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?