Innovation, inspiration, creativity : i2c2 in Manchester

i2c2logowithdateRecently, two of our basement dwellers went roving up to Manchester to attend a conference on innovation, inspiration and creativity: the i2C2 Conference. This was a conference aiming to encourage out of the box thinking to achieve practical solutions (which seems timely because apparently libraries don’t just offer access to information, we also offer solutions to problems).

In one of the two keynote speeches, Brendan Dawes talked about his approach to data visualisation. Data can be artistically presented. It can be made interesting and it can be made to interact with people. It does not have to be static or boring. Information as art can still be informative whilst being engaging. Raw data is interesting, but a graphical representation might be more memorable, not to mention enjoyable (even if some of us do enjoy numbers and lists without pictures).

Penny Anderson talked about LibraryBox, an open source, portable digital file distribution tool. Inexpensive and easy to operate, LibraryBox is inspired by PirateBox, a mobile, anonymous file-sharing device. Penny Anderson talked about using LibraryBox to create spaces for the sharing of fanworks and creating open libraries. Though some couldn’t see the advantages of such a device in academic libraries, perhaps even public libraries, LibraryBox certainly seemed to show a lot of promise for use as an advocacy or maker-space tool.

David Parkes took us on a psychogeographic library exploration, or a dérive, an unplanned journey around a small block. He suggested finding new approaches for looking at our surroundings, reflecting on the changes in history that must have taken place in the last hundreds of years. Parkes said he used this approach in campus inductions for university students, to make a place imprint on their minds, by going beyond the usual signs and directions.

Sam Helmick (read her post on the conference here) and Mallorie Graham talked about tapping into Generation Y’s tolerance and openness while also trying to find a way around GY’s digital proficiency, which makes them a small library user group. They both talked about making public libraries attractive to this group by offering alternative services, by luring them into the libraries through fun and inventive methods. We liked their ideas so much we invited them down to London for some library chatter.

Other sessions at i2C2 covered topics such as ways to promote library services in a more personalised and less traditional fashion, libraries collaborating with each other in order to complete projects, guerrilla ethos in the libraries and the employment of tactical urbanism, innovation through discussion, using typologies to create informal learning spaces, and library maker spaces that can take library users on creative journeys.

There was also a short presentation on Cityread London, which is of course of interest to us, and begins on April 1st. Andy Ryan’s talk was on how to generate big bucks through partnerships and collaboration. Working with 33 London library services (and booksellers, publishers, schools, museums), each library involved in this project contributed £500, expecting a return of over £15,000 per service.

Overall, the insights we took from the conference were to seek out opportunities for collaboration, to consider any and all ideas, even if only for a second (before asking yourself, really?), and to be open to change and innovation. If/when this conference takes place again, it really is worth attending.

Contributed by: HD

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ISS away day visit to the Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham

ISS had an away day earlier this month, leaving behind the City and venturing northwards to the Library of Birmingham. This was a novel experience as there has never been an outing which has involved the entire section before! The purpose of the visit was to not only check out the new £200 million library but also to discuss the results of the ISS survey 2013 and to generally have a think about the work we do as a section.

The Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top of the library seemed to be a favourite feature, as was the intriguingly named Secret Garden (an outdoor green space on level 7 which offers fantastic views of the surrounding area and will be a very popular spot in the warm summer months but was unsurprisingly pretty empty of people on a freezing January afternoon!)

Secret Garden

After lunch we reconvened in our meeting room and undertook SWOT analysis sessions. These sessions enabled everyone to think about the good bits and the ‘could do better’ bits of what we do and how we do it. They also helped us to consider what the future could hold for us (both positive and negative) and the services we provide. The thoughts, ideas and suggestions that were generated by these discussions were duly noted and will go towards improving and developing the work we do both as individuals and as a section.

So our first ever away day was a success; an opportunity to get out of our office en masse, take in the splendour of Europe’s largest public library (it really is huge!), reflect on all the good work we’ve been doing and plan ahead for all the work still to do!

Contributed by : Lynn

(Photographs courtesy of Carol Boswarthack)

We’re changing …

We’re changing …

Our role as a section (and as individuals) has changed dramatically since we first adopted the name Bibliographical Services Section and to reflect that we have decided to adopt the new, more accurate and up-to-date name Information Services Section (ISS).

We are in the process of re-branding – replacing BSS  with ISS wherever it appears (including the old sign that used to be on our door)

BSS sign

You may already have noticed some changes on Twitter and at the head of this blog.  You will still come across the name BSS in some of the older posts, but from now on remember – “For BSS read ISS”.

Thanks

Dandelions, Digital Literacy and Development

Dandelions, Digital Literacy and Development

Contributed by: HD

I recently attended an event held by Dawson’s, which featured three talks I really enjoyed, the first by Ben Showers (@benshowers), programme manager with JISC. In A Presentation on the First Stage Findings of the Library Management System Programme, he discussed the three ages of library systems (the stand alone age, the age of integration, and the age of contingency) and the evolution of the LMS from back office tool to something which is presently more integrated, a product of collaborative effort, and moving towards an age of the continually evolving LMS, a product that will be being born of what Ben Showers described as a ‘dance between user and system’.

Ben Showers spoke of how user expectations are being shaped by sites like Facebook and Twitter, and how in choosing a LMS we will need to be aware of these expectations, to be open to enhancing our LMS through being a part of knowledge communities, making use of things like crowd sourcing, and to accept that the LMS is never complete and is on a path of continual change. I felt rather excited by the prospect of the third age with its focus on community based knowledge and crowd-sourced data, as open and collaborative endeavours can lead to some truly amazing things (Linux immediately springs to mind).

We might not be able to get the perfect product (has there ever been such a thing?), but between us we may be able to use the tools and skills at our collective disposal to collaboratively build something that suits our needs (the open-source ILS Koha might have been mentioned…). A lot of this will probably depend on open data and Ben Showers suggested that we ought to let go of data the way dandelions let go of their seeds (as inspired by Cory Doctorow). Data should be set free, allowed to settle or die wherever it lands and similarly allowed to flourish and prosper should it land on fertile ground. Let data be promiscuous, was the well-received advice.

The next talk was by University of Greenwich’s Mark Kerrigan (@MarkKerrigan), entitled How Digitally Literate are Students? He spoke about how students might have digital skills, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are digitally literate. He also asked whether institutions make assumptions about levels of digital literacy and make decisions based on these assumptions, suggesting that, in order to develop the student, the academic institution must look at what resources it has, the needs of the student, and how the resources meet those needs.

Mark Kerrigan illustrated the differences between student needs by describing four types of students. The digitally immersed student is at one with her digital environment. The adaptive student is capable and skilled, if not fully engaged. The digitally fixed student is good at what she knows, but won’t engage further than necessary. The detached student is, well, detached, not seeing the potential benefits of digital skills. Mark Kerrigan suggested that students should be guided towards being adaptive and that there is a need to align the teaching of digital literacy to the student’s journey which starts on entering an institution and ends with leaving prepared for working in a professional environment.

It occurs to me that the library can play a vital role in facilitating a service user becoming more adaptive (the library having a role in anything is great news, even if it’s The Da Vinci Code), but before we can start helping service users with digital literacy, are we adaptive enough to keep up with the changing nature and demands of our work? Do the institutions for whom we work do enough to facilitate our development to keep in sync with ongoing changes? People working in libraries/information environments have different levels of digital literacy and this is something we need to be aware of in terms of the services we provide and our own professional development (but mostly in terms of being able to talk to people in IT without wanting to catapult ourselves out of a window).

Finally, the keynote speaker at the event was Annie Mauger (@anniemauger), CEO of CILIP. Her talk was on Inspiring Information Professionals: a bright future in a digital world.  She spoke of the difficulty of working in austere times with cut budgets and loss of staff, with fewer people doing more work. She emphasised that it’s important to recognise our own value, though we may feel devalued at times, and also to continue developing professionally. She spoke of how information professionals need to be responsive to a changing environment. If technology is changing our role, then we must look at how to adapt to those changes.

Annie Mauger mentioned a quotation I really liked by Wayne Wiegand, who said, “Rather than the user in the life of the library, think about the library in the life of the user”. She asked whether the physical library really is about what is held there, or whether it’s about the purpose for which the patron wants to use it. Annie Mauger also stressed that universities especially need libraries to be physically at the heart of their institution, so students can see them and make use of them. After all, if our libraries are going to be hidden away like secrets, it doesn’t do much for the visibility of the people working in them or the services on offer.

During this talk I really felt that the library doesn’t have to be a dying institution at all (as someone once kindly described it to me, oblivious to the fact that libraries have been dying for quite a while now). Library spaces aren’t just about collections in the same way those who work in libraries don’t just deal with books. Libraries offer space for peace, privacy and quiet. The people working in libraries connect the user to the useful. If libraries are truly built to be cultural and educational hubs, places where you can access a variety of resources, activities and space, they can find new life in an age where space, quiet and privacy are becoming ever elusive.

I came away from this talk feeling that the library’s image needs to be recast into something visibly in sync with a changing information environment. This means not shoving libraries away into invisible nooks, but showcasing them and their staff as places and people who can offer traditional services, as well as help bridge the digital divide. Let’s market ourselves better and make it easier for people to find us, to join up, to ask for our help and just generally offer them the ease of connecting with us.

There’s a lot happening on the digital landscape which is having an impact on traditional librarianship. Maybe the library profession seems dusty and oaken in comparison to the dynamism of new technology, but here’s the thing, information is for use. Every user has his or her information need. Every bit or byte of information has its user. We can mediate that space between user and information, saving the time of the user. The digital environment is a growing organism in which we can still play a role developing technologies and strategies, educating users to become more digitally literate, and continuing to guide people in their search for information.

Sex, flies and smoking terminals : a look back through our archives

Sex, flies and smoking terminals

We’ve been clearing out the office of our recently retired Bibliographical Services Librarian, and have uncovered a cache of documents in that transitional stage between ‘clutter’ (nasty stuff, to be thrown out) and archival material (invaluable stuff, to be, in due course, catalogued, conserved and made accessible).

Many of them are memoranda.  These are probably only familiar to younger readers from period dramas set in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies.  You may, for instance, have seen a Boss instructing a Secretary ‘Take a Memo, Miss Peabody” and wondered what was meant.  In the days before e-mail, they were a means of communication between different sections and levels of an organisation : inevitably a “top down” form of communication (‘memorandum’ is the Latin for ‘must be remembered’) they did not generally invite or expect a response.  They did, however, have the advantage that the Boss had to read their thoughts aloud to another human being before sending it, which may have helped to avoid some of the worst excesses of the e-mail genre.

Some of these memoranda provide valuable evidence of how earlier generations responded to Change in the Workplace.   For instance, we often think of ‘information overload’ as being a modern phenomena (typically managers complaining of having more e-mails than they can cope with) but this memorandum from 1968 indicates that the problem goes back as far as the invention of the telephone.

“It has come to my notice that two members of the staff have recently telephoned the Principal Lending Librarian with a view to making appointments to see him.  He is extremely annoyed by these incidents.  Apart from the irritation they cause – he may be in the middle of important discussions at the time – such calls are not the correct way to secure an interview.  They must be arranged through the proper channels. 

Any member of the staff with reasonable cause for requiring an interview with Mr [Redacted] will in future make application in the first place to me.  Permission will never be refused. although it must be realised that the Principal Lending Librarian is a busy man with many calls upon his time, and any interview granted will take place when convenient to him.”

(Perhaps because they never ‘ad the Latin, the staff clearly failed to remember this, because the memo had to be recirculated in 1971.)

But it was not only new technology in the obvious sense that caused problems.  Even the advent of the humble paper handkerchief proved challenging, as this memo from 1971 suggests:

DISPOSABLE PAPER HANDKERCHIEFS

It has come to my notice that some members of the staff have been using the metal waste-paper bins to dispose of used paper handkerchiefs.  This unpleasant and insanitary practice must cease.

Apart from the fact that the bins were never intended for this purpose, it should be obvious that to fill them with such germ-laden matter exposes the rest of the staff to an unnecessary additional health hazard.  In a centrally heated building, especially, they would become fertile breeding-grounds for bacteria, as well as flies and other vermin.  Moreover the porters, whose task it is to empty them, are being unfairly exposed to a much higher risk, since they are obliged to handle the contents of each bin, as they are sacked each morning. [The handkerchiefs, presumably, not the porters – Ed.]

I am arranging for each waste-paper bin to be thoroughly disinfected, and shall be glad if the staff concerned will, in future dispose of their used handkerchiefs either in the toilets, or, preferably, in the incinerator expressly provided for such purposes.

Of course, it was not only changing technology that offered a challenge to the managers of days gone by – changing social attitudes, too, could be hard to come to terms with.  The 1960s saw the arrival of the Permissive Society, as hippies preaching Free Love and Women’s Liberationists demanding equality thronged Carnaby Street  … (no, actually, hang on a minute, this memo dates from 1984):

“Further to my memo of 6 December,  I have now been able to discuss Sheila Kitzinger’s Woman’s Experience of Sex with the Director and he has consulted with a doctor who is personally known to him.  This has served to confirm our impression that it is an exceptionally well written work and one that we need not be ashamed to have on the shelves in our lending libraries.  It may, therefore, be added to stock forthwith.”

(What the Director’s doctor friend would have made of the 25 copies of ‘Different Shades of Grey’ that we currently have in stock is hard to say, though it seems unlikely that he would have thought it was ‘exceptionally well written’.)

And then there was New Technology proper.  What is often forgotten today in the age of hand-held devices and cloud computing is the degree of physical danger than the pioneers of library automation had to endure.  Rather like early aviators or the operators of mediaeval artillery, they were constantly at risk of injury from their own machinery.  This memo is from 1994:

 

“SMOKING TERMINALS

If a terminal starts to smoke please switch off immediately (if possible) and contact Gary or the ASM.  Do not use a fire extinguisher on the terminal as this will destroy the terminal and invalidate our repair warranty.

I have spoken to the Vanitec engineer who repairs our terminals and he has informed me that even if the terminal isn’t switched off the faulty part will burn itself out and will not burst into flames.”

Luckily, of course, the modern librarian can rest secure in the knowledge that all forms of electronic communication spontaneously self-destruct after five years.  Otherwise – who knows? – our e-mails, tweets and blog posts might someday be retrieved from some dark hard drive or cache to make us look as strange in the eyes of our successors as our predecessors sometimes seem to us …

Contributed by: Nick

Changing rules, changing roles: being a cataloguer in 2012

Changing rules, changing roles: being a cataloguer in 2012

The text of the paper that Heather Jardine delivered at the 2012 Cataloguing and Indexing Group Conference in Sheffield

The one thing that everyone is agreed about is that change is the new normal, which makes for anxious times.  

The first sort of change that we are facing is changing rules.  Rules have always changed – before AACR2 there was AACR1, and before AACR there were rules which have replaced each other down the centuries, all the way from the Library at Alexandria. The same is true of formats – we’ve seen UKMARC change to MARC21, and now we are anticipating the end of MARC altogether. So changes to rules and formats are nothing new, and although they are uncomfortable and unsettling, as professional cataloguers we can cope with them.

The second change is in the sorts of things we are cataloguing and, again, we’ve always had this kind of change.  I remember when everyone was fearful about what we then called “audio-visual materials”, when we were wondering what we were going to do with sound or (even worse) video cassettes. Today this sort of material is mainstream, and we don’t think twice about cataloguing a Blu-Ray or a Playaway or any of a wide range of formats. Now we are facing a challenge in cataloguing everything “e-“ – but we’ll survive, we’ll cope, as we did before.

The next kind of change has happened before as well, but it is different in that we can’t control it because it’s not happening within our world, but happening to our world as a result of influences from the wider world outside. Very often the immediate driver is a restructuring and the immediate effect is that we are required to play a different role within the organisation to the one we were used to.

Restructures almost always result in an overall loss of staff, which means that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work or, to be more precise, to achieve the same outcomes. However much it is possible to streamline and review workflows, it still means that everyone finds themselves doing tasks that they are not familiar with, and these can be regarded variously as an unfair demand, a challenge or an opportunity.

A very common outcome is that bib services are combined so that acquisitions work is integrated more closely with cataloguing, under the same manager and with the tasks spread more widely across the whole bib services team, so that cataloguers find themselves doing acquisitions. Of course, if we had wanted to be acquisitions librarians, that is what we would have chosen to be, so there can be a certain amount of bewilderment and resentment.  Of course there is a lot of sense in mixing acquisitions with cataloguing, because it isn’t like the old days, when the acquisitions team created paper records and then passed the books across to the cataloguing team, who created a whole different set of paper records.  We’re all joined up now with an integrated LMS and probably accepted long ago that acquisitions staff have to learn a certain amount about cataloguing in order to create or download bib records. The real problem with cataloguers doing acquisitions, though, isn’t that we don’t all like it, but that when we are doing it, we are not doing cataloguing.

Of course it isn’t just bib services that lose posts and people in a restructure.  So, as we struggle to keep on top of a growing burden of work, and perhaps we don’t do it very quickly because we’re learning it as we go along, our colleagues need more than ever that we get it right, because they too have less time and fewer staff to pick up any errors. Unsurprisingly, this leads on to a loss of tolerance and a loss of engagement.  Just as we are facing changes to rules (RDA in place of AACR2), changes to data structure (whatever follows after the end of MARC) and changing materials (e-everything),  my colleagues would probably say that none of this matters to them as long as it doesn’t affect the speed with which we get their books onto the shelf. We’re not going to have a great long intellectual discussion about any of it. Even the best-intentioned people don’t have the time or the energy to be interested.

After acquisitions, the next logical area for bib services to take on is management information, especially when library systems teams are also reduced or done away with altogether. And it makes sense, because we create the database, we put the information in, and we know how to get the information out. We also understand the business, in a way that centralised IS teams don’t (and can’t be expected to). If we run a query and find out that one of our libraries had 39 borrowers, we know that there is something wrong with the query, whereas a central IS team wouldn’t necessarily recognise it as odd.  I think we’re well qualified to take over the management information, because we know what we’re talking about.

Speaking personally, I have got the best team ever. They can and will turn their hand to almost anything, they rise to challenges and they enjoy doing new stuff. I could not have taken on all the new work that we have taken on, if I had been dragging a reluctant and resisting staff behind me. I also think that as managers, in the current climate, we have a duty to give our staff as many transferable skills as we can. The only problem is that when we’re providing management information, we’re not doing acquisitions and we’re not doing cataloguing.

It would be nice to think that system management would be the next area to be passed to bib services because it was recognised that we had the best, the most adaptable, the cleverest, the hardest working, the most logical staff, with the most creative solutions, in the library service (which is true).  More often it will be because , once everyone realises that handing it to over central IS isn’t a good idea for the same reasons that apply to management information, they also realise that bib services staff will do it for nothing, whereas outsourcing it to the LMS supplier would cost several thousand pounds a year. While our colleagues in the libraries may not have time to care about RDA, they most certainly care if books are issued for the wrong period of time, or attract the wrong charges, or if overdues aren’t sent out. Therefore managing the LMS will make a bib services team more crucial to the running of the service, and more involved with it, and makes us seem a bit more relevant to the day-to-day business, which is certainly a benefit for everyone. The disadvantage is, of course, that while we’re doing system management, we’re not doing management information, and we’re not doing acquisitions, and we’re certainly not doing any cataloguing.

Because any restructuring, or hint of it, or just the general economic situation and the fears of redundancy, make us all feel uneasy, we cannot afford to neglect advocacy and all it involves. We must explain what we do, how we fit in, what we contribute to the service and how we support it, because bib services can be an easy target when the axeman comes a-calling. We must promote ourselves to fellow professionals and the library community at large, and to our immediate colleagues, and as well as persuading them that we are essential we must persuade ourselves, because too often we believe the poor opinion that others have of us. Therefore we take on a range of different activities – blogs, Twitter accounts, behind-the-scenes tours, anything and everything that makes us more visible (including going to conferences and speaking at them).  If we can make ourselves look like big beasts, we’ll be harder to take down.

It also includes working more closely with our colleagues – getting ourselves on working groups, doing 1-1 training, going to their staff meetings.  Every time someone sends in a complaint, whether justified or not, we to try to send back a polite and reasoned explanation. Put very simply, we’ve got to win hearts and minds. But when we’re blogging, or tweeting, or writing those polite replies, and it all takes time, we’re not doing any of the other tasks.

And then there’s income generation, the besetting requirement of the public sector nowadays.  As a result, along with everything else, we’re trying to sell our skills either by providing training, or by cataloguing other people’s collections. The money we can bring in does two things – it demonstrates that our skills really do have a market value (in other words, if other people are prepared to pay us, we must be worth something) and it offsets some of our staff costs. After all, there is really no way that you can reduce the cost of a bib services section without cutting staff, as we have no materials budget to take the hit.

Does it matter if we lose staff – aside from the human cost, that is? Yes, it does. Our bib services staff are hugely skilled and hugely knowledgeable about our collections, how to exploit them and how to get them into the hands of the people who need and want them. That skill, that knowledge, once lost can’t quickly or easily be replaced. And those skills and that knowledge are exactly what we need in a time of cuts to minimise the effect on the service. We must do all we can to retain skilled staff, who can make the best of the lean times and be ready when the cycle turns (and the cycle will turn) to get back immediately into growth.

So here we are, in a period of reduction and restructuring, with bib services taking on all kind of new tasks and responsibilities. As well as all the hard work, anxiety and stress, there are a lot of good things coming out of the changes. Firstly, we have learned new skills and tried all sorts of things we’ve never tried before – and mostly we have enjoyed it. We have certainly taken on a more crucial role in delivering services and we are working more closely with our front-facing colleagues. We are demonstrating that our skills are relevant and even marketable. We have come out of the shadows and become visible. We have even embraced social media. These things have not destroyed us but made us stronger.

Of course there is a downside too. The workload has increased for all of us, the constant pressure makes us irritable and we can’t often find the opportunity to think, to plan, to look forward.  We spend our time fire-fighting, and not even putting the fires out, just  damping them down before we have to rush off to the next one, knowing they will flare up again behind us. And we don’t have enough time to spend cataloguing.

That is the real risk, because all the jobs that we have taken on, we have been able to take on because we have good and accurate data and because we have been able to exploit the skills that we have as cataloguers. If we neglect our cataloguing, if we cut corners and start to get slovenly, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down around our ears. If the data is wrong, then the management information will be wrong. If the data is inconsistent, then the LMS will not operate reliably. If we make mistakes, then when we get those books sent back to us with complaints, we will not be able to explain anything, we will just have to apologise.  Our colleagues will lose confidence in us and we will lose confidence in ourselves. And we certainly will not be able to sell skills that we cannot demonstrate that we have.  So whatever else we do – and for sure we will be doing many other varied tasks – we must continue to catalogue accurately, consistently and with good judgement and imagination. However tempting it may be to do so, we must not cut corners and we must never think that “good enough” is good enough, because it is not.