Archive for the ‘The Future of the Library’ Category

Running sessions on Web 2.0 tools for researchers

12 Aug

Edit: This post has been sitting, completed and tagged, in my drafts folder for over a month – it was meant as a direct follow up to a previous post (linked below) but then the gender and digital idenity thing came up (which is now EVERYWHERE in the media – glad the issue is getting proper coverage) and after that my second daughter was born, so it all got pushed back… Anyhow, here it is.

I recently ran a suite of 3 workshops, collectively entitled Becoming a Networked Researcher. I’ve put all the presentation materials elsewhere on the blog, so check them out if you’re interested. This post covers the approach, what worked, what didn’t, and general stuff about librarians getting involved with running researcher events that cover new online tools.

a tangled web

Flickr CC image by Jenny Downing (click to view original on Flickr)

It’s definitely time to do this

I’ve been wanting to do workshops like these for years… I run workshops for information professionals so I know how valuable it can be to learn about these tools – and blogs like the LSE Impact Blog show that in Higher Education generally, more and more people are finding Web 2.0 essential. As info pros a lot of us have this knowledge, so why not share it with an academic community who will be grateful for it and will benefit from it?

Previously some people may have thought I was something of a stuck record on this topic – just banging on about Twitter because it was what I knew about, when actually the Library should be focusing more on the traditional things we do with Researchers. (No one directly said this to me so I may well just be projecting!) But the thing about stuff like this is it opens doors – it positions the library or librarian as expert, and gains us respect. It means researchers become more open to the other things we have to offer.

Anyhow, demand for these sessions was huge. We’re going to be running them twice a year from now on as once isn’t enough. So if you have expertise in this area, try and make something happen!

What to cover?

I’d previously run an ‘Enhancing your online reputation‘ workshop for academics which mainly covered blogs and twitter only, due to time constraints – I still see these as the big two. They’re arguably the two most important platforms or tools, and they’re definitely the right foundations on which to build a useful presence.

I also ran a taster session on online tools for academics which covered no less than 9 different things – interestingly, lots of them put in their feedback forms that of all the tools we covered, they’d want more training on Prezi. So I put Prezi into the collaboration and dissemination session, but actually it needs its own bespoke training really – it’s too big to cover as part of something else.

I put in because I think it’s actually quite useful, I put in LinkedIn because everyone else TELLS me it’s useful, I put in Slideshare because I think it’s the great underrated secret weapon of communicating ideas. I left out ResearchGate because I’d heard they’re pretty aggressive in emailing people once they sign up, in a way which is annoying.

Anyhow, the Blogging session and Twitter session were much more successful than the other session, so I’d advise starting with these, and adding more if there’s demand.

What worked

  • Collaborating with RDT. The Researcher Development Team are nothing to do with the library, but thankfully they’re open to collaboration. I managed to meet up with Russell Grant, who runs a couple of social media courses anyway, and suggest the suite described above to build on what he’d already done – in theory, an academic could have attended his two workshops and then my three workshops and they’d have all worked together, building knowledge and understanding. I really like working with departments outside the library generally – not least because then the events aren’t ‘Library events’ that no one shows up for, they’re University events which happen to be delivered by a librarian
  • They What, Why, Examples, How method. I try do this in most of my training. You have to introduce a tool and tell an audience what it is – but it’s vital to then go on to why they might want to use it before you go into the detail of how it works… With relevant examples if at all possible. Lots of the feedback suggests people really value this approach.
  • Enthusiasm. I’m really enthusiastic about these topics, and that always helps…

What didn’t

  • Doing the workshops with only one-day gaps between them – I felt like it completely defined my week and didn’t leave much room for anything else
  • Not enough example – I tried to put loads in (academic examples specifically) but I could always use more
  • The Collaboration and Dissemination session tried to fit too much into the time. We’re splitting it up in future (see below)
  • I can’t make LinkedIn sound exciting… I know it’s important. Everyone says it’s important, researchers particularly. But I can’t seem to convey its value well
  • Some logisitical stuff to do with rooms and timing, with which I won’t bore you now…

Future plans

We’re running a tweaked programme in the next academic year, and it’s going to be different in a few ways.

  • It’ll be run twice, once in the Spring and once in the Summer – the Autumn term is just too crazy for everyone concerned
  • It’ll have one session per week. Last time round I did all three sessions in a week and I’m not sure that really benefited the participants much – it just made me feel like I was having a crazy week
  • There’ll be a blogging session as before, a Twitter session as before, but the Collaboration and Dissemination session we’re splitting up into two. We’re doing a Prezi session, and then a ‘social networks for researchers’ session – I’ve asked a colleague from the Researcher Development Team if he can do the latter, because I think he’d be better at it than me
  • I’m splitting the blogging and Twitter sessions into a ‘PhD and Masters researchers’ session and an ‘academics’ session – there’s 90% crossover between those two groups, but the other 10% I found it frustrating only giving examples that worked fully for one or other group. Seeing as the sessions were over-subscribed anyhow, we may as well provide targeted workshops for each group
  • So what this means is, in consecutive weeks we’re offering an Introduction to Social Media (talk, given by my colleague Russell Grant), Enhacing your Online Reputation (workshop by Russell), Blogs (workshops, by me – one for postgrads and one for academics), Twitter (workshop, by me – workshops, by me – one for postgrads and one for academics), Social Networks For Researchers (workshop, by Rusell) and Prezi (workshop, by me). All one and a half hours except the Prezi one which needs to be 3hrs – I’ve tried teaching Prezi in less but it doesn’t really work…

Exciting stuff!

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The only way we will definitely be screwed is if we screw CILIP

06 Jun
Armour image

Let me just put this on… (Flickr CC image from EllenM1)


CILIP have been getting flak from the Library community since before I became aware of its existence. I gave out some of the flak myself – my post on CILIP and its lack of media presence remains one of the most commented-upon post this blog has ever had. I spoke up to try and constructively catalyse change – whether by coincidence (almost certainly) or not (it’s a nice thought) CILIP has since addressed the issue and it a much more vocal presence in the media.

The trouble I have with some of the criticism it gets is the level of at best dismissiveness and at worst, bile (or perhaps scorn) that doesn’t seem to be accompanied by much that could be considered constructive. Lots of people are happy to express the opinion that the rebranding process needs halting, but fewer have suggested what we should then do about the fact that CILIP still needs rebranding and (almost certainly) have entered into a legally binding contract with a consultancy firm.

People seem to imagine CILIP is an abstract entity which is perhaps ignorant of or indifferent to the needs of libraries, librarians and information professionals. What CILIP actually is, of course, is a group of individual human beings who care very much about libraries, librarians and information professionals and are doing their best to support all of them. To say otherwise is ignorant. I’ve met a lot of CILIP people and never once have any of them given me even an inkling that they didn’t care, or weren’t working hard, or were not qualified to do their jobs.

CILIP is a big unwieldy company with a royal charter, and it has a lot of armchair critics. A lot of people who’ve never led a massive charity-registered organisation appear to think they’d be awesome at it if given the chance; a chance 99% of them would not take if it actually came down to it, of course. Perhaps because smaller groups have achieved amazing things online, people expect CILIP to be able to do the same – but it has responsibilities and processes which prevent it from being so agile. Rowing a boat is not the same as running a big old paddle-steamer with thousands of paying customers. I know of no big organisations with massive budgetary constraints that consistently do everything right.

Traditionally I’ve supported CILIP. Recently I’ve lazily drifted into the camp of taking easy shots at them, and I was horrified at the thought of £35k (if that figure is indeed correct) being spent on the rebrand. I didn’t renew my membership right away when it lapsed. One of the reasons is that people I respect have tried to work with CILIP and found it untenable.

But I’m a member now and will continue to be one. This is partly because certain individuals previously or currently at CILIP (particularly Kathy Ennis, Biddy Fisher and Phil Bradley) have been really supportive of me and given me confidence and valuable opportunities. It’s partly because the Career Development Group helped me develop my career – in fact they’ve helped me develop my career to a stage where I no longer need them anymore. But it seems a bit callous to just say ‘okay thanks, bye!’ and no longer put any money into the organisation. If CILIP has helped you get just ONE pay-grade higher, then that’s more than a decade’s worth of annual subscriptions in extra salary you earn every year – it only seems fair to reinvest a fraction in the organisation.

But the third reason I’ll continue to support CILIP – even when they do things I don’t agree with – is because the only way we’ll be completely screwed is if we screw CILIP. By supporting them and letting them speak for us, we might be screwed – they might get it wrong. Just doing one’s best is not a guarantee of success. But by withdrawing our support, dismissing them, being scornful of them, bringing up absurd conspiracy theories online – that way we’re definitely screwed. Because like it or not CILIP speaks for the profession in this country – that’s precisely why they’re going through the controversial rebranding in the first place, because they feel (and most of us have felt for a long time) that ‘CILIP’ and ‘Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ are not working for their role as mouthpiece. The way some people talk on social media, you’d think CILIP are quite enjoying this complicated process, and are just doing it as a way to thumb their nose at the members.

I think there’s an undercurrent to all this of ‘If we don’t renew our membership and say how much we hate what CILIP doing, that’ll show them – they’ll HAVE to change then’. But know this – if the personnel at CILIP changes, we’ll be replacing one set of hard-working people doing their best for the profession with (hopefully) another set of hard-working people doing their best for the profession, and they may not make choices you like any better. We are, after all, talking about very difficult choices here. Have you tried trying to change and adapt, move forward without leaving people behind, maintain the responsibilities of being a registered charity and having the royal charter, and trying to include everyone and yet speak with one clear and unambiguous voice, and all that at a time when there’s a hostile government, a public mostly indifferent or steeped in happy but irrelevant nostalgia, and unprecedented threats to the very existence and value of libraries? ME EITHER. I imagine that’s quite hard to do. It is not through lack of effort that these controversial decisions are being arrived at.

By all means criticise CILIP. By all means make your voice heard. But support the organisation at the same time. Criticism and support are NOT mutually exclusive. Make suggestions. (By suggestions I don’t mean ‘stop what you’re doing I hate it I hate it’, I mean suggestions which work towards addressing the problems which CILIP are dealing with in ways not currently to your liking). If half as much energy was put into helping CILIP as was put into slagging it off, it could get a lot more done.

Remember that running a big chartered institute is nothing like running a social media campaign or a pressure group. And above all remember that CILIP is a bunch of humans working all day on our behalf, on the really very tricky problems we face as an industry and a profession.

Libraries are in a bit of a state. I don’t want a professional body that keeps everybody happy, I just want a professional body which gets shit done. CILIP can get more done with us, than without us.


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Would you recommend librarianship? The results!

10 Jan

So, would you?

Most people have an automatic response to this question – many people will say ‘yes’ straightaway because they love librarianship and know it is largely misunderstood, while others will say ‘no’ straightaway because they’ve had a rough time of it.

What I’m interested in is, would you ACTUALLY recommend it to someone, who might then act on your recommendation? I was asked about entering the profession in an email recently, and my reply sounded, I realised as I re-read it, quite negative. That’s because I think you have a responsibility when someone wants your advice to actually think about what you’re saying! And there’s a lot to be said for not-entering librarianship (by the end of the decade who knows how many worthwhile jobs there will actually be, for example) just as there is a lot to be said for entering it (it’s ace). I sometimes worry that we’re so busy promoting our value and the value of the profession, that we blindly tell everyone to become librarians even though they might not thank us later if they become one.

So I asked Twitter, a brief and unscientific 24hr poll. 133 responses. It started off more or less equal, with recommending just about edging ahead of not doing so – when I tweeted something to this effect, the vast majority of the subsequent votes were in favour of recommending it. So I don’t know if that’s because people who hadn’t previously voted felt moved to ‘defend’ the profession, or just a coincidence.

So of the 133 respondents, 72% would recommend this profession of ours.

Pie chart showing 72% voted in favour of recommending librarianship, 28% against

Here’s the split by country. This started off VERY interesting because the US had 100% of voting no, but then every single other vote from that country was yes so it ended up being a landslide in favour of recommendation… Ireland, from this miniscule sample-size, doesn’t look much fun.

Chart showing that with a couple of exceptions, regional breakdown just follows the main results

Swedes: when it comes to Librarianship, they can take it or leave it


So would you recommend librarianship to a friend? I’d like to hear what you think in a comment.

Some reasons I can think of why I wouldn’t recommend it:

  • you can’t avoid starting at the bottom (can’t do the MA until you’ve had a year of experience, can’t get a higher graded job without the MA);
  • some career paths hit the buffers very early on unless the right person happens to retire / move etc;
  • the long-term future of the profession is far from certain;
  • constantly fighting peoples’ misconceptions of what we do and how valuable it is (I think the need to do this may fade over time because I’m far less fussed about it than I used to be);
  • there are far more capable librarians than there are decent posts;
  • the money isn’t amazing for the first few years (I know it’s very cool to not care about money but when you’re having to buy new shoes for your toddler every 3 months, you do);
  • you have to fork out a fortune to do the MA but, if you think about it, the difference between librarians with the Masters and those without it is very rarely the Masters. It’s a qualification that is both essential and of questionable value.

Some reasons why I would recommend it (heavily academic-librarianship bias here):

  • it’s fantastically engaging;
  • the community (if you chose to be part of it) is kind, fun, and unremittingly helpful and happy to share information and advice;
  • you get to work in a role that helps people, which is genuinely fulfilling even for a partial-cynic like me;
  • unless you’re unlucky you won’t be expected to work longer than the hours of your contract (so many non-librarians I know work all the hours God sends, and are incredibly jealous of the flexitime scheme I’m on);
  • libraries are supportive employers, generally;
  • you get to investigate, write about and train people on stuff you’re interested in anyway, in my case;
  •  you can do academicy stuff like presenting at conferences and writing papers, without having to actually BE an academic;
  • once you get up the ladder a bit you get a lot of freedom and your time is self-directed as well as self-managed;
  • the people you work with are NICE.

For me, my day to day environment is the most important thing. I’d rather live in a smaller house in a nicer area than a grand house further away from town. I’d rather work in a nice room with nice people who will understand if I need to go home and pick up my daughter from nursery, than have a high status job with a company car a career trajectory ending in a six-figure salary. My job is challenging but fun, it suits ME better than any profession I could imagine.

But everyone is different, and I’m already entrenched in this profession, whilst at the same time developing the skills to keep working if this profession ceases to exist – that’s a very different situation from advising someone to just now start applying for entry-level library posts with a view to doing their Masters in October 2014 and maybe, just maybe, getting a job they really want in 2017ish.

Where do you stand on this? What would you add?


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Libraries! Let’s stop underestimating simplicity. (Simplicity is user-friendly)

07 Nov
Simple image of a display on a bare wall

Simplicity can be delightful. (Flickr CC image from MarcelGermain)

I think one excellent way forward for most libraries would be to adopt an aggressively pro-simplicity stance. We often make decisions about services or models based on the need to accommodate everyone - the need not to put anyone out, rather than the need to really inspire people to use what we have. It’s very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be both inspirational and compromising at the same time. Look at loan periods as a really basic example. Most libraries have a lot of them – this is an attempt to make sure everyone is catered for. But sometimes it’s so complicated as to be detrimental to the users.

Simplicity is great for many reasons.  It allows focus. It allows us to market with clear messages about what we do. It helps the user feel like they know where they are. It stops the model being too diluted by attempts not to offend. And – and this is the key point I want to make in this post – people can often prefer simplicity even to desirable options.

Think about your own experiences. Let’s take a mundane example – sometimes it’s nice to go to a coffee shop and have a choice between an Americano, an Espresso and a Latte, in two sizes. Even if you really like cinnamon lattes or whatever, you might prefer the simplicity of options to 7 different types of coffee, in three different sizes, with syrup options ago-go.

There’s all sorts of retail experiences like that – booking hotel rooms or flights, for instance, or choosing a sandwich in Subway… – where options that are designed to personalise the experience to suit you actually just get in the way of some sort of essential process.

So I think (and I’m thinking about all this because I suggested it at a work meeting the other day) that all new processes and models and services should be designed to be simple and to make an impact, rather than to cover all the bases. (I realise librarians often feel a sort of moral obligation to make sure we’re not disadvantaging anyone, and I’m definitely in favour of that as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of our actual future.) And I think any services we re-design should be re-designed at least partly with the question ‘What would users who’d NEVER EXPERIENCED THE OLD SYSTEM really want her?e’ uppermost in our minds, as well as the need not to offend existing users. Chances are, they’d want something efficient, non-complicated, and easy to understand.

- thewikiman

p.s some of the themes in this post are also covered in my previous one



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