Thursday, September 4, 2014

Addressing the Perception Problem

This summer’s media images of colleagues, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers huddled together over three-by-four inch cell phone screens and shared ear buds during the World Cup recalled memories of sitting in the front room with my dad, brothers, and stray relatives watching Sunday afternoon football on television. CBS and ABC were the only options in rural north-central Wisconsin in the early 70’s; essentially limiting all Sunday television viewing to sports until such time as the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom made its weekly appearance. As a less than an engaged-and-willing participant, I typically inquired if we were cheering for the black team or the white team (i.e., which team was the Green Bay Packers). A question of necessity given that my family owned a 20-inch black and white television. In the excitement of the game I doubt we thought much about the size of the screen or the lack of color; instead my family was interested in the game.

Similarly the World Cup images reminded me that the need for information is paramount and that convenience
is going to trump format. That is, even though screens of once un-imagined size were displaying the matches, sports fans and patriots that were seeking information wanted it now!  In fact, so much so that they were willing to huddle at train stations and bus stops and near vending machines with complete strangers to watch the action on small screens. Or in my experience, to detour on the homeward bound commute to stand drink-less and three-deep in the doorway of Miller’s Pub on Wabash Avenue in Chicago in order to be part of the collective cheering on of the home town team. In short, a simple every-day reminder that facilitating information means tailoring it to the community.

Likewise the recent OCLC report, “At a Tipping Point: Education, Learning and Libraries” advises librarians that we need to start listening more closely to our communities. The report notes (ironically) that libraries are branded as the “book” place despite evidence that our electronic resources and services far surpass our print collections and on-site services. The research results indicate that our communities want libraries that are convenient to use, support online learning, and function as places “where work gets done.” For some reason, our users don’t seem to think this describes us!  So in short, we have a perception problem and we need to reframe our message to move us beyond the out-of-date and inaccurate “book” brand. The OCLC report warns that our survival depends on this rebranding. 

Where to start? I went back to the basics and reread The Atlas of New Librarianship. I often return to David Lankes, because well, I’ve long thought his theory about librarianship is “right” for lack of a better word. Given that, the Atlas was likely to be the place to help me come up with ideas to address the perception problem.
Book Cover Atlas of New Librarianship

Lankes reminded me that “Innovation is not a time slot, it is an attitude.” In other words, I was not going to be able to solve a “perception” problem by setting aside an hour one afternoon and getting it done! Nor was it going to be easy or comfortable. His advice: “be merciless in questioning tradition: Uphold what works and innovate or eliminate the rest.” Last and perhaps most importantly, he reminded me that innovation is not invention. Somehow that makes it all seem so much less daunting!

Academic librarians are very privileged. There is a feeling that we get a “do-over” with each fall semester. And if each fall comes with an opportunity (real or imagined) to “do it better” than I want to make sure I don’t squander the opportunity. So I have some thinking and evaluating to do. In the end I want my library to develop 21st century information skills in its users. In other words I want my users to recognize when there an information need and understand that the library has the resources and services to help them respond to the need in a scholarly and professional manner. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Considerations and recollections

Last Friday morning found me standing in the back of a garbage truck offloading Northeastern Reporters from library carts and out of dumpsters. At the Ruth Lilly Law Library we are "right sizing" our print collection; that is, among other things, reducing to and retaining one copy of this resource. It is hard to believe that at one time the law library owned as many as ten working copies of this reporter. As I worked with colleagues throwing bound volumes into the truck I experienced déjà vu of my work at the Legal Resources Centre. Dumpsters (or dustbins) seem to figure a lot in my career these days.
The memory reminded me that I needed to make a decision about this blog. I admit I have been deliberately avoiding making a decision. All transitions require time to process and I didn't want to make a decision too quickly.

There are many days that I feel I am still in transition. I've been back from South Africa for just a little over two months.The days have included a whirlwind of interesting and challenging work activities: the AALL Leadership Academy; writing an accepted book chapter and preparing a poster session on digital credentialing for AALL San Antonio with my colleagues; co-authoring a paper for the Boulder Conference; locating a publication outlet for a co-authored article on adjunct teaching (currently appears that the NYSBA is going to publish the piece--yippee--); writing a guest blog post for the RIPS Law Librarian blog; presenting at the Indiana University Librarians' Day; preparing and submitting grant applications and proposals for upcoming conferences; teaching legal research to 110 students in the summer session; orchestrating changes to the AALL Spectrum Blog; moving the last two issues of this year's AALL Spectrum to completion; coordinating a library team retreat; and generally getting caught up with my staff and the library's activities. On top of all that I decided to begin the legal informatics certificate and pitch my resume into pools for a select few library director openings. In short, I've spent the last two months shifting back into tenure-track academic law librarianship.

I am asked almost daily, "Do you miss South Africa?" It is a hard question to answer. I still respond to queries and provide assistance to the LRC as best I can from Indianapolis. The work was meaningful and valid. The country is beautiful. The people I met, dedicated and working hard for meaningful change. So yes, it is a place and a people I miss.

Since I've been back I've sought to find the same here. Beauty is easy to find. I arrived back in Indiana at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In our yard, the spring flowers were arriving. Daffodils, and the spring wildflowers (Purple Trilliums, Violets, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bloodroot, and Dutchman's Breeches) were beating back the polar vortex.

Spring  wild flowers, Indiana 2014

Spring wild flowers, Indiana 2014

Purple Trillium, Indiana 2014

Soon to follow the Bleeding Hearts, Forget-Me-Nots, lilacs, and now the peonies have made the long cold winter a distant memory.

Work has presented a tangent that is interesting and meaningful. I've been asked to work with the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project of the IU McKinney Program on International Human Rights. I hope to report back to George Bizos that I took his lunch table lectures to heart and helped in some very very small way on the resolution of the Guantanamo Bay prison. This project along with another article in progress should keep me occupied for a bit.

And like South Africa, we have our own wildlife. Max and Ellie Mae are determined hunters, bent on ridding our yard of anything small and furry. 

Ellie Mae on spotting duty, Spring 2014
Max on the trail, Spring 2014

So much for that grooming session.
Right-angles present themselves each day; and two-resume families are often faced with hard choices. Our most recent right-angle required the usual "5:00 am depression of the clutch of a moving truck on a Saturday morning" and the hauling of material goods up to a fourth floor walk-up in Evanston (Why is it always 5:00 am? If I knew I could change the paradigm!). For now we are splitting our furnishings and time between Chicago and Indianapolis as we involve ourselves in yet another of life's adventures to which we could not say "no."

Since life and work remain interesting I am hopeful for blog content; or perhaps I'm just delaying the end of an interesting project. Until then I hope you will keep reading. In the interim, may I recommend Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s advice in his work A Man without a Country,“Please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The park opens at 4:30 am!

During my time here in South Africa I have become quite the "hanger-on." I rarely turn down an invitation, even if the invitation starts out with "I'll pick up you up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday!" Saying yes in this case meant a weekend trip to the beautiful Mpumalanga Province in northeastern South Africa.The drive was five hours each way; with the rest of the time spent driving around in Kruger National Park.   

With only a brief coffee and re-fueling break on Saturday morning, we reached the north gate of the park around 11:00 and spent the entire day driving nearly deserted dirt roads. As usual, my photographs don't begin to due justice to the scenic beauty and the majesty of the animals.

We were a bit late to the waterhole! 

Kruger National Park is pretty rugged and wild.
The landscape was diverse and more untamed than the other reserves I have visited. We started on the grasslands, drove along the river, and roamed these rocky hills. There was a lot of rain, so I was very happy in be a large Land Rover. I was a bit worried when I saw a few small economy sized rental cars negotiating the flooded dirt roads.

 His mate and their baby were a bit too busy too come out for the photo shoot.

We were lucky enough to see a 1/2 dozen rhinos during the weekend.

The highlight was a "high noon" stand-off between a pack of wild dogs and a herd of zebras. Sightings of wild dogs are pretty rare, as there are only 120 wild dogs left in the park. The female in the foreground is wearing a tracking collar. 

We watched the ongoing negotiations and posturing for an hour. Eventually the zebras decided not to cross at this point.

As we rounded a curve in the road, we spotted a small group of elephants. The small group got larger and we decided it was in our best interests to reverse back out of their way. They decided we could have the road back after about 2 kilometers. 

We spent Saturday night in the park in a rondavel, think very cute round cabin with a reed roof.
Photo credit: Kruger National Park 

The kitchen was on the outside of the building; in locked cages to prevent the monkeys and badgers from carrying off our supplies and the kitchenware. 

When finishing dinner (which we cooked) my companion mentioned that the park opened at 4:30 a.m. Since we were three minutes from the gate, I negotiated getting up at 5:00 and leaving our room by 5:30. As a result I had to live down that our view of two rhinos was blocked by another car before the sun was even fully up.

The scenery on the drive back to Johannesburg was equally gorgeous.

Of the 38 hours that I was away from my Johannesburg apartment, I spent 26 hours in the car. Yet one more reason to be glad that it was a Land Rover!

Friday, February 28, 2014

somewhere there is a velvet monkey with 20/20 vision

On Friday, I headed off to the Eastern Cape. I had Monday-Tuesday meetings in the city of Grahamstown, so I tacked on a brief tourist weekend. 

I flew to Port Elizabeth on the eastern coast; collected my rental car and headed off. The GPS wound me through the central downtown of Port Elizabeth. Sadly, as many of South Africa's cities, the downtown was mainly cheap shops and fast food restaurants in decaying buildings. At one time, it must have been stunning. 

I headed north along the coast for a bit and got to see the ships coming into port. After passing through a number of townships and informal settlements, I reached open land. There were long periods of time during which I was the only car on the road; only to be suddenly shocked to look up and see a mining truck, taxi, or car bearing down on me at 100 km an hour. Thankfully there were lots of pull offs so I could get of the way.  

The road kept getting narrower and less traveled. The scenery was changing as I drove into the hills. I passed through hill-sides abundant with fruit bearing prickly pear cactus. The solitude of the road deterred me from pulling over and buying a few from the vendors selling them along the roadside. One of the downsides of being a solitary traveler is that you have to think cautiously. 

About 4:00 pm I passed through Addo, a place more an intersection than a town, and made the last turn towards my hotel. There was a slight drizzle which keep the dust down as I drove the last 20 km up a mountain road. I didn't think it was wise to stop and take photographs on a one-lane mountain road in the rain and oncoming twilight. Especially since there were no pull offs and no guard rails. The scenery is spectacular in that part of the country as shown in these photographs from the next morning.

I stayed at the Zurrberg Mountain Inn Village, a lodge at the top of the mountain and at the end of the road. I had an adorable cottage that had both an indoor and an outdoor shower. It also came with complementary sherry! I wasted no time, in pouring a bit and sitting on the back veranda to listen to the quiet and look at the mountains. 

The main lodge was equally lovely. The weather turned cool enough, as measured by South African standards, to put up a large fire in the fireplace. 

Oddly, despite the tropical feel, there was also a lovely rose garden.

Tansy on guard duty by the front door.

The lodge also came with two very personable dogs, Tansy and Belmont. The minute the fire place was lit, both moved in and plopped down. The only time I saw them move fast during the entire weekend was when a velvet monkey snuck in and stole fruit off the large back veranda by the pool. When I walked in the first time they were both lying on their backs with their feet in the air sleeping. They were so still that I thought perhaps some bizarre taxidermy had tipped over -- it is South Africa after all. 

Belmont felt right at home in the pool with the guests.
View from front veranda.

Road ends at hotel.
The real reason for the trip (besides work) started at 5:30 am the next morning. It was a drive through the Addo Elephant National Park. The benefit of going with a driver is that they are very knowledgeable -- I know more about dung beetles than I ever thought possible -- and they get you very close to the animals. 

The Addo Elephant National Park is a no intervention park, with one exception. The park does enhance some of the natural springs to form water holes due to the dry climate.

Although there was lots of different game, the stars of the adventure were indeed the elephants. The first guy we saw had no reluctance in expressing his impression of the paparazzi. 

An older guy hanging out by himself and on the way to the water hole.

I enjoy the scenery as much as the animals.

The start of the gang.

Although often referred to as "cattle" -- I like them! 

Afternoon gathering.
Sometime during all the excitement I lost my sunglasses and a camera lenses cap. I suppose I could say that the velvet monkeys had something to do with the loss. After all I had witnessed prior bad acts with fruit at the hotel. 

I did leave my glasses on the seat of the jeep during a quick pit stop at a rest area in the presence of these guys. But even though the tall tales are tall here, it might be just a bit much to envision a velvet monkey wearing a pair of trendy bifocal prescription sunglasses in the bush!

On Sunday I headed off to Grahamstown, home of Rhodes University. After settling in with a cup of coffee at the 137 High Street Guest House, I finished reading Rosemary Smith's incredible account of the work of the Black Sash organization in the Grahamstown and eastern cape area during apartheid. Her memoir, Swimming with Cobras, is a fascinating personal account.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I brake for deserted beaches...

Cape Town may be a mere two-hour flight from Johannesburg, but it is a different world. I took advantage of Monday-Tuesday meetings at the LRC Cape Town office, and headed for Cape Town on Friday afternoon for a long tourist weekend. 

Upon arrival, I immediately started my drive south along the coast on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. The coast road runs right along the water's edge; and the scenery is gorgeous! My destination was Boulders Beach. The beach is located just outside of Simon's Town and is home to a colony of African Penguins

Simon's Town

Boulders Beach
African Penguins
The African Penguins are an endangered species. In the early 1980s, a few pairs started nesting at Boulders Beach. The penguins are now a major tourist attraction. Despite what some might think, I voiced my intentions to visit the penguins long before Bruce Springsteen paid them a visit between his concerts in Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

They are quite clever; some have started waddling up to the B&B to nest in the garden during the night. They hop from ledge to ledge to get over the garden wall and settle in for the night. 

My B&B, Boulders Beach Lodge, was right on the beach. This gave me the opportunity to spend the evening on the balcony watching the moon rise and listening to the surf.The wind is pretty fierce and the temperature drops into the low 60s. Basically I was in heaven (just $75 US a night, full English breakfast included)!

I was so taken with the scenery, I didn't notice there wasn't television in the room until the next morning. 
On Saturday morning I hung out with the penguins until the crowds starting arriving. 

Beach parking is at a premium and the regulations ruthlessly enforced. Anyone else think the national park logo looks like a bikini top?

As I continued driving south along the coast I kept pulling over to look at the scenery. My destination was the Cape Point nature reserve which is at the southern end of the Cape Peninsula. 

I spent the day hiking the Cape Point lighthouse trail and Cape of Good Hope Scenic Walk and driving all the roads of the nature reserve. 

The "flora" was incredibly diverse.

Unlike Skellig Michael, these trails did not require clinging to the side of a cliff. I hiked (walked) up to the Cape Point lighthouse as a warm up. 

At the top, I popped into the shop for an ice cream. As usual, there was evidence of South Africa's broad view of copyright and trademark infringement.

Next I took on the Cape of Good Hope scenic walk. This was more of a scrabble than a walk; although I don't suppose "Cape of Good Hope Scenic Scrabble" would be considered appropriate signage.  

Selfie proof that I made it to the top!

The cheesy tourist photo opt! I jumped in the photo queue just as a tourist bus pulled up! Personally I don't think you should get your picture taken if you don't do the walk/scrabble.
I spent the rest of the afternoon driving the roads of the nature reserve. Along the way I discovered I have a great need for a bumper sticker that reads "I brake for deserted beaches." Since the Atlantic Ocean was a tad cool, I just touched my toes in and kept walking these endless gorgeous beaches.  

As the day passed, I learned I also braked for ostriches,


This baboon stopped two lanes of traffic when he strolled into the road, sat down, lifted a bit of pavement, and partook of his bug and grub buffet. He eventually put the lid back on the buffet and strolled on.
turtles, scorpions, chameleons, bicyclists, and tourists driving on the wrong side of road. I note proudly that for once it wasn't me!

On Sunday I continued my drive around the peninsula; heading back up the west side. There were more gorgeous beaches. 

At Scarborough, I turned to cross back over the mountain to return to Simon's Town. When you are lulled by all this natural beauty, South Africa has a way of slapping you with its reality. Just as I made a turn in a switchback, I passed the Red Hill Township. I don't engage in poverty tourism so I don't take photographs. There are some videos taken of Red Hill on YouTube if you want to see the poverty and hardship of township life

I spent Saturday evening much as I had spent Friday evening--watching the moon and the surf. On Sunday, I spent a lovely day with a family that has a home on the beach in False Bay. In False Bay the Atlantic Ocean is buffeted by the warm currents of the Indian Ocean and for the first time since arriving here in South Africa I went swimming! 

I made the return trip up the coast road to Cape Town and easily found my hotel in Green Market Square. As a major tourist destination, Cape Town is kept swept and cleaned and on-the-ground security is highly visible. 

On Monday evening, I had a a chance to take in my one and only tourist attraction in the city of Cape Town itself. I headed off to Table Mountain; since I didn't have the time to walk/hike the 2 hour climb, I road the cable car. There is a magnificent reserve on the top of the mountain that I wandered around in for 2 hours.  

Walking path. 

A not-so-shy little furry friend.
A new take on grafitti

Every view was spectacular. I loved the clouds rolling in.
On Tuesday, I dropped off "Boris" at Avis and headed home to Jo-Berg. 

Boris challenged my love of all things Italian. Although he had comfortable seating, good visibility, lots of zip, and didn't slow down with the air on, he had one major downside. The top of the steering wheel blocked my view of the speedometer. 
I hope to get back to explore the city of Cape Town. Despite its hyper-tourism feel, there are some gems I have read about that I would enjoy visiting. As Paul Theroux writes in his book, The Last Train to Zona Verde,

"Reading can also be a powerful stimulus to travel. That was the case for me from the beginning. Reading and restlessness -- dissatisfaction at home; a sourness at being indoors, and a notion that the real world was elsewhere -- made me a traveler. If the Internet were everything it is cracked up to be, we would all stay home and be brilliantly witty and insightful. Yet with so much contradictory information available, there is more reason to travel than ever before: to look closer, to dig deeper, to sort the authentic from the fake; to verify, to smell, to touch, to taste, to hear, and sometimes -- importantly -- to suffer the consequences of this curiosity."