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December 15, 2014 / playforth

The year’s midnight

candle-179298_640A quick review post as we – unbelievably – approach the end of another year.

My goals for the year were:

1. Have a paper accepted for at least one more publication or conference

I spoke at two big international conferences this year (Open Repositories 2014 and the UK African Studies Association conference), very different experiences but both enriching and surprising and difficult and fun.

2. Be more strategic (and cynical?) about my role at work and what I want/can afford to give to other people and teams. Stop being in denial about the politics involved.

No, still crap at this. I’m more aware of the politics perhaps, but no better at navigating my way through them.

3. Set aside some time every week for personal writing/publishing admin

It hasn’t been as regular as every week, but I’ve been slightly more organised about keeping records of submission, publication etc. I still want to be submitting more, and also just producing more new work. But inspiration hasn’t visited very often this year.

4. Be less self-critical and learn to understand that even if my work is target-driven and subject to competitive benchmarks, how I feel and what I can cope with is not.

I think I’m doing better here. I’m definitely more impressed than critical of what I’ve achieved this year, when I look back on it, and I haven’t been afraid to speak up when I’m struggling. Not that it makes much difference to the workload or to what’s expected of me. Sometimes it seems like the only way to deflect work is to be so rubbish and unreliable that people just stop asking you to do things, and I’m still a bit too conscientious to embrace that particular approach…

Professional high points of 2014:

1. Helsinki and OR 2014 – intensive and useful learning and networking in a beautiful city, a staggering amount of coffee, rain, light nights, Moomins, boats, card games, and presentation nerves and problems overcome if not completely averted.

2. Helping to run an e-discussion on open access – including overcoming my Skype phobia and learning so much more about African and Asian contexts for repositories, OA policies, copyright etc.

3. ASAUK 2014 – meeting really useful contacts and giving a full-length paper, great feedback and follow-ups, first insight into conference practices and styles from academic disciplines rather than library, OA and tech areas.

4. South Africa and researching digital knowledge sharing – this research/Foresight project has been a low point in terms of the sheer amount of work, out-of-my-depth feelings and ten hour flights, but in terms of new experiences it’s been amazing. The people I met in Centurion and throughout the project were so friendly, interesting and generous with their time, experience and ideas. Facilitating at two workshops was exhilarating, fun and sharpened my skills and confidence. I didn’t see much of South Africa, but enough to know that I want to go back, for more food, drink, wildlife, storms, and more history, contrasts and new friends… The writing has been tough, surprisingly so considering I’m supposed to be good at this kind of thing. At the time of blogging we’re still revising the main report after peer review comments and the outputs will be published in early 2015.

Looking forward to next year’s challenges!

November 25, 2014 / playforth


National Not Writing Month, is what this has turned out to be. Mostly.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, but even in the first flush of enthusiasm I was well aware that I probably wouldn’t write 50,000 words. With 5 days left and my word count stuck firmly at… 5,014, it seems I was right. And yet I’m not viewing this experiment as a failure, because:

1. I started writing this story in 2007 and spent the next 6 years sporadically and half-heartedly revising the first chapter. This is the first time I’ve got beyond that first chapter. I developed new characters, advanced the plot into the heady realms of a second, third, fourth and even fifth chapter, and brought in different narrative devices and voices. The pressure of a deadline (even one I knew I wouldn’t meet) really does force some kind of forward momentum.

2. I now know that I do have the ideas in me, and that (lack of) time IS a bigger factor than (lack of) inspiration. Previously I’d always worried that I was just using my full-time job, kid, house, other writing commitments, social life and need for 8 hours sleep a night as excuses to cover up the fact that I can’t actually write for toffee and am unmotivated and lazy when it comes to even trying.

So, will my novel get written? Not by 30th November, and probably not even by next year. But one day? Yes!

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.


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