And then [s]he practised being thanked by the grateful miller…

And then he practised being thanked by the grateful miller. Illustration by Quentin Blake, from "Mouse Trouble" by John Yeoman

And then he practised being thanked by the grateful miller. From “Mouse Trouble” by John Yeoman, illustrated by Quentin Blake

If this sounds familiar, here’s some helpful advice from Oliver Burkeman.  “Strategic incompetence is the art of avoiding undesirable tasks by pretending to be unable to do them” he writes, and while not advocating that we all do likewise,  he suggests that “[t]raining our bosses, partners or children not to expect a “yes” in response to every single request might be crucial for preserving sanity.”  Read his full article here.

This story reminded me of a hopeful tendency among librarians to expect that our users, colleagues, and bosses will all notice and reward us when we perform at a consistently high level, rather than shout about our successes.  And it’s a great excuse to post that lovely picture of the miller’s cat.  Every home* should have a copy of Mouse Trouble.

*or library. Fit in into your collections policy any way you can…

We need to talk: using structured time to facilitate unstructured chat

Have you ever wished you had more opportunities to chat informally with your colleagues, to get to know them and learn from each other in a relaxed atmosphere, with no agenda, minutes, or actions?

Here’s a solution: use structured time to facilitate unstructured chat.

In many workplaces, employees are scattered between offices, buildings, and campuses. Mechanisms exist to bring us together for formal meetings, but we rely on fleeting moments to build relationships, chat about problems, and share helpful tips.

People are often full of goodwill about chatting over coffee or welcoming unscheduled drop-ins, but these Want-Tos are often squeezed out by our Have-Tos, and they fall down in our list of priorities.

Enter: a series of monthly get-togethers to help us make time to chat, and seed crystals of collaboration and support.  At Sunderland University Library, we did this for the first time in 2013-14, and named the series Professional Practice Forum (PPF).

Crucially, these sessions are put into diaries just like formal meetings, and each one has a theme in order to provide focus, and help attendees to justify their time there.

To help attendance across a range of working patterns, PPF sessions are scattered across different times of day, and different days of the week. For each month, a facilitator is appointed, and they are responsible for choosing the theme, how it will be approached, and organising the venue.

Our themes this year have included blogging, information skills teaching, hobnobbing with students (“the biscuit one”), dissertation support, technology and distance learners, TeachMeet, and student support for maths and study skills.

The theme provides a core topic for discussion and exchange of ideas, and our conversation will often veer off in other directions.

Here is some feedback from this year’s participants:

  • Useful networking opportunity especially working with [colleagues] I wouldn’t normally see/talk to. 1 hour a month when I take the time to think specifically about my professional development. Wouldn’t do this otherwise.  Intro to TeachMeet idea made attending one less scary.
  • I found the practice sharing aspect to the forum particularly useful and it gave everyone an opportunity to contribute and share their practice with colleagues.  Thanks everyone!
  • The sessions I attended were not only interesting but a good opportunity to discuss practices with colleagues – we don’t really get to do in other areas e.g. team meetings.
  • Useful opportunity both to share ideas and practices but also picked up some new information which I didn’t previously know about.
  • A really valuable forum for liaison discussion and sharing ideas/best practice. I really enjoyed the sessions and have used material either developed/created from ideas discussed here or shared from others in my liaison and skills sessions. Looking forward to seeing what’s on the agenda for next year!

So, if you and you colleagues sometimes feel that you could benefit from some less formal interactions alongside your official meetings, try this format of structuring the opportunity to meet, then letting the conversation flow.

Library careers: routes in and what does this type of work actually involve?

This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.

I participated in the Library Routes project in 2009:

Library Routes – How I became a librarian

I have taken part in the Library “Day in the Life” project twice.  Many people blog, tweet or otherwise record their day in terms of how long they spent answering emails etc, but I wanted to take a difference approach in which I blogged about a specific aspect of my job each day.

Round 5, July 2010

Welcome to Laura’s Dark Archive! – in which I launched this blog, described my current role and explained my route into working in libraries

In print or on screen? Investigating the reading habits of undergraduates using photo-interviews – the summary of a presentation I had attended

Library Day in the Life round 5, day 1 – on the theme of  “what else do librarians do all day?”

Visit from another college librarian – explaining the context of the library I work in and the importance of professional networking with colleagues from other libraries

Collection management – outlining the balance between acquisitions coming into the library and the need to weed the collections

Project Management – describing the various projects I had on the go in the library that summer and how their timescales fitted together

“Chips and Mash” Mashed Libraries event, Huddersfield, 30th July 2010 – summarising an event I had attended

Round 6 – January 2011

Gather ye data while ye may – to highlight the importance of data gathering and monitoring

Library Committee – explaining the formal meetings I have each term in which library policies and procedures are ratified or changed

One-to-one meetings – to highlight the importance of my role as a manager within my job

Knowledge capture – explaining the importance of shared information in any team

Philip Pullman adds his voice to the campaign to defend public libraries – libraries in the news

Top tips for getting things done – some advice for how to work efficiently


I don’t think my path into librarianship was unusual: there is quite a lot of cross-pollination between careers in libraries and education – but I find that I am unusual in having a background in science.

If you’re considering a career in libraries, try to offer as wide a range of skills as you can.  Customer service is important, as are numeracy and skills in strategy, analysis and planning.  Being a manager of other people is a part of most jobs above a certain grade level, and it’s a great opportunity for your own development too.  I would like to see more people coming into the profession with a positive attitude to one day being a manager.

Tips for reflective writing

Yesterday, I attended a “Your Guide to Certification and Chartership” course run by the CILIP Career Development Group (CDG calendar of events).

I was particularly interested in developing my reflective writing skills. The personal statement must be evaluative rather than descriptive, and I know that is going to be a challenge for me!

Here is a reminder of the criteria for chartership

  1. An ability to reflect critically on personal performance and to evaluate service performance
  2. Active commitment to continuing professional development
  3. An ability to analyse personal and professional development and progression with reference to experiential and developmental activities
  4. Breadth of professional knowledge and understanding of the wider professional context

Keep these in mind when constructing your personal statement, and make it easy for the assessors to see how you have achieved each criterion.

How do I know if I am evaluating?

  • If you are NOT describing
  • If you have measured your effectiveness
  • If you can demonstrate how you have put into practice what you have learned
  • If you are asking questions, and answering them

Evaluating as questioning – things to think about

  • Why do I need to achieve that?
  • Why did I do that?
  • What did I learn from it?
  • Did anything change as a result?
  • What would I do differently next time?

The reflective practitioner’s cycle

Reflective cycle: pause - reflect - learn - apply

When considering which pieces of evidence to include in your portfolio, ask yourself “I’ve chosen to include this – so what?” Ensure that all of your examples are explained in terms of what you learned or did differently as a result.

Here are links to some resources which were mentioned during the course

ILS Skills Portfolio (developed from the RAPID – Recording Academic, Professional and Individual Development – system)

e-learning and technology individual self-assessment – manage your own online learning e-portfolio for free (powered by Mahara)

See also: On the road to Chartership

On the road to Chartership

Yesterday I attended a Chartership Group session run by Bodleian Libraries’ Staff Development.
The guest speaker was Michael Martin of CILIP  (contact details).  Here is a collection of points that I found useful and hope you will too if you are working towards Chartership.  I’ve included links to the fuller information on the CILIP website.

Starting out with Chartership (fuller details)

  1. Be a member of CILIP
  2. Register as a candidate
  3. Choose a mentor
  4. Design your Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP). It’s not binding – you can change it as you go along

Finding a mentor

  • It’s good to have a mentor from outside your organisation as they will help ensure your portfolio is free from jargon and understandable to an external person
  • Make a formal agreement with your mentor to agree how often you will meet, over what period and for how long each time

Why do we need portfolios?

  • For gathering and presenting evidence
  • To aid evaluation and reflection
  • For appraisal, career change
  • To demonstrate professional judgement
  • Essential to Framework of Qualifications

What should a Chartership portfolio contain? (more in the Chartership Handbook )

  • Table of contents
  • CV – you can afford to make it longer than the standard 2 sides for a job application – can be up to 4 sides. Annotate your training and experience
  • PPDP
  • Personal evaluative statement – maximum 1000 words. Must be evaluative, NOT descriptive!
  • Aims and objectives of your organisation (if your organisation doesn’t have these, you can create them)
  • Structure chart to show the relationships in your team
  • Evidence of participation in mentor scheme

I asked if the “aims and objectives of your organisation” meant those of your individual library, college or the whole university? It was suggested that you start with your immediate context and then expand on how these feed into the aims and objectives of the broader institution.

How should the portfolio be organised?

  • Clearly marked sections
  • Securely bound – comb binding recommended
  • 12 point type (no font was specified, and I didn’t dare ask in case it was Comic Sans)
  • In triplicate, clearly identified (the master copy is kept at CILIP, and other two are sent out to two assessors)
  • Accompanied by application form and submission fee
  • If you are interested in taking part in a pilot e-submission scheme, contact Michael

What can go into a portfolio?

  • Certificates
  • Annual reviews, appraisals or evaluations
  • Contributions to professional press
  • Project briefs, reports, surveys
  • Evidence of active membership of professional networks
  • Evaluation forms from training you have delivered
  • Bibliography (and what you have learned from reading each item)
  • Lists of visits (and what you learned from each visit)

What else can go in?

  • Evidence of work-based learning e.g. responses to enquiries from users or colleagues; publicity you have created; letters or memos; guidance notes to staff or students; testimonies / observations
  • Relevant out of work experiences e.g. case studies
  • Web pages
  • Audio-visual material e.g. photos, multimedia

A skills audit can be a helpful starting point for identifying areas to develop.  Here are some examples:

  • Higher Education Academy
  • OU Safari (Skills in Accessing, Finding And Reviewing Information)
  • Make your own CPD audit sheet – date, activity, what you learned, how you applied it. Good to include as it demonstrates evaluation

The criteria for Chartership

  1. The ability to reflect critically on personal performance and to evaluate service performance
  2. Active commitment to continuing professional development – what do you do after you have learned something? What changes in your professional practice?
  3. The ability to analyse personal and professional development and progression with reference to experiential and developmental activities
  4. Breadth of professional knowledge and understanding of the wider professional context – candidates often fall down on this one. Easily addressed by reading or arranging visits outside your sector

Be sure to address each of these criteria. It might be helpful to consider this matrix in which you assess a number of activities against the criteria to be sure that you have demonstrated all of them at some point:

Chartership framework matrix
I found this diagram on the CILIP site – it’s a Word document and difficult to link to but you can search for it using some of the text in the document. It’s also available in Margaret Watson’s book, Building Your Portfolio: The CILIP Guide (ISBN 978-1-85604-714-2).

Some general tips

  • If you have written a blog post and generated some discussion by people commenting on it, you can include this in your portfolio and count it towards your “active commitment to continuing professional development (CPD)”
  • Take care to anonymise or omit personal details of other people that appear on documents you use in your portfolio, such as email addresses
  • If you want to include material that is in copyright, get permission and state this clearly on the document in your portfolio
  • Attention to detail is important – this is an assessment of an information professional by other info profs!
  • Attribute any collaborative work and indicate your own intellectual contribution
Now, I can’t claim I don’t know where to start.  I’d better just get on and write it…

Job titles – what’s in a name?

In the course of ordinary conversation, I am often asked about the job I do.  I used to reply that I am the Librarian at St Hugh’s College, and this answer was well understood among colleagues at the University of Oxford or in academic circles at Cambridge.

However, to those who aren’t familiar with these universities, or academic libraries in general; this answer doesn’t tell them much about what I do.

To many people, a “librarian” is someone who staffs the enquiry desk at a library.  They don’t recognise any difference between “librarian” and “Librarian-with-a-capital-L”.  The difference between “Librarian” and “Library Assistant” is lost on many people.

I have started describing my job in terms such as “I run the library at St Hugh’s” or “I manage an academic library” to help the listener more accurately imagine what my job involves and understand why an MA/MSc is required in order to do the job.

I am beginning to wonder if making a change to my official job title (e.g. Librarian-in-charge) might help other people to understand my role better.  And since “librarian” is such a generic word to the general public, perhaps using a different (new?) word for people who manage libraries might be a more effective way of having our professionalism recognised than trying to re-educate people about what the word “librarian” means.

Are you a Librarian, Learning Resource Centre Manager, Information Assistant, Assistant Librarian, Senior Library Assistant, Academic Liaison Librarian, Graduate Library Trainee or similar?  How closely does your job title describe the role that you actually perform?

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”

Philip Pullman adds his voice to the campaign to defend public libraries

I found this story in The Guardian.  You can read his full speech here.

Here’s my favourite bit:

Does he [Mr Keith Mitchell, leader of Oxfordshire county council] think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves?

I hope that the Library Day in the Life project is helping to educate more people about what it is like to work as a librarian and what the job involves. It’s still nice to have the thank-you and a cup of tea too…

Library “Day in the Life” round 6 starts on Monday…

Round 6 of the Library Day in the Life project will begin on Monday 24th January and runs for one week.

This project encourages people working in libraries to blog about their work in order to educate and inform other people about what it is like be a librarian.

Here is how you can participate:

  1. Go to the Library Day in the Life wiki, create a free account and add your name and details to the list of participants.
  2. From Monday 24th January, start recording your week.  You can use a variety of media: blog (use the tag ‘librarydayinthelife’), Twitter (hashtag ‘#libday6’), Flickr (add your photos or videos to the Flickr group), Facebook (join the Facebook group)

That’s it!

If you do not work in a library, you can follow along by reading and commenting on the blogs, tweets, photos, videos and group activities mentioned above.

“Chips and Mash” Mashed Libraries event, Huddersfield, 30th July 2010

What is a mashup?

A mashup is a derivative work consisting of blending two or more media sources. For example, a live train map for the London Underground, a remix of songs, or a calendar add-on showing the due dates on your library books.

The first Mashed Libraries event took place at Birkbeck College in November 2008. Since then, there have been events at Huddersfield (Mash Oop North!), Birmingham (Middlemash) and Liverpool (Liver and Mash). Since the theme of this event was RFID, the name Chips and Mash emerged. The next mashed libraries meet will be in Bath on 29th October, and the name Mash Spa has already been suggested.

Librarians deal with a huge amount of data, and the Mashed Library events provide a context for bringing together librarians and technical people to find new ways of ‘mashing’ library data into new and wonderful forms.

The word ‘shambrarian’ was often heard at Chips and Mash! A shambrarian is someone who works in a library or information management context (often in a tech/IT role), who knows a lot of librarians and may share some of their characteristics but is not a librarian themselves.  Librarians often have ideas for mashups they would like to create, and they need the shambrarians’ tech skills to make them happen.

The main thing I learned about today was QR [quick response] codes

Here is an example of a QR codeQR code linking to my Twitter profile

Many people now have smartphones, and you can download a free QR reader app for your device.  When you scan the QR code with your phone, it will link you to directly to some text, a URL or a phone number.  This QR code will direct you to my Twitter profile.

Some libraries are now displaying QR codes at strategic points to help with user education.  for example, a QR code by the photocopier might link the user to a tutorial about how to do double-sided copies, or QR codes on print journals might link directly to the electronic version of the same title.

I like the way that exploring the library using information linked from QR codes could make the process seem like a treasure hunt or an adventure, rather than a chore.

Generating a QR code is free.  Search for ‘QR code generator’ and you will find a variety of sites for creating your code.  You can then save the image as a file, or copy and paste the HTML to embed the image on a web page.


Intellident sponsored Chips and Mash and they brought along some RFID products to demo. I was excited to see the same type of self-service kiosk that will be arriving in my library in two weeks’ time! John Cunningham did a presentation about the range of applications they have for RFID, including monitoring the supply chain stages of fresh fruit and vegetables for supermarkets and movement of clothing stock for Marks and Spencer (look out for ‘intelligent labels for stock control’).


Linda Davies described to us the Intellident smartBlade installation at her workplace, Cardiff University. It involves placing thin panels at intervals all along the bookshelves. Using the related software, you can search for a book, and the system will send a pulse out to all the panels, reading all the books’ RFID tags until it finds the book you have searched for.  A small blue light then flashes on the panel closest to the book.  There were many impressed faces in the audience but I think very fee of us will ever see this in our libraries. As for me, I’m content with having RFID at all, and the installation of the system in my library this summer is very exciting.


Lisa Balman's inspired badge combines a badger and a QR code

We were asked to bring our own name badges for this event, and undercurrents of creativity and competitiveness blossomed into a competition for who had the best badge.  This was further complicated by the ‘badger’ theme – a Mashed Libraries tradition harking back to some meeting notes in which ‘badge’ had been misspelled – and now it seems that badgers are the official mascot of the mashup events.

My Chips and Mash badge, made out of an RFID tag

My Chips and Mash badge, made out of an RFID tag

I took pictures of as many badges as I could and you can see my photos in this Flickr set.  I won a prize for my badge, made out of an RFID tag!