May 9, 2021

On Longevity

Later this year I will celebrate 20 years of continuous monthly publication of the current awareness newsletter Current Cites. I started it in August 1990 as part of the Library Technology Watch Program at the University of California, Berkeley, shortly after we were first formed. It began well before my wife and I had children, and now our twins who were born almost three years after Current Cites began will next year graduate from high school.

So perhaps you can forgive me if I’m in the mood to consider some issues around the anniversary and what it means to have published this every month for two decades, and perhaps even some musings on what it takes to achieve this kind of longevity. Bear with me, I have no idea where this is going.

I began Tech Watch, and the publication it created, when I was 33, and yet I still considered myself a young librarian, as I had exited library school only four years before (a long, sordid story, buy me a drink if you want to hear it). I was lucky enough to have an administrator who believed in my idea and was willing to support it (Rita Kane, for the record). I vowed to not let her down, and although Tech Watch before long became a unit of the Library Systems Office called Information Systems Instruction and Support (ISIS), we continued to publish Current Cites. More about its early history is available on the web site.

When I left UC Berkeley for the California Digtal Library in 2000, I continued to manage it. Knowing that UC Berkeley’s commitment to it and the SunSITE server upon which it was hosted was waning, I moved it to WebJunction.org. This was well before I joined OCLC in 2007. It has remained at WebJunction ever since.

There have been many contributors who came and went over the years, for this entirely volunteer publication. It was first edited by David F.W. Robison, then Teri Rinne (who ably kept it going during my paternity leave), then I. There have been 34 people who have contributed in the past, or do now. Some left and came back. Some contributed a few citations and then stopped. I am the only person who remained involved since the beginning, since it was my baby. And perhaps this is a kernel of what makes for longevity.

I have a deep personal commitment to the project since I started it. Others are unlikely to have as strong a commitment to the project unless they completely take it over and it can become theirs.

It is valued by others. What this contributes to longevity is that the more people care about something, the more likely it is that someone will step up to take it over if it is in danger of folding.

It is well established. 20 years of continuous publication is nothing to shake a stick at. If it had just begun last year and was in danger of folding, well, it’s different.

Let’s be clear. The only reason I can be sure it has been going this long is because I willed it. I made sure to get more contributors when it was flagging, I made sure it was published every month, and I migrated it from failing support to reliable. However, had I stepped aside along the way, would someone have volunteered to take it over? Likely. Perhaps. For now we don’t know, although I can assure you one day we will.

What of longevity then? Will someone take the mantle that I’ve worn off and on for 20 years? I’d like to think so, and I will certainly support them in doing so. I like to think that the person who steps foward to take responsibility for something I’ve put so much time and effort into over the years will love it as much as I have. Not a burning love, mind you, but the kind of love that is expressed by committment, and care, and most of all, by simply showing up. From those values does longevity come: quietly, regularly, and dependably.

Share
Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.

Comments

  1. will manley says:

    Roy, congratulations on a great accomplishment. In this day of rapid change, logevity speaks volumes.

  2. Roy Tennant says:

    Thanks Will, coming from you especially it really means a lot. It may seem like I was trolling for compliments, but I really wanted to get some thoughts going about what it takes to keep things going long-term. If anyone has their own thoughts on this, I’m all ears. Although some things need to fail quickly, and provide lessons, other things need to live long, and prosper.

  3. will manley says:

    Roy, I’m a big believer in mentorships. I like to think that I benefited a great deal by having people I respected take a special interest in me. My guess is that there is some young and ambitious person out there who would love to learn everything they could from you and be in a position to continue the projects you deem worthy such as Current Cites.

  4. Roy Tennant says:

    Will, I completely agree. I benefited a tremendous amount from mentoring. When the mentor who had the most impact on my career lost her battle with cancer I published a festschrift in her honor: techinlibraries.com . I’ve also been trying to mentor some very bright and technically adept young librarians, to do what little I can to help their careers. We meet for dinner at ALA, and whenever else we can. So yes, I’m a huge believer in mentorship and what it offers both the mentor and the mentee.

  5. Patrick Hogan says:

    Congratulations Roy. When I started working in ALA Publishing 15 years ago, I was a regular reader of Current Cites, presenting a succinct scan of issues in the library field. More recently coming across it at Web Juction, I’ve been surprised and impressed that you’re still at it. Your post here has me wanting to click through recent back issues.