Saturday, 22 October 2011

Thing 23: Finishing touches

Last Thing! I think it's fair to say that cpd23 has been a marathon rather than a sprint, so as I stagger across the finish line it's time to wrap myself in the shiny tinfoil blanket of Thing 23 while I sip at the electrolyte-replenishing sports drink of reflection.

Firstly, I'd like to say that the whole course has been brilliant, one of the best things I've ever done in terms of professional development. Not only have I found trying out or thinking about all of the suggested things really useful, but through the course I picked up loads of people to follow on Twitter and have begun reading a wide range of blogs: this has really broadened my professional reading and makes me feel much more up-to-date with current issues in the profession. So a big thank you to the cpd23 organisers and to all the guest bloggers who wrote such interesting and helpful posts on all of the Things.

One thing the programme has made me consider is how important it is, as well as how enjoyable it can be, to play around with new tools and applications. Obviously, it has been useful, as well as a great incentive when my motivation might have been flagging, to explore these tools at the same time as hundreds of other people and to read others' thoughts about them. But those advantages aside, there had previously been nothing to stop me from finding out about and subsequently exploring things like Evernote, Jing, Dropbox, Google Docs, etc under my own steam. So one thing I will take away from the course is to try to be more curious and experimental about tools and applications I could use in my work and to be more of an early adopter.

In terms of what I'd like to do next, prior to starting cpd23 I was doing an online course in Excel provided by my institution's staff development unit. I have put this on hold over the summer in favour of following cpd23 (fortunately the Excel course is also one that you can take at your own pace) so I'll be completing that now. Then I'll have a little break from professional development activities over Christmas, and then in the New Year hopefully I will start preparing to register for and begin Chartership.

As part of Chartership I'll be putting together a Personal Professional Development Plan. At work we also have a very comprehensive Performance and Development Review process - my most recent PDR was over the summer, with a follow-up session planned in January/February, so this can also feed into my Chartership preparation. I don't want to do a SWOT analysis as part of this blog, as I want to spend some time thinking about this. However, one gap in my skills and experience that I have been aware of for a little while now is that I don't have much experience of giving presentations or of public speaking in general. Things 15 and 17 from this course had lots of useful information to help me address this.

We are invited to write a "6 word story" to sum up our experience of the cpd23 course. My first attempt, prompted by my experience of actually doing the course on a week-by-week basis, was:

Monday already? Another Thing?! Soooo behind.

But now that I'm at the end of the programme the trauma of running to keep up with everybody else is fading, and, anyway, it was definitely worth it in the end. 

In an idea shamelessly nicked from Alliteration Station, I decided to create a Wordle of my blog. This is what it came back with:

So, picking out some of my most-used words on this blog, my final 6 word story of cpd23 is:

Information about applications supports our professionalisation.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Thing 22: Volunteering to get experience

I have never held a voluntary position in a library, although not because I haven't, well, volunteered. When I was thinking about applying to study a library and information masters I realised I needed to bump up my experience of working in libraries for my applications. I approached the Lit and Phil library in Newcastle - for no other reason other than that I liked the look of it and its collections - to ask if they had any need for volunteers. It turned out that they did have some work available - approximately 10 hours a week, shelving and helping to transfer a large amount of their stock to their recently installed storage space - and that they would pay the standard hourly wage, and were happy to take me on to do this. Which is a pretty clear demonstration of the principle that if you don't ask, you don't get (or, as we prefer to say in the North East, "shy bairns get nowt").

I agree that volunteering confers all of the benefits that Jo outlines in her post. It not only gives you practical experience of working in a library environment but also the chance to use and develop transferable skills, make contacts and build your professional network, gain insider knowledge of the library and sector you're volunteering in, demonstrate commitment to your professional and personal development - the benefits are endless and you can make a lot of the opportunities gained from volunteering.

However, it is important to consider the ramifications of volunteering if the volunteer positions are being used as a substitute for what should be professional paid posts. This may have always been a potential issue but is becoming more so at the moment in the public library sector with cuts to local services and the potential for community-managed and run libraries to fill the gap created in service provision. Johanna Bo Anderson outlines the ethical dilemma members of the library and information profession face when offering their work on a voluntary basis and the comments to the post are thoughtful and thorough. Several people state that while they might be prepared to work voluntarily to provide "added extras" to a service, they would not consider taking a voluntary post that would cover what should be core service provision. I have a lot of sympathy with this view. Local councils (still, just about) have a statutory duty under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all and it is unclear at the moment where community-run libraries would fit into this provision (for more about this, see the relevant page of the advocacy section of CILIP's website).

An alternative way to volunteer your time and skills is to get involved in committees and working parties, either at your workplace or in the wider profession, and also to undertake wider voluntary activity with, for example, community or sporting groups and organisations. I was a committee member of my local CILIP branch while an MA student and in the first couple of years of my post-qualification work, and I feel that this gave me useful experience of the wider professional community (while also, I hope, enabling me to give something of value to that community as well). Last year at work, I was part of a team that organised the staff Christmas party (I sort of volunteered and sort of had my arm twisted, although I'm sure I could have said no if I really didn't want to do it). This was quite stressful and time-consuming at the time, but actually it gave me loads of useful things to talk about and evidence of skills - such as team-working, managing a budget and organisational skills - in a subsequent job application. So volunteering, at whatever level and in whatever capacity, does give you the chance to fill in gaps in your experience in ways that might prove to be unexpectedly useful in the future.

Thing 21: Apply - some pressure?

Thing 21 is about applying for jobs: both the preparatory work of considering your strengths and weaknesses (which in many ways is the hardest part of the process) as well as putting together a strong application and giving a good account of yourself at interview.

Identifying your strengths

Maria suggests that we consider our strengths and the things we like (or don't like) to do - both at work and in our personal lives. If it's not too wussy/lazy I'm going to postpone this activity for the moment as I want to have a really good think about this (and also I'm not sure I'd want to post my conclusions on a public blog). However, I would like to mention CJ's post on this Thing at 23 Mins in the Library, which discusses how to talk about your strengths/interests and weaknesses/dislikes in such a way that you are explaining the value your strengths add to your work and putting a positive spin on your weaknesses. There are some great ideas in CJ's list which I may well be nicking - er, I mean adapting for my own purposes.

Putting together an application

At the moment my CV is catastrophically out of date, but that's because every job I've applied for in the last five or six years has asked for a completed application form instead - sometimes a hard copy but more often one that's to be completed and submitted online. Because I'm just that sort of person, I print off and keep on file copies of my completed application forms so that I can refer to them in any future applications - often, especially for basic factual information about your education and work history, you can just copy passages from previous forms with minimal tweaking.

And also because I'm that sort of person, I'm very methodical and thorough when completing the application. I examine the essential and desirable criteria in minute detail and make sure I can offer evidence that I fulfil each one - usually I print off a copy of both the job description and person specification, scribble notes next to each point, and then draft and re-draft my application form answers until I'm sure I've covered every point. I try where possible to use the same language and phrases as in the job description and person specification - without appearing as though I'm just mindlessly parroting the employer's words back at them - to make it really obvious that I've addressed all of the criteria in my application.

 Make sure your application ticks all of the boxes
(Picture by adesigna)


There's lots of useful advice about giving good interview in Maria's blogpost and in the links she provides. However, I have a feeling that being an effective and impressive interviewee is something you can only really develop from actually going through the real-life process numerous times - you can't learn and develop the skills just from reading about it. Even practising interviews is of limited value, because you won't be able to replicate that special combination of tummy butterflies, anxiety-induced dry-mouth and worries over practicalities - What shall I wear? How am I travelling to the venue? How firm should my handshake be? Do I accept a coffee or glass of water if they offer one? - created by the real interview situation. Of course, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't spend some time before the interview thinking about the questions you're likely to be asked and what your answers might be - Ned Potter's blog has a comprehensive list of likely questions for an interview for a library role.

What next?

I am not long (two and a half months) into a new job, so I hope I will not be going through the application and interview process for a while yet. I therefore have the luxury of being able to spend the next few weeks or months considering my strengths and weaknesses and updating my CV (I will need to do both of these anyway once I register for and begin Chartership). I also need to consider any gaps in my experience and skills and think of ways to address these - which is where the next Thing comes in...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Thing 20: Root down

For Thing 20 we are directed to the Library Routes project, in which information professionals document and share their stories of how they came to work in the library and information sphere and the routes they have taken through the profession. I have created an account and have added a link to the post I wrote for Thing 10, about my career in libraries thus far and my plans for the immediate future.

Other people's stories make interesting reading. For some reason, I find it particularly cheering to read about people who had relatives who were librarians and then subsequently went into the profession themselves - it makes me think that there might almost be a "librarian gene" that gets passed on through the generations, although I'm sure the same phenomenon occurs in other professions too.

I don't think my route into and through libraries has been especially unusual; it goes: bookish and library-using as a child, undergraduate degree in a humanities subject followed by a postgraduate qualification in library and information studies, and since then various roles - both part and full-time, temporary and permanent - in several different libraries. The only way in which I diverge significantly from the "traditional" route into librarianship is that I didn't undertake a year-long graduate traineeship before doing my masters qualification. I did apply for several traineeships and even got as far as being offered one, but eventually decided to turn it down - mainly for financial reasons - and go straight to my masters course instead. I do sometimes wonder if I missed out by not doing the traineeship: it obviously can be a valuable source of learning opportunities, practical work experiences, and contacts, and serves as a way to help you "bed into" the profession. Perhaps completing such a traineeship might have got me on to the track towards a professional post a bit sooner. Too late to do anything about it now, but it is interesting, if ultimately fruitless, to consider the paths not taken.

Thing 20 also briefly mentions the Library Day in the Life project, which is a twice-yearly event during which librarians across the world document their daily working lives. I took part in Round 7 of this, which took place in July 2011, and throughout the week I tweeted about what I was doing at work. This was a fascinating activity. In the first place, it made me more active on Twitter, as I was using it to tweet about things that I would not normally think worth mentioning. It is also quite a challenge to describe your daily tasks in such a way that they are pithy enough to be contained within Twitter's 140-character limit while also being comprehensible to people both within and outside of the library profession. Once the week was over, I also wrote about my working week in a very long, boring blog post, which you can read here. I will definitely take part in the next round of the project but I will try to do something a bit more creative - maybe a photo journal - next time.

Thing 19: Integrating the Things so far

"It's time for a little bit of a breather and some reflection on what you've gained from the programme so far and how you might continue to use what you've learnt," says Jo cheerily in the post for this Thing. Well, it was time for a breather when this was originally posted on 12th September; it's now four weeks later and I am desperately staggering through the final few Things, so not much chance for breath-catching for me.

Fortunately I don't think I'll have to spend much time reflecting on this, since the things I've picked up from cpd23 that I'm going to be using on daily basis, I already am using on a daily basis - they've proved so handy, as well as being easy to learn and implement, that they've slotted into my work routine with no effort or consideration on my part at all.

For me, the stars of the programme in this respect have been:

I use Twitter on an almost daily basis and from it I have picked up so much information and links to news, articles, blog posts and discussions that I wonder how I ever managed without it.

This is open on my taskbar all day at work and often at home - I use it to store notes and snippets of information, to-do lists, useful URLs and so on, things that previously would have been scrawled on scraps of paper (and subsequently lost). As a result I feel much more organised, and tidier, through using Evernote. This one's a keeper.

I only got round to the Jing Thing a couple of weeks ago and already I've used it extensively, to produce illustrative screenshots in a training document and to send screenshots to users of our electronic resources to guide them through various procedures. What's more, two of my line managers have been impressed enough to ask how I produced such nicely-annotated screen captures, so now I look like a complete technological whizz thanks to cpd23!

There are some tools that I haven't used much but that I probably will use in the future after I've played around with them a bit more and/or when the need arises:

Dropbox (and Google Docs and Wikis)
I loved Dropbox when I first tried it out but I confess I haven't used it since. I will try to keep it in mind the next time I need to transfer documents from one device to another. Similarly, I have yet had to produce any collaborative work that would require using Google Docs, but it is useful to know about it for future.

I was a bit down on Prezi, finding rather too flamboyant and in-your-face when first introduced to it. I do still intend to try it out at some point though. Although I am very rarely called upon to give presentations, either at events or as part of a teaching session, Thing 17 did make me consider using tools like Prezi and PowerPoint just as a way of presenting and recording information for general reference, rather than it being tied to a specific spoken presentation, so I will work on this soon.

And there are some tools and Things that could go either way:

Social networking, particularly LinkedIn
Way back in Thing 6 (12 weeks ago now) I said that signing up and creating a profile for LinkedIn was on my to-do list and would be completed "over the next few weeks". Hmm, yes, well... I may still get around to doing this, but it's not a very high priority any more, partly because, although I've never read or heard anybody saying "Wow, LinkedIn is brilliant and has helped me to get loads of jobs", I have heard several people on Twitter and elsewhere moaning about how useless it is at everything apart from sending its members pointless spammy emails numerous times a week. Sounds great.

I had never blogged before starting cpd23 and my original intention was to use the programme as a pair of stabilisers for my blogging bicycle; once cpd23 finished I would be ready to wobble off into the distance under my own steam. I have to say, though, that I've found blogging to be less satisfying than I imagined. I'm not sure if I will continue this blog (or at least I won't be posting very regularly) once cpd23 is over. Let's be honest, I have barely managed to keep up to date with my cpd23 blogging; without the prompt of a new Thing every Monday and at least the semblance of a deadline for completing the posts, I am even less likely to produce a regular flow of material. I am also very bad at commenting on others' posts and still have to make a conscious effort to do so. 

I think everything we've been introduced to throughout the programme has been worthwhile, even if it just prompts you to consider a new tool or method of working before deciding "It's not for me at this particular point." There's lots of stuff that, even if I'm not using it immediately, I will squirrel away for future reference.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Thing 18: Workin' on a Groovy Jing


The worst thing about Jing is that every time I read or hear its name I feel oddly compelled to say "Jings!" in a comedy Scotch accent. Everything else about it is pretty tip-top though.

As part of my job I provide over-the-phone and email assistance for users of our e-journals and, in particular, the University's research management system. This system was designed to be as user-friendly and intuitive as possible - a condition that's easy to plan for but difficult to achieve - and we also have some written guides available to download from the homepage of the system. Obviously, nobody ever actually reads these. Result: I spend a lot of my day trying to explain computery procedures to people who aren't necessarily in the same building as me. 

Until now I've been using the snipping tool in Windows to capture screenshots. I now prefer Jing though, not least because its annotation features are much more extensive and useful. I've also been experimenting with Jing's screencast (or video) function and that works pretty snazzily too, although I would like to become a bit more proficient before I begin using it to instruct and guide users. 

My introduction to Jing has come at a particularly useful time as I'm in the middle of creating some training documents and manuals for staff who are going to be working on our research management system, so I have been busily capturing, copying and pasting screenshots and drawing big red arrows all over them. I'm also hoping to build up a library of screencasts of typical procedures for staff to refer to whenever necessary. 

I have come across only a couple of hitches when using Jing: 

  • The semi-circular "sun" that's installed at the top of your screen can get in the way slightly if you've got lots of browser tabs open (when using Chrome anyway); however, this is easily solved by dragging it to either side or to the bottom of your screen, or you can alter your settings and hide it altogether.
  • I captured some videos and then when viewing them at the links in found that they played back at twice the expected speed. Again, it's easily rectified if you take care to make slow and deliberate motions when recording your video, but it's something you need to be aware of and get used to.
 These minor issues aside I will be using Jing a lot from now on. 

And now a short musical interlude, included here because it inspired the title for this post, because its lyric pretty much sums up my feelings about Jing, and because - well, just look at it:


I listen to podcasts a fair bit. Podcasts I have known and loved include:

1. The Collings and Herrin podcast, which, alas, is on hiatus since they had a tiff a few months ago

Lads, lads - less scrapping, more podcasting please

2. The Word podcast, depending on who the guest is (Danny Baker is always good value)

3. And for those times - it doesn't happen often - when I tire of repetitious, puerile jokes about crude sexual acts (see 1) and pointless music trivia and anecdotes (see 2) I like to kick back and chillax with an episode of the Philosophy Bites series

Not much there relating to libraries. The arcadia@cambridge series referred to in the cpd23 post does look intriguing - some very pertinent and timely topics are covered - so I will download these and listen to them at some point. I also had a quick search in iTunes for other library podcasts and didn't find a great deal, apart from the Bodleian Libraries' series of podcasts, which is called - I hope you're sitting down for this one - BODcasts and looks pretty interesting, although not entirely focussed on library issues as such. 

In terms of software for making podcasts, I have used Audacity before, to convert some vinyl records to MP3 format and also to tart up some of my MP3 playlists. I found it a bit fiddly for the latter activity, but if you're just using it to record a single sound source then it's perfectly do-able.

However, I'm struggling to think of a subject that I could usefully make a podcast about. At my library we have previously produced an audio tour, stored on individual iPod Shuffles that users can borrow and listen to as they explore the library on their own - quite a nifty idea and you can also produce versions in different languages for international students. But most other topics and issues have some sort of visual component which make their demonstration better suited to video or screencasting.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Thing 17: Fight the PowerPoint


Prezi styles itself as the anti-PowerPoint. Where PowerPoint is linear, staid and conventional, Prezi is multi-directional, vibrant and innovative. Prezi enables its users to unleash their creativity and map their own narrative routes through their material. Prezi is sassy, attention-grabbing and, if I'm being honest, a teensy bit annoying. It's the Louie Spence of presentation software.

I've never seen a real-life Prezi presentation but I've viewed several online. To be fair, some of them are conceptually and visually arresting and some of them... not so much.

I created a Prezi account for this Thing but so far haven't played around with it much because:

  1. I don't have a particular subject I want to make a presentation about at the moment
  2. I don't have a spare 30 hours that @jessedee suggests is necessary to create a decent presentation (in You Suck at PowerPoint)
Also, if you have a free account then your work is automatically publicly available on the Prezi website, which makes me less inclined to fiddle around when I don't really know what I'm doing with it. I have nevertheless received an automated, unnecessarily chummy email from Prezi asking me if my experience using it so far has been "awesome, gnarly, or somewhere in between?" (Gnarly? Oh dear Lord...)

I probably will come back to wrestle with Prezi at some point. But sometimes I wonder if, when giving a spoken presentation, the most impressive and engaging thing you could do would be to simply stand up and talk, with no notes and no supporting materials. Not sure I would ever be brave enough to try that though.


In the past, I must have viewed dozens of presentations hosted on SlideShare without quite realising or investigating what it is. So now I have investigated and may well be consulting SlideShare much more frequently in the future, to see what people are talking and presenting about, to view presentations from events I wasn't able to attend, and to get inspiration (or more accurately, to nick ideas) for my own presentations.

I would just like to mention one minor point about the cpd23 blogpost for this Thing. In describing the reach and impact of SlideShare Ange states:
This is not your institutional repository, this is on the open web and can be discovered by a much wider and variable audience.
But most of the material in institutional repositories is also on the open web (where copyright and licensing terms allow) - repositories are indexed by Google and other search engines and anyone can search for and retrieve their contents from a web search. Admittedly not many institutional repositories will have the 55 million visitors a month that SlideShare claims, but a repository isn't - or shouldn't - be a place where content is locked away from users who don't belong to that institution - in fact, completely the opposite is the case, as one of their main roles is to make the research and publications of the institution's academic staff as widely available as possible. Oh, hang on, here's a presentation about the University of Lincoln's repository that I found on SlideShare and that serves as a good example of the role and aims of an institutional repository. 

Okay, end of repository-related pedantry. And, come to think of it, now I have a topic I can make a Prezi about...