Monday, 27 August 2012

Cloudscapes ... Thing 13... collaborating and sharing

© Copyright s g b roberts and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
I'm old enough to remember early online searching where connection was enabled through dialling and then placing the telephone handset into a modem carriage. You paid for the phone line and so searched after 1pm when line charges were cheaper. You also paid for your time spent online with the database provider, and for the number of references retrieved. So your searching was very well prepared, very focussed, and undertaken with trepidation.

In 25 years how we have moved on! Online connections are now ubiquitious, fast and cheap; online storage is similarly plentiful and cheap. Thus, cloud computing comes to the fore - hence my title for this blog. Through the cloud Google Drive, Dropbox and wikis can function.

Thing 13 invites participants to explore and consider Google Drive, Dropbox and wikis. Regrettably I haven't used Google Drive in the past, but I have used the Microsoft Hotmail equivalent - Skydrive. Similar to Google Drive this allows online document creation, storage, sharing and group editing, as well as enabling remote access and working across platforms (Mac or PC). I have used Skydrive to access files from multiple locations and devices, but I haven't used these tools for collaborative working. I appreciate the secure storage and backup that cloud based storage provides, and the fact that if I loose or break my laptop then I can still access many of my vital files. (I do have alternative local backup solutions in place too, but Cloud-based solutions give me extra reassurance and ease of remote access). Skydrive came into it's own in pulling together my CILIP revalidation portfolio, but perhaps, on reflection, Dropbox or a wiki may have been even better?

As Secretary of the CILIP Career Development Group Wales Division the Committee has talked about using Google Drive for collaborative drafting of our divisional plan. Having watched the Wikis in Plain English video I now wonder if this process may be more easily achieved through a wiki.Worth trying this for 2013! The group currently archive and share files through JISCMAIL File Store features, which forms a handy central repository, but it is now cumbersome and dated in its operation. A wiki or cloud-based solution for Divisional files would, it seems to me, to be easier for us all to use.

Some departments in work are dabbling with internal wikis, providing desk notes, a knowledge base and an interactive environment in which to work collaboratively. For self- or team- generated content I can see that wikis would form an excellent platform. However, as information professionals we need to be exceptionally careful in guiding our users in appropriate use of external content within their wikis. In such situations we need to effectively raise awareness of copyright  and database licensing terms and conditions. I speak from experience on this one!

I haven't tried Dropbox, but it is very useful to know about this facility. The security restrictions of my work-based computer may not enable me to download the local software for Dropbox. This is disappointing because the automated storage and synchronisation of files seems to be such an advantage. That said, in work we access files from shared drives and within an electronic records document management system. Consequently, we should all be working from the same files and not generating multiple copies of a document. The need for Dropbox within work is therefore not quite so clear. But when collaborating with external partners Dropbox could be very helpful , and far less trouble than  remembering to manually synchronise files between different machines, network drives and cloud based storage services! There may be times when Dropbox could prove invaluable and I am glad for this opportunity to find out about it.

Definitely food for thought, and inspiration for future action here.

1. Try out a wiki page for use with CDG Wales.
2. Maintain my awareness of Dropbox.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Thing 12 – Lurking on the sidelines

 Thing 12 invites participants to reflect on their use of social networks and to consider whether you:
ñ     interact with people or do you lurk?
ñ     tend to stay within the comfort zone of your own sector or do you actively look for people who work in different areas of the profession?
ñ     Are a bit reluctant to get involved, and if yes, why do you think this is?

Claire Sewell also suggests looking at the blog of a CPD23 participant who is in a different sector and starting active dialogue on their blog.

Lurking on the Sidelines?
© Copyright 
Sarah Charlesworth and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

My use of social networks?

I guess that I'm more of a lurker than an active participant, although I have published a couple of reflections on legislative developments in Wales and on value-adding work in business information provision. I also occasionally respond to requests on email lists or via Twitter. I try and use my professional judgement to comment on aspects with which I have knowledge, or which fascinate me. Hopefully my contributions will therefore be of value and will add to the discussion in a helpful way. I don't necessarily want to add to “random noise”, but when it matters I would like for my voice to be heard. Louise Cowan's Peripheral Device blog notes her reluctance to blog for reasons of time and confidence. I guess many of us can identify with these constraints! Louise sets out a great action plan to address these - an admirable practice, and one to follow.

However, I beginning to wonder if lurking is being overly dismissed as a negative activity. Is this always fair or true? Lurking can still be great for professional development, raising awareness of issues, concerns or current professional news. An appreciative audience of a social network discussion is surely still to be valued? A "live" audience would mark the end of lively debate with applause and perhaps questions or comments. Then perhaps should we do similarly for online discussions? A quick contribution to indicate that I've enjoyed the conversation, would, I'm sure, be welcomed by the main parties in the discussion. Better still a comment to indicate that discussions have provided a new perspective, or that you agree with most of the points, but what about “x”, or would anyone suggest to a good resource to improve understanding about “y”? And of course, in doing so, one breaks free from the shackles of lurking. This is certainly something that I hope to undertake a little more frequently.

Comfort zone or "social animal"?

Inherently by nature I'm a "comfort zone" kind of person, although I'm really lucky in having a reasonably diverse and wide professional network. My involvement with CILIP Career Development Group helps here. And I'm fortunate to receive updates from Cardiff Libraries in Cooperation [CLIC] and attend their excellent events.  My blog for Thing 10 also records that I've worked in a number of different library sectors and over a number of years so this helps provide a varied range of contacts. So, on reflection, perhaps I'm not quite so confined and parochial as I think I am. However, Thing 12 has inspired me to reach out beyond my usual list of contacts and to expand my horizons. I found a lot of shared experience and interest in Anabel Marsh's experiences of CPD23Things in her blog and we've sent some supportive Tweets. Anabel has encouraged me to reconsider becoming a mentor :-) and it was just the encouragement I needed. A school librarian, Caroline Fielding's blog also provides a new perspective for me.

Reluctant participant?

Yes possibly, mainly because of time and confidence - so here I agree with Louise. However Thing 12 has encouraged me to reflect on my social network participation, and as a consequence to try to be more engaged and to be more of a contributor. Creating time to work on 23Things may well help me with this goal too.

Lurking on the Sidelines? No way!
© Copyright Peter Kazmierczak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Mentoring - Thing 11

Meg Westbury's blog for Thing 11 on mentoring provides a very useful point of reflection for me on why I chose to cease my formal mentoring arrangement. Just as Meg rightly suggests, not everyone is cut out to be a mentor. I would also add that perhaps not everyone is always ready, or in the correct situation (personal, workplace, or career), to take on and fully benefit from being a successful mentee.

So the background. I staunchly completed the first stage of my Chartership Revalidation without a mentor. This was a mistake, and one which was rightly picked up by the assessors. Whilst a formal mentoring arrangement isn't stipulated for revalidation, it most certainly is recommended. Mentoring in the context of revalidation provides a range of support and challenge, and this will differ over time, and from one candidate to the next. In my case I had identified need for:

  • a sounding board - helping me to answer questions like is this good evidence? I feel like something is missing, how can I address this? What might you do in my situation?
  • an independent view - a critical friend to help me reflect and evaluate my work more fully. Is this OK? Have I interpreted this correctly? Are my reflections sound, well structured and well presented? Does it make sense to an “outsider”?
  • helping with timetabling - someone who helps monitor the timetable and ensure that slippage isn't too great.
  • a source of motivation - someone who has an overview of progress, can help by setting the pace, and providing motivation and inspiration during times when progress doesn't seem to be as fast as it could be.

As I type this list I appreciate what high expectations I had from my mentoring relationship. I don't think that these suggested requirements deviated significantly from those outlined in the formal mentoring agreement. In fact I'm sure that there were other suggestions too. Support in writing for a professional journal and wider / more active professional involvement, to name just two. This does help illustrate for me what a hugely challenging role mentoring is!

So what were my experiences, and why did I choose to terminate the mentoring arrangement? I rapidly developed an excellent working relationship with my mentor, she was someone I trusted, respected and liked and we soon established a very good plan of action. So issues weren't in rapport, communication or in action planning. The problems for me was in delivery – getting the action points completed. Not because I didn't want to, but more because the time-scales were unrealistic given everything else that was going on. This timetable slippage then became aggravated by a growing personal realisation that having completed one cycle of revalidation, did I really want to go through it all again, especially quite so soon! I doubt that any mentor could have helped me change my mind, and so I put revalidation on hold, and appreciating the shortage of mentors available in South Wales, asked to conclude my mentoring arrangement. This was no easy decision and I greatly appreciated a detailed conversation with my mentor about this.

With hindsight, I regret ceasing my mentoring arrangement. I valued the opportunities for open discussion, and perhaps with growing familiarity, could have continued to effectively action plan, prioritise and make significant progress. Perhaps the focus of my mentoring arrangement on revalidation was unnecessarily narrow? I'm sure that my wider career development would have benefited from the continuation of this arrangement.

Whilst I now regret the cessation of this formal mentoring arrangement, like Meg in her blog, I've been really luck to have been informally mentored by some fantastic colleagues over the years. Their time, interest, enthusiasm, knowledge and experience has carefully guided me through my professional career. Like Meg, I guess that several of these people wouldn't have identified themselves in a mentoring role, but this makes me even more appreciative of their assistance. I also hope that I have been helpful in informally mentoring some of my colleagues in the past, and will go on to do so in the future.

This led me to pondering about line management and mentoring. I'll confess to not having read the suggested reading … so apologies if this topic is covered there. Generally, I believe that mentoring and line management are two completely different roles, and therefore best kept as such. But then I've been lucky to have some excellent line managers; skilled professionals who could competently swap roles. “Forget that I'm your line manager, as your colleague have you considered …. Or could you look at it like 'this'”. The boundaries between line manager, mentor and coach can be quite blurred can't they?

If you have an opportunity to have a formal mentor then I would recommend that you do try it. Sometimes professional development is a hard and long slog. Having support, encouragement and guidance from a critical friend can be very helpful, energising and motivating. Similarly, work hard to cultivate those informal mentoring opportunities. Over time I hope that you will have many opportunities to return the favours!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Thing 10 - Education, education, education

Thing 10 looks at qualifications and formal continuing professional development (CPD), and sets this primarily within the context of early career development: graduate traineeships, Masters courses, CILIP Chartership and Certification. Fortunately for me, Week 8's guest blog from Sheila Webber reminds us that CPD should be a continuous and on-going pursuit. It is within the context of formalising CPD later in the professional career that I would like talk.

Don't get me wrong, I was a graduate trainee at the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster), I did a fantastic MA in Librarianship at Sheffield (fully funded) and I achieved CILIP Chartership in my first professional post in London. I really valued these experiences, the help and support that I received at all stages, and the shear thought, effort and resource that had been allocated to them all. In all stages I developed significantly as a professional, made many valued colleagues and friends along the way, many of whom I am still in touch with. But all this was over 20 years ago! So for me Thing 10 provides an opportunity to reflect on more formal aspects of CPD within later stages of the career.

Of course, throughout my professional career, there have been some step changes in my development, but none of these have directly led to a formal qualification! My first experiences of staff and budget management, librarianship within a Welsh context, higher education librarianship and faculty liaison, strategic management, project management on a big scale, building redesign, as well as sideways moves into legal librarianship and more recently government information work. My professional committee work has also provided many opportunities for development:  regional representative, national secretary and chair of a special interest group, conference organiser etc.All of these have been significant in enabling me to grow and develop, to apply for new opportunities, and most importantly for me, to feel that I am continuing to make progress, to develop and grow, and to maintain the enjoyment and passion in my professional life.

All good stuff, but what about formal qualifications? Well of course I've continued to study for some of these too during my professional career. An Open University Diploma in Adult and Continuing Education gave me an excellent  foundation for providing user education sessions, understanding how adults learn, for working with adults returning to learning, and also in valuing the extensive informal learning that goes on. I undertook a BTEC Certificate in Management Studies, helping me formally develop my management skills and confidence.

More recently I have also successfully Revalidated my CILIP Chartership. First cycle of revalidation achieved, but  I gave up halfway through the second cycle. I really enjoy doing CPD, learning new things and having new experiences. What I don't enjoy (and find really difficult and time consuming) is the documenting, reflecting and pulling together. For me Revalidation No.2 just seemed like extra work for no perceived recognition or external value. For the time being I'll keep on doing the CPD, learning from it, and implementing it, I'm just not going to spend valued time documenting it, creating a clear narrative of progress,  reflecting and formally planning for the future.

So, if not revalidation, what might be next?

1. CILIP Fellowship - recognising a high level of professional achievement and commitment. Hmmm. Am I there yet? I suspect not, but this should definitely be something to aspire to!

2. BIALL (British & Irish Association of Law Librarians) Legal Foundations Course - an online / distance learning course enabling librarians with at least one year's experience of legal information work to get to grips with legal terminology. Enabling librarians with non-legal backgrounds to have a good foundation in legal knowledge. This would complement my current legal role and provide me with that much needed legal knowledge foundation. My only concern is that as a government librarian my needs and experience are significantly different to colleagues working in commercial practice, or in legal education. I don't routinely have to search for precedents or forms, I mainly support the generation of legislation, rather than supporting contentious or non-contentious work in commercial practice. Therefore would the course meet my needs, and more importantly those of my employer, if she were to grant me the course fees and / or study time?

3. Another Master's course, or perhaps an MPhil? I don't know that I would really want to do another taught masters course, but a sizable piece of self-paced academic study, conducted with rigour and thoroughness, well that would be really appealing! Just issues of: on what; with which university; how would I fund it; and how could I manage my time effectively in order to do it justice? Not too many hurdles to negotiate there then :-(

Once again CDP23 Things is encouraging me to think in a reasonably formal and structured way about my CPD. I do think formal qualifications are an excellent route, and one that should periodically punctuate any professional career. Formal qualifications provide a clear and readily understood benchmark for professional development. However, the less formally documented and accredited experiences of new roles, project work, secondments, temporary working allowances, etc. should be equally promoted, valued and recognised within your professional learning log, work-based performance management review, reflections and your CV! In my opinion a challenging work assignment, or indeed an open and enquiring mind can go a long way in enabling you to continue to develop and grow professionally. I'm just not quite ready to go down the formal qualification route again .... so thank heavens for a challenging job, wider professional involvement and CPD23Things!