Archive for the ‘Speaking’ Category

Resolved, that debates are a terrible way to run programs

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

I didn’t attend the ACRL debate on information literacy. Several of those who did have had snarky things to say about it, apparently well deserved. Here’s a follow-up to an earlier post about the session at A Wandering Eyre–not to pick on Jane, but because she writes well and garnered some interesting comments. (The debate’s been debated elsewhere…)

I did go to the LITA debate on the future of search. And left after 15 minutes…

And then recalled that I’ve turned down more than one speaking invitation for a debate format, after accepting one such invitation (one of only three speeches I’ve done that I regard as failures).

I’m less hard-nosed than some. I’ll be on a panel, as long as it’s not a cry-and-response panel, and I’ve been the speaker being responded to by a panel (and don’t much care for it, not because I don’t like disagreement but because I don’t like being required to write a speech in advance and stick with what I wrote…but that requirement is almost essential for responders to work effectively).

The more I think about it, the more I think I just don’t care for debates as content programs. As carnivals/sideshows, sure; bring on the powdered wigs and gongs to cut off the speakers at the 3-minute mark. Cheer, boo, throw vegetables: Just don’t think you’re communicating meaning or changing anyone’s mind.

Actually, for me, this should come as no surprise. I was never a football player (as anyone who’s seen me could guess), but I spent four years in the NFL–the National Forensic League, that is. That’s the high school public speaking association, a good place for geeks like me to spend weekends. I “topped out” point eligibility in debate, impromptu, and extemp, which means I did a lot of debating. And what struck me as the years went on was that NFL debate is a great way to train value-neutral lawyers: That is, you’re required to be equally effective in arguing for and against a set proposition. Crucial to doing that is not believing either side. (One year, I used the same very effective anecdote on both sides of the same issue. That was the year I realized that treating debate as anything other than a stunt was demeaning my personal ethical sense.)

Maybe it’s just me, but maybe not. Disagreement can be good. Serious discussion can, rarely, change minds: I’ve changed my mind thanks to informed discussion. But debates? I think they’re artificial, tend to force extreme positions, and are valuable only as entertainment, not when there’s something serious to be said. At least that’s been my recent experience.

[Not that anyone was planning to in any case, but I guess this serves as a warning that you shouldn’t invite me to participate in a debate. I’ll turn you down.]

Those oldies but goodies…

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

So two minutes after I post a link to the press release saying RLG and OCLC are combining, a colleague sends a link to this.

“This” being that the first major speech I ever gave, more than 13 years ago, is today’s Library Link of the Day. In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t touch a word of that speech when I loaded it to my personal website in 1999–and haven’t edited it since.

If you’re inclined to read “The death of print…” (it’s a long title), you might also want to read this piece, which I wrote in 1999 at the same time that I added the 1992 Arizona Library Association speech to my personal web site (then on AT&T Worldnet, since disappeared because I moved to SBC Yahoo!, which of course is now AT&T Yahoo!, but…)

For that matter, you might also want to read this–the lengthy handout that accompanied the Arizona speech and was entirely additional material. I also haven’t changed a word of that since 1992.

Anyway, thanks, Library Link of the Day. This was a good day for a surprise blast from/to the past.

Speaking, ALA, and all that

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

Just about a week ago, I opted out of the fight discussion brawl that was kicked off by Jenny Levine’s perfectly reasonable misgivings about being invited to speak [invited, not “having her proposal accepted”] at the 2006 PLA National Conference–and told that, if she was an ALA/PLA member at the time, she’d have to pay at least that day’s conference registration in addition to covering all her own expenses.

I had posted a comment on Levine’s post, noting ALA policy regarding speeches at ALA Annual by ALA members. I also said a lot more in the “opting out” post than really makes sense for a non-post, mostly to provide background.

And, of course, I couldn’t stay entirely away from the discussion–partly because it’s no longer just a discussion about how professional associations should treat members as speakers. It’s gotten much broader than that, including a subtheme of “ALA [hunh!] What is it good for?”

So let’s toss a few more opinions into the ongoing melee set of discussions–although, once again, I’m not going to come down on one side or the other of whether ALA’s policy for its Annual Conference is a reasonable one. (As to whether Ms. Levine’s decision, to hold off on joining ALA and PLA until after the conference because it was silly to be penalized for being a member, was reasonable: Absolutely, in my opinion! But that’s really not a big part of the ongoing discussion.)

  • First an admission of error: My comment about policy refers to ALA Annual Conference and speeches within the conference proper. As someone else has pointed out, that policy is not binding on divisions and their events outside ALA Annual, nor is it binding on preconferences. When I was invited to do something I was unwilling to do at a LITA National Forum, it was clear that I would not have to pay registration if I agreed–and I recall fairly strongly receiving expenses and, I believe, an honorarium for keynoting a LITA preconference many years ago. (That may be an erroneous recollection, but I have no doubt that some divisions cover registration at some conferences and that some speakers are at least partially paid or reimbursed for preconferences, just as they are for workshops and other paid events.) So my comment on policy, while correct, was inapplicable: PLA may have chosen to extend that policy but was not, I believe, required to by the parent organization.
  • The many motives and arrangements for speaking: I believe Jenny Levine and Steven Cohen have both told us more than they were really obliged to about how they handle speaking situations, just as Jessamyn West has been unusually open about her arrangements. This is all fascinating stuff (although I’m happy that actual dollar amounts don’t get mentioned), but in some ways none of our business. My other post goes into some of those details for me as well, but then, my personal website has always included pretty specific notes about my expectations–because I got tired of the series of messages back and forth needed to clarify things in the past.

Some library people need speaking engagements for promotion or their vita. These are the ones most likely to submit speaking proposals, or get involved in program arrangements and see to it that they are on panels. In general, I don’t believe such speakers expect reimbursement or freebies; their reward is being able to list the presentation.

Similarly, some library people want speaking engagements to establish themselves as experts in a field, or because they have something to say that they desperately feel needs to be heard, or just for egoboo. Nothing necessarily wrong with any of these motives, but here again, these people have strong motivations to speak. If they’re proposing speeches at professional conferences, I wouldn’t be inclined to believe they deserve payment or reimbursement. Once they’ve achieved guru status and are being invited, they may (or may not) fall into another category. (This one’s really tricky…)

Then there are the cases where a speaker’s invited. In general, I think it’s hard to justify inviting someone and then not at least covering their expenses, and almost impossible to justify inviting someone and charging them for the privilege. But even within this second category, people fall into various groups:

Some have solid travel and paid-leave support from their employers as a matter of professional support. Great for them, and great for conference organizers: They can get speakers on the cheap. I would hope that this status never influences organizers’ decisions as to who gets invited, but I’m not quite naive enough to believe that as a general principle.

Some have travel and time support because their employers want them to be out there; see remarks in previous paragraphs.

As for others… some do get time off to speak but feel (properly, I believe) that they should be paid for their efforts. Some get limited or no time off and no travel support; for them, unless they’re independently wealthy or otherwise unusual, expense reimbursement and speaking fees are likely to make or break the situation.

I don’t believe anybody’s getting rich off library conference speaking–at least not from state, regional, and national association conferences. I continue to be stunned by the frequency with which some people speak, although I assume they don’t actually write a new speech for each occasion–but still, travel is wearing and time for yourself can be precious. I’ve never been in the “speaking circuit” category and am happy with that fact. I don’t envy those who are. And I certainly don’t begrudge them the fame–or the payments.

All of which is more than enough about “should speakers get paid?” There are lots of ways to “give back.” Speaking actually isn’t the most efficient way to reach lots of people, although it may reach them in a different manner than writing–but, you know, one of these blog entries probably reaches as many people as any single one of my speeches, and each issue of C&I reaches at least three to five times as many people. Expecting people to speak on their own dime Because They’re Professionals is, well, self-defeating. And if it comes from one of the librarians who does make a six-figure income (yes, there are some of those), it’s perhaps just a little hypocritical as well.

The other thread here is more troubling–in part because I find myself torn. That thread is, as noted above, “ALA, (hunh!), What is it good for?”

I’m truly in an odd position on this one because, for the first 20-25 years of my pseudoprofessional involvement (after all, if it was the American Librarians Association I wouldn’t be eligible for membership, lacking the MLS and all that), I only joined ALA because it was the only way I could belong to ISAD, which became LITA.

That’s changed–to the extent that I thought long and hard before renewing both ALA and LITA memberships. I’m still pretty perturbed by LITA getting to the highest divisional dues without asking for a membership vote, and I’m still not at all certain that I’m getting anything close to $60 worth of benefits from LITA membership. Frankly, if I wasn’t a “previous president,” I might have dropped out–after all, I don’t have to be a LITA member to attend any of the IGs or programs. (And if ALA does increase its dues, I’ll really think long and hard next December…who knows? Maybe I belong in ACRL instead. Or in no division at all.) I know I’ve done my “giving back”–serving nine years as LITA Newsletter editor and declining the expenses support that came with that editorship for 8 of the 9 years, if nothing else.

But what about ALA itself? For me, the justifications for membership may boil down to these:

  • I like American Libraries quite a lot, even if they did dump my column; I’d probably pay some significant fraction of the ALA membership fee to keep getting it.
  • I regard ALA Washington Office and ALA’s lobbying and legal activities as vitally important and generally productive. ALA is known as an effective lobbyist, and ALA’s efforts in a number of areas have been important–perhaps not personally, but for the things I believe in.
  • ALA Annual and Midwinter are, for me, the best occasions to stay in real-world touch with at least several hundred of the few thousand people I’ve become acquainted with in the library field, several hundred of whom I’d call friends. I’m a shy guy and don’t maintain those relationships very well between conferences, but at least I get a chance to get back in touch twice a year. I also value the exhibits, some of the discussion groups, and–once in a while–a program. I’m not ready to substitute “virtual conferences” for the real thing. At least not yet.

Now, if I was in Texas or New York or Wisconsin or Minnesota or Colorado or Alaska or Washington or… I might find that my state library association served that third purpose, and served it better, albeit on a smaller scale. I haven’t gotten along very well with my state association, and I don’t know whose fault that is. But I do think that the national mix has its values.

I think this is more than enough to say. I still don’t hold a firm position on whether ALA’s policy still makes sense. If ALA is becoming irrelevant to GenWhatever, that’s a problem, and it’s not one I can solve. (After all, I’m not willing to serve on ALA Council, although I suspect I could get elected pretty easily…and that’s pure selfishness on my part.)

I think ALA’s good for a number of things. Do those things justify its overall structure and budget? I’m not sure. Is Annual really too big to work very well? Probably…but I’m not sure I much care for the alternatives.

I do know I’m looking forward to Midwinter–not just because it’s in the ideal Midwinter city, but because it’s Midwinter.

Speaking fees: This one really isn’t my fight

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

When Jenny Levine expressed some frustration at ALA’s policy regarding speakers at ALA conferences who are ALA members–that is, no expenses, no free registration, nada–I commented that this wasn’t unusual for a professional assocation, and that I thought it made sense in terms of conflict of interest. You can see my comment among the growing multitude of comments, but here it is as well:

It’s a standard ALA policy that members of the organization can’t be paid for speeches at ALA conferences (that are part of the conference proper). That’s probably true of many organizations, as it’s fairly basic conflict-of-interest stuff. I think it’s a necessary ethical policy, in fact.

I suspect you’d find the same to be true of ASIST, for example, and probably most state library associations.

In other words, you’re not paying them to present at their conference–you’re paying them to attend your conference. If it’s “them,” then you’re not a member–and you should not only get in free, you should probably receive some compensation (not that I want to get PLA in trouble…). (At least, I’d demand a full-conference registration–but that’s me.)

I’m no Jeff Jarvis or Jenny Levine. I know damned well that if I’m not able or willing to participate, they can find someone else who can do just as good a job–particularly on a panel. And I’ve turned down a couple of invitations where the finances didn’t make sense.

You can read the whole sequence of comments. One person seemed to assume that I speak because of submitted proposals (never the case, at least in the last 10 years). Marydee Ojala confirmed that many (most?) professional associations bar expenses, honoraria, or freebies for internal speakers as a matter of policy. I see talk of petitions, suggestions that invited speakers are the only programs that conferences have (which has almost never been the case for state and national library conferences that I’ve attended), and so on and so on.

Lots of other bloggers have commented as well–including some of those who are “on the speaking circuit,” which I’ve never been and don’t want to be.

What I’ve learned from what I’ve seen yesterday and today (not including posts since 9 a.m. this morning, which I’ll read after posting this):

  • Quite a few frequent speakers apparently pay their own way–their own travel costs, hotel expenses, etc.–and do this quite a few times a year.
  • Some of the frequently-invited speakers don’t expect or get honoraria and pay their own way.
  • Although I haven’t seen it stated, I can only assume that some people work at places that don’t mind having them gone a very large percentage of the time–and it sounds as though some of them even get (limited) travel support for those speaking engagements.

All of which leads me to believe that I really have no business arguing for or against policies in today’s field, because I’m so out of touch with what’s going on, and likely to stay that way.

It’s not that I haven’t spoken. You can check my full vita here or (for PDF-haters) a selective vita here. When it says “[Invited]” that’s what it means: I did not submit a proposal, I wasn’t part of a planning process, I certainly don’t have an agent drumming up possibilities (all of my speeches put together might add up to one speaking fee for a “name” speaker, or they might not).

If it says “[Invited]” and it wasn’t in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, or somewhere else within about 45 miles of Mountain View (or during ALA, Midwinter, or the Charleston Conference), you can bet that whoever I was speaking to paid full expenses: travel (flights and ground transportation), hotel and meals (usually for the full conference, if it’s a conference: I try to attend the whole thing), registration. Most of the time, there was also an honorarium: not enough to get rich on, but maybe enough to cover a little of the vacation time and preparation time. After various extended negotiations due to misunderstanding, I’ve even put together a page laying out expectations for speeches.

That’s apparently peculiar for those who want to be known as speakers these days. Apparently, if you’re to be established as an Expert or as the Go-To Guru on a topic, you need to go for it–spend your own money and your own time so you can speak ten, fifteen, twenty times a year.

Maybe I was lucky. I never particularly thought of myself as an Expert on any topic, at least not enough of an Expert that you’d automatically invite me to speak on it. And I’ve never been in a position where tenure was a possibility or where professional speaking and writing had a direct impact on my job performance ratings or salary. So I had no particular motivation to beat the bushes for speaking invitations.

I had almost 14 good speaking years, some of them years when I turned down invitations because I was unwilling to be gone any more often (or work was reluctant to have me out too often, although that’s never been a huge issue). Invitations have declined recently, and that’s OK too.

I can only think of one or two cases where I turned down an invitation because of the size of honorarium or lack thereof, although one association made expense reimbursement so unpleasant–and generally was such a hassle to deal with–that when I was invited the next year I simply turned it down without further discussion. (Not a library association, fortunately–one in a semi-related field.)

In any case, I clearly don’t understand the dynamics of today’s frequent speakers, which means I don’t understand the dynamics of the whole speaker/conference situation these days. I don’t plan to change my own patterns; although I love state library conferences and the like, I don’t love them enough to subsidize them.

So I’m backing off on this discussion. Those who are on the speaking circuit (or who want to be) and those who rely on “circuit speakers” for their conference programming should debate the issues; I’ll lurk on this one.

Giving thanks

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Thanks for growing up in an absurdly functional family, where even as the unexpected final child I knew I was loved, knew reading mattered (and was an everyday thing, given the books, magazines, and newspapers around the house), knew that people were more important than money, and knew that my parents expected me to make my own decisions.

Thanks for growing up with mutual respect–with good values being shown by example, not by rote training, punishment, imposed belief systems or admonition.

Thanks to UC Berkeley for showing me a broader world, allowing me to get a great education if I wanted it, exposing me to world-class teachers (including a Nobel laureate or two), and dispelling any sense that high SAT scores and a facility for writing made me anything special. Thanks to the student co-op for exposing me to so many different viewpoints, making a connection between effort and economics, putting academics first without ignoring socialization, and encouraging me to learn something about user-centered design as part of the advisory committee on the first purpose-built student co-op at Berkeley (and the first co-ed dorm as well). Convincing experienced dorm architects that students need available high-level room lighting for group study and conversation: Priceless.

Thanks to the Doe Library and its people for acculturating me in library ways, putting up with me at times (as a student employee and later), exposing me to a world-class collection, and accidentally turning me into a programmer/analyst/designer along the way…oh, and not incidentally for also employing a woman working her way through library school who filled in for someone else handling a weekly process connected to the data-entry system I designed: The small problem she had in the process resulted in our meeting, me walking her home after work, and our being married almost 28 years so far…

Thanks to RLG for taking me on and providing a range of interesting and usually-worthwhile experiences and areas of growth, and for making it clear that my writing and speaking wouldn’t be controlled or censored. Oh, and for giving me some time off to speak during the years I was in high demand.

Thanks to the people at LC who didn’t have the time to write the book people needed about MARC. Were it not for them (and for the inaccurate information being used at one library school), I would probably never have become a book writer. (And of course thanks to the librarians throughout Berkeley’s branch system and Stanford’s libraries who made it possible to get so much research done over the years–with particular gratitude to the librarians at Berkeley’s former library school library, back when Berkeley had a library school.) (And thanks to Ed Wall for encouraging and publishing my long-running series, to my wife and Kathie Bales for convincing me to apply to edit the LITA Newsletter, and so on, and so on…)

Thanks to the librarians at Stanislaus Public Library when I was growing up, at Redwood City and Menlo Park libraries at various times, and certainly at Mountain View Public Library now. I appreciate the services, the collections, and the people.

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me to write, invited me to speak, attacked my preconceptions, pushed me on technology and library issues, and generally kept things interesting.

I could go on (and on and…) but I’ll stop here.

Canadians have already had their turn. Now it’s ours. There may be a lot of things wrong with the world, but there’s still a lot of things to be grateful for. These are just a few of mine.

Random notes

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

Quickies on a Saturday morning after a 48-hour absence from the net. (I was speaking at Cal State Northridge, opening the CARL-SEAL program “Hot off the press: Insider’s tips for successful publishing”–and thoroughly enjoyed it.)

  • At some point during the day (probably during my scattershot opening speech), I noted that, in my opinion, a very high percentage of library-related blogs are worthwhile, and aggregation makes it plausible to keep up with lots of them. (I noted Sturgeon’s Law, “90% of everything is crud,” although I used the more common version ending in “rap” instead of “rud” and argued that while it’s probably true for blogs in general, I don’t think it holds for the biblioblogosphere. I also noted that I currently track 216 library blogs and anticipated that, after being away for 48 hours, I’d find 150 to 200 (I hope I said “to 200”) posts waiting for me, which would take half an hour to an hour to scan. The actual number is 238, and it may take a little longer. Still, 238 in two days is manageable.
  • Dorothea Salo thought there might be enough Google Print books to make an egosurf worthwhile. So, of course, I did just as she says: “(Oh, shut up. If you haven’t already done it, you’re going to as soon as you finish reading this post. Maybe sooner.)” I was astonished by the result (none of my books are there, but…), even after adding quotes around the name to eliminate all those mentions of people named Crawford who work for Walt Disney, etc. 26 books, most of which I’ve never heard of… No, I haven’t gone back to look at the snippets yet…
  • I was encountering a slow but annoying stream of spamments, all of them trapped by WordPress but requiring modification to report as spam. Today I find 44. So, reluctantly, I’ve had to add yet another word to the total blacklist, relating to a game I’ve even discussed in posts…

Hey, I said it was random.

Updates a day later:

It took me 55 minutes to go through the blogs–but that included the time to make comments on two of them and the time to scan LISNews as well. I think I found 15 posts that were “keepers”–ones I’d print out for possible reflection later. But quite a few others were informative, entertaining, or both.

Some clarification on “26” above. I checked a little more. Most of those–at least two-thirds–really only include me as a co-author; they comment on or include citations for Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness and Reality. Two are books that include chapters or contributions from me. That doesn’t really leave much, and that’s as I’d expect. Note, of course, that (as with Dorothea, I believe), these are all from the publisher-based Google Print program, not the Google Print Library Program.

Countries and States

Friday, September 30th, 2005

I’ve seen the maps for some time, but never got around to generating them. But here goes.

Herewith, the countries I’ve set foot in…

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

The detail’s a little odd, but what this says is we’re strong in the Caribbean (some fascinating places that aren’t on the country list), fairly strong in the Mediterranean and Western Europe and South Pacific, and weak elsewhere.

Then there’s the states map:

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

I’ve done better there, with 34 of 51 states (inc. DC) visited.

My guess is that, if I did this again in 10 years, there would be another 2 to 6 nations (maybe more) and 2 to 6 states. Somehow, at the current rate, the possibility of speaking at least once in every state (noting that 4 or 5 of those in the map aren’t ones I’ve spoken in) is fading from improbable to highly improbable.

As to the big country just north of the U.S.: British Columbia (several times) and Ontario, but we’ll add several other provinces one of these years…

Life-changing events

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

The Carvers and Schwartzes both have true life-changing events: children.

Marriage is a life-changing event (if it isn’t just a formalization of an existing arrangement). So is divorce (again, if it’s an actual change instead of a formalization).

Other than that?

Here’s a thought experiment. Comment if you feel inspired, but I’m not setting up a proper survey:

Take the following possible events in your own life (degrees of “possible” left open):

A. You publish a book

B. You’re nominated for and accepted to Who’s Who in America

C. You receive a Macarthur Award

D. You’re invited to keynote a major library conference (define “major” as you choose)

E. You receive a major ALA or ALA Divisional award (one that includes a four-digit cash honorarium)

F. You receive an honorary doctorate

G. You win Super Lotto, MegaMillions, or some other prize yielding at least $5 million over your lifetime

Would you consider each of those life-changing? If so, how and how much so? For example:

1. Worth blogging about, but not much more.

2. I wouldn’t tell a soul…at least not for a while.

3. Worth taking some time off to think about how it changes things.

4. Worth a celebratory dinner with my [spouse/closest friend/significant other]

5. Worth a big party for everyone I know

6. I’d certainly note it at my place of work, and hope they’d publicize it

I’m not suggesting answers. There are no “correct” answers here, I don’t believe.

You might be able to put together a sort of personality matrix based on the set of responses to those possibilities, although I think you’d need more responses (and more possibilities).

For now, it’s just an idle entry. (No, none of those has happened to me recently. This isn’t a post about me or my life, as it happens.)

Great presentations!

Friday, July 15th, 2005

Sometimes a link is irresistable. Here at LISWiki is the truly definitive guide to proper presentations.

Thanks to Marianne at Library Supporter for spotting this masterpiece.