Friday, 8 June 2012

#ff: Five Follow (inspirational) Fridays

I'm not a huge fan of the #ff (Follow Friday) thing, where people recommend other people to follow on Twitter. Usually, because many of the well-meaning people who do this throw out a list of @ twitter handles, with no reason why they should be followed. It can be a little overwhelming.

When doing the #ff myself I've usually recommended five people, giving each one a tweet-full of explanations or justification as to why they should be followed. No-one else seems to do it this way, but as my middle name should be "ploughing a lonely furrow", this isn't an issue.

So, here are five people you are invited to consider following on Twitter (or on other social media or, hey, in real life). Three are American (perhaps not surprising considering the many adventures there over the last decade) and two are English. Two I have never met, and two of the others I haven't met for a good few years now. Hmmm. You don't need to constantly see someone in real life for them to be an inspiration.

But I want to do a bit more justice, give a bit more detail than just a tweet, to these people. These five in particular I know in some way or other, and have been a significant positive influence over me for the last seventeen years or so. Perhaps 'hero' isn't the right word, being more associated in these times with firemen, or military personnel, or people who save lives in some other way. Inspirations, or role models, then. People who I think more than once "Yeah, wish I was more like him/her."

1. Jessamyn West (@jessamyn)

On the surface, Jessamyn just appears to be a librarian working in a small town library in a rural New England state. But, that's just the surface. Jessamyn can be regarded as the online librarian equivalent of Patient Zero (Librarian Zero?) - in a positive sense. Through her work, profile, "this needs to be done so I'll just do it" attitude, and longevity as an online presence, other librarians have raised their game. You can see this in her substantial online content, some of which is at the domain name many probably wish they'd gotten, librarian.net.

Jessamyn has a page on Wikipedia. She is only ten days older than me, but has achieved a heck of a lot more. She's written the book Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide, and has been an open access, freedom of access to knowledge, privacy and library advocate for many years now.

questions and answers ii

As well as being a library and online trainer of residents (specialising in seniors), Jessamyn presents at many library events and spends a lot of time moderating, and adding content to, Metafilter which has become my main offbeat news source.

I first became aware of Jessamyn online in the 90s, when there seemed to be a librarian over in America, who was not in a library school, putting up lots of stuff on the websies that wasn't pictures of cats. At the time, outside of academia and geekdom, this was an unusual thing to do. What's impressed the most over the years is how consistently Jessamyn has put this increasing amount of material online. While I've scatter-gunned content everywhere that may take years to fix, Jessamyn has built a formidable one-person archive. Kudos.

I've never met her in real life, though we have been in a Chicago airport at the same time on two occasions, and it's gotten to the point now where, perhaps oddly, I'm not sure I want to meet Jessamyn in real life; expectation would make me terrified and I'd probably hide.

2. Andy Powell (@andypowe11)

The punk rebel who always seems just a moment away from putting the Doc Martens back on, length of Britain cyclist, Eduserv programme director, metadata guru and occasional swimwear model.

Andy was poached from the technical services of Bath University to join the metadata team at UKOLN, back in the day when Lorcan was the boss. This was a big coup, and strengthened UKOLN in the technical research area. Of the many things he did there, Andy is perhaps best known for DC Dot, and his JISC Information Environment diagram which 73% of the worlds population have now seen at some point* (think "Monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey" for gravitas).

Despite doing all these things, Andy always seems to have a remarkably laid-back, unstressed, demeanor. In our office at UKOLN, we came to the conclusion that his blood pressure reading is probably ... 2. Andy appears in the famous "UKOLN team of 1996" picture. Of the four devastatingly handsome men in the centre of the back row, he's the furthest to the right:

UKOLN Staff Photo 1996 (Anne Chapman not present)

By coincidence, Andy Powell joined twitter exactly five years ago today. It was his tweeting that got me intrigued with the whole twitter thing, and encouraged me to give it a go. Here's his first tweet:



After several years of creating all manner of teccie things and becoming a rather crucial person in the driving of such developments in the UK academic research sector, Andy made the move down the hill to Eduserv (whose historical roots are somewhat entwined with UKOLNs). With Andy running the programme, Eduserv gave funding and support to Virtual World Watch back a few years, which became my baby to run with (in an abstractly similar way to running with Ariadne some 12 years or so before).

There's a lesson there; don't burn your bridges. Oh, and the virtual world stuff brings us to...

3. Aleks Krotoski (@aleksk)

Aleks has a page on Wikipedia.

I first became aware of her in the late 1990s when a late night games review TV show, Bits, appeared on TV. It was, and still is, the best program of its kind on UK TV (though admittedly some of the competition is ... not strong). Aleks and Emily and the other Emily bounced around various locations in Glasgow, and reviewed video games in an intelligent manner, as they had obviously played them in depth.

Aleks Krotoski

This was strangely liberating. Women, not men, talking with knowledge and depth about video games, while often sending up anything and everything. It's the one games show, out of the many, I miss. For your amusement:


Aleks popped up in another games review programme (Thumb Bandits), started to write on matters gaming and technology for the Guardian, and presented the four part BBC TV series Virtual Revolution.

Academically she's done a PhD, which involved using Second Life a lot. It was through Aleks giving me my first guided tour of that environment that I had my "Aha!" virtual-worlds-in-education moment, which led to Virtual World Watch as previously mentioned. Everything is connected; yo! Her book on Learning and Research in Virtual Worlds is also pretty good, in particular for academics who aren't well up on this technology in education.

Like Jessamyn, Aleks is someone I've "known" only online and who, for the same reasons as for Jessamyn, am uncertain I now want to meet in real life. We nearly met at a Nintendo event on games I spoke at that she curated a few years ago, but Aleks was I think collecting an award elsewhere that evening (to add to the BAFTA, Emmy and other nice shiny things she's accumulated).

4. Tom Roper (@tomroper)

After several interesting jobs in the library and information sector, Tom is now the Primary Care Librarian in Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. He also runs, swims, sails, plays musical instruments, learns old languages, follows horse racing, sails, mans a lifeboat, and does a load of other things I've forgotten.



Once described as "the most dangerous man in librarianship" I met Tom way back in the day, the mid-90s, during a presentation about digital library things that somehow mentioned squirrel hazing. This has not been forgotten, and unfortunately neither has [REDACTED].

Our first few meetings were, for me, quietly terrifying as Tom exhibited a casual but vast array of knowledge (think he decided to answer one of my questions in both Greek and Latin at one point). Tom is part of Voices for the Library; though he isn't as high profile as some of the other activists online, don't underestimate his influence and reach. Others have done so, to their cost (see the testimonials on his website).

5. Becky Yoose (@yo_bj)

After a few years as the Bibliographic Systems Librarian at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Becky is now the Discovery and Integrated Systems Librarian at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. As well as doing all manner of technical things which I don't totally understand, Becky also runs libcatcode.org, is building the definitive list of library-cataloger types on twitter, has a writes loads of articles and chapters, is starting to run various groups again, and is heavily involved in the annual Code4Lib conference.

Yes, and she owns cats. Or they own her.

Laser Ninja Cat

Biased? No. There aren't many people I know who, while still in their twenties, are the key teccie person in the library of a prestigious college (yeah; check out the size of the endowment fund for this college of just 1,600 students), have a degree and masters and are on tenure track, who own their own home, and already have an impressive CV including conference organisation and publications.

This was done with no help and hand-up, through a sheer putting-in-the-hours, and with the hindrance of a mad Englishman. Becky is also very skilled in working out what she wants, and how to get it.

Commonalities? Themes? Yes. Driven and self-motivated is probably the binding one.
  1. They are all seriously intelligent people, but haven't wasted that intelligence.
  2. All have a strong work ethic and, well, just get stuff done.
  3. And because they've got a lot done, no matter the obstacles, they've achieved a lot.
  4. And despite achieving a lot, none of those five are arrogant, or have an ego. Or if they do, it's well hidden. They are all genuine people.
  5. And they're very active, or activists, in their field. Non of them is a nine to five person.
Anyway, that's my list of inspirational people. Oh yeah; back to the original point, all of them tweet interesting stuff, so they're also recommended people to follow on Twitter.

* = may be a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one.

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