Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On information overload (slightly ranty—be warned!)

Brace yourselves, folks, I’m about to say something heretical. (okay, maybe not heretical, but possibly a tad counter-cultural?)

I am too connected. Somewhere in my post-MLIS plan for networking and professional development I found myself on a couple dozen mailing lists, several web forums, almost 100 rss feeds, and a bunch of other stuff I’m not even remembering right now. I’ve felt the burnout encroaching for the last month or so, and took last week off from all my library sites, feeds, lists, etc. just to see how much piled up if I wasn’t there to read it. The rounded numbers:

540 LIS Blog posts
220 Time management blog posts
300 messages from email lists

In other words, over a thousand to-read items, not counting God knows how many forum posts, additions to the L2.0 Ning, blog comments, etc., as well as the 2 dead-tree magazines that were in my box when I came back. One thing I noticed over and over as I tried to browse my backlog was how many posts/emails were about the same 5-10 topics, over and over. Often I would find the exact same post copied into half a dozen different blogs, with a few brief comments tacked on. I realized that much of my professional development time had been devoted to reading the same bloody thing (with slightly different twists) in many different places. I’ll be blunt—there are too many blogs, and not enough original writers, at least for me to be able to do more than skim and hit the next button. After deleting about 80% of the mess unread, I knew I had to find a better way.

When I am keeping up with that many different inputs, I have no time or energy to respond with my own thoughts, or even really read what I’m looking at, beyond the most basic skim. Also, my own writing is going downhill, simply because I have a finite amount of time I can devote to professional development, most of which is sunk into reading 200 emails and blog posts a day about only 10-15 different topics. Simply put, this is not the most effective use of my time if I want to attain the career goals I have in mind. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know what’s next. Here’s my plan. :-)

1: Cut out half of my RSS feeds. Maybe more. There are about 4-5 time management sites I link to regularly, and most of them link to the minor ones when good stuff is posted. The rest can go. As for the library feeds, I’ve not pruned these aside from unsubbing from dormant blogs. The podcasts I follow are getting shunted over to my iTunes for commute listening. There are about a dozen people who write truly insightful original material on a regular (weekly or more) basis, and their feeds will stay. As for the collected links feeds, I don’t have many of them but they’re higher volume. I’ve already (with deep regret) said goodbye to one particularly voluminous feed in this category—I enjoy it but my week layoff resulted in 110 posts from that feed alone, 3 of which I found interesting enough to click into. I need a higher ROI on my professional development time than that. I think that 3-5 of these types of feeds should cover the vast majority of the good stuff, and give me enough for RSS digest (more on that in a bit).

2: Mailing lists. I plan to cut here, but not as deeply, as I did some editing a few months back. There are a few job search/new librarian lists that can go. I’m also going to take a hard look at lists for ALA sections/roundtables I’m not actually a member of. I have a bunch of lists for our new ILS, but they are low volume and I can’t yet tell what’s I’ll need, so they stay for now. Finally, any list where there is as much flaming/whining/political debate as there is useful conversation is going bye-bye. My work life is a no-drama zone.

3: Forums: Unless I need to search for info on a particular topic, all forums but the library 2.0 Ning are going off my “to read” bundle on Del.icio.us. So far, Ning seems to have an extremely good signal to noise ratio, and I’d rather spend an hour skimming there than try to whip through half a dozen websites in the same amount of time.

4: Scholarly Journals: my high level of blog and mailing list reading is only possible because I do almost zilch to keep up with the scholarly literature, at least since I finished my MLIS. I’m still thinking about this, but I’m considering picking out 2 or three of the best academic library journals to read cover-to cover when they come in. we have access to almost all of darned things either in print or via databases, so I really have no excuse. Perhaps pick out one or two articles a month to review/respond to online? I’m sure most of us don’t read as much of the Literature as we’d like, and that might be a more beneficial use of my blog than writing post #18 about LoC’s newest rule change. And in that vein…

5: Contribute signal, not noise: There are plenty of blogs that provide summaries of the week’s best library posts, most notably LISNews.org’s “This Week in Library Blogland”. Most of them do a better job than I can. Each week I spend a total of 2 hours assembling the RSS digest. I know this service is enjoyed, and IT’S NOT GOING ANYWHERE. However, I’m going to keep it shorter. I currently average between 25-35 links, and I think I can halve that and still have a useful digest. Some of this will come organically via steps 1-3, and the rest will come from being a bit more selective in my linking. Look for the digests to evolve over the next few weeks, and please share your comments and suggestions. I also will try to keep my Tuesday posts under 1000-1200 words.

To wrap up, my goal is and has been to give you the tools you need to improve your professional lives as well as the service you provide your users. To do that, I need to remember one of the first things I learned in library school and not waste the time of my readers. I pledge that if I don’t have anything interesting or original to say on a given topic, I’ll keep my mouth shut, and will refrain from posting for posting’s sake just to maintain a schedule. If I only have a few lines to say about a post, I’ll put it in that blog’s comment thread, NOT here. Will that lower my visibility, or cause me to lose a few readers? Possibly, and I’m fine with that. I am not the best Liblogger out there, and I’m giving up the attempt. Instead, I’m going to focus on fulfilling MY mission, and not worry about the rest.