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.


Lauren K said...

As a consulting archivist, I really relate to what you're saying here, about staying in the present moment, and, about the problems that come with trying to define one's self by answering the question 'what do I do.' Maybe because I've recently transitioned from salaried archivist to contract/consulting archivist just in the last two years, I've been especially sensitive to how I answer the question "So, what do you do?" But in general, I think it's quite a potentially limiting question, and lately, a person who asks me that question receives several right back at them: "You mean, for a living? In my spare time? To keep fit? To amuse myself?"

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Thank you for talking about why you blog. You're right, our blogs are a point of stability in work-lives that are not. We move from project to project, client to client and are constantly in flux. Our blogs provide some roots.

Kelvin said...

Exxxxxcellent. all. Of course, now you're making me read Jill's Blog. She's my friend, so often I get her wisdom outside of her blog. Hmmmm. I missed this lesson, however. This was good for me to read. Thanks.

dkemper said...

Lauren - thanks for the comments and shedding some light on your own work as a consulting archivist.

dkemper said...

Jill - Thank you for writing that post. It got me thinking - and helped in the process of writing this series.

dkemper said...

Kelvin - Thanks for reading and for the comments. I enjoy Jill's blog. Sorry to get you hooked on her blog as well! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

As a freelance journalist facing chronic unemployment--and Googling whether to go into digital archiving--thanks for this thought-provoking blog post. I like the idea as the blog beating back the darkness.

dkemper said...

Anonymous - Thank you for your comment. I'm glad my blog post resonated with you. It's a wonderful thing when that happens. All the best.

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.