Wednesday, 23 November 2011

And finally...

The final thing!

For this we have been asked to put together a personal development plan - to identify gaps in experience and what we want to do next in our careers.

We create PDPs as part of an appraisal process at work, so this is really a summary of that.

The first priority for me is to complete the Archives and Records Association's Registration Scheme, as I think I may now have enough in my portfolio to attempt this (especially now I can include CPD23). It's something I have put off for too long, pleading a lack of time. But it's more due to a failure to allocate time - there's no deadline, so it naturally keeps dropping to the bottom of the priority list. If I had spent as much time on it as I have on CPD23, it would be done by now, with time left over! So my plan is to break what needs to be done down into chunks and schedule some deadlines into my diary, just like CPD23.

My second priority is to try and get more experience of working with our rare book collections. Right now I'm lucky to be able to do a little of everything, simply due to our small number of staff. If this were to change in the future, I wouldn't want to end up in a role which limits me to working solely with archives simply due to my official job title. I've been concerned about this for a while now, even to the point of wondering if I should take a second PGDip, this time in Library Studies. Aside from the fact that I can't really afford to do this, it also seemed pretty pointless when a lot of the basics of working with 'information' were covered on my archives course, and what I have is a very specific requirement to learn about non-circulating rare book collections. When Aberystwyth University announced the release of two Rare Books Librarianship modules which could be taken on a stand alone basis by distance learning, I jumped at the chance to enrol. So far I am really enjoying the modules and I think they will stand me in good stead for the future. I want to make sure that what I learn on them is applied in a practical way in the workplace, and I need to spend some time thinking about how I can make that happen.

And that brings CPD23 to an end! I've really enjoyed the experience and have been recommending it to anyone who will listen. I've taken away a great deal of useful information and tips which I'll continue to put to good use. Thank you to all involved in organising, structuring, contributing to and supporting CPD23, you are all marvellous.

Monday, 21 November 2011


Thing 22 looks at volunteering. In the days when I hoped to be a teacher, I spent many hours volunteering in primary schools, but I have never volunteered in the library sector. Unless you count being my school's 'lunchtime librarian' when I was 13 : )

I have been fortunate enough that volunteering was never a route I needed to consider, though it's one I would certainly have taken should it have been necessary. At Special Collections and Archives, I'm on the other side of the equation, dealing with requests for volunteering, and training and supervising volunteers we take on.

We take on very few volunteers, and this is not due to a lack of offers - quite the contrary. I always find it very hard to turn away offers of help, since it is always needed, but we lack spare workstations and sufficient staff available to train and supervise volunteers on a regular basis. The problem with offering work which requires less training is that the volunteer gains little from the experience. We believe that placements should be mutually beneficial, and with this comes the need for time and effort from both sides. My experience of working with volunteers has been very positive - all have been tremendously motivated, talented and quick to pick up new skills - so we hope one day to be in a position to offer more voluntary opportunities.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


Thing 21 is about promoting yourself in job applications and at interview. I should start by saying that I am in no way looking at applying for other jobs! I am astonished that I've been so fortunate in having arrived in my current position and every day I can't quite believe I've pulled it off - I have a job I genuinely love.

So to approach this Thing, I'll stick to looking at the questions which are posed as a jumping off point for thinking about our strengths and how to promote them. We're asked what we like doing, even how we spend our spare time, since what we enjoy is usually what we're good at, and the types of things we're good at can be extrapolated into more general strengths.

Well, I mainly spend my spare time:
  • reading/studying (I enjoy learning about a wide range of subjects)
  • crocheting (while on the surface this looks like I like working systematically through instructions - a pattern - in reality the pattern always needs a bit of creative modifying to get the end result you want)
  • fixing my 1890s house up (learning new skills, problem solving, working with my hands, restoring heritage, and being creative)
  • playing boardgames (the types I play, such as Settlers of Catan, usually focus strongly on strategic planning and resource management, so until I rule the world, boardgames are good practice)
So in job-application-speak I guess that make me a lifelong learner, a strategist, and a creative problem solver, who is not afraid to get her hands dirty, and who has a passion for heritage!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Library Routes

Thing 20 covers the Library Routes project, and wants us to write about how we got into the profession. I wrote about this at length for Thing 10, so I think I'll approach this activity by adding my link to the project, and exploring others' stories.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

More reflection

For Thing 19, we've been asked to write another post reflecting back on what has been covered in the course, now it is almost at an end.

The most significant outcome from my participation in CPD23 has been the establishment of a blog to publicise and promote the repository I work for, Special Collections and Archives. Prior to having set up my own blog for CPD23, the idea of a library blog had been an idea which had been tossed around, but none of us were sure how to go about it, and whether a considerable about of work or money would be involved. Once myself and two other colleagues had set up CPD23 blogs, we felt confident to take the idea forward, confident that blogs could be set up for free and maintained with no special IT support.

I'm really proud of our library blog, and I enjoy writing content for it, so much so that my own may suffer as a result, but I'll persevere to keep it up. I have to remember that my own development is as important as that of my workplace.

In terms of tools, I still use Twitter on a more or less daily basis and it continues to be a very useful source of information and an easy way to connect with others in the profession. I also plan to use Jing in the near future to create a visual guide to using our new archives catalogue.

During Thing 14, I casually mentioned that my essay writing days were behind me, so I had no use of citation software. Turns out I was wrong about this, because last month I began a standalone module from Aberystwyth University on Rare Books Librarianship. I've just finished an essay on the impact of technology on the book trade, and in my haste to get started, I neglected to take time to learn how to use any of these automated citation tools. Faced with the very real prospect of plugging in my footnotes and bibliography by hand, I'm somewhat regretting this. But there are more assignments to come, and time allowing, I will give them a go.

Screen capture and podcasts

I'm *very* excited about the prospect of screen capture software such as Jing. This software allows the user to create a video of an activity performed on their computer - a perfect 'how-to' tool for those who learn visually.
Special Collections and Archives is launching an archives catalogue in the new year - a demonstration video, showing how to explore the catalogue, would be incredibly useful and about a million times preferable than trying to describe buttons in words.
This is my first attempt at playing with Jing, to create a video briefly demonstrating our archives catalogue.
To my shame I have never listened to a podcast, let alone made one. The name is misleading and I always assumed podcasts were integral and restricted to ipods and ipads. Having resolutely rejected all things Apple, I'm pleasantly surprised to find that this isn't the case, and will have a go at following and downloading some to my MP3 player. Sounds like I need to take a good look at Podwhating, as I clearly don't know the first thing about podcasts!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Prezi and Slideshare

The prospect of writing about Thing 17, Prezi, has delayed me considerably on the CPD23 path, as I really wanted to have a go at making one. Unfortunately, no opportunities presented themselves over the summer, and now we're in the middle of term my feet haven't touched the ground. I think this is one of the Things I'll come back to when a presentation is called for.

I've seen Prezi in action at several events this year, and it seems a really interesting alternative to Powerpoint. We know that people think, and learn, in different ways, and I can see that the two tools allow for two very different types of approach - one linear and hierarchical, the other more free-form and mind-mappy. I'm always happy to try new things, but I strongly suspect that the archivist in me will always prefer Powerpoint. I know that you can import Powerpoint slides to Prezi, but this does seem to defeat the point of using this very imaginative tool.

For the time being, I'll watch and learn from others' use of Prezi, and hopefully it help me think about presentations more creatively.

I've used Slideshare in the last week - being required to host a workshop to music students at short notice, I had a dig around to get some inspiration. Although I found little which was particularly relevant to this specialist area, I found some useful introductions to using primary source material, and a link to a timeline builder, which will be very useful for a workshop I teach on the history of printing. Paul Dijstelberge, the Special Collections Curator at Amsterdam University and Associate Professor for the History of the Book, has produced and shared a timeline for the history of printing taken from all over the web - a very informative and well-researched resource which will be fun to explore in workshops.

I will certainly host presentations on Slideshare in future, and would recommend having a poke around - you never know what you might find.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


A short post for this Thing, the last one wore me out!

Thing 16 is advocacy, speaking up for the library profession. I'm not currently very involved in this, though I always sign petitions and (re)tweet positive library articles I see on Twitter. In a more casual way, I have to explain my job to people, who think I stamp books and say 'sssh' a lot, on an almost daily basis. I am very supportive of those who advocate more fervently, and will resolve to find out what I can do to get more involved.

Thanks to Lauren for flagging That's Not Online, which I had seen on Twitter but hadn't had the chance to fully investigate. I'm sure I can find plenty to contribute, seeing as only around 20% of our collections are catalogued.

Go libraries! : )

Out and about

Thing 15 is conferences and seminars – attending them, presenting at them, even organising them.
Like many others, my attendance at these kinds of events has dropped considerably in the last year or so due to budget cuts for staff development. I’ve written elsewhere about how valuable I’ve found Twitter in allowing me to follow such events remotely; thanks are especially due to the kind people who post their presentations online after the event. But this is no true substitute for actual attendance.

One positive to come out of these budget restrictions is that I now consider very carefully which conferences to attend. I generally prefer smaller and specialist events. 

My worst conference experience was an annual conference of the then Society of Archivists. Hundreds of people were in attendance and I did not know a soul. I second my colleague’s advice to seek out others standing alone, but do you think I could find anyone?! Attendees seemed to have come en masse from local record offices - I am the sole archivist at my University, whereas our local record office employs ten! This inevitably resulted in a lot of groups talking shop – which is very difficult to break into. The fact that I attended for just a day was also a factor in hampering the possibility for networking, as most were sent for the full event and I imagine had already taken part in icebreakers and so forth on the first day. 

The talks were interesting, though lacked relevance to me, being focused largely on the experiences of public sector archivists. The Society of Archivists, now Archives and Records Association, also encompasses record managers and conservators, and talks related to these professions were equally represented at the conference, which left very little relevant content. Nevertheless I took notes dutifully – Katie’s line: “don’t view it like a day at school where you have to write down as much as possible in your colour-coordinated folders” made me laugh out loud as I definitely fell into this camp! There is considerably more to be got out of discussing the talks with others than writing everything down in your neatest handwriting.

My favourite conference was the one I most recently attended (last October), and it was the first one in which I actively participated. When the call for papers circulated, I had spent 18 months cataloguing a substantial archive collection belonging to the World War I poet Edward Thomas. Being so fully immersed in the man’s life and possessions made me want to find out more about him, and I had been reading several biographies which had been published at intervals throughout the last century. I was struck by the changing way in which Edward was presented by the different biographers, and I suspected that there was a link to the different ways in which the biographers had made use of the archive material, as a result of the rather haphazard process by which it had been acquired. The call for papers was on the subject of literary archives acquisition and its impact upon authorial representation: the prospect of being able to spend some time writing down and sharing the ideas which had interested me for so long overcame my natural shyness, so I submitted a paper.

I didn’t give it much thought until the conference programme came around with my NAME on it. The vast majority of the other speakers turned out to be academics and some were from the States and Canada. Now I panicked. How had I managed to sign myself up to speak at an international academic conference??? It was the best way for it to happen, as it was something I never would have agreed to, but I was committed now so had to go through with it. I had to speak for 30 minutes and I was up first, on the first day.

I wasn’t worried about the content of the paper. I had written and re-written and was finally happy with it. I had read it out over and over – it was the correct length and I could present it fluently with only infrequent glances down. What worried me was breathing! Public speaking has me tend to forget to breathe and become a gasping wreck. I think what saved me was having a nasty chest infection in the week beforehand which resulted in losing my voice almost completely. I fully expected having to cancel, and after all the work I’d put in, I was devastated. When I found myself recovered in time for the conference I found myself with a changed perspective - I was so grateful that I decided nothing as silly as nerves would stop me presenting my work.

The presentation went wonderfully. The conference, Reclamation and Representation: Boundaries of the Literary Archive, was held at Exeter University and it turned out that of the thirty or so attendees, almost all of us were speaking. I arrived early, oversleeping not being an issue, thanks to the insomnia. I put on my brave face and spoke to as many people as possible as the room was being prepared. This is the best tip I can offer for those of us with a nervous disposition. I find that having heard my voice out loud, in the room in which I will speak, and having people I can glance at during the talk, to whom I spoke moments ago, takes the pressure right out of walking up to a lectern and speaking to a room of strangers. There actually wasn’t a lectern, or a microphone, I just stood up and read it out. I forced myself to read slowly, and had marked up my paper in advance with a few hundred *breathe!* notes, which is so silly but it did work! I had lots of lovely compliments afterwards and I think that it was the single-most confidence building thing I have ever done.

The rest of the conference was absolutely brilliant. It was highly specialized and I made some very useful contacts. It had been organized by two PhD students who had every element under control. The result was a very informal, very friendly, and very useful conference, which has been extended long past the event itself thanks to a blog which continues to be maintained by the students. I would really like to see more academic events curated by students - I think they did incredibly well.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Zotero, Mendeley, citeulike

A short entry for Thing 14, as thankfully my essay writing days are behind me, and I am not responsible for providing any information literacy training. 

If I should ever need to write a sustained work report, which refers to many external sources, I have the option to use Endnote, which is installed on all staff and student PCs. I have attended Endnote training and I appreciate the concept, but having been a non-stop student in higher education from 1999-2008, who has never used automated referencing, I am a little sceptical of it. But I would like to give it a go at the next opportunity.

Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

Thing 13 looks at methods of online collaboration and file-sharing. Due to the nature of my work, I am almost never in a position where I would need to share files or collaborate online, so my responses to these resources will be fairly hypothetical. 

I am very much in favour of any program which releases people from having to fork out for Microsoft Office, so Google Docs has my vote. Anything which enables communication and file sharing at zero expense can only be a good thing. I can’t comment on how well it works with sustained use, as I’ve only had occasion to use it when opening attachments using my smartphone. They always open and view just fine, so as far as I’m aware it seems a very useful tool.

I signed up for Dropbox a while ago, following the logic that you can never have enough storage, and that it might come in handy one day. I haven’t had occasion to use it yet, but I like the idea very much.
Wikis are a fantastic tool for collaborative projects. I haven’t been involved in one personally, but colleagues in my building have been involved in an IT troubleshooting manual which has been very successful.  Although we have access to centralised ‘IT Support’, each site will have at least one member of library staff who is a designated point of contact in their building for basic IT problems. If the problem cannot be resolved onsite, it is referred on centrally. Obviously we want to resolve as many issues as possible onsite to ensure the best service for users. 

This is where the wiki comes in – the library IT reps can search it to find fixes to routine problems, and if the issue still can’t be resolved, they follow up the solution once it has been referred to central IT, and add the fix to the wiki, in order to help the next person who experiences that problem. The idea is that the wiki is written in plain English, lacking the jargon of official guides available on the web. It has particularly helped staff who work in the evenings and weekends, without managerial supervision or centralised IT support provision, as they can draw on the wiki as a source of information. Much better than telling the student to come back on Monday!

Some reflections on social media

I won’t write much for thing 12, as I’ve covered many of these points in previous blogs. I feel strongly that social media has considerable benefits for everyone, not just those in the library and information profession. But for this group in particular, where professionals can often work in isolation, social media allows communication, collaborative working, the development of a virtual and real-life communities and access to breaking news and developments taking place in other fields. 

My Twitter account follows the thoughts, experiences and interesting-things -found-on-the-web gathered by those working in all manner of international libraries, archives and museums, at all stages of their career from library assistants to services mangers, as well our ‘stakeholders’, those working for bodies which fund heritage projects, and also students, our ‘customers’, in the fields which our archive principally supports – humanities and book history. Twitter is like attending a 24 hour international conference solely filled with speakers that interest you.

The only disadvantage I can see to social media is to those *not* taking advantage of it. I get very frustrated by those who refuse to avail themselves of this free source of targeted information, particularly those at a senior level whose role necessitates active networking and awareness of the very latest news and developments in the field – but who would rather use JISCMail. Also more archivists should use it.

That is all.


Thing 11 looks at mentors, defined as someone who takes an active interest in your career either by sharing advice and knowledge or by facilitating professional opportunities. 

I have an official mentor, someone I contacted to ask if they would support my Registration Scheme application. I’ve failed to meet up with them yet, despite being well past the half way point with preparing my portfolio. This is partly due to my reluctance to bother them, and partly due to my being accustomed to working alone, particularly towards goals which only benefit myself. I would like to overcome both these tendencies, which can leave me professionally isolated, and it is foolish not to make the most of help that is freely offered. During my Archives Administration diploma, which I took part in via distance learning, I had the minimum contact it was possible to have with the department at Aberystwyth and with my fellow intake. I think I would have benefitted from getting more involved at that stage, especially in developing a network of peers working in archives, something I feel I lack at present.

I was very fortunate to have an unofficial mentor when I was an undergraduate. A lecturer, she counselled me in both a personal and professional capacity throughout a major turning point in my final year. She provided academic guidance which helped me attain a first class degree, arranged professional references which resulted in the offer of a postgraduate scholarship, and provided priceless work experience which led to my being selected from 200 applicants for the library job which began my career. I would not be where I am now without her. I was fortunate to attend a University where lecturers were not so preoccupied with RAE and REF and whatever other hoops they have to jump through to support their students when they needed it most. I knew I could knock on her door any time, and I think that this academic and pastoral support is sadly lacking for many students today.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Tales of an accidental archivist

Thing 10 covers routes into the profession - traineeships, master’s degrees and accreditation. I’m a (accidentally) trained Archivist rather than Librarian, but the route was identical, so I figure it’s worth sharing. I may catalogue archives rather than books, but when I'm not doing this I work with extensive book collections. I care and repair books, make them accessible, I teach using them, and create exhibitions and web resources from the collections. When work for small respository, you need to be able to turn your hand to anything!

Like many in the library sector, I’m an English Literature graduate. My secondary school was... best forgotten, and I did not reach anything near my potential. Leaving, thank heavens, finally, in 1999, I managed to get a place at Anglia Polytechnic University. Founded by, and since 2005, named after John Ruskin, it was a highly liberal, nurturing and creative environment, in which I finally flourished. I left after three years with a first class honours degree and an AHRC scholarship to study a Masters in Modernism, at Queen Mary, University of London. I accepted this without much thought to a long-term career plan, and had a wonderful year of complete financial and intellectual freedom in the capital. On graduation, a friend at Cardiff University urged me to move there to take up a PhD in Critical Theory, which was a discipline I had dabbled with under Jacqueline Rose while at Queen Mary. I applied unsuccessfully for an AHRC scholarship, and again, without thought to long-term goals, moved to Cardiff anyway and began a PhD. I had a succession of dreadful bar and supermarket jobs to support myself while I studied, before successfully obtaining an evening and weekend library assistant job in the University’s Arts and Social Studies Library. This was August 2003 – and I’m still here!

I loved everything about the library. I loved the work and I loved the people, who were almost without exception, at every level, kind, thoughtful and intelligent. I loved working with the students, and I loved the changing seasons of the academic year – the lull of summer, the giddy new students in autumn, the tears and tempers around essay submission dates and the hum of tension during exam revision. After 18 months I made the decision to withdraw from my PhD, for a whole host of reasons, but a major factor was the feeling that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I put all my efforts into a library career. 

In 2005 I moved into a post which had become vacant, working afternoons rather than evenings and weekends. This gave me more hours and experience of working in peak time, very different to evenings and weekends. I’m glad I had the experience of working these ‘insightful’ shifts however – many daytime staff don’t appreciate how much harder the work is in terms of customer service. All the problem customers would come out of the woodwork after hours, hoping to take advantage of a largely untrained, unsupervised skeleton staff. 

I took advantage of my free mornings to work on a distance learning Library and Information Studies MSc offered by Aberystwyth University. I was one module in, but then suddenly everything changed at work. I had taken part in a 6 week ‘job-swap’ scheme, and had been paired with the University’s Archives Assistant, Gemma. She had only been in post for a few months, and was finding the work unsuitable. She came to work on the issue desk, and loved its chaotic bustle. I went to work in the archives, and loved the scholarly quiet and the variety of work there was to do. Special Collections and Archives had only been founded six months previously, and there was plenty of work on offer. After the six weeks were up I felt like I’d had ten different jobs (in a good way), and was sad about leaving them unfinished. Fortunately, Gemma felt the same way, and we were permitted to continue our ‘swap’ for the foreseeable future. I will never forget my gratitude to senior management for their flexible attitude toward what was quite an unorthodox set up. Gemma was on a higher grade than me, and full-time rather than part-time, so we didn’t make it easy for anyone. 

I contacted Aberystwyth and asked to move from the LIS degree to a degree in Archives Administration. I couldn’t transfer any credit, but having abandoned half a PhD, losing 20 credits didn’t feel like the end of the world. The transfer was done with a minimum of fuss, and I found myself training to be an archivist. 

In 2006, Gemma obtained a library post at the Welsh Assembly. Her Archives Assistant post became vacant, and I applied for it successfully. Now I was full-time and working at a higher grade, I was almost there! The next bit is pretty boring, it basically involves me spending two years doing coursework every weekend and working very hard at my new job. 

In 2008, I completed my archives qualification to Postgraduate Diploma level, since I had already completed a dissertation at Master’s level. I had also ran out of academic steam (and money) by this point. I started being allowed to take part in more professional activities – cataloguing, researching and organising exhibitions, project management. 

In 2009 I took a route within my organisation known as re-grading, where you fill out a questionnaire describing your typical work. This in entered onto an HR computer programme and ‘scored’ to tell you what you should be being paid. (This is also checked by a panel of real people, I should point out.) A ‘questionnaire’ makes it sound easy – this was a 50 page document in which I ultimately wrote 10,000 words. On what I do at work. It took me around six months to complete it satisfactorily, but it was worth it. In 2010 my role was re-graded up two grades. This was in line with what the ARA recommends should be a newly-qualified archivist’s salary, and my job title was changed from Archives Assistant to Assistant Archivist – which means nothing to anyone but me!
Lately I’ve been putting things together for Registration (Chartership for Archivists), and I’m maybe halfway there. It’s been a long and rather random journey between 2003 and now, but I hope this gives new professionals hope that you never know what opportunities may be around the corner!

Getting organised

Things 8 and 9 are Google Calendar and Evernote. I’ve found both to be useful for the same reason – they allow content to be shared between my work PC, which I can only access during office hours, and my smartphone, which I can access any time except office hours. These two devices contain all my important information, but I never have access to them simultaneously, so the ability to sync them is very important. 

I don’t use Google calendar much, though it is very useful on the occasions when I do. I love that it syncs friends’ birthdays from Facebook, and gives you a week’s notice of them, and I also note down various personal appointments along with alarms to remind me. I waited three years for an NHS dentist and now they have recently warned patients that a missed appointment will result in being dropped from their books, so forgetfulness is not an option! 

I don’t tend to use Google Calendar for work, though it would be a good habit to get into. Since we lost a member of staff around a year ago who won’t be replaced, my manager and I share responsibility for keeping a service point open, and it is essential that one of us be available at any one time. As we can’t attend meetings together anymore, my manager attends all meetings relating to our work, so I never have anywhere else I need to be, and am therefore not in the habit of using Google Calendar at work. It has occurred to me that it would be useful to note down my manager’s commitments in Google Calendar, as well as my paper work diary, so that I have them with me on my phone, allowing me to book things like medical appointments at times when he will be available to cover me. But these occasions are so rare that I just haven’t got into the habit. 

I haven’t come across Evernote before, but I’m now using it on a daily basis. With my life split between phone and PC, I usually check Twitter on my phone morning and evening before and after work. I use Twitter solely for keeping in touch with professional networks, so I don’t want to spend hours on it in my downtime. Scanning Twitter can be done quite quickly – checking out the links takes longer, especially on a 4 inch screen. Quite often someone will share a link which requires a heavy pdf download, or won’t display well on a mobile screen, or maybe I want to send it to someone in my work address book. Now, when I come across things like this, I ‘bookmark’ them in Evernote, and check them out when I next have access to my PC. I say bookmark, as that is really all there is to it, but I’ve never really found a bookmarking service which syncs as nicely as Evernote. There seems to be lots of other things I can do with Evernote – screengrabs and photos which sound handy, but for now, grabbing urls to follow up later is absurdly useful compared to emailing them to myself.

Monday, 25 July 2011

'Real' networks

As opposed to online networks (thing 6), thing 7 is about the real thing – real people meeting in real places. Ironically, the ‘real life’ meet up we held this week at Milgi’s yurt in Cardiff (below) couldn’t possibly have been arranged without blogs and Twitter, so don’t throw away the modem just yet!

I met up with colleagues from Cardiff University, as well as librarians from three other institutions in the city – UWIC, University of Glamorgan, and the National Museum of Wales, and even one very brave soul who made it all the way from the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth! I was surprised that we managed to round up so many librarians working locally, most of whom I had not met before. It was lots of fun and very eye-opening, not all about CPD23(!), and it’s something I would certainly want to repeat in future.

Thing 7 also covers professional networks such as CILIP and ARA. I’ve been a member of ARA (Archives and Records Association) since I was an archives student in 2006. I like reading their magazine, which is informative and professionally presented, and also the journal, which is more academic in tone. I attended the annual conference once as a day delegate; I don’t think I got as much out of it as I would now that I ‘know’ several archivists on Twitter. None of the names on the delegate list were familiar to me and many seemed to have been sent en masse from the same organisation. This makes it tricky to break into a group and introduce yourself. I would go again, but lately the themes haven’t been relevant enough to convince the University to fund me. The vast majority of archivists working in the UK work for county record offices, and their concerns are sometimes very different to mine. 

I wouldn’t say that I benefit from ARA training events either. Due to the relatively small numbers of UK archivists – compared to librarians, for example – training events, when they are held at all, tend to be centred in London. With the exception of the ARA Wales regional meeting, not one event or training session has been held in Wales this year. Fortunately my employer provides very good general management and IT courses, but as the only archivist, my needs are specialist and can’t be provided for institutionally. I was enrolled on an upcoming EAD course, organised by Archives Hub, but I have just heard it has been cancelled as only four were enrolled. If I really felt training were necessary, I would need to fund it privately, and this seems to be the way things are going. Once I have completed Registration, for which I need to have been a continuous member, I will sadly need to consider spending the membership money on funding myself to attend remote conferences and training. 

ARA have, in line with CILIP, set up the social network ARA Community. While over 700 have joined, there is very little activity taking place (with the exception of spammers). Professional communities are in danger of reinventing the wheel, as there are many existing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which people are already using as part of their daily routine. Aside from social network fatigue, who can remember all the passwords?!

Online networks

Thing 6 is online networks, of which I belong to several. I currently find Twitter to be the most useful. I was an early adopter of Facebook, but lately I’m more likely to check in every few days to see what family and friends are up to, rather than several times a day as I would in the past. On the whole I find it is much less heavily used than it used to be, obviously not just by me but also by the friends that populate my news feed. If people don’t write status updates, or post pictures and links, the news feed doesn’t update, there’s no need to check it as frequently, which means I don’t add content as frequently, and the whole thing winds down. A social network is only the sum of its members’ activity. 

How much of this perceived fall off in user numbers is due to Facebook’s control over the content I see? For some time, Facebook has only shown content from friends you ‘regularly interact’ with, which makes this cycle of disuse more apparent. If I only regularly interact with 10% of my Facebook friends, and their use of Facebook decreases, that means very few news feed items for me. If anyone knows a way around this filtering of updates, I’d love to hear it.

Twitter is at the other end of the spectrum; it shows you every post from every person you follow, with no filtering. As a result, those I follow get culled very frequently as space in that feed is at such a premium. I brought Facebook habits to Twitter – thinking that I had to scroll back to the last comment I’d read before reading up to the most current post, which for a while made me quite overwhelmed and resentful of this ‘tool’ which was eating every spare moment I had. There is just too much content on Twitter to follow it all 24-7. I could use lists but have never found the time to organise this – in any case it would be the same number of tweets to read, just in different boxes. I try to keep those I follow under 200 – I could pare it down further but fear I would miss things. My interests range between archives, rare books, library advocacy, book history, digitisation, social media... many people only tweet about one of these things, so my net needs to be fairly wide.

I joined LinkedIn as part of Thing 3: online brands, as LinkedIn results feature highly in Google and I wanted to ensure a presence on a search for my name. I must confess to not having yet learnt how to use it effectively – I’m not job seeking so have little impetus to do so, but I have ensured that my CV is up to date so that anyone who does Google me is met with accurate information. I didn’t know that you could join groups, so I’ve joined 23 Things, CILIP, Archives*Open Network and Archives Professionals. I have been hesitant in adding people to my network – what’s the thinking on adding people you don’t know personally? Faux pas?

I joined LISNPN and Librarians as Teachers network. I had never heard of the latter and am very grateful for its existence. I’m expected to teach undergraduates and postgraduates as part of my job, but have never received any training in this area, which is one I can feel quite nervous about. I’ll explore these networks over the next week or so. I haven’t joined CILIP Communities as I‘m a member of the Archives and Records Association rather than CILIP, but ARA have a similar network in place which I have joined.

My colleague Helen Price-Saunders made a particularly astute point on her blog, that with the advent of the internet, the world of networking is a much easier place for the introvert to inhabit, and for this I’m very grateful!

Friday, 15 July 2011

And... reflect

Thing 5 is reflective practice – simply, what have I learnt so far and has it been useful? I’m glad this is being addressed as a ‘thing’ in its own right - reflective practice is becoming central to professional development. Whether a librarian seeking Chartership or Archivist seeking Registration, both schemes require a reflective presentation of a portfolio of developed skills. 

The professional body for archivists, the Archives and Records Association, recently surveyed its members on the question of long-term CPD – one question asked, should Registration expire and require renewing via a fresh application, every 5 years for instance? I would personally welcome such a move – but may be in the minority on this one. I feel strongly that information professionals shouldn’t consider themselves ‘safely’ Chartered or Registered – reflective CPD should be a ongoing activity throughout our careers. The alternatives – ranging from apathetic disinterest to outspoken complacent scorn toward any new practice or technology – will leave us at risk of being left behind by the bright young things of the future. 

So far, I have found CPD23 extremely useful in a number of areas. One would be building networks – not just virtually using tools like Twitter, but right here on campus. I can feel quite isolated as the only archivist in my workplace, surrounded by librarians. Taking part along with them has helped me to feel on an equal footing as a fellow information professional, and I feel we’ve got to know each other better through reading each other’s blogs.

Another major benefit has been the development of a Special Collections and Archives blog, in the last couple of weeks. This has been the subject of theoretical discussion for a couple of years, but upon three of the five members of the new ‘blog team’ setting up their own blogs for CPD23, the subject of blogging came to the fore and we were able to push together to set one very quickly and with minimum fuss. I’m not permitted to launch it publically yet, but watch this space in the coming weeks : )

I have been using Twitter for some time and have found it extremely useful in building networks, sharing links, keeping up to date, and generally feeling part of something larger than my desk in the basement. RSS feeds were new to me, and I’m using them regularly now I’ve downloaded a Google Reader app for my Android. This pushes new notifications at me, which helps a great deal, otherwise I would never find the time or opportunity to check it.

Lastly, I’m really looking forward to a South Wales librarians’ meet-up next week as part of Thing 6. This wouldn’t have happened without CPD23 to provide the impetus and Twitter/blog comments to help with the organising. I’m going to meet several people I only know through Twitter, one of which works in a library 200m from my workplace, which I have never visited. 

More generally I have learnt to speak up and participate more online. I’m working to get over the feeling that I have nothing original, or of interest to say. 

Less lurking, more interaction.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Staying connected

This week, thing 4 is all about current awareness via tools such as Twitter, RSS feeds and Pushnote.

I signed up to Twitter two years ago, and tweeted a grand total of 5 times in the first six months. No one I knew used it, so I followed my interests - bands, events, venues, comedians, and general arts media. I glanced at it occasionally to see what was going on, a bit like the glossy supplement in the weekend papers, but I couldn't see where I fitted in. I later realised that Twitter doesn't make sense until you have followers.

My first use of Twitter at a library conference changed everything - and I would recommend it to anyone. It might take a while to get the hang of typing and listening simultaneously, but it is worth it.

Why you should tweet at conferences:

  • Tweeting allows those who can't attend to receive a point-by-point feed during the presentations from those in attendance. I now follow all conferences that interest me from my desk, six or seven so far this year, whereas in the past I would have to be content with picking just one to attend, if I'm lucky. With budget restrictions tightening throughout the sector, this is a very welcome development. 
  • You know those indecipherable notes you take and almost immediately lose? The ideas, impetus and enthusiasm you had when surrounded by a forum of like-minded individuals which inevitably passes on returning to the daily grind? No more of that - you have an online record, not just of your own tweets made in the moment, but those of others. For anyone who has to draw up a conference report on returning to work, to justify the funds spent, or for chartership/registration purposes, this is invaluable.
  • Develop an instant network of professionals working in your area - follow all those tweeting and they will usually follow you back. Now the conference can continue long after the event itself, and you will have made some valuable contacts.

After the conference I found myself with actual followers. Then it happened - the first time I was mentioned. I was hooked from then on - I was talking, people were listening, and talking back - a genuine multi-way network was taking shape. My followers were retweeting my content, and their followers began following me. I wanted to add to my numbers, and went follow crazy for a few days. When I realised I couldn't keep up with the feed, I dropped all the celebrity/media stuff, and retained solely library/information people who regularly conference tweet and are otherwise helpful and informed. I still purge occasionally, so if you've made the cut, feel proud! If you're new to using Twitter to keep up with library news here are some of the top people I follow, in no particular order:


RSS feeds - I must admit to being entirely ignorant of these until setting up this blog a couple of weeks ago. I'm using Google Reader, and have added a few blogs to it. It seems straightforward enough, but I'm not sure I'll remember to check it all that often - I think I'd prefer some sort of email digest which is forcibly pushed at me at intervals.

Pushnote - Hmmm. I don't get it. No one I know seems to be using it. Browsing some other CPD23 blogs, I don't think I'm alone in this. Though I felt the same about Twitter, so I will wait to be proved wrong : )

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Developing a personal brand

I never imagined I would say this, but I have recently been considering my online ‘brand’, prior to my involvement in CPD23. The reason for this being that my use of Twitter has lately both increased, and become more professionally focused. More on Twitter in next week’s ‘thing’, but suffice to say for now that I’ve moved from being a passive follower of comedians, bands and journalists, to a more active engagement with my peers - following and being followed by a merry band of librarians, archivists and other information professionals. As soon as I received my first notifications that VIPs of the library world were following me back, I realised I needed to get my virtual house in order.

I was initially tweeting as @alisonharvey27 – like many Twitter usernames, derived from my gmail address, which was in itself poorly thought through - set up when I was, you guessed it, 27. The address has not aged with me, and (believe it or not), I don’t really want to be perceived as 27. Nor do I want to be perceived as wanting to be perceived as 27, which is worse. The name had to go. At first I changed it to a nickname, an in-joke, which I later decided entirely missed the point of being open and outwardly-connected. When I realised that I should probably use the name to brand all my online activity, including my professional activity, it seemed too frivolous and too inward-looking to keep. So I decided to just use my name, minus any misleading numbers.

I like my name - so much so that when I married I set aside my feminist principles in order to obtain Harvey in exchange for Smith. Well wouldn’t you rather be ‘battle-worthy’ than the guy that makes the horseshoes? Unfortunately, since there’s a few Alison Harveys out there, and I didn’t want the username getting too long, a strategically placed underscores (the only symbol allowed), created @alisonharvey_. Alison Harvey has become my brand, thus also my blog domain name, which was luckily available. And if I write down it enough times, my Google search result position might even improve!

Which leads on nicely to the guilty pleasure of Googling oneself. Searching for just ‘Alison Harvey’ surprisingly finds me on the bottom result of the first page, underneath a chiropractor, business manager, biomedicine research fellow, immigration law practitioner, and a travel writer for the Observer. Unexpectedly, the result found is my Archives and Records Association profile. I only joined this in order to be able to contribute to a discussion, and had not populated it in any way, so I was very surprised at the high ranking of this page. I don’t feature in Google search results again until the bottom of page 4. The ARA profile was registered under the nickname, which was also in the URL, so I deleted it and created a new one registered as, you guessed it, alisonharvey. I also added plenty of detail to it – a photo, my location, position, blog address, and interests. 

A search for ‘Alison Harvey Cardiff’ brings up 9/10 pages related to me. They include, again, my ARA profile, Twitter profile and one post (careful what you say on there!), news articles from my repository’s website about work I've been involved in, a conference programme featuring a paper I'd presented, and my profile on Archivists. This is a social network for archivists, which like ARA I had joined, not populated, then swiftly forgotten about. As with the ARA profile, I added a photo, location, blog address etc. The top seven results for ‘Alison Harvey Archivist’ are all related to me, and along with those listed above, include a teaching profile and my Diigo bookmarks (all work-related). 

So it turns out an employer or colleague could find out a great deal about me via Google, but there is nothing there that I wouldn’t want to be, and in fact I think it makes for quite a rounded portfolio of my professional activities over the last few years. I followed Dave Fleet’s advice and created a LinkedIn profile, as I couldn’t see any argument not too. I’m not job seeking, but you never know who may be a-googling...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Blog stalking

CPD23 Thing the Second - reading some other CPD23 blogs, making some comments, responding to comments, making some contacts and finally, writing about all of the above!

Now. I started at the participants page - opening blogs with good titles randomly, then stopped when I realised there are over 500 of us taking part in CPD23. There was so much I wanted to read, and so little time. The internet can feel like one giant conference, going on 24-7. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed and left behind by the sheer amount of stuff going on. This is not the first time I've encountered this - Twitter can induce a similar feeling of mild panic in me, of being incapable of keeping up with it all. Of course, no one can, and this is why as information professionals we of all people are best equipped to roll up our sleeves and tackle vast amounts of information carefully and systematically. So I thought about what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to take a look at blogs by colleagues, blogs by people who had commented on my blog, blogs by people I know via Twitter, and also try and find some fellow archivists/rare book librarians.

My colleagues darklecat and Helen Ceridwen are taking part, so I wanted to see how they were getting on. Darklecat is a cataloguing librarian, who edits the Staff Development and Engagement Newsletter, and I'm hoping she'll write a piece on her experiences of taking part in CPD23, and encourage others to take it up. Helen is also a cataloguing librarian with an extensive career, and blogged about how she hopes to use CPD23 to keep up with the latest developments in librarianship - having already witnessed and adapted to many a transformation of the library sector over the years! Apologies to colleagues I didn't get around to - I will endeavor to track you down and follow you, in a nice way.

I have virtual colleagues on Twitter - librarians I've never met but who tweet interesting links, helpful information, and participate in an engaging daily public dialog with their peers. Bethanar and Marie Lancaster had both left comments on my blog, and make regular appearances in my Twitter feed, so they seemed a good choice. Bethanar has taken the brave step of using Tumblr, a relatively new blogging platform, and her blog is looking super-professional. Marie Lancaster blogged about how she had decided to get involved with CPD23 to get herself up to speed on professional developments, having recently returned to work after maternity leave.

Finally, I used the very useful delicious list of bookmarked participants to find bloggers tagged with rare books, or archives, to find new contacts working in my specialism. Librarian Lou was, along with myself, tagged as 'rare' and 'special' on delicious, which I thought was rather nice. Headstrong Ways is a librarian working in an institution with archives - so I think I may be the only archivist taking part in CPD23? This makes me sad - if you are an archivist, make yourself known!

I've spent some time this week learning how to soup my blog up. I've added an email subscription widget and a twitter stream. You don't have to keep the BBC Micro-style black background and lurid green text it defaults to - there are options to change the colours to get it to suit your blog background. Other useful widgets for blogs here. I've also registered the blog with Google, to make sure it's found in searches. And finally... got my links in Blogger to open in a new window, by following the html instructions here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Blogs and blogging

It's week 1 and we're looking at blogging - the how and the why.

As you can see I've figured out the how bit - I've chosen to use Blogger. As the owner of both a Gmail account and a Google branded phone, Blogger's compatibility with this internet Goliath is a major advantage. I've used Wordpress in the past, not professionally but rather for recording progress in the allotment! There doesn't seem much to choose between the two so I thought I'd try this out for a change. It was very straightforward to set up and even customise a little with an 'archivey' theme. The title will probably change but I couldn't stand to stare at the screen any longer trying to think what to call the thing. Like many archivists I work in a basement, and I like the nod to Dostoevsky, who probably gets out as much as I do.

I haven't written a professional blog before, though I do follow a few. Like many teenagers I was a committed diary-writer, but as I got older and less weird I fell out of the habit. The idea of recording thoughts and ideas online (as opposed to the odd photo of my runner beans) is something that would have horrified my younger self. However, I've been convinced by those in the know that blogging is a very useful tool for keeping track of your professional developement and getting into the habit of activitely and critically reflecting on your experiences.

And I sure need to.

I heard about CPD23 as I was making yet another attempt to write up Learning Outcome forms towards my Registration portfolio. (Registration with the Archives and Records Association is the archivist's version of Chartership with CILIP for librarians). For Registration, I need to come up 12 activities I've taken part in since qualification in 2008, and write - and I mean really write - about how they were of long term professional benefit. All the advice is to write up my Learning Outcome forms during or straight after the activity - be it training, study/research, work acheivements or contributions to the profession - but of course I haven't. So I found myself trying to describe and think reflectively about two or three year old projects, wishing I had made some notes at the time. CPD23 seemed like a really good excuse to set up a blog without seeming too self-important, and all being well it will grow into a space for me to use to record future developments, beyond the life of this project.

I read Ned Potter's post 'Everything you've ever wanted to know about blogging' with great interest and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in starting or promoting blogging. It includes some great advice of taking things further, and on my to-do list this week will be: adding feeds, integrating Twitter (@alison__harvey) and registering the blog. In a few days when we've all had a chance to get something written, I'll move onto Thing 2: investigate other blogs!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


A quick post to introduce myself and to check that this all roughly works...

My name is Alison Harvey, and I'm an Assistant Archivist. I work for Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University, and this is my first work-related blog. 

So why blog? I've decided to take part in CPD23:, which requires me to use a blog over the summer months to critically reflect on a number (23 to be exact) of topics/tools/skills related to professional development in the wonderful world of information, books and archives. 

But no more spoilers! Week one starts on 20th June, where I'll be writing about my motivations for taking part in CPD23 and for starting a blog for work purposes.