Thing 12: Conferences

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As a still “not-yet-professional”, I’m very fortunate in that I have managed to attend a couple of conferences. This was due to the generosity of my employees at The London Library who worked hard to ensure the overall experience offered the most rounded view of the profession possible.

Last November I attended the e-books conference which was held at The Italian Institute and organised by the EUROLIS group of CILIP. I won’t write in depth about the content of the conference because I already did that and you can click here to read my post; what I’ll do here is analyse the experience in a critical way, as suggested by Caroline.

Anyone who knows me will probably describe me as confident, bubbly and talkative which is all true but as I strode through the ornately detailed door and my shiny little shoes struck the polished wooden floor my calm exterior was a fraudulent mask for the chaos within. My heart was in my mouth. It didn’t help that upon arrival there was the obligatory confusion over my being a lady, not a man. No matter, I was adamant I would ace this day. I located an uncharacteristically yet highly conveniently placed tipex in my handbag and erased the “Mr” from my name badge and strutted on: “this can be a funny anecdote I’ll tell to the crowds of people who will inevitably be gathered around me by the end of the day drinking in my wisdom and laughing manically at this hilarious situation”, I thought. However as I approached the cavernous room with a heart full of fear, excitement and anticipation, a curious reaction manifested within resulting in the complete eradication of all of my brave resolve and grand intention. I skirted over to a corner and failed miserably to arrest the attention of the few attendees who were already safely enveloped in beautifully sized groups whereby the chemistry and dynamics fostered the perfect environment for each of it’s participants to thrive in professional conversation. Had they have looked at me, I would have telepathically received the message from their eyes that “Sorry, this circle is full, we can’t run the risk of allowing an extra person to disturb the equilibrium of our pow-wow”. So I did the obvious thing and ran to the bathroom (which I hadn’t noticed until now that I was debilitating desperate for anyway).

When I returned to the room a few more people had arrived and I scurried to a seat next to some one who looked as lonely and out of place as I did. She was very shy and quiet and I had to contend with my cursed poor hearing (just to amplify my well established repertoire of problems!) which was a shame because her job sounded really interesting, she worked in a legal library. Polite conversation filled the gaps until the conference began and I was ousted from my seat by a hustling group of Italians who were having far too much of a good time for nine thirty in the morning. I later realised the source of their joy and was overcome by it too – I’ll talk about this later but for now let’s just say the Italians really know how to put a good event on (I’m talking the best coffee, food and wine you ever did taste).

The talks rolled out one after another, they were really engaging and I massively enjoyed the fact that I was getting an overview of e-books not just in this country but across the whole of Europe. There was a nice mix of talks; some had more meat than a Turkish mezze (in which instance my pen scrawled at a hundred miles an hour in an attempt to keep up) and others provided a little respite and were more conceptual. I stuck to the good old fashioned method of taking notes which can be tricky as it’s hard to keep up, I think next time I attend a conference I would consider taking my laptop (which would allow me to tweet without looking too rude). After the first two talks, there was a coffee break. This wasn’t an English “two-minute-break-then-back-to-work” kind of coffee break, this was an Italian “coffee-is-more-important-than-anything-else-in-the-world-so-for-a-generous-half-hour-all-other-matters-are-suspended” kind of coffee break. I milled around the refreshments table for as long as was respectably acceptable then accepted my fate and boldly strode into the “networking” room.

Within a minute a friendly librarian had introduced himself to me, we chatted for a while and oddly enough we’ve been friends ever since! Whilst talking to other people I couldn’t help but worry about the part where they ask me what I do and the ugly truth that I was a lowly graduate trainee would have to surface. People were generally very friendly though and in a lot of cases we were so busy discussing the topic at hand that we didn’t even get onto what we did. I’ve found Caroline’s post extremely useful regarding all of the tips about how to manage the contacts you accrue throughout a conference. I stand by business cards being the best way forward here but I didn’t (and still don’t) feel like I warrant a business card – I often wish I had one as it would be useful to quickly pass over my contact details but as an unqualified librarian in an assistant position I can’t help but think it would be slightly laughable.

I realised throughout this process that my people-skills still require A LOT of fine-tuning. Just because you’re confident and find it easy to talk to people does not mean this situation isn’t a mine-field for you. My main problem is my memory, I sometimes find it difficult to remember the small details about people and quite often I can’t quite hear what their name is for instance or exactly where they work and then I feel to embarrassed, ten minutes into the conversation to ask them to repeat it. I generally scrape by without these details but I think in future, one of the things I’m going to have to proactively work on is methods of committing the essential details to memory or as Caroline suggests just write it down. If I’m not confident with what I’ve spoken about with some one, a follow up conversation can be extremely daunting so it’s best to make things easier for myself by taking a few small measures in the first instance.IMG_0331

The next round of talks rolled by, and these were followed by the most exquisite lunch I’d ever had served by a handsome fleet of Italian waiters who were eager to inject delicate, crisp wine into the equation too which I was more than happy to appease. The lunch hour was easily filled with conversation, I spoke to my (then) new friend David Rose some more, he ended up inviting me on a tour of his school library which coincided nicely with a visit from a children’s author and journalist K. A. S Quinn (You can read about that here). I spoke to other librarians and practised the art of networking and as the lunch hour began to wind up I actually wished it could continue for longer.

All in all it was a very positive experience that made me feel a part of a wider community – watching people who had been motivated to run campaigns and conduct research was a massive inspiration and it made me see how important it is to apply yourself not just to your job but to the profession as a whole. I will keenly look out for other similar opportunities though I am somewhat restricted at the moment as I can’t really afford any professional events and it seems unlikely I would be offered any support from my employees. I would certainly consider applying to receive conference funding in the future and as I continue in my career I hope to apply myself to any opportunities that arise for me to demonstrate my genuine interest in order to help future application processes.

There is one free event in November which I am considering going to, though it is in Huddersfield which is far way from London (yet close to my parent’s home) and it is an event for postgrads to showcase their dissertations. I think this would be really beneficial for me to see the types of things which I may learn about on my course, the guest speaker is due to talk about how to submit articles to professional publications which would be useful. I’m the first to admit that it can sometimes seem like making the time to attend these events is more hassle than its worth, however you never know what you’re giving up by not going. I may set myself a goal of attending one professional event every three months and see how I go.



Thing 5: Professional Networks

hyde“Dr Jeckyll is to my twitter as Mr. Hyde is to my facebook”.

This is of course a slight exaggeration but I’m glad that Siobhan has given the choice between facebook and twitter with this task, It must be a common phenomenon for people to use one for professional and one for social purposes. It’s not that I have anything to hyde (*looks away shiftily trying suppress memories of empty student days filled with how-wide-can-you-open-your-mouth competitions being documented with photos and plastered over Facebook – not attractive*) but there are certainly some things that are best left withheld from work-related circles.

I’m actually a little bit precious about my twitter account; I’ve carefully curated special interest lists and selected people to follow who I deem to be insightful and interesting individuals – it’s been a process of cultivation. In this information age it’s easy to take for granted all of the networking platforms we have available to us but, ever the one for mindfulness and acknowledging the things I should be grateful for, I’m often reminded what a nifty tool Twitter is. The essence of twitter is how current and concise it is – divulging relevant information often straight from the horse’s mouth. I’ve admired it in many different formats, from “Chats” like #UKLIBCHAT (which by the way is hideously fantastic!) to the running commentary taking place at conferences and seminars – it adds a further dimension to these events and, (ever the one to indulge in childish tendencies) – it sort of makes you feel like you’re one of the cool kids at the special party that not everyone’s invited to.

It’s short. It’s sharp. It’s concise. It’s worryingly addictive but you can feel good about it because (if you’re doing it right) you’re not mindlessly reading rubbish. I designate 10-20 minutes to reading my twitter feed per day, it’s useful having a smart phone because you can do it in that empty time when you’re waiting for your train / queuing for your coffee / hanging around for your late friend to turn up / early for the meeting… you get the picture.

I was a late-comer to the party and at first, found the terminology and hashtags difficult to get my head around. It was just a case of practising using It though and it was quite simple.

I’ll finish off with some great examples of excellent twitter usage. Librarians have a reputation for being resourceful and there’s no exception here, I’ve seen libraries using Twitter to admirable effect. You should certainly check out Orkney Library’s twitter feed if you haven’t already (click here) They post hilarious tweets and have developed so much awareness through this alone. They’ve used Twitter so successfully that they now speak at conferences about their success. Here’s another link to an article about the man behind it all and how.

Ned Potter, an academic liaison librarian at York University, and trainer has posted some really useful things about social media being harnessed as a promotion tool for libraries. I’ve inserted a link to one of Ned’s slideshows which is useful if you’re new to using twitter.

An introduction to Twitter (for academic research).

Part 2 – M25 Consortium Applying to Library School

This post is a continuation of my write up of the M25 Consortium event from last month in which Lyn Robinson from UCL presented her definition of information science as the study of documents. She delineated that as information professionals we deal with the process a document goes through from start to finish or in Dr Robinson’s own words “the information chain”. This refers to the creation, dissemination, management, organisation, retrieval and use of any document.

She propounded that alongside traditional skills such as verbal and written communication, employees across all sectors are now demanding a very particular skill-set which stems from interpreting and handling data. Digital data files are a relatively new form of “document” that we, as information professionals must be able to interpret and it is this sort of skill which intersects with digital humanities. Her presentation was an analysis of the various ways in which she perceives the evolution of information (or “the document”) to be sculpting and redefining the role of the information scientist.

The move to open data is transforming the relationship between scholarly researchers and librarians. The availability of large data sets and multi-media files is creating a new platform from which information from the GLAM sector is converging and in Lyn’s words, creating a “melting pot” of new data. This is facilitating new content which in turn is creating new roles for information professionals who now have the ability to gain much deeper insight into reader behaviours and patterns.

This has proliferating commercial implications too; the digital footprint that we are each individually producing is colossal; data is accumulated through the every-day things we do online such as shop, communicate or even simply search in engines like Google and Amazon and all this data is awaiting dissemination, analysis and most importantly, the inevitable process which turns the information from data to knowledge. This mass data, once systematically organised, can give the companies who use it a massive commercial advantage over competition. They can observe buying trends like never before such as times of purchase, types of purchase, price range and other information which establishes an enriched profile of activity allowing content driven marketing campaigns that give a whole new meaning to the term “target audience”.

Publishing is another field which is enormously disrupted and having always had a close relationship with the information profession, librarians find themselves struggling to maintain the balance of keeping good relations with publishers and staying relevant to user demand. The advancement of new devices and new means of content creation mean practically any one can now “publish” their work in less traditional formats such as blogs or wikis and increasingly so, through innovative means like data mashups where content from different sources is merged to create a new data rich web application. For example, you may combine images and text detailing the addresses of different branches of a library with a map. The definition of publishing is evolving alongside the documents that are being published and congruently, so is the means to measure the popularity or usefulness of these documents. New tools are emerging that are better adapted to evaluating the impact of a published / scholarly article in the changing landscape of information consumption. Altmetrics are an extension of more traditional bibliometrics which merely count the number of citations or references; they consider database references, article views, downloads and social media mentions. All of this can give us a much deeper insight to reader behaviour.
In my previous post I touched upon the concept of immersive documents which were mentioned at the E-books conference by both Gino Roncaglia and Javier Celaya. Lyn Robinson also spoke about how we are moving from interacting with information to becoming immersed in it. She advanced that immersive documents are a result of three factors; 1) networked and mobile devices becoming pervasive (through things like Bluetooth and NFC technologies), 2) multimedia becoming multisensory (wearable technologies like “google glass”, smart eyewear) and 3) participatory media as a development of interactive media.

The exciting scope for innovation is perfectly illustrated by UK initiatives to encourage experimentation; in November The Writing Platform announced plans to offer two bursaries worth £4000. The main stipulation for the brief is that each “team” who wishes to compete for the grant (which is being offered in partnership with Bath Spa University Creative Writing Course) must comprise of one writer and one technologist to produce a fusion of the two disciplines. I will be keeping my eye on the outcome of this interesting project in the New Year.

I Digress! Lyn pointed out that this is not just confined to books, there are various ways in which the immersive experience is becoming the norm such as online gaming and participatory theatre; the increase of activities like this illustrate the consumer’s demand for a more enriched, all-encompassing experience and it is the devices that are enabling this. Readers are now receiving texts and emails from book characters or gaming characters and the lines of reality are becoming ever more indistinguishable as the emergence of new technologies allow for more comprehensive means of engaging the consumer with the text.

So when we look at the evolution of the document, there are some very interesting developments. Though there is copious speculation on the future of the traditional library and the purpose it can serve, it seems that for those information professionals who are willing to keep abreast of the changes happening to the information in our society, reward will come on the form of new opportunity.

Conference Write up – E-Books: Reading The Future

After a rather stressful morning with line closures and signal problems obstructing my arrival, I was italian instpleasantly surprised to find the beautiful premises of The Italian Cultural Institute. Before the speakers got underway with their talks I gladly took the opportunity of enjoying some authentic Italian coffee whilst overlooking Belgrave Park through the exquisite floor-to-ceiling bay windows.

Caterina Cardona, the director of The Italian Cultural Institute opened the conference by extending a warm welcome to everyone. She was followed by Ian Stringer, the current chair of CILIP’s international Library and Information Group, who ran through the itinerary for the day and provided some general context for the theme of E-books. Sitting amongst librarians with an array of different European languages and cultures, I couldn’t help but smile at Ian’s heart-warmingly familiar Yorkshire accent which was broader than the River Thames.

First to present was Janene Cox who was a member of the advisory panel for William Sieghart’s independent review which was commissioned in 2013 as a result of the impact of E-books on the marketplace with an emphasis on libraries. The review had investigated the impact of e-lending on stake-holders such as librarians, publishers, wholesalers and writers and consequentially, four pilot projects were launched in order to test out the suggested model for e-lending in public libraries. Janene began by setting the context of The UK; since 2006 issues and visits are down by 17%and public sector funding has been reduced by 25%, a figure which is forecast to shrink by a further 25% by 2018. With a reduction in net expenditure and staff cuts of up to 26%, there has been resurgence in “community led” libraries with 22,187 recorded volunteers over the last year.

From the perspective of the library, E-books have been a tricky subject because allowing patrons to remotely download eliminates the need for “physical visits”, one of the predominant statistics that a library’s performance is judged on. Without the friction of patrons collecting physical books, it can appear, by judging only the figures, that the reach of a library has been significantly reduced. Resistance from publishers stems from the possible disruption to their industry: once in a digital format, a book has an almost unlimited lifetime. The worry for them is that if the process of obtaining an e-book through a library is so convenient there will be less demand to buy books.

Sieghart’s report proposed that an e-book, like a hard copy, should be loanable to only one user at a time and once its loaning capacity has been reached, should need to be re-bought in the same way a physical book would wear beyond serving its purpose. The model is being tested in two urban areas; Peterborough and Derbyshire, and two rural areas; Windsor and Maidenhead. Each pilot has been working with different variables such as length and conditions of loan and MTM, the research and strategy company who are managing the project will be collating the results after the full 12 months to gain insight on the scope of the tested models and how they can be applied to libraries nationwide. The project is currently mid-way through: Janene commented that it is still early days and the results at this point are far from conclusive but the added service of loanable e-books has not reduced the number of physical visits for the libraries.

robotOne of the features of the scheme is a “click to buy” button which allows users to download their own copy; however Janene said this has had little impact on sales figures. Personally I doubt that library users who are expecting to loan e-books free of charge would be inclined to buy a copy, later in the conference Javier Caleya referred to this aspect of the UK pilot projects and suggested that in his experience the option of “click to buy this as a gift” had been much more successful.

Sieghart has recently chaired a further investigation to determine the future of public libraries and suggest how things should change. He himself has alleged that the current situation is “Dysfunctional”; he gives examples and evidence, for example only 37% of British libraries can offer Wi-fi. His main objective is for substantial governance of libraries, he advocates the idea of a professional body to be appointed to over-see an overhaul of the system who will unify and modernise libraries. Some of the main recommendations were to move all libraries to one unified content management system, nationalise library cards and enable loans across the UK, provide digital training to librarians and commit to Wi-fi. Janene didn’t really touch on this during her talk and when I asked her during the Q and A what she thought of how likely his suggestions are to be put into practice she declined to speculate.

The next presentation was given by Gino Roncaglia from Tuscia University, Italy. His talk took a much more theoretical approach to E-books and the potential of new technology to create a more connected, complex and immersive generation of library services. Gino began by immediately dispelling our self-delusions that we live in a complex, connected information society; he said the information we consume within our society is very much fragmented.

Though we still read, we are reading new types of texts in new ways; Gino propagated that books or stories are complex textual objects which are naturally all-engaging, as readers we inhabit their very infrastructure. He highlighted how an E-book is an evolution of the traditional text format which is better adapted to facilitating the immersive reader experience. He used a children’s “Alice in Wonderland” E-book as an example and presented its features which allow children to befriend the characters they meet on social networking sites where further character profiles and information can be accessed as an extension to the story.only connect

He made the point that society is saturated with information and it should be the job of librarians to be able to disseminate and organise it, promoting information literacy. He illustrated that Twitter is a perfect example of fragmentation; posts are limited to 140 characters and there is a wealth of information to be disseminated, none of which makes any sense without a connecting foundation. Our job as librarians, he insisted, is to provide that connecting foundation. Though Twitter is a platform used to express the views and opinions of an individual, at an institutional level and particularly with libraries in mind, Gino proliferated that it can be used as a tool to aggregate useful information as a resource for library users. This has been demonstrated by a library in Canada which has accumulated contact information for vital services and authority figures like family law specialists, career information and local resources. He concluded that the traditional role of the librarian as preserver and gate-keeper to information is evolving to encompass new responsibilities. Libraries are a network of content and services that should be empowering readers, advocating information literacy, providing a platform for social reading and even producing content themselves. Gino won my heart during his presentation by using E. M Forster’s “only connect” metaphor from Howard’s End. There will be always be information but the power lays in the ability to “only connect” and make sense of it all.

Klaus Peter Bottger, the president of EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association) spoke about the right to E-read campaign which is an ongoing movement spanning 28 countries to advocate the legalisation of lending all commercially available e-books to library users. The aim of the campaign was to spread awareness of the difficulties facing libraries in providing access to digital content. In 2013 research ratified that only around 50% of all titles were actually licensed to be lent in e-book format, those that are available are sold at ridiculously high prices from the publishers and in many states across Europe the authors are not rightfully compensated. The Campaign has been gathering momentum since its origins and continues the fight for a fair copy-right frame.

After a beautifully presented and mouth-wateringly delectable Italian lunch, it was the turn of Javier Celaya to speak. Offering a slightly different perspective than that of the average librarian, Javier’s presentation had a very technical element. Interestingly, he is the founding partner of dosdoce, a Spanish company which analyses key trends in the cultural sector, offering management consultancy services, research services and training in digital skills to professionals across different sectors including publishing, museums, and libraries and retailers.

The presentation explored upcoming digital experiences in libraries, all delegates were given a laminated “digital roadmap for libraries” that had collated some of the research dosdoce had conducted. The roadmap reads as an inventory for the emerging technologies which Javier perceives to be an enhancement of library services. He emphasised the importance of libraries moving “beyond the physical building”, envisioning a library service where the virtual and the physical experience are inextricably interconnected.

He explored the use of beacons; relatively low cost “micro-location” technology that relies on Bluetooth signals to send messages to app enabled smart phones. The messages can contain information to personalise and enrich user experience. For instance when a patron enters the library and walks past a beacon, a message could be sent to their phone alerting them to new books or new services. They could also be installed outside of the building, strategically placed in nearby bus stops or tube stations giving people directions to the library and promoting its services. Beacons are very much set to be part of the future with brands like House of Fraser and Asda testing them out in flagship stores. They are thought to be a similar but modified version of near field communication which works in similar way but transmits data through radio waves rather than the more smart-phone-compatible method of Bluetooth. Whilst devices must be within at least 4cm of proximity in order for NFC to work, beacons can be as far apart as 50m. It is debatable which is the preferred technology, though in my opinion it depends on the intention of the user. NFC requires opted for participation so this may be useful if, for example, I wanted to share a music file from my phone with a friend. Beacons are more commercially useful and if used well, could help inform library users of things that would be of interest to them based on past transactions. Though I can’t deny the innovation of such advancements, I can’t help but feel that equipment like this will inevitably be exploited for commercial purposes eroding the sanctity of a life where we aren’t consistently inundated with the unyielding, greed-fuelled propaganda of profitable interests.

Javier mentioned the usual suspects, facebook, twitter, pinterest and goodreads, briefly explaining how web applications and social networking sites can help create a faculty-patron relationship. He also mentioned the concept of augmented reality; devices that allow a digitally enhanced view of the real world which can be as simple as making use of QR codes which are already a popular tool amongst mercantile enterprises. There were some very futuristic, sci-fi inspired digital technologies too including facial recognition systems, robots and movement sensor carpets, all of which are designed to monitor user behaviour patterns like how long users spend in certain areas and at what times. It was articulated that technologies like this could give insight that would facilitate a more user orientated service but there certainly comes a point, in my opinion, where technology is being created for the sake of technology being created and things are invented to do things that would be better done by humans!

Some of the ideas were just plain ridiculous such as drones (described as unmanned combat vehicles) to transport books to less able members (I think we’ll stick with our good old country orders thanks!) and even wearable gadgets like the virtual reality glasses currently being developed by the likes of Google. The conclusion from Javier was that the library is no longer an analogous activity hub but one which is shared with technology.

Finally Melanie Le Torrec presented her experience of “making e-reading easier” in France. She had been involved in the BULAC project which had seen the merging of ten academic libraries specialising in languages and civilization, the confluence of which has led to the area being labelled “Paris’s new Latin Quarter”. In addition to overseeing cultural events, her career has involved connecting the public with digital services. She spoke about the initiative in France to provide wider access to e-books through public libraries.bibook

Her talk focused on her experiences of introducing e-books to Grenoble where digital Innovation started as early as 2005; public libraries were adopting e-books, digital heritage content, video on demand and online independent learning as part of their services. It was the third French City to implement the nationwide programme PNB (Pret Numerique en Bibiotheque or Digital Loans Library to us). Funded by the Ministry of Culture and communication, the PNB scheme has overseen the development of an e-reading interface called Bibook and is the product of a successful collaboration of the digital publishers: Feedbooks, Grenoble based public libraries and PNB’s technical operator. The project was overseen by the professional Canadian company, De Marque who are responsible for introducing the e-book platform to the entirety of Quebec. Melanie imparted that 50 to 60 publishers feed the data base and she forecasted that by the end of 2014, there will be 1000 titles to choose from.

In order to utilise the e-book lending platform, patrons must be a member of the town library and must create an account which is linked to their library account. Readers can loan up to five e-books at once over 28 days. Melanie reported that though the scheme is still young, it is rapidly attracting new library users. So far, the interface has facilitated a straightforward model in which e-books are loanable to users whilst writers are fairly compensated and no copyright laws are in breach.

All in all, the conference was extremely successful in conveying the wealth of issues generated by e-books and their impact on librarians, publishers, writers, teachers and consumers. I felt that I came away with an in depth picture of the consequences e-books have had on public and school libraries. Though none of the presentations went into any great depth about e-books in academic libraries, the opportunity to network with other delegates led to the conclusion that although E-books are fast becoming a favoured format for many readers, a lot of institutions are still grappling with the question of if and how to incorporate them into their collections. In many instances they are still seen as a secondary resource that is in no way a substitute for print books which are still very much dominating the market. There are a lot of questions surrounding how to build a successful e-lending model. Whilst other industries like music and films seem to have absorbed electronic formats into their distribution models, e-books are still trying to carve their way into the world.

e booksI will conclude on what, for me, was one of the most prominent (and widely alluded to) concepts that arose from the conference; that the role of the library and the librarian is evolving; we are no longer holding the key to information, the world wide web, amongst other things has ensured that door is now wide open, its contents pouring out for all to consume, as librarians we must organise it and teach others how to effectively use it.