CPD23 things 15-16: attending conferences and publishing

Long story short: go to conferences. Go where people are, meet them, sneak through them, stalk them if you will. If you think the presentations will not be interesting, it doesn’t matter. Attending conferences is great because of the coffee breaks, when you have the chance to actually talk to people, making new relationships which might be useful for your job or your knowledge. Often I refused to go because the speakers looked lame to me, or the topic not interesting, but that’s not the point. Just as our job, it’s a people thing. Anyone, in any field, would confirm that. During our master program, we tend to go wherever we can and meet the more people we can, because we learn the most from teachers’ and speakers’ presence, rather than from their actual lessons or talks.

But also speaking is important. If you have the chance to give a talk, or present a paper, it’s good to take it. I had several bosses, in the past, who never wanted to present our work around because they claimed it to be useless, or not important, or they were just over-shy. But that turned out to be just a way to cut ourselves out of the world. In my last year at my former job, I managed to go to a conference to present our work, and I got so fraking excited: everybody was looking amazed at me, saying: “we had no idea you were doing this stuff: it’s a great work! Why you never told anyone about that?”.

That was a great question. Showing your work around is essential. People must know what you do. You can take suggestions and hints by doing so, you create a confrontation, you learn from others’ reactions. You also get rid of all the inferiority complexes you might have, seeing that almost everybody else is quite experiencing the same troubles as yours.

The same goes for publishing. Unfortunately I never had the chance to publish a lot of stuff, but that is mostly because I am wickedly lazy. But my principle is that everything you do in your office must be documented and possibly published, so that your work gets credit. You can do great stuff at your library, but if nobody knows then its value is diminished, and you can have a hard time when it’s time to advocate it.

(Final furball: that is also why I don’t like much those publications, which are the majority in Italy, where people just talk about stuff, concepts, principles, rather than showing what they do in their workplace – maybe because they do nothing at all. What is actually going on on the field is often not very well documented, and this is bad because it creates a vague and fictious vision of how the real thing is).

CPD23 things 15-16: attending conferences and publishing

CPD23 thing 11: masters and mentors

I cannot talk about Mentors in an academic meaning, because except for my thesis tutor, with whom I had nothing but a formal relationship, I did not have any tutors who guided me through my growth. But I take this chance to talk about a role that represents a crucial figure in my life and vision: the Master, or the Teacher.

I was talking with a friend about martial arts, in a time when I was feeling disappointed by my teacher and was looking for a different dojo, and he told me: “One life spent in searching for the right teacher, is not a wasted life“.

Osensei - Morihei Ueshiba
Osensei - Morihei Ueshiba

I respect Masters; that’s why I usually despise people who act like self-made men, and I usually have a great humility and interest towards my superiors or more expert people. You have to trust superiors and expert people. In my professional life, I cannot say that I did have actual mentors; nevertheless there are so many figures who inspired and conducted me, even if just for one small moment or episode. A good librarian who suggested me to take the vocational training in library science. My acting teacher who showed me the power of language and of metrics. Masters and mentors, moreover, don’t have to be saints or heroes: they don’t need to be all like Yoda. Even the most assholes and incompetent bossess that I happened to have were able to provide some example and inspiration: even if I could reject most all the time spent under some of them, I still keep in mind some good examples of vision, of lateral thought, of problem-solving, of responsibility.

There is always something and someone to learn from, everywhere: you just have to be patient, and have that speck of humility to admit that someone knows better. In the end, masters are everywhere if you’re willing to find them. Keeping ears and eyes wide open is the right attitude, as Whitman says in one of my favourite quotes:

I teach straying from me, yet who can stray from me?
I follow you whoever you are from the present hour,
My words itch at your ears til you understand them.

(Walt Whitman, Song of Myself)

I do seek masters as lymph to feed upon. I don’t know if this curiosity comes from my martial arts, or if it spurs from earlier stages in my life, for example my acting school, or other learning experiences. This fading border is not meaningless, because looking for a mentor is actually a life-long matter. There is a beautiful scene in the movie “Rush: beyond the lighted stage” (2010), a documentary about the rock band Rush, in which the drummer Neil Peart tells about taking lessons from the great jazz player Freddie Gruber. One of the greatest drummers in the world, at the top of his career, still felt the need to improve and get better. And he managed to hear new things, to discover new approaches, to put a new sensibility in what he does. The movie chapter happens to be called The Yoda of Drums.

Mentors will change, as you and your life situations change, but you will always be looking for someone to look at as inspiration and paragon.

CPD23 thing 11: masters and mentors

CPD23 things 6 and 7: networking and associations

Things 6 and 7 of #cpd23 are about networks. It’s very hard for me to reflect upon it, because I always felt myself as wandering through the world, mostly as a spectator, rather than to actively be part of some category or association or group.

I never enjoyed much participating in online groups, because I always had the sensation that it was all about some ego-centered matter. It looked like everybody was there just to express themselves, rather than to listen to others. I fought with this feeling a lot, before finding my own equilibrium, as I told in my previous cpd23-related post.

Now I will not talk about all the forums and wikis I have been following, more or less regularly, about Ubuntu, Prog Music or Lego and god knows what else. Speaking about what the cpd23 schedule suggests, I would spend a couple of words about LinkedIn. I find myself using it, even if it doesn’t seem such a solid service (the creator himself once stated: “the principle of LinkedIn is: stay connected, and something will happen eventually”: well, not what you would call a clear vision, is it?). But it’s a good place to be, because it helps to create your professional digital identity, in the first place;  and I found it useful once, when I needed to collect some informations to perform a task on my job: that was where the online community came to help.

Facebook to me is just lame, because it mixes connections without any contact to real life, making any distinciont between friends or colleagues; Google+ seems a likely solution, and anyway to create a profile could help to improve your own google ranking and the visibility of your digital identity: maybe you don’t want to be visible, but it’s better to be visible than to be present with fake identities.

And last but not least, I take this stand to announce a good proposition for the next year: I am planning to subscribe, for the first time, to my national library association, AIB. The problem with professional associations is that they tend to speak on themselves, in an echo-chamber fashion. But I also think that it’s the only place to be: it’s the starting point to create cohesion, acknowledgment, participation. My unstable job situation always prevented me to peek into that, but since a couple of years I’m feeling that it’s time to subscribe no matter what, and now that I’m back in Italy after my Year of the Voyager I will definitely do it. Not for the publications, not for the conferences, not for the discounts, but for the belonging: if you are a professional, the professional association is the place to be, and if you don’t like the professional association, that is the place where to operate change.

So, maybe next year I will let you know what happened ;-).

CPD23 things 6 and 7: networking and associations

CPD23 thing 5: self reflection

I once met a great man, who was very charismatic and gave extraordinary speeches. After a great day spent talking, we used to approach him and tell him: “man, today was very good”; and he always replied, with a smile: “why?”.


He never wanted us to take anything for granted, and even the good sensations demanded to be lived beyond the shallowness of their first impact.

I always did that, I always looked at beyond what was just in front of me. I spent a lot of times lying on my bed, or looking out of the window, or staring at the river while going to work, always thinking “what am I doing?“, “why am I doing this?“. This is not a sterile exercise: the more you think about it, the stronger and clearer your vision and purpose get.

CPD23 thing 5: self reflection

CPD23 thing 3: the personal brand

I’ve been thinking about my personal “brand” since at least one year. Moving into the blogosphere, I realized how much is important that your online existence is consistent and clear. And I have to start with the first important acknowledgment: almost everything I know about this topic, and upon which I built my “online presence”, comes from an article by Danah Boyd, Controlling your public appearance; another useful source of inspiration comes from Jenica Roger’s Notes on Online identity. You can just read those two pages and drop this one, because that is all you need to know. Seriously, they are really great.

Since I see that a lot of #cpd23 participants are totally new to the blogging world, I start with sharing some golden rules that I learnt on the way and that I try to apply as much as I can:

Dave McKean - Brief Lives cover
Dave McKean - Brief Lives
  1. You are an individual, and your blog must represent you. So be original, pick up a good name (if you can’t find a smart and meaningful catchphrase, just use your own name!), and customize your theme.
  2. Pick up an icon, and use it everywhere like your Avatar, your Logo, your Symbol, your Badge, your Banner, your Seal. That is what I’ve been doing lately: the great picture you see in the sidebar was taken by a dear friend, and it represents me so well that it became my Logo in every other online presence that I have.
  3. Don’t be sloppy: what you write is what you show, so spellcheck what you write, think before posting, put judgment in what you do. Your words are likely to survive the intention from which they were born, so think carefully about what you write and how you write it. This of course applies also for comments and replies. Polish and smooth your temptation of being cool, arrogant, clever.
  4. Participate. A blog is not a dashboard or a press agency, but it’s meant for confrontation. Don’t avoid comments and interaction. In and out of your blog: always sign your comments with your nickname, and stick to it!
  5. Always reply comments. This makes people feel welcome, and shows that you are alive and listening. The computer screen is dumb and cold, so you need to put a spark of life into it.
  6. Tag your content. Tag tag tag! If you want to be an information professional, there is no need to stress on the importance of metadata, right?
  7. Provide links. Links links links! Run this hypertextual machine to the extreme: link what you say to what inspires you, and cite sources.
  8. Connect your identities: twitter, identi.ca, skype, rss, flickr, anobii, mendeley, citeulike are all sides of your identity. Web technicians work hard to make these tools talk to each other, so use their potentials. And make them all part of your identity: use your avatar and your nickname so people can make connections around you (see point 2).
  9. Don’t be anonymous, as much as you can. Use this tool to enforce and strengthen your physical and offline identity. After all, everything you do must converge to your real you: otherwise your online presence will be useless and deaf. You don’t want to get stuck inside the “echo chamber“, do you? Your online presence must feed on your offline presence, and viceversa: I found a clear point about this here: http://kloutbait.tumblr.com/post/6975130290/improving-online-influence-step-1.

These of course are just my rules and results: I don’t know if they are well accomplished, successful, or reasonable. But you can see the fruits all around you: my blog theme, colours and style, is built around them. I like black and dark appearance, but I also offer an alternative white theme which can be more readable; but I tried to customize my theme as much as possible, because I wanted it to be my page; the drawing in the headline also is made by me, and I want it to represent my approach and vision, a documentary world which easily goes from paper to machinery. Language is part of the content, language shapes the content, so I find extremeley important to cultivate your own language, both in the visual and in the textual aspect.

Ah, and even though checking your visits and statistics is a good sport, don’t be too obsessed by that: Google will find you eventually, if you play it correctly :-).

CPD23 thing 3: the personal brand