By Meredith Farkas | October 28, 2006
Wow! What an amazing conference! I can honestly say that I didn’t go to a single bad/boring/irrelevant talk and, although I was sick and sidelined on Day 3, I got more out of this conference than any I’ve been to in the past.
I didn’t go to a lot of the social software talks because I was really interested in learning things I don’t know enough about (like institutional repositories and federated search) and learning things that I will need to think about when undertaking my library’s Website redesign this year. It’s hard sometimes to decide whether to go to what you know will be fun or whether to go to what you know will be “good for you.” For the most part, I choose to go the “broccolli and vitamins” route and was amazed that all of the talks that I went to were fun as well. The most interesting talk, by far, that I went to was Using Ethnographic Methods to Know Your Users. These librarians used anthropological methods to learn more about how students do research, how they study, how they use campus facilities, etc. And the results they got helped them to redesign their facility and their Web presence. We often make so many assumptions about how our students/patrons use library resources based on server stats, database usage stats, and basic observation. What these folks found is that many of their assumptions were false and that they really didn’t know what their students wanted from the library before doing this research. I know I’ve been guilty of making assumptions about how students do research and this really forced me to question everything I thought I knew was true (which I consider a good thing). You can find some of the documents used in their research (as well as slides from other talks they’ve given) here. Other talks that really got me thinking about how to better design our Web site were David King’s The Basics of Web-Based Experience Planning and Tom Ipri’s Delivering Individualized Library Content: Portals and the Future of Library Web Sites. But I really got something out of everything I went to.
The past two years have really been a whirlwind for me. Two years ago, I started this blog, never thinking that anyone would read it. And over the first six months that I was writing this blog, I was struggling to find a job and finding that no one was willing to give me a chance. You start to think that there is something horribly wrong with you when that happens. I just loved this profession so much and I couldn’t bear to contemplate doing something other than working in a library (though it was getting to the point where I’d have to contemplate it). Then I started the ALA Chicago Wiki and started getting more notice from people. Two months later, I finally got a job. And things just seemed to snowball from there. I was asked to write a book. I started getting asked to give talks. People e-mailed me all the time with questions about wikis and whatnot. It was baffling to go so quickly from being in a situation where no one seemed to want you to one where everyone seemed to. I’m no different than the person I was before. And at Internet Librarian, people were saying so many nice things about me, and instead of feeling good, I just kept thinking that there was no way I could live up to the hype (and, no, I am not fishing for compliments). And I think that’s how I’ve been feeling for a long time. This “why me?” feeling has led me to totally overextend myself and stress myself out more than I’ve ever been in the hopes that if I do enough, maybe I’ll feel like I deserve this. And I realize that no matter how much I do, I may never feel that way. Because, if I hadn’t started that blog or that wiki, I would never have gotten all of this recognition, and yet, I still would have been the same person. I guess it’s just the randomness of it all that gets me. No matter how much talent or ability someone might have, if the right people don’t notice you, your talent may never be recognized by others. Maybe if Jessamyn and Dorothea hadn’t commented on and pointed to my blog early on, I would have given up on it. Who knows?
I’m not sure what I’m getting at with all this. Maybe that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams. That you should be brash and fearless and make sure the “right people” notice you. That you should put yourself our there even though it may blow up in your face (it probably won’t). As for me, I need to find some balance in my life. I can’t be focused on library stuff every minute of every day. I can’t say yes to every talk I’m asked to give or everything I’m asked to write. I may never convince myself that I deserve all this recognition, so I just need to stop trying. Maybe I can just be ok with what’s going on and enjoy the ride, while still making sure I have time for my husband, my homelife and my friends. I admire Steven Cohen for his decision to stop speaking/travelling so much and put his family first. I probably need to do a bit more of that myself. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak at conferences and all that, but my husband is more important to me than any amount of money or fame or anything else. It can be really hard to find that balance between career and family, but from now on, that’s going to be my primary focus.