Over the winter break, I had the pleasure of listening to the audio book version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In this book, the author explains in detail her method of tidying up (which she calls KonMari). I highly recommend you read the book in its entirety to gain a fuller understanding of what the KonMari method entails, but in short:
- Gather everything you own that falls into a specific category
- Touch each item individually. Hold it, feel it, connect with it
- Ask yourself, “Does this item spark joy within me?”
- If it doesn’t spark joy, ask, “is it useful or necessary?”
- Lastly, if the item doesn’t spark joy, and it isn’t useful, discard it. Also, as you discard it, thank it for fulfilling its purpose, whatever it may have been.
- Do this category by category until your life is only filled with those things that spark joy.
As I listened to this book, I started to make some connections between the techniques being described and how they could apply to my life as a web services librarian. In this post, I’ll point out a few of the random connections it sparked for me, and perhaps others will be encouraged to do something similar, or even apply KonMari in other areas of librarianship — I’d love to hear what others have to say!
The first thing that stuck out to me about this method is how similar it felt to performing a content audit. Content auditing is an important step in developing an overall content strategy — I’d recommend taking a look at Margot Bloomstein’s article, “The Case for Content Strategy — Motown Style” for a pretty practical overview of content strategy and content auditing. Any information architect, or information worker in general, would be remiss to skip the step of documenting all existing content prior to structuring or restructuring any sort of website or *ahem* LibGuides system. I think that LibGuides (or any of the LibApps, really) would be a great candidate to begin experimenting with content auditing and discarding things. Applying the question “Does it spark joy?” actually becomes a really interesting question, because not only should you be considering it from your own perspective, but also that of the user. This quickly dives into a question of user experience. The oft-spoken about epidemic of “LibGuides Gone Wild” could be at least somewhat tamed if you were to apply this question to your guides. Obviously, you may not always be in a position to be able to act on the discarding of guides without buy-in, but maybe this can provide you with yet another language to describe the benefits of focusing on users.
One type of item that Kondo discusses is seminar notes, which, based on her description, aligns pretty much 100% with the notes we all take when we are at conferences. When I first started attending library conferences at the beginning of my career (about 5 years ago), I would shun taking notes on a computer, insisting that handwriting my notes would result in more effective notes because I would have to be more particular about what nuggets of knowledge I would jot down. In reality, all I would end up with was a sore hand, and I would actually miss out on quite a bit of what the speaker was saying. As I progressed, I would eventually resort to using an iPad along with OneNote, so that I could easily tap out whatever notes I wanted, as well as take pictures of relevant slides and include them along with my notes. This, I believed, was the perfect solution. But, what exactly was it the perfect solution for? It was the perfect solution to make sure I could provide an adequate write-up / conference recap to my co-workers to prove that I actually did learn something and that it was worth the investment. That’s pretty much it. Of course, in my own mind I would think “Oh, these are great! I can go back to these notes later and re-ingest the information and it will be available next time I need it!”. But, I can count on zero hands how many times I actually did that. One of the things that Kondo says about these sorts of events is that the benefit and purpose of them is in the moment — not the notes. You should fully invest yourself in the here and now during the event, because the experience of the event is the purpose. Also, the best way to honor the event is not to have copious notes — but to apply what you’ve learned immediately. This portion of the book pretty much spoke to me directly, because I’m 100% guilty of worrying too much about proving the greatness of professional development opportunities rather than experiencing the greatness.
While the last example I used can pretty much apply to any librarian who attends conferences, this example of where I can apply KonMari is pretty particular to those who have to code at some level. I think I may be more guilty of this than the average person, but the amount of stuff I have commented out (instead of deleting altogether) is atrocious. When I’m developing, I have a (bad) habit of commenting chunks of code that are no longer needed after being replaced by new code. Why do I do this? For the number one reason on Kondo’s list of excuses that people have when discarding things: “I might need it someday!”. In the words of Kondo herself, “someday never comes”. There are bits of code that have probably been commented out instead of deleted for a good 3 years at this point — I think it’s time to go ahead and delete them. Of course, there are good uses for comments, but for the sake of your own sanity (and the sanity of the person who will come after you, see your code and think, “wut?”) use them for their intended purpose, which is to help you (and others) understand your code. Don’t just use it as a safety net, like I have been. I’m even guilty of having older versions of EZproxy stanzas commented out in the config file. Why on Earth would those ever be useful? What makes me even worse is that we have pretty extensive version control, so I could very easily revert to or compare with earlier versions. You can even thank your totally unnecessary comments as you delete them, because they did ultimately serve a purpose — they taught you that you really can simply trust yourself (and your version control).
Well, that’s it for now — three ways of applying KonMari to Web Services Librarianship. I would love to hear of other ways librarians apply these principles to what they do!