I love being a member of the SLA – although the word ‘Special’ in the title implies that it will be solely aimed at legal or business librarians, it actually has a large percentage of its membership coming from academic institutions like mine. Part of membership includes getting the magazine, Information Outlook. This is a really good trade mag – there’s a lot of useful, intelligent, grown-up content there. My favourite part of it is the member interview section, 10 questions with… I’ve learned a lot from it (and loved reading Bethan Ruddock’s one when she did it) so I was ridiculously excited to be asked to participate in it.
I’ve done a few interviews now but, with the obvious exception of Circulating Ideas, they’ve all been via email. This one was a proper telephone conversation with Stuart Hales in Washington, which was taped and then transcribed. It was exciting doing it this way. I got a copy of the questions in advance, although we went off on different tangents in the conversation itself (Stuart told me a great wedding-crashing related tale which you should force me to tell you should we meet at a conference or in a pub…). I was a little bit apprehensive in the lead-up to it because the questions seemed slightly passive-agressive in a weird type of a way, but Stuart wasn’t remotely like that in the actual conversation, so I think I just got an incorrect impression from them on paper!
We talk about marketing, the SLA itself (more on that below the interview), the Buy India a Library project, professional development, new technology, and taking a step back. (Whimsical tales of my ability to lead a walking tour of York are greatly exaggerated. ) Anyhow, here it is – it specifically says at the bottom of this page that it’s for personal use only and not for reproduction, but I’ve got proper permission to use it, I promise…
If you’re an SLA member you can read the whole July-August 2013 issue from which this came by logging-in here.
On the subject of the SLA, at the weekend I read this absolutely brilliant post about the organisation and the annual conference, by Penny Andrews. It articulated things I value about being a member which I didn’t know I knew… It certainly seemed to chime with a lot of people judging by the Twitter response, so particularly if you’re not an SLA member but have wondered about it, have a read.
I’m a member of both CILIP and SLA, and will continue to be so. I get different things from them – in some ways I feel that CILIP helped me more as I was growing up (which is partly why I’ll keep paying my membership fees; I owe them) and SLA helps me more now I’m grown up. The SLA is / are a confident bunch, and very positive – perhaps this is partly because they are under less obligation to ‘save libraries’ than CILIP or the ALA, so there’s a lot less hand-wringing. (Incidentally, I LOVE Penny’s comments about MOOCs and gamification in that article!) There’s a lot of money in the organisation (they work hard to build and maintain relationships with corporate sponsors) and quite honestly it’s nice to be part of an organisation that can afford to do things with style and without an ever-present sense of worry about finances. The downside of this is that it is if you don’t like wearing suits for work-related things, and aren’t going to do so just to fit in (*raises hand*) you can feel under-dressed at the London SLA-Europe events! Penny talks about being treated as an equal at the conference in the US, regardless of the status of the person you’re talking to – I’d agree with that, but if you start mixing with the sponsors in London, expect at least a couple of them to be baffled that dressing in a suit and schmoozing isn’t your number one priority…
What the SLA does (in my view) is focus on making us into better, more effective information professionals. They can afford to focus on improving us, and let others worry about the Latest Big Library Crisis besetting the profession. Part of the way we can endure in libraries is to be really brilliant at our jobs – it feels like the SLA addresses making a practical impact in a very hands-on way, all of the time, rather than being side-tracked. The conference itself remains the greatest experience of my professional career – I’m over the moon to be going back, to Vancouver in 2014, to give a few talks and see everyone again, and generally drink up the atmosphere of niceness and happiness.
Here’s the link if you’re thinking of joining; I wish I’d done so earlier. I didn’t sign up to the SLA previous to winning the ECCA which gave me a year of free membership, because of the cost. To spend a big chunk of money on something work related, especially after already paying for CILIP membership, is daunting. But it’s based on a sliding-salary scale so you pay less if you earn less, and now as a proper fee-paying member from my point of view (and from that of all the members I’ve talked to), it’s worth it.
Librarianship can be tough these days, but the SLA makes you feel good and gives you confidence – that’s not a trivial thing.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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..
Last night Geraldine Clement-Stoneham and the rest of her SLA Europe team hosted an event, at the City Business Library in London, all about escaping the echo chamber. It’s about a year since Laura and I started talking about echolib and trying to raise awareness of the issue, so to go from a speculative tweet to a fully fledged event aimed at addressing the problem, in 12 months or so, is fantastic. Cheers so much to Geraldine for putting this on! We roped Voices for the Library in to present also – the idea was that we’d explain the echo chamber phenomenon, and then they’d show what can be done when you escape it.
VftL had to go on first, because I was late. No just a bit late, but arriving an hour and 20 minutes after the event had started, late. I’d set off from my house in York at 8am, with baby and wife. The idea was to get to Brighton by around 2pm, get the train up to London, have a meeting about something really exciting, then head to the City Business Library for 5:30pm. Due to a series of road-based disasters (stationary traffic for 7 miles on the M1, and the A1 closed you say? Good news!) I was still driving ELEVEN HOURS LATER, having abandoned going to Brighton entirely, trying to get to a car park near the library. My wife described this whole thing as the most stressful day of her life (keep in mind she gave birth less than 4 months ago…) and I have to say, I was absolutely frantic for most of the day. We were acutely aware that it didn’t REALLY matter in the grand scheme of things (by which I mean, we could have been in the accidents that caused the delays, so it’s all relative) but it did seem, as we inched forward 200 yards every hour and a half, desperate for the loo most of the time, the whole car smelling of burned clutch, fighting with other London drivers during rush-hour as we took the final 6 miles of our journey in a mere 3 hours, like the end of the world was nigh. Emily, the baby, was just incredible – by far the best behaved of all of us. She was so patient, so smiley, and hardly cried at all. When we got to London, I ran off to try and take part in the event, while Emily and my wife were met by my in-laws, who’d incredibly kindly come up from Brighton to help ease the stress, and they all got the train back down to Brighton. This is a library blog so I don’t want to spend too much time harping on about family – but Robert, Susan, Alice, and especially Emily – thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thank you also to Bethan and JoBofor changing the order and going on first, and for Laura for taking over and doing a lot of the presentation solo. By all accounts, Laura was ace at the bits she doesn’t normally do, despite having no script or notes to work from, and no time to prepare! I got there in time to do two of the parts I normally do, which I enjoyed, but I really really wished I’d been there from the start. I’d so been looking forward to this event, it was so important to me to do it well, and there were so many people going I wanted to meet. So once again, to everyone who attended, thank you so much for your patience!
Although I was slightly distracted by not knowing what had been said already, and felt I couldn’t get into a proper ranty stride regarding Seth Godin etc, I think it still went well and lots of people said positive things. The networking afterwards was my favourite networking experience ever. The previous day in Newcastle at the New Professionals Information Day I’d felt uncharacteristically unconfident and uncomfortable for some reason, so this was a really nice antidote to that. I met so many people for the first time (either having interacted with them previously on Twitter or not having any previous knowledge of them) and they were all absolutely lovely. I had a great time. But, I also had the travel-cot etc in my car, so sadly I have to make the drive back to Brighton earlier than I’d wanted to. However, the pain of this was mitigated by giving Neil Infield a lift home! He navigated superbly (it was great to see some parts of London a second time ) and we had a great chat, about libraries of course, in the car…
Anyway, here is the Prezi from last night – it’s a re-configured, updated and improved version of the previous one. As with all embeded content it will change on here as we change it on Prezi, so have a look now, before we start mucking about with it to change it for the Libraries@Cambridge event in January.
Final thing – thanks so much to everyone who came. A friend of mine who has lived in London, likens trying to get Londoners to come back into the middle of London for something in the evening, to asking Frodo Baggins to go through all he goes through in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and then when he finally makes it back to the safety of the Shire, asking him if he fancies a pint at Mount Doom.
Of all the things I’ve been involved with, it’s the Echo Chamber thing that I get most excited about – it’s a real problem, but one that we can all help solve, and one that people really do seem to be engaging with, on both sides of the Atlantic, since we first started tweeting and writing about it.
Woodsiegirl and I will be doing various evolving versions of our Echo Chamber presentation in the coming months. It would be absolutely fantastic to see as many of you as possible at City Business Library in London, November 24th, at an SLA Europe event organised around the #echolib theme. It’s an evening kick-off so people can come after work, and we’ve managed to rope in some of the Voices for the Library people (JoBo and Bethan) to talk about their actual echo chamber escapes, so it’s going to be fantastic. Full details are on the SLA Europe blog. The ideas and feedback from the audience will be written in to the Echo Chamber Prezi, which serves as a living archive on the subject, updated and added to every time we present.
I’ve put together a slide deck to act as a brief introduction to the Echo Chamber problem. If you’d like a brief outline of what it is and why it matters, have a look below. The final slide also gives details of the other Echo Chamber Live events we have coming up. (As ever, I’m more or less incapable of putting anything together that looks good small, so full-screen is best.)
This is a blog about Information Professional stuff, library marketing and advocacy, tech trends, and the odd how-to-guide on various platforms and bits of software. It is written by thewikiman, who works in Higher Education.
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