Re-blog: Reflections on content overload and self-filtering

Re-blogged from Bookmouse

This a response to Ernesto Priego’s post, which is one of the best and wisest things I’ve read for a while. Please read his post before you read mine, which is but a poor reflection, and a bit of a mind dump, so please excuse waffle and bad syntax but not foolishness.

Reading Ernesto’s post, I thought again about giving up this blog, but then I thought, no, it is my voice. It is where I share what (for good or ill) would not otherwise be shared. I’m thinking of @PatientAsPaper, #chronicLife, etc. Patients’ views need to be heard. I could share elsewhere, on Facebook we have the Somerville Foundation page where lots of CHD-related sharing goes on, but some sharing needs to go outside the “echo chamber” (as we used to say in Library Land). Sometimes, I need to write to at least attempt to be heard, because I can’t speak, or I don’t want to, or I think it’s good to let other people know I go through these things too – I like to feel like I’m doing my bit for patient solidarity and support because I don’t do much of that offline.

Of course, this is all my way of justifying the continuation of my online ramblings, most of which aren’t even about my experience as a patient! But I do try to filter. I’ve recently removed (literally) hundreds of posts from this blog because they were there like a millstone around my virtual neck – I actually felt them weighing me down – adding to the content overload which I, too, feel overwhelmed by even as I add to the problem, typing some more letters, words, paragraphs, waffle, to add to the overfed monster that is social media.

I returned to Facebook fairly recently, after a few years’ hiatus, and this hasn’t helped, but actually I find it easier to filter Facebook than Twitter, partly because of the changes to Twitter Ernesto talks about – it is a bit ‘all or nothing’, whereas Facebook, though clearly evil, has grades of filtration. And, yes, I think it [social media] is evil, or at least partly so – we are making ourselves both the marketeers and the marketed – the consumers and the commodities, even as we preach against such things. As Ernesto says, I think part of this is due to the fear of missing out, especially in a professional context:

Fear of missing out means many of us feel we need to keep an eye on social media to be mildly aware of what’s happening in our fields and in the world, but the illusion created by what looks like everyone actively broadcasting how hard they are at work (or having fun taking planes to exotic conference destinations) can also have a paralyzing effect.

This may particularly apply to librarians and other information professionals who may feel (or it may actually be) that part of their job is to engage with it, and yes, Ernesto is also right about the self-filtering/accompanying professional anxiety. I don’t know how we get round this, apart from to self-filter more, but even if you cut out all the dross [how?] the anxiety would still be there. And also, who decides what is dross? Is it ethical to cut out (‘harmless’) dross on a supposedly democratic platform? Who decides what is harmless? Etc. [One of] the problem[s] with social media is that it is both tremendously subjective and in everyone’s* faces [*yes, I am also aware of the digital divide, don’t worry]. People are consuming other people’s lives like never before – and we the marketeers/consumers want them to do it.

It’s like a new form of social evolution/survival of the fittest – there is a pressure to be [seen] as the best – who takes the best pictures [Instagram], who has the cutest kids/makes the best cakes/has the most friends [Facebook], who has the most readers [WordPress] – the rise of ‘click bait’, even on the BBC News website for pity’s sake, illustrates such things quite well. There isn’t necessarily a prize (except possibly for advertisers) if you win – but it’s the feeling we want – the high of a jump in stats or likes or admirers.

I want to get excited by new forms of social media, but now I just feel overwhelmed. Like Ernesto, I’ve been at this lark for a long time. I do feel old now (even though I’m not yet 40), and a bit behind and a bit lost these days; partly because I feel unable to filter as I used to (see Twitter changes, dumbing down of the BBC website, etc.). I feel bombarded and bored and the same time, but, conversely and paradoxically (and hypocritically), I want to enter into the mix and have people read my content. But why? Why do I want to be a commodity? Because I want to be be heard, I want to feel important and valued. I want to be a survivor in the mad world of the web. To take a more benign view, I want to continue creating: to create is to be human, it is said.

I’m not sure what the answer to Ernesto’s questions are. I think we do have a responsibility as users to filter and self-filter, and to try and take a step back from social media sometimes, to critically assess both it and how we use it. As users/creators/consumers of social we are ultimately responsible for its content – we are the transmitters and the receivers of the messages that are sent and our fate is in our own hands.

I’m still here…

…just surrounded by piles of new books, so you can’t see me. Yes, it’s that time of year again – it has been for a while, really . All the orders have now been placed, but we’ve still got loads of invoices to pay, and plenty of new books and the odd non-book item to process and catalogue. It’s been busy, to say the least, and will continue to be so for a good while yet – even after we’ve finished with all the new acquisitions we have to deal with a couple of large collections of books arriving from other parts of the university and quite a few run-of-the-mill donations. So much for it being ‘the quiet time of year’!

Other things:

  • The social media group have completed our evaluation report and we’re continuing with the Twitter account, although we’ve yet to receive an official response from library management.
  • I’ve been doing quite a bit of editing/updating of the library’s webpages – mainly adding items to the news box!

Who or what is a “professional librarian”?

This post is sort of in response to Tina Reynolds’ post about professionalism, which was pointed out to me by @ijclark. It is a bit of a delayed response – sorry about that – but I have been gathering information (aka emailing colleagues and looking at Twitter).

When thinking about professionalism and what it means whether in a library/information context or not, the first problem that becomes apparent is that people disagree about the definition of the word “professional”, never mind about who or what a “library professional” is. For example, one of my colleagues thinks that the definition of a “professional”  is someone who has to do continuing professional development (CPD) activities outside of  the workplace; for example, teachers, doctors, lawyers and pharmacists. Some people think that a professional is someone who is qualified in a particular field. In my experience this definition is the one most often used in the field of library and information work; if you have a qualification in library/information studies (e.g. degree or diploma) you’re usually considered to be a “professional librarian”. However, there are others, and I am one of them, who think that the definition of a professional person (in any field) is someone who works in that field; so a postman is just as professional as a lawyer, and a library assistant is as professional as the Head of Library Services.

So, I disagree with Tina. I don’t think you have to do any of the things on her list in order to be a professional – but that is mainly because I have quite a different idea of what “professional” actually means.

If we take what seems to be the majority view, which is that a professional librarian is someone with a qualification (usually, but not always, postgraduate) in librarianship/information science/management this presents us with several difficulties.

Firstly, as a couple of colleagues have pointed out, separating people into “professionals” and “others” (however this is defined) is potentially divisive and “not being on our own side”. It creates a hierarchy (or at least the idea of a hierarchy) where there doesn’t need to be one. I have a postgraduate degree in LIS, and I’m chartered, but this doesn’t make me a better librarian than my colleague who sits opposite me who has no qualifications and isn’t chartered. I know being “professional” isn’t necessarily about being better, but the connotations of superiority are there, whether we like it or not. I would argue that Tina’s post (perhaps inadvertently) highlights this. Something that upsets me is when my colleagues automatically think that either I’m better at the job than they are because I’m qualified (this has happened!).  Having an LIS qualification does not make me better at anything than anyone else, it just means I wrote some essays and got a piece of paper to prove it. By the way, my colleague who sits opposite me is doing the same level of role as me, which leads me on to my next point…

When is a professional not a professional? If we take the generally agreed definition of “professional librarian” (see above), I am a professional. However, I am not in a “professional” post (by which I mean that I don’t have to have a LIS qualification to be eligible for the post). Am I still a professional? Is my unqualified colleague a professional if one day she is, due to her skills and experience, accepted for a what is considered to be professional role, despite not having a qualification?

It seems to me that it is not being in a particular role, or at a particular level, or having a particular qualification, that makes someone a professional. To paraphrase another colleague, some people who are technically “professionals” can be very unprofessional, whereas some people who are not considered to be “professionals” can be very professional in their work. People I know who are actually the best at their jobs, at being “professional”, have no qualifications, don’t network, don’t do CPD, don’t read “professional literature”, etc. They just know their stuff and know how to deal with people – which is a lot of what librarianship is about. 

In my view, anyone who has a job is a professional, and that’s the end of it. To answer Tina’s question, “Should I accept that librarianship is just a job?”, well, yes, because that’s what it is, the same as any profession (except perhaps the caring professions (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.)) where you arguably need a greater sense of vocation to do the job well), and no better or worse for it.

And then there’s the word “librarian”. There is much confusion about who a librarian actually is. Technically, I’m not a librarian (this word is not in my job title), but to anyone who doesn’t work in libraries, I am. To a student, everyone in our office is a librarian, even though less than half of us have “librarian” in our job titles. In some places, you can be a librarian without having a qualification, in others you can’t be a senior library assistant without one, so, again, there is potential for confusion and inconsistency of thought and practice across the LIS sector.

I like my colleague’s neat summary of the situation:

Anyone who works in a library is a librarian. Anyone who gets paid (or underpaid …) for working hard is a professional.

Working group updates

I thought it was about time I wrote something more about the work of the groups I’ve been part of during this academic year. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m currently in a group looking at using new technologies to communicate with our users/stakeholders, and also I was a member of the group tasked with looking at the use of space in the library building.

This latter group (known here as the Space Group) has now been disbanded, because we’ve now finished the projects we were asked to complete. We were asked to plan and implement a new ‘model’ creative space in the library, as well as extended the quiet study area. The creative space didn’t present us with too many problems, although our original suggestions of where to have this space and what to do with it in terms of decor were mostly rejected by the management team, so we ended up being told where to put the space and the implementation of the new creative space really just consisted of getting furniture moved round. When we first set up the space, it  looked more inviting and conducive to group and creative work, and we saw people using the space for this purpose, which was gratifying. However, since then, the space has been used for lectures, so all the furniture has been moved and not put back how we originally wanted it to be set out, so the “creative” space has really become no different from any of the other areas of the library.

The quiet study area presented us with a few more problems. As with the creative space, our original suggestions of where to situate the extended quiet study area were eventually rejected,  and we were asked to make the whole of one floor a quiet study area. This has presented various problems, not least there being a massive (deliberate) hole between a noisy floor and the quiet floor, so it’s impossible to keep the quiet area quiet, although as more people have got used to the space being a designated quiet zone it has got progressively quieter and, on the whole, easier to manage.

Although the group was asked to disband, we were then asked to evaluate the use of the space and how well we think we completed the tasks we were set. So, for the past few weeks library staff have been counting how many have been using the quiet zone, and the group have asked for and recorded feedback from library staff. Really, we needed to have a better mechanism in place for evaluating how the space is being used and also for getting feedback from students, but time and resources did not allow for this. So, we will present our report to the library managers and see what happens then.

The communication group is continuing, and things, on the whole, are going quite well. The number of followers of our Twitter feed continues to grow, and the university bookshop now has its own Twitter account as well. The library’s Twitter feed has proved really useful for informing people about various problems we’ve unfortunately experienced over the past few months, and for communicating with people who might not otherwise have engaged with library services. The pilot of the Twitter account has been extended until Easter, when we will need to submit our evaluation document to the library managers. We (well, our chairperson, mainly) have been gathering both quantitative and qualitative evidence in preparation for this, and I have foolishly volunteered to draft the report.

Since late last year, I’ve again become a member of the group that looks after documentation (printed guides and leaflets) and the library webpages. I’ve had some training on SharePoint Designer, and recently I’ve been re-getting to grips with making changes to web pages and adding items to the library news box.  We’re planning some changes to the library web site which should (hopefully) make it easier for people to find information, so I’m looking forward to seeing those come to fruition.

In other news, I have 90 boxes of donated books to catalogue – but only once I haven’t got anything else to do…so it could be a while before they get done…

A short update

Well, we had our feedback about the communications group’s social media strategy. I suppose it could have been worse, but it wasn’t resoundingly positive. We have to explain more about why we think we need to use social media (as opposed to other forms of communication, I think), and also more about the practicalities of using the tools, such as how long it would take to set things up and administer them. This latter is particularly annoying, as we deliberately didn’t put things about practicalities into the strategy as they didn’t seem ‘strategic’ enough. Oh, well. The good news is that we’re allowed to start trialling the use of Twitter at the beginning of the next academic year.

In case I haven’t already recorded this (which I may well have done), the managers’ feedback regarding our proposals for the use of space in the library was also rather mixed. They liked some of our ideas for the creation of more silent study space, although we’re not allowed to do any interior decoration (e.g. to differentiate zones using colour), but wanted more detail about exactly where furniture would be moved to and from, and disagreed with a few other suggestions we’d made. However, regarding the ‘creative zone’, they said they didn’t think the area we’d chosen for this was suitable, so we will have to start working on this again scratch (well, almost), which is rather annoying.

Cataloguing-wise, the first batch of donated theology books has arrived. There are nine crates, which is plenty for me to be getting on with. Also, lots of freshly-ordered music CDs and DVDs are waiting to be catalogued, so I have quite enough to do at the moment. This is a good thing.

Thing 19: Catch up on integrating ‘things’

A look at how I’ve been integrating the ‘things’ I’ve learned about into my professional life…or not. Thing 18 will follow at some point!


I’m continuing to blog here (obviously), mainly about the 23 Things, and over at my other blog, mainly not about work. I still haven’t been all that good at reading other library-related blogs, apart from the ones I follow using iGoogle.

Current awareness (Twitter, RSS feeds, Pushnote)

I still use Twitter, but mainly just for tweeting my own blog posts. I’m still not very good at tweeting on a regular basis, and, as we’re still not allowed to use Twitter for official work purposes, I don’t use it for official work-related things. I’m still finding it useful for current awareness, and I’ll try and get better at contributing my own tweets.

As mentioned above, I’m still following various library/information blogs using RSS feeds through iGoogle.


Evernote is still proving to be a really useful tool, although I mainly use it for non-work purposes. I’ve found it helpful for writing draft blog posts, or just noting down ideas for posts, and for keeping people’s contact details and bookmarking websites, among other things.

Referencing tools

I haven’t needed to use RefWorks since I did the ‘thing’ about it! I’m sure its time will come, though.

Thing 4: Current awareness – Twitter, RSS and Pushnote

I’m not really very good at current awareness in general, but I have found Twitter very useful in this respect. I think I’ve found out more about what’s going on in the library world via Twitter than anything else. I’ve even found Twitter useful for finding out what’s going on in other departments within my own library in the past, which probably tells you all you need to know about communication in my curent workplace!

I first joined Twitter when I was doing my chartership, but I didn’t follow many people and wasn’t entirely sure what the point of it was. I didn’t use it much at all for a while after that, but then got back into it, started following more people and found a whole load of enthusiastic library-types whose tweets give me  a peek into the libray world outside my own small shiny learning centre-shaped bubble. It’s via Twitter that I learned about the 23 Things for CPD, Library Day in the Life and various other helpful and/or interesting things.

I probably still don’t use Twitter to its full potential. I don’t Tweet much, apart from advertising my blog posts (shameless self-promotion, but never mind), mainly because I still don’t feel I have anything much to say. I’m not really involved in anything library-related outside of my day-to-day work, and although I take an interest in such things I don’t have a lot to say about them. Words are not my strong suit, generally.

Un-library-related, I’ve found Twitter really useful for keeping track of trains (‘scuse the pun) by following @NRE_Southeastrn and having the tweets sent to my mobile, especially during the snow.

I read a lot of RSS feeds, mainly blogs, via iGoogle. I read some blogs not related to libraries, and a few library blogs, including those listed in my blogroll. I’ve just added the feed of all the 23 Things participants’  blogs. (Thanks Annie). I also get RSS feeds from job sites like  LISJobnet.

I’ve  never used Pushnote, and I don’t really want to sign up to it as I don’t think it’s something I would use. I know that’s a bit unadventurous of me, but I think I’m signed up to enough things already!

Just quickly

Just a quick post to say that I have actually done some stuff for my chartership this week. I’ve been categorising pieces of evidence for my portfolio using the assessment criteria and filing it both digitally and in hard copy. I’ve also finished writing my record of training courses, etc. and have started writing up my log of communications with my mentor. It’s not much, but it’s made me feel a bit better and a bit more on track.

Meanwhile, I’ve been applying for a revised version of my own job,  as our department within Library Services  is currently undergoing restructuring. It’s quite difficult to try and sell yourself to your own line managers, especially when you are not feeling particularly confident that you can do your own job as it currently is, without the additional responsibilities that may come with the new version of it. I think I’ve finished my application now, although I suspect it will change again before Wednesday, when it has to be handed in. Anyway, it’s been a useful experience to have to think about what it is I actually do and what skills and knowledge I need to do it.

This week I also observed and participated in the CILIP 2.0 – CILIP Council Open Session on Web 2.0 via Twitter.  It was an interesting experience! Lots of ideas good, bad and just quite strange, being floated around. I think I need  to go back and read the live blog to try to digest what was said.