Monday, 12 August 2013

500 reflections on academic librarianship

I feel I'm more focused when I'm blogging to some kind of regimen (see the cpd23 posts which make up the majority of this blog's history if you require proof!). I also probably need to polish up my reflective skills prior to writing up my Chartership, not to mention improve my brevity of language (you may have noticed I over-write somewhat...).

Whilst waiting for the kettle to boil last night, I happened to flick through a book I'd nicked, sorry, borrowed from my boss's office. The book was 500 Tips for Academic Librarians by Brown, Downey & Race. I'd had this ages, and it was on the kitchen counter waiting to be returned, unread.* But looking at the structure of the book, I realised that it was ideal to prompt me to think about parts of my job I often just do instinctively, without critically reflecting on what I'm doing or if improvements could be made to my process.

So, I'm going to try and sit down each day (or more likely every two days) and reflect on a couple of the tips Brown et al offer. To make it more fun, I'm going to use a random number generator to pick the ideas to respond to.** I plan to think about if we actively or passively follow these tips in our service, if there are alternate viewpoints and if the advice is still relevant. It should be noted that this book was published in 1997, so it may be that developments in the LIS sector have superseded the good practice discussed there.

I had a go at doing this this evening, and I was kind of happy with what I wrote. I found it useful to have a short, focused activity to help reflect on library matters. To encourage me to treat this as more than just lip service to RP, I plan to post a few responses here each week. So, fair warning to remove me from your RSS lists!

* In my defence, I had read sections of the other 3-4 books I'd taken at the same time.
** Yes, that is fun, okay?

Friday, 30 March 2012

Developing Your Teaching Skills, Cambridge, 23/3/2012

A sunny day in Cambridge isn't the best context for attending a half-day course on developing teaching skills in a windowless room, but I fought through the desire to slack off and sit in the sunshine and went anyway! I'm really quite glad that I did. The sessions offered were engaging and useful, and the mix of imparted information and workshopped exchange of experience has added some useful pointers to integrate into my practice, both in desk-delivered training and future classroom sessions. The presentations I will refer to below can be found on the event Facebook page.

The first session (from Suzanne Griffiths and Clare Humphries of Cranfield University) took a concept I already knew a little about (the learning styles defined by Honey & Mumford) and systematically outlined how they can be integrated into planning and practice to ensure that no learners' preferred style is neglected during the course of a session. The teachers' own learning style is likely to have an impact on the style of session they put together, neglecting the style which they find less useful: I test as A--, R+, T, P+, so am likely to need to make a conscious effort to cater for activist learners. And knowing is half the battle....

Learning Style
Learns best when...
Learns least when...
Excitement/drama involved
Range of activities
Can 'have a go'
Passive learning
Solitary/individual tasks
Required to interpret data
Opportunity to review
Allowed to watch/consider
'Forced into the limelight'
Expected to act without planning
Situations structured
Clear purpose
Listen to/read about ideas/ concepts
Involved in unstructured activities
Tasks emphasising emotions
Obvious link between content and their needs
Can immediately implement learning in practice
Cannot see immediate benefit of content
Subject-matter abstract/theoretical

The table above outlines the pros and cons identified by the presenters. As can be observed, there is no one approach which will satisfy all styles at once: indeed, A and R/T may be cast as complete opposites! To place this in context, a case study was presented which showed how simple (and not-so-simple!) changes to an existing workshop session led to improved qualitative feedback from attendees and tutors alike. Despite having some familiarity with this way of looking at learners, I had never fully considered building their accommodation into lesson planning, let alone the informal training which is delivered via the Information Desk. I feel that, by remaining aware of the different needs of categories of learners, I can ensure that sessions I produce in the future will be more engaging and useful for learners and make me a better teacher.

The second substantial session of the afternoon was facilitated by Chris Powis of the University of Northampton (my alma mater, or at least one of them!), and substantially consisted of workshopping in small groups to plan a session which took the theoretical elements which we fundamentally recognise as being the functions of a teacher and put them into practice in the most foolproof way possible. He began by sharing Squires (1994)'s outline of the functions of a teacher, which were used as the backbone of the task.
A teacher must motivate learners (or at least not demotivate them!), and make them want to learn. They should audit what their students know and what their range of experiences are and utilise these to give the most relevant session possible. They should provide orientation by stating the expected outcomes and parameters of the session, maximising audience engagement. Whilst simply informing learners about new areas of knowledge is important, explaining this new information, providing a wider context for this, is also of vital importance. They should encourage learner exploration of a topic, both within the session and after it, and facilitate learners' development by allowing them space to assimilate and add to the information provided. They should give ample opportunity for learners to exercise their new knowledge, and should appraise the effectiveness of how well this knowledge has been imparted. Finally, they should provide opportunities for reinforcement of the core information provided, allowing for scaffolding of the core learning points.
Using these areas as headings (as they will generally occur in roughly this order, although there is inevitably some bleed and iterative looping between areas such as inform, explain, explore and develop), our group workshopped around meeting a group of learners for the first time. The process was really useful, as well as giving some idea of how different people approach lesson plans - some start from the core content then find the mode which will best suit this, whilst others take the pragmatic approach of identifying limitations such as time allowed and how settled the learners are at their institution and then identify what can effectively be taught and retained by students. The best part for me was picking up little hints and tips for new approaches - ideas which stuck with me include:

  • colour-coding induction information along 'need to know, good to know, nice to know' terms;
  • collecting 'blind feedback' by asking participants to signal with their eyes closed if they had developed knowledge of specific areas by the end of a session, ameliorating any potential embarrassment at admitting areas of weakness and providing a higher rate of targeted feedback than forms and follow-up emails tended to;
  • extending the session beyond the constraints of the allocated timeslot by emailing expected participants before the event asking for specific areas they wanted to focus on, and following up after the event asking if any further information is required and pointing to useful sources cited in-session.
Between these two, more substantial, sessions was a short introduction to the Cepholonian technique (there was no firm consensus on the pronunciation for this, but the general preference was towards a hard-'k'), inspired by an approach used by tour guides on the eponymous Greek yoghurt islands. This consists of a scripted (wholly, partially or minimally) question-and-answer approach, where participants are asked to raise questions on a topic which the teacher then answers. This works as an icebreaker with any size of group, allows for a variety of voices to be heard and can allow for some humour (however groan-worthy) to be introduced through wording and labelling of questions - the set used to deliver this session were a mix of exotic animals and diseases... Allowing a mix of spontaneity and structure which suits the instructor, and including active, theoretical and reflective elements (and, as scripted questions focus in on the information which you want to deliver, it's also pragmatic - full win!). I'm not sure I'd be quite comfortable using it, but it would be worth a try during induction talks or other sessions with a broad-but-shallow range.

Overall, the day was well worth the time and money - definitely better than the sunburn I'd have got if I just stayed outside!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Normal service will be resumed shortly...

Well, it's been a while... I seem to have dropped out of the habit of blogging since CPD23 finished. I have a few drafts which I wrote in the intervening months, but I've got a few events to write up first. Overall, there's stuff to put out there again, and it's time to live up to my PPDP aim of blogging on a regular basis. In the meantime, here's an awesome image which I found in my drafts folder - no idea where it came from, so if the copyright owner wants to get in touch feel free!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

23 and out!

My 6-word story of the CPD experience: 'I came, I thought, I blogged'. I've generally enjoyed working through the programme, I've not given as many glib answers as I'd expected and think I got a fair amount of value out of the experience. I'm not sure it really represents an advance in my immersion within the LIS community (though I am trying to improve at this: come meet me at the Ginformation Professional event!), and I don't think my opinions of any of the topics/areas covered have fundamentally changed. I've reflected at reasonable length on the course recently, so won't repeat myself here.

I've updated my PPDP to reflect some of the weaknesses uncovered by CPD23, and feel I'm working forwards at a decent pace towards filling identified gaps in my experiences. As this was an update, rather than a new document, I can't accurately reflect on the process of compiling the document; I'll admit that evaluation of personal strengths and weaknesses does not come easily to me, but I got it done (which I sometimes don't!). 

And so, just over 15,000 words later, that's CPD23 done! Time to start thinking of my own blog topics!

Career advancement: identifying strengths, applying, interviewing and vulunteering

Part 1: strengths and interests

As suggested by Maria, I have found conducting a SWOT analysis of my strengths and interests to be quite helpful. I did this in preparation for writing out my Chartership PPDP a few months ago, but I think it's still pretty much up-to-date. Generally, it suggests that I like the customer-facing side of library work more than the information-structuring elements, and that I am strong at supporting use of our services both at the desk and 'in the field'. I also, perversely, enjoy statistics and working with spreadsheets to measure service performance. I think I throw myself into all elements of my job, and seem to be seen as a font of knowledge by colleagues (particularly with the technical side of things - in the kingdom of the blind, the man who once spent half an hour on a mac is king...), but definitely favour working on desks and with customers over back-office pursuits; this is unfortunate in some ways, as progression generally means managerial responsibility, and consequently less time (if any) directly customer-facing.

What was my last dose of great satisfaction working in the library? Without doubt an Information Skills session I assisted a professional colleague with. We supported a cohort of Education students who were researching material for their dissertations; it was an unpressurised, constructive academic environment which yielded useful results for the participants, and it felt like my presence made a tangible difference. I'd like that feeling more often. Unfortunately, this was a one-off engagement, and sessions like this do not form part of my standard work.

I'm not sure I love my current job - I definitely like it very much, and think I probably did love it at one point, but... let's just say I'm ready for a change. So I have been applying for jobs...

Part 2: Applying for jobs

I keep a log of skills and experiences for various reasons, but it's definitely helpful when working on job applications. I confess that I don't tend to start from a 'blank page' in terms of applying for jobs - I have a reasonably-expansive pro forma personal statement which I then expand and contract to meet the desired areas in the job specification. I'm not sure this leads to the best possible application, but you can make applying for jobs a full-time occupation in itself if shortcuts like this are not taken...

I always try to address every desirable, as well as essential, criteria given in a job spec; where I don't meet the desired level I try to demonstrate how I am working towards this point and how I would plan to develop this area if appointed. I'm less good at thoroughly reading the job description and ensuring that my description of my current work echoes the language and thematic content of the brief; whilst I try to address the major areas in my personal statement, it makes more sense to cover these in relation to my current employment where possible. I have applied for jobs where I don't meet every essential criteria (and have occasionally got an interview!); the areas where I regularly don't meet job briefs informed to a great extent my goals for Chartership PPDP, which has definitely already aided me in filling some of my previous gaps in experience. Despite recognising it as being necessary, I still feel uncomfortable 'bigging myself up' - I think I present my skills and aptitudes in a measured way, with examples where relevant, but I have definitely read more confident applications. I should probably try to write a more arrogant account of what I can, and do, do - maybe I'll try it out on a job I'm unsure about first though!

My references are relatively current: I generally use my line manager (a given, as most applications stipulate this) and my former dissertation tutor, also using my MCLIP mentor if a third referee is asked for (generally only if the job uses an academic-post application form rather than a support-staff one). I should perhaps switch this up; although my tutor has always given me great references, she hasn't seen me for over a year and perhaps doesn't realise just how great I have become!! My major problems with making this change are that my two references would have the same [work] address, and that using one's mentor seems a little like nepotism. I'd like to know any readers' opinion on this matter (joking! I know no-one reads this rubbish!!! :( )

I've never really found where to use a CV, as every job I apply for asks for its own exhaustive application form to be filled in - what's the CV adding to this? My CV is 2 sides of A4, and I think it's okay, but it's pretty dense with information. I think I could maybe cut back on my employment history (which is patchy due to the whole 20-years-of-full-time-education thing, and quasi-relevant at best) and add in a bit more about transferable skills, abilities and aptitudes - but who's got the time?

Part 3 - Interviews

Silence: the reason I go
to pot in interviews...
This is where it all goes wrong for me. Whilst I try to prepare, getting my ducks in a row by organising travel and logistics well in advance, reading job specs again and trying to formulate answers to likely questions, on the day I feel like I babble incoherently. The problem is the silence in room and the expectant faces of the panel - I desperately want to keep talking until they look satisfied, which generally results in me tailing off with something along the lines of "so, um... yeah". Who'd hire that?! I think the 'context, actions, result' framework which Maria mentions provides a useful framework, and would prevent me from doing this so much (it's impossible to stop me waffling entirely!).

No matter how much preparation you do, you can never accurately predict what an interview will consist of. I've found that stressing over this, and over-analysing what may come up, is counter-productive. I now try to check into a nearby hotel the night before an interview (a Travelodge, not the Hilton, but still not a particularly cheap practice): this not only cuts down on travel stress on the day, but also means I'm away from other people who want to know how I'm feeling, if I've prepared etc. - I can shut out the world, do the preparation I feel I need to do and then relax. I think this has yielded broadly better results, but if check-out leads to an awkward gap before the interview it can lead to nervous stewing. Nonetheless, this works pretty well for me.

Part 4 - Volunteering

I'm adding Thing 22 on as an adjunct here as it does not form a full blog post in it's own right. I've not undertaken voluntary work within a library to advance my career; however, I did volunteer in a charity bookshop for about a year, which gave me breadth of experience transferable to library work which I suspect was instrumental in securing me my current role (or at least in getting me an interview). I accept Jo's argument that she was better to refuse full-time library assistant work and get experience elsewhere; however, I took the other route and don't really regret it. I've found that having boots on the ground means you can bully your way into things which are outside your job description and above your pay grade; if I'd stayed in my part-time position I don't think I'd have had half the opportunities I've had at work in the past year.

I've not considered volunteering time to CILIP committees/groups; look through previous posts for reasons why, as I feel that negativity towards one's professional body is not the best thing to continually reiterate! I recognise all the points about widened professional networks and gaining different experience and transferable skills, but at the end of the day I prefer to get paid - I'd rather be a whore than a slag. And on that unfortunate metaphor, I'm done.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Routes, roots and routing 'dead man's shoes'

My journey into librarianship seems, to me, pretty unremarkable; I've previously blogged about it under the title 'A Happy Accident', which should give some clue towards the level of pre-determination which was evident in my first steps on this career path. I'll link this previous post to the Library Routes wiki [done!!] which pretty much covers this Thing; hooray!

Rooting around like a library-related piggy
I took part in round 7 of the 'library day in the life', which I think is really useful as it gives a snapshot of what librarians across the world are doing on a particular day, which leads to a stronger 'warts and all' sense of the job than edited highlights about the profession as a career path. My entry is here and is worth reading only if you have spontaneously lost every sense except sight and can no longer do anything except click on dull hyperlinks (unfortunately, it fell in the middle of summer and there was very little going on...).

These prior posts cover my path so far and my current situation respectively; but what of the future? I've made no particular secret of my seeking a professional post, but this is tough going - there's not that many jobs out there (though there have been more of late) and there's a new cohort of qualified applicants just out of library school, all full of vigour and bleeding-edge library-world knowledge. I've have a few interviews, with varying results - I've got a feeling this will form the greater part of the next Thing, however, so let's save up some self-loathing for then!

My shortest cpd23 post ever? Possibly, but that November 30th deadline is closer than I think!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Reflecting on Reflection on Reflecting on Reflection on Role

(Yes, I hate me too - these blog titles are getting steadily worse)

I'm on the fence about whether to go for breadth or depth when considering this Thing (to reflect back on how CPD23 has integrated into working practice). Essentially, I'm going to re-read each post and make a few notes, then probably just post that!

Professional Networks

I suggested in Thing 1 that I might struggle on keeping up and consistently blogging to a schedule. I haven't done too badly at this; if I hadn't had a month off in August, I would have been pretty much of schedule... I also identified a few aims:
To be better (never was good at setting SMART targets)! To engage to show professional development; to be part of (and contribute towards) something larger; to refresh my ability to write long spiels of random thoughts and make it seem like there was some underlying plan (I'm award-winning in that last area, believe it or not...). One further personal aim: to write a few more straightforward sentences, without using colons and hyphens for awkward pauses or ending a thought on ellipses - that one may take some work...
I've made steps in the contribution and participation areas (though perhaps more through Chartership concerns than CPD), and have developed my writing muscles thorough blogging and, latterly, producing reports and articles for an internal newsletter; my sentence construction, however, is an unwieldy as ever, with whole paragraphs frequently structures as a single sentence with 6-8 sub-clauses, asides and parenthetical comments. You know what, though? F**k it, I like writing like this; it's my style and I'm keeping it! [Professional DL would like to highlight to potential employers that he is entirely malleable to institutional needs]

I have done less well at keeping up with the neighbours. I have read lots of CPD23 articles, but I've not consistently followed anyone's progress through the course (actually, of those I discussed in this Thing only 3 are continuing, and have similarly fallen behind). In some ways I think that's better though: I'm getting a larger variety of viewpoints by dipping in and out of the all-participant RSS feed, which also develops my network of vaguely-recognised infopros at IRL events! At the recent Library Camp I made a quick-and-dirty nameplate which utilised by Dogeared branding, but no-one particularly engaged with this, suggesting that my online branding has been less effective than I hoped; however, I was hardly a social-butterfly on that day (more a grumpy, slightly-misanthropic moth with tinnitus) so perhaps that had something to do with it! Staying with professional events, I still can't shake the feeling that CILIP is a body which lives in a distant castle and takes a tithe of my income in return for some ephemeral promise of protection, in a modern-day echo of the feudal system (this could also be portrayed using a mobster allegory; take your choice). There have been a few events which they have offered, either in 'that London' or locally, which might have been worthwhile, but the costs involved with them, and the lack of guarantee they'd be worthwhile, has meant I've stuck to events like Library Camp, outside the umbrella of CILIP and thus that bit freer.

In terms of social networks, I go through sporadic phases of tweeting still, but mostly I just lurk these days - I can't say hand on heart I feel part of the community. I keep meaning to get back to using LinkedIn more, as the groups have proven pretty good and provide interesting discussions on topics which interest me, but it's always just that bit too far down my list of priorities for me to properly engage. And whilst I had high hopes for Google+ being the ideal platform, combining the desirable features of the other networks, it's potential hasn't followed through as far as I'm concerned - I don't know of anyone who uses it as their primary online network, and it just doesn't seem to get to where I want it to be. In terms of professional networks, I'm still not engaged with LISNPN in any meaningful way (though I do occasionally click through to blogs as I follow their RSS), and haven't really felt the poorer for it; it feels like, as a profession, we do a lot of communicating but don't really achieve either consensus or tangible outcomes.

Finally, I pondered at the time of Thing 4 whether it was worth maintaining RSS feeds from US librarians - I still have these, but can't remember the last time I actually clicked through and read an article; maybe it's time to ditch and switch to more local bloggers (even if this will lead to duplicated coverage of events).

Personal Development

I haven't really focused on improving my reflective practice skills; it's still in the back of my mind, and I can think in this way a little longer than I could before I go sulky and give up, but its never going to come naturally to me. I've got better at reflecting on events, though never quickly enough to make blogging about them worthwhile; I missed the bus on Library Camp for example - though I wrote this up as a report for work, which fulfilled a reflective function... maybe I'm doing better at this than I thought!

I'm grinding along with Chartership activities, slowing gaining experience to tick boxes on my PPDP goals (which are still not in final-draft state, but are pretty close...). It's been a busy last month, but I've gained quite a lot of useful experience inside and outside of work, particularly as I supported a few timetabled information-skills sessions in the last fortnight. I've got another mentor meeting tentatively scheduled for the next few weeks (a date has yet to be locked down; possibly something to correct!) and feel positive about this relationship, as I did before.

Applications and tools

Pushnote and Evernote fulfil much the same function in my book; I've sporadically used Evernote to make notes since Thing x, but it hasn't really integrated my process in terms of professional practice. Pushnote, as I think was the case for pretty much everyone, just didn't do enough or add functionality I really wanted; I recently uninstalled the shortcut from Chrome and do not miss it. I identified in my initial post that Evernote's functionality was limited by constraints on what IS would allow at work; this is slightly circumvented now as Chrome is on pretty much every PC I use day-to-day and there are less restrictions in plug-ins etc (how Chrome got to be installed, against their wishes, we won't dwell on!). My main problem with Evernote is that it allows to to 'clip' and make notes but is sufficiently unobtrusive that I then forget about everything I've captured and go about my business without actually reading this content - this problem is more with me than the software, but as we've established, I externalise my faults!

Google Calendar is really useful for me; I now have four calendars, which allow me to track job applications, professional events, day-to-day engagements and the dog's pills and treatments(!) individually or together. This makes it easy to quickly find details about an event I went to in May or work out why I've booked off a long weekend in mid-November (Skyrim's coming out!). Again, I'd like to emphasise the additional functionality which the Labs plug-ins allow for (though I wish more of Google's API offerings would link up and make a cohesive whole; things in G-world do sometimes feel like a never-ending beta). I'm also not totally convinced about the new style of layouts which pull Google products together, particularly in Blogger and Docs.

I've softened up on my attitude to reference-management software somewhat, but still don't use it myself; a colleague showed me what's probably the best way to handle Refworks, which was to introduce to whilst recognising that it would work for some people and not for others - no hard sell, just a 'this is it, this is what it does, use it or not - your choice'.


So, that covers the majority of the content of Things 1-14; it seems a little pointless to go beyond this point, as I'm unlikely to have changed my viewpoint much in the forthnight since I wrote Thing 15 onwards! I think CPD23 tasks have made a sizeable impact in the areas discussed above, and will continue to resonate in my practice; for example, I've found Jing to be quite useful when dealing with 'live chat' queries on our virtual reference desk, showing rather than explaining. This blog entry took far too long to write, and would probably edit down somewhat if I wasn't keen to get home; I finished work an hour ago, but have a CPD/wait-for-traffic-to-die-down hour most days; another development during this summer of personal growth! On the plus side, this probably can be cut-and-pasted for Thing 23!