Monday 23 December 2013

An Early New Year Reflection

Before you go any further with this blog post there is a small disclaimer: yes, this is one of those annoying reflective posts that people tend to write at this time of year! I don't know if it's the emphasis on reflective practice inherent in the Chartership process or something else, but I've come to really value the importance of looking back on your achievements and thinking about how you could improve yourself.

I do a lot of extra-curricular activities that are library related but not specific to my job. I see things like attending conferences and webinars as important professional development tools and I don't mind doing them in my own time. Having said that, one important lesson that I've learnt this year is that it's important to really plan your CPD rather than just attending events because you think you should. If you attend everything you will burn out and grow to resent something you should be enjoying. When you see an event/course advertised ask yourself does it fit with your goals?, why do you want to attend? If you can't think of three solid reasons then it's probably best not to. Remember that not all attendance has to be physical. You can follow conferences on Twitter using hashtags or watch a recorded webinar at a time when you don't have as much going on.

One activity that I made a decision to pursue this year was joining the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group Committee, which I did in January. I've wanted to be involved in this group for a long time and I'm so glad I am as it has been a great experience. As the blog manager I was able to build a blog from scratch and have built up a lot of transferable skills. I hope to continue long into the future.

Public speaking is never going to be my favorite activity but I've learnt this year that I'm not as bad as I think I am. I spoke at the Libraries@Cambridge conference in January as well as presenting a poster, I gave a nano-presentation at ARLG Teachmeet and ran a session at LibCampEast. As the year has gone on I've been less terrified of trying something new and the thought of talking in public no longer brings me out in a cold sweat. I think diving in at the deep end with something you don't like can sometimes work out for the best. The first presentation I gave this year was in front of almost all the librarians in Cambridge which was absolutely panic-inducing. If something went wrong then everyone would know, not just at my own library but all over town. Luckily it didn't and I found subsequent presentations much easier. Librarians at these events are very supportive, especially of first-timers. Maybe it's not a bad thing to start off with the most terrifying thing, everything after it seems less awful in comparison!

I've also worked on my writing skills, producing two articles which have been published with another still to come. I don't claim that these articles are anything earth shattering in terms of content but it was nice to get some experience of formal writing that wasn't for my degree course. It also helps to make the CV look good! My advice to anyone concerned about writing for any sort of library publication, or even a blog, is to just go for it. If you have something to say then someone will be listening. The library community is a very engaged bunch and is always grateful to have a new point of view.

'Mentoring' is a word I've never been comfortable with, especially in relation to myself. I've never had the professional confidence to think that people would want to take my advice but this has changed over the course of 2013. I've helped out some people, both within my workplace and outside, with career advice and they seem to be doing well. I think the fact that I have the faith in myself to do this is one of the things that I am most proud of for this year. The other thing is the fact that in the summer I graduated with an MSc in Library and Information Studies from Aberystwyth University. It was a hard journey but worth it. To anyone currently working towards a degree I would say that there is light at the end of the tunnel and being able to call yourself a librarian officially at the end of it is a great feeling.

I promise that my self indulgence is over for another year! I'd like to thank everyone for reading this blog, it really does mean a lot to me and the comments and interactions I get through the blog and Twitter are probably the main reasons that my confidence has improved so much. I wish everyone a happy 2014 both personally and professionally, and encourage you to keep developing and reflecting in any way you can. It really is worth it, I promise!

photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

Thursday 12 December 2013

Making Time for What's Important

This is a busy time of year for everyone, both personally and professionally. There are social and family commitments, professional activities, study and of course our normal work responsibilities. So when SLA announced their Time Hacks: Managing Day to Day and Long Term Projects webinar on time management I signed up. I'm as guilty as anyone of taking on too much sometimes so I thought that the webinar would be a good place to pick up some tips on how to stay sane!

I'm not involved in any formal project management as part of my current role but I have a lot of professional activities that I need to keep on top of (including Chartership, which I think these tips work really well for). Anything that we take on can be considered a project in that it needs to be worked through in stages and completed. I've outlined my main takeaways from the presentation below:
  • it's important to set goals when working on a project. The key is to focus on what you want to achieve and how you plan on getting there
  • don't underestimate the process of writing things down on paper as this can help you focus on what really needs to be done
  • use a calendar to schedule your time
  • identify your most productive time of day and make the most of it. If you're at your best in the morning then this is when you should work on the big projects. This is called 'putting yourself first' and may be easier said than done in the real world, but could still work some of the time
  • it's scientifically proven that people are more productive when writing if they work in small daily sessions rather than large chunks of spread out time. For example, schedule in thirty minutes a day to work on your writing rather than several hours over a weekend. This is something that I know people have tried with Chartership through things like #chapowrimo
  • find a way to manage your email. Use filters to direct certain messages away from your inbox. Be ruthless!
  • when managing projects use technology to make your life easier. Create a dynamic list of all current projects in a spreadsheet which lists things like the name of the project, its status and its importance. When a project has been completed move this to another spreadsheet. This keeps things clearer and provides a framework for end of year reports or reflection. Use Google Drive or Github to organise and share information with others
  • the human brain cannot concentrate fully for extended periods of time. Learn to balance tasks which need a lot of attention with those you can do in your sleep. This will give you a change of pace and ultimately make you more productive
  • distract yourself with shiny things to make mundane tasks more enjoyable. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a slight obsession with stationary and probably keep the local branch of Paperchase in business. Having a nice notebook and pen to do your work can trick your brain into thinking that the task is more fun than it is. Works for me anyway!

I think the thing that struck me most was the portion of the webinar about making time. The presenters were keen to stress that although everyone has demands on their time the key thing to do is to make time for what's important to you.

There was a real focus on the importance of reflection throughout the webinar which links to a lot of what I have been doing recently whilst working on Chartership. The presenters suggested doing a 'quick and dirty' inventory of your current activities to see what could be improved using five minute lists:

  1. What are you doing? - what takes up your time at the moment?
  2. How long is it taking? - don't be too precise, estimates are fine
  3. How important is it? - rate this on a scale of 1-5 (where 5 is the most important)
  4. Must it be done right now? - make some notes about what you need to accomplish
Use these answers to construct a table to reflect and improve. Mine is included below:

How’s it going?
Things to change/try
Set up library collection blog
Really enjoy this but it takes up a lot of time
Could let go a little and get some help to manage the blog
Write article
Good, just needs a final proof read
Learn to expect good enough rather than perfection!
Volunteer work
I love it but I find it hard to make time for everything I would like to be involved in
Maybe limit how many things I get involved with – three a year?

You can then use the table to decide what you do less of, more of, what you could ask for help with, do differently or relax about. I found this a really useful exercise which I think will help with my time management in the future as I try out new projects.

Remember that time is not the only impacting when things get done. If you feel burdened with something then it's likely that it will take you longer to complete than something you enjoy. Of course, there are some things we don't like that we can't avoid doing but maybe this should be a lesson in only undertaking the projects that are important to us in our own time. I think that this is the most important thing I'm going to take away from the webinar and it will certainly influence my choice of projects in the future.

Suggested reading:

The Truth About Getting More Done / Mark Fritz
Time Management for System Administrators / Thomas A. Limoncelli

photo credit: Tania Ho via photopin cc

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Tagging Library School Reading Lists in the Catalogue

I've recently been given the opportunity to develop and promote the Library Science collection at Cambridge University Library and I'm really enjoying the experience so far. I've been given a fairly broad remit which means that I've been able to try out a lot of initiatives that I've read about or studied (such as using Pinterest to promote the collection).

Another thing I've been quite keen to develop is access to material on the reading lists of various library courses. Luckily we're a Legal Deposit library which means that we hold many of the titles already, it's really a matter of making sure the last few make it into the collection. In order to make it easier for users to retrieve the items on their reading lists I've been experimenting with tagging books in the catalogue and adding them to lists. The UL uses LibrarySearch which provides tagging and list functions through it's My Discoveries tab. I decided to use course codes to tag the items as I thought this would cause the least confusion. At the moment I've only made lists according to university rather than individual course but this is something I can develop in the future is needed.

The outcome of this is a reading list which displays like this in the catalogue:

Hopefully this will make it easier for users to see at a glance whether the library holds the item that they want. One of the main benefits of this feature is that users don't need to know what the tag is. LibrarySearch allows you to create your own search URL which can then be used as a link. For example clicking on Robert Gordon University : The Digital Age should bring up the reading list shown above

One major disadvantage that I've found is that LibrarySearch doesn't allow you to tag certain items, which results in an incomplete list. I'm looking into a solution for this and will hopefully be able to find one. The plan is to launch a dedicated website for the collection through the University Library website which will include links to reading list materials. Fingers crossed I can make it work before then!