Skip to content
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!

December 19, 2013 / playforth

The end is where we start from

I decided NOT to make it an annual tradition to use a Cliff Richard line for the title of my December roundup/reflection post, you’ll be pleased to hear. This one is T.S. Eliot.

frostIt’s been another year of significant achievements, happily, though also of frustrations and feeling completely out of my depth.

My digitisation/digital library project has continued to grow (2000+ full-text papers from African and Asian research institutes, thousands of downloads per month). I’ve presented about it at a conference, and had a follow-up article published in a journal. The next phase of the project has, I think, more challenging targets and involves more complicated and diverse partnerships, but so far, so good…

The institutional repository is being used a lot more (considering we have no mandate for self-deposit) after I spent the summer delivering training and raising awareness. We launched to the wider world in October and are seeing around 15,000 downloads per month. Challenges here are still around advocacy and workflow – with so many teams and departments involved in project/partnership work with their own established websites, it’s hard to convince people that archiving publications in the repository as well is anything more than duplication of effort.

I’m not sure I still feel like a cataloguer, which is a shame in a way, but I’ve found new skills and strengths (and weaknesses) to explore and worked with new people in new ways, which has been difficult and fun and eye-opening and never ever boring. (And although I love the detail and intellectual work of cataloguing, subject indexing, classification etc, I’d be lying if I said I was never bored by creating a record for a paper on econometrics that nobody will ever read…)

As my job responsibilities have increased this year I’ve struggled more with work-life balance. We’ve bought our first house and our daughter has changed schools, both of which events probably deserved more of my mental and emotional attention than they got. And I’ve been tired and ill more often that I should be. On the other hand I have got a bit better at saying no – and I’ve realised that half the time it’s not even a case of being asked outright and having to refuse, just being less quick to volunteer for things or to offer help. Obviously it would be a shame if I never again said yes, or got involved with new things, or helped my colleagues! But for now the balance needs redressing.

Some of my personal goals for next year:

1. Have a paper accepted for at least one more publication or conference (incredibly I’ve started to quite enjoy public speaking!)

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.

3. Set aside some time every week for personal writing/publishing admin (ie getting a poetry collection together, entering competitions, submitting to magazines, keeping proper bloody records – I mean what kind of librarian am I??)

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.

To unpack that one a bit, I am a fairly logical and sceptical person and although I think this mindset is a healthy way to approach the external world, it can have a negative side if applied to individual emotional experience. Ie. I need to stop examining every feeling I have to check that it’s justified or ‘evidence-based’. If I’m tired or stressed there’s no benefit in conducting a mental cohort study to see what other people in the same situation are experiencing and then concluding that I shouldn’t be tired or stressed at all.

So yes, watch out 2014, I’m going to have some feelings in you and I won’t be giving myself a hard time about it. Happy Christmas!

November 22, 2013 / playforth

Unhiding African collections

ardQuick update/plug. After speaking at the annual conference of the UK Libraries & Archives Group on Africa (SCOLMA) in July, I was asked to submit a version of my paper to their journal, African Research and Documentation. This has now been published and an open access copy of my article on availability and discoverability though cataloguing, digitisation and digital repositories is available here.

October 25, 2013 / playforth

Open Access Week 2013

This time last year we launched our institutional repository to an internal ‘audience’ of academics and research administrators, holding demos, leafleting and doling out cake all week. Since then we’ve created 6 new collections and uploaded over 350 new documents. In the second half of the year we clocked up over 18,500 downloads, thanks to Google indexing and a variety of sources (from Wikipedia to university reading lists) linking to items in the repository. Also this year we have linked repository deposit to our content management system, so items can be easily converted into entries on our main website.

BUT self-deposit rates are still low. Confusion over publisher policies and permitted versions is a barrier. Academics don’t have time. Their administrators don’t have time. Does it apply to them? What is it for? Why can’t they just list their publications on the website like before? So for Open Access Week 2013 we had another big push, with online communications, new posters and leaflets, prizes for deposit, and a big external splash led by central communications.

stickers   OAprizes

I was really pleased with our promotional strategy and materials, and the response from external users (see this Storify), but the proof of the advocacy is in the repository… and by Wednesday afternoon I was getting worried that I’d have to eat all the prize chocolates myself, because the deposit rate was even lower than in a normal week.

What could we learn from this? Maybe it was a timing issue – incentives are pointless unless people actually have content to contribute during the timeframe. Maybe the barriers still outweighed the allure of chocolate. Maybe I hadn’t done my job properly and despite all the training and documentation, people just didn’t know how to deposit publications.

By the end of the week, although submissions were still conspicuously lacking, I had received several emails and phone calls from people who intended to add something but needed a bit more guidance on the what and how, and the level of awareness generally seemed to have risen – so although some chocolates remain unclaimed at time of writing, I’m not calling it a complete failure (I might just extend the deadline…)

Also in Open Access Week I went to London for a conference organised by LSE and Sage, on Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences, of which a little more over at the Impact and Learning blog…