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A letter to a younger me

09 Aug

I’ve not been blogging for a month or so due to the arrival of baby Grace! But I’m back at work on Monday so I’m gradually easing back in to the world of librarianship, starting with some stuff I meant to blog links to ages ago but never got around to…

I was delighted to be asked to write a post on the Letters to a Young Librarian blog run by Jessica Olin. It’s a really good blog and one that I read a lot anyway, so it was really nice to do something for it. Here’s my post.

Click to go to the article

I tried to really honestly (and at the risk of embarassing myself a bit) write a letter to the me that was about to start his first day in libraries, aged 25-and-a-half, back in 2006. I also tried to make it as relevant and useful as possible to a new professional today, so check it out and and tell me what you think. It includes a list of things I think we really should be doing in our profession:

  • Communicating our value PROPERLY at every opportunity.
  • Embracing informality.
  • Trying to inspire people rather than placate.
  • Understanding that work-life balance is important enough that it should not be considered with reference to what ANYONE ELSE IS DOING. 
  • Libraries have always been product orientated, but now they need to be market orientated.
    .

Each of these is expanded in the post; it was fun to think about this stuff. Thanks to Jessica for asking me and the reader of her blog who requested the post!

I’ve written quite a lot of stuff on platforms other than here (or the Toolkit blog) in recent months – there’s a complete list in the Guest Posts On… section down the right-hand side of the website (you’ll need to scroll down!) but here are the most recent:

Normal blog service will now be resumed!

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Gender and Digital Identity

10 Jul

Troll pic by John McGovern. (Click to view the original on Flickr Creative Commons)

 

In a way this is slightly off-topic in that it isn’t about libraries, but in more ways it’s on-topic because this blog is often about new technology, and social media, and higher education. In particular I think we as information professionals should be sharing our expertise in social media with the academic community – I do this via workshops, and one question I get asked in more than half the sessions I do, is, how do you deal with the unpleasant attention online which you (inevitably) get if you are both prominent and female?

When I was first asked this I really didn’t know how to answer it very well – the second and subsequent times I’d looked into it a bit and felt better prepared, but there still doesn’t really seem to be a good answer (outside of: Fix Society – which I’m not holding my breath for). With this in mind, I went along to a session called Female public intellectuals – the risk of exposure as part of the University of York’s Intellectual Integrity conference. The panel discussion was revealing, fascinating, and depressing – I was going to say in equal parts but that’s glib; it was basically mostly depressing. Here are some thoughts around this whole issue, for what they’re worth.

The problem

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the problem but let me set it out explicitly here: the problem is that as soon as you gain an amount of exposure, you open yourself to abuse. I think this is true across the board, because among every X number of people, a small percentage of them are bound to be fecking idiots: the higher the number X, the more idiots are in that number. However the problem of abuse is exacerbated by the internet in general (it allows disconnected contact in a fashion which allows cowards to flourish), social media in particular (it allows direct access and potentially even the feeling that you ‘know’ someone and so are entitled to comment on their appearance, etc) and is much much worse if you’re female, gay, or in an ethnic minority.

Increasingly vital to researchers and academics is the need to have impact, and to have impact you need to be seen. To be seen is to open yourself to abuse, so how do you do your job in such conditions?

One of the panel spoke about how she appeared on the BBC for around 2 minutes – TWO MINUTES – and within hours had several emails from people either saying how sexually UNattractive they found her, or how sexually attractive they found her and what they wanted to do about it. Males on the same programme got emails too – about their arguments. But she just basically got abuse – and keep in mind, this is a BBC1 audience who had to Google her and find out her email, and took the time to do so.

The two things that really hit home for me attending this talk (and keep in mind I’m a social-media-workshop-teaching, feminist-lefty-leaning Guardian-reading, already-interested and somewhat-read-up-on-this librarian…) were A: how little exposure women need to get abuse (I naively thought it didn’t happen until you’d been on TV, but people with 2,000 Twitter followers are finding that enough to warrant emails detailing sexual fantasies) and B: how there’s no real preparation for dealing with it. It’s not really discussed much. There’s a tendency to laugh it off or, worse, to feel misplaced guilt about it – maybe I inadvertently led them on? So it doesn’t get shared, and you don’t get the relief and understanding that comes from realising other people are getting this abuse too, and it’s not your fault.

We’re not talking about a tiny number of ‘sick’ people abusing women online anymore. It’s really, really common.

It’s no longer about anonymity

For ages I thought the problem with the internet was anonymity. If you want to see how people act when they’re unaccountable, go look at the comments section of ANYTHING – YouTube, the Guardian, heaven forbid the Mail – and check your faith in humanity at the door.  People say awful things, all the time, because they don’t have to take responsibility for them – they can hide behind a random username.

But I don’t think that’s even the main issue anymore. Take a moment to look at this tumblr post from Feminist Frequency – she had the audacity to tweet a mild comment about lack of female lead characters in computer games, and got back an unfathomable stream of abuse. The abuse is not from people hiding behind the anonymity of the net. It is from people with their name and photo on their twitter account.

Another attendee at the session today mentioned the ‘coarsening of society’ – we are generally getting more unpleasant, more mysognistic all the time. I agree with that, but I think social media can make this a lot worse because of its unique ability to connect like-minded people.

Social media, tribes, and ‘finding your (similarly repulsive) people’

I love social media. I love most how it can help you find your people – you can reach all the other Twitter users who happen to have your exact outlook on life, or taste in music, or professional interests, or whatever it might be. It gives us all the chance to deepen and enrich our experiences through sharing them with the like-minded. The old saying about how you can’t choose your family, but at least you can choose your friends – that needs updating. Because even your friends are chosen partly based on logistics such as geography, place of work etc. Online you can find people just like you!

However… There’s a darker side to this, which is that all the really repulsive people can find all the other really repulsive people. And what they do (this is my pet theory; others may have explored this with proper intellectual rigour) is form their own ersatz society, which comes with different standards of behaviour. It seems to me that a depressingly high percentage of humans really have no private morality at all – the only reason they aren’t unpleasant to women (for example) all the time is because society’s norms dictate that they can’t. Hence, the original problem of anonymity and the net – if you’re not accountable to society’s norms you can finally act however you like (which for lots of people seems to be: Really Unpleasant!). But now that all these people can find their tribes online, they effectively create a new society where the norms ARE to be unpleasant and misogynistic – so they think nothing of abusing prominent women under their own name and their own image.

God it’s depressing.

A project to tackle this

I’d like to see Higher Education Institutions tackling this by preparing academics and researchers (both male and female) for what will happen if they become prominent. I’d like to see students being taught about the scale of the problem as soon as they engage with the online world. Clearly this is a far bigger problem than just an academic one, but we can’t all leave it for someone else to fix society. But even tackling this problem head-on is fraught with difficulty – as someone on the panel pointed out, this has the feeling of acceptance: getting abuse is part of being a successful female, so here’s some coping strategies, off you go.

Anyhow there is work being done in this area, and I particularly wanted to highlight what Sara Perry, one of the panelists, is doing at the moment. She’s collecting data about people’s online experiences, and there’s been around 200 responses to her survey so far (which is great as it’s brand new) – including people saying how they deal with this and offering SOLUTIONS or at least ways of getting through the problem for individuals. That’s a great thing, and I can’t wait to see what Sara and her team publish at the end of it. (From a purely selfish point of view, I’d like to be able to better advise people who ask me about this in social media workshops about how to deal with it.) So please consider taking the survey – the details and the link are on Sara’s blog. Sara is speaking up about really problematic issues here in the hope that it can help others who have endured similar incidents to those she’s experienced, which is vital.

If anyone has anything they’d like to add to this in the comments, whether it’s general discussion or advice on how to deal with online abuse, please leave a comment below. And if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!

 

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Becoming a Networked Researcher: a suite useful of presentations

10 Jul

Web 2.0 tools have finally moved firmly beyond the ‘potential fad’ stage, to gaining widespread acceptance as valuable weapons in the Researcher’s arsenal. Statistics about social media are almost meaningless because a: there’s so many of them and b: the information becomes outdated quickly, but at the time of writing it’s thought that around 70% of academics use social media for personal use, and in my view we’ve most definitely reached the tipping point where social media’s utility for professional use is properly understood.

This is directly linked to the ‘impact agenda’ – the research shows that blogging about and tweeting about research results in more citations for that research, and pretty much everyone wants more citations. But becoming a networked researcher is about more than the REF-related bottom line, it’s about being part of a mutually beneficial, supportive, and intellectually engaging community.

With all that in mind, I ran a suite of hands-on workshops at my institution, the University of York, on behalf of the Researcher Development Team. The suite was entitled ‘Becoming a Networked Researcher’ and it covered firstly blogs and blogging, then collaboration and dissemination, and finally Twitter. Rather than divide these up into three blog posts I thought the most useful thing to do would be to have them all here – so below you’ll find various links to, or embedded versions of, presentations and handouts for the course. I’ve tried to make it so they work without me there to talk over the top of them…

The workshops themselves were really enjoyable and the researchers themselves very enthusiastic and engaged – a whole bunch of blogs and twitter accounts have already sprang up since they ran!  But I’d like to improve them for next time around (we’ll be running them twice a year from now on); whether you’re a Masters / PhD researcher, an academic, or an information professional reading this, I’d be interested in your views on how useful these materials are, and any advice or tips or, particularly, examples, I should be referring to in future sessions.

The workshop materials

The three parts of the suite were designed to work together and separately – if you’re only interested in one aspect of becoming a networked researcher, you don’t need to look at the materials from the other sessions.

Part 1: Blogs and Blogging

Blogs and Blogging was the most successful session. The advice here is slightly York-centric in that we all have Google accounts, so we all automatically have Blogger blogs; if you’re reading this at another insitution it’s definitely worth considering WordPress.com as your blogging platform. Better still, WordPress.org, although that requires some technical knowledge.

Here’s the Prezi presentation:

And here’s the handout which goes with it:

Blogs for researchers: workshop handout by University of York Information

 

Part 2: Dissemination and Collaboration

I’ve decided against embedding the materials for this one – there was a lot more group and collaborative work and the session was slightly shorter, so my presentation doesn’t cover as much ground. But you can view the Dissemination and Collaboration Prezi here (the handout doesn’t really add anything); it covers LinkedIn, Academia.edu, Prezi itself, and Slideshare.

Interestingly, I really struggled to convince people as to the value of LinkedIn. I’m suspect of the value of LinkedIn myself, but I’ve heard countless researchers talk about how important it is, so I flagged it up as a key resource anyway…

 

Part 3: Twitter for Researchers

I really enjoyed this as I think Twitter is such a vital tool for modern scholarship and communication – you can see the Slides from the session here:

 

And the handout is here:

Twitter for academics: workshop handout by University of York Information

Any questions, comments or queries, leave them below.

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A brief guide to the best sites for finding freely available images online

21 Jun

Reblogged from the Library Marketing Toolkit

I’m currently running a 23 Things self-directed learning programme at my University. One of the Things we just covered is Creative Commons images, and the best places to find them. I have a whole bunch of useful sites I draw people’s attentions to in the Presentations Skills course I run, so shared them all via the 23 Things blog – it got a lot of RTs when I tweeted about it, so as people found it so useful I thought I’d share it here. Finding good quality images is absolutely critical to pretty much all forms of marketing, after all!

Creative Commons Licences allow people to freely and legally re-use artistic works, as long as they credit the creator of those works. This can apply to any media but it’s most often associated with pictures, and there are literally hundred of millions of images online of very high quality, which we can use in posters, brochures, presentations, websites, handbooks, blogposts – whatever we like, as long as we abide by the conditions of  the Creative Commons (CC) licence under which they’re made available.

A CC image from Flickr, courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, no less! 
Find it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/28634332@N05/7637356614 


 So where do you find these fantastic pictures?


  • Flickr Creative Commons (http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/) – Flickr is the big online picture sharing site, and it has the largest single supply of Creative Commons images (that I know of), tens of millions of them. It has plenty of non-licenced images to – which is to say, they’re subject to normal copyright so we couldn’t use them ourselves – but the link about takes you to CC part. 
  • Compfight (http://compfight.com/) - Compfight searches Flickr better than Flickr searches itself. It does all the different CC licences at once, which is useful, and somehow (I have no idea how) it seems to sort the wheat from the chaff and bring back the more useful pictures. When you run a search on Compfight, click Creative Commons from the menu down the left next to the results – from then on, every image you search for you can use.
  • Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images) has over 15 million CC images and, unlike pretty much all the other sources listed here, the images are categorised (by date, location, format, style etc) so you’re not reliant on keyword searches to find what you need 
  • Iconfinder (http://www.iconfinder.com/) does what it sounds like it does – finds icons which are available for re-use. So not photographs like the other sites we’re talking about, but small graphics and images which can be very useful in presentations. All the pictures in this University of York Library slide-deck are from Iconfinder, for example. 
  • Stock Xchange (http://www.sxc.hu/) is the equivalent of iStock Photo except the images are free to use with attribution. It is particularly useful for finding pictures on a plain white background, for use in PPTs. 
  • Morguefile (http://www.morguefile.com/) is similar to StockXchange, perhaps not as good (and not as comprehensive) – but the images are even licensed for commercial use, so you can use them to advertise things. 
  • Blue Mountains (http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/flickrCC/) For the completists, a site called Blue Mountains does roughly what Compfight does. Try searching for a keyword but also putting BW in the search box (e.g. bw clocks) – it’ll bring back very stylish black and white photos, often with a one-off splash of colour somewhere within them. 
  • TinEye MultiColor Search Lab (http://labs.tineye.com/multicolr) is my favourite image search engine (thank you to Katie Birkwood for pointing it out to me). You can’t search by keyword – instead you search by colour, up to five colours in fact… How cool is that?  It means you can find fabulous CC images that exactly match your branding! Marketing win.
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