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Learning and development: (almost) mid-year update

Looking back on my post in January at my plans for learning and development this year, I’m pleased to say that, although I haven’t kept up the rate of blogging I perhaps ambitiously planned, I am well underway with so many development opportunities I will definitely have a full blog by the end of the year! I thought it would be useful, for my own purposes as much as anything else, to note a quick (almost) mid-year round-up here of what I’ve done so far and what I’m planning to do.

I’ve done lots of CPD so far this year, but am way behind on writing up and reflecting on what I’ve done, so I’m also intending this post to be a bit of a prompt to get on with the writing side…

Already completed:

  • Teaching Assistant Preparation Programme (TAPP) – 8 week course in the basics of teaching, completed through work. This was a fantastic introduction to teaching, and although I didn’t blog about it (bar one post sparked by an idea discussed in session rather than the session itself), I’ve got stacks of semi-coherent notes which I have actually referred back to since finishing the course, and found useful!
  • ARLG event on digital literacy – I attended this in February, and learned loads about the concept of digital literacy and how it is managed (or not!) in academic libraries. It was great to see the variety of perspectives on the day, and I’ve got a half-written blog post about a couple of interesting ideas from the day, that I am determined to finish writing this week!
  • Library chats: I’ve managed to dip into a couple of Twitter chats this year, which I don’t intend to write up, but just wanted to note here as something I’ve really enjoyed! It’s been great to reconnect with the fantastic librarian community on Twitter :)

Coming up:

  • I’ve decided this year to finally complete my CILIP Chartership. I started the process several years ago, but due to a combination of personal problems and job changes, ended up abandoning it. I also think I developed a bit of a mental block over the process, making it into this massive insurmountable task, which it really isn’t! I’m going through the PKSB this week, and meeting my new mentor on Friday, so look out for many more Chartership-themed posts in future :)
  • Very excitingly, I’ve got a place on a Pedagogy for Librarians residential course, run by the Northern College’s teacher training team and subsidised by CILIP’s information literacy group, next month! I’m simultaneously very excited and very nervous about it. I’ve realised since starting in my role as subject librarian back in October that it wasn’t just beginner’s nerves/imposter syndrome, I really do have a lot to learn about teaching. And I’m really keen to learn – I could never be a full-time teacher, but as part of my wider role as librarian I love it, and am really looking forward to learning to be better at it.
  • Equally excitingly, I’m off to two conferences this summer: SLA in Boston, USA, in June, and (somewhat less exotically) CILIP in Liverpool, in July! So I’ll be pretty conferenced-out by August… The programmes for both conferences look fantastic, I know I’ll learn loads. In previous years I’ve written up detailed, session-by-session reports of conferences I’ve been to, but I’m not planning on doing that this time – partly because it takes FOREVER, and partly because they’re dull to write and probably dull to read too. Instead, I’ll probably do a couple of round-up posts on key things, my main takeaways, etc.
  • Finally, on Thursday 16th July I will be speaking at a CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside and UKeiG networking event, about my use of social media for personal and professional development. It’ll be (I understand) a pretty informal event, with myself and a couple of others (including the incomparable @pennyb, who I am rather nervous about speaking alongside…), giving short talks about social media, followed by afternoon tea. If you fancy it, contact j.vodden@nabarro.com for details and to book.

So that’s more or less it! It’s looking like a busy but interesting summer for me :)

Close up / Macro of four felt-tip-pencils in green, yellow, blue and orange

Close up / Macro of four felt-tip-pencils in green, yellow, blue and orange by photosteve101, on Flickr

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An academic library’s experience of National Libraries Day 2015

A few weeks ago in the UK, it was National Libraries Day – an annual celebration of the goodness of libraries. The focus of the Day is largely on public libraries, these being the types of libraries most people engage with, and also arguably those most at risk in the current political and economic climate.

In previous years, I’ve always gone to my own public library on the day, extolled the virtues of libraries via social media, and written to my MP and local councillors about the importance of libraries. However, since for the first NLD in 2012 I was working in a workplace library, and on the last two NLDs I wasn’t working in a library at all, I’ve never been able to arrange anything to shout about the library I worked for.

This year I finally got my chance! Back in October I started working in the library at the University of Huddersfield. Since starting, I’ve been working with Bryony Ramsden (@librarygirlknit) on “guerrilla marketing” – not, as I first thought, marketing gorillas (shame, I had some great ideas for a “buy one gorilla, get a smaller primate free” promotion…), but rather, putting on impromptu displays, marketing posters, social media activity… Basically, anything simple, quick and cheap that can be done to raise the library’s profile without having to go through the laborious process of getting everything approved through official channels (although we do have general permission to do all this, it’s not all cloak and dagger!)

With NLD coming up, Bryony and I thought we should do something to mark the occasion. Our initial idea of a simple book display, some handouts featuring the Library A-Z materials, and perhaps a few posters, quickly snowballed into a week-long social media campaign!

Our beautiful BLD book display, complete with bunting made by our talented library assistants!

Our beautiful NLD book display, complete with bunting made by our talented library assistants!

We decided to run a competition on Twitter and Facebook for library users (students and staff). We asked people to tweet or Facebook us their favourite thing about the library, and put all entries into a prize draw (for some fabulous Poundland prizes – we may have official approval, but we’re still on a guerrilla budget!)

The prizes! No expense spared... ;)

The prizes! No expense spared… ;)

We’d also planned to have a treasure hunt around the library, with clues leading to prizes, but scrapped that idea as too complicated to organise in the limited time we had, and just hid some sweets around the library instead for people to find.

One of the sweets we hid around the library. The tag says: "Congratulations, you’ve found a Love Your Library sweet! Let us know what you love about your library at @hudlib, or facebook.com/hudlib to enter our prize draw."

One of the sweets we hid around the library. The tag says: “Congratulations, you’ve found a Love Your Library sweet! Let us know what you love about your library at @hudlib, or facebook.com/hudlib to enter our prize draw.”

Also during the week, we thought we’d use Twitter to raise awareness of the work the library staff do. We put out a call for volunteers and five members of the library team volunteered to take over the Twitter account for a day each, tweeting about what they were working on.

You can see all tweets collated from the week in this Storify, including the lovely comments we got from students and a couple of staff, who entered our prize draw. It’s probably obvious from the tweets that we had a lot of fun doing it – particularly some impromptu additions like our surprise Royal visit!

Overall, we were really happy with how it went. Organising it all took up probably a bit more time than I’d initially thought it would, but I think it was well worth the time we spent on it. Although we weren’t exactly inundated with positive comments for the prize draw, the ones we did get were lovely. I’d been secretly nervous before we launched that we either wouldn’t get any comments at all, or would get negative comments or abuse – happily, neither happened!

The difference on Twitter in particular was noticeable: we gained nearly 40 new followers during the week (although a few were marketing-type accounts, and a few more were other libraries and librarians, about half seemed to be students or other library users – as far as we could tell!). We got many more replies, retweets and favourites than usual, and several of the people who got in touch to enter our prize draw have continued to engage with us on Twitter.

There are a few things I think we could have done better: having a different person take over the library account each day worked well, but there were times when the “official” tweeter was tweeting at the same time as other tweets were going out about the prize draw and other NLD stuff, which at times made our feed look a little confusing. I think we could have scheduled things better.

I also think we could have made more of the book display – we had a few books on there about things like study skills and referencing, which I saw a few students pick up, but then quickly put back – it looked like they were unsure if they were allowed to borrow them! A sign saying “please take/borrow”, or something to make clear that it was ok to take books from the display, could have helped this – although one or two books did get taken from the display in the end, so obviously not everyone was put off!

All in all it was a fun week, pretty successful in raising awareness of the library, and I would say generally a success. I’d love to do something similar next year: taking into account the improvements mentioned above, plus I’d love to do something outside the library – maybe a stall in Student Central!

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Online learning and the digital divide

The Classroom 01

The Classroom 01 by Missoula Public Library, on Flickr

As part of my professional development at work, I’ve started an 8-week course on the basics of teaching. It’s aimed at postgraduate researchers who may need to take on teaching responsibilities. I asked to go on it as well because, being new to teaching in higher education, I thought I could use a few pointers!

I’m two weeks in, and it’s been great so far – I’m definitely going to blog some of my key learning points in the coming weeks. However that is not what this blog post is going to be about. I just wanted to note a couple of thoughts about a group exercise from the last session.

This week’s session was on teaching small groups, and took us through various techniques and group activities. For one exercise, we were given a statement for the whole group to debate. The statement was:

“By the year 2020, 90% of teaching should be carried out using new technology (e.g. VLEs, videos, online multimedia, social media).”*

I found this statement, and the ensuing discussion, really interesting and I thought worthy of a blog post! I had some pretty strong opinions on this, so wanted to get my thoughts down while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Immediately before this debate, we had been split into three smaller groups, each coming up with arguments for the merits of a different teaching/learning style – dependent (i.e. teacher-led and supervised), independent (i.e. solo work), and inter-dependent (i.e. group work). Having come up with our arguments for each, each group had to then swap members with the others so we could each report back on our arguments for each style. Unsurprisingly, most of us felt a combination of styles was best, although we had varying opinions on where the balance should be.

So we were all surprised by a statement that advocated the vast majority of teaching to be independent. Although there could be some elements of dependent and inter-dependent learning delivered online, using these channels for 90% of the time would put much more responsibility on the students to be independent learners.

The majority of us disagreed with the statement instinctively, but the discussion did bring about a more nuanced view. We had a really good discussion about it, more than I could report here, but here’s the main points we arrived at:

Pros:

  • Widening access – more virtual learning would be good for distance learners and people who wanted to fit their studies around work or caring responsibilities
  • Widening geographic access – students from around the country, and around the world, could attend the University without necessarily having to move here
  • It would appeal to more self-motivated students, who could set their own pace of learning.
  • Could be a financial advantage for the University – less investment needed in the physical campus (although more investment needed in technical infrastructure, which could of course outweigh this), and many more students could enroll.

Cons:

  • Disadvantages students who do not learn well independently, not to mention those with disabilities, learning difficulties, etc.
  • Vulnerable to academic fraud, impersonation, plagiarism, etc.
  • Most of us felt the quality of learning would suffer, as there would be little opportunity to support students individually and pick up on any problems or misunderstandings.
  • If the quality of learning suffers, this will harm the University’s reputation.
  • Students at many institutions already complain they don’t get enough time with their lecturers – this will surely make that worse!

My immediate thought, which I raised in the discussion, was: what about the digital divide? In the UK, seven million people have never used the internet. While it is true that few of these are in the 16-24 age range that could be assumed to make up the majority of new university applicants, we surely can’t ignore mature students? Age is no barrier to learning: my grandpa got his PhD aged 70. Added to that the fact that those who do not or cannot access the internet are likely to be from socially and economically disadvantaged groups, and the suggestion that 90% of teaching should be delivered online looks seriously discriminatory.

Not everyone agreed with me on this point: most seemed surprised that the number of people who had never accessed the internet was so high, and I think there were some sceptically-raised eyebrows. One person suggested that this problem would go away by itself, as if there was a serious drive to make the majority of HE delivered online, there would be an incentive for the government to ensure the whole country had access to the internet. I pointed out that a) this isn’t the case with the current drive to make all government services digital by default; and b) simply having access isn’t going to solve the problem – having the skills to navigate online is also a significant barrier.

I’m not sure I really got my point across – the discussion quickly turned back to the problems of fraud and of catering for people who learn better in groups or with face-to-face instruction – but I’m glad I made it. I think this is key as, with regards to the statement we were debating, while I don’t think 90% of learning should be delivered through online technologies, I can easily see that they could. I don’t know if we’ll see this by 2020 (as I kept reminding myself, that’s only 5 years away – it still sounds like the distant future to me!), but I think there are advantages to universities of pursuing this kind of strategy, that may seem attractive to pursue (particularly in the current economic climate) regardless of the detrimental effect on students.

While I agree that new technologies are beneficial for enabling distance learning, and greater flexibility for those with other responsibilities, I don’t agree that they should make up the bulk of HE learning. I think the disadvantages to those without online access, or the skills to navigate online, outweigh the potential benefits. I don’t want to see HE close off any further to people without the privilege of being able to pay for internet access, and having the time and support to learn the skills they need to make use of it.

 

* I should note that it wasn’t suggested that this is the current strategy for our University! It was just provided as a talking point and thought experiment – I don’t think we were meant to infer that this was actually the plan.

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2015: the year of learning and development

learning

Learning by Anne Davis 773, on Flickr

Gosh, didn’t 2014 go quickly! That’s my poor excuse for the pitiful 6 blog posts I managed last year, anyway… Despite setting a professional goal* last January to blog at least once per month, after the first few months I didn’t manage to post anything at all until my new job announcement in August, and then didn’t blog again for the rest of the year.

There’s probably several reasons for this. The first is that, until October, I was working in a job where personal blogging and social media were frowned upon, as was any external professional development, so I struggled to find anything to blog about that I was a) allowed to mention outside of the organisation’s official channels and b) that would be of interest to other librarians. Then from October onwards I was swept up in first starting a new job, and then buying and renovating a new house – which left me with precisely zero free time!

I think I could make a better go of blogging this year. My new workplace is completely supportive of my blogging and my CPD, and I’m learning so much in this new field that I don’t think I’ll struggle again to find things to write about! I did have a brief imposter syndrome-fuelled moment of “but nothing I do now will be of any interest to my followers, I’m just catching up on stuff everybody else already knows, my blog is completely useless now and I should really just delete it”. But then, I stumbled across this blog post from the ever-helpful (and all round super person) Ned Potter, about aiming your professional development output at yourself, a year ago. We are all learning new things all the time, and although I may feel like I’m just rediscovering what is already old news to everyone else, that’s unlikely to actually be the case! If I didn’t know something previously, there are bound to be other people out there who also didn’t know it, and that should be my target audience for these posts.

With that in mind, I’m reusing my new year goal from last year: I will aim to blog at least once per month. I’ve got a couple of topics in mind already (not least, reflecting on my first three months in my new job!) so that should be achievable this year. Overall, I’d like to have a big focus on learning and development in 2015 – that’s something I’ve really missed in the last couple of years, so I’m going to make it count this year.

So I’ve got them set down “officially”, my goals for 2015 are:

  1. Blog at least once per month – preferably these should be a mix of “here is an interesting thing I’ve learned” and “here are my thoughts on a professional issue”.
  2. Make some new professional contacts. My networking has taken a real nose dive the last couple of years. I felt very isolated in my old job, being the sole information professional in a non-library organisation. I’m hoping this year I can get to a few more in-person events, such as conferences and TeachMeets, but I also want to make more time for online professional networking, which I’ve been very lazy about recently! I can’t remember the last time I took part in a Twitter library chat, so I’m determined to join in with the next #slatalk or #UKlibchat. I’ve also just signed up for the International Librarians Network, and I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas and thoughts with another librarian from somewhere else in the world.
  3. Undertake some formal professional development. I’m really itching to learn something new at the moment – it’s been great getting into my new job and learning about the academic sector, and it’s made me realise how much I miss proper, structured learning and development! I’ve been toying with the idea of doing another qualification – perhaps not a PhD just yet, but maybe some kind of teaching qualification. In the meantime, I’m starting a short course through work next week, on the basics of teaching. It’s an eight-week course aimed at postgraduate researchers who are starting to take on teaching responsibilities, so as I’m pretty new to teaching (more of that in my next post!) I thought it’d be useful to do. I’ll probably blog my reflections on the course here, if anyone is interested.

I think those are reasonable goals for this year, and I’m pretty confident I’ll reach them! I’m feeling a lot more positive about my job and my career right now than I have for a long time, so I’m looking forward to having more to share here and on Twitter. Happy New Year everyone!

*I set new year goals for my professional development, rather than resolutions – because a resolution strikes me as too rigid for professional development, which needs to be flexible. A goal is something you can aim for rather than a thing you have to do or not do, and how you reach your goal can change along the way.

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New job – and a call for help!

In case you missed my Twitter announcement yesterday – I has a new job! From October, I will be subject librarian (health and engineering) at the University of Huddersfield. I’m really excited for the move – it’s a really interesting job, and Huddersfield Uni just looks like a fantastic place to work. An awesome library, with awesome people – and it’s university of the year, you know! (And no, my decision to work there has nothing at all to do with the faint hope of running into the university’s chancellor. No, not at all. Definitely not. Stop looking at me like that.)

Of course, I will be sad to leave Brake, the charity I’ve worked at for almost two years now. It’s been a fantastic experience working there – I’ve had the chance to get involved in so much I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to do, and I’ve been proud to be part of a charity that does such important work.

I’ve got quite a long notice period to work, so I won’t be leaving Brake overnight – and it means I’ve got a good amount of time to prepare for my new role! Which brings me, in a rather roundabout way, to the main purpose of this blog post. Health and engineering are both new subjects to me, and I’m also well aware that my information literacy teaching skills are a tad rusty. So, if you’re a health or engineering librarian, teach information literacy in higher education, or if you just have any tips about the wild world of academic libraries, hit me! I’m planning to do lots of reading up over the next two months to prepare, so I’d love your recommendations for any useful resources, books, blog posts, events, people to follow on Twitter… Anything really! Leave a comment below, or tweet me @woodsiegirl – I’ll probably do a blog post later on summing up what’s been useful too.

P.S. In posting this, I’ve noticed it’s the first blog I’ve posted since February. Bad Woodsie! *smacks hand* Where has the year gone… I do have a few ideas I’ve been meaning to get down in blog form, so I’ll aim to revive this blog somewhat in the coming weeks.

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Finding time for CPD

This article was first published in CILIP Update, November 2013.

Back when I was still a new professional, I wrote and spoke on the topic of “CPD on a shoestring” – how to keep up your continuing professional development without any money for training. In my youthful naivety, what I failed to appreciate at the time was the further problems encountered once you move into more senior roles with more responsibility: namely, how to keep up your CPD when also have no time for training!

This is a problem I think most librarians will sympathise with. There are those who seem to live and breathe librarianship, filling their entire evenings and weekends as well as their work time with constant CPD. There is nothing wrong with this for a period – and I did it for a while myself – but it’s not for everyone, and I think it is unsustainable in the long run. This is particularly the case once you move up in your career and have more demands on your work time. It’s also an unfair burden on those who have children, or other commitments outside of work.

However, I do still believe it is incredibly important to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date. Part of demonstrating your value is being able to show that you are committed to your career and to enhancing your skillset. Besides, taking time out from the daily grind to develop and reflect can be hugely beneficial to your motivation and enthusiasm for the job.

So how do you do CPD with no time and no money? Well…

Remember it doesn’t need to be complicated

CPD doesn’t have to mean attending conferences and training courses, going on visits to other workplaces, or other costly and time-consuming pursuits. Those things are all great if you can manage them, but “doing CPD” can be as simple as browsing through professional journals or blog posts on your commute, or setting aside ten minutes at the end of a Friday to make some notes on what you achieved and learned that week.

Build a learning network

Finding time for CPD is much easier if you have people you can work on it with! Social media is great for this, particularly if you are geographically remote or the only information professional in your workplace. Twitter chats, where people come together on Twitter at a specified time to discuss a previously agreed topic using a hashtag (such as #uklibchat and #slatalk) allow you to share ideas with other information professionals around the world. If you are lucky enough to have supportive colleagues or fellow information professionals locally, try arranging informal meet-ups to discuss what you’re all working on and share ideas.

Record what you’ve done and learned

I’m still a great advocate of blogging as a CPD tool, even though my own blog has been a bit quiet of late! If you don’t have the time or inclination to set up your own blog, there are some great group blogs and others that accept guest posts, such as the UKLibChat blog and the LIS New Professionals Network. At time of writing, there are also plans afoot for a new online space for information professionals – certainly worth keeping an eye on!

[Note: at the time I wrote this column they were indeed just plans, but the site is of course now live and already well-populated with interesting perspectives on the profession!]

If you don’t fancy blogging, I would still recommend keeping some kind of diary of what you’ve done and what you learned from it – if nothing else, it’s a motivational tool for those times when you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. Use whatever suits you for this – whether that be online tools like Evernote, or just a good old-fashioned notebook and pen!

Make time for what’s important

Finally, it’s helpful to look at what you are actually spending your time on and make sure you’re making time for CPD. Everyone has days when all you want to do on getting home from work is collapse on the couch and binge-watch your box set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs (or is that just me?), but fitting in just ten minutes a day or an hour every couple of days on some kind of CPD activity can really add up. Generally, if something is important to you, then you’ll find time to do it. CPD certainly should be important, so take a look at how you are spending your time and see what you can fit around it. Ultimately CPD is a personal matter – you get out what you put in, and it’s up to you what that is.

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Librarian or information professional: we are the information experts

This article was first published in CILIP Update, August 2013.

The recent debates around the CILIP rebrand, and the name change in particular, have generated some passionate responses. There are obviously strong feelings around how we identify ourselves, with many members objecting to the omission of the word “library” from the new names proposed in the survey.

I’m not going to go into detail about the pros and cons of a name change here, but it has got me thinking about those of us who have librarian backgrounds but don’t work in libraries. How do we explain our backgrounds to our employers?

I don’t work in a library. Nor do I work in a resource centre, information commons, or any other alternative name for what is, essentially, a library. Yet, I am still using my skills as an information professional. This can cause some confusion with my colleagues when I’m asked what my background is: if I say I’m a librarian, people aren’t sure how that relates to what I do now.

When interviewing for my current job, I was asked about my Masters degree: the people interviewing me hadn’t come across a Masters in library and information studies before, and didn’t see how it could be relevant to the job I was applying for. I had to explain that librarians and information professionals have a wide skills base in managing, analysing, using and disseminating information; and that all of this would be relevant experience for the job.

In my seven months in the job, I have had numerous conversations with my colleagues and external contacts about my background as an information professional, and how this informs my current role. Some “elevator pitch”-style answers I have used successfully include:

  • I’m an expert in finding and evaluating information, so we have the most accurate, robust evidence on which to base our work.
  • I’m a knowledge manager: I know how to connect the people who know things with the people who need to know them.
  • I’m a subject specialist: I’m immersed in road safety information so I can know in advance what information and developments we will need to act on.

Although I don’t work as a librarian, my experience from previous library jobs and the knowledge gained from my library qualification have been hugely beneficial to the work I do. Some examples of ways I’ve used my information skills have included:

  • Abstracting and summarising: a large part of my role is working with experts and researchers in road safety and producing plain-English, actionable summaries of their work.
  • Finding information from various sources and selecting the most appropriate: there is a lot of misinformation out there about road safety, so having the skills to evaluate information sources is incredibly important.
  • Knowledge of the academic publishing process: my past experience as an e-journals library assistant has been invaluable in knowing how to track down research papers we want to use – as a charity, we don’t have the budget for journal subscriptions, so are reliant on open access or obtaining papers directly from researchers.
  • Reference interviewing: I need to know how to ask the right questions and find out what it is that people actually need to know, to enable me to get them the right information.
  • Web content management: I have responsibility for keeping our website up-to-date, as well as editing and formatting information for publishing online.

Finally, the most important skill I use in my day-to-day work is networking. Some may not see this as a key skill for librarians and information professionals, but I believe it should be central to all we do. Running the best-stocked library in the world is pointless if no one knows you are there or why they should come to you. I spend a huge amount of my time building strong relationships with the experts whose work we use, and also promoting the charity’s information outputs as valuable resources for anyone interested in improving road safety. These aren’t skills I learnt from my library qualification, but they are skills I’ve developed and honed from working in libraries, attending professional development events and volunteering with professional bodies.

While many CILIP members (and potential members) have employers who don’t think they’ve hired librarians, our skills are valuable in many different jobs and sectors. It is up to us as librarians and information professionals to sell our skills, and ensure that “librarian” is synonymous with “information expert”.

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