It doesn’t seem like long ago that I was writing with excitement about taking up a role on the SLA Board of Directors. Today, I’m writing with regret about stepping down.

It doesn’t seem long ago because it isn’t, really. I’ve served two years of a three year term, and stepping down a year early sticks in my throat and hurts and feels an awful lot like failure.

But it also feels like a new beginning, because it is. I’m pregnant, and we’re expecting our second child in the spring. I’m extremely excited and unbearably nervous: a baby took up all my time and effort, and a toddler takes up all my time and effort, so what on earth are you supposed to do with a baby and toddler at once?

Cope, of course. Because coping is what we do. But there comes a point when you have to admit that you can’t cope with everything, not all at once, and – what’s even harder – admit to yourself that there is no shame in this.

I haven’t quite got the hang of that second bit, yet. Because I am still ashamed. I know that I have made the right decision, to step down from the SLA Board. Those of you in SLA will know that it’s a challenging time for the association, full of great change, and a time when they particularly need leaders who can give their full and best effort and attention to SLA. I won’t be able to.

I could cope. I could stay on and do the minimum. I could put aside time for Board calls and delegate bedtimes and then get called away and have to go, because when your baby has vomited more milk than you realised could fit in their stomach all over themselves and their cot and is now cold, wet, and hungry again, you don’t wait until someone proposes an adjournment. I could agree to take on the extra work of leading implementation teams and taskforces, with the best of intentions. I could put undue pressure on my Board and association colleagues when they have to pick up the slack, because I can’t do it all.

And SLA doesn’t need me, specifically. No-one is going to cry themselves rigid because I’m not on a conference call, or run towards me at conference shouting ‘Bethan! Beeeettthhaaann!’ and then cling to my leg and refuse to let go. SLA needs good people, and it has them, on its Board and its staff and in its membership. I have every confidence that Karen Reczek (who will take up the empty Board seat in January) will serve SLA at least as well as I could have, and very probably much better.

But it’s not just about the pull between parenthood and professional involvement. I am absolutely not saying ‘I have kids, so I can’t do this.’ It’s about things that happen in your life, and knowing that when some things come in, other things have to be let go. It’s certainly not unique to having children: your life can be equally changed by illness, grief, by caring for others or yourself, by moving house or falling in love. Things happen. Things change. And you have to change with them or you risk falling apart.

While my priorities have changed, it’s not that I don’t care anymore, but my time is full, and, more importantly, my brain is full. I work on four services/projects at work now, and I have multiple SLA responsibilites, and a CILIP Chartership mentee, and family and friends and a home and a half-written probably-abandoned nanowrimoproject and so many books to read and… I care about all of these things. They all enrich my life. I want to do them all. But I can’t. I’m already finding that I’m making mistakes, underperforming not just for SLA but at work and at home. They may not be big omissions or errors (I forgot to put the bins out this week), but they’re there, and they matter. An email I forgot to send has hurt someone, and that failure is going to stay with me for a long time.

[Please don’t think that I’m putting all of this down to SLA vs Life. I have a list of ‘things that I cannot possibly do all of and stay sane’. It includes (but is absolutely not limited to):

  • Be brilliant at my job
  • Be an amazing mother
  • Cook delicious and healthy food
  • Keep a beautifully clean and tidy house
  • Be top of my fitbit friends league chart
  • Be professionally involved and up-to-date with everything in the library, archive & HE sectors
  • Learn to do something really cool, like crafting maybe? Or become an expert in something interesting to talk to people about at parties. That I don’t go to. But I’d be really fascinating if I did.

Most days? I don’t even manage one of these.]

So if stepping down is the right thing to do, why the guilt? Why the shame? Because, of course, I feel like I should be able to do it all. I feel – don’t laugh, please – that I’m letting feminism down by stepping back from a professional post because of domestic concerns. I compare myself with people who I know are hugely overworked, and who I tell that they should do less and take breaks because they need time for self-care if they’re not going to burn out – and I think ‘but they can do it, so I should be able to!’. I compare myself to Victorian working-class women, the kind of people you find in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels – you know, 12 hours in the factory then home to look after seven kids, one of them a cripple, while making beautiful lace to sell and teaching themselves natural history. I am fully aware of what a ridiculous person this makes me.

Of course, that isn’t all of it. There’s the fear of laziness, too. The voice that tells me that I should be working all the time, that time spent on things for my recreation and relaxation is wasted, unjustifiably self-indulgent. Pregnancy actually makes this one a bit easier (‘but baby needs me to sit on the settee with a stack of biscuits and a Margery Allingham!’), but although I do my best to remind myself that my physical and mental heal and weal are not luxuries, it’s a constant battle to make it stick. I am trying to teach myself this: you do not have to come last.

And: you do not have to be defined by your duties. And: do not be ashamed of joy, of seeking it and making the most of it.

There’s an ethical dilemma that goes something like this:

‘A building is on fire, and you can either save the last copy of an amazing book that could change the whole future of the world and save millions of lives, or a smelly nasty old person who’s never done anyone any good. Which do you choose?’

If you’re a librarian or archivist, you’ve probably heard it. It’s the kind of thing slightly “tired” people at parties like to nudge you and say ‘that’s an easy one for you, eh? You bookworm!’

And they’re right. It is easy. It’s tied right to the very heart of everything we do and are as a profession. We save the person.

Because without people, books are dead anyway. Printed books are dead trees. Ebooks are switch sequences that will never be flipped. Audio books are ghosts shouting at an empty world. Books need people, much more than people need books.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the processes, problems and successes of what we do that we forget why. We forget the ultimate goal: the improvement of society.

We make things better for people.

This is what the keynote speakers at CILIP’s 2015 conference reminded us of. They issued a call to arms. Remember you are heroes. Remember you are champions. Remember that you do this for people. This is (roughly) what I remember most:

R David Lankes: being a librarian isn’t nice. It’s not supposed to be. To be a librarian is to be someone who believes they can change the world for the better through knowledge. Examples of libraries in Ferguson and Baltimore: their heroic actions had nothing to do with books, and everything to do with people.

Cory Doctorow: information doesn’t want to be free, but people do. I don’t do what I do because I care about information, but because I care about people.

Shami Chakrabarti: the greatest human right is that which comes out of empathy: that of equal treatment, where we acknowledge everyone’s humanity and right to dignity. And we need people to make this happen, because without someone to stand up and represent you, your rights are nothing more than a dead page in a closed book.

Erwin James: prisoners are not a demographic. They are people, in prison, and deserve the same dignity and compassion as everyone else. You can’t begin to value anyone else until you’ve learned to value yourself, and that often takes someone to tell you that you have value.

And more: Jan Parry on the Hillsborough Independent Panel, where the documents and evidence were enormously, vitally important – because of what they could tell us of those who lost their lives, and the difference that information could make to the lives of those left behind.

Did I take much away from the conference that will materially affect what I do at work every day? Maybe not. What I took was far more important than that: a renewed belief in and commitment to the fundamental principles of my profession: equal access to information for all, for the betterment of society.

If we keep that in mind, I don’t think we can go too far wrong. It won’t always be easy. It’s not supposed to be. A person is heavier than a book, and harder to carry. The weight might hurt us. But it is the right thing to do, and so we do it, step after step after step. And yes, we have to concentrate on the steps, or we might fall. But if we forget our goal, we are surely lost.

Conferences are great. They’re a good way to make that fun face-to-face contact with your fellow professionals; to network, learn, and reflect. Sometimes they’re in really cool venues. Sometimes they involve alcohol. Often they involve cake.

Conferences are expensive. Well, someone has to pay for all that cake. And once you’ve paid the registration fee, you often have to find funds for travel and accommodation and subsistence (more cake). Not many people are in a position to fund conference attendance out of their own pockets, so who’s going to pay?

It’s always worth looking for bursaries and awards to attend conferences. Check out the conference website, any associations your’e a member of (such as CILIP, SLA, ARA). The lis-awards mailing list is useful (but definitely not comprehensive). There are some great tips on applying for conference awards from Laura Woods, Rachel Bickley, and Penny Andrews.

If you’re lucky, your employer might have some money available to support your professional development. I’ve been particularly lucky this year, getting funding from my employer to attend the SLA Conference and the CILIP Conference. For this, I had to write a business case detailing why I should attend. It’s very similar to writing an application for an award or bursary, with your employer being the awarding body.

It can be daunting to write a business case, especially when it’s one that involves being complimentary about yourself. It’s hard to overcome the tendency to modesty and self-deprecation, but if you’re going to convince your employer of the benefits of sending you to the conference, you have to convince yourself, too. (Once written it’s pretty daunting to post these celebrations of self on the internet, but that’s what I’m going to do, because I’m just so darn nice.)

I’ve tried in each of them to cover the following points (loosely inspired by this useful template letter):

  • what is the conference about?
  • who will I meet there?
  • why is it good for me to meet and network with those people?
  • what personal-professional connections will I make? what professional-professional (ie work-related) connections will I make?
  • what will I learn there?
  • how will this learning enhance my personal and professional development?
  • how will this learning enhance what i can offer my employer?
  • how will my employer’s reputation benefit from me attending the conference?
  • are there any practical benefits that will result?

I’m not saying that these are perfect examples, and looking over the list of points to cover I see that I haven’t always covered them all, but hopefully they are useful examples, and will help anyone who’s thinking of applying to their employer for support. (Details of colleagues have been redacted)

Application to attend the SLA Conference

I’d like to officially request to attend the SLA (Special Libraries Association) Conference in Boston, June 12-16.

I have had a contributed paper accepted, on the value of data sharing. This presentation will be based on a number of Jisc services and projects: LAMP, Copac, CCM, and the Archives Hub, and will focus on why libraries/institutions choose to share their data, the benefits of doing so, and the services Jisc provides that use this data. I will also be offering practical advice on working with library/archive/transaction data. I am required to submit a paper as well as the presentation. The paper may be ‘as long as necessary’, allowing me to go into as much detail as required about the topic, and will be made available after the conference on the SLA website.

The SLA Conference usually has over 2000 attendees from around the world, working in all areas of library and information management, including the academic sector. Attendees are often in senior roles in their organisation. Contributing this paper to the SLA Conference will allow me to promote Jisc services and projects to an international audience. While some UK academic librarians do attend, the SLA audience may not be the direct target market for Jisc services. However, it would build Jisc’s international exposure and reputation, and showcase Jisc innovation and expertise, potentially leading to enhanced future opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

I am currently serving on the Board of Directors of SLA, which is a prestigious leadership position of a large (over 7000 members) international organisation. This role means that I have a high level of personal visibility at Conference, and a large circle of contacts, who will be aware of my affiliation to Jisc. I will be attending Board of Directors meetings at the conference. These give me the opportunity to gain and improve skills around collaboration, committee work, finances, leadership, strategic planning, resource management, and objective setting. Through my Board of Directors work I will be coming into close contact and collaboration with members of prestigious organisations, including [organisations].

I will also have the chance to attend conference sessions, and improve my professional skills and knowledge. Sessions which have caught my eye include practical sessions on web design and UX (including a masterclass on Lean UX), introduction to developing a Competitive Intelligence function, transparency and open data, metaphoric-based customer research, a masterclass in grant writing, innovative outreach, masterclass in wargaming as an analytical tool, determining fees and ROI for information services, autocategorisation and human tagging, and the role of information professionals in supporting business development. I will live tweet the sessions I attend, to share with the wider community (I am usually one of the ‘top tweeters’ at conferences, with good visibility and interaction on the hashtag), and am also happy to share key takeaways with Jisc colleagues, as appropriate.

[Cost implications, timescale]

Application to attend the CILIP Conference

In the past, I’ve worked the Copac stand at the CILIP Conference, and found it to be an excellent event for keeping in touch with the UK library community. I’ve just asked about this year, and found that [colleagues] will be staffing the Jisc stand on behalf on Copac and CCM. I’d still like to attend, if possible. Even if I’m not there officially on behalf on Copac/CCM (ie behind the stand with a badge on), I am known among the community for working with Copac, and I often get approached at events informally with questions about the service, and other Mimas projects – I imagine that this will translate into other Jisc projects now!

For my own CPD, it’s an excellent place for professional visibility. I have a history of involvement with CILIP. I’m a Chartership mentor, was member of the Future Skills project board (, and have written for CILIP Update, including a bi-monthly column in 2012, and Facet Publishing. Attending CILIP events (and especially conference) helps to reinforce this positive impression of my professional involvement and commitment, and allows me to catch up with contacts made during these activities. This positive impression would reflect well on Jisc, as a professionally involved and supportive organisation with considerable specialist expertise. I’d also be happy to provide support on the stand, as required.

The CILIP Conference attracts attendees from many sectors, and allows me to hear research and development from, and make contacts with, people outside the academic sectors, who dominate many other events. Speakers and topics of particular interest include the keynotes from R David Lankes, Cory Doctorow, Shami Chakrabarti, Will Moy, and Erwin James; contact curation; small scale tailored online CPD; demonstrating value using usage statistics; stakeholder engagement; research data management; research access management; and digital futures.

[Cost implications, timescale]

You may have noticed a distinct lack of posts here over the past – good golly, that’s a long time. The reason for this has just turned one, and loves dancing, stealing keys, and making me regret putting the bookshelves in the dining room Every Single Mealtime.


So, I’m back at work, and the first four weeks have flown by much more easily than expected. I’m in partly the same role I was went I went off, and things are similar enough that I remember just enough of my job to be dangerous, but different enough to be disconcerting. It’s a very odd feeling to look up how to do something you used to do every day and realise that you’re now having to consult documentation you wrote, for processes you implemented.


But overall I’ve got used to working, and concentrating, and thinking, rather more easily than I expected. My brain still feels about three sizes too small a lot of the time, and tends to cut off entirely at around 3pm unless jolted back to life with caffeine, but I’m finding that I stay in work mode while I’m at work, and parent-mode doesn’t kick back in until I’m out of the office and on the way to the station.


I’m also far more confident in my work and my abilities than I expected to be. In fact, far more confident than I was when I went away. I appear to have come back into my professional life with a considerably diminished does of imposter syndrome. Whether this is why I’ve come back in at a high-functioning level or because I’ve come back in at a high-functioning level I’m not even going to start trying to unpick now, but whichever it is, I can say: ‘I can still do this. I like doing this. And you know what? I’m pretty good at it.’


One thing I do know is that some of this confidence is because I didn’t ever entirely disengage with the profession. While on maternity leave I stayed involved with SLA, serving my first year on the Board of Directors. I’m not going to pretend that it was easy. I found managing parenthood and Board involvement very challenging at times, especially as they so often overlapped and conflicted. I’ve listened in to conference calls on headphones while doing bedtime. I’ve been called (screamed/yanked) away from calls to comfort a teething baby. I’ve nursed a baby while video-conferencing (with a very carefully angled camera).


But as well as challenging, it was incredibly rewarding. I had to think: to read and digest complex documents, to listen to in-depth discussions. I had to concentrate: video-conferencing into all-day Board meetings at conferences I couldn’t attend. And it was brilliant. It meant that I always had that undercurrent of ‘yes, you can do this’, reminders that my brain and abilities hadn’t atrophied.


An illustration: I’m very pleased that I’m going to be giving a contributed paper at the SLA 2015 Conference in Boston, on Jisc data sharing initiatives and services. It’s a great honour to have had my proposal accepted, and even more so because of how I wrote the proposal. It was pretty much my first piece of formal writing for about eight months. It was the first time I’d really thought about the projects involved since going on maternity leave. It written late at night, just before the deadline, after dealing with a baby who had eaten part of a foam ball just before bedtime and then very distressedly regurgitated it (and an enormous amount of milk) all over me and his poor, poor Twilight Turtle. And it was accepted. That was an enormous personal and professional boost: look out, world. I’ve still got it.


And so I was primed to come back to work much better, I think, than if I’d had a totally uninvolved year. The main challenge now is time management. I’ve been lucky in never having a restrictive commute, or anything else that meant I had to stick strictly to my hours, and so was used to staying as late as I needed to get the work done. It turns out that the ability to work extra time whenever you need to is a luxury.


Sounds odd, I know: extra, unpaid hours as a luxury? But it really is. It won’t ever make you money-rich, but it does show that you’re time-rich. Now I’ve been plunged into this strange new world of caring responsibilities, where every minute is precious and could be filled with a dozen tasks, I’m suddenly unreasonably jealous of the time-rich.


My new time-poverty means a rethink of how I work. I don’t have the option any more of staying on to finish a task. If something has to be done, it has to be done before I leave for the train I have to be on. This means that every day is suddenly fuller, every ‘I should’ becomes a time-critical ‘I must’. And the days themselves are fewer. I’ve come back part-time, and it turns out that four-day weeks are much more then a fifth shorter than five-day weeks. A day at a meeting or event, and suddenly my working week has almost vanished.


So I’m having to find new ways of time, workload, and performance management. This doesn’t just involve a change in working procedures, but in attitude. I have to be more focussed and selective in my workload, which goes against my usual attitude of ‘ooh, that sounds interesting! Can I help?’. I have to be more realistic about my performance. I’m going to have to accept that ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough. I can continue to strive for excellence, but within different boundaries.* Finding those new attitudes and boundaries is one of my challenges- not just for the week, or month, or year, but as an ongoing assessment and reappraisal of what I do and how I do it. It seems that continuous performance management isn’t just the best way forward, but the only way to retain a modicum of sanity and control.


*Not spending time on blog post titles being one of them…

When I was in secondary school, I was elected as form representative to the school council – not as an early recognition of my outstanding leadership qualities, but because no-one else wanted to do it. The first  thing my form asked me to raise was the strictness of our form tutor. ‘Tell them how mean he is!’ I was urged. ‘He won’t let us stay in at break!’

‘We’re not allowed to mention anything about specific members of staff. It’s in the rules.’

‘Well what’s the bloody point of it then? You can’t do anything!’

They never asked me to raise anything else.

This first experience of constituent dissatisfaction has stayed with me as an example of how easily rules governing councils, bodies, and boards can lead to anger, disconnection, and apathy among those they’re elected to serve. There may well be very good reasons for the rules, but if these – reasons as well as rules – aren’t clearly communicated to those members the body should be serving, it risks being seen as a self-serving, toothless bureaucracy.

This is very much in my mind as I prepare to take up a role as Director on the SLA Board. The question of how to ensure that power in an association stayed with the members rather than the council was raised at the CILIP hustings, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the role of an elected representative.

I see the board of a professional association as being of the members, for the members. They should be leaders, certainly, but mainly insofar as they are prepared to step forward and take the hard role of using their judgement and expertise to be a conduit and balance.

A conduit for the needs of the individual members: I believe every board member should be willing and open to listen to any member of the association, and have the respect and professional courtesy to give their opinions due consideration, even if they conflict with the representative’s own views.

A conduit for the needs of groups of members: whether these be official groups within the association, or ad hoc/unofficial groups. Representatives should endeavour to give all groups the same weight of consideration, and discern where the needs if several groups align.

A conduit for the needs of the association as a whole: the larger picture that many individual members may never need to consider. Is what’s best for individual members now best for the association as a whole, and in the long term? In a member organisation, it might be easy to say that the two should be the same, but they rarely are. To take a very trite example: to cut member dues in half would be a definite benefit for individual members now: they’d save money! Great! But it wouldn’t be good for the long-term, sustainable future of the association, or for members in the long-term, as the association becomes crippled through lack of funds, and unable to benefit members.

A conduit for the needs of the profession: the representative should always remember that the association is not the profession, and that the needs of the two may not coincide. The association is in itself a representative, of the profession as a whole, and its needs and those of its members should be considered as such. The representative needs to use their professional awareness and judgement to make sure these wider issues are not forgotten.

A conduit for the needs of society: above all, the representative needs to keep in mind the ultimate goal of all we do as a profession: to serve and improve society. They should be champions of this oft-unspoken ‘why’ that should append to all our motivations. We’re pretty good as a profession at articulating the why of what we do up to a certain point: ‘I learn x so I can better serve my users, so they can do their jobs better’. What often stays unspoken is the step beyond this: ‘I learn x so I can better serve my users, so they can do their jobs better, to better serve society.’

I think one of the reasons we so often forget to explicitly say this is that we all assume that we know it; it becomes taken for granted. ‘We’re librarians, information professionals – of course we work for the good of society!’ But sometimes you need to say it, as a reminder – and as a check. Does it work as the final context and motivation of your actions? Is what you’re doing really for the good of society?

Elected representatives need to always consider that question for themselves, and to be that voice of conscience for others. They need to be the ones who make sure they have the space and perspective necessary to step back and ask the question, and the guts to listen to and act on the answer.

Of course, there are many differing views on what is of benefit to society, and I’m not ever expecting people to find the one true answer. But I do believe that you must take the time to ask yourself the question, to listen to others’ opinions, and to make sure you sincerely believe that what you’re doing is right.

Balancing all of these factors is not at all an easy thing to do! And I haven’t even allowed for your own personal opinions – which, contradictorily, are probably why you were elected in the first place, but which will now often become subordinate to the views of those various constituencies you represent.

Because it’s not easy, and everyone gets it wrong sometimes, we have councils and boards and committees, not dictators. A peer group for discussion and support is vital – as is the humility to accept that you make mistakes, and the resilience to move past them. It’s also why most roles have fixed-terms: not only to ensure a rotation of talents and opinions, but to prevent burnout among those who serve.

The final role of a representative? To remember that they should be a conduit in both directions. They don’t just represent the members to the board, but the board among the members. They should communicate (as far as possible or appropriate) the decision-making process, as well as the decisions made. They should leave members in no doubt that the board remains rooted in the good of the members, the association, the profession, and society. They should advocate for the body within the profession, and for the profession within society. They are chosen so that they can use their voice to speak for many. Silence is not an option.

Will I achieve all of this in my role as Director? Can anyone reasonably hope to achieve all this? I don’t know, but I’m proud to have it to aim for.

I spotted this advert for ‘eCloud experts’, and rather uncharitably thought ‘ha! I’d like to see them explain exactly what they do – without using the word ‘cloud’!’


But I quickly realised that this was a possibly unfair challenge. Could I explain what my organisation/services do, without using words from our name or straplines? And without resorting to even more esoteric jargon? Time to play Library ‘Taboo!

This isn’t really a fair ‘Taboo!’ challenge, as I can see what I’ve written, don’t have a time limit or a relative with a buzzer breathing eagerly over my shoulder, and haven’t had far too much Christmas dinner and rather too much wine. I did give myself the limit of ‘first draft only’, so these aren’t polished or perfect. But it’s a really nice exercise to create something that makes you think about how too explain what you do, in a way that’s not quite an elevator pitch. Maybe more of a hairdresser pitch: where you have a little more time to explain, and need to assume a base-level knowledge of your sector/specialism of zero.

Please note: these are not authorised or official descriptions of any of these services or projects!

Mimas: powering knowledge (Manchester Information and Associated Services)

[Explaining what Mimas does without without referring to one of the moons of Saturn would be far too easy, so I decided to resurrect the long-dead and possibly apocryphal acronym expansion]. So my taboo words are: power[ing], knowledge, Manchester, information, associated, service[s].

We host and manage data, and provide different ways for people to access that data. So we store, for instance, data from past UK censuses, and geospatial data, from satellite imagery. Then we build things on top of this data to allow people to access it for education and research. That might be just a simple interface to let them search the data online, an app they can use on their phones, or a whole online learning syllabus. We’re always thinking of new ways to use the data, and new things we can help people to do with it.

Copac: (CURL [Consortium of UK Research Libraries] OPAC [Online Public Access Catalogue])

[Another one that needs to be explained with[out] reference to a very old and no-longer-used expansion]. Taboo words: consortium, UK, research, librar[y, ies], online, public, access, catalogue.

We’re a specialised website that allows you to search across the lists of stuff held by lots of universities, specialist and national institutions. This is mainly books, but it will also tell you things like which electronic versions of journals they subscribe to, what DVDs are in their film collections, or even descriptions of big historic collections they hold, like photographs or drawings. It’s a really good place to start if you need to find out where a book or a piece of information is. You can’t usually read the actual book online, but it will tell you where you need to go to get access to a copy – for free!

The Archives Hub: at the centre of great research

Taboo words: archives, hub, centre, great, research

If you’re looking for old documents, records of the history of a place or an institution, perhaps a firm that one of your ancestors used to work for, we’re a good place to start looking. We’re a website that lets you search descriptions of collections of original documents – written documents like ledgers and company records, personal letters, and diaries, or multimedia material like collections of photographs, posters, or sound-recordings. You can’t usually search exactly what’s written in the collections (like the contents of a letter), but you can find out where the original material relating to people, places, and things is, and how you can get access to it. This is really useful if you’re doing a personal project, or a project at school or university.

LAMP (Library Analytics and Metrics Project)

Taboo words: librar[y, ies], analytics, project

Universities routinely collect lots of information about how people interact with the university. This data covers things like how they use the resources the university provides (such as how many books they borrow), demographic data (like how old they are and which country they’re from), attendance data (are they a full-time or a part-time student?), and attainment data (what grade they graduated with). All of this is collected just as part of day-to-day business, and isn’t usually linked together. We want to help universities use this information to answer questions about and improve their services. For instance, a university might find that very few of their part-time students are borrowing books, and would want to know if this was the same in other universities. If it’s not, does it mean that their part-time students are missing out? Is there something they can do to help them get access to the information they need? We’re not looking at data for individual students – it’s all lumped together so we can look for trends across categories.

The hardest words to avoid? ‘Librar[y, ies]’ and ‘research’. And ‘catalogue’ made Copac pretty tough! I’ve tried to stick to the sort of simple language I’d use if I was put on the spot to explain this in person to someone who has nothing to do with the education or research sectors, so I think I’ve managed to avoid most jargon (although they all comprehensively fail the Up-Goer Five test). The LAMP one was definitely the hardest to write – perhaps because I haven’t been working on it for as long as the others, and so haven’t managed to isolate the essentials, or because I felt the need to bring in motivation & privacy (‘we’re not spying on you!’) as well as what we actually do. For the others, it helped that Copac and the Archives Hub are both public-facing, and I frequently do explain both to people, although usually with liberal use of the words ‘libraries’, ‘archives’, and ‘catalogue’.

It seems that concrete examples make these explanations easiest, and help you stay away from abstract, specialist terms. I might not have chosen the best ones here, but I think it could be useful to put together my own set of mini use-cases for different audiences, to go with the more official ones we have for training and communications. Doing this exercise has made me think about what we actually do and provide, and how well I understand and can explain it! And it would be interesting to see how these have evolved from what I might have said when I started working for Mimas/Copac five years ago, and how my understanding of what we do and libraries and archives as a whole has changed. I’m not sure I’d have been comfortable with ‘lists of stuff’ for ‘library catalogue’ back then!

I’ve just written a post for the SLA blog (in my role as candidate for board of directors), about what being a member of SLA has done for me, personally and professionally. In, it, I said:

Winning an SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA), attending conference, and working with the SLA Europe board made a huge difference to how I viewed professional associations. Before this, I’d thought along the lines of ‘what can my professional association do for me?’. My gratitude for all SLA and its members had done for me in my ECCA experience flipped this to ‘what can I do for my professional association?’.

This made me think of this post by Emily Wheeler. Emily’s main point is about CILIP’s current fee structure, and how unfair it seems that the membership bands stop at £17,501, and that everyone over this pays the same (which I totally agree with – but, with my new ‘thinking about things on an association-level’ hat on, I’d suggest that before any changes are suggested to the current fee band structure, CILIP would need to do a salary survey, and work out how many members they have in various bands over £17,501 (eg £25k+, £30k+), and how much a rise in fees for these bands could sustain a reduction in fees in lower-bands, while not producing a drop in overall membership income. So while I do think it needs to change, I don’t think it’s a particularly quick job).

As part of thinking about the fee structure, the question arises of ‘what do you get for your money?’, and Emily rightly points out:

The saying goes that if you put more in to CILIP, you get more out. But not everyone has the time, transport or money to get involved in committees, special interest groups, conferences and so on, which means that through no fault of their own they’re not benefiting nearly as much from their membership fee – they’re essentially getting a very expensive magazine subscription.

Now, I agree with Emily, and I started nodding in agreement, thinking how lucky I was that I was able to be involved with these things – and then realised that, although my work and personal circumstances would allow me to be, I’m actually not involved in any of these things for CILIP. Serving on the Future Skills project board is my only CILIP committee work. I’ve never been to a CILIP conference that I haven’t been speaking or working at. I’m a Chartership mentor, but this is done remotely, and takes less than an hour a month.

I have got benefits from all of these, it’s true, but none of them are why I’m a CILIP member, though I guess the mentoring comes closest. It’s hard to define, but I guess I’m a CILIP member because it feels like my professional responsibility to be. I’m lucky enough to have the time and the money to afford CILIP membership and involvement. I’m one of those fortunate souls who would be moved into a higher bracket come a fee restructure – and, entirely honestly, I wouldn’t mind, especially if it would mean I was paying the same proportion of my salary as someone on a lower wage.

And what do I want to get for my money? Well, I don’t mind at all if the only concrete return I get for my membership is access to Update and the right to use the postnominals MCLIP. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t even get that, or anything – as long as I felt that CILIP were using my membership fees for the greater good, to support other professionals and further the cause of library and information provision in the UK.

Let’s just take one small ‘for instance’ from some of the stuff CILIP does to support individual professionals and their development. CILIP often covers the expenses of invited speakers at its events. Do I want my membership fees to be used to enable someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend and present? To help them share their knowledge and gain professional experience? Absolutely! Do I want my membership fees to be used by special interest groups to offer bursaries to those who can’t afford to attend events? Yes! Do I want my fees to be used to help underwrite the cost of providing training and events for Chartership candidates? And providing access to free careers advice for those who need it? And access to journals and databases for those who don’t have access through their employer? Yes, yes, yes! I can’t reach out and help each of those members who need it individually – but I can help CILIP provide services which support them all.

In short, I’m a CILIP member for the same reasons I’m a member of my union: because I believe in (most of) what they do, and how they help people who need it. I don’t (and may never) need that help myself, but I’m very happy to help those who do, and help to provide a strong voice to say ‘We stand for this. We care.’

Of course, you may disagree that CILIP adequately supports and promotes the profession. That’s absolutely your right to believe so. And I know that I am very lucky to be able to make this kind of idealogical investment, and I’m not out to chastise or castigate anyone for not doing so. But I do believe that we are, at heart, a profession which is about providing support where it is needed, and membership of professional associations is one way for me to do that.

One of the things I often hear people say when they’re talking about Chartership is that they’re not sure what’s expected of them. Having chartered myself (with a fabulous mentor) and currently mentoring (a brilliant candidate), I have a fair idea of the process, but what really helped me understand what Chartership is really supposed to be was serving on the CILIP Future Skills project board, where I got the chance to discuss the future of CILIP qualifications with massively talented and inspiring people, including the head of the Chartership board.

What came across very clearly from these discussions (both about the current state of Chartership and desired future directions) was the conviction that everyone involved had that the aim of Chartership is to improve the profession by helping individual professionals improve themselves.

Chartership isn’t meant to be a chore. It’s meant to be a tool to help you plan and make the most of your own personal and professional development. It’s not hoops to jump through because CILIP think it’ll be fun to load more work on you and watch you squirm. The goal of Chartership is for you to become a better professional, one who reflects on their learning, performance, and development.

I gave a brief outline on Twitter of what I think of as the 4 stages of Chartership:

1) identify what you need to learn

2) learn it

3) put what you’ve learned into practice in the workplace & profession

4) write down how & why you did 1-3 along with what difference it’s made for you/work, & what you’ll do next. Submit. Celebrate 🙂

To expand:

1) Identify what you need to learn. Since I chartered, the new version of the CILIP PKSB has been released, and Chartership in the future will be encouraging use of this as a self-assessment tool. I’d strongly recommend using it to look at doing a skills audit of what you know now and what you need to know. But it’s not the only thing you should be thinking about. You need to assess your skills against the demands of your role (or desired role) and workplace. Look at your job description and see what bits you’d like to be able to do more of, or do better. Look at your users. Do they have needs you’re not meeting? Could you learn the skills to enable you to meet those needs?

Stick all of this down in your PPDP. This is a living document, and will change as you progress through Chartership. Use it however best suits you to work out a development strategy. You might then need to tidy it up a bit to put in your portfolio – but you might not! A PPDP that shows evidence of use and development is exactly what the assessors are looking for – just make sure it’s comprehensible (expand acronyms, explain colour-coding etc). And the stuff in your PPDP doesn’t have to come from some special bank of development activities you’re doing ‘for Chartership’ – it comes from what you need to do for your own development. Manager given you training goals in your last staff review? PPDP them! Job you want in 5 years require a new skill? Add it to the plan. It’s all about what makes you a better professional – no barriers, no silos.

2) Learn it. I think this is actually the bit of Chartership that daunts people the least. We’re info pros. We do learning. It’s worth remembering, though, that any kind of learning and development counts. I know some people worry that they haven’t been on enough training courses or to enough conferences – but that’s ok. Chartership is all about the ‘why’. Why did you learn this skill from a book instead of going on a course? (‘We didn’t have a training budget’ is a perfectly legitimate answer, by the way).

As long as you give the reasons behind what you do, show that you’ve thought about the why of it all, you will produce the right sort of portfolio. No-one is judging the training and development activities you’ve chosen to do. They’re not going to think ‘oh, well, I don’t think that’s the best resource available on that topic. They should have consulted [x] instead.’ As long as you explicitly state in your portfolio how the development activity relates to a need you identified and what impact undertaking that activity had on you, they will accept that you have selected the most appropriate development method for your needs and circumstances.

3) Put what you’ve learned into practice in the workplace & profession. Knock their socks off.

4) Write down how & why you did 1-3 along with what difference it’s made for you/work, & what you’ll do next. This is a lot less daunting if you do it as you go along! Jo Alcock has created a great template to help with this, and I believe that the new CILIP VLE will be tailored to help with ongoing recording and reflection, too. Reflective writing can be a bit of a pain if you’re not used to it (or not naturally that way inclined), but remember that you don’t have to produce torrents of deathless prose. Here’s my suggested tool for relatively quick and easy reflection.

Taken from a presentation I gave at SLA2012 in Chicago.

Taken from a presentation I gave at SLA2012 in Chicago.

There’s no one way to produce a great Chartership portfolio. It’s a reflection of you as a practitioner. So there are no hard and fast rules about size, content, layout – it’s left to you and your professional judgement. The portfolio is your chance to show how good you are at selecting and organising information. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by some mystic idea of ‘what the assessors expect to see’. Think about their information needs. What do you particularly want to convey to them? What do they especially need to know? Are you providing the right information, in the right quantities and the right format to allow them to assess your application? Are you showing the judgement expected of an information professional?

(But you’re not expected to magically know these things! Asking for peer support and advice is part of being an info pro. Your mentor, Candidate Support Officer, the CILIP quals team, the mailing lists, your colleagues – they’re all there to help. And they’ve all needed to ask for help too! They’re a resource, so use them as you need to.)

Treat the Chartership process as an opportunity for you to have some quality ‘me and my development time’, a chance to have someone chivvy you into reflecting about what you do, and a chance to celebrate your successes – and even if you never get round to handing that portfolio in, you’ll be a better professional at the end of it. And that’s something worth celebrating 🙂

There was an article flying around twitter recently about why reading the news is bad for you. I, umm, didn’t read it. But then I don’t read a lot of things. I strongly agree that purposefully avoiding the news (or at least certain types of it) can make you happier. Reading about something that doesn’t directly affect you and which you can’t directly affect will make you angry to no good purpose. And why waste your life being angry about other people’s opinions? There’s plenty of stuff out there that’s worth being angry about.

Filter bubbles are supposed to be a bad thing, but only if you get the filter wrong. I agree that’s it’s not conducive to a healthy mind to filter out dissenting voices and viewpoints – but there are certain things which I feel a better person for filtering out.

So I don’t read:

1) Celebrity news. My knowledge of celebrity culture has gone down since I started getting my news from the internet. Most of my celeb knowledge comes through the weird and wonderful filter of twitter (who’s Harry Styles? Someone people like to tell about their dead pets)

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? The internet is full of celebrity news and gossip. Without it, there would be nothing left but cats, bacon, and this gif. But you can choose not to read it. When I was consuming my news in print, I would sometimes read celeb stories. Why not? It’s there on the page, and it takes 5 seconds to skim. But now if I want to do a five-second skim to see who [x] is dating, I have to click on the article to do so. And the stats counters don’t care if I don’t really want to read it. they don’t care if I was reading it ironically. they don’t care if I was only reading it so I could go ‘oh em gee guys, I can’t believe they’re publishing this crap.’

And I don’t want them to publish that crap. Not on serious news sites. It’s not news, and I’m not going to validate your claim that it is by giving you that click.

2) True crime – reports of murder trials/investigations, “terrorist plots”, manhunts. All that sensationalist stuff. This I avoid for a couple of reasons: one, I don’t want to encourage sensationalist reporting. And two, I don’t need to know the details of a tragedy to mourn for it. I don’t need to know what the weapon or the motivation was, and I certainly don’t need to know how the victim’s mother looked in court, you ghoulish bastards.

Leave people alone to mourn as they need to, and part of all of us will mourn with them, whether it’s headline news or not.

3)The Daily Mail. Whatever they try. Nuff said. (Want a more eloquent explanation of why you shouldn’t? Read this)

4) Linkbait articles. You know, the ones with the headlines that seem too good to be true. And they’re not just done by content farms, desperate for clicks.  Otherwise reputable publications are guilty of it, too (I’m looking at you, Nature). These are one of the hardest to avoid, because they’re often difficult to identify, so I try to use the lovely and knowledgeable people on my twitter stream to help curate – if lots if them are reading & retweeting, it’s probably worth my time (or it’s about cats. or gin). To add to the power of a timeline full of information professionals comes the fab @HuffPoSpoilers , who selflessly read the Huffington post linkbait articles and post the main details, along with the baiting headline.

So, four things that my internet existence (and life in general) is better off without reading. But, contrary to all received wisdom, I do read…

The comments. I know you’re not supposed to, but you find so much of humanity in them, in all its best and worst. Take youtube, for instance, supposed to be the pit of all that is worst in internet comments. If I didn’t read the comments, I’d never have found the video where someone mentioned that this song was played at his dad’s funeral, and the other comments were sincere sympathy and offers of support. If I didn’t read the comments, I’d never have had to confront the intellectual snobbery that made me surprised that the Daily Mirror comments section  attracts better written and  less knee-jerk comments than the Guardian.

Yes, some comments are stupid. Yes, some comments are purposefully trolling. Yes, some comments make me swear, shake angry fists at the screen, and despair of humanity. But there’s beauty and wit and intelligence and joy in there, too. And they’re the voice of the people (or at least a vocal subset thereof), and that’s something I don’t want to filter out.

I recently started seeing a new dental hygenist, and amid the panoply of dental paraphernalia, she said to me that she had one quick and simple tip, the easiest and fastest way to help keep your dental health: after brushing, spit, don’t rinse.*

How obvious! I thought, how simple! Sometimes you just need an expert to point out these elegant little tricks. And I thanked her, and went away with my new brushes, and my new techniques, and my new knowledge that ‘spit, don’t rinse’ was the way forward.

And I went home, and dutifully used my new brushes and applied my new techniques, and at the end I rinsed my mouth out, exactly the same way as I’ve done twice a day every day for the past 30 years.

Oh well! I’ll get it tomorrow. After all, I’ve managed with the new brushes and the new routine, and that’s a much bigger change. This is so simple! So easy! I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it in no time.


Into work in the morning, and the first thing I do is click to open my emails. As they load, I think ‘oh no! I wasn’t supposed to be doing this now.’ I work best at the end of the day, and can find mornings drifting away in an orgy of unproductive reading and clicking. My solution is simple and easy: do some work as soon as I get in, before I open my emails or twitter or my blog feeds. What can possibly be so important it can’t wait?

20 minutes of routine work to start the day and I’m instantly in a more productive groove. I’ve achieved something. The day is off to a good start. All it takes is that one small, simple change of not clicking the outlook icon as soon as my PC boots every morning. How hard can it be?


As an information professional, I’m worried about my day-to-day information retrieval. I want to move away from the domination of Google for my casual searching. I’ve heard good things about Duck Duck Go! Let’s change my default search engine. That’s a quick, easy change, which can improve my day-to-day search experience. So I make the change in my browser and my clickto extensions – and then a few weeks later I reinstall my PC. Time to make that simple change again…


I have failed to make all three of these changes. I still rinse after brushing. Outlook is still the first program I open in the morning. Google is still my default search engine. Why? What’s wrong with me, that I’ve failed to make such quick, simple, easy changes? I’ve coped with much bigger things.

The answer, of course, is that what’s wrong with me is how I’m seeing these changes. They may be simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. They’re difficult precisely because they’re simple. Things that require thought are often easier to change, because you have something to change: a process, a way of thought; something that involves a major change has more indicators to remind you of the change.

How you see a challenge will change how you face it. You’re more likely to spend time thinking about major challenges, working out how to tackle them, reminding yourself that this thing has changed and you must do these things in response. A quick, simple, easy change? Well, it’s quick, and simple, and easy. Why would I need to think about it?

So now I’m forcing myself to give these changes the respect they need. I have spent 5, 10, 30 years doing the things that need changing. They may only be a simple behaviour, but they’re an ingrained one. To borrow the metaphor from this post (about learning as bug fixing), these changes are a patch: they may only be a few lines long, but they will fundamentally change my source code. And you should never take rewriting your source code lightly.

So: I have three fundamental changes I want to make to improve my productivity and general well-being. they may be a bit of a struggle, but I’m sure I’ll get there. After all, who said change would be easy?

*It keeps the fluoride in, dontchaknow.

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