Monday, 5 December 2011

The Wellcome Library

The Wellcome Trust is the second biggest medical charity in the world. It funds and supports a huge variety of medical research. As part of that work they run a research library which covers the field of human health in impressive depth. Everything from the history of medicine to public health cartoons to gunshot wounds and parasitic worms. Thanks to the professional development wing of the M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries, the nice people at CPD 25, I was able to join a tour of this amazing library.

The Wellcome Trust was founded by Henry Wellcome. He set up a very successful pharmaceutical firm from scratch and spent a large part of the resulting fortune on funding medical research and building up a staggering collection of items related to the history of medicine. It's a proper nineteenth century, golden age of collecting, eccentric well-travelled millionaire with an obsession type collection. The fruits of his collecting mania can be seen at the Wellcome Trust. I popped into one gallery on the way out and saw Darwin's walking stick, a naturally mummified human body, an infant identification kit, some of George III's hair and various other weird and wonderful things.

His eclectic interest in medicine and human health is also reflected in the Wellcome Library. Its resources reflect its founder's vision. It exists to support research into every aspect of medicine and human health from the obvious to the most obscure.

After Henry's death in 1936 the Wellcome Trust was set up following instructions in his will. Originally it owned Wellcome's drug company. They've now sold the shares but presumably that was a sensible financial move because we were told that the trust's wealth is now around 14 billion pounds.

So this is one library that isn't feeling the chill but that doesn't mean they don't face challenges. The Library is going to be refurbished and redesigned soon in order to attract more visitors. The Collection attracts vast numbers of curious visitors but most of them don't make it up to the Library. It provides an excellent service to the researchers who come to make use of their resources but it is open to everyone and they want to attract more people and a wider range of people.

Getting some of the people who visit the Collection to wander upstairs and visit the Library seems like the obvious solution. The refurbishment will give the Library's decor a 1930's look which is more in keeping with the rest of the building. On the other hand there will be whizzy new technology like smart tables and that sure sign that someone has decided a library needs to be updated, a café.

I can see the logic. Some of the rooms further on have a beautiful atmospheric 1930s style but the first room you enter has a slightly clinical air. Not totally inappropriate of course but I can see that it might put off potential casual visitors. The entrance hall is very white despite the impressive murals that surround the enquiry desks. These kind of subtle little clues are important when you thinking about making a library seem welcoming to everyone.

The Library's classification systems are also a challenge for users and newly arrived staff. Yes, systems plural. They have at least three. The Barnard system sounded particularly interesting. This is a specialist classification system for health libraries. While I'm sure it has strengths it didn't sound like a system that is designed to be easily understood by members of the public.

The plurality of systems has come about because of the organic way that the Library has grown over the years. Given the sheer size of the Library reorganising it would be too huge a task. I think the lesson is that we need to think about the long-term impact of our decisions.

Our guide was very enthusiastic about the work of the Wellcome Trust and the Library's role in supporting it. He also took great pleasure in showing us some of the more unusual items in the Library's collection. Books on body piercing, the history of orgies, witchcraft and other odd corners of the world of human health.

The tour ended in a viewing room where we were shown the online catalogues (there are plans to bring it all together), their online resources and a nurse training video from the sixties.

The overall impression is that the Wellcome Library is a place of wonders. It is a place dedicated to furthering our understanding of our bodies and the things we do or have done to them for good or for ill.

Online 2011 - Designing inspiring digital repositories and knowledge environments plus the launch of a new digital library for the LSE

The least snappy title but one of the better talks. The LSE is about to launch a new digital library. Ed Fay, the head of the project and Sarah Charlton from the design consultancy Mickey and Mallory talked us through the process of setting it up.

The LSE is a collecting research library so the new digital library has the ambitious goal of collecting and preserving digital material for future generations.

The project has three phases.

  1. Digitization – They have digitized key parts of their existing collections. This is an ongoing process.

  2. Born Digital resources – They will collect anything that is relevant for social scientists.

  3. Things they are responsible for archiving – This is a broad area but the LSE is an official archive for the United Nations among others.

The intended audiences for all this are reasonably broad. LSE and other HE researchers are obvious potential users, as are university lecturers and students. However Ed also mentioned FE colleges, schools, local historians, genealogists and last but not least anyone with a general interest.

Setting up this kind of digital library is obviously a huge task so LSE made the most of available outside expertise. Several of the key technical components are open source which allowed them to tap into open source communities that work on digital preservation. Fedora Commons and Hydra were the two main examples.

The LSE felt that the presentation side of the project, creating an attractive and engaging website, was a skills gap for them. To solve this they called in design experts from Mickey and Mallory. Sarah Charlton explained their side of the story.

The brief included the ambitious but slightly vague instruction to create a ‘world class’ website. They used a collaborative design methodology which involved lots of meetings with various stakeholders. They looked at websites which they saw as examples of best practice and discussed them in the hope of reaching a consensus about what ‘world class’ means in this context. Their key conclusion was that the strongest examples had striking designs but the content was always centre stage.

M&M wanted the digital library to make the most of LSE’s strong brand. Everybody wanted the site to combine good search features with space for serendipity. The latter mostly involves showing people selected highlights from the collections.

Ed emphasised that this is an ongoing project. It will be launched early next year but the digital library has space for further developments. They hope to add new functionality in the future. They will monitor stats and respond ‘agilely’ to user behaviour. One of the key hopes is that the digital library will help researchers to uncover relationships between items in different collections.

At the end of the talk a member of the audience asked about their digital preservation strategy. Interestingly the response was that they don’t have one and they are happy with that. The digital library team feel that they have taken the first steps towards preserving digital materials for the future and they have committed to that task. Despite that commitment they take the view that it’s not up to them to solve all of the technical problems surrounding digital preservation. They will keep an eye on what other organisations are doing particularly Microsoft and other big IT companies. Apart from that the plan is to maintain access and face the challenges of digital decay as they come.

The LSE digital library will open to the public early in January.

This is my last blog post about Online 2011. In conclusion this is why I didn’t pick up that many free pens.

Online 2011 - Current and Future E-Book Business Models

The central point of Agor Eiskop’s talk was that piracy is going to be a big problem for e-book publishers.

He suggested three possible paths that they might take to get round that:
1. Selling advertising space in e-books. People would get less advertising in their book if they paid.
2. Product placement. Yes really.
3. Digital Rights Management – The same kind of copyright protection measures that the music industry tried without much success.

He then suggested some business models that are likely to be used by e-book publishers.

  • Subscription based models.
  • Patron driven e-book acquisition for libraries.
  • Crowd driven acquisition for publishers. This involves publishers offering people a range of authors on their website. If an author gets enough support their book gets published. Supporters usually get personal messages or a mention in the book or similar.
  • Freebies i.e. the first half is free but then you have to pay to finish it.
He concluded with some predictions for the future.

  • The publishing industry will be less centralised and there will be more independent players.
  • There will be new ways of reading including collaborative reading.
  • New roles for libraries and others – He said that he thought libraries would focus on preservation which was odd because it didn’t seem to follow from his other points.

Reading between the lines the message seems to be that nobody has a solution to the problem of e-book piracy so the publishing industry is likely to fragment and try lots of different solutions.

Online 2011 - Curate, Create, Innovate: Creating value through content creation

Andy Malonis from Cengage Learning talked about adding value to collections that you curate by creating new resources from existing content.

As he admitted this is much easier for organisations like Cengage who own vast amounts of content. As a result they don’t have to worry about the copyright problems usually involved in playing around with content.

Creative curation is partly inspired by a shift in the way people use the word ‘curate’. People in various creative industries are increasingly using it to imply that they have a ‘discerning eye and great taste’ in whatever their field happens to be. So someone who sees themselves as an expert might claim to curate albums or trainers.

He pointed to DVDs as an example of creative curation. Each DVD is usually a collection that includes the film itself and various extras. The film companies are adding value to content that they own by putting it together in new ways.

Andy’s example from his own work was a new mobile app which visitors to the Arlington National Cemetery can use to look up biographical information about the people who are buried there. Cengage’s huge database of biographies is a core part of their business. This app just applies that content in a new context. Creative curation often involves adding new meta-data to the existing information. In this case they added geospatial information so the biographical information was linked to the location of the right grave.

We are likely to find that suppliers are increasingly repackaging and adapting their existing content for new contexts particularly for use on mobile devices. Some of the resulting products might be useful in the future. However the real hope must be that librarians can play that game too.

Online 2011 - Gamification and E-Learning 2.0

Gamification was defined by our speaker Jonathon Bishop as ‘using elements of game play typically seen in video games to encourage participation in websites such as online communities’. The game elements are things like completing tasks, moving through levels and collecting points.

He has done a lot of research into using this idea for educational purposes and moving it beyond its roots in online communities. His latest work is all about using gamification to rehabilitate young offenders. This mostly seemed to involve relabeling existing methods to make the process seem more like a game but maybe I missed some of the subtleties.

The idea is to change young people’s perceptions of what’s happening so they engage with and perhaps even enjoy the process. This can also be a challenge in education so if gamification works for young offenders maybe it will be coming to a college near you.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Online 2011 - The Challenge of Mobile Literacy in Schools

I heard Sarah Pavey talk at a COFHE Information Literacy / Teach Meet training day earlier this year. She is the School Librarian at Box Hill School and one of the things that she touched upon in that earlier talk was her use of mobiles as learning tools. I remembered her as an enthusiastic speaker with some good ideas so I was looking forward to this session.

The idea that mobiles can be useful in education isn’t universally accepted. In fact at Box Hill School they are officially banned. The relationship between child protection, network security and teaching mobile literacy is a difficult one. Opportunities lead to risk so it is hard to find the right balance.

As you can guess from the title Sarah thinks current approaches are too focussed on avoiding risk at all costs. She also made the point that blanket bans are commonly ignored and argued that clear guidelines might actually be more effective.

She highlighted the advantages of mobile phone apps over letting students search on the open web. We can check where an app comes from and point students towards reliable ones from respected sources. Obviously we try to point students towards reliable websites but the temptation to just google it isn’t there with apps. They are arguably less wild and wooly than the web.

Before I go onto the possible uses I should include the disclaimer that the following assumes high levels of smart phone ownership. Box Hill is an independent school but Sarah provides training on mobile literacy at a variety of schools. She thinks that levels of smart phone ownership are very high among young people from all backgrounds. That said there are obvious ethical and practical issues around assuming that students have access to particular technology.

Educational uses for mobiles

1. Using phones to record information

Filming - Students can record lectures, drama performances etc.

Speaking - Students can use mobiles as Dictaphones to record their thoughts. The Vlingo app even turns speech into text.

Collating – Onenote and Evernote both help students to organise and reference their research.
Easybib lets you scan book barcodes to get the correct reference citation.

2. Using the phone to find information

At Box Hill they signed all of the students up to the local Public Library service. This meant that they all had access to e-books through Overdrive which is apparently particularly good at supplying fiction for young adults.

Various apps exist which supply students with information. The one that jumped out at me (I'm sorry) was Moonjump. If you jump with it turned on it tells you how high you would have jumped if you had been on the moon. She did mention more practical examples.

Sarah puts relevant apps on her subject resources guides. This is a simple thing that we could all do with a little research.

3. Using the phone to revise.

Bitesize and i-revise both exist in mobile app form.

Cramberry- Creating revision flash cards.

Inquizitor – Creating revision quizzes.

Epic win – A to do list but each time you tick off a task you progress through a game. I will come back to gamification in a future blog post on Online 2011.

4. Creativity

QR reading links - Putting a QR code on a book that takes you to further information ie reviews, the author's site etc.

QR codes on brochures and posters.

Interactive storytelling - These sound like great fun. My favourite was a school wide event where students used their phones as ghost detectors and had to complete various tasks.


Sarah acknowledged that her ideas rely on changing perceptions of mobile phones among educators and parents. She wants people to move away from the idea that mobiles are a threat, a source of disorder, a distraction or worse. She wants everyone to see them as an asset. Tools for discovering and organising knowledge. Tools for revision and creativity.

Sarah is advocating a significant cultural shift in schools and colleges. She has some solutions to this challenge. Training sessions for teachers and parents apparently have a big impact. Also parents often drop their initial hostility (which can be intense) once they've seen how the phones are being used for education.

While many good quality apps are free there isn't a mechanism for buying them in bulk. Mobile learning shifts the burden for providing hardware (the smart phones) and much of the software (the apps)onto the students. That might sound tempting in the current climate but if mobile learning is going to be big we will have to be careful to ensure that students who don't have smart phone don't feel excluded. Hunting down good free apps sidesteps the software half of the problem.

In terms of smart phones the point is that a lot of students do have these potentially very powerful tools and they enjoy using them. We risk wasting an opportunity if we ignore the idea that mobiles can be used to engage students and advance their learning.

Online 2011 - Unlocking Archival Magazine Content for Academic Research

Matt Kibble from Proquest gave a talk about their project to make archives of magazines available to libraries. Obviously this was essentially a promotional talk but it was quite interesting.

They are launching two archives. The first one includes every copy of the American edition of Vogue from its launch in 1892 (I had no idea it was that old) to the present day. The second features a range of different magazines on the popular entertainment industry. These range from the big names like NME or Variety to less well-known titles which researchers might have previously overlooked entirely. The popular entertainment collection spans from 1880 to 2000.

From the magazine publishers’ point of view this is a great project because it creates value from previously unexploited resources which they’ve just been sitting on.

The archives will be useful for students and researchers from a range of different academic disciplines. Vogue is most obviously valuable for the study of fashion but it is also a great resource for historians and others. The popular entertainment archive also has historical value. It will help film studies and music students to trace developments in their fields.

There was a lot of work involved in preparing the archives. The Vogue archive alone includes over 400,000 pages. They needed to carry out specialist indexing both in terms of subject matter and the format. Proquest are used to indexing academic journals which have fairly straightforward metadata and very well-established practices. Items like images and adverts needed non-standard metadata and a bit more thought. They also cross-referenced related information and created a controlled vocabulary for fashion.

All kinds of previously largely untapped primary sources are increasingly available for study and research. These archives are an interesting example of that and I appreciated the chance to take a behind the scenes look at all the work that goes into making them available.

Online 2011 - Introduction and Beating Google into Submission

Yesterday I attended the Online Information 2011 exhibition. Described by itself as “the largest event dedicated to the information industry” and by colleagues as an excellent source of boiled sweets and other freebies. The trade fair element of the event did seem to feature a lot of people trying to lure customers with free pens (and very occasionally sweets). RSC Publishing offered free coffee though which was quite clever of them.

The event also features a programme of free seminars on various topics. These were my main motivation for going. To prove I didn’t spend the whole day wondering around picking up sweets and pens I'm going to blog my notes on the talks I attended.

Beating Google into Submission

This presentation and further information is available at

Karen Blakeman’s talk was all about making Google do what you want it to. This is easier said then done because Google is increasingly trying to second guess what you ‘really’ mean. She gave some great examples. Most dramatically trying to find out what two birds in her garden were up to led to confusion between ‘coots’ and ‘lions’. ‘Coots mating behaviour’ turned into ‘Lions mating behaviour’. She assumes that Google decided ‘coots’ was meant to be ‘cats’ but we can’t be sure and that’s part of her point. It’s hard to know exactly what Google is doing with your search terms.

Apparently Google insiders have told her that the search engine is second guessing us more because more people are using it via mobile devices and it’s hard to type correctly on those.

There is a ‘verbatim’ option but you have to run a normal search first and then select ‘verbatim’ from the menu on the left hand side of the results page.

Alternatively you could try repeating a search term i.e. ‘coot coot mating behaviour’ or playing with the order of your search terms. These approaches are a bit hit and miss though.

You’ve probably heard that the + sign no longer works. Apparently the reasoning was that they want to use it to search for Google+ profiles.

In theory you can still use quote marks but in practice if Google doesn’t think it’s found enough results it will panic and throw in stuff that doesn’t quite fit your search.

Second guessing isn’t the only problem. Google has also started to include results from your social media contacts and their contacts. All very well if everyone in your networks (and all their friends) are experts but how likely is that?

Naturally she ran through the Advanced Search features and the essential commands. See her presentation for details. It also includes useful blogs and websites for staying up to date with Google and internet searching generally.

From a librarian perspective perhaps the main problem with all this is that when we are trying to teach people how to search effectively they won’t necessarily be getting the same results as us. That is something we should think about.

Watch this space for notes on the other talks that I attended.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The New Blended Learning

Blended learning is often used as a euphemism for e-learning but that is a vast oversimplification.

Obviously. Who would make a foolish mistake like that? OK to be honest when I signed up for this training event at the BCS I thought it was going to be about e-learning. In my defence it was a British Computer Society event and e-learning is an important part of the blend.

The speaker was Clive Shepherd a learning consultant and an expert on the use of e-learning in training.

The presentation itself is available here.

So if blended learning isn't e-learning what is it exactly? What's being blended and why does it matter?

There are two overarching factors that are blended.
1. The social context - Individual, face to face, group.
2. Strategies - Exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration.

These two then shape the mix of the other factors that you have to blend. As the name suggests a blended learning programme should include a wide mixture of different learning experiences. Part of the idea is that traditional training / education doesn't include a wide enough range of experiences. So for example a degree programme shaped by the blended philosophy might include some work based learning and online collaborative projects as well as the more traditional methods.

Education is more varied than it used to be and to some extent this model seems to be about projecting that trend forward and imagining the possibilities. On the other hand Clive pointed out that education hasn't changed anywhere near as quickly as he thought it was going to when he entered the field.

Once you've decided on your mix of social contexts and strategies you use that to shape your blend of methods and media. So if you want to use exploration as part of your blend and you want the students to learn as a group you might set up a collaborative research project. That could then be organised online or in real world classes.

When we try to decide on the right media we should think about timing. Do you want the training to be synchronous (in real time) or asynchronous (not in real time). So a lecture or a seminar would be synchronous. A training video or a recording of a webinar would be asynchronous.

We also covered the pressures that training organisations face. The main pressure unsurprisingly is the need to cut costs in the current difficult economic climate. But training departments also face an increasing demand for just-in-time training. People want to know how to perform a particular task and they need to know now. In the long-term environmental pressures are likely to become increasingly important. All of these pressures mean that organisations are rethinking the way that they train their staff.

OK, stick with me here because this bit sounds counter-intuitive at first particularly if like me you work in education rather than workplace training. At the moment the default for training is face to face and synchronous. Other approaches have to be argued for. Clive thinks that we should shift to a new default. The starting position for training should be online and asynchronous.

It's important to note that he's not saying all training should be online and not in real time. You start there when you're planning the training but then you decide if you need to move on. Some kinds of training will be more effective in real time. So the second option is online but synchronous. In some situations face to face sessions will be the best way to engage people so in that case you move on again. That third and final step is the current default: face to face and in real time.

The implication is that face to face training should only be used when we think it will have a particularly powerful impact. Interestingly he used the analogy of music and drama. Be honest what percentage of the music you heard this year and the drama you watched was live? On the other hand those live events that you did attend were probably far more intense experiences than the recordings or the broadcasts.

Is the conclusion for training providers that face to face sessions should be special occasions to inspire people but online learning should be the default? Given current economic pressures this might well quickly become the reality of training in most workplaces.

Where does that leave education? What are the implications for librarians in the educational sector and elsewhere? It's definitely something that we need to think about.

It's easy to see university education moving in this direction. It has already done so to some extent. Schools will always have a greater emphasis on face to face in their blend, for educational reasons and for practical ones. FE colleges will probably be somewhere in the middle. But at all levels online learning is going to become more important. This is generally accepted but it might accelerate if we find ourselves preparing students for workplaces where almost all training is online.

The growth of virtual learning environments at all levels of education gives us the infrastructure to move towards a far greater use of e-learning in our educational blend. In theory this should be a development that benefits librarians. Within educational institutions we are often at the cutting edge in terms of VLEs, online resources and related learning technologies.

Clive also advocated a shift in the balance between resources and courses. At the moment training provision focuses on providing courses. Resources are provided to help people to complete their courses. A training department that's thinking in terms of blended learning would reverse the focus. Courses would inspire people and give them the understanding and intellectual tools to explore the topic / skill set. After the course the training department would give trainees the resources they need to explore on their own. The resources would be at least as important if not more important than the courses.

Again Clive's focus is workplace training so even assuming he's got the trends right we need to think about how this will translate into education. If it does make the jump then it definitely sounds like an opportunity for academic librarians. Even if it remains in the world of workplace training this vision of the future needs our skills.

Education and training do benefit from using a wide range of different social contexts, media and methods. E-learning is going to be an increasingly important part of the mix but that shift gives us the opportunity to think about each element of the mix.

Thank you to Clive Shepherd for a thought provoking evening. You can find out more about his ideas on his blog or on the onlignment website.

Thank you to the British Computer Society as well. I recommend looking at their events calender if you are looking for CPD opportunities. Like many of their sessions this was free to everyone including non-members. They also supplied free wine and cheese during the break which was very nice of them. I will be looking out for future events (not just for the wine and cheese).

So that's blended learning. Not just a euphamism for e-learning after all.

Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

The Royal Society Winton prize is a prestigious award for popular science books. The aim is to encourage and highlight quality science writing which enhances the public's understanding of science. I have a personal and professional interest in science but I haven't studied it beyond school level so I feel that I am the kind of person who popular science writers should be trying to reach. More importantly as a College Librarian I'm interested in books which have the potential to inspire students and to help create enthusiasm for the study of science.

On the 17th I attended the event at the Royal Society where the winner was announced. (Yes, this is the third event I've mentioned going to on that Thursday. It was quite a busy day.) It was a genuinely inspiring evening. It was free and open to anyone so consider going to the 2012 announcement if you are interested.

The evening started with brief introductory talks about the prize, its history and its aims. This helped to set the scene by reminding us that we are living in an age where some of the big questions about life, the universe and everything are starting to be unravelled (or at least are being looked at in new and exciting ways).

From there we moved on to a panel discussion between the judges which focussed on practical questions. For example what is the first thing you do when 135 books turn up on your doorstep? Responses ranged from Christmas present style excitement to paralysing shock to a scientific, almost librarianly, instinct to put them into categories.

The Shortlist - (In alphabetical order. I will keep you in suspense about the winner unless you already know or sneakily scroll to the end.)

The core of the event was naturally all about the six short listed books. Each of the authors came onto the stage, told us a bit about their book and then read us some of their favourite bits. Each author was introduced by the judging panel's token media star, Robert Llewellyn (Yes, Kryten from Red Dwarf. I was surprised too.)

You can download the first chapter of each book for free from the Royal Society website. A webcast of the evening is also available.

Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos

Alex Bellos has previously written a travel book about his native Brazil. He told us that he approached this book in a similar way. As a maths graduate he saw himself as a native trying to explain the land of mathematics in a way that would educate and interest visitors from outside.

This has been published as 'Here's Looking at Euclid' in the US. During the Q and A session at the end there was some discussion about whether or not the Americans had a better title and why his publishers didn't think British people would get the joke.

Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World by Guy Deutscher

Talking of titles someone pointed out that it was a strange coincidence that two of the titles were inspired by Lewis Carroll this year. This book is about the idea that the language we use shapes the way we perceive the world around us. If a concept doesn't exist in your language can you think it? The classic example is that some people from some isolated cultures perceive colour differently from the rest of us because their language refers to colour differently. Or tying in to the previous book our mental models of how mathematics works shape the way we perceive distance.

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

This is a book about the periodic table, the bit of school chemistry that everyone remembers doing. Well the periodic table and the explosions. Mostly the explosions. That might not sound like a great idea for a book but the premise is that Sam tried to find an interesting story about each elements in the periodic table. The example we heard featured a scientist using radioactive lead to check if his landlady was using leftovers in his evening meals.

The Wavewatcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

From the author of the Cloudspotter's Guide comes an attempt to see if his spotter's guide to everyday things that are actually quite complicated phenomena when you get into it is a formula that can be repeated. The consensus from our judges is that it definitely is. If you've ever watched waves crashing onto a beach and started to wonder about them then this is for you. But be warned that it starts there and ends up looking at things like the waves of information that make a community of social micro-organisms turn into a slug.

Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample

The 'missing particle' of the title is the elusive higgs boson. The particle which in theory is probably responsible for all of the mass in the universe. The problem is that it has never been detected. The hunt for the higgs boson is one of the big quests in science at the moment. It is one of the things (although I must emphasise only one of them) that the Large Hadron Collider was built to find. If we could confirm that this particle definitely exists than a lot of ideas that are very theoretical at the moment would start to fall into place.

I got the impression that a big strength of this book is that it looks at the human side of science. Ian was lucky enough to interview a lot of the people involved in the hunt including Higgs himself. A man who according to legend is almost as elusive as the particle he named (although this turns out to be not strictly fair). Talking to the scientists themselves helps Ian to give us their insiders' view of 'the greatest hunt in science'.

The Rough Guide to The Future by Jon Turney

Writing a guide to the future even a rough one is a brave thing to do. History has shown that most predictions are wrong. Jon dealt with this challenge by exploring ideas about the future and the key issues that look likely to shape the world of tomorrow. Issues ranging from environmental crisis to technologies that threaten / promise to move us into a post-human future. He also side-stepped the usual criticisms of futorology by asking a range of experts to tell him their greatest hope, worst fear and best bet for what's going to happen. The last one is what they think is most likely to actually happen. Of course they might all be wrong but it means the book includes a wide range of opinions and Jon avoids the charge of hubris. To be fair predicting the future isn't really the goal. The point of looking at ideas about the future and the issues that will shape it is to educate ourselves to play a part in shaping our collective future.

The Winner is...

Drumroll please. After giving us a taste of each book and a chance to ask the authors questions the session reached its cimax. The president of the royal society walked onto the stage with an envelope. After thanking everyone and making the expected but still true comments about the high standard of all the books he opened the envelope...

The winner was The Wavewatcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

A proud moment for everyone who has ever spent time watching waves and wondering about them. Congratulations to Gavin and thank you to the Royal Society for an interesting evening.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Reflective Practice Workshop

On Thursday 17th November I attended two workshops run by CILIP in London. The morning workshop looked at reflective practice. I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit recently for various reasons. Primarily because I’m working towards Chartership and as you probably know writing reflectively about your experiences is an important part of that. It also came up in the 23 things for CPD scheme both as a thing in its own right and as one of the overarching themes.

I enjoy writing and I like to think that I’m a reflective person so this is something that I’m interested in anyway. With all that in mind I was looking forward to this workshop. I was curious to find out what advice and tips they would give us.

The Speakers

The two speakers were Rosemary McGuiness and Paula Nottingham. They both work at Middlesex University and their specialism is work based learning. This is an approach to learning which focuses on ‘real world’, workplace experience. Chartership and its sisters are examples of this. It’s also well established in fields like nursing and teaching. For example the teaching practice element of a PGCE or similar qualification is work based learning.

Reflective writing is an important part of this approach. Students are encouraged to reflect in depth on their experiences and write down their thoughts. This is put very much at the heart of the learning process.


The session started with a look at the theoretical underpinning of reflective writing as a tool for personal and professional development. The focus was on what Paula called the classic theories. The Kolb Cycle for example which shows reflective practice as a circular flow through four stages.

1. Concrete Experience (Doing / having an experience)
2. Reflective Observation (Reviewing / reflecting on the experience)
3. Abstract Conceptualisation (Concluding / learning from the experience)
4. Active Experimentation (Planning / trying out what you have learned)
And then back to stage one…

This is a classic model of reflective practice. I’m sure most of you have probably seen something similar at some point. It featured in the CPD 23 blog post on reflective practice to give a recent example. It is popular for a reason. This is a useful way to think about the process of reflection. Even the simple fact that it is a cycle is useful because it emphasises the fact that reflection should lead to action which should then be reflected on in turn.

We looked at Schon’s ideas about the distinction between ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’. Essentially the divide between reflecting in the moment, thinking about what you’re doing now and reflecting on things that you have done, thinking about how you could have approached it differently. The first one is very important because we need it to work effectively but the second one is the key to developing and doing our job better in the future.

Honey and Mumford’s original version of the learning styles model also came up. Personally I think learning styles are an overused concept. It is a question of emphasis or preference but it is too often talked about as if your style is the only way you can learn. The useful lesson from the model is that teachers have to vary the way they teach in order to meet the needs of all their students because people learn in different ways. Anyway I’m digressing here. To be fair it’s not Honey and Mumford’s fault that it’s overused. Their original idea was a good one.

Discussing the pros and cons of individual theories isn’t really the point anyway. The aim was to show that reflective writing is a well-established educational tool with strong roots in research into how we think and learn.

Reflective Activities

The talks were interspersed with various reflective activities. We didn’t write any essays but we all participated in mini writing tasks and discussion activities.
The first task was to fill in a learning log table. We had to pick an example of something that we had done at work, a ‘focus or task’. We then had to evaluate what we learnt from the task, how we can be more effective in future and what we discovered about ourselves. The idea was that keeping a learning log like this would help us to improve our performance at work. I liked this activity. It was simple but potentially very effective. I am going to start using the pattern to record events which really stand out as potentially useful learning experiences. I assume that those will mostly be the disasters and the high points.

This learning log is similar to the log that I currently keep in order to help me to reflect on my teaching sessions. My library skills sessions and my VLE training sessions have definitely benefitted from the simple idea of keeping a teaching log. I just jot down a few thoughts about each session, including what went well and what I could have done to make it go better. Extending that log idea to other areas of my professional practice could be very useful.

We also did a quick brain storm of all the people who are part of our communities of practice. Defined by Wenger (some more theory for you) as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. It’s interesting to see how that web spreads out when you give yourself time to think about it.

Later we were given time to write a slightly longer piece about something that we had done at work. The advice was to include how we felt about it. The idea was that we normally suppress our emotional responses to things that happen at work. We assume that our feelings belong to our personal life outside of the workplace.
I’m not sure this is universally true. Some people do get very emotional about things that happen to them at work. That said I take the point that in order to be effective reflective writing needs to be honest enough to include how we feel about our experiences. Without that aspect it can be slightly hollow.

The session ended with a storytelling session. We were invited to share a story with a neighbour. It had to be a story about something that we had done at work which went very well or very badly. A few brave souls went on to share their stories with the group.

This kind of storytelling is perhaps the oldest form of organised reflective learning. It goes back to our oldest ancestors sharing hunting stories around the fire. Those stories would then make them all more effective on the next hunt.

Librarians’ stories of triumph and embarrassment are less bloody than those early tales but some of the same emotions were there and the principle was the same. Thinking about reflective practice in terms of storytelling is one of the key ideas that I will take away from this workshop.

Listening to each others’ stories helped us to think about what we would have done in the same situation. We also learnt from the explicit lessons that the storyteller drew from their own experiences and shared with the group. The moral of the story as it were.

On the other side of the task thinking about our practice, reflecting on it, and organising our thoughts into a story that someone else could follow and learn from brought greater depth and clarity to our own reflections.

Thank you

Using writing or discussion to clarify and deepen our reflections on our experiences was the essence of all the activities that we tried. The workshop gave us new tools and renewed motivation to seek greater depth and clarity in our reflective practice.

Thank you to our speakers and to the CILIP in London team.

The Reflective Practice Presentation including lots of useful references for further reading is available on Slideshare.

The afternoon workshop was all about copyright. I am writing a short piece about the copyright session for the CILIP in London Newsletter so I will point you towards that once it has been published.*

*My report was published in the November issue of the CILIP in London Newsletter. Members will have been emailed a copy. They also included a link to this blog entry. Thank you for that. Welcome to any CILIP in London newsletter readers.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Top Tips for Running the Perfect Event

A CILIP in London Session at the Sekforde Arms

This was the first time I’ve been to one of the CILIP in London events at the Sekforde Arms. That’s a shame because they are a great idea. I will definitely be attending them in the future. CILIP’s London branch organises regular sessions in the upper room of the pub. For each session they invite a speaker who is an authority on a particular area of professional interest, in this case organising events.

The sessions are run in the evening and they are free for CILIP members so if you are finding it hard to get to training events because of financial and time restraints then these sessions are definitely worth looking into. There is a £5 charge for non-members, which is still very reasonable.

You are expected to book in advance so they know how many people to expect. Their email address is:

More importantly the Sekforde Arms is a very nice old-fashioned pub with a good selection of beers. I can vouch for it because it is right round the corner from my old university, good old City. A fact which had completely failed to register before I looked up where the event was. I also completely failed to notice that these free training events were happening right under my nose when I was studying Library Science just round the corner. I won’t dwell too much on my own failings here. I will learn the lesson and try to be a bit more alert in the future.

Our speaker for the evening was Tracy Kent. She is a Subject Librarian at the University of Birmingham. More relevantly for this session she is also the Training Coordinator for the CILIP special interest group UKeiG (United Kindom Electronic Information Group). That role naturally involves organising lots of events including training days and large conferences. She drew on that experience to give us no less than fifteen top tips.

1. Decide on the key objective of the event and who your speakers will be. Plan early.

She strongly emphasised the idea that your event should have a USP. This will make your advertising more effective but it will also help you to organise the event. It will help you to think about who your audience are and what you expect them to gain from your event.

2. Think about your choice of speakers and how you are going to manage them.

Speakers can clearly make or break a session. They have to be an expert on the relevant topic but they also have to be good at engaging an audience. Being an expert doesn’t automatically make you a good speaker.

Make sure that the speaker is completely clear about what you want them to talk about. She gave us various anecdotes about speakers who stood up and talked about something completely different to the agreed topic. Apparently it’s not uncommon for speakers to go off on a tangent or just vent about something that’s annoying them at work.

Tracy included choosing the right chairman under this tip. They need to know the topic well and they should be well informed about the speaker(s). That will make the questions / discussion element of the session run much smoother.

3. Decide on a realistic budget and stick to it (as best you can).

Plan this bit carefully. Set out what is covered. What are you going to provide for speakers? They need to be clear about this and your planning needs to go down to the details. Who is paying for the photocopying? Are you feeding the speakers? And so on.

Interestingly she recommended setting aside 10% of your budget to deal with emergencies.

If you are looking for funding then the key is to have a clear pitch which outlines what you are trying to achieve, how it will benefit the community and why you think it will succeed. Keep it reasonably simple and easy for others to repeat.

4. Decide on your project management style.

Deciding on a ‘style’ involves fundamental issues like are you organising this on your own or working with a team? If you are working with a team then meetings should result in clear action points assigned to named individuals. Draw up timelines for each activity. You can’t do everything at once.

Keep a plan. This should be clear and detailed enough for someone else to cover the event if you walk in front of a bus.

5. Decide on an appropriate venue and where delegates want to go.

This will be a large, perhaps the largest, chunk of your budget. Think about what you and your delegates want from the venue.

It is often possible to do deals with a venue in order to bring the price down. Offering them free spaces for their staff in exchange for a discount is the classic approach.

Think about the technology you need but don’t feel obliged to use something just because it is there. Arrange to have a technician available on the day to make sure everything is set up correctly and to deal with any gremlins.

6. Lay out a clear plan.

To do lists are very important. Include a list of potential problems and planned solutions.

7. Advertise, advertise, advertise.

It is fairly obvious why this is important. You need people to come.

8. Decide on the catering and keep caterers up to date with numbers and requirements.

Tracy highlighted the importance of thinking about why you are providing food. Is the food there to help people to network, to encourage people to come or just because it is lunchtime and people will be hungry? The purpose of the meal should shape your decisions about what kind of food to provide and how to serve it.

9. Always keep the delegates and the speaker(s) in mind.

Keep everyone informed in the run-up to the event. Look at everything from a delegate’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

10. Add in the “X Factor”.

Think about entertainment. This will involve using the advice from the last tip. Will delegates want a really hard quiz after a tough day’s training? Will anyone want to sing karaoke?

Entertainment also involves checking practicalities like equipment, physical space and license requirements.

11. Check, check and rehearse!

Check everything. Make sure any arrangement with anyone (the venue, speakers, delegates etc) is in writing and confirmed.

12. Prepare meeting material.

Think about the material you will give the delegates. Find a balance between keeping them informed and weighing them down. Spend time on the design of your materials and proof read all of it.

13. On the ground the day before…

Put up signposts. Ask someone else to check if they are easy to follow.

14. On the ground on the day…

You will need a checklist of things to do. It should include what needs to be where and who is responsible for what. Make sure someone is responsible for looking after the speaker(s) when they arrive.

15. After the event…

Get some feedback from delegates. That will help you to improve future events. Thank the speakers. It’s polite and you might want to work with them again. If possible it’s good practice to make presentations available to delegates after the event.


As you can see we all walked away with lots of excellent tips for running an event. I have no immediate plans to set one up myself but when I do I will feel much more confident about it thanks to this session. Event management is a very useful skill set to have. It’s something that I plan to develop in the future.

Thank you to Tracy Kent and the CILIP in London team.

The next Sekforde Arms session will be on 9th January 2012. It’s entitled “What’s happened to Copyright Law?” and the speaker will be Charles Oppenheim from the University of Loughborough. The LIS in London Calendar entry I read said these plans are subject to change so check with CILIP in London nearer the time if you are interested. See you at the bar?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A New Curriculum for Information Literacy – NetworkED Session at LSE

Last week I attended an online seminar on information literacy hosted by LSE. Dr Jane Secker and Dr Emma Coonan were talking about their project to create a new curriculum for information literacy.

Improving my own research skills teaching is one of my current targets and I heard Jane talk about information literacy earlier this year at the CoFHE LASEC training day / teach meet so I was interested to see what they had come up with.

Webinar Technology

There was a certain amount of good natured cynicism in the office when I said I was going to attend a webinar so I feel I should mention that in this particular case the technology worked very smoothly. The LSE simply live streamed the session from their website and interaction with online participants was handled via twitter.

You can still view the video of the seminar (I don't know how long LSE will keep it up though). The twitter tag for these NetworkED seminars is #LSENetEd.

Researching Information Literacy

The project was backed by the Arcadia Programme which provides funding for experts to spend ten weeks looking at an aspect of “the role of academic libraries in a digital age”. Jane and Emma’s goal was to “develop a new revolutionary curriculum for information literacy in a digital age”.

In her opening comments Emma pointed out that this kind of project involves learning about learning or research about research. It is meta-research.

They started their project by reviewing the literature and getting expert opinion. The latter was done through a modified Delphi study. The modification was that experts were allowed to bounce ideas off each other rather than being questioned in isolation.

The expert consultation played a big part in shaping the curriculum. These were the key lessons that they took from it:

• How you teach is at least as important as what you teach.
• Information literacy needs to be embedded into the academic curriculum.
• Allow for the differences between disciplines.
• Don’t treat students as one homogenous group. Think about their needs.
• A modular curriculum would be more effective because people can then plug bits in.
• Don’t specify particular software or tools because technology moves too fast.
• Beware of myths about technology i.e. the google generation / digital native idea or the assumption that all students have particular tools.
• Active learning is the best way to learn. Adopt a hands-on approach. Let students try things.
• Include opportunities for refection.

One of the problems their literature review uncovered was the perennial issue of the terminology gap between library folk and everyone else. Their plan relies on lecturers delivering the curriculum. Do teaching staff actually know what we mean when we say information literacy? Outside the library world there is a tendency to confuse information literacy with digital literacy, identifying it purely with the ability to find information online rather than thinking about the broader skills involved.

Perhaps more unexpectedly they were also critical of the way the library world uses the term. We tend to bemoan teachers’ tendency to interpret the concept narrowly or to ignore it but there are similar misconceptions that are common among librarians. For example in practice we tend to see it primarily in terms of searching for information. For skilled researchers searching for information involves higher level thinking skills like synthesis, critical evaluation etc. These skills all flow into one another in a “dynamic ongoing process”.

When we run our own information literacy sessions how often do we go any further than nodding towards those higher level thinking skills? I am prepared to admit that most of my own sessions focus on finding information. This is something I need to think about. I will dig out some material on Bloom’s taxonomy.

They also decided that the culture clash between HE and earlier stages of the education system was a central issue for their study. Their point was that newly arrived HE students have to make a sudden adjustment to having to learn independently. Students who struggle with this are pathologised, treated as having a problem and often then passed on to support services.

Personally my initial reaction was that this angle was slightly overplayed. I’m working in an FE college library and I was briefly a secondary school teacher so my immediate response was to feel slightly defensive. I'll admit that we are constrained by a system that can encourage a slightly box ticking, jump through the hoops attitude to education. But that said we do try to encourage independent learning lower down the education system.

Now I’ve had time to reflect I think we need to see this as a challenge. What can we do to make sure that our students leave college with right skills to be good independent learners and to hit the ground running at university? Hopefully looking at this new curriculum will help us.

Libraries obviously have a central role to play in promoting and developing information literacy. Interestingly though Jane and Emma make a point of rejecting the idea that information literacy is “the preserve or saviour of the library”. This isn’t about promoting all the wonderful things that libraries and librarians do to help students to find and use information properly. We can’t jealously guard information literacy as our exclusive territory; it is bigger than any one profession.

One of the central ideas behind their curriculum is that “information literacy needs to be part of the mainstream academic mission”. As far as possible they want it to be integrated into normal teaching but they also see it as something that needs to involve everyone in the institution.

They do acknowledge that gaining that kind of commitment won’t always be easy. It clearly requires a high degree of support from senior management and other areas of the organisation. They recommend building support by thinking in terms of finding the right hooks for each group. Hopefully at FE level preparing students for university should be an effective hook.

We can’t stick to our existing models of ownership. We need teaching staff to see information literacy as their business. Other members of staff also need to be encouraged to buy into the idea. On top of all that librarians need to think beyond our own boundaries.

Delivering the New Curriculum

The curriculum itself is divided into ten strands. Each strand then has five levels. Jane emphasised the point that the strands aren’t intended to follow each other. They aren’t levels that need to be worked through in order or even always looked at separately. Number one is probably the first one a HE teacher should look at but don’t let that distort the way you approach these. The curriculum is intended to be flexible and modular.

1. Transition from school to higher education
2. Becoming an independent learner
3. Developing academic literacies
4. Mapping and evaluating the information landscape
5. Resource discovery in your discipline
6. Managing information
7. Ethical dimension of information
8. Presenting and communicating knowledge
9. Synthesising information and creating new knowledge
10. Social dimension of information literacy

Interestingly after Jane and Emma had outlined their project they explained that the next Arcadia team (there is a new group every ten weeks) is working on looking at the practicalities of actually delivering the new curriculum. They invited Dr Helen Webster from that team to talk to us about her work.

Helen comes from a teaching background so her perspective was slightly different. For example on the issue of terminology she said that at the start of the project she was uncomfortable with the word ‘information’. She associated it with simplistic pedagogies; models of teaching that see education in terms of the simple transfer of information from the teacher’s head to the student’s head. She’s changed her mind now of course but it’s not really practical to get every teacher to take part in this kind of research project.

She argued that for most teachers teaching information literacy is about making explicit processes that they take for granted. Students need their teachers to explain research processes and thought processes that have become invisible to the teachers. This is vitally important for the students but difficult for the teachers.

Arguably this is actually something teachers should be good at by definition. You have to make your own thought processes explicit to students in order to teach maths or literary criticism or anything really. Perhaps it’s more a question of encouraging teachers to use those skills when asking students to carry out research or other tasks that require high levels of information literacy.

One of the difficulties about trying to look at the practical delivery of IL teaching is that IL that’s fully integrated into the academic curriculum is harder to see then IL that is taught in stand alone sessions. The new curriculum is designed to be integrated and the expert advice was that this was best practice. This suggests that the very best examples of IL teaching are among the hardest for researchers to study.

More positively Helen fairly quickly realised that the curriculum was a huge step forward. She wanted to find out what was ‘new’ about the ‘new curriculum’. The answer was that it is a curriculum.

She looked at all the existing information literacy models and frameworks, SCONUL’s seven pillars and the rest. None of them were curriculums. They were of limited use for teaching purposes because they just described the goal. They outline what information literacy is and what an information literate person should be like but they didn’t offer any real guidance on how to help someone reach that goal. Developing an actual curriculum for information literacy seems to be an important step forward in itself.

The curriculum itself and the research that shaped its development can all be accessed via the project’s blog. If you are involved in delivering information literacy teaching then this is a resource that you should look at. It is arguably the first real attempt to create a detailed curriculum for information literacy. It is designed to be flexible and modular so you should be able to pick out some aspects or ideas that you can use in your own context. Please note that it is published under creative commons. They want you to use it but remember to credit them.

Adopting the curriculum in a more in depth way might be more difficult. To get the most out of it a whole university / college approach is best. If that is a short term possibility in your organisation then go for it! If that will take some time and some work (or seems unachievable) then adopting some aspects of the curriculum in your own lessons would be the best place to start. My fellow librarians might want to consider promoting this to academic staff. Encouraging individual teachers or even whole departments to integrate aspects of this curriculum into their teaching could have real benefits for our students. Using it at further education level might help students to bridge the gap between college and university by giving them the independent learning skills that they will need to do well.

If you or your colleagues do use this as a resource then Jane and Emma would welcome any feedback that you might have.

Friday, 21 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 23 - Reflection & What's Next?

This is the final thing. The end of the CPD 23 scheme. It has been fun and I've learnt a lot. It has genuinely helped me to develop professionally.

I have gained some useful technical knowledge about tools like Jing and Audacity and Prezis. Using RSS feeds has given my professional reading new focus.

Perhaps even more important than knowing more about various tools I have adopted a mindset of evaluating new tools for their potential usefulness. Evaluating the uses that I could put them to in the Library and their potential uses as learning tools for our students. I think learning to look at technology with that kind of reflective attitude is going to be one of the most long lasting things that I take from this scheme.

I like to think of myself as a reflective person but I have gained a lot from the process of writing this blog. CPD 23 has helped me to firmly integrate blogging into my life and my professional practice. I said in a very early thing, it might even have been number one, that I am one of those people who write to think.

I admire the CPD 23 organisers decision to build a strong emphasis on reflection into the scheme. That emphasis combined with the structured blogging has really helped me to reflect on my own professional practice and the wider context that we are working in.

The reminder that reflection is the key to professional development has been welcome. I think for me personally however the usefulness of this blog as a venue and a tool for reflection has perhaps been the more life changing lesson.

The community element of the scheme has also been memorable. I've enjoyed reading other participants' blogs and sharing ideas. That sense that we were exploring things together and sharing our experiences was a powerful part of CPD 23.

I'd like to thank everyone who helped to set this up. It has been a great journey.

Where next?

In terms of my career development completing Chartership is my big project at the moment. Interestingly one of the first steps in that process is drawing up a personal professional development plan similar to the one that the CPD 23 post for thing 23 mentions. Identifying areas for development and deciding how to fill them is clearly a useful exercise.

My plan is slightly different because I need to fulfil the Chartership criteria but the essential idea is the same. Drawing up my PPDP for Chartership really helped me to think about what I wanted to do in order to progress as a librarian.

I should say that I put completing CPD 23 on my Chartership PPDP. It seems oddly circular that at the end of the scheme we've been advised to draw up a professional development plan.

In the long run the important thing for me is to hold onto the good habits that I've gained from CPD 23 and the Chartership process. Habits like reflecting on my own practice and development. Habits like using this blog as a tool for reflection and sharing ideas. I intend to hold onto and build on those habits.

That's thing 23 done!

CPD 23 - Thing 22 - Volunteering

My own experiences of volunteering have been overwhelmingly positive. I would recommend it to anyone both as a way to further your career and simply as a way to have some interesting experiences. I have no doubt that my time volunteering in a secondary school library played a very real part in helping me to secure my current job. It gave me a real insight into what working in an educational library involves. I also got hands on experience of lots of different aspects of librarianship.

The school library had other volunteers but as a library science student who was there to get professional experience I was entrusted with a wider range of tasks and a greater level of responsibility. I produced a series of information resources guides. I helped teachers and students with enquiries. I researched and reported on the possibility of lending ebooks and / or ebook readers.

I won't list everything I did but essentially I feel that I was given a real chance to taste what being a School Librarian would be like. I will always be very grateful for that opportunity.

In my pre-librarianship life I did various other bits of voluntary work. Regular readers will remember that I recently mentioned my time as an English teacher and a conservation worker in Peru. I hope that post gave an impression of what a great experience that was. I have also been doing children's group work for my local church for several years.

For the purposes of this 'thing' the interesting thing about these examples of volunteering is that although I didn't see them as career opportunities when I signed up they did actually play an important part in shaping my career. They guided me into teaching which in turn led me to working in an academic library. Arguably those voluntary jobs played their part in leading me to librarianship. Their role was indirect obviously but the lesson is perhaps that voluntary work might turn out to be useful in ways that aren't obvious at first.

Actually I met my now wife doing youth work for the church but this is meant to be about the career development benefits of volunteering.

I am very positive about voluntary work. It has had a huge positive impact on my life. However the sad truth is that today must surely be a difficult time to be a volunteer in libraries and in other public services. The combination of Big Society talk from politicians and the huge budget cuts must make volunteers feel that they need to tread very carefully to avoid undermining rather than supporting the services that they love (and in many cases hope to find paid work in one day). I'm sure many of them will be worrying about this even when they are in roles that have always been voluntary. I worry that current policy will have the opposite effect to the intended one and end up undermining Britain's previously healthy culture of volunteering.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now. I don't want to end my post about volunteering on a negative note. If you are thinking about voluntary work don't be put off by the difficult political climate. It really is a great way to gain experience and to develop your skills. It also has lots of other advantages. From meeting people to increasing your confidence to feeling that you are helping your community.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 21 - Promoting yourself in job applications and interviews

Oh dear. Job hunting. Shudder. Have I mentioned that finding my first professional library post was hard work?

I do have some hard won advice. I don't know how profound it is and I know that it's mostly available elsewhere. Also you might be better off taking advice from someone who got the first job they applied for.

I'm going to focus on advice for people who are looking for their first professional role because that's the stage I came through last year.

All that said here's my advice...

Advice for library school students.

- Experience. You need to get as much experience as you can while you are studying. Apply for part time jobs. Do voluntary work. (More about volunteering in the next thing.) Do whatever it takes to get as much experience as you can while you are studying. This will make you look better as a candidate and it will give you more to talk about in your interview(s).

- Research. Use your research skills. Find out about the roles and sectors that you are interested in. Doing your homework on the job market while you are studying will give you a head start. (Don't get depressed though. It is tough out there.)

Advice for people looking for their first professional post

- Looking for jobs to apply for

Follow @uklibrary jobs on twitter.

Look at CILIP's own Lisjobnet.

Sign up with Sue Hill recruitment. They are library and information work specialists. There are others. Have a look round.

Most councils give you the opportunity to sign up for vacancy notifications. Some universities and colleges offer the same service. Sign up for these.

Use your contacts. Let people know you are looking for library work. Word of mouth is a very useful way to find out about vacancies.

- Applying for jobs.

Keep a record of the vacancies that you have found and the ones that you have applied for.

Take your time over each application and make sure that you are completely happy with your work before you send it off. Sending out a shoddy application is a waste of time.

Keep sending the applications out. Perseverance is key.

The person specification is vitally important. The people looking over your application and considering your interview answers will be judging you against those criteria. On your application form (or in your application letter) address each point one by one. Don't leave a point out. If you don't think you quite fit one do the best you can.

- Interviews

Don't panic. How do you manage that? Erm. Following the rest of this advice might help. If not find out what works for you.

Preparation. Prepare answers for probable questions. There are standard questions that almost always come up. Things like...'Tell us about yourself.''Why do you want this job?' 'What's your greatest weakness?' Apart from that remember they are judging you against the criteria in the person specification and judging your ability to do the job as outlined in the job description. Thanks to those two documents you know exactly what the interviewers are looking for. Use that knowledge to guess what questions they will ask. Prepare answers to all likely questions.

The CAR answer pattern in the CPD 23 post for this is very effective. Use that when planning your answers.

Practice answering questions. Interview practice is horrible. It brings up some of the same fears as real interviews. For example you worry that you are going to sound like an idiot. Put that fear to one side. Practicing will make you more confident and less likely to sound like an idiot when it really matters. Practice with friends and family or use any careers support that is available to you.

Practice on your own if your friends and family get fed up with listening to you. There are private consultants you can use. I have the details of a good one somewhere. I'll dig that out and update this. The CPD 23 post for thing 21 says CILIP members are entitled to two sessions of careers advice per year. I didn't know that. It's a useful tip.

- Coping with rejection

Don't get down if it doesn't go well. Think of failed interviews as practice for the next one. Make sure you get feedback and work on any areas for improvement that they mention.

- Perseverance

Keep at it. Stay positive. When you get the right job you probably will be glad that you didn't get that other job you went for.

Good luck.

CPD 23 - Thing 20 - Library Routes - Further Thoughts

I wrote about my route into librarianship for thing 10. If you are looking for my post for the Library Routes Project Wiki it's back a bit. CPD 23 - Thing 10 - Becoming a Librarian. The link from the Wiki will take you straight there but I realise this title is potentially confusing. There will be some clarification here but thing 10 is really the place to go if you want to know about my journey into librarianship.

As you've probably guessed I have added my story to the Library Routes Project's collection. For any readers who haven't heard of this it's a Wiki that brings together librarians' stories of how they got into the profession and what they've been up to since they joined it. The idea is that it is a useful resource for people who are considering a career in library and information work or for those who are planning the next step in their career.

Having read some of the other contributions I think my entry might need some editing or perhaps just this postscript. I may have given the impression that my career path was clearer than it actually was. I didn't go straight from university to teaching, then from there to being a college librarian. Dabbling with teaching after finishing your studies then moving into our arm of the education sector seems to be quite a common story. Although a lot of people have the self-knowledge to make the jump before or during their teaching course.

My CV isn't as tidy as I implied. After studying English Literature at Lancaster University I spent a couple of years mostly doing admin type jobs. These ranged from a few days temping to more interesting roles. For example I spent a year working on a digitization project for a planning department which in retrospect isn't a bad thing for a librarian to have on their CV. At the time however it was in no sense part of a plan.

Halfway through those two years I spent nearly six months doing voluntary work in Peru. Unsurprisingly this was much more interesting than admin work in London. I spent a few months teaching English in a Peruvian secondary school and a few months working on a conservation project in the rainforest. As a volunteer teacher I was able to stay with a local family. I loved my time in South America.

My positive memories of teaching in Peru probably nudged me towards doing my PGCE a year later but again implying a straight cause and effect would be me tidying up the reality to give you a neater story. I did slightly fall into that trap in my becoming a librarian post.

The Library Routes Project is very reassuring for those of us who feel that our CV seems to show a slightly roundabout journey. People who feel called to be librarians from childhood (or even young adulthood) seem to be the exception. Frankly I wanted to be a Ghostbuster when I was a child.

It seems to be common for librarians to have come via other kinds of role. The consensus seems to be that this gives people the chance to pick up skills that they can then use in a sector that can find uses for a bewildering array of talents.

It would be interesting to compare this to other professions though. It's a truism to say that people don't stick with the same organisation for life anymore. People move around much more during their working lives than they did in previous generations. Perhaps most professions would show a similar pattern? I'm sure it's pretty common for people to have tried different kinds of job before finding something that seems to fit. Is this truer of librarianship than of other fields? Perhaps we are claiming a general pattern as our own? I'm not saying that's definitely the case. I'm just throwing the question out there.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 19 - Reflecting on things so far

Thoughts on reflection and the dangers of speed

Having fallen behind over the summer I now feel that I am doing quite a good job of catching up. I hope to have the remaining four things (including this one) completed by the end of the week. If I achieve that I will have finished CPD 23 a week behind the official schedule. I had set that timeframe as a personal goal (having given up on finishing on time) so I'm quietly pleased that I should be able to keep to it.

However before I start patting myself on the back for this I think I need to acknowledge the risks involved in taking the latter half of the scheme at a faster rate than the organisers intended. The scheme has an admirable focus on taking the time to reflect on our professional development.

Taking the things a week at a time has the advantage that you have the time to think about each thing in depth. Even if most of the time you are busy with other matters some corner of your mind can be contemplating this week's thing.

There was a danger that I was going to fall into a box ticking attitude towards the scheme. I think I have managed to avoid that. Obviously you can judge for yourselves by browsing my previous CPD 23 blog entries. In each case I have made a conscious effort to reflect on the implications of each thing for my own professional practice and development.

I hope that I have been successful at this. I have always been a reflective person. My previous career as a teacher encouraged me to develop a reflective attitude towards my work. More recently engaging in the Chartership process has focussed my mind on the importance of reflection as a tool for improving my own practice, engaging effectively with my profession and developing myself as an information professional. I hope that attitude can be seen in my CPD 23 posts.

Congratulations to everyone who did manage to finish CPD 23 on time. I salute you.

Thoughts on my favourite things

I won't rank my favourite things because I like them for different reasons so it wouldn't be a fair contest. Also I'm on a tight schedule here I want to do three more things before the weekend. So in purely chronological order here are my personal favourites. Some of them have already become an important part of my practice. Others are things that I intend to integrate into my working life or my personal professional development.

Things 1 - Blogging

This blog existed before the scheme and I did have plans to revitalize it as part of my attempts to be ready for Chartership. That said I am very grateful to CPD 23 for giving my blogging some structure and helping me to post reasonably regularly.

Don't worry though I am going to maintain momentum once I've finished the scheme. It has helped me to get into the habit of blogging about librarianship. That habit is now firmly integrated into my life.

Blogging regularly has helped me to increase my online professional presence. It looks very likely that this will be increasingly important in the future both in terms of my own career and in terms of trends within the profession.

Thing 2 - Reading Blogs

Reading and commenting on each others' blogs helped to create a real sense of community. I enjoyed the sense that CPD 23 was a community of people who wanted to develop new skills and share their experiences. I hope we manage to keep that going post-things.

Thing 4 - Current Awareness Tools - RSS Feeds

RSS feeds are one of those tools that make you wonder how you used to manage without them. My professional reading is so much more organised now I use Google Reader.

Thing 15 - Events

Events are great. Everyone should go to more training events and conferences if they get the chance. They are fantastic opportunities to learn new things, keep up to date with our fast moving profession and meet lots of friendly and interesting people. I knew that before thing 15 but I was happy to share this enthusiasm with the world.

That wasn't enough to gain 'events' a place as one of my favourite things though. The decisive factor was the prod in the direction of speaking at events or organising our own events. That really got me thinking. I have set speaking at an event as a personal goal and I am going to investigate organising events as well. So far I've just read some blogs about it but in November I hope to attend a training evening that promises 'top tips for event organisers'.

Thing 17 - Prezi

A controversial choice I know. Prezi doesn't get a place because I love it as a tool in its own right. It has good points but it also has flaws. I can see why some people hate it. This is a favourite because I am convinced that mastering it and using it is an opportunity to convince others that librarians know their stuff.

For educational librarians particularly this is a highly noticeable way of showing our colleagues outside the Library that we are trying new things. If we use this in research skills sessions or library inductions it will spread the message that librarians know all about the latest technology for teaching and learning.

Thing 18 - Screen Capture - Jing

The screen capture tool Jing is my newest favourite. I see it as an opportunity to make my sections of our VLE more informative and more interesting visually. Putting demonstrations on the VLE could help students to master a range of tasks from searching online journals to accessing e-books.

Final Thoughts

For someone who has admitted that he wants to cover several 'things' in the next few days I seem to have written quite a lot for thing 19. I think this is because it strikes me as an important one. Reflecting on how we can integrate the things into our lives is vital if we want to make sure that this process has a real and lasting impact on our professional development.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 18 - Screen Capture and Pod Casting

Screen Capture Tools - Jing

More new tools to experiment with. I got quite excited when I saw that screen capture tools were coming up. I have been looking for ways to make my areas of our Moodle VLE more exciting. I'm responsible for making sure that the science, technology, engineering and maths areas of the learning resources section are useful and engaging for our students.

I have been considering using screen capture to show them how to use some of our online resources. Advice on searching them for example or even just simple things like how to access our ebooks. We do cover this is in our start of year library skills session but some students miss them and others don't remember everything we show them. To be fair we do try to cover quite a lot in a short session. We have written directions on the VLE but a lot of our students are very visual and seeing something demonstrated is helpful for everyone.

Jing seems like a very clever sceen capture system. I love how easy it is to share the finished product. I was a bit worried about that side of it before I tried it out for myself. It seems like it should be very easy to put some screen capture tutorials up on the VLE.

We've looked at some interesting tools during CPD 23 but this is one that I really can put to use straight away. The scheme has motivated me to explore something that I've been meaning to try for a while. Thank you CPD 23.

Pod Casting - Audacity

I'm less sure about pod casting. I know they can be very effective but my past experiences of actually trying to create them suggest that they are not as technically easy as their more enthusiastic supporters claim. It's reasonably easy to create a pod cast but if you want to create one that actually sounds good then you have to either really spend some time mastering the finer points of sound recording or you have to beg for help from technical support.

As pod casting tools go Audacity seems reasonably easy to use and being free is always a plus. To be honest though unlike screen capture technology this probably isn't something that I will be using in the very near future.

It is entirely possible, even likely that I will one day find myself in a situation where pod casting seems like the answer to a need. When that happens I will be glad that CPD 23 gave me another chance to explore the idea and helpfully pointed me towards a free piece of software to do it on.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 17 - Prezi and Slideshare


Ah, the famous Prezi, the new all-singing, all-dancing alternative to poor old Power Point. I feel a bit sorry for Power Point. Everyone makes jokes about it and moans about it but actually it's not the tool's fault that people load it up with bullet points and then read them out or set up 43 slide presentations. Used properly Power Point does a perfectly good job of displaying information visually and thus making your talk more interesting and giving it some structure.

That said I am curious about Prezi. I have heard mixed reviews. Some people are very excited by the idea of a visual presentation that isn't tied down by a linear pattern. Prezi allows you to whiz around from idea to idea thus offering a better reflection of how people actually think. They see it as liberating us all from the tyranny of Power Point. On the other hand some people find that it is horribly time-consuming to set up and all that whizzing around makes them feel physically sick. It's hard to imagine two more different responses to the same piece of software.

The time-consuming argument is perhaps unfair. Using a system that you are unfamiliar with is bound to take longer than using one that you have known for years. People will get faster with practice.

However I think the time factor will stop teachers and lecturers from being eager to embrace this new tool. I hate to sound sneaky but I think this is an opportunity for librarians in educational institutions. Mastering Prezi and using it in inductions or research skills sessions will make us look ahead of the curve. I know it isn't really the latest thing anymore but using Prezi rather than Power Point would be a very noticeable way of highlighting the fact that we are experimenting with new digital tools. Spreading the message that librarians are experts on all the latest educational software must be a good thing. You could even see it as an example of advocacy as discussed in the previous 'thing'.

My own experiments with Prezi suggest that it will take me a while to feel completely comfortable with it. It seems like something that you have to spend some time playing around with before you unleash it on an audience. I want to impress people without making them sick or getting myself hopelessly lost. Once I've got the hang of Prezi it will be useful to have the power to create presentations that look more technically impressive than those created on the much maligned but perhaps genuinely overused Power Point.


Did someone at CPD 23 share my sense that Power Point gets a bad press? That seems like a plausible reason to pair Prezi with Slideshare. This is sort of a social network for people who use Power Points, a flikr for Power Point presentations. If you want to see examples of really effective or creative use of the software than this is the place to go.

I am very familiar with Slideshare because I used it in my teaching career. I uploaded my favourite Power Points onto the site in the hope that other teachers might find them useful. I'm not saying that any of them were particularly mind blowing but I'm a firm believer in sharing resources to spread good ideas and to stop us all going crazy. I also used it to find inspiration or resources for my own lessons. That is part of the spirit of Slideshare. It's a place for spreading good ideas and sharing best practice. It would be great if we all started to use it to share library and information literacy presentations.

The other useful aspect of Slideshare is that you can use it to learn about all kinds of interesting topics. Have a browse. You will be very surprised what people make presentations about.

I guess we might need something similar for Prezi soon. There's a project for someone. Unless that already exists somewhere?


Interesting counterargument to my "hey give Power Point a break" naivety.
Power Point is Evil from Wired Magazine.