Staff IT skills survey

Alan Brine (De Montfort University Library) carried out a survey of library staff IT skills in order to target staff training needs.

A number of competencies were listed, and each respondent ranked their ability by selecting one of these options to describe their skill level: I can / I need reminding / I can’t.

A range of training solutions was then offered, including:


  • Recognition of staff level of technology engagement by management was essential to the success of this project
  • It was also important to allow time for the additional workload involved, both in training and exploration
  • As possibilities multiply and skillsets expand, who will keep current?
  • Managing the overall student experience is now more complex
  • Face to face and personal communication still preferred and important

Good IT skills are a common requirement for many library jobs nowadays, but it is not always easy to know what is meant by this or find a way to measure it at interview.  Many library-related IT skills may be specific to a particular role depending on which integrated library system is used, whether staff support students who use Windows, Mac, Linux or other systems or a combination, so many staff will need on-the-job training once in post even if their general IT skills are already good.  This audit and follow-up sounds like a great way to assess the gap between the skills required and the skills of the current team members.

Developing libraries beyond web 2.0

Nick Stopforth (Newcastle Libraries) gave a fast-paced tour of technology developments on the horizon and their applications and implications for libraries.  He encouraged us to think of the opportunities and the gaps associated/filled/opened up by each.

Nick works in the public library sector, and feels that academic libraries are ahead in terms of technological change and he gains a lot of useful ideas from following them – as an academic librarian, this felt good to hear!

Hype cycle – bear this in mind when considering adopting a new technology.

Hype cycle

It can be difficult to tell where you are on the curve – he suggested that Twitter was at the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ but I think who you are and how you use a technology has a strong influence here.  For example, for me and many other librarians who use Twitter, I feel that I have reached a point in my relationship with Twitter where it really helps me do my job and network with other professionals, and I would place our use closer to the ‘plateau of productivity’.


  • Nick recommended Mick Fortune’s RFID blog
  • Similar standardisation problems as ebooks – different tools not interoperable between different systems (though ISO 28560-2 standard should help?)
  • Future: wearable RFID devices?

Context-aware computing

  • Gadgets will become more like personal companions
  • Example: TV remote control can collect data about how it is used by different people and offer recommendations for TV shows

Location-based data

  • Great advances in GPS technology
  • Proximity marketing using facial recognition uses expressions to decide which advert to display
  • Facial recognition used stealthily by Facebook (as reported in the Daily Telegraph)

Social media

  • Increasing business use has made social media more corporate
  • Google+ is the new competitor

Open source data

Augmented reality

  • Lets you know about nearby services, or combine with RFID to locate the position of a book
  • E-commerce
  • Apps for tourists

QR codes

  • Increasing use in business and advertising
  • Signposting – useful in libraries!
  • Green (paperless) ticketing
  • Dutch coinage with QR code


  • Privacy and security
  • Openness and transparency
  • Linked data – where does it go?
  • Costs and savings
  • Marketing and promotion

Other trends

  • Web traffic to mobile devices increasing
  • Rise of cloud computing
  • Ebooks and digital publishing

Equality, rights and the hierarchy of oppression

During a session about skills for equality, a discussion began about the ‘hierarchy of oppression’.

I learned that this idea was current in the 1970s, and it held that of any list of persons who may be oppressed in society, they were not all equal in terms of the degree of oppression they experienced, and the moral status of their disadvantage (gay people, for example, could be perceived as having ‘brought it on themselves’, or could choose whether or not to reveal their identity, unlike a person of colour).  Thus, one group’s needs or rights could be seen as ‘trumping’ those of another.

Although it was felt that the concept of the hierarchy of oppression is now out of date, there have been cases reported recently in the press in which a person with a religious belief has refused service or otherwise discriminated against a gay person (here is one example as reported in The Guardian).

Examples from the world of libraries included a library employee who refused to be involved in activities and displays helping to promote the services of a family planning centre because she was a Roman Catholic, and another library employee who would not direct library users to information resources for lesbian, gay and bisexual people because they were Muslim.

I would like to point out, as did many people in the room, that having a religious faith does not necessary mean that you subscribe to a particular set of beliefs about contraception, abortion or sexual orientation, but that was the case in the examples given.

Two ways of approaching such situations were presented: changing the employee’s duties to focus their work elsewhere (a bit of a cop out?), or possible disciplinary action if the employee did not follow customer service guidelines and instruction from their manager about how they should do their job (a bit fierce and unlikely to change the person’s mind?).

It makes me sad to think that some people think their individual beliefs can be used as an excuse to infringe the rights of others, and provide them with poor service.  This discussion carried on long after the end of the official session, and I was cheered up by a woman who described herself as a Christian and did not see any justification for such prejudices in her chosen religion.

Librarians as researchers: that’s a good IDEA

I really enjoyed this session, led by Miggie Pickton (University of Northampton) and Carolynn Rankin (Leeds Metropolitan University).

What does research look like?  Everyday research skills include: reading, watching, questioning, summarising, presenting, listening, choosing, organising, writing up, reflecting.  Many of us are already doing research, but maybe we just don’t realise that it is research!

Research is the professionalisation of everyday skills (Blaxter, 2008)

Library practitioners are often highly innovative in their practice and undertake research-related activity as a normal part of their working lives.

This new knowledge and understanding is often not recognised as research nor is it shared with the wider professional community.

We did an icebreaker exercise to meet each other and learn about the types of research activity we had each been involved in:


Library service

What did they do?

Has had to provide evidence of service value
Has engaged with an external quality benchmark
Has and to collect statistics for annual reviews
Has run a focus group
Has written and/or presented a report to their organisation
Has helped a service user find resources for their research
Has contributed to a publication
Has explored ways of improving their service

Miggie and Carolynn introduced the framework for developing your research:

I=interest, issue, idea
D=develop, discuss, define
E=engage, elaborate, enact
A=advocate, advertise, apply

I=interest, issue, idea

  • Identify a project or research opportunity that interests you or meets a need
  • What do I want to know?
  • How could this help my practice or benefit my organisation?
  • What’s in it for me?

D=develop, discuss, define

  • Define the research question
  • What has been done on this before? Where is the evidence base? Where are the gaps?
  • Develop the project proposal – SMART objectives, appropriate methods

E=engage, elaborate, enact

  • Partnership and connections
  • Look for common goals
  • Win-win agenda
  • Who will you engage with and how?
  • This might be partners, colleagues, management, funders, policymakers

A=advocate, advertise, apply

  • Who needs to know about your work? Service users, managers, funders, policymakers
  • Where will your research make a different?
  • Effecting change within and beyond the library


Finally, the multiplier effect comes in when you add skills.

This session was practical and energising, and it started me thinking about the many ways I could apply these ideas to my work.

Gold and green routes to open access publishing

*Update* Please see Stevan’s comment below which clarifies some points I didn’t get right!

Open Access (OA) publishing means that the research paper or other information may be accessed by a reader without payment, unlike much scholarly research which is published behind a paywall.  Paywalls are often invisible to university members, as they can click though without logging in if they are on-campus (much paywall access is mediated by IP addresses), but the such subscriptions are still paid by their institutions and they can be pretty expensive!

The main argument for OA is that much research is paid for by taxpayers through government grants, so it is argued that the end product of publicly-funded research should be freely available for citizens/taxpayers to read.  Furthermore, academics in many fields often wish to continue to keep up-to-date in their subject after they have retired.  They may still contribute to professional organisations and contribute papers and letters, but if they are no longer current members of a university, they lose institutional access entitlement to scholarly resources and thus their experience and expertise is lost to that field of study after they cease paid work for that institution.

Jackie Wickham (Nottingham University) spoke about research repositories and two routes to open access (OA) publishing: the more established gold model and the emerging green model.

The gold route is also known as the ‘author pays’ model, and it means that the publication of an article in an OA journal is usually paid for by the author’s institution or included in their research grant.  Increasingly, UK Universities have established publication funds e.g. Nottingham and Birmingham.  There are two further options for the gold route: OA publishers (PLOS, BioMedCentral, Hindari) or traditional publishers with OA option (Nature, Elsevier, Springer).

The green route involves self-archiving the article or conference paper in a repository of published research.  This may be done by subject (e.g. PubMedCentral, arXiv, Repec) or by institution (also providing a way for universities to showcase their research and to preserve it).  There is no charge for depositing the article or paper; the costs of running the archive are met by the institution.

The green route is usually used in addition to publishing in a journal, which may be OA, subscription or a hybrid of the two.

A problem with the green route is that the commercial journal publisher may impose an embargo on the publication of the article anywhere else but in their journal.  As I understand it, the solution to this is that a very similar but not identical version of the article is presented to the commercial publisher and to the repository.

Not just bars and gigs – working in partnership with the students’ union

This session began with all attendees being given a chocolate bar – good start!  Linda Smith (Nottingham Trent University) explained that Kit Kats and coffee are the hallmarks of her meetings involving the Libraries and Learning Resources (LLR) team and the students’ union (SU).

Linda’s strategy for engaging the student body in the library and its services involves enlisting the support of the SU officers to ensure they are advocates of the library.  At the end of the academic year, she meets informally with the outgoing and incoming student officers, and this is followed up with more formal monthly meetings from the beginning of the new academic year.

This allows the SU officers to outline their agenda, and gives Linda a chance to find out about minor irritations which can be remedied easily.  Such quick wins include buying some beanbags to create a more recreational reading area, lockers, water coolers, group study areas.

The SU officers change every year, so it is important for goodwill and positive relationships to be transferred from one set of representatives to the next as far as possible.  Linda also found that their interest and enthusiasm can vary from year to year, as do their skills and competencies; so occasionally an initiative is set up but then is discontinued as there is no-one with the necessary skill to maintain the service (e.g. composing a jingle for the library to use on the student radio station).

The LLR uses the following channels for promoting the library:

  • SU website
  • student magazine (students write this article and Linda reviews it before publication)
  • re-freshers fair in Jan
  • radio ads promoting information skills

She has also run some successful campaigned in partnership with the SU:

  • ‘Virtually stolen’ campaign – items left unattended in the library would have a card left on them saying “this item has been virtually stolen – please do not leave your possessions unattended in the library”
  • Student behaviour in the library – ‘Shhhhhhh!’ t-shirts and posters helped spread the word about making the library a better place to study
  • The SU debating society had a debate entitled “Has Google killed the library?”  This was a good opportunity to show students how much e-content is provided by the library – not everything they access on the web is as ‘free’ as they think
  • ‘Can we have a chocolate?’ – Linda keeps chocolates on desk and offers them to students, hopefully also winning a few minutes in which to get talking to them and find out about the issues they think are important for the library.  In this way, she met a student who runs Stride – a free training and development workshop programme offered by Nottingham Trent Students’ Union – the Stride programme now has an fully-accredited LLR component which involves information literacy.

Linda concluded that working in partnership in this way has helped her focus on her target group, and it has raised the profile and credibility of the LLR and given her access to a wider range of resources and media for promoting the library and its services.

Libraries and e-books

This panel discussion raised some negative points, many already familiar:

  • Risk of lending new format in current climate of budget cuts
  • E-readers use proprietary software – each system wants to own you as a customer – problem of multiple incompatible formats
  • The value of e-books in education: lack of coherent evidence of how e-books are really making a difference to young peoples’ learning
  • Parts of this conversation still sounded like “reading print books = good” and “e-reading = inferior”
  • The publisher on the panel suggested that there was no point in committing to a platform or device yet because rate of change so fast
  • Disability Discrimination Act  and variable compliance of different e-readers

Some positive points and opportunities:

  • Growth of transliteracy (fluency across range of platforms) – boost argument for providing a range of options in e-reading
  • E-readers are now mass-market – this has been a big change in last few years, and many more people are now enfranchised and able to use this technology
  • Is it more acceptable for public libraries to provide e-books than DVDs [on the basis of education value]?  What about charging for them?
  • Is literacy getting worse in the UK? If so, digital options might open up reading for those who do not like print books
  • Enabling access to e-books fits with model of librarians as learning enablers not gatekeepers of physical space
  • Some publishers are worried that when consumers discover they can borrow e-books for free from libraries, they will stop buying them themselves, but this didn’t happen with print books
  • Difference between making available a digital version of a textbook versus publishing a born-digital e-book


The online access model currently used for e-journals works well – why can’t we encode an e-book in HTML5 with options for download format? [I am not techie so if you know, please tell me why this isn’t possible!].  This would get around platform issues for smartphones as they all have some sort of web browser.  In academic libraries, no-one talks about the digital divide in context of e-journals.

I would love it if public libraries could start lending a range of different things beyond print books – some already have toy collections, and what about other things that people often use for a short time and don’t need any more?  Camping equipment… most of the contents of my loft?

What about the role of e-books to ease pressure on popular print titles in academic libraries, especially medical textbooks which are bulky and often students only need one section at a time?

Teaching information literacy is only a small part of delivering education in schools. Most learning is still prescribed, didactic. Research, citation etc still relevant to research projects in primary and secondary schools but I don’t think they’re yet a routine part of all school work.

The (predictable) conclusion was the future will be a hybrid of print and electronic books and that the role of librarians will be key.  Let’s make sure we earn this position rather than expecting everyone else to put us there.

Someone asked why is has taken so long for picture books to be available as e-books and the publisher’s answer was that it is difficult to format the text and pictures to display well.  This is odd, as e-journals have successfully been combining text and graphics elements for years. It is expected that epub3 will deal better with more complex layouts.

CILIP Umbrella conference 2011

After attending the CILIP Umbrella 2011 conference earlier this week, I’ve come back to work buzzing with ideas and my Twitter feed is alive with new library friends I have made.

The conference Twitter hashtag was #ub11 and here is an archive of all the conference tweets.

I tweeted from most of the sessions I attended and found it really useful to follow the backchannel which allowed me to see tweets from other people in the same session and bounce questions about.  I also picked up on tweets from other events happening at the same time, which was especially useful when I was torn about which one to attend, and this meant I could (almost) do both at once.

The gala dinner on Tuesday night was lovely, and after an evening of library chat and no small amount of wine, Bonnie Greer’s passionate speech about the value of libraries brought a tear to many an eye of those present. Fired up with our mission as advocates of information and defenders of the universal right to access library resources, we embarked on day two of the conference with renewed enthusiasm.

Umbrella 2011 Gala Dinner

Mandy, me, Donna, Emma, Nicki, Jo

I’m now going to blog separately about the following sessions and themes:

Libraries and e-books

Not just bars and gigs – working in partnership with the students’ union

Gold and green routes to open access publishing

Librarians as researchers: that’s a good IDEA

Equality, rights and the hierarchy of oppression

Developing libraries beyond web 2.0

Staff IT skills survey