You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘conferences’ category.

When I spoke in Chicago, I suggested a reflective exercise – before you do anything, make a list of what you think/expect/hope to get out of it. Afterwards, make another list of what you did get out of it. Did you get what you wanted? If your after list was your before list – if you’d have known that you’d get these things – would you still have done it? And what was your unexpected learning?

Unexpected learning can be one of professional involvement’s great gifts. Here are some of the things I didn’t expect to learn in Chicago.

Success is what you make it

During conference, I did a book signing (of the New Professional’s Toolkit). Three people came.

How did you read that sentence? What tone of voice did you hear me using? Resigned, depressed, self-deprecating? I mean, three people? That’s not very many, is it?

Let’s try again:

During conference, I did a book signing (of the New Professional’s Toolkit). THREE PEOPLE CAME!!!!! #zomg #awesome #iloveyouguys

That’s what I hear in my head when I say it. I mean, three people! Three people not only bought my book – TO READ – but cared enough to come and get it signed! One of them said she’d been looking forward to the book coming out since she’d heard me mention it in a talk at the 2011 SLA Conference.

After she’d gone, I may have had a little cry.

Would it have been ace to have queues of eager fans stretching right around the hall? Well, maybe (or not – the store only had 10 copies). But I really couldn’t have felt better about it than I do. The triumph was just doing a book signing. ‘Be an author’ has been one of my ambitions for as long as I can remember, and it finally, really came home to me there, sat behind that table, that I’d done it (with a lot of help from my friends). I was published, and I didn’t give a damn how many people came to get their book signed – I’d already achieved more than I’d ever thought possible just by being there. I could have happily sat there for hours.

So, umm, yeah. That.

I hate being on panels

There. I’ve said it. I hate being on panels. I hate not being able to prepare what I’m going to say (oh, you can in a general way, but you can’t script – it’s hard to script in a way that fits the more informal discursive nature of a panel, and a pre-prepared script can’t take into account the ebb and flow of the discussion – oh, and you can guarantee someone else will nick your best points). I hate feeling like the dead weight, surrounded by supremely talented and eloquent people. I hate having to try to be intelligent, profound, and quotable off-the-cuff. I hate microphones.

But I’ll keep doing them if asked (and reassure myself that I can’t be that bad, if people keep asking me). Why? Because they’re fabulous preparation for job interviews. If you can get through a panel without facially betraying how much you’re mentally berating yourself for being a blazing idiot who has no idea when to shut up, then you’re standing yourself in good stead for facing an interview panel. If you can face 50 people and manage to come up with something (vaguely) coherent when asked about problem-solving, you can definitely do it with 5.

Admittedly, I’m not sure where ‘not accidentally strangling fellow panel members with a microphone cord’ fits into the interview scenario, but I’m sure it’s a valuable life skill.

Back yourself up

You know how you’ll be talking to someone while trying to sneak a look at their name badge, only to find out the lanyard’s twisted, and you can just see the blank back? And then you lose all chance of pretending you remembered their name from 2 years ago, and either have to admit defeat and ask or keep the conversation as non-commital as possible?

Well, take some of that burden off your fellow networkees:

back of my SLA Chicago badge

Ok, full disclosure:  I didn’t actually think of this until the last day of the conference, but I’ll definitely be doing it at conferences from now on!

Immersion is key

Simon Barron‘s third blog post about SLA Chicago deals well with the feeling of total immersion you get from SLA conferences – exacerbated for the non-US contingent by literally being in a foreign country. I’ve felt like that at every previous conference, but not this time. As my hotel room was the same price whether one or two of us were sleeping in it, my husband came out with me, in preparation for a post-conference holiday.

And… it didn’t really work. I’d warned him that he wouldn’t see much of me while conference was on, and I’d mentally blocked out ‘conference’ and ‘holiday’ – but still, that one outside attachment kept me from being completely enfolded in the SLA bubble. I felt like a bit of an outsider – sure,  I’ll come along to the open house, but only till 9 because I want to dash off for dinner…

It meant I found it hard to be entirely ‘professional Bethan’ – ‘holidaying Beth’ kept trying to creep in, and remind me that there was a world outside SLA. This might seem to be a good thing (for balance and whatnot), but it actually just made it harder to feel involved and to really feel in the conference vibe. I was disconnected from the tribe.

I don’t think I’d realised how much I relied on conference to catch up with my SLA posse until this year. Not only did I have the clash of interests, I also missed some good friends and colleagues who couldn’t be there, and I think my conference experience was definitely the poorer for it. (Not that I didn’t have a fab time with the people who *were* there, but you know…) So that’s made me more determined to get along to some more SLA Europe events in person. I really believe that one of the rewards for involvement in a professional association is contact with the brilliant people you meet and work with, and that you owe it to yourself to make the most of that – so that obviously means I’ve earned more drinks with the SLA Europe folks, and deserve to put some effort into cashing (gin-ing?) that in.

So would I still have gone to Chicago if these (along with realising I need to think more about learning outcomes and learning how to edit down a presentation on the fly) had been my projected learning outcomes? For personal development, definitely! But my ‘want to learn new skills’ nerve is still twitching, and I wish I’d put a bit more effort into making sure I scratched that itch, too.

Chicago! SLA Conference! How to encapsulate them? Well, I’ve been struggling to write this blog post, and my report for the John Campbell Trust (who kindly part-funded my trip). I thought I just wasn’t in writing mojo mode at the moment – then sat down and rattled off a post for the Archives Hub on XML and Excel. So what was the difference?  I had something concrete to share about how to actually do something. So I threw away my half-written reflectivey-rambles, and decided to concentrate on Things I Have Learned.


The first? That my focus at the moment is very much on learning and teaching. I like them. I came away from conference feeling a bit dissatisfied with the sessions I’d attended, and thinking that I hadn’t really learned anything. On reflection, this was untrue – I learned a lot, but rather than new skills or techniques, I learned things to tweak or enhance my existing skills and techniques. Still very valuable, but didn’t have as much as an impact on me as learning something totally new. I wanted to be able to walk away saying ‘hey, now I know how to…!’.

So that’s a good guide for me to choosing my future conferences, events, and conference sessions. If I’m craving concrete learning, then I’m not going to be satisfied with a speculative discussion panel, no matter how awesome it is. It sounds like SLA2013 is going to be more focussed on learning, too, which I think bodes well. One thing which was mentioned by fellow SLA Europe attendees Geraldine Clement-Stoneham and Sara Batts was the need for better session abstracts, telling you more about what kind of level the session would be at – is it a general introduction, or full of jargon for advanced practitioners? I do agree – I’d like to see learning outcomes mentioned in the abstract or description for each session.

This desire for learning is shaping what I want to teach, too. I want to share practical tips on how to actually do things. This might be why the blog’s been a bit sparse recently – I haven’t felt like I have any to share! But I need to remember that actually I do know how to do quite a lot of stuff, so maybe expect a few more ‘how-to’ style blog posts in the future. (or not – it could just be inherent laziness!)

This applies to my presenting, too. I’m not sure I want to talk any more about ‘the future of the profession’ – at least, not in generic and abstract terms. I want people to feel motivated and inspired, sure, but I also want them to go away with action points. One of the best pieces of feedback I got from my presentation in Chicago was someone telling me that they could actually go away and do the things I’d suggested – they were practical and implementable.

So if I’m going to demand learning outcomes from other people, I’m going to need to start using them myself. Not just for presentations, but for articles, blog posts, and maybe even tweets. I probably won’t be explicit about them, but it will be good for me to think about what people will get out of the work I’m doing. This should help make me more focussed and generally Do Better Stuff. [EDIT It occurs to me, slightly belatedly, that this exactly fits with the marketing principle of ‘benefits, not features’.]

You can’t prepare for the unexpected

As mentioned in my last post, I recently presented – on purpose – without a script. One of my reflections was:

Knowing I can deliver a presentation without a script and slides is a pretty good feeling – and who knows when I might have to do it again?

Well, I had to do it again! Sort-of, anyway. I’d been asked to deliver a 30 minute presentation on ‘How to parlay your SLA experience into a new job, a promotion – even your LinkedIn profile’, about how to make the most of your SLA experience, and demonstrate what you’ve got out of it. So I dutifully prepared a set of slides and a 25 minute script – only to discover (while sitting in the audience) that there had been a misunderstanding about timings, and the first speaker was speaking for 45 minutes, not 30.

As everyone knows, finishing a session late is one of the most heinous of conference sins. No matter how interesting or engaging you might be, you need to finish that session on time – one session running over can throw off people’s timetables for the while day. Time, at a conference, is a very valuable commodity!

So I found myself having to condense a 25 minute presentation into about 17 minutes – doesn’t sound like much of a drop, but it meant I had to lose about a third. And I had to lose it while still delivering the learning, the message and – importantly – the experience. How did I do it? (apart from ‘by being fuelled with panic’?)

1) Speed up – but don’t gabble. Good delivery is important to a presentation, and when you start learning to present you’re usually told to sloooooow it right down. Speak too fast, and people won’t take in what you’re saying – and they won’t enjoy the presentation experience, either. Building a rapport with your audience takes a bit of time. It takes pauses where you make eye contact and gauge people’s reactions. If you’re short on time, this is one of the things you can strip down. Speed up your talking a bit (if you’re tripping over words, you’ve speeded up too much), and reduce some of the pauses. Make eye contact while speaking – don’t wait for pauses. Don’t leave as much impact room. This will reduce the overall experience and impact of your presentation, but means you can cut off a couple of minutes without losing any content.

2) Measure once, cut twice. Think about topic and audience. Is there a whole section you can cut? Or do you need to cut little bits from each section? Thinking about what’s on your slides can be a good guide – if you thought it important enough to put on a slide, then it’s probably important enough to keep in. But if it’s on a slide then the audience can read it – so you don’t have to! I never agree with reading out slides, but I do quite often direct people to information on the slides. This experience made me realise that that’s a waste of time, too. If you put something on a slide, people will read it.* They don’t need to be told to read it. They probably don’t need to be told how it relates to your presentation (unless you’ve put up something totally obscure, like a slide that just says ‘48%’ – and even then, your audience will be able to make the leap between the question you’ve posed that requires a percentage for an answer and the figure on your slide. If they don’t they can ask you afterwards – once the clock has stopped ticking.)

I cut most of my material from the start of my presentation, mainly because I was panicking that I wouldn’t get to the end! This meant that by the time I was about two-thirds of the way through my content, I’d made up most of the time I needed, so I could ease back a bit and enjoy delivering the final section. But all through, I cut down on verbosity (it’s just possible that you may have noticed this as a tiny failing of mine). No-one was there for my deathless prose, and hopefully I’ll take that learning forward to future presentations.

This advice really comes down to: decide what your audience is there for. Are they there for the experience of hearing you speak? If so, cut down on your content, and give them the show they came for. If they’re there for your content, cut down on the show, and deliver as much of the learning as you can.

And remember – this post is panic recollected in tranquillity. I’m retro-advising based on what I think I did; or this post would have been a series of ‘Oh crap, 12 minutes. Well, I think I can cut that next example. And that paragraph can probably be condensed into a sentence. Oh crap, 11 minutes…’

Blog posts that go on too long can be just as rude as running-over at a conference session, so I’m going to follow the cool kids, and split my reflections into sections. Expect one or maybe two more blog posts on learning from the Chicago experience.

*Yes, I know this potentially creates problems for people with accessibility issues. I’d suggest that any information that is absolutely vital to your presentation be included in what you say – and if some of it needs to go on your slides too, then that’s ok. You could even consider making 2 slide decks: a more minimal one for accompanying the presentation, and a more explicit one for posting online afterwards.

This was originally written as my reflective piece for July for the CPD/revalidation wiki, where @jaffne is prodding me into various forms of reflection. If you want a few more facts and a bit less rambling, there’s some background to the day, and a list of great write-ups over on the LIS Research Coalition website. I must say that the day itself was fantastic, everyone involved was lovely, and any mutterings of inferiority come entirely from my own twisted psyche.

Why did I attend?

Erm, is ‘because Hazel Hall said I should’ a valid answer? I do also want to make the most of being at an organisation where research is counted as very much part of what you do. I also promised to do my best to help amplify the event – I did a lot of tweeting on the day (no surprise there!), but have been putting off blogging about it.

Why am I reluctant to blog about it?

Because it was full of proper academic-y types, who are doing PhDs and know about theorists and quote philosophers in their event reviews. I can be that kind of person if I have to, but naturally I’m much more of a flitter. I don’t (generally) read non-fiction for fun. I don’t (generally) care about theories for the sake of theories, and I feel that they can sometimes get in the way of Getting Things Done (oddly enough, this was echoed (in a way) by opening keynote Blaise Cronin). I have to admit that, even while part of the VftL team, I (generally) never got involved with the academic debates about the ‘value of the public library to a democratic society’ etc. I’m not denying that it can be important – it’s just Not My Bag, Baby.

But is this maybe why I should be blogging about it? One of the aims of the project is to encourage practitioner-research – and I bet many practitioners don’t research because, like me, they don’t feel that they fit in with this rarefied atmosphere.

Of course, there are other constraints as well – time, funding etc – but it makes me wonder if all the practitioner-research landscape has been waiting for is someone to stand up and say:

YOU CAN DO IT! This stuff, that you’re doing every day, finding out what your users need, finding out what the profession needs, choosing one database over another, finding innovative ways to make your budget stretch that bit further – that’s research! You already do it! And sharing your results through informal methods, like blogging and twitter – that’s fine too! And if you want to learn how to put things a bit more formally, bring in methodologies etc, that’s great! We can help!

Or, to put it even more simply:

Research does not need to contain big words.

So how do we encourage people to research without churning out more of the badly-prepared, cookie-cutter research that Blaise Cronin was so eloquently scathing about?

  • Encourage people to treat what they do every day as research – we all do different things, as #libday7 is showing right now.
  • Encourage people to research what they love. We all have different passions.
  • Encourage people to love their research. Research being fun doesn’t make it invalid! And who’s to say that the Great Toast Survey might not have far-reaching implications for us as a profession? Seriously, the professions which are traditionally strong and happy at research are also comfortable enough to have fun with it (Yes, that was published in the BMJ. Deal with it.)
  • Build ourselves that ‘cadre’ – support and encourage other researchers. Build informal mentoring and reviewing networks. Allow each other the courtesy of acknowledging the validity of research conducted and disseminated through non-traditional paths. Remember that ‘peer-review’ can also be blog comments and RTs. Give a little, gain a lot (yes, I am trying to sell you informal peer support as a pyramid scheme. I can make you professionally rich! Honest!)

What did I gain from the day?

What, besides a crushing sense of intellectual inferiority? A desire, quite frankly, to prove that LIS researchers can be just as valid, just as innovative, just as downright good as those in other professions. A desire to make the whole bloomin profession into a set of connected, CPD-driven, generous, reflective researchers. Who wants to help make this DREaM come true?

Hello from Philly! Back in the hotel, recharging my batteries (mental, physical and electronic) before the infamous SLA IT Dance Party – and trying not to each all my salt-water taffy.

I spoke this afternoon on a fantastic panel, called ‘alternative uses of the library degree‘. We were talking about how to position yourself to succeed in a non-traditional role – though there was absolutely cracking advice from Kim Dority, George Plosker and Jean Fisher that was relevant to all info pros. A couple of the key points that came out were the classic ‘always say yes!’ and ‘opportunities come through networking’. What I didn’t admit during the panel was that I’d missed a great opportunity to do both just a short time before…

With 20 minutes before the panel, I needed to find lunch. I’d hoped to have chance to nip across to Reading Terminal Market, but time was too short, so off to the conference centre cafe to grab a quick sandwich. Slightly flustered, rather distracted, and very hungry, when the server informed me that sandwiches were buy one get one free, what did I say?

No thanks, I only need one.

Gentle readers, you know where this is going, don’t you? You all know what I should have done! Not just taken the extra sandwich (who turns down free food?), but gone and found someone on their way to buy food, and said ‘hey! I have a spare sandwich! Wanna eat with me?’

A perfect networking opportunity (who turns down free food?), and I was too pre-occupied to take advantage of it. Who knows what that could have been the start of? At the very least, someone would have got a free lunch…

So, I said in my last post that I’d share my script from the CILIP Wales conference, and here it is! No prizes for pointing out where I’ve not stuck to my own guidelines 🙂

What I have to offer you, in this closing session, isn’t like many of the other speakers. My somewhat unimaginative title isn’t a pop-culture reference. I don’t have a great new building to show off. I’m not going to have a conversation with Dr Who. What I do have are some stories for you – stories about libraries, and the people who love them – and, hopefully, some advice to help you start stories of your own.

Mairwen’s story [2]

Mairwen here, just want to let everybody know what a fantastic library we have in the small Welsh village of Llanbradach in the County borough of Caerphilly. There is something for all ages the children from the nearby school come in singly and with their teachers to learn the delights of reading their are regular demonstrations ie. music, quilting, rugmaking, talks and film shows of the village from the mid 19th C.
Apart from the obvious youngsters working on the computers, us Senior Citizens are given a helping hand if needed. I borrow quite a lot of books and having eclectic tastes I could ask the librarian to order anything from Physics to Philosophy to crime. Always the librarians do their best to obtain them.
We also have our reading circle at the library, since I retired and moved here 5yrs ago I have met and made friends with so many people. I wish everybody could have a library as happy and good as ours.

Mairwen is just one of many Voices for the Library – and thanks to Karen, for lending Mairwen a voice here, today.

The Voices for the Library story
In September 2010, a new hashtag started appearing on Twitter. People following a certain group of information professionals started noticing slightly mysterious tweets flying around, topped off with #pling! [3]

What people didn’t know at the time was that they were witnessing the birth of a movement. 2 short (and extremely busy) weeks later, the mystery was revealed, and Voices for the Library was launched.

[4] Voices for the Library is a campaign that encourages anyone who loves and values libraries to share their experiences and stories about what libraries mean to them. The group of information professionals behind Voices were concerned about the threats to libraries of closures and cutbacks, and about the negative and inaccurate coverage of libraries in the media.

They felt that public libraries were being misrepresented as underused (despite figures showing a rise in use) and obsolete, and that there was a need for a space where librarians and library users could come together to make their voices heard: to speak out about what their ‘library truths’ were. Voices aimed to be this space: to combat misrepresentation and to provide accurate and impartial information about UK public libraries.

For instance: some of you may have heard Ned Potter and Laura Woods do their ‘echo chamber’ presentation? They talk very eloquently about the Newsnight debacle where, in a report on public libraries, they reported the total number of loans in UK public libraries as being 314,000, when in fact it was 314 million. As Ned and Laura point out, librarians on Twitter went mad with frustration – but no-one outside the profession paid any attention to our protests, and Newsnight never corrected the figure. There we have a huge misconception about the value and use of libraries – which could, potentially, do real damage to the UK public library service.

But Voices isn’t just about librarians giving information, and saying ‘we’re actually all rather good, you know’. The name ‘Voices for the Library’ was chosen carefully – we wanted it to be a place where anyone who cares about libraries can make their voices heard. Much of our content comes from library users, who want to share their stories about how libraries have affected their lives. These stories cover all sorts of aspects of public libraries: [5] the obvious, and most-talked about, is the books. People tell us how they had no books in the house when they were growing up, how the public library was a life-line where they discovered new worlds, and made friends between the pages of a book. Parents tell us how Rhyme Time and reading challenges have helped their children develop and grow.

There are people telling their story who are self-educated, through the resources their public library had to offer. People to who the library is the only safe community space they know. People who use the library for research. People who’ve taught themselves English at their local library. People whose public library is their only access to a computer, who otherwise would not be able to apply for jobs and access council services and go paperless with their utility bills…

The other category of ‘library user’ stories are those which come from famous users – yes, it’s the celebs. [6] I know that the statement of a celebrity is intrinsically no more important than that of anyone else, but we can’t deny that it helps to raise awareness. Celebs who’ve spoken out recently about the value of libraries (to us and to other campaigns) include Robin Ince, Phillip Pullman, Julia Donaldson and Brian Blessed.

And, of course, there are stories from library staff as well. Some are examples of the kind of work they do, to show the range and depth of what trained library staff do, and to illustrate that it’s not all stamping books and shushing! And some are more theoretical debates, about the philosophy of public libraries, their purpose, and their place in society.

And then there are those that show how that theory translates into real social effects, such as this extract from Carol’s story: [7]

Carol is a Community Engagement Officer for Southwark Libraries, working for the Community Library Service. They’re facing cuts, including the loss of the mobile library and homebound delivery service:

I must tell you, many of these customers are absolutely heartbreaking. They’re completely isolated. Many of them will not be able to attend the cabinet meeting at Peckham Town Hall on the 8th February to voice their objections – because they can’t walk across a room, let alone leave their (for the most part) inadequate council housing.
I see these people every week, and many of them say they simply don’t know what they’d do if we weren’t around. It isn’t just about having something to read / listen to / watch. It’s about a life-line. It’s about having something to look forward to, and to occupy their minds, and perhaps most importantly in a lot of cases, someone to talk to.
Many of our customers don’t see anyone else from month to month. I’ve sat with some of them whilst they’ve cried from sheer loneliness and despair. Over the years we’ve found people unconscious, listened to their problems, and given them a little hope and company.

These are the stories we feel need to be heard.
Our social media story
So, how do we tell these stories? Heck, how do we hear them in the first place?
Through social media. We’ve relied heavily on social media right from the start of the campaign – not just for dissemination, but for collaboration too. We faced a number of challenges, for which social media was – not just the best, but often the only – solution.

[8] Firstly, we’re geographically dispersed. VftL team members live scattered across the country, from Brighton to Harrogate and all points in between. This (combined with the other challenges I’ll come on to talk about) means that meeting face-to-face has been basically out of the question. Team members had met randomly at various things, but not enough to do any systematic collaboration, and we’d never all been in one room together – until late Jan, when we had our first face-to-face board meeting, down in London.

This means that everything that had been done up to then – all the planning, work, collaboration etc, had been done purely virtually and remotely.

[9] Our second challenge was that we have no budget. For the first few months, absolutely nothing. Mick Fortune paid for the hosting of the website out of his own pocket. Various team members paid to get flyers printed. We didn’t have a small budget, we had no budget at all, which meant our tools had to be free. Thanks to generous sponsorship from Credo Reference and Britannica, we got ourselves a budget! But with travel and attending events, it’s already mostly accounted for, and we can’t rely on any more coming in. Which means that we have to carry on finding free solutions – and most of these come from social media.

[10] The third challenge? Time! We have even less time than we have money. The VftL team are all volunteers, doing what we can for the campaign in the time we have available. As most of us are not only working full time, but also have other responsibilities such as degrees, other committees/campaigns, writing to do – and even social lives! – this time can be quite limited. As well as meaning that none of us have got quite enough sleep for the past few months, it also means that we quite simply don’t have the time to spend on a tool that doesn’t work, quickly and easily. We need to be putting all of our effort into what we’re doing, not the tools we’re using to do it – and I’d say that’s a key point for any campaign. Of course, some things require more time than others – the website, for instance – so our key concept here is return for time spent.

[11] The final challenge is that of trying to run a nationwide campaign, under the constraints set out above: geographically distant, no money, no time. We do have a target audience – library users and stakeholders. The problem here – as anyone who’s tried to do marketing for public libraries will know – is that they’re not just one demographic! Public libraries in the UK are designed to serve the whole community, from babies to pensioners, and often the only thing they have in common is that they use libraries.

Social media is really the only way we currently have of being able to communicate with these disparate groups of people! Now, we know we’re missing out a huge chuck of the population, and I’ll talk about that later on – strategies to get the word out to the ‘non-line’ community.

So what are these free, fast tools we’re using?

We do most of our communicating within the group by email, but there are a number of other tools we use. [12]
Within the group we use a wiki for collaboration, Chatzy for online meetings (it’s an online service that allows you to create a private online chat room, and have text-based discussions – which also means you can copy and paste the text of your discussion, to make minuting a breeze!), and doodle for scheduling our meetings.

For outward-facing communications, we have 3 main points of entry: website, facebook, and twitter.
[13]Website: this is our fancy new website, launched in Jan. We were very lucky that team member Ian has a cousin who is a graphic designer, and who very kindle designed our new logo. For free. The website was initially built and launched in a very short space of time – 2 weeks from conception to launch – and the original website was … *ahem*… functional… [14]

Our primary aim was to get the campaign off the ground – not to spend our time making sure everything looked perfect. Once the campaign was going, and we knew that the most important pieces of work – spreading information, gathering stories – was underway, we were then able to sit down and think about a rebrand and our image.

This is the way that has worked for us. If you do have time to get everything perfect in advance, great! If not, don’t worry. Making improvements as you go along is perfectly acceptable!

And the website really has been a success! We use Google analytics [15] (again, a free tool) to track usage, and since we launched in September we’ve had over 38,000 unique visitors, with over 128,000 page views. Most of these visits are from the UK, but we’ve had visits from 120 countries/territories in total, including Yemen, Algeria, Iceland, Mexico, and Romania.

[16] Facebook: the other main landing point for our online presence is facebook. Again, facebook pages are free to create and maintain, though they do take quite a bit of time if you’re very active! Luckily, Ian & Gary who maintain our facebook page are very active, and we now have 2776 likes (which used to be called ‘fans’), and nearly 400,000 post views!

Facebook sits in the gap between the website and our twitter account (which I’ll come on to talk about next). While there is a fair amount of cross-over in the content, facebook gives us slightly more freedom for longer links and discussions than twitter, but is more news-y and less in-depth than the website. It’s hugely popular – it’s a space where people are!

[17] Twitter: twitter has a special place in the hearts of the Voices team – after all, it’s where we met! VftL was conceived on twitter, by a group of info pros who, for the most part, had never met. They knew each other only through twitter – that’s where the discussion and the idea started.

The twitter account was the very first thing made! That’s why it has a different name to everything else – Ukpling (remember that #pling! from the start of the story?). This was intended to be the original name of the group, standing for ‘UK public libraries in need group’. Discussion changed this to ‘Voices for the Library’, but the twitter account was already established, under a different name.

Now, it is possible to change your twitter name, and we have discussed doing so. But all the ones we really wanted were taken, and we’d built up quite a twitter following – over 2000 followers – so we decided to stick with it. It we were running the campaign all over again, one of the very first things we’d do would be to change the twitter name!

Real-life storytelling – with props!
Of course, no matter how much we ‘push’ our social media content, there are some things that just work better in person – like today! [18]

One of our big aims recently has been to find out how to get in touch with the ‘offline’ community – perhaps those 10 million people in the UK who don’t have a computer, and for whom their local library might be their only point of internet access.

To help get the word- the voices! – out to people who don’t use social media, we’ve got some actual, real physical material! We have flyers, which we hand out at events, and which are available from our website for people to download and distribute.

A new weapon in the VftL arsenal are these rather charming badges and ribbons [19] – available for a small fee from the VftL stand by the door! [I’m delighted to see some people wearing them already!]. We can’t take credit for the idea of the ribbon campaign – it came from library campaigners in Oxford, who were more than happy for us to use our national presence to promote the ribbon campaign, and get other campaigns – and individuals! – wearing them.

The badge campaign was the brainchild of Lauren Smith, our media rep and all-round bestest indie-kid. She wanted something that would not only get the message across, but also be visually appealing – something fun (but not twee or dumbed down) that would appeal to children and adults. Badges! They’re also easy to design and order, and quite cheap – we’d talked about (like everyone else!) doing tote bags, but it’s much easier to get someone to shell out a quid or so for some badges than 10-15 for a tote bag/tshirt/mug…

We’ll be taking along badges and ribbons when we go along to events – not only library/info events such as this one, but crucially non-library events, to get out of that pesky echochamber. As Annie mentioned this morning, a number of librarians around the country have been speaking at Womens Institute events, and those include VftL members. Others who have been speaking have contacted us beforehand for advice. I recently spoke to a National Union of Journalists sector group at their national conference. Later this month we’re off to the Hay festival, where we’ve got a stand. Seems like a great place to promote the importance of UK public libraries, drum up some support, and get some great stories!

[20] It can be a lot easier to piggyback on an existing event, campaign or movement than to start your own. You might find it easier to get libraries on the agenda at a local residents meeting, say, or a parish council rather than getting people to come along to a meeting about libraries. Find existing forums, and see if they’ll let you speak.

This is also a great way of really getting outside the echo chamber – people who come along to a meeting specifically about libraries are going to be those people who already really care about them! People who use libraries, and who are probably at least vaguely aware of what’s going on. At a more general meeting, you have a chance to speak to those who perhaps don’t use their local library very often – or at all! – but who might still be interested. You might well inspire non-users to join up or return by telling them about all the other fantastic services which libraries offer, which are under threat – a recent Ipsos Mori report (Nov 2010) said that 19% of lapsed users wanted more information about what libraries offer – this might be your chance to give it to them! [21]

And, as the survey points out, its’ not just lapsed or non-users who don’t know what the library does:
‘Nevertheless, even some current users aren’t aware of everything you can do at a library. For example, as shown in figure 1 above, 19% of current users in our survey thought that being able to reserve or renew books online would encourage them to make more use of libraries; in fact, this facility is already widely available at public libraries’

If you’re speaking on behalf of libraries, prepare to be an advocate and emissary for all libraries, everywhere. As Annie said this morning, all sectors of the library/information world are going through tough times – whether from cutbacks, closures, outsourcing, de-professionalism – it affects us all. So it’s even more vital that when we advocate, we advocate for the profession as a whole. We need to support each other: this is no time for professional squabbling or jealousy.

And advocating as whole can make a difference. For instance, when I spoke to the NUJ recently someone in the audience brought up the topic of school libraries, and I had to tell them that unfortunately school libraries weren’t statutory, and that even when they exist, they’re not required to employ a qualified librarian – or indeed any librarian at all! I couldn’t give her any detailed statistics, but I could refer her to the Heart of the School website, which is dedicated to proving the importance of school libraries. This means that the people in that room, who came there caring about public libraries, now care about school libraries too.

Telling our story to the media
[22] We also talk to the media a lot – whenever they ask us to, and often when they don’t! VftL representatives have appeared on local and national radio & TV – mainly our media rep, Lauren Smith, though other members have braved the microphones at 6am to talk about library closures in their area. We try to take every opportunity that arises – Lauren once did a mammoth session of 12 local radio interviews in the space of 2 hours, topped off by going head-to-head with Ed Vaizey on you and yours!
One of the things we’ve learned about dealing with the media is that you have to contact them first – if they don’t know about you, they won’t contact you! Don’t be scared to push forward – if you have something newsworthy (and bear in mind that their interpretation of newsworthy may be different to yours!) tell them about it! The flipside of this? As some voices members can testify, once they do know about you, you might have a hard time getting them to leave you alone…

Grow your own stories [23]

What have we learnt from our experiences with Voices for the Library, that can help you make you own story have a happy ending – or, at least, not be a comedy of errors?

[24] Be flexible. This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give. If you’re not willing to be flexible and fast-moving, then all your other efforts will probably go to waste. This is about being flexible in what tools you use, and in how, when, and even why you respond to things – an indignant blog post isn’t always the right answer!
BUT sometimes maybe you do need to be ready to write that indignant blog post at a moment’s notice, when that’s the right thing to do. Luckily VftL have some great team members who are fantastic at producing well-researched and eloquently written posts at the drop of a hat. If you don’t have this capacity – and there is nothing *at all* wrong with not being on the job 24/7 – then you need to be flexible in fitting your responses and strategies to your available resources.

[25] Be passionate. There’s nothing worse than fake enthusiasm; nothing more damaging to a campaign than an advocate who doesn’t really believe in it. Again, you don’t have to be advocating for libraries constantly – but when you are, you have to be absolutely committed. And yes, advocating does involve some ‘above-and-beyond’ work to get outside the echo chamber. People have suggested talking about libraries whenever you have a captive audience – tell your hairdresser, your driving instructor, your gynaecologist… Now, no-one’s going to blame you if you want to have the occasional hair-cut in peace, but if you do decide to take the plunge and start talking about libraries, do it with passion, conviction – and a decent grasp of the facts!

Which brings me on to…

[26] Be accurate! One of the major points of the current crop of library campaigns is that they are campaigning – at least in part – against inaccurate information about libraries in the media. Now, accuracy and a correct reporting of the facts is important in any campaign – but even more so when one of your points is that the ‘opposition’ is getting their facts wrong. One of our major arguments can easily be turned into a stick to beat us, if we don’t use it carefully.

[27] Be realistic. Yes, there are a few people out there with seemingly inexhaustible commitment. VftL’s Lauren Smith has been described as a ‘one-woman library-saving machine’ – and that’s fine. I can think of others who work 12, 15, 18 hour days working and writing and advocating – and that seems to be fine – for them. It’s not fine for me. I can do maybe 10 hours of work a day before I go all wobbly, and have to have a sit-down with a glass of wine and a bit of no-think tv. And that’s fine too. I try to manage my commitments so I’m not regularly pushing myself beyond the amount of work I know I can productively do. It doesn’t always work, mind you, but I’ve just about managed to get things to the level where I don’t feel guilty for having an evening off.

Don’t feel guilty for having an evening off. Don’t feel guilty for having a week off. Don’t feel guilty when life gets in the way, and you have to abandon advocacy to go and pick up your kids, or mop the kitchen floor – or even have a pint in the sunshine with your mates.
Set yourself realistic targets for involvement, and do your best to stick to them. You’ll have much better results – and be much less stressed! – if you aim to do 30 mins a week, and achieve it, than if you promise to do an hour a day, and never manage it.

And be realistic about what your campaign can achieve, too. Yes, it would be super-awesome if you manage to convince people not only not to close libraries, but to build more! And to make everyone use them! And give them loads of funding! And medals for librarians! And free ice-cream!
Let’s face it, it’s not going to happen. Set realistic targets – get 1000 signatures on a petition; get the council to reconsider their proposals; buy your local librarian an ice-cream – and you’ll be much a much happier and healthier campaign for having hit them.

Above all? [28] Be happy. And this, finally, is my story. One of the great and abiding joys that has come to me through my VftL work is getting to work with an absolutely amazing bunch of people. They’re an inspiration – and more than that, they’re my friends. A while ago, I was feeling a bit burned out, and asked to be taken off the VftL emails for a while. Do you know how long I lasted? 36 hours. I missed them too much. Something would happen, and I’d think, ‘ooh, I wonder what Ian’s said about… oh. Oh yeah. Guess I’ll just have to form my own opinion then…’
I know that this is not a happy time for libraries. I know things look very bleak, and it can be the most hideously discouraging thing to have all your hard work disregarded. I know that some days it’s just all too much.
But you have to keep hold of your happiness – even if it’s only a tiny fragment of it. Hold onto why you are doing this. Remember to celebrate the positive. If you allow yourself to only ever see the negative, you and your campaign will suffer. Don’t found your advocacy on fear and hatred and negativity, for out of negativity only come negative changes. Found it on love and joy and hope, and remember to always take comfort in the fact that, whatever happens, [29] you damn well went down fighting.

[30] Thankyou

This is a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but decided to wait until. after the CILIP Wales conference for a couple of reasons: I wanted to give my method one more try, before advocating it to you all; and I didn’t want to create any false expectations for the CILIP Wales audience!

There’ve been a couple of blog posts about presenting recently, from Ned Potter and Phil Bradley. Very good advice, in general, and from luminaries I wouldn’t usually disagree with. But in this case, there is one particular piece of advice in both blogs that I have to take exception to:

Don’t read your presentation.

Ned says (slide 6) Don’t even get me started on this. Written prose has different phraseology, different tones, different nuances, different EVERYTHING from stuff you say out loud. If you’re reading your presentation out, IT IS AWFUL.

Phil’s advice: Don’t read from your notes! Key words, bullet points are all you should have, in my opinion. If you have more, it’s going to tempt you to read what you’ve written, and that’s never going to go down well. That’s what rehearsing is for.

Now, I totally, absolutely agree with them in many ways. Don’t write an essay, print it out in 10pt type, then stand at the front with it up to your nose, reading in a monotone. By the time you look up, you won’t have an audience left.

But that’s not to say that scripting and then reading is always wrong. I do it all the time. Yup, if you’ve ever seen me do a presentation (as opposed to a training session) it was all scripted. Down to the last ‘umm’ ‘errr’ and the always optimistic ‘pause for laughter’. And it works for me! After my CILIP Wales presentation on Friday, someone came up to me and said ‘How did you do all that without any notes?’ My answer? ‘I don’t! Full script in front of me.’

I’d love to be able to talk off the cuff, come up with apt and informative points based on minimal notes, but I can’t. No matter how many times I practice, if I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say next, I go all of a flutter, and end up saying nothing but ‘umm… errr… umm’. Even if the audience don’t notice that I’m having a panic attack, I’m still having one! And that made presenting a thing of horror for me. The results may have been acceptable, but they weren’t good – and I wasn’t happy. So, I decided to break the ‘rules’ of presenting, and go scripted…

It is possible to have a fully scripted presentation in front of you, without looking like you’re reading it. How? Here’s what works for me:

  1. Get your tone right! As Ned says, written prose is very different to prose designed to be spoken. Spoken prose is a lot more informal, a lot chattier – even if intended for a formal presentation! I’m lucky, as that’s the sort of voice I naturally write in – most of what I write on this blog, for instance, could be presented orally without many changes. If you don’t usually have that type of voice, a few tips:
    • Keep it simple. When speaking, short simple words and sentence structure work best. Don’t include any words you’re not absolutely positive you can pronounce – and pronounce under pressure, with a dry mouth! Simple words are often also the most evocative for a presentation – the sort of words we’re used to hearing, in speech and in stories. Throw as much of your jargon away as you possibly can.
    • Keep your sentence structure simple too. Unless you’re really confident that you can keep the thread of understanding going through your delivery, avoid subordinate clauses. Ditch those semi-colons. Remember that people can’t glance back up the page to check what the subject of your sentence was, so…
    • Use a lot of proper nouns. Where in written prose you’d shake things up a bit (eg ‘Voices for the Library’ ‘Voices’ ‘VftL’ ‘we’ ‘the team’ all referring to the same set of people), in spoken prose you might find it better to choose a proper noun, and stick to it. It means there’s no ambiguity for the audience to work out: important as listeners, unlike readers, don’t have the luxury of being able to pause to work out who/what is being referred to.
    • Repeat yourself! We’ve all heard about the ‘rule of three‘ – again, it’s something that might seem unnatural when you’re writing, but is incredibly effective when you’re speaking. Remember Tony Blair’s ‘Education, education, education’? No matter what you think of Labour’s education policies, there’s no denying it was an effective and memorable public speaking moment.
    • Remember that you have your voice and body language to help you! Something that might seem to need clarifying on the page (‘is she being sarcastic?’) may be entirely comprehensible when delivered – given it’s meaning by your tone of voice and facial expressions. If you feel that you need to indicate this to yourself on the page, try using smilies. You might feel a bit naff, but it’s ok, no-one else will see your script 😉
  2. Practice! Practice is key – it’s what will allow you to make your scripted presentation seem spontaneous and immediate. I’d advise at least 3 full run-throughs, however works best for you (I can’t abide watching myself in a mirror, for instance). Your first run-through should highlight any problems that are in your script: words and phrases that you stumble over; places where the structure doesn’t work, or your meaning becomes blurred. Note these down, and redraft before practising again.
  3. Learn it! Sounds daunting as anything, no? Having to memorise 4000 words or so? It’s really not. In fact, it doesn’t really require any extra effort. By the time you’ve written, practised, re-written, practised again, you’ll have a pretty good idea what’s coming next. After all, it’s yours. You wrote it. It’s not like trying to memorise something by someone else where you have no idea of the way their brain works, no idea of where they might have gone next, or what phrases they may have used. And a pretty good idea of what comes next is all you need, because you have…
  4. Your script. By the time you’ve got to this point, your script should be like a lifeboat – not vital to get you where you need to be, but not something you’d want to set off without. You should know your work well enough by now that a glance at your script can get you through a sentence or two – delivered with your head up high, making eye contact with the audience, before a glance back down to remind yourself of the next couple of sentences. This might take a bit of practice, but you will get used to it! There are various things you can try to help you along – try bolding or highlighting key words/phrases, so they jump out at you when you look at your script. Use large text on small-ish bits of paper – A4 is far too easy to lose your place on! I usually present from A5 paper, numbered in the top right. This time, however, I tried presenting with my script on my kindle, and it worked fantastically! Easy to read, font can be as big as you like, no worries about turning over two sheets at once, or scattering your notes across the floor with an ill-timed sweep of the arm.
  5. Follow-up! Guess what else having a nice script ready is good for? An instant, no-hassle blog-post after the event 🙂 Watch this space for my CILIP Wales script coming up soon – and you can see if I’ve followed all my own rules!

I’m not saying that this is the only way to do presentations – but it is a valid way, and one that works for me. If you get very nervous about presenting, like to be sure of remembering your nice flowery phrases, or simply want to try a new style, why not give it a go? It might help you feel better and more relaxed about presenting, which will make you a more interesting and engaging speaker – and here, Phil gets my whole-hearted agreement:

People won’t remember what you said. They won’t remember what you taught them. They remember how you made them feel. If you’re enthusiastic, keen, interested and having fun, the chances are very high that they will as well. The most informative, useful and valuable presentations are dead in the water if they’re poorly presented by someone who doesn’t give a f… er.. flying monkey. Take a look at the really good presenters – Clay Shirky, Sir Ken, Steve Jobs, and see how they do it. They’re enjoying themselves, and we enjoy it as well.

So, slightly belatedly, here’s the script of my talk from ILI2010, to go with the slides here.

Thanks to Marydee for inviting me to talk, and to everyone who came!

Do libraries have a future?
I’ve been asked to give a new professional’s perspective on the future of libraries of all types, and to ask the hard questions, and I can think of none harder. Not ‘what will libraries look like in 10, 20, 50, 100 years?’. Not ‘Will public libraries end up based in academic libraries? Or pubs? Or supermarkets?’ Not ‘Will future librarians also need to be programmers? Teachers? Game designers?’ but: will libraries and librarians survive?

I think we all have a visceral reaction to this question. The thought of a world without libraries is, quite frankly, pretty darn scary. It would seem to leave a vacuum at the heart of society – but it’s something we may have to face. And we may have to face the even worse situation – that no-one else notices or cares.

Reading the comments on recent news stories on public libraries, for instance, you could well think that a large proportion of the British public has no use for either libraries or librarians. Apparently we could all be replaced by some charity shop volunteers armed with a Kindle…

We talk about the fine and noble history of libraries, stretching back to Alexandria, but finer and nobler institutions have crumbled into dust long ago. Love, respect, and need alone are not enough to save them – or us.

You may be aware of the recent discussion on LinkedIn, started by Mark Field, and entitled ‘the fragmentation death of the information profession
It’s a long and in-depth discussion, that I may not be able to do justice to here, but it’s primarily concerned with the lack of an over-arching professional body which is well able to represent the interests of all UK information professionals.

As the information profession becomes more diverse – specialised – fragmented, it naturally become more difficult for one body to be representative of all. But this diversity is, of course, not a bad thing in itself. Quite the opposite – it signifies a freshness and enhancement of the profession. And, if you want to get all Darwinian about it, diverse information professional skill pool means there is more chance of some of us surviving, of finding the right skills to ensure our continued relevance.

An oft-commented upon symbol of this diversity – and occasionally cause for complaint – is that not many people actually have ‘librarian’ in their job title any more. Quick straw poll – is there anyone here who does?

And it’s not just all about job titles . Actual job content is wildly variant too. This is reflected in the findings of the CILIP defining our professional future report, which showed that the most commonly used skills in the UK information landscape are non-specialist skills, that is: Interpersonal skills, Customer service skills, ICT skills, and General management skills. These are skills which are likely to be present in most info prof job roles, whether titled’ librarian’ or not. Traditional ‘librarian’ skills of cataloguing and classification come way down the list, at 47 and 46% respectively.

Of course, this was a CILIP report, and may not, therefore, be indicative of all information professionals in the UK. One of the main points of the fragmentation discussion is just that – that CILIP as it is cannot possibly represent the interest of all info pros. And this isn’t intended as a criticism of CILIP, but as an acknowledgement that the changing nature of the profession – indeed, of the world – is making that impossible for any one organisation.

There is some discussion on the list of how a new generation of professional associations might work, including suggestions of fluid ‘supergroups’ and ‘defragmentation’ – which is something we should apparently be doing to our profession as well as our hard drives.

I found ‘supergroups’ notion intriguing – the idea of self-selecting groups that can constitute themselves according to what they want to accomplish. What I found surprising, however, was the fact that no-one in the discussion explicitly acknowledged that this is already happening. It’s happening right there in the discussion, as disparate professionals are coming together to discuss problems and issues that are common to all.

I’m fortunate to be involved with another couple of these self-selecting, self-forming groups. The first is LISNPN – the LIS new professionals’ network. Set up by Ned Potter, this is a virtual space where hundreds of new – and not-so-new! – information professionals are gathering to talk, to collaborate, to share ideas and experiences. The network is independent – it’s not affiliated with any of the prof organisations, it’s run by new professionals, for new professionals. It’s not sector-specific, it’s not country-specific. Most of the users are from the UK, but on one random page of users I also saw members from the US, Canada, Germany, Serbia, the Netherlands, Finland and Nigeria, highlighting the truly international nature of some of the issues facing information professionals.

LISNPN has recently graduated from a purely virtual network to involving some face-to-face events. Theses have been social events so far, organised by members. There’s been no approval to get, no committee to go through, no worries over the target audience – just an idea of ‘wouldn’t it be nice to meet-up for a drink and a chat? Let’s do it! Everyone welcome!’.

Does this sound like a profession that’s fragmenting? To me it sounds like a profession that is embracing its differences, and finding its commonalities.

And how are we finding those commonalities? Well, partly through another couple of great online initiatives: Library day in the life and the Library routes project.

I must point out that I’m speaking here as a new professional. This is the profession I – and many others – have entered. We’ve never known anything but what is going on now, the profession as it is at the moment – the golden past has, for us, never existed. And we’re still enthusiastic! Isn’t that encouraging?

What I’m seeing at the moment – in new and established professionals – is a profession seeking to understand itself. As we face challenges, we’re trying to face them by finding out who we are.

This seeking to understand is demonstrated by library day in the life, where information professionals tweet/write blog posts about what exactly they do all day. one of the ideas of this is to get the understanding of what librarians do into the mainstream – outside the echo chamber, as we’d say in the UK. (the echo chamber is this idea that librarians only talk to other librarians. I like the term because it implies reflection, refraction, and distortion. I imagine the echo chamber looking like a fives court – not a square, empty room like a squash court, but one with unexpected hazards and crannies)

But even if library day in the life doesn’t break out of the echo chamber, is only read by other professionals, it’s still very important. why? because it helps the profession understand itself. No one can have jobs in every sector – although I know some try! – but we all need an understanding and appreciation of what people in other sectors and other environments do.

The Library routes project is another good example of this. Information professionals share their stories of how they got into the profession – where they came from, and what route they took in – their roots and their routes.

Again, this opens the profession’s mind about itself. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut where you assume that all librarians had the same sort of career path as you: UG degree, grad traineeship, library school. But this kind of thinking is an insult to the diversity of the profession.

One of the things I’ve loved about librarianship from my earliest days is the multiplicity of opportunities, of stories. If I may paraphrase: ‘there are 8 million stories in this naked profession: yours could be one of them’

‘Stories’ leads me nicely to a story I’d like to tell you. Recently, a group of information professionals, most of whom had never met each other, came together. Linked by social media and drawn together by a common purpose, they worked together without fear, favour or hope of reward, for something they believed in. This group consisted of information professionals from a variety of sectors – academic, public, FE, independent consultants, information literacy, library students – people at all stages of their careers.

This group was galvanised by the negative coverage of public libraries in the UK, and by the threat of closures under the government’s austerity regime. They decided that there needed to be a voice – a unifying voice for the number of voices who were crying out against these proposed closures and cuts.

So, in the space of 2 weeks they mapped out a campaign, built a website, and went to work gathering support.

Support from all across the sector. Support from CILIP and SLA Europe and Unison – and many others. Support that said: yes. This is an important thing. This is something the profession needs, that society needs. This is something that, despite out other differences, we can agree on, and work together to achieve.

That group is one which I hope you’ve heard of: Voices for the Library. I’m privileged to be a part of Voices for the Library, and I’m proud to be part of the profession that supports that. A profession who can unite like this to make a difference should view the future as a challenge, not a threat.

But what sort of challenge will it be? We’re always hearing about ‘use the difficulty’, and as a profession I think we’re very good at spotting the opportunities created by change. But are we translating this to our view of the profession as a whole? Have we really reconciled ourselves to the fact that, in our brave new digital world, nothing is sacred. Nothing is inviolate.

I read a quote recently from the architect behind Birmingham’s planned new central library, who said that ‘libraries are the new secular cathedrals’. Well, whenever anyone mentions cathedrals, I think of the following story.

Alan Coren tells of how he met Peter Palumbo in the late 80s, shortly before Palumbo became chairman of the Arts Council. He recalls how he bent Palumbo’s ear over dinner about the ‘cultural fabric of the nation’. He says ‘it is the one phrase I recall from that night’s exchanges, and each time he loosed it I rose snapping to the fly, ticking off the threat to that fabric, ie, to theatre, film, music, books, painting – and, by stilton time, to glove-puppetry and synchronized origami’. Imagine then, Coren’s chagrin when, months later, he discovers that Palumbo’s interpretation of ‘cultural fabric’ was a literal one: cathedrals. Coren again: ‘and what irks me … is that, even for the literalist, cathedrals should top the list when our cultural fabric is under charitable review. Someone will always look after cathedrals’.

With this in mind, I cannot, in good conscience agree that libraries are the new secular cathedrals. Instead, I propose a different analogy: libraries are the new secular abbeys and we may be facing our dissolution.

Where are Britain’s abbeys now? In ruins, yes – that’s the most obvious and the most visible legacy. But they’re also everywhere – embedded, if you will, in the cultural fabric of the nation. Abbey stone is in buildings the length and breadth of the country. Abbey treasures are in museums and galleries. Abbey grounds host hospitals and sports fields. Some of what they held precious has been lost. Most of it has been dispersed. But some of it survives. And how much more of it could have survived if the monks had been able to oversee its dispersal and re-use?

So as our secular information society starts to tear apart libraries, starts to rebel against the cost and argue that what they provide is available elsewhere, starts to disperse our services and holdings, our staff, our treasures, what do we do? We could resist. We could fight. We could say ‘no! these things are precious!’. And, in doing so, we could (hopefully metaphorically), die.

Or we could take charge of the dissolution. We could understand that we are in the best position to decide what is most valuable, and to ensure that it stays a vital part of society – that it is embedded just as surely and deeply as the old abbey stones. We already have embedded librarians in many special libraries – are embedded libraries our next evolution?

So, I’m supposed to be asking the difficult questions, and I haven’t asked one for a while.

If your library was on fire, what would you save?

Now, this is a metaphorical fire in a metaphorical library, and, as such, it will burn ideas and principles as quickly as books. Internet back-ups are no protection from it. Lots Of Copies will no longer Keep Stuff Safe. This is a fire that is hot enough, fierce enough, fast enough to ensure that nothing survives.

What will we save from the flames? We have an opportunity here to decide the future of libraries and librarianship – and I mean all libraries. It may only be public and school libraries that are specifically under threat in the UK at the moment, but I think we can all agree that it is a very dangerous precedent. Katy Wrathall, who some of you may know is standing for election to CILIP council, paraphrased it very well: ‘First they came for the school librarians, and I did not speak up, because I was not a school librarian…’

I have to add here an example of why this is so pressing, one that was brought to my attention today. Today, at another library conference, a well-known library campaigner who is not a librarian is giving a speech in which they are setting out their vision for the future of libraries. In this, they define libraries as ‘buildings with things to read’.

Is this your vision of libraries? Can we allow this vision to define our future?

There is widespread recognition of the fact that libraries and the information profession are on the edge of a fundamental change. We can’t stop that change, but what we can do is lead it, shape it. Be the architects of our own destruction, in order to ensure that that which we do that is vital to the needs of society is not lost. Shape our own rebirth, so we can be guides to the future.

Internet Librarian International 2010.

To be perfectly honest, there’s not much in the way of facts from ILI2010 left in my brain! They went in my ears, and straight out of my fingers on to Twitter. Yes, I ignored all the good advice I gave myself about taking more time to reflect and listen, and not just pour out a stream of tweets. A combination of dedicated tweeting and reliable 3g (after hearing the complaints about the wifi I didn’t even try to connect) means I was able to spam entertain my followers with huge numbers of tweets.

Tweeting seemed like the entirely natural thing to do – so much so, that when I was sat on the platform listening to Tony Hirst and waiting for my turn to speak, I was tweeting. Reporting Tony’s session on Twitter actually really helped me: it helped me to feel ‘normal’, and not just a bundle of nerves; it made sure that I had to be listening to Tony (which is always worth doing), and not just running my talk over and over in my head; in short, it helped me to stay relaxed and focussed. I was slightly concerned that the audience would think I was rude for tweeting from the platform, but I misjudged the ILI crowd – only one person commented on it, and she said it was brave 🙂

So, my talk. May as well get this over with now. It went well – very well. (Possibly slightly too well! Have I set a standard I can’t live up to?) The audience was lovely – although it did throw me off when people actually laughed at my jokes. Not a big laugh, but as I was expecting polite smiles at best, it was a bit of a shock. Anyway, the scripting and the practising and the agony paid off – I found myself more confident and comfortable than I’d imagined I could be. Slides are available at slideshare and authorSTREAM – though they don’t make much sense without the text! This should be appearing somewhere (probably here) soon.

So, what – apart from sore thumbs and an inflated sense of importance – did I take away from ILI? One a practical level, the MARC-> RDF mapping from the PODE project, which is very useful when I’m considering the Copac data for the LOCAH project. On a personal level, I got to meet some tweeps I’ve been wanting to for a long time – notable Hazel Hall and Phil Bradley – as well as some lovely new people.

On a professional level, I was struck by how many themes kept recurring in different sessions. These are speakers from different countries, sectors, and career stages, talking about very different topics, yet they had similar themes running through them. A lot of people were talking about edges and interstices – places where the digital and physical libraries overlapped. I love the example from Barbro Wigell-Ryynanen from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, who said that when people bring laptops to the library, they are ‘bringing the virtual library inside the physical library’. That gives me a lovely image of library within library within library – doesn’t matter how far you go – it’s libraries all the way down 😉

People are also starting to design the physical library to interact with the digital library, which is another fascinating idea. This was highlighted by Ebsen Fjord describing the cool developments at Gladsaxe public libraries, including a drawing machine for children, a chair specially designed for listening to music, and an interactive floor. I really like this recognition that the digital library and the physical library are just two parts of the same whole, that should work together and complement each other.

Another idea which struck me strongly was the point that we need to focus on the content, not the container. This came from the closing panel, and was based on the idea that ebooks are letting people get closer to interaction with the pure text – and that it’s this text, and this interaction which is important. Libraries have so often been focussed on the container – to the extent that it is hard to define what a book is: is it the container, or the thing contained? Is it the pages, or the ideas in them? I hope we can make the shift away from our preoccupation with the physical medium, and move to a more ideas-based model.

This recurrence wasn’t just happening within ILI – Lukas Koster was at #openculture2010 that day, and tweeted several times that similar themes were coming up in the two conferences.

I thoroughly enjoyed ILI! But what did I really learn? That the Novotel don’t trust librarians with sharp objects. Or they just really like giving us challenges (“Before you, gentlemen, lies a crusty roll, some butter, and a fork. You must use the materials provided to create a nourishing and delicious meal”).

Back in 2008, Tara Brabazon visited CERLIM to give a talk. If you’ve never seen Tara speak, I’d recommend it! I found her an intelligent, engaging, and entertaining speaker. I didn’t take notes – I just sat there and listened, absorbed in the talk. At the end of the talk, she told me that I was such a good listener, she wanted to take me back to Brighton.

Alas, I’m unlikely to gain any such approbation now. Despite knowing that speakers value attentive, smiling faces, you’re more likely to find me hunched over my keypad, frantically tweeting. This might be good for me, but…

Hang on – is this actually good for me? I’m generally a big fan of tweeting at conferences. I say it helps me to engage; gives me an online, searchable note archive; and helps others to experience the conference. It can also help the speaker to see what people have taken away from their talk. While I’m not doubting the value of these things, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really engaging in such a way as to give and others maximum value.

When I was in college, we were given a listening lesson. We all sat round in a circle, and closed our eyes while listening to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The idea was that closing our eyes would help us to focus, help us to forget that we were in a grubby portacabin instead of Llareggub. Being one of those annoyingly ‘good’ people, I kept my eyes faithfully shut the whole time, and it did work. Not surprising, really – deny your primary sense, and others come bounding into play.

But it’s not really practical in everyday life. It may be all well and good to recline, yeux firmly fermé, and enjoy some Wagner, or a jolly good play on Radio 4, but it’s not quite so practical in a large conference hall. And besides, people are bound to think you’ve fallen asleep, and snigger at you during networking.

Nor would either of these methods go down very well at work. You may have noticed that in the opening sentence of this post I’ve very carefully not mentioned exactly what Tara Brabazon came to talk about. Why? Because I’ve forgotten. Oh, I’ve got a vague idea (something to do with undergrads and research), but I don’t know exactly – and I have no notes to refer to, to find out. And while speakers do value attentive faces, I’m sure they value what they say being taken away, remembered and used more.

So, note-taking wins out here. And using those notes to spread the learning, to enlighten and inform others, is an absolute must. But is twittering as I go along really the best way to do it?

I tend to choose tweeting events over blogging for a fairly simple reason: I don’t have time to go back after each event, revisit my notes, and write them up as a blog post. I wish I did! In an ideal world, of course, that’s what I’d do – read and digest my notes, to produce a blog post about each session that not only reports session content, but contains reflections and links, ideas and questions. But if I did that, I’d never have time to go to any other events…

Some talented people can live-blog events. I like to blame my inability to do this on my inability to touch-type, but I know it’s more than that – it’s the pace of my thoughts, as well as my typing, that’s holding me back. Something to aspire to, but for now? Out of the question.

Which brings us back to tweeting. I’ve got my conference tweeting method down: start off with the name of the presenter and title of talk. For all subsequent tweets, get the presenters initials and the hashtag ready written, then wait for a snippet. Tweet and repeat. This has worked for me quite well so far, but I’m not sure if it’s giving maximum value. While I tweet, I’m missing things. While I’m tweeting one point, another, more important one might come along. There might be important things that don’t – shock horror! – fit into 140 characters. What to do about this?

Well, here’s an interesting question: does tweeting from an event need to be live-tweeting? Would it be better to take notes, and then tweet selected highlights? This could be done during breaks and changeovers, or on the train home. It would give me a chance to go back through my notes, but in a less time-consuming way than reworking for a blog post. It would give those following on twitter a chance to read my selected highlights – what I think, after consideration, are the main points of the talk – not just what I manage to type.

Obviously, there are drawbacks: where there are other people tweeting from the event, my out-of-synch tweets might be confusing for followers. Fine in a digest-format, not so fine in a timeline. The less the difference in synchronisation, the better.

There’s also the issue of my time. I optimistically say ‘during breaks and changeovers’. Well, there’s other stuff I want to do during that time too. You know, like have a break. Drink some coffee. Chat to some people. Conferences don’t (currently) have tweeting/blogging breaks – maybe they should?

So what I’d need is a tool that makes tweeting from notes as quick and easy as possible. My ideal? A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text. with the addition of a pre-defined hashtag. So, if my blog is #blog, and I wanted to tweet that previous sentence, I could highlight it, select the ‘tweet with #’ option, and bam! my followers see ‘@bethanar: #blog A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text’.

I really hoped Evernote would do this (it seems to do everything else!) but, alas, its twitter integration seems to be purely in the other direction. Anyone know of anything that might do the job?

The NoWAL Exchange of Experience event yesterday (hashtag #nmee) was hugely enjoyable! Most people spoke about how they were using social media in the workplace, but I’d been asked to do something a bit different, and talk about how I used social media for my personal and professional development. Not one to waste effort, I’m posting my talk here as a blog post. (NB – this isn’t exactly what I said. I can’t remember exactly what I said. But it’s the script that my notes were based on, so it’s pretty close. Apologies to those of you who already know my social media story!)

From pretty much the start of my career, I’ve lived my professional life in the public eye. I first joined Twitter in March 2008, when I was a library student at MMU. I realised no-one I knew was on it, and did nothing with it for about 6 months, when it started being talked about in the media. So, I started following my friend Kendra, and Stephen Fry, who at that point had a mere 50,000 followers or so, and followed everyone back. Well, I was so overwhelmed that Stephen Fry was following me on Twitter that I promptly ran away again, and didn’t dare tweet for months.

I started using Twitter as an information professional in Feb 2009. Looking at my followers list, it starts off slowly, with colleagues, and then a few external contacts, and then gradually my followers build up and up and up – and most of them are people I’ve never met. My very first tweet – which said ‘Bethan is discovering that no-one she knows is on Twitter, which makes it kind of pointless’ couldn’t have been more wrong. I now rely on Twitter for a large amount of my professional interaction and networking, and I have to admit that I can’t really remember the early days!

I started blogging in October 2009. At this point I was reading a lot of library/information professional blogs, and I was also in the process of chartering. I decided to start blogging to force myself to take time to reflect – something which I was having real problems doing. I don’t think I ever really expected anyone outside my immediate social network to read my blog – but they do! I’ve got 79 subscribers and – more importantly – people who engage with the blog, comment and start discussions. It makes me focus on issues, and put my thoughts in a coherent order. Reading other people’s blogs gives me an insight into a) what they do and b) what they think.

I’d like to tell you a couple of stories about social media, and what it’s done for my – and others’! – careers.
Firstly, some of you may have seen an article recently about what I do in CILIP Gazette. That article is a result of my use of social media – I’ll take you on a journey to it 🙂

Earlier this year, I was named as a Rising Star of SLA. This is an award for SLA members in the first five years of their career, who show ‘exceptional promise of leadership’. No, I don’t know what I did to deserve the award. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything that other people aren’t doing – but what I did do, I did visibly. I got involved in the debate about the proposed SLA name change, writing several blog posts, and talking about it on Twitter; I started a ning for SLA Europe – all things that are obvious and available online.

When the announcement of the Rising Stars came through, I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t need to – my peers did it for me. I find my twitter group wonderfully encouraging and supportive – always ready to tout any triumphs that peers and friends have had. So, my twitter group tweeted it, and SLA and SLA Europe blogged it, and soon I got a message on twitter from Debby Raven, editor of Gazette, saying ‘congratulations’, and asking if I’d like to be interviewed for Gazette about the award. I said ‘yes’, told her my email address, and it went on from there. I’d never met Debby, and our original point of contact was purely social media based. Of course, once the article was published I didn’t need to promote it either – again, my twitter group promoted it for me, and I gained loads of exposure – and a reputation for modesty!

Another story – and one, I’m afraid, which doesn’t have an end yet, is that of Ned and Laura. They met through blogging, and set up the Library Routes project, which is a wiki to collect stories of how people became librarians. This now has over 130 entries, from librarians in all sectors, and from across the world. It has been promoted through social media, in articles, and at conferences.

Not satisfied with this success, they started a debate on twitter about how to get discussions by/about libraries and librarians outside the echo chamber. It started as a hashtag: #echolib, and grew into blog posts (by them and others). From this, it grew into an article, and a presentation, and now they’re submitting a proposal to turn it into a book chapter. All of the ideas that have fed into this (you can see them on the presentation) have come through social media – tweets, blogs, videos, and the LISNPN social network. The tweets tagged with #echolib are stored on twapperkeeper, and Ned and Laura are updating the presentation on Prezi as new ideas and suggestions come in.

The #echolib idea is being picked up by leaders in the profession in the US, too, and has the potential to have a really positive impact on the profession. It’s fantastic that the genesis of this idea has taken place in social media settings, under the public eye – you can chart the growth of it through twitter and blog posts, see what has influenced it, and how it has evolved. And it’s great for Ned and Laura – they are directly connecting with many of the leaders in the profession, getting their names and ideas recognised.

I brought a lot of these stories together in my presentation earlier this year at the CDG New Professionals conference. I was presenting on ‘proving the value of peer networks’, and gathered all of the information for the presentation from my peer networks – mainly my social media networks.

I decided that I needed real-world data to make the presentation of value, and so I put together a questionnaire, and asked people on lis-link and in my twitter network to fill it out. I got 104 responses, many of them very detailed, which was fantastic. My definition of peer networks was ‘contact groups consisting of fellow Library/Information professionals, workers, or others associated with the profession. These may include groups such as work colleagues; fellow members of an association; members of a social group such as a ning or facebook group; conference attendees; twitter followers; and other groups with whom you interact on a professional basis.’

I included social networking via the web on the same level as more traditional, face-to-face networking, and didn’t ask any questions specifically about web 2.0 social networking. However, a number of respondents specified that they used social networking tools, with twitter, facebook, linkedin, nings and forums on various sites (library and non-library related!) all getting a mention.

One question which I did ask was ‘has being involved in peer network contributed to your career? (eg have you become involved in a project/found a job through peer networks?)’. 50% of respondents said that it had, and again a number of them mentioned social media in their answers. Respondents using Twitter said that they had been invited to speak at events, become involved in committees, written articles, given presentations and become involved in projects – directly through their use of Twitter.

Twitter, blogs, and social networks are mentioned as keeping people up-to-date; providing quick & easily accessible sources of good information; providing a wider perspective on the profession; being great places to make friends and meet like-minded info profs; helping with CILIP Chartership and Fellowship; finding out about resources, projects and events.

One quote which I particularly like:

I’ve only recently started to feel properly connected to a peer network -and this is really due to twitter and blogging. Funnily enough I ‘know’ more new professionals this way than I do in ‘real life’ in my own region. So I find a sense of community in this online network and that helps me to feel motivated and engaged with professional issues; to feel that I am a librarian rather than someone who just happens to work in a library. I’ve become more reflective about my professional activities and I think I’ve also become more ambitious because I am tapped into the interesting things my peers are doing. I’ve started to blog more, and I’ve ended up joining the CDG in my area (which has in turn has allowed me to meet other new professionals).

Social media gives you easy ways to help others in their professional development, as well as helping yourself. My Chartership portfolio is available online – on my blog, on the LISNPN network, and on CILIP communities. Having my portfolio available gives other Chartership candidates another point of reference – beyond the 3 official examples on the CILIP website. It also means that I’ve been forced to look at my portfolio after submitting it – rather than just stick it in a drawer and forget about it, I’ve had to go through and make sure that there was nothing confidential that needed removing before I made it public. This, of course, made me groan with horror, as I thought ‘ugg! Could have done that better’ – which means I’m already thinking of ways I could have improved my – successful – portfolio.

This use of social media also means that I can track my own growth online – which is fantastically useful for appraisals, applications etc. My professional development is archived and searchable! And, of course, I’ve made loads of good friends 🙂

Blog content open for use CC-BY-4.0


Twitter Updates