‘Phlebotomy made easy?’ : a day with W.F. Howes

WF Howes showroom event: 14th-16th May at the Grange Langham Court Hotel, London

Contributed by: Lynn

Although many of their products have passed through my hands over the years, this was my first time attending a WFH showroom event.  These events offer an opportunity for library staff to browse and order audiobooks, playaways and large print stock and for the company to meet their clients face to face and promote their online services.

The day included a presentation on WF Howes’ digital services including One Click digital, which our libraries use. It provides our readers with access to a collection of e-audiobooks which they can download for free. The good news for digital content borrowers is that Pimsleur language courses and titles from Audiogo (unabridged audiobooks as well as BBC radio recordings) are being added to One Click.

We also heard about Zinio, which is an e-magazine service and is described as the ‘world’s largest newsstand’ offering hundreds of the best complete digital magazines.  Another product on offer is Universal Class, an educational service providing online courses for library users. There are over 350 courses covering a range of subjects from spiritual studies to cooking. These courses consist of video based lessons with tests, writing and hands on assignments.

 I looked at the complete list of courses available when I got back to the office and there are some very interesting sounding ones including ‘Angel healing’, ‘Trick horse training’, ‘Working with your animal allies, teachers and totems’ and my personal favourite, ‘Phlebotomy made easy’. Special mention must also go to the online Universal Class course entitled ‘How to take an online course at Universal Class’.

The final presentation was by Simon Cox on LibraryPressDisplay, an online collection of over 2300 national & international newspapers from 97 countries covering 55 different languages (it was emphasised that this is not an archive service – back issues are only kept for 90 days). These digital papers are complete replicas of the physical editions. We were shown the different ways you can search for information on the site (e.g by the publication title, country, language, person, subject and date) or narrow your search to specific areas of the newspapers (e.g business pages or sports sections). The site also allows you to translate newspaper pages into other languages, email articles and even have the text read out to you if you are visually impaired (or just too lazy to read it yourself!).

With so much information available at the click of a mouse, I did find it interesting to learn that the most popular search on the site is for … well here’s a clue: Puzzles in which an arrangement of numbered squares are to be filled with words running both across and down in answer to correspondingly numbered clues (10 letters).*

The event also included a talk from author Rowan Coleman, a writer of romantic fiction who also writes teen horror fiction under the name Rook Hastings. She started her talk by saying how much libraries meant to her as a child and how, growing up dyslexic, she felt that, although she probably read books in a completely different way to everyone else, every book she borrowed was a gateway to another world. She re-iterated her support for public libraries and said all her writer friends felt exactly the same. She then went on to tell us the story behind her latest book ‘Dearest Rose’.

She had been looking for an idea for her next book and decided to ask her Facebook friends for subjects that they would like her to write about. To her surprise, the topic which came up again and again was domestic violence. She then asked for people’s stories of domestic abuse and received 400 emails from women describing their experiences. At that time, this was about a third of all her friends on Facebook!

She was so moved by the responses that she decided that she definitely needed to write about this decidedly unromantic topic. So she set about writing the novel.  She said it wasn’t easy and at times she really wanted to give up, but she persevered and when the book was published the positive feedback she received from her many readers confirmed to her that it had been the right decision to tackle the issue in her fiction. The book won the Festival of Romance’s Best Romantic Read Award in 2012 and Romantic Novel of the year (RoNA) Best Epic Romantic Novel 2013.

My day ended with Sean Melvin who is the Digital Products Manager demonstrating Universal Languages Online to myself and Janet, my line manager. He has been using it in his spare time to learn one of the Slavic languages, so was more than happy to show us how easy it is to use, while wowing us with the Bulgarian phrases he had learned so far!

(*yes, crosswords!)

(If you would like to read or listen to ‘Dearest Rose’ we have a copy of the paperback available here and an audio version here.)


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.

Picturing the past : digitisation at Guildhall Library

Picturing the past : digitisation at Guildhall Library

Vendula (who features in the film) introduces a new video on our YouTube channel. The film was put together by Chris and the narration is by Lynn.

A project has been taking place at Guildhall Library. The aim is to digitise almost 300 items. Most of them are pamphlets from the 17th and 18th centuries including bills, acts, petitions and other legal material. The project is a result of a contract between the City of London Library Service and ProQuest, which is the body which publishes EEBO (Early English Books Online).

The project was scheduled for 4 – 5 weeks and was carried out by two people from EEBO and by our library staff. The pamphlets were identified and brought up from our store. Then the digitising started. Pamphlets were sorted, scanned and the digital images were made. At the end of the project all digitised items will be available through EEBO to many users around the world.

The project will have a positive impact for our library. It will open up access to our collections for researchers and make it easier to discover the content of some of the material. It will help preserve some of the rare items because the originals will need to be handled less frequently. Also it is a great opportunity to promote some of our collections, make it accessible to users outside London and generate some income for our department.

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:


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:



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

So, whose catalogue is it anyway?

So, whose catalogue is it anyway?

Contributed by: Heather

Back in the day, before all this high-falutin’ technology came along and spoiled everything, catalogues and cataloguers knew their place. They were solid and reliable and the question of design didn’t really arise with either of them. The catalogue was a sizeable piece of furniture, unchanging down the years, demanding no maintenance beyond the occasional tightening of a rod, the waxing of a drawer to make it run smoothly or a little light dusting. Maybe we got the polish out at Christmas, I don’t remember. Cataloguers were the people who created the cards that went into it, and their guiding principles, whether writing or typing, were legibility and neatness.  Happy the typist who could produce stencils for a spirit duplicator with a lightness of touch that did not result in the centre of letters like o and g falling out and resulting in an unsightly blot!

Microfiche catalogues followed the same principles of clear layout with no fuss or frills. They were plain, simple and serviceable. Legibility became even more important as we were all convinced that poring over microfiche all day long would end in us going blind. Little did we know what the future held for us in the way of computer screens and blinking cursors (and you may read “blinking” in either its literal or colloquial meaning).  Early online catalogues followed suit, looking pretty much like the fiche catalogues they replaced.

Nowadays it seems that design is king. We want to apply design both to the way the catalogue looks, and what it does, and sometimes we blur the distinction between the two.  We want pop-ups and rollovers, pictures and links – speaking for myself I’d cheerfully commit murder to get a virtual shelf browse. We want the catalogue to look attractive, to be engaging and to offer every kind of trick and treat; we want all the sweets in the sweetshop, all at once.

But here’s the problem – most cataloguers (there are honourable exceptions) do not have the necessary IT skills to design a catalogue from the ground up or even to tinker with an existing product in order to enhance and alter it. As we become more and more demanding, we have to hand over catalogue design to experts from other areas who may know little or nothing about libraries, catalogues or users.  Cataloguers are still the people who create or derive the data, but we have little or no say over how it appears on the screen or what can be done with it. We stoke the furnace but we don’t drive the train, and that’s one reason why cataloguers are increasingly divorced from the front-line service. Our public-facing colleagues, and our users, want the bells and whistles just as much as we do but they know that we aren’t the ones who can provide them. 

 And it seems to me that this gap is in danger of widening still further.  What we lack at the moment is mostly skill (we don’t lack enthusiasm or imagination), and skill can be learned.  Even the dustiest and crustiest of us can engage with HTML and CSS and goodness knows what all, if we really want to and are prepared to find the time (usually our own time, be it said).  Lots of us still have catalogues that can be modified locally, if we just know how and are prepared to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.

 What gives me the shivers even more than the thought of learning HTML and CSS and all the rest, is that increasingly our catalogues are remotely-hosted. That seems to mean that all the development takes place on a misty mountain-top far away and is then “rolled-out” to us, like fog. It just – well, it just arrives. One morning it is there, when it wasn’t there the night before. And as cataloguers we are even more disengaged from the catalogue than before.  We are scarcely even aware that we create or derive the data that the magicians work such wonders with. We are dazzled by the glittering surface. Pretty, pretty things!

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what we have to do to get the catalogue back where it belongs, in our own hands. Maybe between the increasing sophistication of technical knowledge that is required to drive this machina ex deo, and the lack of resources, time and energy that restricts us nowadays, we have no choice but to relinquish the design to the experts.  But I’d like to be sure that everyone remembers there is still a link between gleaming bodywork and what’s under the bonnet, and that without the engine the machine just won’t go anywhere.

Getting to grips with developing and managing e-book collections

Getting to grips with developing and managing e-book collections

Another summary of a recent course we’ve attended, contributed by Nick

Like many public libraries, our lending libraries have recently begun to offer an e-book collection, some of which can be downloaded onto e-book readers (other than Kindles), some of which have to be read online.  We are involved with managing the collection.

The course was organised by the UK eInformation Group of CLIP, took place in the Learning Centre at the University of Birmingham and was presented by Chris Armstrong, of Information Automation Limited.

Definitions of e-books

The day began by offering a definition of what is meant by an e-book.  The term is often treated as being synonymous with commercial e-books, downloadable onto handhelds, but here the presenter offered a wider definition –

“Any content that is recognisably book-like, regardless of size, origin or composition, but excluding serial publications, made available for reference or reading on any device (handheld or desk-bound) that includes a screen”.

They may be digitised or born-digital, in a variety of formats (PDF, HTML, ePub), purchased, subscribed to or free, and 95% of them are currently scanned versions of printed books.  So this definition includes not only the kind of mass market e-books that we are now introducing, but the type of “electronic resource” that we have been making available for some time.   

Trends in e-book publishing

A survey of the ways in which e-books are being made available began with publishers themselves. University presses were generally the first, then academic publishers (who may offer a choice of whole books or “granular access” – the option of buying individual chapters), followed by publishers of specialist non-fiction, educational publishers, general non-fiction, fiction and children’s fiction.  Other options include

Aggregators, such as Credo Reference  who offer packaged access to works from different publishers.

Library suppliers, such as Overdrive and Askews, who make more mainstream titles available in what is intended to be a library-friendly way.

Bookshops, such as Campus .

Free e-resources (often made available through libraries). These include Text archives (scanned archives of print works), collections (such as the International Children’s Digital Archives) single works ( City Sites), examples of social publishing and reading (‘Mortal Ghost’).

Library Projects – such as EOD (e-books on demand) .

Interface and reading issues

The second session gave us an opportunity to experiment with a range of e-books, guided by worksheets.  One was a subscription publication produced by a publisher (Oxford Scholarship), three were aggregators (Ovid Kluwer, eBooks at EBSCO and Credo Reference) and five were freely available (City Sites, Open Library, Penguin, International Children’s Digital Library and Spartacus). 

After the session we discussed the ‘interface and reading issues’ that we felt had arisen.  Most had experienced some problems with overly complex navigation and readability when looking at the subscription services – but not so the free services.  The presenter emphasised that when reading non fiction e-books the primary need was to extract brief pieces of information quickly, and that the printed page, in his view, was still the preferred format for extended reading. 

He admitted, though, that “e-fiction does not appear to present any problems for public library users”.

Business models: acquisition

The two main models are purchase and subscription.

The purchase model means that the library has to download the book and find its own way of making it accessible, mounting it on the library server and determining how to lend it.  When a library buys (as opposed to licenses) an e-book the same copyright restrictions apply as to a paper copy.  There are also issues relating to the meaning of “perpetual access”.

Under the subscription model the library pays a hosting fee and lending and use is managed by the provider.  The subscription model is the more library-friendly of the two.


The main point here was that a licence agreement is –

“an invitation to negotiate the terms and conditions … and the use of licences and therefore the introduction of contract law to regulate the use of digital resources, has brought the status of existing copyright exceptions into question.  Contract law means that the parties to a contract are free to negotiate the terms of copyrighted material or even [mistakenly] waive the rights granted to them by copyright law.”

 To avoid this the licensee should press for the conclusion of wording such as

The licence shall be deemed to complement and extend the rights of the Licensee under the national Copyright Act and nothing in this licence shall be construed as diminishing permitted acts or as constituting a waiver of any statutory rights held by the Licensee from time to time under that Act or any amending legislation.”

if it is not already present in the licence.

Facilitating access

The best way of facilitating access remains OPAC (catalogued titles are apparently used 70% more than uncatalogued ones).  Others include providing access from the main library website and Virtual Learning Environments.  Libraries may also want to consider whether they want to make handheld e-book readers available to their readers. 

Promotion and marketing

Some of the more imaginative suggestions for marketing an e-book service included placing stickers on print copies and the use of ‘surrogate e-book’ wobblers.

This course was well-presented and offered a well-informed overview of the general subject, which assumed no previous knowledge or experience, although it was (understandably – I was the only delegate from a public library) not primarily concerned with the practicalities of providing an e-book service (in the usual sense of the term) in a public lending library context.

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).

How I went from disliking computers to feeling way too comfortable about making unnecessary upper case declarations

How I went from disliking computers to feeling way too comfortable about making unnecessary upper case declarations

Contributed by : HD

Several of us in BSS took part in the recent thought-provoking CIG e-forum on social media in the cataloguing community.  Prompted by that, we asked HD – who has long been an enthusiastic advocate for social media – to share some of her thoughts on the subject. 

An avid user and supporter of social media, I’ve been asked to give my take on the subject. Since my take amounts to ‘YAY SOCIAL MEDIA \o/’, I have decided to take a bit of a meandering path through my discovery and my <3ing of social networking and media. Blogging was the thing which was taking off when I first got online about ten years ago. People were beginning a tentative migration from the talking in a circle format of mailing lists to the interacting from a podium format of blogs, but it was those lists that really drew me in. I initially signed up for an e-mail account with no intention of using it much, but once signed up and online, a Yahoo directory of interest based groups caught my attention.

It seemed a very odd thing, from my newbie point of view, groups of strangers scattered across the globe engaging with each other despite never having met. All anyone had in common was the one interest on which a group was formed (and time stamps indicating that they were up at three in the morning). Did they talk about anything other than their shared interest? Of course they did, because the internet is great at being off topic and it’s also where all the interesting questions get asked. Can anyone recommend some free virus protection? Tell me more about this open source thing. Are there any free archiving tools out there??I’m sorry, what does GTFO mean? Oh, I see, well that was unnecessary and impolite. You get the picture.

 There are of course corners of the internet filled with stupid questions that result in either equally daft answers, or brilliant stupidity-defeating responses, but more often than not, if your question is not completely insane, the responses will be enthusiastic and helpful and it’s this enthusiasm for discussion and sharing which is a major driving force behind the evolution of social networking and media. The media-makers can see that we like to interact, that we like to share, so they create products that are geared towards making it easier to do these things. When I joined my first Yahoo group, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to blog, or tweet or share my musical tastes through sites like LastFM, but wanting to be part of wider circle of enthusiasm coupled with the potential of discovering more new and awesome things is a pretty big lure.

Over the years it’s become easier and easier to observe other people’s content flow by subscribing, friending, following or watching blog rolls and friends lists. When certain platforms introduced tagging, some of us were just waiting for that kind of functionality, the ability to index our content as well as content produced by others, not only for ourselves but for the countless others using hive-mind vocabularies, searching for similar things, i.e., #lulz. Increasingly, sites and services were appearing with common elements like the ability to create networks and find/share content through tagging. It’s hard to imagine any new service now being introduced without the options to tag or follow.

Social media has become a remarkable professional and political tool, now that we’re mobile, wireless and iPadded (and if we’re none of these things, at the very least we’re probably close to a location that might offer free internet access to help us on our way – if the local library hasn’t been shut down… yet). Social media has given us the opportunity to become speakers, reporters and educators, if we want to be, and that’s no bad thing. Sure, it comes with a pressure to be liked, retweeted, reblogged, but the result of this regurgitation of content is that you might just reach the people you wanted to, even if you do get flamed, trolled, blocked or defriended on the way.

I suppose this potential for reaching any and all is what I most like about social media. I’m fairly certain Twitter was never intended as a platform for educating, informing or protesting, but Tweeters have used the immediacy offered by mobile technology to speak from the one to the many, to tell us about more than just what they had for breakfast. There will always be the people who detract from the potential of social media, concentrating on its trivial nature, while boasting about how they don’t even own a phone, barely know how to use the internet and cycle to work on their penny-farthing (not that I’m bothered by tech-haters or penny-farthings).

The fact that we have this option to communicate to so many people from a phone, using a free wi-fi hotspot, that’s amazing, especially when you think back to the days of modems screaming painfully in an attempt to connect, dying half away through loading a page with a hundred flashing graphics on a fuchsia background. Remember when you couldn’t use the internet and the phone at the same time? There are ten year olds using diamante covered pink BlackBerrys who will never be able to imagine that such a thing was even physically possible, in fact sometimes I do wonder if this is a fabricated memory…

Social media, with all its trivial uses, is a very powerful tool when used with a bit of common sense and imagination, but it requires us to be willing to engage and participate in a very big conversation. The downside is encountering people who will use anonymity to be offensive and hurtful, but the upside is that businesses might just find a few more customers, artists might find a few more admirers, causes might find a few more supporters and on the way, we might make a few more useful connections. That is a not a bad thing at all.

I’m sure we are all – in the cataloguing community, and in the world of libraries generally – well aware of the need to find more customers, admirers and supporters and of how essential it is to make useful connections.  No doubt the question of how we can best harness the power of social media is a topic we shall be returning to in later posts.

As always, any comments would very welcome.