on databases that spark joy (and some that don’t)…

A Neat Home…

My house is neat. I don’t like living with a lot of clutter. Reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up brought me joy. The book didn’t spark joy for me because it made my house look better. It sparked joy because it helped me better understand my relationship to the artifacts in my life–specifically, how to let the things cluttering my life go. The Konmari method helped me more consciously curate the artifacts in my home so that most of the things I live with spark joy.

A Tidy Library…

My library is neat. Here at Mid-Pacific, a lot of time and energy has gone into making the most of every square foot of space we have.  We got rid of as much unnecessary furniture as possible, weeded our print collection without mercy, and zoned spaces for defined purposes based on both the physical space and the time of day. As we have progressed through this process, I came to realize that I am not a librarian that is sentimental about books. Books (in whatever format they’re in) have value to me only for the ideas that they bring to life and that they communicate. Beyond that, books as artifacts don’t mean a lot to me so if a book has outdated information in it, I’m happy to see it become an art project. If a book hasn’t circulated, I’m happy to send it off to the Friends of the Library book sale so it can fulfill its destiny as an object to be enjoyed by another person or community.

In the physical world, I’m a proudly organized being. #LooksDown #Hubris

A Hoard of Databases…

When it comes to the digital world… Uhhh… Errr… Ugh… I am a #DigitalHoarder

There… I said it… I am a digital hoarder.

My Google Drives #Alas… My Google Drives (plural) are zones of shame. My email folders (AOL, 2 Yahoo, 2 personal Gmail, and my work email) are the digital equivalents of the very worst episodes of Hoarders: Buried Alive that you’ve ever seen.

When it comes to electron-based artifacts, I struggle with the concept of “throwing things away.” My brain thinks that because digital files are accessed only through a small pane of glass before me, they don’t take up a “space” so my brain thinks, “What’s the harm in keeping these on hand just in case I need them one time in the next 12 months.”

Admit You Have a Problem… 

At some point, in order to overcome that which truly is impeding your progress you need to come to grips with the dimensions of your problem. For me, this moment came when I recently met with a class researching the “costs of war” (economic, cultural, societal, etc.). Because of scheduling issues, the class was well into their research by the time I got to hang out with them for a period as they searched and took notes. After 3 reference interviews with students doing “feral” research, it became pretty clear that none of the kids in the class had looked at our World at War database. “Oh my god, I’ve been Googling for two days and it’s ALL here,” indicated that one hint put them on track, but as I chatted with them a number of kids told me that our database page has so many databases that they go to Google because they often don’t know where to start. While I find this pretty disappointing, I also can’t say that I blame my students at all. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I don’t know where to begin a search, I Google. It is familiar and it gets me SOMETHING. My kids are just taking a course of action that makes sense to them at this moment in time. 

Weed Digital Clutter to Make Room for Attention… 

I’ve finally had to come to grips with my wrongheaded notion that digital clutter doesn’t take up “space.” My digital database clutter is taking up all of the available space in the room in my kids’ brains labeled “MY NOVICE RESEARCHER’S ATTENTION ROOM.” By cluttering up the shelves in the attention room and stuffing it with so much stuff (even awesomely fantastic stuff), all my kids can see on the shelves in the Attention Room in their heads is GOOGLE spelled out in bright primary colors. 

Make Sure You’re Solving the Right Problem… 

One of the things that Marie Kondo’s method helped me understand is that my struggles with my clutter weren’t about superficial organizational issues as much as they were about HOW I think about “stuff” in my home—the items gifted to me aren’t the people I love. An object given out of friendship or love has already done its job, it’s expressed friendship, caring , and love. After that, it’s just an object so it’s okay to let it go if it’s no longer sparking joy. My problem wasn’t disorganization, it was attributing emotional value to objects in my home so thinking differently about sentimental attachments to objects helped me to deal with the real issues.

Getting students to use our database content has been an ongoing issue to be solved for years. Over the past few years, our library program has invested a huge amount of energy and allocated a significant chunk of our budget in our effort to get students’ eyeballs on our very expensive digital content. Working to address the challenge lead us to launch Libguides to give students a centralized portal to go to for all things library/information related. We installed EZProxy to streamline the authentication process for students and teachers to access our subscription databases from home. We built project-specific resource guides, and changed our instructional model to better embed instruction on accessing and using our digital content. I can honestly say that each of those tweaks to our library resources and services has helped us move forward in our quest to help students locate, access, and use better quality content. Our forward progress hasn’t ever been as fast or as dramatic as I would like, more evolutionary than revolutionary, but our persistent and consistent efforts have paid positive dividends over time. The thing is, it now feels like we’ve plateaued and in order for us to get unstuck, it’s time to dump all of our digital content out on the bed and find out which ones really still spark joy and which ones have to be moved out of the house.

Dump It all Out on the Bed… 

If you haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book or watched her show on Netflix, one of the things she recommends you do is to take every item in the one category of things and put them all out in one place. You take EVERY ITEM of clothing that you own, put it out on the bed, then hold each item in turn so you can asses if it still “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t spark joy. It needs to go!

Nicole, my partner in the library and I have decided that we’re going to take the next year to dump all of our databases out on the bed and we’re going to handle each database individually to decide whether it continues to spark joy or if it will be put into the bag of things that we need to let go. 

Good Planning Makes for Good Process… 

As we get ready to launch into this process, we’ve pulled all of our database use stats. As a starting point, I calculate the cost of the database per search. As a librarian, I know that cost per search isn’t necessarily a terrific parameter on which to base a decision about keeping or dropping a database, but I’ve found having actual numbers on hand helpful when communicating with administrators and faculty about the need to change a mix of databases. “We’re spending $1020 a year for this database. Because it only got searched 1426 times in the last 12 months at about $0.72 per search, I really think kids would be better served if we invested that $1020 on ________ instead.”

I’m very much a visual learner so I mapped our database subscription renewals so we can see when subscriptions from various vendors need to be renewed.

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I surveyed the AISL list about how all of you might consider and prioritize different factors in your decision-making when you’re deciding to renew or drop databases.

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Finally, we’ve been looking at a a variety of different database offerings that we currently are not offering. We think we’ve found some products that might work better for our students and our curriculum, than our current offerings. We haven’t made any final decisions, but I think we’re going to start subscribing to a new, more general, database that we’ll launch in the fall. As we work our way through projects in the next school year, I’d like to try to see how few databases we can actually get away with recommending to students. It goes against my instincts, but I think that for where my students are, less may be more.

And Don’t Forget to Sell… 

Finally, this process has also made clear to me that, the selling of databases is something that needs to be an ongoing and sustained effort at the forefront of this entire endeavor. As librarians, we work with database day in and day out, but our faculty (even the awesome ones) can easily forget about that perfect database because they may only look at a specific database occasionally and if it is out of sight it will be out of mind. I had a chat about this with our very supportive VP of Academics and she suggested that she ask each department chair to schedule part of a department meeting each fall with us in the library so we will have the opportunity to introduce/review the scope of our database offerings with faculty for their disciplines.

If you’ll be in Boston exploring Revolutionary Possibilities at AISL’s annual conference, please say hi! I’d love to chat about how you’re handling your database offerings! If you won’t be there this year, please hit comment below and share what you’re doing!

That’s all for now. Happy spring everyone!

2 thoughts on “on databases that spark joy (and some that don’t)…

  1. I Marie Kondo-ed part of my closet. I really need to do this all the way… with everything. In every room. But I digress.

    I have no trouble in my library saying “bye-bye” to physical things. But I agree, when the digital item is not holding its place on a physical shelf, it can fly under the radar and be part of the “I may use this one day” reasoning. Thank you for the thoughtful blog post, Dave. You are always inspiring.

  2. At the 2007(!) AISL conference in Philadelphia, I attended a presentation by Joyce Valenza. She said (and I paraphrase because it was a LONG time ago) “my school has made the money available to me/my library for these resources, so it is my responsibility to ensure they are marketed, visible and USED”. I’ve tried to live by that philosophy in the various libraries I’ve worked in, and it certainly makes it easier to justify ending contracts etc if necessary.
    Thanks for sharing the results of your survey – interesting reading!

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