(A lot of this applies to conference proposals generally.)
CILIP have announced details of the 2011 New Professionals Conference, which takes place in Manchester at the University, on June 20th. The Hashtag is #npc11 if you want to discuss it on Twitter etc.
There is currently a call for proposals to present, and I can't recommend highly enough that you do this if you're within 5 years of having joined the profession. You have till April 15th to get something in. All the details are on the CILIP website.
It’s a brilliant experience! It takes you out of your comfort zone, it connects you to your peers, it gets you into the conference for free! It’s completely worth doing – I guarantee you’ll feel differently about the profession afterwards, more positive, more energised and more excited.
Important disclaimer: I was on the organising committee last year and involved with choosing the successful papers, but I am NOT involved this year, so these views are just my opinion and are in no way official. Kay?
The most important thing about the subject matter is making it appropriate to the context of the conference. So for example, something about the value of libraries generally might be really interesting and really entertaining, but it might not be as useful for this particular conference as something which the delegates can take away and apply to their own lives, and to their own careers. Think about the utility of what you're saying, and the 'take-homes' that the people watching your presentation will get from it.
Be explicit about the value of your presentation. You have 300 words to play with – I’d probably use 250 to talk about the topic, and the last 50 would start with the phrase ‘this paper will be beneficial to new professionals because…’.
Get a second pair of eyes on it before you send it off – another opinion is almost always helpful.
Same disclaimer as above - this is my opinion, and is certainly nothing official or endorsed by the organisers.
I think, personally, the formatting of your proposal really matters. The organisers of this event are volunteering and doing it on their own time, so there's not always the luxury of a huge amount of time to discuss the proposals. There'll probably be more than 40 decent ideas, and it takes a long time to get through that much stuff. So anything that’s poorly put together is already heading towards the 'maybe' or 'no' piles rather than the 'yes' pile. Of course the content of the proposal is by far the most important thing, but that oft quoted scenario of 'two otherwise equal candidates' actually applies quite often in this type of situation, so don't put yourself at a disadvantage. Poor formatting shows a lack of attention to detail, and a lack of understanding of the assessment process. For what it's worth, here's what I would do if I were submitting:
Send a PDF - Word docs are only fit for emailing to people if there's a chance the recipient may need to edit it.
Don't use Times New Roman, use Calibri, Arial or similar, and make it a normal rather than tiny or huge font size.
Include your name, a short bio and your email address in the document (this does not have to fit into the 300 words - make it clear which section is which). You may have also put some or all of this stuff in the email you send it in, but the chances are the panel will be printing out all the documents and getting together over coffee to go through everything - they don't want to be making notes or printing emails. Put everything in one place for their easy reference.
It goes without saying, proof-read it to death. Read it out loud to catch mistakes, and don't rely on the spell-check - I still find myself having used the wrong their / there / they're from time-to-time… Americanised spellings are another thing spell-check might not catch.
Send it to someone whose opinion you trust, and get them to check it over too.
And if you do get accepted…
You’ll be asked to write a ‘full proposal’ by June. This is really just to check you can follow up on your promises and deliver a full paper. It doesn’t have to be written to a journal standard of prose and referencing. When I presented in 2009, I wrote mine up all formally and then a week before the conference, I started to practice delivering it and realised that I’d have to completely rework it. I couldn’t read it out loud as it was (that would have been rubbish) and I couldn’t even just split it up into notes (the tone and phrases were suitable for being read alone, not said out loud to an audience). So don’t beat yourself up trying to write the full proposal – it’d be more productive to write the notes you plan to learn or speak from, and then turn THOSE into the full-proposal, not the other way around. More tips on presenting for first time speakers are available elsewhere on the blog.
The time for information professionals is NOW, too.
The idea of this is to position the information professional as someone who will be increasingly important in an information-driven world, and to try and market the library in a more positive light. It's inspired by the Shift Happens deck, as so much of the jaw-dropping information which that presentation contains seems to strengthen The Case for the Librarian...
I can reupload an edited version of this to Slideshare at any time, so let me know if you have suggestions for further ideas about the value of us or our institutions, and I'll see if I can explore them with additional slides.
I've created these slides to act as library advocacy, so obviously I'd love them to be seen outside of the echo chamber - if you can think of any way for me to achieve this, let me know! The deck is available under a Creative Commons licence via Slideshare, so please feel free to embed it anywhere you see fit - I can honestly say I've never put so much work into a bunch of slides, so I'd love to see it in as many places as possible...
Update: They've got on to the hot on Twitter section of Slideshare's home page already, which is great! A mini #echolib escape - they are sure to be checked out by people who don't normally view library stuff. I'm not on Facebook, but if people can get it in to the Hot On Facebook section too that would be amazing. :)
Update II: okay, that worked! Thank you - it got Hot on Facebook and Twitter at the same time, ensuring loads of non-library people will have seen it. It's had over 3000 views in less than 36 hours - thanks for helping me promote it!
A lot of the prominent stories recently emanating from our world, and the wider world, are linked by the subject of Privacy. It runs like a vein through so many contemporary stories, that I wonder if people will look back on the years around the turn of this decade as a tipping point for privacy. Perhaps we're about to go one of two ways - a future in which nothing is really private, or something a little more Orwellian where privacy is shut down, globally, off the back of Bush-administration style rhetoric about 'national security'.
Many of the biggest stories at the moment are privacy related. The phone-hacking scandal currently rocking the Murdoch empire, for example. Of course Wikileaks is the most obvious one - there are many levels of privacy involved here. People were doing or saying things they thought were private, which were recorded by third parties who in turn thought this would be kept private. Then along comes a whistle-blower who makes the information available to a website, who in turn make it available to the world. For the most part the information only has value because of some distinctly librarian-like intervention between the data being leaked, and we the public ingesting it. 300,000 files on a memory stick is pretty useless on its own - hours and hours of collating, sorting, curating and research, in this case by journalists, give the information the accessibility it needs to be communicable to a large audience. Information overload is also a factor here - absolutely incredible stories, scoops of the year in their own right at any other time, get down-graded because of their proximity to so many other high-interest pieces of information. We become immunised to scandal when we get too much of it at one time.
It is interesting to think how much revelatory material is currently waiting to be unearthed, once someone has done the research to make it viable for public release. It is interesting to wonder how diplomacy will work in the future, if everyone knows that everything they say may one day be read in the paper by you or I.
Recent events in Egypt have taken in Privacy related elements too. The Government wanted privacy; they didn't want easy communication between the people and the outside world, regarding the week-long protests that have been happening in Cairo and elsewhere. So they turned off the internet.
Surely these two examples show the two ways this could go? Everyone knowing everything, or no one being allowed to communicate anything.
The logistics of leaking
As the excellent Guardian Week in Review podcast pointed out, it is very easy to breach privacy these days. Wikileaks gets hold of 300,000 files at a time - can you imagine trying to carry that many pieces of paper out of a building, at all, let alone covertly? You'd need a lorry parked outside, for a start. Electronic data transfer facilitates leaks - you send things across the ether, or you can save them onto a memory stick the size of your thumb.
Not only that but technology tends to become smaller as it gets more advanced, and so a: more discrete and b: more ubiquitous because you can fit it into more stuff. An absolutely extraordinary number of people own mobile phones – some estimates put the figure as high as 5 billion mobiles in circulation – and pretty much all of those being sold today have cameras and video cameras as standard now. This is technology which would have been super-spy territory a couple of decades ago - devices capable of recording anything, that can fit in your pocket, and that look like something else and give no indication they're recording? Everyone can create the news now.
Not only that, but we have plenty of technology at our finger tips which allows pretty much instantaneous dissemination of whatever we have to share.
The smaller stories
Many privacy stories come about simply because people act differently if they don't think they're accountable for their actions. If they don't think their private actions will become public, they don't attempt to filter their behaviour. When they do become public, the people have to apologise and show contrition - as if it was only the fact that their actions came to light publicly that somehow enlightened them as to the fact those actions were wrong.
The MPs expenses scandal is an example of this - they were comfortable with what they were doing, until the private actions came under public scrutiny, and then they were all suddenly aware of their moral failings and very sorry. The recent departures of Keys and Gray from Sky's football coverage is similar - they acted in a way they knew was inappropriate in the eyes of the public, only because they didn't think those eyes would ever see those actions.
We all do this. I'm glad Keys and Grey are gone, they were buffoons. Their comments were indicative of their misogyny, and unpleasantly bullying. But who hasn't said something privately that would get them into enormous trouble if it was made public? As a case in point, I played poker with some male friends on Friday night, and we spent much of the night satirising Gray and Keys, impersonating them and so on. But context is everything - if you were to see footage of our conversation with the context stripped away, it would be just six men sitting round a table drinking and making sexist remarks.
This is relevant to us and to libraries and to information, for many reasons. Particularly the way we use Search Engines. Because we use them, for the first part, thinking we are doing so in private. Would we use them differently if we knew our actions would become public? As the experience of the recent Yahoo! leak shows, I think we would. It's not just that people use the internet to access the seedier side of human existence, it's that our whole lives can be pieced together from the questions we ask of Yahoo!, Google and the rest. Our hopes, our fears, our indiscretions, our health, our finances, our plans - our identity. Google is keen not to be evil now, but the information it has on us already will be around forever. Forever! Who knows what the next generation of owners / CEOs will do with it all.
How would you behave if privacy didn't exist? Most of us would behave differently, I think. Our private morality would be more closely aligned with our public morality. The tabloids who, happy in their own rank hypocrisy, crow about Gray's 'disgraceful' sexist comments about a female referee whilst simultaneously trying to objectify her in the accompanying out-of-context pictures of her at a nightclub, would not find it so easy to preach about what they so clearly don't practice themselves. But it occurs to me that if this IS a tipping point in privacy, then perhaps we're already happily revealing everything about ourselves, it's just that the information will be made public retrospectively.
So perhaps we should all start behaving as if privacy didn't exist now, to save embarrassment later..? In any case, the role of the Information Professional will surely be of increasing importance, in providing guidance and education, as the stakes associated with digital literacy, information literacy, transliteracy, grow ever higher.
NB: Hilariously, since writing this piece this morning, and coming back to proof-read it and add the links this afternoon, I've since read a piece by Charlie Brooker in the Guardian this very day saying, in some cases, pretty much exactly the same thing - except more entertainingly... You can read his article here.
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. :)
Last week I attended the Libraries@Cambridge event, and it was excellent. Laura and I were due to present on the Echo Chamber together but, in what is rapidly becoming known as The Curse of the Echo Chamber*, once again one of us ran into problems - this time Laura had Flu so I had to go solo.
The keynote was from Alex Wade, Director of Scholarly Communications at Microsoft, no less. He designed the search functionality in Windows 7, calling on his expertise in information retrieval, acquired during his time as a librarian. This is an interesting use of a librarian's skills, and another example of the myriad career paths potentially available to the Info Pro. The thing which most caught my eye in his presentation was Academic Search, a free service from Microsoft, which at the moment is in beta. Currently heavy on the Computer Science side of things but soon to be expanded to cover more subjects, it nicely allows the user to navigate to scholarly papers via various different means. It's a very attractive interface, and easy to use: it shows that presenting data in a more visual way really serves a purpose beyond nice aesthetics - here's a screengrab, showing Alfred V. Aho at the centre, and all of his co-authors around him:
If you click on the lines between the authors it shows you how many publications they've co-authored and takes you to them if you want to drill deeper, and if you click on any of the co-authors then the whole matrix re-centres on them. It looks really useful and is perhaps indicative of what 3.0 generation library catalogues could usefully do to make navigation easier for users.
Alex had to rush his presentation as he had more to say than he had time to say it in - he literally skipped 20 or 30 slides. This baffled me somewhat - we all knew well in advance how long we had to talk, so why not tailor the presentation to fit the time? No one HAS to say yes to an invitation to present - if you don't have enough time to prepare properly, time your talk etc, why agree to do it? I was up late the night before, timing my talk, finding it was 3 or 4 minutes too long, and then cutting bits out and timing it again until it was right - because I was honoured to be there, and didn't want to disrespect the audience, the organisers and my fellow presenters by over-running. Turns out I'm quite high-horse-ish about running to time...
Next up was me. I have to say it was pretty amazing to be doing a plenary session in front of 250 people at such a venerable institution - one to which I owe my very existence, as my parents met there. I refered to this in my introduction with a 'thank you for having me' gag, and the way the audience responded completely relaxed me - I knew it was going to be fine after that, despite not knowing the bits Laura normally does as well as my own sections, and having added new bits and a re-structure for this presentation. I've never spoken to that many people at once before, and I've certainly never used a screen that big - it was literally about the size of my house!
Although I don't really get nervous when I present, I do worry about the technical side of things - I need to know, in advance, that everything is working, or I get stressed. I was really glad I asked that we check everything was okay before the conference began, because both times that Alex removed his laptop so we could hook up the 'general' one most of the rest of us were using, it didn't like the Projector and took ages to display on the big screen. Thankfully there was a break before my talk during which we could iron this stuff out.
Having got up at 4:45am I was worried I'd be tired, but adrenalin and the four-shot coffee I'd had at the station earlier carried me through. It was great to do this presentation to a crowd that was really mixed in terms of age, seniority and so on, and who weren't all familiar with what I was talking about - sometimes I fear Laura and I preach to the converted ABOUT preaching to the converted. The talk went well, I remembered everything I wanted to say (I think) and it really was far better not using notes than the New Professionals Information Days where I did use notes. People did a fantastic job of tweeting the presentation - you can read the twapperkeeper archive here - and really got the points across well, which is good as I didn't have time to amplify this event myself by setting up any auto-tweets.
People were really kind in what they said to me afterwards, and there was lots of positive feedback. It was particularly good to hear a lot of people say they found the presentation fresh and engaging even though they'd read about it all on this blog, on twitter etc, in the past. Because I really believe in the echo chamber idea and its importance, I was really pleased that many of the afternoon sessions referred back to it - I think the concept stuck. As ever, if you're interested in reading more about echolib, there is a Netvibes page with all sorts of information in one place.
The updated Prezi used on the day is below - this is restructured and improved from previous efforts, so check it out even if you're familiar with the subject matter (and of course feel free to embed it on your own site):
There was break-out sessions after this - I chose to go to one which contained a useful talk by Tim Padfield on copyright in Special Collections, very relevant to my current work with the LIFE-SHARE Project. At lunch time I talked to the Graduate Trainees who seem to be really switched on and forward thinking about the library profession - and also went outside to look at a tree my Dad fell out of when he was a choir-boy in Cambridge...
After lunch there was about a million mini-presentations around the theme of working together in Cambridge (by and large, the more senior the presenter, the less likely they were to run to time...). I particularly enjoyed Katie Birkwood (@Girlinthe)'s talk about Open Libraries in which she made excellent use of Prezi (and an exclamation point therein, in particular) and talked very entertainingly; and the Graduate Trainees' presentation; and the summary of the TeachMeet movement which began via a speculative tweet or blog post fuelled by wine. (The movement did, not the summary.) There was excellent use of theatre in a very good talk about the Fresher's Fair (and the funniest use of the phrase 'unexplained chasm' I'd ever heard) from the twinkly-eyed and very laid-back Huw Jones. I also very much enjoyed Andy Priestner's look back at Cam23, and some random aerobics (with kissing noises) he made us do in the middle of the session!
There was a theme running through a lot of these sessions - or rather two related themes. Firstly, many of these projects and movements came about because someone just decided to 'do it' - I've talked before about how much I think we all can just achieve things ourselves now, often via the web2 tools available to us, rather than waiting for someone more senior, more influential, or cleverer to do it for us. People just tried to make things happen, and they did, and the things that resulted were a success, and will be repeated. Which brings us to the second theme, which is of the trouble with formalisation. A lot of these projects were and are informally run - there aren't people taking minutes, or even necessarily people having meetings. People just communicate via modern channels, show up on the day and get things done. This malleable model really seems to achieve a lot - it allows people the freedom to act quickly and creatively (and is in stark contrast to the bureaucracy CILIP often gets bogged down in, for example, and it is by no means just CILIP who suffers from this). Voices for the Library seems to be the ultimate exponent of this modern approach, but it's happening all over the place. The problem is, it often becomes quite hard to keep informal when things start working really well. Up-scaling and informality do not often go hand-in-hand. Particularly when money becomes involved, the accountability that results often hampers the very creative endeavour which the funds are rewarding. It's an interesting problem, and not one for which I have a ready solution.
"I found ‘supergroups’ notion intriguing – the idea of self-selecting groups that can constitute themselves according to what they want to accomplish. What I found surprising, however, was the fact that no-one in the discussion explicitly acknowledged that this is already happening. It’s happening right there in the discussion, as disparate professionals are coming together to discuss problems and issues that are common to all.
I’m fortunate to be involved with another couple of these self-selecting, self-forming groups. The first is LISNPN – the LIS new professionals’ network. Set up by Ned Potter, this is a virtual space where hundreds of new – and not-so-new! – information professionals are gathering to talk, to collaborate, to share ideas and experiences. The network is independent – it’s not affiliated with any of the prof organisations, it’s run by new professionals, for new professionals. It’s not sector-specific, it’s not country-specific. Most of the users are from the UK, but on one random page of users I also saw members from the US, Canada, Germany, Serbia, the Netherlands, Finland and Nigeria, highlighting the truly international nature of some of the issues facing information professionals.
LISNPN has recently graduated from a purely virtual network to involving some face-to-face events. Theses have been social events so far, organised by members. There’s been no approval to get, no committee to go through, no worries over the target audience – just an idea of ‘wouldn’t it be nice to meet-up for a drink and a chat? Let’s do it! Everyone welcome!’.
Does this sound like a profession that’s fragmenting? To me it sounds like a profession that is embracing its differences, and finding its commonalities."
I love the message of hope in this! And I think it is relevant to the formalisation debate, too. Perhaps the answer is that we need both informal and formal groups, as both serve their purposes and allow their opposite to function more successfully, too.
Anyway, it was a great day. It was great fun to meet so many people I'd had online interaction with previously, in the flesh. Thank you so much to Andy Priestner, who lobbied the organising committee to have two New Professionals no one had heard of to do a plenary session at a big event; I'm really sorry Laura couldn't be there, but I had a great time. My only regret is that Andy's spectacular Star Wars related Echo Chamber incident (this post went viral) happened too late to be included in the presentation - I think it's my favourite echolib escape EVER. :)