Sunday, 25 November 2012

Teaching large groups - survival tips

On Wednesday 7th November, I attended a workshop at my workplace entitled – Effective Large Group Teaching. It was aimed at new teachers but I thought it might prove useful to me. In my previous job as the higher education resources adviser in a college, I used to regularly teach. There were generally a maximum of about 35 students in classrooms and ages ranged from eighteen year olds just embarking on a foundation degree to fifty year olds changing careers and retraining. Now working in a university, I have to regularly teach large groups - sometimes consisting of hundreds of students. Having always trained but never lectured I tend to find this quite daunting, hence my attendance.
A couple of teachers at the workshop revealed how they struggle with students being late and trying to help them catch up. For me, this can be awkward when teaching where they then ask lots of questions because they missed the content but I don't see it as too much of an issue in lectures as I just carry on doing what I’m doing. I don't think it’s fair on the people who made the effort to get there in time to spend it getting latecomers up to speed. I also think that if you do this you are making a rod for your own back as students will know here's no reason to turn up promptly.
Some tips that came out of the session:
  • Do not compromise your body language to use the microphones – either speak up or use a portable microphone. I must admit I've contorted myself in the past and it is quite uncomfortable, plus I'm still getting used to microphones
  • Move around – quite tricky with demonstrations but move around and use the floor space
  • Give gaps between sentences – ala Tony Blair – gives gravitas but be wary of leaving too long a gap as it can look a little silly
  • Repeat important sentences over but try to rephrase them – it isn't patronising it's reinforcing points
  • Try to ensure everyone has a seat - students can struggle to concentrate if they are squashed and uncomfortable 
  • Set out expectations of behaviour at the beginning. This is quite tricky to do when it is not your group of students and you are a guest, however, you can lay down a few ground rules at the beginning, for example, stand up to ask a question 
  • Be strict about talking - students can often have a school mentality, especially in the first year and are looking to pick holes in what you do. They haven’t matured to a point where they realise they are damaging their own chances of learning so it is important to clamp down on it and not just continue talking in the hope that people will quieten down 
  • If they are being too noisy stop talking - I’ve tried this several times and it seems to work as the students have then shushed each other - it does requires a steely reserve and the confidence they will not walk out though 
  • Have direct eye contact 
  • Tell them calmly and clearly if their behaviour is not acceptable – lay down rules
  • If the technology breaks – always give them something else to do, for example, a recap of the last session.
Some responses for hecklers...
“I don’t know the answer to that. Perhaps you could find out and share it next week”
“That’s an interesting question – but do you think that is relevant here?”
“What do others think?”
“It looks like we disagree – shall we move on?”
For ramblers...
Ask them to summarise their main points
For hoggers...
Ask others what they think – do they agree?
Public Response Systems (PRS) were recommended as they are a good way of breaking up a session and useful for huge groups of 300, however, they can be quite slow and cumbersome and it is easy to lose the group while setting up the technology. I used to use Quizdom in a previous job and this was often quite fun - students liked learning through the rocket chase or car racing games we used. Bearing this in mind, I still might have a go using the system we have in my workplace or else use something like Poll Everywhere which I keep hearing good things about.
Having now delivered several lectures I realise that I am pretty good at training but lecturing is a whole new ball game and requires a completely different set of skills. A lecture is showing off your knowledge, it is a performance of sorts and the front of the lecture theatre is your stage and performance area.

I found out that universities don't tend to have guidelines or rules about lecturing styles which means you can do what you want BUT also means there is no quality assurance. Having heard varying opinions from students about their slide preferences I don't think there can be a hard and fast rule but as they become more demanding I think there may be pressure put on some lecturers to change the way they do things.
The ultimate aim throughout all of this is that students are there to learn – you can make them laugh and have a great time but if they haven’t learned anything then you haven’t done your job. This can be a fine balance to create but an important one.
What next?
  • Have a look at some of the university vocal coach materials - although I can project my voice, I often find it difficult to gauge its level so I hope this will help
  • Make sure I do less demonstration so I can move around more. This will also ensure I am focusing more on the benefits of using the databases 
  • Breathe and practise - working in a new institution and in a completely different way has really dented my confidence so I am trying to get it back. I know I know my stuff - I just need to keep reminding myself

Ultimately, none of this was rocket science, however, it gave me the opportunity to stop for a moment and think about how I do things and how I can improve. Since attending this session, I have delivered several lectures and workshops which I think have improved. Students have paid more attention and there has been more willingness to interact. Long may it continue...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

SLA Europe - Personal resilience workshop

On Monday 15th October I attended my first SLA Europe event since I won the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA). It seemed like forever since I had last seen everyone but in reality it had only been three months and it was lovely to meet some of the members again. The session was led by Cathy Lawson and Russell Thackeray from Continuum, and was held at the Lexis Nexis building in Chancery Lane

I had missed the previous SLA Europe meeting due to a clash with my teaching schedule and this one piqued my interest. Its main premise was that during the challenging pressures many of us are experiencing at the moment, we need to be able to cope with stress and ‘bounce back’ from adversity. I attended the event for a couple of reasons; I had only attended one training session before and I had really liked the set up of the small group and really learning from other’s experiences so I thought this might be similar. Another reason was that even though I am generally a resilient, persevering type of person who has had a decent amount of adversity to deal with, I had been feeling a little overwhelmed by life recently and thought a few extra tips might be quite useful.

Cathy and Russell were engaging speakers and explained to us that Continuum provide an eight day course where all the topics they were going to introduce us to are covered in a lot more detail and that this was a 1.5 hr version of this. Unfortunately, this meant it felt quite rushed, however, I think they got their main points across.

We were told that personal resilience was a step on from emotional intelligence, something I am particularly interested in due to various personal reasons and had read more about recently in Daniel Goleman’s book - Primal Leadership: Learning to lead with emotional intelligence as part of Jo Alcock'slibrary leadership reading group. Resilience is the ability to recover from adversity and to perform effectively under pressure. A balance of positive and energy is needed to do this, an example given by Russell was that an introverted person can still present well but the energy required is greater in that person than in an extroverted person.

The continuum model of personal resilience focuses on cognition, personality, emotion, physiology - if all these are at their most optimum then one can become a ‘business athlete’. We very quickly ran through some of these, spending quite a lot of time focusing on nutrition and exercise. Being someone who already appreciates green tea and an hour of yoga but knows when to balance it with a spot of chocolate and red wine, I do wish we had spent a little more time on the some of the others.

We had to write down a few items we were worried about and figure out which ones we could control and which we couldn’t. Once we had done this, we were then told that people generally worry about things they have no or very little control over and that letting go of these types of anxieties would help strengthen our resilience. There was a gentle murmur across the room at this point, whether this was in agreement over Russell’s point or recognition of the difficulty of doing this, I’m not sure. We all bemoan the state of the world at some point and who is to say we have no control over it? I guess the main point is not to become overburdened. At work, I am very good at knowing what I can and cannot control, however, I discovered that on a personal level I don't do this so well - so this is something I am trying to rectify.

One thing which struck me after the workshop while we were all enjoying some very lovely canap├ęs courtesy of Lexis Nexis was something a fellow SLAChicago attendee said about finding the time to eat healthily, do exercise and still have fun. It reinforced something that has been niggling away for a little while. I generally make sensible life style options, however, sometimes I just really need to chill out more and have some fun and not feel guilty for relaxing.

Overall, I’m not sure I got anything new out from the session. I did get rather angry that people’s emotions were being played with by people who didn’t know those in the room but it also did encourage me to think about the things I enjoy doing of which I’m not doing enough of.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Library Camp UK 2012

Early mornings, swearing and gaming...

On Saturday 13th October, I awoke at 4am to attend my second Birmingham Library Camp, this time at the Signing Tree Conference Centre. For those not in the know a Library Camp is an unconference attended by people interested in libraries. I had been unsure about whether to go for several reasons; one of which was that my promise to 'just say no' didn't seem to be going too well…

Last year I went up the evening before and regret not doing that this time as firstly I was very tired and secondly, I didn't get as much chance to chat and catch up with people as I would have liked to.

Due to late running trains, I arrived just as the pitches were occurring. I had decided not to pitch this time as last year I had had a specific issue to discuss (HE in FE) but this time I just wanted to find out more about general issues affecting Higher Education.

I'm not going to give an overview of everything I attended as a lot of people will be doing that, however, I have mentioned a couple of the most interesting and/or useful below:

Image by Sasha Taylor

Swearing in libraries:

This session was about dealing with aggressive people in libraries not about swearing librarians. Perhaps it was the early start but I wasn't very happy with this session. I get that people need to let off steam but there seemed to be a lot of anger directed at students (for being angry & sweary) and management (for seemingly doing nothing about it and not taking it seriously) and less focus on tips to deal with it.

I think a lot can depend on your organisation’s approach - has every rule got to be enforced regardless of whether it makes sense, if the rules do make sense do people know what the reasons are - there's nothing more ridiculous than someone saying "I know it's a silly rule but my bosses say we have to do it".

It's also about personality - if you don't feel good inside after helping someone find what they need in a library and you see every visitor as a potential villain rather than someone you can help then you probably shouldn't be anywhere near a customer - facing role!

Being nice, staying calm and taking someone's concerns seriously doesn't mean being a pushover and it doesn't make it okay for people to be abusive, however, it can create a better overall atmosphere to work in, to be in generally and will often stop potential situations escalating. It also helps management/ community support officers take situations, when they do happen, seriously - it is important to have a good relationship with them. Some of the best tips were from people who had to deal with serious safety issues in libraries, e.g. in a prison library. Focusing on things like body language and your own prejudgements can really make a difference.

Gaming in libraries:

I really enjoyed this session. Not being a gamer, but having seen the competitive instinct that gets into students through quizzes I have used in the past, I thought this would be a good session to attend. Andrew Walsh @andywalsh999 from University of Huddersfield introduced us to an information literacy card game which I could really see the value of in a small setting, especially for younger pupils. I was surprised that the university students didn't feel patronised by it and he did say that the feedback from the students suggested that they were initially apprehensive but did go on to enjoy it. For larger groups games can be trickier; there are voting systems like 'who wants to be a millionaire' but these can be fiddly and awkward to use and I know some people use Poll Everywhere, which seems to go down well. This is something I would definitely like to pay more attention to in my own teaching sessions.

Issues in academic libraries:

This session was led by Christina Harbour @tinalpool and covered the perennial problems of IT and library staff working together and how this can affect the seamless approach to customer service students want, staff and students not knowing they are using the library because they use the electronic resources, the rise of tuition fees and how to manage changing student expectations while also dealing with substantial budget cuts. There was a discussion about branding the information access pages to make it clearer to the students that they were using paid for resources but the general consensus was that this would a negative impact on access.

We spoke about students not knowing what was available to them and I argued that we should be going to the academics and promoting that what we do can benefit both them and their students rather than waiting for them to come to us. This has the added value of them in turn telling their students about what is available and them, consequentally, seeing the benefit of their information literacy skills sessions.

Because we were discussing drawing people’s attention to the value of academic libraries, Liz Jolly referred to the JISC Library Impact Data Project, which sets out to demonstrate a ‘statistically significant correlation between library usage and student attainment’ and has proven, to a degree, that using library print and electronic resources is intrinsically linked to students performance at university.

Despite my initial reservations, I was glad I attended. I didn’t really learn anything new but it was good to see a few familiar faces and put other faces to familiar Twitter names. A few of us got the impression that not a lot of action was coming out the sessions but having recently looked at the Library Camp homepage that seems to have been rectified.

My plans:
  • Possibly promote mindfulness and empathy in the workplace
  • Look at alternative ways of promoting library resources and information literacy 
  • Look into creating information literacy games for students in large lecture halls

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Teaching students how to learn - a day at Bloomberg

I attended a Bloomberg symposium at their headquarters in Finsbury Square, London on Thursday 20th September. Due to the role I do I need to be able to support my Economics & Finance students in accessing financial data so I thought this might be useful.

I arrived in time for breakfast at 8am at the very swanky premises - there was already a buzz and even the vast tanks of tropical fish seemed to be animated. This might have had something to do with the amount of neon and fluorescence in the building though. I didn't take any photos as I didn't want to risk being floored by the security guards, of which there were many.

There were a range of speakers including those who worked for Bloomberg, city recruitment companies and academics. The audience was a range of economics and business lecturers with a few careers officers and a smattering of librarians.  

I didn't really know what to expect from the day, thinking perhaps it would be either a training session or a big sales pitch. It was mainly the latter with some discussion about the nature of education thrown in for good measure.

Richard Hong from Bloomberg started the program off by announcing that in the last twelve months ten UK universities had subscribed to Bloomberg with a total of 108 terminals and that despite being asked for simulated material to help train students he was instead offering the real thing. They have started offering more training to universities and are currently rolling out a Bloomberg aptitude test. I found out my institution already delivers this so I am currently trying to find out a bit more about the process.

Throughout the day, we listened to a speech about the purpose of higher education, given an overview of the Bloomberg terminals, told about the Bloomberg Aptitude Test and Bloomberg’s recruitment policy but the most interesting element turned out to be a panel discussion which started off by looking at what companies looked for in students when recruiting to the differences in UK and US higher education systems.

 The main points I took away from it were: 

·         Bloomberg is seen as the 'Microsoft office ' of financial professionals' so it is expected that students have some knowledge of it

·         Universities are still expected to teach students how to learn, to subject arguments to intellectual rigour, to use context, self-management and professional communication & etiquette - if universities do this then the industry will teach them the technical skills

·         The company has a flat structure with no handholding so workers are expected to use their initiative – we should therefore be encouraging this in our students

·         Enthusiasm, talent and hard work will prepare you for most things in life, including the workplace. When thinking about teaching employability skills staff should bear this in mind.

 My yoga teacher used to say "we are all human beings not human doings" and at the event I heard that phrase from someone I least expected - an economist! Something to remember…


Monday, 1 October 2012

Emerging technologies and authentic learning

On Monday 17th September, I attended a guest lecture entitled Emerging technologies and Authentic Learning by Vivienne Bozalek. It was hosted by the School of Health and Social Care at Brunel University and was held in the rather swish premises of the Mary Seacole Building.
Professor Vivienne Bozalek is the Director of Teaching and Learning at University of the Western Cape in South Africa and she was discussing the project she was currently involved in.
Her lecture was split into three parts: emerging technologies, qualitative outcomes and authentic learning.

Emerging technologies: 
In the first part she explained that an emerging technology wasn’t necessarily a brand new tool, in fact it may have been around for many years; for example, Facebook, twitter or virtual learning environments (vle). What made it ‘emerging’ was the way it was being used, i.e. being used as a self-directing, student-centred and flexible tool. 
She went on to elaborate that students are often using completely different tools to the ones they are encouraged to by their tutors, e.g. using Facebook and Twitter rather than the wikis set up for collaborative working within the vles. If institutions decide to ‘be where the user is’ then this will lead to more engagement but they must be careful not to get into ‘creepy tree-house’ territory. According to Vivienne “the ideal situation would be to utilise the potential of the tools without destroying what makes them special to their users”.
The Gartner Hype cycle, illustrated below, highlights the journey people and institutions go through when considering and taking on new technologies
Vivienne also referred to the Annual Horizon Report, a ten year project which investigates the impact emerging technologies have on teaching and learning identifies the techologies being used and explains how institutions are doing so – I didn’t know about this but think it is worth paying attention to see where we are in terms of our development. According to the report “mobile apps and tablet computing as technologies expected to enter mainstream use in the first horizon of one year or less. Game-based learning and learning analytics are seen in the second horizon of two to three years; gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things are seen emerging in the third horizon of four to five years”.
Ulitmately, the consequences of not being involved and of not showing an interest is that the gaps between effectual and ineffectual teaching and learning will increase as students continually disengage.

Qualitative outcomes: 
In the second instalment of her lecture, Vivienne started by explaining that the qualitative outcomes of the project were stimulating learning environments where students felt safe to express themselves without fear of humiliation and rebuke and where there is space to try out new things and experiment. This led to a discussion amongst the attendees about the types of rules, just like classroom rules, which should be in place to ensure students know how to conduct themselves in a virtual learning space. There tends to be the perception that because students are younger and seem to know what they are doing that they don’t need guidance on this. I think the social rules of the internet need to be taught – people don’t automatically pick up social skills even when they can do quite technical things, like designing apps.  

Authentic learning:

According to Vivienne, authentic learning consists of learners meeting the same content in many different contexts and with varying perspectives. Students need to be immersed in what they are learning and content should not be broken down for them to access readily, instead they should experience it holistically as they will use it in the real world, e.g. tests shouldn’t be multiple choice as people rarely use multiple choice in their everyday, real working lives.
Some of the main things I took away from this are that:
  • My institution is doing reasonably well on the emerging technology front as it engages with students through a multitude of social media platforms – although there may be some tendency to be ‘creepy tree-house’
  • Sometimes people think they are engaging with students by using emerging technologies, however, they are just delivering the same content in the same way but online. To use a soundbite - Technology doesn’t equal transformation
  • There are still serious concerns over online identities and a lack of digital literacy amongst students
  • Reflection and articulation are important for learning but vles are not generally conducive to this. It is up to staff to implement it as part of their programs

If anyone is interested in learning more about the project it can be found at
For those interested in emerging technologies, the Annual Horizon Report is worth a read.
If anyone would like to know more about web safety, you may find these JISC resources useful. There will also be a web safety in higher and further education presentation, held by the Academic and Research Libraries Group, London and South East Committee (ARLG LASEC) on 12th December 2012.
If anyone is interested in Big Data or the Internet of Things, some of the emerging technologies which, according to the Horizon Report will be used fully in a couple of years, there is a strong possibility of there being a conference focusing on them next July, held by the London Information and Knowledge Exchange.

Friday, 17 August 2012

SLA Chicago 2012 - Part 3

Last day of the conference

The last day was a short one for me as I was flying back home that afternoon. It started at 8am with a look at what’s next for social media. It didn’t really cover anything new for me, however, it did emphasise the need for a strategy. This has cropped up in several social media events I’ve been to recently so I have created one for my newly formed Social Sciences Twitter account, which will be completely separate from my personal account. I also intend to create one for the Academic and Research Libraries Group (ARLG)London and South East Twitter account. I have been able to pass this tip onto my work colleagues who are all in the process of creating their own accounts or reinvigorating old ones at a staff training session I delivered recently and intend to amalgamate some of the tips for further sessions.

Mary Ellen Bates in action
 - another lady who has trouble seeing over the lectern.
My next session was another delivered by Mary Ellen Bates and, despite having had to make some tough decisions over the last few days regarding which events to attend, I had no qualms about this one after attending her previous one. This one was entitled ‘Marketing for introverts’ and she started by claiming she was an introvert before going on to talk about how we can talk about our value in an obvious way. There was a lot packed into this session so this is another candidate for a separate blog post, however, some of the main points I took away were:
  • Get used to speaking off the top of your head as it will be sod’s law that you won’t have any notes or script when you could do with it most – I’m not great at this as I’m awful at remembering specifics but really want to try to improve this.
  • Promote, don’t defend what you do – I think librarians in general are very bad at this
  • Get a three second elevator speech – when the person opposites asks you to tell them more you can always go into your three minute more detailed synopsis of what you do.

The latter point was mentioned in several of the sessions in completely different contexts so this is something I aim to develop. I have mentioned it at the ARLG London and South East Committee as a possible training event as I think a lot of people could also do with developing this not only for themselves but for the resources and services they are providing. Nicola Franklin also posted a very useful and timely response to some of my questions about it.

The very last session I attended was on public libraries and the state of the ones in Chicago. Like libraries all over the world, they are struggling with funding cuts and closures and Chicago is no exception. The library of Gloucester got a round of applause for their innovative idea of borrowing all the books and Simon did his bit to promote Voices for the Library. As part of the session they included the American Library Association’s core values of librarians. If you have a look at them below I’d be very surprised if you didn’t feel just a little bit proud.So, after a debriefing from Bethan and a slice of leftover Chicago Town pizza I was ready to come back home. The whole experience has left me with so much to think about, write about and put into practice it could probably keep me going for a very long time.

The overall feelings and thoughts I have taken away are:

  • The Chicago Conference was incredibly well organised; everything seemed to run seamlessly and events stuck to time. It was often very difficult to choose which events to go to as several good ones seemed run at the same time; however, it must have been so much more difficult to plan the timetable and arrange the people so they were in the right places. Everything was huge and normally I prefer much smaller venues and fewer people but it worked well and didn’t make me feel overwhelmed or too crowded as can sometimes be the case in massive events
  • The whole event, even before it started, was very much connected by social media. It was quite easy to follow what was going on in other sessions and also feedback your own session to those who were elsewhere. On the other hand there was no pressure to do this if you didn’t want to. I didn’t tweet at all the lectures but the ones I did were often followed by those in the UK – it really made me consider the time of day I usually do this.  The person or team behind @SLAChicago was on the ball all the time and did a fantastic job at the conference itself and in the run up, offering advice and tips etc
  • I was impressed by how proud people were of their profession and of their fellow members within it. There were a multitude of prizes given but this didn’t seem to lessen the genuine pleasure people took from receiving them
  • Chicago has a lot of very fast revolving doors, which made entering every building just that little bit more exciting
  • American librarians really like dancing
  • An elevator/lift speech would be very useful to me as I generally say ‘I’m a librarian’ and then spend ages going through my job description. By which time both I and my companion are bored
  • I need to connect more with people and ask more questions. I often hear about people being helped with this and that and it gets them far in life.  I rarely ask for help, even from people who are there to give me advice.  This does make me much more independent but may sometimes mean I take a little longer to do things as I have to figure it out for myself
  • I think the friendliness of the American librarians has been remarked on by many UK attendees of the SLA Conference, even the vendors were nice and not in the hard sell, fake ‘have a nice day’ sort of way. I have made many contacts who I really hope to stay in touch with and I felt genuinely welcomed to be there.
Chicago was a fantastic opportunity for me and I'm very pleased to have won the award. It will keep me in blogging material for a long time! There were lots of people there who made it an enjoyable experience but I'd particularly like to thank Sara Batts for keeping an eye on us throughout the conference, Tracy Z.Maleeff for being incredibly friendly and welcoming not only at the conference but once we returned (and despite most of us not being law librarians), Bethan Ruddock for being a fountain of knowledge and also keeping an eye out for us. I'd also like to thank Ruth, Anneli, Marie, Simon and Giles - the loveliest bunch of people to share the experience of conferencing, cold pizza, jet lag and dancing with.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

SLA Chicago 2012 - Part 2

Early starts, ebooks and Macy's

Monday started early and finished late – this was the start of the 8am to 1am days I had been warned about – usually I tend to fall asleep but as I was still not yet accustomed to the time zone I was in it didn’t really matter what time it was. The 8am session on Wikileaks succeeded in making me feel insecure about security classification process - not something I was expecting first thing Monday morning. Apparently, librarians aren’t getting the right training and are using material decades out of date to help them classify information. This is wrong on many levels, but the worst thing is that people can still get into serious trouble for releasing classified information even if it should never have been classified in the first place.

PDA slide from session
This session was very quickly followed by a panel discussing eBooks and collection development. As I am now responsible for the collection development of my area in my current job and I buy a lot of eBooks I thought this would be right up my street. I was surprised there weren’t more people using patron driven acquisition (PDA); quite a few were trialling it but none had got much further. I like how using PDA (which in my head still automatically makes me think of public display of affection) can reflect trends much quicker though I was pretty shocked at the statistics of how few students chose books over DVDs. The downside of giving people what they really want is often they don’t know what’s good for them!

In between this session and the next I attended a lovely lunch hosted by the San Jose school where we were all informed about a 24 hour conference taking place in future which due to its long length means that anyone from whichever time zone can tune in at a reasonable time for them. One for the calendar methinks. I was initially blown away by the School paying the SLA membership fees for their library students, however, on reflection, I realise that with ridiculously exorbitant US tuition fees and student rates for SLA this doesn’t quite seem so magnanimous. It is still a nice gesture though and introduces newbies to their professional organisation – which is A GOOD THING.

After lunch I watched Bethan Ruddock in action on a panel discussing the difference between mindsets and skills and how people should not limit themselves when given a job but see it as an opportunity to go in with your eyes open and understand the organisation and your role within it. While a lot of interesting and useful points were made in this session, however, one of the key things I need to take away from this is that not all work is of equal value – I tend to want to do everything and everything well and feel a bit guilty when this can’t be achieved. I really need to evaluate what I’m doing and see what’s worth it and what’s not. If anyone has any advice on this it would be very much appreciated…

After a quick scoot round Macy’s and a brief swim, it was time to cheer on Anneli receiving her conference award.
Tiffany ceiling at Macy's
Anneli receiving her Conference Award

Speeches, pizza and dancing
Tuesday morning started with a very packed Mary Ellen Bate’s session. I was lucky enough to get a seat as I arrived early but there were many on the floor. I hadn’t realised that she was librarian royalty but I was left in doubt as to why! She was incredibly passionate, eloquent and articulate and despite being a solo librarian with her own business what she said could easily be transferred to other sectors. Having managed to leave my notebook in one of the several free bags I was given I took to using Evernote – I’m not the fastest typist so it was a little bit tricky but it was much easier to read the notes afterwards. She gave a huge amount of emphasis to the value-added, something that had come up previously in Monday’s panel session and cropped up throughout the conference. Having looked at making a small-holding work by adding value to produce (possible long term dream) I was not new to the idea, however, I’d not really come across it that often in a library setting – definitely a transferable skill!

Picture by Bethan Ruddock

After a packed lunch in the sunshine, kindly provided by the Info-Expo people (the lunch that is and not the sunshine) it was time to attend the Leadership and Management afternoon tea. Every ECCA had been sponsored by their division and had to be presented at a breakfast or tea to everybody and receive certificates or awards. I didn’t have a clue what to expect other than possibly saying a few word of thanks so felt rather apprehensive. As I looked at the minutes from the previous meeting I spied Ned Potter's name (he had won the same award the previous year) and at the bottom of the page there was a synopsis of his speech. As I looked at it my initial though was ‘that’s not too bad – I can do that’ - then I turned over the page and it went on! I suddenly started to feel very sick and when it was suggested that Anneli and I both give a speech I could have died – especially as you could barely see me over the podium. Luckily, enough stuff about the conference came back to me, including a Woody Allen quote from Monday’s panel session about 80% of success in life is just about showing up. I thanked them for sponsoring me and giving me the opportunity to ‘show up’ at the conference which I hoped would be the start of my own successful life. It seemed to work – everybody clapped and I didn’t trip or throw up although I had to quickly put my glass of water down as my hands were shaking violently.

I calmed my nerves by joining the ECCAs for a huge slice of mozzarella topped with tomato, otherwise known as Chicago Town Pizza. Then got ready for the 1920s themed IT party where Anneli, Ruth, Marie and I danced all night in our outfits and high heels – we’d lost the men at this point but did find Giles again before we were whisked off for margaritas – we were told this was in readiness for next year’s San Diego conference...

L-R: Giles, Ruth, Sarah, Anneli, Marie and Simon (photo from SLA Photographer)

Monday, 13 August 2012

SLA Chicago 2012 - Part 1


I was recently awarded the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) sponsored by the Leadership and Management Division and SLA Europe) and was given the amazing opportunity of attending the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Conference in Chicago. I first found that I had won the award in between a two part interview for a job as a Subject Liaison Librarian. I was very excited, however, I managed to retain enough composure to complete the interview and on the way home I was told I had the job too. All in all, a pretty good day! I can’t fit everything that happened at SLA Chicago into one blog post so there will most likely be several looking at different aspects of the trip.

Bethan Ruddock introduced all the ECCAs (Ruth Jenkins, GilesLloyd Brown, Marie Cannon, Simon Barron and I) and Anneli Sarkanen, the Conference Award winner, to each other and this meant we had formed a little group by the time we had arrived in Chicago; I was also able to meet some of them at the SLA Social a few days prior to flying for a few last minute sharing of jitters.

L-R: SLA Europe President-Elect Stephen Philips, past President Sara Batts, ECCA winners Ruth Jenkins, Sarah Wolfenden and Marie Cannon, Conference Award winner Anneli Sarkanen and President Darron Chapman.

Even though we had plenty of time to prepare I still felt underprepared as I left England. I had just started the new job and as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows the sometimes 5 hour round trip to work and the preparations for the LIKE Conference were eating up all my time. However, I managed to sort out my business cards, which were to be a crucial element to the SLA Conference, and organise my conference planner.

I haven’t flown very much and like many of the other ECCAs this was my first flight to America. I didn’t have much luck at the start as my hair mousse squirted everywhere and then my hair clip set the security alarm off so I was frisked (I was also frisked and had my hands swabbed on the return journey so I must just have one of those faces or my nerves were betraying me).

To stave off jet lag and to get our bearings we had all decided to go on the highlights tour of Chicago. The main part of this was a trip up the Willis Tower, including a quick, nay, very quick, step on and off the SkyDeck. It was a fabulous introduction to Chicago.

Pancakes, ribbons and enchantment

Sunday started, as any Sunday should, with Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and a stack of American pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup.

Fully fortified, we ECCAS caught the shuttle to the McCormick Convention Centre. People weren’t kidding about the size of it – it sprawled. Because of this, I think, it made the place seem more relaxed – there wasn’t the hustle and bustle and I didn’t get squashed or bumped into once – this is quite a feat when you’re rather on the petite side. I also got a lot of walking done over the conference period.

We immediately gathered our badges and ribbons. The ribbons are supposed to give people an idea of who you are and offer talking points – as ours reached our knees almost they were most definitely a talking point; fairly often a conversation would start with; “awesome, look at all those ribbons”. I am afraid I had to suppress a giggle at the amount of ‘awesomes’ issued – quite hard to get Bill and Ted out of my head.

Fully ribboned, we ECCAs hit the Info-Expo vendor area and Marie and I left so many business cards we had to return to our hotel room to retrieve more. The advice on business cards wasn’t misplaced. One of the surprises for me was that the majority of the vendors were so friendly (common theme throughout whole trip) and they were willing to talk without the hard sales patter despite us not being able to purchase anything off them there and then. I was told later, although I can’t remember by whom, that often they had been librarians/info professionals in the past so they really knew their customer base.

L-R: Giles, me, Marie, Simon and Ruth (picture courtesy of Ruth)

As a first timer, it was recommended that we attend the First Timers and Fellows reception, which, as the name states consisted of conference first timers and SLA Fellows. The room was filled with warm, welcoming people and everyone was very friendly. A few of the Fellows gave conference tips such as, ‘never eat alone’ and one gave a well rehearsed story which I quite liked – he remarked on how fascinated we would be if we were walking down the Champs Elysses and bumped coincidently into another librarian and how we would have lots to talk about. Then he asked us to consider what a coincidence it would be if we happened to travel to Chicago and end up in a room full of librarians, ending his story by asking us to look around us and make the most of the opportunity in front of us.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Guy Kawasaki, of Microsoft fame, he gave us a general overview of how to be successful with a few practical tips on giving a good presentation, for example, ten slides is an optimal number and use 30pt text and no smaller. I must admit I was then quite surprised to find out he hadn’t created his own slides but maybe you don’t need to when you are as ‘enchanting’ as he was. Enchantment was the name of his speech (and his book) I found him to be a confident corporate speaker but his smugness did grate a little.

Like everything in Chicago the stage for the keynote speech was massive, as was the auditorium - it can apparently fit in over 4000 people. Prior to Guy’s speech, Brent Mai gave awards to SLA members who walked, or in some case danced, over the stage to collect their certificate/handshake. What struck me was how proud they were, and how proud everyone in the room felt at their achievement. You could feel it in the room; despite its size, it was palpable. There was no cynicism or irony – just a pat on the back for a job well done. The other ECCAs and I discussed this all the way to the Open Houses where we were given free drinks which helped us in our reflections…

Friday, 10 August 2012

Collaborative research - living the DREaM

Edinburgh Napier University was awarded £45,000 grant funding in 2010 from the AHRC to support the DREaM project. The purpose of the grant was to develop a formal UK-wide network of Library and Information Science (LIS) researchers in 2011/12. Several events were held since its creation bringing together researchers to share their strength and weaknesses, and share good practice.

Hazel Hall introduced the event by giving everyone an overview of the project and where it had got to. From the evidence she supplied it seems to have met its main objectives which were to improve access to LIS research and to improve its impact on services. She went on to express her hope that the DREaM legacy of collaborating and communicating across the sector would continue and the following speakers built on her address.

The first keynote speaker of the day was Professor Carol Tenopir from the University of Tennessee. Carol emphasised how the world economic situation was creating challenges and opportunities for libraries, not just problems, and that it was a good time to promote the increase of research and its value. She is currently working on the LIBvalue project of which the ultimate outcome will be that there will be tried and tested methods of proving impact of libraries on their institutions so that others can use or enhance them. This should be ready by next year. Carol explained all the different types of value which could be measured from purchase exchange value to explicit and implied value, warning of the need to measure the right one or face the consequences of it not providing the results needed. She also highlighted the need to use a range of measurements to provide a greater depth of understanding and tailor the results to match the institutions mission and values, for example, there’s no point spending time looking at the affect of the library on the grants process if the university isn’t research intensive. Cater too for senior managements own peccadilloes, for example , show economists statistics such as academics spend on average three months reading – 67% of which is from the library (despite many academics claiming they don’t use the library) and show social scientists what a successful graduate looks like in terms of how much reading and accessing of resources they do. The final message from Carol was to work out where your value is – whether it is the buildings, the space, the collections or the librarians and brand this effectively.

Next we had One Minute Madness which was very much like a Teachmeet for anyone that’s ever been to one, expect that in this case candidates only got one minute (hence the name)to showcase their project rather than five. There were twenty speakers in twenty minutes and some were timed brilliantly, others not so much so they got the foghorn treatment. I generally like this kind of thing as it really cuts out the waffle and introduces you to an idea – you can always then chase this up if you’re particularly interested. Some highlights for me were; Allan Parsons talking about transforming the role of the academic liaison librarians, Jennifer Hopkins talking about improving relationships via teaching, Peter Cruickshank talking about online reputations and Sue Reynolds telling us about social media, open access and research. One Minute Madness videos

After lunch, Dr Louise Cooke from Loughborough University spoke of the social network analysis she had completed based on the DReaM members – she found that they had all strengthened their ties and that they all had several connections whereas previously they had only had one or two and were vulnerable to being kept out of the loop. She told us that on the basis of her analysis of the network cadre academic librarians performed very well. She finished by emphasising the importance of using social media to create networks.

The panel discussion which followed consisted of four participants in the project who used the opportunity to consider what the next step. Members of the audience were encouraged to participate. The theme of lifelong libraries ran through the session with the suggestion that the sectors should not be put in boxes and should all be engaged in research. It was also recommended that projects should help bridge the gap between researchers and practioners and that this should be key to all events.

The second keynote, and final session of the day, was delivered by Dr Ben Goldacre . He spoke about medical journals only publishing positive trials and not negative ones therefore skewing the view of medicines, often to the detriment of patients’ health. We often only hear about positive library stories and research is rarely disseminated, however, in medicine this can have fatal consequences.

My photos didn’t come out very well so here are some others taken by event amplifier Kirsty Pitkin.

In my past role, I was involved in a fair bit of research via all aspects of the annual questionnaire, focus groups, mystery shoppers and information skills feedback. In my current job I haven't had the opportunity yet but having attended this session I at least now know my first port of call if I do.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

LIKE Ideas 2012: The Business of Social Media

On 29th June 2012, I attended the inaugural conference of the London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE). I was involved in helping to organise the event and it was a brilliant experience, not only because social media is a topic I am interested in and it was the largest event I've ever been involved in but also because I was given the opportunity to work with some lovely hardworking and professional people whom I greatly admire.

If you click on the picture, it should take you to an issuu book covering my writeup of the event (not the organising of it - that's for a later blog). This is the first time I've used issuu, I was introduced to it via Ned Potter's blog post, I thought I'd give it a try as it's rather a long post so looked pretty boring on paper.. Unfortunately, it isn't particularly compatible with Google Blogspot - unless I want to add it as a separate element. I will definitely use issuu in future but maybe not for blog posts...

The attendees of LIKEideas on the grand staircase of the Old Sessions House, taken by Ben Summers

Sunday, 24 June 2012

My first month as an Academic Librarian

I've been in my job just over a month now and here is a list of things I have been doing:

  • Meeting the team
  • Learning how to use Coutts Oasis and ordering books
  • Reviewing book lists on Talis Aspire
  • Watching webinars to try to understand Talis Aspire
  • Meeting my school's academic staff and administrative team and making lots of plans for the next academic year
  • Trying to fulfil those plans for the academic year
  • Helping lots of PHD students with enquiries
  • Meeting the school's library reps and trying to persuade them to rethink the length of their reading lists
  • Frantically trying to review potential journal and book archives due to a sudden influx of cash and not wanting to buy the wrong things.
  • Trying to learn about what my students are studying and what they and the staff need
  • Learning about the Research Excellence Framework
  • Learning about the institutional repository and a bit about open access
  • Providing information skills sessions on literature searching for Masters students
  • Providing information skills sessions on database usage for international students
  • Being involved in an open day
  • Finding my way round the campus
  • Attending a Sociology and Communication social
  • Attending Equality and Diversity training
  • Trying to learn about raw data and the databases which provide it - Bloomberg, Reuters 3000, Datastream etc so I can help students.
  • Being joint lead on a project reviewing the above databases (with the other joint lead about to go on maternity leave)
  • Learning about Summon - a tool which is supposed to search all the resources
  • Training on Blackboard Learn (every institution I have worked for has upgraded or migrated to a new virtual learnign environment. At my last place I was training people how to use Moodle 2.0, here I will be adding content to the new and shiny version of Blackboard (when I persuade the staff to let me)
  • Being involved in two social media projects 
  • Learning how to find things in the Library of Congress System having always been familiar with Dewey.
  • Planning September's induction of the new students

There are other things which I can't remember and there is still a lot to learn and a lot to do, however, despite the exhausting commute (which I hope to shorten soon) I am enjoying the challenges. I was also named as a LISNetwork Rising Star, which gave me a real boost of confidence and for which I'm very thankful. It is a steep learning curve but those are often the best.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

My social media journey

The first thing I ever used in social media was, a sort of weird German forum site. A friend recommended it while I was looking for information on the Cottingley Fairies. While uboot didn't really do it for me, it did give me an introduction to what was out there. Then, like many of my peers, I entered Friends Reunited.  To be honest, I mainly joined for the voyeuristic thrill of seeing what had happened to the people I went to school with. I also used the power of crowdsourcing on Sheffield Forum to locate my biological dad - it worked but long story, rubbish ending - not for here.

Then I left social media for a while. I didn't touch Bebo or Myspace - I had a brief flirtation with Faceparty but was a latecomer to Facebook and when I initially signed up it was for groups like 'I'd like to sing Phantom of the Opera from the rooftops' and 'I used to secretly like Aramis from Dogtanien' (it was the poetry and red wine that did it - methinks!).

So far, so unprofessional...

Then reader, it all changed. I volunteered to become the Liaison Officer for the CILIP Special Interest Group Colleges of Further and Higher Education London and South East Committee (CoFHE LASEC) now Academic and Research Libraries Group London and South East Committee (ARLG LASEC). They used Twitter to promote and engage with their members. I joined Twitter so I could retweet and post about events. And then I was hooked. Initially,  I was a lurker. I read all sorts of things about Higher Education, Higher Education in Further Education, libraries in general and saw lots of pictures of cute cats. Through Twitter I discovered CPD23 which I found very beneficial and would recommend to any librarian, especially those who find it difficult to attend training. Through CPD23 I was encouraged to create a blog and discovered the library blogosphere - it's huge! I generally use my blog for reflection and for writing up events. I really appreciate it when others do this and hope that I can help in the same way.

I found out about Library Camp through Twitter - this was an extraordinary event. I then decided to broaden my horizons and sort out my LinkedIn account. Through connecting with an old UCL classmate I found out about the London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) and have gained such a wider knowledge of the information profession by attending their events. They are putting on an inaugural conference on 29th June and I've been privileged enough to help out. I've helped to organise smaller events in the past but I've never been involved in anything on a scale like this and it's going to be amazing.

However, so far this was enhancing my professional status and not necessarily my working life so I pestered for what seemed like forever to be able to set up a Twitter account and policy in my workplace (Facebook wasn't allowed due to filtering and occasionally Twitter was filtered too which sometimes made updating a tad tricky). It wasn't particularly ground breaking and only had a few followers but it was a start and I hope to do improve on this in my current post. So far I am going to be involved in training and implementing the social media policies.

I have learned so much through using social media and it has undoubtedly helped my professional life. One of the nicest things about it is the sense of community and the feeling of being part of the 'conversation'. I am looking forward to the rest of my journey.

More information on the LIKE Conference.
More blogs about using social media.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

LIKE 35 - Books: why bother? with Anne Welsh

On Thursday 26th April, I attended LIKE 35. After a mad dash from work to get there in the nick of time I was thrilled to be met by Tina Reynolds holding a glass of wine towards me as I entered, bedraggled and flustered, through the door. After composing myself and finding my table, I then sat down to listen to Anne Welsh, a lecture in cataloguing and historical bibliography at University College London. She started by asking us who amongst us wrote blogs, articles and then books - even though the numbers decreased each time I still found myself slighly in awe of the amount of people surrounding me who had written books. Anne then went on to ask why bother try to get published at all when there are so many options for people to find information available.
Some of the reasons were:
  • it structures your thoughts - (I think any type of writing does this)
  • a book defines your reputation in your chosen field - (I agree with this - one of the reasons I chose UCL to complete my Masters was because the lecturers had written the books we would be studying - it made me think they would really know what they were talking about)
  • books are finalised thoughts not just the embryonic musings one has in a blog (I've heard a few people say this now - that seeds of books have been borne through blogs)

I had previously thought that academics were encouraged to write books as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) but Anne explained how even though books are needed as they help to consolidate all the information available on a topic, because they are no longer accepted by the REF  more practioners are writing instead of academics. Apparently, this has always been the case in America - they have workbooks where Britain has theory books. While it would be a shame if the number of theory based books were to reduce sometimes when you're a practioner yourself and you haven't got a lot of time to digest the theory and come up with amazing ideas related to it it can really help to read a book which highlights exactly what others have done and how it has worked in practice.

Lastly, Anne spoke about digital versus print and how students, in particular, perceive it.  She claimed that research suggested students believe printed books are more authoritative but that they prefer the portability of digital. She did suggest too that students might only have said they preferred the digital version in the studies due to being given free kit and that this opinion many change if they were required to upload it onto their own devices.

Overall, the session wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was hoping for something a little more related to how to get started writing, although to be fair Anne did ask us to consider our audience, who our competitors are and whether print is the best format before submitting a proposal. However, it was an enjoyable and interesting session and encouraged me to to think about thought processes, the REF and book styles. There's one more LIKE evening to go and then there will be LIKE's inaugural conference - which I am very much looking forward to.