Monday, 15 December 2014

The MOOC Library Degree

I'm a fan of continuing professional education (hence the title of this blog!) and I often look to courses to fill gaps in my knowledge or give me a taste of something new. MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) are one way to take courses that fit around my normal work schedule and in the past I've been something of a MOOC addict. Although they do have their downsides I think they also have many benefits if both the institution and the participant are prepared to put in the commitment needed.

Whilst flipping through a magazine I came across an article about Laurie Pickard who has created her own MBA course from MOOCS as she doesn't have access to the 'regular' course. She has documented her experiences on a blog - No Pay MBA. Whatever your opinion of the value of MOOCs her experiment certainly shows that she's able to think creatively about her continuing education.

There's been quite a lot of discussion about the value of the traditional library degree in recent years, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't. Laurie's blog has inspired me to have a go at putting together my own Library Science degree from available online courses. It covers some of the areas I think we could do with more of on library courses but I was limited to the MOOCs I could find. I should add that I've not taken all of these courses, this is just as experiment to see what I could come up with. It's also worth nothing that some of the courses below incur a charge, especially if you want a verified certificate of completion.

So below I present my version of the MOOC Library Degree:

Library specific courses
I figured that this would be a good place to start. Most of the MOOCs I've taken in the past have been directly related to library and information studies as this is closely linked to my job. The best of these was The Hyperlinked Library which looked at emerging trends in the provision of library services. The New Librarianship Master Class also looked at the future of modern librarianship whilst Library Advocacy Unshushed looked at ways in which information professionals could advocate for their services (increasingly important with the threat of budget cuts). Finally Copyright for Educators and Librarians provides a useful background to copyright legislation (with an acknowledged US bias).

Management and leadership
Management studies are a traditional part of most library courses and there are plenty of MOOCs available to help you get started. Learn the basics of people management with Managing People: Engaging Your Workforce which helps introduce you to ways to develop those you are responsible for. Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 help to develop skills around strategic thinking for leadership whilst Becoming a Successful Leader provides a way to put leadership skills into context. You can learn the art of negotiation with Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills and also brush up on your Project Management skills. General financial MOOCs are a little thin on the ground but I did find Financial Analysis and Decision Making and An Introduction to Corporate Finance. Finally an Introduction to Psychology course helps with the management of both staff and service users.

This is a very useful skill, especially for services which often need their own unique marketing approach.  An Introduction to Marketing provides a basic introduction whilst Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights looks at the increase in online marketing. Information services need to develop a brand like any other service - The Secret Power of Brands explains the psychology of brands and brand management and Projecting Your Brand Through New Media shows how to use this online.

Teaching skills are frequently asked for in job specifications. These skills are best developed in practical ways but courses provide useful theory and background. There are courses specifically about teaching such as The Virtual Teacher Program and The Art of Teaching as well as those which focus on associated skills such as Introduction to Public Speaking. Design and Development of Education Technology links to this by providing an insight into the new technologies used to deliver user education.

Technological skills
The role of the information professional is changing rapidly and part of this involves keeping up with technology. Programming skills are much in demand and this is reflected in the number of MOOCs available on the topic. Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game, Introduction to Programming with Java and A Taste of Python Programming all help to fill the gap. Building Mobile Experiences talks participants through creating an app, increasingly important as more and more people are accessing information services on smartphones and tablets. The use of data is also a popular MOOC subject with Coursera devoting a specialization to Data Science.

Job application skills
Finally any degree course should prepare you to get a job upon completion. Whilst not library specific I found the How to Succeed courses from the University of Sheffield useful for picking up tips on both Writing Applications and Interviews.

I'm not sure when people would find the time to take all of those courses but I hope I've at least given readers something to think about. The main point of this post is not to encourage people to ditch the traditional degree but to illustrate that there are many ways to fill gaps in your knowledge or develop a new skill. Thanks to Laurie Pickard and her No Pay MBA idea for inspiring this post and encouraging me to learn about some new MOOCs which I can use to plug my own knowledge gaps.

Photo credit: dumfster via Photopin

Monday, 17 November 2014

Library A-Z

Back in September 2013 I attended LibCampEast, an unconference event for the East of England. I'd never been to an unconference before so I was keen to make the most of the format. 

One of the sessions I attended was led by Gary Green who wanted to produce an A-Z of words and themes associated with libraries to turn into a promotional tool. I had great fun at the session thinking of things for all the letters and discussing with the other attendees.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, Gary and his partner in crime Andrew Walsh have managed to compile a range of fully illustrated promotional materials. Information about the project and the materials can be found here and I encourage everyone to go and have a look. As well as providing an exciting way to advocate for libraries this project shows what librarians can do if they put their mind to it which I think is brilliant advocacy for the profession in itself! 

Photo: courtesy of The Library A-Z

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Fame at Last!

The International Librarians Network is designed to help information professionals across the globe connect with each other and grow their personal network. Having taken part in the first two rounds I can vouch for its usefulness. I've learnt a lot from my partners and it's helped me to see the similarities and differences across the profession.

My last ILN partner was Megan Hartline from the University of Michigan Library. Megan is part of a group that runs the Library Lost and Found blog and I was flattered when she asked if she could interview me. The link to the result is below:

If you haven't already checked out the International Librarians Network then I recommend that you do so here. It's a great way to connect with people you might not get to know in real life and who knows where it could lead ...

Monday, 6 October 2014

How To ... Write a Book Review

Learning to communicate effectively is very important for those in the information profession. Despite the stereotype it's likely that you will spend much of your day interacting with people, either in person or online. Most library and information professionals I know are very good at talking to people and helping them to find what they need but many seem to panic a little at the thought of written communication. This might be down to the fact that writing things down means that people are actually going to read it! or it might be that it gives them flashbacks to library school essays.

Aside from being a good skill to learn for your job, written communication skills can really enhance your 'brand' as a professional. Whatever your feelings about the terminology I don't think it gets hurt to get your name out there. Writing a blog is one way to do this but there is also the option of writing for publication. If there is a burning professional topic that you want to write about or a project that you want to share then you already have something great to write about and you can probably stop reading here. If not then read on...

Writing book reviews is a great way to dip your toe into the waters of writing for professional publication. Reviews generally follow a set structure and plenty of advice is given by the publication requesting the review. I've written quite a few book reviews over the last few years, both for actual publications and online programmes and I've encouraged others to do the same. I get asked a lot of questions about exactly how to go about producing a review so I thought I would share my process.

What do I have to do?
Book reviews are basically just short pieces which help the reader to decide if they want to buy (or borrow) the book in question. Basically is it worth their time? If you want to buy a new laptop there is a good chance that you will have a look at some online reviews of the one you want to buy to see what others think of it. Book reviews are exactly the same and therefore nothing to be scared of.

Basic structure of the review
As I said, most publishers provide detailed outlines of exactly what they expect the review to contain and you should always follow these as they may be different for different publications. Below is the basic structure that I tend to follow which might help you get started:
  • Introduction: talk a little bit about the book, what is it about?, who is the intended audience? Does the book tell you what it's aim is (this will help you later on)? Most of the answers to these questions are found in the books introduction or somewhere on the cover.
  • Content: perhaps the most important part of a book review. Does the content meet the expectations you had from reading the title and description or has the writer gone off topic? Who are the authors, practitioners or researchers? If there are a number of academic contributors but no practitioners would you have preferred more application than theory? Consider the subject content of the book and ask yourself if it covers enough of the subject and in enough depth for the intended audience. If the book is aimed at students and contains a lot of obscure terminology then is this explained somewhere or will they be left scratching their heads? It's also important to consider any potential bias here. If the book is written from one particular perspective (eg. a specific country) is this acknowledged anywhere and what implication could it have for readers? 
  • Structure: taking a step back from the content for a moment think of the book as a physical object. How is the text laid out and is it easy to read? Are the chapter headings clear and do they reflect what the chapter is about? Think about navigating the book - a clear contents page and a complete index make it really easy to find what you're looking for and save the reader time.  
  • Main takeaways: if anything really stood out it would be good to mention it as it helps to personalize things and make the review more interesting to read (in my opinion). If there was one top tip that you learnt from the book or something that you want to take forward in the future then mention it here.
  • Recommended to ...?: I always finish a review by making it clear who I would recommend the book to. Is it good for beginners or is it for a more advanced audience? This is also where finding out the aims of the book is helpful as you can determine if the book has actually fulfilled it's aim.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list and nor will the points apply to every book. They're just points to think through and get you started.

It's important not to just describe the things in your review but reflect as well. Go through the what, so what process and really think about things. The chapters are nice and short. Great, but is that a good thing for those in a hurry or would you have liked more depth? To get some idea I would recommend just having a look at reviews on the Internet or in any publications you can get your hands on. Why not check out Amazon and look at some of the most popular book reviews on there? I'm sure they say more than just "this book was good".

How to get started
Watch out for calls for reviewers - these are frequently sent out via email lists and Twitter from various publications. You could also write directly to the publication and express your interest in reviewing. You might not always get an answer but it's worth a try. Speaking from a CILIP committee member perspective it can sometimes be quite hard to get people willing to review! There are also online review programs which you can take part in such as the O'Reilly Reader Review Program. This is the one I take part in but I'm sure there are many others.

I hope that this short guide helps some of you realize that book reviews are not scary and can actually be quite a fun way to add to your skill set. If all else fails and you hate the experience then at least you have something different to put on your CV!

photo credit: Olivander via photopin cc

Friday, 26 September 2014

#Chartership Chat - 25/9/14

It's been a crazy few months but I finally found time to schedule another Chartership chat. For those that don't know, a bunch of get together on Twitter every so often to support each other through the CILIP qualifications process. We only use the hashtag #chartership for convenience - anyone taking any of the qualifications is welcome.

Below is a Storify of the latest chat:

Monday, 22 September 2014

Recent Presentations

I've done quite a bit of public speaking in the last couple of weeks so I've been able to add some more presentations to my resume.

A couple of weeks ago I delivered my first official conference presentation at CILIP's Cataloguing and Indexing Group Conference. The theme was the Impact of Metadata and I chose to speak about Making an Impact with your Metadata on Social Media. This presentation looked at how I use Pinterest to promote metadata of the Library Science Collection at Cambridge.

A full write-up of this presentation will be written for the next issue of the CIG journal and I hope to post it here in due course.

Having completed my Chartership earlier in the year I was asked to talk about my experiences at a Chartership and Certification Event for CILIP East members. I had a really engaged audience who seemed keen to start the professional registration process. I've included the presentation below but if anyone wants further information then they can either read this post (on which the presentation was based) or contact me directly.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Powerful Phrases for Successful Interviews / Tony Beshara, AMACOM

In this book, professional recruiter Tony Beshara sets out to give job applicants an insider's advice on how to answer those tricky interview questions. The book mainly contains example questions with suggested answers as well as an introduction to each chapter offering some insight into the recruitment process.

Covering the whole of the application process from responding to the initial advertisement to how to negotiate terms once offered the job, the book contains something for every hopeful candidate. Beshara gives examples of words and phrases that will make you stand out from the crowd and stay in the mind of the interviewer long after you have left the room. Although set answers to the questions are provided I would use these more as a guideline to adapt rather than repeating them word for word. The context behind many of the questions is explained which helps to put the applicant in the shoes of the interviewer to uncover what the real meaning of the question is.

Advice is also given on how to construct your own answers. Readers are encouraged to answer interview questions in a clear and simple and provide examples wherever possible. Making these examples quantifiable can help to give you the edge over the competition. I was also pleased to see a chapter on covering letters and how to construct them as this is something that people, including myself, often struggle with.

I found some of the example phrases given a little forced and some of the techniques used a little aggressive. The book is written mainly for the business sector where tactics such as cold calling about jobs are part of the culture but I'm not sure this would transfer to all sectors. It would take a certain degree of confidence to follow some of the examples in this book, but if you can pull it off it might work for you.

Overall I think that the book has some useful general advice for job applicants and provides many examples of possible questions you could face. I would recommend it to confident people who have read all the usual 'how to ace the interview' books and are looking for something a bit different to add to their repertoire. 

For more information on this title please visit the O'Reilly product page.