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June 20, 2014 / playforth

Library birthday in the life

Photo CC By-NC-ND by Marina Noordegraaf on FlickrThe Library Day in the Life project is no longer officially running, but I thought since I was working on my birthday this year I might take stock and record some of the stuff I did.

Overall, it was a relatively quiet day – no sessions on the enquiry/circulation desk and only one meeting, which is incredibly rare these days. Things were also quiet with my international partners in our digital library project, in that I only exchanged a few emails with two current partners and didn’t have to face any difficult issues of finance or politics – a new and not particularly welcome aspect of my job. I didn’t get any cataloguing done, but I did catch up with some other ongoing type work which has been neglected in the midst of conferences, proposal writing, strategy meetings, training, contract negotiation and other stuff which probably counts as Urgent and Important (and Bloody Stressful) in the time/task management matrix…

So, a good day in that sense even though it’s more of a quick breather than a permanent easing of pressure.


Arrived at work, opened windows, read emails. Commented on a couple of circulated draft documents.


Made a few edits to my presentation slides for next week’s internal seminar on open access. Ate some shortbread.


Checked and approved submissions to our institutional repository.


Worked through some of a bibliography for a digitisation project, noting items requiring copyright clearance. (I’m now on page 19 of 64…)


Email and social media wrangling, including updating LinkedIn profile according to new library guidelines that we’ve been working on as part of our outreach and engagement strategy. Ate a brownie.


More repository submissions to go through. It’s great that deposits are increasing, but it’s getting fairly labour-intensive for yours truly… manual adding of cover sheets and making manual links to our catalogue are the main time-sink. Noted that we might need to review these workflows soon.


Lunch with our international advisory committee for our global knowledge programme, followed by a team presentation and library tour. A chance to talk about our projects to raise the profile and accessibility of research published in developing countries, including my digitisation and repository work. And to get free food.


Tried to work out why our project assistant STILL hasn’t got access to the right bits of the network, a month after she started work.


In lieu of a lunch break, some fannying about on the internet.


Reading – institutional ‘change process’ documents. Hm.


Caught up with emails/issue logs regarding upcoming LMS upgrade and resource discovery tool implementation, and played with a few things in the test versions.


MORE repository submissions to process.


In the bar for birthday drinks and Colombia vs Ivory Coast :)

June 16, 2014 / playforth

Open Repositories 2014: Moomins and metadata

I think I will be posting a fuller update elsewhere, but in the meantime here are some photos from #OR2014 in Helsinki, and also my slides.






Slides from my short paper below via Slideshare (and for the recording of the session with bonus technical hitches and stripey frock see

April 30, 2014 / playforth

Designing participatory events and conferences for introverts

Based on my (not vast, but growing) experience of attending conferences, unconferences, retreats and all manner of ‘participatory’ talking shops, some thoughts on how to make these things appealing and useful to introverts, and to maximise our contribution.

See also this recent post from the Event Manager Blog How To Engage Introverts at Conferences and the instant classic that was Susan Jain’s TED Talk The Power of Introverts.

  1. If the event spans several days or even one long day, build in plenty of short breaks. And make sure that scheduled breaks in the programme are actual breaks, with no enforced networking. Even ‘optional’ activities during breaks can be alienating for introverts who want to participate fully but need our downtime.
  2. Try to create quiet spaces with small clusters of seating to facilitate one-to-one/small group conversations. Many introverts find even small group discussions challenging if there’s a lot of noise and distraction around us.
  3. Allow multiple channels for submitting questions, ideas, comments and suggestions (eg social media, post-it notes and comment cards) as well as inviting verbal participation.
  4. If possible allow an open time frame for contributions – so questions can be submitted before, during and after the event. Welcoming post-event contributions is particularly important for introverts who often need time for reflection and forming our thoughts.
  5. Feed these contributions back into the live event (and/or future events) as much as possible – treat them as equally valid as traditional vocal input from ‘the floor’.
  6. If organising into groups to share feedback or ideas after a presentation, allow a little time for individual reflection before convening the groups.
  7. Provide copies of all slides/presentation material – in advance if possible, but if not then afterwards in an easily accessible location and format.
  8. Allow people to connect with each other at their own pace/in their own space before the event – online networking prior to a face-to-face meeting can be a useful icebreaker for introverts.
  9. Don’t try to solve the problem of a vocal minority by calling on those haven’t spoken. Introverts are not at our best when being put on the spot! But we will often speak up willingly if given enough room for thought.
  10. Finally, don’t make vocal participation on prescriptive terms (such as turn-taking) a condition of attendance – we might decide not to come at all!
April 28, 2014 / playforth

Motion is an illusion …

… running doubly so.

So here’s the thing. I’m ‘a runner’ now. I go for runs, often several times a week. I track them on Runkeeper. I wear running shoes and a good sports bra. I follow training plans. I have run a 5k race and plan to run 10k this summer. I can now see (however dimly) how sportspeople become driven, competing with their own personal bests on a mission to hit the next target, meet the next goal, win the next race.

Only that’s never going to be me. When I achieve a goal (5k, 6k, fastest time or whatever) it doesn’t give me a warm glow or spur me on to even greater things. Instead it’s proof that the goal was too easy, worth nothing, and I should be embarrassed to celebrate it. Same goes for work achievements. So what if I get a paper accepted or meet project targets – the poisonous logic of low self-esteem tells me that because I did it, it wasn’t an achievement at all. This is what life is like for those of us who battle with perfectionism and impostor syndrome and the like. It’s a little like a personal psychological version of Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise – we can never truly win the race or catch up with the perfect* version of ourselves in our heads, because whenever we meet a goal or reach a high point, that perfect version is already at a higher point.

My desktop at work has this quote (usually attributed to Theodore Roosevelt) on it: Comparison is the thief of joy. It’s supposed to remind me not to measure myself against others, and to find the joy in my own way of doing things. And in general it works – I don’t envy or resent those of my friends who run marathons, publish books or do other things that I will probably never achieve. But I’m not so sanguine when it comes to measuring myself against myself. There it seems, I just can’t win.


*OF COURSE I initially typed this as ‘prefect’, given the reference at the start of this post. For which mangling, apologies to Douglas Adams.

April 23, 2014 / playforth

Open Repositories 2014

I’m very excited to be going to Helsinki in June for a few long days and short nights (sunrise at 4am, sunset at 11pm) at the Open Repositories 2014 conference. I’ll be presenting a short paper on Tuesday 10th June as part of the 24×7 track (24 slides in 7 minutes), abstract below:

Grey literature, green open access: the BLDS Digital Library

Grey literature is increasingly available online, but there are still problems with finding and using it. Although the primary function of institutional repositories has been to store and make accessible pre-publication versions of peer reviewed articles, our experience at the British Library for Development Studies shows that repositories can also be an effective way of archiving and disseminating previously offline, dispersed or hidden research outputs.

Since 2010 we have been running a digitisation project with the aim of raising the profile and accessibility of research produced in developing countries. So far we have collaborated with 17 research institutions in Africa and Asia to digitise publications which may only exist in hard copy and in limited print runs. This involves either BLDS working from copies in our physical holdings, or supporting in-country digitisation by providing equipment and training. The digital versions are preserved and disseminated with a Creative Commons license through the BLDS Digital Library – a DSpace repository.

In our presentation we will outline our collaborative approach, highlight the kinds of material made accessible, and share some impact stories and lessons learned.

March 19, 2014 / playforth

Talking open access

Today I chaired a live panel discussion via Skype as preparation for an online event next week (Navigating the Complexities of Open Access). This was a first for me and as a phone-phobic person I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but it went pretty well I think. We had some predictable technical issues with 9 people trying to dial into the discussion from several African countries as well as India, Taiwan and Europe, but it still turned out to be an excellent forum for sharing ideas, knowledge and experience. And it gave us plenty to think about between now and next week’s wider discussion, which will happen via the Chat Literacy network (as well as on Facebook and Twitter – #BLDSOAChat).

Written as a contribution to that discussion (as well as shameless promotion of my pet project), here’s a post about how sharing content through the BLDS Digital Library can benefit institutions and form part of an open access and preservation strategy:

March 7, 2014 / playforth

Alignment, change and the balanced librarian

Do you align yourself with your profession, your sector, or your workplace? It’s probably a bit of all three, with the balance shifting depending on things like: the length of time in a workplace, the level of involvement in professional activities outside work, the amount of personal interest you have in your sector/workplace etc. I’ve been thinking about this lately, for no particular reason other than a growing awareness of the dynamics of work and our experience of it – helped by a recent Happiness at Work survey, and making some major personal work-life decisions around the same time.


When I first qualified as a librarian in 2006, I was proud of my academic achievement and excited about my newly-minted profession but I didn’t immediately feel like a librarian. I was working part-time in the broad area of information/learning resource provision but not in a library. I didn’t work with any other librarians, and I didn’t really hang out with any online or in real life either. My daughter was born at the end of that same year and I was on maternity leave for 6 months, which was a precious and crazy time but didn’t exactly help me feel embedded in my new profession. When I went back to work I was relieved to be going back to something familiar and flexible, and barely thought about how to progress in my ‘career’ for another couple of years. In short I was comfortable with my specific workplace and my role in it but not really engaged with the wider profession.

In 2009 I started work as a cataloguer in a ‘real’ library. It was around this time that I started getting involved in library talk on Twitter, going to more library events and generally feeling like a librarian. However, my post didn’t strictly require a library qualification, and my library was small and somewhat idiosyncratic, straddling a line between academic library, subject-specific research collection, and charity. But at this point I was so pleased to be doing actual library work and meeting actual librarians that I tended to ignore the gaps between my day to day work and the idea of ‘a librarian’ that I had begun to apply to myself. I’d characterise this period as feeling strongly aligned to my profession but in a workplace that was still somewhat adrift from it, and didn’t really fit into a defined sector.

So what about now? I’ve worked in this funny library for over 5 years now, and several more shifts have taken place. The library itself has changed and, in terms of systems and technology, aligned itself more with what other libraries are doing, but at the same time my role has become less traditionally ‘librariany’. I don’t do much cataloguing now, and the projects I’m currently working on use very few of the ‘hard’ information management skills I learned at library school. I’m managing a service that is embedded in the wider institution, meaning that I have stronger ties to this workplace as a whole than ever before. I’m also doing more international and partnership work and this has tended to align me more with what colleagues are doing (we work in international development) than with other academic librarians. But my strongest alignment is with the library specifically – we’re a great team and we do great work :)

Rachel in the Serials

I guess the perfect balance is feeling that you’re using and updating all your professional skills and contributing to your professional community, in a sector you believe in and understand, in a workplace that values you and that you like. I’m not sure I’ve cracked it completely but it’s something to aim for!


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