Librarian as Educator: doing outreach, access and education with schools

This is a blog version of a Librarians in Training session that I co-presented with Ryan Cronin. We decided to write this up for people who attended as something to refer back to, as well as for those who were unable to attend due to meetings/family commitments/geographical location etc.

Please note that this was presented for a Cambridge University audience so a lot of the terms and references will be specific and may not make sense to all. We hope that this session (and blog post) helps people considering trying new outreach and engagement activities and we aim to show that it isn’t scary and can actually be a lot of fun!

This is a very long write-up, hence the cut!

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Mini update

Apologies for my blog being a bit dormant since November 2013. The main reason for this is that I have a new job!

Since early January, I have been the User Experience Librarian at the Cambridge Judge Business School which is all exciting and new. I will blog about my role and what sort of work I’m doing because I find it really interesting and engaging, and I hope you will too.

I am also co-presenting a Librarians in Training (Cambridge-based peer-to-peer training programme) session on Librarians as Educators on Wednesday 12th February at St John’s College, which I will do a write up on and disseminate materials for those unable to attend. If you are thinking of coming along, there are just two spots left so book now! If you’ve got the Cambridge credentials, courses can be booked through the main UL website here:

I’m also involved with the ARLG Eastern committee, am going to lots of conferences over the next few months and have lots of other projects and exciting things planned so watch this space as I will share as much as I can as and when I get time to write.

Thanks for reading and I hope 2014 is as exciting for you as it is going to be for me!

Librarian as researcher: doing research in your day job by Emma Coonan and Jane Secker (workshop write-up)

"3 out of 4 scientists can't explain copyright. The choice is clear: Creative Commons" by BrokenCities on Flickr

“3 out of 4 scientists can’t explain copyright. The choice is clear: Creative Commons” by BrokenCities on Flickr

Disclaimer: as this training session was offered to University of Cambridge librarians, it may be very Cambridge-centric. However, I think there is a lot you can get from what was discussed anyway!

Yesterday I attended an excellent Librarians in Training session called Librarian as research: doing research in your day job. It was presented by the delightful Emma Coonan (Cambridge University Library) and Jane Secker (LSE). To give you a picture, we were all sitting in groups around a table with Emma and Jane presenting from the front of the room and then occasionally roaming around the groups. We knew we were in for a mixed and interactive session from the get-go.

The slides from an earlier (but almost identical) presentation on the same topic was available on SlideShare.


Emma and Jane shared much of the presentation and switched around quite frequently which made for some interesting variety. Initially, Emma spoke on what we could expect from the session, through both talking about how they did research together and what they have found beneficial. Attendees were told that they could either sit and listen (as beginners or people wanting to see if research is for them) or they could get ideas and tips (for those already doing research). Either way, the session was aimed as being practical and reflective in equal measure, which is certainly was.

Jane started by telling us a bit about herself. She currently works as part of LSE’s e-learning team which is based in the Information Management and Technology department. She spoke about how she found she didn’t want to be a librarian while doing her library qualification so she carried on to do a PhD at Aberystwyth so she could pursue an academic career, only to realise that wasn’t for her either and switched back to wanting to be a librarian again. She continued on to pursue roles that combined research and librarianship such as digitisation and JISC projects and then moved on to e-learning work. Currently she is in a more practical job where research is not in the remit of the job, but she still wants to include this into her work.

Emma comes from a very different background to Jane and has a lot of experience in researching literary theory and other areas. However, she worked with Jane on the Arcadia Project which was interesting as they did not seek each other out for the project. Someone else put them together which turned out to be an excellent judgement of characters as they worked well together with their similar interests in undergraduate education and other similar areas. As part of their Arcadia research, the pair came up with a curriculum based on actual research rather than something thought up by sitting in a room.

The data collection element of Emma and Jane’s Arcardia research mainly consisted of carrying out interviews by talking to people and experts, carrying out an extensive literature review and then running workshops to present the raw form of their curriculum for feedback purposes. Over the course of three months, they achieved a huge amount which is a testament for how two people combining their efforts can lead to achieving so much more than someone on their own necessarily would.

Jane is currently working on information sharing and literacy. Emma made the point that she is very different to Jane in that she has never done any externally funded research projects. All of her work has been practitioner-centric with a lot of it reflecting local needs and demands. She has also done some work on distance learning support and highlighted how there isn’t a lot of data being captured about current distance learning students.

Doing things; writing about it; sharing ideas through research and opportunity

After this introduction, Emma and Jane continued the session based around several key questions that they presented on and also threw over to us to discuss as groups and with the rest of the room. I will block out the rest of this post using each question area as a theme.

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#cilipnpd13 Workshop A: Digital libraries: modern skills mix for modern library services

Workshop A:

Digital libraries: modern skills mix for modern library services

Nick Stopforth, Head of Libraries and Information, Doncaster Council


Nick started by explaining that he is also a member of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and is the lead representative for their digital offer project. Nick started working in libraries in 2001 and his work has given him a keen sense of the issues faced by librarians in the public sector.

Part of his work and focus, especially with the SCL, is working on how to help people in public libraries use and develop digital skills. The SCL is developing “universal offers” which comprise of reading, information, health and digital offers. For the reading aspect, around 97% of local authorities have signed up and the SCL is working with others on the remaining three categories. The overall aims of these offers is to provide consistency across country libraries and to work together across local authorities.

One of the more challenging offers in the digitial offer. It is mostly a financial challenge due to the fact that upgrading whole systems country-wide is very costly. However, the more immediately achievable option is to ensure that there is provision of free web access with support from staff in all public libraries. This is made even easier by the fact that many libraries have already provided this service for some time. There is also an emphasis on extending this access to those with disabilities.

The slightly harder to achieve aim of this offer is to have federated access to resources and to digitise all archives for easier access. While not impossible, it is certainly more costly and presents longer-term challenges overall.

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30 New Media Tools in 30 Minutes

I have just got back from a really interesting session at the Judge Business School, run by Meg Westbury who also co-led the session on chat services in libraries that I wrote about a while ago.

This session was a whirlwind experience of Meg cramming in 30 interesting new tools into 30 minutes! I was very impressed that she managed to do and still give us enough information about each item so that we understood what each thing was for.

The list of tools covered is as follows (and yes it is more that 30 actual things but Meg was giving us some bonus ones too!):




























I’ve provided direct links to all of the items covered in the session so you can have a quick look yourself. Meg had a really cool way of keeping track of what would be useful and what might not be so useful by handing out three coloured index cards for people to note things down. One was green for “definitely useful”, one was yellow for “maybe, not sure” and one was red for “totally not useful!”.

I found myself writing fairly even amounts on both the green and yellow cards with a few items on the red card. My personal red card items were Reddit, Pearltrees, Focusbooster and StayFocusd. I don’t really like Reddit and I have used it before without much enjoyment. Pearltrees just didn’t grab me and the focus-keeping items just felt a bit controlling. I mean, they would be great for a procrastinating student but I certainly wouldn’t use them. I multitask and I always have lots of tabs open with different things going on so I would find having certain things being blocked to be frustrating and would get in the way of my work process.

I added a few to the yellow card, such as SimilarPages and They just didn’t draw me in immediately, but I will look into them and have a play around a bit more when I have a spare moment.

On the green card, I added 18 items that I really liked. In my top three were, in no particular order, LightShot, Screencast-o-matic and Dipity. They all look like really handy tools that I could easily use in my day-to-day work. I also green carded the social media network, which I will definitely be joining.

I would write about each individual item more but I think it is best for you to look at them and see what you think. How I work and the things that I would like to use in my library work and reader engagement may well be very different to what you would like to do or prioritise. Plus Meg did such a good job at explaining everything really well and quickly! There is also a neat post about it all here.

So have a click around and see what you think! Even comment about it if you feel like it!

Chat reference enquiries

Today I went to a really interesting session about using chat for enquiry work in libraries, at the Judge Business School. The session was run by Meg Westbury (JBS) and Libby Tilley (English). It was a fascinating session that confirmed a lot of what I already knew about chat and presented interesting ways of coping with the impact of chat on the workplace.

I just wrote an assignment on the reference interview in the Information Age (I might post extracts on here when it has been graded) and chat came up as a factor. Many of the papers that I read discussed how essential it was to keep the good library practice used in the typical face-to-face reference interview when using chat. This was confirmed by a lot of what Meg and Libby said in their talk.

One criticism of chat, from the papers I looked at, was that chats were cut off too quickly and users didn’t feel that their enquiry had been dealt with in a satisfactory way. While chat is very quick and instant, it is so critical that it is seen as just the same as a telephone conversation or a face-to-face meeting. Don’t say in chat what you wouldn’t say in person and don’t be abrupt in signing off. Leave the door open for that user to chat to you again, or even come in to see you in person once they have made that initial contact.

Initial contact via chat is so important. Rather than create barriers by not being able to see the person you’re talking to, the anonymity of chat actually allows users to feel more comfortable in approaching and information professional with their queries. No-one likes to feel stupid or to ask an embarassing question in person, and the online option is certainly a preferable one. Again, this approach was supported in the session, with an emphasis being placed on mentioning your name and encouraging students to contact you again, or to even come in and chat in person if the research need requires that level of involvement.

My main concern which chat is one that most people can understand and will probably face themselves: staffing. With instant responses expected in this communication medium, how can small teams of librarians manage to staff the chat “enquiry point” as well as the physical enquiry desk and other points of contact? Well, as Libby said, with good management. It is possible to run a good chat service but you have to have the right amount of people available and to be able to post useful messages to users if you are unable to be at your desk for a certain period of time.

The limited opening hours of most libraries limits the 24/7 nature of the chat enquiry service, however I feel strongly that it is still a worthwhile venture. For example, trying to get a straight answer out of a lengthy email chain could be greatly improved by the quick t0-and-fro of the chat conversation.If you have the staff and can see a practical way in which the chat enquiry service option can be integrated into your existing service provision, then go for it! From the experience that we heard today, it can be tough and there will be need for rapid change but if you manage to pull it off, it could provide another excellent way for users to get in touch. The online visibility of your library could be improved through this new measure, and if the technology catches up, the chat service could go mobile through apps. The possibilities are excellent but the work has to be put in.

I would like to introduce a chat service at my library at SPRI, but with our big migration project looming and a reworking of the entire library space, I think it’ll have to wait a few years until we’re in a good position to try it out.

I love infographics!

I found this infographic on the fabulous Ange Fitzpatrick’s tumblr and I wanted to share it too!

Click to enlarge

I found the stats very interesting and some were more surprising that others.

I was shaking my fist slightly at the fact that I am now just too old to be counted as the super special 1% age bracket but that’s ok! I also liked the hope that the small print provides to us younger, early career librarians with the comment about a lot of older librarians are coming up to retirement. Of course, losing all that knowledge and experience is a terrible thing but it does also guarantee that higher posts become free for people to move into, thereby freeing up lower down posts creating the chance for movement within the library community again.

We went through a stage here in Cambridge where no posts were being advertised, or if they were they were only part-time ones. This was all around the time when funding was being threatened and people were rather uneasy about their departments. Thankfully that has eased somewhat and several College Librarian posts have come up so the flow is back and people are able to develop and grow within a very competitive environment.

The wages statistics are interesting too. I’m not sure about the exact correlation with UK wages but I doubt that there is much difference. Yes, it is a shocker. Librarians don’t get paid that much. However, I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we hardly went into this profession to earn the big bucks like they do in the City now did we? I’ve never been one for chasing high paid jobs because I’d rather get less money and do something that I love. The old adage of money doesn’t make you happy is very true. Sure it helps pay the bills but I think we can get so much extra from our roles as information providers than we would doing a high-paid and soulless job, and if you’re not enjoying it then get out and find something that you do love! We spend so much of our lives working, we may as well enjoy the thing that dominates our waking hours so much!

Moving on, we use both sides of our brains. Brilliant! I have had friends who have said that being a librarian must be easy and could not understand why we needed qualifications and training to “stamp books”. As the diagram shows, we do so much more than that and it is nice to see it all listed out and divided appropriately. We librarians are definitely smart cookies when it comes to multi-tasking and having a wide skills set!

While I like that librarianship has given a lot of opportunities to women as a career environment, I do not like how we dominate it so much. With the statistics of a feisty female 78% versus a measly male percentage of 22%, the numbers are certainly skewed. I personally feel that having a balanced workplace benefits everybody. Both genders have different ways of working and different ways of looking at things, and I really feel that having a balanced team works out for the better. When I used to work at the UL, I felt there was a really nice mix of people in the various departments that I worked with. However, I have worked in other environments that are almost exclusively female. While this is not a problem for me personally, I do always ponder on what we are missing out on by having such a potentially one-sided approach to problems and working methods.

I am curious as to why the female factor is so dominant in the library world. I can understand why nursing is traditionally seen as a predominantly female role (even though this is a ridiculous stereotype!) but I can’t quite figure out what is so “female” about books and the educational environment. Surely, with all of our rather specialised technical skills and analytical thinking, this is just the industry that would appeal to men. We do many similar things to gaming developers, for example, yet women are often struggling to make an impact in that sector. I’d like to know what people think. I’m sure there are some very simple reasons, such as the stereotype of the old lady in her cardie looking after the large-print section in the local public library.

Finally, I love the statistics about librarians’ interests. Shame we don’t seem to do more of the active stuff like SCUBA diving, but we do a lot of creative and outdoors-y activities too which makes us all rather nice and balanced as people. Well done us!

Even though this infographic was predominantly American, I feel that there aren’t that many differences here in the UK and it is nice to see some interesting facts about your profession popped into a legible and fun format.