Some changes to my blog & how I write about librarianship


For a while I've been planning to create a new website, so when my hosting of thewikiman.org came up for renewal, I took the plunge and switched over to squarespace. If you're reading this in a feedreader, go to ned-potter.com and have a look! I'm also changing focus somewhat.

A subtle change to the blog

The blog is still the main thing people will look at on the site, and this has been cleaned up a little in keeping with the site's revamp, with a less fussy design.

The tagline used to be 'Ideas about Information' - but I've changed it to Ideas about Communication. That's where most of my interests lie now, and although I'll probably write about librarianship, those posts will be about the communication side of that too. Edtech, scholarly comms, social media, marketing, presentation skills - it's all communication in one form or another.

Librarianship is fairly divided at the moment, at least in the online bubble I inhabit, and I find myself in the tricky position of both disagreeing with a lot of what is said and some of the prevailing ideologies, and agreeing that the increasing infighting isn't getting us anywhere. So I'm choosing, for the most part, not to add to the fractious noise.

When I started blogging, in 2009, it felt like a lot more of us were on the same page, and there was a greater harmony. I may, of course, have simply had too small (and like-minded) a network to form a proper overview of the dialogue within the profession, and just missed all the fighting that was happening back then. Either way, things feel a lot more complicated now - like some cliched coming-of-age movie, where the characters grow apart as their lives become more complex. Part of me thinks this is an almost inevitable consequence of the fragmented world social media enables - as more and more of us get online, and find our tribes, those tribes get more and more granular and specific. We're all finding our people, which is great. But as we sub-divide further, consensus becomes ever harder to achieve.

I'm not sure what we can do about that. Everyone is fighting for what they believe in, and it's very difficult to sit back and not challenge things you find troubling (although I've been doing that a lot on Twitter this year, and it's getting easier) - but if there are very different view-points, from lots of people who don't want to leave things unchallenged, inevitably you get a lot of disagreement. And as a lot of people have been saying recently, it's not really helping anything all that much. There have been times in the past where I've wanted to try and change librarianship or libraries per se, and even felt able to (if only on an absolutely minute scale). But I'm not sure if that's a realistic aim at the moment, so why add to the conflict?

As it happens, I do still believe I can help change individual libraries and organisations for the better, especially in the field of communicating well - and I'm happy with that less lofty aim. So I'll stick with that, for the most part, from now on.

Anyway, on to less contentious things!

What's new on the site?

I've added a couple of pages I should have had years ago. There's a Library Marketing Toolkit page linked from the main Publications page, including details of how to order and lots of reviews (some of which I found whilst preparing the page, having not seen them before, which was nice!).








I've also added a Training page to detail the various workshops I run. This has got fairly comprehensive information about the four main types of training (Presentation Skills, Emerging Technologies, Social Media, and Pure Marketing) I do for various organisations, as well as feedback for previous courses in each area. Part of the reason I've not had a proper page like this before is I've not been actively pushing the training - I have a steady stream of freelance work coming in and there's only so much time in which to do it. But for various reasons I'm looking to increase that side of things slightly in the short term, so if you'd like me to run something for your organisation, please get in touch.

The Publications page has been revamped to be a little less messy, and the Events are now split into Past Talks and Upcoming things, that last one now being now much more useful with proper location details including maps, etc.

Where's thewikiman.org gone?

All the old links to thewikiman.org URLs still work, but I've decided to go with ned-potter.com. I may blog about this at a later date but basically if I knew in 2009 what I know now, I would have done everything online under my own name... So I'm trying to do that now where possible. Speaking of which:

Where's @theREALwikiman gone?

I've also changed my Twitter name to @ned_potter. The name 'thewikiman' was born out of a) the fact that I orginally set up a blog to document the creation of a wiki (I know! I'm sure there IS a less exciting idea in existence, I just can't think of it right now) so it was relevant for about a month until got bored with writing about a wiki, and b) because I didn't really know anything about online footprints, so thought having a sort of 'nom-de-2.0' was important.

@theREALwikiman came about because '@thewikiman' was already taken on twitter at the time - but what I chose was a ridiculous name, and stupidly long for Twitter. People conversing with me used up most of the available characters just on my username and had hardly any space left for conversation... So, it's dispensed with. I feel like back when I joined Twitter and started blogging I was playing at having an online identity, whereas now I actually have one - and I'd rather it was under my own name.

Why make a new site?

If anyone has read this far down and is interested, the reason for doing this is basically that my website making skills are really limited so I wanted a way to make a nicer, more functional site than I had previously. I designed the old version of the site just writing in raw xhtml, and it was fine, but web publishing has moved on. Only the blog part of the old version worked well on mobiles, and that was adaptive - this whole site has a responsive design, which is the way forward. Try resizing your browser window and you'll see all the elements of the site are retained, just repositioned to suit the adjusted size of the screen. So it works well on all sizes of mobile devices without losing anything - adaptive design means you have a separate mobile version, often with some content stripped away. Anyway, overall I think the whole site feels fresher. I like the fact that the shift in focus of the blog is reflected in a shift in the way the whole site works too.

I loved my old wordpress.org blog but there were so many plugins that constantly needed updating, or which no longer worked, and I paid for hosting costs based on the bandwidth I guessed I'd need, which always stressed me out (previously having had to upgrade when the site went down due to the bandwidth of my old package having been exceeded!) - so I've swapped something which needed a bit of upkeep to something with one package that covers everything in a fairly easy to manage way. I've found squarespace to be very helpful with good support etc, so I'm pleased with it all so far.

The only thing I don't know about carrying over is the blog subscriptions. This is the first post under the new system - I really, really hope I've made it so the old thewikiman blog feed still produces posts, as there are between 1500 and 2000 subscribers to the feed - I know that these days that doesn't mean all those people are actually reading the posts, of course! But I'd prefer to keep them as subscribers than have to start afresh. So if you're reading this in a feedreader then can you let me know via a tweet or something?

And if you're reading this in a reader then woohoo, it worked!



A Library advocacy kickstarter: whats not to back? DO IT!

I just backed a pretty great Kickstarter campaign from Gary Green and Andrew Walsh. They're raising money to produce a Library A-Z book (and postcards and other related stuff) for advocacy purposes. Have a look at the video for it:

This is the best library video I've seen in a long time. (As an aside, I quizzed Andy about it on Twitter and it was made using VideoScribe - their website has a free trial for desktops, or you can get it for £4 on tablets. I am going to do this, as it falls under my favourite category of technology: Technology That Solves An Existing Problem. I've always wanted to be able to do something like this but assumed you had to literally film a hand from above, sketching. I can neither sketch nor mount cameras so that was never going to happen for me. This tool looks excellent. And I think it's very well used to here, to communicate the idea and purpose for the kickstarter succinctly.)

It's a great idea, too - I particularly like the option to have a copy sent to your local MP or Counselor; this is by far the most interesting option I've seen in a Library-related kickstarter, so I went for that one. It would be amazing if Andy and Gary made their stretch goals and send a copy to all members of the cabinet... At the time of writing they've raised £730 of the £2000 they need to make the project happen - 38 backers in less than 48hours, which is fantastic.

It's really important to talk the language of the people you're advocating too, so I hope some of the A-Zs are around the positive difference libraries make to the economy and to our well-being - things politicians care about, rather than just how good libraries are for users, which of course users already know.

Anyhow, I think this is a great project to back - excellent central idea, crowd-sourced content, and people we trust to execute it well. So have a look at the site and if you can, become a backer too.


How we made a (pretty nice) virtual Library Tour video for almost no money

NB: This post has been in my drafts folder since September 2012! I never got around to finishing it, but I've done so now because anybody who wants to use a similar approach, there's probably just still time to get your video ready for the new academic year if you start right away... Last year at York we launched our virtual tour of the Library - a new video to replace the physical tours we used to do. Here it is:

(This on my YouTube channel because I don't want to artificially inflate our Library YouTube Channel's viewing statistics by sharing that version on here.) I found doing this video one of the most stressful, tiring and rewarding things I've done in my job... This post is all about how we went about it.

Before we go any further, the first thing to say is the video went down extremely well with students and staff. We got great feedback on it, so I think this method works.

The principles

I watched every single virtual tour video I could find before planning this one, and this gave rise to quite a firm set of principles in mind as to how we'd do ours. There are some really goods tours out there, but every video I saw had at least one element I felt I wanted to avoid... So ours was based on the following:

  • No scripted scenes. This is a video aimed at students - they can be a cynical bunch, and I wanted to avoid any kind of construct or fakery that might annoy them. For example, the camera just 'happening' upon a reference-interview type situation at the desk, or wide shots of people walking to the next part of the tour - you know these are staged, and it influences the way you perceive the film. Our video would be delivered straight to camera, with people telling the viewer how things work, and showing them directly.
  • No librarians on camera. Librarians can be quite bad on camera but that has nothing to do with this principle - we just felt it would be better to have students telling their peers about the Library, rather than us. It's a stronger and more relevant connection.
  • Professionally shot, informally delivered. This was a really hard blend - it had to look professional but it needed to be as informal as possible. So the informality comes from the script, which I encouraged the students featuring in the film to change if need be, so it was more like their natural way of expressing themselves.
  • No big theme, attempts to be funny, or over production. We wanted to avoid anything that would date quickly, or fall flat, or leave us open to accusations we were spending too much money on videos and not enough on resources...
  • No barrier to watching the film. I saw some tours which were QuickTime vids or more sophisticated things than video, but often they needed to be downloaded, or didn't work on certain platforms, or were otherwise tricky to access in some way. This would be a YouTube video, pure and simple. It means we can embed it anywhere, and it's discoverable online.
  • Benefits not AND features. Normally I'd advocate talking about the benefits of something rather than the features - it's marketing rule 101. But in this case, we really do have to tell people about the features of the library because that's what a tour does - so I at least tried to add in some benefits too, hinting at the recent studies showing students who use the library most get the best grades, for example.
  • Short and to the point. I ideally wanted the video to be under 5 minutes - in fact it's around 6-and-a-half because there's a lot of library to cover and we didn't want to sacrifice usefulness for the sake of hitting a particular figure in terms of timings. But it is as short as we could possible make it. .

The people involved

We employed a Marketing Intern specifically to make videos for us (a genius idea by Michelle Blake!) - he was with us for 3 months, working 2 days a week (the maximum allowed). His name was Balam Herrera, he was a Production Postgraduate in the Theatre, Film and Television Department here at York, and he was absolutely brilliant. I managed him and the video project - as well as the Virtual Tour, we made around 15 short films too (more on that in a future post).

(By the way here's Balam's website: www.balamh.com - I can't recommend him highly enough, he was great to work with.)

We also employed students from the same TFTV department, to present. They had camera experience, and knew how to get a lot done in a short space of time - this was vital to the success of the project in my view.

The camera equipment we borrowed from the University's A/V department.

I no longer have the figures to hand (the perils of not finishing off a post for 10 months!) but basically it cost us under £300 to do, between the intern wages and the student presenters. (That excludes my time setting it all up, but we'd be paying for that anyway...)

The process

Putting together this video happened approximately like this. I wrote a script for what I wanted to be said, and sent it round various senior managers and marketing people for approval and changes. I asked the Chair of TFTV's Board of Studies to send round an ad recruiting for presenters on my behalf (more credible coming from him than from the Library). I watched a lot of YouTube videos as a method of auditioning those that applied without taking lots of time out to meet them all, and chose the three presenters you see in the film above. We set a date. I gave Balam the script. He turned it into a proper shooting script - I'll embed it below, and when you see it you'll realise how important it is to have someone who knows what they're doing with film-making! Then Balam did as much of the filming as he could beforehand - all establishing shots, external time-lapse stuff - anything without the students in, essentially.

Then we filmed it, and edited it, and promoted it A LOT.

Filming it

We filmed it in a day. Even though we did it all between 9 - 5 it felt like the longest day of my life! I was completely wiped out by it - but it was fun too. Here's our shooting script - hopefully gives you an idea of the level of planning that went into this:

Library Tour Shooting Script

If you watch the video and compare you can see how things evolved on the day - we didn't stick completely strictly to the plan.

Generally speaking we got things within a few takes - there were no long sections so the students were able to briefly check their scripts before each shot, then deliver their lines. A lot of time was spent re-shooting the same scene from closer in (we only had one camera), or waiting around for people to stop doing noisy refurbishments which were going on in the Library at that time. In the end we got one student back to reshoot a scene a month later because our catalogue changed - 10 points if you can spot the scene in which he's wearing a different top because the one he wore the first time was in his parent's linen basket back home!

Editing it

Editing it took a LOT longer than filming it - Balam did that on his own, and at great speed, but it still took several days. We had, in total, 120 gig's worth of footage! I tried so hard not to be one of those incredibly annoying managers who makes people change tiny things at great length so it was perfect, but I'm afraid that's pretty much exactly what I was like. We had about 4 drafts in the end, but I was completely delighted with the results.

I wrote the music as a temporary measure until we licensed something proper, but then we ran out of time so had to use mine! We also meant to do a separate version with text on the screen, but ran out of time for that too - all of our other videos have text on the screen so they can be watched without the need for sound, but this one just has a link to a transcript, which isn't ideal.

Promoting it

Although a video is in itself a piece of marketing, it still needs to be marketed. So we tweeted about it (and by the way, tweeting a link to something once does not constitute marketing - if it's important, you need to tweet about it at least four times at different time of the day to catch different audiences) a huge amount, we blogged about it, we embedded it on all of our subject-specific libguides, we embedded it on our 'welcome to new students' pages, we played it in Induction sessions, and we emailed key people within departments to ask them to promote it. It's had, at the time of writing, over three-and-a-half thousand views - the stats tell us in real terms it's had 10,700 minutes worth of viewings. It's hard to imagine any other way of getting that much targeted library information into our students! Around 60% of people watch it on YouTube itself, 30% on embedded version in various places around our website, 8% on mobile devices, which is lower than I'd've expected.

If you want to try something similar…

First of all, start soon - now if at all possible! Tap into the local talent - if your HEI has a film studies department, then you have a pool of talented and willing people to help you do this. Prioritise the key videos you want to do and shoot them first. If you can't afford expensive software, Camtasia is really good for live-action stuff as well as screen-capture. Oh and this guide to marketing with video may be useful.

It's really, really important to promote the heck out of your tour. It's so much effort, you can't risk not getting any reward! Promoting it does not mean putting it in the VLE and mentioning it in the news section of the Library website - it means raising awareness as to the video's value via several media at once.

Good luck!

Any questions, leave them below.


Is it the end of an era for librarian blogging?

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Update: the day after posting this, I'm adding a little disclaimer: I am NOT saying blogging is finished! I'm saying a specific era is possibly coming to an end. And I still think blogging is, for information professionals, still extremely useful, very rewarding, and a great thing to do. Okay, glad that's sorted.

Recently Andy Woodworth blogged about how he wasn't blogging that much any more, and today @tinamreynolds sparked a debate on Twitter about whether the library bloggging community was slowing down, and if so, why?

I've definitely noticed this. There was a set of around 10 blogs that diverted into an 'Essentials' folder in my Google Reader which I read all the time, and there was at least 30 more that I regularly caught up with. But hardly any of the bloggers in question are producing regular articles in 2013. I don't really use a Reader any more - I just pick stuff up via Twitter. I don't blog nearly as much as I used to - and when I do it tends to be about things which happened ages ago (my last post, published late last week, was about an event which happened in February, 3 months back).

Lack of time is the biggest reason given for not blogging these days, and that makes a lot of sense. But I think it might be a changing of the guard, rather than an overall slow-down - a bunch of new professionals becoming older professionals, and newer ones attacking the biblioblogosphere with a fervor in their place. If we interact online in loosely defined sets (in my case, it's largely 'the people who were new professionals in 2009 when I went to the new professionals conference') then it stands to reason that there would be a collective ebb and flow in our activity. As we get up the career ladder we become busier and have less time to blog, and we're on similar cycles of activity, commitments, and enthusiasm...

I really, really enjoyed being part of a thriving, dynamic online community of info-pro bloggers. But I don't miss it now it's gone.

For me though it's not just lack of time - it's lack of energy for the profession itself. I think I'd make time if it was all as important to me as it used to be. Which isn't to say it's not important - I'm quite passionate about libraries, and still very passionate about librarians and our community. But I said a LOT of things on this blog in the first 3 years or so I wrote it, and that level of momentum - that fire - wasn't really sustainable. There are librarians whose CPD is seemingly never subject to atrophy - I admire that, but don't aspire towards it, weirdly.

I just don't have that much to say anymore. I used to write posts like this one, about the state of play - I used to love it when lots of people commented and we had a big debate about stuff. But now when I write things on here it tends to be more focused and specific: the last four posts have been about an online tool, a marketing idea, an event, and a presentation. These kinds of posts don't get as many views as the old debate type posts, but the blog gets more views overall because there's now so much of it for Google to find!

So if you blog, do you blog less now than you used to? Is it the end of an era for librarian blogging? And if so, to what do you attribute this - is it just lack of time, or are there other reasons too?

p.s just as I was about to hit publish on this, I saw this tweet from @barlowjk which sums up one of the problems very nicely - we have finite mental real estate! And SO much stuff filling it up these days...



A small change in the way these blogs operate

Picture of a spanner

Short version of this post

I will occasionally be reblogging content from the other blog I write, at librarymarketingtoolkit.com, on here.

Longer version

This blog, thewikiman, used to have a lot of content about marketing libraries on it. In fact that's partly why I got asked to write a book on the subject in the first place. When the book came out and I launched the website to go with it, I started blogging about marketing stuff on there, and in order not duplicate content, I stopped talking about marketing stuff on here.

However, after thinking about it for a while and talking to people who read one or both of the blogs, I'll now be reblogging relevant content from the Toolkit blog on thewikiman blog. This for a number of reasons:

  • The content I'll be reblogging is relevant to both audiences
  • I blog far less these days anyway so splitting the posts between blogs makes them even scarcer...
  • I still sometimes hear this wikiman blog referred to on Twitter as 'one to follow for marketing' so there's an expectation that it'll have some marketing stuff!
  • This blog gets a larger audience than the Toolkit blog, and generally speaking I want as many people to read my posts as possible .

So I'm going to start by reblogging the last couple of posts from the Toolkit blog, and then carry on as normal from there. It won't be that the blogs are identical - there'll be plenty of stuff on here about library issues generally which doesn't make it onto the Toolkit blog, and the odd obscure marketing post on the Toolkit blog that doesn't make it on to here.

I hope that's okay with everyone! :)