Working Out!

On my research leave, last March, I interviewed several bilingual Coloradan professionals...

On my research leave, last March, I interviewed several bilingual Coloradan professionals in order to try and uncover how they used information in the workplace. My plan was then to use these findings to drive some of my classes. While the research uncovered some interesting and unique challenges for Spanish information seekers in the US (hopefully to be published soon!), I was more struck by the similarities that I noticed with English language workplace information practices. Call me daft, but I'm always been so focused on teaching students about the differences between English and Spanish research that I had completely forgotten to think about the broader picture. Sure, Spanish researchers may use different tools, and wow, you may want to consider all those regional variations of Spanish when you're thinking about keywords, but, in essence, what the bilingual Coloradan professionals struggled the most with (even the experienced folk) was similar to English language professionals: information overload, keeping up in the field, and being organised. While I'm in no way negating the importance of Spanish focused instruction, and most importantly, trying to burst that filter bubble of English language privilege for at least 50 minutes, these results got me thinking. So, in the spirit of those unfinished and fairly woolly thoughts (!) this column will be dedicated to a recap and update about digital tools and strategies that could help address these more process oriented information problems.

Information Overload

By far the number one problem for the professionals I interviewed. This probably isn't news to anyone, including myself since I wrote a column about it back in April 2012. While I still think that being ok with the idea that we're never going to feel in control of all that information is a major step, it seems that most stress is linked to the need to keep up in the field, as well as being organised.

Keeping up in the field

As a whole, my friendly professionals really disliked trying to keep up, perhaps related to the thought that they felt that they would lose their edge in the market if they ignored it. Psychoanalysis aside, however, there are several tools that I haven't mentioned before that could help make the process easier. In terms of keeping up with social media, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are my new favourites. Tweetdeck is limited to Twitter (duh!) but is a simple to use program that lets you track hashtags as well as search words, people and anything else you do on Twitter. Hootsuite has a cute owl logo (what more could you want?!) but most importantly, allows you to keep track all of your social media sites from one place. I know, amazing. From Facebook to Linkedin to Twitter, you can track all updates in one easy to use interface, and it's free for a basic account. There's also been a bunch of new tools that allow you to keep track of RSS feeds, or blog updates since the demise of Google reader. Feedly is my current favourite- with a simple to use subscribe and read feature as well as an app.  The Old Reader is another good alternative though it is currently in beta testing.

Productivity tools for the workflow

The professionals I worked with were also fairly unorganised- yet didn't feel they could take the time to try and work out the tools to help them. Like most of us, the situation was complicated by the fact that they had to be able to store or remember different formats of information- from emails to papers to web pages, as well as different types of information, including ideas, lesson plans and works in progress. Since writing the productivity tools column in August 2012, I've learned about various new softwares that could help. Scrivener is one of those. It's been around since 2007 and is continuing to grow in popularity, especially as it combines a word processor with project management tools AND research material storage and organization. Wow. While there is an annual cost it's super flexible and easy to use. DEVONthink is another one of those tools. While its emphasis is more on information management, rather than writing, like Scrivener, I'm kind of blown away at the different types of file formats that it will store, as well as the search and organization functionality. It's only available on Mac, sadly, and there is a cost, but it's an easy to use and very powerful organization tool. A final interesting alternative is Colwiz, a research management tool from the UK. One of the major attractions is the focus on enabling collaboration between researchers, combining project management functionality with research tools such as the ability to create bibliographies and organise PDFs. 2GB of storage is free, and it is available for Mac and PC.

Having said that...

Before you accuse me of just recycling and updating two columns, I think one of the biggest things I have learned from my interviews with professionals is the need to emphasise the process. No tool will solve all a researcher's problems- and as librarians we need to focus on helping people critically examine their workflow and needs, as well as pushing the shiny technologies. These interviews raise other important questions for librarians too- hey, it wouldn't be a proper dospuntocero column if I didn't finish with at least one unanswered question (sorry, Jesus!) In this case, while these are important aspects of Spanish and Latin American professional information needs, how far should we be thinking about incorporating workplace information literacy into our academic programmes? Some of you may remind me that we have more immediate scholarly goals. Others may wonder if I am becoming a bit of a neoliberal in my old age, focusing on a very functional view of education for workforce readiness. But, I can't help thinking about the Alexandria Proclamation that states that information literacy “lies at the core of lifelong learning.” In addition, all these points also raise the question about whether we as good SALALM-istas, with all the demands on our time, should be focusing on non-specifically Spanish and Latin American information needs, such as helping students combat information overload. As Mr Kipling said, that is another story- though it is one I shall try and write about in my next column :)
Alison Hicks