Scrawled Down On a Cocktail Napkin

I am going through old notes, long-deleted blog posts, and various weirdly-titled docs on my hard drive to generate ideas for the blog, for work, and for whatever else may come my way. I’m a habitual note-taker, so I figure I have a lot of stuff to write about if I can just extract it from my notebooks. And also read my own writing.

I’m just getting started, but I wanted to share a couple of things I scrawled down during the 2016 Computers In Libraries conference. These are both good guiding credos for this site moving forward.

1. Always communicate your value. It is not self-evident.

I had a colleague once complain to me that I shouldn’t have to justify the costs of research databases in our budget because everyone knows how important they are. But that’s not true. Every librarian knows that, but we are not everyone. We are not our users and we are not our stakeholders. We cannot assume that everyone values what we do, so we need to explain our importance in a succinct and memorable way.

2. Keep it clean and make it findable.

If there is any sort of sweeping, broad statement that we can make about our users, it is that they just want to know where they need to go to accomplish what they want to do. It is our job to make that as easy as possible. And they will expect that from us, because we communicated our value to them.

A Post About Slack That Isn’t Really About Slack

There used to be a website called Meebo. It was a web-based instant messaging system that could be integrated with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, and other IM systems. Users had the option to create their own rooms, which allowed groups of folks to chat in one place at the same time.

Meebo was a terrific little website. Then one day in 2012, Google bought it. Google integrated the Meebo team with its Google+ team, then quietly closed Meebo up.

There also used to be a website called FriendFeed. You could hook it up to all of your various social media accounts and blogs and so forth and all those accounts would feed into your FriendFeed account. You and your friends would be able to see and comment on everything you were populating the web with.

Over time, the function of collecting posts from your sundries became less important than just posting stuff directly into FriendFeed and talking with your friends and followers about it.

FriendFeed was a terrific little website. Then one day in 2009, Facebook bought it. Facebook took whatever code it needed for its Newsfeed feature and… well, let FriendFeed continue to exist. Gradually, FriendFeed began to deteriorate: features would stop working and the site would sometimes go down for awhile. For six years, FriendFeed users felt like it was not long for the world, but it only closed up shop in 2015.

Which brings me to Slack. The bureau I work for licensed Slack a couple of years ago with an eye towards improving telework. The idea our Bureau’s leadership had was that we would use Slack to get quick responses to short questions and to converse with coworkers about projects rather than bogging down inboxes with emailed conversations or interrupting a telework day with unnecessary phone calls.

At first, I didn’t really get it. I have been teleworking regularly for years, so I already had a routine down. (In other words, I’m a bit stubborn.)

And then light dawned on Marblehead: Slack is like a combination of Meebo and FriendFeed, except for work. It takes a lot of what I liked about Meebo (channels here instead of rooms) and a lot of what I liked about FriendFeed (integration with other resources, private group discussions and archived direct messaging) and packages it up for a work environment.

Granted, it lacks things I liked about Meebo and especially FriendFeed: for example, the threaded conversations in FriendFeed were unique in a way that even Slack’s threads don’t quite capture. But once I made the connections between resources I had used before to this resource, I could start to think about ways I could work it into my job.

The lesson here is that everything you have learned informs everything that you are going to learn. Just making some simple parallels can be the cognitive breakthrough you need to understand how something works and how it can work for you.

Things That Might Go Click With Me

I have to admit that my mind is a bit of a swirl right now. It’s hard to explain why yet, but perhaps I am dropping hints below. Or I am just summarizing three interesting reading materials that I recently pored through.

Tanya Golash-Boza. “Writing a Literature Review: Six Steps to Get You from Start to FinishWiley Exchanges (2015).

Golash-Boza lists steps to help dissertation writers organize and write their literature reviews. The post summarizes the literature review section of Sonja Foss and William Walters’ book Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation.

Katherine Brown and Chris Hensman (editors). “Data Driven Public Diplomacy: Progress Towards Measuring the Impact of Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting Activities (PDF)” U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: Reports (2014).

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy report names five areas of public diplomacy evaluation at the U.S. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors that need to be changed and makes recommendations on how to modernize and systemize evaluation in those areas.

Kylie Hutchinson. “The Demise of the Lengthy Report.” AEA365 (2017).

Hutchinson describes how “layering” (her term) data into different types of reporting formats, such as newsletters, infographics, presentations, et cetera, can expland the value of data, extend its reach, and replace an ominous final report. The post is a bit of a promo of Hutchinson’s new book, but it also succinctly encourages you to think about different ways to present your data to different audiences.

Where Do I Begin?

Here is as clear a mission statement for this blog as you are going to get:

Delimiter Z will explore how librarians use data to understand audiences and improve services.

What does that specifically mean? I don’t know. We’ll see.

To start, I’ve written brief summaries of a few articles and reports that have been influential in my work over the past six months or so.

Pip Christie. “Are Librarians Becoming Data Analysts?Vable (2016).

Christie points to potential opportunities librarians have to market themselves as data analysts and discusses ways to use data analysis tools to one’s advantage. Useful from the perspective of identifying ways librarians can put their skills to use in new ways.

Mahesh Kelkar, et al. “Data-driven Decision Making In Government.” Deloitte Center for Government Insights (2016).

A team from Deloitte Center for Government Insights describes best practices in U.S. government data-driven decision-making and outlines techniques government offices can use to improve their analytics capabilities. Really nice report that offers a thoughtful road map for building program evaluation capacity.

Bill Pardi. “If You Want to Be Creative, Don’t Be Data Driven.” Microsoft Design (2017).

Pardi discusses potential problems with being too reliant on data to drive decision-making. Reminiscent of Darrell Huff’s “How to Lie with Statistics.”