LIS Overload!

Please welcome back to the HLS blog, Katie Westlake

Have you ever been afraid to turn on your computer? Until I started my online MLIS through the University of Washington last fall, my answer to that question would have been a resounding nope. My social media experience was limited to Facebook and a few short-lived accounts through some other outlets (i.e. Twitter, Flickr, deviantART, Myspace), and my admitted lack of enthusiasm for getting involved in campus events and professional organizations during undergrad made my online experience blissfully simple. Oh how I miss those days sometimes.

I’m sure you’re all very familiar with the term “information overload” – it’s been critically examined by everyone from Newsweek to internet scholar Clay Shirky, and it’s even inspired the formation of conferences and research groups dedicated solely to exploring and reducing this perceived problem. A problem even more sinister, in my opinion, confronts us as future librarians and information professionals: LIS overload. This wasn’t something I signed up for when I accepted my offer of admission, but managing the deluge of LIS-related information that comes my way every day at times feels like a second job.

After a quarter and a half of classes, I made the decision to rejoin Twitter and start using it to network and improve my knowledge and understanding of what’s going on in the vast, intricate world of LIS, and at first, it seemed totally manageable! People I follow were posting all kinds of interesting links, talking about the various social media tools they prefer, chatting with each other about upcoming conferences, telling funny stories about what they’ve run into working in libraries, and generally setting my nerdy little heart aflutter with all the LIS talk. I joined the ALA and WLA, started up my own blog, and started to interact with other students through Hack Library School, which is still one of the most engaging and refreshingly collaborative sites I’ve ever seen.

After the initial excitement wore off though, I started to feel like I’d been dropped in the middle of a vast sea of information on a subject I still didn’t know much about. I couldn’t keep up with all the articles, LIS organization goings-on, news releases, tweets, and blog posts on top of an already staggering pile of challenging coursework. I felt compelled to plunge even further into the activities, conferences and discussions of the professional sphere just to keep up with everyone else, who all seemed to be much more involved than I could ever possibly manage to be. And don’t even get me started on the acronyms (ALA, SLA, IFLA, ALISE, ARL, ACRL, ARLIS…the list goes on). Talk about overwhelming!

Despite the lingering feeling that I’m constantly missing out on something, I’m starting to realize that there’s no one correct way to handle the drinking-from-a-fire-hose effect that comes when we decide to start connecting with others in our field. I came across a rather insightful NPR article that helped put it all into perspective, even if it wasn’t about LIS at all – the author laments the fact that being “well-read” in a society with access to tens of thousands of great literary works is an impossible task when “well-read” means “not missing anything.” We can’t possibly do everything that we have the opportunity to do as future librarians and info professionals, and we’ll probably miss out on a lot, but you know what? That’s totally okay! I’m realizing it’s much more valuable in the long run to choose a few things to devote your time to – things that align with your personal interests in the field – and pursue those while leaving the rest for casual browsing.

Now it’s your turn, HLSers! Have you experienced LIS overload yet? How did you work through it? Are you still feeling overwhelmed? Any tips on managing it for the rest of us?

Categories: Honesty

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23 replies

  1. I think this is a pretty common problem for many people today, not just those who consider themselves information junkies or social media mavens. As you’ve said, the best solution is probably to keep a narrow focus. There is just so much stuff out there, and no way to keep track of it all, never mind retain it. A surface understanding of major issues and happenings in the LIS field is important for students and librarians alike, but so is a deep comprehension of our chosen subfield/main area of interest. As library science students, we can hope that we’re at least slightly better equipped than many others to manage this information overload; as librarians, it might be our job to help manage the deluge for others.


  2. I often feel completely overloaded by the information flying around “out there,” and how I feel I should be paying attention to, and fully absorbing, all pertinent content to my field, my daily job, my potential/future jobs and career goals, etc. But then I give myself a little pep talk, and remind myself that part of the reason I wanted to go into the LIS field(s) was to connect people to and with information– not KNOW all the information out there. If I know a good blog for resource purposes, or can suggest a helpful network to connect a person with because I know just a little bit about it, then I feel I have done my job. I know where and how to *find* information, and that keeps the drinking-from-a-fire-hose effect at bay.


    • That pressure to know everything, and not just to know -about- everything, is a major factor in overload for me. I should really start giving myself those pep talks!


  3. Is this the story of my life or what? I started a LIS-centric Twitter account (@2TheLibrary) this semester for a class to help me follow LIS trends and connect with other students and professionals. I feel like I opened Pandora’s box. Going from feast to famine– I recently spent about a week away from my account. Now I’m back and ready to strike a balance.

    I think you and Jackie are right on– get a glimpse of the big picture but focus on what really matters to you.


    • I started a Twitter account to keep track of LIS stuff this term, too, and am definitely feeling you on the Pandora’s box sensation! It’s gotten bad enough that I rarely go back to Twitter except for #libchat every week or two. On the other hand, I’m thinking it will be a good way to keep in touch with LIS ideas over the summer, when I won’t be taking classes.

      And I agree with everyone saying you can’t read everything in this day and age – it’s all about keeping your focus narrow. It’s just hard to put that into practice when you’re already overloaded! Who do you unfollow on Twitter? What blogs do you unsubscribe to? Or do you make a folder in your RSS for “blogs to catch up on eventually” and let them build up hundreds of entries, like me? 😛 We’re overloaded with options, not just things to read…


  4. You are 100% right: it’s ok to pick a few things to read than to try to read everything. I love your analogy to being “well read” and your questioning what we mean when we say that.
    I’d also say that it’s more than ok to sometimes not read at all but to let yourself marinate on what you already have in your mind. We are so fortunate as a field and profession to have so many thoughtful contributors but at the same time, don’t underestimate your own contributions, even if they stay solely with you or with your colleagues. Great post!


  5. Great post, this is definitely my experience this semester. I feel like staying current is a full time job; I read the same article from NPR, and it was a little comforting. I’ve also heard that if something is *really* important, it will make its rounds in the twitter-blogosphere enough times for you to catch it. I like Jackie’s reply on the importance of staying grounded in a subfield. A lot of LIS-ers are naturally, profoundly curious and will NEVER run out of things to be interested in. For me, I set time limits. Whatever social media I don’t view in my pre-set social media windows (morning coffee & lunch break) might not be viewed at all. I’m getting ok with that with practice. But admittedly sometimes there is still that nagging feeling of “what am I missing?”


  6. I’m pretty sure this is my life all the time. I’m glad you referenced the Linda Holmes article, she’s so great! While I feel like I can manage Twitter (@mackymoo) okay, I can never keep up with blogging. I do a lot of bookmarking things to read later and then by the time I’ve thought enough about an issue to write on it, the moment is passed. And it’s worse when it feels like your classmates know more about an issue than you do. One strategy might be to make sure you’re keeping up with a variety of sources so you’re not getting repetitive content all the time. Thanks for this post though! It is always nice to know you’re not alone.


  7. LIS overload! That’s how I feel right now. With all my projects in school due, I just have to ignore my google reader which has consistently been at 1000+ for a couple months now. I get my info from so many feeds, I don’t even register articles as being read. One of my classes, we are asked to bring in “clippings” and since I read articles about LIS all the time, I don’t even think to bring one in, even though I usually have read all the articles discussed in class. The info overload is numbing me!


  8. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one out there that gets this overload feeling! I was very proud of myself when, due to a lot going on recently, I marked over 100 items on my google reader as read. I had to take a few deep breaths afterwards though…


    • Haha, that’s how I feel when I come up for air after a slew of lectures and readings for class. A deep breath or two followed by a couple episodes of Futurama usually helps restore my sanity. 🙂


  9. Thank you for this post, Katie (and comments all), I feel very much the same way. I’m in my first semester of MLIS school (one class meeting and one paper away from completing that semester!) and I actually almost didn’t click through on the Twitter link because I already have 18 tabs of “to read” open in my browser — make that 19 with the NPR link… which I read and then tweeted. After struggling to keep up with the avalanche of acronyms and terminology for a completely new field (10 years after graduating college the first time) I am trying – despite my similar nerdy-heart intentions – to give up on the idea that I could process and retain all of this new information as quickly as it comes at me. The advice to be selective is good and, in addition to retooling my fiction-dominated brain to again be reading for content, I have been coaching myself on how to skim effectively as well. I remind myself to be patient and kind with myself, I don’t need to take in all of it right NOW and when there are other more appealing life opportunities, those are still good to take advantage of.
    And I have been practicing saying: “I don’t know. I will try to find out.”


    • Yeah I’ve found that I’ve started to fine-tune my skimming/reading skills, especially for academic papers. It makes writing abstracts and annotated bibliographies much easier, when the teacher assigns you very long articles. I will admit, the amount of work that is due next week is causing my blood pressure to rise. Overload!!


      • I’ve been out of library school for almost two years now, and I think the issue you raise regarding fine tuning skimming/reading skills is likely the biggest problem in library school. We spent semester after semester expected to read about 1,000 pages per week and think critically about all of it. It’s not possible. So you skim for assignments, pick out a paragraph or two, and elaborate on that for the assignment. It gets the grades, but I’m not sure it really enhances learning. Library school is definitely good for getting exposure to a wide variety of ideas.


  10. Ha, information overload is exactly what has kept me from reading Hack Library School on a more regular basis: I get caught up in all the information available, everyone seems to be involved to an impossible degree, and the links to blogs I want/need to follow? Overwhelming.

    I think this post is helpful not just because it is urging us to be selective in what we pursue with gusto, and then just dipping our toes in the rest; it lets us know that we are not alone, that we’re not expected to be SuperLibrarian – master of all information organization, technology, books, copyright, etc.

    We can just be librarian, with a lower-case l, and perhaps an adjective thrown in front for good measure. 🙂


  11. Thank you for sharing a synopsis of the NPR spot. It sounds so Zen. This is my first semester of MLIS and my left eye has started twitching if I work on a computer for more than an hour. To cope, I schedule non-LIS time [which may include calling my librarian sister :)], am switching my course readings to an e-Ink reader, and try not to use my breaks at the library to keep up with the social network postings.


  12. Much sympathy to the others whose reader has hit the 1000+ as I suspect the unread count on mine is now so high, it may actually choke and drown on content. I’m sure buried somewhere in all those unread posts lies the key to knowledge, enlightenment, and the ability to manage my LIS program in a manner other than the headless chicken routine. I’ll probably just mark everything as read and start from scratch. Awesome.


  13. Totally with all those with the Reader at 1000+. The only way I can deal with all the info is to quite a bit of skimming, regularly weed out people from my twitter feed that don’t line up with my interests, and constantly mark all as read without actually reading. I also click on very few links that are posted, unless I see them posted multiple times. It makes me sad though, because I often DO miss things, like upcoming conferences that I didn’t even know where happening. I found that the personal connections to other library students and librarians have been the most valuable way to find the most relevant information. I’ve been doing a whole lot more networking, in person and through social media, and have learned so much from my peers. They also tend to bring up what is important, so I’m not missing quite so much.


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