Archive for the ‘General thoughts’ Category

CILIP branches & groups: some thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the role of CILIP branches for a while and had some informal discussions with a committee member because I’m not on the committee myself and don’t really have time to get involved this year. At the same time, I just attended my first meeting of the Cataloguing & Indexing Group (CIG) which I joined at the start of the year and many connected issues came up. After a really interesting discussion on Twitter last night, I wanted to blog some random thoughts (I’d love to think I’ll have time to write a well-thought-out and coherent blog post on the issues but the chances of me finding time to do that are pretty slim so this is the next-best option). I’d be happy to hear feedback and more discussion in the comments here. These are all entirely personal opinions (more focused on regional branches than on groups at the moment) though obviously I’m also thinking about how it will affect CIG too, just not speaking on CIG’s behalf.

The Twitter discussion came about because a couple of people were livetweeting the CILIP CDG & London joint AGM, which featured a talk by Annie Mauger and which Nicola Franklin blogged about here. Also the background of all this is the recent Branch and Group discussion and ensuing conversations within individual committees – useful summary provided by Katie and Emma if you want to check those out too.

Here’s a quick summary of the Twitter discussion, which was mainly between me, Tina (@tinamreynolds), Jo (@joeyanne) and Niamh (@cilipEoE) though we managed to attract the marvellous past-President of CILIP Biddy Fisher (@bikerbid) and I note with trepidation that Annie Mauger (@anniemauger) is following me as of last night! Just goes to show you’re never speaking into a vacuum on Twitter.

The coming changes should be summarised in a report from Annie Mauger shortly and the reactions to it ranged from being a bit afraid of what was coming to seeing it as a potentially positive opportunity to develop communication & change.

The role of the regional branches – Tina wanted to see the London group as “an umbrella group organising SIG + advertising events, being a catalyst for ideas”. This tied in perfectly with conversations I had had with both Jo and Niamh privately about the role of the regional branches – I really think that they should have a key role in collating venue information (already underway in CILIPWM) so that they can provide knowledge and possibly contact information about venues in the region, especially free or low-cost venues. This could attract the SIGs but also any other groups (TeachMeet, anyone? anything else?) to that region, particularly when it’s so important to keep costs down. The more people choose to hold events in your region, the more your regional members benefit from having easy access to events, CPD opportunities. This local element is crucial in an environment where people have less and less money available for travel, time off, conference or event fees (either out of their own pockets or through employers, who are probably starting to be more restrictive even where they did once pay).

Tina mentioned that CILIP London had tried to organise a SIG day to help facilitate collaboration but that there hadn’t been much interest, however I think in this new CILIP landscape there should be a lot more interest. I know we at CIG would be thinking along these lines, collaborating and cooperating with regional branches and using their local knowledge and advertising too. Hopefully another SIG day could be held in future? Maybe in more than one region?

There is an obvious need to know what members want, especially with what Annie Mauger was saying about CILIP becoming more focused on members. Everyone was talking about polling or surveying their branch or group membership in some way to get feedback on this, which would obviously be great and hopefully can happen soon. Although everyone was very pro-social media (what else would you expect in a Twitter conversation?), we all really felt that the face-to-face contact of the branches especially was crucial and was indeed where the branches “add value”. The fact of offering affordable activities and opportunities is crucial in the economic climate, as I said, and the branches should be proactive in providing people with ways to build a professional network locally through offering informal gatherings (drinks? lunches where everyone pays their own way?) but also through things like free talks. I know there’s a need to raise revenues but don’t underestimate the value of free in terms of goodwill, attracting members in and giving them something they will really appreciate.

I had already suggested that CILIP EoE might want to try something along the lines of ThinkDrinks (a few different groups hold them but look for example at the Digital Learning Network). Ours is quite a widespread region not known for fantastic public transport links, so I envisage the thinkdrink style event being a cheap (well, no venue costs, people buy their own drinks, so really just advertising which is pretty much free apart from time spent) and distributed model that can be repeated in multiple locations all over the region. I even wondered whether you could have a designated thinkdrink night (or lunchtime?) where people all through the region are encouraged to hold mini-thinkdrinks in each city/locality. Obviously some areas will have more take-up than others but it also means that someone in Suffolk doesn’t have to travel to Cambridgeshire for their “local” event. When I raised this, Jo mentioned that CILIPWM had tried pub networking evenings but that these had not been well attended (mainly committee members turning up) and suggested that this kind of event worked better with a focus/theme than just open-ended networking. This is why I think the thinkdrink model is interesting – it’s not “speed dating for librarians” or anything which I would personally cross the road to avoid. You could pick a very simple, very broad topic (even something like “what do you want from your local branch”) and bill it as a chance to get informal feedback from members while offering a chance to chat and meet up (everyone could do introductions as to where they work).

Finally, we did mention that maybe we need a Group/branch network of contacts, go-to-person. I’ve been happily using personal contacts and informal connections, eg Twitter, but there would be value in having a go-to person clearly advertised on the branch/group website too maybe? We were all agreed on the need to reach beyond Twitter and blogs. There was so much more to say, it was such an interesting discussion but Twitter has its limits so we wondered about moving to a different space to continue the discussions that must be had. Possibilities include a discussion on the CILIP communities forums, posts on our blogs/comments, possibly more formal routes like Update (which is probably already on the cards as CILIP moves through this process over the year ahead), a wiki, mailing lists, even Second Life or Skype for a multi-regional discussion? Jo mentioned the possibility of coordinating /discussion event some time (Biddy said she’d attend!) so there would be a possibility of lots of different mix-and-match discussion venues to encourage this thinking to continue.


2011 – the year of…

Well, it’s been a while since I blogged. Not because there is nothing to blog about, rather because there’s a little bit too much going on at the moment. So here’s a little summary of what I would like to be blogging about when I can find the time.

The year of cataloguing conversations

I’ve just ordered a copy of Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st century, which will hopefully reach me in a couple of weeks. I bought it after reading about it from Christine Schwartz (who has contributed a chapter). She talked about 2010 being the “year of catalog(u)ing conversations” but I feel I got to that one a bit late, so I’m very much aiming to see 2011 be another Year of Cataloguing Conversations. We are expecting the outcome of the US RDA Test by Easter and a decision on implementation by June. Given the level of conversation (and angst, worry, stress, conflict) already caused by RDA within the cataloguing world, I can only imagine that this will definitely get us all talking. Venessa and I are also planning to keep talking about High Visibility Cataloguing and have lots of ideas to get other people involved in that conversation too, so I’m hoping it will be a year of positive advocacy and visible cataloguers getting into the limelight and shouting about what they do and how they contribute. We already have guest posts lined up for the blog there.

I tend to end up talking about cataloguing if people stand still long enough to listen so I will keep doing that and hope it is more of a dialogue than a monologue. I am also on the committee of CILIP’s Cataloguing & Indexing Group, which is a great way to have more cataloguing conversations with colleagues from all over the country so I’m looking forward to that.

The year of the (lib)TeachMeet

Last year’s inaugural Cambridge Librarian TeachMeet went really well. We’ve been talking since then about where to go next – members of the organising team are giving talks at conferences during the year ahead so we can tell people about our experiences and the feedback we received.  This week we announced that the next one will take place on March 29th. We have launched our spangly new website and twitter account too, as we were looking to create ways for lots of people to get involved in discussing, talking about, planning and participating in the (lib)TeachMeet. There is also another librarian TeachMeet planned in Huddersfield on February 9th and version for museums – TeachMeet Museums – planned for February 4th so this might turn out to be the year that the non-teacher TeachMeet really took off.

The year of professional conversations

2011 started off with a bang, as I attended the libraries@cambridge conference. Other people have written fantastic summaries of the day which I can offer until I have time to write it up properly. Apart from being a much larger and swishy affair than when I last attended in 2007, it was the perfect mix of inspiring, intriguing and interesting presentations and a rare opportunity to socialise and chat to lots of old friends, former colleagues and new acquaintances (the first time I’ve had people who have only ever “spoken” to me online in some way come up to me and say “oh are you Celine?” or, in the case of Ned Potter, “oh you’re Kuh-juh-klib”). I hope this is the sign of the year to come. At the moment, I’m using the huge network of cataloguers and librarians on Twitter to follow what’s happening at ALA Midwinter in San Diego. Even though my year at work will finish in April, I think the professional conversations will carry on – I might be a bit quieter than usual but I’ll still be keeping in touch with Twitter.

Here’s to 2011 – finally a year which is going to let me talk as much as I want!

CIG conference report: Japanese management techniques and workflow analysis

At the CIG conference in September, there were a couple of talks about Japanese management techniques and their application to workflow analysis in cataloguing/tech services. I found this very interesting – I live with someone who does Six Sigma/LEAN workflow analysis as a job and who has often commented on how he’d love to apply the methods to the library! It’s almost too interesting a topic – I have too much to say and so have struggled to write up my report for the last 2 months. I’ve finally done a version for my institution’s intranet blog and am reposting it here, with a few extra examples, as I think it’s of wide interest.  Last year, we started a review of workflows and processes within my own department (which is why I have been talking about library workflows at home!), so I have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue.

Stuart Hunt spoke about “Improving performance in cataloguing and technical services workflows”, based on the experience of the University of Warwick. They contracted an external company (Processfix) to analyse and improve workflows throughout all University departments. The wider economic context of current and anticipated future cuts led to a need on an institutional level to consider all activities and see how they could achieve that holy grail of “doing more with less”.

Examples of  Rapid Improvement Workshops that took place in the Library were looking at how long it took to shelve a book (from being returned to being on the shelf ready to borrow again) or examining the entire acquisition process, from recommendation to availability of a book to the reader. At Warwick, the process used various different tools that Stuart Hunt described together as “Japanese management techniques” but included Six Sigma, LEAN workflow and BPR (business process engineering). This is a field full of acronyms (so very familiar ground for cataloguers) but contains some very intriguing ideas and techniques.

 Stuart’s presentation should have been followed by a talk from Robin Armstrong-Viner talking about the use of LEAN Kaizen (one of these Japanese management techniques) at the University of Aberdeen. However, he was unable to make it due to a family emergency, so instead his slides were used as the backdrop for a more general discussion, led by Alan Danskin who gave some examples of how these workflow analysis techniques have been applied at the British Library.

The start was to “brown-paper” a wall (yes, apparently “to brown-paper” is a verb) to create a process map. Everyone involved in the process from beginning to end takes part and, using post-it notes, writes down each step in the process (one step per post-it). These are then arranged on the brown paper to give a sequence of activities in the process, which can be divided into “swim lanes” (areas within the responsibility of a particular team or department). The process map is then used to identify areas of “waste”, defined as “anything that doesn’t add value to the process”. Waste can be  many things, for example waiting time is a waste, so it’s often crucial to look at the point of handover from one “swim lane” to another. Another waste is over-production, doing redundant tasks – the example given here was adding coloured slips of paper with tick boxes to each item received which essentially repeated all the information already contained in the purchase order on the Acquisitions system (and I wasn’t the only person in the room nodding and groaning in recognition there). Sometimes it’s worth asking “why?” of a certain step/process, and repeating the why until you get a sensible answer – saying “because we’ve always done it that way” isn’t satisfactory. I call this the “irritating toddler” method of workflow analysis.

Transport is another example of waste, so another technique was to take a scale plan/drawing of the library layout and use string to map the journey taken by an item from the minute it arrives in the building to the point it reaches its final home on the shelves. The length of the string would show how far the item has to travel and could reveal waste. This can be very illuminating, though obviously there are physical limitations placed by the building which can be difficult to overcome.

There was a huge amount of detail and interesting examples in the talks – Warwick were able to reduce the time taken to reshelve a book from 48 hours to 4 hours by changing the workflow. Alan told a great anecdote from the BL’s experience, where a huge amount disruption to staff working time could be cut out simply by deciding to stop locking the door of the stamping room while the staff were inside (I loved this and have repeated it to people since I got back, but it maybe losing something in the re-telling…). It is worth looking at the full presentations if you are interested in the ideas or want to see some photos of “brown-papered” walls with process maps on them:

Stuart Hunt’s presentation (PDF) and Robin Armstrong-Viner’s presentation (Powerpoint)

Stuart mentioned that he plans to publish about this (indeed, he made quite a strong argument about there not being a culture of publishing in the UK but that there should be, as the library qualification is a research qualification too), so I look forward to reading more about it.

Post 23 Things…. what to do now

I would like to keep the blog going for a while at least, specifically to talk about TeachMeet (more coming soon to this blog and many others hopefully) after it takes place but also more generally. It’s just a question of making sure I find the time and actually writing the things that I’m thinking about writing.

Most of what I would talk about now that 23 Things is over would probably be cataloguing-related though.


That was the sound of 92% of my readers mentally switching off. Probably. We’ll see – my RDA post remains my most popular post and I have an update report on that RDA in Europe seminar coming very shortly.

Check me, getting all web 2

I have fallen behind on my Thing blogging again and probably won’t get much chance to catch up as I am not home this weekend. So this is a test post from an iPod touch to see how much index-finger cramp I can stand – this tiny screen tap-typing is painfully slow and, er, painful compared to touch-typing on an actual keyboard. Links are also really tricky so I’ll just have to say there have been se great posts on the recent things over at Girl in the Moon, Magistra et mater and elsewhere so find and read them while I let my tap-typing finger recover.

And another thing, or, Attack of the riled cataloguer

Still on Thing 8, tagging.

I found the Thing 8 blog post hard to write as there was a lot I wanted to say and could have said. After a few days reading other blogs and people’s thoughts, I still can’t quite leave it alone.

This post started life as a comment on the lovely Cardies and Tweed’s post about tagging but ended up about much more than that, so I’ve turned it into a blog post. I actually agree with Cardies’ overall conclusions, that tagging has a place alongside traditional access points and that Thing 8 raises more questions than it answers.

I just wanted to raise a couple of points in an earlier paragraph as I think it demonstrates a problem with the Clay Shirky article and is what I tried to talk about in my post on tagging. My primary issue with his whole argument is that he conflates classification with subject cataloguing/the use of subject access points. Tagging is a user-led equivalent of the latter, while the former is a very different thing. Promoting the benefits of tagging by analysing the failings of classification schemes is attacking a straw man, in my opinion.

As a demonstration, I want to just look at some of the points raised by Cardies & Tweed:

“…we concluded that while the Library of Congress system is very good, it can often fail when you have a new subject area that just doesn’t fit into any existing category. Plus, some problems do occur when specialist subjects come up and one cataloguer would feel it necessary to place a book in one category, when another would choose differently. One example that springs to mind, after another librarian chat, is the complex world of mathematics. The librarian in question found that a lot of the existing mathematics books had been put into sub-categories that were not accurate. Of course the issue that arises here is that this librarian specialises in maths, while many other don’t, so how do we get around such a dilemma?”

I think that it’s true, new subject areas/concepts come along that are not already reflected in either LC classification or subject headings. This will always be the case and tagging does have a role to play in covering this kind of new development because tagging offers an immediacy (no decision by committee) that formal taxonomies or thesauri lack. I just wanted to state that we also have the ability to propose new LC subject headings, LCSH is not a static thing and has more flexibility than the classification scheme. Proposing a new subject heading has no implication for shelf space and has no physical limitation. New headings are added and corrections/clarifications are made on a weekly basis (see here for the most recent weekly list).

The problem of one cataloguer placing a book in a different place to another cataloguer – that is definitely possible. In fact, catch me on a different day and this one cataloguer could easily place the same book in a different place. However, to my mind, this is only a problem for classification – as Shirky says, a book can only physically be in one place in the library, so sits only in one subject area even if it might just as happily sit in a different subject area (in some cases, there is a history of assigning “alternative classmarks”, but it’s not something widely used in the UK). Whereas the whole thing about subject headings is that there can be multiple subject headings for the same book or item, you don’t have to decide it’s only about one topic. There’s no 1:1 ratio here. So multiple aspects can be reflected in the cataloguer’s choice of multiple subject headings. In fact, most subject cataloguers would specifically want to do that.

As for the maths books that are in incorrect categories, if that means their classification number then this could be reported and might get fixed but might be due to the limitations of the UL’s classification scheme (and the overlap between the collection development policy of the UL and the Moore Library). If the maths books in question were given incorrect/inappropriate subject headings or are missing the most relevant subject heading, then it absolutely should be reported so that the cataloguers can fix the records (adding extra subject headings or removing inappropriate ones as required).

There’s no doubt  that those of us classifying are not subject specialists in all areas collected by the library. How do we deal with this? Well, I have been known to call on someone with specialist knowledge when totally stumped. We are also open to the notion of crowdsourcing (ie. see what other libraries – including specialist libraries – have done). Crowdsourcing also extends to finding out what library users think. This is something that doesn’t happen often enough, but if there’s anyone (especially another librarian, but actually anyone) with specialist knowledge who feels something has been wrongly categorised in some way, then they are most welcome to report it. There’s an online comments form if the cataloguers are too scary to approach in person 🙂 We won’t mind. Cataloguers always follow Library Tip #75, as explained by the marvellous Unshelved comic strip.

Okay, this post has been a bit of a rant ramble, but what I am trying to say here is that classification is not the same thing as subject headings. It’s the flaw underlying Shirky’s whole argument. And yes, normally classification means that a book will only be assigned one classmark. However, classmarks don’t always provide subject-related access anyway. More than 50% of the stock in the UL, for example, is on closed access. A reader browsing the shelves at a particular classmark is only seeing a small section of the UL’s holdings in a particular subject area, however accurately the 3-fig classfication scheme is applied. They are not seeing closed access material, non-book material, all articles within periodicals, digital resources. Even for the bookstock, a large proportion of the closed access material has a classmark that is purely a location marker and has no subject meaning. However, all of those items (books and other types of material) have subject headings which are designed to allow users searching the catalogue to find all the items potentially of interest to them. User-generated tags would just be an extra way of searching.

Whatchoo lookin’ at, WordPress?

WordPress stats
This is a quick post in response to Niamh’s useful post about Google Analytics. In the comments there, I was discussing getting Google Analytics to work on a WordPress blog too. Niamh found a plug-in which I have been able to add to another WordPress blog where I am the web admin, but Thingblogging is a hosted site which doesn’t use plug-ins and doesn’t allow Google Analytics.

So I wanted to do a quick screenshot about the stats that automatically come with a blog. Above, you can see the stats graph that appears on the dashboard whenever I log in. There’s also a more detailed stats page which gives me referrer information (wedding site anyone?), pages and posted visited, clicks, search terms and handy summary stats which can be broken down by day, week or month. It’s quite nice that this is just a default part of your blog pages.

It doesn’t count your own visits to the site, which means my constant visits to edit/correct my posts don’t help the overall hit rate. Even though the number of hits isn’t particularly high, I do love seeing the stats for my blog. There’s not as much information as Google Analytics, which I’ll be able to explore on my other blog.

More information on WordPress stats.

Batgirl and me, or, The disorder of multiple personalities

Batgirl’s alter ego, Barbara Gordon, was a librarian.

Batgirl in actionThis is a post about alter egos. It was inspired by this unmasking post by the Mongoose Librarian. She was having an identity crisis and I am having something similar.

I was very hesitant about taking part in 23 Things. I was very interested in learning about social media, trying out new Things and communicating with lots of other librarians in Cambridge. Great. However, over the last decade, I have carefully cultivated a completely anonymous online existence which I have been at pains to keep separate from my real identity.

I’m not an international spy. But I am very cautious about my online identity and my real name. I have worked on blogs (library and otherwise) using pseudonyms, much like Ms Mongoose describes. I tend not to use my work email to sign up for things online, even work-related. I have actually have 3 different email accounts that I regularly use for different things. I do actually think a degree of caution is warranted – it’s naive to think that the personal and professional can be kept separate without some effort on your own part. In this day and age, employers will google job applicants. There have been enough stories of people being fired over something they wrote in a blog or on Facebook that the phenomenon has coined a new verb.

Having decided to go ahead with 23 Things, I had to decide how anonymous to be. Many of the Cam23 bloggers are (to me at least) completely anonymous with no or little identifying information on their blog. Twitter this week is starting to reveal some true identities and match familiar faces to pseudonyms. With some effort, I could have tried to remain entirely anonymous throughout the process. I settled for a middle ground – I don’t use my full name here on Thing blogging or on my Twitter account. However, I’ve gone against my usual instincts and sign my posts with my first name (rendering me pretty much identifiable to anyone who really wants to know in Cambridge library terms). I chose to do this deliberately – I thought that removing the disguise (at least partially) would make me think hard about what I do and don’t say here and elsewhere during this process.

What I should have done, though, is be consistent in my identity. I already had a Google account. I already had a WordPress account. All with different email addresses and linked to different identities. If I had been more organised, I should have set up new accounts all linked to the same email address. I have tried to set up my identity when commenting on other blogs so that it displays both my blog name and my first name but I’ve noticed that this isn’t consistent – sometimes it will only have the blog name, others only my name. I spent a good 30 minutes trying to decide what to call myself on Twitter and which email to use for my registration. My carefully partitioned alter egos are starting to meld into each other a little bit. It makes me uncomfortable. If only donning a pair of glasses and a side parting were enough to disguise my true identity from everyone again – Barbara Gordon and Clark Kent don’t know how easy they had it.

What I would have posted if I had more time

I still need to do Thing 4 and write a post about Things 1 & 2, complete with a screenshot.

Actually, looking at some of the other Cam23 blogs, I need some pictures on my blog to make it look nicer (and want to play around with the theme too as I’d like to get the tags displayed on all the posts as well).

I’m having a really good time tinkering with RSS feeds and trying out various feedreaders, mainly from suggestions gleaned from other Cam23 blogs. I need to post about that properly too.

I’ve also become slightly addicted to commenting on people’s blogs, I’ve written more words in comments in the last two days than on my own blog.

However, no time for any of that now so instead here’s a post to tell you what I do, honestly, intend to post about quite soonish.

Only connect

I’ve just read a fascinating blog post over at 23 Criminal Things about their weekly emails to user, called the Friday Stuff. It is so interesting to find out more about what is happening in different libraries.

I have recently been arguing that we need to find more ways to find out about various things that are being done in Cambridge libraries, big and small. The libraries in Cambridge are full of innovative, inventive, creative, resourceful, enthusiastic and committed people, finding many great solutions to all kinds of questions or problems. I want to hear about it! Particularly if I’m trying to reinvent that particular wheel but even if it will just spark ideas that I may not have had otherwise.

Connections and communications between libraries have been improving gradually since I first worked in Cambridge libraries (some time in the last millennium). The annual libraries@cambridge conference, the various personal and library blogs, the Cambridge Librarians CamTools site and lots of other initiatives have all been steps in this general direction. However, I still feel a lot more could be done. Maybe it’s just me who is out of the loop, maybe everyone else is busily networking and communicating but I’m not sure. This is what I was talking about in my first post and one of the things I’m hoping for from 23 Things.

I look forward to finding out about more things like Criminology’s Library Stuff.

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