Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Thing 16: Advocacy - being a beacon for the profession and for libraries.

Be a beacon for the profession and for libraries!
Image (c) Stephen Gregory - Souter Lighthouse, National Trust

Lauren's post for Thing 16 outlines the variety of ways in which we can be engaged in professional advocacy. The brief goes further in suggesting that all professionals should consider their personal involvement and commitment to advocacy. I couldn't agree more, but can't help wondering if advocacy is role that we don't often recognise in ourselves? We might happily badge stuff that we do under the headings of marketing, service promotion, information needs analysis or user education, but advocacy probably doesn't feature on this list. I suggest that we do more advocacy than we think. Do you do any of the following?
  • Marketing your library service to your user communities and reaching out to non-users. In these sessions, briefings, articles or posts you will be expressing values in using the service, highlighting benefits and impacts for users and potential users.
  • Management reports. Updates on service utilisation, hopefully not just measures of inputs and outputs, but also those difficult to achieve measure of impact. Public libraries are now fantastic at highlighting how they can contribute to wider goals of their parent councils. For example aiding targets for health and well being, community cohesion, inter-generational interaction, as well as the traditional factors of improving literacy, supporting formal learning, servicing local businesses and innovators. As a workplace librarian I support not only the direct information needs of the organisation, but also support the health and well being of colleagues through book prescriptions, in addition to encouraging innovation through supporting personal development and learning.
  • Talking to your users and non-users, finding out about their information needs and requirements. This will probably involve discussion of your services, but may also suggest other services too. An academic librarian talking to students on a part time vocational course may well suggest using workplace or professional body libraries, in addition to their “home college” services. A workplace librarian may refer to local public libraries or near-by university / college facilities.
  • Professional groups may have collective formal remits for advocacy and therefore involvement in these will provide superb experience at national, local or subject specific level. My own experience of working for CILIP Groups (CDG, CoFHE) has demonstrated how valued this level of advocacy is. But I've also been impressed by BIALL's activities in this area, and those of UKOLUG in the past! Local information partnerships (e.g. Cardiff Libraries in Co-operation) also undertake valued advocacy work no behalf of libraries in and around their area.
These are just a few examples of things we do that may include advocacy, aside from the bigger scale political lobbying, newspaper articles, attending demonstrations, or talking to our elected representatives. I'm not dismissing these latter “big scale” and hopefully high profile advocacy activities. They are extremely important. It's just that many of us won't be able, inclined, permitted or suitably skilled to contribute to these large scale advocacy initiatives.

I also agree that in contributing to professional writing is an excellent form of advocacy, and a vital part of contributing to a vibrant, progressive and learning-centred profession. Again, it's easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that our work isn't innovative, or won't be of interest to others. We become blinkered by familiarity of our own roles. But sharing your learning, your achievements, or indeed your thoughts or questions, really will help the profession move on. I've written a couple of pieces in the past. The usual stuff of meeting reports and a book review, but I have also tried to provide a more informative and challenging pieces on how the legal information landscape is changing in Wales, and how this may impact legal practitioners and their librarians across the UK.

As Lauren's brief suggests, blogging is an excellent “way in” to this. Blogging encourages reflective practice, established a habit and practice of writing for another audience, and demonstrates your expertise, areas of interest and professionalism. I would still “advocate” for contributing to the traditional printed media, but acknowledge that online forums and media will become increasingly important.

Finally for this blog, I hope to increase my own expertise and experience in professional advocacy work in the near future with an exciting secondment opportunity with CILIP Wales. More on this to follow ...

To protect, warn, guide, inform, illuminate and broadcast?
Souter Lighthouse, National Trust. Image (c) Stephen Gregory

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Profession in crisis? Thing 15: Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events.

CILIP Career Development Group / North Wales Library Partnership joint event – January 2012, Llandudno Junction. Image © Stephen Gregory / CILIP CDG Wales, 2012.

The picture above, for me, recalls an excellent joint event hosted in North Wales in January 2012. I attended and spoke at this event, and it reminds me of the pleasures and perils of doing both. I found myself agreeing with so much provided within the brief for Thing 15 and its related links. Participating in professional development events, as delegate, speaker, chair or organiser really is so fulfilling, beneficial and invigorating. Consequently, my first attempt at this blog did little more than replicate the suggestions and experiences encapsulated in the brief. Little point in re-inventing the wheel!

However, I would agree with Katie Birkwood's comments that attendance at events is being increasingly jeopardised by the current economic situation. In my experience this really is becoming a significant factor to the viability of our professional events. Furthermore, in the absence of other activities, this affects the viability, vibrancy and raison d'etre of our formal professional groups. It seems to me that the impacts of the economic downturn on professional development are numerous, including:
  • from the employer / employee perspective:
    • depleted or non-existent training and development budgets
    • reduced staffing levels, meaning that: retained staff work to increased workloads; capacity for planned absence is reduced; ability to catch-up after absence, or to clear the decks prior to absence, are diminished.
    • Stagnation on the career ladder. There are fewer opportunities for promotion and advancement, meaning that staff loose motivation and enthusiasm for cpd. Staff new to a role will have greater need to attend formal CPD activities in order to aid their development for fitness to undertake the role effectively and fully.
    • Organisations are less likely to support professional development in its broadest contexts, favouring job-specific training only. This is in part because of training budget limitations, but also because of workload pressures and reduced capacity to sanction cpd absence.

  • From event providers' perspective:
    • Economic viability of events is being squeezed, leading to increasing likelihood of event cancellation.
    • Events become undertakings where the risks of financial and reputational disaster are too great. Can an organisation afford to loose money, or in effect subsidise events? Can organisations weather the potential for loss of credibility with poor attendance rates and perceived declining impact or professional value?
    • Events are not able to get off of the ground because the burdens of event organisation are too great for volunteer group committee members, especially given that support by their employees may be severely decreased.

There may be additional factors in some areas too. For instance, being based in Wales, where travel times from Bangor to Cardiff are at best half a day, we have significant problems of geography and costs associated with this (hotel fees, journey practicalities and time). However, in Wales geography can also be an issue for much more local destinations. Public transport routes between a location in one valley and a nearby location in another valley may be tortuous or non-existent. Video conferencing may be a solution, but as professional and social networking is such a valued feature of many meetings, can this be effectively replicated via a video-link?

How can some these barriers be overcome?
  • Collaborate or use partnerships for events! Use vibrant local groups to jointly host successful, well attended events. The North Wales Library Partnership was a superb group to collaborate with. In South Wales groups such as Cardiff Libraries in Co-operation are incredibly active, now run with very little financial assistance. Other local divisions or circles of CILIP's Special Interest Groups or your CILIP Branch may also be able to assist. In the case of Wales it may be more appropriate for us to collaborate with our neighbours in West Midlands, North West, or South West, because transport links make it as easy, or easier, to attend events in Birmingham, Hereford, Chester or Bristol. (It could work the other way around though couldn't it! Marketing events in Wales more actively to colleagues just across Offa's Dyke.)
  • Make events free / very low cost, and seek funding to cover costs via other routes. Grant funding, sponsorship, bursaries, awards, and dare I say, creative financing.
  • Where possible use central locations, with excellent public transport links, and if possible with addition attractions or benefits.
  • Plan well ahead and market your event extensively. Know your intended audience(s) and plan timing to maximise attendance. I consider timing to mean in this context two factors. Recognition of delegate availability (e.g. probably best not to run an event for academic library staff in late September or October). And also training budget cycles. When are training budgets set (April / August / January)?, and so when might chances for successful bids for expenditure from this budget be most successful? Remember that with some organisations expenditure for events that coincide with the end of a financial year, or which can be billed for in advance, using up residual funding in one year, to support CPD in the following, will be successful. Of course, if you are funding an event through means other than delegate charges, then this becomes less relevant, except where creative financing options may be considered.

Case Study

Walled Garden at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales
© Copyright Andrew Hill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In the Spring 2012 I organised for CILIP Career Development Group in Wales, a one day event at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales with the Gardens' voluntary library manager. The day was planned to enable delegates to find out about:
  • botanical and horticultural information and library collections for these subject areas, including the delights of herbaria and seed banks;
  • implementation of Koha shareware library management system, and how to do this very successfully on a very small budget;
  • the use of volunteers within a library service; and
  • the Library's plans for the future.

I naively thought with that spread of fascinating and pertinent topics there would be significant interest from delegates. Unfortunately we had far too few bookings to make the event viable and so cancelled the event at one week's notice.

So what did I learn from this?
  • Sell-ability. Potential delegates may have found it difficult to convince their line manager that attending this event was good use of their time and would provide excellent returns for expenditure from the training budget
  • Affordability. If your employer wouldn't pay for your attendance, then the pricing was too high for self-funders (£40). If this is an option then delegates may also be burdened with using a day's leave and funding transport costs.
  • Geography. The Gardens are difficult to get to unless travelling by car. Public transport would have been viable, but the journey is time consuming and a further expense. (I'm not quite so convinced by this one. No one contacted me to see if lift-sharing was possible, or if a quicker connection from the local train station could be collectively organised.)
  • Increasing professional malaise or apathy? I hope not, but sometimes I can't help but suspect that this is the case.

What might be the way forward?

  • Technology - video conferencing / virtual meetings are proving to be a vibrant and low-cost means for providing cpd. But technology has it's limitations: uneven user demographic; barriers caused by the technology; the lack of “by chance”, face to face networking opportunities.
  • More local “live” networking events: pub meets, New Professionals meet ups; charity fund-raising initiatives.
  • Mentoring – mentees and mentors both gaining through formal planning, discussion and evaluation of professional development, job roles, professional issues etc.
  • CILIP Branch and Group Review. Changes to enable Groups and Branches to be more sustainable, but also more vibrant, creative, effective and supported.
  • Where geography allows, the formation of cross-sectoral local groups providing cpd events, forums for discussion and debate, library visits etc. Partnership working between groups of all different types, sharing the burdens and risks of running events, but also gaining through their collaborative muscle and reputation. For CDG Wales linking more directly with the Annual CILIP Wales Conference might be a good way of promoting the Group, increasing our membership and our activity levels.
  • Further exploration of alternative funding mechanisms and sources.

Regrettably, I don't have a prescription guaranteed to provide success. I do have ideas, enthusiasm and energy to support events, where and however I can. But what do you think?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

CPD Thing 14 Reference management software

Reference Management Software - helping to bring order in an otherwise disordered world?
Order or disorder? Prairie planting of spring bulbs at Ascot House (National Trust), Buckinghamshire.
Image (c) Stephen Gregory

Thing 14 encourages participants to investigate reference management software, or to reflect on experiences on using referencing software in the past. To my shame, I had no previous experience of using RMS, although I recall that such packages have been available, commercially at least, for many years now.

I haven't been an extensive writer of assignments, professional papers or reports, and therefore my need for RMS has always been somewhat insignificant. On reflection, I guess that the thought of getting to grips with a new piece of software, successfully integrating this within my word processing package, and making effective use of it, would have been far more time consuming than rewarding. This Thing has demonstrated just how wrong that misconception was! 

It's some time since I worked in higher education librarianship, where I suppose greatest knowledge and usage of RMS occurs. Awareness and demand for RMS in my current organisation has been very low. To be fair, how many of us can truly  say that we successfully and confidently use indexing, referencing and content page features within our standard word processing packages? These relatively simple tools can help make life easier when creating reports or longer documents, but how many of us have taken the trouble to find out about them and use them? There are strong parallels aren't there! If you are like me, then you'll probably have done all of your referencing manually, and this will have been reasonably straightforward when using Harvard, and with a small set of cited documents. On the rare occasions when creating a longer reference list, or indeed when required to use numeric or Vancouver referencing, then this can become more problematic, especially when citing the same reference at several different points in your document and trying to retain numbering consistency. Isla mentioned her similar experiences in the Thing 14 brief.

So is there scope within my routine work to use RMS? In providing literature search results and current awareness bulletins, probably “yes”. But these aren't straightforward bibliographies are they? And so I guess that some manipulation and experimentation with output formats will be required. [Anyone have any experience of using RMS in these contexts?] My colleagues are experimenting with Reference Manager at present and I await their findings with keenness. Were our service to develop into providing more narrative and evaluative research (see my Blog on information synthesis / value adding) then the argument and benefits for using RMS are clear. In this context RMS could make our work more efficient, alongside the possibility of creating a database of frequently used references easily sourced within our RMS repository.

As part of Thing 14 I explored Mendeley, a freely available internet client and desktop download, with add-ons for reference import and citation management within word processing packages. The registration, download of the desktop client and installation of the add-ons was all straightforward. Within an hour, I had viewed the helpful training presentations, installed the package, explored the desktop and internet clients, imported references from documents already held on my laptop, imported additional references from a variety of internet sites and databases. In this time I had also drafted some sample text, inserted references and created the bibliography all using Mendeley's intuitive features. The integration with Open Office, my word processing software, with Google Chrome for reference harvesting, and the synchronisation between desktop and internet clients all worked perfectly. So my experiences were all very positive, and I had wondered why I hadn't used such systems previously! Very definitely time well spent.

Mendeley offers a range of collaborative tools too and I plan to explore some of these in a little more detail. The Mendeley profile will be of interest; I'll complete my details more fully and see if other Mendeley users share similar interests. PDF annotation will also be helpful. I like the idea of being able to create my own notes and comments on PDF documents. I doubt whether the PDF sharing function will be of relevance to me, but can see the value of this function for a team of colleagues working collaboratively on something, or within a research grouping. However, I'm struck once again by the need to caution our users about copyright and database licensing terms and conditions, with this type of activity.

So Thing 14 leaves me with some follow-up actions:

  1. Investigate and implement Mendeley more fully, including profile and seeing if other users match my interests. Equally importantly try to incorporate using Mendeley as a matter of routine.
  2. Find out about my colleagues feedback on Reference Manager, and see if this can be used within our context of literature search results and current awareness bulletin creation. If yes, how is this achieved and could similar be achieved in Mendeley?
  3. Check out CiteULike. This would be useful to have some basic knowledge on this.