Friday 27 February 2015

Making an Impact with Metadata on Social Media

At the beginning of September 2014 I worked up the courage to present at my first national conference - CILIP CIG 2014. The theme of Metadata - Making an Impact really appealed to me (and not just because I was on the conference organising committee!). I decided to talk about a successful work project involving a Pinterest board which I created for the Cambridge Library Science Collection. The slides for my talk are included below together with the write up I produced for the Catalogue and Index journal. The latter is reproduced here with the kind permission of CILIP CIG.

We all know that cataloguers produce great quality metadata but we also know that our users seldom turn to the library catalogue as their first, or even second, source of information. However many users are active on social media on a regular basis, keeping in touch with their peers and their institutions. Libraries are taking advantage of this by promoting themselves and their collections on various social sites. This article will discuss the use of the website Pinterest to promote the Library Science Collection at Cambridge University Library. Pinterest is an online pinboard where users can share images of interest with their followers and at Cambridge we use this to share our metadata in visual form.

The Library Science Collection at Cambridge is a result of the library’s legal deposit status. This dedicated professional collection is made up of approximately 2000 items, mainly monographs and journals but also a growing ebook collection. After taking over the management of the collection one of my key goals was to advertise this valuable professional resource to both Cambridge librarians and the wider information world. The collection now has an established social media presence including a blog, Twitter account and Pinterest site.

Rise of the visual web
Pinterest has become increasingly popular in the last few years as part of the phenomenon of the visual web. Visual websites are overtaking text based sites as the main method of communication on social media. In recent years sites such as Instagram and Snapchat have launched to huge acclaim and almost instant popularity. Analysts claim that we are moving away from a text based web towards something more visual and people are designing image based websites as a way to tap into this trend. You need look no further than some of the newer templates on popular sites such as Wordpress to see where this trend is taking hold. Couple this with the general decrease in people's attention spans and it becomes clear that websites now need something different to draw users in and engage them with the content. In addition to this, image based sites offer a better display on mobile devices. Studies show that people are accessing increasingly large amounts of information on devices such as smartphones and tablets which may have problems with text based sites. As information providers we need to be aware of this when designing our web presence.

The visual web has several advantages over its text-based counterpart. Think back to a time when you have done a web search only to be confronted with one page full of densely packed text and another page full of images. There you can start to see how difficult text is to absorb quickly whereas carefully chosen images can make an almost instant impact.

Using Pinterest at Cambridge
So how can we use this knowledge of the visual web to make our metadata more discoverable?

As mentioned, Pinterest is a collection of online pinboards where users can upload, link to and share images which then link back to content. An example of a Pinterest board can be seen below:

Visitors to the site can browse the images and then click through to visit the original content such as a blog post or news item. Libraries can use the same mechanism to share their metadata with users in a visual form.

Currently at Cambridge we are using Pinterest to create an online new books display. Cover images of the books are displayed on our pin board and used can access the catalogue record by clicking on the image. This has obvious benefits over the traditional new books display still used by traditional libraries. With an online display the physical books are still accessible for use so users are not restricted from accessing the actual material. Users no longer need to be in the library building to see what has been added to the collection, opening it to a wider professional audience. Another advantage is the sites simplicity for both librarian and user. It is easy to navigate, even for those new to the format and does not require registration to browse. The images posted display in online image searches, further aiding is discoverability.

Fig. 1
Constructing a Pinterest board is a simple process. Obviously the first thing you need to do to set up a page is register for an account. Before you do this it is worth finding out if your institution already has an existing account which you can join as this can help to grow an audience for your site. Accounts can have multiple boards on a variety of subjects. Each individual image on these boards is known as a 'pin'. Pins can be uploaded from a computer or taken directly from a website. The easiest way to do this is to install Pinterest's Pin It browser extension (Fig 1). This extension is available for most browsers trombone from the Pinterest homepage and selects images with one click.

The crucial component of a Pinterest site is to link the image back to the content you wish to share, in the case of Cambridge this would be the metadata of the book represented by its cover image. When you pin an image from the Internet Pinterest automatically links back to the original content. As we use Library Search at Cambridge, Pinterest links to the main catalogue interface as a default. A small amount of editing is required to make sure that cover images link back to the stable URL of the item rather than the main homepage of the catalogue. This is achieved by using the Pinterest edit interface. If you select the small pen symbol (Fig. 2) on the pin this takes you to an edit screen where you can make the necessary changes to the source URL.

Fig. 2
As the image is uploaded Pinterest will provide a short description in the description box (Fig. 3). In order to increase metadata exposure, at Cambridge we expand on this to include the basic bibliographic details of the book - full title, author and classmark. This provides a quick reference to users without having to click through to the catalogue, although this is still the main aim of the project. When the pin in complete it functions as a visual link to the catalogue.

Fig. 3

The Library Science Pinterest board has been extremely popular, gaining nearly four hundred followers in the first few hours after its launch. Since then follower numbers have continued to climb and engagement via likes and shares has been positive. Individual pins and whole boards can be also be promoted easily. For a site which requires minimal work to produce this is an excellent outcome which has helped to promote the visibility of both the collection and its metadata.

Like many other image sharing sites, Pinterest has been the subject of some copyright discussion. It goes without saying that libraries using Pinterest need to be mindful of copyright, particularly when using cover art as these are of course copyrighted works in their own right.

Prior to starting the Pinterest project at Cambridge we consulted the University Copyright Department who cleared us to use images that were available through our catalogue interface as long as they linked back to the source of the image - the catalogue record. Not all titles in Library Search have cover images so unfortunately we cannot include images for these unless we seek individual permission from the copyright holders. We decided early on in the project that this was not practical and so do not include these books on our board.

If you cannot obtain clearance from your institution’s copyright department or are in any way unsure if you can use the images then the safest policy is to avoid using them.

Other uses for Pinterest
Even if pinning cover images is not an option for your library there are alternative ways of using Pinterest to make your metadata more discoverable online.

Topic and resource boards are easy to assemble and can make a great visual impact. Using images you have either created yourself or found an appropriate Creative Commons license for  you can create eye-catching pins which you can then link back to your metadata. Topic boards focus on a theme and can take advantage of popular news stories such as the anniversary of the First World War. Resource boards use a similar approach but centre around popular academic topics such as How to write an essay. Using Pinterest in this way you can create a graphic reading list of items and ensure that your metadata is noticed.

Top pinning tips
If you do decide to pursue Pinterest there are some important points to bear in mind.  As with other social sites Pinterest allows account holders to write short biographies of themselves or their institution. In addition there is a chance to compose a short description for each board. Write these carefully and try to include relevant keywords to increase discoverability. Choose or create your images with care to create the maximum impact on both Pinterest and the Internet in general. The aim is to make people stop and look in an environment which is increasingly becoming image dependent.

Pinning images with links to our metadata has proved hugely popular at Cambridge. It provides us with a way to tap into the trend for the visual web using metadata - something not traditionally thought of as picturesque. Hopefully this helps us to make more of an impact with our metadata on social media.

Edited to add: Since this article was first published Pinterest have become more forceful in trying to get you to sign in/up to view pins. I think this is a real shame as allowing non-members easy access was one of the biggest selling points of Pinterest for me.

Originally published: Catalogue and Index, November 2014.

Monday 2 February 2015

How To ... Write a Conference Proposal

Presenting at a conference can be a great way to gain some professional experience and share your ideas with your colleagues. Aside from the obvious hurdles of a fear of public speaking and actually giving the presentation there is something else to overcome first - writing the conference proposal!

Following on from my post on writing book reviews I thought I would gather some thoughts on how to write a conference proposal. I don't claim to be an expert but this a collection of tips I gathered when I wrote my first (successful) conference proposal last year. I hope you find some of them helpful:
  • take the time time to actually read the proposal criteria. This might sound obvious but it can be easy to miss important details in the excitement of crafting a proposal. Make sure the topic/approach you want to use is suitable for the conference in order to save yourself a lot of wasted work. Each conference has slightly different criteria so pay attention to these
  • show enthusiasm for your topic in your proposal. If you sound bored then those reading it will think this will come across in your presentation. Zzzzzz...
  • link your proposal to the themes of the conference. Look for keywords in the call for papers and use them
  • consider your audience when writing your proposal. If they're experts in the subject then assume that they know what you're talking about and don't outline the basics as this will give you less space to pitch your actual idea. Provide a brief introduction to your topic but don't talk down to people
  • don't waffle. The person/panel reviewing your proposal are likely to have many to get through so make sure they don't get bored of yours. Hiding behind big words can send up a red flag with reviewers. Focus and be concise
  • don't be too ambitious with what you want to include. All presentations have a running time which will be clearly stated in the call for papers. Chances are you could talk about your research or project for hours but you may only have time to focus on one aspect. Pick the one that most closely reflects the theme of the conference. The good news is that this can result in multiple chances to present based on one project!
  • come up with an attention grabbing title but don't forget to include a subtitle that tells people what the presentation is about. Many attendees only skim titles so make sure that they know what they're likely to attend
  • get someone to give you a second opinion, or even a third or fourth. You may understand what you mean but you also need to know that it is clear to those reading your work. You will have spent time crafting your proposal and it would be a shame to let jargon and mistakes let you down. Proofread!
  • get your proposal in on time. Much like job interviews sending a proposal in late indicates that you might not be the best person for the job
  • prepare for rejection. Chances are that this will happen more often than acceptance and you need to be realistic. If it's appropriate then ask for feedback about the decision as this can help you prepare in the future
  • keep a record of your proposals, especially the ones that don't make the cut. You will have put a lot of work in to them and you may be able to use them (with some tweaking!) in the future. As with job applications remember to tailor your proposal to the conference rather than just recycling it. People will notice and it won't reflect well on you
These are just a few tips to get people started. As always if there is something I've missed then let me know and I can add it in. Happy conferencing!

Photo: Vincent Lock via Photopin

Academic Writing Librarian - a great source for calls for papers
Writing a Successful Conference Paper Proposal
How to Write a a Paper or Conference Proposal Abstract
How to Write a Killer Conference Abstract