Should librarians be travelling to the United States?

There’s been plenty of debate in the academic community over whether or not people should boycott the US under the current administration. The Guardian has a piece on it, Inside Higher Ed has a longer piece on it – American Libraries Magazine references the academic boycott but adds nothing about librarians doing the same thing. I’ve not seen much on this topic from an information-professional point of view. Maybe that’s just because we don’t travel around as much as academics – but seeing as the current US Government will, if there’s no kind of intervention in the meantime, probably be in charge for at least 8 years (Trump is tweeting about ‘voter fraud’ not because any part of him believes it’s an issue, but because it needs to be seen as an issue to justify what he does next – and what he does next will inevitably make it harder to get rid of him, via voting reforms) then it’s bound to come up for a bunch of librarians at some point.

I had accepted an invitation to give a keynote at a library conference in the US this year. It was arranged a long time ago, before Trump was voted in. Since his first week in office I’ve been agonising over what to do about this. I really want to go and do the talk. I’ve found a way to do the talk without breaking my ‘no more than 2 nights away from the kids’ rule. I know some info pros have done so many keynotes that they no longer get worked up about them, but I’ve done three keynotes in my life and still find it incredibly exciting; it was a huge honour to be asked. I’ve worked with the organistion running the conference and I love working with them, have loved interacting with their members. And when a country is under increasingly fascist rule from a President the majority didn’t vote for, you don’t want to turn your back and leave them isolated – you want to stand with them and support them. I wanted to go and talk with a group of librarians who, in all probability, feel exactly the same way about the current political happenings as I do.

However. Trump’s presidency is, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the world in my lifetime. I am so sick of looking at groups of extraordinarily wealthy middle-aged white men sitting around celebrating signing away the rights, prospects, livelihood, health and future of anyone who isn't essentially just like them. Pretty much everything the current administration has done since taking over is abhorrent. So to visit the country for work would seem like a tacit acceptance or legitimising of the regime. Somewhat analogous to visiting South Africa under apartheid. And in all honesty, I’ve been worried about getting in. Applying for a visa is complicated enough, but I’ve now read countless reports of people either getting turned away or interrogated at length, having their phones confiscated, and so on, including an author who was entering on the exact visa I’d be coming in on, to do more or less the exact same thing I’d be doing. So all in all, I felt conflicted.

I asked a handful of people I really respect, both inside and outside librarianship, what they’d do. They pretty much all said I should go (except for two people, one of whom, Myron, wrote this piece about it). There are lots of compelling arguments for going, not least standing with the librarians in the US. Going into Trump’s domain and speaking out against him from within. Plus the thing that came up time and again was: nothing good comes from NOT going.

The Guardian piece linked above puts it like this: “The crucial question to be answered is: what would such an action achieve?” The thing is, I don’t agree that this IS the crucial question. The crucial question is, is it the right thing to do? I'm usually quite pragmatic but it’s not JUST about cause and effect. Do the right thing because it’s right, not because of the impact it may have. And for me, the crucial aspect of the crucial question is really this: should I as a white non-Muslim man use the accidental privilege of being born in the right place to visit a country that others can’t get in to? And the answer is, no I should not. I cannot. Were it not for the travel ban I think I’d be persuaded by the arguments for going, but as it is, in the same way I wouldn’t avail myself of a business or eatery that wouldn’t serve others based on their skin colour or religion, neither can I enter a country others can’t.

Laura Woods wrote a great piece comparing US conferences with UK conferences, which chimed with a lot of my experiences. At the end she says “I would not judge a fellow professional for deciding to travel to the US” and that’s how I feel too, but I can’t quite get to the bottom of why I wouldn’t judge someone… I know that if people have to go for work – as in, they’re expected to go by their employer, rather than my situation where I’d be going in my own time – then it’s totally understandable to still go. And I know US Conferences are, as Laura details in the post, basically amazing, and hugely enriching experiences. I'd hate for new professionals to miss out on the amazing ECCA award from the SLA that I benefitted from back in 2011.

So, I don't feel like I have the answers here. I know there's a line for me personally in my particular circumstances, and the current US administration have put me way past that line. But I don't feel it's all so clear-cut as to be able to declare 'none of us should be travelling to the US', by any means. I hope that at the very least, every info pro with an opportunity to visit the US has the conversation with themselves over what to do, and I hope they find it easier to find the right answer than I did… And if, like I did, you find yourself wrestling with the ridiculousness of reducing a global catastrophe to your own moral dilemmas around travel, don’t be too hard on yourself – we all have to deal with these things as they impact on us, whilst acknowledging that of course they impact on millions of others to a far greater extent.

Coming up: online marketing workshops for New Zealand and Australia libraries!

I'm absolutely thrilled to say I'm working with PiCS again, this time to deliver online training. With PiCS I've previously run marketing training in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and an emerging technologies in Auckland, and they always go all out to put on the best possible day.

If all goes to plan I'll be back in Oz in 2018 to deliver some face-to-face workshops on Presentation Skills (aimed specifically at information professionals), and in the meantime we're collaborating on three workshops online: Marketing your library (running across March, April and May), Digital Marketing and Online Tools (running in June) and Social Media: Next Steps (running across July and August).

It's all quite complicated because of running them at different times for different time-zones. Each course takes place in two sessions - 2 hours one week, then 2 hours the next week at the same time. There are New Zealand versions and Australia versions... Here are the details:

For me and Viv at PiCS trying to work out timings here has been brain-meltingly complicated, not least because in the case of the New Zealand timings I'm actually delivering them at 10pm the previous day, UK-time, for them to run at 9am Auckland time! The Australian ones are slightly more straightforward, with the training happening at 6am for me...

Anyhow, I'm really looking forward to this. All the courses are tailored for the online environment and I promise we won't be in the standard 'death by webinar' mode here: these are interactive, participatory, and hands-on workshops: you'll be DOING as well as watching and listening. It's going to be ace.

For info on the content and booking etc see the individual workshop pages linked above - for the rest of this post I'm going to use a Q&A format to explain some more about how these sessions will work.

How long are the workshops?

Each session is 2 hours long - any more than that is too much screen time in my experience. There'll be a 5 minute break in the middle, and pratical exercises throughout so it's by no means listening to me for 2 hours. Then there's a week off and a second session of 2 hours, and in between there might be some activities to explore and report back on. So in total each set of workshops will take 4 hours.

Will I be able to ask questions and interact with fellow attendees?

Yes absolutely. I use two screens, one of which has the discussion window open the whole time - so I can pick up questions as they come in rather than needing a section of the training where a moderator coordinates the questions. You can also talk to each other in the discussion. And you can message me in the session if you want to ask a non-public question.

Could I attend all three courses or is there overlap in content?

All three courses are about communciation so certain themes run through each, but none of the fundamental content is the same and none of the tasks and exercises are the same.

I came to your LIANZA marketing workshop on marketing - should I still sign up for the online version?

The workshop at LIANZA was a super-condensed version of the workshop, crammed into 1.5 hours and needing to work for 130 people! Places on these new sessions are limited to small numbers, and over more than twice the time, so the marketing one does contain a lot of material that wasn't included at LIANZA. I've also added a few new sections to the training since late 2015. However there is some overlap! So you'll hear a few things you heard previously. But I'd say there's enough new and additonal content to make it worthwhile.

I came to your Digital Marketing & Online Training full day in Auckland - should I still sign up to the online version?

I'd say 'no'. Although there's new content since the Auckland workshop, a lot of it will cover similar topics so you'll find yourself repeating exercises. Of course you're more than welcome to attend anyway! But I'd recommend attending one or both of the other two workshops (Marketing your library service, and Social Media: Next Steps) instead.

I came to your Marketing Your Library full day in Brisbane / Sydney / Melbourne - should I still sign up for the online version?

The workshop does have some new sections in since the sessions I ran in Australia but a lot of the content is similar, so I'd recommend signing up for one of the other two online workshops instead.

Can I see just the workshops listed for my time zone?

Yes you can!

Or there's more details including links to booking below:

I have more questions!

No problem, either leave them in a comment, or send me an email.

I look forward to seeing some of you online!

UX, ethnography and possibilities: for Libraries, Museums and Archives

I spoke about UX last week at a Welsh Government event in Aberystwyth, the annual Marketing Awards for the Library, Archive and Museum sector. It was a rare chance to talk to an audience not just of information professionals, and I had a great time. I'm really hoping some of the User Experience in Libraries movement now spills over into museums and archives too...

My presentation consisted of an introduction to UX, examples of 7 ethnographic techniques, a brief section of user centred design, and then several instances of UX-led changes - things people have done to tweak or change their services, based on ethnographic fieldwork. For this part thanks to Andy Priestner, Jenny Foster, Ingela Wahlgren and Carl Barrow for their examples, and it also has in it a bunch of things we've done at my own place of work. The final section consists of some next steps, for those wishing to dip a toe in the UX waters at their own institution.

I had several interesting conversations after my talk, with some people who were already doing UX (we agreed it can really energise the workplace) and some people who wanted to try it out. Two completely independent and unrelated chats with people from the museum sector were about using UX with people in difficult situations - one was around early onset dementia, and the other was about returning to work after periods of incarceration. I don't know if ethnography is already used in these settings but it sounded potentially fascinating, and an angle to this work I'd never considered.

There was also an absolutely brilliant presentation from Mari Stevens, who is Director of Marketing - Tourism and Business, at the Welsh Government (having started off in the library sector). Her slides were ace and she was a hugely impressive speaker. The scope and scale and ambition of her marketing plans for the country I found absolutely inspiring. The presentation was half in English and half in Welsh with live translation into ear pieces for those like me who needed them - the translator did a pretty amazing job too.

It was great to see the National Library of Wales, which towers over the town like, as Penny Andrews put it, a massive BOOK FORTRESS.

Huge thanks to Jane Purdie for inviting me to Wales (we've been trying to sort this out since 2015 so it was lovely to finally make it happen) and to everyone at the event for being so welcoming and asking insightful questions, and for giving me lots of ideas for good marketing practice to take away with me... And if you DO start doing UX at your institution, please get in touch to let me know how it goes!

A guide to joining twitter now it’s an unremittingly bleak document of how awful everything is

burning twitter.gif

As a librarian using Twitter, my experiences follow the classic three act structure of a movie. (Not a feel-good film. One of those more grown up films where you leave the cinema feeling depressed.)

Act 1: Hope and expectation

You take your first few steps into the online world. It turns out to be AMAZING! There are so many like-minded people there, and they’re so helpful! Ideas are shared, collaborations begin. Real life progress is catalysed by Twitter conversations. Cheers!

Act 2: Growing up

Twitter makes more and more things possible. But the community is fracturing. Was this inevitable? Progress still happens, among so much infighting. Nothing is allowed to be unequivocally good anymore – anything previously thought of as positive now comes with a handily placed fellow twitter user who is cleverer than you and so can tell you how actually it’s all terrible after all. It’s better to know, right? Although naivety felt great compared to this. Things got real.

Act 3: An unending garbage fire where joy goes to die

The world is divided into two types of people – those who know how horrible humans really are, and those who steer clear of social media. Twitter is a mirror to society and what it shows is ugly as hell. Twitter shows humans for what they really are in the way that previously Science Fiction stories did. We are past the point of allegory; who needs it?  Brexit, Trump, Katie Hopkins, fear, anger, sorrow. Libraries are in trouble? The WORLD is in trouble. We’re all doomed. “Name something that shows your age, which the younger generation wouldn’t understand what you’re talking about” goes the meme. Everyone tweeting about winding back unspooled cassette tapes with a pencil. And you’re thinking: hope? Decency? The Labour Party? Check Twitter. Go to sleep feeling sick. Wake up feeling sick. Check Twitter again. Rising panic. Repeat to fade.

<end>

So how do you answer this question?

I’ve written guides on ‘if you’re new to Twitter, here’s what you do’ before – they’ve been among the most read posts on this site. But all that seems very quaint and a little moot now. Like reading a guide to the eatery options on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg.

Here’s my attempt at giving this a proper go.

What advice would you give someone who’s just joining Twitter now?

1.      Lay down some ground-rules and stick to them. Twitter works when you are in control of it rather than it being in control of you. It needs to be something you DECIDE to engage with, rather than getting into a cycle of dependence, checking it listlessly until all hours even though you don’t even want to, getting ever more scared or depressed. So, don’t check it after 9pm or before 8am for starters. No one needs to start their day with that shit. Think about whether you really need it on your phone at all – and if you do, consider deleting it (the app, not your account) during holidays and over Christmas.

2.      CURATE. Find the good people. Use the search box to look for people tweeting about stuff you care about. Follow the ones talking sense. Find the community you want to be part of and join in. You need to curate Twitter, proactively following and unfollowing to make it work for you. That said…

3.      Get out of the echo chamber. If you follow 1000 people who all think the same you’ll be in an echo chamber and that’s no good to anyone. Everyone will reinforce your view of the world and then Brexit will happen and you’ll be all, WTF? But if you follow a bunch of people who really wind you up, you’ll be wound-up all the time. So a middle ground must be found. To quote, well, me, in a thing I wrote for the University of York’s MOOC: “Make sure your online social circle doesn’t consist entirely of People Like You - follow and interact with people from different professions, socio-economic demographics, locations, nationalities and ethnicities. This at least builds a more rounded picture of the way the world thinks.” I’ve have learned SO MUCH from people on Twitter. Not just about my profession, but about society, about behaviour. That’s why I still love it even though it’s a shit-show now, by and large. Look to be challenged as well as supported, but if someone is hateful or obnoxious, mute, block, lock your account - do what you need to feel comfortable.

4.      Trust that the right people will find you, rather than changing to please the wrong people. Better to give of yourself, be yourself, present an unvarnished version of yourself, and take your time to find a network who is happy with you as you, than to try and adapt to be like everyone else. I know this sounds like a self-help book. But honestly, Twitter is huge. Your people WILL be there. Wait for them rather than watering yourself down. Everything is fragmented now. Find your fragment.

 Twitter, yesterday

Twitter, yesterday

5.      Don’t slow down to look at the car crash. Of course it’s compelling. Of course you want to know what’s going on. But you don’t NEED to see it. You don’t need images that are going to haunt you and still be there when you close your eyes to go to sleep tonight. If certain world leaders are tweeting horrifying things, block them then you won’t see them ReTweeted. Do it. Add a load of words to your mute list – use the advanced mute options. You need to take care of yourself to get the most out of Twitter. Self-care is vital.

6.      For celebs and politicians Twitter is a broadcast medium. For the rest of us it’s still a conversation. Tweet about your work. Tweet about your life if you’re comfortable doing so. But tweet about other people’s work too. RT stuff. Reply. Get involved in chats. Back and forth. Twitter is the social media platform that is most like just chatting to people in a room.

7.      Make Twitter the best place it can possibly be. While the world falls apart around you, make your part of it a place where good things happen. Be positive but realistic. Be supportive. Don’t RT nonsense or propaganda or lies. GO TO THE SOURCE. Don’t be unquestioning. Think about your role in other people’s echo chambers too. Help people out. Be approximately 30% nicer online than you are in real life to allow for the potential misinterpretations of un-nuanced written text. Don’t make people’s days worse. Make things a little bit more Act 1 (above) and a little bit less Act 3.

8.      Don’t be afraid to quit. No one ever regrets shutting down a social media account. If it’s not having a positive impact on your life, get rid.

The tl;dr version of this post

It's a little late for that unless you've scrolled right to the end, but basically find the right people and Twitter can still be great. I still love it. It's still useful. It's still enriching. And that's because of the people I follow and interact with.

The Student Communications Audit

This post brings together two articles from the Lib-Innovation blog, where colleagues from the University of York and I write about what's happening in the Library.

At York there are audits every few years around student communication. They're conducted centrally by the University, rather than being library-specific. The most recent one was shared with the Library Marketing and Comms Group (on which I sit) by York's Internal Communications Manager, and she's kindly given me permission to share the findings here because I think they're absolutely fascinating. They challenge some conventional wisdom, and reveal a lot.

There was a lot about email so part 1 of this post is devoted to that area; lower down part 2 covers social media, lecture capture, the VLE and other types of comms.

It's important to note the information was gleaned through focus groups rather than surveys in order to properly capture nuance, so it's not a giant sample size (under 100 people) and inevitably the views reflected will be representative of students engaged enough to turn up for a focus group... But personally I find the findings more useful than generic articles in the Higher Ed press about students of today.

Throughout this article I'll be using phrases like "Students prefer to do X" - the obvious caveat is that I mean "Students at York do X" but I'm not going to write that every time...

How do students communicate? The main findings around email 

1) Email remains the primary and preferred channel of communication with the University

I like this one because it confirms something I've thought for a while - that email is NOT dead. It gets a bad press and it's definitely far less cool than social media, but it still has a function. It's not that students especially love email, it's that they want US - the University and its key services - to communicate key info this way. 

  Your users are triaging your emails, checking first on their phones...

Your users are triaging your emails, checking first on their phones...

2) Email mainly gets checked on phones, and this happens very frequently

Students check email primarily on their phones, sometimes moving on to a PC / laptop later (see point 3 below). 

Students check their phones for emails first thing when they wake up, last thing at night, and several times in between - many students have 'new message' alerts set up to go to their lock-screens, and will check new emails as they come in even whilst doing other things such as attending lectures.

3) Students triage messages according to 5 criteria

Students make quick decisions on whether an email gets read there and then, binned, or deferred. They consider (in order of importance):

Relevance - title, sender, and the opening part of the message visible on their phone before they press to open the message; 

Familiarity - do they know and trust the person sending the email? Trusted senders include tutors, supervisors, departmental administrators, the Library, Careers Service, and Timetabling; 

Urgency - does it relate to something important that day or a pending deadline; 

Action - do they need to do something?  (Notice this is 4th on the list of importance...) Interestingly if they do need to do something they'll star the email and find a PC or laptop to log onto and action the email;

Time - if it looks like it can be dealt with quickly they'll read it right away and then delete, file or just mark as read. 

4) The high volume of email they receive is okay, on one condition... it MUST be targeted

Students get a huge volume of emails but they don't mind this as long as the emails are targeted. They object to irrelevant emails and perhaps more so to emails that appear to be relevant but turn out not to be - one example given was an invitation to an employers' event for the wrong subject area or year / status. The sender of that email lost the trust of the students and future emails were deleted upon arrival, unread. 

Any sense of emails happening automatically or without proper thought as to their relevance was met with dissatisfaction. A particular type of email came at the same time each day, suggesting it was automated - this too became one to delete automatically. 

Newsletters and digest emails were read, but often only the first part (too much scrolling and the email was abandoned) and these are the first to go - to be deleted unread - when there's a day with an overly high volume of emails. 


What can libraries change about the way we email students? 

The first thing is don't give up on email. Students expect communication from us to be via this medium, and it was strongly expressed that important information should come this way - key info can be shared via social media but must ALSO be shared via email because it's the one channel everyone checks. The reports of email's death have been greatly exaggerated. 

The second thing is, small details - like titles - really matter. The Library appears to be on the list of trusted senders, but in order to get read you need a decent subject line. (This didn't come up in the audit but I'd argue time of day is important too - if students get a truck load of emails between 9am and 10am, it may be better to join a shorter queue for their attention later in the day at 11am.) Also, because students primarily read email on their phone, you need a very strong opening line. Open your email client on your phone right now - how much can you read without opening a specific email? The way my phone is set-up I get to see about 40 words. So your first few words need to go straight to the heart of the matter - no long intros.

This is obvious, right? We all check emails ourselves on mobiles, we know what it's like. But how many times do we craft emails specifically with the receiver on their phone in mind? I can't speak for anyone else but in my case the answer is: not nearly often enough. 

Thirdly, segment your audience and target them with relevant emails - never include a group in a mass email unless they are directly relevant and would benefit from the info. If an email isn't essential to anyone, does it even need to be sent at all? There are too many emails that are sent out not just to the relevant people but to a smattering of less relevant people too. Every time we do that we diminish our value as communicators - our currency - and get closer to joining the dreaded auto-delete list. 

And related to that, reduce automation because it suggests we're not trying hard enough to avoid wasting their time. It's very hard to think carefully whether or not to send an email if it's automated. I've always said we shouldn't send newsletters out at the same time each week or month - it should be because we have a critical mass of useful things to tell our audience, not because 'it's the time we send out the newsletter'. So anything automated should at least be reviewed to make sure it's still serving a worthwhile purpose and not alienating our users. 

The surprising popularity of the VLE and the unsurprisingly popularity of Lecture Capture

I must admit I was a little surprised to read that Blackboard was popular with the students. In actual fact they say it is difficult to navigate, but once mastered and if used well by their tutors, they are generally very positive about the VLE.

In particular the students liked the discussion forums where the lecturer takes the time to get involved. The opportunity to ask questions and clarify parts of the lecture they didn't understand is very much appreciated, and they highlighted the public availability of all the questions and answers - as opposed to a private conversation between student and lecturer which is seen as less fair and transparent.

The other things noted as positives were the email notifications when new content is added, and the posting of lecture materials and supporting information.

The most popular part of the VLE, however, was Replay, the lecture capture system that allows students to re-watch lectures (or catch-up if they were ill - lecture capture has been shown time and time again not to negatively impact on attendance, so it's not used as a way to avoid having to actually go to lectures...). To quote the report:

"At degree level they find it difficult to take in the level of detail and complexity in one sitting and so the opportunity to re-visit the lecture to listen and learn again, to take better notes and to revise is something they really, really value"

It is particularly valuable in conjunction with the discussion forums mentioned above, and reduces the need to seek out the tutor for extra guidance.

Not all students in the focus groups are on courses which use lecture capture extensively - when those that weren't heard from those that are, they made it clear they'd very much like this facility on their modules too.

You can read more about Replay on the E-Learning Development Team blog.

Students, social media and the University

As mentioned above the students would expect anything essential to be communicated by email. Social media can be used as well, but shouldn't ever be used exclusively for key info such as timetable changes and so on.

They're happy for Facebook to be used for 'fun stuff' but not serious stuff - they use it more than any other medium between themselves, but there's a mixed reaction to the University joining in. WhatsApp, Messenger and Snapchat are used a lot for peer-to-peer communication, and they really don't associate this kind of platform with the University and its communication channels at the moment. YikYak is known primarily as a place for cruelty and harm - students don't tend to use it unless there is a particular scandal they want to hear the gossip about.

Interestingly to me, Twitter is was reported as not being used abundantly and is considered as a tool for 'old people'. The main downside noted was about control, or the lack of control, over who sees what. At the Library we actually find Twitter to have quite high levels of engagement, the most of any social media platform we use, and the comms audit contradicting this chimes with other anecdotal evidence I've heard online of students being reluctant to really admitting they use Twitter but nevertheless using it anyway. It's also a lesson in trusting the stats, but interrogating the stats to make sure the engagement is actually coming from your users rather than your peers (and in our case, it is our actual users who interact with us and benefit from our Twitter account, predominantly).

Webpages and Google

Students prefer to use Google to find information, even if it's info they know exists on the University website. I do this too - I Google my query plus the word 'York' even for stuff on the library website because it's quicker and more reliable. The students don't always trust the University's search function... They also don't expect news via the website - they feel they'll get any updates they need via email and social media. 

Perhaps the most interesting theme for me which came up in this section was one of relevance - students feel a lot of University comms are aimed at potential students, rather than at them, the current incumbents. There's an opportunity here for libraries: we are predominantly focused on existing users, and we can pull in other content for an internal audience, for example via Twitter, and share this with the students too.