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How I work

27 Sep

There’s a meme going around at the moment, with people answering some set questions from Lifehacker about their working practice. Ruan Peat has blogged about this and was kind enough to put my name in the ‘who would you like to see answer these questions?’ bit (a rather clever idea which I’m going to file away for future advice on creating viral marketing campaigns) so just for Ruan – and anyone else who might be interested! – here are my answers.

picture of some highlighter pens

Flickr CC image by Daniel*1977 – click to view the original

Location: York
Current gig: Academic Liaison Librarian / Trainer
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: I don’t even know. It’s a PC, definitely.
One word that best describes how you work: Inquisitively

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Twitter is the only thing I couldn’t live without – there are others like Evernote which I find very useful but whose utility I could probably get from elsewhere if pressed. That said I find myself all at sea when I can’t use Outlook for email – it genuinely stresses me out.

What’s your workspace like?
It’s always either very messy, or starting to get messy having just been tidied up. People assume I don’t mind mess but actually I’d much rather it was organised. Everything about me is inherently disorganised, and it takes so much effort to triumph over that and be organised in my actual work, that my workspace is always likely to suffer… The one part of the idea of senior management that really appeals to me is having a lovely big office. I’d keep that tidy. Probably.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
I do almost nothing to the best of my ability. That sounds glib / annoying / unwise to state publicly, but it’s true. Good enough is good enough! The search for perfection has cost many an information professional their contentment. I do a LOT of different things so while I try to do all of them well, I couldn’t do as much if everything I did was as perfect as I could make it.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
Evernote – it’s brilliant. Syncing between devices is the sort of vital functionality that makes me very grateful I wasn’t born 10 years earlier; I really need this sort of tech.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
iPad – I use it all the time, not least because I can’t read my own handwriting. I use it to take notes, look things up, as a teaching aide in workshops. It’s probably the most useful thing I’ve ever bought.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Not accepting perceived wisdom. And by that I don’t mean I’m some sort of maverick who never plays by the rules – I’m not that at all, often I test the perceived wisdom and it works just fine so I’ll follow it. But sometimes things which have always been done just aren’t as good as starting from scratch, so I think I’m good at teasing out meaningful innovation.

What are you currently reading?
I’ve found it very difficult to read actual books since writing one of my own. I’ve become very unambitious – my ideal scenario would be to forget what happens in 10 or so of my favourite books and then re-read them…

What do you listen to while you work?
I like this questions because what I listen to is vital to how I work. Where possible I won’t listen to anything, because I want to be open and approachable to my colleagues in an open plan office – but if I’m either A) under real time-pressure or B) really struggling to work something out or C) have several annoying, scrappy, TRICKY things I have to get done, I’ll plug my headphones into my phone and start listening. I have several Spotify playlists set-up for just these occasions, depending on my mood – the most often used one is a relaxing jazz-tinged one (lots of Madelaine Peyroux and Gretchen Parlato), followed by a proper jazz one (Avishai Cohen, Brad Mehldau), a Dance one (Photek, JoJo Mayer’s Nerve, DJ Semtex) and a classical one (a whole load of Graham Fitkin, amongst other things). With these on I get an ENORMOUS amount done in a short space of time, it’s amazing and I love it. A constant sound of music effectively means what I hear is balanced – as opposed to the quiet and loud unpredictability of office happenings, which jolt me out of my concentration – which means I stop hearing anything at all and focus completely on what I’m doing. It’s odd because the music needs to be right for this to work, but I don’t actually listen to the music as such, I’m only aware of it peridocally. It’s a bit like driffting in and out of sleep with music on in the background. (Except, instead of being asleep, you’ve just OWNED your To-do list…)

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Very much an introvert, but most of the students and academics I interact with probably don’t realise that.

What’s your sleep routine like?
Rubbish. I need lots, get little; I’m not that good at it unless sleeping conditions are perfect. In an ideal world I’d stay up till 1 in the morning and then wake naturally at about half-ten. I do not live in an ideal world.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
Hmmm, Andy Priestner perhaps? I can’t imagine he’d be a fan of doing so, though…

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You see this question a lot, but the whole ‘let me give you some advice’ scenario seems to happen a lot more in movies than in real life, and I’m not sure I’ve been given that much. My Dad taught me, more by example and just chatting about it than him specifically trying to impart wisdom, not to worry too much about things I can’t control. My guiding principle is that happiness is more important than success, which luckily everyone close to me also subscribes to.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
What I really enjoying, for some reason, is refining things. I like taking existing things (whether originally created by me or other people) and constantly making them better and better each time. It’s great.

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In praise of #bettakultcha (and a video about buying India a Library)

20 Sep

This post is about 3 things: the Buy India a Library project and my talk about it, the Bettakultcha event I did the talk at, and the generally sound principle of talking about library-related things at events which aren’t remotely library-related…

Bettakultcha is ACE

Bettakultcha is a brilliantly simple concept – a night devoted to presentations of 20 slides, 15 seconds a slide, on anything you feel passionately about, and NO PITCHES. The fact that this works at all – that such a flimsy concept consistently produces a brilliant evening of entertainment – makes you positively giddy with delight when you’re part of one. People talking about their passions is pretty much ALWAYS interesting – even if the passion itself isn’t overly interesting to anyone else, or the presenter isn’t a natural speaker. It’s a very supportive environment in which to public-speak. The talks are only 5 minutes long anyhow so you never get bored; I’ve enjoyed every talk I’ve seen at a Bettakultcha event. I’ve been entertained, moved, fascinated. It’s quite an intimate thing, to talk about your passions to an audience of strangers (my previous Bettakultcha talk was about Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle, with whom I’m somewhat obsessed – normally people have to know me quite well before they get the delights of me discussing his tragic life at great length) and it means you get a connection with people, you effectively jump ahead in your relationship. I’ve met people at Bettakultchas who have become my friends, and who I keep in touch with not just online but in person too. Bettakultcha really is ace.

Here are a couple more talks from the event I recently attended in York – Paul Smith making his passion for coffee properly entertaining,  and an amazing talk by a 14 year old on organ donation! Here’s one I missed but I wished I’d seen – my friend Helen doing a completely silent presentation. There are musical talks, theatrical talks. Anything as long as it’s not a pitch – often the simplest concepts result in the most creativity.

They run all over the North of England – if there’s an event anywhere near you, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Check out some other talks on YouTube, or search Twitter for the hashtag to find out more. The main website is here.

My #BuyaLib 20/20 talk

At the June Bettakultcha I gave a talk about Buy India A Library  – it’s all about how we crowd-sourced $4000 in 2 weeks in order to fund a Library build for a school in Mysore. Here’s the talk:

As mentioned above the format of the talk was that you have 20 slides which each move on automatically after 15 seconds (often known as the Pecha Kucha format, which is probably what the phrase ‘Betta Kultcha’ is referencing, must ask the organisers) – in my experience the key to doing this type of talk is a: to practice it the day before and b: DO NOT WAIT FOR THE SLIDES! People slip-up in 20/20 style presentations when they stop talking – it’s best to plough on with a narrative, and have the slides provide a complimentary narrative, in their own time, underneath…

The audience were much more responsive than I thought they’d be – it was a really fun talk to do.

(By the way, the librarian blogger I mention near the start was @jaffne – sorry not to credit you by name, Jaf!)

The Echo-Chamber Escape revisited

A couple of years back Laura Woods and I did a lot of talking and writing on the subject of librarians escaping the echo-chamber.

We’ve stopped now because quite honestly we got quite sick of our own thoughts and voices on the matter! But it’s still an important concept – we need to write for non-librarian audiences, talk at non-library events, and generally get out there. It’s fun, too.

 

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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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10 top tips to take your organisation’s Twitter account up a level

28 Aug

My current column for Library Journal is all about taking a Twitter account to the next level. It’s hard to keep organisational accounts progressing – a lot of them plateau after a while – so there’s 10 golden rules to get you past that point.

 

Image of the LJ column online

Click the image to read the full article on libraryjournal.com

 

The 10 golden rules in brief, are:

  1. Only tweet about your library one time in four
  2. Analyse your tweets
  3. Tweet multimedia
  4. Tweet more pictures
  5. If something is important, tweet it four times
  6. Use hashtags (but don’t go mad)
  7. Ask questions
  8. Get retweeted and your network will grow
  9. Put your Twitter handle EVERYWHERE
  10. Finally, avoid these pitfalls
    .

Read the full article with expanded information about each rule, here.

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