Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Little Things and Big Questions

Usually I spend Tuesdays working on homework, and by the time the afternoon rolls around, I find inspiration for my blog. Today, however, I spent the morning on a conference call, my first one in an academic setting. I was reminded that no matter how whiz-bang fantastic a new technology is, the success or failure of its implementation/use is highly dependent on non-technological stuff, namely the environment and behavior of human beings. As an example, the conference call I participated took place in a room that had a large, donut-shaped table about a dozen feet across. The tabletop was made of finished wood, and looked great, but the hole in the middle prevented the leaders from putting the conference phone in the middle, where it would do the most good. Of the ten people present, only a few projected their voices well enough to be heard from where they sat. The rest had to take turns moving to the head of the table, and even then some were so naturally soft-spoken that remote participants had a hard time making out their words. One of the remote participants, obviously using a handset instead of a speakerphone, kept blowing her nose at very inopportune times, interrupting or completely obscuring important content. Finally, another participant tried to dial in using a cell phone, and for several minutes everything she said had an echo. I don’t know how others felt, but these distractions both tried my patience, and reminded me of the fragility of any multi-person endeavor, no matter how carefully planned and pre-tested.

Taking a step back, I have worked in a variety of jobs and environments. I have worked in a major call-center, where I was judged more by the number of calls I handled than the quality of service provided. I have worked in childcare, where every time you turn around another child’s natural needs demanded your full attention. I’ve worked on a production line for Keebler, a cog to help turn out cookies by the thousands. Every position I’ve worked has had its share of demands, busy times and slow times. But the time I’ve spent as a Graduate Assistant has been the most laid-back, evenly paced, take-the-time-to-learn-first work I have ever done. Observing reference librarians’ work, they too seem to have a bit more time to take doing their work than anything I’ve ever done. And, like one’s health, one often does not appreciate what one has until it is threatened, or gone. How do I share what I’ve learned, seen and done with other librarians? What words and/or actions can I employ that will encourage them to see that every time someone’s profession is downgraded (e.g., some forms of outsourcing, or having untrained personnel serve in Reference positions), all our professions can be called into question?

1 comment:

Mary Alice Ball said...

I'll take the easy way out and respond to your first paragraph rather than the more probing questions in the second.

When I was a doctoral student at U of Arizona I had to collaborate one semester with students at Florida State University (I think). We did the final presentation using video conferencing software. It was painful. This was in 1996 and there was limited bandwidth so the presentation from one site to the other was very jerky with many interruptions. It was exciting, to a certain degree, to be using cutting edge technology but more than that it was frustrating.