Are you a busy bee?

Busy bees, listen to this: Oliver Burkeman Is Busy, originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last week, and currently available to stream or download via iPlayer Radio.

Over the course of five episodes, entitled The Busyness Paradox, Fetishising Busyness, It’s not busyness but bandwidth, Addicted to Busy, and In Praise of Idleness; Oliver examines the relationship between busyness, status, and how perceived effort is valued over results delivered.

Listen to these 5 short programmes and gain a new perspective on how you are spending your time. If you don’t think you have time to catch up with this series, perhaps you have the most to gain from it…

See also: Overwhelmed? 10 ways to feel less busy by Oliver Burkeman

Journey to Full Text Finder: A Pilgrim’s Progress

I gave this presentation at the recent EDS Conference in London.  EDS stands for EBSCO Discovery Service, a resource discovery interface which allows users to explore a whole library collection from a single search page, rather than multiple catalogues.

Image credits: all British Library public domain unless otherwise stated (images linked to source)

Journey to Full Text Finder: A Pilgrim's Progress (with apologies to John Bunyan)

A pilgrim with staff

I based my presentation on the idea of the migration from the old A-to-Z admin to the new FTF (Full Text Finder) admin as a pilgrim’s journey.

Here are three definitions of a pilgrimage (source: Oxford Dictionaries).   My experience of migrating to FTF has something in common with all three dimensions!

pilgrimage /ˈpɪlɡrɪmɪdʒ/ 1 A pilgrim’s journey; 1.1 A journey to a place of particular interest or significance; 1.2 (chiefly literary) Life viewed as a journey

Let’s consider the origin of the word “pilgrim”… It first appeared in Middle English from the Provençal pelegrin, from Latin peregrinus meaning ‘foreign’, from peregre ‘abroad’, from per– ‘through’ + ager ‘field’… Which brings us neatly back to a familiar aspect of EDS: field [codes].


How to prepare for a pilgrimage? Here is St Luke with an ancient laptop😉

St Luke

To prepare for your pilgrimage, begin with a period of study and reflection, and seek answers to the following questions:

  • What (place you’re aiming for) – destination
  • How (plan) – break down into stages
  • When (particular times) – milestones
  • Where [else] (repercussions) – knock-on effects of the change e.g. linking, user guides, library staff training and expectations, academic staff
  • Who (people) – corral your team: self, colleagues, EBSCO – and keep in touch with them
  • Why (purpose) – improvements to self/system (and because we have to…)

Remember ‘what’ and ‘why’ to guide you when other plans need to change.

Now we have a beautiful plan mapped out!

John Bunyan, The Road From the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (Wikimedia Commons)

What could possibly go wrong?  Unfortunately, the Slough of Despond is also on the map…


Testing times – and again, preparation is key.


Prepare – parley with your fellow pilgrims. Speak to people at this conference, at any networking opportunity, use the EDS Partners maillist. People are generally more generous at sharing rather than reporting.  Andrew Preater recently wrote about this in the context UX (user experience) work, suggesting reasons such as time, money, culture, competitive edge, external validity, fear of criticism or lack of confidence in the work.  I think all these are true in the discovery environment, and I learn much more from a face-to-face conversation than I could from searching for text-based information on the web.

Contingency – build in extra time, and then some more, and keep your real deadlines private (EBSCO are probably doing this too).

Murphy’s Law decrees that tasks won’t be finished early — especially when you need them to be. Some things will go wrong and take longer.  You just don’t know which ones…

Get involved – learn as much as you can, and watch everything that is going on in the migration project.

Let go – be clear about what you can’t control. Let EBSCO be responsible for their bit.

Have we now reached the Enchanted Ground?


It’s the end of one journey, and the beginning of the next chapter, as the migration of data is complete and the phase of testing begins.

  • Checking… everything: databases (screenshot of comparing old/new EDS), authentication… and all this takes time
  • Updating guides
  • Updating staff
  • Update linking, and monitor integration with reading list software (which is itself being upgraded in August)
  • New single search box
  • …At same time as launch of new library website

But there are some positives:

  • At least we will only have 1 authentication system!  From 1st August, we are only using Single Sign-On (no more Classic Athens)
  • Good opportunity to review branding
  • Useful to have site visit from EBSCO

Effect on other areas of library work e.g. serials management, acquisitions decisions – no specific effect of FTF yet, but interoperability of subject content with discovery interface from same/similar vendor is becoming very important.

Alain bringing the Grail

Have we now found the Holy Grail of better search and discovery?  For me, “better” means a closer match between expectations and reality.

I normally present about projects I’ve worked on in the past, and the distance between the event and the present helps me to remember and comment on it calmly.  This time, the move to FTF is still in progress, and I am surrounded by the intense pressure on me to have everything working perfectly. I need to remind myself that I will do everything as well and as fast as I can, but I can’t be responsible for the things beyond my control.

I also find it helpful to remember the broader context around this Holy Grail of library discovery.  Even if the FTF migration all goes to plan, it’s not going to solve all our problems. I sometimes feel that librarians put too much faith in some mystical, expensive technology to transform our students into graduates, our academics into researchers, and our investment in content into KPIs and targets met. So I will leave you with some thoughts on this alchemy…

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

Do we prefer a simple but wrong answer to one that is complex but right?

In the first boom of the book-printing industry in Venice in the 1500s, some thought that more books would bring more learning. But… most people were illiterate.

In the sphere of learning, academia, and information literacy, we believe that more teaching, greater volume of published works, and more complicated discovery technology will bring more learning, more satisfied users, better feedback. But… learning to read and think for yourself is difficult.

What is the limiting factor? Is it tools, or human skills?  If the core of a problem is “humans”, the solution won’t be found elsewhere.

When looking for solutions, we must be be sure to define an appropriate problem.

Black Books season 1, episode 1 “Cooking the Books” (Channel 4)

Thank you to EBSCO staff Seoud, Adam, and Abid, with whom I have been working closely on this project.

For the audience, please take a moment now to note 3 ideas you’ve had during the course of this talk, 3 people you’d like to meet, and 3 questions you’d like to ask – and let’s see if during the course of this conference, we can connect you with people who can help you on your pilgrimage.

Pilgrim’s Path, Holy Island of Lindisfarne (photo by me) – the end of St Cuthbert’s Way long-distance hiking route

Gatekeeping – usertypes and permissions

Adapted from a poster presentation given at an internal event at the University of Sunderland

How old do you have to be to…? [jurisdiction: England & Wales]

Apply to adopt a child / Become a blood donor / Buy fireworks / Choose your own doctor / Claim benefits, and obtain a National Insurance number / Get married (with parental consent) / Get married without parental permission / Go into a bar and order soft drinks / Have a tattoo / If you were adopted, you can see your original birth certificate / Join the armed forces (with consent of parent/s or carer) / Make a will / No longer entitled to free full time education at school / Open your own bank account / Order your own passport / Pawn things in a pawn shop / Play the National Lottery (though not place a bet in a casino or betting shop) / Supervise a learner driver (if held driving licence for same type of vehicle for 3 years) / Vote in local and general elections / Wearing a seatbelt is considered your own personal responsibility

How old do you have to be to…?

Here are the answers – did you get them all correct?

21 Apply to adopt a child / 17 Become a blood donor / 18 Buy fireworks / 16 Choose your own doctor / 16 Claim benefits, and obtain a National Insurance number / 16 Get married (with parental consent) / 18 Get married without parental permission / 14 Go into a bar and order soft drinks / 18 Have a tattoo / 18 If you were adopted, you can see your original birth certificate / 16 Join the armed forces (with consent of parent/s or carer) / 18 Make a will / 19 No longer entitled to free full time education at school / 18 Open your own bank account / 16 Order your own passport / 18 Pawn things in a pawn shop / 16 Play the National Lottery (though not place a bet in a casino or betting shop) / 21 Supervise a learner driver (if held driving licence for same type of vehicle for 3 years) / 18 Vote in local and general elections / 14 Wearing a seatbelt is considered your own personal responsibility

How old do you have to be to… – answers

Are these laws are consistent?  How is this related to the way in which they have developed?

Licences for electronic resources have evolved over time, and inconsistencies can appear because of historical precedent.  Consider the following table, showing a range of resources, and which types of people may access them:

Who do you need to be in order to access

This table is created by consulting the “authorised users” section of the licence for each resource.

Of those who are not current staff or students, it is walk-in users who receive the most generous entitlements.  This is because walk-in users have long been permitted to access print periodicals in academic libraries, and nowadays this is extended to include electronic journals (still within the library only).

The access entitlements of retired staff and “retired students” (i.e. alumni) are different, probably because it is assumed that retired staff will use this access to pursue academic research, whereas many alumni will be working in commercial settings.  If alumni were allowed access to their alma mater‘s academic subscriptions, this could damage the publishers’ income from commercial licences for their information products, so publishers do not permit alumni access for their products.  NB: some publishers allow alumni access for an additional fee, and usually for information resources for which there is no significant revenue from the commercial sector.

I’ve been working on a project to increase the granularity of our Single Sign-On authentication system, so that it can accommodate different types of users, and allow each group to access only the resources within its permission set.  I used this presentation to make the concept of usertypes and permitted resources more tangible, especially for people who don’t work in the e-resources (or indeed library) environment.

Europe Day / Schuman Day

9th May is Europe Day, also known as Schuman Day because it’s the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration.  When I was a pupil at the European School Brussels II, we had a half-day holiday on Schuman Day, and FootFest (sports and cultural programme) at around this time.

I’m not sure if these temporary reprieves from the academic timetable alone turned me into a committed European, but I think a good deal of Marcel Decombis’ European Schools mission statement became part of my identity:

Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.

Being European is important to me, and yet so little of why it matters to me is reflected in the current media “debate” ahead of the EU Referendum on 23rd June.

Find out more about…

Oblique Strategies

I recently learned about Oblique Strategies from Tim Harford’s TED talk on “How frustration can make us more creative”

Link to Tim Harford's TED talk "How frustration can make us more creative"

A transcript is available – helpful if (like me) you prefer reading to watching a video.

Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975.  On each card is written a challenging constraint, and they are used to help artists (particularly musicians) to break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.  There are a number of sites offering online versions of the card deck, such as this one and this one.

As I explored these sites, refreshing the pages to cycle through the different constraints, it struck me that many would be relevant in the library/university context, such as:

  • The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten
  • Go to an extreme, move back to a more comfortable place
  • Work at a different speed
  • Faced with a choice, do both
  • Listen to the quiet voice
  • Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
  • Who would make this really successful?
  • Ask people to work against their better judgement
  • Use an old idea
  • Shut the door and listen from outside

Learn more about Oblique Strategies in this article from The Guardian (2009) and Wikipedia’s Oblique Strategies page.

The Legal Academic’s Handbook – now available

The Legal Academic’s Handbook, edited by Chris Ashford, Jessica Guth, has recently been published by Palgrave Macmillan.  It includes my chapter on Open Access Publishing (read my pre-print version) and I am thrilled to appear on this list of talented and experienced contributors – as Chris Newman said, “This book is our Woodstock!

Here is the complete list of chapters and contributors:

1. From Legal Practice to Academia; Karen Jones; University of South Wales, UK
2. Lectures; Anthony Bradney; Keele University, UK
3. Marking; Becky Huxley-Binns; University of Law, UK
4. Gender Issues in Teaching and Learning – difficult situations with students; Rachel Fenton; University of the West of England, UK
5. Research and Scholarship; Richard Mullender; Newcastle University, UK
6. Designing Research; Matthew Weait; Birkbeck, University of London, UK
7. Reference Writing; Gary Watt; University of Warwick, UK
8. PhD by Publication; Tim Connor; formerly of University of Bradford, UK
9. Work-Life Balance; Richard Collier; Newcastle University, UK
10. Wellbeing; Richard Collier; Newcastle University, UK
11. Managing Maternity, Paternity and Parental leave; Helen Stalford; University of Liverpool, UK
12. From Module Leadership to Course Leadership; Donna Whitehead; University of South Wales, UK
13. QAA and Validation; Graeme Broadbent; Kingston University, UK
14. Navigating University Management Committees and the Meeting Structures; Annabelle James; Teesside University, UK
15. Undertaking Peer Review; Nigel Duncan; City University London, UK
16. Open Access Publishing; Laura J. Wilkinson; University of Sunderland, UK
17. Taking on a Management Role (at another Institution); Mark O’Brien; Oxford Brookes University, UK
18. Gender Issues in HE Management; Rosemary Auchmuty; University of Reading, UK
19. Performance Review; Chris Gale; GSM London, UK
20. Being a Private University; Chris Maguire; BPP University, UK
21. Academic Dress; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
22. The Standardised Client and Clinic; Rory O’Boyle; Law Society of Ireland
23. Developing Clinic; Victoria Murray; Northumbria University, UK
24. Further Developing Street Law; Sarah Morse and Paul McKeown; Northumbria University, UK
25. Writing for a Professional Audience; John Hodgson; Nottingham Trent University, UK
26. Simulation and Legal Education; Karen Barton; University of Hertfordshire, UK
27. Large Group Teaching; Karen Devine; University of Kent, UK
28. Designing Out Plagiarism; Alison Bone; University of Brighton, UK
29. Student Feedback; Vera Bermingham; Kingston University, UK
30. Problem-Based Learning; Ben Fitzpatrick; University of Derby, UK
31. Reflection in Teaching, Learning and Practice; Richard Grimes; University of York, UK
32. Organising a Specialist Conference; Ben Livings; University of New England, Australia
33. Embedding Employability Skills (or helping graduates get jobs); Ben Middleton; University of Sunderland, UK
34. Teaching Distance Learning Students; Robert Hiscocks; BPP University, UK
35. Supporting Student Law Societies and Extra-curricular activities and students; Ed Mowlam; University of Bradford, UK
36. External Engagement – Enterprise; Christopher J. Newman; University of Sunderland, UK
37. External Examiners; Chris Gale; GSM London, UK
38. Facilitating Small Group Discussions; Francis King; University of Essex, UK
39. Innovation and the Use of Film in Legal Education; Hugo de Rijke; Plymouth University, UK
40. Approaches to Law (Socio-Legal, Black Letter etc); Kevin J. Brown; Queen’s University Belfast, UK
41. Teaching and Assessment can be Inclusive too; Jackie Lane; University of Huddersfield, UK
42. Using Animations with Students; Carol Withey; University of Greenwich, UK
43. Developing Students’ Legal Writing Skills; Lisa Webley; University of Westminster, UK
44. Working with the Library; Emily Allbon; City University London, UK
45. Engaging with Schools and Prospective Students; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
46. Building a Research Profile; Rosemary Hunter; Queen Mary University of London, UK
47. Post Graduate Certificates in Higher Education; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
48. The EdD Experience; Elizabeth Mytton; Southampton Solent University, UK
49. Social Media, Blogging and Tweeting; Paul Bernal; University of East Anglia, UK
50. Gaining Recognition For Teaching; Michael Bromby; Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
51. Legal Education Research; Fiona Cownie; Keele University, UK
52. Despite my Job or because of my Job: Impact and Research; Jane Ching; Nottingham Trent University, UK
53. Looking for an academic job? Wanting to develop your academic career?; Jon Reast; University of Bradford, UK
54. Applying for a move to a Research Intensive HEI; Jonathan Doak; Durham University, UK
55. Applying for Lectureship with PhD/Research Experience; Liz Oliver; University of Leeds, UK
56. Teaching from other people’s materials; Michael Jefferson; University of Sheffield, UK
57. Devising New Modules; David McArdle; University of Stirling, UK
58. Challenges of International Students; Deveral Capps; Leeds Beckett University, UK
59. Applying for Research Funding; Sally Wheeler; Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
60. Presenting at Conferences; Fiona Cownie; Keele University, UK
61. Preparing Journal Articles for submission; Philip A. Thomas; Cardiff University, UK
62. Book Proposals; Dave Cowan; University of Bristol, UK
63. Managing Research and Research Teams; Fiona de Londras; University of Birmingham, UK
64. Battling the Exclusive Research Culture; Chloë J. Wallace; University of Leeds, UK
65. Promotions in Higher Education; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
66. Editing Special Issues; Chris Ashford; Northumbria University, UK
67. Editorial Boards/Being an Editor; Chris Ashford; Northumbria University, UK
68. PhD supervision; Sally Wheeler; Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
69. The Law Subject Associations; Becky Huxley-Binns; University of Law, UK
70. Dealing with the Media; Paul Bernal; University of East Anglia, UK
71. Readerships/Professorships – How to Get There; Philip N.S. Rumney; University of the West of England, UK

Jargon vs vocabulary

Librarians are often advised not use technical library words (e.g. catalogue) when talking to students1.  However, I think it is important to introduce new vocabulary (with definition or explanation) to someone who is learning to navigate the information environment, just as we would do when teaching them about their subject in a study context.  Giving the student some understanding of how they can interact most effectively with the computer interface or card index will empower them to become an expert user of the library’s search and retrieval tools.

Perhaps the difference between jargon and vocabulary is the ease with which one can discover the definition of a word.  To facilitate this, introduce new terms in context, with explanation.  If the word appears on a webpage rather than during a teaching session, link to a definition.  Here’s a comprehensive list of library jargon from Oxford Brookes uni library (and there are many others) – though I would argue that by defining the terms, they are no longer jargon but vocabulary.

I recently read Randall Munroe’s book Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words.  This book covers “all kinds of neat stuff” (mostly scientific topics) and the titles, labels, and descriptions on each diagram are all written using only the thousand most common English words.  Some reviewers who gave the book a poor rating seem to have confused “simple words” with “simple concepts”, and I would not consider this an entry-level book.  I found it much easier to understand the diagrams with whose topic I was already familiar.  The “simple words” concept also shows how important specialist language is – without it, “water” can mean virtually any liquid, and does not differentiate between H2O, blood, and cytoplasm.

Extract from "Thing Explainer" by Randall Munroe

Extract from “Thing Explainer” by Randall Munroe

Once a teacher, always a teacher… and I found myself pondering how such diagrams could be useful in a lesson to reinforce learning of specialist terms and the importance of being able to distinguish between them.

I wished that Randall could have included a key – a way to find out which terms/keywords I would need to know in order to find out more about a topic.  And that brings me back to students and academic libraries – if students know the names of and some of the basic differences between our search tools (e.g. catalogue, discovery, repository), they will be better able to choose the most appropriate one for the task they need to do.

1 Meredith Schwartz ‘Users Don’t Know What Libraries Are Talking About, Studies Find’ (Library Journal, 15 March 2012) <>