“No amount of spider diagrams will sort my life out.”

Straight away I have to credit that title, Lauren Smith tweeted it last night, I read it on my way home from Umbrella 2011, the CILIP conference & expo, as my brain was still fizzing, my feet aching, my writer’s and tweeter’s cramp throbbing and information overload level surpassed for the umpteenth time this year.

I never even blogged all my exploits last ruddy Summer, I send myself emails from work to home, from home to work, from work to my Kindle, from my phone to work and occasionally accidentally to my dog. I might be an okay librarian professionally, but personally I’m information addict with a real problem. My approach to information gathering is hit and run, haphazard and with a barely-controlled level of information anxiety much of the time. I’m trying so hard to develop my career and get my first post as a professional (at my age, pah!), I’m trying to help set up a trial for donor breastmilk to be used on the special care baby unit at my local hospital, I’m researching health information for myself and my family, I’m teaching my partner how to use the social web, I’m balancing debts accumulated getting my master’s degree, I’m constantly battling with my hardware (I don’t want to have to know how to fix it and cobble it together all the time, I paid hard-earned cash, I just want it to ruddy work) but most of all I’m doing my best to be a good mother – and of course, researching the hell out of every possible parenting method I like the look of. And loads of other things I just can’t keep in my head all at once.

I was so lucky to win a place at the Special Libraries Association annual conference in 2008, so lucky. But I never really capitalised on my experience; I made some contacts and I learned loads and loads but I wasn’t so wise to how you have to follow up on those leads, write reflectively and make the most of everything straight afterwards, not let the vitality of the experience fade before you act. As soon as I got home I had to finish my dissertation which I couldn’t because I got ill, then I got pregnant, then I got ill when I was pregnant, then of course I had my baby. Which is the single most focussing experience of my life. For a while everything professional fell away as I immersed myself with my beautiful child and how having her made everything worthwhile. Then when she was 5 months old I started writing my dissertation up, submitted when she was 7 months old. I have to say, I can’t really recommend that as the ideal way to write up but I sure as hell started to manage my time ruthlessly, and it worked. Thinking all along that I just wanted to do a “good enough” job, get it finished, submit it then never think about it again, it seemed that I was incapable of doing a bodge job of it and ended up with a distinction from the University of Sheffield. Bloody hell! I surprised myself there, and slightly irritated myself for not being able to leave well alone, not switching off, letting my brain get carried away with itself again. I remembered why I’d chosen this profession, because I love it and I can’t switch off from it, I love to learn all the time and connect with all the great folk I’ve met in person, virtually and now both. I realise that I spend most of my time outside my comfort zone, that’s who I am and I need to accept that, embrace it and move on.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. This idea fully crytallised this evening when I was watching our customary pre-bath, pre-bed episode of Come Outside (yes, inspiration strikes at the strangest times), Auntie Mabel and Pippin the dog were moving house and packing everything up in boxes, big boxes, little boxes, boxes for everything (you think I’m watching too much children’s television? I’m inclined to agree). She had boxes full of the crap you drag around your life, a box of buttons because you never know when you might need it. You know the kind of thing. I recently read a Lifehacker post that suggested having a box to put in all those little things for which there’s no home but which you can group together until it’s full then you can sort it out. Well that’s my house, that’s my brain, that’s my files and crap on my various devices. Conclusion: that day is never going to dawn. There will never be a time when I can sit down and review, categorise, sort and generally get all my shit together. Not going to happen. Life seems to be permanently set at breakneck speed, so it’s time to stare reality full in the face.

I’m going to draw a line in the sand, that line is going to be Monday 10th July. Anything that I set aside before that date, set aside to do later, read, think about, get to grips with: in the bin. Away with it. No keeping stuff in case it comes in handy one day. What’s the point in keeping gazillions of pdfs of academic papers from my master’s degree? If I ever need to refer to them, I’ve got my bibliographies and oh yeah, I’m a librarian – I will find it if I need it.

I’m drawing the line pre-Umbrella cos it’d be churlish in the extreme to cast that aside. I’ve got shedloads of notes and things to follow up on from that; current, relevant, bang-up-to-date LIS gold. So, in order to maximise the usefulness of all that splendour, I’m going to blog every day until I’ve milked it for all it’s worth. Not for some imagined reader who’s going to trawl through my drivel, for myself. I owe it to myself to let up on my perfectionism and just crack on with this.

I need to create a research strategy for myself, a way to move my other projects forward. I need to write everything down. I need to get that massive piece of paper and draw that spider diagram, extract priorities from it, devise strategies for addressing them and throw the rest in the bin. Leave it alone, move on.

A bold promise, perhaps rash, but I’ve got to give it my best shot.

The Joy of Paraprofessionalism

I’ve been ruminating and fretting away of late, about the fact that I am now professionally qualified but am still “languishing” in a paraprofessional role. I have various reasons for this, not least of which is the fairly pants job market coupled with the fact that where I live there are many big fish in small ponds. My former mentor once described this city as “where ambition goes to die”; it’s a small city and very nice, all touristy-like, so people settle here, as have I. Competition for jobs here is fierce; when I pursued a PGCE umpteen years ago we were warned that we were unlikely to get teaching jobs here, the phrase that always crops up is “dead man’s shoes”. Well, that’s ok, it just means you have to try harder, and I do my darnedest. The main reason that my career is slow to get going just now is the fact that I’m a mother, I just can’t commit my whole life to the profession which can be tricky when so many can. But that’s ok too, that makes me a more rounded person and frankly we’ll all be working till we’re seventy by the time I can retire so I can afford to take my time. A wise chap once advised me to under-promise and over-deliver when I’d been guilty of the reverse in my fresh-faced keenness, I can’t say I’m completely cured of that yet (I did just accept an invitation onto another committee yesterday!) but I’m much more realistic about what I can and cannot do in the finite time and energy I have.

But what I wanted to take the time to do here was to take a step back and appreciate the benefits, I’ve experienced, of being a paraprofessional, after having been one since 2004 (yikes):

  • you get to talk to service users, which I love
  • you don’t have to worry about strategy and budget and five year plans and mission statements
  • you don’t spend all day on personnel issues
  • best of all: you get to handle the stuff!!!!!
Scarily, I actually want to start tackling points 2 and 3 but I mostly wanted to just pause and give thanks for the part of my career that has let me get my grubby (well, scrubbed clean) little hands on loads of really cool stuff. When I worked for three years in a museum library and archive I got to handle unique treasures, to the extent that sometimes I had to stop and take stock: I get to work with stuff every day that people travel halfway across the world to come and see! I also got to research and answer questions like this every working day and see the fruits of my labour acknowledged in published books. I always thought that was pretty cool. I got to talk to passionate researchers, who had all sorts of backgrounds and areas of interest, and cos I was using primary and secondary sources of information I got to edit Wikipedia entries authoritatively (which I also got a kick out of).
As I now work for a much larger library, my work is necessarily more specialised and narrow and perhaps a little strange in fact. The upshot of it is I get to look through hundreds nay thousands of journals and magazines, scouting for conference info to enter in the Index of Conference Proceedings. Obviously I don’t get to sit and read magazines all day, but I do get a shed-load of stuff across my desk, from the most arcane mathematical tracts to trade mags and I’m going to occasionally dip in to these treasures in coming months on here, so here’s the first:
 The Horn Book Magazine, a fantastic mag full of thoughtful articles on children’s literature and new book reviews. I immediately “liked” it on Facebook.

World Book Night

 

Whilst cramming in several other huge tasks into my overfull life, I decided to become a giver for the inaugural World Book Night. This event has had it’s critics, both very negative and critical yet supportive and I agree with many of the points, especially that this could be a lot of terribly nice bookish people giving a book to their terribly nice bookish friends. This was my initial concern and is why I’m holding my event in the local chip shop in the middle of a council estate. The owners have been incredibly supportive although did warn me that some of their customers probably cannot read very well and may be hostile to the idea that someone is trying to give them something for nothing.

Well this is precisely the audience I’m after, my success rate may be poor but I feel that it’ll be worth more than an event held in a library. If only one of my books reaches someone who wouldn’t otherwise have read it then I’ll be pleased. I got very worried when I started re-reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: it’s huge, uses an unfamiliar vocabulary and is frankly quite depressing. But it was the book on the list I most loved so I’m thinking that’s the most important thing.

Maybe if I could’ve chosen any book, I would’ve gone for something more “accessible” but I don’t want to be patronising. That said, I do think there’s too much emphasis on only reading books when surely reading pretty much anything is better than not reading at all. Especially while the internet is so heavily text-based I’m happy to promote most material as good reading practice, football magazines, newspapers or Tolstoy.

Gallivanting librarian on the loose, part the first.

July was an exceptionally busy month, I clocked up a few rail commuter miles, met lots of information professionals, learned lots and had fun too! Because I’m still just getting back in the swing of the information working world after my maternity leave I’ve been keeping my eye on CILIP events and trying to work out which ones:

  • I’m interested in
  • Can afford to go to
  • Can arrange logistics of childcare such that I can get to them

All of a sudden July provided lots of opportunities that fitted the bill. In the run up to this I’d been putting the finishing touches on my MA dissertation research to make it fit for public consumption online and as it turned out that led to more opportunities to travel and meet librarian-types too, so here in chronological order are my exploits.

9th July, Liverpool – CILIP MmIT group event: Social Networking in Libraries which has been extremely well-blogged by Katharine Widdows, so I need not attempt my pale retrospective! My reason for going to this event is that I figured this would be a good opportunity to see what academic libraries are up to online; my own interest being public libraries online activities. My rough and ready reckoning is that it can be good to hang back a little to see what the academic libraries are up to before cherry-picking the best bits, those that seem robust and well-suited to the public libraries’ role. My two take-home messages from this event were:

  1. All academic libraries have not been given carte blanche by senior managers to just go ahead and do whatever they like online, some are more participatory than others while some have not been able to so much as dip their toe in the Library 2.0 communities online. I confess this did surprise me, I had blithely made the assumption that as an integral part of the higher education’s delivery of services to the nation’s brightest and best young minds, the library services would all be trusted to innovate in communication and information service delivery methods (reading that last sentence back, I can see that I have spent far too much time reading corporate bumf recently, yuk!). So just as many public librarians are straining at the leash wrapped around their necks by their local government wranglers, so are many academic librarians. That lack of trust in their own professionals is widespread it seems. All the more reason to converse across sectors and share ideas and experiences; I’ll get to that activity in due course.
  2. GPS is the next thing. Many would guffaw at my lateness to that table but until this event I had never heard of foursquare; I obviously signed up immediately and have barely used it since! But this has been the pattern for every new platform I’ve used: initial sign up followed by inactivity then suddenly “getting it” and off and away I’ve gone. This is exactly how I started using (in chronological order): facebook, WordPress, twitter, HootSuite and now foursquare and Prezi.

It was at this event that I saw my first use of the presentation application Prezi, I’d heard of it but not seen it done. Dave Puplett from LSE gave us his experiences of social networking using Prezi and I was extremely impressed. I of course immediately signed up and haven’t used it since. But use it I will!

Risks in Web 2.0 applications

Standing guard over t'Internet

Just been reading Rudman, R. J. (2010) “Incremental risks in Web 2.0 applications.” The Electronic Library 28 (2) 210-230, as you do on your average Saturday morning. It’s written from the point of view that as libraries access and implement more Web 2.0 applications they’re increasing their surface area that is open to attack. Ok, I’m with it so far (I think). When the author starts detailing protocols for risk and control frameworks it all starts to go way over my head BUT it is useful in making you think about security and looking at your activities from the IT department’s point of view; after all without a good working relationship with your IT department life online would be very hard indeed. So that you don’t have to read it, here’s the take home message:

Work closely with the IT dept in all that you do in order to implement a security program that at the very least:

  • take a multi-layered technological approach using filters, anti-malware, anti-virus software (this is where you need your IT buddies, cos if you’re like me you’ll need to phone a friend on this one – shouldn’t be your job as a librarian anyway!)
  • Web 2.0 policy – detailed yet enforceable, continuous tweaking may be necessary; users should be aware of their ultimate accountability
  • Training for all users on acceptable use and security features.

I think what it boils down to is that as a Library 2.0 zealot it behoves you to learn some basics that mean you’ll be doing your bit to keep your library and authority safe, just some rudimentary knowledge of stuff like phishing attacks would be good for everyone to know. I really think you can’t afford to stick your head in the sand because those threats are there. Without going into detail, we had a phishing attack at work a few weeks ago and it’s caused mayhem, our email and web traffic has been blacklisted by a lot of our stakeholders. My personal email filter places those emails that I send myself when at work in the spam folder; I’ve been bothered to go and fish them out and tell Outlook that emails from there are not spam but how many of those people we contact have known to do this? What a right royal pain in the arse.

New Zealanders showing us how it’s done

the Pulse /te Auaha
the Pulse / te Auaha

I’m really impressed with this website / blog. No sooner do you set your research free than comments and information starts flowing back to you. This is so exciting! I’ve also been asked to write a guest post for the UKOLN Cultural Heritage blog which I’m really chuffed about.

I had been quite concerned that a year out of the loop, not logging on every day (sometimes I only managed once a week, the shame) being a full-time mummy would make it hard to get back in the swing of things, but actually it gave me some perspective coming back in to online information environment: I can see what’s stuck and what hasn’t. Can I stick my neck out and ask what happened to Second Life? I was never that impressed with it but I don’t see much evidence of it being used anywhere now. Lack of APIs? The difference I see coming back is the interchangeability of applications, e.g. I tweet a lot more now and simply feed it into my facebook status. (I need to get that through to here too though!) People seem less concerned with what website they’re on, it’s the raw info they’re interested in.

Anyhoo, lots to do. When I get more than five mins I’m very keen to get hold of Nicholas Carr‘s What the internet is doing to our brains: the shallows. The notion that we don’t go in depth into info any more, just skim over the surface of everything, want  a quick info byte, is compelling. I certainly have my butterfly brain days. I think when going online one needs a clear purpose in mind, a desired outcome, otherwise you end up faffing and the hours go by………

I’m WAVEing at you?

I think the public library system could do a lot worse than look to the HE sector when it comes to taking risks on Library2.0. Just read this by one of my MA classmates on how Google Wave is being adopted by the library community, or not yet. Looks like it’s not fully understood how it can be used and there are some security concerns that I don’t really understand but trust David on this.

Most of us don’t really appreciate how things will be adopted and utilised when they come out but I would reckon that something from the Google stable will be widely adopted therefore worth taking a look at when it’s rolled out. I’m awaiting my invitation via SINTO with interest.

Thriving libraries?

I’m conducting my first pass at identifying local and national agenda that public library information services can contribute to. I’m in the grip of that info overload panic that I always get when starting a new project, sitting here with loads of browser tabs open, mobile on twitter, pencil and paper to hand (yes, really; v reliable tech) and a book open (ditto). Said book is Marylaine Block’s The Thriving Library and she’s doing a lot to calm me down; it’s easy to get carried away thinking that the info environment is changing by the minute and you need to be wired in 24/7, but people and their needs are really pretty constant in many ways. The info environment is always changing and it always will but in broader strokes those changes are slow enough for the interested parties to keep up. One of the benefits of a degree in psychology that I have found is a faith in human nature, for better or worse. People find new ways of doing stuff they want to do (and have always wanted to do since prehistory) and that for me is at the heart of Library 2.0: communication, linking people up with each other and ideas, or as E.M. Forster had it “Only connect”.

It’s easy to get carried away with neat ideas on how public libraries can change lives, which they can and do, but practicality and realism need to be injected into the mix somewhere down the line. As one of my mentors once said: that’s a nice idea but does it get us to where we want to be? Is it part of our core offer? I think that was one of the biggest lessons I learned in my first “proper” job: to templer bluesky thinking with recourse to strategy. The sort of thing that would have had my younger self frowning at the bummer that feels like it puts on the fun, but older, wiser, more experienced me now thinks:

  • let imagination run wild
  • capture all of that rich thinking
  • draw out some themes then look at outcomes, where would that get us?
  • draw it together into concrete plans with an idea of what success looks like
  • have a go, play with it, take some risks

Something like that anyway! It gets the grey cells firing anyway.

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