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June 26, 2015 / playforth

Moving on and looking back

Card catalogueAfter six and a half years at my current workplace, I’m making a change and moving into health librarianship/knowledge management for the local NHS hospitals trust. Although this was my choice and I’m excited about the new challenge, the move was also driven by major changes to library services at the institute. The current plan is to pretty much remove dedicated library provision for students and staff (though students will still have access to the main university library), while pursuing external funding for selected international/online projects and digitisation. The fate of most of the unique collection is still unknown.

This makes me angry and sad* but I hope that the achievements of the library team will be recognised and built on, whatever the future brings. On a personal level (and please forgive the vanity) I’m using this post to remember some of my own achievements and highlights of the past few years: the projects I’ve worked on, and the presentations and papers that have come out of them:

  • The Robert Chambers Archive – the first digital repository project I oversaw from start to finish. It contains over 400 items, which have been downloaded over 150,000 times to date.
  • The BLDS Digital Library – a collaboration with 20+ research institutes in Africa and Asia, who have contributed over 4000 publications for digitisation and online access under a Creative Commons license. I’ve delivered 3 conference papers and written 1 journal article about this project:

Unhiding African collections at the British Library for Development Studies – for SCOLMA 2013

Grey literature, green open access: the BLDS Digital Library – for Open Repositories 2014

The BLDS Digital Library: open access to African research – for ASAUK 2014

Unhiding African collections at the British Library for Development Studies – for African Research and Documentation no.121 (2013)


I think it’s been an amazing few years, for BLDS, for repositories and open access generally, and for me. I don’t know if I’ll carry on blogging or not once I start my new job, but I’ve enjoyed being the toast in the machine and I’m sure I’ll continue making crumbs somewhere, whatever happens :)


* this is the short and diplomatic version of how I actually feel after 2 years of reviews, consultancies, cuts and conflict, but that’s maybe for a different blog post…


January 28, 2015 / playforth

My bookmarks toolbar, or: the online stuff I actually use


When I was doing 23 Things for Professional Development, we tried out lots of free social web tools, some of which have already gone to the great html graveyard in the sky and several more of which I’ve never looked at again. But when clicking frantically between tabs during a busy day at work yesterday I realised that the contents of my bookmarks toolbar have stayed constant for quite a while now, ie. there are certain online tools and services that I couldn’t do without. So what are these magic bullets? And what gives them their staying power? (Nb, this post is not necessarily an endorsement of these tools over any other, just an examination of what works for me.)

Firstly, there are some tools and shortcuts that I use in cataloguing and classification work:

ClassWeb – obviously, this is a paid-for service, but it’s pretty indispensable if you do a lot of Library of Congress classification.

OCLC Classify – if you don’t have ClassWeb, this free ‘experimental’ service is pretty good at finding classmarks for you. I often go to this first to get suggestions before double checking on ClassWeb (which is a pain to search when you’re classifying obscure items from scratch).

Cataloging Calculator – a genius little search tool by Kyle Banerjee. Generates LC Cutters, MARC codes and various other things without hassle.

HOLLIS – this is the Harvard University library catalogue search. I use it to check catalogue records and LC classmarks when in doubt/feeling lazy. (Plus the LSE library which also uses LC and has some overlap with our collection areas.)

MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data – at least once a week I forget how to use some MARC subfield, code or indicator, so quick access to these descriptions and examples is essential.

I also use a few free tools in my repository and open access work:

SHERPA RoMEO – vital information (if not the final word) on publisher policies regarding open access and self-archiving in repositories.

OA Button – a bookmarklet for reporting paywalls and tracking the need for access to research globally.

OpenDOAR – the Directory of Open Access Repositories, handy for checking out the current landscape, searching across content and viewing statistics.

Then there are tools for discovering, organising and sharing resources: – I visit daily to update my Topic on open access and find new stories from across the web based on my saved criteria. I also regularly use their bookmarklet to Scoop pages that I’m viewing.

Netvibes – this isn’t the best feed reader (and is behaving particularly strangely at the moment), but it’s the one I’ve used for a while (since the demise of Google Reader) and I haven’t decided what to switch to yet. I did have both public and private pages full of widgets and feeds at one point, but have now simplified and just have private feeds, grouped into professional (mostly library blogs) and personal (non-work related blogs, web comics and a few podcasts).

Huffduffer – speaking of podcasts, a quick mention for this lovely audio aggregator, which lets you grab any audio file from the web (including via their bookmarklet) and add it to your page, which can then be subscribed to as a podcast by you and by other people.

Hootsuite – I use this to manage the library Twitter account (and to some extent its Facebook page too). It’s a column-style dashboard (browser-based so nothing to install) making it pretty easy to track mentions, messages, keyword/hashtag searches, lists etc across social networks. I use the analytics feature too for weekly tracking. (Nb we recently switched to the Pro version so this is another not-technically-free service.)

IFTTT – lets you share and manage content between web channels through customised ‘recipes’ with triggers and actions. At the moment I use it to auto-tweet new additions to our institutional repository (a Twitter action with an RSS feed trigger). I also use a similar recipe to populate the Lewes Blogroll.

It’s almost too obvious to mention the next two items, but I do use them a lot for social and professional networking:

Twitter – two things make my Twitter experience great: 1) librarians 2 ) lists.

Facebook – like almost everyone I want to quit Facebook, but I can’t risk not seeing cute baby pictures.

Other social networks in which I dabble include: Campus (for poets), (for hipsters) and Linked In (for fun haters). I think I’m on Ello too but meh.

The final category (project/task management) only has one thing in it, but it’s one I love (having tried and abandoned various others):

Trello – this is a simple, intuitive, pretty tool for managing tasks either individually or as a group. You arrange your project into lists (for example, ‘to do’, ‘doing’ ‘done’) on a ‘board’ and add virtual ‘cards’ to your lists representing activities or tasks. The satisfaction of dragging and dropping a card to the ‘done’ list alone is enough of a reason to use Trello for this kind of thing :)

And that’s pretty much all my usual suspects…

What are your must-have bookmarks, your daily fixtures? What tools have stuck around for you? Anything I’m missing out on that you want to recommend?

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!

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