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

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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.

Losing focus

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything – it’s fair to say I’m struggling to keep up with my commitments! What they call the work-life balance, or rather the work-life-CPD-everything else balance in my case.

Work has been crazy busy recently, leaving no time to tackle CPD in my lunch hour (what lunch hour?). What time I do have at the moment is taken up with work-related stuff – I’m compiling an ebook (exciting, but time-consuming!) and have a list as long as my arm of projects I don’t have time for during ‘normal’ work hours. Tweetdeck is always open and I try to keep up with industry news but at the end of every day my desktop is littered with articles I haven’t had time to read.

Attending CPD events is another area I’m struggling with. I work part-time, and with two small children and a husband who travels with work I can’t commit many evenings to networking and groups such as LIKE. It’s unfortunate that LIKE events are held on a day I don’t work, ruling them out unless I turn up late (which is more than a little embarrassing!); similarly, it’s difficult to drop in on #uklibchat or the #chartership chats while I’m getting the kids ready for bed. To say nothing of Codeyear, freelance writing, knitting…

This all sounds a bit self-pitying, and I realise I’m not alone in struggling to fit CPD into daily life, and still have a life (the Universal Bookdrop blog addressed the same issue a few days ago). I feel a bit like I’m juggling (how many cliches can I fit into one blogpost?), and by trying to keep everything in the air I’m not progressing with anything.

So, I’ve decided to cut down on blogging while I try to concentrate on compiling my Chartership portfolio. I’ll still post occasionally but no more self-imposed pressures to blog every week. Hopefully it’ll mean more quality posts, and there’s a chance I might actually finish Chartership some time this year! Less talking, more doing…

POSTSCRIPT: As is the way, I launched this last night and was directed to several related blogposts on time management this morning (thanks @librarianbyday!).

A post from the lifehacker blog (Instead of Saying “I Don’t Have Time,” Say “It’s Not a Priority“) fits my dilemma exactly. It’s hard to admit to yourself that tasks that you (or others) consider important aren’t actually a priority. I might make myself a priorities list – and try to be honest with myself.

I’m also reminded of an article in the Harvard Business Review blog (When To Give Up On Your Goals – thanks @tinamreynolds!), in which Dorrie Clark discusses the importance of being realistic in setting targets, and the importance of revising or even scrapping them when they’re no longer beneficial. I tend to bumble along, trying to do everything at once. Maybe I need to take a more analytical approach.

Working week, 23-25 January 2012

  • Generating a Wordle from a hashtag: Education asked on Tuesday if we could create a word cloud  from the questions asked on Twitter using the #askgove hashtag. See my post for more info on how I prepped it (and why it didn’t run).
  • Awards nominations: The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, streamed live on the web. I prepped the article first thing, added the nominations to our spreadsheet as they came in then amended the article before publishing (controversially no nomination for Tilda Swinton!). My computer decided to remove itself from the server ten minutes before the announcement, cue much gnashing of teeth, but luckily the old ‘turn it off then turn it on again’ trick worked. I had a bit of a struggle creating summary tables for the page (thanks Critics’ Choice for nominating six best actors) but Ami showed me a nifty way of narrowing the columns. And I forgot to change the date (so that the article jumps to the top of the Datablog list), but handily someone else noticed and fixed it! Quite exciting launching a story in real time, but lessons to be learned about paying attention to the little details.
  • Pre-emptive blogging: I’m trying to work on a few blogposts in advance, so I’ve been looking for content on the Queen’s succession and Valentine’s day.
  • Journalist queries included recent comment on the health and social care bill, a 1994 article from Modern Law Review (luckily one of the free online ones), writing bulletpoints on some Olympic sports, corrections, polls on satisfaction with the NHS, a comparative health report, profiles of Aki Kaurismaki, a fact check on Woody Harrelson and background on the judiciary system (who heads it, who regulates it, law schools).