Saturday, August 30, 2008

It was 14 years ago today....

On August 30, 1994, the music world and my own personal musical tastes were changed with the release of an album called "Definitely Maybe" by a then-small band called Oasis from Manchester, England. A year later, the band released "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" an album, as I recall, that was overflowing with one hit single after another.

The songs from those two albums flooded my head and floated me through university. This was the British Invasion for my generation marked by a sound that mixed Britpop with wall-to-wall guitars and anthemic-lyrics.

In North America in the early nineties, the music landscape was shaped by grunge music, an alternative style of music that surfaced in Seattle, Washington, and focused on shifting music dynamics (quiet then loud, quiet then loud) and angst-filled, apathetic lyrics.

Britpop in general and Oasis in particular, however, were different. It was celebratory, cocksure, full of swagger. It was a momentary breath of fresh air in a grunge atmosphere.

In 2004, Noel Gallagher, discussing his band's first album and its impact ten years later, explained that the the music he wrote tapped into "what was missing in a lot of people’s lives."

The band is about to release its seventh album, "Dig Out You Soul" in October 2008.

We live in a fast-food band era. Bands come and go; they are marketed to death, reach saturation, and then gladly fade away.

The mark of a good band is its longevity or more specifically the longevity of its music. We all have bands and songs like that, stirring in our heads and, hopefully, playing in our iPods.

Is the musical scene fertile once again for longevity or are we seeding short-term musical sprouts?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Environmental Factors

I spent a week visiting family and friends in Canada's largest city, Toronto. I had a good time seeing new places, doing new activities, and, more importantly, gaining a new perspective or outlook on matters, perhaps one of the best benefits of taking a vacation. Like all vacations, however, they are not long enough.

For those familiar with Canadian cities, there has been a long rivalry between Toronto and Montreal, with each city claiming to have the best in everything from businesses and sports teams to restaurants and night life.

Truth be told: Toronto is a powerhouse of a city filled with busy busy people. Montreal on the other hand is laid back with what the French call a 'joie de vivre' - an enjoyment of life and life's pleasures.

Take your pick. Which city would you prefer?

Sometimes I wonder if one's environment--neighborhood, town, city--affects (negatively or positively) one's success in life?

Something to ponder, I suppose.

Since I am barely able to type out this sentence (brain is drained, I think), I reckon it is best to say that I hope to write more once my brain recovers from vacation mode.

In the interim, I hope you're enjoying your summer!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Not So Abstract Friday Abstract

I will take a short hiatus from blogging. With summer seemingly drawing to an early close this year in these parts, I might as well take advantage of the remaining sun and warmth (and rain clouds) that grace our sky 2-3 months a year.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Singapore Bound

Yes, it can now be revealed, I, no no....wait....

I received an email from a good friend and fellow library school graduate a few weeks ago in which he told me he had accepted a Cataloguing/Metadata Librarian position. That's great, I thought. I must admit, however, I was a little puzzled by the news since he had only two years earlier accepted a similar position at a very prestigious university in California.

He told me the position was in Singapore. I thought I read the email incorrectly. Nope, I read correctly, it's Singapore.

Originally from Hong Kong, this move from California to Singapore would be for him and his wife more of a coming home, or at least closer to the region and the people they are most familiar with.

He will start in late August as Cataloguing/Metadata Librarian at Singapore Management University Library. After visiting the university website and library site, think about how the world is changing, how through technology, the world is truly becoming a more connected place.

Postscript to Why I Blog

I want to thank both new and long time readers for stopping by and reading and commenting on the three-part series on why I blog. When the idea came to write on this topic, I was seeing in my mind the post growing longer and longer, because I saw several stories surfacing that needed telling. This is gonna be too long, I figured.

Unsure on how to proceed, I arrived, unexpectedly, on a website article called "How to write for new media" on a blog called thePuckWrites. In the article, the author advises writers of blogs and new media to follow a few simple guidelines, including breaking down long posts into a series. Voila!

In short, I wrote this 'long blog post' to shed an objective light, and perhaps derive some insights, on a peculiar work experience. Presently, the situation remains in flux, full of unknowns, and marked with further inward reflection. The act of blogging, however, is action. Positive action.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why I Blog: Part 3

In Part 2 of the series on why I blog, I discussed the evolution of The DIGITAL Archive blog from a humble blog chronicling a research project to a public platform expressing personal and professional thoughts, opinions and observations. Moreover, the struggle to find a new direction after the research project ended became its primary content.

In this third and final part, I will clarify the reasons why I blog in light of this unconventional history.

Towards self-discovery

In a weird way, The DIGITAL Archive is living up to its name. It is an archive, a digital one, containing thoughts, opinions and observations, not all well-organized as it should be but good enough, I guess.

I write to communicate. I am not the best writer in the blogosphere, but I have the passion, the patience, and the risk-taking instincts to sit my butt on a chair and type and to do so honestly.

The words I choose to write and publish on The DIGITAL Archive are in many ways stories about self-discovery. They are not weepy talk show stories to be psychoanalyzed. Rather, they are stories about someone proudly working in a field, actively writing about the field, about the impact of larger forces on the field, and in the course of doing so, seeing himself in a new light and writing about the bigger picture, the forces causing change, and, more importantly, the possibility of discovering his own passions.

That said, faithful readers (yes, all three of you), if you are looking for a hardcore archives blog, then this blog is not for you. While I am pleasantly surprised and thankful that The DIGITAL Archive appears on the All About Archives, Blogs by archivists section of a much larger archives-focused wiki, this blog does not attempt to represent the field or cover issues of urgent concern to archivists.

What you see me doing, isn't what I do / Who I am, isn't really who I am

Jill-Hurst Wahl, who blogs over at Digitization 101, wrote a blog post called “What you see me doing, isn’t what I do.” A very thought-provoking piece, it had a significant role in prompting this series on why I blog. (Blog ideas, like story ideas, rarely occur in a vacuum.) In her blog post, she focuses on a book whose chapter examines the contrast between what people do to earn a living (make money) and what they do to fulfill creative urges. In a brilliant paragraph, she describes herself using this work-life/creative-life paradigm:

I am a consultant, a speaker, an author, an adjunct faculty member, and a trainer. I used to describe myself as a corporate librarian. Many years ago, I describe myself with words that talked about my work in information technology. And many, many years ago, I worked in radio as well as with children in a local park. What you are likely not to see is that I'm also a wonderful gardener, a person who cares about the environment as well as friends and colleagues, and a good cook (all parts of the creative me).

What you see me doing, isn’t what I do. Think about that for a second. The work we do, to earn money, to pay the bills, is often not the complete picture of what we do or who we are. The other parts are often revealed in our creative endeavours. Now let's tweak that zen-like sentence a bit. Who I am, isn't really who I am. A business card or job title will state who you are in the context of work: Archivist, Librarian, Records Manager. But the actual work that one does may be very, very different from the work typically associated with those job titles.

The work I did over the years in the archives field, which I accomplished successfully and which was well-received by employers, was not the work of a traditional archivist. The work I performed established foundations and structures (workflows and procedures, to be technical) where none existed before. I was and still am the first wave, the Marines, if you will, the first pair of boots to tackle a large-scale project, be it a website re-design, research project, digitization initiative or digital preservation.

That said, I am seeing myself more and more as an archives advocate and general consultant and less and less as an archivist. I feel I can have a greater impact and more fulfilling experience by working in another capacity. And this is my new direction.

A third reason why I blog

In Part 1, I said I blogged for two reasons; having come this far telling this story, I believe I blog for three reasons. Besides blogging to voice opinions and to share them with others and to partake in a community, I blog to beat back cynicism incurred by chronic unemployment.

A contractual employee, like me, experiences the unknown every time his or her contract comes to an end. It is a frustrating, repetitive cycle: being hired, working hard, completing assigned task, delivering excellent results, and then out the door in one or two years. Forget about professional development. Hello professional stagnation.

Therefore, I blog to beat back the cynicism and the frustration that naturally arise from these experiences. I blog, that is, I create something in the face of negativity in order to believe (or convince myself) that there is still hope.

Consider this three-part blog series an abridged version of eight unconventional years in the archives field. In the end, I am faced with a career paradox: I am stuck, but I am free. I am bound when I believe I am bound, but I become unbound when I think otherwise.

If past mistakes, poor decisions, or whatever else from your past plagues you, remember this: We are not defined by our past. We define ourselves--who we really are--only in the present moment.

I blog in order to stay in that moment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why I Blog: Part 2

From then until now

In Part 1 of this series on why I blog, I provided an overview about why I blog. 1) To share information and 2) to participate in the community of bloggers.

I also discussed how this blog, The DIGITAL Archive, was born out of the need to communicate and share information on an electronic records management and digital preservation project that I had been researching at the university where I worked and how starting the blog allowed me to connect with others with similar interests.
For the second part, I will examine the new direction the blog took after the e-records management/digital preservation project ended.

What next? My concerns become content

Once the project ended, I found myself—and this blog—in a momentary vacuum. What do I blog about now, I thought. For a while, I continued to blog about the research project, adding some personal perspective to the findings. That was fine, for the time being, but I knew deep down I had to find a new direction.

The struggle to find a new blog direction, that is, what would I write about, became the motivation to continue writing The DIGITAL Archive and the subject matter of several blog posts. This struggle, and subsequent blog posts about it, began to take a new shape, innocently enough, causing me to wonder about pursuing a new direction altogether, in life and career.

In the months between the end of the research project and the day I resigned from my position at McGill, I took tentative steps to expand the scope of the blog. While I discussed email management and digital preservation with some zeal, I also peppered the blog with concerns about preserving blogs, technology predictions, and the future of the Web, subjects I found closer to my heart and mind.

Moreover, in an unplanned move, I also discussed concerns and doubts about the career I found myself in because I wanted to give voice to these concerns and wondered if anyone else felt the same.

When I resigned from the university, I wanted to continue blogging because I had found an ingenious communication medium and had established a very small community of readers (judging from the occasional comment, I figured I had some readers).

I realized that it took time and persistence to find a ‘blogging voice’ and a central theme around which blog posts revolved. I figured I was still a teenager whose blogging voice was changing, maturing. The blog’s voice, as well as its author’s voice, was clearly changing. The DIGITAL Archive, once heavily focused on archives, became a kaleidoscope of ideas that only alluded to archives.
I believe a blog is organic, like a tree that starts life as a tiny twig; it grows into a complex repository of opinions and ideas, with shoots springing forth into other blogs, bearing fruit now and then. Sometimes, however, especially when the blogger’s situation is precarious, the blog grows in ways the blogger never anticipated.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Why I Blog: Part 1

Rationale, Reasons

The act of blogging is, in a way, similar to a person standing on a street corner sounding off on an issue of personal importance, hoping that someone passing by will stop and listen. The blogger writes and publishes blog posts, hoping his or her words will find an audience. Like raising a child and watching them grow and leave, the blogger releases his words never sure of their destiny.

Taken to one extreme, the act of blogging becomes a narcissistic activity, where the messy details of a blogger’s life become blog post fodder, an indiscriminate exposé of daily life. In an ideal, more balanced form, however, the act of blogging is as a two-way communication street and a social networking hub, whereby the blogger expresses and shares opinions, observations and ideas to those reading, and allows for—in fact, encourages—the community of readers to respond, react and generate further discussion, thus building new ideas, new knowledge, and a stronger community.

I hope my blogging activities, that is, The DIGITAL Archive, falls somewhere between narcissism and idealism.

So why do I blog (against all odds, some might add). I blog for two reasons:
  • To give voice to personal thoughts, opinions and observations on the news and current events that I care about and;

  • To partake in the community of bloggers, whether the common thread is based on locality, interests, or profession

Like layers in an onion, however, there is more to the story.

About a project called digitalpermanence

I opened a account in early 2004, but I only started blogging in March 2005. In 2004, the McGill University Archives (where I worked at the time) embarked on a large, ambitious project called digitalpermanence, the university’s attempt at a comprehensive electronic records management and digital preservation strategy.

In January 2004, a small team of McGill archivists was assembled, including me, and tasked to conduct a campus-wide survey of the university’s electronic records and to devise a preliminary e-records management plan and digital preservation strategy. The first phase of the project ran between January 2004 and November 2004, with the second phase--reviews and discussions-- starting in early 2005 (about the time I started blogging). For those interested, the full story of the project is available online on the McGill University Archives’ digitalpermanence sub-site.

In March 2005, with a ton of research information sitting on my desk, I wanted to chronicle the findings of the project.

While our team produced official reports, I, personally, wanted to share information about the project, thus fulfilling that academic urge to share and build upon existing knowledge. I started blogging because the medium intrigued me and because I felt I was conducting important research and no one (outside of McGill) knew about it. I felt I had no one (aside from the already swamped archivists) with whom I could relate this information to, so I started a blog and called it The DIGITAL Archive, explaining in a note that it was an ad hoc, unofficial university blog, not associated with the university.

My first blog post was called “All Systems Go!” Like that lone voice on a street corner, I hoped the words I wrote on electronic records management and digital preservation would reach someone. Discreetly, I blogged about the project, what had taken place and what findings, if any, were being discovered. It was a great learning experience on two fronts: the research on e-records management and digital preservation proved fruitful, on one front, and the hands-on blogging experience taught me much about this new publishing medium.

By blogging, I had a voice, or at least the project had a voice. In a few shorts weeks, at least two or three other blogs made direct references to the blog. Now not only had I a voice, but I was becoming part of a community of bloggers who also shared in some of the project’s discussions. Slowly, the blog’s audience grew and I, the blog’s author, began to connect with other bloggers in the blogosphere.

As the blog was hitting its stride, however, the digitalpermanence project--second phase--came to a halt. This was about fall 2005. The reports I had written were filed away—archived, I would like to think—and the small team assigned to the project moved on to other projects and some to other endeavours.

But The DIGITAL Archive blog, born out of a now dead project, still stared and blinked at me with life and potential. But I was not sure what I was going to do with the blog; in fact, I was not sure what direction my career would take after this large-scale research project ended.

You see, I was a contractual employee working in the archives on a project-by-project basis, the majority of which focused on supporting Web and digitization initiatives. With web and digitization projects under my belt, I welcomed such a large research project. But now the research project had ended as well, and I was confronted with the reality that this was perhaps the end of the line.

Curiously, this struggle to find a new direction, in career and in life, played a pivotal role in the future of The DIGITAL Archive blog.

[Part 2 to be published tomorrow and Part 3 the day after]

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Friday Abstract: Who am I?

Here is a brain teaser that should keep you thinking all through the weekend. Well, I hope so, anyway. It certainly has kept me thinking for a long, long time.

Who am I?

I have a Master of Library and Information Science degree, but I've never worked in a library (though the only time I worked for a library, I worked from home).

I worked in an archives alongside archivists and records managers; I've implemented software and hardware solutions in archives; re-designed websites and conducted research on behalf of archives. But I can count on my hands and toes the number of times I actually accessioned a box of records or personal manuscripts.

I work with technology--the Web and its many uses come easy to me--but I am hardly a technologist or guru. I do excellent work. Former employers are more than pleased.

I work on contract, and once a contract ends, I am back to square one all over again.

Who am I?

about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.