In praise of #bettakultcha (and a video about buying India a Library)

This post is about 3 things: the Buy India a Library project and my talk about it, the Bettakultcha event I did the talk at, and the generally sound principle of talking about library-related things at events which aren't remotely library-related...

Bettakultcha is ACE

Bettakultcha is a brilliantly simple concept - a night devoted to presentations of 20 slides, 15 seconds a slide, on anything you feel passionately about, and NO PITCHES. The fact that this works at all - that such a flimsy concept consistently produces a brilliant evening of entertainment - makes you positively giddy with delight when you're part of one. People talking about their passions is pretty much ALWAYS interesting - even if the passion itself isn't overly interesting to anyone else, or the presenter isn't a natural speaker. It's a very supportive environment in which to public-speak. The talks are only 5 minutes long anyhow so you never get bored; I've enjoyed every talk I've seen at a Bettakultcha event. I've been entertained, moved, fascinated. It's quite an intimate thing, to talk about your passions to an audience of strangers (my previous Bettakultcha talk was about Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle, with whom I'm somewhat obsessed - normally people have to know me quite well before they get the delights of me discussing his tragic life at great length) and it means you get a connection with people, you effectively jump ahead in your relationship. I've met people at Bettakultchas who have become my friends, and who I keep in touch with not just online but in person too. Bettakultcha really is ace.

Here are a couple more talks from the event I recently attended in York - Paul Smith making his passion for coffee properly entertaining,  and an amazing talk by a 14 year old on organ donation! Here's one I missed but I wished I'd seen - my friend Helen doing a completely silent presentation. There are musical talks, theatrical talks. Anything as long as it's not a pitch - often the simplest concepts result in the most creativity.

They run all over the North of England - if there's an event anywhere near you, I can't recommend it highly enough. Check out some other talks on YouTube, or search Twitter for the hashtag to find out more. The main website is here.

My #BuyaLib 20/20 talk

At the June Bettakultcha I gave a talk about Buy India A Library  - it's all about how we crowd-sourced $4000 in 2 weeks in order to fund a Library build for a school in Mysore. Here's the talk:

As mentioned above the format of the talk was that you have 20 slides which each move on automatically after 15 seconds (often known as the Pecha Kucha format, which is probably what the phrase 'Betta Kultcha' is referencing, must ask the organisers) - in my experience the key to doing this type of talk is a: to practice it the day before and b: DO NOT WAIT FOR THE SLIDES! People slip-up in 20/20 style presentations when they stop talking - it's best to plough on with a narrative, and have the slides provide a complimentary narrative, in their own time, underneath...

The audience were much more responsive than I thought they'd be - it was a really fun talk to do.

(By the way, the librarian blogger I mention near the start was @jaffne - sorry not to credit you by name, Jaf!)

The Echo-Chamber Escape revisited

A couple of years back Laura Woods and I did a lot of talking and writing on the subject of librarians escaping the echo-chamber.

We've stopped now because quite honestly we got quite sick of our own thoughts and voices on the matter! But it's still an important concept - we need to write for non-librarian audiences, talk at non-library events, and generally get out there. It's fun, too.


How to build 5 libraries in 2 weeks

Last week I gave a 20:20, or Pecha Kucha, presentation. Basically this means 20 slides, set to run automatically for 20 seconds each - it makes for quick and punchy presentations with none of the filler that can make PowerPoint sessions drag on. We use them at York to keep each other up to date within the Information Directorate (our converged Library and IT service) with what's going on and what we're interested in. I really recommend this, it's a great way to bring people together across an organisation and communicate ideas. Anyway, normally I'd choose something more relevant to my work but this time I decided to do something different, and present on the Buy India a Library Project, which ran at the start of this year. Here are the slides:

View more presentations from Ned Potter
It was really fun to revisit this, and reflect on what an extraordinary thing it was that Buyalib was able to crowd-source nearly $4000 from librarians, in two weeks, for a charitable cause! Everyone who donated or spread the word - you are amazing. We have literally created something out of nothing.
I had a letter from GoodGifts the other day, saying that work had started on building the library in India and would likely be completed by April next year. Justin, Jan, Andromeda and I were invited to the opening but, frankly, if we had enough cash knocking around to afford those air-fares, we wouldn't have needed to crowd-source the cash to begin with. :)
For people who think Twitter is 'just people talking about what they had for lunch', this kind of project - which would have been all but impossible to achieve pre-Twitter, certainly in that amount of time - is the ultimate riposte, I think. If you're new to this story, you can catch up via the Buyalib blog.
- thewikiman
p.s Did I mention that 5 libraries now exist or are being created in impoverished areas with no other access to books - libraries which otherwise wouldn't have existed? That's absolutely amazing!

Buy India a Library illustrates the power of social media once again

Last month I wrote a blog post outlining the Buy India a Library project, and calling for donations. We wanted to raise, in an ideal world, £1,350 - enough, remarkably, to build a library in a book-free zone in India, AND to build a donkey-drawn mobile library that would travel around Africa. This month we will hand over the unbelievable £2,420 we raised in just two weeks, to the charity that administers the donations.  If you're time poor, you can just have a look at the slides below to learn a bit more about it - and thank you if you got involved!

I seem to be genetically programmed to try and break-down things I've used / done / been involved with / learned about, and repackage them for consumption by the wider community - so if you're less time-poor, read on below the slides for some of the stuff I learned from the experience, about using social media for a campaign like this.

The power of social media, writ large

A lot of people talk about the power of social media, and it can tend to polarise people - either you get really put off by all the fuss, or you become a social media evangalist yourself. For me, this was conclusive proof of the power of social media, as it was the mechanism by which we could communicate with people, and draw together a community of librarians (and non-librarians) who wanted to get involved. Crowd-sourcing was made easy by Twitter, and our conversation reached people none of us had previously connected with.

Aaron Tay has written in detail about four recent campaigns for libraries (including Buyalib) that use Social Media.

Working together

It was great working with Justin, Andromeda and Jan (and huge thanks to Andromeda for suggesting we do this at all). All of us brought something to the table that made the foursome a really strong unit. Not 'more than the sum of our parts' as such, it's just that the sum of our parts was a lot more than any of us on our own (obviously). I'm not sure it would be possible to have done this invidually, and why would you want to? Collaboration is ace.

We didn't use any particuarly advanced communication methods, by the way - just emails (lots of 'em!), Twitter DMs, and a Google Docs spreadsheet. Plus of course a blog which we all had access to.

If you're planning something similar...

I wish I had some peircing insights into what we did, or top tips about what unique things we employed to get it done - but I don't! We just tried it, made it as we went along, and it worked. But a couple of things that I noticed along the way:

  • There is huge momentum for this kind of thing initially - you need to capatalise on this before people get bored! Lots of people got excited about the idea, and RT'd, and donated - but after a few days that momentum had ebbed away and I was worrying we were starting to annoy people by constantly tweeting links and demanding their money. So I'd say, for a campaign like this, don't launch until you're completely ready - you need to be around to really push it when you do launch and make the most of the initial good-will.
  • Mix up the information you provide. We had a lot of info and things to say about the project from the get-go, but we aggregated it in several blog posts over time. You need new things to say, new angles to come from when you blog about it - otherwise it's just 'we've made X, please give us more!' every time, and people won't keep reading.
  • It was a Twitter campaign, but moving it off Twitter got results too. We pitched buyalib as a 'let's crowd-source the money to build a library, to build a library' type campaign, but obviously Twitter is a bit of a bubble. After a while, everyone who is going to donate has seen your tweets. Looking at the timings and frequency of donations, it's clear that when people blogged about the campaign this provoked a surge in donations. This is probably for a number of reasons - first and foremost you're bound to be reaching people who aren't on twitter but who do read blogs. Secondly when the blog posts weren't written by members of the Buyalib team on their own blogs (ie other Info Pros felt moved to blog about the campaign) the argument was more powerful. These bloggers were, in effect,  champions of the cause, disseminating information about it - rather than people directly associated with the cause, promoting it. That gets round the 'well of course they think it's a good idea!' issue that comes with blogging about your own projects. The power of word-of-mouth is not to be under-estimated. Thirdly, a blog post can explain something in a lot more detail than a tweet. The maximum most tweets about buyalib could be was an invatation to click a link and read more - that only works on people who are willing (and have the time) to click the links and engage. With a blog post, the reader has already made the commitment to read it, and all the information is right there with no further action required on their part. It's only a little thing, but we do live in a world of information overload - people don't have time to click all the links they see.
  • People really want regular updates! They really, really do. Even if you have nothing much new to add, you need to blog or otherwise provide updates on the total raised, because people have an emotional investment (as well as a financial investment) in the whole process - they don't want to just donate and feel like that's the end of it, they want to follow the whole thing through.
  • Thanking people takes a long time... Make sure you leave a good chunk of time to assemble and collate all the donors so you can get in touch to thank them. It takes a while (we had 100 people donate), but it's a vital step. I only just finished thanking all the people I personally knew (or knew via social media) - sorry it took me so long!
  • A good hashtag goes a long way. No evidence for this one - I just get the feeling that the ease of writing, saying and understanding #buyalib as a hashtag helped the campaign. As everyone knows you only have 140 characters to play with on Twitter - using too many of those up on a hashtag is a cardinal sin, as it inhibits peoples' ability to discuss it. But then also a cardinal sin is having a hashtag which means nothing to anyone. I think #buyalib worked well - better than #buildanIndianlibrary, or whatever, might have done. .

Thanks again to all who got involved! And if you're just reading about this now and wish you could have donated, I'm afraid we've closed the campaign now but you could always go direct to and buy a library of your own.

In the meantime, stay tuned to the Buy India a Library blog because when we get updates on building progress etc, we'll stick 'em up on there!

- thewikiman

VIDEO: Library Day in the Life

Library Day in the Life is a bi-annual initiative to document what library professionals really do these days, insitgated by Bobbi Newman. I've taken part in previous rounds with normal blog posts but frankly nobody ever really reads them - this time I wanted to do something a bit more interesting and a bit more visual. So I've created a video of one day in my library life - the effort-to-end-product ratio of this is all out of sync as it took fricking ages! But anyway, here it is, I hope people like it.

In case anyone is interested, I used a Logitech webcam, my iPhone, my wife's fairly ancient digitial camera, and BB Flashback Express screen-recording software to record it - and Windows Movie Maker to edit it all together. Music is by Mint Royale.

A couple of the best bits just would not work in Movie Maker. They play fine on their own, but they froze when I stuck them into the film. No idea why, it's not done that to me before - so I'm afraid a screen-grab about LIFE-SHARE is gone, and a bit about #buyalib is gone too. I had waaaaaaay too much footage, too... Note to self: no need to film the entire commute. :)

- thewikiman

Now for some good news: we're BUILDING a library!

In a world where almost everything you hear about libraries is bad news, it's amazing to find out you can create some good news yourself. Just before Christmas @Jaffne pointed out on Twitter that you could buy India a library, via, for just £1,250. Info on the India Library - click to go to and view in situ

Clearly that's a lot of money in some ways, but in others it seems a tiny amount - they build the library from scratch, kit it out with furniture, fill it with books and staff it for TWO YEARS with that money. Furthermore, you can get a donkey-drawn mobile library in Africa for just £100! Unbelievable. In each case, the libraries bring books to areas which previously had none.

Anyway, while I was marevelling about this with Jan Holmquist on Twitter, Andromeda Yelton pointed out that although she didn't have £1,250 lying around herself, perhaps Twitter would do collectively? It's a simple but brilliant idea - crowd-source enough money from librarians on Twitter, to fund a library for a charitable organisation.

As soon as we had time to put it all together, Andromeda, Jan and I, roping in Justin Hoenke for the ride, set up Buy India a Library. It's a PayPal donation based system, and so far people have been incredibly generous - we've raised nearly £500 and the campaign is only three days old! There is a lot of discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #buyalib - there is a twapperkeeper archive of the tweets here - and loads of people have clicked the donate button and given what they can.

Do you think you could help out? If everyone who reads this and my Twitter feed gave the price of a coffee to the cause, we'd have enough already. If you feel able to donate anything at all, please click the button - let's create some good news and open a library at a time of closures!

[PayPal button removed -the campaign has now closed]

It goes without saying, the PayPal accounts we're using (mine until I reach my withdrawal limit, then Andromeda's thereafter) are only being used for this campaign. Whether you're able to donate or not, it would be fantasticly helpful if you were able to spread the word about the campaign, either by linking to the main Project website on your blogroll, or telling friends and family about the campaign, or putting something in the staff bulletin drawing people's attention to it. We've set ourselves a pretty ambitious target, and we need all the help we can get! If you're able to tweet a link to this post, or Share it on Facebook, that would be amazing.

What I really like about this, apart from the obvious thing of Information Professionals making a huge difference and creating libraries where currently there are none, is that it is such a tangible process of charity giving. Rather than just adding money to a pot of existing money, we're coming together to literally BUY something specific, and real. Things will be created and pressed into service, books will be sourced and purchased - because of what we're doing here. Even if the campaign stopped right this second, four mobile libraries would be made, stocked up, and begin to move around Africa, bringing books to children who need them. Can you join in and support the project?

The Buy India a Library FAQ

If the information above is the main feature film, this bit is the DVD extras. For those who want to know more, here it is:

Which charity administers this?

The company through which we are buying these libraries is UK-based, and called It is the brain-child of the Charities Advisory Trust, a registered charity with more than  25 years of experience. What's great about GoodGifts is that the money is guarenteed to be used for the specific purpose advertised - it doesn't go into a general pot of cash, it is used specifically for what the customer chooses. So, libraries will come into existence which were not in existence previously, thanks to your donation! GoodGifts charges a £4.95 handling fee on top of the cost of the gift - we will pay this fee, and the entirety of the money we raise will go directly to the charities involved.

More info on the charities that take over at that point (the Rural Literacy and Health Programme, and the Africa Educational Trust) below.

Where exactly will the money be spent?

Once we buy the libraries, they are provided by specialist charities. The library in India will come from the Rural Literacy and Health Programme (RLHP), set up in 1984. To quote the organisation's website, the RLHP "...operates in 56 slums and 25 villages in Mysore, Mandya & Chamarajanagar districts of Karnataka State in South India covering a population of 50,000."

The donkey drawn libraries are delivered by the African Educational Trust a UK registered charity formed more than 50 years ago, dedicated to support education in Africa. The mobile libraries are aimed at kids, and contain around 100 fiction, non-fiction and reference books - the libraries travel to schools in Somalia, Sudan and Uganda (all of which are low on supplies of books, due to being former war zones).

What happens if you raise less than £1,250?

If we raise less than the figure needed to buy a permanent library in India, we will buy multiples of mobile libraries in Africa (each costing £100) based on how much we get. If we don't get an exact X-hundred pound figure, we'll buy Book Grants (of £35 each) to make up the difference.

What happens if you raise more?

We buy more libraries! Ideally we'd like to raise £1,350 so we can buy a permanent library in India, AND a mobile library in Africa. If we make much more than that, we'll buy more mobile libraries and book grants with the difference.

Who are the people behind this campaign?

Just four Information Professionals who talk to each other on Twitter. Justin Hoenke and Andromeda Yelton are public librarians from the US, Jan Holmquist is a public librarian from Denmark, and I work in an academic library in the UK.

Why are you using a basic PayPal account for this?

We spent a looong time looking into the options here - we looked at places like but they don't support this specific charity in this specific way, and we looked at the options to upgrade our PayPal accounts to business ones but opened a whole world of problems - the net result of which were less money for the charity.

In the end we opted to use a basic PayPal account (mine [EDIT UPDATE - now Andromeda's]), which won't be used for anything else except this campaign. Once we reach the limits of that (one can only withdraw so much from a PayPal account in a year) we will switch to Andromeda's PayPal account. PayPal take a very small cut of the money, but not a prohibitive amount - for example if you give £20, we'll recieve £19.12.

Why spend money on libraries abroad when our own are in trouble?

This is a good question, a fair enough point, and one a few people have raised. Should librarians be spending their hard-earned library salaries on building libraries elsewhere while our own insitutions are closing around us? Here's my view:

- It only costs 100 pounds – 100 pounds! (that's about 155 dollars) – to set up a mobile library in Africa, to reach parts of the continent that have little or no access to books. It costs 1,250 pounds to build an entire permanent library in India, kit it out with furniture and books and staff for TWO years! Neither of those amounts would make much of a dent on the UK/US library situation, but would make a huge, tangible difference in the poorer parts of India / Africa.

- People have no real mechanism to give to libraries in the UK or US in the same way. Even if you had $5 you wanted to donate to a library, how could you? We don’t think we’re taking money AWAY from any libraries in our own countries – we believe we will catalyse spending that wouldn’t otherwise happen. That said, if we can start some kind of movement towards giving to libraries at home too, that would be amazing. Libraries for all!

- Libraries are closing all over the place. Let’s open one and have some good news for a change...

Let me know if you have any more questions about the project and here, once more, is the donate button.

[PayPal button removed -the campaign has now closed]

Thank you.

- Ned