Thursday, July 4, 2013

A visit to Cecil Court

On 20 June, eight special collections librarians from libraries around London and the South East gathered in Cecil Court, just off Charing Cross Road in London. Cecil Court, occasionally known as Booksellers Row, is filled with antiquarian and other booksellers who have held out against the tides of Amazon and London rent prices. We were met by ABA (Antiquarian Booksellers' Association) Council Member Laurence Worms and promised a glimpse into the world of buying and selling rare books.

The trip was organised in part at concern that many librarians haven’t had a chance to build relationships with booksellers, and Laurence introduced us to no fewer than seven different booksellers’ shops. Each told us a bit about their speciality, from the children’s classics of Marchpane to the modern first editions of Goldsboro Books – both of which had a few of us reaching into our pockets or even library funds. We saw the first atlas printed in English and discussed satirical maps at Tim Bryars, climbed down into a Dickensian basement full of sheet music at Travis & Emery and discussed catalogues of vice books – gambling, gay literature and westerns – at Natalie Galustian Rare Books.

We had been promised the opportunity to ask any question about the bookselling trade, and those we met answered our questions with as much honesty as possible. Frank discussions of pricing and the problems/opportunities of the internet took place alongside fascinating conversations on the history of mapping in Antwerp and the market for children’s books in China and Japan.

A trip to Cecil Court – and the opportunity to learn about and from the booksellers located there – should be a must for any rare book or special collections staff. I've already put it to use, purchasing a few small bits for the Museum of English Rural Life Library and dealing with a volume of Dutch maps found in our collections. Many thanks are due to the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and the ABA for organizing this one.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'One is most amused': Running the Queen Victoria’s Journals editathon

(this blog post was first published on the Wikimedia UK blog)

Queen Victoria (via Wikimedia Commons)
‘This book, Mamma gave me, that I might write the journal of my journey to Wales in it.’ 

So began the young Victoria in 1832, beginning a lifelong habit – and providing fodder for researchers around the world interested in areas as diverse as music, art, politics, food and the Empress of India herself.

As Communications and Social Media Officer for the Bodleian Libraries , it was my job to find ways to get the word out and help our audiences engage with the Queen Victoria’s Journals project. The project, a collaborative effort between the Bodleian Libraries, the Royal Archives and information company ProQuest, has made Queen Victoria’s diaries available online.

The Bodleian Libraries communications team had already begun to consider how we might create stronger links with the Wikipedia community – we’ve been chatting to Wikipedians in Residence and working with local editors to improve collection-related content. Engaging with the Wikipedia community seemed like a great way to put the Journals material to use as well as to help us develop relationships with Wikipedians in the area, and we decided to run a Queen Victoria’s Journals editathon to coincide with the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birthday on 24 May.

The project’s timing meant that we had a very short window in which to organise an event, but we went ahead. We quickly pulled together some promotional material and got curators lined up for the day, then spent about two and half weeks promoting the event. The help of Wikimedia UK was crucial in getting the word out and making sure everything was set up correctly, but we also advertised within the University and to various Victorian research groups.

We ended up with 14 participants (5 virtual, using IRC to ask questions) as well as curators and staff who came by to answer questions and facilitate. We were lucky enough to have Wikimedia trainers Charles Matthews and Doug Taylor join us, and they provided one-to-one support to the new editors – including the Director of Records for the Royal Household, who was roped into making his first ever edit! Our curators began with a quick intro to Queen Victoria’s journals and the Journals website, and then we dived right in.

The day was a success in terms of articles edited (38, including 3 new ones); Wikipedia is now the 2nd-highest referring site to the Journals website. It was also a relaxed opportunity to engage with the Wikipedia community and to introduce new ways of exploring our collections to those who know most about them. We look forward to hosting another event in the autumn – next time, with kids!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Digital Know-how Day Takeaways: UX for Libraries (or why your user rules your world)

This blog has been occasional at best for the past few years, but I am trying to return to it more regularly. There's lots to write about, but perhaps over the course of a few posts. Although I'm still at the Bodleian Libraries as Communications & Social Media Officer, I'm no longer working for the Conservative Party Archive. Instead, I'm job sharing the position of University Museums & Special Collections Librarian at the University of Reading (super exciting - loving it so far!).

One of the best training/CPD events I've been to recently was my colleague Alison's Digital Know-how Day on UX for Libraries. UX is an increasingly hot topic for libraries (or perhaps I should say it's an increasingly 'duh' topic for the web world and a 'just getting started topic for libraries'? Perhaps that's unfair). As part of the Bodleian Libraries web redevelopment project (first few websites up! see, the project team has spent some time considering how best to figure out what our users actually want and need from our sites. I've learned about and helped with user testing, focus groups, card sorting and more. They all boil down to this: your user (reader, visitor, whatever) is a real person, who is trying to do a real thing or build a real experience. HELP THEM. Web design isn't about colours, or logos - though those things are important. It's about people.

'It's designed so that whatever you do, you'll get the mushroom.'
--Shigero Mayamoto (via Matthew Reidsma)

The day provided a good mix of details and theory, with presentations from Tom Grinsted of the Guardian, Matthew Reidsma (Skyping from a corn field in Michigan), Martin Bazley and Ruth D'Arcy-Daniel as well as some quick fire presentations from me and a few other staff members and a live user testing session.

Key takeaways:

  • Web work and understanding your users is an iterative process. It's constant! That's a good thing!
  • Don't be afraid to show people an unfinished product. Even a paper version can yield great feedback (and save you money and time in changing a finished version). Just don't launch a half-baked product that doesn't work; people would rather use a limited version that works great than a full product with lots of bugs.
  • Make data-based decisions: Hypothesise, launch, test, revise, repeat.
  • It's important to use different types of testing or statistics, qualitative and quantitative, to support your work. Online analytics are great, but your users don't exist in an online vacuum, and neither does your organisation. Use guerrilla testing - it can be a great way to get some fast answers! 
  • Stop designing based on what you 'think' users should be doing. Historically, this is a problem for librarians; we often feel the need to 'help' people do the 'right' thing. Teaching people to use a catalogue is great, but you shouldn't need a guide to your website. Like Super Mario - you learn everything you need to in the first 20 seconds of the game (props to Matthew Reidsma for including video games in a library talk).
All in all, an illuminating day, and lots to keep in mind over future projects, both in Oxford and at Reading. I'll be thinking about how this applies to the Reading SC website as I learn more about its content, and we're addressing the Bodleian Libraries SC sites over the coming months and in preparation for the opening of the Weston Library.

If you want to hear a bit more about the UX day in full, check out the full Storify.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A brave new noisy world: What libraries can learn from the Guardian's open journalism model

World is crazier and more of it than we think, 
Incorrigibly plural.

-Louis MacNeice, 'Snow'

On Friday, we closed our engage: social media michaelmas term with a session of the Digital Media Users' Group (DMUG). These termly sessions aim to support those in the University who are creating and distributing digital media. This time, we heard from Nancy Groves, editor of the Guardian's Higher Education and Culture Professionals Networks. Nancy, an art journalist by background, walked us through the professional networks model and how these networks are changing journalism at the Guardian - as well as reflecting changing ideas about information around the world.

Nancy noted that the networks' key roles are to 'aggregate, curate and debate'. The sites are just that - networks. Top-down journalism is gone, and what would once have linked those in a sector - business-to-business journalism, perhaps - is now open journalism. There are more experts outside the Guardian than in, and it would be dangerously short sighted for the newspaper to ignore that.

So why should you be open? Nancy noted a creative imperative, a funding necessity and a democratic imperative. In allowing more voices, they're looking for a 'better approximation of the truth' (in the words of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger). Of course, it can be argued that more voices = more noise, but, as Nancy said, 'Better noise than silence.'

I spent some time hemming and hawing over the title of this post, because although I believe libraries can learn from open journalism, the open movement is already a big part of the library conversation. There are specific elements of the Guardian's tactics and ethos, however, that are instructive, and it is helpful to place the library world in the wider context of the open movements.

One of the questions raised by the Guardian and in the library world is how you continue to make money (or, in our case, show the value that results in funding) with open content. This isn't just a Guardian issue, as we all know - it's a sector-wide issue when applied to research, and a global issue when applied to content. This goes hand in hand with the question of authority. How do you maintain your credibility - for the Guardian, as a provider of news, and for libraries, as curators of information - when you allow others to contribute? 

Many - though  not all - libraries need to work harder at selling our role in an updated world. The Guardian doesn't just say, 'Look, aren't we great curators? Observe and adore.' Curating is important, and we should indeed love them because they have savvy editors who can pull together disparate views and make us think. But really we return to them because, on top of the aggregated and curated content, they continue to provide authoritative comment - the news. The content they provide is still underpinned discipline and quality control, but it's an extended network of expertise.

Libraries already do this. We play a growing role in the open source movement (in ways ranging from offering open journals to vocally lobbying for more access). We're using crowdsourcing, tagging, reviews and more. And knowledge and the authority underpins our work.

But we've existed by selling ourselves as the go-to source for information, and we all know that's no longer enough - that topic's been beaten to death. Still, open journalism provides an opportunity to look at other industries doing it well and learn from them. According to Melanie Sill, journalism executive in residence at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, open journalism is transparent, responsive, accountable, participatory and networked. How do we meet those criteria? Do we allow participation? Do we make ourselves accountable? We may think so, but I'd suggest there's room for improvement. As R David Lankes writes, we need to market our libraries so that people 'expect more'.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Internet Librarian International 2012: Share and be nice

Preface: The blog is back. For now. With more library-themed material. 
Preface 2: This is now two weeks late. Oh well.

ILI 2012 was one of the more refreshing library conferences or events I've been to recently, and this was largely because it took us back to preschool and the values we learned there. 'Share', we were told. 'Be nice.' 'Let go.' 'Listen.'

The conference kicked off with a keynote from R David Lankes (virtual, as he was ill - and doubly virtual for me, who was stuck on a train and reading tweets until I got a chance to watch the presentation later), whose key message was 'the more you share, the more you have'. Libraries and librarians only work when we act as a platform for knowledge sharing, not as a repository for books or even just gatekeepers of digital information. This carried through the rest of the conference, with sessions on finding new ways to engage with users and learning more about search and other technologies that will help to open our data. 

Although Matthew Reidsma was only one of two to say it in his presentation 'Your library website stinks and it's your fault', many of the other messages at ILI boiled down to 'be nice'. Yes, this sounds like we're back in school. But no, you can't ignore it. In this context, being nice is about listening to our users and working with them to give them what they need - not what we need. We might indeed know better, or think we do, but the way we succeed is by working with our users (oops - patrons? readers? visitors? this was one of the discussion points of the conference) to ensure that we are sharing our knowledge to give them what they need most.

Highlights of the conference, in more detail?

Online tools galore! Phil Bradley gave us a whirlwind run-through of interesting online tools - some I already knew about, some I didn't. We also considered how Google operates and how it makes its money - and how this affects the results we see. Arthur Weiss of AWARE, a marketing intelligence agency, also talked about analytics tools for Twitter. This is an area I've been exploring quite a lot over the past year, so it was great to see a few new tools to look at.

Using new technologies in teaching and learning - from using video (everyone should be doing it, basically - it's so easy you don't have an excuse) to the Journal of Visualized Experiments (I can't stop telling everyone about this. It just makes sense! Peer-reviewed articles turned into short tutorial videos so experiments can be reproduced, saving everyone time and money). We also heard about ways Spotify can help librarians add value to articles and reading lists and looked at a successful example of Kindle lending by Hugh Murphy of the National University of Ireland Maynooth. Gary Green gave us examples of IFTTT in use (some great ideas despite the fact that it no longer supports Twitter); Aaron Tay of the National University of Singapore Library talked about using memes to market the library (check out the results of their meme contest).

From the NUS Library meme content
Sharing our information: From Eleanor Kenny on Europeana's decision to release all their metadata under a CC waiver (making the largest open domain cultural data set EVER) to 'Happiness is a warm API', open data was everywhere. We heard from Roly Keating about 'liberating content for new things to happen' and that the Rijksmuseum claims the 'best defence against fakes is open content'. 

Measurement: This was touched on here and there, but certainly wasn't the one of the main conference themes. It's dear to my heart, though, so I was at workshops on the bottom line and ROI and on using data sets to present information (Marydee Ojala). We explored the concept of data manipulation and 'truthiness'.

Following up
So what have I taken away from ILI? Besides the pages of notes listing websites to try and people to follow up with (did you know Wolfram Alpha can do math story problems? Blown. Away.), I'm strengthened in my desire to understand the numbers behind what we do. We must be able to say to whom we're listening and whether our sharing is working - it's not all about just shoving data out there (although sometimes that doesn't hurt). One of my chartership goals is to take a look at statistics and 'big data', learning more about how to use them to reflect goals and successes. I'm also more and more convinced that holding on to information is the wrong approach; there are ways to share information via social media and via my special collections positions, but it requires thinking about the most effective formats and methods. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Social media strategies should rock your world

It's been a very, very long time since I posted here, despite multiple resolutions to get back to blogging. 2010 and 2011 were full, and they just didn't leave time. A UCL Master's, two weddings, lots of travel...and 2012 has thus far been about enjoying NOT doing a dissertation and two weddings.

But. The blog calls. And this week brought an issue about which I felt strongly enough to resurrect it.

I've spent the past few weeks looking at the social media strategies of various libraries and other cultural institutions (because although some libraries are doing a fantastic job, those outside the library world are just doing it so. much. better). It's become clear that many don't have a written strategy. And not having a strategy doesn't necessarily mean that an institution isn't doing a fantastic job.

But. And this is a big 'but' for me. There's been a bit of discussion on Twitter and blogs recently about how to approach social media in the library setting (and elsewhere - see this Guardian article on Brighton and Hove City Council and social media) - and whether having a strategy matters or not. I emphatically, with all my being, believe it does, and that everyone should have one, and that this type of thing is one area where libraries are way behind the corporate and business world.

I think there is some confusion about what a social media strategy can be. When I say strategy, I don't mean the type of strategy that says ‘only Mrs. Wiggles gets to Tweet and she does it once a day and you can’t alter that without going to eight committees’, but one that articulates why you’re doing what you do and how you see it benefiting your organisation. In fact, the strategy should ideally be a part of your whole organisation's communications plan. It's a purpose document, and it's basic marketing practice. If you don't do this, I don't think you're getting as much as you should be from your social media use. 

I've just finished drafting a policy on appropriate use for our organisation (and this is also important because a) it protects both you as a staff member and your organisation and b) some people need guidance on common sense, and a policy spells out what you mean when you say 'don't do anything stupid'), and I'm beginning to look at strategies so that we can work on our own. The fact that our organisation wants a strategy doesn't mean that I feel restricted. We've been on Twitter for ages and are revamping our Facebook page. Our staff have dozens of blogs, Facebook accounts and Twitter profiles. They're allowed to start them without jumping through hoops like circus animals; we encourage it. But writing a strategy, or deciding how social media fits into your organisation's overall strategy, forces you to address your social media use properly. It makes you think about what your goals are. It makes you examine your audience, and who you want it to be. It makes you think about how you want the various accounts across your organisation to work together. It makes you decide what material is appropriate - generally, without being too restrictive - and make sure that your social media content fits with the other content you create. It can help you decide how you measure success, because it needs to about more than just 'likes'. And it can help you decide how often you will readdress these goals, and what you will you do when they're not working. Thinking about these things should be empowering, not restrictive. It can mean producing something as specific as the BBC's excellent strategy document (which combines what some see as an 'appropriate use policy' with a wider strategy), or something that simply outlines an audience and a mission. You wouldn't design a website or launch a new service without determining what/who you're dealing with and what you want it to accomplish, so why are we so determined to approach social media without doing it?

I'm pretty sure that many good library social media users out there have thought about some of this already, even if they haven't set it out on paper. That's great. Now write it down. Otherwise what do you have to show your superiors when they ask why social media is important to your organisation (and why they should invest staff time in it)? Perhaps more importantly, how else will you explain to colleagues why and how you should work together to use social media in a way that fits in with the goals of your organisations rather than just their own team? It's especially important if you're in a large organisation - perhaps a university with multiple libraries and library projects that each want to use social media - because it ensures that you're all working towards the same goal. And even if you're a lone librarian with full control, it provides you with the opportunity to examine your social media use and decide how best to align it with the needs of your library.

I sense that the reaction against writing a strategy for something like this is a worry that a strategy will be limiting. I get this. I've heard from other librarians who have been required to write proposals and have four committee approvals get the picture. It defeats the purpose of social media when you are unable to act quickly and organically, or when you're so tied down that you're unable to respond to or keep up with the constant change that social media represents. If an organisation is requiring employees to jump through these sorts of hoops regularly,  I find it hard to believe that they really 'get' social media or will use it advantageously. A strategy needs to broad and flexible enough to cope with Facebook's new Timeline without going to a committee, and it needs to allow so-and-so in such-and-such department to start using Twitter without waiting three months for permission. It is not the place for writing out how you're going to make your Facebook page awesome by adding photographs; it is the place for explaining to the rest of your organisation why sourcing engaging content from expert staff members will help boost usage of collections. Reflecting on long-term communications and engagement goals is only going to help in the long run...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A little archive song

Courtesy of Derangement and Description. Unfortunately I can't load it any bigger (??) but do click through and read it. Especially if you love archives. And finding aids.