Why go to a conference?

WHY GO TO A CONFERENCE?

Conferences are like holidays in this respect – that they are exciting in prospect and exhausting in reality.  When the announcement is made, I am all enthusiasm and really want to go; as the day draws closer, I start to wonder if I can spare the time and find the energy; and I leave the house with marked reluctance and a lot of moaning. Once there, of course it’s an absolute blast; by the time I come home I am utterly knackered; and for a week afterwards I bore everyone rigid by telling them how wonderful it was and how they ought to have been there too. Then it all quietens down until the next event is announced.

Conferences are unlike holidays in that it is entirely possible – indeed, it’s what usually happens – that you never see any more of the glorious countryside or historic town in which you are staying than you glimpse in the taxi ride to and from the railway station. You will probably never set foot outside the grounds of the university or hotel during the whole period of the conference.  To that extent it is more like being inside a particularly liberal open prison.

I am told that in prison you learn much more to benefit you in the future from your fellow prisoners than during the course of organised education and training. That’s true of conferences too. If it has been well-planned, the programme should offer topics ranging from those with which you are already familiar enough to have an opinion and to be able to discuss them with a degree of confidence, to those which are completely new to you.  You will take lots of notes and make lots of good resolutions to follow up on references and contacts later.  Sometimes you will hear someone say that there is no point in going to a conference in person when all the papers and presentations will be published afterwards but, useful though this is if you really do not have the time or the opportunity to attend, it misses the point. The most valuable thing is the opportunity to talk to your colleagues, people who share the same interests, challenges and problems as you do. It is the breaks between the papers and the presentations where you will learn the most. It is also in those breaks where you will have the opportunity to contribute something yourself. While it is great to learn from other people, it is enormously cheering to find that you might sometimes be able to say something to help them in return. 

The library community, even in these straitened times when we all have too much work and too little time, is hugely generous and cooperative. Social media facilitate this, certainly, but do not yet match the simple pleasure and satisfaction of finding the brightest and best of your colleagues all together in the same room at the same time. And that is why you go (and should continue to go) to conferences.

Contributed by: Heather Jardine

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.

Reduced budgets? Increased impact! : MmIT2012 in Sheffield

Reduced budgets? Increased impact! : MmIT2012 in Sheffield

When one of us has attended a conference, seminar or training event we try to share what we have learned by making a brief presentation at our monthly staff meeting.  In some we cases, we thought it would also be useful to write about it on our blog.

This account of the 2012 MmIT Conference was contributed by Nick

MmIT (Multimedia and Information Technology Group), a special interest group of CILIP, evolved from the merger of the AV Group (who originally dealt with gramophone records) and the IT Groups of the Library Association.  This – their first conference for some years – was held at the University of Sheffield, was well attended (mainly by delegates from the academic and special library sectors) and exceptionally well organised.  It was unsurprising that an interactive voting session – another feature of the day – was heavily in favour of resuming Annual Conferences.

The theme of the day ‘Reduced budgets, increased impact!’ was implicit in the two plenary sessions, the four workshops (delegates could choose to attend two) and the series of 5-minute sessions held immediately after lunch.  One thread emphasised the potential of cloud technology to overcome the difficulties traditional library management systems have in offering unified access to conventional and digital content, the other highlighted the ways in which libraries can make use of free (or low-cost) web-based technologies to enhance their services.

The first plenary session was ‘Paradigm shift: a slate of new automation platforms’ delivered by Marshall Breeding, Director for Innovative Technology and Research at Vanderbilt University.  Breeding, a long-time observer of the evolution of the uses of information technology in libraries, argued that we are at the beginning of a ‘paradigm shift’. He expects library management systems that are rooted in print and not well-suited to adapt to new content forms (so that digital content has to be provided through parallel systems) to give way to library platforms that enable a unified approach to content management. 

He sees the key to achieving this shift as being a move to ‘web-scale’ technologies and a cloud-based environment where libraries make use of hosted multi-tenant software accessed via the web on a subscription basis to replace self-managed and discrete library management systems.  Libraries would no longer own and manage their own data – the data will be “in the cloud” and libraries will make use of it in the way that suits their collections.

Breeding did make it clear that he was thinking, in the first instance, of the academic library environment, where the majority of funds are already spent on electronic content and that the 10-year ‘cycle of transition’ he foresaw might not apply to the public library sector, where he expected the older model to persist for longer.     

The first workshop I attended was Dave Pattern’s ‘Discovering Discovery: experiences of implementing Summon at Huddersfield University’. He outlined the problems that Huddersfield had previously encountered with providing access to e-resources, such as needing multiple passwords and different interfaces (these seemed familiar to the academic library staff – and students – in the audience). A Library Impact Data Project had found evidence of a strong correlation between usage of e-resources (particularly journals) and academic achievement, but also a worryingly low usage of these resources.

After an e-resources review they had chosen to implement Summon, which allows the user to search the physical library stock, e-books (mainly digitised full text), journal and newspaper articles with a single search, thus satisfying the users’ preference for a ‘Google-like’ search without diminishing their ability to make use of the full range of library resources.  The result has been a significant reduction in the number of complaints and a substantial increase in usage.  (It should be remembered that the context here is one where users primarily need to have access to journal literature for the purposes of research).

Summon at Huddersfield can be seen in action here and the slides from a similar presentation here .

In the second workshop ‘A free web toolkit for the modern library’ Claire Beecroft and Andy Tattershall of ScHAAR (School of Health and Related Research at Sheffield University) offered an entertaining survey of some of the (mostly) free online tools that are available to enhance and promote the service provided by a modern LIS.  They divided them into ‘Pliers’ (how to pull people in), ‘Saw’ (how to cut costs), ‘Hammer and nails’ (how to pull things together) and ‘Trowel’ (how to spread the message).  The tools demonstrated included various Google apps that can be used to replace Microsoft software, Mendeley (a reference management database), Prezi (an alternative to Powerpoint for creating presentations) and Vimeo (which ScHAAR use as an alternative to YouTube for posting online tutorials and publicity material).

They also (on a sobering note) stressed the importance of making sure that apparently free content taken from the web really is free and not the property of a copyright holder and (rather dampeningly) were doubtful about whether it was really possible to write an engaging institutional blog.

Their own blog is here .

Unfortunately Ross Mahon (Apps Edu Evangelist @Google) was ill and unable to present the second plenary session in person, so presented it from Ireland via Google Hangout, thereby demonstrating the potential of one of Google’s products (although – to be honest – I didn’t think this was an unqualified success).  His presentation was mainly a demonstration of how various Google Apps for Education can be used to communicate better with the ‘Digital natives’.

In between the morning and afternoon sessions there were a series of five-minute presentations (including one from a Sheffield student about designing attractive QR codes) and the day finished with a Q&A session with all the speakers.  Asked specifically about public libraries, one speaker said that free applications potentially offered public libraries the greatest opportunities precisely because we have the least money. When asked what he felt the greatest threat was, Andy Tattershall replied that it was that “the rug might be pulled from under our feet” – meaning that some of the things we have become used to getting for free might not always remain so.  

The official  MmIT blog contains an account of the day, with the slides from some of the speakers’ presentations and summaries of the workshops I missed.  It has also been blogged by Michelle’s Library Stuff , Lady Pen’s Treasure Trove and Sensible Shoes and entertainingly live-tweeted (the tweets were displayed at the sides of the stage) by some of the students who were helping organise it and by some of the delegates (using the hashtag #MMIT2012).