Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014: Reflections and the year ahead

For me, 2014 was quite a busy year. In it, I bought a house, got a permanent contract, took on new responsibilities at work, completed two MOOCs, finally passed my driving test, and spent about half of the year trying not to vomit while speaking at numerous library related conferences and events (a delightful combination of both nerves and morning sickness).

It is that time again when many of us reflect on the preceding year and try to figure out if it worked out as intended and/or hoped. Looking back at both 2013 and 2012 I was primarily concerned about my job as I was on a temporary contract and was very much focused on gaining as much experience in the higher education sector as possible, as well as on keeping my options open. Towards the end of this year this was finally resolved so I can now start 2015 without that hanging over my head. It's much easier to think long term and strategically when there's more chance of being around to see the outcomes.

As it is practically impossible to buy a house in London unless you are a Russian oligarch, of which I'm not, and because  I wanted a garden for my cats and for growing my own vegetables, I had moved out of London at the beginning of the year. This, as suspected, impacted heavily on my attendance at library events and on my ability to help organise these as part of my volunteering activities on various committees.  This led to my stepping  down from the organising group of LIKE in May and, more recently, as web editor for CILIP's ARLG London and South East Committee in November.

As I found myself with more free time, I put my efforts into completing MOOCs in both Social Psychology and in Creative Writing. One was a Coursera programme and the other was from FutureLearn. I enjoyed them both thoroughly and got a lot out of them despite them being very different from each other, not just in terms of content, but in teaching style, assessment, and format too.

I was also fortunate to be able to beg, borrow, and win my way to quite a few conferences, including LILAC, the M25 and Info Lit Group's Information Literacy Conference, the Perfect Information Conference, the ARLG Conference and Internet Librarian International, many of which the organisers let me present at. Additionally, I was extremely flattered to be asked to do a Member's Interview for SLA Europe and to present a talk on preparing Sixth form students for University for the North Thames Librarians' Group. These have all been great opportunities to meet new people, practise presenting in different scenarios and reflect on the work I do.

Conference freebies made it so much easier to focus on writing this year.

One of the best things I did in 2014 was to find out more about coaching. I took part in a pre-course workshop and read up on the topic and, while I wasn't able to take part in the full course as it clashed with other commitments, I found it very useful in both my personal and work life. One of the people I met who was able to do the course used me as a guinea-pig for her own studies and I found this quite enlightening too.

Ultimately, apart from the usual hiccoughs life throws to keep you on your toes, I'm relatively happy with how 2014 went. I focused much more on things both professionally and personally that I wanted to achieve and for the most part have been successful in doing so.

For 2015...

  • I hope to hear back from CILIP soon to find out whether I have successfully revalidated and intend to submit my record of continual professional development again at the end of next academic year too 
  • I will be on maternity leave for a little while and this will bring its own challenges both personally and professionally, any tips would be greatly appreciated!
At the moment, apart from the usual finding more time for reading and writing, getting back into running, yoga, self-sufficient, healthy (ish) lifestyle goals that I normally set myself at this time of year I haven't really made any specific resolutions yet. This will most likely change come spring time when I find it easier to do this but, for now, I'm keeping my thoughts and options open and just hoping for a happy 2015. I hope you have a good one too.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Presenting can be Bliss

Presenting is a very physical act, or should be, according to Philip Bliss, a communication skills coach, who was leading the voice coaching workshop I was attending in May this year.  The workshop was very physical and took me right out of my comfort zone. As it has now come to the time of year when many academic librarians, like myself, are trying hard to keep our voices through numerous induction sessions, skills workshops, and the perils of the petri dish of bugs that new students always bring to university at this time of year, I thought it might be timely to share what I learned.

Philip started off with a little theory explaining that he believed, for academics especially, that so much is focused on what is going on in the head that it becomes divorced from the body. He told us how we often forget that we are in control of our own bodies – if we are too quiet, have a squeaky voice, or talk too fast we can do something about it rather than accept it as the way we are. He gave the example of a toddler standing erect, being very vocal and demanding what they want and compared it to a teenager physicallising the hormonal and emotional turmoil they are experiencing by mumbling and crossing their arms. Doing something like crossing your arms without thinking, according to him, is seen as a very weak and child-like thing to do.

Presenting can be very physical
I’ve been to workshops on presenting before, for example, to large groups and on lecturing with confidence. This session was different in that it felt like a drama lesson and was very much focused on the voice; however, before we begin to speak there are a few extra pointers to think about regarding the mental process:
  • what we communicate (before we use our language) is how we feel – if you’re feeling nervous, tired, hungover etc this will be apparent to your audience
  • you have to be true to our own passion and intellect – the more you care about your subject the more this will come across in your voice
  • the voice won't work well if you don't really want to communicate. If you have to lecture every day and hate it this will become apparent in your voice; it might be time to re-evaluate your job!

Water: crucial for many things, including presenting. Just remember not to clench it.
We looked at some of the problems we face when presenting and Philip came up with some tips, which I’ve bullet-pointed below:
 
Getting the volume right:
  • look at how far your voice needs to reach
  • always talk to the back row
  • it is very important to move as it provides vocal variety - like headphones do
  • a common mistake is to think you  need to fill the whole room  - your voice only needs to reach where the ears are
 
Protecting your voice: (this is quite a common problem, especially in the first term of the academic year)
  • daft as it sounds, don't stick your neck out to reach the audience. This can easily be done when you’re eager to talk so try to keep your head flat on to the audience
  • use your eyes rather than your neck to look
  • if your voice is getting tired, check your head and neck alignment
  • drink lots of tepid water as your vocal folds need moisture
  • when ill (which is quite likely in term 1 - see remark above about the petri dish) speak as little as you can; this can be a good opportunity to introduce some groupwork
  • gargle with warm salt water and avoid dairy products

Going at the right pace: 
  • you speak as fast as you breathe, so breathe slowly
  • wearing heels and sucking in your belly are problematic for breathing
  •  articulating clearly will slow you down

Getting started:
  • Knowing what you're going to say is crucial
  • take in the size of the room
  • start with as low a pitch as possible - try to make it different to the group mumble
  • remember your consonant word endings - keep them strong

If you're nervous:
  • look to see if you are clenching your water bottle or clickers
  • don't put your hands behind back - it might convey authority but it can also lead to a lack of trust as your audience can't see your hands
  • If students aren't listening, try saying  "You're clearly not listening; how can I help you understand this"
I haven't needed to use this last tip yet but I will try it if necessary as it shows you want to help your audience understand the topic. I often find my voice getting tired so have tried to remember to check my neck alignment - I know that as I am of relatively short stature that I have the habit of raising my head rather than my eye gaze. I always, always, always carry water with me when teaching which really helps to not only keep me hydrated but to slow me down if I have been talking a little too quickly. For me the best tips of all are to be mindful and to breathe. They can be difficult to do but impact on everything else. What are your favourite tips? Do use the comments if there are any you would like to add.   

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Using career planning ideas to inform coaching and mentoring


Recently, as a result of a project a group of us are involved with at work we have been thinking about setting up coaching/mentoring / shadowing services for Library staff.  I’d already attended a staff development session at work on using coaching skills to unlock potential which got me quite excited about the idea and, as luck would have it, another session was being run by the same trainer on career planning. So on April 2nd (forgive me for the huge lapse in time in writing this up!) I attended in the hope that it might help provide some ideas of how we can make these services more effective.

The workshop:

It was a small group - just 5 attendees, including myself. This meant that it was quite an intimate atmosphere and we were able to share stories, advice, and discuss the topics in some detail. We started off the day by looking at ‘pinnacles and foothill’ moments of our working past and identifying what was energising and satisfying about the pinnacles and draining and unsatisfying about the foothills. The idea being that if we looked at these events we could pick and choose the scenarios we wanted to avoid or repeat.

The workshop was very closely aligned with the changes both within our organisation and in higher education in general, for example, there was significant discussion about various work processes altering, getting used to working with new departments, and how student fees and expectations might impact on the institution and our role within it. Identifying these changes led us to establish what new skills would be needed and determining how we would be able to ensure we developed these. This is where I could see the coaching fitting in quite nicely as it would specifically target these areas.

As another exercise, we were asked to fill in a ‘career wheel’ to establish how balanced each aspect of our work life was; this was quite similar in some respects to some of the exercises I completed a while ago in What Color is your parachute. My answers, using both approaches, indicated that my ‘perfect' job at the moment would be very similar to what I am doing now - a job with lots of variety and autonomy; one that involves training and helping people,  but in in an environment with prettier surroundings, and the ability to work from home a couple of days a week. 

One of the areas we were asked to consider was whether our personal plans and interests overlapped with these changing needs within the organisation.  I think this is a very important question to consider as it’s healthy not to have too much of a disconnect between the two. While the current economic climate is unlikely to provide a job that ticks every single box, it’s a useful exercise to be able to recognise the perfect role just in case it does turn up one day.
Do the all the aspects of your work life balance out?
The end of the day focused on networking using social media (I ended up doing training sessions on LinkedIn and Twitter after some of the conversations that took place here, which was a handy bit of stealth advocacy for the Library) and branding which I’m not so keen on as a concept, perhaps because I don’t generally trust brands and nor do I want to be a product.

Conclusions:

Ultimately, it was a worthwhile day. It didn’t teach me anything new about myself or my career path, apart from perhaps to emphasise how important some green space and natural light is to me; however, I could see that plenty of the exercises we completed would work in a coaching or mentoring setting. If we do decide to go ahead with it, it could become a great way of helping people work out what’s available to them and how they can get there. As someone who didn’t do a graduate traineeship nor came into contact with people from a range of careers growing up, something like this would have been very useful for me earlier on.

What do you think? Do your values and interests match your job? Would you recognise ‘the perfect job’ if it dropped in your inbox tomorrow? Do you already have it – in which case, how do you know it is? Does it even matter, as long as it pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head? I'd be very interested to read your comments.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

People and plans: the key to successful project management.

I have led and been involved in several projects over the years and despite having no particular skills in this they all, generally, seem to have worked out okay. However, I thought it is high time I do something a little more professional than winging it and so decided to attend a course.

Luckily, my workplace was holding a two day course delivered by Metice Development Solutions. There were ten people in attendance with objectives ranging from gaining more confidence to tips on keeping to time. My objective was to get as many practical tips as possible so I was expecting lots of Gantt charts and other project related paraphernalia that I had heard about but had never got round to using

A project, according to Alan Reynolds our instructor, can be defined as “a series of interrelated activities undertaken to achieve a specific end result within a set time-frame” and usually contains the features listed below:

  • A start and end point
  • A specific projected goal or objective
  • Linked interrelated activities
  • A team  of people
  • Involves change

And the key to a successful project is:

  • A clear plan - to keep everyone on track
  • Context – all project participants should understand how their roles and responsibilities fit in to the bigger picture
  • Contingencies – have these in place for when plans go awry
  • Appropriate reporting – this should be in place to check that everyone is keeping to time with the plan
  • Enough people (and with different skillsets) to do the job to prevent overloading
  • Enough budget
  • Alignment with the organisation’s objectives

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  The main message that came out of this two day session was that this IS the easy part and that project management is not so much about Gantt charts but much more about relationships and the power to influence. So to run a successful project, the manager of it needs to have the following skills:

  • Leadership
  • Organisational
  • Communication
  • Motivational
  • Ability to model best practice
  • Strategic thinking/an overview
  • Delegation - Ability to identify skills & match those with people
  • Perseverance
  • Positive attitude
  • Knowledge of reasons for project
  • Knowledge of key people to contact
  • Promotes strong team building
  • Resilience i.e. can be calm under pressure

For a project to be successful everyone needs to be moving in the same direction.  From FlickrCC.

Preventing milestones from turning into millstones
A point raised during one of the many group activities was about the necessity of milestones and we agreed that they are important as they break down the main task into manageable chunks, provide an opportunity to review progress while also offering a sense of achievement.

To make the milestones work for everybody they should be specific, measurable and with deadlines. They must also be agreed upon by everyone in the project team. Last but not least, they should be the right number, size and frequency for the project – too few and the project may run off course, too many (or too large) and they become unrealistic and turn into millstones.

Situational leadership
Because of this emphasis on leadership skills we spent a significant part of the workshop looking at the Hershey and Blanchard model of situational leadership.  Their theory being that the style of leadership depends on whereabouts in the situation you are, for example, a new group needs information and clear direction whereas an experienced team require trust rather than micromanaging.
According to Hersey and Blanchard, there are four main leadership styles:

  • Telling (S1) – Leaders tell their people what to do and how to do it.
  • Selling (S2) – Leaders provide information and direction, but there's more communication with followers. Leaders "sell" their message to get people on board.
  • Participating (S3) – Leaders focus more on the relationship and less on direction. The leader works with the team, and shares decision-making responsibilities.
  • Delegating (S4) – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. The leaders still monitor progress, but they're less involved in decisions.

We filled in a questionnaire to identify our leadership style in this context and according to the results I tend to use a mixture of S2 and S3 styles. I think this is generally because in the projects I’ve been involved in I haven’t been anyone’s line manager. Neither have I been tasked with getting other people to complete the project as it’s been much more of a team effort.
Day 2 of the workshop was even more focused on practical exercises and we started by identifying the lifespan of a project, namely:

  • Project definition – checking the scope and how it aligns with organisational strategy and departmental goals
  • Analysis and exploration – asking all the big questions such as who’s needed, what needs to be risk assessed etc
  • Planning the project - very similar to analysis and exploration but in much more detail
  • Implementation – putting all the plans into action at the scheduled time
  • Review – producing a clear, transparent report suitable for external and internal parties with outcomes and recommendations for future opportunities

Final conclusions
Halfway through this workshop I had misgivings as we seemed to be primarily focused on people management and leadership. While it is always an interesting topic, I didn’t feel it was what I had signed up for. However, as the workshop progressed and we incorporated the practical elements of planning into the theoretical elements of relationship building it all started to mesh together into a worthwhile exercise.

Ultimately, what I learned is that while it's important to have a plan and it's important to have people and leadership skills, it's absolutely vital that the project manager uses both of these equally and simultaneously to be successful.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Sat by the beach in Brighton: the sun glistens on the calm gentle waves of the sea; families walk past eating their ice creams; a pensioner relays his memories of the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher and her party at the Grand Hotel bombing; and a lone man uses ski poles to navigate his way across the pebble beach.

It was 23rd June and I was in a very warm Brighton to facilitate a workshop [presentation here] at my first ARLG conference and had managed to breathe in a little of the sea air to prepare myself before it started. I was glad I did! The three days I spent there were full of sunshine, cups of tea, way too many Star Trek references (I realise I may be in a minority thinking this), lots of sharing of ideas and great opportunities to meet other academic librarians.
The start of the conference
Jon Purcell, Librarian at Durham University, opened up the conference by asking how many of the audience had had new responsibilities and tasks thrust upon them – almost everyone had, himself included. He examined why libraries have expanded their remit beyond their core activities and came to the conclusion that it is because they can be trusted to get the job done. He emphasised that being relevant and having visual proof of the impact made is essential for survival.

One thing he said which resonated with me was that if you are going to take on new tasks and new responsibilities then in order to fulfill those duties effectively something has to be dropped. Working out what these things are can help clarify priorities as well as maintain stress levels, which can easily rise when trying to do more with the same resources. He had a really good photo, which unfortunately I didn't take a picture of, which showed predicted trends in librarianship with green post-its indicating what needs to be done more of and pink for what needs to be done less.

Another keynote I particularly liked was by Madeleine Lefebvre from Ryerson University in Toronto in which she talked us through the design of the new building. It is going to change significantly and each level is designed around a theme of nature. Many of the members of the audience tweeted that they’d be on the beach floor – I think you’d find me either on the garden or on the forest floor. It would be great to see how it actually works in practice, especially as much of it was open plan and Toronto gets very cold, so I hope she does a follow up talk at some point [hint hint, ARLG!].

Learning from my experience at the LILAC conference, I found writing a list of takeaway points to be quite useful so here are my main ones:
  • Some of the main successes people spoke about came about through collaboration, whether that be on a small scale such as collaboration across a library service e.g. the international project at Bradford or a much larger scale e.g. collaboration between a university, the council and the archives at the Keep
  • Don’t treat information literacy skills as generic; try as much as you can to link them with skills they need in their profession. This worked a treat with Journalism students at Dublin University where the skills needed are almost identical. I’m going to be looking after journalism students soon so want to utilise this quite a bit
  • Drawing road maps of the (assignment/dissertation/study) journey ahead is surprisingly effective. As a person who is quite happy working with bullet-points and lists I found the workshop by Kaye Towlson and Carol Keddie from DeMontfort University certainly took me out of my comfort zone but it gave me a very clear structure and plan to work with – something I will consider in some of the Getting Started sessions I provide 
  • Credo has written an info lit course with materials – including a humorous but quite cringe-inducing video featuring Stu Dent versus big baddie Bias
  • It’s quite possible to (almost, and despite not being very ‘games-minded’) create an information literacy game on the topic of getting started with literature reviews within 45 minutes, featuring counters, teams, competition, and cooperation – I also got chance to relive my love of Play-Doh!
    Plans for the game
While it was a bit of a shock to the system to be in halls (although much nicer than any places I stayed when I was a student – no silver fish or fizzing light bulbs to inch my way around) I got a lot out of my time at ARLG. Like LILAC, it was a great opportunity to meet other subject librarians -  many of whom aren't on Twitter. Additionally, it contained very practical tips related to my everyday job as opposed to the softer skills that have been the focus of other conferences I have previously attended.  While both have their place I do appreciate something I can try out within a short period of time.

Ultimately, it was worthwhile attending and I'd like to thank the ARLG Committee for putting together a very informative and well organised conference.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The marvellous medieval Perfect Information Conference


It was a Tuesday evening in early May and I found myself at Coombe Abbey, as you do, being led down a dark corridor by a silent hooded monk. Candles flickered, casting eerie shadows across the tall imposing doors and thick walls. Sumptuous tapestries and velvet curtains muffled the sound of heels clattering across the stone floors as we were led towards our seats to be entertained and fed. The occasional 'huzzah' rang out as soup, chicken legs and salad were passed down the long wooden communal tables. Mead flowed freely. A couple, rather incongruously, practised their ballroom dancing as the rest of us tried to work out how to eat our medieval banquet minus cutlery.

Coombe Abbey

An interesting venue is just one of the selling points the Perfect Information conference is known for. It also has a reputation for a combination of friendly people and an interesting programme. So, I was thrilled to find out I had won the PI and SLA Europe award to attend and to deliver a workshop about a project I have been involved in at my place of work.

The conference consisted of about 100 people so was much smaller than conferences I had attended in the past. As a result of this it felt much more intimate and I found it easier to talk to and get to know people. To complement this, the conference was very interactive; there were plenty of activities to do, small workshops to attend and online software to ask questions and answer polls with.

While I was the only academic librarian there, I found all of the sessions I attended relevant as they focused on various types of communication skills, continuous improvement, leadership, big data - all very transferable and applicable skills and topics. Each one led to much debate and discussion.

I was informed in one session of how people are moving away from using major search engines like Google to more specific sites such as BBC Good Food and TripAdvisor, leading to a more personalised service and responsive design, and inevitably to services like Everything.Me which promise to deliver information "at the right place and at the right time".

In another, I learned about Neuro-Linguistic Programming and how aligning yourself with (but not mimicking) the person you are with can help create rapport and trust. I also became acquainted in a subsequent lecture with some more Japanese improvement terms (mura and muri)  to add to my collection - I'm a fan of Kaizen -  which relate to processes and how they can continually be enhanced.

This last lecture tied in quite nicely with my workshop, especially the sections on capturing the voice of the customer, continual improvements and communicating value. My workshop, delivered twice, focused on the work that my institution, Brunel University Library, has done so far in trying to achieve the Customer Service Excellence Standard and many of these themes overlapped. I was rather nervous to start off with but both groups really engaged and it led to many interesting conversations both during and after the workshop.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Perfect Information conference: it was a beautiful venue, contained a good mix of informative sessions and I met some lovely people there. I would like to thank those who gave me this opportunity and I would definitely recommend this conference to others.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

#LILAC14 : You don't have to be an old woman to wear purple.

I was surrounded by people in lilac; lilac t-shirts, lilac dresses, lilac shirts. All sporting a lilac-coloured conference bag. Normally, I would think "Wow - that's a lot of people wearing purple!" and it would remind me of the Jenny Joseph poem, but this wasn't a normal occasion;  indeed, I was attending my first LILAC conference and attendees were dressed accordingly!

I had heard from several people I respect that this was the UK conference to attend so I was very much looking forward to it. In addition, it was a chance to catch up with people and put a few more faces to Twitter names. It being in Sheffield also meant I could tie it in with a quick visit to family in nearby Barnsley, which was an added bonus.


My old library in Barnsley. Now closed and waiting to be demolished.
I was expecting the conference to have a very narrow focus, e.g. on the minutiae of information literacy teaching,  the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy and on encouraging students to become critical researchers. While there was plenty of this, many of the presentations, especially the keynotes, had a much wider angle, for example, with SLA President, Kate Arnold,  we heard about the Financial Times report on the future career of the information professional.

The BBC's  Bill Thomas, too, emphasised the need for librarians to understand the systems we use. His reasoning being that we lose our civic freedoms by not engaging with them and can't promote a free, liberal society without being able to challenge how they are being used. These were big topics to digest.

I try to go to as many conferences as time and bursaries will allow and I mainly go along for the following:
  • To learn new things
  • To confirm knowledge that I already have
  • To meet interesting people


I don't generally go for the swag but must admit the LILAC notebooks were lovely.

So, at LILAC I learned:
  • How to create and edit Wikipedia
  • That reflection is a form of coaching for the self
  • That reflection in action (very similar to mindfulness, in my opinion) is considered more effective than reflection on action
  • That librarians and information professionals should have a global plan to use information skills to maintain democracy and push against the influx of information overload
  • That presenters can't get enough of wordles

At LILAC, I confirmed:
  • That trying to attend every single session possible is sometimes counterproductive. I found doing this to be really quite exhausting. I still haven't quite established the balance between fear of missing out and giving my brain space to process
  • That students spend too much time worrying about the style of their referencing rather than the whys and the wherefores - this is definitely something that we could spend more time addressing in my own workplace
  • That students often use the same few sources they have been recommended by their lecturers 
  • That both staff and students struggle with keeping up to date - they can feel overwhelmed by the choices available. We currently provide this information in our workshops and on our website and it's certainly worth reviewing whether this format is still appropriate 
  • That we don't always know what skills people have. This came out in session run by Jess Haigh where she talked about how putting together an online murder mystery in the library was a chance for people to use under-utilised skills. Doing so also helped to bring creativity into the workspace, helped staff enjoy their job again and encouraged students to try resources they hadn't used before. It sounded fun.

One of the best pieces of advice came from Nancy Graham while she sat at the conference's closing panel. She recommended sharing what we had learned via practical tips rather than sending a report round to colleagues. Reports can sometimes be unwieldy and less likely to lead to any changes whereas as tips are straightforward and can be much easier to implement.

So in the spirit of this, in addition to what I mention above, some of the most practical tips I took away were:
  • Keep a diary of teaching reflections - what went well, what didn't etc
  • When teaching referencing, focus much more on the why rather than the how
  • Focus on helping students get started with research (Dr Alison Head's Project Information Literacy identified this as the most difficult part for students)
  • Have an identifiable brand for Library programmes. One example of this was the Steps to Success scheme at Edge Hill,  which I liked the sound of. It encapsulates a variety of subjects, including the Digital Tattoo workshops - a title which I am very tempted to pinch, erm... borrow and give credit for obviously

In conclusion...
I thoroughly enjoyed what was a friendly, informative and motivating couple of days. I've only ever organised half-day conferences and they are exhausting so my sincere thanks to the Information Literacy Group for putting together such a well-organised event and doing a fantastic job. I would definitely recommend the conference to anyone interested in information literacy - there are usually plenty of bursaries advertised in the run up to the conference, especially for less represented sectors such as Further Education and Health so do keep an eye out.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Using coaching skills to help people GROW

To coach somebody is to unlock their potential. This was the inspirational message to come out of the Introduction to Coaching session held at Brunel University on 16th January. I was interested in attending this for several reasons: I had once attended and enjoyed Karen Drury’s session on Life Coaching for LIKE; I thought it might give me some extra tips to use with my students while teaching and answering their enquiries; I’m considering becoming a CILIP mentor; and finally, I had just won a book called An Introduction to Coaching Skills. I like to attend things that hit a lot of objectives and this certainly seemed to fit the bill.

There are lots of coaches out there in the world; sports coaches, life coaches, nutritional coaches, executive coaches, to name a few. You can have a coach for almost anything as long as there is a clear and SMART goal involved. This particular session was focused on organisational coaching. Organisational coaching is slightly different to other types because it must focus on work-place objectives agreed by the coachee and their line manager, but the fundamental skills and principles remain the same.

I’m going to break down the session into what I think were the key elements:

The difference between coaching, mentoring and counselling

Counselling, mentoring and coaching use many of the same skills, for example, listening and asking the right type of questions. The difference between them is actually quite small, yet still significant. A lot of counselling tends to focus on deep rooted past emotional issues which would get in the way of benefits of coaching and mentors often provide advice from their own experience. Coaches do NOT provide advice and they don’t offer solutions. It is the person being coached who comes up with their own solutions.

The key skills of an effective coach

According to the speaker, and my book, a coach should have a ‘toolbox’ of skills and traits. These should include the following:
  • The ability to ask a range of Open, Closed, Probing and Reflective questions and the knowledge of when to use them, as well as knowing when to be silent and when to just listen
  • To be able to actively listen; i.e. to show you are listening through your gestures and to summarise points back to the coachee to check for understanding
  •  The ability to be focused, ethical and honest
  •  The belief that the everyone is capable of achieving more and that this potential can be unlocked through encouragement, raising self-awareness and inspiring ideas

Multiple representations - unfurling of potential, GROW model, and
also very similar to the ones I am  nurturing in the garden mentioned below.
Found on FlickrCC.net

The GROW model

Coaches have to follow a framework when they coach and, while most of the content will come from the coachee, the coach needs to remain aware of the process they are following. There are several models one can add to their skills toolbox; the one the class was introduced to, and which seems to be most common, was the GROW model. The GROW model was created by Sir John Whitmore and the acronym stands for Goal – Reality - Options – Will. 

In the goal stage, the coachee establishes what she wants to achieve – this must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and have a time measure. In the reality stage, the coachee’s goals are checked against the reality of the situation in the present, for example, if I said I wanted to write but had put off doing any writing because of moving house, bringing a garden back to life which hasn’t been touched for several years, and learning to drive, then one might question whether this is a realistic achievement…

In the options stage, the coachee identifies possible routes between how things are at the moment and how he would like them to be. And finally, in the will stage, the person being coached needs to commit and take responsibility for the agreed actions. For example, if I said I wanted to write but hadn’t written a blog post for a while nor had I touched the pile of books I need to review which are on my desk for several weeks, one might question my commitment. I would need to commit to finishing all my half-written blog posts at least…

I guess what I found most interesting is that the coachee does most of the work. I’d always thought that coaches tell you what to do, when to do it and would keep on at you till you had completed whatever it was that you had set out to do. Actually, it turns out, the coach’s role is to test a person’s boundaries and unlock the potential inside, potential that the person may not even know they have. 

I think we often underestimate our abilities and those of the people around us and many of us have something we’ve always wanted to do and haven’t quite got right round to doing it. Coaching can be a good way to get us to set goals, write them down and achieve something we want to. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a personal coach? Just think what could be achieved.

I’d love to know if anyone has had any experiences of being either a coach or being coached. What difference, if any, did it make?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

From the road less travelled to the information super highway...

On 31st January, I made my way to the British Library to attend the free conference, From the road less travelled to the information super highway: information literacy in the 21st Century, organised jointly by the M25  and the CILIP Information Literacy Group. The conference had sold out within two hours so I was feeling lucky to have received a place and was expecting good things. All the topics on the day, as you’d expect, focused on information literacy, and ranged from the broad and theoretical, e.g. Emma Coonan’s and Jane Secker’s impassioned lecture on ANCIL to the very specific and practical, e.g. games in libraries.

The conference opened with a look at the Research Information and Digital Literacies Coalition. I hadn’t heard of this before and it seemed that neither had many people in the room. We found out that it is a HEFCE funded project and is an informal network of librarians, pedagogists, career experts and similar whose aim is to take information literacy out of the higher education library and into the workplace. They do this by investigating the gap between higher education and employment by speaking to careers advisers, unions, organisations etc.

Obama announced October to be
 National Information Literacy Month in 2009.
 Found on FlickrCC.net
Their remit for 2014 is to help staff formulate and develop courses and to discover how information literacy skills can increase students’ employability. Since the rise in tuition fees, I have found students to be increasingly nervous about finding employment after university and becoming much more vocal about the costs of their courses so this seems like a sensible step to take. Part of their plans also involve increasing their international outreach; the US National Forum on Information Literacy was provided as a positive example of a group who have successfully put information literacy on the government agenda leading to President Obama implementing an information literacy month.

A project I found interesting due to the impact it had at University as well as Library level was Project DigitISE: Digital information skills for employability, which was undertaken at University of Westminster. This was a JISC funded exercise which studied the links between student attitudes towards digital literacy and employability. The team distributed surveys, held workshops and focus groups for both students and academic staff, and developed definitions, all of which culminated in a one day student conference entitled Get the Digital Edge. Promoted as a way of improving employability, students were encouraged to choose six topics covering areas such as using social media for job searching, researching companies for job interviews and social media and reputation , to name  a few. As a result of this project, the university is now reviewing its digital literacy strategy and more digital edge days are being planned.

Another session I particularly liked was one on games in information literacy sessions; this was led by Adam Edwards and Vanessa Hill from University of Middlesex. They explained how they had faced the usual problems library staff face in that information literacy wasn’t integrated into modules and that the sessions they held were far too general in their nature. In an effort to resolve this library staff embarked on getting more qualifications, e.g. teaching fellowships, postgraduate certificates in Higher Education etc. They felt this gave them the skills and confidence to feel they were on an equal footing with academic staff and able to implement more innovative teaching methods. While not everyone can do this due to time and money constraints the gaming suggestions felt achievable, easy to implement, and affordable, i.e. no large grants needed.

Sonic and Tails - found on FlickrCC.net
Apart from a brief foray into Sonic the Hedgehog when I was much, much younger, games have never really been my thing (perhaps because my brother always had to be Sonic, which meant I had to be Tails). So even though I have taken part in several workshops on games in information literacy teaching I have yet to try them out. Adam and Vanessa encouraged us to play some of the games they use with students which covered areas like thinking about resources, keywords, searching, and evaluating (these are all free open educational resources and can be found at Jorum. They gave us a couple of rules to think about when including games:

  • Games should be no more than 10 minutes in length
  • Games should meet a specific need
  • They should have a clear objective
  • There shouldn’t be a need for any instruction

While these may seem fairly obvious rules it does help to have these in mind so that games are not just being shoehorned into a workshop. One of my reservations about games was that students might find it patronising, however, more ‘grown-up’ options could be included like marking reference lists out of 10 to get them to think about the types of resources being used and showing students the marking schedule to see how the lesson fits the criteria and provide proof that the skills they are learning will improve their marks.

I generally find conferences quite motivating and this was no exception. It had a well thought out range of sessions and because there weren't any options to choose from I didn't feel like I was missing out! Not only has it helped to maintain enthusiasm in my teaching, it was
a welcome reminder of the useful materials which are already available for library and information professionals to freely use, which when you are short on time or ideas can be a very beneficial resource.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Using yoga and mindfulness to improve student employability.

I like doing yoga. I don't do it nearly enough and when I do practise it I find it calms my mind, stretches out my tight limbs and lowers my stressed shoulders. So I was thrilled to find out I had won tickets to the Om Yoga Show last September.

The conference was a mix of practical sessions, suppliers selling their wares, and lectures. A lecture I found particularly interesting was led by an organisation called Teenyoga which, as its name suggests, was about yoga for teenagers. TeenYoga works with the Institute of Psychological Sciences at Leeds University to develop programmes for schools based on mindfulness and yoga. 

Teenagers, we were told, are increasingly stressed; they worry about money, death of loved ones, and body issues. The UK is no longer bottom of Unicef's list of developed countries for children's well-being but is still only 16th. Obesity levels have has doubled and alcohol levels among teenagers are high. Yoga can appeal as there is an emphasis on safety and it is seen as an easier form of exercise to take part in. Importantly, it isn't competitive. It also contains an element of risk which children need as part of growing up and testing boundaries.

Found on Flickrcc.net
I spent several years in Further Education libraries and even though I am now in Higher Education, students still seem to be dealing with the same issues of stress, anxiety and anger. At a few of the institutions I've worked in the Library has been deemed a 'safe place' for students to go even when they have no work to do, presumably because the Library is staffed, is generally warm, and students are treated fairly as the CILIP Ethics Principles states all users should be.

Librarians spend a lot of time teaching students how to be critical, how to analyse and how to search effectively. I'm not suggesting we all add yoga and mindfulness classes to our skill-sets too but I found it interesting to hear how taking part in them improved students decision-making skills, increased their self-esteem, and developed their emotional resilience. These skills and attributes are necessary in the workplace and employability is currently very high on the agenda in the education sector. If organisations like the Ministry of Defence can see the benefits of it for their staff then perhaps it's not the strangest idea.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Conference Write-up - Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences #HSSOA

Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences was a conference that truly embraced the power of social media. Every presenter had their Twitter handle clearly displayed on slides. Tweets were displayed on the screen next to the speakers. Even Google hangouts played a part as people became involved in multiple strands of conversation.

I attended this event on 24th October 2013 because I currently look after the Social Sciences within my institution and have learned from my experience with them that they tend to like to do things differently. Also, it was a conference mainly attended by academics, as opposed to librarians, and I thought it might be prudent to check that we are correct in our thoughts about what academics issues are.

Found on Flickrr,net
Looking back at my notes from the day, the main issues seemed to be:

Plagiarism
Some audience members were concerned that plagiarism would increase if work was openly available. It was remarked that students do attribute correctly in essays (so library staff are getting something right!) but often mix their own words with academics - students need to write for themselves and in their own voice. Both Brian Hole and Professor Charlotte Waelde on the panel at the time responded that plagiarism depends on the ability to hide so open access will help prevent plagiarism as it is easier to detect. This made sense to me yet it remains a sensitive topic as academics consider their livelihoods to be at stake and wish to ensure rules like those set by the Berne Convention remain in place.

Visibility
There was a lot of emphasis on the publishing of books and chapters as social scientists and humanities scholars still rely on these for much of their research output. The general impression I received was that while open access can increase the visibility of monographs, the logistics for these still need some thought as they can be both costly and awkward to manage. It will be interesting to see if they remain viable in the future.

Visibility for new staff was also raised as a key issue for which open access could be a solution, e.g. easily accessible urls can help with job applications, however, publishing in traditional high profile journals is often what it is expected of academics to build up a reputation.

Cost
There was much heated discussion about the cost of open access; it is not free as some might think but comes with a hefty price tag. Libraries have to pay costs to publishers whenever they choose to publish an open access article and this can sometimes run into thousands. While a few are in receipt of RCUK funding to reduce the burden, my own included, libraries just can't afford to keep doing this, especially as quite often they are paying twice - once for the article to be published and again for the subscription.


While this is only a brief snapshot of the conference (more information can be gleaned from the Storify created by the organisers) I left feeling that no-one really had the answers yet and that there is much more to discuss and discover. There are some innovative projects created by forward-thinking enthusiastic people, for example, new ways of publishing and collaborative projects like the Mark Twain Project Online , but these seem to remain few and far between.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Library Camp UK 2013

On Saturday 30th November 2013, I attended my 4th Library Camp Unconference and 3rd held in Birmingham. Previous write-ups are available - see 20112012, and 2013 in London. For those unfamiliar with the term, an unconference is a place where perceived status is left at the door, delegates pitch for sessions on the day, and the Law of Two Feet apply. It is also free which is a big bonus as I generally have to self-fund my professional development.

This one was held at the new Library of Birmingham; I had been looking forward to seeing the new building and it didn't disappoint. The Library was full of people using it, talking about it and generally wandering around in awe of it. It had a lovely mix of the old and new: from a great glass elevator (sorry, but great, glass lift just doesn't sound right after reading Dahl!) to a wood-panelled Shakespeare archive at the top of the building. Amazing views and beautiful gardens accompanied visitors all the way to the top. There seemed to be a space available for every type of person who wanted to use it.

Library of Birmingham
Glass Elevator
Library gardens

The talks I attended covered a wide variety of topics and I took away hints and tips throughout the day; however, I noticed that some issues kept cropping up throughout many of the sessions so have grouped these together.

Clean up your language:

Using 'clean language' means thinking carefully about how words might be perceived and removing any metaphors or emotional triggers from them. I've come across this concept before in a coaching session I attended a while ago and it is a technique often used in therapy. This popped into my mind in at least two of the sessions I attended.

One such session, and very popular it was too, was one on evidence-based librarianship led by Penny Andrews. During the conversations, the importance of using language carefully was highlighted, especially when referring to research on libraries. Do we mean academic libraries, school libraries, public libraries, corporate etc? We can't assume that what works for one might work for others so it is important to be specific.

For my very first session of the day, I chose to attend a speaking and performance workshop led by Gareth Johnson. In it we spent some time 'colouring' our language by reciting nursery rhymes in overtly dramatical or angry voices. We also focused on the ebb and flow of conversation (is it too fast/too forceful etc) by breaking it down into units and trying to communicate using only these. I found practicing negotiating for a budget using only the word six to be very tricky!


Be a professional:

Librarianship, for many people, is more than just a job. When we sign up to complete the course we sign up to a code of ethics and by ensuring we are always learning and developing our skills we are showing our commitment and dedication to that profession. This was emphasised both in the group session discussing the direction of CILIP, the professional organisation's representative body, and in the evidence-based library session.

Generally, librarians try to improve the work they do by referring to best practice and shared knowledge but it was emphasised that there should be a much more systematic use of all available research in order to ensure that what is being used really works. Doing so will help to prevent the continuation of debunked theories, such as learning styles and left-right brain usage, and help maintain the professional status of librarians.

It's good to share:

I think there is a tendency when under threat to retrench and stop sharing, especially in times of restructures and general economic downturns. However, sharing, for me, was the main theme of the day. It's also been the overriding theme of a few events I've attended recently and library and information professionals are usually very good at it.  If anyone goes to a conference, reads something interesting related to their work, or hears about a great idea then it's the right thing to share this with their team and/or line manager. If this doesn't happen people could keep doing the same old thing not realising that there might be a better way.

In the evidence-based session we heard how librarians working in universities may take it for granted they have access to academic databases and have knowledge of services such as Opendoar, Educause, and the work that the Library and Information Research Group does, while those working in other areas of the sector may have little or no knowledge of these yet really want to access the research. We didn't really come to any solutions with this one apart from to remind ourselves to keep sharing with each other too.

#Libcampuk13 attendees
In conclusion...

Last year, I had decided I wouldn't attend another Library Camp. I had started to feel like they were becoming too much like the conferences they were set up to be different from. However, I was persuaded by a colleague with the offer of a road trip and when a ticket came up at the last minute I took it so, with homemade brownies in tow, we made our way to Birmingham. I didn't regret it at all. I had a lovely day out, met some great people, talked and learned about things I care about and visited an amazing looking library with its eyes firmly on the future.