:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Strategies for Keeping Current


   Even as technology makes it easier for us to gather information, the
   explosion of technology makes it harder than ever to keep up. Ten years
   ago most libraries weren't on the web. XML was born only five years
   ago. Yet both technologies are now key pieces of the foundational
   infrastructure of nearly every major library. But do the math: if you
   exited library school prior to 1993, you're toast--unless you've kept

   Awareness of new technologies and what they have to offer is one thing,
   but taking that awareness to the level of knowledge--and eventually
   experience-- is an even greater challenge. How do we maximize the
   little time we have for professional development?

   Before I share some strategies, let's acknowledge that it takes time,
   effort, and commitment to keep current. Depending on your "tech"
   comfort level, it may involve a good deal of tolerance as well. But if
   you want to use current information technologies fully to address the
   problems and opportunities that your library faces, then you must quit
   complaining and lock and load.

   Learn as you breathe
   Learn all the time without even thinking about it. We are born to
   learn, but somewhere along the way many of us pick up the idea that we
   must be taught in order to learn. We think that if someone doesn't
   stand up in front of us and talk to us with either a chalkboard or
   PowerPoint slides, we cannot learn. We must regain our sense of wonder
   and our desire to learn.

   Make strategic learning decisions
   Even if you are learning all the time, you can't learn everything.
   Luckily, there are many things that you can safely ignore. We do this
   all the time without thinking much about it, but professionally it can
   be dangerous to blow things off without first doing some investigation.

   When you hear about a new technology or issue, take a quick look and
   categorize it. My categories are "trash" (not worth my time), "monitor"
   (still in distant early warning phase, can be safely ignored for now),
   "dabble" (what's this about?), and "need to know" (I can use it in my
   job now). Revisit such categories as conditions dictate.

   Use professional filters
   Consider the old-fashioned, preweb kind of filters: people who make
   decisions about what is important. Today these include current
   awareness services, such as Current Cites, the Research Libraries
   Group's ShelfLife, and portals like Steven Bell's Keeping Up and LIS
   Feeds (which provides access to a variety of library-related,
   RSS-syndicated, current awareness services also known as web logs).
   They are all produced by professional colleagues who select items of
   interest and provide context and commentary.

   Quiz trusted colleagues
   As hard as you try, it's unlikely that you'll ever know as much about
   most technical topics as some of your colleagues. If you have passing
   acquaintance (or better) with your local technology experts, ask them
   key questions. What is essential to know about this technology? Is it
   important now, in the near-term, further into the future, or possibly
   never? What are the three things this technology does or enables that I
   should know?

   Learn by doing
   Build prototypes and make mistakes. Prototypes can provide a better way
   to elicit feedback than a description ever could. Simply creating a
   "smoke and mirrors" prototype of HTML pages that mimics the system
   you're after can be much better than trying to explain how it should
   work. It is trite but true that you can learn a lot from your own

   Be responsible
   You are accountable for your own learning. No one is more responsible
   for your professional development than you. Don't expect the
   organization that hired you to make sure you are developing as a

   Take the necessary time
   Your place of employment owes you the time and training to do the tasks
   at hand, unless you were hired because of specific knowledge and
   skills. Beyond the requirements of the job, you must heed your calling
   as a librarian and information professional. To be effective in our
   profession you must constantly learn and retool.

   Accept that change is constant, and constant learning is the only
   reasonable response. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when
   everything you need to know about being a librarian could be learned in
   library school. Learn to thrive on change. Anticipate it, smell it out,
   and chase after it. If you do this well enough, instead of being the
   victim of change, you will be its agent. And you will be able to mold
   change to serve your public better.

                                          LINK LIST
   Current Cites
   [123] Feed Your Head: Keeping Up by
   Using RSS
   [124] Keeping Up Web Site
   LIS Feeds
   [126] ShelfLife