Posts Tagged ‘librarian stereotypes’

Libraries & Stealth Advocising!

09 Nov

I’m afraid this post has a bit of a ‘here’s what I did, how cool is that’ feel to it, but it’s sort of unavoidable if I’m to share what I learned…

Stealth Advocising: creating material for library advocacy, but packaging it in something of intrinsic awesomeness so that non-librarians will be interested in it anyway – thereby extending its reach and escaping the echo chamber. Stealth advocising is the Trojan Horse of library advocacy.

The Background

Recently I’ve been thinking about the ‘libraries and the echo chamber‘ problem a lot. (What a surprise!) Coincidentally, I also read that Lorcan Dempsey thinks the ‘found flickr’ style of slide-deck (which is what I normally do – I know it as ‘zen-style slide-decks’: full-slide images, one point per slide, the image being a visual metaphor of some kind for that point) is dead or dying. Then I saw NoteandPoint, a site devoted entirely to showcasing lovely presentations. The slide decks on there were sooo far ahead of what I normally do, it really made me think.

The Concept

All of this came together with me thinking a: I need to experiment with a different style of slides, to keep ahead of, or at least up with, the game, b: I’ve been meaning to contextualise my ‘essential advice for new professionals blog post‘ into a slide deck for ages because it would be easier to digest and disseminate that way and c: wouldn’t it be cool to make a deck so attractive it gets onto NoteandPoint because of its aesthetics, and then surreptitiously rights public misconceptions about librarianship at the same time! It’s stealth advo-cising! Subliminal advocising, even! Because people will be viewing the presentation as a sort of cool object of PowerPoint beauty, without realising they’re actually absorbing library advocacy! W00t!

This idea could apply to a lot of things. Make something which is cool enough of itself for people to want to share it, and it just happens to be about libraries too. What would result, if it worked, would be huge reach beyond your normal sphere, and people beyond the echo chamber learning about libraries. A good example of this in the past was when LibraryMan and David Lee King‘s Library 101 video got onto BoingBoing – that took more resources to create than most of us could realistically aspire to, but ANYONE can make a slide-deck.

The execution

Last week I created my slides, entitled If you want to work in libraries, here are ten things you need to know. I prioritised form just as much as function – this meant compromise, such as not saying as much as I wanted to in some slides, and dividing one slide up into 2 different ones because I only had 9 main slides. I wanted 10 because ‘here’s 10 things you need to know’ is snappier than 9 – titles are really important. I made it short and easily digestible. I found a nice texture from Flickr (CC, of course), cropped it and re-coloured it to work as the background. And I used icons from the newly discovered icon-finder site (thanks Phil!)  to be graphics in roughly the same place each slide. The end result was a deck built for echo escapism – it is pretty, and although there are compromises on content they are necessary to help it achieve wider dissemination – less stuff, but seen by many more people, = #win. It’s concise, honest, makes important points I’m always making, and will hopefully put off as many people as it entices into librarianship. No point in people entering this profession labouring under misapprehensions.

The deck

Here it is:

What happened next

All I can say is, this went waaay better than I expected! I wrote a blog post yesterday asking people, how do I get this slide-deck beyond the echo chamber? Almost exactly 24hrs later, thanks to a mixture of the suggestions people gave me on Twitter and on the blog, and just trying stuff at random, here’s some of what has happened:

Screen-grab of three Prospects Tweets

All three tweeting arms of the Prospects Careers Service tweeted a link

Pic of a tweet

The careers service Graduate Futures tweeted a link

Pic of a tweet

GuardianCareers tweeted a link to it

Pic of Slideshare

It showed up on Slideshare's homepage as being Hot on Facebook (and Hot on Twitter, although you can't see that above) due to all the links / likes it was getting

Pic of an email

I got an email from Slideshare saying it had been chosen to be a Featured Presentation on the homepage

Pic of Slideshare

And there it is, featured. You know you can pay to have your presentation featured like this? Guess how much it costs: $399 DOLLARS A DAY!

Pic of slideshare

And just for good measure, this morning Slideshare decided to feature it on their Spotlight on Careers page, too...

The combined reach of those Twitter feeds alone is over 6000 followers, NONE of whom follow me and so were inaccessible to me otherwise. And all I did was just ASK them to tweet it – that’s all there was to it! Why have I never done this before? The Prospects Twitter person in particular was really helpful and engaging, and got my feedback on other stuff they were doing online at Prospects, and tweeted links to my Essential Careers Advice post and my Prezi on libraries and technology.

The Slideshare featuring thing is amazing, because every time anyone goes to the homepage they can see an attractive presentation, check it out, and are fed pro-library propaganda through a straw while they do so… As they said in the email screen-grabbed above, they receive thousands of uploads each day – the only way they even know my presentation existed in order to put it as a Feature on the homepage was because it got into the Hot on Twitter section as one of the most tweeted about Slideshare decks in the world for that morning so,thank you to everyone who tweeted and re-tweeted the links! The pictures above show just the #echolib busting stuff – it was also picked up on by loads of library people too and I’m really grateful.

Another thing worth noting is that, at the moment, if I type ‘I want to work in libraries’ into Google, the first four entries I get are this presentation. (Same with typing in ‘if you want to work in libraries’.) I know Google personalises results but even so, that’s pretty good – I’d rather people got my opinions on the truth of working in libraries than some out-of-date stuff that perpetuates the misconceptions, stereotypes and so on.

The numbers

At the time of writing, just 24rs since being uploaded to Slideshare, the presentation has been viewed 2611 times, linked to via 345 times, embedded in 18 people’s sites and blogs, tweeted 69 times, downloaded 13 times, shared on Facebook 48 times, liked on Facebook 66 times,  favourited 10 times on SlideShare and even received 7 votes for Slideshare’s World’s Best Presentation Contest 2010!


To put that in context, the next most viewed presentation I’ve ever submitted to Slideshare has less than 1000 views, and that’s EVER – let alone in 24hrs. So stealth advocising undoubtedly increased my reach exponentially, and hopefully it enlightened many of those new viewers as to what libraries are all about.

Your turn?

So, how else can we apply the stealth-advocising principle and help libraries escape the echo chamber? Suggestions in a comment please, or better still, make it happen and post a link to it here! :)

- thewikiman

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when I grow up I want to work in a $99 toy library

29 Sep

I was doing some research for the CILIP Graduate Day next week (aaaargh, I mean: this week!) and I came across this:  

All mod cons.
All mod cons.

It may be old news to most of you but I’d not seen it before – a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Library Play-Set, lovingly recreating Rupert Giles’s old fashioned library. 

This is one of those things like the Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figure Doll which makes me unsure what to think – on the one hand it’s making the whole idea of libraries and librarians a bit more accessible, fun even, and ensuring their presence in popular culture. On the other hand, it’s doing so in such a way as to perpetuate some of the less desirable stereotypes – in the Nancy Pearl case, she’s just another Old Maid / Library Policeman cross-over (when in real life she’s approachable, cross generational, and generally not just a cliché) and the case of this toy library, it’s a library which has absolutely nothing to do with what we work in today.

The books are, of course, old. Rows upon rows of identical volumes that look like they’re from the 1800s. (This is probably necessary for Giles – I’ve never watched the show but presumably he calls upon the knowledge of the ancients to help facilitate vampire death, or whatever he does.) There is an old-fashioned globe on the table. There are candles in the windows for chrissakes! Candles! And of course, there’s no technology at all, no computer, no nothing. It obstructs our users / patrons / customers from seeing as we really are, and gives kids the idea that libraries now are just like they always have been.

This chimes in something I was wondering over on Woodsiegirl’s blog, about whether people who grow up wanting to be librarians actually do any of the things they thought they’d be doing, once they eventually become one? I never considered the Information Profession at all, growing up, and just sort of fell into it when I needed a job quickly to help pay a new mortgage. However I do know other Information Professionals for whom this job was always the aim, even from childhood. But if you’re a child of the 80s, would you really have had any idea what you were getting yourself into? Particularly in the academic library, the job landscape is pretty unrecognisable from then to now, I would say. I wonder how many other professions have undergone such a sea-change in what is expected from people in the role, over the length of time it takes to get from wanting to be X when you grow up, to actually growing up? Because 80s children who ‘really liked reading / books’ and ‘enjoyed quiet spaces’ must have got a hell of a shock when they got their first library job.

Who knows what it will be like for today’s five year olds, when they go to the CILIP Graduate Day in 2025? I’m sure they’ll arrive in a hover-car and dress in silver, for a start…

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practicing what you preach is annoying…

16 Sep

Right then! Back from a post Masters-completion holiday, and back in the blog-saddle.

One week in three, I work an evening on the Enquiries Desk, as the supervisor. As the office I work in is based in the Health Sciences Library, it is there that I face the customers – lucky for me (and for them) that it is the least busy of our sites. It is a ridiculous system, as I know nothing about customer-services at all really (apart from what I remember from my first library job; my digitisation role now has no contact with students at all) and I’m not familiar with any of the procedures, or rules, or anything. The person I ‘supervise’, on the other hand, normally knows EVERYTHING there is to know about all of it, and has to help me with the credit card machine etc, and generally steer me every step of the way – when the idea is supposed to be that the person on the Enquiries Desk is the great knower of all library knowledge, and the Customer Service Assistant can refer to them for the complicated queries. For every 2 hours I work front-of-house in our library, he works 105 – it is little wonder I feel foolish attempting to be the ‘senior’ member of staff when he knows so much more than me. (It’s usually the same guy, but occasionally he or I swap with people – whoever it is I work with, they always know more than I ever will.) The idea that people like me should be ‘in charge’ of people far more proficient than us, just based on Grade, is hopelessly flawed…

ANYWAY. One of the central themes of my paper (.pdf) at the New Professionals Conference a few months ago, which I’ll be emphasising more when I adapt it for the CILIP Graduate Day next month , is that we’re only as good as our last customer interaction. In the same way that sportsman have the cliché that they’re only as good as their last game, our reputation among our users is only as positive or negative as the last contact they had with us. Everyone knows, in all aspects of service, that it is very easy to make a bad impression - one off-hand or rude member of staff can quickly undo all the hard-work of nine other charming and helpful workers, and leave a customer huffing and puffing about how badly treated they were in the library (or any other customer-facing institution). So we have to be kind, courteous, helpful and basically bend over backwards to facilitate the needs of our users, every single time we work on the front-line. Regardless of how rude and annoying they are, and regardless of extenuating circumstances (bad day already, massive staff shortages, whatever) we need to remember we only exist (‘we’ being both libraries themselves and the Information Professionals who work in  them) to help people. In time, that will have the biggest impact on reversing the negative perceptions people have of us, and better enabling to work with and for our customers.

I had all this in my mind when I saw a customer come over and get some document-supply request forms last time I worked an Evening Duty, about five minutes before we were due to close up the counter area for the night. Normally by five-to-seven I’d already be taking the cash from the till to the safe, shutting down the computers etc (I get really annoyed when shops close ‘for’ their closing time rather than ‘at’ it, but seem to have no qualms about doing it myself… I justify it by telling myself it is only fair to the person I’m supervising; we are, after all, only contracted to work until 7:00pm, so it would be unfair on him/her to start the lengthy closing process then. Are you convinced by that argument..?), but as the self-service machines etc are not capable of taking document-supply requests, I kept things open a while longer. By 7 o’clock, however, I’d given up on the good deed and started to put up the self-service only signs and so on, when the customer got up from his PC and hurried over. He made a worried face when he saw us retreating behind the ‘closed’ sign, and said, “Oh dear, am I too late?”

Reader, I hesitated for a second. Maybe not a whole second, but enough time to try and work out which train I’d have to catch home if I answered “no” to his question… and then, echoing in my head, my own words came back to haunt me – we’re only as good as our last customer interaction. So I said, “no not at all, what can I help you with?”

What followed was, should they ever make a sit-com aimed solely at Information Professionals, like a scene from a sit-com aimed solely at Information Professionals. It was a comedy of complication, a seemingly never-ending perfect storm of idiosyncratic and time-consuming customer interaction. If there was something we only did one time in a million and didn’t really know how to do, he needed it done. If there was something fairly straight forward but lengthy, he wanted it done several times. He wanted no less than EIGHT document-supply items of various sorts, some from our Stores, and some to be out-sourced. Each of these required checking on the catalogue (which itself required reloading and logging in to) and paying for (we charge £2 per request, although it costs us more like £10 to satisfy each time) and signing, stamping etc. It took ages. THEN, he asked if he could get a journal out too. And it didn’t have a fricking barcode! Oh the hilarity (mild, library-based hilarity) of having to painstakingly create a record for the item, on-the-fly, as train after train departed from the station without me…

All in all, the episode probably only took 15 minutes. I left by around 7:20pm, which is hardly earth-shattering. But as I sat on my (multiple stopping, much slower-than-usual) train and thought about the first half of the football which I was now missing, I felt positively saintly about what we’d done (I tried to send the other guy home but he stuck it out till the end too – good job, what with me not knowing how to do anything and all) and the customer was undoubtedly extremely grateful. Perhaps he’ll tell his friends that Information Professionals these days aren’t so bad… then it will all have been worth it.

- thewikiman

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a day in the life

31 Jul

Meredith Farkas and others have been flagging up and participating in the Library Day in the Life project, in which bloggers describe what we Information Professionals actually do. Part of the purpose behind this is to show students interested in the profession what it’s all about; having delivered the paper mentioned above about the image of librarians and the problems with attracting new people into the sector, I think this seems like a good thing to be involved in.

However, my week this week was much more dull than usual, so I’ll probably only end up putting people off… Anyway here is Friday:


In late, go through a stack of emails. I check both my own inbox and that of the Online Course Readings Service, which I coordinate. The deadline for academics submitting requests for digitisation, for the upcoming Semester, is today. (We actually give them a non-publicised grace period during which we’ll treat their late requests as on-time, but let’s just keep that between us Information Professionals, yeah?) This means the Service’s inbox is bulging with new requests, and it will continue to do so for a while yet – last Semester, we ended up with more late requests than pre-deadline ones, so this is by no means the high-water-mark of demand. My own inbox yields all the usual sort of stuff and I reply to as many of the simpler ones as I can, flagging up the more complicated stuff for later. One person from another HEI emails to say he would like to contribute to the Best Practice Wiki which this blog ostensibly exists to publicise, which is brilliant – I’ve had a decent number of responses like that so far, and if you’re reading this, work in digitisation and would like to get involved in any way, please do contact me.

This takes me through to coffee break time (having not drunk coffee at all until I was about 23, I have now fallen in love with ritual of morning coffee…) and then I spend a while talking to academics, by phone and email, about their digitisation requests. For the rest of the morning I work on some statistics. I am assisting June Hedges and Jane Secker with analysing the data from the huge digitisation survey mentioned in this post. I want to do some serious crunching of the numbers, so I’ve got hold of some literature on different techniques you can apply to different data – it’s a long time since I did maths of this kind, and it very quickly makes my head hurt…

I meet very briefly with our Faculty Team Librarian for Medicine, as we’re streamlining things in the library by amalgamating parts of short-loans with Online Course Readings. This means that when academics request articles for the short-loans collection (what we call High Demand), rather than getting a photocopy on the shelves as before, they’ll now be routed to us in OCR and we’ll provide them with an electronic copy online, instead. (Saves paper, saves space, encourages everyone to move in an e-direction etc etc.) The reason for meeting with the Medicine Librarian is that, due to Leeds’ multi-site library, there is a separate short-loans collection for Health Sciences, which means separate web pages for academics to go to when they request stuff, and although there were good reasons for that at the time, it doesn’t really fit with the new system. It just confuses everyone. After some discussion between me, her, and the short-loans team leader, the decision has been reached to scrap the Health Sciences web pages entirely in this area, meaning all academics will go to the same main page, and all requests for articles will come to me instead. Progress! Previously we’d been wondering whether to leave things as they were, or change the Health pages to say exactly the same as the main pages etc – but it feels good to know we’re just deleting something entirely, simplifying, streamlining, and moving forward.

At lunchtime I write up my day so far in this blog post, up to and including this bit here. Reading it back, I can’t help feeling it is lacking in sufficient drama and intrigue to attract new people to the profession, and I am gripped by the need to ensure I do interesting things in the afternoon, so I can report them here. Why do I not have any cross-site groups to attend, or teaching, or presentations in this of all weeks?! Panic rises as a I realise it’s already Friday, the project’s officially designated day-in-the-life blogging week ends in a few hours, so it’s today’s activities blogged or nothing at all. Brushing aside nagging doubts that to make your day more interesting in order to blog on it is a:  undermining of the whole point of the Library Day in the Life project, b: the tail wagging the dog on an epic scale and c: bonkers, I wonder whether I should prepare now for a Student Provisions Group meeting which doesn’t happen for two and a bit weeks but really should be pretty interesting and diverse, or write the paper I’m to give at CILIP‘s Graduate Day now, even though it isn’t until September, in order to sound like today is full of interesting stuff. I’m starting to feel like I’m in the film Adaptation or some other postmodern thing where the boundaries of reality and the documentation of that reality become blurred…


Having pulled myself together from earlier, I deal with the very real issues I need to sort before I go home. On Monday I (mercifully) have an assistant starting (not as in, can you make me a cup of coffee, thanks – but as in, taking some of my tasks off me…) to help cope with the peak-period workload. I have 2 months of full-time assistance, but due to various complicated reasons I won’t bore you with, this is divided into 2 weeks of the person starting Monday, and then 6 weeks of someone else. In order to make the best use of the assistant’s brief time, we really need for her to hit the ground running, which means setting everything up in advance as much as possible. We’ve sorted her computer log-in and password (I hope), and I’ve updated all the procedures I’ve written on the kinds of things she’ll be doing. This is important because, due to an accident of timing, I’m actually off for 3 days of next week to work on my MSc dissertation! My boss is off as well, so the assistant will be working on her own, albeit alongside others from the e-Resources Team who work on different things, for much of her first week. I’m considering swapping one of my leave days so I’m around for longer, but even so I want there to be as much written documentation as possible for her to refer to in my absence. (Although I will be at the computer the whole time I’m at home, so she can easily email queries and so on.)

The day ends with me realising that the new inter-library loan system we will use for ordering digitised material from the British Library goes live on Monday, and I haven’t yet learned to use it, and that I never did reply to the flagged-important emails…

- thewikiman

[In other news the written-paper version of the talk I gave at the New Professionals Conference at the start of this month is now available in PDF format from the Papers & Presentations section of the website, in advance of whatever CILIP publication they plan to put it in. The paper is entitled Why are we still defined by our Building? and is essentially about how there are many of us who have escaped the confines of the library building, without necessarily being able to escape the negative connotations that often go with it. There's stuff about classic librarian stereotypes, how the way in which we are perceived interferes with our ability to deliver a service to our customers, and what we can do to change things. It went down pretty well at the time, being given good write-ups here and here, and damned with faint praise a bit here! The downloadable version also contains an Appendix with all the statistical data from the survey of Leeds Library staff on perceptions of librarians etc.]


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