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And the award for most entertaining use of library furniture goes to…

Originally posted by Phil Bradley.


Writing reports – not as easy in real life!

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Ok, so I’ve just finished writing the library’s annual report for my organisation, and I don’t mind telling you that it’s taken a lot longer than I had anticipated. Having written reports for my MA I anticipated a fairly similar experience. However, when you’re writing the real thing rather than for a lecturer it really is considerably more difficult.

Obviously some of the principles remain the same, but there’s greater pressure to get things “right”, whatever that may mean. After all, who’s going to give you a hard time if you don’t pitch your report right to your lecturer? OK, they may set you straight on a thing or two and suggest slightly different ways of presenting your evidence, but really the pressure’s off. When your writing your report to the board you only get one chance to make an impression and pitch it right. It could determine how your plans are received or whether you truly have a say in future developments.

With that in mind, here are some reflections on the report writing process, and what I think should be taken into account:

  • Consider your audience – Who are you writing for? What’s their position within the organisation? How involved are they in the day to day activity of the organisation? How much do they know about your area of the business? The nature of your audience will determine how your report will develop.
  • What do they need to know? – This really is worth taking into consideration. Your departmental head my need to know the ins and outs of your daily working practice and any issues you come across, as it may impact heavily on how they operate and how they shape future policy. Upper management, however, probably don’t need (and certainly don’t want) to hear about the minutiae of daily life. They want to know exactly what matters to them – facts, figures, results and how it impacts on the overall business. Your efforts will be appreciated more if you cut the c**p and tell them what they need to know and why they need to know it.
  • Cinderella’s new ball dress or the Emperor’s new clothes? – Remember that you are feeding information into a large machine, and the wrong information could be potentially damaging (like putting petrol in a diesel engine). It’s good to make reports up-beat where possible, and extract positives from bad experiences – it may show that you are leading the way to the panacea of a “learning organisation”. Congratulations, you get Cindy’s new dress and a ride in a carriage. However, this does not mean you should dress up information in a completely different light and overplay positives whilst underplaying any difficulties. It may make you feel like you’re wearing the latest fashions from Milan but the truth will out eventually, and you could end up looking more exposed and self-deluded than the emperor of the aforementioned fable. Be positive, but be honest too.
  • Presentation – How a report looks and reads can be just as important as its content. Long, rambling reports without noticeable start and end points will lose their impact after just a few minutes. They need to be punchy, easily navigable and succinct whilst presenting all the relevant information. Subdivide them with snappy headings to allow the reader to locate relevant information quickly and easily. Perhaps even include a table of contents for longer reports. Use bullet points to emphasise key points – even if you go into more detail later the initial issue will have been noted. Provide graphical representations of raw data (such as graphs or pie charts) close to their related points if possible – visual displays are easier for readers to digest and tend to have greater long-term impact than lists of figures. The close proximity to the relevant points is not exactly essential, but it reduces the effort the reader has to put in to see your point, and that can only be a good thing. Plan your report with easy navigation and easy reading in mind. You do the hard work so the reader doesn’t have to – it may lead to a better reception and appreciation of your work.

Much of that doesn’t exactly sound a million miles from what we’re taught at Uni, but I assure you it’s doubly important when writing reports for real. Scraping 50% isn’t an option, and there are no prospects of retakes. So plan like a demon and pull out all the stops – the rewards are worth the effort!

LIShow 2007… aka friends reunited


Fresh back from the LIShow in Birmingham, and as usual things have piled up at work. I’ve spent most of the day catching up on enquiries and web-site edits that my colleagues would like me to carry out. It didn’t help that I was finishing early today to go off to a CILIP group meeting. That said, the meeting was very useful and we were all remarkably productive for a sunny Friday afternoon! However I digress.

I haven’t been to the LIShow before, so this year I decided to go for the full 2 days and take advantage of a friend’s hospitality (thanks S!). I’ve often wondered why people only go for one day, and I can kind of see why now. Although when you first enter the designated hall there seems to be more trade stands and paraphernalia than you’ve had hot dinners, once you’ve made your way systematically through the stalls (sampling the odd free glass of wine and picking up the usual freebies in the process) you’ve reached 3pm on the first day and you’ve seen all you need to. I suppose I’m not helped by the fact that I wasn’t really looking for any specific technology solutions as we rely primarily on open-source software to advance our services. However, as the title of this post suggests, I did meet a number of old friends that I hadn’t seen for some time, and most were looking for something specific for their workplaces. They were more than happy to let me tag along on their missions, and it was enlightening to see the different needs of different organisations, and how they were looking to new technologies to solve their problems. One friend was looking at the use of social bookmarking to improve the functionality of their organisation’s intranet search facilities, whereas another was looking at hybrid self issue machines in an attempt to solve a conflict between the use of RFID and EM security systems in her library.

The main draw to the show for me was, however, the series of seminars given over two days. Perhaps with the typical one-day-visitor in mind, he programme seemed to be split largely so that talks appealing to academic and special libraries occurred on the first day, with more school/public library talks on the second day (with, of course, some notable exceptions).

As I mentioned in a previous post, my former lecturer Sheila Corrall was speaking about information literacy, and as usual her talk was very inspiring. She spoke out in favour of Information Literacy (IL) teaching (both formal and informal) as a key mission for librarians from all sectors in the 21st century. Whether it be delivering specifically designed training to patrons, or a public librarian answering a query from a user, we all have the opportunity to pass on our knowledge to others. It is obviously something that we have been encouraged to do for some time now, but it is surprising how easily opportunities can be missed. I have personal experience of answering information requests from my clients and then thinking afterwards that if ‘d approached it from a different angle in the first instance I could have passed on some valuale information about search techniques or new resources to the user, thus adding value to my service.  I make a conscious effort to do this as much as possible, but in the heat of the moment and when time is of the essence this isn’t always easy.  Remote enquiries (which are what I mainly deal with) pose more of a problem as you have no personal contact, so gentle instruction can be more difficult.  However, this is no excuse.  Adding value to your services gives people higher expectations and greater respect for what you do, and this has got to be a good thing both in terms of increasing library usage and awareness of the librarian/information professional’s value to the organisation.

Karen Blakeman’s talk on RSS, Blogs and Wikis was pretty much a concise version of the one she gave at the UC&R Group event in Birmingham in December 2006,  but she is such an engaging speaker and so enthusiastic that it’s hard not to come away from her presentation with at least a few nuggets of new information and a renewed desire to implement more Web 2.0 applications for the benefit of your users.

Thursday also saw some interesting talks, but the most eagerly anticipated (and most well attended) had to be that of Jason Hanley from Google.  He spoke about Google’s services for librarians, including their booksearch facility (where he made every effort to stress that no copyrights were being broken!) and their Librarian Central site, which incorporates a blog of new developments.  However, I was most interested in the Google Co-op application, which allows you to build your own search engine, focusing on only sites you select yourself.  It’s a bit like what Rollyo has been doing for some time now, but with the power of Google’s search algorithms behind it.  I haven’t yet looked into it in detail yet, but I would hope the Google effort doesn’t limit the number of sites you can add to your personalised engine.  This would be a real advantage, and would allow for some excellent professional applications.  I’m currently working on a social bookmarking site targeted specifically at our user-base, and the ability to add all the relevant resources to a dedicated search engine would prove to be exceptionally valuable for meeting their information needs.  Indeed, some form of mash-up of the 2 sites to show the search box along with the bookmarking site itself would be great.  Using a service like superglu or a library blog to incorporate multiple Web/Library 2.0 features together is becoming an increasingly simple process, and it’s definitely something I’d consider.  The less places my users have to traipse for their information the better as far as I’m concerned.

So, to wrap up, from a newbie’s perspective the LIShow proved to be a very interesting experience, with lots of new technology on show and key thinkers in the LIS field empowering the rest of us with ideas on how to use it all!  Ok, so 2 days may be a little long for one person, but putting in the effort was worth it for the ideas that I came away with.  And as a bonus, I shan’t need to buy any pens for the library for at least 12 months now!! 😉

LIShow 2007

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Tomorrow sees the start of the 2007 Library and Information Show.  This is a chance for library suppliers, librarians and old friends to come together for a few days, discuss ideas and plans over a few beers, take in some presentations and generally soak up some new vibes.

I know a number of people are going, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them, but I’m also hoping to see a few faces that I haven’t seen for ages and who I don’t necessarily know will be there.  It’s the surprise that makes such encounters so entertaining.

In terms of seminars, I’m looking forward to hearing my former University Sheila Corrall speaking about the need for information literacy. I’m currently working on developing IL courses for a group of professionals who are mid-career and most certainly not digital natives.  Although the problems posed by this target audience are very different to the ones that you may come across in the HE and HE sectors, there are obvious parallels.  Frameworks for IL like the SCONUL 7 Pillars model are useful guides for anyone approaching the development of IL teaching programmes, especially if you’re a newbie to it like I am.  I covered the subject in my MA with Sheila C (above) and IL guru Sheila Webber, and so I feel like I’ve had a good grounding.  However for what I’m trying to achieve with my courses will inevitably differ from straight workplace and HE IL courses.  The frameworks will, in the end, be just that – guides or theories around which a course could be loosely based.  The difficulty is getting fro A to B in the most efficient manner possible – and I’m very much at point A atm!  Still, it’s going to be an interesting journey.  Let’s hope I don’t end up going via Z!

However, I digress massively.  This is my first LIShow, so I’ll post a brief (or maybe not-so-brief) review when I get back.

Man Utd 7 Roma 1

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*holds hand to ear, Cantona-style*

A bard joke ;-)


Just watched the new episode of Doctor Who. I was never a big fan in the old days (Sylvester MacWhatsit, long scarves, John Pertwee and all that) but my girlfriend got me into the new incarnations last year and now, I’m afraid, I’m hooked!

Tonight’s episode was a classic, involving the bard himself (master wordsmith… “shut your mouths!”) the good Doctor as always (master of time, space, and inappropriate punning) and the new companion Martha Jones (master mistress 😉 ). Oh, and not to forget witchy bad guys who cackle suspiciously like the apothecary from the Up Pompeii series! Throw in some special effects, a wind machine and a whole heap of straw (Elizabethan carpet-stuff) and you’ve got a cracker of a show! If you didn’t see it…why not?! Get watching the replays damn it!!

Professional organisations


I haven’t really gone into work details here before, but I’ll briefly mention that I am a UK based librarian who works in the special libraries sector. I am also a solo worker, so I appreciate all the information that I get from the professional blogs I read. I don’t really get chance to discuss policy and strategy directly with fellow librarians, and that is why communication through blogs, best-practice wikis and alike are so important to me.

Now, there are a lot of very useful UK-based blogs out there. Phil Bradley’s blog is an excellent source of information, and Sheila Webber on the information literacy weblog always has excellent advice to give, and points her readers to very useful IL resources that are available online and in print. However, as you’ll see from my blogroll, the blogs I read predominantly come from the US. There seems to me to be a greater buzz around librarianship in the States, especially in terms of pro-active action and adopting new technologies to improve services to users. This “can do, will do” attitude is very appealing to me, as is the lack of inhibition the librarians show when writing openly about difficult topics and stirring debate amongst their readership.

This brings me to my main point. I am a member of our national professional organisation, and, in the main, I am happy with what I get from my membership. However, I do worry that I’m only getting one point of view, and a limited focus. The blogs I read tend to raise issues which, on the whole, I don’t see being addressed here. Wider reading on a subject is always going to be good for developing a rounded view, and networking in different circles will allow exposure to varied points of view. With that in mind I’ve been thinking that perhaps I need access to articles and information that focus in greater detail on my particular field. Then again, perhaps I require comment on the same topics covered by the literature I already receive, but approached from a slightly different angle and with (possibly) a little more zeal. Or, perhaps I need both!

Personally, I’m not sure whether I would benefit more from being a member of an organisation with a narrower focus, or just an organisation that represents different perspectives. Therefore, in the time-honoured tradition of trial and error I’ve decided to try both paths at once. That way I can compare and evaluate the benefits and see if one outweighs the other (or if I achieve a happy medium). Therefore, for a narrower focus I am going to become a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) to see what they have to offer. For an alternative perspective on current awareness issues I’m turning to the American Library Association (ALA). These seem like sensible first steps away from what I know best and into new areas where my own knowledge will (hopefully) be challenged, and supplemented with new ideas. They also offer that element of certainty that comes from joining long-established organisations – i.e. knowing (within reason) what you’re “letting yourself in for”. 😉

I am, of course, open to suggestions of alternative bodies to join should anybody have any ideas. If not, I’ll stick with my choices and see how it goes. Once I receive my first contact from them I’ll post my first impressions here.

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