Monday, 17 December 2012

Special Collections Links, Christmas Edition

The latest special collections links are live.  Quite a few advent calendars and other Christmassy things, as well as some conference announcements, lots of paintings added to Your Paintings, and hand-press printing courses in Oxford.
Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Special Collections Links will be taking a break for the festive season and will return on Monday 7 January.

If you find any good special collections stories you think are worth sharing, you can suggest them to me to, tweet them with the #speccolls tag, or leave me a comment here.  And please do let me know of any blogs or projects that I don't seem to be including.  I don't post everything I see (just the bits that are the most interesting) but I want to make sure I'm casting my net as far as possible.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Special Collections Links, 10 Decmber 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  Lots of work on oral history, two exhibitions of Dickens, some Christmas posts, hedgehogs and the middle of a volvelle this week. And more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

If you find any good special collections stories you think are worth sharing, you can suggest them to me to, tweet them with the #speccolls tag, or leave me a comment here.  And please do let me know of any blogs or projects that I don't seem to be including.  I don't post everything I see (just the bits that are the most interesting) but I want to make sure I'm casting my net as far as possible.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Wigan redux, or how CILIP got my goat this week

I finally got round to opening and reading an issue of CILIP Update this week, and almost immediately had to put to down again because it made me cross.

At the foot of page 12 appears a small two-column news piece on the sale of rare books from Wigan public libraries (as mentioned previously on this blog). Unfortunately, the whole tenor of this short news piece is that selling off rare books is a perfectly sound way to raise money for public libraries.  The headline is 'Rare books raise cash for service', which makes it sound like this is all a jolly good idea, and possibly something other libraries should be thinking of, too.  Well done, those rare books...

The text just repeats the council's line that the books had "no intrinsic connection to Wigan".  Which is likely true, but doesn't represent the whole picture: "intrinsic connection" is not the only way books can be relevant to a place or institution. 

It notes that "at least some of the proceeds [are] set to be ploughed back into the library services": maybe that headline should read "Rare books possibly raise cash for service" then, eh?  And "ploughed back" sounds awfully like it's been copied straight from a council news release.

That's really my whole gripe with this short piece.  I appreciate that it's a news item, not an opinion column, but it very much feels like lazy journalism - repeating a release from a particular source without giving sufficient thought (or research) to what other opinions there might be.  There's no mention of opposition to the sale from the Historic Libraries Forum (who do get a mention in this local paper piece from October), nor any nuance to the writing to suggest that the relevance or value to Wigan of the books as stated is the opinion of the council and not necessarily a fact.

I know that CILIP can't campaign on everything, and I'm not asking them to.  But I don't think it's asking to much to expect a professional body to recognise a professionally controversial event and to report on it carefully, accurately and with a bit of subtlety.  I wonder now how much I can trust the Update news on sectors and issues with which I'm not so familiar.  And I do hope that no heads of service or councillors read this nugget and took away from it the idea that they can sell their old books to make a fast buck, too...

Of course, public libraries are not necessarily the best place for rare books to be, given that there's often little or no resources for cataloguing, preservation and conservation, or access and outreach (Brooke Palmieri comments very interestingly on this point on my first post about Wigan - I recommend a read).  But I really think we as professionals, and our professional body, should be trying to make these resources exist, rather than just to report blandly on collection dispersal.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  Jobs in Reading and Melbourne, digital libraries in Germany and Flanders, and lots of rare books and archival cataloguing, lots of events, and much more all included this week.

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

If you find any good special collections stories you think are worth sharing, you can suggest them to me to, tweet them with the #speccolls tag, or leave me a comment here.  And please do let me know of any blogs or projects that I don't seem to be including.  I don't post everything I see (just the bits that are the most interesting) but I want to make sure I'm casting my net as far as possible.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Special collections news, 26 November 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  This week there is community archives, medieval opinions of weasels, lots of digitisation and digital projects, public domain manuscript images from the British Library (woo hoo!), and much more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

If you find any good special collections stories you think are worth sharing, you can suggest them to me to, tweet them with the #speccolls tag, or leave me a comment here.  And please do let me know of any blogs or projects that I don't seem to be including.  I don't post everything I see (just the bits that are the most interesting) but I want to make sure I'm casting my net as far as possible.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

#cpd23 Thing 23: What next?

Right. My cpd23 six-word story is definitely: "shouldn't have taken me so long".  But, at long last, I'm up to the last thing: looking forward.

Having some sort Professional Development Plan is definitely a good idea.  I've yet to work out how best to manage it for myself.  I don't really like the PPDP format used in Chartership, although that's maybe because the whole Chartership procedure feels artificial to me.  I do know that I'll be needing a plan seeing as I'm starting a new job soon.  But I can't really do much on it until I have my feet under the desk.  I do already know that an improved knowledge of RDA and of the history of medicine are needed.  The former I'm addressing by watching this webinar, the latter by watching #histmed tweets.

I'll set myself a target to have a plan written by the end of January. That will give me a little time to work out what it is I need to know.

#cpd23 Thing 22: Volunteering

Wowee, this is a contentious issue, and not just in UK libraries.  There was a great post the other week about the use of volunteers in archives: I recommend reading it, even if you're not au fait with the workings of the Society of American Archivists.

There's a real and unpleasant tension between the competitiveness of the job market necessitating everyone get experience even before they're employed in a library and the constant pressure to save money (in the short term, if you actually want to maintain a decent service I suspect) by losing staff.  Of course, the latter also contributes to the former.

I've been remarkably lucky in not having had to weigh up my conscience against my need to gain experience.  I did a few weeks voluntary work in my local public library when I was a third-year undergraduate, at the point at which I'd worked out I wanted to go into library work and had read the university careers service advice suggesting I get some experience. Even at that time (c. 2004/5) I felt a bit concerned that I was doing work, as a volunteer, that probably warranted 'proper' staff attention.  I spent quite a while updating a very useful catalogue of the contents of song compilation books in the music library: vitally useful when someone's looking for a copy of a given song and doesn't know, or care, what book(s) it might be in.  I think I did a good enough job of it, but I did feel that there really should have been enough paid staff time for it to be done regularly and not relegated to "when we have someone extra here".

I was considering offering up my services to various libraries if I'd not found a new post after my current contract ended.  The areas in which I thought I could do with more experience (cataloguing in particular) lend themselves to volunteer help, I think, and there's always something to be catalogued somewhere.  Other extra-curricular work, such as sitting on the Cambridge Library Group committee also counts as voluntary work, I suppose.  (And the Group is always looking for new committee members, if anyone local is interested...)  It's certainly a good way to develop new skills, and is a way to broaden your horizons without feeling that you're contributing to putting professional and para-professional out of their jobs.  

#cpd23 Thing 21: Job applications and interviews

Having recently been applying for jobs (once successfully, hurrah!) it would have been well to have tackled this Thing a few months ago.  But no matter: perhaps I can conjure up some useful advice from my recent experience?

Keep a list
Keeping a list, table, spreadsheet, notebook, or other record of everything notable you've done professionally both inside and outside work is absolutely invaluable when trying to write up a new CV or complete and application form.  I keep mine divided up by the type of thing I did - attending a talk, speaking at an event, visiting a library, writing an article, etc. - but you could equally well use another organising principle.  As long as the salient details are recorded (what, where, when) you can pick the things you need for each application.  I also keep all my old applications and CVs, so I can pick (with care!) phrases from them, and so I can use previous lists of "tasks undertaken" in any given job as a basis for the new write-up.

I'm pretty ruthless and try to keep a note of everything I've done, even if it doesn't look particularly relevant to my current or future work.  You never know when it might come in handy, and if I haven't recorded it I tend to forget that it happened at all.  Seeing something on a list (e.g. a presentation about medical databases that I attended) will call to mind some of the things I thought and learnt at the time (e.g. that there's an awful lot of really good metatdata work going on in databases like pubmed), which might just be useful to bear in mind during the application process.

Make it relevant
Compared with, say, applying for a University place (and I went through the Cambridge application process, complete with moderately baffling interview questions such as "how would you explain the differences between the main two political parties to a Martian who'd just arrived on earth?"), applying for jobs always seems to me a bit like sitting an exam for which the answers are given in advance.  I'm not saying it's easy, but most applications (certainly in the library world) come with a list of requirements that the candidate should meet.  I find writing an application that meets each of these one-by-one--neatly supported with evidence from The List--pretty dull, really.  The constant self-aggrandisement grows wearing, and there's no intellectual or creative challenge beyond trying not to start each sentence with "I".  Still, I'm not complaining... I still have flashbacks to how I didn't mention attitudes to taxation in the Martian question (and how I wish I were joking).

Get some advice
As well as having a second pair of eyes look over your application for typos, style and tone, it can be invaluable to speak to colleagues, mentors or connections who know something about the place you're applying to.  Obviously this isn't always possible, as you don't always want to advertise that you're applying for jobs in general, or a particular post in particular. However librarianship, especially in certain sectors, is quite a small world, and it's likely you know someone who knows a bit more about the ethos and aims of the place you're applying than you can glean from their website and the application materials.

Enjoy yourself
This bit is hard, especially when you're applying for jobs because you're on a short-term contract or are currently out of work.  But there's no point working somewhere that you're not happy: you'll only make yourself ill.  So, at interview, make an effort to enjoy yourself and show your personality.  If this doesn't go down well then you probably don't want to be at that place anyway...

To anyone reading this who's currently applying: good luck!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Special Collections News, 19 November 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  Histories of the quill pen and of the Christmas card, library catalogues from medieval Reading and eighteenth-century Leeds, exhibitions and events in Newcastle, Cambridge, Oxford and St Andrews, and much more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

#cpd23 Thing 20: Library Routes

I don't have a lot to write for this Thing.  I wrote about my library roots and route a couple of years ago, and while I've moved on a bit in job terms since then, my history in libraries hasn't!

I don't think my path into special collections work has been particularly unusual.  It's certainly been marked by a fair dose of good luck at various times.  My advice to other people would be to grab chances to gain experience whenever they come along.  You never know when they might come in useful in the future!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

#cpd23 Thing 19: Integrating Twitter into professional life

I use a few different tools and tricks to make Twitter work for me professionally.

The first thing I do is archive everything I tweet using and Evernote.  I think it's useful to have a record of what I've said, just for later personal reference and so I can trace any useful things I might have said or shared and not bookmarked at the time. It used to be very straightforward to link Twitter and (ifttt stands for "if this then that" and is a service that lets you link triggers in one place with actions somewhere else), but sadly Twitter withdrew the ability to join the two directly.  For the time being you can still use RSS feeds to suck Twitter content into ifttt. The RSS feed for any given user looks like this:, where you replace USERNAME with the obvious.  Using this as the trigger it's straightforward to save all tweets to an Evernote note, which records their time and date and the tweet URL.

I also use ifttt to save tweets with certain content as bookmarks in Diigo.  There's an option to do something only with RSS feed items that contain certain text, and I have triggers set up for certain hashtags such as #speccolls, #archives, #manuscripts and #libraryhistory.  Whenever I tweet something with any of those tags the tweet is saved to Diigo with various tags of my choosing. I include the tag "tagme" so that I can find them all on Diigo later and add further specific tags as necessary.  This is, unsurprisingly, the bit I am least good at.  I need to make some time every week to tidy them up a bit.

I find interesting #speccolls content mainly from two Twitter lists I've set up: spec colls people and institutional spec colls.  Every now and again I'll search Twitter users for appropriate new additions to the lists (as well as adding users I stumble across in every day tweeting). I don't follow everyone on these lists, but I keep the lists open in Hootsuite to keep an eye on what's going on, and retweet (with the hashtags mentioned above) what interests me.

Lastly, I use to draw together links connected to special collections. It's set up to catch my tweets with relevant hashtags (as mentioned above), as well as taking posts from a few special collections blogs.  Then I choose the stuff that I want to include, add extra description, select a picture to show and add tags.  I do this once a week at the weekend, and it takes surprisingly little time. It's a really good way to review what's been happening recently and to get a chance to read in more depth the things I might have skimmed over previously.  Hopefully the links are useful for other people, too! I tried using to do something similar, but it's a completely automated process.  I can see how that's useful in some situations, but for me it means I don't come face-to-face with things in the same way, and I didn't find it was picking up all the stuff I wanted it to.  That latter could be fine-tuned with a little effort though, I'm sure.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Special Collections News, 12 November 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  A really super post about special collections in public libraries, lots of book history events, some 5th November posts, jobs at Kings College London, sandwiches, beavers and more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

I don't want to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner but it seems that I better had #pcc

(Edited 14/11/12 to add candidate replies from Farooq Mohammed and Rupert Moss Eccardt, and to add more nuance to the section on links.)

I'm sorry, dear readers, this post is political.  It's not overtly party political (unless you view dislike of the English Democrats as overtly party political) but it does discuss, at length, forthcoming elections set up by the government because they decided to change how things are run.  If that's likely to make you cross, or uppity, or wish you weren't reading this blog then it's probably best to leave now and come back for the next post and we'll say no more about it.

I'm also sorry dearest readers, because I am cross about this. I have been cross about it all week, and the feeling's not lessening, so I'm just going to have to write and hope that it helps.

Next week, on Thursday 15th November, England and Wales (excluding London) are voting to elect people to the brand new post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), one person for each of the 40-odd police forces.  These PCCs will replace the existing Police Authorities (one per force).  Police Authorities are (or were) defined as follows by the Association of Police Authorities:
A police authority is an independent body made up of local people.
Together with the Home Secretary and chief police officers, police authorities are responsible for the management of policing in England and Wales.
Police authorities make sure that you have an efficient and effective local police force.
Police Authorities mostly had 9 councillor members and 8 independent people from local community.

PCCs are described thusly by the Home Office:
The job of the police and crime commissioner will be to ensure the policing needs of their communities are met as effectively as possible, bringing communities closer to the police, building confidence in the system and restoring trust.
They will aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within the force area. They will do this by:
  • holding the chief constable to account for the delivery of the force
  • setting and updating a police and crime plan
  • setting the force budget and precept
  • regularly engaging with the public and communities
  • appointing, and where necessary dismissing, the chief constable
It will not be for the PCC to tell the professionals how to do their job - the legislation continues to protect the operational independence of the police by making it clear that the chief constables retain direction and control of the forces officers and staff. The operations of the police will not be politicised; who is arrested and how investigations work will not become political decisions.
So, in principle it looks bland and similar.  But although the PCC won't legally have power over daily operational policing, they can hire and fire the Chief Constable, write plans and set the budget.  That's quite a lot of power, and whilst committees can be terrible things, too much power in the hands of one person isn't necessarily so great.  I don't argue with the suggestion that there should be someone in charge of keeping the police honest, but I do have a gripe with pretty much every aspect of this PCC business.

I'm going to look at the Principle Of The Thing, how the elections are seemingly being run, and then I'll look at our local candidates.  At the end are links to more information.

The Ranty Bit
I do not think that control of public services should be made political. Whether or not candidates or incumbents have party allegiances, by making this a voting issue, it makes control of the police political. Candidates will, the very nature of the thing, being appealing for votes, and probably therefore by promising to do populist things. I'd rather have the police run according to evidence gained through rigorous academic and practical research, not through unsubstantiated popular "hang 'em, flog 'em" opinions (the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire debate was preceded by vox pops all calling for "MORE BOBBIES ON THE BEAT!!!", which isn't necessary a good way to reduce crime). Policing is complicated. I do not understand how best to do it. I want the mechanisms of government to ensure that qualified, capable people run the police for me. I simply don't know how to choose the best person to do that - and I'm not sure how most other people can, either.

These Wretched Elections
Not only is the principle of PCCs in my opinion seriously flawed, these elections don't seem to be run very well at all.

The candidates have very large areas, compared to council or parliamentary elections, over which to campaign.  They have been given no free mailshot to voters, as happens in parliamentary, mayoral and European elections.  This likely unfairly disadvantages independent candidates, who do not have party finances and volunteers to help get the message out.  Of course, some independent candidates may well have money of their own, or from their businesses: but do we want this role bought by the richest candidate or to have a candidate in the pocket of some company of other? Very many people are reporting that they've heard absolutely nothing from any of their local candidates.  This happens often enough for other elections, it's true, and that's a great shame.  But these elections are, or should be, much less about party policy (the basis for most voters' normal voting choices, I'd guess): how can we choose if we know little about the candidates?

The governmental decision to make a website the primary source of candidate information mirrors other decisions (such as that to make claiming Universal Benefit primarily online) which disenfranchise those (older people, poor people, people with disabilities) who can't, or find it difficult to, access information the internet.  Just the sorts of people who, as we're always saying, rely on the public libraries that are being closed down to get access to the stuff they need to be active members of society.

There have, I understand, been some hustings events in various places.  Reports suggest that these have been poorly attended, but I strongly suspect that that's at least partly because they've been poorly advertised.  If there have been any events in Cambridge then my repeated searches have turned nothing up...

Added to this, the Home Office, via the Electoral Commission (I think), was supposed to be distributing a booklet about the PCC role and the elections in general to every household.  I've yet to hear of anyone who's received one: the only thing that many people know about the elections is that they've received a polling card. Further to that, people who have requested a copy, or other information, over the phone have apparently been getting a very poor service, too.  No booklet means that even if you have internet access, you don't know where to look online to find candidate information.

Either this shambles is the result of deliberately, even maliciously poor deign, or (more likely) very shoddy implementation. We really ought to be able to do better as a country, though. It makes me cross.

Cambridgeshire Candidates
Now, much as I wish I could just be cross about a Rubbish Thing and leave it at that, there is a choice to be made here, because someone's going to get this role and I'd like to do my part in making sure the outcome is the least bad one possible. In Cambridgeshire we have seven candidates. They have spoken in a Radio Cambridgeshire debate, all have websites and other web presences, some have contributed to other PCC information sites, and they've all be asked the following two questions by me. (Questions picked, almost at random, from my personal list of bugbears.)
Question 1: What role do you think the police have in ensuring road safety for all road users, but particularly cyclists, and what would you do as PCC to improve road safety?
Question 2: What is your opinion of the recent government decision to close the national Forensic Science Service. How would you support the creation of rigorous policies and practices for the retention of forensic science archives in the Cambridgeshire force?
And here are my summaries of their positions and (where received) their answers to my questions.  I do advise you to read their statements for yourself.

Ansar Ali, Independent
One-sentence summary: A long-time community advocate who believes he has the existing knowledge of policing to be an effective PCC; wants the police to be more responsive and to communicate better.

Sir Graham Bright, Conservative
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Believes that privatisation of some services and collaboration between forces is a good way to save money and become more efficient; views members of the public using the police as customers who deserve a good service.

1: Road safety is important to all road users and
pedestrians making people aware and education is one of the key ways of
making our roads safer. At the moment road safety is promoted and funded
by the police and local councils. I would like to review what is being
done at the moment and see whether a co-ordinated effort could be more
effective. The problem is you only need one bad driver, cyclist or
irresponsible pedestrian to cause a very serious accident. I would want
to see that road safety was featured in our schools as that gives a firm
foundation. I recently spent some time with a group of volunteers who
operate Speed Watch. I was very impressed by the way in which they had
effectively reduced the number of instances of speeding motorists and I
intend to offer them additional support.

2: Forensic Science is an important part of catching criminals. As you may
already be aware Cambridgeshire is co-operating with Bedfordshire and
Hertfordshire. It is my aim to extend that co-operation to Suffolk,
Norfolk and Essex. With this very large grouping, there is absolutely no
reason why we should not set up several specialist facilities for all
forces to use and, of course, this would include Forensic Science. I
believe this is the right way forward and I will set about immediately to
develop this co-operation because in other areas, such as human resources,
payroll and I.T. support, I believe we could make effective savings that
could go towards more police on the front line.

Paul Bullen, UKIP
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: More police on the beat, wants strong tough laws on people who steal and threaten property, he values are: "straight-dealing, integrity, plain-speaking, honesty, and forthright defence of law-abiding people".

Stephen Goldspink, English Democrats
web (party website)
One-sentence summary: The official party name given is actually "English Democrats - 'More Police Catching Criminals'" so it won't surprise you to know that he's a zero-tolerance on anti-social behaviour and more visible police candidate.

1: The police should be around to enforce the law regarding cycling. We need
more resources on the front line to do this. Please see my leaflet for
pledges around this.

2: The fact that this service has existed for years and years show the decision
was all about cost, not effectiveness. Strange how, in other areas, they
are all for centralisation. I suspect there is no going back, although I
would be in favour of doing so. I think we need to collaborate with other
forces and experts and develop one set of rigorous policies and practices
for national adoption - much more efficient and cost effective; I'd promote
and champion this.

Farooq Mohammed, Independent
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Says he is the only genuinely independent candidate and can bring a fresh new approach; will ensure good police response although this doesn't necessarily mean more police on the streets, which is unaffordable and not the best use of resources.

1: As a father of four I have always cycled with my children and indeed, still do so occasionally with my youngest who is aged 13. I do get frustrated sometimes when motorists cut in sharply and show little or no consideration for those on bicyles. In a city like Cambridge which has one of the largest cycling populations in the country, I can imagine this is even more of an issue at certain times. The police's role as always is to uphold the law, and it may be that encouraging more bike patrols would give greater insight into driving behaviour - I would certainly be in favour of making bike training more accessible to traffic officers so they understand both viewpoints.
Here in Peterborough we are fortunate the Green Wheel and many miles of safe cycling routes but I am sure even more can be done across the county to highlight and improve road safety for all users especially as high fuel prices and greater emphasis on 'green' issues means more people are taking up cycling.

2: The decision to close the NFSS has been made and we have to live with it. As I understand the situation the archive service is still operational and those same rigorous standards independently regulated will apply to the Cambridgeshire force. Any changes would be carefully considered after thorough consultation with experts whose advice would guide local decision making.

Rupert Moss-Eccardt, Liberal Democrats
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Professes to be a life-long public servant, with connections in government that enable him to understand the issues.

1: The police have a responsibility to keep the whole community safe, and that does, of course, include road safety. Fortunately the Cycling Campaign's survery is now 'live' so I would encourage you to have a look at all our answers there.
In summary, though, I would make it easier for people to report poor driving, work with the Community Safety Partnerships and the County Council to improve the streetscape and have targeted campaigns to deal with all road traffic offences.

2: The FSS closure was, quite simply, a mistake. There is no longer an independent, reliable source for forensic services. The recent failures at LGC show how dangerous this is.
I am grateful you have raised the issue of forensic material retention. It is of course important but I hadn't realised that the force may not be doing it properly. Can you let me know what you know of this or point me in the right direction, please? Interestingly, the project I'm working on at the moment has a significant forensic element.

[I've contacted Mr Moss-Eccardt to explain that I don't know of any specific problems and to clarify that I'm just interested in how, given the times of change in Force governance and forensic services poor practice caused by insufficient resources and care can be avoided.]

Ed Murphy, Labour
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Government cuts are ruining the police and forcing privatisation; he will stand against all privatisation.

1: The police have a lead role in ensuring road safety for all road users, but particularly cyclists. I would also look at more grant aid and commissioning work from local voluntary, community and mutual organisation to improve road safety. This can be everything from helping cyclists learn about safety to redesigning streets And signage. Obviously we also need to work with relevant local authorities and agencies. I am a bit biased towards cyclists and have always put the pedestrians and cyclists needs above those of the motorist when it comes to resource allocation. Just addressing the imbalance of past policy makers there. There are very different cultures in place in different parts of Cambridgeshire - In the north of the county I am presently involved implementing campaigns and thankfully some local action plans to stop pavement parking and remove vehicles parked on cycleways. Speeding is also a key issues and the fact is that recent reductions in funding for speed reduction will mean more injuries and deaths. In particular I support 20mph and Home Zones in appropriate areas to improve road safety.

2:  I question whether the decision to close is the national Forensic Science
Service is the right one as we need to ensure we have the tools to do the
job of policing and making successful and correct prosecutions.

Where to find out more 
I'm bunging links up on Diigo - you can refine the choices with the tags on the right. In particular, here are links relating to Cambridgshire, including other people's blog posts and articles from the local media. Do be aware: I'm not selecting for quality, so evaluate everything for yourself.  Lots of different organisations are writing about this, and I haven't investigated who they all are.

Postscript: Spoiling Your Ballot
If you are in a constituency where the candidates look uniformly bland, then spoiling your ballot does seem a half-sensible thing to do.  Spoilt ballots have no legal standing, I don't think - even if there are more spoilt ballots than votes for any other candidate it doesn't affect the result - but they are counted up, and it at least feels like you're doing *something* about the situation.  But here in Cambridgeshire we have an English Democrat candidate standing, and I can't very well note vote for someone, anyone, else in case my not voting lets the English Democrat in.  (Although at least our English Democrate candidate isn't suggesting, as does Robin Tilbrook in Essex that "If elected every police station in Essex will proudly fly the Cross of St George and will promote Essex’s celebrations of St George’s Day").

I don't know for whom I'll vote - should I go with what candidates say in their statements, or how they engage people on Twitter, or whether they've replied to my email, or how well they write? I just don't know.

#cpd23 Thing 18: Jing / screen capture / podcasts

After a long absence, I'm back on the cpd23 bandwagon, rushing to complete in time for the 30th November certificate deadline.  I've done some of this Thing before: I made a screencast about using the GIMP image-editing programme last year.

I've taken a particularly special collections angle on the Thing this time round, and considered the value of audio and video for promoting understanding of rare books, manuscripts and other interesting holdings.  This is something that, for example, the Bodleian Library does with its exhibitions, making curator videos about star exhibits and themes.

I've also recently rediscovered Gresham College, which gives public lectures on a wide range of themes.  They do a really good job of having streaming and downloadable video and audio, and transcriptions, accessible on their website.  See, for example, Dr Peter Ross' lecture 'The Historical Collections of the Guildhall Library'.

Inspired by these, I've put together a short video about medieval manuscript calendars.  I'm not a specialist medievalist, so if you find any errors please do let me know!  I've made it available in lots of different formats, listed below.  Please let me know if any don't work properly.

You can view the whole manuscript I use as an example--St Gallen MS Cod. Sang. 402--via the e-codices Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland.

And I've collected together other examples of manuscript calendar pages over here on Pinterest.

Download mp4 video here

Watch YouTube video:

Download mp3 audio here

Listen to mp3 audio:

Transcription (download pdf here):

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

All change!

Big news here at Girl in the Moon towers: I've managed to land myself a new job.  From the start of December I'll be the Rare Books and Special Collections Librarian at the Royal College of Physicians in London.

The Royal College of Physicians by pixelhut, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  pixelhut 
Some readers may know that my contract in Cambridge is soon to expire, so this couldn't have come at a better moment for me.  And, in addition to that, the RCP has a really interesting collection of early printed books, and the job description includes lots of things that I enjoy: cataloguing, exhibitions, public engagement.

But there's no doubt that it's going to be a Big Change.  I've been a student at, or an employee in, the University of Cambridge (or one of its connected institutions) for ten years now.  It's definitely the right time to break free and experience work somewhere else, but by this point I'm pretty well enmeshed in the daily, termly and annual rhythms of this place.  Not to mention that I've had the same email address, and a very generous mailbox limit, for all of those ten years: switching that is going to be a real wrench.

I'll not be moving away from Cambridge, not in the short-term at least.  The joy of not having to move house is counterbalanced by the added excitement of acclimatising to the commute.  I've been hugely lucky so far in life - the longest I've ever had to travel to work is a 25 minute bike ride.  So I'm not complaining now, just facing up to the fact that the alarm's going to be going off a lot earlier than it used to!

It's going to be a very interesting time, professionally.  It's just the motivation I need to get on and sort my chartership, and there'll be lots to learn about local systems, cataloguing practices and collections.  And about the history of medicine.  London librarian types: expect to see me at more evening events (LIKE - I have my eyes on you in particular).  Cambridge librarian types: expect to see me, blearily, in the vicinity of the station.  Other librarian types: watch this space for (hopefully) news of how I get on.

If anyone has any hints or tips for 1) commuting, 2) learning about the history of medicine and 3) places near Regent's Park/Portland Place to eat, drink and shop, I'd be happy to hear them!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Special Collections Links, 5 November 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  More letters in the Guardian about Ruskin College Oxford, after Superstorm Sandy lots of resources concerning disaster recovery, lectures from Gresham College, digitising palm-leaf manuscripts and more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Come on everybody, do the #chapowrimo

November is the month of getting things written.  It's National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo), Academic Writing Month (acwrimo), National Blog Writing Month (nablowrimo) and probably plenty more besides.

Now, thanks to the genius of Helen Murphy and others -- see their Twitter discussions here -- it's also Chartership Portfolio Writing Month, or chapowrimo for short.  (I keep reading it as 'chapeau wrimo', which would presumably be a month of writing about hats.  Maybe next year...)

The idea with some of these wrimos is to set yourself ludicrous goals and see if you can meet them. The nanowrimo, despite the 'nano' in its name, encourages you to write 50,00 words in thirty days.  That's 1,666 words each and every day.  The academic writing month suggests that you "set yourself some crazy goals. Try and come up with some outcomes that would really push you beyond anything you ever thought possible."  Blogging month is a bit more modest - the idea is to post every day.

Chapowrimo is, fortunately, a little less pressured.  The idea is to set yourself a goal or target and to stick to it for the month.  Lots of people are going to a 'certain number of minutes' work every day' goal, rather than a 'certain amount of work produced by the end' goal.  (Here are posts by Emma Davidson and Niamh Tumelty.)

I much prefer this sort of goal.  Firstly, it means you're setting yourself up for less failure: it doesn't matter so much what you achieve, so long as you're trying to get some work done.  Secondly, my personal barrier to getting on with my Chartership portfolio is inertia: I haven't done any work for a while, so it's really hard to get started again, and the amount of work to be recouped seems huge.  So I'm saying that I'll do 30 minutes every day and see where that gets me.

I'm being strict about it - setting aside proper time when I'm not distracted by other stuff, and using a timer to give the 30 minutes a defined start and end.  This is a pretty powerful psychological trick: knowing you're only obliged to do a short amount of work means you pick a small, discrete and therefore un-intimidating task.  Because it's a nice, approachable task I get caught up in doing it, and actually start enjoying myself.  Then, at the end of the half hour, I actually want to spend a bit longer on it.  When that happens I'm resetting the timer for another 15 or 30 minutes, so that I don't wind up just wasting time and faffing about.

So that's chapeauchapowrimo: we'll see whether I've achieved anything concrete by the end...

Monday, 29 October 2012

Special Collections news, 29 October 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  An archivist writes on Ruskin College Oxford, paintings coming two BBC radio programmes worth catching online, lots of marginalia, crowdsourcing, spies, owls and more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Special Collections News, 22 October 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  Yet more on Ruskin College Oxford, paintings coming home to the Folger Shakespeare Library, a lecture of libraries in the ancient world, a new campaign for voluntary sector archives, a couple of jobs and more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Special Collections News, 15 October 2012

The latest special collections links are ready.  Vietnamese wood blocks, more on Ruskin College Oxford, medieval grotesques, augmented reality, lots of lectures and more.

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Special Collections Links 8 October 2012

Hot off the press: bad news in Wigan and Oxford, events in London and Oxford and Cambridge, hideous medieval grotesques, and much more.

Special Collections Librarianship on

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Yet another sale of historic books (Wigan edition)

An article from the local press has drawn attention to the sale of five early printed books belonging to Wigan Public Libraries. According the article these include incunabula and other rare books, including the eight-leaf Conradus' Brevis annotatio in errores scribentium S. Augustinum fuisse eremitam ([Rome: Johannes Schoemberger, not before 15 Nov. 1483]), which sold for £5,000 and was the known copy in the British Isles (I don't who has bought it, so it may yet still be available here, but then, it may not be).*

The saddest thing about this story is the quotation from Pete Gascoigne, executive director of culture on Wigan council, which demonstrates a disappointing (but sadly not necessarily unexpected in a council official) lack of understanding of the issues at hand.  I'm cross enough about it that I'm going to look at a couple of his points in detail.

Gascoigne states:
[A] decision was taken to sell some antiquarian books that are have received little or no public interest since they were acquired and are not intrinsically linked to the borough’s heritage, in that, they contain no information relating to Wigan or its people.

This sale will mean Wigan and Leigh retain a relevant modern library service for the people of this borough - not one where books sit on shelves gathering dust because they are of no relevance or interest to the majority of its people.
It's very narrow-minded to believe that a collection of books is "not intrinsically linked to the borough's heritage" simply because their content is not related to the area.  The ISTC records 82 incunables (pre-1501 printed books) in Wigan public libraries, and the ESTC a further 83 early printed books from the UK (or other English-speaking countries) or in English.  This isn't a bad haul, especially of incunables: one wonders what the story is behind their arrival in the Wigan public library service.  There's quite likely a story behind their ending up with this library, and that story might well demonstrate that they are, in fact, "intrinsically linked".  What if, for example, an important local businessman collected them and donated them to the town? That would surely demonstrate a link.

I say "what if" as it's not straightforward to find out much about these books.  A quick look at the library catalogue doesn't reveal any records for early printed books, the ESTC records don't include any provenance information, and I haven't tracked down a printed catalogue either. One fears that there's no good record of what's held at all. 

This lack of documentation might just explain why the books are (or were) "have received little or no public interest since they were acquired".  It doesn't take a genius to realise that if no-one knows that something is in a library, no-one will access it.  The onus is on the library service to promote its collections.  Yes, records on ESTC may attract the attention of a few serious scholars, but that's only one rather small segment of a much larger potential audience, and even they might not make the effort if you've no information at all on your library webpages.

Promoting collections take time, expertise, an understanding of what you've got.  But it's enormously worthwhile in the long-run, and provides benefit to institutions and communities far beyond the special collections corner of the library. 

Other public libraries (Manchester springs to mind) are doing great things in using their special collections in exciting ways as part of " a relevant modern library service". Yes, Manchester library is bigger and more obviously historic than Wigan. Dustiness and neglect isn't the natural state of old books: the responsibility to sweep away the dust lies with councils and library managements.

*It's worth nothing that £5,000 is quite a lot of money for a 16-page book, but it's not necessarily all that much money for a 500+-year-old book, and it's only a drop in the ocean of money required to implement self-service machines in one or more libraries.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Special Collections Links 1 October 2012

This week's links from the world of special collections have been corralled together for your perusal over on the Special Collections Librarianship page.  Highlights include some good news about the Women's Library, a pretty picture or two, some new exhibitions and a new reading room in Scotland.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Book history heaven in Antwerp: the Plantin-Moretus Museum

Earlier this month, in a whistle stop visit to the wonderful Belgian city of Antwerp, I spent a very happy couple of hours in the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

The museum is located in the former premises of the Plantin-Moretus family printing and publishing firm, which started when Christpher Plantin came to Antwerp in the 1550s and stayed in business until the 1860s.  In 1876 the premises, library, archives, furnishings, typographical material, printed stock and artworks were sold to the the city and country to be preserved as a museum. Today the former printing house, family residence,company and family archives are recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they open year-round (excluding Mondays) as a well-appointed and presented museum. 

The premises, known as the Golden Compasses, comprise several town houses acquired by the family over the centuries, surrounding a beautiful courtyard garden and opening off a lovely little square, Vrijdagmarkt (we sadly didn't get a chance to try any of the cafes or bars dotted around its edges). The various rooms display books and papers from the libraries and archives, including a splendid collection of incunables as well as the expected collection of publications (over 90% complete) printed by the Officina Plantiniana.  Furnishings include sumptuous seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish Mechelen gilded leather wall 'paper', something I'd never seen before.  The printing house shop still retains shelves of books behind a grill, weights for checking the coinage proffered by customers, and a copy of the Librorum prohibitorum index--the list of books prohibited in the Spanish Netherlands--is displayed on the wall by the entrance.  The correctors' room displays proof copies of works in a dazzling selection of languages, marked up by early-modern correctors.

The printing room contains five working seventeenth- and eighteenth-century hand presses, and the two oldest surviving presses in the world, which date from around 1600.  Along one wall are a number of type cases, holding type both familiar (roman and blackletter type for printing in Latin or German) and unfamiliar (Hebrew type and type for printing music were both displayed).  Next door is the type store: tonnes of letters stored in shelves from floor to ceiling. 

Upstairs a library or three, displays of cartographic and music printing, the type foundry and much more.  Two hours wasn't nearly long enough, and I'm planning a repeat bibliographic pilgrimage before too long at all.  If you are even vaguely interested in the history of printing and ever find yourself in Antwerp, do go there!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Special Collections Links Return!

You may remember that earlier this year I started compiling lists of interesting recent posts, events, news, and so on relating to special collections.  You may also remember that this initiative petered out rather quickly.  I found compiling the lists by hand rather fiddly, and when I started keeping a keen eye out for links I found that there were more than I could reasonably manage.

Since then I've been looking out for other ways to 'curate' (forgive me, archivists and museums folk for abusing this word) useful special collections information that flits across the web every week.  At present I'm trying out two digital curation tools, to see if either work well for this job.

The tools I'm testing are and, and I'm going to try and keep them updated every week. allows you more control over what's displayed: so the content is more hand-picked, but takes longer to maintain. generates its content automatically from the sources you tell it mine, so it takes less work to maintain but is less bespoke. just gives you a big stream of items, but divides them up neatly into daily or weekly issues - I think I prefer the latter arrangement. Any how, I'll see how both work and which I prefer over a few weeks.

In the mean time, you can see my Special Collections Librarianship topic, and my Special Collections paper for yourself.  Both have options to subscribe, and I'll be notifying about major updates (as I say, hopefully weekly) here as well.  I'd be really interested to know if they're at all useful, and which has better content, interface or anything else.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Useful links from #rbscg12

Further to my reflections on the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group annual conference, 'Speaking Truth to Power', here are some of the useful webpages, projects and articles that were mentioned during the conference.

Collections currently or recently under threat

Collaborative digitisation projects

Other projects and libraries

New use(s) of library space


Blog post

Tools and resources

  • COPAC collections management tool: "Libraries are continually faced with difficult decisions about what materials to keep, what to remove and what to conserve. At the moment, identifying whether items are rare, or indeed unique, within the UK is a time-consuming and expensive manual process. Our goal is to look at how Copac can make a real difference for collections managers. By making Copac data work harder and building the prototype on top of its extensive database, the collections management tool can provide valuable information from the catalogues of the UK’s major research libraries alongside rare collections held in museums, scholarly societies and university special collections." 
  • Information about the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF)

 Organisations, recognition and funding bodies


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Speaking truth to power: Rare Books Group annual conference 2012 (#RBSCG12)

The annual Rare Books and Special Collections Group conference took place on 12-14 September at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.  This was the first year I was able to attend the conference, and I have to thank the CILIP East of England branch for financial support via their small grants fund.  I also must thank the RBSCG committee for organising a superb conference, the speakers for being so interesting, the other attendees for being friendly, and the staff at LMH for excellent hospitality.

The title of the conference was ‘Speaking Truth to Power: Making Special Collections Work in Times of Recession’, so fundraising, advocacy and outreach were major topics of conversation.  I’ve written up a narrative account of the conference for the East of England branch newsletter, Sunrise, which should be available later in the Autumn. What follows here are my thoughts arranged under what I felt were the main themes to emerge from the conference.  I’ve compiled a separate list of useful webpages, projects, reports and articles.

It’s fair to point out that I’ve always traditionally been sceptical about what university development offices do: I’ve had my fair share of half-hearted begging letters from my old college, and feel pretty cynical about their attempts to wring money from me (they know I’m a librarian, so I really don’t know why they try...). Remarkable to relate, this conference really changed the way I feel how we can engage with fundraising, and so my reflections seemed to have turned out more like a manifesto.

Show Don’t Tell

Our collections are our best and most powerful advocates, not only for themselves and for the library, but for the whole institution. The collections are most effective when people see and touch them up close and personal.  The ‘thingyness’ of our things matters; a digital reproduction is nice, but it just isn’t the same as the real thing, and allowing people not only to see, but to touch, gives them a big thrill and makes them feel important and valued.  Christopher Parking described that the physicality of objects is an important part of contemporary museum education practice, where the focus is on  handling collections, kinasthetic learning, and enquiry-based learning. School groups no longer just follow clipboard trails around objects safely kept behind glass.

We should be getting the important people inside and outside our institutions into our libraries to see just what it is that makes us special.  It’s no use just writing an email or a report describing what we hold: people have to come and see it to really understand.  Obviously it’s not always feasible to let everyone handle our objects, but don’t discount the impact it can make when it is possible to allow that.

Know Your Collections

We, as librarians, are fundamental in making our collections work, as we’re the people who know most about them.  We should be prepared to market ourselves as the people who can interpret the collections. There's something in most special collections that will appeal to everyone and anyone, so librarians are vital because we know what that item will be. This can make a big difference when, for example, the development office are bringing round potential donors.  We’re also important because we’re the people who know best just what a difference extra funding could make.

Our knowledge as librarians is what can make a big difference to academics, too.  They need access to our holdings to support their teaching, and they need access to our knowledge to help further and inform their research. Central to getting our collections used in research is getting them all catalogued, not only locally but as part of national and international indexes, and making the catalogue data available in useful ways.

It’s no longer acceptable for institutions to have basements of unknown collections, often the legacy of indiscriminate and undocumented collecting in the past.  So we need to take the initiative in working out what we have.  This is something that Manchester Public Library have been doing during the current refurbishment: they’ve been assessing what was, and what should be, stored in their closed stacks, and working out how that can be used in the future.

Know Your Institution

It’s not always easy to do, but you need to work out who has the power in your institution, and be prepared for the fact that once you’ve identified who that is, they’ll probably keep changing.  Alison Cullingford noted that people can have positive power (they can make things happen) and negative power (they can stop things happening).

Mark Nicholls gave a very clear account of the ways in which we can gain power for ourselves and influence those others who hold the positive and negative power.  He notes that "The worst mistake of a college (or any) politician is to be absent": we should do what we can to get on as many committees as possible and to cultivate allies on the others.  It’s important, he noted, to realise that those in charge can and will make decisions quickly when the time is right.  We have to be good at working out what ideas are right for the moment.  This gets easier as time goes on: one successful project, and attendant praise for the institution, will prime the organisation (and its nay-sayers) for further success.

Neil MacInnes and Judy Faraday both described the ways in which they were using special collections to further the aims and agendas of their institutions.  Manchester Public Libraries special collections are being used to engage communities that the local authority holds as priorities, including black and ethnic minority communities, place-based communities, and young people.  The materials held by the John Lewis archives and the community archives centred around the locations of John Lewis stores helps to support the partnership’s business cycle.  It does this both by providing materials for business use, including publicity and design, but also by creating community support and interest.  I suppose that you could call this latter effect ‘soft advertising’ - in any case, it’s part of the partnership’s commitment to corporate responsibility.  It’s important to be explicit about how your activities are supporting the mission and goals of your organisation.  Don’t just do it, but make sure everyone knows you’re doing it.

Know Your Audience(s)

We have lots of different audiences for our collections, activities and fundraising efforts.  Our traditional audience, academic readers, are still very important. Anne Welsh commented that their voices can be important in times of uncertainty, and that their support for services and collections can be vital.

There’s a general support for libraries and special collections amongst the general public.  Although there’s often a rather clichéd and unfair impression that we’re just old and dusty, this support is still something we can and should work with.  Richard Ovenden mentioned the one-day display of a copy of Magna Carta at the Bodleian: lots people will queue up to see something if you advertise it well, and this will generate positive publicity for your institution.

When considering external funders, Mark Nicholls advises that we can improve our image easily for example by producing a professional and attractive annual report.  Oliver Urquhart Ivine described British Library work creating partnerships such as that with the Qatar Foundation.  They took time and effort to research potential donors in depth, and to plan how they will approach and encourage potential donors.  This advice chimed with Mark Nicholls caution that we have to anticipate potential objections to our plans and be prepared to knock them away one by one.

When planning fundraising efforts, Sean Rainey commented that it’s important to realise that there’s a difference between funding priorities and fundraising priorities. We have to recognise what things donors will and won’t be prepared to donate towards.  We won’t have much success campaigning for retrospective conversion, small facilities improvements, and supplies and equipment purchases, so we need to look critically and objectively at our plans and decide what we can realistically achieve via which means.

Don't Be Complacent

In straightened times it’s important to keep ourselves front and centre in the minds of the people who make the decisions.  This might seem mercenary and drastic, but it can make all the difference.  There are plenty of collections and collecting areas that are sadly under risk.  As well as recent high-profile threatened libraries, Richard Ovenden and Alison Cullingford both identified twentieth-century collections that haven’t traditionally been regarded as ‘special collections’ as areas that may not be receiving the attention they need now to be preserved for the future.

Fundraising, I think, isn’t something that comes naturally or easily to librarians.  We like to think that the importance of our collections is not merely monetary, and that their cultural and intellectual value will ensure they receive adequate support without our having to bring out a begging bowl.  But that, sadly, isn’t the case.  We need to make the case for our collections, and to use the existing mechanisms for fundraising (development offices, funding bodies, donors, and so on) to attract support.  Sean Rainey ended his paper by enjoining us not to let fundraising slip down the to-do list, and I’ll echo what he said: start working on it now.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Law Society response to an email about the #Mendham collection

My last post reported on the forced dispersal of the most valuable books and manuscripts from the Mendham collection held by the University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral on behalf of the Law Society.  Last Wednesday this I emailed the Law Society. My message had too main points:
  • to express my dismay about the break-up of the collection 
  • and to comment that this seemed particularly egregious if--as has been stated--there was an agreement at the time of the donation of the collection to the society that it would be held intact.
On Friday I received a response from a member of the Society's library staff.  The gist of the message is that:
  • The society is grateful to the University and Cathedral for looking after the collection
  • The society recognises that the collection is valuable to 'religious historians'
  • The society exists to serve solicitors in England and Wales and a collection of 'historic religious documents' doesn't help with this purpose
  • The decision to sell wasn't taken lightly and
  • The society has made it cleat that they would be happy to sell the collection to the University and Cathedral.
I didn't write to the society expecting them suddenly, through the power of my words, to change their decision, but simply to register my opinion. So this response--which seems both to misunderstand the contents of the collection ('historic religious documents'?) and their scholarly value (the collection is of interest in fields beyond just religious history)--isn't a shock, or a great disappointment, but it is rather sad.

ETA (24/7/2012): In case you haven't already seen it, there's a petition against the dispersal of the collection (further information about the petition).

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Yet another historic collection faces dispersal

Just a very quick note to draw attention to this press release from the University of Kent at Canterbury. The university writes:
The Mendham Collection, which is owned by the Law Society of England and Wales, contains about 5,000 invaluable items including medieval manuscripts, rare books and unique copies of some of the earliest books to have ever been printed. It has been held under the custodianship of the University and Cathedral for nearly thirty years.
Despite an agreement that Cathedral and the University will retain the custodianship of the Collection until the 31 December 2013, the Law Society has given notice of its instruction to Sotheby's to remove the most valuable items on 18 July 2012 as part of a fundraising drive.
ETA (20/7/2012): The University of Kent have set up a petition to protest against the Law Society's actions.  Further information here, and petition here.

ETA (24/7/2012): I've summarised the reply I received from the Law Society to my email about the Mendham collection.

There was 'an understanding' at the time of the donation that the collection would not be broken up.  Dr Alixe Bovey, Director of the University's Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies tweeted throughout the day as the collection was boxed up for transportation to Sotheby's:

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Business of Social Media: #likeideas 2012

I was chuffed to bits to receive one of the Sue Hill Recruitment bursaries to attend Like Ideas 2012--the summer conference of LIKE, the London Information & Knowledge Exchange--last Friday, 29 June.
Exploring an idea by JJay, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  JJay 

I've been aware of LIKE for a while, but this was the first event I'd been to.  I can report that it was good as the reputation suggested: friendly, well-organised, with a varied mix of speakers and attendees and good refreshments.  The theme of the conference, 'The Business of Social Media', looked at some aspects of using social media inside and outside organisations, both at a personal and institutional level.  Many of the speakers came from corporate library, law library and knowledge management backgrounds, very different to my own library background in HE and special collections.  This different perspective really helped me to think about the bigger picture of social media, as well as some of the specifics.

Using social media for external engagement
Bertie Bosrédon was a very engaging speaker, and his case study of using social media to promote the charity Breast Cancer Care (pdf link) helped me to think about a number issues to do with how you can embed and support social media promotion throughout an organisation.
  • The formalisation of social media use by the charity began with a staff survey, to see was already using which tool (personally or professionally) and to recruit people with experience, or wanting to gain experience, to be 'social media champions'.  This applied across all departments, not only in the digital department of the organisation, which presumably helps social media not be ghettoised as 'something IT do'.
  • A weekly email is sent out to the 'social media champions' highlighting what's going on in the charity, recent successes, and current campaigns.  This reinforces the value of what they're doing, and provides material for them to discuss online, without being too prescriptive about what everyone should say.
  • They keep a record of both basic statistics--such as followers, retweets, comments, 'likes' on Facebookc--for quantitative analysis, but also record and share anecdotes and success stories to use as 'elevator pitches' and to show the practical and personal value of social media use.
My 'lightbulb moment' during this session was (the very obvious) point that the whole point of using social media for organisational promotion and marketing is to share stuff: so as much as having policies about how to use social media, we need to have policies about how we're going to keep producing high quality stuff (images, videos, etc.) that people will want to share.

Using social media to support research
Noeleen Schenk's talk (pdf) left me with more questions than answers, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the things I've been pondering since are:
  •  To what extent can we usefully generalise about 'research', especially if we're considering research work done by information professionals for their users and academic research?  In particular, can we generalise that all research has at least some social aspects that map onto the characteristics of social media?
  • How, if we feel that social media have benefits for researchers (e.g. widening and extending scholarly networks), can we better help them to embed these tools into their working lives?
  • Is the perception that engagement with social media isn't valued, or is actively disliked, by senior academics a barrier to less senior academics using it?  If so, what can we do? If not, what are the barriers to adoption?

Social media technology
James Mullan discussed various social media tools that are, or could be, used within law firms to support engagement between staff (pdf).  These tools include Sharepoint, Confluence, Jive, Yammer and others, none of which I've seen in action.

The issue of how to market these tools to staff was a big feature of the talk, and many of the issues chimed with what I was thinking about academics using social media.  James identified several reasons why fee-earners (as they're known) might not want to use social media: they're time conscious, cost conscious, analytical, risk averse, they don't want to share everything they do because they're focussed on moving their careers forward not indiscriminately helping their colleagues, and happy to use email.  It's therefore very important to put yourself in their shoes and identify what will be useful to them, and to pick tools that have a low entry point: if people need training to use something they probably just won't use it.  :Lastly, sponsors within the organisation (at a more senior level) need to be seen to be actively using the tool, not just to be supporting it passively.

Panel discussion: building global teams
Virginia Henry, Hank Malik and Richard Hare discussed various issues connected to social media and knowledge management in large organisations.  Making social media relevant and useful was once again at the forefront.  Some pieces of advice that I found particularly useful:
  • Social media isn't a thing in itself, it's a means to an end.
  • Don't just give people what they ask for - find out what they really need it for, and supply something that does that.  Keep it simple - don't take a vendor solution with all the bells and whistles.
  • You need pervasive content on social tools - make sure the content is very obvious, and that it's not only frivolous chatter that can be seen.  Although bear in mind that if you ban all the chatter, people probably won't use the tool at all.
  • Start small - pick one tool in one area, make that work and then celebrate that success.  Don't make a big splash and set expectations too high.  You'll need to work hard to nurture a new tool early on, to make sure that it catches on.
  • If something isn't working either turn it off or work hard to rejuvenate it. Don't let it die a slow death. Use failure as an opportunity to get feedback, not an excuse to blame people.
  • Collect 5-minute case studies to show it works, even if you can't out a monetary figure on how much it's worth.  Then use these case studies to impress senior management. 

Risk and reputation using social media 
Andrew Solomon and Simon Halberstam from Kingsley Napley spoke really engagingly about a range of issues--defamation, social media policies, recruitment, and advertising.  It would be unwise of me to try and summarise their points, as I'm not a lawyer and the law is complicated and nuanced.  But I will say that the explanations of libel law were very useful, and some of the information about what vetting employers may do when recruiting was surprising.  The whole presentation (pdf) is here, and I recommend a read.

The future of the business of social media
Stephen Dale took us on a whistle stop tour of current and new tools.  I was particularly interested in (not that I've got round to looking at them yet) the section on curation/discovery/aggregation tools such as bottlenose,, twylah,

Overall, the things I'm going to take away from the afternoon are:
  • No tool is an end in itself. Always start by thinking about what you want to achieve, what you want to share, who you're trying to reach, and then act accordingly.
  • Take into account institutional and personal dynamics when thinking about how to implement new tools.
  • No tool is completely free and easy to use or to get your colleagues using. (Hat tip to @Schopflin for this thought.)