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 legislation.gov.uk 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...

Thing 15: Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events

I'm starting this post by metaphorically wiping my brow. Phew. I'm glad that I don't need to organise a conference in order to provide evidence I've completed this thing!

I've been able to attend one - a whole one- conference related to library and information science. In 2009, I attended the Network of Government Library and Information Specialists annual conference, titled 'Information Landscape'. At the time, the service I was working for was going through a high-impact change, so it was interesting and comforting to meet other government librarians who had gone through - and survived a similar process. It was also pretty nerve-racking as I didn't know anybody else who was attending.

I was excited by the opportunity to take part in a workshop on information literacy, a session led by Sheila Corrall and a subject I was passionate about. I found myself in a group with people who I knew had written articles and presented on the subject. Looking back on the experience, I'm not sure I made the most of it. I collected a few contacts, followed up later with an email but nothing happened. The connections didn't stick. And despite my enthusiasm, I don't remember much, either the presentations or the discussions afterwards. Yet I know I came away feeling enthusiastic and re-energised about working in government libraries and the opportunities that were out there. I think there's a lesson there. Perhaps if I'd have blogged the event or made contacts via Twitter, I'd have gained more from it? So, my advice to fellow conference attendee's.

  • Write about your experience. Provide a review of your day, and what you've gained from it to your colleagues / for a staff newsletter. If attending the conference is for your own professional development, then you've probably paid for it yourself and used your own leave. But demonstrating the value you got from it might persuade your employer to contribute to the costs next time. Consider blogging it. You are more likely to remember the event and the people you met if you have written about it and reflected on it.
  • Use Twitter and other social media tools to identify other attendee's before you go. Identify the conference hashtag and follow it. At the time, I wasn't a tweeter. I think I'd have benefited from knowing beforehand who else might have been going. There is also a social media conferencing tool called Lanyrd. This allows you to find relevant conferences, find out who is attending and 'track' developments. I've  also used it to find useful conferences and discovered new speakers on topics that interest me. For some reason, my workplace have decided that this site is a threat to their security, so it's blocked. I access it from my home PC.
So with one conference under my belt, I clearly need to make an effort and attend another. I do have a wish-list. It reads like a child's birthday wish-list where money is no object because Santa and the Easter Bunny club together. Special Libraries Association and Lilac are the two at the top.

As for speaking. I've spoken at one conference. It was a 2002, I was speaking at a conference to present a case for LGBT visibility within education. I was fairly prepared but naive. My arguments were written down word-for-word in large type, pages clearly numbered and fastened together in case I was clumsy enough to drop them. I shook all the way through, my papers visibly rustling. I think I looked up from the paper once to gaze at the audience. All 2000 members. When I had finished, I climbed down from the podium, walked straight out of the hall and ordered a something with plenty of alcohol. I was just grateful that a) I hadn't tripped over my skirt on the way out and b) nobody had asked me any questions. I'm not sure I gave them a chance. I decided never to do it again. 

Almost 10 years have passed now, and perhaps the memory of the horror of it all has faded enough for me to consider attempting it again...

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Thing 14: Organising references

I remember quite clearly the trauma of attempting to sort out my references for an assignment. Aged 17, in college studying Psychology and Sociology. We were told to find our own citation style and just stick to it. I disliked the tutor immediately. I wanted rules. It should have been clearer to me at that point that perhaps I was destined for a career in information management, rather than health and social care.

Going back to University as an adult, studying for an Open University degree and I was swimming in citation rules. The MLA citation style handbook was permanently lodged in my bag, pages folded, sticky notes all over it, stars and question marks pencilled in the margins. It was painful. Creating a bibliography was one of those jobs that seemed to require an awful lot of effort with very little visible reward.

Fast forward two years later and I found myself with an old and clunky version of Endnote reference manager. I wasn't about to dump my handbook yet, but my attitude towards my references changed. I found myself saving references, even if I hadn't used them in my work. My personal research library was born. A change of workplace (and computer), and an introduction to Refworks meant that I had to dump my library with no easy way to transfer the files between the two. (Dare I admit my Endnote library was on a 2.5" floppy disc?)

Now, a switch in citation software wouldn't be quite so traumatic, and it certainly wouldn't result in the loss of several years of citation collections. The first thing I noted when downloading Mendeley was the option to import my existing libraries from either Endnote or Zotero. There was even the ability to sync with CiteULike.

I recently compared different citation software packages, putting CiteUlike, Connotea, Endnote, Refworks and Zotero to the test. You can see my thoughts on the packages here via Google Docs. But I didn't include Mendeley. I can happily admit that this was a mistake. It's got some excellent functionality, combining both a reference management system and the social elements of connecting and collaborating with researchers. It is very similar and has a lot in common with Zotero, but each seems to have it's own strengths. Zotero is great for grabbing citation information from the web, as it's embedded within your browser.  And in the same way that bookmarking tools like Delicious, CiteULike, etc are being used for resource discovery, so is Mendeley.  What's most interesting about Mendeley is it's apparent goal to make science research accessible to all and is encouraging authors who own the copyright to their papers to upload it and make it freely available. [Telegraph]

I played with it for a long time. Discovered with great delight I could add an app to my smart phone so my documents really could travel with me. I have only one teeny tiny complaint and that is around connecting to other researchers. I don't personally know Paul Matthews, lecturer at UWE. But I'm interested in his work. I'd like the ability to 'favourite' or 'follow' him, without adding him to one of my 'contacts'.

It's a small quibble. I will happily add this to my toolbox.

Problem is, whilst I was thinking about Mendeley, I also came across Quiqqa. I already like the ability to  mindmaps to visualise topics. I think I need to step away from the computer.

Thing 13: Online Collaboration - Google Documents, Wiki's, Dropbox

Holding page. I'll get round to doing this post, honest. I just need to work on some others first. Clearly, being a librarian, Thing 13 has to be filed in the correct place...

As I used Google Docs in Thing 14, can I consider this done, huh? Can, I? Can I?

Thing 12: Putting the social into social media

I've considered the questions on quite a personal basis, rather than a generalist perspective.

What are the advantages of social media in the context of professional development?

  • I work in a world where, despite constant reassurances that training is still available, the reality is somewhat different. Getting up early, travelling to London, taking time out of the office, paying for a train, spending the day sat in a classroom before being hurled back into the office again with barely time to digest the learning from the day before is no longer possible. Professional development isn't just about classroom learning. Engaging in social media provides another avenue to consider other viewpoints, discover new idea's and develop our skills.
  • I'm a single mum with a disabled child, tied to the school-run-home-tea-bed-by-eight-o'clock-collapse routine. It is sometimes possible to leave the house again at night, but it's rarely possible to do this on nights when face-to-face meetings and events actually happen. Being able to take part in online networking helps me to feel like I'm still part of the conversation.
  • I'm partially deaf, and find group conversations quite challenging, particularly if they are fast-paced, or I'm faced with an unfamiliar accent. (Or a particularly animated moustache!) The delay between me hearing the sounds, and being able to interpret means that by the time I've formed a response, the conversation has moved on and my contribution is no longer relevant. Social media levels the playing field for me and allows me to contribute.
  • Defying geography, time and space. Sharing idea's with information professionals from beyond the borders of, not just my own library, but my own town and my own country. Takes the idea of engaging in the wider profession to a new level.

What are the disadvantages?

  • Whilst Twitter has grown on me, the limits of 140 characters are obvious. Words need to be chosen carefully, meaning is easily misinterpreted and conversations splintered. I have already fallen victim to this.
  • Needs to be used to compliment other communications tools, not instead of other communication tools. I include picking up the telephone; getting up out of your chair and walking across the room to talk to someone and good old fashioned email in this.
  • Not all workplaces have embraced social media. Some are actively blocking it, despite evidence of the value of social media in the workplace. Stopblocking.org notes that none of the top 100 companies to work for in the UK block access to social media. My own workplace has a clear social media policy. We are able to use social media to communicate with our customers only if it is authorised by our Communications department. Personal engagement in social media is allowed, but without reference to the workplace. Which makes writing about developments in libraries in the specialist sector tricky, and something I'm still figuring out. I've often complained about the lack of visibility of librarians working in government libraries in the UK. I hold this policy to blame.
  • Which brings me on to the next disadvantage. Building a powerful online network increases your 'brand power' and influence, but managing yourself as a 'brand' is a skill that now needs to be acquired as part of new set of workplace literacies. Getting it wrong could have a negative impact on the way you are viewed in the next job interview.
Has CPD23 helped you to make contact with others that you would not have had contact with normally?

  • Absolutely. A combination of attending an event for Thing 7, a cautious presence on Twitter and a good old nose around the cpd23 tags on Delicious has meant that I've come across - shock, horror - other specialist librarians. I've also discovered voices for library activism that have encouraged me to think about my own participation in defending public library services, as well voices from other libraries within my own geographical region.
Did you already use social media for your career development before starting CPD23? Will you keep using it after the programme has finished?

  • I use 'Community of Practice' tools within my own workplace to raise my profile, the library profile and engage with my customers. Social bookmarking tools to share resources as part of my campaign to increase information literacy within my workplace. Online communities like LinkedIn to keep up to date. I joined Twitter with an 'if I bloody have to' attitude, but have been somewhat converted. I've yet to make up my mind about the blog. I think it's yet to prove it's value. At the moment, the blog is purely selfish. It's about meeting the goals of CPD23, and providing potential evidence for Aclilip. I'm not sure how much value it has to others reading it...