Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Thing 16 (part 2) : Getting published

Not much to say about this! I have a short list of not very seminal professional publications to my name, mostly connected with previous jobs in London. You can see it here. I've been a bit lazy since moving to Wales, apart from a few book reviews (my excuse was the distance learning degree I did at Aberystwyth, which took longer than expected due mainly to life intervening). Other than that, I've had the odd article, review and short story published in Welsh or Welsh-interest publications, but that has been sporadic and I haven't done much recently. This blog and another one at work (for our Special Collections) which I have begun to contribute to are publications, of course, and perhaps the practice will get me thinking again about whether there is anything else I could publish.

Publishing is one way to promote what you do, and if you are in the position of trying to establish yourself or build your career it is also a good move. If you've got something worthwhile to say and can add to the sum of human knowledge, do it!

Thing 16 (part 1) : Complacency, advocacy and activism

This subject seems to have roused some surprisingly strong reactions, possibly because the distinction between advocacy and activism has become blurred for some. Johanna Anderson has covered this subject fully in her blog here, including definitions of the words.

It might be apposite to remember that CILIP has a code of professional practice which "applies ethical principles to the different groups and interests to which CILIP members must relate", and its section D, "Responsibilities to society" begins: "One of the distinguishing features of professions is that their knowledge and skills are at the service of society at large, and do not simply serve the interests of the immediate customer." Of course many people working in the field of librarianship are not members of CILIP and are free not to consider themselves bound by its ethical code. The implication is clear, though: no librarian is an island!

Advocacy can take the form of speaking for the profession outside it, promoting your own service to your immediate users, and promoting your part of it to those who make decisions about your service.

As a subject librarian in a university, I need to connect with staff and students, to promote the collection I'm responsible for and help people to get the best out of it. As a cataloguer, traditionally my role is more hidden than that. For years cataloguers at my place of work have been literally hidden away, first in a basement and now in a different building located at a distance from most of the site libraries. We are much better integrated than we used to be: at one time we were not included in meetings or really in any of the activities other professional staff took part in. Even so I think that much of what we do and how we do it is a mystery to some of our colleagues. Obviously it is important that we communicate better what we do and how it is changing, because in a financially uncertain world if we are not valued we are vulnerable. If we think that what we do is worthwhile, we need to promote ourselves, as we cannot rely on other people agreeing with us. Cataloguing has had an image problem for years - or, as someone once put it to me, "People think librarians are odd but even librarians think cataloguers are odd" (thanks for that!) It's certainly still true - a recent post on LISNPN here ruffled a few feathers ("Is there any position more dreaded ...") and drew this response on the High Visibility Cataloguing blog (set up recently with just this advocacy role in mind). Outside libraries, the role of cataloguer is even more derided - Tim Coates, library campaigner and consultant, reserves his deepest contumely for cataloguers (although I think he excludes academic libraries from that).

As I've worked in special, public and academic libraries, I'm well aware that there's an element within librarianship which looks down on public libraries - I've seen it from both sides of the fence and it has surfaced occasionally during the discussion on advocacy. It is hardly surprising that public libraries are vulnerable to outside attack if they cannot depend on support from within their own profession. Although I work in an academic library now, the years I spent in public libraries were a very important part of my career. I didn't expect it to be like that (I'd listened to too much negative publicity!) but I learned a great deal about librarianship there and it informs everything I do now. (Sweeping generalisation coming up) I think that on the whole those who say they do not use the public library service fall into the category of young/youngish people in full time employment. A word to the wise: being young and in full time work does not last forever!

Advocacy, or at the very least absence of negativity about different spheres of library work, is surely essential. Gone are the days when we can hide away in the stacks and take for granted that everyone will continue to value what we do and fund it. Activism is what happens when advocacy has failed, or when there has been too much complacency (and there have certainly been senior figures in the library profession who have been happy to bend to whatever wind blows for short term advantage without apparently considering the long term for their service). Active involvement in campaigns to save library services is not for everyone, and happily it is not needed everywhere - yet - but one would hope that at least moral support and an understanding of the principles at stake would be forthcoming.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Thing 14 : citation services

Thing 14 introduces us to three citation services. I have only had a quick look at these - something to come back to later. My own institution has invested heavily in Endnote, which is therefore free to students and researchers, so it is unlikely that I would make much use of other similar services in my job. Endnote will store up to 10,000 references including importing from online data sources, and seems to answer the needs of my institution. However I am all in favour of open source alternatives, so it's useful to know about other options, and once again I might find a personal use for some of these reference management systems.

Browsers can be a problem: until a recent upgrade I was able to access Mozilla Firefox without difficulty at work. Although Zotero started out requiring Firefox, I got into it without, which is an advantage. It looks promising: as a cataloguer I like the option to tag. Mendeley seems to offer similar functions, and I'm glad I'm not in the position of needing to choose between them: there seem to be strong views regarding which is better, but as they are both developing it would be hard to be dogmatic without a lot more experimentation with both. CiteULike is a little different. I think this would be particularly useful for academics as it seems to focus on sharing articles. What a dreadful name, though! I'm a bit surprised that spudulike haven't been after them for brand name infringement. Perhaps it's meant to convey the idea that research is now made so easy by these new services that it is as quick as takeaway food.

I of course belong to the generation who used index cards for everything, and to be honest I still feel more at home with old school habits. My library school bibliography was done that way, and so was every other project I've ever done. I'm nostalgic sometimes for those days but look how much more you can do with the new services, in terms of importing information and organising it, and how much easier it is to correct errors. No more sad tales of PhDs falling by the wayside because of whole sets of references lost in floods and fires!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Thing 13 : collaborative tools (Google docs, Dropbox, Wikis)

This is not going to be an in-depth analysis, as I haven't yet made any of these tools a regular part of my work, but having had a look I'm quite enthusiastic about all of them in principle. A general (obvious) point: collaboration is only going to work if you have someone using the same tools to collaborate with.

We all badly feel the need (I do, anyway) to get away from torrents of emails, attachments, and clogged-up shared drives. All of these tools could help free us from them.

Google Docs seems easy to use (I just need an opportunity now!) It could function as a shared drive without the clunkiness.

Dropbox could in fact also be useful for personal things - it wouldn't have to be for collaboration. "Always have your stuff, wherever you are", it promises - it's a way to store online with access from multiple computers and no need for USB sticks or, ahem, floppy discs (yes, I know. Technology has been moving a bit too fast for me lately!). I'm never sure how much we can actually trust tools to remain as promised (there was a lot of recent anguish over changes to Delicious) so I'm probably not yet ready to believe the "always" bit.

Wikis are the only one of these tools which we have vaguely discussed using at work. We have a cataloguing manual which really needs to be accessible in a more flexible form (which could be amended easily), and I can see a Wiki being a good potential place for it.

I've been a bit slow to embrace some of the tools available for collaborative work, not least because I have not felt able to warm to our in-house "communities" tool which is designed to do some of this. I do very much see the benefit of getting away from all the duplication of emailing and forwarding documents, so perhaps I should try a bit harder with our own system. Unfortunately it operates through a portal which seems to time out very quickly and frequently. I must be more patient with it and accept the inconvenience - or persuade colleagues to migrate to one of these tools instead!