Unlucky Thirteen – the Thing of collaborative working

Apparently, collaboration is not just a thing that it is naughty to do with the enemy during a war. It is also a Good Thing too. There are many collaborative tools, and Thing 13 asks us to take a look at one or more of their suggested tools: Google Docs, Wikis, and Dropbox.

Now, I’ve looked at Google Docs in passing before, or when someone’s pointed me towards a document they’d like some input on that’s being hosted there. To be honest, I’ve not seen much use for it for me currently – my role does not often need that sort of mass-input to create single documents, or to share them widely. Same for Dropbox – I’ve not had much need to put a document somewhere that people can later download it from. If I want to work on a document at home, I can access my computer remotely, or email it to my personal email address. So, neither of these two resources currently do much for me, as my work needs don’t call for much in the way of document collaboration..

Wikis, I’m much keener on! I’ve used wikis in many ways:

  • One for hosting my Chartership materials and allowing my mentor to access and review them at her leisure.
  • One that my boss and I use as a Library staff duties handbook, and backup reference resource for supplier contacts and other non-sensitive information.
  • One for the SLLG Committee, to host core group materials and essential information for the development and running of the groups activities.
  • One for Bethan Ruddock and I to work privately on our revalidation materials together.
  • One for public viewing, which replicates the revalidation wiki, with sensitive personal information edited out.

These have all worked well for me, as they were or are being used for more than just working on creating documentation, but actively for discussions, and creating and maintaining a database of relevant information for current and future users.
They’re designed to be more long-term and regularly evolving, whereas I see Google Doc and Dropbox as resources that are used while things are in progress (Google Docs) or when complete (Dropbox). Wikis are more useful for regular, ongoing activities, and to hold reference materials, and for these reasons they’re more useful resources for me than the other collaborative tools.

Reluctantly professional

I try and pretend I’m not, and keep it well hidden, but actually, I can be quite Grown Up and Professional. So much so that I’m going to be Revalidating my Chartership this year – ohhh, get me, eh?

But…I am not-so-good at saying why I’m fabulous, or keeping up with collating my evidence of professional activity nice and accessible in a voluntary way, so I’ve got two things that are going to help me with Revalidation. The first is my employers internal appraisal system – as our Library service’s work is entirely internally focussed, it’s important to be able to demonstrate that we’re still maintaining a high standard of professionalism and awareness of activities and developments both in and outside our specialist fields. The appraisal system allows my boss and I to set realistic targets and activities, keep track of them, and update them as progress is achieved. All of which works nicely with the Revalidation process!

And second is teaming up with someone externally, to act as my informal mentor and Glamorous Cheerleader. The lovely Bethan Ruddock and I had been chatting online, and somehow the idea of us having a wiki to work together on to (initially) put our thoughts and writings into some sort of coherent order as good practice developed. We agreed on a wiki provider (PBWiki, my favourite one), and started cobbling together a vague plan for the layout – what were we doing this for / what did we want to get out of it / what had we done up to that point / what were we doing as we went along / what did we need to be doing. Then we started filling it with content (and occasional complaints), and working with each other to refine things.

A month or so into this, it was agreed that Revalidation was now an active appraisal goal for me this year, so suddenly the work on creating and populating the wiki that had just been Quite Useful was now Really Useful, and has continued to be so, as I’ve focussed my attention on Getting Things Done.

As a professional development tool, it’s been working really well for us – I get great feedback on the material I’m producing, help to refine ideas, suggestions on all sorts of stuff, and in return I get to pick on…erm….help Beth to organise her activities, focus on what she’s doing and why she’s doing it, and give feedback on her materials. Also…there may be a system of chocolate gifts for getting things done when they’re meant to be 😉

And, since we’re such nice, sharing gals, and Revalidation seems to be seen by quite a few people as quite a vague and woolly concept, we decided to create a publicly viewable version of our wiki, in the hope that it’ll maybe inspire people, and show that Revalidation’s not a Terrible Thing…especially not if you have a buddy to cheer you on in doing it. Of course, we removed any swear words or attached/sensitive documentation (it’s like Vegas – what happens on the wiki, stays on the wiki…)

So here it is, CPD For Manatees (so named by Beth because I am still firmly of the belief that the Chartering process involves a Manatee being overseen by a Mental).

It will be updated alongside our private wiki, so you can see how things come together…hopefully! And if you’re considering Chartership or Revalidation, I’d definitely recommend this as either a formal or informal mentoring tool – leave a comment or email me directly if you’d like to discuss anything about what Beth and I have been doing.

Another year, another blogday

Yes, I feel all proud, because it’s coming up to birthday-time for the UK Library Bloggers Wiki...it’s toddling along nicely all by itself (with just the occasional spammer attack – it’s really quite satisfying to get to ban and block people!), with people generally seeming quite happy with the process of adding their blogs themselves.

Since I last looked in July 2010, there have continued to be additions in various categories.

                                          July 2010                                        March 2011
Institutional bloggers              135                                                     152
Individual bloggers                 90                                                       107
Chartership blogs                    5                                                         6
Information professionals         8                                                         8
Suppliers                                 8                                                         8

Total:                                      281 blogs

So, a growth in institutional/workplace bloggers, and individual/personal bloggers too, and a solitary, brave Chartership blog.

I wonder if the 2 years without any change, then last years small growth in Chartership blogs is because people are already blogging, and then decide to Charter, and incorporate that aspect of professional development into their existing blog? Or are fewer people Chartering? Or are those who are Chartering using other methods to log their progress?

I’ve also decided to remove the Yahoo Pipes combines RSS feed link for Institutional and Individual blogs from the front page of the wiki – it was initially done as an experiment, and now that people are able to add their own blogs, unless I then go in each time after I get the wiki has been edited alert”, get their RSS feed, and go edit the Yahoo Pipe, it’s never going to be current/accurate. And I’m afraid I just don’t have the time to be fiddling like that constantly!

Of course, I haven’t clicked on each of those 281 blog links, so I’m quite sure that at least some of them are now defunct – my plan to go through them, and remove the dead blogs to another section has definitely slipped to the bottom of my to-do list. Maybe I’ll be more inspired to do it if I get a prize. Can I get a prize?

It’s aliiiiiiiiive!

So, we unleashed the UK Library Bloggers wiki into the wild back in March, and crossed our fingers that it would be ok, out there in the Scary World, all on its own.

And so far, it seems to be doing just fine, yay! There are of course the regular spammer attempts to “subtly” insert adverts for dissertation work, and all sorts of less…erm…wholesome products within the entries, but the email alerts about text amendments that go to the administrators of the wiki (Phil, Jo and I) means that the first person online and able to, goes in and removes that material and blocks the creator. This has worked really well so far, and unwanted content doesn’t stay on the wiki for any real length of time.
And the best bit is the librarians and info professionals who’ve been adding themselves to the wiki! I created a backup in March before we “unlocked” the wiki, and at that point there were 115 institutional / professional group blogs, 83 librarian blogs, 5 Chartership blogs, 8 information professionals blogs and 8 industry supplier blogs.
There are now (as of 5th July 2010) 135 institutional library blogs, 90 librarian blogs, and still 5 Chartership blogs, 8 information professionals, and 8 industry supplier blogs.
So, the biggest increase has been in institutional blogs, with a small increase in personal library bloggers.
I will (at some point in the near future) be going through the wiki and checking all the links of the ones added prior to the unlocking off the wiki, and removing the “dead” ones. I’m planning on moving those entries into a “dead blogs” section – I think it’s worth keeping the links available, for interest.
So: if you haven’t added yourself, go do it now – you’ll be in good company!

Happy birthday, UK Library Bloggers wiki! Be free!

Yeeesh, it’s been 2 whole years since I started building you out of the results of Google, Yahoo,Technorati and other random searches. Very quickly I realised that I couldn’t bring you up properly on my own, so Auntie Jo, Auntie Christine, and Uncle Phil stepped in to help. Without them, you might have gotten a bit unruly, and grown up all scraggly and without any discipline. I think that together, we’ve done quite well, keeping you nicely in shape and making sure you’re as well informed and as up to date as possible.

And now that you’re all grown up, we’ve realised that the time has come to set you free in the world, to let you make your own way, meet new people, make your own changes, grow and develop in ways we might not be able to help you with ourselves. So….we’ve unlocked you, and now anybody (who registers with PBWorks) can edit, update and add to you. We know it’s a risk, but we think you’re old enough now to be able to look after yourself. Just avoid the bad people who might want to corrupt you, and be nice to the people who want to add useful things to you.
And remember, you can always come home if you need to, mmkay?

My Library Route

So, I’ve previously blogged my Library Roots, and added it to the wiki of the Library Routes project (and if you haven’t done yours yet, get adding – it’s fascinating!).

I thought I’d now add info on my Library Route, i.e. how I ended up doing what I do today.
Well…it all started off a bit randomly. I’d qualified, and now I needed a job. I was scouring the CILIP Gazette job section, and the library recruitment agencies, and the local authority job sites here in Edinburgh, hoping to find something, anything, that would let me work! But it’s not easy, even in the Capital of the country, to find a job when you don’t have any official experience. So really, after a couple of months, and with the savings going down fast, I needed a job.
I saw a post for a part-time library assistant at a private members society library within the Scottish courts complex at Parliament Square. I had no idea what a librarian would do in a court library, but I got the job, and soon found out. Mainly, the library dealt with the research enquiries of its members, who were all qualified Scottish solicitors. The society owned the building it was situated in, and let out various areas to other groups, and hired out a room for functions. The role involved doing anything from accounts for photocopier use, posting books to out of town members, to helping members find the information they needed, whatever that may be. I was on my own one day a week, and on the other day I had the company of the lovely lady who dealt with the members coffee area, and general bits and bobs.
Having had no experience with Scots law, or researching it, lets just say it was a steep learning curve! OPSI, HMSO, SIs, SSIs, Acts, Acts of Sederunt, differences between UK-wide law and Scots-only laws…every day was quite an education! The previous edition of this book was my saviour! As were the librarians at various other libraries within the complex: I could often be seen sidling into on, with a hopeful look on my face!
A while after starting there, a part time post came up at another solicitors library in the court complex, where I’d got to know staff via my regular visits to ask for help with some obscure reference, or borrow a book to consult. The hours of the post were able to be organised to fit around my first position, and equivalently (and boy did my bank balance thank me for this!) I now had a full time, Monday to Friday, 9-5 job.
I worked both jobs together for about a year, until a full time position became available at the second library, which I was offered and accepted. And now I began what was effectively an apprenticeship. Every enquiry could now be discussed with, or referred to, people with far more experience than me. We all kept track of the progress of each others enquiries, so even if I had passed a tough one on, I could still find out how it had been resolved, and learn from that. We had an indexed book of frequently asked unusual enquiries for reference. The library was a large, long established one, so there were lots of materials, systems and rooms to get acquainted with, and I’d say it took at least a year of full-time work there before I could say I was able to deal with the bulk of enquiries that came my way, and know where things were.
In between enquiries there was of course the general administrative work needed to keep things going – yup, the eternal joy of compiling and issuing of accounts for photocopying and research! 🙂 Also, since the library had held various large book-stock sales in its history, but the card catalogues still held the records for these sold books in with the current books, it seemed like a good idea to get those card files out, and into their own catalogue. That project took about six (dirty – these cards were old!) months, of sorting through each file drawer and removing the records marked as sold when I had a free moment. Finally, we had accurate online, card and bound catalogues, yay! Then I moved onto cataloguing the older editions of textbooks (and some hidden gems) onto the online catalogue, a task that was only 50% completed when I left.
We pushed to get the best technology and resources possible, working with the restrictions of doing so in a listed building. I think the biggest advance was my boss managing to get wi-fi installed! We could be showing members how to best use web tools one moment, and then later on, bringing up case reports from the 1800s from the basement for academic researchers who needed access to our collections for their studies. Quite a varied sort of workplace!
But after 4 years it was definitely time to move on, and I found myself working for my current employer, a commercial law firm. Once again, it was a pretty steep learning curve. Yes, I knew about Scots law, where to find things, where to look and who to ask if I didn’t understand things, but the difference was that this time, I was dealing directly with the people giving me the enquiries. Previously, those questions had usually been filtered by the librarians of the firms using the library, and the core points had been teased out, leaving me free to go straight to what they want, whether that was a book, case, or anything else. Here, I was getting people who weren’t quite sure what they were looking for, and needed my help to work it out. It’s certainly helped develop my “asking people questions until they decide what the important point is” skills! Actually, it’s helped me developed my telepathy and mind reading skills too! The time pressure’s pretty different as well – everything’s always needed yesterday! But it’s nice to be in the same place as my users, to be able to see them, chat, socialise etc. and get to know their information needs better. Here too, as in my previous workplace, I’m encouraged to explore technology, and see what tools could be useful for either staff, or library staff. We have an in-house Current Awareness service, so I’m always aware of news and developments, and feeding them back into the firms systems.
Another big difference is that I work solo here – I’m in charge of one office, and my boss is in charge of another. Multiple daily phone calls and emails help us keep track of what’s going on, with a wiki for shared information / in case of emergencies, and regular face to face meetings fill in anything else, and help remind each other that we really exist! When I first started I felt like such a pest – being on my own, and being technically a department of my own in this office too meant I had no team members around me – I was never off the phone asking daft questions, not only about the library, but about things like how do I get a document scanned, and what the email shortcut was for the IT department! The patience of my boss was verging on saintly! Now, I know everyone here, and who does what, and have seen multiple waves of trainees pass through the door…I feel almost like an old hand.
The firm and my boss have also encouraged me into anything and everything that will benefit me professionally, so I’ve attended conferences, joined committees, edited newsletters, blogged, chartered, written articles…I’m certainly not allowed to isolate myself into the world of law and hide out!
So, not quite the career path I had thought of…in fact, law librarianship isn’t actually a career path that I even knew existed! Luckily though, I love working in this sector, and am glad that I saw that advert for my first, part-time post!
Oh yes – the books up the top are from a little sprinkler accident at one of the libraries – amazing sight to see halls, rooms and corridors filled with ranks and ranks of splayed open books! I couldn’t resist taking some photos!

So I’m a bit stubborn…

I was pointed a while ago to this discussion on JISCmail a while ago, which I’m not a member of, so I couldn’t respond to the discussion about library blogs (and to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered joining to explain why the UK Library Bloggers wiki came from, and why it is as it is -it’s all done in my free time).

The point I took from it was that the UK Library Bloggers wiki wasn’t regarded as comprehensive, and was seen to be inconsistent. As it’s always a work in progress, I took that on board…and spent 30+ hours over the last few months going through each of the 800+ liblogs listed on the Hotstuff 2.0 list discussed in the JISCmail thread, and determining which were in the UK, and if they were missing from the liblogger list.
From that, I found 37 new liblogs (and a lot which I would classify as dead, as they haven’t had any posts in 2009, so I ignored), some of which were debateable whether they fell into the liblog definition (automated library news areas, rather than actual blogs etc), and I’ve spent a few spare hours when I’ve found them to visit each blog, classify it, and add it to the list. Meanwhile, Jo Alcock and Phil Bradley have also been adding to the list as they find more blogs in their online wanderings. One of the fab benefits of having people involved who work in different professional areas, and are able to pick up blogs from their professional links!
I’ve also expanded the categories to include information professionals: those who are working with libraries / librarians, who would otherwise fall outside the boundaries of the list, but contribute a lot of useful information to librarians and the information profession. Hopefully this is a good plan – to include people who don’t claim to be librarians on a list of…erm…librarians!
*And yes, I do know there’s a lot more to life, but like I said, I’m stubborn, and since it was pointed out that the wiki was lacking, I decided to sort that out…*