Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Whole New Take on Teleconferencing

I had such high hopes for this year’s Computers in Libraries conference. Since I’m not going to be able to attend AALL or SLA, this was to be my only conference this year. Life began to conspire to keep me from my appointed rounds.

My annual presentation at Georgetown’s summer associate program fell right in the middle of CIL this year, a new twist resulting from CIL’s move from March to April. For no sane reason, I decided to completely revamp my presentation, something I should have been able to do easily had I not experienced some unexpected family commitments that cut into my prep time the weekend before CIL. At the last minute, my husband had to travel out of town for the first two days of the conference, so I had to do some child care scrambling. As if things weren’t complicated enough, a nor’easter hit DC the morning CIL opened, closing Fairfax County schools. I still made it to the conference, but in a way I never expected. I learned a very valuable lesson in balance that I plan to apply to “attend” the SLA and AALL meetings this summer.

Day One of CIL: I’m finally out the door at 1:15 after getting the kids squared away on homework and activities in lieu of today’s religious education class, also cancelled due to power loss at the church. Miraculously, there is no traffic on the GW parkway and I find “Doris Day” parking in front of the Hyatt. Once inside, I grab my registration packet and head down to the programs. They are all so crowded that I can only stand in the hallway outside the two programs I want to hear. I squeeze into the back of the last program I want to hear, but can only stay for a little while since my meter is running out and I need to get home.

Once I get home, cook dinner, do baths, read books and get the kids to sleep, I open the CIL conference website to see if I can find downloads of the programs I couldn’t see. The programs are not on the conference site, but when I go to the CIL blog, I discover that many speakers have already posted their PowerPoints on their own blogs and wikis. Hmmmm! I can pour over these presentations from the comfort of my own kitchen at a more convenient time. It’s like Tivo for a conference!

Day Two of CIL: School is back in session so the kids are off to school. My Georgetown Law students start presenting their final projects at tonight’s class so I need to put some finishing touches on our TWEN site so they can post their PowerPoint files throughout the day. I also need to do some more work on my summer associate presentation.

The minutes turn to hours, and it’s 1:30 before I know it. I need to be at Georgetown by 5:30 and, knowing how awful the traffic is on the 14th Bridge that separates CIL from GULC, I calculate that I’ll only have about 2 hours at CIL. I check the conference program and realize that there’s a 45-minute coffee break at the start of what will be my two hours. I click over to the conference blog to check on the availability of PowerPoints for the programs I want to attend. Most are up or will be up, according to the speakers’ blogs. I could spend the next few hours at home reading the presentations and testing out some new ideas, or I could spend much of that time in traffic or standing in hallways. I decide to attend CIL virtually on Day Two.

Day Three of CIL: I am determined to get a full day in at CIL, but the Georgetown summer associate program is tonight so I can’t resist a few final touches on my PowerPoint slides. After checking out my new Facebook account, an experiment inspired by a conference presentation, I head out the door for CIL. I take a quick tour of the exhibits and stop for Frank Cervone’s Cybertour of RSS Readers, and then attend several excellent programs. As the conference winds down, I dash out to get across that nasty bridge to DC in time for my Georgetown class.

Although I was only physically present at CIL for about five hours, I got quite a bit out of the programs. I did run into a few old friends in the exhibit hall, but really didn’t enjoy the serendipitous encounters that make conferences so much fun. On the other hand, I did send a few email and blog messages to speakers whose programs I enjoyed. I’m too shy to go up to the panelists at the end of real programs so this was a beneficial new experience. I even heard back from a few!

So maybe not being able to attend SLA and AALL this summer might not be worst thing. Maybe I can get something valuable by following along virtually from my laptop at home. Since CIL is a techie conference, there may have been more coverage of the programs than I’ll find with SLA and AALL, but even half of the coverage will be better than missing them altogether. I won’t get to see my old friends in person, but I can certainly send some email greetings. Just wish there were a way to share a cocktail or two. Hmm, didn’t I read something about that Second Life thing for librarians on the CIL blog? Yup, I did: Maybe that’ll be my next experiment!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Multi-Tasking Mommy Guilt

A few weeks ago, there was a flurry of media coverage on a study released by the University of Maryland in which sociologist Suzanne Bianchi and her colleagues found that women are actually spending more time engaged in child-rearing now than did their counterparts in 1965. As I listened to the coverage on the Today Show and read stories and blog posts all over the Net, one particular aspect of the study caught my attention.

The researchers distinguished the types of time mothers spend with their children. In “primary” time, mothers focus solely on the children. Time spent multi-tasking, for example, helping with homework while cooking dinner, is considered “secondary” time. The third dimension is time just spent with children. In addition, there’s a type of time that the researchers called “accessibility” – being available for a consult while focusing on another activity; unfortunately, the researchers were not able to capture this type of time in the study.

It seems that we’re spending more time multi-tasking, so much, in fact, that this time isn’t really registering with us as time with our children. I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or worse. What I’ve learned working exclusively from home is that I never really stop working. Like my counterparts in offices, I check email all day and into the night. Unlike the office worker I once was, I don’t do that final document save until I’m in my jammies and ready for bed. I can always squeeze in that last fifteen minutes to write another paragraph for an article or tinker with a PowerPoint slide or two for that upcoming presentation. The line between work and home just isn’t.

What that means for my children is that most days, I’m there when they walk in the door from school. I can and do stop for hugs and their news of the day. I help with homework and mediate Webkinz time and host playdates, with an eye on my email and fingers on my keyboard. I couldn’t do this when I was in an office so they didn’t have the playdates they have now and homework was done while I cooked dinner. That’s a good thing, right?

I was beginning to lose faith in this arrangement. Even though I’m home more often, I started to wonder if this home time is as valuable as it was when I was there “after work.” Or am I fooling myself into thinking I was more engaged then? After all, I was cooking dinner and picking up stuff and going through junk mail and writing checks and . . . well, you get the picture.

This study has given me names to describe the time phenomenon that plagues my confidence in this working at home arrangement. I can now say that have more secondary time with my children, although I may not have more primary time. Maybe I do multi-task so much that I don’t feel as if I’m really here, but from the coverage and response to this study, that may be just fine. Time is time, right? I just wonder how much I’ll regret the time I spent answering email that I could have spent hearing about the latest Webkinz Daily Bonus Question.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

B in Balancing, D in Blogging

So . . . since my last post, I’ve been busy balancing. School started for the kids and life has been moving at warp speed ever since. I’ve:
  • helped with hours of homework,
  • organized class parties,
  • baked countless cupcakes,
  • attended soccer and basketball practices and games,
  • hosted play dates and birthday parties,
  • run a Brownie troop,
  • rehearsed for plays,
  • made spider, turkey, heart-shaped and leprechaun crafts,
  • bought gift wrap and Girl Scout cookies, and
  • dispensed doses of antibiotics and sympathy, to name a few things.

In the rest of my life, I’ve

  • attended too many funerals of friends’ parents,
  • buried my own dear aunt,
  • spent too many hours in grocery stores, traffic jams and my kitchen,
  • raked mountains of leaves and shoveled inches of snow,
  • celebrated holidays and birthdays and reunions,
  • caught up with old friends and made some new ones, and
  • nearly stopped writing “to do” lists because, more often than not, they were meaningless.

In my spare time, I’ve written several professional articles, tackled a few consulting projects, delivered training programs, attended many meetings, and nearly finished my spring course at Georgetown. In all, I think I’ve earned a B in balancing.

Unfortunately, this blog was a causality of all that balancing, despite my nearly daily ideas to share on this subject. My spring (who had time in January for resolutions?) resolution is to get serious about posting, even if it’s just a few sentences every week or so. I’ve heard from a number of people who have been watching this blog and waiting patiently for posts, and their encouragement inspires me. The pediatric dentist awaits our visit so I’m off for now . . . but I will return soon.