Reminiscing about “23 Things”

Ahhh, nostalgia – it’s not what it used to be…

23 Things Oxford (2010) was the first “23 Things” program in the UK, run by a team of 5 and initiated and led by me back in the days when “social media” was still called “Web 2.0”, and we spent a lot of time trying to find out what Web 2.0 meant (if anything).  It was followed by 23 Things Summer Camp, an article in SCONUL Focus, a poster at a conference in Finland, and the 23 Things Team won an OxTALENT Award.

A recent discussion prompted me to wonder how far Helene Blowers’ original 23 Things concept had spread in the UK after 23 Things Oxford.  Here’s a list of what I’ve found (and inaugural years) – please let me know if I’ve missed any:

  • 23 Things Cambridge (2010) – “23 Things is a self-directed course designed to introduce University of Cambridge UL, faculty and college library staff to Web 2.0 technologies.”
  • 23 Things Warwick (2010) – “23 Things is an online learning programme designed to introduce library staff at the University of Warwick to web 2.0 technologies.”
  • 23 Things for Professional Development (2011) – “23 Things is a self-directed course aimed at introducing you to a range of tools that could help your personal and professional development as a librarian, information professional or something else.”
  • 23 Things for the Digital Professional (2011) – “Welcome to 23 Things for the Digital Professional, the online learning programme for research staff and students at the University of Warwick. Over the next 10 weeks we will be posting 23 things on this blog introducing participants to a range of online tools for maximising your impact, research and teaching.”
  • DH23Things (2012) – Digital skills development programme for Researchers in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Cambridge University: “23Things for Digital Humanities (DH23) is an online, self-directed, peer mentored reflective programme to help researchers in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Cambridge University to explore digital technologies and the ways in which they impact on various aspects of their working lives, and thereby to develop their own strategic approach to engagement with digital technologies.”
  • 23 Things UK (2012?) – 23 Things is primarily an informal self-taught course designed for those working in Public Library Services.
  • Sot23 Things Southampton (2013) – “Sot23 Things is a self directed online learning programme designed to introduce library staff at the University of Southampton to web 2.0 technologies”
  • 23 Things York (2013) – “The current 23 Things programme is aimed at Information Directorate staff”
  • 23 Things for Research Surrey (2016) – “23 Things for Research Surrey exposes you to a range of digital tools that will help you in your development as a researcher, and a professional.” Happening now!  Give them a wave on Twitter with #23ThingsSurrey
  • [Updated Jan 2017] 23 Things for Digital Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh

What I like most about this list is that you can see how the idea spread across a network of people, including many people who knew each other primarily via Twitter.

Beyond UK – some other interesting “things”

  • 23 Things @ UL (University of Limerick) (2010) – “23 Things @ UL, an online learning discovery programme about Web 2.0 tools that encourages exploration and learning about new technologies. This programme is for faculty and staff at the University of Limerick”
  • 23 Mobile Things (2013) – “Exploring the potential of mobile tools for delivering library services” (based on Danish 23 Mobile Ting) “offers library workers the chance to build their awareness, knowledge and skills at their own pace is a fun professional development tool”
  • 23 Research Things at University of Melbourne Library (2014) – “23 Research Things is an online learning programme for university staff and graduate students, showcasing a range of digital tools that can support research activity.”
  • 23 (Research Data) Things for 2016 (2016) – “If you are a person who cares for, and about, research data and want to fill in some gaps, learn more, find out what others are thinking… then this may be for you!”
  • 23 Teaching Things (2016) – “For students at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work – Each week we will share a few ‘Things’ about digital tools. Your goal is to spend a little time trying them out then reflecting on how they may be useful for your teaching.”

And there’s Helene Blowers’ megalist of all 23 Things programs inspired by her original idea.  That’s quite a legacy.


23 Things Oxford – a poster at #IFLAinfolit

Last week I attended the IFLA satellite conference The Road to Information Literacy – Librarians as Facilitators in Tampere, Suomi/Finland, and presented a poster about 23 Things Oxford.

@laurajwilkinson and 23 Things Oxford poster

The Moomin images in the poster were used with the kind permission of the trademark holders, Bulls Press.

Here is the full text of the poster:

The 23 Things model – from social media exploration to other forms of information literacy training

1. The original 23 Things idea

In 2006, the original 23 Things programme, Learning 2.0, was designed by Helene Blowers in the USA.

Aim: to introduce library staff to emerging technologies through the completion of 23 things, or tasks.

Participants record their progress by blogging about their experience each week, during which there was a focus on a different set of tools and two or three Things to complete.

Content was delivered through the Learning 2.0 blog, allowing the programme timing to be self-directed by participants.

2. 23 Things Oxford

From my previous experience as a teacher, I could see that students learned most effectively when they were actively engaged in the learning process.

23 Things is user-centred, accessible to both full-time and part-time staff, and allows participants to choose a level of challenge by offering the basic and advanced routes through the activities.

In late 2009 I came up with the idea of modifying the Creative Commons licensed Learning 2.0 programme for Oxford’s librarians.

3. Planning

I assembled a team of web 2.0 enthusiasts to help me with the planning and delivery of the programme.  We only met twice; the rest of the work was done online via Google Docs, in the spirit of the programme.

We created a list of weekly themes and then the 23 Things activities themselves.  We extended the programme from 9 to 12 weeks and added newer tools, such as Twitter.

4. Modifying the programme

We were aware that some participants might be reluctant to sign up to some of the social networking sites and for these tasks we avoided compulsory sign-up.

We attempted to keep the number of different accounts to a minimum; where possible we used Google and Yahoo! services in order to achieve this.

We also decided to run a series of drop-in sessions to provide 1:1 support and additional hardware or computer functionality to which not all participants may have had access e.g. cameras, and sound enabled PCs so they could listen to podcasts.

5. Go live!

23 Things Oxford began on 18th January 2010 and finished 12 weeks later on 9th April.  A new year, a resolution to commit to learning, and a springtime flowering of possibilities and potential for the tools experienced to be used in libraries.

23 Things Oxford was delivered via the Ox23 blog. Each week, 3 or 4 posts were published including an introduction to the week’s theme, step-by-step instructions on how to complete the Things and ideas for exploring the topic further.

6. Themes for each week

  • Introduction and personalised homepages
  • Blogging
  • RSS feeds
  • Online photos and images
  • Social bookmarking
  • Podcasting / YouTube
  • Social networking
  • Twitter
  • Wikis
  • Office 2.0
  • Widgets
  • Summary of experiences

7. Participation

138 members of library staff registered to take part in the programme and set up blogs to record their progress.  82 participants successfully completed the programme.

8. Incentives

We decided that a small incentive was a good way to encourage participants to complete the programme. CrossRef kindly agreed to sponsor the programme in order to fund the prizes. Each participant who completed all 23 Things by 9th April was given the choice of either a £10 Amazon or iTunes voucher and their names were entered into a draw for an iPod Nano.

9. End-of-programme survey

At the end of the programme, all participants (whether they completed successfully or not) were invited to take part in a survey.  The response rate for this survey was 72%.  Many respondents reported increased confidence in tackling something new and improved skill level in using the tools explored during the programme.  They enjoyed the range of tasks and the online community that built up as participants began to read and comment on each others’ blogs.

10. Survey summary

The majority of respondents said they found the frequency, duration and level of the tasks just right. An overwhelming 93% said they would recommend the programme to their colleagues.

23% of respondents to the survey said that they did not complete the programme. The main reason given for this was lack of time. Other responses were that the tasks were too difficult and concerns over privacy and the number of accounts created.

11. Feedback from participants

In addition to the survey responses, we received feedback from the emails and blog posts from of the participants. An area that was often cited as a success was the community, both online and in our libraries, which the programme created.

In the next frame is a selection of comments from the participant’s final blog posts where they were asked to summarise their experiences with web 2.0 during the course of the programme.

12. Quotes from participants

“I’m delighted to have mastered so much & to have explored Web 2.0. I feel much more confident technically & am delighted that, at last, I know what this stuff actually *is*.”

“I felt it was an excellent and timely opportunity for me to expand my knowledge of Web2.0 tools and somehow determine the extent to which they could be effectively used in a University library setting.”

“23 things was definitely a worthwhile program, and I learnt lots, and it’s inspired me to the possibilities of Web 2.0.”

13. The organisers’ perspective

There is no doubt that being involved in the running of the 23 Things programme at Oxford was an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It was also a great challenge. No matter how well prepared we thought we were, we still encountered some issues as the weeks went by; none however were insurmountable.

14. Lessons learned

One thing we were not prepared for was the unease with which some participants greeted the public nature of web 2.0.

We had anticipated that signing up to Facebook would be controversial for some and therefore did not require it for completion of the task that week; however we met similar concerns with LinkedIn and modified the task to reflect this.

Some participants chose to remain anonymous, and created accounts and blogs under a pseudonym.

15. A different type of training

One of the most interesting aspects of the programme was its success as a training programme which staff completed at their desks. A number of participants commented on this on their blogs and expressed a desire to have more training delivered in this way. This was of particular interest as most of the training for library staff at Oxford has previously taken place in face-to-face workshops. Releasing staff to attend such workshops can be problematic, especially in libraries with a lot of part time staff.

16. What next?

Since 23 Things Oxford, similar programmes have been run at the universities of Cambridge and Warwick.  At Oxford, with so many library staff now more familiar with social media, the next step was to use these skills to create or improve the social media presence of Oxford libraries.

As a follow-up, the 23 Things Team ran an event called 23 Things Summer Camp to help library staff with the Strategy, Setup and Synchronisation of their social media tools.

17. Further applications of the 23 Things model

There is great potential for the 23 Things model to be broadened to deliver not just social media exploration, but other aspects of staff development and training.  The structure of the scheme allows individuals to participate at their own pace without being tied to a venue or time of day.  The programme can also be differentiated to allow people with varying levels of prior knowledge to take part at a level that suits them.

18. Main benefits of an online learning programme

Timing is flexible – participants can follow the programme at any point in the week, and are not obliged to attend a session at a particular time

Timing is inclusive – everyone can participate on an equal basis, whether they work full- or part-time

Not tied to a specific location – staff can take part from their usual workplace, without having to travel to a particular training location

19. Examples of other applications of the 23 Things model

Many staff development courses could be adapted for delivery within this model such as:

  • Introduction to the organisation and its history and staffing structure
  • Information about personnel services, pensions, benefits, policies
  • Basic health and safety e.g. fire awareness, manual handling
  • Management development
  • Information literacy
  • Using the OPAC or other web interfaces to library resources

20. Key ingredients of a successful online learning programme (1)

Have clear instructions for each week’s tasks, and keep them concise.

Have specific outcomes for each task, so that participants know what they have to blog about in order to have completed each Thing.  Reflective weeks and open-ended topics are OK but use them sparingly.

21. Key ingredients of a successful online learning programme (2)

Differentiation – participants can choose the task most suited to their experience and ability.  For example, set tasks at novice, intermediate and advanced level for the same topic, so that all participants increase their knowledge, but the outcomes are slightly different.  This helps to engage all staff, rather than aiming a training session at an ability/experience level.

Encourage people to comment on each other’s blogs, to develop conversations and build a sense of community.  Having the organisers take the lead on this helped other people to get involved too.

22. Key ingredients of a successful online learning programme (3)

Support the online learning with face-to-face sessions, so people who are stuck can get help.  This is especially important for those who are less confident with technology in general, as they are least able to ask for help via email and may become frustrated and give up earlier than more experienced users.

Focus on student-centred learning: what have the participants gained from their involvement, and can they demonstrate their new knowledge and skills?  This is the antidote to traditional training in which the presenter tells the audience what they should know, but does not engage with their audience or test their learning.

23. Credits

Thank you to the other members of the 23 Things Oxford Team: Emma Cragg, Jane Rawson, Angela Carritt and Penny Schenk; to CrossRef who sponsored the prizes and to all those who participated in 23 Things Oxford and 23 Things Summer Camp.

Contact details

Laura J. Wilkinson

St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford


23 Things Oxford team win OxTALENT award!

Oxford University Computing Services’ OxTALENT [Teaching and Learning Enhanced by New Technology] annual awards recognise members of the University who have made use of ICT to foster learning and academic practice.

The Open Educational Resource Projects category recognises projects engaging groups of staff in ongoing activities which produce work explicitly licensed as ‘open for sharing’ using creative commons licensing.  In 2010 I led a team of librarians from a range of libraries at the University to run 23 Things Oxford, a self-directed learning programme to introduce library staff to Web 2.0 technologies – and the 23 Things Team were the joint winners in this category!

OxTALENT certificate

As part of the 23 Things course, library staff engage with a series of social media tools, share ideas, reflect on practice and write blog posts to contribute to a community resource for others.  The original 23 Things concept was developed by a librarian in the USA and has been adopted by libraries across the world, with each group adding their own local spin on the tasks.

138 members of library staff at Oxford registered to take part in the programme and set up blogs to record their progress. Of these, 82 participants successfully completed the programme.  Since the programme at Oxford, 23 Things has been run by other universities in the UK including Cambridge and Warwick, and at the moment 23 Things for Continuing Professional Development is underway.

Other members of the 23 Things team are Penny Schenk, Jane Rawson, Emma Cragg & Angela Carritt.  You can read more about 23 Things Oxford in this paper.

In August, I will be presenting a paper about the wider application of the 23 Things model in staff development at the International Federation of Library Associations’ conference on information literacy in Tampere, Finland.

Thank you OUCS for this award, and to the mystery person who nominated us!

OxTALENT winners

All the OxTALENT 2012 winners
Photo credit: Ian Miller

How I became a librarian and found job satisfaction

As part of today’s Bodleian Libraries’ Personal Development and Career Planning Day, Kerry Webb [Deputy Librarian at the English Faculty Library] and I co-presented a session entitled “How I became a librarian and found job satisfaction”.  This is a summary of my section of the presentation.

I began with a brief outline of my career path so far:

September 1996 – June 1999 B. Sc. (Hons) Physiological Sciences, Newcastle University; September 1999 – June 2000 PGCE Secondary Science (Biology), Northumbria University; September 2000 – August 2005 Teaching; September 2005 – August 2006 MA Information & Library Management, Northumbria University; September 2005 – August 2006 Information Officer, Northumbria University Library; August 2006 – November 2007 Assistant Librarian, St Clare’s (Oxford); November 2007 – May 2009 Electronic Resources Senior Assistant, OULS*; May 2009 – March 2010 Deputy Manager of Staff Development, OULS; March 2010 - present Librarian, St Hugh’s College (Oxford)

*OULS = Oxford University Library Services, now Bodleian Libraries

Job satisfaction in my current role

  • Getting things well-organised
  • Being creative in use of space, ideas for new collections
  • Using technology to make things better: RFID, combined copier/scanner/printer with card swipe
  • Project management: combining short, medium and long-term projects so that essentials get done and non-urgent tasks are still progressing, and crises are avoided
  • Learning to be a good manager
  • Classification geek

Making the most of your current role

  • Do your job well!  Add value to the tasks you already do
  • Especially if you are aiming for a grade increase at your next job, expect to work above your current job description
  • Volunteer to take part in committees and special projects (for example, I organised 23 Things Oxford and the All Libraries Pub Quiz outside of work)

Think about future jobs

  • What are you interested in?  What are you good at?  NB: these may not be the same!
  • Keep an eye out for job adverts and see how your skills match up.  Identify any areas you need to improve on
  • Approach skills gaps in a variety of ways – use experience from your personal life (sports captain, choir treasurer, managing a family, secretary for a CILIP group.  Use the appraisal system to ask for training (some may benefit you in your existing job, such as IT skills)
  • Be open-minded about jobs you would consider.  Not all jobs are sexy, but you can learn a lot from any job you do

Some all-round good ideas

  • Be prepared to move around to develop your career.  There’s a big world outside beyond Oxford
  • Consider Chartership – not much recognised at Oxford, may well be an advantage elsewhere
  • Take responsibility for your own professional development: reading, meeting people, reflecting on your current role.  Tools I use include RSS feeds and Twitter.  Meeting people outside your department/sector is invaluable

And a final thought (attributed to Thomas Edison)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”

Social media strategy

Following on from the success of 23 Things Oxford, a small group of us decided to run an short follow-up programme called 23 Things Summer Camp.  Summer Camp consisted of three sessions:

  1. Strategy
  2. Setup
  3. Synchronisation

Ox23 badge - Setup

All sessions are running twice this summer, in July and August.  The aim of Summer Camp is to act as a catalyst for library staff to build on what they learned in 23 Things by developing a social media presence for their libraries in time for the start of next term in October.

I co-ran the Strategy sessions with my colleague Alison Prince, and this post will be a summary of what we covered.

Ox23 badge - Synchronisation

The other two Summer Camp themes were Setup and Synchronisation.

The setup session was there to help people get started with their social media tools, and the Synchronisation slot showed people how to syndicate content and have, for example, a Twitter account feeding a Facebook page account, or display Flickr pictures on a blog sidebar.

Social media strategy

Whichever tools you use, start off with the following questions: who is your audience?  What will your content be? How will the tool be maintained? When will it be updated? Where will you focus your presence [which tools/sites will you use]? And why will you be doing it at all?

Ox23 badge - StrategyWhen considering how to approach a social media presence for your library, it is important to start by considering your strategy.  Many organisations are starting to use social media as a way of engaging and communicating with their users.  The key benefit of social media is communication: it gives an informal way of interacting with your users and allows both parties to contribute.  Some people worry that this will open the doors to a flood of complaints or otherwise unwelcome comments, but in fact it gives you a wonderful chance to reply to their concerns: they may be misconceptions which you can correct, or they might give you ideas for developing and improving your service.  You could also consider how using social media can help you support the strategic aims of your organisation.

Having considered why you are looking to begin this social media journey, let’s move on to considering the Who, What and Where: audience, content and tools.

Who – audience

Depending on your library, your audience may be large or small, homogenous or varied.  Your audience may consist of undergraduates, postgraduates, academic staff, alumni, library staff, external visitors, the media, tourists and a range of random other people.  These segments of your audience may be seeking different information from you.

What – content

In terms of content, here are some ideas for what you would like to publish:

  • Library location, opening times, lending rules, library guides
  • New titles acquired by the library
  • Events in the library
  • Changes to opening hours
  • Reminders e.g. return books before end of term
  • Changes to staffing or procedures
  • Advertising other events in your organization e.g. lectures, training, other news stories
  • Building/maintenance work, or other disruption to normal services
  • User education – include snippets of advice on info issues
  • Emergencies e.g. many libraries could not open as usual earlier this year because of snow- or ash cloud-related disruption.  These updates made it onto Twitter and Facebook much faster than onto official library webpages

You could run a series of posts e.g. tip of the week, staff book recommendations.  It helps to plan your content ahead of time so that even if it’s a slow week on the news front, you still have something to post about.

Where – tools

There are many social media tools available.  Some of the most well-known are Facebook, Twitter, blogging (e.g. Blogger, WordPress), Flickr, LibraryThing, social bookmarking (e.g. Delicious).

Next, you need to decide which social media sites work well for the content and audiences you have identified for your library.  For example, interactions on Facebook tend to be mutual, and are more intimate than those on Twitter.  For a college library like mine, where there is a strong sense of community, Facebook is likely to work well.  However, because Twitter is a more open community, it works well for reaching external users.  Regarding content, if you want to involve pictures in your strategy, Flickr will be much more useful to you than LibraryThing. But if you have a lot of links to share, a social bookmarking tool such as Delicious might be perfect for you.

Marketing and segmentation

Consider the outcome of these points above: hopefully you should now be able to identify which tools you will focus on, what content you will publish on them and which audiences you will be trying to attract.  You can also build this in to your library’s marketing materials by including ‘Find us on Facebook’, ‘Follow us on Twitter’ or similar signposting.  You could deliberately segment your approach by marketing one of your social media tools to your postgraduate audience and another to your undergraduates.  If some of them join in with both, it probably won’t matter, but you can use a different approach on the two tools which are geared to the needs of each group.

The management of your social media strategy

In order to give your plan the best chance of success, here are some points to consider before leaping in and building your online identity:

Admins and logons – keep these generic.  Use a library email address that is not specific to a person to set up your tools e.g.  Otherwise, once the person who set up the account moves on to another job, you may not be able to remove them as an admin.  Keep a record of usernames and passwords in your staff manual.

House style and editorial considerations – decide early on what standards you want to establish for tone/familiarity, spelling, brand identity (e.g. use of your organisation’s logo and approved font), proofreading, if any topics are off-limits.

Approval process – do posts need to be approved by a second person who will double-check the house style?  Approval from a senior person may be necessary for information which could be controversial or sensitive.

Day-to-day issues – how often will the content be updated?  By whom?  If someone comments on your page, it is important to reply promptly, so someone needs to monitor your sites daily to pick up and respond to feedback.  If any of the feedback is negative, a response may need to go through an approval process as outlined above.

Success measurement – how will you know if your efforts have been a success?  Decide on a trial period: perhaps a term, semester or other period of a few months.  Choose some targets.  Gaining 50 fans (people who have ‘Liked’ your page) on Facebook may be a modest target for some, and ambitious for others, so bear in mind the size of your potential audience and adjust your expectations accordingly.  Other things you could measure include: number of RSS subscribers (e.g. using Feedburner), number of followers, @ replies or mentions (Twitter), number of hits or page views (blogs, LibraryThing).  In addition or as an alternative, you could carry out a quick survey asking your users if they have used any of your social media tools, and whether they found them valuable.  After your trial period, review your targets and decide what to continue with from there.  You could try setting up a presence on many tools to begin with, then narrowing that down after your trial period when you can see which ones have been the most popular.

By now, you will have all you need to get set up and synchronised!

Closing thoughts…

I have found that many people expect building their social media presence to be time-consuming.  Of the list of content above, I hope you will agree that much of this content already exists (probably on the library’s official web page) and the rest is a good example of the type of information we should be communicating to our users.  So I would argue that building this presence will mostly involved doing what we are/should be already doing, and just putting this content in more places so that people can find it easily and interact with it.

Be bold: give social media a go, and whatever the outcome, it is good to have tried.  If you decide not to continue using a tool after the trial period, you don’t need to close it down, just add a last post saying that the site is no longer being updated.  See also: Risk, failure and success.

Good luck with your social media adventures!

Picture credits: Jane Rawson