Sunday, 12 April 2015

My work year 2014-15

Image (c) Chris Piascik reproduced under
CC-BY-ND-2.0. Source
I'm often asked by friends and family what I do in work. Why does Welsh Government need librarians? This posting will hopefully give you an impression of my work.

There have been several excellent "day in the life" blogs of UK librarians which provide snap shots of career routes and often a sample list of activities and challenges experienced in a working day1. My account here is different, looking at a overview of a year's activity, it draws on my annual statistics.

Legal librarian.

My core role is to provide support to civil service lawyers and policy staff with their legal information needs. This includes providing:
  • access to amended UK legislation.
  • copies of supporting materials, such as official circulars, guidance, explantory notes, but also to legal commentary and analysis.
  • comparative legislation. What does legislation for "x" aim look like in other jurisdictions? How effective has it been? What have the issues been?
  • online databases that support these information needs. This includes involvement in selection, procurement, promotion within the organisation, training and ongoing support for users, as well as user account management, statistical analysis of usage, and feedback to the database providers.
  • a legal information service. Using my database search skills and knowledge to identify information that answers complex legal information enquiries. E.g. What case law is there on this aspect of law ; how was "y" aspect of legislation discussed during Bill debates. More recently I've also been supporting government lawyers in identifying candidates for amendments (consequential amendments) as a result of changes introduced under Welsh legislative powers.

In 2014-15 I provided:
  • 38 complex legal information searches, each taking a minimim of 15 hours, but often taking more that 30 hours. This isn't an increase on past years, but this work has become more complex, required more urgently, and can contribute to very high profile work, including preparations for Supreme Court cases and other judicial reviews.
  • 150 "long" enquiries. These are enquiries that take over 30 minutes to resolve, but aren't quite as involved as a complex searches. Some of these enquiries also relate to copyright matters, where librarians play a key role in providing information and in ensuring that our organisation meets the requirements of copyright legislation.
  • over 1000 short enquiries - anything less than 30 minutes to resolve. This number has increased over the years as we have lost support colleagues within the library team.
  • access to over 47 hours of database training and support to more that 210 colleagues.

Other roles?

  • team management - support to 3 team colleagues, assisting with their work, including supporting business information needs within government, providing and organising training.
  • management and supervision of the library computerised management system and our Publications Catalogue. This is a relatively new addition to my portfolio, again as a result of having a smaller library team within the organisation.
  • contributing to the capture, cataloguing and archiving our external publications so that they can be found within the Publications Catalogue, and deposited with copyright libraries. I catalogued more than 400 titles in this work year. In previous years this would have been cataloguing of purchased titles for addition to our library collections. In this year much of this cataloguing would have been for the Publications Catalogue.
  • Contributing to a current awareness service. Helping policy colleagues to keep up to date with key developments and news in their areas of operation.
  • advocating for high standards of information management, information ethics and professional librarianship within the organisation.
  • maintaining my own professional knowledge and skills.
What's missing? 

So, the balance in the pie-chart above is reasonably good. Two-thirds of time spent on enquiry work, and one-third on other roles indicated above. But you've probably spotted two potentially large omissions?
  • Meetings. Fortunately my schedule isn't dominated by meetings - in fact they are a very small part of my working week. That's not to say we don't communicate! We do, but this tends to be in short, highly effective, focused discussions.
  • Email. I find it difficult to quantify how much time I spend in reading, storing, responding to and writing emails. Off the top of my head perhaps 30 minutes per day?
I could break the green segment of the pie-chart down with some further estimates. Handling email approximately 20% of the "other work" or 7% of the total year's time. And cataloguing, 11% of "other work" or 4% of the total year.

Other aspirations?

Workloads are very high, but there's room for improvement, especially in the following areas:
  • our marketing and profile within the organisation. We aren't short of work, but awareness of Library Services remains poor.
  • how we demonstrate our value to the organisation. Not just a drain on resources, or an "overhead", we save time, equip officals with the information that they need, and help innovation. But how can we capture, chart and disseminate this information to prove our worth?
  • using technology to improve workflows, making us more effective but also helping us to innovate.

1 . 23 Librarians - Scotland, Wales, England, Northern Ireland

Monday, 6 April 2015

Government "librarians" and CILIP chartership - why bother?

At the recent Government Knowledge and Information Management (GKIM) conference (25 March 2015 1) I attended a Table discussion session facilitated by David Smith (Head of Profession, Department for Communities and Local Government). David is also a committee member of CILIP's special interest group for Government Information (CILIP GIG). David posed the question "Will CILIP Chartership get you any further, and will it improve your pay?".

This proved to be quite a lively discussion, and the 20 minutes allocated could have been filled two or three times over. Here's a summary from my notes of the discussion, with apologies for any omissions or misrepresentations.


In the past Charterhsip 2 used to be a more frequent requirement within Government library posts in initial recruitment, and for progression to more senior grades. This is no longer the case.

Does Charterhip improve your pay?

Possibly. It can do, in some departments (e.g. BIS - Business, Innovation and Skills; FCO - Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and GCHQ - Goverment Communications Headquarters). However, many departments no longer require Chartership for career progression within their KIM structures or as a trigger for enhanced salary through qualification recognition.

Does Chartership get you any further?

Possibly / probably! Chartership is a clear demonstration that you:
  • are a committed professional,
  • take your professional development seriously,
  • actively reflect on your professional contribution to your organisation,
  • operate to a clear set of ethics and values, and
  • work to recognise your continuing development needs and to achieve these.
All of these will stand you in excellent stead for internal job opportunities, or indeed if you decide to seek roles outside of GKIM.

It was also noted that in these times of cutbacks, efficiency and austerity measures, Chartership may assist staff in retaining their posts when cuts are being made. Where two individuals are being compared and where both have similar performance and experience levels, then tangible proof of professionalism as evidenced through Chartership, may be the deciding factor. It could be the tie-breaker that makes the difference! And if it isn't Chartership directly then it could be Revalidation - a clear demonstration of regular / annual continuing professional development, professional growth, career planning and reflection.

Challenges to Chartering?

A numbers of colleagues around the table were contemplating working towards Chartership and cited a number of barriers to commencement or completion:
  • length of time since qualification. Where do I start, where do I draw the line?
  • lack of support from their employer and peer group, with additionally perceived difficulties of finding a mentor, and maintaining the momentum with the mentoring relationship;
  • lack of time, timetabling issues;
  • lack of pressure. Possibly also lack of reward and kudos associated with becoming Chartered?
  • process - a laborious process. Now possibly more streamlined through the changes implemented to the routes to professional qualifications, and through submission via the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)?

Over the last few years CILIP has undertaken extensive work re-designing the routes to registration (formerly known as qualifications), the supporting professional skills and knowledge base, as well as the VLE. If you haven't looked at CILIP's Professional Registration pages recently then may I urge you to do so? The barriers may not be as numerous or as high as you believe! And there is lots of support to help you achieve your goal.

Other bodies providing professional recognition
  • Information and Records Management Society IRMS - offers an Accredited Members scheme. This may be more appropriate for colleagues dealing with records management, information rights and governance. I believe that the Scheme requires IRMS membership and submission of a reflective account of 750 words with a supporting reference from an IRMS member.
  • Archives and Records Association ARA - Registration Scheme supports trained archivists who are members of ARA to demonstrate continuing professional development.

Chartership and me

I chartered in 1993 and Revalidated in 2010. Within the last week I've just submitted my second revalidation under the new regulations. Along the way, admittedly in the dim and distant past, Chartership has enabled me to apply for and gain roles in further and higher education library posts. More recently, it seems to have been less of a requirement, not just in GKIM but also in the commercial sector. Despite this I firmly believe that being Chartered has served me well. It's something that I'm proud of, and that motivates me to maintain and update my skills and knowledge, to follow the code of professional ethics, and to share that pride with my colleagues. I've supported a few colleagues to successfully Charter, but I've also supported and encouraged colleagues to undertake professional library and information management qualifications who haven't then gone on to consider professional membership or Chartership.

I've always considered Chartership as a kite mark for professionalism, one that can be recognised by employers (current and potential), but that also provides the individual with a strong sense of pride, confidence, ethics and values. Some people will have inherent confidence in their skills and abilities and won't need the support and recognition that Chartership provides. But for the rest of us Charterhip is that comforting, external benchmark that we can shine to and promote.

For me Chartering has definitely been a continuing source of strength, pride and professional energy. Revalidation serves as a useful reminder to evaluate, plan, actively seek out and undertake opportunities for continuing professional development and to reflect on all of these stages. The forthcoming introduction of obligatory annual Revalidation will, I believe, be helpful for all committed professionals. Far from being a detractor for Chartership, this should be seen as a bonus, and as a very natural extension to the Chartering process.

1 . KIM Profession Conference 2015. "Building capability: a profession that works for you". BIS Conference Centre, Victoria Street, London.

2 . Chartership is now one of the stages of CILIP Professional Registration. See this link for further information.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Useful Internet sources for statistical information

Lately, I've been fortunate to attend some excellent  training with Internet search gurus Phil Bradleyand Karen Blakeman. Here are some of my learning points, specifically about statistical information on the web, from those sessions.

OffStats - a database of free, official statistics available to search by topic, country or region. Expertly compiled by the Business and Economics Information Services Team of the University of Auckland. Save time in locating the official sources of information, especially lesser known or less obvious sources. The regional collections could also serve as a reminder of wider scale comparative statistics and their originating organisations. is a similar service although there are some concerns about the frequency of updates. When I checked today (1 April 2015) the latest updates appear to date from 1 January 2015. Nevertheless a useful directory of statistical sources which provides useful clues to the publishers of information. These can then be checked independently. NationMaster also comes with some interesting data visualisation tools which may help to indicate trends, interesting features or anomalies and most importantly,  missing data. In the example below, for steel production, the United Kingdom is missing from the dataset. This is odd because while the EU is listed, France, Germany and Spain have their own listings.

Google Public Data Explorer - A tool aggregating data from 136 sources including the likes of EuroStat, allowing data selection and visualisation. An interesting concept because there seems to be an expectation, in part, that developers will load their own choices of statistical data and make this available with graphics and visualisations. There don't appear to have been that many uploads of this type but if the data that you are looking for is given then you will be rewarded with some great visuals and interesting features. Google Public Data

Other information sources?

Guardian data blog - potentially interesting if it includes information that you are looking for. One to check quickly using Google Advanced searching and the site: option. Original postings at Guardian Datablog

Don't forget and StatsWales. Again, advanced searching techniques might be required to find the information required. These are complex data sets. There may be missing data, and occasionally data errors (e.g. Keying errors, unwanted spaces, incorrect decimal points, etc).

Zanran - the numerical search engine, searches for data from charts, tables and images. Zanran. Provides a vast array of answers, but filters can be used to narrow search results. Data sources may need confirming / double checking. Annoyingly free registration is required to access to original result in full text. If other statistical sources fail then Zanran may be a useful resource especially as this may select data from slide presentations, reports and materials containing tabular information. - a subscription site although some basic information may be available free of charge. Registration with this site is required to access full statistical information.

Wolfram Alpha may also be a potential source for factual data. Wolfram Alpha

I'll be interested to know if you recommend any other sources! Please do comment below.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Online support for our service users

(c) Geralt via Pixabay Licensed for reuse under
 Creative Commons.

Cardiff Libraries in Cooperation (CLIC) held an event on virtual support services on 22 January 2015. The session provided examples of virtual support in further and higher education and from one professional body (the Royal College of Nursing). These are my musings on the event with consideration of how virtual support might be appropriate to implement at Welsh Government Library and Archive Service.

Virtual what? 
 So what do we mean by virtual support? All the examples provided in this session focussed on web chat solutions. The ability for a service user to chat online, by typing in a message box, with a member of staff in immediate, synchronous communication. If the web chat service is fully committed or off-air, then usually messages can be left for later response.

The "Google Generation" will use virtual chat services. It matches preferences for online discussion, and meets needs in being personal and instant. It was noted by several of the speakers that students can be sitting in the library, based near to an open service desk, but they will still use webchat help services rather than visit the helpdesk.
Virtual support also increasingly meets the expectations of users. Large commercial websites may come with webchat or virtual support features and these can often be a very efficient way to resolve problems or to find out more. Far more efficient than using premium rate support phone lines, or email. Examples of mobile phone providers were quoted in this context.

So virtual support, in the examples of this session, is geared towards supporting students: remembering their contexts of being fee payers, probably studying alongside working, often being remote / at distance to the university, and / or part-time. Virtual support is a valued method of reaching out to students, in a way that suits them.


Generally "yes". Many of the case studies were in their early stages and had not been fully or widely promoted, and therefore only had low usage figures. However, users had been overwhelmingly appreciative. Several of the speakers noted the importance of virtual support to provide a route for students to express their difficulties, frustrations and concerns, and to be listened to. The listening aspect here seemed to be as important as the answer! For the RCN virtual support is teamed with a similar organisation from Australia, thereby providing an increasing level of round-the-clock "follow the sun" support.


Staffing - in many instances virtual support is an extra function for library staff to take on board. Issues with training, staff timetabling and potential additional pressures and workloads were noted. In one instance virtual support has been implemented alongside of the closure of traditional reference desk support, although this was the exception. Queue management, query identification amd directing were also significant in enabling virtual support to work effectively and to utilise staff resources to best effect. Some of the most basic issues were in remembering to sign in to the web chat service, and remembering to sign out when not available to answer queries.

Complexity of query - a comprehensive frequently asked questions answer bank is helpful. This can then be used as a basis for responses and can be added to over time. Several speakers noted the desire for staff responding to a query to want to see it through to completion. However the staff member may not always be best placed to do this. Web chat systems that enable referral, and in some instances three-way chats, were essential to deal with such queries. Three-way conversations could then be useful in providing staff training.

Surprisingly, I thought that many of the queries would relate to complex issues in using databases, and would therefore require abilities to screencast or screen share. I also wondered if queries would relate to problems of using different operating systems and IT platforms. However, the majority of queries were at a much lower level of complexity than this (opening hours, how do I renew my books, can I borrow this title, which database should I use for this topic enquiry?)

Promotion - make multiple links to the virtual support service from high usage and high profile areas both within the online environment but also in the physical environment. Use of a consistent button or logo is best, but some platforms may not enable incorporation of anything other than a standard text link. Clear naming and branding of the service are also key. Ensure that staffing support will be adequate, and that the number of service channels will be adequate to meet the need.

Implications for Welsh Government?

Whilst many of our users aren't from the "Google Generation", aren't students, and don't necessarily feel that they have an axe to grind, we have experienced declining use of helpdesk and telephone support services. Currently, email and webforms are the preferred routes to place enquiries with us. I understand that some form of internal web chat / instant messaging will be provided in a forthcoming IT upgrade. We may not be able to use the off-the-shelf webchat solutions used by our CLIC colleagues, and so may well lack the sophistication of queue handling, referral and statistical outputs. However, we must certainly be primed to use instant messaging when this is available to us, and have protocols in place so that we can effectively exploit this development. The potential is significant, but so too is the foundation work. Time to go away and update some of those help guides, to extend the use of FAQs, and to think about incorporating many more audiovisual help clips within our intranet provision!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Library Christmas - day 12

On the twelfth day of Christmas libraries give to us:

Y is for young adult; your library; youth.

You know the score now. Previously libraries have also provided:

L is for languages, library staff, local studies, and leisure time;
E is for empathy, e-books, entertainment and enthusiasm / energy;
V is for viewing films, supporting visually impaired users and providing value for money;
I is for innovation, information, inspiration and Interlibrary Loans;
T is for teaching (librarians as educators), trusted spaces and teenage reading;
C is for community memory, crime fiction, community space and careers information;
U is for universality, uplifting experiences and understanding;
D is for databases, digital literacy, diversity and democracy;
O is for open for all, online (helping people get online), opportunity and outreach;
R is for reading groups, research, reading recommendations and resources;
P is for parental support, power, political literacy and access to popular stuff.

Libraries give us so much. We just need to take the plunge and use them, support them and advocate for them. You can suppor your library service by borrowing materials from them, using online services, completing annual user surveys and providing feedback after receiving excellent service. You may also need to consider responding to local authority consultations on budget setting plans, lobbying your elected representatives, and / or joining local library support groups.

With grateful thanks to for the superb graphics and letter discriptions. The images and text ideas are used here under the Creative Commons cc-by license.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Library Christmas - day 11

On the eleventh day of Christmas libraries give to us:

L is for languages; learning; leisure; lending / loans; librarians / library staff; literacy; literature; local studies; local to users.

Previously libraries have also supplied for Christmas:

E - empathy, enthusiasm, ebooks, employability, entertainment and enquiry services;
V - value for money, values (all the things that libraries stand for), viewing films and supporting visually impaired users;
I - information, inspiration, innovation and Interlibrary loans;
T - trusted spaces, teenage reading and teaching;
C - crime fiction, classics, community memory, community space, and careers information;
U - uplifting experiences, universality (open to all), and understanding;
D - databases, digital literacy, diversity and democracy;
O - online services, online support (helping users cope with digital by default, digital government), opportunity and outreach;
R - reading groups, reading recommendations, research and resources;
P - power, political literacy, popular stuff, papers and photocopying. 

... And a whole load more ...

 Libraries are found in great schools, support healthcare professionals in hospitals and community health settings, universities, colleges, research establishments and workplaces, in addition to the fantastic public libraries. Treat yourself to a library visit over the next few days. I bet you'll leave with renewed inspiration, new knowledge, a project to start, or perhaps even just having had a relaxing few minutes to yourself!

Library AtoZ images and some of the AtoZ words come from which enables re-use under CC-BY license.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Library Christmas - day 10

On the 10th day of Christmas, libraries give to us:

E is for Ebook readers; ebooks; education; email (access to); employability; enquiry service; entertainment; equality; escape; events; everyone (is welcome); exciting; exhibitions; and expression.
Previously libraries have provided to our communities:
V is for: value for money, values (the things libraries stand for), viewing films and other materials, and supporting visually impaired users;
I is for: information, information literacy, innovation, inspiration and Interlibrary loans;
T is for: trusted spaces, teenage reading and teaching;
C is for: crime fiction, careers information, classics, community and community memory;
U is for: universality (open for all), understanding, unemployment support, and uplifting experiences;
D is for: democracy, digital literacy, discovery and diversity;
O is for: online resources, open for all, opportunity and outreach;
R is for: reading groups, recommendations, research and resources;
P is for: power, political literacy, papers and photocopying.

Image and wordlist credit reused under CC-BY license.