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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Leaders Seeking God's Will - David's Defence

It is finished. On August 18, 2014 I successfully defended my PhD dissertation before an examining committee of seven, and a great cheering squad in the gallery.  It was a long defence taking nearly the full three hours, but in the end I passed without corrections.

The process for Interdisciplinary PhDs at Dalhousie University is to have an examining committee comprised of my supervisor, my three committee members, a representative from the ID PhD program, a chair appointed by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and an External Examiner.  My External was Dr. Gregory Grieve from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  The candidate (me) gives a short presentation of less than 25 minutes.  Then beginning with the External, the committee members each take turns asking questions.  There can be a break mid way through (though not in mine) and then a second round of questions.  This will continue for 1-2 hours and then the gallery and candidate leave the room while the committee deliberates.  I then wait impatiently for the chair to invite hopefully Dr. David Michels back into the room.

So I am a doctor now.  Convocation on October 7, 2014 is merely the formality, but my wife says I have to go. :-)  I was privileged to have a great supervisor and committee.  I learned a lot from each of you.  I still feel like a poser calling myself "Doctor" but I'll get there.

For those interested, please find below a re-recording of my presentation.  A little too formal and rushed for my liking but I was trying to cram 7 years of work into 25 minutes.  Enjoy the pictures - I don't like lots of text in a powerpoint.

Next week I will share some of my experiences at the Information Seeking In Context Conference ISIC 2014 in Leeds, UK.

Good to be done (Take us out Cool and the Gang.)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

CAIS 2014: Over the Falls without a Theory

The late May evening was warm, and the mist rising from the Niagara Falls was welcome.  The boardwalk was filled with tourists: delighted conversations in a dozen languages, and starry eyed couples walking arm in arm.  My own thoughts turned to the absence of theoretical grounding in new information science research.  Sigh.

I was in town for the 42nd Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science at at Brock University.  CAIS is only one of 75 academic societies that meet during Congress. The Brock News notes that over 8,500 delegates attended Congress, presenting over 10,000 papers at 2,500 events over 8 days. I will share some of my highlights in the next posts.

CAIS is a wonderful gathering of Canadian and International academics and practitioners interested in research around information. This year CAIS partnered with the Librarians' Research Institute, a CARL initiative to encourage and support Librarian's research. There were a wealth of great papers and you can peruse the program.  Several papers/posters/panels stuck with me.  Julien and O'Brien presented a study of trends in Information Science (IS) research.  Positive changes: more research on non-work/school contexts (health, hobbies, home, etc.), and more research in practitioner journals (escaping the Ivory Towers).  Negative findings: surveys/questionnaires remain the dominant research methods, and most research remains ungrounded in theory.

"Hello, I am calling on behalf of BMO with a short survey about your recent experience with us..."

After the ten minute tightly scripted survey ("Uh, was five "mostly satisfied" or "generally satisfied") I thought about useful facts about my visit she might have asked but didn't. Oh well, BMO's loss.

Surveys/questionnaires are a very straightforward data collection methods. Easy to collect and analyze.  What's not to like? collected is only as good as the survey questions asked, and what people say they do, and what they do aren't always the same (gasp!) Using multiple methods allows researchers to consider their questions from different perspectives.  Experimental and observational methods allow researchers to discern between what I say and what I do.  Participant observation lets me walk a mile in the shoes of my participants, and I begin to understand why they do what they do. So many little time!

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Newton, 1676)

Theory matters because I am not smart enough to do it all on my own. Whether I acknowledge it or not I owe an intellectual debt.  Also science is not only about theory building, it is about theory testing.  I reflected on my own research and how well I ground back what I discover.  I am usually comfortable saying, "My research supports X's theory" but less comfortable disagreeing, "who am I to disagree?"  I am a researcher with good data and credible findings. Time to get serious about building knowledge.

Next: Librarians Professional Identities and Collaborative Research


Oh, in case you wondered if you dropped your watch while leaning out to take pictures of the Horseshoe Falls, that study was completed in 1955. :-)

Sir Isaac Newton, Letter from Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, 5 February 1676, as transcribed in Jean-Pierre Maury (1992) Newton: Understanding the Cosmos, New Horizons(Paraphrasing John Salisbury who paraphrased Bernard de Chartres.)
"Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Mushon Zer-Aviv, 2006,

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