Thursday, 18 February 2016

House of Commons Library Open Day 2016

Occasionally a chance arises to visit a really special library. The House of Commons Library open day for librarians (17 February 2016) was just such an opportunity. A carefully crafted programme, delivered by colleagues from the House of Commons' Information Services Directorate enabled the effective sharing of knowledge and experience. The receptive audience of sixty librarians, drawn from an impressive spectrum of libraries from across the UK, collectively made for a very beneficial and truly enjoyable day. 
Palace of Westminster from the London Eye. Source: Jedyooo, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed for reuse through CC-BY-SA 3.0 

The morning sessions provided lightning introductions to the various teams within the Information Services Directorate. We heard a number of fascinating tales, overviews and outlines.

Chiming with my own experiences Julie Keddie, Collection Management Coordinator gave a breathtaking recollection of needing to move extensive collection stores from the Palace of Westminster basements. Even with tight deadlines Julie proved that these times of unexpected space crises can be used to good effect: identifying elements of collections that could be housed by other organisations; selecting items that need to be housed closer at hand, and those that could be moved to on-site or off-site stores. Planning, prioritisation, clear record keeping incorporating  a prominent and motivational colour coded record of progress, together with working with an experienced team of moves contractors, were key lessons learned. There was also a nugget of seeing what your storage partners may be able to provide for you as part of their involvement. Wrapping, packing, stock inventories, unpacking and unwrapping may be services that storage specialists can offer to ease your burdens!

Liz Marley provided a thought-provoking session "Mind your language: indexing politics". Indexing usually has power to aid, group, differentiate and contextualise. But, just occasionally, index entries have power to offend. An index term "Baha'i Sect" was changed to "Baha'i Faith" in response to user feedback. Language and terminology changes. How should materials on ISIS, ISIL, IS, Islamic State, "So called Islamic State", Deash, etc be indexed? Indexes need to reflect this variance of language / terminology, and sometimes only time will provide a clear primary, accepted and authorised entry for the concept. How should wit and sarcasm be indexed in the proceedings of Parliament? A question to Nick Clegg on whether his sat-nav had broken because he seemed to be avoiding visits to universities and students unions, really reflected coalition policy on student finance. The true intent of the question was reflected in the indexing! Parliamentary Question Liz informed us that there is a beta test search facility for Parliamentary materials. This could be profitably used in my own enquiry work, but also to check, revise and expand our own subject terms.

 'very precise words in terms of indexing can be very loaded words in terms of debate'  @NickPoole1 #hclOpenDay

Dr Caroline Shenton outlined the considerable difficulties and challenges raised by housing the bicameral Parliamentary Archive in the Victoria Tower. One tiny lift, inadequate conservation /restoration areas, risks of substantial collection damage and destruction through accident or incident, poor public access and engagement with the Archive. A decision is anticipated shortly on the future of the Archives, ranging from do nothing, relocation to a new Archive space, or more ambitious plans for an Archive and Parliamentary Engagement Centre with a regional location. A move out of Victoria Tower could potentially free up 7% of the Parliamentary Estate. One to watch!

Other sessions demonstrated recent changes within the Division. "Are MPs customers? The House of Commons Library experience" hinted at the significant cultural change processes undertaken. Less "gentlemen's club" and more about supporting the information needs of elected members and their staff. Understanding library users' needs, and working to fulfil these needs as effectively as possible. To my mind, that the question ever needed asking, indicates just how significant the cultural journey has been. Similarly, reorganisation of the Division's Research Teams prompted staff to audit researchers' information searching confidence on three-point scale and to survey needs and awareness of information resources available to them. The Research Information Service now provide a programme of support and sessions, and their co-location with the research teams provides for new opportunities to strengthen and develop these links and offers. We also heard of the first proactive pilot with public libraries for the Parliament Public Enquiries Public Information Group. An enhanced offer for Parliament Week (October 2016) will be available. Reminders of the balanced, impartial, clear and definitive House of Commons Library Briefing Papers, which are freely available via the web, were also made at several points.

Delegates were also treated to opportunities to view an exhibition of historical materials from the Library. This included hands-on access to early copies of Punch, the London Illustrated News, parliamentary debate reports, constituency boundary change maps, deposited papers, as well as images of the Commons Library over time, and much more. The Portcullis House venue provided access to a selection of the Palace of Westminster art collections with notable portraits and bust sculptures of MPs past and present. Staff from the various teams and services were also available for one-to-one discussions. The lightning talks had raised a range of queries and comments and this was the ideal setting in which to delve deeper and to share experiences.

Westminster Hall. Source: Flickr by Nathan.  Licensed for reuse under CC-BY-SA 2.0.

Equipped with revised understanding of the House of Commons Library, the afternoon's tours provided opportunities to contextualise and deepen this knowledge. The troglodyte experience of walking from Portcullis House underneath Bridge Street to arrive directly within the Parliamentary Cloisters provided an impactful opening scene. The vastness of Westminster Hall, with its palpable sense of being witness and location to history in the making, and the ornate beauty of St Stephen's Hall, wowed delegates.  An opportunity to sample the iconic green bench seats of the Division Lobby, matching those found in the Commons Chamber, were too good to miss, and provided a comfortable juncture on which to consider bill, debate and voting procedures. Our tour continued with a detailed visit to the Commons Chamber, and to the majestic Lords Chamber.

St Stephen's Hall. Source: Shakespearesmonkey via Flickr Licensed for reuse under CC-BY 2.0.

The Commons Library sits alongside of the Commons Chamber with views to the south over the Thames. It is therefore ideally placed as an accessible and welcoming space for MPs. The collection rooms retain their air of "gentlemen's club", but this seems fitting and conducive to productive reading, research, cogitation, and in some cases, relaxation / recouperation. The collections reflected recent and historical political interests, although increasingly inter library loans rather than purchase seem to be used in meeting the requests of Members for items which aren't currently held by the Library. Such thriftiness of resource sharing calls on libraries of the House of Lords, the conjoined public libraries of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, The London Library, Chatham House Library and The British Library. In addition to the book collections, the hard copy newspaper and periodical collections are well used, supported by a wide variety of electronic resources (in some cases jointly procured with the House of Lords Library). Enquiry desks are prominently and welcomingly positioned, and the well resourced Reference Room can be used by MPs' staff members.

Review of the quiz answers provided further opportunity to probe and check our acquired knowledge. A recap from Nick Poole (CEO, CILIP) rounded off the day. We had all benefitted greatly from the day, from the collective networking amongst the 60 delegates from  a wide range of libraries, locations and experience. The day had also clearly demonstrated the centrality of accurate, impartial, comprehensive and up to date information to the effective functioning of democracy.

"There are four KEY elements to The UK Parliament: Commons, Lords, Monarchy .... and librarians" Nick Poole, CEO, CILIP.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Legislative mapping II

After further discussion with an external colleague, where possible I've decided to use a form of the hierarchical legislation map.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Legislation mapping

A recent challenge in work has been to contribute to a legislation mapping exercise. I've been helping to identify relevant legislation to be considered for inclusion in the maps. But my findings have been extensive, which raises the question how can I best support my enquirer in this exercise? I've also had to reconsider my understand of what legislation maps are.

Why legislative mapping?

Legislation mapping is an exercise to identify legislation that is relevant within a particular topic area (e.g. homelessness) or to record the legal requirements placed on an organisation / operation (e.g. legal requirements of Information Managers - the Tasmanian Archives & Heritage Organisation provide a great introduction here).  When used well legislative mapping will provide a comprehensive view of the legal landscape. Maps may well include primary and secondary legislation, but may also identify regulatory bodies, statutory codes or guidance. 

So what's the problem?

This all sounds very straightforward. What's the problem? Well for me there were actually two problems:
  •  a lack of understanding of what the final map might look like; 
  • and the quantity of information required in the mapping exercise.

It's going to be a map, right?

What do you think of when someone says "map" you? An image representation, a diagram? Well yes! We are all familiar with maps:  Ordnance Survey, road atlases, town plans, Google maps. But many legislation maps predominantly aren't images or diagrammatic in their form. They tend to be tabular! So map and terms such as "charting the legal landscape" can be very unhelpful if you aren't aware that the end product is likely to be a table, or series of tables.

A legislation map in a simple area may well be diagrammatic, but these appear to be rare. Why map an area of comparative legal simplicity? A straightforward text description may be used where a simple legal landscape exists. (For instance, see the British Geological Survey's summary of mine wastes legislation and policy). But some legislation maps do fit the traditional model of "map". This alternative form of legislation map compares legislative protections between different geographic areas and therefore is ideally suited to visual presentation as a map. An example from the Huffington Post mapping dangerous dogs legislation across US States exemplifies this form (See right - available here (c) Huffington Post)

Information overload!

So, for my case in point, forget diagrammatic representations and start thinking tables! This immediately helps me, because if I have an understanding of the key features being described in the table then I can target my information retrieval to meet these needs. Better still, if I have a template of the table, or agree a layout of the table with my enquirier, I can start to populate the table, saving my enquirer time.

Tabular legislation maps

From a quick trawl through tabular legislation maps there appears to be a couple of layout types.
  • Legislation listed in alphabetical order (by Act /Regulation title), or in chronological order - useful when exploring legislative development and change. An exploratory legal map of the responsibilities of the Local Better Regulation Office provides an example of the alphabetical layout type - see here. A chronological example, concerning telecommunications law from INFORRM   (The International Forum for Responsible Media blog) is available here . 
  • Some maps also use a tabular format to provide a hierarchy of legislation: listing acts in the top row, and then detailing derived regulations, guidance or codes of practice in subsequent lower rows. Such tables may also indicate regulatory bodies, and could also accommodate information on the influence of European legislation. Mapping economic and financial legislation within the EU, undertaken by the European Parliament, is an example of this layout 

So what?

Personally, a revised view of legislation mapping helps me move forward with this enquiry. I can use the tabular format to overcome the difficulties of too much information. The table template and column headings help me focus on the information that is required. However, for this research assignment I suspect that neither an alphabetical or chronological listing of results will be helpful. I need to use my skills to identify the most significant legislation in this area, and list this first.

What would I do differently?

Faced with a similar enquiry in future I will ask if my enquirer has a concept of what the finished product might look like. They may already have a template table which I can start to populate, or we can work together to tease out a preliminary design. Alternatively they might be expecting a diagrammatic representation! In which case I will be able to work with them to see if this is a realistic proposition, and what the options could be.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Welsh Government and Westlaw launch Law Wales

Today I attended the official launch of Law Wales, a new collaborative project between Welsh Government and Westlaw. Law Wales, a freely available public service, provides information on key aspects of law within Wales.

Law Wales takes a topic based approach, with  each topic landing page providing a succinct, easy to understand overview of the legal landscape for that topic, and an outline of where powers have been devolved to Wales.  The service may then go on to  include:
  • key Acts and SIs, and where appropriate, European legislation. Links to UK legislation are currently made to
  • an overview of Welsh Government guidance within that area.
A topic page may also lead to a number of specific and detailed sub-topic pages. Each sub-topic page will provide  the relevant legal powers, often quoting to Act and section level, or identifying key secondary legislation.

Law Wales has been launched as "a work in progress", with a call to academics and legal practitioners to submit new content in their areas of expertise. Much of the existing content has been provided from Westlaw Insights, or from content drafted by Welsh Government lawyers.

Understanding the law in Wales, and where legal powers are derived from, is complex and fraught with difficulties. Welsh legislation may be :"home grown"; arise from UK legislation; may derive from European legislation; and may be scattered between different pieces of primary (Acts) and secondary legislation (statutory instruments).  Policy and guidance may also take a variety of formats, and identifying the existence of relevant guidance, together with checking for its currency, can be time consuming. Law Wales hopes to overcome many of these challenges and difficulties, and as such should be applauded and welcomed!

On its own Law Wales could do much to "help you understand the law of Wales". But the value of this service will increase if legal practitioners and academics join-in through submission of new and updating content. The service will also be aided if associated tools such as can battle to provide a truly contemporary and up to date consolidated service for primary legislation.

Rome wasn't built in a day and this is certainly a truly ambitious and noble project. It may also be a "world first". I will watch the development of Law Wales with interest and will do all that I can to support its success, relevance, functionality and awareness about the service.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A critical friend - early thoughts

Image (c) Horia Varlan. Licensed for
reuse under CC-BY-2.0
Recently I have been asked to join a Knowledge Management project group for another department within the Welsh Government. I can't profess to being a KM expert; indeed it's not an area that I feel well qualified to talk on at all. However, this project will provide an important focus for me to develop this knowledge and expertise. In the meantime my role may be best described as being one of critical friend, or external challenge.

It's very early stages but what have I learned about this role so far?

Support, reality check, and challenge appear to have been key aspects of this role so far. 


There's lots about supporting the project team in this role. Not, so far, as practical support, or knowledge / expertise supply, but lots of emotional support and reassurance. I found myself saying repeated comments of approval, support and encouragement. My interjections often encouraged re-focus of the meeting, prompting return to the item under discussion. Just occasionally my support also enabled someone to say something new, a new contribution that was really of value, or help to our task.

KM is much about cultural change and, as such, it's a long-term project. To me the focus for KM should not be on technology but should be on people, their knowledge and expertise, and the future needs of the organisation to be able to use, re-use and build on this knowledge. Cultural change and technology are both areas where many of us will value friendship support, encouragement and reassurance!

Reality check

A couple of times I found myself questioning whether some suggestions were of significance or would helpfully impact on the achievements of the group. At times of confusion I also provided a "big picture" view and summary, hopefully giving greater clarity and focus to the meeting.

Voice of constructive challenge

Questions such as:
  • "what are the difficulties at the moment?"; 
  • "what would you hope to achieve through this?"; 
  • "what are the really important priorities here?";
  • "is this really as significant as it seems to be?".
These questions provoked discussion that teased out aspects of significance, sought explanations of hidden thinking, and enabled the group to come to a new understanding of perspectives, issues, thought-processes and concerns. Open acknowledgement of these was significant, providing opportunities for challenge, support or new perspectives. This provided a point to move forward from, a new consensus of agreement or understanding, and a point a which a firm decision could be made.

Much of this support appears to impact most strongly on clarity of purpose for the group, staying on task, and focussing on top priority areas. It also appears to offer external challenge, providing a view at distance, and perhaps enabling a wider range of options to be considered prior to decision making.  It also encourages explanation, understanding, and perhaps challenges to group think, assumptions, or hidden thinking. However, most significantly this role  has to be about friendship, support, reassurance and encouragement.  An overly critical or challenging external panel member will not be appreciated, and will sideline their value.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

YLG Wales Unconference 2015 - Reading for pleasure

Three cheers to the Wales Youth Libraries Group for running a fascinating and successful Unconference on Saturday 25 April in Bridgend. This relaxed event provided an effective forum for a select group of children's and school librarians, two authors, a publisher, and an imposter (Me) to discuss and share good practice. Our focus for the day was "reading for pleasure" and encompassed the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC), a thought piece from children's author Dan Anthony ("Steve's Dreams") on reading and writing for pleasure, a brief consideration of using comics and graphic novels, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards.

Summer Reading Challenge

As an "outsider" this event reminded me of the significance of the SRC in the calendar of children's librarians. Children are encouraged to read six books over the school summer holidays, with the aim to combat the dip in reading levels often seen between the end of one school year and the start of the next. But many libraries grab the opportunities that SRC provides to:
  • encourage library visits, recruit new members, promote regular events, and to involve the wider family in visiting and using public libraries. Other schemes are often run in parallel with SRC: toddler challenge, and the teen reading challenge for instance, but there is also presumably scope for reader development work with adult visitors too! Many libraries also use the SRC as a valued opportunity to engage volunteers.
  • boost liaison and engagement with primary schools in their catchment area. In Swansea visits to schools are used before the holidays to promote the SRC. In September the staff return to award certificates and medals to the successful participants as part of school assembly. Other authorities use this as an opportunity for superb PR with award ceremonies taking place in the Mayor's Parlour or Council Chambers, again involving wider family and lots of social media coverage, perhaps even the local newspaper.

And this year's SRC theme? Record Breakers. This was thought to offer great scope for drawing in the interests of boys, but also for some unusual record breaking themed events in libraries. It will be fascinating to hear how it goes!

Reading for Pleasure

Dan Anthony provided food for thought, and led an interesting discussion on engaging teenagers in reading. Many participants thought the key was to finding the right book to entice someone back into reading. The publishing field is strongly segmented and so finding the right genre of book is crucial. And then maintaining that reading bug through the recommendation of similar titles. Dan also thought that subversion was a great way to bring teenagers back into reading. "Steve's Dream" works very much on this principle. Making time to read for pleasure can also be a challenge. The distraction of smart phones, computers and games, not to mention a packed school curriculum, all compete hard against reading for pleasure. Manga and graphic novels can have a strong role to play here too.

Firefly Press - a new publisher for Children's books

We also heard about Firefly, a recently formed publisher currently working on a Welsh Government funded project to develop a small collection of contemporary children's titles with a strong sense of place and resonance within Wales. Firefly don't just see themselves as a niche publisher in Wales. They have ambition to publish quality titles that will sell across the UK and beyond, and to increasing diversify into publishing for the young adult market too.

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals

Finally we considered the nomination, long listing, short listing and judging procedures for the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals. Young people's reading groups and classes can get involved in the Awards by shadowing the judging and appraising their own favourites. The shadow groups' opinions often differ from the formal judging panel, but altogether these annual awards create significant feedback for publishers and authors. Most importantly the Awards celebrate excellence in writing and illustration for children and young people, creating dialogue, publicity, energy and a fantastic focus for libraries. The contribution that the YLG bring to these awards is staggering. Their work needs and deserves further recognition and praise!


For me, as an imposter, this had been a Saturday extremely well spent. The enthusiasm, creativity and energy of all present was infectious. Even in this difficult economic climate for libraries, children's and young people's librarians are continuing to achieve inspirational results and have a huge and positive impact.

And my over-riding takeaway learning for the day? Don't let a lack of budget put you off! Don't think "we don't have a budget for that, so we can't / won't do anything". Instead, reverse the thought process. Far better to think, "so ok, we don't have a budget, but what can we still achieve without need of funding?". This questions opens the floodgates to creativity, innovation and continuing dynamism ... And quite probably quite a lot of fun, positive impact and success.

Thank you YLG Wales for a brilliant event, for your hospitality and your generosity of spirit. I do hope that you will run future unconferences, and that others will have the opportunity to attend such high quality professional development.

Image credit -Chenspec via licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, 26 April 2015

CILIP Revalidation

Annual Revalidation of CILIP professional registrations (Certification, Chartership and Fellowship)  will become obligatory from January 2016.  The process is free and requires online submission of a log that accounts for at least 20 hours professional development in the year, together with a short reflective statement. Why wait until 2016? Why not start the process now?

I can see a number of advantages to undertaking Revalidation early.
  1. Beat the rush, and in doing so choose your own Revalidation year. I'm guessing lots of us will be working to a calendar year, but is that the most convenient for you? Academic librarians may choose to revalidate over an  academic year, with submission perhaps planned over the summer vacation. Let the choice be yours!
  2. If you submit prior to January 2016 then there is strong likelihood that your submission will be appraised. You will received valued and often very complementary feedback from staff in CILIP. This will give you confidence for future years, and may assist you in supporting your colleagues in their revalidation processes. Once Revalidation becomes obligatory then only a small sample of submissions will be monitored and appraised. So if you leave submission until 2016 then you may not get this personal touch of feedback.
  3. Early Revalidation is one further demonstration that you are a committed, enthusiastic and conscientious professional - someone who takes their personal development seriously. In the current turbulent job market this may serve you well and may just be the factor that places you above other candidates.
  4. In starting to plan for your Revalidation you will discover if you understand the submission protocols, if you have accrued the 20+ hours for the year, and if you can craft a reflective statement that cuts the mustard. The reflective statement is, for me at least, the most challenging aspect of the process. Reflective writing doesn't come easy; it's definitely a skill to practice and develop. An early start will take the pressure off you if you discover inadequacies in any areas. You will have time to seek help, to take further training, or to develop your reflective writing skills .
  5. If you have a development plan through you work then do use this in your Revalidation. This plan, or the discussion that went in to formulating it, will prove useful in providing an a priori statement of your identified development needs. If your work-based development plan doesn't meet this purpose then use the PKSB (Professional Knowledge and Skills Base), or similar framework, to map out a formal evaluation of your training and development needs. Updating this annually will help you to identify your development needs, and so spot, plan for, or create the development opportunities that meet these needs. It will serve you well, in providing you with a more structured approach to your CPD.

In the last week I have received the fantastic news that my Revalidation submission has been approved. And so I have a promise to fulfil: sharing my reflective statement more widely! I'm sure this isn't a top notch example, but at least it may inspire and provide confidence to some of you in that challenging task of turning a year's worth of learning and development in to a 250 word reflective statement. I hope that this assists and possibly inspires some of you!

Personal performance

Marketing and customer focus were identified priorities for development in 2014 - needs associated with new responsibilities delivering the Ministerial Decisions (MD) upload into the Library Management System, promotion of the Welsh Government (WG) Publications Catalogue (PC), and introducing a new corporate legal information subscription. Presentations at CILIP Cymru Conference and CLIC successfully marketed the PC to stakeholders and receive their feedback.  I  also developed effective dialogue with legal information service users: increasing training attendance, provide feedback to the product provider, and creating FAQs. These raised the profile of the Library Service but evidence for this was diffuse. On reflection upfront marketing plans with planned measures of success, would have been helpful.

Organisational context

The delayed delivery of the MDs demonstrates  the need for project management (PM) for on-time delivery of information, especially where progress is dependent on others within WG. PM would have provided greater importance, a strict timeline, better resource allocation, and exception reporting / intervention mechanisms. I have learned that PM not only supports delivery through its structured framework, but comes with a perceived organisational kudos.

Wider professional context

GIG Committee work provided me with greater awareness of challenges more broadly within the government sector, especially shared service developments. Event attendance, together with professional reading, have provided wider understanding of professional issues from other sectors (e.g. Public and education sector libraries).