Projects and rejects 1: Do what you care about

It’s been more than a month since I said, in this post, “Anaheim did have the desired positive affect, I think.” Which relates back to this post, where I noted that–despite a first-rate two-week vacation–I was short of energy for writing and, more important, inspiration to do anything major. “I’m hoping ALA Annual 2008 will mark a turning point, that I’ll emerge with more inspiration and recovered energy.

It did–as I also noted in this post. Since that post, I’ve turned out the August 2008 Cites & Insights–a good solid issue if I do say so myself–and gotten off to a good start on the project I plan to pursue. There’s a hint of that project in this post.

So…I thought I should expand on matters a little. (This group of posts will probably appear in somewhat different form in the September C&I. Or not.)

Part the First: In which an old friend reminds me of what I should have known.

Yes, Anaheim helped–not the city, to be sure, but ALA Annual itself. I listened to enough people and talked to enough people to gain back some inspiration and energy.

One particular conversation helped a lot–and, unfortunately, I don’t remember who the conversation was with. It might have been Fred Gertler before ALA. It might have been Tom Wilson during ALA. It might have been someone else entirely… and, come to think of it, it could very well have been Joan Frye Williams.

After a brief discussion of the situation–several possible projects, very little inspiration, and really discouraging sales and lack of feedback on the library blogs books–this old friend made a key comment, which I’ll paraphrase as

What do you really care about? Do that.

Good advice–along with the counterpart:

What are you still doing that you no longer care about? Stop doing that.

I’d been trying to do a somewhat impersonal calculus, which could be summarized as:

Where do I provide real added value, in areas that librarians should care about, and where there’s a reasonable chance what I do will be read (and, if in book form, paid for)?

That turns out to be too complicated. The simpler formulation–which a good Left Coaster like me might translate as “Follow your bliss”–is a whole bunch simpler.

I’m using two informal analyses based on this proposition, one for projects too big for Cites & Insights, one for Cites & Insights itself.

  1. Am I interested enough in the results of a big project to make it more worthwhile than, say, working on music or reading, even if book sales might never amount to minimum-wage compensation for the time spent?
  2. Should I be writing about this–even if I’ve written about it in the past?

In the first case, the answer turns out to be Yes for one project, which I’ll tentatively describe in Projects and rejects 2, and No for another project unless something changes fairly drastically in the next few months–and I’ll discuss that issue in Projects and rejects 3.

In the second case, I should be doing this at least once a year: Looking at the areas I’ve been covering and saying, for each one,

Do I still care enough–and add enough value–to bother with this?

For Cites & Insights as a whole, the answer is clearly Yes–particularly if I slough off the areas for which the answer is now No.

That discussion is, if all goes well, the basis for the final post in this series…assuming I get that far. In the meantime, I’ll admit that I’m probably dropping one area entirely (where I’d slowed down anyway). Last weekend, I reviewed the contents of the Censorware folder…and, after thinking about it, recycled all the paper, stripped the folder label, and returned the folder to my stock of blank folders. (Yes, I do use real third-cut folders–even if I’ve reduced printouts to the first page, that level of print organization and retention is still essential for my working methods.)

Why? I could provide several reasons, and maybe I will in that final post (“final” only in this cluster), but it boils down to just not caring enough about the value I can add.

Wrapping up this post, it all probably boils down to conserving energy to retain inspiration. By reducing the overall set of possibilities, I believe I can do a better job on the ones that remain–and avoid bogging down in overall disenchantment and the resulting ennui.

That’s Part 1. Part 2? Maybe tomorrow, maybe Wednesday. For now, I’m off to work on The Project, currently somewhere in that vast array of “liblogs beginning with L.”

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