Archive for the ‘Future of librarians’ Category

Libraries, Beacons, and the Internet of Things

27 Feb

A while ago I tweeted this helpful graphic:

I know what you're thinking - it will be climate change that renders the debate on the future of libraries moot, not the singularity! And you're quite right, of course.

I know what you’re thinking – it will be climate change that renders the debate on the future of libraries moot, not the singularity! And you’re quite right, of course.


The Internet of Things will, hopefully, be a big deal in libraries. Some of the technology associated with it feels very far-away in terms of the resources it would take to implement it, but we’ve seen how these things work – what starts off as unattainable fantasy becomes cheaply available reality soon enough.

But what does it mean, though? I mean really mean, for libraries? I found this UX article on beacons very helpful in giving me an overview of the technology, and this post is an extrapolation of the ideas it presents, into a library context.

What is The Internet of Things?

In short, the Internet of Things refers to when objects are able to connect with each other online, because they can be uniquely identified.

We’re actually very familiar with this in Libraries, because we use RFID. You put the book in the cradle, and that book (due to its RFID tag) speaks to the issue-machine, which then informs the library management system that the book has been issued to your account. It’s the internet, but interacting with a Thing! Brilliant.

What are beacons?

Beacons are wireless devices which use Bluetooth (but an especially low-energy version which doesn’t drain battery) to broadcast to other Bluetooth objects around them. You may have seen wearable technology like Jawbone or Fitbit, which monitor your physical activity – these use beacons to ‘talk’ to your phone, allowing you to get information via your phone’s screen.

In physical terms, you can already get commercially available beacons – for example from Estimote – which are discreet physical objects (as opposed to something integrated into a Fitbit wrist-band) to put in physical locations, allowing smartphones to interact with them according to parameters you define.

Give me some examples of what Libraries could do

Here are some ideas to enhance the library user experience:

  1. Locate items from my books list. Most library catalogues have a ‘favourite’ function, where you can add items to a list. Imagine you make your list of books at home using this feature, then come into a library fully hooked up to the Internet of Things – as you walk in, you’re presented with a map and directions to each of the available items. You’d know before you got past the foyer if any books had already been borrowed, and you’d even be able to find them if they were misshelved.
    Wait, come back! I’ve got better ones, look…
  2. A self-guided virtual tour. Set up beacons at key points around the Library, and send users off on a tour. When they get to each location their phone plays them videos, or audio, and gives them more information on how to get the most from that area. Combine this with augmented reality to really knock people’s socks off.
  3. An enriched Special Collections experience. When you’re near the glass case displaying the rare and precious illuminated manuscript that you can’t touch, your phone or tablet can show you the whole document in digital format. It could even play you audio of expert analysis by the Special Collections librarian.
  4. Contactless fine payment. The Internet of Things knows how much you owe, and has the capability to let you pay it without you having to queue for a till or a card-reader.
  5. Availability of machines. Some library apps already show you which PCs are in use and which are actually free within the Library building, which users find invaluable. Beacons could easily extend this to printers (and 3D printers), scanners, study rooms, blu-ray players etc etc – all quick to check from your phone as you enter the Library.
  6. More details on items. In the same way you can put a QR Code on a DVD box which takes the user to the imdb entry on the film in question, or on a music score to take the user to an MP3 of the piece, you could give any manner of contextual information on items in your collection via the Internet of Things. If a user is in the vicinity of an item, she or he will be able to get information on it online via their phone.

My brain is not particularly wired to invention. When someone else lays out ideas I can spark off them, but I can very rarely think up anything from scratch – so with that in mind, the list above is quite small, and I’d be VERY interested to hear what you think we could do with this technology, via a comment…


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Is the Library degree the best use of your resources? Imagine what else you could do with that time and money

12 Feb

Edit:  Despite my clarifications, people are still misinterpreting my original post as a proposed ‘solution’ to the problem of the Library degree, so I’ve rewritten this to stop that happening.


To embark upon a Library Masters in 2014 is a huge undertaking. Assuming you do it part-time, whilst working to support yourself, you’ll spend between ten and eighteen thousand pounds over two years, along with, at a conservative estimate, 1500 hours of your time.[1]

The question is, does the Library degree really represent the best use of this investment?

What if you were to spend the same amount of time and money on a self-structured curriculum of study, events, conferences, training, and building an online portfolio, whilst continuing to work in an information role. Would you not emerge as a more rounded, knowledgeable, and relevant information professional?

I think you would. If someone were to try it, the results would certainly be interesting. This is not, however, a solution to the problem.

The problem with the Library degree

I have many issues with the MA/Msc in Library & Information Management (or similar) as it currently stands, in the UK. For the record, I completed mine, via distance learning, in 2009. It was fine, I didn’t hate it, it wasn’t a bad degree in any way. My views on the degree are based on my own experience, and based on talking to others – I realise they may not be universal complaints. But here are the main ones anyway:

1)    Much of the content of the courses does not seem relevant to actually being an information professional

2)    There is one degree that is supposed to cover, in one year of full-time study, all aspects and types of librarianship, including public, academic and special librarianship (not to mention the myriad other potential careers under the information umbrella). As far as I can tell these disciplines are very different from each other

3)    Many of the courses contain modules they contained 10 years ago, despite the information world having undergone seismic shift in that time. Anything you learn on a library degree is likely to be out of date in two to five years anyway

4)    Having completed a Masters in another discipline prior to getting my Library one, I did not find the latter to be postgraduate in nature. It was just like a very short undergraduate course

5)    The piece of paper at the end – the degree certificate which allows you to apply for higher graded jobs for which a qualification is an ‘essential’ on the person spec – seems far more important than what you learn on the course itself

6)    The difference between a ‘qualified’ librarian and an ‘unqualified’ one is very rarely the qualification. It’s more often that the unqualified librarian’s circumstances are such that they have been unable to do the degree, rather than that they are in any way a lesser librarian

7)    The process by which CILIP accredits degrees and the institutions which offer them does not seem to be in any way rigorous, based on the experiences of colleagues who have attended certain institutions…

8)    To add insult to the injury of the points above, there are many more qualified librarians than there are posts for qualified librarians – meaning that in my own institution alone there are several very talented new professionals who have gone to the time and expense of getting the degree, but who are nevertheless in the same roles they were in whilst they studied

Most importantly, the degree is so expensive that it is actively excluding people from good jobs – we are putting a financial price on progress in our profession, and for what? A degree that isn’t particularly relevant or, in some cases, even particularly enjoyable to complete. I don’t think it’s acceptable that we’re all of us complicit in such a flawed system. Employers, students, CILIP, people like me who recognised the issues but did the Masters anyway just to get the piece of paper – we’re all part of the problem with the Library degree.

If you are going to create a professional environment in which a ten thousand pound degree is necessary to earn more than £25,000 a year, then the degree itself needs to be a LOT more meaningful than it is at present.

What do we do about it?

If it were up to me, I’d do two things:

A) re-design the Masters to be a Problem Based Learning (PBL) degree, which would allow a much closer connection between study and the reality of library work, and

B) issue some kind of nation-wide edict forcing all hiring library managers to give proper value to the second half of the sentence ‘Library qualification or equivalent experience’ which appears on so many job specs.

There are actually a pleasingly high number of hiring managers who do ‘B’ already, although it’s not that wide-spread. But ‘A’ is a lot trickier.

I am writing (or was writing – we’ll get there eventually!) an article with Alan Carbery about rethinking the degree as PBL. I find PBL incredibly difficult to explain succinctly – basically it’s student centered learning, that is used in a lot of Medical Schools around the UK (including the one in my own institution). It’s really very different from the traditional HE pedagogy. Here’s an excerpt from what the BMJ has to say about it (read the whole page here)

In problem based learning (PBL) students use “triggers” from the problem case or scenario to define their own learning objectives. Subsequently they do independent, self directed study before returning to the group to discuss and refine their acquired knowledge. Thus, PBL is not about problem solving per se, but rather it uses appropriate problems to increase knowledge and understanding. The process is clearly defined, and the several variations that exist all follow a similar series of steps.

It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Students absolutely love it. At my University it is also used, with great success, by the Law School, and it is their approach specifically that I’d like to see emulated with libraries. Here’s what the Law School has to say about it:

You and your colleagues decide how your firm operates and determine how to divide up the work.  Through the process you will build working relationships with each other and learn how to deliver on your responsibilities.

For each case you will identify the legal principles involved in the problem and unravel the legal and contextual issues that lie at the heart of it, which will typically involve more than one area of law. All of the problems will be simulated real-life examples brought to you by virtual clients.

In many situations you will have to interact with other student firms, sometimes working alongside them, sometimes in opposition.

For me this notion of operating in firms with real-life examples is key. Based on UCAS applications etc the Law School tailors each firm to suit the personalities and talents of the people involved.

Imagine arriving at Library School and being divided up into Libraries, and then given real-life, pertinent, and up to date examples of problems Libraries face. You’d work cooperatively with your peers (and in the era of constant-contact media, Google hangouts etc, distance-learning shouldn’t prohibit this) and deal with things which you really will have to deal with when working in a qualified library post. Issues around web-design and social media, around marketing and communications, around copyright, data protection and FOI, around managing budgets in difficult economic circumstances, around whatever is relevant and important, year on year. It’s not just that it allows Library Schools to cover contemporary issues, it’s the manner in which it is taught, which seems to relate more directly to the real world. Here’s another quote, from the Law School’s guide to students on their use of PBL:

The key role of the problem is to trigger your awareness that these issues exist, and create an interest in them by highlighting their real-world ramifications. Once this has happened, the problem then gives you a context which you can use to identify exactly what you need to learn in order to understand the problem and address the issues which it raises.

This, to me, sounds like the kind of approach which has the potential to produce Library Masters graduates who are significantly more qualified, aware, relevant and prepared, for the real-life world of libraries. In fact it’s a bit like what we all do with our CPD anyhow.

Clearly this would be a massive shift in how things are done. Any library school attempting to implement this would have to completely scrap the existing degree and build a new one from the ground up. But I’d argue that needs to happen anyway; perhaps a new teaching method would add much needed impetus and inspiration.

I’d be interested if anyone reading this who is familiar with PBL, or with teaching on current Masters courses, has a view on this! Is it the kind of thing we could realistically do?

[1] You are notionally expected to spend 100 hours of study per 10 credits on the Masters – assuming you do the dissertation as well, there are 180 credits in the degree, so the total figure is 1,800 hours. I don’t believe anyone has ever spent 225 full 8-hour days studying for a Library Masters, so I reduced it to 1,500 hours, although that still seems fairly fanciful.



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Building your professional reputation. Library adventures in Cape Town part 1

11 Dec

In October I was invited to South Africa to speak at LIASA 2013, the 15th annual Library and Information Association of South Africa conference. It was in the fabulous City of Cape Town and it was incredible; I just haven’t had a chance to put my thoughts down in a blogpost until now. But I know not everyone is particularly interested in a ‘here’s what I did’ type post so I’ve put that separately in Part 2. There’s also a Part 3 to follow about the differences between UK conferences and international ones.

I was asked to do three things at the conference – a marketing workshop (half a day on strategic marketing and half a day on emerging technologies), a session for the Higher Education Library Interest Group on induction / orientation here at the University of York Library (the presentation is here, although it doesn’t make much sense without me talking over the top, I’m afraid), and a talk aimed primarily at new professionals on building your reputation and professional brand. It’s a tiresomely controversial subject, this; what it comes down to for me is that people fairly new to the profession can sometimes worry about being some sort of super librarian and DOING ALL THE THINGS, but actually you don’t have to be like this at all. You just have to get involved with the areas of librarianship which correspond to your goals in the profession. So the talk was about that, and about different ways to be part of the wider community.

Below is the talk: it consists of my slides, the audio of the talk (recorded from my iphone in my jacket pocket!) and a couple of pictures to look at while I talk about some things I wasn’t intending to talk about, at the very start.

It was fun doing this talk, it was different to the normal things I do. The room was bigger – this is the first time, outside of the webinar environment, that I’d talked to several hundred people at once. Speaking to a room that size is very different to speaking to 30 people – my usual very conversational presentation style wouldn’t have worked. Presenting is a bit like drawing a picture in that the further away the audience, the broader the strokes needed for the picture; the detail gets lost.

The atmosphere was different in SA that from conferences I’ve presented at in the UK, too – people were laid back, ready to laugh. I was one of only three international speakers so everyone was very welcoming. And also, this talk is a version of something I’d originally delivered at a New Professionals Day back in 2012 which was designed primarily to address an anxiety about branding I’d heard many new professionals express – an anxiety which, having arrived in South Africa and been at the conference for a couple of days already, I’d found to be largely absent! So I felt a bit like my talk didn’t match my slides – certainly I was trying to manipulate the slides to tell a slightly different, more widely applicable story, as I went along. But anyway I really enjoyed it and I’ve had some genuinely touching feedback about people feeling inspired.

Parts 2 and 3 to follow!


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Marketing Libraries: What the not-for-profits can learn from the lots-of-profits!

11 Sep

A couple of weeks ago I presented a webinar for WebJunction on marketing libraries. Part 1 of this post is all the information from the presentation, including a video archive of it, and Part 2 is about the process of presenting in a webinar, for anyone interested in that side of things.

Part 1: Marketing Libraries

The webinar covered marketing principles (several ways to start thinking like a library marketer) – and marketing actions (ways to communicate including Word of Mouth, the website, social media etc). There are various ways you can access the content.

If you want a brief overview:

Here are the slides, with a couple of bits of info added in so they make sense without me talking over the top of them.


If you want the full detail:

You can view the full Archive (combined archive of audio, chat, and slides) – this requires JAVA and is a bit more technically complicated than the options above and below, but you get the full experience of the slides, me narrating them in real time, and the chat happening in real time, where you’ll find lots of good ideas.

If you want a version you can watch on any device:

Here is the YouTube vid of the webinar – the good thing is you can watch this on a phone etc, the downside is some key points are missed where it skips or the live-streaming briefly went down, and it’s hard to read the chat that added so much to the presentation. (You can, however, download the  chat (xls) to read in Excel as you go along.)


When I get a bit of time I’m going to break this down into smaller videos on each topic.

Part 2: Presenting a Webinar

Presenting a webinar is an inherently odd experience because you can’t see the faces and responses of your audience. I rely on this a lot to know what is working and what isn’t – a presentation is all about communication, after all. Not only that but it’s a much bigger audience than for a normal talk – there was nearly 600 people watching this as it happened.

A picture of a desk with PC, iPad etc

My webinar presenting setup.

Above is what my desk looked like – iPad to monitor tweetstream (which I didn’t have the wherewithall to actually do), landline phone to speak into (I had it pressed against my ear for the first half hour before realising there was nothing to actually hear), G&T to drink (later decanted into a glass with ice, don’t worry), iPhone to live-tweet pre-written draft tweets from (it was too stressful to do this well, so I sort of tweeted them in clumsy groups), PC to present from and clock to keep to time by.

I asked for some advice on Twitter about what makes a good webinar – much of it was about good presenting generally, but the web-specific stuff centered around making it as interactive as possible (the technology limited how much I could do this, but I tried…) and giving people time to catch up (I think I pretty much failed to do this). Very useful advice from Jennifer at Web Junction included not putting any animations on the slides because these don’t render well in the webinar environment (if I wanted stuff to appear on a slide as I went along, I made two versions of the slide and moved between them). The particular platform we used meant I had to dial in with a phone – a PHONE! – and talk into that whilst manipulating the slides, that was very strange. I had a practice run the night before and I’m glad I did – in essence I found out I just cannot present sitting down, I need the energy that comes from pacing around, so I ended up using my slide-clicker so I could wonder about my house without having to be too close to the PC… The downside to this is I couldn’t monitor the chat nearly as well as I wanted to, to respond to questions, because I often wasn’t close enough to read the small text.

This was the first time I’d done one of these solo – previous webinar experience had been as part of a panel. As is often the case, as soon as I’ve done something properly and learned how it works, I want to do it again but much improved based on what I now know. So I’m hoping to work with WebJunction again next year (I find their site a really useful source of information and expert opinion). But the feedback from this one was great, some really nice comments in the chat and even a reference to my accent via private message…

I enjoyed this whole thing, and clearly live-streaming and web-based events are going to be more and more important. They’re very convenient for attendees, less so for presenters (I had to banish my family upstairs for example!) but I did get to wear shorts for a presentation for the first time, and even drink Gin & Tonic during it, and that was ace.


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