CPD23 Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

Thing 13 post

Google Docs

I’ve been using Google Docs at work for nearly three years and it’s really revolutionised the way I do my job. That sounds a bit dramatic but the role has changed so much since we adopted it!

Partly that’s down to the Guardian becoming a more digital, interactive product. Partly it’s because I’ve become involved in the Datablog, which is powered by Google spreadsheets of data. But it’s also made existing jobs easier.

Before, when the department was working on a project together, we would compile info in an Excel spreadsheet or Word file. It would sit in someone’s public folder, but we’d enable it for multiple users and as long as you were in the office you could amend it.

Quite often though, the spreadsheet wouldn’t like being updated by two people at once and would crash, or create multiples, and someone would have to go in and fix it.

When the work was complete, we’d have to email the spreadsheet to the editor or journalist who’d requested the work, or move it to their folder, so that they could work on it. If they decided they needed to change the format or needed a different dataset, they’d send it back and we’d start again.

Now, project spreadsheets sit in Google Docs. They’re shared with everyone in the department, who can actually really genuinely update them at the same time without causing problems. We can share them with any writers or editors who need them, too, and everyone can access them from anywhere, even (though we don’t want to encourage working after hours!) from outside the office.

If the end product is a graphic or interactive, it can feed directly off the spreadsheet in Google Docs, so any updating can be done in real time and seen immediately on the page (like this Afghan casualties interactive, or one we did for 9/11 a few weeks ago). The Datablog feeds off Google spreadsheets for most of its content (this Man Booker Prize 2011 one is my latest baby).

The future is spreadsheets. No, really.


Because I already use Google Docs, and because I can’t download software at work, I’m going to skip Dropbox for now (sorry Dropbox).


When I attended CILIP’s Umbrella conference a few months ago the most practical nugget I came away with was to adopt a wiki at work, as a way of sharing knowledge between colleagues (thanks Alan Brine and the wiki the67things).

We’ve tried a few ways of sharing department ‘how to…’s, but never hit on a formula that everyone likes and, more importantly, that everyone uses and contributes to. At the moment we use Google Docs, which works fine as document storage, but is clogged up with all our other docs. I think a wiki is the answer, so this is a great opportunity to try it out.

Unfortunately, to use MediaWiki you have to download the software, which I can’t do, so I had a go with PB Works instead. I set up an account – researchandinformation – and had a wander round to figure out the navigation. It’s not as intuitive as some software these days, but it’s easy to create pages, and hopefully I’ll be able to add it to the arsenal of tools we use in the office.


Google Docs is always going to win out over Dropbox for me, because it is already central to my working life and because you don’t need to download any software to use it.

I’m determined to set up a wiki for use at work but I’ll need to speak to the rest of the department before I go off all gung ho. There’s no point adopting a new resource only for others to ignore it (which has happened previously with Delicious). I’m pretty sure there’s software already available within the company which doesn’t require download (can you tell that annoys me?), but if not PBWorks will suit what we need.

I’ll continue to use existing wikis for career development – I take part in Library Day in the Life and I’m going to add myself to the Library Routes project. For now, this blog serves me well for recording my Chartership path, but I’m using a Google Docs spreadsheet to list CPD activities, and when I come to compiling my portfolio I’m sure I’ll use it more!

Like I said, spreadsheets are the future.

CPD23 Thing 12: Where did the time go?!

I’ve been horribly lax and somehow I’ve got far far behind with CPD23. Back on track now though, I’m not sure if I’ll manage to finish on time but hopefully not too far behind everyone else!

So, Thing 12: Putting the social into social media

I’ve said elsewhere that I’m lucky in that the media sector, and the Guardian in particular, is very active online and encourages the use of social media for work. I’ve been tweeting from our work account @guardianlibrary and blogging for the Datablog and From the archive for a couple of years. Engaging with readers who comment ‘below the line’ is part of writing on the web – starting a conversation, in the latest jargon – even if the comments aren’t always favourable!

I’ve only recently started using social media for professional purposes outside work, partly because of CPD23 but also because I’m chartering. My main source is Twitter, although I’ve been trying to get involved by commenting on other CPD23 blogs too.

I can’t count the number of contacts I’ve made through Twitter who I wouldn’t have encountered in everyday professional life (well I probably could but it would be a bit tedious and, well, you get my point). I’ve started attending conferences and events in the real world too, but the best contacts I’ve made there have been with people I had already encountered online. Even if you first meet someone face to face, social media offer an easy way of keeping in touch.

I don’t think social media can entirely replace face-to-face networking – for me, anyway, there’s something more tangible in actually meeting someone.

The social media world moves at an ever faster pace, too – a break of a few hours from Twitter and you can completely miss a new revelation; take a break of a few weeks (did I mention I slacked off over the summer?) and it’s a daunting task to catch up again. It might be easier to make contacts online but I think it’s harder to maintain your place in that network than in a ‘real world’ one.

There’s also a risk that you don’t break out of the echo chamber of the library world if you keep your online contacts within your professional sphere. We all know libraries are worth saving, for example, but there’s no use just preaching to the converted! But if what you’re after is a community, rather than getting a message to a wider audience, social media can be very useful.

One of the main reasons I started CPD23 was to expand my network of fellow professionals, as my physical network has been shrinking of late. When jobs are being shed and budgets cut, social media offers a nice alternative to brainstorming on your own!

CPD23 Thing 11: Mentoring

Meg’s post on CPD23 Thing 11: Mentoring

A quick one after the mammoth Thing 10 post! Chartership is my first official experience with a mentor, but I’ve had unofficial guidance from several colleagues over the years. Having someone who has experience of my working environment to advise me on my development has been really important at various stages.

My mentor now is a former colleague, and also a good friend, so she understands where I’m coming from both professionally and personally. I’m sure she’ll continue to mentor me unofficially even after I’ve chartered!

CPD23 Thing 10: How I fell down the library rabbit hole

Book with text and drawings from Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte’s post on CPD23 Thing 10

It’s been really fascinating reading about the different experiences that led people into a career in libraries. Mine is a somewhat predictable path by comparison! It just goes to show the varied routes that can lead to librarianship, whether officially qualified or not; I’m definitely with Bethan when she says that “The profession is defined by what we do, not the letters after our names.”

I went straight from school to an American Studies degree at Hull (plus a year at NAU in Arizona), which I absolutely loved and which gave me some vital skills but wasn’t particularly career-oriented. When I graduated I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I applied for anything and everything that appealed to me. I wasn’t really looking for a vocation or an office job, but I had a vague notion of a ‘career in publishing’, so I fired off CVs to a list of publishers, all of which were met with a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’.

I was getting desperate (I’d been rejected by the local Iceland for being too qualified!) when I received a letter inviting me to interview for a library trainee post at the Guardian. I’d been rejected in the first round of CVs but one of the trainees had dropped out at the last minute. I don’t know who she was but I will be forever grateful to her for not turning up to work because I got the job instead, and it set me on the route to a career that I love.

When I was a trainee at the Guardian some eleven (!) years ago, the post was quite different. There were five of us, for a start (oh the heady days of economic certainty!), and our main roles were to archive the Guardian and Observer online and to file away newspaper cuttings from the day’s papers. We weren’t trusted to classify articles and cut them out (the librarians did that); after lunch, once the paper was archived, we were presented with a pile of newspaper clippings and sent off into the stacks to pop them in the right files.

There were a few visits to other libraries and the occasional opportunity to get involved in research, but otherwise the job was dull, and when we stopped adding to the cuttings halfway through the year, I was able to spend most of my time doing very little!

Despite this, working in the library was enough to convince me this was what I wanted to do, and I followed the traineeship with the MSc Information Science course at City University. At the time, Dave Nicholas was head of the department (this is before his team decamped to UCL); he’d done some research with the Guardian library and it was the natural path for trainees to take.

I didn’t really look into courses elsewhere, but I think it matched my interests anyway, because a lot of the course was about online information, databases, search techniques… I didn’t study a lot of traditional classification and cataloguing, but looked at it in the context of thesauruses and online taxonomy. Maybe if I’d ended up in a more traditional library role I’d have struggled without that basic grounding, but as it is the course gave me a great background for the job that I do (and the digital path the profession is taking now).

While I was sitting my final exams an assistant librarian post came up back at the Guardian, and I grabbed it with both hands! It meant switching to part time to finish my dissertation (which I finally handed in two years later) but it was an offer of a proper, professional job. In July 2002 I became a Guardian researcher and, nine years on, I’m still here.

Things have changed over the years. We’re down to three researchers from seven, and one trainee (with that post up for debate every year in a climate of cuts); we’ve moved to a shiny new building in King’s Cross, with some of our cuttings, bound volumes and microfilm stored off site; we have a digital archive, and subscribe to most reference resources online; we work increasingly with Google docs and data; and we’ve raised our web profile, with a blog and a Twitter account.

From time to time I’ve thought about moving on – with such a small team there isn’t a career ladder to speak of, and I’ve watched other colleagues go on to bigger and better things. But this role has changed, and continues to change, so I’m constantly learning new skills. More than anything it just seems to ‘fit’, and while I’m still passionate about working in the media and passionate about the job I’m happy to stay.

What I’m focusing on instead is developing my career by chartering with CILIP. I started last year and stalled quite quickly (baby number two got in the way!), but I’ve registered again and this time I’m determined to make it to the Chartership finish line! My working world may be small but that’s no reason to hold back on my career development.

Looking back over my career so far it’s clear that chance played a big part in how I became a librarian. If the original trainee hadn’t pulled out; if the Guardian hadn’t had a link with City; if a researcher hadn’t left just when I was finishing my course… I’m a big believer in serendipity, and it seems I’m also a bit lazy when it comes to making career decisions!

What is also clear though is that I’ve always had a passion for working with information, for libraries and, yes, for books (not, as Nicole Brock points out in her post on why she became a librarian, that books are all libraries do!).

I’ve always devoured books; I was off the reading scale at primary school and read everything they had. When we had to arrange work experience during GCSEs, some kids worked in local shops, handy for summer jobs; I organised a week working in the local county archives (yes, ladies and gentlemen, I once toyed with becoming an archivist). I even spent a summer when I was 12 or 13 cataloguing my parents’ book collection. Wow, that sounds tragic out loud.

Although I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian, and fell into it as a profession, I always had the tools for it, I just didn’t realise it at the time. I like to think that even if I’d taken a different job after uni, serendipity would have led me to the library one way or another.

CPD23 Thing 9: Evernote

CPD23 Thing 9 post on Evernote

I like the sound of Evernote – one of the main struggles I have in keeping up with the profession is finding time to read articles, blogposts etc. I’ve tried compiling them in Delicious, and setting up RSS feeds, but I never seem to get round to the reading part.

Even if I do, I usually make notes and forget to write them up. Evernote may offer at least a partial solution (there will never be enough time in the day to read everything!). If I change the way I process articles, scanning over them first rather than just storing links for later, it will enable me to make quick notes on screen that I can refer back to or flesh out, depending on the post in question.

My concern is that it’s yet another platform for me to master and remember to check. The thing I need to remember is that there’s a web tool out there for just about everything you could ever wish to do; my challenge is to check them out, work out whether they’re useful and only adopt the ones that really add value to the way I work.

The major problem is that I can’t download applications at work, and that’s the time I usually come across articles I want to read. I’ll download it at home but I’m not sure I’ll really get the benefit from an application I can’t use any time, anywhere.


CPD23 Thing 8: Google Calendar

Erin’s Thing 8 blogpost

We use Google calendar at work so this was a pretty quick Thing for me! Cloud computing has really opened up the way we work as a department.

We’ve always compiled events diaries but the software previously was clunky and the major benefit, as Erin said, is that Google calendars can be accessed from any computer/smartphone as long as you have an internet connection. We share our diaries with various departments across the organisation.

We use a calendar to help compile the From the Archive series too. It’s an ‘on this day’ type column that runs on the leader page of the Guardian every day. We use the Google calendar, which is only shared within the department, to track who is researching which date (we send them a week in advance) and to post any ideas we have for upcoming dates. It’s really made the process much easier.

To do

Reading the Thing post and responses from other participants (Bethan’s post was particularly useful) has highlighted a few ways I could develop my use of Google calendars. I’m going to start a calendar for my Chartership portfolio, so I can track events easily; and I’m going to look into Twistory.

CPD23 Thing 7: Face-to-face networks

Bethan’s Thing 7 blogpost

In terms of career development, this is the area I think I need to work on most. I’ve never been good at approaching people I don’t know – I’d be the one loitering by the tea/biscuits/wine waiting for someone to take pity on me. But I decided when I started Chartership last year – really when I started to take my career seriously – that I needed to expand my professional network, and improve my networking skills in the process.

Most of my professional networking is done online, but face-to-face offers something lacking in online contact – a chance to engage in natural conversation, to talk without other distractions. I feel like I know someone better once I’ve met them in person.

There isn’t a lot of career progression available in my role – we’re such a small department that there isn’t a ‘ladder’ as such – so I need to look outside for ways of furthering my career.

So which professional organisations have I been involved with so far?


When I joined the Guardian as a researcher nine years ago the department was heavily involved in AUKML (the Association of UK Media Librarians), and automatically paid membership. I attended social events, AGMs and the conference in London (funding wasn’t available to send me to the residential conferences elsewhere). I also wrote for the quarterly newsletter Deadline.

Unfortunately the sector has shrunk over the past decade, and the decision was made to fold a couple of years ago. Another reason to expand my professional horizons.


I’ve been a member for just over a year, and I’m working towards Chartership. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Umbrella conference in Hatfield (which I will blog about when I find my notes!). I’ve written a couple of articles for CILIP Update too, and I’d like to write more.

I went along to Cilip in London‘s tie-in event for Thing 7, and as well as enjoying the free wine I made some really good connections – people I follow online but hadn’t met, people I knew but hadn’t touched base with in a while, and some people I’d never met before. My online community has expanded as a result, meaning the connections I made will continue.

The talks and discussions were interesting (and not just the ones about wedding dresses!) – more to write up when I find that notebook! I would definitely consider getting involved in a committee, but I don’t think now is the time for me. I’m already juggling babies and work, and I know being a committee member would benefit my Chartership but I’m not sure I would find time to write my portfolio if I got involved! I barley have time to keep up with CPD23 – did I mention this post was late?

SLA Europe

I’m not a member, yet, but I’ve been to several SLA events (and we’re the reigning champions of the Winter Warmer quiz). I’m considering joining now that my company pays for professional membership of CILIP.


I went to my first LIKE event last week, a guided walk which was purely social – I skipped the tour of the Guardian! – but still afforded a chance to chat to other professionals. I might get a bit more involved with the next event.

To do:

  • Join SLA Europe?
  • Follow up on contacts I made at Cilip in London event
  • Get involved with LIKE?
  • Chase up suggestion for Update article

CPD23 Thing 6: Online networks

Helen’s post on Thing 6

I think I’m quite up on social networking – I’ve been using the web to communicate since uni – but I haven’t applied much of it to my working life before now and as my department raises its online profile I feel a bit like I’m playing catch-up.

Because I work for a company that has a big online presence (hello Guardian website) the need for online networking as a department is limited. I can see the benefits to a public library of having a Facebook page for example, but not a private one like ours, and if we  need to connect online we have a blog and a Twitter account.

I’m working on raising my professional profile and involvement though, and that’s where social networking will hopefully come into its own for me.

As for Google +, I’ve not had a proper look around it and maybe if enough people defect it will become the standard, but I’m a bit unsure of a social platform that is trying to be all things to all people. Will anyone bother to adopt it fully or will they keep using it alongside all the other networks? I’m not sure I’ve got space in my life for yet another site.


My main online network in terms of work is Twitter. I use my personal account to follow other librarians, engage in discussions (not always about cake) and find out about new articles.

We also have a work account which we use to spread the word about blog posts and the From the Archive series, but it tends to be a one-way conversation so our use of it isn’t particularly social! That’s something I can work on.


I’m a member of LinkedIn but I don’t think I get the most out of it. As with the sites we looked at in Thing 4, my approach has been a bit haphazard and I need to develop my network further – I’ve not followed through all the second degree links, and I’m sure there are good professional contacts waiting to be made.

I’m a member of a couple of groups but again I haven’t explored it fully. The most useful one so far has been LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange), who organise talks and networking events for info pros. I went to my first LIKE event last week (see Thing 6) and will definitely be going back.

The profiles in Helen’s post were really useful and I’ll be ‘sexing up’ my profile as soon as I get a moment! I’ll join a few other groups too.


There aren’t many online spaces I can keep purely personal, so I use Facebook as a social space for friends only. Not that I post anything I wouldn’t want professional contacts to see! As a corporate library I don’t think it would benefit my department to be on there either. I definitely agree with the “Facebook is the backyard BBQ” mantra.


I’d heard about LISNPN but I’d assumed it was for newly qualified professionals, not old hands like me, so it’s exciting that I can join too! I’m wary of joining too many networks – I already find it hard to keep track of everything I do online – but I’ll definitely be checking them out.

To do list:

  • Improve my LinkedIn profile
  • Connect to everyone I’ve met professionally on LinkedIn
  • Join a few LinkedIn groups
  • Join LISNPN

CPD23 catch-up


Take your eye off the ball (or the blog) and before you know it you’re six things behind! How did we get to CPD23 Thing 11 already? I will attempt to catch up before my general malaise becomes terminal and I’m still blogging Things into 2012.

CPD23 Thing 7: CILIP in London event

My first CILIP in London event, to tie in with Thing 7 of CPD23 (real world networks), was a great success.

The discussion part of the evening was really useful in introducing me to some of the work that committee members do in CILIP, and the discussion format introduced me to a few new faces (as well as letting me chat with some old ones!).

The social side afterwards (as well as giving me a stinking hangover) meant I got to meet some great fellow professionals in what is an increasingly isolated profession. Plus free wine (did I mention the hangover?).


Francis – CILIP

  • Hard to get committee members at outposts, looking at merging some branches – pilots going on
  • Reassessing the CILIP input agreement – some groups may continue without CILIP input
  • New model rolls out in 2012

Committee involvement helps PPD:

  • managing and planning experience
  • managing budgets
  • leadership
  • publicity
  • networks
  • advocacy
  • plug the gap if there’s no opportunity at work

Franko – Career Development Group

  • chair, secretary, treasurer – hard posts to fill, lots of work
  • events organiser – visits, workshops, socials
  • candidate support officer – came to it through qualifications – workshops, speaking
  • mentor for chartership
  • New Professionals conference
  • About getting people involved, engaged to help

Helen, HLG – CPD panel chair

  • needed to enhance CV, found CPD panel interesting – study days, workshops, conferences


  • increased knowledge of sector
  • increased respect for collaboration
  • network stretches across the country
  • more confidence in tackling new tasks
  • apply skills to job
  • good for CV, promotion
  • share good practice, increase your network

Increases the workload on top of your job but it’s worth it.

Neil – SLA Europe

CILIP was useful in the early days, then SLA filled the gap – more personal benefit – it’s important to look at your own needs and decide which organisation to join.

Contacts through the network helped to get new job!


I need to look into which CILIP groups I’m a member of, and consider getting involved (although I think I want to focus on Chartership at the moment). I need to join SLA Europe, too, to widen my network.