Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why don't you read my research?

Why don't you read my research?  My blog tagline is "Informing faith so faith can inform life."  I,like most researchers, hope that my research has an impact: it informs, illuminates, and changes my communities in a positive way.  I want my research to help churches and not-for-profits impact their own communities.  Universities and governments are also interested in researchers' impact.  Institutional reputation, grant funding, and knowledge mobilization are on their minds. 

There is a lot more research out there.  Maybe too much.  There are more PhDs.  The pressure to publish, and publish is more highly ranked journals, is increasing.  There are more journals in traditional and new online formats.  How can I get my research to stand out?
I have reflected on this as an information scientist.  We know how people seek information so why can't we reverse engineer how to make it more "findable" (is that a word?)  Librarians have largely limited their new role to collecting and preserving research through digital repositories.  Although important, this is in many respects still old school collecting.  We have traded brick boxes for digital boxes.  A more exciting role is the championing of Open Access publishing.  This year we will convert our second Law school journal to an online open format.  Where else can we contribute?  As universities focus more on measuring research impact, I am reminded that information scientists like bibliometrician Blaise Cronin have been studying how research was accessed and cited for decades.  This should be familiar territory for us.  I think we need more Blaise Cronins. I think I'll give him a call. :-)

Serving on my faculty's Research Committee has impressed upon me how the question of research dissemination weighs on many minds.  What new skills do researchers have to learn?  What skills might librarians contribute?  This is worth exploring together.  In the meantime with support of my faculty colleagues I have developed a tool to support research dissemination.  What do you think? Are we on the right track?

Image Credit: Creative Commons License - "impact / impakt / n." by Nick Southall, June 28, 2011, on Flickr .

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Netflix Phenomenon Goes to Church

This past summer we finally cut the cable.  With AppleTV and subscriptions to iTunes and Netflix we rarely miss those 150 channels of "Friends" reruns.  Of course the limitation with any streaming service is that someone else sets the menu.  It is a wide menu so there is always something to watch. But where is Babylon 5?  And when do we get the next season of Murdoch Mysteries?

My church recently signed up for a Netflix-like  subscription streaming video service: RightNow Media.  This service offers libraries of video Bible studies, leadership training materials, and christian conference presentations.  There are hundreds of video studies for adults on Bible, Marriage, Parenting, Finances, Evangelism, etc.  There are stories for children from series such as Veggie Tales (now coincidentally produced by Netflix). 

Evangelical teachers like Francis Chan, Bill Hybels, or Andy Stanley can join your Sunday school class or home group meeting for a low monthly fee.  All members are provided individual passwords to log into the website and app.  The church has the ability to create packages of teaching materials or publish a church favourites list.  The small group I attend is using Francis Chan's study Crazy Love.  We watch the video lesson and then discuss the questions from the accompanying study guide.  It challenges the unexamined faith. (You can watch Chapter 1: "Stop Praying" below.)

Previously Sunday school teachers and study leaders would trundle down to the local Christian bookstore to purchase appropriate materials.  When studies on video tape became available they were expensive and churches would buy one VHS or DVD set that might circulate among groups.  This model brings educational and inspirational materials to the living rooms and mobile devices of individual members.  For church leaders it offers exciting possibilities.

It does raise for me other considerations about the Theology of Information Seeking.  RightNow Media is a not-for-profit ministry based in the U.S.  There stated mission is "to help people trade in the pursuit of the American Dream for a world that desperately needs Christ."  Their goal is "to encourage millions of Christians to be on mission wherever God has them ... to be TRADERS... people who intentionally put “others before self, and Christ above all.”  Theologically the ministry's doctrinal statement is conservative, evangelical, and premillenial.  The videos they include however represent a wider cross-section of the evangelical spectrum and many would be of interest outside the evangelical fold.  For instance it was a Catholic Seminarian who first introduced me to Chan's Crazy Love.  This kind of church sanctioned service however does shift the locus of teaching doctrine from the local church pastor to an external source.  Are we prepared to outsource this responsibility?  It merits thought; the New Testament standard for religious educators is very high.  Personally I think the potential for a resource like this outweighs the potential problems.  Nonetheless, this changes things and warrants further consideration.  I think this is my next research project.

Enjoy Francis Chan's Crazy Love, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), Chapter 1: "Stop Praying"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Grand Vision: The Halifax Central Library

Today I visited the new Halifax Central Library.  Wow.  I only had a few minutes before my bus to rush in to look around.  I am impressed.
It is a grand building undoubtedly, and beautiful.  What also struck me was that it is a people place.  People reading, chatting, studying, meeting, and, like me, gawking.  I remember some years ago attending a conference session of community spaces.  A European graduate student described her puzzlement when she first arrived in Halifax.  She wanted to find the 'piazza', the city plaza common in many European cities.  "Where do people meet here?" It was an interesting question. "At the mall maybe. or a local bar" we offered.  Once upon a time the community church was the meeting place in North American communities but regrettably few still play that role.  After all these years I think I have an answer to her question. For at least the folks on the peninsula the Halifax Central Library has the potential to be our piazza. 

I was struck with the many kinds of spaces in the library.  The Halifax Living Room of the top floor offered a spectacular view of the city but was also a quiet reading spaces.  A couple chatted on one sofa while another person curled up in a chair with a book.  It did have a living room feel.  Students clustered in alcoves and lone researchers worked away on laptops in semiprivate alcoves.  The coffee shops were alive with conversation.  And people checked out books; lots of them.  That is note worthy in such a high tech facility.

Some people will disagree with the design and style of the building.  Others might chaff at the cost of such a space.  I can see those concerns.  I'm not usually a fan of monumental construction myself.  I usually find an atrium a colossal waste of space (and I really hate skywalks).  The openness of this space however adds to its appeal as a community place.  I also admire the grandeur of the vision, something that Nova Scotia needs more of.  It is more than the architectural feat.  It is community building.  It is something as a city we can be proud of.  It is creating buzz. In a dying province we need that kind of thinking.

As I left the stood out front of the library waiting for my bus I came to a realization.  I am tired of little visions.  I want more grand visions; not just the same old tired ideas writ bigger.  I want to be part of transforming visions.  It needn't be buildings, but it needs to be outlandish.  Thanks Judith Hare and your team for being doggedly persistent.

Enjoy the brief tour from CBC. But trust me, you'll want to check it out yourself.

"Halifax Central Library",
"Piazza Navona", Giorgos, May 7, 2007, Flickr:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Defining Leadership Inside and Outside the Church

My church is looking for a new Lead Pastor.  Last week (October 27, 2014) I attended an information meeting to learn about the process.  In Baptist circles pastors are hired by the local congregation (though often with denominational assistance).  As the job ad suggests there are biblical requirements, character qualities, educational achievements, and professional skills required by candidates for this office.  It is a difficult calling.  Coincidentally my faculty is looking for a new Dean. This week I had a visit from a search committee member soliciting my perspective about what we needed in a Dean.  Most faculties will expect that a Dean will be an effective manager, an academic, and the public face of the school.

I have been reflecting on leadership and what makes someone a leader both in the church and outside.  I'm going to distinguish between people in leadership roles and leaders. Not every administrator is a leader.  Leadership is however a tricky concept to nail down.  If you executed a library catalogue keyword search for the term leadership you would find nearly half a million books.  A leader, at its simplest level, is someone others choose to follow.  For the church Jesus would be the archetypical leader: he founded Christianity but never studied theology, never held office, never had an earthly title, or even owned a piece of property.  People followed him to their death (and beyond).

Ok, maybe not fair to invoke Jesus Christ here so lets consider a human example: Ghandi.  He has been called "the preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement" but his leadership was not based on political office or traditional power.  In part it was his personal charisma.  Obama's charisma (he was relate-able) helped get him elected.  Pope Francis' charisma (he is inspiring) will help him introduce tough reforms.  But charisma is fleeting, and leadership must be built on something deeper.

So I thought what makes me want to follow someone?  Here is my list:

1. TRUST.  I trust a leader who cares for my interests as well as their own and values the things I value.  We live in an age where a CEO can lay off 1000 employees and take home a million dollar bonus.  Then the company brings in a consultant to help build trust and morale.  Duh.  If you take care of me, I will take care of you.  If you are taking care of you, I will take care of me.  For example: my children are important to me.  If you are a church leader and you want me to trust you, then show me my kids are important to you by the priorities you set.

2. KNOW THYSELF.  A leader understands her/his own strengths and weaknesses.  They share their successes and own their faults.  I have encountered a leadership maxim that effective leaders should not apologize for leadership failures to those they lead.  I can't reconcile that the model of servant leader in the church.  A leader who understands their weaknesses can find those with complimentary strengths to support them and when needed to correct them.  I think that also applies outside of the church: leaders who don't own their failures or blame shift destroy trust.

3. LISTEN. The Republican gains during the 2014 U.S. Senate elections elicited an interesting response from the Democratic President Obama: "I hear you."  However, as one commentator noted their was no indication that any of his key policies would change.  It seems that the message to the public is "I hear you" but "I'm not listening."  One hundred town halls won't help if I don't believe you are listening.  Leaders listen.

4. SPEAK.  The daily tasks of the church push out time to ponder the big picture for most of us.  A leader must have a vision and communicate it effectively to those who follow.  Here is your chance to transform my values and to align them to the values you believe are essential to the big picture.  Belief change is not easy, and I need to see clearly the benefits, but I am open to change.  Some church transitions fail because people aren't open to change.  They also fail because church administrators failed to communicate.  The same applies in the secular world.

Leadership.  Hard to pin down; but needed so desperately.

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