I’ve been away, but now I’m back

Kubrick typewriter The Shining

Rick Hall via Creative Commons

Forgive me father for I have sinned, it’s been nearly a year since my last blogpost…

Last March I wrote a post on struggling to fit CPD into my life, and still have a life. Nothing’s changed but, sadly, ceasing to blog did not free up the time or the willpower to finish my Chartership portfolio! Instead I drifted away from the process and now have a six-month hole in my CPD events list. Oops.

So I’m back to blogging in the hope that it will anchor my attempts to charter and provide some sort of focus. Let’s start as we mean to go on with a blogpost on a recent ons.gov.uk training session I attended and some thoughts on the February issue of CILIP Update.

Reading: February’s CILIP Update

Initial thoughts on the latest issue of Update (reflections and more ordered thoughts will follow next week).

  • Shift to big data faces skills shortage, p7 – survey of big data community shows 3/4 felt there weren’t enough skilled workers in the UK; “‘when you’re on the cutting edge of technology, you have to be teaching yourself most of the time'” – Manu Marchal, Acunu Director; “8 out of 10 said that on-the-job training was the best way to ensure skills were up-to-date”; “significant majority [70%] felt there was a knowledge gap between big data analysts or managers and decision makers” – knowledge gap because “‘technology is constantly evolving, so management, like practitioners, are often not aware what can be achieved with these technologies.’ [Manu Marchal]” (applicable to any technological advance).
  • Backlash against volunteer report, p9 – “Without skilled staff a library is a shadow of its former self.” – Phil Bradley
  • Information matters, p13 – “As library and information professionals, we each have a vital role promoting the best effective, ethical, legal and literate use of data and information.” – Peter Griffiths
  • Global course to improve information literacy, p14 – Unesco course to teach importance of media and information literacy to educators. “We live in a world where the quality of information we receive largely determines our choices and ensuing actions, including our capacity to enjoy fundamental freedoms and the ability for self-determination and development.” – Janis Karklins
  • Copyright changes face challenge, p17 – new copyright proposals to make it easier to digitise content for preservation, which is good for archives BUT news agencies and media archives opposing the moves because it risks their ability to monetise archive content and allows for organisations with a license to exploit content without prior consent. Should we be protective of Guardian copyright or happy that more content can be preserved, even if it bypasses our exclusivity?
  • VP’s column, p18 – some great ideas for engaging teens with reading (check out Excelsior Award)
  • E-books: finding the way forward, p33 – Christopher Platt from NYPL highlights how important it is in current climate to collaborate¬†“understanding where publishers and content producers are coming from is crucial to finding a way forward” – in this case, on the issue of e-books, but applies to any sticking point with other departments
  • Moving up the value chain, p39 – Laura Woods column – “Librarians are skilled at taking complex information, synthesising it and representing it in a manageable format for a variety of audiences.” Vital to proactively seek out new roles and specialising, becoming the “go-to person”, making yourself invaluable to your company. But it is also vital to outsource menial tasks that take time away from more specialised jobs – “Reframing what we do is crucial to ensuring that we have a future as a profession. I believe this is true of librarians in every sector. To prove our value, the first step is ensuring that every job we do adds value. Cutting out as many low-value jobs as we can allows us to move further up the value chain.”
  • Informed advocates – becoming agents for change, p46 – again, increased collaboration is important. It’s also important to value ourselves more – we aren’t “service providers” to more important staff, we are just as qualified and professional and should approach business relationships as equals – “Personally, I’d rather people didn’t ‘use’ me. When I hold at least as many academic and professional qualifications as those I work with, collaboration between equals is what we need to advocate for. It’s not about ‘support’ either – it’s about being part of a team and ensuring that the skills I posess are clearly recognised and seen as essential to the work of a team. Is it sensible to go on describing the work we do as a ‘service’ when we are seeing ‘services’ being outsourced?” – Bernard Barrett

Training: searching statistics on ons.gov.uk

Image

5 February 2012, CILIP HQ (organised by CILIP Information Services Group)

Notes on the day

Geoff Davies, Implementation Manager at the ONS, gave a run-through of the navigation of the newly redesigned ons.gov.uk. Recent improvements include new search functionality, additional synonyms and acronyms and better navigation.

  • Several new elements on the homepage will be useful for headline figures – the “carousel” in the centre which announces the latest big releases, and the Key figures panel on the right which is a quick way of accessing the most up-to-date stats for GDP, unemployment etc.
  • The UK Publication Hub (link at bottom of landing page) holds all government data, not just that held by ONS.
  • ONS YouTube videos give explanations of big releases, and the new interactives are a good way of interrogating data.
  • Links to the previous site are obsolete, so if you’ve saved a URL it won’t redirect to the new site, but all the statistical releases have been carried over, so they will be there if you dig deep enough.

Geoff then outlined the basic structure of the ONS site, which is a simple nested hierarchy:

  • Business area (section) folder -> each publication has a folder -> calendar entry for each edition -> edition folder -> all content “nuggets” released on that date eg. charts, data tables, summary, statistical bulletin etc.
  • Every edition published to the site has a separate release page, which goes live on the publication date (the release calendar includes future publications). Everything relating to that release is accessible from the page – datasets and reference tables are listed at the bottom of the page, and contact details for a named person responsible for that release are to the right.
  • The redesigned theme pages, which are launching shortly and will be rolled out gradually across each theme, are simplified and easier to understand, and much more visual than the current text-based version. A moving carousel, in the centre, gives the most recent data. They are a work in progress and will be improved as more pages are updated.

Geoff gave a quick run-through of the navigation tabs across the top of the site:

  • Browse by theme – alphabetical index of themes -> individual theme pages, with the most relevant or important content at the top.
  • Publications – chronological list, with filters on the right to narrow down content.
  • Data – chronological list, search for datasets and reference tables here (not available in publications list).
  • Release calendar – all releases, chronologically, including future releases (the landing page only includes big releases). If you click through to a release page there’s a link to all editions at top right, to access previous data.
  • Guidance and methodology – gives background on the ONS and data collection, classifications etc.
  • Media Centre – includes official statements and releases, and letters correcting misinterpretations of stats in the media.
  • About ONS – most useful is the ad hoc research undertaken by ONS, which isn’t searchable in the publications indexes. Go to Publication Scheme under What We Do, then Published Ad Hoc Data on the left.

Continuing problems with the site

The main issue users have raised since the redesign is difficulty in finding content. The ONS has decentralised publishing, which means each department is responsible for their own releases (around 460 staff contributing to the site). This has led to inconsistency, as some staff are reluctant to change old methods or not interested in web standards, and some are just too busy. The ONS are working on solutions:

  • training staff on how to tag content with six or seven most useful keywords (too few, or too many irrelevant ones, mean weaker search results), and improving the metadata.
  • publishing support team to help departments who are too busy or uninterested.
  • health checks are run on content regularly.
  • there is pressure from management to conform to the new standards.

Practical examples

We ran through some real search queries for tips on searching the site, with assistance from a member of the customer services team (whose name I missed, sorry!). The main advice was to search through the release calendar using filters as necessary (selecting ‘last 5 years’ clears future releases from the list), and to use the ‘all editions’ link on each release page to locate time series data.

Unfortunately, the practical examples just proved that the search functionality of the site still needs improvement (if a roomful of information professionals struggles to find data you have a problem!). Advising users to call the customer services team with any queries is helpful but no use in a high pressure environment where data is needed within hours, not days – what I really needed were ways of finding the stats myself.

Reflections

  • The redesigned ons.gov.uk site is much cleaner and simpler than the old version, and easier to navigate, but it’s still difficult to actually find specific data. It’s a shame the ONS didn’t take advantage of having a room full of information professionals to interrogate the system further and to make notes of improvements needed.
  • Some of the problems the ONS are facing are familiar – they’ve decentralised uploading of content, but some staff are reluctant to adopt new techniques and others are over-keen and tag excessively. This is true of other new technologies being adopted across many library sectors (certainly it applies to social media in the news industry). It’s an issue of good training and perseverance with the new standards, and having support from management is vital.
  • Some issues with the redesign are similar to those we’ve experienced in relaunching our intranet recently – lack of redirects from old pages, decentralising, need for training.

Applying what I learned

  • The key figures and carousel on the front page of ons.gov.uk will be incredibly useful for finding the most recent headline data quickly (a common query).
  • The new theme pages will be very useful once they are launched, as a quick way to access key figures on a topic (another common query).
  • I’ll bookmark the ad hoc data page as an extra location to check for data.
  • The training also offered some good ideas on how to ensure consistently good content and metadata, which we could apply to any new roles that our department undertakes.

Titanic – a century of news

Image A few weeks ago I blogged about neglecting the blog because I was working on my first ebook, about the Titanic. I finalised it last week and it’s now in the Amazon store for Kindle, and on iTunes!

The book is a collection of Guardian articles on Titanic, from its inception as the world’s largest ship (rumours first circulated that the White Star line was planning a mammoth liner in 1907), through the excitement of the launch and the tragedy that followed, and on to the present day, with the discovery of the wreck in the 1980s, James Cameron’s 1998 film and the creation of the Titanic ‘brand’.

The most moving pieces I found were firsthand accounts of the disaster from survivors, given to journalists on their arrival in New York and to the official inquiry that followed the tragedy.

Titanic is obviously the story of the moment, with the 100th anniversary of the sinking looming this weekend, and the ebook has reached #33 on Kindle’s world history list (yay!). The From the archive blogpost I wrote in conjunction has been shared more than 76,000 times on Facebook.

You can read more on the From the archive blog (Titanic – a maiden voyage that ended in tragedy) or, you know, download the ebook! It’s only ¬£2.56…