Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Thank You letter to my library

End of the year is usually a time for reflection on the year that has passed. An email from my much loved local library reminded me to renew my books yesterday. I logged in, hit 'renew' to get me through the holiday closure's... and then spotted the 'loan history' link. I'd never clicked on it before. I was surprised by the number of pages that came back. A history of my relationship with my library and a reminder of all the ways I'd used its services over the last year. This is my year in my local public library. 

Taken my five year old to the library to listen to someone else read a story book, complete with voices (I never get that bit right!), hand claps, songs and dancing around the children's library and a picture to take home and colour in. My five year old now attends school, but we miss Olly's Friday morning story time and now only attend during holiday sessions.

Spent a lot of time frolicking in the pirate ship in the central library. Which lead to the discovery of our favourite book. 'This is my book'. We love. We really do. We renewed it so many times we eventually bought a copy. It's a wonderfully clever and inspiring book. My five year old especially loved it because the word 'Book' is turned into the word 'poo'. I love it because it encouraged him to think about the sounds that letters make, and inspired him to do this whilst we were out and about...

From 'roof' to 'poof' to 'poo'. The joy of learning to read

I re-discovered Roald Dahl's 'The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me'. It's slowly led to an obsession. A devouring of Roald Dahl's books and tears at bedtime if we don't read another chapter from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. From the child not me. Well... mostly not me.

Attended a reading of 'Why be happy when you could be normal' with Jeanette Winterson. I bought a signed copy of 'Why be happy' along with a copy of 'Oranges are not the only fruit'. Fell in love with her writing all over again. Thank you, Bath Central Library.

Indulged in my little obsession with all things 'Queen' and borrowed 'Bang!', written by Brian May and Patrick Moore. Also borrowed books on psychology, astronomy, science, local history, philosophy and politics.

Found out more about diabetes, following a family member diagnosis. I helped them to manage a new diet by finding information and recipes to inspire a new way of eating.

Tracked down a member of the family that had been cut off by previous generations in the 70's.

Used the business library to conduct some research into the ethics of a company I was considering doing business with.

Helped my son with his homework. Read books on phonetics and learning to read. From the junior non-fiction section borrowed books on cats, transport, light sources and machines, local history, families and food.

Planned a trip to London. Borrowed a copy of a Time Out guide to things to do in London, a kids guide to London and a history guide to walking around London. I now have a child that is obsessed with going on the London eye, can point out the Gherkin, and chose to visit the Science Museum after reading about it. I'll admit he is still a little confused about Buckingham Palace. ("Does Freddie Mercury live there?")

Encouraged a friend to borrow 'Becoming Druscilla' and go to the author event at our local library after coming out as transgender.

Borrowed a book on DIY. Learned how to put up a curtain rail without crying. I need to borrow it again and figure out how to fix my bath panel...

Attended an exhibitions on local history in Bristol, performance poetry, history of the LGBT movement in Bristol, feminism and travellers.

Planned a trip to Croatia. Found a guide, learned more about the recent history of the country.

Found teaching packs and information on sign language and places where I can learn in person. I initially learned sign language over 10 years ago to level 1. Making new friends with a hearing impairment (and much better use of sign language!) made me realise I needed to brush up on some signs that were now a little woolly in my head. I couldn't afford to attend a course, but borrowing a book of signs was the next best thing.

Obtained information on local council services, things to do in my local area, groups, organisations, museums, theatre performances, local food markets, political organisations, charities, childcare organisations and community choir performances. Got involved.

Discovered the yummiest home-made cake and fair-trade chocolates for sale in the cafe.

Attended an LGBT book club. Met new people, discovered new books, and 'old' one's I probably should have read a long time ago and never got round to. Welcome to my world, Rubyfruit Jungle.

Used the computers to access the Internet. Kept in touch with friends and family who live abroad. I didn't own a computer for the first part of the year. It was painful. Now I have one. Yay! But my employer blocks access to most of the useful things and like most people, I spend far too much time at work. A hop across to the library at lunchtime means I can keep in contact, get things done and attempt to keep up.

Borrowed a LOT of books about adoption, attachment disorder, autism, child development, child psychology, alternative education for children with special needs, theraplay, therapies, nutrition and yoga for children with special needs.  Books I wouldn't have been able to afford to buy. Books about adoption are pretty expensive. Estimate I've borrowed over £200.00 worth of books alone on adoption this year.

For me, it feels like the library really does support me in all areas of my life. As a citizen. A home-owner. A cat-owner. A daughter. The mother of an adopted child. The mother of child with special needs. Just a plain old mother looking for inspiration. As someone who is looking for a new job. A student. A friend. A nerdy 'Queen' fan. A music lover with a limited budget. A fan of Murakami, Japanese literature, European literature and feminist writings, a traveller, a member of the queer community, and someone who is passionate about shopping locally and supporting local arts and initiatives. 

I'm geeky about libraries, it's true. It's not misguided devotion based on a rose-tinted view of libraries of old. It a firm belief that libraries - and librarians - still have unique place and a lot to offer the 21st century citizen. And I'm looking forward to seeing what my local library offers in 2012 - and beyond.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Thing 18: Jing / screen capture

<Sound of man falling off a cliff> Noooooooooooooo.

I am breaking all the rules. I thought I was so clever. I left a 'come back later' post for Thing 18, and carried on through to Thing 23, all smug because I'd managed to keep my Things in order. Completed Thing 18 a few nights ago - but only half of it. And now look at me. Sloppy. Thing 18. Part b. Right after Thing 23. I have failed as a librarian.

Oh well.

In Thing 18 I looked at Podcasting. The other half of that Thing was to consider Screencasting. For this, I downloaded and had a play with Jing. I made a very short tutorial on how to use the Athens home screen as an RSS feed reader. Here are my results.

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

A link to the original video can be viewed here in full screen.

It's only a short video. But it took many takes to get it anywhere near 'right'. I learnt the following:

  • Close any unused tabs on your browser. It's distracting
  • There seems to be an issue with Jing being able to display the very bottom of the screen. I need to play further to discover if this is a Jing Thing, or whether it's a screen resolution thing.
  • Be clear about your script. Map out what you want to show, and where you want to click.
  • Folks watching can't see you use keyboard short-cuts. If you are not using audio, make sure it's clear what you are doing. For example - highlight and right click to 'copy and paste' rather than using keyboard short-cuts.
  • This video would have been more accessible (and made much more sense) if I could have used commentary over the top, but lack of a microphone prevented this.
  • Consider the speed of your mouse movements, and clicks. Need to get the right balance between being slow enough to be able to find the mouse and track it's progress, and being so slow it's dull.
I want to be able to put little labels over the video. Little instructions that help link the pieces together and fill in the gaps to complete the story. I'm not sure if this is possible, it needs more exploration. It's a useful tool, and has much potential in a library setting where simple instructions translated into text and screenshots can start to look daunting. In our own department, we could use this for:
  • Guidance on setting up an Athens account
  • Using the Records Management file plan
  • Recovering a deleted file from a shared drive
  • Setting up alerts on the Library Catalogue
I could see the potential as well to use this in conjuction with a Powerpoint presentation. But whilst I managed to embed the video within this blog, I could not figure out how to upload the video to You Tube. If anyone has any tips, they would be most welcome.

I didn't play with the screen shots, or compare this with the windows 'Print Screen' function to see if the images were better quality. I'll put it on my list of things to do next time I'm creating a library guide. I hate editing screenshots in Microsoft Office so this may well prove to be a valuable tool!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Thing 23: Reflection - What next?

CPD23 Worldle - Compiled from the CPD23 blog.

I started off Thing 23 all those weeks ago by taking part in my first Twitter chat as part of #UKlibchat. The summary of that discussion can be found on the UKLibChat blog.

Taking part in CPD23 was part of a wider goal to gain Acilip certification status. Which was part of a wider goal to work towards raising my confidence to apply for an Msc in Electronic Communication and Publishing at the UCL. Which was part of a wider goal to find an amazing job working as an Information Officer in the third sector. Phew. So CPD23 was a small step on a much bigger journey and my end goal is already quite clearly defined. What CPD23 has done is perhaps changed my view of how I might get there. As part of Acilip, I've written a Personal Development Plan to address some of the weaknesses in my skillset. Whilst I'm not willing to share that, I will share part of my SWOT analysis.


  • Enthusiastic about learning new skills and getting involved in the profession
  • Experience of working in public, academic, medical and government libraries
  • Flexible, with cross-transferable skills. Have worked in RM and KM as well as traditional library services.
  • I've been working in libraries for over 10 years, four of which are at 'professional level' despite not having a recognised qualification.


  • I work part-time. Few opportunities for professional roles in a part-time capacity / child friendly working hours
  • My son needs stability and a move to an area with more jobs would be difficult to manage for our complex family needs
  • Undergrad diploma I obtained doesn't qualify me as a professional librarian
  • Current job is no longer classified as a 'professional role'. It was downgraded two years ago
  • Current employer does not support quest to gain certification / chartership status as a qualification is not required for the role
  • Current location / personal circumstances makes it difficult to access training events in London


  • I work part-time. Plenty of opportunity to gain new skills through volunteer work and study.
  • Transferable skills means I can work in allied roles - Project Management, University administration, etc.
  • New developments in my area including two plans for new local public libraries, a science park and a new hospital all of which may lead to new job vacancies.


  • Reorganisation within my own workplace means that my current position feels vulnerable to further change or loss. Position may be moved to a team outside of the library.
  • Few opportunities locally for jobs working in library and information management within university settings due to current climate.
  • Professional roles in public libraries in the area are scarce.

Writing a Personal Development Plan was challenging. I had to think creatively about how I could better use the resources I had in order to gain more experience, and tie it in with my current commitments and interest. The time spent on it was worth it though. I've now got one that is flexible and seems relevant rather than a tick-box exercise completed in order to make it through certification. I do see it as a living document and one that will need to change and adapt as I take on different roles and embrace new opportunities and discover new interests.

The final task?, A 6 word story to sum up my experience of CPD23. I can only apologise to Hemmingway when I offer my contribution...

Reflect on experience. Gain more knowledge.

Since starting CPD23 I have:

  • Joined Twitter
  • Started blogging
  • Worked with a life-coach
  • Identified a mentor within my workplace
  • Offered to volunteer for 'Voices for the Library' campaign.
  • Got more involved as an advocate for libraries
  • Swapped to Google Chrome to support my new Twitter habit
  • Joined a Networking Group at work to improve my contacts and skills
  • Overhauled my LinkedIn profile and set up an page
  • Attended networking events in London
  • Embraced new web2.0 tools into my every day working life
  • Discovered online networks I wasn't previously unaware of
  • Found other bloggers that have shaped, formed and challenged my view of what it means to work in library and information.

That's quite a change for what seemed to be just a simple list of 23 things to do...

Thanks for reading. Blogging was one of the scariest aspects of taking part in CPD 23, and I'm glad to have made it through to the other side in one piece!

Thing 22: Volunteering to get experience

My first experience with volunteering was at primary school, aged 10. It was my job to go to the canteen on a Friday morning. Write out the menu options for the next week very neatly on slips of paper and hand deliver it to all the teachers in the school. On Friday afternoon, I went back round and collected them again, made sure the teachers had ticked an option and then delivered them back to the canteen. For my efforts I was rewarded with a bowl of jelly and custard, the chance to get out of class for a few moments and the crown of being the school 'suckup'. Ah, those were the days. But I liked the responsibility that went with it and I took pride in my work. I'll admit now, I'm still a 'suckup'. I'm the the donkey sticking my hand up in the air 'pick me, pick me', so have plenty of experience with volunteering.

For me, there are several different kinds of volunteering, most of which I have done.

  • for an organisation with charitable aims
  • within my own workplace - additional roles, responsibilities and plain old 'sticking your hand up'.
  • where the role potentially takes the place of a paid member of staff.
  • to provide support to existing staff within an organisation.
  • for committee work within a professional organisation

Volunteering is a tricky subject. I'm attempting not to visualise a future where a graduate, interested in a career in library and information science may have to consider the ethical dilemma of volunteering in their local community-run library in order to get experience.

Whilst volunteering in libraries is nothing new, the role we of volunteers in libraries has started to change. Research completed by the Institute of Volunteering Research back in 2002 suggested that 64% of libraries used volunteers as it 'allowed them to do things they could not normally do'. Most of the tasks seemed to be around outreach work, visiting people in their own homes. On average each library used 50 hours of volunteers time per week. Given that the research is almost 10 years out of date, I wonder how this pattern of volunteer use might have changed in statutory, council-run libraries and whether the attitude to using volunteers has evolved in the current political-and financial-climate?

I count myself lucky that I've been given lots of opportunities to get involved in aspects of knowledge, library and information management through volunteer positions. I've mostly worked on a part-time basis for the past 10 years. In some instances, it was due to a lack of choice - a part-time job was the only one available. In other situations, it's been a considered choice.  It allowed me to study, it allowed me to spend more time as a mum and it allowed me to volunteer outside of my own workplace.

My first volunteer position was in a chaplaincy library, attached to a university. Although small, it was well used but it was accessed through an old-school card catalogue. The University library obviously had a sophisticated library management system, but there was a reluctance to add the theology collection to the system. The needs of the university students and the needs of those using the chaplaincy were different and there was a strong feeling to keep them separated. A call went out through the university system. Was there someone, perhaps working towards a library and information science qualification that wanted experience of managing a small project to create a self-service library catalogue? I stuck my hand up and got involved.

The role gave me a little experience at finding other people to work with on the project, sent me on a short detour down the into the world of open source library management systems, exposed me to the joy of creating a relational database using Microsoft Access, and the satisfaction of cataloguing a book on a system that I had created. I discovered the Freepint Bar, and the willingness of other library and information professionals to get involved and share their expertise in using and creating home-grown catalogue systems. It also enabled me to link with other library assistants across the university and make connections that I might not have made otherwise. It was a positive experience.

The next role wasn't quite so positive. It was more than a little challenging. I spotted an advert in a local 'volunteer job shop' for an Information Officer for a small charity giving advice to gay women wanting to become parents. The charity was struggling. They wanted someone who could analyse the enquiries that came in to identify who the customers were, where they were accessing the service from and what they were asking for. That seemed simple enough. What the role turned into was something much bigger that probably required the skills and expertise of a paid professional rather than an over-enthusiastic library school student. A realisation that the charity needed to make a high-impact change in order to survive meant that I was involved in the creation of a marketing strategy, which outlined a wider customer base, and involved in changing the charging-model for the services that were offered. Which then lead to updating training packages to help adviser's deal with different kinds of queries. And answering questions from adviser's feeling threatened by the change. There were many times where I felt I'd bitten off more than I could chew. A lot of the information gained from customer feedback and analysis of customer use of the service were all unwelcome messages and I felt like the bad guy. I'm usually a 'yes person'. I learned from this experience to say 'yes if' or even 'no, I can't'. I was happy to help. I wasn't happy to take responsibility for rescuing a badly managed charity. But I learned a lot, about influencing, negotiation and the art of persuasion.

Benefits I've gained from volunteering

* Chance to network and connect with people outside of my normal working relationships
* Gained new skills and experiences
* Keeping skills fresh and up to date
* Exploration of a different aspect of library and information science
* Increase knowledge of other library sectors
* Discovery of new interests

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thing 21: Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

I should be whizzing ahead with this Thing. I've been working on it as part of my expanded CV for Acilip, and recently applied for a promotion within my organisation. So I had a range of tools to chose from to help me identify the stuff I'm supposed to be good at...and the things that I need to work on.

Cilip Body of Professional Knowledge provides an overarching framework for the skills needed by librarians. Rather than outlining specific skills, it covers broad area's covered by library and information professionals. I'll admit that when I first looked at it, my first thought was 'is that it?'. It's a technical document that doesn't really describe skills in details or allow you to assess your competence. There is an interesting viewpoint from Susie Kay available on The Information Professional Wiki that is worth reading.

'Capabilities Dictionary'. This is an internal tool that names and describes a complete set of skills and behaviours required. They range from an understanding of and ability to apply knowledge of legislation to your own work, through to influencing, persuading and negotiating skills. My own job requires 'data and information management', 'customer service' and 'communication' skills. The job I actually want requires 'legislation', 'influencing, negotiating and persuading' as well as 'customer service' skills. So it gives me a clear idea of where I need to improve or develop in order to progress into the role I want.

A lot of this work draws on the Civil Service Professional Skills for Government. The Skills identifier outlines core skills required at different levels of working, and also points to further resources for specialists posts. Which leads me on to...

Government Knowledge and Information Management Professional Skills Framework. It's a really comprehensive review of skills required by information professionals at different stages of their career, and for me, this sets the standard in terms of giving me a set of skills that I can use to measure my own competence.

So rather than starting from a blank piece of paper, I was able to use a range of tools to help me think about my strengths, and which parts of knowledge and information management I'm really interested in, and where there are gaps in either my knowledge or practical skills.

I have found that my strengths / weaknesses change and adapt depending on the job I've had and being able to put those skills into practice and keep them up to date. My current job has left me feeling like I've lost some skills. Six years ago, I created a simple but fully functional self-service library catalogue for a small chaplaincy library using Microsoft Access. Now I doubt I could even create a simple relational database without an awful lot of swearing as I just haven't used this software in my current role. But the role has given me other interests and strengths on which to build.

One tool that I have found really useful for recording the achievements in my working life is Recording Skills Development for Information and Library Science. [PDF] This appeared back in 2002, when I had not long started working in libraries. I printed it off, and started using it to record little accomplishments and keep tabs on how I was progressing. It became my own little library of case studies, and one that I find really useful when applying for jobs and attempting to think of examples for proving that I have particular skills. It's not as comprehensive as newer skills checklists that have been published more recently, but it was extremely useful for helping me compile the evidence I needed for Acilip.

So after that ramble, it's time to actually answer some of those questions...

What do you like to do?

Every job I've had - or wanted - has always been about helping people. When I switched careers from being a nurse to being a librarian, I found an awful lot of similarities between the roles.

I love finding things out. Figuring out ‘why’ as well as ‘how’. I like a challenge. It's fair to say if someone says 'you can't do that', I will find a way of doing it. I hate to admit defeat. Which is useful when I'm attempting to figure out how to change a setting on our LMS.

I also love learning new skills. I don't think I've ever stopped being a student. Since leaving school, I've spent time doing short courses with the Open University on humanities, computers, IT and legislation. Learned British Sign Language. Makaton. Studied child development. Completed the ECDL, NewClait and learned how to touch type. Taught myself XTML and CSS. Taken an English A'Level 'for fun' (although I didn't do the exam). I'm not an expert in anything though. Just interested in lots of different things. I can often be found browsing the Open University course guide planning the next short course to take. Being a librarian allows me the joy of always learning something new.

What do you dislike? 

Back in the 1980's, kids like me were called 'keeners' at school. Although I hated the politics of school, I loved the learning. But if I had to put a list of subjects in order though, maths would come at the bottom of that list. I really wanted to like it. It should have been simple. Just follow the rules and the answer will appear. But I don't have a lot of confidence with numbers. It's a weakness I recognise and have taken steps to work on it. It doesn't stop me compiling statistics though. As I find numbers difficult to digest, my goal is to make sure that in reports and presentations, the 'numbers tell a story and are easy to read and understand through the use of graphs and charts.

Do you remember the last time you felt that feeling of deep satisfaction after creating, building, completing something?

Building a toolkit to help 'Communities of Practice' put their enthusiasm and energy into creating a group that could have a profound change on the way the business does it's work. It was the first time I'd worked on a major project. I felt proud that we'd done it in-house, without contractors and using - and building - our own skills. It was a challenge, but one I very much enjoyed. I enjoyed the research that went into informing the project. Enjoyed the opportunity to be innovative and creative, to meet lots of different people, talk to them and find out about what they did and how we could help them to do it better.

I'm also happiest when I'm teaching. I'm a big believer in the 'teaching people to fish' philosophy (Apart from when it comes to changing my car tyre. Could someone just do it for me please).  I see the role of 'teaching' quite broadly, so this could involve anything from helping someone on the phone make sense of finding British Standards, writing a guide finding grey literature or standing in front of a team of lawyers and showing them how to use Lexis to find case law.

What skills do you need to do the things you like?

Communication skills. I would like to improve my written communication skills. You might have noticed my tendency to ramble for a paragraph or two before I finally get to the point.

Influencing, persuading and negotiation skills. Influencing skills are becoming more important for advocacy work.
Project management. Particularly as librarians are doing more work in partnership with other departments or external organisations on short-term work.
Networking Knowing who is who, and where to put those influencing skills to use.
Customer care skills I'm amazed by librarians without it. I've met a few. I'd like to put them on an island somewhere. Preferably one without electricity and only JedWard for company.

How to progress from here? I have an idea of where I want to be in five years’ time. I'm going to have to work hard to get there, because looking around; the view is very different from where I am now. I like having a plan, but I don't let that plan become the rock around my neck, and I'm happy to embrace new opportunities that I hadn't anticipated and tweak those plans slightly. But for now, my focus is on a job interview that I have in two weeks that just happens to use some of those skills above... wish me luck.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Standing up as a proud 'liberal whinger'

Earlier today, I made a rather lengthy response to the delightful article in the Telegraph suggesting that library campaigners were nothing but 'liberal whingers'. I've re-posted it here, with a wee editing, and freely admit it could have been done better. But left it pretty much as I posted it for 'authenticity'.

There have been plenty of other commentators on the issue including:

Many of whom use actual facts and figures to make their point, rather than personal experience. For what it's worth, this is my response as a library user - rather than 'a librarian'.

Wow, where to start with ripping apart this article?

When did you last go to a public library?

I currently have three books out on loan from my local library. Two to collect. But I'm guessing your article isn't actually aimed at people like me, huh?

60 per cent of us don’t go to libraries at all
And 40% DO go to the library. This is service that is provided with very little publicity or marketing. You might see your local college advertised on the side of a bus. When did you last see your library advertised on the side of a bus? I remember reading an article about Yeo Valley yogurt a few years back. They had achieved the second best selling yogurt range - behind Muller - without any marketing, just word of mouth. Few organisations are in that position, and most would be happy for 40% of the population to use the service without forking out on adverts and campaigns.

Libraries are the original word-of-mouth marketing success!
This is a fight by middle-class liberals to keep libraries open not for themselves, but for the less fortunate
So now I'm a middle class liberal?! Ah, if only. I grew up on a council estate. The library was the only place to get the books I loved. I learned about feminism, philosophy, politics, activism, religion, history. It encouraged me to go on to further studies. Certainly non of my other council-estate dwelling friends did. I now have a job - in a library as it happens - but I still live below the breadline. I live in supported housing. I'm fighting for people like me. As it happens, I'm writing this at home from my broadband PC. I only have access as my father bought the PC. How many people are unable to take part in this debate, because they don't have access to this information at home?

Google a subject and you can become ridiculously well-informed ridiculously quickly
Oh, faux pas, Mr McTernan. Did you just use the word 'Google' as a verb? Oh dear. People search. Librarians find. Did anyone ever introduce you to the concept of 'hidden web'? And you ARE aware that not everything is available online, right? As for Google - you really need to learn how to use it properly. May I introduce you to Phil Bradley and Karen Blakeman. Both would be happy, I'm sure to explain the problems of using Google to find quality information. And show you some other resources. It's been a while since you worked in libraries, I do appreciate you might be a bit rusty.

Fast, cheap computing had spread to most homes, and to our whizzy new mobile phones
No, not everyone has access to a 'fast cheap computer' or even broadband. Figures vary, but it's fair to say that 1/4 adults don't have access to Internet. Now look at those who didn't go to Uni, or who are over the age of 60, and that number might increase. It might be accessible to you - you might have a whizzy new smart phone. Have you heard of the concept of the 'digital divide'. The 'haves' and the 'have nots'?

Now, with Abebooks and Alibris, almost all the second-hand bookshops in the world are available to search

Sure they are. I'm signed up to a few services, Greenmetropolis included, where books are a mere £3.75. But the book has to be available at the point where you need it. Not two years later when someone is having a clear-out. Also, the idea of 'cheap' is relative. Imagine you earn £900 a month. Your mortgage is £600. Bills amount to over £150. It costs around £400 a year for me to send my child to school...and you can see that buying a book quickly becomes a luxury. Welcome to my world. Every now and then, I treat myself. About twice a year. I feel lucky. The rest of it - books, magazines, local newspapers, CDs, talking children's books, non-fiction I access from a library. I would be much poorer without it.

Also, my local 'central' library has a business library. Access to legislation, (not available online for free. Although there is - finally - the wonderful there are some huge gaps in its coverage), business and company information (Again, not available online, for free), research services that help local small/medium businesses research the local opportunities and get their business of the ground. It's not just single mothers with kids loafing around in the children's section you know. It's men in suits too. Imagine!

[...] this is the 21st century. Virtually every kid has a desk at home – even if it often has a games console on it.

No, no they don't. Clearly our social circles are a little different. My son has a box room. It just about fits a bed in. I don't have a dinning room either, so there's no dining room table to spread the homework out on. And whilst I do have the odd book floating around, I just can't provide access to the same range of inspiring reading materials, displays, and KNOWLEDGE that our local library staff have.

By the way. My kid doesn't have a games console either. I know. I'm an evil mum.

The crisis in our libraries is not because of the “cuts” – it’s because they are needed less.
Like many commentators on libraries, you fail to realise that libraries are not just about books. They are about access to INFORMATION. They are about communities. They are about culture, and arts, history. They are about providing free-at-the-point-of-access services that are open to all, regardless of who you are and where you come from. Here's some of the things I've done in my library over the past year.

* Found information on my family history

* Tracked down a member of the family who had been cut off by previous generations in the 1970's. Shut the library and lose access to your local archives, census information and other valuable information that isn't available online.

* Found teaching packs and information on sign language, where to learn in person, and books to support my studies

* Asked about services from my local council. The local council website is flipping awful.

* Books for my son - learning to read and gobbling up books fast. Favourite books that we had on repeat loan we eventually went out and bought. They are books we wouldn't have discovered without the library.

* Researched business information using a bloody expensive database.

* Ordered books from beyond my local library on specific issues on managing a disability.

* Helped a family member with managing a new diet following a diagnosis with diabetes by finding information and recipes for a new way of eating.

* Discovered a new reading group for women - made friends, found people with similar difficulties, found a different view point on being a parent, a source of support and information.

* Printed out an application form or six. I have a PC. Ink, paper and printers are all beyond my budget and my employer doesn't look kindly upon me using the work printer.

* Used the computers, got in touch with friends, family and caught up on email. Not owning a computer is a little painful, but now I have one - my employer however blocks access to most of the useful things and I spend a lot of time at work. A hop across to the library at lunchtime means I can keep in contact, get things done, check 'Martins Money Saving Expert' email. Otherwise, my lunchtime would be spent in a soulless office.

* Borrowed books on astronomy, psychology, computer packages, recipe books,
 DIY / home improvement books, disability, politics.

Even you wouldn't buy Tony Blair's book and keep it to read again would you? Really? Not all books need to be bought and kept. And few of us have the space to do so. It's an inefficient and un-resourceful way of doing things. It's uneconomical, and not very eco-friendly. (Darn. Look, I am a liberal after all) Some books can be read, digested and returned. Reference books, favourite novels can all be kept. But many books, once read can be returned for someone else to use.

Just because you are in the 60% of people who don't use the library doesn't mean the service isn't valuable. It just means that you are in the 60% of people who are missing out. Poor you.

One final point. Having a library qualification doesn't make you a spokesperson for the profession. Sticking that at the end of the article doesn't justify your view. You don't appear to have worked in a public library or have a real sense of what they are about. Being professional is about more than a bit of paper. It's about understanding the issues and giving a shit about people other than yourself.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Thing 20: Library roots / Library routes

Planting the seeds

Like most kids, I didn't really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My list was a little random. Teacher. Witch. Researcher for the BBC. Pilot. Vet. Doctor. They got ruled out one by one as I progressed through my teens.

I couldn't be a pilot, I didn't have 20:20 vision.

I applied for work experience in a primary school. Loved working with the kids, but the teachers scared the pants off me, and the experience didn't give me any confidence. I found my deafness difficult to manage in the classroom environment. And it all just seemed a little... obvious.

School work experience gave me the chance to try something different. I was given the chance to work in a vet and on the first day, asked if I wanted to watch a minor operation on a cat. I remember watching the vet prepare the animal, shave off the fur, moving the animal around the table like he was shaping dough. And then I remember waking up, sat down on a step with another nurse supporting me. I'd fainted, much to my horror. Tried again the next day. Vet turned on the clippers and I hit the floor. I wasn't much help! I had lasted the grand total of two days before the school plonked me back in a classroom.

At a parents evening, My science teacher, Mr Moores told me to forget being a Doctor. I wasn't intelligent enough and would never be accepted into university. Another science teacher overheard and came running after me and my parents. 'I'm not supposed to say this, but he's an asshole. Ignore him'. But I backed away from the idea of doing a degree in science and medicine, despite an interest in wanting to research epilepsy.

And so a conversation with a careers adviser that started 'I want to be a researcher for the BBC' ended 'yes dear. So does everyone. What about nursing. You like people, you'd make a good nurse'.

I loved the health and social care qualification I completed. People fascinated me. I spent hours in the library discovering disability activists, feminists, psychologists, sociologists, learning more about politics. But social care left me feeling frustrated. I was bound by red-tape, feeling unable to really make a difference. I worked in nursing homes, prisons, psychiatric wards, rehabilitation centres, hospitals, community homes and residential schools. Working in a home for adults with learning difficulties, I developed a close relationship with a woman there who had been abandoned by her family. Most adults had been left in a home as children, and given little chance. I felt more and more like I wanted to work in this capacity on a personal level, rather than a professional level. But it was in a community home for men with dual diagnosis of mental health issues and learning difficulties with severe challenging behaviour that my career working directly with people came to an abrupt end.

I was working with a man with a known history of sexual assult and violence against women. But I was never told this. It was a 'need to know' basis. Despite working with him on a house on my own, it was deemed I didn't need to know. When he said 'The next time you are here on your own, I will get you', I still didn't need to know. When I told my manager I was concerned and thought that staff shouldn't be left working solo in the house she said 'Either you can do the job, or you can't'. When he attacked me, he was placed in isolation in a secure unit. And then I was told. And I protested loudly. He was being treated as a criminal, a man with a learning difficulty who was unable to take responsibility and relied on the adults around him to do that for him. I ended my career there, walked away and made a decision. I was bored of battling the system. I didn't want to do paid work in this area. I did want to adopt a child with a learning difficulty and make a difference that way.

Pondering my next move, I was sat round the dinning room table with my family. My mum stated 'When you were little, you always said you were going to be a researcher for the BBC. What happened to that'? Good point. More observations came. I had spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book. I loved finding things out. I spent my break-times at school in the library. Saturdays in the local library. I had spent most of my time at college in the library. The most enjoyable part of the assignment was doing the research. Even working in social care, I was always finding things out. Checking legislation. Learning Makaton in the local library. Researching family history, local history. Taking residents to the library. I seemed to spend an awful lot of time in this place. How about I work there?

It was worth a shot. The only other option was being a witch and I wasn't sure it was much of a career choice.


And so 18 months later, I found myself working in a public library for 12 hours a week, reading picture books to four year olds, taking part in reading promotions, fighting the kids for the next available copy of Harry Potter, and teaching 'silver surfers' to use a computer. I loved the randomness of it. The mix of people. The excitement of finding answers. The simplicity of just helping people. And the challenge of finding an appropriate response when asked 'Can I see your belly button?' by a man old enough to be my father. Yep, you just never knew what was going to happen next. I accepted random hours helping out in inner city libraries, libraries in the midst of council estates with 'problem kids', dual libraries serving both colleges and local communities. worked on my own, out in the middle of nowhere in communities where the library was the only thing open on a Wednesday afternoon. And I realised I'd made the right choice.

A year after I was first flung into the public library, I secured a full time position at a local university. I made the most of every opportunity. Raised my hand in meetings and volunteered for the tasks that no-one else wanted to do. Got involved in committee's, and library policy groups, writing articles for staff newsletters,  helping with library moves, becoming part of a project group looking at 'self service', represented my workplace at the Forum for Inter-lending. I loved it. Walking through the library doors each morning, I had a real sense of being proud to work there.

I applied for the BSCEcon Information and Library Studies at University of Wales Aberystwyth via distance learning and accepted a part-time position at another local university.


That job enabled me to focus on my studies. I continued to get involved where I was able, but there wasn't as much opportunity. I volunteered at a local charity, and within a chaplaincy library to gain further experience. A chance flick through Cilip's Library + Information Update meant I came across a one-page advert. A new team was being created in a government library moving from a physical library to an online environment. The ad invited me to be part of leading people down the 'Information Superhighway'. I applied, along with 200 other people, but managed to secure a position within library services, helping to shape the new department and promote a new way of working. Eighteen months later, I was promoted to 'Information Specialist'.

The team has moved through a lot of changes. I've worked in Knowledge Management and Records Management along the way. We're no longer a 'library service' but still very much involved in information management.

My road to being a 'real librarian' isn't complete in the traditional sense. I have an undergraduate diploma, and am working towards Acilip. I hope to be able to study towards an MSc in the near future. But if my career so far has taught me anything it's to be flexible, to make the most of opportunities that come your way and to create your own opportunities to increase your skills and knowledge.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Thing 19: Reflecting

When I look back at my posting for 'Thing 1', I'm amazed already by the impact that taking part in CPD23 has had. When I intitally signed up, it was with a sort of 'might as well' attitude. It was free. I could easily fit it in to my working day, and it was a good way of providing evidence for my Acilip portfolio.

I didn't start posting until late August / September. I'm happy to admi that I didn't expect to get to Thing 19 and:

  • be happy about writing a blog - and making this publically available and open to comments
  • engaging in conversations on Twitter
  • have stuck my hand up and volunteered for 'Voices for the Library' campaign
  • discovered other librarians working in the same sector
  • have changed the way that I share documents with people
  • identified 'can't miss' blogs that help to shape and inform the way I think about the information profession
Many of the tools introduced through the 23 Things programme, I was already aware of, even if I hadn't really explored them in depth. Being encouraged to really look at these, analyse them, consider how I might use them in either a professional or personal capacity has been really useful. Even the 'Things' that I didn't expect to get much out of, I have benefited from thinking about and exploring. Yes, even if I've decided not to use them in my everyday working portfolio of tools.

Looking back at 'Thing 1', I made a list of what taking part in CPD23 was about for me. It's fair to say that it's exceeded my expectations. It's become more than just 'a thing to do'. It's actually become something that I look forward to doing. But I'm aware that I could do better. Commenting on other people's blogs and checking my RSS feed reader. For now, I'm doing what I can. It's good enough.

Thing 18: Podcasts

Thing 18 asks us to consider Podcasting and Screencasting. I'm going to tackle podcating first, and this might perhaps be from a different angle than expected from a blog like this, but I hope it has some relevance. I'll state for the record now that I have no expertise as such, it's based on my experience and if you know of any other resources that might be useful, then please do share and comment.

I find listening to podcasts difficult. I'm not completely deaf, and neither is it a volume deafness. It's a frequency deafness which means that I can't hear high pitched sounds. I'll admit this is a bonus when I'm faced with particularly squealy girls!*  I rely a lot on lip-reading and body language when I'm talking to people to help make sense of what they are saying. I don't really watch TV but am much happier watching with subtitling and prefer watching foreign language films in the cinema. If the person I'm listening to has a moustache or an accent I'm unfamiliar with, my level of understanding decreases. Which makes Movember tricky to navigate, with those 'taches flourishing everywhere. Try lip-reading someone with a moustache or a beard. It's near impossible as the lip patterns are masked. And I get distracted watching those 'taches bounce up and down!

So, I've avoided podcasts, but this darn Thing encouraged me to put my prejudices aside and give them another go. I'm afraid I didn't change my mind. I gave arcadia@cambridge a go and picked 'Scholarly Publishing 2.0 Squared by Doug Clow'.  These are my thoughts.

Make the podcast easy to find, and the content easy to identify.
There was very little information about the podcasts. It told me the title, and the speaker, but that was it. Clicking on the link sent me straight to the podcast itself. Another link at the bottom of the page sent me to list of seminars. In a different order from the last page. I had to scroll down and browse before I found the seminar I was interested in and another click gave me more info about the author, content and links to his blog and further information. But surprisingly, not to the podcast itself. I had to go back to my original starting point. Anyone landing on the page from a search engine wouldn't have found the link. But the list of podcasts on their own was pretty meaningless.

Once I started listening, it was helpfully prefaced by someone who introduced the speaker, his position, the date of the seminar and an outline of the topic. But I do strongly feel that this information should have been available on the podcast page itself. It would have given potential listeners the information they needed to make an informed decision about whether or not to listen to the podcast.

Describe visual content
During the introduction the presenter states 'It's not on Slideshare, the latest version is on this machine and nowhere else'. Those listening to the podcast weren't there to see the slides. We can get past this if the presenter is willing to describe the slides to his audience. It increases accessibility for those who may be in the audience and have poor or no sight. But to refer to a slide that as a listener, I can't see excluded me from some of the useful content. I did find the slides on Slideshare later. It meant having to pause the podcast and start again. Could the link to the slides not have been added to the information?

'Put your hand up if ...' Yep, funnily enough, I couldn't see that. And neither did you describe what happened or summarised the results. So you've just excluded listeners further from the conversation.

Speak clearly
'Things are changing... mumble, mumble, mumble'. Sigh.

Provide a transcript
There's two very good reasons for this. Apart from the obvious bonus of increasing accessibility, search engines are still unable to index audio material. Providing a clear description of the content (see point 1) and a transcript would increase it's findability and useability.

There are some great examples of organisations already doing this.

Podcasts have become popular for a reason. They are cheap to make and host online, easily portable and a great way for people to keep up with information on the move. In  a world where reading long documents on screen can be painful and we're encouraged not to print to save the tree's, they offer an alternative to text-based information. For people with sight impairments, learning or reading difficulties, podcasts are an accessible format. For those who are hard of hearing or deaf, (or even for people who don't have the equipment to listen to podcasts) more can be done to ensure we're not losing access to information.

Is any of this relevant to Thing 18? Maybe not, but it was something I though might be a useful perspective. I did attempt to actually address Thing 18 and considered how we might be able to incorporate podcasting into our range of services in my workplace. This is what I came up with.

  • A 'current awareness service' outlining recent developments on a specific topic. References and links to further information could be provide textually to complement this. Our customers do a lot of travelling, and this would enable them to catch up on the move.
  • Provide a series of 'seminars' on information skills.
  • Would love to do more on digital literacies within the workplace. A series of podcasts on 'password management', 'using online communities of practice' or 'taking part in web based conferences' might be the perfect vehicle.
  • A news summary of our organisation in the media.
  • We hold regular 'Brown Bag Lunch' sessions within our workplace, exploring a wide range of diverse topics. These could be recorded and made available for colleagues who were unable to attend or based in a different office.

All of these activities help to encourage learning and development and increase knowledge sharing within the organisation. We don't do any of this. Perhaps we should? I'll admit I backed off of turning one of our 'current awareness bulletins' into a podcast. I had no wish to inflict my speech impediment or Bristolian accent on unsuspecting listeners. But I will take this idea back into my workplace.

Further information

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide more detail about ways of increasing the accessibility of all web-based content.

Jisc TechDis provides some guidelines on Podcasting and Accessibility

* Apologies. Blatant gender stereotype!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Thing 17: Presenting Information - Prezi and Slideshare

Presenting information to an expectant audience is always a challenge. Either to meet those expectations that your presentation is going to be engaging and enthusiastic, or trying to side-step the expectation the audience can go to sleep for 15 minutes whilst you read out a few bullet points from a screen. I'll admit I come from point of view where I'm happiest to give a presentation without using PowerPoint presentation - or only using it for 'opening' and 'closing' slides to provide information to my audience.

When used well, PowerPoint can help to communicate a message, and help your audience to visualise and understand your message. But it's suffered from over-use and a reputation for presenters using poor design. We've all had to sit through some common mistakes

  • Presenters reading out every word from a slide
  • Over use of bullet points
  • Meaningless graphs, pointless pictures, motion - just because you can.
  • Poor design and colour scheme making the information hard to interpret

Those that love adding countless transitions and moving graphics on slides are going to adore Prezi. The rest of us might want to hold tight whilst presenters get their head around designing a great Prezi presentation. It's a much more visual and engaging way to present idea's as a story.

My attempts at creating a Prezi aren't great. My mistakes are obvious. I'm not very visual and had difficulty thinking about a presentation on a '3d level'. I found it difficult to make text appear uniform. But like most things, this is a tool that needs to be explored and experimented with so idea's can flourish. I will give it a second go. In the meantime, feel free to learn from this awfulness. I'm brave enough to share!

SlideShare I use on a regular basis to find information. But I've never uploaded and shared something. My workplace wouldn't allow me to share something that was branded and available to an external audience. So I'll admit I threw this together from a 'guide' I've created previously. What I find interesting about tools like SlideShare, is how it seems to be changing the way that we view presentations. So the slides themselves are being used as documents to carry large amounts of text. Something that wouldn't be recommended if you're slide was being projected to an audience on a white wall.

What I liked about SlideShare was the ability to analyse how your uploaded content was viewed or shared by the audience. However, this functionality is only available with one of the 'professional' SlideShare packages that come with a monthly cost. It can also be added as a gadget to your LinkedIn profile. So it's great way of demonstrating your knowledge and expertise and sharing what you know with your professional community.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Thing 16: Advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published

I moved from the academic sector to the specialist sector back in 2005. The service had just gone through a high  impact management change from being a 'national and regional' service supporting the workforce in offices throughout the UK to being a online library. Local library centres were closed and stock moved into a central location only available to browse via library staff or the Library Catalogue. Other print resources were replaced by online resources making them more accessible to a wider range of staff.

We had to work hard to remind people that despite the lack of a physical library presence, we were still there, we were still relevant and we were still able to give them access to the information and knowledge they needed to do their job. An emphasis was placed on making information findable. We had a team of information specialists, supported by a traditional library team, managing serials, inter-library loans and acquisitions. We were a team of around 18 people, supporting a workforce of 13'000. We maintained a presence in the regional offices with visits, information skills training. We assertive in getting invites to staff meetings, demonstrating our services and highlighting our skills. We embarked on a high profile marketing strategy, with a clearly thought out plan to ensure we were kept in the staff newsletters, keeping in contact with our customers, highlighting our successes to senior managers. If advocacy wasn't in our job description, it should have been. The service expanded, and with the publication of Information Matters, we embraced Knowledge Management. We were starting to be embedded into the heart of the 'way of working'.

Two years ago, along with the rest of government, we were squeezed through another high impact change. We lost our information specialist team to another part of the business, along with records management and knowledge management. The specialist and technical roles have been lost. There is no longer a qualified cataloguer on the team. Our 'core library service' is a team of three people.

No one could argue that we weren't advocating for our service. But somehow it felt like we failed to convince the people at the top that the library could add value to the business and help save time and resources. Whilst many internal customers voiced a concern about the loss of services, in a culture of redundancies, job losses and voluntary early retirement, no-one was in a position to shout too loudly.

I'm still a strong voice for our services. Although we no longer use the word 'library', I make sure that people I meet know where I come from, and what I do. I ensure that they understand how my work can support theirs, make it easier, offer to take a job off their hands and add value. I aim to rip apart the idea 'anyone can Google' to find the answers. I contact customers, ask for feedback, encourage them to tell us what they use the service for, how it's had a positive impact on their work, what they've done with the information. I collate this, I put it in my quarterly reviews, ensure my managers hear the good stuff and when it's negative, consider what we can do to respond. I've started a workplace blog, keep an eye on various 'Communities of Practice' forum discussions and add messages to draw attention to our services where appropriate. I've invited Cilip 'back to the floor', not just to support the work that Cilip are doing, but to use the visit to raise our own profile within the business. Look! We have a professional association too! As the only 'librarian' left in the service, I'm working hard to make sure we don't just become another administrative team and that the skills of library and information professionals are recognised as being essential to the success of the business.

I once overheard my mother talking on the phone to a friend about 'how I was doing'. "She's got a problem really. She became a librarian at the same time that Google was launched and her skills aren't really needed any more". It's this kind of attitude that I'm challenging, both at work and in the wider profession. In a culture where libraries are valued and understood, the library should be the heart of every organisation. In the schools where they support the development of literacy, social and community awareness. In the public sphere, in colleges and academic libraries where digital literacy and information literacy work continues. The workplace library should be a natural place to continue this role, and the 'Googlisation' of the workplace doesn't remove the need for literacy, it only adds to the range of workplace literacies needed. Perhaps that is another blog post though.

The announcement at the recent British Library Document Supply Service roadshow that 'anyone would be able to put in a request for an item' came as a shock. And provided further fuel to my motivation to prove that a central workplace library service still has a place. Unwittingly, the British Library seemed to have provided a way for our users to navigate round our services. It's a message that we will need to handle carefully. If there are any other workplace librarians considering their own response to this news, I'd be interested in your views.

So I very much see advocacy as being a core part of my role, whether it is explicit in my job description or not.

As for the wider library world. My son has recently started school. I've raised questions about the school's library, and their reading programme. I've volunteered to become a 'Better Reading Partner' and actively encouraged my son to use the library, both at school and the public library.

Locally, I've voiced concerns about the proposed removal of our mobile library service. Asked questions about the introduction of self-service. Is it to free library staff to spend more time dealing with enquiries, or is it to replace library staff? I'm a big believer in 'use it or lose it'. I visit on a regular basis, and encourage others to do the same. I challenged a family member when they wrote on their facebook status 'Passed my college course without ever going in the libary' [sic]. But I'm aware that it's small stuff. Challenging people's perception of what they can gain from a library, on this scale, feels like standing at the foot of a giant and jumping up and down on his big toe. I'm aware I could do more.

If this Thing has done anything, this Thing has encouraged me to get more active. Checking my local library service, it doesn't seem to have an active 'Friends of the Library' group. Maybe now is the time to set one up. Rather than to wait until further cutbacks to the service are announced...