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.