Creating a 23 Research Things programme

Today is the launch of the 23 Research Things programme that I have been working on and developing for the past few months. A lot of work has gone into it and over the next few weeks I will blog about the various Things as and when they are released. But I also wanted to write about why I developed this programme. So read on!

When I started my sort-of-not-really-anymore new job as a Research Support Librarian, an immediate challenge struck me. There is only one of me. Let me unpack this seemingly obvious observation. I work for a library that used to cover just maths, a complex subject area in itself. But since the closure of the main science library in Cambridge which was then merged with aforementioned maths library, we suddenly found ourselves responsible for supporting the vast majority of STEM across the whole of the University of Cambridge.

Now for those of you that aren’t familiar with the *interesting* and *unique* library system at Cambridge, we don’t have one almighty library to rule them all. Oh no. Well we have the main University Library but that’s a bit of a red herring. We have generally speaking over 120 individual libraries. A good chunk of those are college libraries which are libraries based within colleges which are, in the Cambridge world, students’ homes. A student gets allocated a college which often has nothing to do with their subject. They THEN get access to their department library, whichever that might be and those department libraries make up the rest of the rather confusing array of library options open to students.

Don’t get me wrong, all those libraries are amazing and offer lots of great opportunities for students and staff alike. But it’s still a confusing system in comparison to most typical universities.

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Where do we go from here?

It’s the Monday after the Friday before and I have gone back to the office in a country that feels quite different to the one that I was in this time last week. All that I can keep thinking of as we watch the uncertainty of politicians grappling with a referendum vote is what on earth do we do next?

As a disclaimer, I voted Remain. I feel strongly about being part of something bigger than ourselves and while the EU certainly isn’t perfect, we are far poorer being out of it. However, this is just a disclaimer and not an invitation to shout and tell me why I’m wrong.

I don’t tend to get particularly political on this blog but the EU Referendum result seems too important, too wide-reaching to not say something. It isn’t a lot but it is something that I hope helps. While I can’t pretend to even know what it all means yet, heck no-one does really, I know what we must do as a profession. STICK. TOGETHER.

I had the bittersweet experience of being at UXLibs II on the Friday that we will never forget. I had a much needed breakfast with a very wonderful Swedish colleague who I was able to talk to about the immediate rawness of what the result meant to me and to her. I was also incredibly grateful to be surrounded by so many European colleagues at the conference who kept saying how sorry they were and offering hugs as I and my many British friends and colleagues welled up with tears. It was a powerful day and I will never forget how much I appreciated not being made to feel awful by other people who could have easily have been cross with us for the decision our country made. But they weren’t and we worked together in harmony for the rest of the day.

What the responses at UXLibs II to the whole mess of this referendum made me re-appreciate is that the library profession is and will be so incredibly important in the weeks, months and years to come. It doesn’t matter how people voted (well it does, but that’s another discussion) but it matters more how we move forward together and deal with the fallout from this extremely close decision.

As a profession, I feel strongly that we need to do the following:

  1. Stick together.

    I’ve already said this but I’ll say it again. We have a long history of working with our many colleagues around the world even if our countries are at war or just political loggerheads. That should never change.

  2. Help our users.

    There are going to be a lot of confused and scared people out there and we can do what we do best by providing knowledge and information, no matter how small, from reliable sources without judgement or filtering. Misinformation is partly what created this whole mess in the first place.

  3. Offer safe spaces.

    As we have  already seen, the most rotten parts of our society are surfacing in the wake of the referendum result with many people experiencing overt racism and persecution due to the colour of their skin, their EU nationality, their religion, or simply because they appear as ‘other’. This is completely against the British values that I stand for and we should offer refuge for those who are suffering whether they be users, colleagues, friends, or complete strangers.

  4. Use our professional bodies to campaign.

    Many of us have been completely screwed over by government cuts and the continued decimation of our library systems. While many groups have done amazing work to campaign for libraries and their value, some of this work has been disjointed. We cannot allow this disjointedness to seep into campaigning for what happens next with our EU membership. Regardless of how you voted, the nation should have the best deal possible and we all need to shout about that as individuals and as professional organisations.

  5. Hold organisations accountable.

    One thing I have been immediately concerned about when it comes to the professional impact of this vote is how it will affect my many STEM colleagues who I support and work with on a daily basis. Open Access, funding, publishing pressures…so many of these issues will be affected by whatever relationship we will eventually have with the EU and we cannot allow unscrupulous companies to take advantage of potential opportunities/absence of direction to weasel out of promises and agreements that we have fought so hard to achieve. I won’t spell this out but you will know what I mean from your own experiences. I can’t even begin to process how this will affect the wider university and research landscapes.

  6. Stay angry.

    Regardless of how you voted, a lot of us are angry. While we are still in such an early stage that that anger is still raw and leading to tears and pits of despair, it is also fuel. So when you’ve cried out all your rage and feelings of betrayal, pick yourself up and pour that anger into pushing, campaigning, and fighting to keep this country together with its incredibly rich variety of people, nationalities, cultures, viewpoints, and experiences.

In the words of a superb individual who paid the ultimate price for this whole mess, MP Jo Cox:

We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

Stay safe everyone.


Am I ready for the researcher of the future?

Well…am I? To answer this question I went along to an all-day seminar run by ALPSP whose name kept on being mentioned as if they were also a well known mountain range which was very confusing.

I normally don’t like the whole ‘future’ emphasis/descriptors that many training events use. I get that we need to plan ahead but all too often these sorts of things look beyond the present and the people that we’re trying to work with and support RIGHT. NOW. However, once I saw what was on the agenda, I was a little bit more reassured that this wouldn’t be too much of the blue skies thinking but more about real experiences and how we can tackle issues that come up in the research process. Which was nice. The whole day was primarily aimed at those working in publishing even though anyone who works with researchers was welcome. As a result of this perhaps, I was one of only two librarians (if you don’t count speakers) who attended which was actually quite refreshing because it meant we weren’t going to be in yet another librarian echo chamber. Always good to get out of those from time to time I find.

The day was roughly themed into two parts with the morning looking at the researcher experience and the afternoon looking at tools and services to help with the research process. While I got a lot of useful information on new tools that I was either familiar already but hadn’t used that much or ones that I had never heard of before and really should explore, I found the morning session with a panel of early career researchers to be the most valuable. Fair warning though, a lot was said…I wrote lots of notes…I won’t say who said what, mostly because I can’t remember and also because I don’t want to quote anyone in a way that they’re not happy with. So, summary it is!

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Those sharp-eyed ones among you may well have realised that I haven’t written on here since June 2015. Well that’s because epic things happened and the following months were swallowed up into some time-loop-abyss-work-thing.

To cut a long story short, I got a temporary promotion to cover a deputy librarian role (lots of work and a lot of fun)…I then saw an absolutely brilliant Research Support Librarian role going elsewhere in the University…I applied. I got it. And now here I am.

So I am now looking after the research needs of a huge and diverse community, namely the STEM community. Many of these researchers may have their own departmental libraries which is all well and good but I am in a library that is a sub-library of the main University Library so we sort of sit outside of the system. Confused yet?

In a nutshell, I don’t have a dedicated set of user groups but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I do look after anyone doing maths though so that’s ok. As for everyone else, well that’s where it gets interesting. Over the next few months I am going to be spending my time identifying key contacts in departments to collaborate with and see what gaps I can help fill in places that don’t have much library presence.

I am also looking at developing a rather sizeable user education programme that not only means lots of teaching from me but also me trying to pull in experts from around our community as well as developing things like YouTube videos and other content that can be used whenever and wherever people need it. So it’s an exciting time.

I will write up what I’m doing as I go because apart from anything else, just documenting it all will be helpful for me and might be of use to someone else too. Oh and I’m going to start writing about other stuff too as I’m supporting areas such as open access which throw up controversies on an almost daily basis so there’s a lot to engage with.

So thanks for sticking with me and here’s to a hopefully more active blog! Yay!


I live, I die. I LIVE AGAIN!

So those of you who are tuned in to popular culture should hopefully get my Mad Max: Fury Road reference here. If you haven’t seen it, it is very good.

It’s been a bit quiet on here for the past few months and that is mainly because my life has been rather epically busy as of late. The main thing that I did which I was most proud of was the amazing UX in Libraries conference. I was part of the conference committee and in charge of finances so all of the stuff that we bought, I made sure we paid for it while keeping on budget which was quite fun.

I also gave a 2 hour workshop on UX methods, and you can get my slides on SlideShare.

The conference was an insane amount of work to plan and run but it was a huge success which made it all worth it. There are lots of blog posts out there of how people found their time and conveniently Matthew Reidsma (one of our superb keynotes) has pulled them all together! Nice one.

Other than all things conference, I have been involved with the rather fun FutureLib project here at the University of Cambridge which is looking at new services and solutions to help users use libraries better, in the way they want and to promote what is actually out there for them to take advantage of. I’m specifically working with a team on a concept called SpaceFinder which, as the name suggests, helps people find spaces to do stuff in. We’re still in the early design-and-testing stages but overall it’s looking pretty good.

Since I last posted on here, I’ve spoken at several conferences and meetings:

I’ve been carrying on my UX research, much of which I really want to share so I will be writing posts about all of that soon so watch this space…

I’ve been involved in a working package looking specifically at UX as part of our rather complicated LMS replacement project for the entire University which has been interesting, but a lot of work.

I’m also writing a chapter for Andy Priestner and Matt Borg’s UX in Libraries book. Having never written a chapter for a book before, it has certainly been a steep learning curve for me and I’m in my fourth edit but hopefully I’ll get it done and you can read it in all it’s glory (and all the other excellent chapters) when it comes out in 2015/6.

At work, we’ve also done a ton of teaching and run focused sessions, like the Tweets ‘n’ Eats programme in late 2014.

Speaking of work, CJBS is about to go into a huge phase of building a new extension to the existing building, which conveniently is smack bang next to the Information Centre. They are doing fancy things with noise-reducing cladding but it’ll be an interesting challenge to add to the mix of offering our service on a day-to-day basis!

So, hope you’re all doing fabulously and watch this space for updates on my UX research and what we’ve been doing and finding out!

UX apps to make your research easier (and more fun!)

I reviewed a few apps this week for the plasma slides that we have in the Information Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School and I enjoyed some of the apps so much, I just had to share them. Two of these apps were part of my plasma slide lot and the third was inspired by a planning session with Meg Westbury for our up-and-coming UX teaching session for librarians, due in January 2015. So use these apps if you have the necessary tech to make them work as they are pretty nifty. All of them are free though which helps!

1. Post-It Plus

I got so incredibly excited about this app as I have spent many an hour typing up Post-It content from group meetings and have had to make sure that I don’t lose any pesky Post-Its that was to attach themselves to something that isn’t my desk work area.

Post-It Plus works really well on the iPad (unfortunately it is only available on iTunes at the moment) and you basically use it to take a snapshot of your Post-It covered space and it will capture them all, covert them into really helpful and manageable groups and allow you to then share them as a PDF or other such image-based file. Great for capturing any focus group work or other situations where people have been pooling ideas.

So you capture: IMG_0080You name your group of Post-Its whatever you want:

And you can reorder them into something simple:


Sorted! Oh and they have a video too.

2. Skitch

Skitch comes from the people who make Evernote and I can’t wait to use it with photo diary work. This app is available from iTunes and for Android devices so lots of people can use it well. Essentially you take a photo and you are then given the chance to annotate it with text, arrows, emoticons and free-hand sketch lines. I could see this as being really helpful if you have a user who has taken a photo of their workspace and wants to explain what everything is without you necessarily having to be there to listen. A nice self-contained reporting device! You can also annotate things like maps too which could be useful for anyone looking at physical spaces on a wider scale.

Here’s one I did earlier by snapping a shot of a lovely book display in the Information Centre and scribbling all over it.

From Skitch

And ooh video!

3. Super Note

Originally I was going to test out and recommend an interview recording app called Highlight but alas, it has been discontinued much to the disappointment of Meg and me.

So, I did some digging and found Super Note! Highlight was originally recommended to me because you could tap your smartphone’s screen whenever someone said something interesting during the interview so you could go back and check out the..well…highlights once your session has finished. This is especially useful for when you’re reviewing and transcribing key information for your research.

Super Note is a pretty nifty app that is free and available on iTunes and for Android which is a nice positive. The free version offers a lot of functionality but it will occasionally prompt and remind you to upgrade to the full package which can be a bit of a pest but really isn’t too invasive considering it’s free!

When taking recordings, you can use the note function to add comments to yourself as well as a one-touch time stamp if you want to simply draw attention to a certain comment when you’re reviewing things later on. You can also take photos (one shot per note in the free version) which will then get attached to your note and recording which is rather helpful. I can see images being useful for a post-cognitive mapping interview or something similar so I can bundle everything together in one place.

Super Note is promoted as a tool for students keeping notes and resources together during their lectures but I think UX researchers could get a lot from this too.

So you load it up:

photoYou get your recording started while taking notes and pictures:

photo 2

And hey presto! Notes, images and recordings are all tied together in a neat little bundle for later unpacking:

photo 1

In conclusion…

I found these apps through looking for new and free ways to do my research. I realise not all of us are fortunate enough to have gadgets and gizmos aplenty, but if you do have a humble smartphone, it can help a huge amount with making UX research life a tiny bit easier.

What apps do you use? Got any good recommendations? Let me know in the comments and enjoy exploring these wonderful UX-friendly apps!

Image credit: Ruben Bos via Flickr