From the Armchair to Uganda: International Activism as a Means of Professional Development (CDG talk: 21 April 2008)

April 22, 2008


Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is usually associated with building water treatment facilities or teachers trying to bring English to African schools. In this context it is surprising to find out that a librarian is needed out in Uganda. This was where I started out from before listening to a talk by Sara Ellis.

Sara spent the first 18 months of her stay in Uganda as an Organisation Development Officer with the Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE) in Kampala. The library had some old, out of date materials, but it was difficult to throw them away as books are like gold dust. Although there are 56 indigenous languages in Uganda, materials in the local languages are scarce and children from the age of 8 or 9 years old are taught in English.

In September 2005 Sara changed post and started working at the Kibala District Civil Society Organisations’ Network. Sara highlighted the huge challenge of attracting funding. Sara trained people on book-keeping systems, gender policies and fund –raising, and she enjoyed working with people immensely.

Sara emphasised how she had gained both professionally and personally from her stay in Uganda. For more information on working as a VSO volunteer, follow this link.

Then followed a talk by a very dynamic speaker, Maria Cotera, currently Vice President of the CDG. Maria spoke about how as an information professional you can make an impact at regional and national level as well as internationally, even if you haven’t got the guts to go and work in a foreign country!

Maria has had the opportunity to travel to several countries, including Buenos Aires, Oslo and South Africa as a delegate at The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conferences and latterly as Lead Convener of the Women, Information and Libraries Discussion Group of IFLA.

Being a professional activist comes naturally to some of us, but not to others. It is about more than just going to work, it is about being active and looking for opportunities. One common thread that emerged from both talks was the use of transferrable skills. Examples include organisational skills and time management, project management, problem-solving skills, creativity and imagination.

Some of the most challenging skills to develop are influencing skills and fund-raising, meaning the ability to relate to and inspire others, including the ‘Big People’,  such as persuading Bob McKee, Chief Executive of CILIP to do a sponsored slim as a means of raising funds for international projects.  And last but not least, interpersonal and leadership skills.

So the message from today’s event was very clear: don’t just be a couch potato and think about it but get out there and be a professional activist.

I believe that you should never underestimate the value of transferrable skills, in declaring them to your employer, when you are applying for a new job, or indeed, when preparing your chartership portfolio!

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Who done it murder mystery

March 28, 2008

What happened to poor George Hargraves? He was found strangled in his bedroom. Who committed this terrible crime? This is ladies and gentlemen, a sombre occasion.

Not a real mystery, but one concocted by crime writer, Martin Edwards. A mystery with four possible suspects for the audience to play detective and work out who is the killer.

 The four suspects were very abley played by library staff of our local public library, who read out their statements. Finally, the possible solutions on paper were collected from the audience and after an interval, 3 winners emerged, each winning 3 copies of Martin Edwards’ crime novels.

 This Victorian murder mystery evening was a lively event taking place in the local public library as part of the National Year of Reading. This iniative aims to encourage people of all ages and abilities to read more. Such an event illustrates how public libraries are not always ‘stuffy’ places but they can engage people in fun and brain-teasing activities and encourage reading at the same time.

Career Development Group talk

March 19, 2008

I attended a Career Development Group (CDG) AGM and talk last week. The event kicked off with a brief summary of the centenary of the CDG.

 The main speaker, Rowena Macrae – Gibson, current CDG President, wasn’t able to come as the high winds and delayed trains had meant she had had to return to London. Thankfully, she had passed the presentation slides to 2 members of our CDG, who made an excellent job of presenting her 10 top tips for CDG.

There was plenty of ideas here and covered a range of topics such as further professional reading; networking and even volunteering. Volunteering is a good way of gaining experience in library and information work, in particular after qualifying, before getting that elusive first job. One point that came across very strongly was the need to go outside your comfort zone and try out new skills; an example of this could be looking for an opportunity to be a treasurer of a committee, if you are currently lacking budgeting and financial skills.

 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is also about giving something back to the profession and one way of doing this could be to mentor someone, once you have chartered. One of the most useful slides I found was skills for all which covered anything from time management to design and marketing skills – I must make sure I get a copy of this!

Afterwards there was ample opportunity to circulate and network with other people attending the event. One person I spoke to works for a local mining insitute and talking to her, I learnt about the varied stock she manages of rare books and other old material. One of the challenges she faces is how to learn more about copyright when dealing with some of this material. I suggested that she contact the lis-link discussion list about copyright as sometimes there are very knowledgeable people on copyright, who contribute to this list.

 Overall, a useful training day with plenty of ideas to ponder over and some to implement. All I need to do now is get cracking!

Jihad literature: terrorist charges dropped

February 23, 2008

This month five Bradford students won their case in the Court of Appeal in which their conviction of holding Jihad literature was dropped. They had been jailed last year for “commission, preparation or instigation” of terrorism after it was discovered that they held extremist Jihad literature.  They were released because the Lord Chief Justice found no evidence against them that they intended to commit a terrorist act.

This case has implications for the library service and may now influence the policy of the MLA guidelines on the selection and treatment of controversial material, that was released in January for consultation. The case suggests that other people will now legally be allowed to download extremist material as long as they don’t intend to use it to commit a terrorist act.

This kind of ruling mirrors what happened to issues such as pornography and violent literature in the 1950’s and 60’s when there was a series of prosecutions for obscene literature including the novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’

Blogs, wikis and social networking

January 26, 2008

What is the point of Web 2.0? A poor example of Web 2.0 is students boozing and bareing their bottoms on Facebook. Maybe Facebook has no place on university campuses! 

I joined Facebook to try it out but feel disappointed and bored with all the trivia: do I care if someone ‘superpokes’ me? Uploading photos with the intention of making them available to family and friends on the web is fair enough. But all this trivia! As for second life, where you can do anything from running your own virtual business or using a library catalogue – I believe life is too short for Second Life! 

Blogs, wikis and social networking was the subject of a workshop I attended this week. Some of the websites we looked at I think I will use, such as Flickr (a photo sharing website) and Furl (a book marking website).  

Tim Berners Lee, a physicist and founder of the World Wide Web, originally intended the web to be used as a tool for collaborative working. We learnt about how wikis can be used for participants at a conference to get to know each other a bit in advance of the conference and how they can post their impressions of the conference afterwards and post photographs. Furthermore, project wikis can be used for collaborative working where all the team members can contribute to and edit the content.  

So, what use can academic libraries make of Web 2.0? In the workshop, I looked at examples of a library news blog at the University of Bath, a library blog for students with postings about library services at Perth College and even a link from Facebook to the library catalogue and subject resources at the Wolverhampton Learning Centres.

There are also security, privacy and ethical issues to consider with Web 2.0. Too many sites allow full access by default, whereas they should be tied down to privacy by default.

Word 2003-2007 training

January 22, 2008

I recently attended an in-house training course on the differences between Word 2003 and Word 2007. At present the newer version of Word is only available to students at our organisation and is currently available to staff only through our remote service, Desktop Anywhere. However, we still need to have the skills to support students using Word 2007 at the help desk.

 The trainer took us through the different features and commands on the ribbon. Some features were new to me and I had never explored much before, like tables. One useful thing we looked at was headings and creating a page of contents – this would be useful to students when writing dissertations. We also learnt how you can edit a word in a heading and then change this word in the page of contents automatically. This saves time and ensures you don’t miss anything.

 One alternative way this training could have been carried out would have been to have a long document for course participants to work through and to perform certain tasks using different commands.  Then information may have been retained better.

However, a useful half day’s training. I just need to practise a bit more now and then hopefully be in a better position to support our learners with Word 2007.

Don’t shhuuuut our library!

December 10, 2007

A ten year overdue book! What would you do? Charge the customer? Or send him on an anger management course?

Jack Dee plays a black comedian who has been asked to hold a gig in the local library in order to save it.

He has a run-in with the librarian over payment of a £6 fine. The librarian is portrayed as the usual stereotypical image of a person wearing spectacles and a tweed skirt. It is interesting to see how the media portrays us and how this image persists!

Just in case you are wondering: Jack Dee’s character refuses to pay the fine, but is sent a letter later by the council for him to attend an anger management course!

Great expectations

November 16, 2007

Half way through our ten week information skills programme, it is becoming increasingly clear how student expectations can sometimes differ from what training we offer. 

I have asked myself: Why is this the case? It is partly due to the way the programme is marketed. The posters and flyers consist of dates and times, venue and the named session, but nowhere is there any mention of the aims and objectives of the session or the learning outcome.

If our team ever does something similar again, I think it would be worthwhile to say what the session does and does not cover. In general, our team offers basic introductions to different topics, e.g. the library catalogue, NORA, referencing, search strategies etc. And this is the reason why our publicity needs to be rebranded and our sessions should be promoted as: An introduction to… or Getting started with…. 

In some cases, students expect us to deliver training that is more subject specific, e.g. Searching on specific databases, which is the remit of Information Specialists. 

Some students request training on primary research methods and collection of data – which is the remit of academics.  And in other cases, students request training on specialist software packages, eg. Photoshop, Xilinux and Simulink – which are available in one of the computer labs but which have nothing to do with the library! 

I can understand how this misunderstanding may arise but there is a definite need to communicate clearly what our role as library trainers is! This can be achieved by more effective marketing and liaising more closely with academics and Information Specialists – to make sure we all convey to students what training each one of us offers. And if there is a gap in what is offered – then let’s communicate with each other about how this training need gap may be filled.  

Library Skills inductions – keyword searching

October 9, 2007

An assignment on the importance of communication: What sort of communication? face-to-face, verbal, written, nurse-patient communication, nurse-doctor communication or something else? 

This week I have come to realize that it is difficult to deliver a library skills induction without including information on what keywords are, and how to identify them. It’s all very well showing them how to use the library catalogue and how to search on our library tool for information sources, NORA – but this is insufficient when students come to writing an assignment on a topic where they have a blank slate with no reading list. Our induction worksheet includes one example of keyword searching using our own examples, but some students find it difficult to identify keywords for their own assignments.  

The starting point has to be: what are keywords? Keywords are the significant words which underpin what a topic or assignment is about. The next step is to illustrate the difference between significant keywords (communication) and non-significant words, (importance) in the example above. And thirdly, a worksheet with perhaps ten examples of assignment titles could be helpful, where students have to pick out the keywords.  

  • In which ways can people reduce their carbon footprint?
  • Describe the best way of setting up a computer network for a small business of forty people?

 Our team has developed a separate set of information skills sessions, which will run for 10 weeks after the main inductions on a range of topics such as searching for books on the library catalogue, searching strategies, getting started on the Internet etc. Attendance at these additional skills sessions are voluntary.  

Sometimes you realize that something is not working as well as it could, only after you have delivered the session. I do think our team needs to consider a way of incorporating keyword searching into our library skills induction sessions to make them more successful. 

Library and IT inductions for students

October 3, 2007

The library Help Desk has been very busy in the last few weeks since enrolment. The main query is ‘I can’t logon’. From experience in the next few weeks common questions at the library help desk will be ‘I can’t find this book’ or ‘I can’t find any relevant journal articles on NORA.’ 

For the last three weeks I have been involved in delivering student inductions at our university library. We offer a range of options, including a library induction, an IT one, a joint IT and library one, and a library skills induction. Each one of the induction sessions is intended to be no more than an introduction to the library’s facilities, services and resources. 

We cover the library catalogue, our one-stop information tool NORA to access all the library resources, Blackboard, our online tutorial Skills Plus and IT issues, such as  logging on, e-mail, the U drive, the USB pen, printing and photocopying, and the borrowing of laptops. Sometimes, time permitting, we do a demonstration of the library catalogue and NORA and try and use relevant examples from the student’s own course assignments. Some of the sessions involve some hands-on practice using the resources covered in the presentation.

So, how well are these sessions attended? And, how useful are induction sessions to students?  

Attendance varies greatly, ranging from a full house to a small proportion of the total class size. So where is everyone else? Have they not been informed of the venue for the training session? Can they not get out of bed for a 9 o’clock start? Do they feel so confident in using the library resources that they don’t feel the need to come to one of the sessions? Or, simply, do they not have the time to attend?  

For those that do attend I think they find the sessions worthwhile. Many seem to keep ‘on task’ during the workshop session and some ask relevant and pertinent questions. I don’t suppose we really know how effective our sessions are unless we ask them to complete an evaluation form. And this is only truly meaningful a few weeks after they have had the induction.