Fighting against the forces of our time

There comes a time in history when forces bring about so much deep change that people must strike back and decide how they will reorganize society and adapt to these violent eruptions. These reorganizations or countermeasures are never calm or subtle. They are chaotic and uncivilized affairs. Revolutions. Wars. Civil conflicts pitting families against each other. 

One of our biggest failures is that we constantly think of the present as some spear point of time —the furthest point of the story that started so long ago and culminates today. Until tomorrow comes, of course. 

But if we were to take the last decade — or perhaps the years since the beginning of this century — we shall not ignore that we are living in a changing time. The seeds were planted years before the arbitrary date of January 1, 2000 but the problems facing our society seem to have escalated since then. 

In the Western world, we face major economic calamities, pitting the poor against the rich. We have governments unable or unwilling to check the economic, social and political forces foisting themselves upon people. 

Perhaps worse yet, most of us are at a loss at what to do. Some of us want to lurch forward with few questions asked while others blindly jump backward into a false and fake past.  

It is no wonder people look to other sources for inspiration and protection against these rushing forces: narrow religions, clannishness, drugs and alcohol, radical politics. you name it.  

How else shall we as a society carry each other through these times? What type of protection can we grant each other from these destabilizing forces? Would it be too much to ask us to look back at revolutionary times to understand how those people adjusted to instability. 

Hannah Arendt lists the “ambiguous formulations” of once-revolutionary creeds like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What type of specific protections can we offer people in this age? Physical safety? Free health care? A decent minimum wage, or a minimum living allowance? The chance at a decent education? A clean, healthy environment? 

If these sound like standard political fare, it’s because they are. The answers to the question of how to readjust during these times should be far reaching and complete. It’s all we can do if we are going to push back against these great factors that hold so much influence on so many lives.  

What do I need to know to do my job (overseas)?

As I’ve said before, I am reading Martha Nussbaum’s book on how classical philosophers like the Stoics can help you increase your critical thinking muscles by scrutinizing tradition and respecting reason. 

I am still interested in her story of Anna, who took a job in China in her mid 30s. Nussbaum uses Anna’s story to investigate how higher education could teach people like her about traversing different cultures. 

This is, of course, important for those of us who deal with different cultures every day. It’s doubly important to be like Anna, someone working in a different culture. For someone to take a job in a new country comes with a lot of built-in learning. Not only do you need to navigate the learning required for your work, but you also have to get up to speed on the country you will be moving to. Think about the laundry list of information Anna needed to know, according to Nussbaum. 

Near mid-2017, I moved to the United Arab Emirates to take a job as a librarian. I had experience with some aspects of my library job: I had dealt with some acquisitions and helping library leaders make decisions through rational means like statistical and data analysis. 

But what would have helped me better understand my work through a cultural lens? Outside the technical aspect of my job, what could I have learned beforehand to navigate the rocky waters of the cross-cultural experience between the US and the Middle East? 

Here’s a few issues I could have brushed up on:  

  • Labor relations in UAE and the Gulf. We rightfully hear about the plight of migrant workers, and these issues color everyone’s experience. Every non-Emirati in the UAE are here on work visas, and anything we say or the government deems potentially threatening could terminate that visa. These issues play differently as you work in different sectors, but they remain important nonetheless.  

  • Gender. This is the Middle East, and gender is a big issue that colors how you deal with your colleagues. The librarians are all from “Western” countries, but my immediate colleagues hail from Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan and Tanzania, even though some of them have lived here for decades.

  • History of the UAE/Middle East/Gulf States: You can’t truly understand the political history of the UAE without understanding the history of the Gulf. Some would say the Arabian peninsula’s history is also important, mostly because Saudi Arabia is such a powerful factor in both the region and the larger world politically, culturally, religiously and economically. 

  • The role of higher education in the UAE: I work in the Emirate of Sharjah, but all (or most) Emirates have invited or started their own universities. What do they expect the universities to accomplish in their Emirate and the UAE? What issues do they want to higher education to tackle — and why? Of course, academic freedom will play a role in this. But is it as large as you would guess?

  • Resource-based countries: How oil and natural gas wealth have impacted economic development and the political economy of these countries? How do different countries — or regions — handle this resource wealth? 

Memories we choose to remember

My office was probably 10x10 and contained a very powerful air conditioner perched above my seat to fend off the West Africa heat. Here I sat, facing the door at a makeshift desk containing my blocky monitor and whirring desktop.
And sat I did. My day generally started with breakfast and coffee, when we could hear the traffic whiz by outside the 12-foot wall. My wife would hustle off to work, leaving me to my own devices.
From how I remember it, there were days I simply didn’t know what to do. Outside of some odd jobs, I was free. It was that unstructured time that got me into trouble. Sit in front of a computer, research, write and explain. Or, hit the streets and talk to the kids on that crowded and sun-bleached corner?
They each had their advantages. By researching and writing, I could move quicker, get my thoughts published faster and bounce around different topics. Talking and listening was slower, of course. Conversations and ideas must percolate. The writing would be deeper, but I had a find a theme, an essential writing device I always had troubled with.
Such was the unaccompanied writer in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
But there was always the nagging feeling: What was I going to do with this? Could I turn this into something I could sell?
You could say many things were against me. How the US media covered West Africa, which was the lowest rung on the food chain of newsworthiness. My questionable French, a lingua franca in town, perhaps didn’t allow me to get close enough to people. And, perhaps worse, the self control of the person who needed no job. I would be a warren of activity, but what did I ever get done.?

The memory that we choose to remember is what is interesting, Werner Herzog said.

But why is this important to me? Memory is never perfect. If you think of memory as a map, the geography is always changing. And there are places left blank, sort of like the ‘Here be Dragons’ sketched into old maps. Some of the time, I leave these parts alone. They must be unknown for a reason. And I’ve got to work with what information I have. That means better understanding what I already remember. 

Other times, I pore over the blank areas. Why do I have no recollection of that event? It must be repressed for a reason, right? Something juicy from my family history? It’s this type of thinking that often leads me to hope my backstory is more interesting that it actually is. 

I recently came across the above piece of writing from my days as a freelance journalist. It is a written form of a story that I often tell orally. More than 10 years ago, my wife and lived in West Africa. I was a trailing spouse who didn’t have much of a financial reason to work but wanted to be set in a career I cared about. I learned quickly that one of the great afflictions of trailing spouses is you don’t know what to do with this freedom. 

You aren’t obligated to work, so for perhaps the first time in your adult life you are free to do as you wish. Many people thrive in this reality and carve out very productive existences. I was one of those who stared every morning at the same abyss: If I could do anything, what would I do? 

This lead to a flame out of this life. It wasn’t a lack of desire that was to blame—it was focus. I would swing from one project to the next, throwing myself in the new ideas a full 100 percent. The next day I would decide my work from yesterday was no longer worth my time. So I would scrap it and rush to start  a massive project afresh. 

After a few years of this, and very little to show for free work, I decided I needed more structure in my life. 

But this may be one of the few works from that time period that addresses the problem. I edited it a little bit, but it is funny how this version and the one I tell still lines up. It’s the memory we choose to remember, I guess.

Reading as 1) building or 2) mapping

I’d like to get back to thinking about how I take notes in a  book. 

It’s easy to say you’re going to take notes on a book, but you need to do it in an effective manner. Shane Parrish calls note taking a conversation between you and the author. Personally I need to become a more active participant. While I take notes, I usually only note verbatim. 

Here is an interesting recommendation

At the end of each chapter write a few bullet points that summarize what you’ve read and make it personal if you can — that is, apply it to something in your life. Also, note any unanswered questions. When you’re done the book, put it down for a week.

I think of book learning as building blocks, where the comprehension gained from each chapter helps build a little brick where we eventually construct a building or a fence or a messy blob, depending on the subject. I take what I learn from a book and compare and contrast to what I already know. Similar ideas and thoughts combine to become stronger blocks. New ideas and counterintuitive arguments help push the project in a different direction. Poorly argued ideas can bring down an edifice. That’s why we don’t quite know what we are putting together. 

Shane Parrish thinks of this more like cartography. He has an interesting method on how to remember and process what you’ve read. 

shane parrish.png

Both methods have the same unknowing quality. I don’t know quite what I am building and he doesn’t have a full sense of  where he is going.

The important part is reading actively, getting yourself to think about what you’ve read summarize it in a way you understand. This leads to better memory retention. The big trick, I think, is moving from one media (book) to another (paper) which forces your brain to think about the content in a different way. This may also jumpstart the process of moving the material to long-term storage of your mind.

Being a regular

My wife wants to do it. She wants to visit the same place where she enjoys the same meal receives the same friendly service every time. She wants to go where everybody knows your name — or at least she wants to go where everybody knows her name.

It’s called being part of a community, she says. Maybe it is. Why can I get into it? Is it the fact that I don’t want to join a group that would accept me. It could be less philosophical, like I don’t like eating in the same restaurant every time I go out.

This is connected to the internal and external debate, deciding if you should live in a place with lots of activities or live in a place that allows you to grow personally. My wife takes the middle route: She can find lots of activities interesting to her anywhere.

There are days I don’t seem to be able. I found that one way to fight being a regular is to change locations a lot. The urge to move. The urge to look from the outside in. The urge to purposely not belong. The problem is it short circuits potential.

All work and no play

[T]he exercise of freedom is a de facto defense of that same freedom. Freely making art, and freely talking about the art you made, is valuable in and of itself when free expression is being eroded. If anyone’s still taking that freedom for granted, it’s time to wake up and smell the history.

- Rebecca Makkai

This is a US writer writing about the political problems in that country. But I am looking for a more global view of this call to arms: Here is where I ask for the art of people living in United Arab Emirates. It would include Emiratis, of course, but also all those people who were born or moved here that do not have local citizenship. 

We want to hear what those people have to say. What types of creativity would pour out of them?  We want people to express themselves anyway they see fit: Talk about your life, your home, your family. We want to know what you think about how you fit in today’s world. 

Work defines this country. For the millions of people employed here, work is the only way they can live in the UAE. Lose your job and do not pass go and do not collect $200. Even in these type of countries that attracts migrants, work shouldn’t define people. Art and creative work can help fix this. Let’s get to know better some of these folks through their creative output.

Art survival and extinction

Extinction, again.

Alan Lomax and Harry Smith were fighting an interesting battle: keeping the stories and music alive of the peripheral communities and outcasts in the US middle class that like to roll its culture as flat as a pizza. These two were saving the artists who were square pegs from being forced into the round holes.  

Among many things, Alan Lomax made field recordings of musicians and later curated albums (eventually for the Smithsonian). Some of his finds were Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie. 

Harry Smith, another polymath, was a collector first, scouring everywhere for rare 78 records in blues, Cajun, country and gospel. His most famous work came to life when he catalogued and designed nearly 90 songs on a three-record set called the Anthology of American Folk Music that thrust these old tunes from obscurity to the cutting edge and the forefront of the folk revival. 

Some of the musicians these two cultural geologists found (one way or another) would most likely have been found. Sometimes life works like that. We can’t say for certain. What we can say is that these musicians have been saved from possible extinction. 

Not like dinosaur extinction, whether by comet or the lonely struggle against a changing world. These musicians would have grown extinct by a more insidious force: apathy. In the US, failing to grab attention is a death knell, today as it was in 1957. The cultural machinery then, like now, has the power to grey out those intractable cultures. 

One way to fight that extinction, then, is trust your curators. They are leading us to the important fossils. 

The choice to move: External and internal factors

We’ve moved a lot in the last few years. Since 2010, we’ve tallied three continents, four cities. I sit here about 18 months into a contract (with 18 to go) and I start to think: Where next? 

Why is this? Why do I have this desire to prove the grass is always greener? 

My family didn’t mind the moves at first, but now they’re putting their feet down. I am not moving again. Not anytime soon. That’s my wife. My daughter, thinking we may be going back to Washington DC, is a little more cautiously optimistic. 

I’ve spent some time thinking about why I get the itch to go after a few years. 

Here’s the beginning of my thinking, which I look at two specific and opposite fields impacting me: external stimuli and internal stimuli.  

  • External is where you live

  • What the place is like 

  • The people who live there 

  • Things to do

  • The community 

  • The environment 

Internal

  • Is what you do with yourself 

  • The care and feeding you have for your internal life  

  • How much time the place gives you to pay attention to yourself, your family, whatever is important to you

  • The access you have to your creative juices

  • Stress free as can be

You think about your external life but the internal time is just as important. You can’t grow personally without caring for the internal. I know this intellectually, of course, but I have long prized the external over the internal. I have wanted to live in certain based on a quality of life index: walkability, interesting people, interesting things to do.

The drive for the external life has always been something of a balance. That’s because 

the conditions of the external has consequence with the internal: long hours, heavy work schedule, traffic, the general attitude. If it’s not the best place for you, it could add to your stress. And this matters. 

Perhaps, though, by pushing to make the external supreme, I discounted the internal. In fact, I never thought about the internal to make it an important part of my decision making process. 

The truth is, while I pine for something more external, living here certainly affords me the time to work on my internal life: my family, my hobbies, my creative projects. 

Perhaps I need to start focusing on that. Sure, I’d love to be able to walk more, but this place gives me a lot of time to read and write. I need to start using that to my advantage.   

Stay tuned. 

Ideas on notes

I am still thinking about Jennifer Roberts asking her students to sit in front of a piece of art for three hours, writing down their observations. She asks them to note how their thoughts and feelings change over the three hour time period.  

The idea stems from the fact that staring for three hours will force you to look in detail at each inch of the painting. As your eyes pour over every nook and cranny, you can find aspects of the painting you would have missed walking by or sitting for a few minutes. Roberts has done this in front of paintings herself, and she expects your thinking about the piece will change over time as these details come into view. 

I’d like to think about how to do this with books. I read a lot of books, and while they’re a good source of education, I have to think I miss a lot of details. Deep reading is one thing. But like Roberts instructs her students, I think it would also help to note down my thoughts and feelings about a book as I am still reading it. 

Here are a few ideas I have. 

Audible as a crutch 

I listen to audible, sometimes jumping rope. This is a problem for noting ideas down, so I have tried to also grab the physical (or ebook) where possible. I glance at the book after I’ve gone through a chapter or interesting section. Working in a library makes getting a hold of the book easier. 

It’s true that blogging about my readings has helped me increase thinking about those books. And daily blogging has allowed me to watch how my thinking evolves as I move through a book. 

In regards to Audible, I find turning the book off and letting myself reflect on the book. I hope this leads to deeper learning. 

Of course, I am writing this in front of my library’s copy of Crashed by Adam Tooze, which I’ve only looked at occasionally since listening to audible version. I know I need to dig more into the book — he covered a lot of ground in that text — but I haven’t yet brought myself to do it. 

Notes 

I am a dedicated note taker for non-fiction books that I read. Sometimes I read with the computer next to me so I can type the notes in immediately. Or I travel around with a nice set of sticky tabs that I place right on the paragraph I’d like to get back to. 

This sticky tab method is interesting because I can do it just about anywhere. However,  sometimes I find myself looking over the paragraph in question and wondering, “why did I note this? This is nothing.” 

The one issue about my notes is I generally write them about verbatim, so they can be a few sentences long. I know it would lead to a deeper learning (or memory) if I force myself to put the text in my own words, using my own examples. 

Reading is a wonderful pastime, and working through a book on a complicated subject can be a chore. A good chore, but you hope that it helps you in more ways than one. 

Attentiveness: Both fast and slow

The art historian Jennifer Roberts gives her students a simple assignment. For the term paper they will write on a single work of art they must begin by spending three hours viewing the painting, "noting down his or her evolving observations as well as the questions and speculations that arise from those observations.”

It’s not exactly a popular learning method, she said, but she has her reasons. Writing in Harvard Magazine

The time span is explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise is the museum or archive setting, which removes the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions...What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness. Or, in slightly more general terms: access is not synonymous with learning. What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience.
— Jennifer Roberts, Harvard Magazine

This is an interesting way to look at all of learning, whether visual, auditory, reading/writing. Like many others, I have a very bad habit of bouncing around from subject to subject. In fact, my curiosities leap from topics like an ADHD sufferer. I don’t really learn these topics, and it shows: I can only recall the bare outlines of subjects and I can rarely put them into context.  Learning things on the internet only makes this habit worse.

Roberts again:

I think that if we want to teach history responsibly, we need to give students an opportunity to understand the formative values of time and delay. The teaching of history has long been understood as teaching students to imagine other times; now, it also requires that they understand different temporalities. So time is not just a negative space, a passive intermission to be overcome. It is a productive or formative force in itself.
— Jennifer Robers, Harvard Magazine

What does slowing down offer? Roberts said that she began a project dissecting a painting by the artist John Singleton Copley with this very method. Within minutes of just staring at his Boy with a Squirrel, Roberts began seeing things she may have never have noticed, ideas and details that became central to her thesis. 

With my history of topic jumping, this process has a lot of attraction to me. Here’s a list of potential uses:  

  • Reading even deeper into specific subjects: Every six months I choose a few topics to direct my reading, allowing me to learn a bit more about an issues that interests and hopefully see how the ideas of one topic fits together with what I already know.

Right now my subject reading is the environment and climate change. To follow Roberts’ idea, perhaps I can dive deeper on The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, my first book in this series. I could start by looking through her bibliography and developing a deeper sense of the sources she relied on. Kolbert covers a lot of ground in the book, but she’s writing for a general audience. It may be wise to dig deeper like reading on the subjects written for scientists, keying on the major issues they realize and comparing it back to Kolbert’s version. The idea is to take an individual text more seriously instead of blithely moving from title to title.

  • Writing deeper on subjects. Perhaps I could decide to tackle a specific subject in my writing. Like my learning, my writing flits from subject to subject, never allowing me to dig deep and develop my own ideas. Focusing in on a single narrow subject (like workers rights today) as opposed to a much larger one (say, the perils of contemporary capitalism) would force me to percolate ideas longer and better detail my thoughts and opinions. 

A lost world of culture

The idea of extinction got me thinking. What if extinction affects domains outside the animal kingdom. 

Could there be extinction of scientific work? I used to work at a NASA Library where every so often I’d find a researcher searching a very old part of the collection. He was looking for plastics research from decades ago when the research team hit a wall as it came up against technological realities of the mid-1960s and the work had to be mothballed. As technology in this area caught up with the ideas of that long-ago team, the researcher was interested to see if he could go back to see if he could restart this once lost work.

In this case, a once cutting edge project was saved fifty years later from extinction by a curious researcher. Does this idea of pulling out dead projects work in the cultural sphere? We know that languages can become extinct, and it continues to be a growing problem.

Could certain art styles also die out? Painting aesthetics can slowly lose adherents, but are they extinct if interested scholars still have the ability to dissect the oeuvre for academic purposes? Probably not.  

What if there are styles that remain relegated to the dustbin of history? Could a very minor school of painting disappear from art history forever? This probably goes against how art works. Let’s say a half dozen painters lived in a fiercely private mountain valley in Italy and created a new painting style radically different than all painting before it. Radical art, even if it is bad, usually attracts someone — other artists, critics, sponsors — even if they want to piss on it. People are interested in the car crash quality of radical art. Chances are quite high at least one rubbernecker is going to try to move this radical style on step forward. 

That is Darwin’s Natural Selection in the art world: adaptation as your own as you compete with original and other art species.

While a school may be hard to permanently erase from the entire history of art, an individual would be quite easy to reduce to zero. 

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I used to spend a lot of time at the Smithsonian Art Museum staring at the Throne of Third Heaven of the Nations Millennial General Assembly by James Hampton. The Throne is a huge sculpture, seven feet high (2.1 meter) and perhaps 25 feet long (6.4 meter), which Hampton built over the years by covering old furniture, lightbulbs and other bric-a-brac (kitchen jars, flower vases, etc.) in aluminum foil. The centerpiece of this literal throne is a cushioned easy chair with the Biblical term “Fear Not.”  

Hampton moved to Washington DC for work after serving in World War II and began working on the Throne  in 1950 in a rented garage. The Throne wasn’t found until after his death in 1964. 

While the Throne gives me a thrill every time I view it, I don’t know its impact on art. Perhaps Hampton’s story of a self-taught artist energized some other lonesome artist; perhaps his ability to create an entire new world out of found objects influenced artists since the Throne was displayed at the Smithsonian. 

Regardless, his vision would have easily been lost if his garage in NorthWest Washington would have burned to the ground. Or, the owner of the garage threw the work out in a dumpster. The art world would have suffered, of course. Dots would not have been connected. The glowing traces left by Hampton would have silently burnt out. And, yes, his vision would have become extinct. 

Grey/Gray literature travel writing

I still have a dream for telling the story of a place without ever having visited. I tired to do this with the long piece Lagos where I mashed a bunch of stories together in (what I hoped) a way that made sense. 

Why read a guidebook from a person who’s never been there? What’s the difference between someone who doesn’t go - and admits it - and some  who parachutes in and doesn’t tell you they don’t know a lotI am not criticizing most travel writers here. Of course they know the place. What I am trying to look at is the parachute type writer, who drops in and gives us their impressions. 

I think a travel piece from an uninitiated visitor may have something as much to say as those writers. It’s how you put the piece together. The creator would have to find the right things to say. And that’s about mining information, not traveling. 

This is where the grey/gray literature comes in handy. Tell the story through documents. If you could find interesting reports, interviews , recollections, oral histories about a place. Then you’d try to put those together, mix and mash them up and try to create a narrative about the place.  (I didn’t quite do it with Lagos, but I tried to.)

Is this travel writing? Not in the slightest. But it may tell a story about a place — a different kind of story from, say, Lagos all bad because of poverty and crime or Lagos scary but has cool artists and writers and musicians. 

Reading about other countries suffers when the writers only produce a few narratives: poor, hungry, lazy locals/hard working foreigners, gun crazy. Every place has a million layers, and if a writer can add to another layer, so be it. Should it matter if she has never been there before?  


A lost world

Elizabeth Kolbert, in her book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, points out that it was until the early 1800s until scientists began speaking about the idea of extinction. Before that, scientists didn’t acknowledge or were even aware of the deaths of species. 

Scientists knew a lot about the animal kingdom, but they didn’t think of animals as being extinct — until those bones of mastodons starting popping up in laboratories and curio stalls. The entire idea of extinction started as a theory.  

Think of the change in mindset when an idea like extinction takes hold. We knew we had a past. We studied it and celebrated it. But a lost past? That had to be something very difficult to swallow. 

Not only did we have to learn about the past — we also had to think about the past that was no longer there. 

Kolbert points out extinction is one of the first scientific facts today’s children are taught as they play with dinosaur dolls in their first months.  This knowledge grows with each child as they graduate to more complicated dinosaur models. Even if we only occasionally think about it directly, extinction is something we understand as part of life. A lost world. 

One way to fix our library workshops

Our workshops often fail.

Librarians spend a lot of time creating and preparing for workshops — the semi-formal classes covering library services or issues like scholarly communication. The problem is these workshops are either sparsely attended or not attended at all. In a year when librarians are being pulled in many different directions, this is a waste of time. 

This is also true for repeat workshops that need very little preparation. I recently spent 15 minutes before the second run of a workshop preparing the classroom. I then waited 10 minutes in the classroom for students to arrive. While the amount of time I spent to prepare was limited, I could have been doing more productive tasks. 

The problem is workshops are an important service the library provides. It is important that librarians work face-to-face with users and explain/identify specific tools or services we can offer. It’s also important that we use workshops to test new service ideas.  

Workshops suffer from many issues. The first is schedule. We attempt to schedule them when we hope either students or faculty are available. But we’re just guessing — and our attendance record shows it. 

We could say that asking people to make time for courses is a mistake. Asynchronous courses may be more efficient and work with peoples’ schedules, but they also take a long time to create. (We also have no instructional designers on staff, so creating the right type of courses would be difficult.) Some subjects that may not be suitable for a video course. And,  meeting people face-to-face is important for librarians.  

Beyond scheduling we also have a problem with interacting with our user base. On one hand, we don’t know very well what users want to learn and how they would like to learn it. We create workshops on important topics and we hope users come. 

One way to help solve this is to create a new method to propose and design workshops that are aimed at specific stakeholders. This would start a conversation with stakeholders on what library services are important for them to learn and how they would learn this material. 

Each semester librarians would create a list of potential workshops and their short descriptions. This list would be sent to a group of wide ranging stakeholders, which could include faculty from colleges and schools but also the research office and new research centers to student groups (like engineering, etc.) to faculty development. 

If a stakeholder group would show interest we could start a conversation regarding what that workshop would cover and when it would be held. Perhaps the workshop would be held in conjunction with another meeting, say the faculty development center. Or, the workshop could be held with support from the research office. 

The idea is that we would no longer be guessing on what people want to learn. By starting these conversations, we could better explain why we think learning a specific topic would be good, which could help give us some converts. 

I don’t think this would preclude us from holding public workshops. These remain important. Although I do think that if no one is attending classes on basic databases or searching, we may want to rethink their delivery.  

But this would jump start the conversations that we need to be having with our stakeholders — about the information they want to know and what they really want out of the library.