traditional conference amenities and structure. Organizational sponsorships should be limited to affiliation and financial support — avoid letting them dictate what will happen.

Keynote sessions can influence the conversations that happen afterwards, so be deliberate about whether or not to have one.

The less you have to deal with money the better, and there are pros and cons to having fees. Keep the threshold low to encourage participation. Every day is a bad day for somebody, so just choose a date and time.

Tip: organize an unconference the day before or after a national conference. Folks are coming and going, and it’s easier to schedule that time in and to get institutional funding.

Make use of social software for promoting and organizing the unconference (wikis are good), and also use it for continuing the conversation.

Free as in beer, free as in kittens, and now free as in someone else is paying. Make use of the resources of the participants institutions.

Swag keeps the connection, and if you’re creative, they’re also useful. SF showed the notebooks that they handed out at LibCampNYC, which were branded versions of something like Moleskine notebooks. Hand out the swag at the beginning, along with notes about how the unconference was going to work and an outline of a schedule (if you have one).

You can build communities through unconferences that then are agile enough to continue the interaction and spontaneous gatherings.

"If you feed them they will come. If you give them liquor they will come the next time." — John Blyberg