Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reinventing the wheel

I noticed an advert on the TV during the summer, and while watching it, I found myself becoming increasingly more irritated by its content as it went on. Then, not long after that, I saw another advert along the same lines, for the same group. I was reminded of my reaction to viewing those adverts last weekend, when I attended Library Camp Glasgow. One of the sessions I took part in covered advocacy, and what can we do to better promote the profession. The existence of these adverts is evidence of, to me, why we need to continue to work hard to show the wider public that "librarian" does not (and never has) equal "timid person who stamps books and says shhhh a lot".

So, this is one of the adverts that so annoyed me, for Barclays Digital Eagles:

Now, I'm not disputing the fact that the concept is great: Barclays are funding people specifically to assist those who don't have the skills needed to make full use of the internet, and the many opportunities it offers. This is an excellent thing to be doing, and will certainly help those that most need support to get online. It's fabulous, and a great thing for Barclays to fund!

But this is where I get frustrated with the initiative. Did nobody at Barclays realise that an infrastructure to support these activities, and experienced staff were already public libraries? Is there such a low awareness of what public libraries offer that not one single person involved in this campaign at any point stopped to think "Hey, you know what? Rather than reinventing the wheel...why don't we provide the funding to public libraries to allow them to have a dedicated information skills member of staff to be a Digital Eagle? We'd still get the excellent PR of our name being associated with something that's being done for the good of others, but we wouldn't have the problems of creating a whole new system, and having to make space in our branches for this initiative."

Nope. This idea didn't occur to anyone, apparently.

I can understand that there's probably an element of a corporate desire to get people into the Barclays branches, in order to eventually persuade them to become Barclays customers, but surely the conversion rate of "came in to be shown how to use a computer" to "being suddenly inspired to switch bank accounts" must be so low that the cost of the areas being used for Digital Eagles activities must far outweigh the commercial benefit?

The coverage and reach of this service certainly isn't anywhere near as good as the public library service - if I wanted to go to one of their "Tea and Teach" sessions, I'd need to go to...Aberdeen. That's the only place in Scotland that provides this service. There was an event there on the 6th of November, held between 10am and 3pm, which as a working adult, means that the Digital Eagles service and support is totally unavailable to me. Yet if I wanted to pick up computer skills via a public library, I could go to Edinburgh City Libraries, and use their Adult Learner facilities, which include an online computer skills programme. Library staff would be on hand during evenings and the weekend to assist me to get access to these resources, so I could fit in access around my working life. Unfortunately, the public library staff available to help me don't have the time or resources to give the more intensive support I'd need as a person with minimal or no computer skills. Surely this is where the Digital Eagles should be: where people are already going, looking for help? The public library is where the public are used to coming for assistance with a wide range of information needs, and although library staff are not there to teach information skills, they nonetheless do end up squeezing them into their days, as an unpaid, unofficial additional responsibility. It would have been far more effective, in both cost and PR terms, to have given the funding used for the Digital Eagles programme to local authorities, ring fenced to be used to fund equivalent roles, in public libraries.

So Barclays: your Digital Eagles are a good idea, but wouldn't they be an even better idea if they were in libraries?

Monday, October 06, 2014

An opportunity for the Law Society?

Right on their doorstep, they could invest in an unusual bit of property, and buy their own Tardis in the form of an old Edinburgh police call box.

They only need to find £15,000-£20,000, and they could be running their own coffee booth in no time!

Form an orderly queue with your suggestions for legal/coffee based pun names....

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fighting for access

This is a follow up to my post on Open Access in May.

A few times recently in work, I've been asked if there's a publicly accessible version of an academic article available. This wasn't because we wanted to get a hold of a copy of the articles: we already had them through our subscription services, and the solicitors had read them. What the solicitors were wanting was a free, public version of the article, which they could direct clients and other contacts to, saying "read this, it's important/relevant/well written". They wanted to highlight that the content of the article was useful, and that the author was a reliable and authoritative source.

Sadly, I wasn't able to get a hold of a copy of any of these articles, because the authors hadn't deposited a copy of their work into their institutional repositories. That meant that the solicitors couldn't direct their clients and contacts to read the useful materials written by those authors, and the authors missed the opportunity for their work to be publicised more widely, and for their name to be associated with peer approval.

So please, authors: if you write it, deposit it! Open Access is for YOUR benefit just as much as ours!

Taking the fun out of LinkedIn

I think it's almost standard now that most types of professionals these days have a LinkedIn profile. It effectively works as an online CV, allowing contacts to easily review your skills and experience, and lets you gather many disparate facts about you into one place, such as your non-work skills and experience.

One element of the LinkedIn offering is that colleagues and contacts can "endorse" your skills, allowing you to build up a list of your abilities that have been verified by others. On the face of it, this is a handy option - people who know you and your skills are able to vouch for you, and allow others to get an unbiased view of what you can actually do. Skills would be selected from a pre-approved range of options. It all sounds sensible, and useful.

However, the reality was a little different in practice. It turned out, those pre-defined options were actually quite wide ranging. And in some cases, somewhat odd. I've attached a screenshot of the current endorsements I have, that are waiting for me to approve them before they go on my profile (endorsements for a skill you've not been endorsed for previously seem to have to be approved by you before they'll show on your profile...thankfully). As you can see, there are some very strange skills you can be endorsed for, albeit they're relevant in their sector. And there are some very strange skills, full stop.

Personally, I'm proudest of my "Murder" endorsement. I could tell you how I got it....but then I'd have to kill you....although "Breathing" is a close second favourite.
The endorsements above are the result of an endorsement war that myself and a few friends launched when we realised that there were such odd options available. We went all out to find silly skills, and endorse each other for them, and laughed ourselves silly when we found a new, obscure skill for each other.

So, in the end, the Skills section of LinkedIn became so easy to mess with that those endorsements were irrelevant. And it appears that at some point recently, LinkedIn realised that. This week, I went to endorse a new contact for "Library". This is my favourite pointless endorsement, as it's a skill that looks like it's real, but in reality it's utter nonsense. Imagine the conversation:

"What are you good at, I was going to endorse you for your skills on LinkedIn, but I wanted to be sure they were ones you agreed you had a strength in. It suggests I endorse you for Library. Are you good at Library?"
"Oh yes, I Library really good. Of all the people who can Library, I am the best at Library, I can assure you. When my peers think of others in the profession who can Library, their thoughts immediately turn to me as an outstanding Library-er."

So, needless to say, I wanted others to know that she was good at Library.'s GONE! As are the other fun endorsements. No more Murder. No more Cucumber. No more Breathing.

Dagnammit, LinkedIn went and took the only fun bit out of having an online CV!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Referendum experience

I don't know if you've noticed, but something big is happening in Scotland at the moment. A long-promised referendum is happening on the 18th of September, asking one question of the populace: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Now, I've made my decision, and I've voted already (the joys of a postal vote), so I can watch things ramp up in the last week or so of campaigning with a certain level of detachment. I'm a voter - I've always voted, and always will, as too many people fought too hard for me to gain that basic right of self determination for me to give it up because of silly issues like the polling station being inconveniently located, or because it's raining. But there's something different about this referendum, that sets it apart from all the previous elections of all types that I've voted in.

The difference is, that people now seem to think they have a right to know what your choice has been, and it's not the people who live in Scotland who're asking. They're often polite, and interested, but...I'm just not used to having people (both close friends and acquaintances) think they have some right to know my vote. I'm usually polite and just deflect the question, although if I think the person's not going to rant at me about my choice, I may well share it, but I was brought up to believe that what you voted was your personal choice, and not something that other people should ever ask of you.

So, when did we all become so crass as to feel it was OK to ask others about how they have or will vote? When did my political choice flip from being private to being something that other think they have a right to know about? Is this going to happen in the next General Election in 2015? Will people be asking each other about their voting intention beforehand, and jeering them for it after?

Where did our political politeness go?

Time flies when you're having....a lot of stuff going on!

Phew, it's been a long time between blog posts here, huh?

Mainly, this has been because I've been super busy at work, between settling in to my role, and working hard with our intake of summer students. Settling in, and having people get to know me (made much easier now by the fact that the Information Services team and our Library have been located on one of the main office floors since mid April, so we're far more visible to staff) means that the fee earners have become more comfortable with asking me for research help, and passing research tasks to me to deal with, so my day-to-day workload has been picking up. Plus I've been checking over and altering the training materials I inherited from my predecessor...and testing them out on the Summer Law School students!

The Summer Law School at my current workplace is partially similar to the one which was run by my old employer, but it's also substantially more involved. Unlike the previous 2-sets-of-students, 4-weeks-each-session scheme I was involved in at my old workplace, this Law School involves only one set of students in a single 8 week session. The participants have come through a highly competitive application process, with tough application sifting and interviews bringing the hundreds of applicants down to only 12 or so attendees. During their time here, they experience the wide range of types of legal work available in the firm, while attending weekly business skills training sessions, and also participating in a group charity fundraising project. It's a VERY intensive experience for them, and I was super impressed with how well they all's not easy to work as a team while you're also competing against each other! That competitive element comes from the fact that the Summer Business School is effectively an intensive 8 week long interview, as at the end of it, the best candidates will get offered a traineeship place.

So, as part of my role, I've been supporting these students as they get used to the various differences between studying law, and practising it. It's an excellent opportunity for them, allowing them to get to grips with different departments and their work. However, it's also potentially overwhelming, because they're being presented with scenarios and situations that they may not have encountered yet (they're here prior to completing the last year or two years of their studies), so I'm there to help them with any information-related issues they come across, and guide them with research tasks they get given. We also have some online resources available to staff that are more business-oriented, so the students were unlikely to have encountered them before, and I gave training and support on those.

As a neutral person whose role is specifically to help and support them, and being placed outside their formal mentor/team situation, I'm able to give them information about how the firm works/what's expected of them/ the appropriate way to do things, without them worrying about it being factored into decisions about traineeships. I'm also able to provide some reassurance that, just because their line manager thinks the answer will take 5 minutes to find, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will actually be that quick (otherwise thy'd have done it themselves)!

But it's not just the students that have been learning during the Law School, I've been learning too! Not having worked in the academic library environment, I didn't know how much support law students had available to them from the library in their universities. Or how much power those library staff have to prod the students into attending training on the online resources they're likely to need and use. However, from working with the students during the summer, I realised that many of them were only using the most basic functions of certain databases like Westlaw and LexisNexis, and didn't fully understand some of the deeper tools available to them, which implied that they'd skipped a lot of the training on offer to them! To make up for this, I encouraged the students to book time with me, in order to go over certain subscription resources in more depth, and to explore new ones. In these sessions, we looked at the more advanced options in the resources, and used additional tools like setting up news alerts, and creating subscriptions in RSS feed readers. I was quite surprised that RSS feed readers were a new idea for most of the students, but impressed with how quickly they grasped how much time they could save by using them, and how much of a better awareness on certain topics they could develop by using them to manage their news sources.

I also realised (thanks to being able to ask academic librarians online) that the academic version of resources like Westlaw often didn't have the same tailoring available to the users as the way we access it. This was down to the fact that the students were accessing it via IP authentication, whereas we login with passwords, which means each user has an individual, tailorable experience, including folders, search alerts and RSS feeds. They were most disappointed when they realised their academic access wouldn't give them the same tools, as many had said how useful the folders and alerts options would be when undertaking research for their dissertations!

And now the summer students have all gone, and we'll be welcoming some of them back in a few years, so it must be quieter around here now, right?


Now we have the new trainee intake, all settling in nicely with their teams, and now starting to ask their own research questions.

It's never quiet in the Library, really!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The UK Supreme Court and a Yes vote

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has published its eigth report, "Scottish independence: constitutional implications of the referendum".

Within that, Sections 79 to 83 discuss the effect of a potential "Yes" vote in the upcoming referendum, with the following result:

    1. If an independent Scotland were to have its own supreme court, justices with experience of Scots law would no longer be appointed to the UK Supreme Court. However, given their UK-wide remit, serving justices with this experience should continue to sit on the Supreme Court until their scheduled date of retirement.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Open Access and the law librarian

                                         Unofficial Open Access logo

Last year, I sector hopped a bit, going from a law library, to the academic sector, and on to a public body. During my academic sector interlude, I was working with Open Access publications, sourcing academic materials in the appropriate formats and versions, and uploading them to the institutional repository. Now, to anyone working in academic libraries, that sentence probably needs no further explanation, as they know exactly what it relates to. However, outside the academic sector, the topic of Open Access and the institutional repositories holding OA materials isn’t something that’s very familiar. In the special libraries catering for sectors such as law and health, library staff are used to having to pay (usually huge sums!) to access materials behind paywalls, and although there are some good initiatives to give wider public access to certain materials (e.g., there are very few resources which we can access for free. You’d think we’d be leaping with joy at the prospect of accessing any materials for free...but from what I can tell, awareness about the concept of Open Access materials hasn’t really come over very strongly to the commercial sector. Although the sort of materials that are created by academic researchers aren’t particularly a core material of a type that that solicitors tend to want frequently, it’s useful to have a good general idea of what materials could be found in institutional repositories.

So, for commercial librarians, here’s a short, guide (based on my own, non-expert knowledge) to Open Access materials, what you can find, what you can’t find, and why everything’s where it is (or isn’t). It’s slightly simplified in some areas, so please academic librarians: no shooting me for not properly mentioning/explaining the Finch Report!

What is Open Access?

Open Access relates to the ongoing initiative in academic institutions to make research outputs from academic authors more easily available to the public, by placing those materials (usually referred to as “research outputs”, as they can cover a range of textual and non-textual formats) into institutional repositories. Currently, the bulk of the research that is produced by academic authors and institutions is effectively inaccessible to the public as it is published in journals that can only be accessed via a paid subscription, or in a limited manner. As the public is the actual source funder of the research that is produced, for the output of the research to be inaccessible to them is not a reasonable situation, and the Open Access initiative seeks to address this imbalance. This enclosure of high quality research behind publisher paywalls can also stifle academic discourse and innovation, making it harder for innovations and developments in academic work to progress. In particular, it can be an issue for professionals in developing countries, who cannot afford access to the latest research materials in their fields, but who would be best placed to put the theories outlines in research outputs into effective practice, especially in the medical area.

How the research is funded

A large amount of the research done in UK universities is funded by money provided by a variety of research bodies, including the Wellcome Trust, the Research Councils UK (RCUK), HEFCE (in England), and multiple medical charities. As a condition of this funding, RCUK and other funders imposes a requirement that the outputs of this research be made available to the public (the funders of the research grants) via Open Access methods such as depositing appropriate versions of materials in an institutional repository. The eventual aim is to have 100% of RCUK funded research outputs made available via Open Access methods within a five year period (starting in 2013), with the intervening transitional period having increasing targets for the percentages of research outputs being made available, beginning with 45% in year one. (3.10). Other funding bodies are imposing similar access/deposit requirements. From 2016, a massive national exercise to assess and rank the academic output of centres of research (the Research Excellence Framework, or REF) has mandated that all journal articles and conference papers materials submitted to the REF “must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication.” As the REF materials represent the highest standards of academic work completed in each institution, this mandate means that more, high quality research will be being placed into institutional repositories from 2016, if not before (as universities gear themselves up to meet these requirements). So, both the bodies funding research, and the national exercise that assesses the quality of that research are supporting a move to make materials available via Open Access.

How the materials get online

There are two ways for academic materials to be made available to the public: via either the Green or the Gold route. The Gold route involves the author paying a fee to the publisher to allow the final, published version of their material to made immediately available to the public via their institutional repository or the publisher’s website. Green has three methods of implementation. One method involves no payment by the author to the publisher, but in return the publisher places an embargo on the public sharing of that material on the author’s repository. The embargo can vary in timescale, covering a period of anything from 6 months to two years. The second method involves placing research outputs into OA journals that are free of charge and allow immediate access to anyone. They are usually run by enthusiastic individuals and academic departments, and some of them are high quality. The third method involves the academic placing the research outputs directly into a repository, and not publishing it as a journal article out of it at all.

However, for both Green and Gold routes, the payment of publication fees and embargos on public access relate only to the final, published-in-a-journal version. The author is free to deposit the submitted version (i.e. the final, peer reviewed version of the material they submitted to the publisher, but which the publisher has not edited or typeset, also (confusingly) called the post-print) into their institutional repository at any point. Although the publishers really, really don’t like that, and some try and claim that authors are barred from putting ANY version of their work into a repository, even the earliest versions that the publishers never touched a character of, unless they themselves say so. This is an incorrect, and is a too wide-ranging interpretation of the rights of the publisher over the author’s preceding versions of the submitted work.

What use could it be to me?

When information professionals are trying to source legal materials for library users, there’s usually one of two things that those people want - either the latest materials, or the most in-depth materials. For the latest materials, you’ll always want to go first to those extortionately expensive subscription sources you’ve paid lots of money for, but in the situations where there’s no demand to get something topical, when you’re trying to find some learned discussion of a topic...then checking institutional repositories might be a good idea. Or those times when you’re given a citation for a journal that you don’t have access to, you could start the hunt for it by checking for the version of the article which may be deposited with the authors institutional repository in its pre-publication format. The content of the article is still the same, it’s just probably laid out in a different way to the final version (the publisher typesets and puts submitted materials into the house style), and it’s the content that the users want to get a hold of, not the nice column layout. Currently, it’s pretty hit and miss whether you can find what you’re looking for in a repository, but as explained above, the odds of finding material are improving by the day, so it’s increasingly worth a shot to look. I found quite a lot of interesting materials on Scots law via these institutional repositories, quite often from international journals. These are particularly useful because they often provide an introduction to certain aspects of the law from an outsider’s point of view. When being asked to begin research on a new legal topic, this is exactly the type of material that can assist the legal information professional in establishing a basic knowledge of a topic, before moving beyond that into greater detail.

Why’s it not there?

Unfortunately, as with all things that are a good idea on paper, the system doesn’t always work as planned. For example, you may know that a certain academic wrote a certain paper for a certain journal….if it was research funded by RCUK, then there’s an increasing impetus to make sure that the author deposits an Open Access version of it in a repository, so it should be available. However, there are also a LOT of reasons why what you’re looking for isn’t where you’re looking for it, and I’ll explain a few of the reasons below:

  • The information above currently relates mainly to journal articles and conference proceedings, items which are in a text format: other materials such as posters or audio/visual materials are not as likely to appear in a repository due to the difficulties of making these formats available in an appropriate way. However, as protocols for the uploads of these materials are developed and implemented, it’s likely that more of these non-textual materials will become available.

Technical skills/support
  • The author may not have the technical skills to upload their materials to the repository themselves, and may be unwilling to ask for help to add them. They may also be relying on assistance from others such as OA support teams specially recruited to assist in sourcing and uploading materials. Therefore, the availability of their materials will be reliant on the support staff being available to deal with those materials for the academic.

Availability of appropriate document versions
  • Only certain versions of materials are suitable for deposit in repositories. If the author hasn’t kept earlier versions of their work, and therefore only have printouts of earlier document versions that would need retyped or scanned, it may not be possible to make it available via Open Access without dedicating disproportionate resources to the task. This means it will not be a priority for addition to the repository, as contrasted with upload-ready materials.

Publisher restrictions
  • Publisher embargoes, and the confusion around them, means that many materials which should be freely available are locked away until the expiry of an embargo period set by the publisher. When the public tries to access them, they’re directed to a publisher paywall. This isn’t very helpful, and as a non-academic, hugely frustrating.
  • Books and individual chapters in collections are unlikely to be available on repositories, due to the fact that, unlike journals, there is no collective agreement for how books will be treated. Each book or chapter will need a separate negotiation with the publisher, and as this is a hugely time consuming task, with little likelihood of success (what publisher wants to invest in publishing a book, only for it to be freely available to the public in a year or two?), books are not a priority for adding to repositories.
Author understanding of copyright
  • Some authors may not understand that they retain the copyright in their work (unless it was commissioned), and they can often be told by publishers that no version of a published article can be shared on a repository. Although this is untrue (the copyright of everything up to and including the peer-reviewed, final version submitted to the publisher remains with the author), academic authors, especially those early in their career, can feel intimidated and anxious about getting published and will accede to publisher demands without disputing them. They can be too willing to assign copyright to publishers, when they should retain copyright and simply license the publisher to publish the item. This means that some academics may be wary of doing anything with their work which they believe the publisher has not authorised them to do, despite the fact that they do not need such authorisation to deposit their own work.

Location of the main author
  • If you know someone was the author of a paper, and where they’re employed, you’d hope that you could find it on their university’s repository. However, the author you’re looking for may not be the main author, and therefore the materials won’t necessarily be available on the author you know’s own institutional repository, but on the repository of the lead author. This can be a particular issue in medical studies papers, or any where a large number of academics did some research on a large project. and has been credited as an author (if anyone mentions the Lothian Birth Cohort to me, I tend to get a twitch...200+ authors on one paper!!).

Willingness of the author to participate
  • Some authors do not agree with the move towards making materials available via Open Access. Some authors feel that allowing anything other than the final, published version of their work will harm their reputation. Some feel that allowing free access to academic materials will damage publishers, especially publishers of small, independent journals who may support associated professional societies who are reliant on the income from journal subscriptions. Some authors just want to stick their heads in their sand and hope everything will go away. And some authors are very happy to share their work via the repository, and are keen to help make it available as widely as possible. Your chances of sourcing materials will be heavily tied to how engaged with Open Access goals an author is.

Where to look

Of course, if you have good details of where the author of material works, you can go straight to their institutional repository and begin searching there. If, as is more usual, you have only been given vague information, you could start with the sites that search across those repositories.

  • Google Scholar allows users to search across many academic sources. It will also allow access to book chapters, if available.

  • MIMAS has a tool here for UK repositories.

  • OpenDOAR is a listing of Open Access repositories around the world.

  • DOAJ is “an online directory that indexes and provides access to quality open access, peer-reviewed journals.”

  • Another option, as suggested by Charles Oppenheim, is to go directly to a university that you know does good research in an area, and check their repository directly. For Scots law, that would be Edinburgh Research Explorer (ERA) at Edinburgh University, Enlighten at Glasgow University, AURA at Aberdeen University, and Strathprints at Strathclyde University.

I hope this information is useful, and good luck hunting through the repositories!

Many thanks to Ian Clark (@ijclark) and Charles Oppenheim (@charlesoppenh) for their input to this article, and helpign me to keep the information as accurate as possible.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Learning ALL THE STUFF..and showing people we know about it

Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 seminar notes
TUPE update notes
Because my new role means that I'm regularly asked do to legal research, it also means that I need to make sure that my level of general knowledge of a wide range of legal topics is pretty high, and that it stays high. Helpfully, my employer runs in-house training sessions on all sorts of things, for all sorts of departments, and these seminars are also open to a range of staff. That means that my colleagues and I can take the chance to get some excellent information from speakers on relevant topics, both drawn from our own staff and from external experts. I've been learning about land law, employment/company law, and there's some environmental training coming up soon too.

These sessions are interesting on multiple levels - it's great for me to be able to have access to the level of professional training that the solicitors have, which helps me get my knowledge up to a higher level, but it's also allowing me and my colleagues to get out of the library and meet staff, even those that don't currently have any work they need me to do for them. As we are an internal department, we don't have any help in marketing our service to our users to increase engagement and awareness of what we offer - the Marketing department's time is taken up with promoting the skills and knowledge of the solicitors to external users (although I have heard of an information service in a law firm that Marketing used as a test for an internal publicity campaign). That means that if we want to publicise our service internally, we have to do it ourselves. By going to these internal training events, we're raising our visibility level within the firm, putting our faces to the "Information Services" department, making ourselves approachable, and showing that our knowledge on legal topics is as current as it can be. When you're a librarian in a commercial environment, you have to make your own opportunities to promote the service!

Friday, February 28, 2014

What if you don't get back what you put in?

I am, as you may know, a member of CILIP, the professional body for information professionals. There are two main reasons I'm a member.

  1. I am a Chartered librarian, and I take my commitment to maintaining this visible badge of my professionalism seriously. I have revalidated my Chartership within the previous assessment system, and I have submitted my Revalidation within the new system. To continue being a Chartered librarian, I must be a member of CILIP (although currently the commitment to continue to revalidate my Chartership is voluntary, and has been so for the length of my membership since approximately 2001). So I continue to be a member.
  2. I am a registered CILIP Mentor, and I help to guide those information professionals who are keen to be professionally qualified through the Chartership/professional qualifications process. I could not abandon midway through that process the people who are looking to me for guidance in their professional development. So I continue to be a member.
In fact - those two reasons I’ve outlined above are the only reasons I'm a CILIP member. As I demonstrated last year, I am perfectly capable of finding or creating my own CPD opportunities, whether I am supported in this by an employer or not, so I do not need to be a member of CILIP in order to develop my professional skills. As I am not a public or academic librarian, and as I am not based in London, any potential benefits CILIP may offer are pretty much non-existent for me, as I am based in Scotland, and a special librarian.*

I volunteer a lot of my own time to support the Chartership process through mentoring candidates - I give up evenings and weekends to read the portfolio materials of my mentees, I give feedback on their materials, I meet them in person if possible, and recently, in order to get to grips with the new professional qualifications structure, I have attended events (during the working day, which my employers generously allowed me to attend without taking annual leave), and I have spent time reading about and discussing with others the new professional qualifications structure. Last year, I estimate I spent between 30-40 hours on these types of mentoring activities alone. Others are likely to be giving a similar amount of time to the same type of activities, and others are involved in other areas, such as working on committees and acting as Candidate Support officers.

I pay £200 per year to be a member of CILIP, and in return...I work for them for free.

I am not trying to claim that I am alone in giving my own time to CILIP at all - I know there are a lot of people involved at Group level: running events and giving training to members, and sacrificing their own free time to do so. I can only speak from my own experiences of “working” for CILIP, but I really don’t know how the Branches or Groups or the Qualifications Board would work without this donation of their time by CILIPs members.

For the whole time that I've been a member of CILIP, whenever I have seen or engaged in discussions about what benefits it offers to members, the popular response to any complaint that CILIP doesn't give enough back to its members is “you get back what you put in”, i.e. you have to give more to CILIP in order to get more back. But what happens if what you put in isn’t getting a comparable benefit value back? Is 30-40 hours of an annual time donation (or effectively a full working week) to my professional body worth me giving them £200 a year for? Why am I paying my professional body a substantial sum annually, for the privilege of them allowing me to work on their behalf? There also doesn't seem to be a centralised policy on reimbursing the costs of volunteers on Committees and Groups (e.g travel expenses), so in effect some people could actually be paying over £200 a year, to volunteer for the benefit of their fellow professionals!

Therefore, this is my thought - if you are a membership body, and your members work to support you in the aims of your body by giving up their own free time, surely there must be some way of recognising and rewarding that? And isn’t the simplest way of doing this to offer a discount to those members working on your behalf?

So, my question now is - why doesn’t CILIP offer such a discount as standard to those members who work on its behalf? They know centrally from their systems who is a registered mentor, who is a Committee member etc - why can discounts not be offered to these members automatically?

Now, this isn't (altogether) about money, although money is obviously a big factor, especially when CILIPs membership fees are so high (of the 4 professional bodies I'm a member of, CILIP is almost £100 more than the next most expensive annual fee), it is about recognising what your members are doing for you, and rewarding it. Could the Chartership system run if mentors, Candidate Support Officers and the Professional Qualifications assessors didn't give up their time to do it, voluntarily? And what about the professional events that are run by the Groups - if those Committees didn’t organise events, what would CILIP be able to say were its benefits?

I do wonder too do other professional bodies rely on members volunteering to do some of their core functions, while charging high membership fees and not recognising those volunteers in any way? Do architects, accountants, pharmacists and surveyors rely on their members to give up their time for free in order for those bodies to run?

*Disclaimer - last year I won an award from CILIP, which came with a cash prize. This award was related to my mentoring activities, and was based on a written nomination from my mentee, judged by a panel. I did not expect this award, nor has it affected how I view my engagement with CILIP.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


There's been all sorts of publicity about Wikipedia since it first appeared, and opinion among the librarians I know has swung from "that's potentially useful" to "that's a bit dodgy, I don't think I can trust it", and finally on to "that's a good start for finding information on all sorts of stuff, but I need to be aware of its shortcomings".

So, I know Wikipedia's handy, and I know I have to be wary of certain stuff (it's notorious for being maliciously edited on pages covering contentious topics, and amusingly Wikipedia has a page on malicious edits/vandalism on Wikipedia), but I don't know how to look into the workings of it and assess it properly. I know the editors are volunteers, but how do they become volunteers, and how exactly do they edit pages? And what are the systems in place to stop or flag up unreliable edits? If I'm going to explain to my service users why they should or shouldn't rely on a Wikipedia page to inform them, I really should be able to check for myself in order to explain why that page is or isn't reliable. But I don't really have the time to spare to teach myself about the detailed workings of Wikipedia - I've had a quick look before, but it seemed such a cliquey thing that I really didn't feel I wanted to invest the time to get involved. I know there's also an issue with a gender imbalance towards males in the editors (and content), which makes me a bit leery of getting involved in what seems to be yet another boys club.

All of this means that I'm going to be going along to the SLA Europe event at the National Library of Scotland on Tuesday 4th March, "Do you have the facts on Wikipedia?"* I'm hoping that it'll give me the sort of information that I need to use it more effectively, and perhaps make getting involved in the background workings of Wikipedia seem a bit less intimidating!

*Disclaimer: I will be helping to run this event, but I'd be going anyway - this looks interesting!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Secret librarian tendencies

Who would have thought that Eminem secretly yearned to be a librarian? Is the life of a rap star not exciting enough for him, that he wants a career change to a more cerebral calling? In fact, it seems that he not only wants to be a librarian, but he wants to be the BEST librarian, as the lyrics of his recent song with Rihanna show:

At 1.36, he proudly declares:

"but it was confusing 'cause all I wanted to do is be the Bruce Lee of loose leaf."

Bit odd, really, seeing as most librarians loathe looseleafing with a passion, but to each their own, I s'pose...

Monday, January 27, 2014

CPD overload

Last year, I accumulated almost 230 hours of Continuing Professional Development, or CPD, hours.

This total includes:

  • The time spent attending professional events
  • The time spent managing the development of the Informed website
  • The time spent creating content for Informed, my blog, and other locations
  • The time spent providing professional training to others
  • Time spent mentoring Chartership candidates

While I was doing this stuff, I also:

  • Lost one job suddenly
  • Started two new jobs
  • Applied for 100 jobs
  • Prepared for and attended multiple interviews
  • Completed the time consuming renovations of my house
  • Read 67 books

This isn’t a humblebrag, it’s just an example of what’s actually achievable in terms of professional activity and involvement, with a bit of motivation and organisation. My total is well in excess of the average professional body CPD requirement of 20 hours annually (prospectively, 20 hours annual CPD will be a requirement for Chartered CILIP members, to Revalidate and maintain a Chartership). If I could fit in that level of professional activity, while my whole life was in chaos, then the lower 20 hours target is likely to be achievable for most. To be engaged with your profession, you don’t have to give up your personal life, you just have to want to develop your professional life
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