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* Tuesday, May 29, 2007

1 Thing to the Next Generation

There's been a lot of talk online lately about finding the time to keep up, the tsunami of email we all face, and balancing work, home, and online life. Of course, this isn't the first time these issues have come up. Both Michael Stephens and Steven Cohen have talked about this a lot, always encouraging others to take breaks and get away from it all. So in that sense, this is very cyclical.

However, I think what we're seeing right now, is an acceleration of our online options, as well as an unprecedented number of tools to try and keep up with. A year ago, who would have thought that folks would be using tools such as Twitter and Meebo Chat Rooms to meet and stay in touch at such a micro level? It's difficult to be everywhere at once, even virtually, and there are a lot more bloggers saying that out loud now. And it's not just bloggers or early adopters - now it's everyone. I'm having trouble, just like everyone else. It's tough to juggle it all, and it's exacerbated when you feel like you're not doing well enough in any one area.

After reading Michelle's post, though, I realized part of what I want to say about all of this. A couple of months ago, Jennifer Graham wrote a really great post called 5 Things to the Next Generation that should have become a bigger meme. I didn't contribute at the time because those who had already responded covered what I would have said. While there are multiple pieces to this discussion, in the spirit of Jennimi's post, here is my "1 Thing to the Next Generation" for the blogging/online issue.

You can't do it all, and admitting it is okay. This online stuff, it's great. We *love* living in this time, right? It's fun, it's constant learning, it's empowering and alluring if you love learning and information. All of those tools at our fingertips to learn about and play with, all to help people. It's beyond cool.

But it's not your life, nor should it be. You have to learn to let some of it go and then be okay with that (which is the hard part). Michael Stephens talks a lot about how librarians need to let go of the "culture of perfect." For the younger bibliobloggers I will add that you have to learn to let some of the pressure go. You physically cannot keep up with it all, so beating yourself up over failing to do so is pointless.

When you've been at this long enough, that gets easier. My first blog - The Librarians' Site du Jour - spanned 1995-1999, and one of the hardest things I've ever done was to give it up. With the phrase "du jour" in the title, I felt like I had to post every weekday, and it was a long time before I was able to skip a day, let alone not plan ahead for a vacation. By 1999, I needed to re-focus on my family life, so I made a choice to stop blogging, which turned out to also be very freeing. When I started this blog in 2002, that experience helped me realize that it's okay to post irregularly and I no longer apologize for that.

I haven't been able to answer every email for years or keep track of every new tool, and while I wish this was different, I don't let it eat me up anymore. I do what I can, and last year I started cutting back on the number of speaking requests I accept (it's great to have so many librarians speaking about 2.0 topics now!). You can find that balance that works for you as long as you don't let yourself get sucked into believing that you are your blog and your blog is you. There is much more to you than just your website or your online profiles, and you need to spend equal amounts of time - if not more - cultivating the rest of your life. It would be a bad thing if you spent *all* of your time doing any one thing, not just being online. Remember that it's all cyclical, and that some days will be online days, while others will be offline ones.

Most people I know don't have a problem taking a break from their online lives; where they have the issue is in learning how to be okay with the breaks. It doesn't help if walking away for a day or a week just puts more pressure on you. The ability to accept not getting it all done is much harder, and that's something I wish I could pass on to you. It's not that I don't care, it's that I'm doing what I can and that's good enough. So I come in late on comments on a post, I'm bad at responding to email, and it's better to reach me through IM, and I'm okay with all of that.

In my mind, I've blogged every day since that first post in January 2002. In reality, I'm lucky to blog once or twice a week anymore, and I've accepted that. It's like admitting it is the first step on the road to recovery. One of the most frequent questions I get these days is how I decide what to blog about, and the answer is that it's a pure luck of combination that consists of 90% time and 10% topic. I have a million topics but no time, and I'm not going to give up the personal parts of my life to make more time.

Part of it is the tools, which will get better. For example, Flickr gets it right, in that I can post some private pictures for just friends or family, but it doesn't go far enough with granularity. Hopefully that will change. Twitter gets it right, in that I can access it via multiple methods (IM, text messaging, the web, etc.), but it doesn't let me specify which friend updates I want to receive on my cell phone the way Facebook does. Facebook gets that *so* right, but it doesn't let me put my news feed in my aggregator. All of these tweaks combined would make me more efficient and would help my friends track me better, but until they get there, we continue to struggle.

So that one thing (back to the point) - it's that it's okay. You don't have to be superlibrarian at work. You don't have to be superblogger at night. You don't have to know everything about online tools just because you're the techie or the 2.0 person or the youngest person on staff. You don't have to answer each and every email. You don't have to be on Twitter or Meebo every day. You don't even have to be online every day. As someone who has been blogging for 10 years, trust me on this. Take a break, for a day, a week, or a month, until it's fun again instead of pressure.

And remember that saying no to something is actually saying yes to something else.

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