Online Information, 29 November 2011

Free items from Online Information

My Online Information freebies

I spent the morning at Online on the first day of the exhibition. It seems smaller than ever this year, but there was still a strong representation across the field, and it was much more manageable and less overwhelming (there’s the silver lining!).

I chatted to some interesting people, and not all of them were trying to sell me something! More important than finding out about the latest start-up or resource is actually talking to people fact to face. As much as I love social media nothing can replicate that.

My challenge now is to keep in touch or follow up on contacts I made at Online. I’ve already arranged a trial of the Cengage’s Gale NewsVault database, and worked on the SEO of this blog following Judith Lewis’s seminar (to be blogged soon!). I want to connect with everyone I met on LinkedIn too.

Ooh, and I collected the usual bagload of branded items too – pens, pencils, highlighters, notepads, stress balls, the list goes on. Prize for the weirdest freebie goes to the FT this year, for their branded hand sanitiser (although Mekon get special mention for their branded satsumas!), and best haul to Cambridge University Press for the cute QR code bag, credit card USB stick and digital photo egg!


CPD23 Thing 15: Getting involved in events

Katie’s Thing 15 post


This is the part of professional eventing (that sounds a bit horsey!) that I am particularly good at; in fact my only involvement in events so far! Conferences and other similar events are a great way to find out what’s new in your sector, and to expose yourself to lots of different things at once (as opposed to, say, a training day, which is much more focused).

I’ve struggled in the past with getting funding from my employers to attend conferences (the only AUKML conference I was able to attend was the one in London, when I didn’t need to stay over). In the current financial climate that’s understandable (although perversely it’s a little easier to get funding now that there are fewer staff members). But you can pick up all sorts of new info even if you’re just attending the free exhibition side of things (for example at Online, which hosts some very good free seminars).

Every time I attend an event I gain a little more confidence in talking to people I’ve not met before. Part of it is having more confidence in myself, and part of it is recognising people from Twitter!

Whereas a few years ago I would have loitered by the tea and biscuits or hung out with my colleagues at a conference, now I’ll approach exhibitors and start conversations at snack time. In the past year I’ve even, shock horror, attended a couple of things (like the CILIP Umbrella conference and LIKE events) on my own. I know, I’m so brave!


I’m hoping this new-found confidence is going to help me get over my next big hurdle: speaking at an event. I’ve always hated public speaking, I avoided most presentations at uni and the thought of addressing a room full of knowledgeable delegates at a conference fills me with dread. So I’m going to start slowly, by talking about my working day at a Graduate Open Day for trainee info pros later in the month.

I attended the open day when I was a trainee many moons ago, and I’m hoping they’ll be nice! I just pray nobody livetweets my nervous pen clicking and fierce blushing.


In a strange way, helping to organise an event seems less terrifying to me than speaking at one! With two small kids and Chartership underway, now is not the time to add events organiser to my CV, but certainly I’d consider getting involved in future.

Umbrella conference: Beyond Web 2.0 session

Nick Stopworth (@nickstopforth), Developing libraries online


New technologies have a ‘hype cycle’ – a typical life cycle from inflated expectations, through disillusionment to an eventual plateau (as seen with Twitter at the mo). You don’t want to jump onto the bandwagon of a tool just to find it loses popularity. The trick is to roll with the flow then jump to the next platform before people lose interest.

Some interesting developments in technology that can benefit libraries – Internet of Things, context-aware computing, location-based data, tablets, open source data, QR codes (nice tattoo!). They’re not all for everyone – beware of “social network overload”, privacy issues – but libraries “need to position themselves with the big players”, see what you can do.


I agree that libraries should consider carefully before they adopt a new technology – do they have the time and manpower to dedicate to it? Will it really benefit their users? You don’t have to be on Twitter just because it seems like everyone else is! At work we have a blog and a Twitter account but we aren’t involved in Facebook at all because that wouldn’t be particularly useful to us.

I’m a bit wary of the idea that you can platform-hop though, keeping up with the latest trends in technology or sites. Nick raised some really interesting new developments but there are risks involved in adopting something that doesn’t take off, or of giving yourself too much work to do – having to update information on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+… We found that when we first took to blogging as a department years ago, and it’s only now that we have a well-designed blog with a clear remit that it works for us.

Alan Brine, Beyond Pathfinder – currency of staff IT skills

At De Montford they undertook a staff audit of IT skills to spot gaps in knowledge, where they need to learn new skills.

IT skills matrix

  • review feedback
  • collate IT queries and enquiry desk queries -> matrix
  • intranet staff survey (did it twice – it’s important to update and build on the first attempt)
  • study results
  • prioritise, target the important ones
  • team manager looks at the list, addresses problems, feeds into appraisal, solve problems
  • gaps – bespoke areas (Other…), quite specific
  • Basic matrix – SKILL   /   I CAN   /   NEED REMINDING   /   I CAN’T


  • review group
  • training sessions
  • staff who can show each other ad hoc
  • wikis – how to…
  • printed guides

Wiki – the67things – keeps growing to meet the changing needs of users. The wiki provides information as needed in nuggets, rather than as a deluge as with large training sessions.


I definitely want to adopt the wiki idea – we have all sorts of how to… documents at work on individual tasks, but no central store. There are definite gaps – everyone knows how to do different tasks, but we’re not always good at sharing that knowledge.

Umbrella conference: Ian Rowlands, The Google Generation

Intentionally or not, Ian Rowlands built on Nigel Ford’s talk that preceded him, reinforcing the point that researchers and practitioners need to work more closely together.

The original CIBER research that Rowlands and colleagues launched at UCL consisted purely of deep log analysis (DLA), studying comprehensive data showing how people use the web. But although the research was rigorous and reliable (reflecting what the participants did, not what they remembered selectively), it gave no context – researchers could determine what web users did but not why.

Now, CIBER is combining the ‘science’ of research with the ‘art’ of practice by surveying web users to find out about their behaviour, and what the DLA tells them. The hope is that by combining log analysis data on users’ search sessions with questionnaires on how users see their web behaviour, researchers can begin to make value judgments on how we use the web, and help to reshape info systems.

Ian Rowlands was my tutor at City when I did my Masters (not that he’d remember me!), before the team moved to UCL, so some of the content was familiar. It’ll be interesting to see the results of the behaviour survey and whether information providers need to change the way systems are navigated in the wake of Google.

I think as practitioners we sometimes like to think we know best, but what makes sense to a trained researcher isn’t always clear to everyone! I’ve definitely been guilty of that in the past. Meeting user needs is surely key for info pros, even if their approach seems counter-intuitive to us. And if there really is a gap in research knowledge now Google is dominant we are surely best placed to train users.

Notes on the presentation:

DLA tells us how we search the web:

  • horizontal web seeking – tend to skim across info, don’t go deep – stickiness is an issue
  • navigating – users spend more time looking around a site than they do looking at the content
  • power browsing – rapid clicking, impatient, very short dwell times

Rowlands says there is a “sense of ‘moral panic’ – that young people are not as disciplined as we were, that we’re losing the sense of the library as a place of quiet contemplation.” Nicholas Carr posed the question, “Is Google making us stupid?” – is it changing the way we think? Rowlands says there is some evidence to suggest that “our brains are changing with our emersion in the digital space”.

If the evidence shows there is a Google Generation – defined as those born after 1993 who have grown up with Google – who experience digital libraries differently to previous generations, then libraries need to adopt different learning strategies now that they are reaching university.

  • don’t read the manual first – learn by having a go
  • not good at deep research, evaluating info once they’ve found it
  • not good at using other technology (misperception that they’re totally tech-savvy)

However, a British Library study showed that there is no significant difference between the generations, and that we have all changed in the wake of Google-type web searching:

  • the apparent facility of technology is not true, and is very basic
  • research characterised by speed and lack of evaulation
  • prefer simple solutions, routes eg Google, Yahoo
  • don’t find library-sponsored resources intuitive
  • don’t understand their information needs

Web behaviour surveys

CIBER paired with BBC Lab UK to conduct a web behaviour test, which is still ongoing. Stanford are also looking at the psychology side.The survey looks at two questions:

  1. Testing Google ‘first-click’ behaviour – habit of selecting first result, not delving deeper, lazy searching – trying to see how influential rank is vs the info content – are they making an informed choice, evaluating the info? Is there a perceived authority in the info provider if it’s a trusted brand? Or are they just trusting the algorithm of Google? Users are provided with results to health questions in a random order, stripped of the links and references; and then with the reference given, to see if behaviour changes.
  2. Are there demographic and age factors linked to searching – terms used, time spent on task, confidence in results? Do generations negotiate the web differently? Do we all “walk individually or in groups through digital space”? And if methods are different depending on your demographic, “could we shape an info system to reflect this”?

Results are expected next year.

Umbrella conference: Prof Nigel Ford: Technology, personalisation & librarians

I was late arriving for the first session of the day (sorry) so I missed the start of Nigel Ford’s presentation. His discussion of pathways (as applied to made sense though – surely in an ideal world what every system needs is an infinite number of routes through the information, to suit “an infinite array of users”?

Providing the most obvious, commonly used ones should meet the needs of most customers, but by enabling them to make their own paths as well you don’t exclude those who want to search off the beaten track, have the knowledge to run complex searches or whose search methods vary from the norm.

Ian Rowlands’ analogy of the college that built the paths eighteen months after the buildings, so that they followed the routes taken by users and not the other way around, really rang true (I think I’ve heard it before, but then he was my tutor at City so maybe I have!).

Ford’s rallying call for researchers and practitioners to work more closely together rang true too. Research doesn’t really influence the way I work at all, change rarely happens and I’m sure there are better ways of doing what I do. But reading research takes time and, as Ford said, practitioners tend to focus on the bottom line.

The ‘art versus science’ analogy (and I missed the author of the study) is a good one – researchers are all about robustness, vigorous data and models that don’t necessarily apply to the real world, while practitioners are good at real world usefulness but without basing it on solid research.

As Ford said, we “need both elements of our knowledge…more interaction to achieve critical mass”, or “progress will be difficult”.

Umbrella conference: first reflections

I’m not up to speed with CPD23 Thing 5 yet (is it too early for a catch-up week?) but I do know it’s about reflective learning. I haven’t posted my notes from my visit to Umbrella yet, and I’m going to try and write a properly reflective post next week, but in keeping with Thing 5, these are the initial reflections I jotted down on the train back on Wednesday.

  • Don’t just assume you know what users/colleagues want, ask them (surveys/studies/informal chats) – Ian Rowlands, Nigel Ford & Alan Brine good egs of building service/training on solid research
  • Libraries need to get ahead of the digital curve again – Nick Stopforth & Alan Poulter
  • Wikis are a useful tool for internal use – Alan Brine eg ‘the67things’
  • Google Generation results don’t just apply to teens – our users tend to expect quick answers, skim not in depth (Ian Rowlands)
  • Lots of links to check out

Libraries Change Lives Award: Oop north

The Libraries Change Lives Award ceremony at the close of Cilip’s Umbrella conference on Wednesday was so inspiring. Working in a corporate library there’s not much opportunity to really make a difference to society (the death of the News of the World not withstanding :)).

I wrote a quick piece for the Guardian’s Northerner blog (follow @GdnNortherner) – Kent may have taken the top prize but it was satisfying to see the other two finalists were from the North East!

Cynics might say the result mirrored the usual North v South battle, but not me… I jest obviously, Kent’s Making a Difference project was really impressive! John’s acceptance speech was particularly moving.

A perfect example of why we need to save as many public libraries as we can, while we can.