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

Polar Libraries Colloquy – Collaborating creatively

In my last job at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), I helped with organising and planning the biennial Polar Libraries Colloquy, which in June 2014 was co-hosted by SPRI and the British Antarctic Survey. By the time the colloquy came around, I had already moved on to my current UX role but I had agreed to talk about creative collaboration with a polar focus so I had the chance to return to talk about all things polar. I really enjoyed meeting all of my polar colleagues in person and we had a lot of amazing discussions about my talk afterwards which was great fun.

I made some slides and spoke lots. Here are my slides and here are my words.

So, let’s face it. Polar librarians are a pretty niche bunch aren’t we? Our polar collections are dotted around the entire globe and while we’re often really great at getting in touch with each other, the non-polar world probably doesn’t even know that some of us exist. This is certainly something that we have experienced at SPRI in the past. With a front-facing museum space, people know all about the exciting artefacts and the thrilling displays, but they don’t always know about the vast bi-polar collections sitting just a few floors above their heads. What they also rarely realise is that they can come and use those collections for any interest at all, so long as it is polar-related in some way.

Is this a problem for other collections? Perhaps. Having worked at SPRI for three years, I’ve dealt with a wide range of research requests from around the world and I have supported education and outreach through using our collections. But, it isn’t just about what we have to hand and how we utilise that to our advantage. By being too polar-centric, we can risk shutting out users and collaboration opportunities that may not always seem as obviously relevant to us as polar professionals in the first instance.

There are many collections around the world that would never refer to themselves as ‘polar’ as such, but they still have resources that are of direct value and importance to our own work and that of the researchers that we may be supporting. One really good example of this is St John’s College, here in Cambridge. While on the surface it appears to be just one of many large college collections, aimed at serving a large undergraduate and postgraduate population, if you dig deeper you realise that they also house the Vivian Fuchs collection. Now St John’s would probably never refer to itself as a polar collection or institution, yet this untapped archival collection exists as do many other relevant resources.

Non-polar collections are only part of our potential to collaborate creatively. We can also reach out and connect with groups of people that would never consider coming in to a polar library space for teaching or education purposes. A while ago, we hosted a group of students from a sports science college. They were planning a hiking trip to the Alps and rather than contact a more obvious institution such as the Royal Geographical Society, they came to us. By using Captain Scott’s expedition as a backdrop, they were able to thoroughly investigate what went into planning an expedition, what sorts of risks and issues they would face and what calorific foods they would need to bring with them to ensure they were able to maintain their energy levels. They had complex grids and equations that allowed for them to not only figure out what they needed to be successful, but they were also able to look at Scott’s oversights using modern calorie information that simply wasn’t available 100 years ago. By critically evaluating a historical case study, the students were able to plan, predict and quantify exactly what they were going to face on their own trip even if it wasn’t quite as a complicated location as Antarctica.

These students were not studying polar issues, or climate change or even human biology in extreme conditions. They were simply figuring out what went in to embarking on tough challenges and they used our resources to learn from past mistakes and errors of judgement so they wouldn’t get into similar trouble.

As a very localised example, SPRI generally caters for postgraduate students and researchers. We very infrequently support undergraduate teaching but it certainly is not the bulk of what we provide as a service. However, in previous years we have offered study spaces to students looking for that secret silence space away from the crowded hubbub of their college or faculty library. As part of this, we have taken advantage of opportunities to talk to them over the daily tea break that happens at SPRI and have helped them make new connections with people within the institute. We have also introduced them to new angles to their work, by showing of the potential polar connections such as the linguist who didn’t know that we have one of the largest Russian language collections outside of the former Soviet Union, or that the literature student can take advantage of our extensive children’s literature material. Through connecting their work with polar research in ways they never thought possible, we are able to enrich the overall student experience as well as help individuals move beyond the traditional boundaries of their studies. Of course, these students may well never go on to become polar researchers but then that doesn’t really matter. They’ve had a fantastic experience with our polar collections that they never would have had otherwise.

As I am now at Cambridge Judge Business School, I thought I had left the polar world behind me but I was wrong. It followed me there and I soon discovered that there were many polar connections to be had in this unexpected environment. In the past, SPRI has supported risk management teaching through introducing participants to risk situations faced in extreme climates such as Antarctica and what does in to managing potential issues. We also have an academic, Chris Hope, who writes and researches extensively on the topic of climate change, with an more policy-focused angle. He runs models, just as the SPRI scientists, but he uses his findings in different ways. These two examples demonstrate the potential connections that are to be had in areas that probably could have been overlooked before.

And of course there’s us: librarians. We’re pretty fantastic and we have the opportunity to truly offer collaboration opportunities. We have our connections and our skill sets but we also offer something very powerful. Neutral spaces. Libraries don’t have an agenda past getting people the access to the stuff that they need. Libraries can be used for innovation and collaboration that is open and uncomplicated by other factors. One perfect example of this is that SPRI has been used in the past for great political meetings between representatives that would otherwise not have been able to be in the same room as each other, such as during the Cold War. We can put people in touch with each other and allow for them to meet in our spaces without any baggage or constraints.


We have the chance to expand beyond our physical collections and offer neutral digital spaces as well, where people can collaborate and innovate remotely as well. We don’t have to be bound by our physical spaces and we can reach out beyond the walls of our institutions to bring people together. Through collaborating and connecting with each other and on behalf of our users, we can make amazing things happen. And that is our true superpower as Superhero Librarians. We get to know people, their work, their interests and the people that they should be talking to. We make those connections happen and we see the benefits on a daily basis when we get the thanks and free copy of the book that has come out of that partnership that we made happen.

So, how are you going to use your superpower today?


Image credit: Trey Ratcliff via Flickr


ARLG and social media policies

Mid-way through the Social Media Driving Licence, I hopped in to Meg Westbury‘s car and we drove down to the University of Sussex to give a workshop on Social Media Policies as part of the 2014 ARLG conference. For those of you not caught up with the heady array of acronyms in librarianship, ARLG is Academic and Research Libraries Group, part of CILIP (or Chartered Institute of Information Professionals).

I can’t claim any originality in this particular talk as Meg asked me if I would be interested and she was keen to co-present with me which was rather lovely.

So we spoke for a relatively short space of time about the importance of a good social media policy and how it can help when venturing in to the world of social media as a library.

We did some rather clean slides using the excellent Haiku Deck (which we then had to download as a PowerPoint because of technology fails) and got our teach on.

Meg spoke about what social media is and what it can offer to libraries and users. Social media, apart from any else, is free and we can get a lot from it with relatively little effort. She also highlighted how social media can humanise the library service, if done well. This is always a point that people find surprising about social media but it is also something that I find is often the most powerful part of using social media well.

Social media can help us connect with our user base, get feedback and show off what we can do, as well as promoting our brand. Now I realise that the word ‘brand’ often results in a sharp intake of breath but we all have brands to maintain. Sure, a lot of our services won’t have its own dedicated logo, catchy slogan or mascot but our services represent things: integrity, professionalism, open access to information. Those are all our brand and we can built on that through consistent messaging and campaigns.

Meg moved on to discuss fears and concerns with regards to social media. Most of these concerns were pretty typical ones: lack of time and training. Social media does not have to take that long if done well and systematically, and training can be done on the job especially if you have a good social media policy backing you up when you’re still getting to grips with stuff.

Meg then started explaining a bit more about what a good social media policy can offer, especially with regards to ensuring social media sustainability, consistency and basically making sure people understand what they’re doing and why.

It was then my turn to discuss the social media policy that we have at Cambridge Judge Business School Information and Library Services. Our policy is very service specific and what we try to achieve is rather different to other School departments, hence the need for specialised policies.

I spoke about our Facebookables and Tweetables, which are essentially examples of good content that we can use for each platform. As each service is subtly different, we create content differently. In addition, we consider our audiences to be different on different platforms so we tailor our messages accordingly.

I went on to talk about the benefit and importance of a good social media rota. We have a rota for the team which includes desk shifts, enquiries work and all the other typical day-to-day things that go into keeping a library service running. Social media is a part of that and so we all take it in turns to generate content and respond to our followers on our various platforms. If we didn’t have a rota, other stuff would get in the way and it wouldn’t get done. Simple. If you’re going to do social media, you need to take it seriously and put in systems to make sure that it happens regularly and consistently.

I then moved on to a practical exercise where I asked people to start thinking about the following few points, write down their answers and then discuss in groups. These points were:

  • Who is your audience? (very important to identify this early on)
  • Why be on social media? (don’t just do it for the sake of it…have a goal!)
  • How will you keep it human? (stock message about opening times and nothing else is not going to work!)
  • What will you be promoting? (your service? yourself? your collection?
  • How will you manage staffing? (this is an integral part of the process)

I prepared a worksheet which is available for reuse. Meg and I also put together a list of what we think are ‘pretty good’ social media policies from elsewhere.

Once everyone had had a chance to talk amongst themselves, I encouraged people to feed back their ideas to the room and we had some great discussions from everyone. The key thing to remember with social media policies is that everyone’s approach will be as different and specific as the place within which they’re working so everyone came at it from a completely different angle which made for a fun discussion.

We concluded the session by briefly talking about the importance of measuring impact (built-in stats are your friend!) and also benchmarking your social media provision against other similar services that are doing the same sorts of things as you.

Overall it was a really fun session and it was really only made that way because of the great contributions and energy that the participants brought to the session.

Social media doesn’t have to be scary and a good policy can help set your social media efforts free, rather than hindering them. Having a good framework means that everyone knows what they’re doing, what is expected of them and where they can look if they need to double-check that they’re still on target with what everyone else is doing.

Image credit: Kristina Alexanderson via Flickr



Social Media Driving Licence

So one of the main things that I did over the summer was co-teach the wonderful Social Media Driving Licence with my colleagues Andy and Ange. The main premise for the course was to teach and empower members of staff across Cambridge Judge Business School in their social media endeavours. We had a whole range of folk take part, from members of faculty to the head of HR, as well as course administrators and external affairs staff.

We ran a very packed programme over the course of eight weeks (end of May to mid July) and it was a lot of work, both for us as teachers but for those taking part as well.

A quick run-down of what we did looks something a bit like this:

Week 1: Framing the Licence

Week 2: Blogging: getting the word out

Week 3: Twitter: come fly with us

Week 4: Tweet-a-thon

Week 5: Twitter tools: curation, control and reach

Week 6: Google: more than just a search engine

Week 7: Sharing and caring: tools and citizenship

Week 8: Evaluating the Licence… with LEGO Serious Play

Underpinning the course was blogging, which was inspired by the excellent 23 Things programme that has run twice in Cambridge. Blogging allowed for participants to not only get used to using one social media platform (WordPress) but it also encouraged them to reflect and comment on their own learning experiences. Part of the assessment element of the course was to complete certain activities and write about them, which meant lots of reading spreadsheet-filling-in for Andy, Ange and me. However, because everyone was so engaged and were having fun with the course, reading what everyone was writing became less of a course administration-esque task, but more of a exciting look to see how everyone was progressing.

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