Tuesday, 19 July 2016

CILIP Conference 2016

I really do like to be beside the seaside, especially with a group of librarians on Brighton Pier! Although chasing my colleagues around on the dodgems was fun there was also a serious side to the recent CILIP Conference and I felt that I came away with a lot. In this post I'm just going to focus on the keynotes or I will be here forever.

The most inspiring talk for me was given by Scott Bonner, Director, Ferguson Municipal Library. Most people will remember Ferguson as the site of violence following the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer. During the crisis that followed Scott and his team kept the Library open to the local community, often in the face of personal danger. Teachers began to use the Library to hold classes, ensuring that local children still received an education when the schools were closed. 

Scott talked about the need for libraries in times of crisis, a theme that was echoed throughout the conference. He pointed out that "libraries are awesome all the time" as we do a lot for the communities that we serve, Ferguson was just one extraordinary example. He acknowledged that he made mistakes with his approach such as choosing to close the Library at one point but he learnt from them and took those lessons forward in dealing with the crisis that unfolded. 

One major decision was what the library would be during this time - did they remain a library, become a school or try to find a middle ground? Ferguson did the latter and found a workable middle ground that helped the community it served. This was the undercurrent of Scott's message - libraries do what they can to provide for their communities in emergencies and everyday life. It's hardly the same thing but Scott's talk made me think of the refuge that academic libraries can provide to students in exam term. Sure we're a place to study but we also provide a place to take a break, sleep (!) or a shoulder to cry on in some instances. As Scott pointed out libraries can be a "quiet oasis" in stressful times and I think this is often an underestimated service. His powerful message also made me think about the current Brexit crisis and it's implications for the academic community. I'm not sure yet what libraries can do in this context but I can bet we will be (and already are) doing something!

A Storify of tweets from Scott Bonner's keynote can be found here (many thanks to Emma Illingworth for compiling).

The second keynote was from Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt who talked about 'The Challenges and Opportunities of Open Data'. This is an area I've come to know quite well during the past few months in my new role within Scholarly Communication. Shadbolt highlighted some examples of historical open data use such as Snow's Cholera Map which showed that the disease was spread via water pumps. He also talked about modern uses of data such as Transport for London who made their data available to others who then built travel apps which many people use on a daily basis. 

Whilst the overall message about open data wasn't new to me (and others in the audience and online) it was news to some. As I was coming out of the talk I overheard many people talking about how they hadn't seen things in this context before and how they were going to look into the area more. The keynote could be seen as preaching to the choir as information professionals really should know about these things but I don't think it deserved all the criticism it gained. The CILIP Conference attracts a range of people from across all sectors who may never had a chance to hear this sort of information before. I work in a major academic library and I know many colleagues who don't know about this area - it's one of the reasons my job exists at all. I know about it precisely because I've been to events like this and learnt about it, otherwise I would be just as clueless. My point is that everyone has to start somewhere and sometimes you have to go back to basics to get people interested. If the keynote has educated some people then it did it's job.

Once again a Storify of tweets by Emma Illingworth can be found here.

The final keynote came from Lauren Smith, a researcher in the information world. This keynote really brought together the conference as Lauren echoed Scott Bonner's comments by stating that libraries weren't waiting for a crisis to act - we are IN a crisis situation right now. With Brexit, the state of the UK government, service closures and issues surrounding immigration and refugees this is our time of crisis. Lauren called on information professionals to remember that libraries are political, they tackle issues of socio-political divides and unequal access to information. Although we are safe spaces we are not neutral as we provide a place for people to go to access information on topics that others might consider dangerous. Information professionals are there to provide access to information, not to judge.

Again I heard many comments as we were leaving the hall. Some colleagues complained that it seemed a strange note to end a conference on - at times it wasn't a happy and upbeat message. However I would argue that it was a message that got people thinking and talking long after Lauren left the podium. This is a sign of a good keynote and a good conference. Rather than taking the safe route by reassuring us that everything was perfectly fine it gave us a kick and made us take notice. Well done to CILIP for being willing to hear this message and well done to Lauren for delivering it.

A video of Lauren's speech can be found here (via SL McDonald).

Overall it was another great conference. It was also the first conference I feel I've attended as a 'proper professional' - I have a permanent role and this was a work sanctioned rather than self-funded trip. Hopefully this will continue long into the future - I can't wait for CILIP 2017! 

Monday, 4 July 2016

IFLA - Why I wanted to attend

This is the second in a series of posts about my experience of IFLA WLIC 2016. Other posts can be found here.

In this post I'm going to explore some of the reasons I wanted to attend IFLA. I can predict the answer people are currently shouting at their screens: "you're getting a trip to another country!". Well yes, it would be silly not to acknowledge that this was part of the attraction of applying for the bursary but it wasn't the only reason. Attending IFLA WLIC is my first chance to attend a major international conference. Many people assume that because I work at Cambridge I get money thrown at me to attend conferences and events all the time but we have the same financial constraints as everyone else. Almost all of the events I've attended have been due to bursaries or have come from my own pocket. There is no way I could afford to attend a conference abroad without assistance and I have been applying for bursaries to a range of events, including IFLA, for years. In 2016 I got lucky!

During my research for all of these applications I read the blog posts of previous winners who have had a chance to attend IFLA. Each person had different experiences but they all came away feeling inspired which is something I very much look forward to. Whenever I've attended conference at both a local and national level I have come away feeling inspired by the people I've met and the ideas that have been shared and I think that an international conference can only add to this. In my professional life I mainly come into contact with colleagues from the academic sector but I'm hoping to talk to those from across other sectors at the conference as I think we'll have much to learn from each other. Part of my role involves overseeing training for librarians from various Cambridge libraries (there are quite a few of them!) and I'm particularly interested to discover the different approaches to training that people use so that I can bring back some new ideas. I'm still relatively new to the world of scholarly communication but I know it's a growing area of interest in the profession. I'm hoping to talk to other attendees working in the same area about how they have developed their presence in the library. One thing I am especially interested in is securing staff buy-in with scholarly communication. Hopefully I'll be able to gain some insight and bring this back to Cambridge (and the rest of the library community).

Attendees also talk about the different experience of attending a major international event. Many call them overwhelming due to their size and scope. I'm not someone who normally thrives in situations like this but I know that I need to learn more about networking and putting myself out there. It's part of my role and part of the profession and is something I have been working on for the past few years. I'm not sure if or when I will ever get to attend an event of this size again so I'm going to make the most of this opportunity to develop my skills in this area. Nothing like jumping in at the deep end to make everything else seem less scary! Being in charge of professional development activities for library staff in my current role it's important to me personally to set an example and demonstrating a confident presence at an international conference would be an important step towards achieving this goal.

Following on from this on a more personal level this conference would give me a chance to make an impact in my workplace. My department has existed for less than two years and my role is a new one to the library. Whilst I'm excited about being part of providing professional development opportunities for staff it is a big responsibility (and hopefully one I can live up to) and I need to take a strong leadership role in order to make this a success. I've learnt a lot about leadership over the past year in the Leadership Programme and I'm looking forward to putting it into practice at the conference and beyond. IFLA will be a valuable chance to talk to world leaders in the information profession and I hope that this will help me with my own leadership journey moving forward.

As you may have guessed after reading this far this post is adapted from a section of my bursary application. I'm not holding it up as the perfect example by any means but at least people can see what I wrote. Hopefully if you are applying for similar opportunities in future this post will give you some pointers on where to start.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Another New Challenge

I've recently taken on the role of Social Media Editor with the New Review of Academic Librarianship. Having been involved with social media for some time both through work and volunteering commitments this was something I was keen to do to test my skills on the next level. I've been tasked with starting the journal's social media presence almost from scratch and I'm excited for the challenge. 

Part of my motivation for taking on this role is to help demystify the publication process for those who want to get involved with academic publishing but maybe think it isn't for them. I don't want the social media channels to turn into purely an advertising resource - I want to have a conversation with people and share what the Editorial Board does. Time will tell if I succeed with this! My work with the Board will also give me a chance to explore the scholarly communication process from another angle, something which will fit in with my current role.

If you are interested in reading more I recently gave an interview to Taylor and Francis on how I will be approaching things which can be found here. I hope it proves an interesting read (and apologies for the smug photograph - I'm not that smug in real life, I promise!).

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Road to IFLA

Thanks to CILIP and my participation in the Leadership Programme I have been given the chance to attend the IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Columbus, Ohio. With just under one hundred days to go until the conference I wanted to share what will be the first in a series of blog posts looking at the experience. Hopefully I can help to shed some light on the process of attending a conference like this and encourage others to aim for the same experience.

Now that the shock of winning the grant has finally worn off I'm deep in planning mode. I've never attended a conference overseas before and I hadn't realised quite how much I would need to arrange - flights, accommodation, paperwork, getting to and from the airport .... The most complex my conference attendance has ever gotten before is working out which platform my train leaves from! IFLA have produced a checklist of things you need to prepare before the conference but it's a little sparse for an over-planner like me. It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks but I think I finally have everything in place.

With the boring but necessary stuff out of the way it's time to think about which sessions I will attend at the actual conference. The final programme has only recently been released and is still being updated but IFLA released a list of session themes a while ago. I'm especially interested in attending the sessions which focus on professional development for librarians. My role has responsibility for training Cambridge library staff and there are many of them with different needs so I want to see what colleagues around the world are doing in terms of staff development. Hopefully I can find some ideas to bring back and use in my current role. I'm also interested in attending sessions which look at scholarly communication issues. Even though I've been in my current role for six months now (where has the time gone!) I'm still quite new to the world of scholarly communication and there is much to learn. Finally I want to attend some sessions which have absolutely nothing to do with my role. It's been my experience from attending previous conferences that many sessions which don't sound relevant end up producing the most unexpected results. We can learn a lot from other sectors which we can then adapt to our own. Hopefully I will attend some interesting lessons as a result. With a conference as large as IFLA there are many sessions on offer and working out which ones to attend can be overwhelming. The conference has it's own online planner which allows you to put together a bespoke schedule of sessions and either print it out or export it to your calendar. Hopefully this will help me find my way around at the actual event.

There is also some downtime built into the week including tours and visits which I plan to take advantage of. I've booked a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archive (because how could I not?!) and I hope to take one of the conference tours of Columbus as it would be a shame to go all that way and not see the sights. There is also a conference social event at COSI - Center of Science and Industry - which should provide a good chance to network in a less formal way.

I'm aiming to share what I learn from this conference experience in a number of ways - a series of blog posts, live tweeting sessions and I've finally registered for Instagram so I can share images. I hope people find this useful and that it encourages them to apply for similar opportunities. If there is anything people want to know about/would like me to watch out for then hit the comment button below.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Teaching Forum 2016

Queens' College, Cambridge
Yesterday I attended the inaugural Teaching Forum organised by the newly launched Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning. In it's own words the Teaching Forum aims to bring together staff across the University to discuss all aspects of education. The aims of the Centre include:
  • supporting those who teach in Cambridge to contribute more broadly to the Cambridge experience
  • to encourage innovation within teaching and
  • to provide a useful focus for issues in higher education
After a welcome from Professor Graham Virgo, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, we moved into the first of several parallel sessions.

Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright: Understanding first year undergraduates Physics performance by gender
Dr. Jardine-Wright talked about the differences between male and female students when it came to attaining top grades in Physics and suggested possible reasons for this. I won't go into too much detail as she asked that results not be shared in that way but I got a lot out of the session. Dr. Jardine-Wright talked about the importance of helping students transition from A-level to university level education and highlighted the successful work of the Isaac Physics project which helps students of physics prepare for the transition to studying at a higher level.

This got me thinking about helping students through the transition to university, something libraries can have a key role in. It has always struck me that from secondary school through to A-level many students are taught to answer exam papers and then when they arrive at university they are suddenly expected to manage their own learning, often with little or no preparation. What is the role of the library here? I think many libraries help students when they first arrive by teaching them information management skills and instilling good habits but I wonder what else we could or should we be doing? Are we already doing too much or is this something we can contribute to? I don't have a definitive answer but I'm open to suggestions.

Dr Sonia Ilie: Capturing excellent education outcomes: measuring students learning gain
This presentation outlined the work so far on HEFCE commissioned research to test and evaluate methods of learning gain. Learning gain is becoming an increasingly important method of measuring the outcomes of education and is one of the metrics used in the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework. Dr. Ilie defined learning gain as the progress in knowledge, skills and competencies made by students during their higher education experience. As with all concepts like this it proves complex to measure as it needs to take into account elements such as the differences across disciplines and sectors. A hastily snapped picture of the slide explaining the model so far is below.

Slide from Dr Sonia Ilie

It will be interesting to see where this research goes. I was lucky enough to be invited along to discuss CILIP's response to the Green Paper outlining the TEF last year and it's definitely something information professional should keep an eye on. Where is our place as teachers and will we be subject to the same measures should the TEF come into force (as looks likely)?

From a more personal perspective measuring learning outcomes is something I have been thinking about a lot in my current role as I prepare to implement the next phase of our Research Ambassador training programme. How do I measure what participants have learnt in an effective way without resorting to formal assessment (not in the budget at the moment). I'm looking into options for self and peer assessment but this presentation has given me other options to explore.

Dr Sue Kroeger: Inclusive teaching: design and practice
Dr. Kroeger from the University of Arizona talked about the importance of thinking about the student when planning educational programmes. Her research focuses on the needs of disabled students but her points can be generalised to all students. When planning a lesson teachers need to think about making the class accessible for all - how do you design it so that you don't have to make adjustments for people since you have already made it accessible to all? Thinking about students who have different needs this is an important point and can help everyone feel included in the education experience. It also has applications for areas such as library service and building design.

One thing that Dr. Kroeger said which really stuck with me was that we need to stop thinking about what we want to teach students but instead focus on what they want to learn. We can then use this as a basis for planning. Decisions about the content of a course are traditionally made by the teacher as the expert in the room but why not have guidance from students? This can then help them to engage with the content and take some ownership rather than just having knowledge thrown at them. This is definitely an approach I recognise in my own teaching and this talk has made me consider things from a new perspective. Trying to persuade people to attend training sessions is proving challenging at times so I'm going to try to take a different approach and think about what I want my learners to have as an outcome and take it from there.

Dr Amy Ludlow and Dr Ruth Armstrong: Educational partnerships between universities and prisons: how Learning Together can be individually, socially and institutionally transformative
This presentation followed on from the theme of coproduction in the previous session. It outlined the Learning Together project which brings students in prisons and universities together to study degree level material within the prison environment. In this example the students were studying Criminology material and then discussing it together. Both groups have been transformed by the experience and it was wonderful to see such a positive outcome. Past students wanted to continue their involvement as mentors to new students and the scheme seems to be working well. There was a lot of interest in the project at the Forum and invitations were issued to the presenters to enter into further discussions.

Following on from the previous presentation the talk looked at the theme of coproduction in learning - letting students contribute their voice to the learning experience. This was a recurring theme of the day for me and definitely something to think about as it adds so much to learning.

There were many themes coming out of the day which I will take away but the main one for me was the recurring theme of the importance of coproduction - letting students contribute their voice to the learning experience. There are implications for me in the way that I think about my own teaching practice and I want to explore these a bit more.

One thing that really struck me about the event was the number of library staff present. The Forum wasn't badged as an event for librarians but many of us attended anyway. I think this shows the strong emphasis placed on teaching by the Cambridge library community which is something I hope to see much more of in the future. 

photo credit: Queens' College via photopin (license)     

Monday, 4 April 2016

No 'I' in Team!

Every year in Cambridge we have a number of festivals featuring talks and events that range from the serious to the downright silly. One of the major events in the calendar is the Science Festival which showcases new discoveries and thinking from across the University. One of the talks that caught my eye was entitled How Teams Work. Since starting the CILIP Leadership Programme last year I've become very interested in all things leadership related. Add this to the fact that I've recently joined a new team at work and was looking for some insights it seemed like a good idea to book myself a ticket!
The talk was given by Lezlie Wallace who explained her research on teamwork which took place in the building sector. During her research she found a total of forty-eight factors which can lead to a successful team. Lezlie chose to focus on what she considered the top eight of these for her talk.

Common aim
Working towards a shared goal or a collective mission is the fundamental purpose of any team. Everyone contributes towards this goal in their own way but they must contribute for the team to be a success. The problems can start when team members differ on what the goal actually is. All teams are subject to the needs of their stakeholders but it's worth remembering that individual team members are stakeholders too and their needs need to be thought of. Lezlie advised that the best thing to do was allow everyone to have input into the mission followed by discussion. It's inevitable that not everyone will agree but at least you will be able to get people to understand what the mission is and take it from there.

Open dialogue
Once you have established the mission of the team it's important to promote an open atmosphere between team members. To do this communication needs to be multi-directional rather than just from the top down. If team members feel that they are actually being listened to rather than being dictated to they are likely to feel more valued. I'm sure we have all been in teams where we have had no input and it's not a good thing. It can cause a lot of bad feeling and undermine what the team is trying to do.

Team spirit
Give me a T, give me an E... Seriously, you don't have to get your cheerleader pom-poms out but having team spirit can be a real asset to the team. Lezlie pointed out that in an ideal situation this exists between all members although it seldom happens naturally. Teams are made up of individuals and this can cause friction as everyone has their own priorities. Building from her two previous points Lezlie showed that working towards a common goal and maintaining open communication can go a long way to creating team spirit.

All contribute
Much like members of the victorious Boat Race team (go Cambridge!!) everyone has to contribute to the effort for the team to succeed. This is where having a common goal comes in handy as everyone knows that they are aiming for. Team members need to be prepared to pitch in and help each other when they need to which means that they need to be flexible. I'm sure we've all been involved in situations where it is all hands to the deck to get something done to deadline. It doesn't hurt to go the extra mile for your colleagues once in a while.

Problem solving
Lezlie argued that one of the key benefits of team working is synergy - the team as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is particularly evident when it comes to problem solving as it can help to come up with creative solutions that would not be possible individually. Of course there will be conflict (unless you work in Stepford and everyone agrees with everything!) but this is a natural part of the creative process. People need to come up with wild ideas sometimes to create something new and exciting. Remember that Henry Ford said when asked how he had thought of the Model T: "if I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses"!

Mutual trust and respect
Following on from earlier points, Lezlie showed that this needs to exist between individuals in a team. It takes time and effort to create and can require compromise between members but it's well worth aiming for. Unfortunately there is no magic wand to wave to make it happen but by building on the steps outlined above it can be achieved in time.

Non-adversarial atmosphere
Conflict in any team is inevitable and as Lezlie pointed out it can be a benefit. The danger starts when teams move from constructive conflict into a toxic atmosphere. The solution to this is to have an authority figure who can lead negotiations over various issues. As the team becomes a more cohesive unit conflict will reduce, although never disappear completely. Lezlie also pointed out that negotiation doesn't mean eliminating certain viewpoints but rather incorporating all viewpoints into something people can accept. This is something I will definitely remember as it's all too easy to overlook when trying to get your point across.

Win/win outcome
The final factor was the outcome that is in the best interests of the team. At this point the team achieves its goals and the team members have a positive experience. This is the ideal but it can take a lot of work to get there! However at least if you have something to aim for you know when you're getting close.
My main takeaway from the talk was that although there are many different ways to work in or lead a team, the same factors need to be taken into consideration to ensure success. I've studied many different leadership models over the past few months and I can see patterns starting to form which gives me hope that they know what they're talking about! It may take time to get all of these interconnecting cogs to work but hopefully it will be worth it to create a strong team which gets the job done.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Top Tips for Presenting: Storify

As part of my new role I'm working on putting together a presentation skills course for library staff. This is a very wide-ranging topic and fitting in everything I want to say is a challenge! I decided one way to get round this was to crowd source top tips from librarians on Twitter. 

There were several themes coming out of the discussion which will feed my plans going forward. For those interested or wanting to pick up some tips themselves I've produced a quick Storify which can be found below: