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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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A great, big, enormous thank you post

17 Mar

PLEASE NOTE: if you’re reading my blog for the first time, most posts aren’t like this! :)

I feel like I was professionally asleep for the first few years of my career – then in 2009 I presented at the New Professionals Conference and everything changed. I realised there were other people out there like me! Who really cared about the wider profession. I realised librarianship was awesome, and that the people in it were ace.

Movers and Shakers logo
SLA Logo

Less than two years later some amazing things have happened, and in particular over the last week – I’ve been named as the winner of SLA-Europe’s Early Career Conference Award (in the Leadership & Management division) and I’ve been named as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. I’m thrilled, delighted, proud, giddy, grateful, a little intimidated, honoured and above all excited. I get to go to the SLA conference in Philly in June (w00t!) so if anyone else is going, let me know and we can say hi…

And many of my library heroes have been Movers & Shakers, and to be included in a crop with Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton, Aaron Tay and so on is just amazing.

It is particularly cool to be in there with Lauren Smith – we are the second and third UK Movers & Shakers ever… You can check out the map here, and read the editorial (which mentions echo chamber things) here. A list of all the Movers and Shakers’ blog and twitter profiles is here, and @micahvandegrift created a package whereby you can subscribe to all the 2011 Movers & Shakers blogs at once. Finally, my profile piece is here – on the subject of which, THOSE ARE NOT MY REAL TEETH!

(Incidentally, at the same time as all this stuff has been going on, my The Time for Libraries is NOW slide-deck has been embedded in loads of places and viewed lots of times so thank you for helping me get that out there! I’m also very honoured to have become a Guest Contributor to the Libraries & Transliteracy blog – if you have a second, you can read my article, The Future of Libraries is Transliteral, here.)

Anyway: there are a number of people to whom I’ve wanted to say thank you for a while. I figure I’ll never get as good an excuse again to break a number of rules about good library blogging, and just talk about myself for a post and say thank you to loads of people! So please forgive me… All of the following people having in some tangible way, through their actions, help, advice, influence or collaboration, had a positive effect on my library career: Angie Robinson, Ian Jennings, Chris Rhodes, Kathy Ennis, Lyndsay Rees-Jones, Jo Alcock, Maria Cotera, Laura Woods, Biddy Fisher, Richard Hawkins, Annie Mauger, Bobbi Newman, Oskar Smith, Bogdan Leonte, Alex “fair play, to be fair” Mayer, Ian Mayer, Andy Woodworth, Buffy Hamilton, Toby Greenwalt, Joel Kerry, Phil Bradley, Heather McCormack, Justin Hoenke, Andromeda Yelton, Jan Holmquist, Bethan Ruddock, Jennie Findlay, Andy Priestner, Sarah Busby – I’m really sorry if I’ve left anyone out, there are loads more people (basically my entire network) who have helped in other ways, so thank you everyone very much!

I really want to thank my wife because she puts up with the fact that I do so much library stuff in my own time. I always swore I’d never be one of those people who put their career first, and I’d still never prioritise it above the family, but the fact is when you’re writing a book and doing presentations outside of work time, you do spend free-time upstairs typing at a computer which takes you away from your wife. She allows me to do this, so thank you, The Wife!

Thanks to baby Emily because it’s a good excuse to get a picture of her in:

Picture of the baby

Apologies to all those who aren't fans of baby pics...

Really big thanks to my Mum, and really big thanks to my Dad. My Dad is my biggest inspiration, the person who generates most of my good ideas, the person who still reads every article before I send it off to the journal / publication / publishers, my biggest support and my biggest fan. He’s also an amazing singer! If you’ve not heard Officium or the Dowland Project I’d reccomend checking them out… (I know I’m biased but the former has sold over one and a half million copies and the latter was a New York Times record of the year, so other people like him too. :) )

Finally in this long and admittedly self-indulgent blog post (it is a special occasion though!) I wanted to reproduce part of my Mover & Shaker interview here. The way the Movers and Shakers process works, you get asked about a million questions to see if you live up to what your nominator said about you, and then you answer more questions, and then they follow up with yet more, and then they do fact checking – all in all I must have written over 4,000 words, which necessarily got boiled down to about 15 words from me in the final article. Because most of what I was nominated for is collaborative (all of it, really) I wanted to put my actual answers down in print (thanks to Sarah Bayliss for her permission) and give people credit where it is due.

Cheers!

- thewikiman

What drives your passion for this profession? Why did you start “Library Routes” and “The Wikiman?” What are your goals for these?

My passion for the profession comes in a large part from that combination of the fact that we’re doing amazing things in librarianship, coupled with the fact that not enough people outside the profession know about them. So it’s great to be working on interesting and innovative things – throw in the fact that there’s this massive challenge to increase awareness of them and the whole thing becomes all-consuming. It’s also about the community: there are so many interesting information professionals to communicate and collaborate with.

Laura Woods and I set up the Library Routes Project just as a way to bring together everyone’s accounts of how and why they got into the profession. There’d been gluts of blog posts where several librarians were inspired to talk about this subject at the same time – Laura and I figured if we set up a wiki it would collect them all in one place, and maybe inspire more people to join in. It worked better than we every expected, and there’s now more than 150 entries in what has become a really useful careers resource.

I set up thewikiman blog because I wanted to engage in dialogue with the wider profession. A blog is a fantastic way not just to get your views and ideas out there, but to become plugged in to libraries generally, and become part of a global conversation. That’s very exciting. For me, all the amazing stuff that has happened in the last couple of years (like this accolade!) ultimately can be traced back to my decision to start a blog in summer 2009.

Which professional assignments are you most proud of?

There are two things I’m most proud of – instigating the Echo Chamber movement, and creating the New Professionals Network. Myself and Laura Woods (with whom I worked on the Library Routes Project) began to try and start raising awareness of the Echo Chamber problem in libraries, at the start of last year. All we did, really, was draw  wider attention to an existing problem, give it a name (and a tag, #echolib, to allow a sort of trans-Social-media shorthand way of discussing it) and start going out there and writing and presenting on it. And it’s worked!

The Echo Chamber problem refers to the fact that we spend too much time in libraries talking with like-minded peers, preaching to the converted, having our own views reflected back at us, and never reaching the people we should really be targeting – potential patrons, currently indifferent to our unaware of our services. I sincerely believe that while libraries aren’t useful for everyone, there are vast swathes of most populations who would use them if they had a better understanding of what they were really like. So Laura and I started exploring ways of focusing the discussion in this way. A good example is when the profession is criticised from out-side – by a popular figure like Seth Godin for example, or by the media. The first response of the librarian seems often to be to find another librarian, and complain to them about how unfair the criticism is. This serves no purpose – the other guy already knows how unfair it is – and people were taking it to extremes, writing articles about how great libraries are, in library publications that are only read by librarians! So the echolib movement encourages people to think about what they could more productively use their time for. Writing a pro-library piece for the same main-stream media source which criticised libraries in the first place, is a good start. Reach the same audience that got the bad news about libraries, with some good news about libraries. This whole thing has grown and grown, and we’ve presented to more than 1000 people on this subject so far, with more booked for the summer. It really seems to be making a difference – particularly as people like Andy Woodworth (a Mover & Shaker himself, of course) and my personal library hero Bobbi Newman, have brought the issue to the attention of a wider library audience. Since we started talking about this, there are so many more librarian’s voices being heard in the wider media narrative on the industry, which is important. We need to tell our own story, because others won’t do a good enough job on their own.

LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, is the other thing of which I’m most proud. It came out of my work as New Professionals Support Officer with CILIP (which, roughly speaking, is the UK equivalent of the ALA), and offers an online and face-to-face network for librarians who have entered the profession within the last 10 years or so. Gratifyingly, many more senior Info Pros have joined up too, to give us newer people the benefit of their wisdom! The site contains forums with, for example, advice on Library School, and a blog with interviews (recently with Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton and Andy Woodworth) and a Resources area with loads of downloadable documents to help people out. Se have guides to public speaking, anonymous reviews of library school courses, tips on getting published – everything you might need when you’re starting out in librarianship. There are over 800 members now, from all over the world – so come on over, people of America, and join us! LISNPN members have started to set-up face-to-face networking events themselves, under the LISNPN banner, all over the UK. It would be amazing if someone got them going in the US too. People have found it really useful to connect with their peers, and discuss the future of the profession over a drink or two.

Can you give me a few specific examples of the echo chamber’s success–published articles; lectures; etc. that reach a large audience?

Lauren Smith is the arch Echo Chamber escapologist, we feature her in our presentations. She wrote this article for the Guardian, and that was just the start. As it happens she was on the BBC News at 10 (the UK’s flagship news programme) this very evening. She’s also part of Voices for the Library who basically exist to escape the echo chamber. They’re mentioned in this newspaper article from yesterday – but really they do that sort of thing all the time. They’re a group of normal librarians, with full-time jobs, who have decided to make their voices heard in public.

An Echo Chamber escape that was pivotal for me was Mover and Shaker Toby Greenwalt. When Seth Godin famously questioned the relevance of libraries in the digital age, via his blog, Toby wrote a fierce defence of the profession on his own blog – so did a lot of librarians, via their own blogs. But what Toby did then was write a piece for the Huffington Post also – a brilliant and public account of libraries and librarianship.  We should all be thinking like this. A slide-deck I created to try and raise awareness of what librarians DO these days was featured on the Careers section of the Guardian website last week, in this brilliant article on 21st century librarianship – a really pleasing echo chamber escape.

Tell me, specifically, about the work you are doing to prevent library closures. Are you working with Lauren Smith on this (also nominated as a Mover & Shaker this year)? If so, can you tell me about your collaborations?

In terms of my efforts to prevent library closures, I shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Lauren! She as an absolute legend, and has achieved extraordinary things. If I can claim any part in that, it’s that I know she took her library advocacy the next level after seeing mine and Laura’s Echo Chamber presentation. As a side note, I’m really proud that Lauren and I are representing the Brits in the Movers & Shakers!

The stuff I do is more about trying to raise awareness of the profession, and trying to establish a new paradigm for disseminating information about libraries and librarians. There are others much more skilled than me who have taken the actual messages out into the wider world.

Tell me about Buy India a Library. What is your role, and how did this come about? Where are you in the process, and what is your long-term goal?

Buy India a Library was and is a fantastic project to crowd-source enough money to make a real difference in a book-free area. When Jennifer Findlay pointed out on Twitter that you could build an entire library, including the building, books and staff for two years, for under $2000 via a charitable organisation, I couldn’t believe it. There were also mobile libraries, drawn by donkey, that would tour former war-zones in Africa, available for under $150! So I re-tweeted this information, and Andromeda Yelton said: why not try and fund one collectively, via Twitter? It was simple, brilliant notion. Jan Holmquist and Justin Hoenke got involved, we set up a blog, and started asking for donations. We all had the same role – promoting the project, trying to reach people and asking them to become involved.

As Jan put it, so many libraries are closing; why not open one? The response was overwhelming, and in less than two weeks we had enough to buy India a Library and to buy Africa TWO mobile libraries! It was absolutely fantastic – truly, the power of collaboration via social media, in action, changing people’s lives. People were so generous. Thank you so, so much to everyone who donated.

Can you tell me specifically what libraries where have been built/procured, and what the timeline is?

The libraries in both Africa and India will be built within the year. The library in India will be built at a school in Mysore, on the edges of a slum in a very poor area, where there are literally no books at present. The mobile libraries in Africa, which are aimed at promoting literacy among children in former war zones, will travel to schools in Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from your successes? From the projects that didn’t turn out exactly as you’d hoped?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with four things which have had some generous recognition from the wider profession: the Library Routes Project, the Echo Chamber movement, Buy India a Library, and LISNPN (the New Professionals Network). The thread running through all of those is collaboration. Working with others is fantastic, I love it – you get new ideas, new angles, cover new ground, reach new audiences. If you have a particular way of working, chances are your skills will be complemented by someone else with a different way of working. And it’s fun… My advice to anyone is: worth with people. It is so much better to be part of a movement, to catalyse change, than just to achieve something on your own.

I’ve had one project which didn’t turn out as I’d hoped – and that was because it was launched before it should have been. With any venture which relies on the commitment and buy-in of an online community, you really need all your ducks in a row before you start issuing public invitations. No one wants to be the first on to an empty dance floor..

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The time for libraries is NOW

14 Mar
The time for information professionals is NOW, too.

The idea of this is to position the information professional as someone who will be increasingly important in an information-driven world, and to try and market the library in a more positive light. It’s inspired by the Shift Happens deck, as so much of the jaw-dropping information which that presentation contains seems to strengthen The Case for the Librarian…

I can reupload an edited version of this to Slideshare at any time, so let me know if you have suggestions for further ideas about the value of us or our institutions, and I’ll see if I can explore them with additional slides.

I’ve created these slides to act as library advocacy, so obviously I’d love them to be seen outside of the echo chamber – if you can think of any way for me to achieve this, let me know! The deck is available under a Creative Commons licence via Slideshare, so please feel free to embed it anywhere you see fit – I can honestly say I’ve never put so much work into a bunch of slides, so I’d love to see it in as many places as possible…

Update: They’ve got on to the hot on Twitter section of Slideshare’s home page already, which is great! A mini #echolib escape – they are sure to be checked out by people who don’t normally view library stuff. I’m not on Facebook, but if people can get it in to the Hot On Facebook section too that would be amazing. :)

Update II: okay, that worked! Thank you – it got Hot on Facebook and Twitter at the same time, ensuring loads of non-library people will have seen it. It’s had over 3000 views in less than 36 hours – thanks for helping me promote it!

- thewikiman

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One step forward, two steps back in library-land

11 Feb

There was a couple of really nice things I read yesterday. Firstly, Katie Birkwood got out of the Echo Chamber and presented at Ignite London 4, a non-library event, and talked about libraries. This is absolutely brilliant – a central tenant of the echolib philosophy is to go where librarians aren’t, and preach to the unconverted. By the sounds of things she succeeded in converting some of them, too – you can read about it on her blog, here.

I wanted to embed her slides here because I think they are absolutely fantastic:

View more presentations from Katie Birkwood.

Another positive thing (for me) was seeing Emma Davidson’s blog post about the LISNPN competition – she contrasted the energies being directed at down-playing the positivity around the SaveLibraries campagin, on the LIS-Profession mailing list, with the energies being directed at trying to improve things a tiny bit, via our competition. That was a nice way of looking at it. Emma said:

“I think it’s extremely interesting that one cohort is choosing to spend their energies deploring the current situation, whilst the other is doing their best to get people to do something about it.

Of course, some of the points made on the discussion list are extremely valid, and equally one might argue that a bunch of random acts of advocacy won’t necessarily make much difference to the overall picture, but I know which general approach makes me proud to be part of this profession, and which route fills me with gloom.”

Generally speaking I think those JISC-mail lists seem to bring out the worst in people a lot of the time, I don’t know why. Lots of gloom mixed in with the odd flash of anger. They can be very productive at times, though, so I stay subscribed and look for diamonds in the rough.

My own views on SaveLibrariesDay, both the positive and the cautioning, are encapsulated better than I could say it myself by this excellent piece on Use Libraries and Learn Stuff.

Anyhow, these nice things were offset by a pronouncement from David Cameron in the Commons. He’s on a bit of a roll for making idiotic public statements of late, and this one was really depressing from an information professional’s point of view.

“We all know a truth about libraries, which is that those which will succeed are those that wake up to the world of new technology, the internet and everything else, and investment goes in.”

How utterly depressing. Needless to say in the echo chamber of this blog, we all know that we have of course woken up to the world of new technology (and THE INTERNET – thanks Dave, public libraries have offered internet access since the nineties for God’s sake) a long time ago, and it is ignorant for him to pronounce otherwise. Has he been to a library recently, or is he just making it up? Has he been to his own library in the House of Commons which, despite being closer to the Victorian ideal of a library (the one that everyone thinks all libraries are like) than the vast majority of libraries in the world, still contains computers? I like the idea that if we DO ‘wake up’ to this stuff that we’ve been awake to for two decades, ‘investment goes in’ – well that’s settled then, invest in us you fool.

Everyone tells you that living under a Tory Government will be rubbish, of course, but you really have to experience it for yourself to get the full forlorn, listless, faith-in-humanity eroding, fear-mongering, banker-pandering, xenophobic, misogynist, racist, homophobic, equality-ignoring hatefulness of it all. Good times.

Anyway, hearing David Cameron talk about libraries reminded me of an email exchange I’d had with Chris Rhodes, and he gave me permission to quote something he said which is very important, and very true, about the whole Save Libraries thing:

“The problem with the save libraries campaign [is] even highly educated people have no idea what libraries do.

‘Save the local bus route’ is an easier campaign, prima facie, because public perception of what the local bus route does and what it actually does are not that different. With ‘save the local library’ there is a massive disparity between what the library does and what people think it does.

The campaign has to both explain the role of libraries and explain why they should not be cut.”

I think he’s absolutely right, and it does make the whole thing massively, massively harder.

*bangs head against desk*

Sorry, normal cheerier service will be resumed with the next blog post. :)

- thewikiman

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