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.

Inspired by this post from Ian Clark, I’ve decided to share some of the assignments I did at library school (MA in Library & Information Studies at MMU, 2007-8)

I’d echo Ian’s reasons for sharing: not because I think these assignments are fabulous, but to help raise awareness of what a qualification in librarianship involves. But there’s also personal learning to be taken from them – how much have I learned in the last 5 years? Rather a lot, it seems (apparently, in 2008, I thought web 2.0 was the semantic web. umm…). How much have I forgotten in the last 5 years? Equally, rather a lot (please don’t ask me to construct a Dialog search strategy. Please).

And as well as looking at my personal development, it’s interesting to think about how (if?) library school curricula have changed across time, and how they vary across institutions. Looking at Ian’s list of assignments, I can see similarities (create a catalogue record, business plan), but also topics we didn’t cover (marketing, digital divide). CILIP accredited courses are expected to cover a range of topics from the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base, but it’s interesting to see where particular institutions put their focus, and how that focus might shift over time.

So, here are the library school assignments that a) I still have copies of and b) weren’t group assignments. Those that I don’t have copies off might have been assessed in different ways – we had several presentations to do, along with database design that was hand-drawn on paper, and a digital library that required specialist software.

These are not intended to be shining examples of how to be the best library school student ever (related: please don’t laugh at me too much), but will hopefully stand useful as an example of the range of what professional librarians were expected to do/know/learn, at a particular place and time.

Cataloguing & classification

Dialog search strategy

The Identity Cards Act 2006 has now passed into law. Identify and critically evaluate the potential impacts of this legislation

LMS selection and implementation

Report on web page creation

Team development: a case study

Technical issues related to Institutional Repository Software (partial script for joint presentation)

Thesaurus constuction

Digital library collection policy

Library 2.0: a report

Skills/roles needed in a digital library team

I’ve recently discovered Memrise, a site that’s designed to encourage learning (particularly of languages), by gamifying the process. They use ‘brain science’ (honestly, their words) to encourage learning and retention. One of the key factors in this are ‘mems':

Mems is our natty word for the morsels of interesting and relevant information you see beneath every word on Memrise. Mems can be mnemonics, etymologies, amusing videos, photos, example sentences: anything which helps connect what you’re learning and bring it to life.

I think of mems as the sticky note attached to the new word or fact – and the weirder, the better. The more unusual or amusing the mem is, the more likely you are to recall it and its associated fact. I first came across this idea during maths in school, when we were told to come up with our own silly phrases to remember SOHCAHTOA. I’m still resentful that they said mine was ‘too silly’, and made me learn Silly Old Harry Caught A Haddock Trawling Off America. Ok, I still remember it – but I remember mine better, and without having to think ‘it was a fish that began with h. What fish begin with h? And anyway, what’s silly about catching a haddock?’

And I’ve definitely been finding the slightly more obtuse mems the most useful, such as ‘a woman and a shameful kangaroo‘ for cooked rice. Ok, I don’t see the kangaroo myself, but I remember that someone else did.

I often find myself putting my own twist on the mems that other people have provided. For instance, my personal mem for ‘vorrei’ is ‘Ketel One’, based on this mem, but adding the fact that the specific Ray I’m buying a drink for is Ray from Achewood*.

But the stickiest mem I’ve found is this:

It´s all very well being told details to remember (these are useful too), but I need something to jog my memory that relates to what they look like and links it to the name. So for this one, imagine the tune to California Dreaming, but with the first line going:
“Alder leaves are round…”

I defy you to ever sing California Dreaming the same way again…

Memrise also allows you to create your own courses, and it looks like some teachers are using it to reinforce learning for specific courses. I’ve found GCSE RE, Australian Year 10 Chemistry, and B6 Biology.

If you can get student take-up, this seems like a great idea. Thinking library/info lit specific, you could create a course to teach specific styles of referencing, or Dewey/LoC/classification system of your choice (though I’m not sure anyone actually wants to learn the Dewey classes). Personally, I’ve run aground on the mountain of ‘mems for MARC fields’ (my best attempt so far. Seriously. It’s hard.)

Thinking about what makes a good mem has made me think about learning, and my teaching/presenting style. I’ve realised that what I’m doing when I add images and text to my slides (such as here or here), what I’m actually doing is trying to add a mem to the slide. I usually think of the key point that I want people to take from the slides, then find an image to reinforce that point. I prefer interesting and slightly unusual images – if people remember the image, they’re more likely to remember the point.

I think this is what sits behind using battledecks to reinforce learning. In that post, Ned mentions that feedback from students suggested he use more ‘funny’ clues – again, it’s those odd and unusual ones that get people hooked.

So I’m definitely going to be thinking more carefully about the images I choose for my presentations from now on. I need to make sure that they’re not too personal (Ketel One) or only memorable because you don’t understand them (shameful kangaroo). I’m aiming for the ‘alder leaves are round’ gold-standard of mems – catchy, almost universally accessible, and pretty much unforgettable.

I’ll leave you with a mem that could double as library marketing

el libro (book): books in libraries are free, bro!!!

*If you don’t know Achewood, you should totally clear some time to go read it. But maybe not at work. Start here.

Dear librarianship,

We began our affair back in the heady days of 2006, when I was a young and naive graduate trainee. You opened my eyes to the delights of information provision. I’ll never forget the buzz I got from our simplest activities together. Even adding titles to reading lists took on a magical glow. I woke up every morning with bluebirds blithely singing in my head. ‘I love libraries!’ I would think. ‘And they love me!’

We took our relationship to the next level, and I committed to library school. I was certain that I wanted to spend my whole life with you, that you were the one and only profession for me. I was filled with curiosity to find out more about you, to know everything there was to know, and with each new discovery my love grew.

My first professional post came in 2008, and I bustled around making it nice and cosy and comfortable, a place where we could be happy together. I carried on learning new things about you, and although we settled into a routine, there was always something exciting happening, something to make me think every so often ‘I love this profession!’

But, over time, things have become a little stale. Things don’t thrill me as they used to. You’re still a big, important part of my life, but something’s changed.

Librarianship, I’m cheating on you with writing.

I didn’t mean it to happen. Writing was my first love, but I thought it was just a childish crush, something that could never happen in the real world. Then we met again recently on the internet, and we just clicked.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, and I worry about my techniques. Am I being clumsy? Too clichéd? And will writing ever love me the way you do? But I just can’t help myself. I’m writing every day, and I could sing for the joy of it all.

I’ve tried to keep you apart. Librarianship fills my day, and writing my evenings. But I know one day you’ll collide, and I thought it was kinder to tell you now.

It’s not you, it’s me. And I would never have dared think of it without the opportunities and challenges you’ve given me. You’ve given me the strength to dream that this might be possible.

I’m not planning to commit to writing full-time. Probably never. But I felt it was only fair to let you know that you’re not number one in my heart right now. It might be a fleeting madness. I may come crawling back, looking for committee-posts to fill my fiction-less evenings. I hope that you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.

I’ll always be interested in what you’re doing, and I honestly wish you well. I hope we can still be friends.

And we’ll always have twitter.

XOXOXO, Bethan

Blog content open for use CC-BY-4.0

Recent Comments

bethan on The return
bethan on Leadership and ethics
Kath Owen on The return
deemagnoni on Leadership and ethics
bethan on Leadership and ethics

Twitter Updates


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers