Two paths in a wood: caring too much or caring too little?

I started using Twitter in 2009.  In the years since then, I have built relationships with lots of people on that platform, many of them librarians. Back in the day, many of us were “new professionals” (within the first 5 years or so of our careers after library school).

Perhaps it’s partly a cohort effect, that many of us are reaching early middle age (sorry), or at least the achieving some of the main milestones of adulthood at around the same time, but there’s a growing feeling that spending too much time checking in on the state of the world is all getting a bit much.

Just this evening, a friend has written of how Twitter has been her main adult company during her maternity leave this year, but the variety & depth of the world’s problems echoing in her head has caused her great anxiety and suffering. She says “I’m not going to forget, or give up.”  But cutting down on the frequency of checking in, and more time spent doing other things, will hopefully help to restore some perspective (alongside action where chosen). Note: this post has been published with her consent.

As we reach this time of our lives, in these times, it seems that our convictions, vocations, and politics are being sharply challenged. Maybe part of it is realising that we (probably) can’t save the world through libraries and education, and then deciding which battles to keep fighting.

Think global, act local.

I think the important thing is choosing to do something positive, no matter how small, rather than deciding it’s all too difficult and giving up altogether.

It is difficult to do good without unintended negative consequences. I took part in a discussion last weekend about the annual Christmas shoebox appeal, which I feel uncomfortable about because its religious evangelical dimension is often not made known. But as my friend pointed out, it’s an act of giving that many people can do, and do so generously. The recent safety pin débâcle, which started out as a call to wear a safety pin to show solidarity with persons experiencing a range of exclusions was swiftly appropriated by some who wished harm to these people, or denounced by others as being a shallow, meaningless gesture.

It’s hard to know where to begin. But please don’t stop thinking about it, and do what you can.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

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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) <http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/03/academic-libraries/users-dont-know-what-libraries-are-talking-about-studies-find/>

#ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

1 Designing society through thinking

University of Helsinki welcomes administrative staff from Erasmus partner universities to network, benchmark and share their expertise with colleagues around Europe. International Staff Exchange Weeks [ISEW] provide a unique opportunity to update your professional skills and revise your routines.

2 ISEW welcome

Photo credit Veera Ristikartano

I applied to the ISEW Library programme and was among 15 people chosen to visit the University of Helsinki from 2-6 June 2014.  I had been looking forward to it for months, and it truly was an amazing week.

3 The ISEW crew

#ISEWLib2014 participants (and 3 of our Finnish hosts); photo credit Veera Ristikartano

The 2014 participants were: Lorena (Spain), Renata (Poland), Ursula (Eire), Katarina (Sweden), Maria (Greece), Mantas (Lithuania), Monica (Norway),  Sandrine (France), Katrin (Germany), Massimo (Italy), Jordi (Spain), Tine (Belgium), Sigridur (Iceland), me (England), Fiona (Scotland).

Here is a roundup of my highlights from this week:

And some fun things:

I looooved that my name has been spelled “Wilkinsson” on the #ISEWLib2014 programme – feeling more Nordic by the minute.

Kalevala for children; in Savon; in Swedish; in Finnish

Kalevala for children; in Savon; in Swedish; in Finnish

After the sauna on Wednesday evening…

Did you hear that, England? I just got nekkid with colleagues for the cause of international co-operation. You're welcome. At the library staff party, where we were all give leis to wear, and there were games and exuberant dancing

54 Antti Veera Laura

Antti, Veera, me – photo credit Veera

Finnish has a reputation for being difficult to learn but perhaps it’s not so hard after all…

55 Kuusi palaa
A huge THANK YOU to the library staff from the University of Helsinki who put together an excellent programme and made us feel so welcome it was hard indeed to go home at the end of the week.

#ISEWLib2014 Libraries at the University of Helsinki

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

4 Colour coded zones

Colour-coded learning spaces

At start of last academic year, all new students at the medical campus were given a tablet computer each. But we still can’t assume that all students at have their own IT equipment.

51 Name badge

Staff badges – staff choose for themselves which language flags to display

Post-graduates and “lost-graduates” – people who have finished their course but not sure what to do next! These are found in or near libraries all over the world, and now I know a name for them 🙂

5 Donate a textbook

Donate a textbook – but with money, not out-of-date editions!

Idea from Columbia Uni, NY: employ ‘newly-minted’ PhD graduates on library teams to provide recent user experience (UX) input

7 Kitchen

Little kitchen for students. Can heat own food (or baby food) in microwave

Mobile storage units which students can rent for a few euros. Side is open - secure once locked away

Mobile storage units which students can rent for a few euros. Side is open – secure once locked away

Service design project @HULib objectives and scope. Goal was not just to have a beautiful and functional new building, but also to offer world-class services.

25 Antti objectives and scopeIt was important for @HULib to be seen as one university library service, and harmonise service and branding across campuses.

26 Antti user studyFour different user types emerged from customer profiling: lingerer, visitor, investigator, patron.  These users types describe behaviour rather than individuals.

Achieved change in service culture: strategy and service promise; user-centred & participatory design processes/methods/tools.  Across the group, we recognised that it is difficult to strike a balance between catering for younger students, and keeping older patrons and academics happy.

Having lots of different types of seats caters for different user needs, and makes them easier to replace.

27 If there are no books at all

“If there are no books at all, students don’t think about it as a library space”

28 ISEW participants

Love these little glasses of flowers to bring some of the Finnish summer indoors! Photo credit Veera Ristikartano

From Antti Virrankoski‘s presentation on the learning centre project at Kumpula Campus. Library space usage, according to exit poll (2011):

32 Library space use exit poll

Library space usage, according to exit poll

Requirements for the new learning spaces: individual , group and teachings spaces; comfort, accessibility:

33 Conclusions learning space

‘Count the traffic’ customer behaviour profiling method by Tord Høivik.  After the redevelopment at Kumpula, there will be more seats, more computers, more flexible working spaces; and better accessibility, comfort, and infrastructure.

See also: Learning spaces at the University of Warwick Library

#ISEWLib2014 Minerva Plaza learning environment

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

Mikko Halonen introduced us to the Minerva Plaza building, which is like a tech petting zoo!

9 Minerva PlazaThe big presentation room is called the Owl’s Nest, and it’s surrounded by smaller rooms with their own technology equipment.

10 Time lapse video

Time-lapse video showing how flexible the Owl’s Nest learning space can be!

Some academics don’t like the glass walls of the Owl’s Nest – everyone can see what you’re doing; and some are tech refusers.

No point having devices if you have no idea how to use them to teach – showing academics how is key part of Minerva Plaza.

Kirsti Lonka has written about Minerva Plaza and its use – see this presentation from slide 19  and my own notes from her talk on engaging learning environments at the IFLA satellite conference on information literacy.

We tried out Flinga (live shared desktop) by NordTouch:

11 Flinga

Flinga

Flinga has been valuable in encouraging discussion and engagement in conferences, as well as with students.  It lets people type rather than talk.  Non-native speakers of English in our group said they felt more comfortable with this.  Conclusion: Flinga is a great tool to use in presentations or during courses. It combines discussing, learning and interaction!

BALTIC Library & Archive

Yesterday I went on a visit to the Library & Archive at BALTIC, organised by CILIP Career Development Group (North-East).

2013-08-01 14.18.30BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art opened in Gateshead on 13th July 2002, and the Library & Archive a year later.  The Archive holds materials relating to the history of the gallery and its exhibitions.  The Library is a reference-only collection of materials relating to contemporary art and design.

Gary Malkin, Programme Archivist & Librarian at BALTIC, told us about the history of the Library & Archive and about its current operations.

The opening hours of the Library & Archive are the same as the gallery opening hours, and entry is free, and open to all.

2013-08-01 14.16.58The classification system was developed in-house.  Gary explained that although a classification scheme such as Dewey (DDC) works well in a generalist library, it is less well suited to a specialist collection.  For example, all of art and design would be in the 700s in DDC.  The in-house system consists instead of the numbers 1-50.  Section 18 is artists, ordered by family name.  DDC separates artists by medium, and this distinction is not useful in contemporary art where many artists work in a range of media.

Users can search the database of holdings from the Library & Archive homepage.  Example of a search for “Hirst”:

Screen shot 2013-08-01 at 17.52.23

Gary told us about some of the projects currently in progress to bring in students from schools, colleges, and universities to get them to use the library collection and produce an artwork.

In the future, there are plans to modernise the database of holdings, redesign the area just outside the library to create different educational zones, and improve the environmental conditions in the archive (a perennial problem in many libraries and archives!).

Note for font geeks: BALTIC’s official font is called BALTIC Affisch, and the font they use for non-headline writing is Akzidenz.

2013-08-01 14.30.52

Gary showed me a box from the Archive which contains various communications from the time when the BALTIC Affisch font was being designed.   Here’s my favourite (see photo).  The typed text reads: “Could be more modern, more unique.  Good and different from page to page.  Delivers the BALTIC-feeling in a good way.”  And the handwritten response: “What do they mean by ‘more modern’?”

I love that even people at a contemporary art gallery could be mystified by too much modernity…

Many thanks to Gary for the tour (and looking forward to the gin* party** he has promised*** us).

*Gin may not be involved.  **”Party” was not specifically mentioned.  ***He didn’t actually promise anything but a gin party would be fun.

Scenario planning: the futures of Oxford’s libraries

Earlier this year, I took part in a scenario planning exercise which brought together a group of librarians from a number of Oxford libraries to consider the challenges that the future would bring and how we could best prepare for them.

Brainstorming factors affecting libraries in the future

We began by considering factors that could have an impact on our libraries in the future, and we came up with nearly 150 ideas.  Of this list, these were rated as being the most important and the most uncertain:

Factors affecting Oxford's libraries

“The right – the most robust – responses to these issues will have to take into account a wide variety of uncertainties – dynamics over which Oxford’s libraries have no control.”

Lawrence Wilkinson (facilitator)

These were further distilled to elicit that the two uncertainties that were the most important and the most uncertain – the dimensions in which the alternative futures are most different; and these were:

  • academia and the demand it serves – whose extremes are traditional and integrated vs reorganised, emergent communities
  • technology and content – whose extremes are closed, restricted and commercialised vs open and free

These two fundamental uncertainties are juxtaposed to create four divergent futures (or scenarios) for Oxford’s libraries.

Four alternative futures

The four divergent futures

  • “The Long and Winding Road” – a world with generally free and open access to information, and a familiar, traditional model of academic life.
  • “Magical Mystery Tour” – a world with generally free and open access to information, and academic life taking place in new kinds of communities
  • “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” – a world with generally closed and commercialised access to information, and academic life taking place in new kinds of communities
  • “A Hard Day’s Night” – a world with generally closed and commercialised access to information, and a familiar, traditional model of academic life

Examples of early players in each scenario

  • “The Long and Winding Road” – arXiv.org, MIT
  • “Magical Mystery Tour” – Google, Khan Academy
  • “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” – Kaplan, The Learning Academy
  • “A Hard Day’s Night” – Apple, CourseSmart

We then explored each possible future in more detail, and exploring what we would do if we knew this future were the most likely.

From theoretical actions to strategic steps

As the real future is likely to be a combination of the four scenarios, with a balance between them that changes over time, we considered the overall implications for our future.  We divided our (very long) lists of actions into strategic steps that would (a) work in all scenarios; and (b) be helpful in one future and neutral in another, and (c) be helpful in one future but harmful in another.  These actions covered every aspect of the libraries, including collection/service strategy, funding models, and physical plant (buildings).

The last stage of the process involved only colleagues from the Bodleian Libraries, who met one more time to consider how all of these ideas could contribute to the Bodleian Libraries’ new strategic plan, and translate them into action points for specific teams or departments.

My two cents’

As a college librarian, I was not involved in this last stage, but I was still thinking about how the libraries individually could respond to the challenges and opportunities that had been identified during the course of this work.  The main theme I kept returning to was the idea of a collaborative library strategy.  This is more difficult than it might first seem, because there are about 100 different academic libraries at the University of Oxford (the Bodleian Libraries group, college libraries, departmental/faculty libraries), and these groups are fully independent of each other (as are most of the individual libraries within each group).  Here they are on a map.

As a biologist, I like to think of the libraries as forming an ecosystem with a variety of niches and habitats.  However, without an over-arching plan, we may be competing for the same “market” (e.g. level of study; subject; resource type) and risk overlapping in some areas and missing others.  I’m wondering if it would be possible to define the niche of each library to help its staff and users to know what to expect from it, and to ensure that as a university, we’re providing as broad a range of resources and services as possible.

This could help avoid conflicting priorities about types of study space, by making different spaces available in different places, but accessible to all users.  Some libraries would focus on having lending collections to support taught courses, and others would specialise in research or special collections (thus focusing budgets in particular areas).  This already exists to some extent, but it’s not centrally agreed or managed.

I’ve done this at St Hugh’s College Library by introducing a collection management policy that states that we will:

Purchase/accept/retain primarily what can be identified as:

  1. Useful to an undergraduate/reference library, within the range of subjects taught;
  2. Interesting in terms of College History, Women’s Education and other research areas specifically connected with St Hugh’s;
  3. Contributing significantly to areas where the Library already has major strengths;
  4. Exceptionally rare or valuable.

and that

Duplication should be avoided, unless deemed desirable for study purposes.

This helps to inform my decisions about how to use the budget.  For example, most students’ book suggestions submitted via our online form are for books on reading lists, which matches this policy exactly = green light for purchasing.  However, if a DPhil candidate wants an unusual item for their research, I would direct them to their faculty/departmental library.  As well as focusing my book budget to support taught courses, it also avoids accumulating research materials in a college library which is a private library, rather than at a faculty/departmental library which usually has more generous access arrangements for non-college (not just non-University) members.

Because all of these libraries are independent, there can be no mandate from anyone to any of these libraries to force them to adopt such a strategy, but it may be that some of them opt to do it voluntarily.  Perhaps many of these libraries already have similar policies, but perhaps they are not formalised or publicly available.