I happened to be able to visit my parents with my whole family over the Gregorian new year. It’s the first time my folks have seen the grand-kids in 2 years. So it was a real joy to be able to share with them, in real-time, being added to the Canadian law blog awards Hall of Fame. Recognition is nice and I’m grateful that some folks think enough of this blog that, as a “winner of eight Clawbie awards, including the Fodden Award in 2018, O’Faolain might be our most decorated HOF winner to date.” I was taken a bit by surprise by that.

I should probably explain the title which, like everything on this blog, makes sense in my head even if it seems pointless to everyone else. We’re a family of the book even if we’re not people of the book. Lots of books. And books were often at the table during mealtimes.

For a few year period, our two youngest would sit next to each other. They’d page through a book together while they ate – like a Star Wars illustrated encyclopedia or a dinosaur tome – and identify their favorites. “I’m that person” or “I’m that vehicle” or whatever. I would laugh when they’d get to a page and say “I’m nothing” or “I’m no one.”

It was not a self-assessment of worth. It was an acknowledgement that, in that context, they didn’t see themselves. Next page, move on.

So this post is about how I think about my labels, those I apply to myself and those applied by others. And how recognition can create labels but also how it’s not always aligned with one’s own perspective.

There are obviously things that we do for recognition or in which recognition is part of the outcome, like seeking a promotion. But I expect most law librarians don’t put their all into every cataloging record or reference question or shelf read or stack redesign because they anticipate recognition. Recognition in those circumstances can be a reminder why we strive hard or why we care that our peers see our effort or that our managers value our expertise and care.

A Blogger

A Clawbies Hall of Fame logo
A Clawbies Hall of Fame logo

I haven’t always thought of myself as a blogger. In fact, I’m pretty sure someone called me a blogger before I labeled myself that way. I’d just accepted a job in Canada and was welcomed by the two Simons via Slaw.ca. I ended up writing for Slaw for awhile, which certainly led me further into blogging.

Screen capture of a page at Slaw.ca with a comment from Simon Chester saying “Glory be, he’s a blogger”

.wp-duotone-filter-61e04543e06fd img {
filter: url( #wp-duotone-filter-61e04543e06fd );

The blog’s become a bigger part of who I am over the nearly 15 years since Simon posted that comment. I’m definitely a blogger now even if I didn’t think of myself in that way then. And yet….

I am a bagpiper, in that I play the pipes. But, if you’re inclined, bagpiping can be a competitive world and you compete in grades. I was barely a Grade 4 piper (lowest) at my best. So even though I might say I play the bagpipes, I know where I stand, skill-wise, with people who make it their specialty. But not everything requires competitiveness. A lot of what we do is just for ourselves, our own growth or mental health.

I really like the Clawbie Hall of Fame approach. It makes room for newcomers without making more seasoned contributors feel like they’re ignored or put out to pasture. If only there was a way to do that with seniority in law library management.

There can be, then, a disjointedness between how we perceive ourselves and how we are labeled. Being labeled hall of fame is pretty cool. I probably appreciate the positive labels more than the negative ones. There may be more growth, though, in the accurate negative ones.

I also take photographs. And nearly all of the images on this site in the past decade or more are ones I’ve taken. Someone complimented me on being a photographer recently and I was grateful for the recognition but demurred from the label. I see a lot of things existing on spectra. I’m definitely further along the “is a photographer” spectrum than I was when I started this 365 project. But I still know so little that I couldn’t reasonably call myself one, when I know really good photographers.

Blogging is a bit like that for me as well. I really enjoy it. It’s good for my mental health. It’s given me lots of opportunities to improve my writing. While recommendations on how long a blog post should be vary wildly, I’ve mostly just written as much as I wanted to write. Any of you who read everything I wrote last year read about 98,000 words. Well done you?

As I’ve become more confident in my blog writing – the dip in 2015 represents the year my employer caused me to censor my public writing – I’ve just written more and more per post.

I’m a blogger to the extent that I write using blog technology. But there are others who really use the platform they have to grow an audience, to monetize and live off their writing. That’s an outcome I don’t seek. And that feeds into my own feelings about the blogger label, in that I’m still a skilled amateur in the form.

That’s Nice

I’m grateful for the accolades. I hope that’s clear. But I also see them as something outside of me. Both the good and the bad labels are things I try not to dwell on. Water off a duck’s back.

It’s not always easy. One of the harder periods in my current role involved a number of lawyers in the province criticizing my performance for their political ends. Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, you’re being labeled these very negative things while on the other, you see the positive outcomes in your workplace. It is hard not to bridle at the negative or, worse, to stew on it.

I don’t pretend labels don’t matter. But if someone calls me a thought leader or tells me I’m not collegial, and applies an external label, I try to take it with the spirit it’s intended. Just as I am assaying the weight of a label based on my knowledge of myself, they are applying one based on their own knowledge and view of the world.

The most interesting part of labels, for me, is figuring out what to do with them. On the one hand, if I had been writing for attention, a Hall of Fame recognition would be an end goal. But I know I have so much more to understand about blogging. For instance, what makes a particular post interesting (and can I do anything about that)? I hate to sound ungrateful, but I don’t know that any recognition about my blog will impact my actual blogging activity. It is fun because it is fun. If anything, it may be the traffic I find most impactful, seeing people finding an answer or an idea that they might not have found elsewhere.

I’m very grateful for the Clawbies recognition.

Now, what’s next.