Entropy


Rotating Kitchen by Zeger Reyers

This is interesting and poses various questions. Firstly, if it is going to continue to rotate until February, are they going to replace the perishables, because the stench is going to be unbearable by then (unless the room is refrigerated, or I suppose the perishables might be faux food-stuffs).

Secondly, is this rotating kitchen an apt metaphor for the work of librarians? If you accept that it is, I see two possibilities. Either librarians organise the world of information to the pristine, pre-rotation stage, and then constantly battle to maintain their system according to the pre-rotation rules that have been laid down. Or they approach the world from the perspective of someone walking in mid-rotation, and proceed to do their best to organise what they find, according to some pragmatically determined rules which would seem to make sense at the time that they begin organising. The latter option sounds like the most sensible (if you accept that information is inherently disorganised, and getting more so), whereas the former seems to represent what actually happens in libraries – formal categorisation has to be constantly updated, whilst fundamental rules are not altered.

As new professionals, we have entered the profession at a time when organising information has to be done whilst we are double-blinded. It used to be the case that no-one knew the content of information going produced in the future, but made allowance for it in their system. That is still the case today, but in addition, information of entirely new kinds in formats that are unreconisable to current systems is being produced (for example dynamic data-sets, tweets, waves ……….). Organising the rotating kitchen of old looks remarkably simple in comparison to the challenge of dealing with the heterogeneous online information of today.

It also appears that there are other information organising tools that are not approaching the rotating kitchen as outsiders. Google and its competitors are in many ways driving the rotation, whilst also giving users (of the kitchen?) a way to navigate to what they want. I think we can only harp on about their failures at decent organisation (which do unquestionably exist) if we can demonstrate that we are able to do a better job, or at least provide a model of organisation for the new rotating kitchen that Google etc do not provide – I’m not sure librarians have achieved that yet.

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CDG Project Management Seminar

Last night I attended a seminar organised by CDG (Career Development Group) London & South East Divisions on Project Management.
I attended because part of my MA is concerned with Project Management and I thought this might be useful as well as interesting.
Stevie Russell was the speaker, talking about the project to refurbish her library – the Lanaguage and Speech Science Library of UCL.
Stevie covered the issues involved in working with other professions and the minute detail in which you must plan projects like this – an example which I found quite surprising was that they literally measured the books centimetre by centimetre and planned which books would go where on each new shelf.
We then got to see the new and improved library which was very new looking considering that it has been open for a year.
I found Stevie a really engaging speaker and the whole before and after concept of the talk very interesting.

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GoogleWave

Sarah Ison and Emma Illingworth posted recently about the value of GoogleWave, and I got an invite last week – so basically I know very little about it – please correct me when I say something inaccurate. I’m going to firstly outline what I consider to be its drawbacks, and then why I think its a good thing, and why we will end up using it anyway.

If you don’t know what it is, watch the video below.  Essentially its a collaboration and instant messenger tool that also doubles as email.  It is currently in beta testing, and after the initial 100,000 invites Google now strictly limits the number of new users by giving a handful of invites to each user.

Drawbacks:

  • No RSS – no way of monitoring when a wave is updated.  Highly annoying.  This presumably will be changed, but untill then it seriously limits its usefulness.
  • No status monitoring – who is online?  This is a basic function in nearly all IM systems and it is highly frustrating in Wave not to be able to see who is there.
  • At the moment, it is too slow.  This may be due to lack server space allocated by Google for the beta stage, but whatever the reason, an IM/realtime system that takes sometimes up to a minute to update is not working properly.
  • Not enough users.  For collaborative things to work, you need to be able to safely assume that whoever you want to work with will be on there.  When this isn’t the case its all a bit vacuous – you end up using it for the sake of using it on the basis that you’ve found someone else you know who has already received an invite. Clearly this problem will be resolved as the project grows, but why are Google limiting the number of invites that users are given?
  • If you get invited (is that the right term?) to a wave that is already in full flow, it looks almost commedically complex massively off-putting to people not intimately familiar with the other participants or the system its self.
  • Lack of categorisation within waves – would be good to be able to organise the stuff people contribute

Positives:

  • It is really fun to use – seeing people edit text as they write is brilliant.
  • It is revolutionary.  I have never seen anything like real time communication on this scale before – when it does become adopted on wiki’s and other large scale collaborations, it will be really interesting.
  • The potential to adapt and adopt it into other pages and webtools is almost limitless.  There are so many things that it or an imitator will be used in, as to make current tools look almost dead already – blog comments, document collaboration, e-meeting, how-to guides, multiplayer games………..
  • Most of the drawbacks can be resolved be if you accept the fact that it is only in beta (or in fact in ‘preview’, a pre-beta testing stage) so most of these problems will be ironed out.

The other central point is that it is a Google product, and when they begin to incorporate it into their other services, I find it hard to accept that it won’t become hugely popular. Their natural inclination towards heuristically brilliant tools means that usability concerns will probably be completely resolved as the product develops. Although I can’t really imagine a revenue stream, I’m sure the bloodsuckers in Google HQ can, meaning that they have every interest in developing the thing.

Librarians are traditionally quick to adopt new technologies and make use of them in their professional lives.  The need for collaborative tools is quite high in libraries because we engage in a fair amount of project work, often have fairly distributed staff and because of the naturally consensual way that libraries operate.  This fact, combined with the fact that librarians need to be able to communicate with their users in engaging ways, means that libraries will no doubt make good use of this tool. 

I have several invites and would prefer to share them with professional contacts, so if you would like to try GoogleWave, then let me know.

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Tina’s Library Route

 
My name is Tina Reynolds, I am the New Professionals Support Officer for the London & South East Divisions.
This is in response to the Library Routes wiki which I have been looking at interestedly since it started and have now decided I should actually contribute to!
I really very much fell into the idea of Librarianship from nowhere (like many other people) but once I had thought of it, it seemed so obvious I could not (and still can’t) work out why I didn’t think of it much much earlier.
 
I studied French and German for ‘A’ level, I also got stuck with Law (rather than politics and the four other subjects I had as preferences!) The plan was to apply to study French and German with perhaps one more language at university. Then on a whim, after having a really interesting lesson in Law, and atrocious language lessons, I decided to apply for law degrees instead.
 
There was then no going back, so I studied Law, enjoying the theory but being very sure that it was not the career for me. In the second year of my law degree, we had to go to the careers service and do one of those online quizzes to see what jobs would suit me. The top three which came up were interpreter, translator and librarian.
 
As I had no intention of going back to university for four more years after the end of the degree, I decided to look into option three: libraries. I went onto the CILIP website and looked at the graduate training opportunities page. I took the contact details for everyone in London and Cambridge and started emailing looking for work experience. I had found that I would need a year of work and a masters if I wanted to do the job, so I thought I should make very sure it wasn’t awful before I made up my mind.
 
Of the people I contacted, a number responded – many apologising but giving links or advice, some offering tours of their service or chats, and three offering work experience. I took everyone up on their offers, so I met a lot of people, spent a day shadowing staff, looked around a lot and most importantly arranged the actual work experience.
 
I spent two weeks at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies, two weeks at Drivers Jonas and two weeks at the Institute for Historical Research during the summer between my second and third year.
 
All three of the stints of work experience were really interesting, everybody was lovely to me and kept apologising for giving me boring menial work. But I really enjoyed myself. That really was what made my mind up for me, if I enjoyed doing the bad parts of the job, I obviously would enjoy the job if I had an even spread of good and bad.
 
I went back to university researching libraries and beginning to sort out applications for graduate traineeships. In November, the Information Unit manager at Drivers Jonas called, and told me that one of the part-time members of staff (two days per week) was leaving and asked if I would be interested in filling the role. I was waitressing at the time, working about 14 or 15 hours a week so to do the same hours for more pay and gaining experience for my career seemed an absolutely obvious decision.
 
I started work almost straight away but continued to apply for graduate posts, as I could not get my experience on two days per week. The first interviews I got from this (and actually my first ever interviews), were for ICS, IHR and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies all on the same day, back-to-back. I was an absolute mess by the end of that day and unsurprisingly didn’t get the jobs. But then DJ offered to increase my hours to full-time. I admit that I wasn’t sure about whether I should go for a traditional graduate trainee post or stay where I was. I was worried about whether a non-traditional route would harm my chances of getting into Library School, and also of becoming stuck in a rut; I thought it would be better to work in a few different sectors before I qualified.
 
I looked at all of the jobs I had applied for, or could apply for and compared them with the work I was doing. I realised that I was doing work at a professional level and that in many of the graduate trainee roles (although by no means all) I would be doing less interesting, less challenging work. I decided that this, coupled with how nice everyone at DJ was, meant I should stay put.
 
I started working full-time in July 2008 and started applying for MAs. I subsequently decided that I should limit my search to courses which meant I could remain in post. I then compared all of the courses, and the distance learning course at Northumbria stood out as the obvious favourite given the content of the course.
 
I was not keen at all on the Hypermedia for Information Professionals module (I am not a web developer!!!) but all of the other modules were better than comparable modules elsewhere and nowhere else had option modules I particularly wanted to do. I got in to the MA and have been studying for about two months. It turns out that I really like Hypermedia after all, and I have been an Information Officer at Drivers Jonas for two years today.

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Online communities

What follows is a brief long account of the political online community. I’m not an active member of this community, but I do compulsively read politics blogs.  I’d be quite interested to hear about other online communities that other people are involved or interested in. I read recently about the alarmingly eloquent and interesting Tavi Gevinson and so got a window onto an online community and a world that I know nothing about.  I wonder what else is out there…

The right of centre was the first side in the political argument to mobiles online to any great extent. This is probably due to the fact that during the years following 1997 the political right needed to re-group.  Online tools were just becoming accessible to the general population and provided a good opportunity for them to do this (just as in America, it was the left of centre who seized the initiative online during their years in the political wilderness which also coincided with the birth of web accessibility)There are several fairly influential blogging Tory MPs, and many lesser commentators, including those on the fringes of the party, and those who’s views are too incoherent for any political party.  However, the most important voices in the right of centre are those of Iain Dale, ConservativeHome and Guido Fawkes (who is probably the most influential blogger from any part of the political spectrum – see below).  Iain Dale was a Conservative Party Candidate (for Norfolk North, which he lost) and was campaign manager for David Davis’s failed bid to win the Conservative Party leadership.  He blogs frequently, and although his views on many topics are to the right of his party’s stated position, he is popular and widely read.  ConservativeHome is a website designed to provide a forum in which the Party’s grassroots have an opportunity to discuss matters important to them.  It is large site, almost like newspaper in terms of the number of posts a day and in terms of the size of its readership.

It is worth talking about Guido Fawkes’ blog in some detail, since it is one of the most influential blogs in Britain (despite its own description of itself as “tittle-tattle, gossip and rumors”) largely because it is avidly read within the community it discusses, which happens to include Britain’s political leaders.  Its author, Paul Staines, claims to be politically non-aligned.  He espouses a form of populist libertarianism which sees the whole political class as the enemy.  New Labour, and Gordon Brown in particular (referred to on the site as the Prime Mentalist), are loathed with some passion.  His biggest coup and one that dramatically raised the profile of the Guido Fawkes brand, was the resignation of the Damien McBride, a senior communications advisor to Brown.  Staines acquired some emails between Derek Draper (then editor of LabourList) and McBride, detailing plans to set up a left-wing gossip site called Red Rag, and outlining some fictitious stories about the health of Conservative politicians.  Two days after a picture of McBride appeared on Guido’s site with the caption “he who lives by the smear…” he had resigned.  Timed to coincide with the end of the G20 forum in London, the revelations provoked a storm of headlines, de-railed the government’s communication strategy and caused a significant dip in the opinion polls for the Labour Party.

The left of centre blogosphere is quite disparate, with no core, ‘must-read’ blogs on which the rest of the blogging ecosystem depend (unlike in the right of centre blogosphere).  LabourList is a grass roots site which is a functional mirror to ConservativeHome (the birth of LabourList was marred by controversy because the divisive Derek Draper was appointed editor and promptly alienated large swathes of the political blogosphere against him and his fledgling site).  Tom Harris is a widely read and engaging Labour MP blogger, as is Tom Watson (another casualty of the McBride affair). Other popular left of centre blogs include Liberal Conspiracy, Alastair Cambell, Hopi Sen and the now defunct Sadie’s Tavern

Although it is quite difficult to talk about non-aligned political blogs, since blogging is so personal an activity and genuinely non-aligned people are very rare, there are some blogs that, for various reasons, present a very balanced view of politics.  These include certain political journalists including Nick Robinson and the ever interesting Paul Waugh.  Also among the more balanced political sites is the enormously influential Political Betting, and also PoliticsHome, which ran into controversy recently when it was bought by the billionaire Tory Peer (and Deputy Party Chairman) Michael Ashcroft, arguably compromising its impartiality. 

There is no question that the political blogosphere is a rough-and-tumble communityemotions run deep when it comes to politics.  There are amusingly deep seated rivalries, but also rather touching cross-party love affairs.  In addition there are ill-fact checked, border-line racist, and mundanely boring articles published on politics blogs every day, providing a fairly compelling argument for the continued existence of edited, regulated newspapers, regardless of whether they are accessed online or in printed form.  The worth of political blogs, is that they exist in a pluralist media, where one partisan voice is balanced by an opposing one, and all tempered by a strictly regulated series of more established organs.  The blogs enable the voicing of concerns and views that would never be raised by mainstream media, and which are stronger when balanced and blended.  One of the challenges facing politics in the coming years is to find a resolution to the emerging dichotomy between free and controlled media – they exist in an uneasy symbiotic tryst at the moment, but various pressures will undoubtably alter this.

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CILIP manifesto

On Thursday the second meeting of the group that is deciding on the content of the CILIP manifesto document will be held.  This document will provide a focus of the profession’s aims and summary of the how we view our priorities .  Below is a draft of what has been suggested so far. Please feel free to comment on it and your comments will be fed into the meeting on Thursday.

Why are libraries and information providers important?

Information is fundamental to the success of our society.  Good Library and information providers:

  • Enrich the lives of individuals through engagement with creative works, ideas and practical information
  • Help rebuild the economy by supporting people learning new skills, providing information and encouragement for the unemployed, informing the research that nurtures innovation   and facilitating successful enterprise
  • Promote community development by fostering a sense of place, supporting active citizenship and providing resources for learning
  • Inspire a love of reading in the young and provide them with the information literacy skills necessary for learning, work and living.
  • Improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities by supporting research and ensuring all have access to the appropriate information on which to base decisions
  • Bridge the digital divide by providing access to the internet, teaching the skills to use it and ensuring availability of appropriate assistive digital technology to enable access to information for all, including those with disabilities. 

This Manifesto sets out six priorities for the incoming Administration to ensure that the quality information and library provision, delivered by highly skilled and dedicated staff continues and improves.

GOVERNMENT SHOULD:

  1.     Develop a set of library entitlements for public library users and encourage similar development for academic libraries and library and information services in the private sector
  2.      Make school libraries statutory and develop a strategy for implementation
  3.       Promote user rights within the intellectual property legislative framework
  4.       Restore public trust in the responsible management of public information
  5.       Ensure the effective working of the legal deposit system
  6.      Commit to investment to optimise the potential of libraries across all sectors

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Library routes – Christopher Rhodes

This post is in response to the Library Routes project created by Ned Potter et al. If anyone wants to include their roots on the Library Routes wiki but doesn’t have a blog, then they are welcome to have it hosted here.

I have worked in libraries since 2005, first at Sheffield University Library, and since 2007, in the House of Commons Library.  I will explain why I started working in libraries and give an account of my (very brief) career.

I graduated in 2005 with a degree in Philosophy.  Since philosophy is about as non-vocational as it is possible to get, I was not granted a clear idea of how I wanted to spend my working life.  However, the naval-gazing tendency among philosophy students does not lead to unemployment in most cases: philosophy degrees are highly prized by employers and philosophy students are more likely to be employed than almost any other type of non-vocational graduate.

My previous work experience had consisted of shelf-stacking in Waitrose (yogurt, and then pre-packed deli), till work in WH Smiths (fun but annoying because for some reason I was never given training on how to use the tills so constantly made mistakes) and working as an interior decorator in a large sixth-form college (being given a task and completing it to exact specifications is highly satisfying – there are no ill-defined success criteria and, provided the people you are working with are pleasant enough, decorating is a very enjoyable way to spend time).  Thus, I had no obvious work experience which lead towards a fertile career area either.

However, after I saw an advert for a graduate trainee job at Sheffield University Library, the central role of the library in academic discourse and the skills librarians use began to seem like a fairly good fit with my own interests and academic background. Philosophy underpins all others areas of study, in the same way that the library is relied on by the whole academic community.  The analytic skills required in philosophy seemed to be mirrored in much of the work of librarians, all of which encouraged me in my application.

Like the majority of library users, I had no real idea what librarians did – for some reason, as a profession we are very bad at communicating our role.  Thus, the graduate trainee job was a genuinely educational experience.  I enjoyed the final third of the year more than the first two, mainly because it involved more engagement with projects and interesting strategic library developments rather than the normal counter work.  That’s not to say that the counter work was awful, and in fact working in the Health Sciences Library at Sheffield remains one of the most enjoyable periods of my career.

After my graduate trainee year I took a job as counter supervisor for the weekend team at Sheffield University Library.  This was interesting because it involved more responsibility and because, when it was opened, I was one of the first people to work in the Information Commons – Sheffield’s undergraduate study facility.  This was a fascinating place to work in as it opened, with opportunities to shape the way services were provided and see first hand the challenges of opening new libraries.

Whilst working on the weekend team, I also studied for the MA in Librarianship at Sheffield.  I worked harder then than I had ever worked before, and as well meeting many interesting people, I also gained confidence in my abilities and confirmed my ambition to work in the LIS arena.  I enjoyed many parts of the course but the dissertation was uniquely interesting.

I was supervised by Dr Andrew Cox and studied the contrasting cultures of customer service librarians and computer technicians using ethnographic methods.  Since I worked in the Information Commons, where both groups were operationally combined, I had privileged access to each culture.  Ethnography, unlike many qualitative methodologies, recognises and relies upon the subjectivity of the researcher.  My own interpretations of each group’s behaviour formed the basis of the study, with my own prejudices being integral to conclusions reached (since I was a member of one of the groups).  I think part of the nature of MA study is that it opens the door on academic research, but doesn’t really allow you to walk through.  Thus, although the study was interesting and I think valuable because ethnography is not a commonly used method in LIS research, my conclusions were not particularly illuminating.  But it is a testament to the originality of the department at Sheffield that they were willing to support a study using unusual methods that could so easily have become unmanageable.

A few weeks before I finished my dissertation I saw an advert for a job in the House of Commons Library.  It was for an indexer, so I was initially skeptical that I had any of the skills required.  However, I sent in a speculative application form and was invited to interview.  The interview day was grueling, with a group interview, critical reasoning test, indexing test and an individual interview.   The day I handed my dissertation in I also heard that my application had been successful.

The Indexing and Data Management Section (IDMS) in the HoC Library provide a service that is almost uniquely specialized.  IDMS use the Parliamentary Thesaurus to indexing all Parliamentary material, including all Parliamentary questions, debates, papers and Acts.  The worked is highly skilled and many people become extremely good at it, some of them very quickly.  I was not one of them, and moved to another section in the library fairly quickly.

I now work in the Statistics Resource Unit, which supports statistical and economic specialists.  The specialists work proactively to produce briefing papers on current or upcoming issues, and reactively by responding to enquiries from MPs and their researchers.  My job is to make sure that they have the resources they need, and to help them keep up to date with reports, statistical releases and relevant current affairs.  I find my job stimulating and there are plenty of opportunities to do interesting things that are not directly related to the role.

I became New Professionals Coordinator for the Career Development Group at the beginning of 2009.  I was involved in organising the 2009 New Professionals Conference and another one will take place in 2010, again involving mainly first time speakers – more details will follow.

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