Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Library Day in the Life: Round 6, Day 3

[The sixth round of Library Day in the Life is running from Monday 24 to Friday 28 January. You can find the other participants, and sign up yourself, on the project wiki, and watch the #libday6 hashtag on Twitter. This is the second time I've taken part. You can find my Round 5 posts tagged with libday5, including my introduction to what I do for a living.]

Today in bulleted lists...

Ego boosts

  • Tomorrow is pay day, so our pay slips came round today and I added this months pay expenses to my spreadsheet of project expenses, and photocopied the slip as evidence for the funding body.
  • While I had the spreadsheet open I also added other recent expenditure, including the cost of having publicity flyers printed and the price of an advertisement in an amateur astronomy magazine. Then I had a look over all the numbers, to work out how extravagant, or otherwise, I can be in preparing for the final events in the project.
Everyday Library Life

  • A lunchtime talk about social networking tools for academic libraries, and further work on a bursary application to attend, and present at, LILAC 2011.

    Library Day in the Life: Round 6, Day 2...

    [The sixth round of Library Day in the Life is running from Monday 24 to Friday 28 January. You can find the other participants, and sign up yourself, on the project wiki, and watch the #libday6 hashtag on Twitter. This is the second time I've taken part. You can find my Round 5 posts tagged with libday5, including my introduction to what I do for a living.]

    No blow-by-blow rundown of the day's activities today (mainly cataloguing). Instead, some very brief thoughts on staffing a reading room.

    ...or, The clueless reader: what should we do?

    I work in a rare books reading room.  Standard reader interaction goes something along the lines of 'Can I see MS K.31, please?' 'Yes, certainly, fill in this form, take a seat, and I'll fetch it for you'.  Or perhaps, 'Can you tell me where Glover's papers are catalogued?' 'Yes, they're available on Janus'.  Every now and again someone comes in and asks broad, open ended questions like 'Can I see what you have about slavery', or 'Can I see some medieval manuscripts', which we, frankly, find difficult to answer.

    The difficulty arises not because the questions aren't 'valid': it's certainly reasonable to want to look for material on slavery in our library because we hold papers connected with the abolitionists Wilberforce and Clarkson, and we have 300+ medieval manuscripts, so that's also something you can easily find here.  The difficult in these reader interactions arises because we're used to our readers having done plenty of research in advance of their visit.  Being a special collections reader is quite a specialised business--in terms of handling material, reading room etiquette and 'resource discovery'--and most of our readers are already fairly well 'trained'.  Indeed, most readers are so 'good' that we, as library staff, are quite out of practice at helping the ones that aren't.

    There's sometimes the feeling that it's 'not our job' to teach new/inexperienced/clueless readers how to read up on the topic first, research their particular interest, and search catalogues and listings for relevant items.  We might feel that this is the job of their supervisor or course tutor, and that our role is just to produce the material once they know more-or-less exactly what it is they want to see.  When readers come to us very early in their research, it's easy to feel like they're looking for us to do their research for them.

    I don't generally find it very easy to turn these interactions round from something slightly antangonistic ('what are they doing here when they don't know what they're doing?') to something positive ('here's an opportunity to show somebody what we do and what we can offer them').  Partly this is because it's hard to tell someone that actually they need to put in more time and effort to what they're doing, and partly it's because this sort of work isn't really accounted for explicitly in procedures and policies.  Although we have information online about the special collections and the reading room, none of it is written from the 'new to special collections?' perspective.  We have no 'script' for how to induct the new reader.

    The obvious answer to all this is that we, as specialist librarians, need to recognise, value and assert our expertise: instead of grudgingly acquiescing to the poorly-thought-out research requests of the new reader, we should step in and educate them.  And to do this well, we'll need to develop planned ways of doing this, rather than relying on adhoc introductions, the quality of which will vary tremendously from day to day.

    Monday, 24 January 2011

    Library Day in the Life: Round 6, Day 1

    [The sixth round of Library Day in the Life is running from Monday 24 to Friday 28 January. You can find the other participants, and sign up yourself, on the project wiki, and watch the #libday6 hashtag on Twitter. This is the second time I've taken part. You can find my Round 5 posts tagged with libday5, including my introduction to what I do for a living.]

    'Exclamation' by Ian Boyd on Flickr
    'Exclamation' by Ian Boyd on Flickr
    Today has been quite exciting - I think the theme might be 'advertising' (Incidentally, there was a lovely exhibition of 19th and 20th advertisements in the University Library recently. Well done the Tower Project people who put it together.)

    The major excitement was the launch of booking for the second Cambridge Librarian Teachment being held on 29 March 2011.This kept me busy throughout the day, doing such things as:
    • Checking the drafts of the event page and blog post, updating all their links, and publishing them.
    • Setting up POP access in Gmail to the camlibtm email address (info at camlibtm dot info if you want to get in touch).
    • Emailing my designated email list to advertise the event and tweeting cheerfully about it.
    • Watching the bookings roll in.  At the time of writing we're pretty much full, but we're working on getting the waiting list working properly, so do sign up to that.
    I've also been working on the advertising for the grand finale of the Hoyle Project, which is happening on Saturday 19 March.
    • Having been issued with the official Science Festival logo for this year I managed to track down the high-res versions of the College's quincentenary logo.
    • With the logos in hand, I spent a very long time trying to incorporate them into the flyer design that I'd already drafted out.
    • Once settled on a design I added a bleed area to the edge of the flyer, resized it down to A5 and printed it to pdf, ready to...
    • an order for professionally printed flyers.
    I've also been writing draft notes on various aspects of the day, mainly advice notes for the volunteers who'll be running the 'Build Your Own Astrolabe' sessions, but for the exhibition and talk.  I'm going to be speaking about Hoyle's life, his collection of papers and artefacts, and my work in cataloguing them.  That's a bit of a tough ask to squeeze into 1 hour, so I've decided to structure it along the lines of 'A History of Fred Hoyle in 10 objects' (inspired by the obvious and also '100 Objects Bradford'.  Trying to choose only 10 objects to use as jumping-off points is really tricky because I need to choose a range that will cover most aspects of Hoyle's life, but I also want them to be visually interesting and not to have been exhibited much or published extensively (and that includes in my online exhibition) previously.

    All sorts of other things happened throughout the day, too:
    • A blown fuse in the Old Library. 
    • A request for a short school visit on Thursday as part of a languages day organised by the people in College who work trying to widen access to the College and to university in general.  (I've written a bit before about access visits.)
    • Lots and lots of email.
    Now I'm heading off, to work on my Ignite talk and to start writing a bursary application to attend the LILAC conferece to talk about TeachMeet.

    Friday, 21 January 2011

    What's your name? Now in pictures


    In a comment to my previous post about non-librarian job titles, Nicola Franklin suggested I put the titles into Wordle to see what sort of cloud it made.  Ever one to please my readers, that's just what I've done.

    You can see in the cloud to the left that, to no-one's surprise, 'information' is by far and away the most common word to occur.  So common, in fact, that few of the other words are legible.  I took information out of the mix in the second cloud to the right, and you can see that 'learning' and 'knowledge' both rate quite highly, as do 'specialist', 'resource' and 'advisor'.  I think it's quite a nice summary of some of the things librarians/info-pros do.

    Wednesday, 19 January 2011

    What's your name?

    As part of preparations for my Ignite talk next month, I wanted to check out some of the diversity of job titles that librarians and information professionals have. (I'm going to point out that 'librarians' are more widespread than you might think based on the number of people who work as 'librarians'.)

    I asked Twitter 'Are you an info pro whose job title doesn't include 'librarian'? Could you tell me what you are known as?', and Twitter responded, by golly! There was a lot of 'information', and good showing from 'knowledge', 'learning' and 'research'.  My personal favourite is 'Transformation Officer' ('I'm a member of the strategic Libraries Management Team and my job is to improve the service. Lots of projects and funding bids.'). Thank you, tweeting info pros!

    If you have or have had a non-librarian job title that you'd like to share, then please leave a comment.

    ETA: I've made a couple of Wordle clouds of the job-titles, too

    Sunday, 16 January 2011

    'We have ignition...'

    ...or, rather, I'll be speaking at Ignite London 4 on Tuesday 8 February, at 93 Feet East, E1 6QL.

    'Ignite the moment' by viamoi on Flickr
    'Ignite the moment' by viamoi on Flickr
    'So what's Ignite?', I hear you say.  I'll let them explain:
    Ignite was started in Seattle in 2006 by Brady Forrest of O’Reilly Radar and Bre Pettis of Make. Since then hundreds of five minute talks have been given across the world. Besides Seattle, there are thriving Ignite communities in Portland, Sydney, NYC and a lot more.The idea is simple: presenters are required to stick to a rigid format of 20 slides, each of which changes automatically after 15 seconds, ensuring that each presentation is exactly 5 minutes long. The format forces presenters to think long and hard about every slide.
    Presentation topics are diverse, and range from technology, travel, personal hobbies and passions and the arts. The only rule is that speakers cannot promote their own business ventures.
    I was inspired to submit a talk proposal after @meimaiggio and Emma (@el399) both suggested on Twitter that it would be a great echo chamber escape if someone were to speak about libraries at the next Ignite London (Ignite events are recorded and webcast so that people who aren't there on the night can see the talks, too). I nearly didn't bother, thinking that somebody else would probably step up and offer something better than I could manage, but after hearing Ned Potter ('get out of the echo chamber') and Celine ('just do it') at the Libraries@Cambridge conference last week I decided that if I thought it should be done I ought to get on and do it myself.

    So I submitted, and had accepted, a talk under the title 'Just a room full of stuff? Why libraries are great' in which I'll try to explain the fundamental power of libraries (the organisation of knowledge/information/stuff), and their great value as places.  I'm not, frankly, sure how I'm going to pack it into 20 slides in 5 minutes, but I'll do my very best!

    Thursday, 6 January 2011

    Together We're Better: Libraries@Cambridge 2011

    Today was the Libraries@Cambridge annual conference (#lac11 and on Twapper Keeper) for University of Cambridge library staff, which this year had a record 240-or-so attendees and a general theme of 'Working Together'. I haven't managed to come up with any coherently unified thoughts about the day yet, but there are a few ideas and suggestions from various sessions that made a particular impact.

    We started off we the keynote paper from Alex Wade, Director for Scholarly Communication in Microsoft's External Research division. Alex had a lot to say about, seemingly, all the new products and services the MS External Research division are developing, and I confess that I didn't keep up with it all. His main point was, however, that there's a lot of data out there; researchers produce not only publications, but datasets, workfolws, source code, lectures, algorithms, 3D models which all need managing, organising and preserving, both for current and future research. He pointed out that the problem for modern libraries is not that there are no opportunities, but there are too many opportunities. It's hard to know how and where to start in the management of all that information.
    'European Starling, flock 1.' by etgeek (Eric) on Flickr
    Flocking to the library

    The highlight of the day was Ned Potter and Laura Woods' (sadly Laura couldn't be there because of ill health) presentation 'Escaping the Echo Chamber: Libraries, marketing and advocacy' (also see Ned's Netvibes page for more echolib information and resources). Ned is a really great speaker - engaging, motivating, persuasive - so even though I'd read various iterations of the presentation before, it was well worth hearing it in person. The one phrase I'm going to bear in mind from it: 'If libraries were invented tomorrow, people would FLOCK to them'.

    In the 'From our sponsors' slot, I was surprised to hear that more than 10% of traffic to Cambridge Journals Online comes from smartphones, and delighted to learn that ProQuest are developing Early European Books, a sister database to the much-loved Early English Books Online.

    In the parallel session 'From the Beagle to the Bulldog: Working together to promote Cambridge's special collection' the reminders of the intricacies of copyright, both to everyday work, and when undertaking major digitisation projects like the forthcoming digitisation of the Churchill Papers, was most welcome.  I was particularly struck though, by Alison Pearn's paper about the Darwin Correspondence Project, and the radical ways in which they've had to change the way they provide interpretation of the letters for their changing audiences.  This was particularly interesting in the case of this project, as the transcription and publication of Darwin's letters started in 1974, and they've had to move from paper publication for the benefit of advanced scholars, to web-based publication for a range of curriculum areas in schools and colleges.

    'Ants on a branch' by tompagenet on Flickr
    Working together

    The afternoon session of the conference was a 'celebration' of working together in Cambridge. In an homage to TeachMeet-style events, each speaker had but 8, or 3 minutes to say a bit about a project or event.

    Libby Tilley talked about her efforts to improve learning within the English Faculty (Library) by applying ideas of 'co-agency'.  She said that we (librarians, fellows, students) are all learners, and we can all be teachers too, and she's trying to integrate herself into Faculty teaching, and Faculty and students into Library training.

    Celine Carty summed up 23 Things Cambridge wonderfully well: 'cam23 put the social into social media' and enjoined us all to 'just do it', whatever we think needs doing.

    I was amazed to learn that the Janus archival catalogue has cost just £18,000 over 10 years of existence.  It's astonishing what you can do with enthusiasm, goodwill and a shoestring.

    The loose-knit team that organised the Libraries@Cambridge presence at this year's Freshers' Fair extolled the benefits of two ways of keeping organising something simple: have just one objective (theirs was 'to be at the fair and to hand stuff out') and stay 'always in beta' (that way it doesn't matter if it's not perfect!).

    What else? Ah yes! I gabbled through a brief intro to Open Libraries in Open Cambridge, and Isla gave a rundown on Cambridge Librarians TeachMeet, and (most excitingly) announced that camlibtm2 will happen on 29 March 2011, at the Schlumberger Research Centre in West Cambridge.  There's also a new website:, and we're @camlibtm on Twitter, and camlibtm2 will be even bigger and better than the first one.

    It was an exhausting day, and this has been an exhausting post.

    ETA: other people have written about the day in rather more interesting and thought-provoking ways.