Life, Librarianship and Everything at #NLPNOpen

I gave at talk at the #NLPNOPEN event on Saturday, organised by the wonderful Manchester New Library Professionals Network. I actually invited myself to talk at this event, something I've not done before, because I think NLPN are ace, and because my favourite events have always been New Professionals events, and I miss the enthusiasm and hope, and what to learn from the new ideas. They were kind enough to let me talk at them for an hour at the start, basically about things that I've found to be important and that I'd wish I'd known earlier, about life, librarianship and everything (although mainly, it has to be said, librarianship).

Here are the slides.

Really the key messages are firstly that the tools exist now for you to make things happen if you want to - start a network, start a JOURNAL even, write blog, join a wider dialogue, whatever it may be - and that if you take one action it can lead to all sorts of other actions, that are rewarding in themselves and can benefit your career.

BUT, that said, the second message is no one cares if you're a rockstar, and interview panels don't actually ask about the stuff you do outside your job very often. It may be that you talk about it - it may be that when they say how would you cope with marshalling an annual resources budget, you can reply 'I'm the treasurer for this committee so I have experience' - but no one seems to say 'tell us about what groups you've joined / what conferences you've presented at / what articles you've written'. Not normally. In HE particularly we literally have to ask the same questions to every candidate so there's no room for those kinds of digressions. So this slide is, I think, important to reassure people who feel like they should be Doing All The Things but cannot Do All The Things because life gets in the way:

Everyone present did a brilliant job of tweeting the talk and indeed the whole day, which you can see in the Storify NLPN have pulled together - it's embedded below this next bit.

I saw some really good talks at this event, and I really enjoyed the open nature of the discussion - sometimes at traditional library conferences everything feels quite narrow because so many conversations have been had before, or are on sort of perpetual loop. The standard was very high too, in terms of presentation skills and the slides themselves - hardly any bullet points, lots of images, lots of creativity, lots of good communication.

Suzanne Coleman gave a great mini paper about Instagram, which is absolutely the most important platform for academic libraries using social media at the moment. Laura Green and Louise Beddow (who joined Twitter off the back of my talk - please go and make her feel welcome!) then talked about what they did for National Libraries Day at MMU - generally the academic sector engages with NLD in a fairly minimal way but they went all in and it really seemed to work. They had huge success with their comment board, allowing students to write things which other students (and staff) could reply to on the wall - this is an ethnographic technique which seems to work well so much of the time. We have walls at my own institution which you can write on, but they're specifically designed for students to just workshop ideas or get things out of their brains, rather than for feedback. But we're doing the feedback wall thing properly soon and I'm interested to see how it goes.

Carly Rowley talked about music librarianship, which was interesting to me as I've been a Music Liaison Librarian here. The discussion was a lot more Content / Collections based than my experiences - I tended to focus on the services we could offer rather than the stuff we had, but that probably just reflects my biases and interests. It was interesting that a few people in the room could play instruments or read music but didn't consider themselves musicians! I think if you can play or sing, you're a musician. Surely? I love being a musician and in how I define myself it's a lot more important to me than being a librarian is, although outwardly it takes up far less of my life. On that note, there's actually a secret (as in, unlisted in the navigation) part of this website that acts as an outlet - along with my Instagram - for drum-related things. You can find it here, friends of drums and drumming...

The final two presentations were Open Access themed. They complimented each other well actually - Jen Bayjoo representing the librarian and Penny Andrews representing the Researcher. The common theme was really around what it is actually like to be an academic, which is to say a human being with pressures and insecurities and lives to lead, and interact with library systems. A healthy dose of realism ran through Penny's talk - it's so important to be realistic about which parts of what we do work, which parts really matter, which parts may or may not endure... Jen had a nice practical element too, discussing real life problems and issues of working in an OA advocacy / support role. Her slides are online here.

It's also important that we as info pros are Open Access all the way - don't submit your article to a non-open-access journal, folks! I wrote most of my 'proper' publications before I really understood Open Access, but I've retrospectively got as many permissions as possible to make things OA. See my Publications page for the links, including a thing for Bethan Ruddock's New Professionals Tookit book - although my take on a lot of that stuff has evolved since I wrote that, so if NLPNOpen-me disagrees with Bethan's-book-me, go with NLPNOpen-me...

Organising events is hugely stressful - it's THE WORST, worse than dating a Tory, even - so massive thanks so NLPNOpen for doing this, for free, on their weekend (and of course many more days in the run-up to the event, working everything out). I got a lot out of the day. I learned stuff and I felt good afterwards. It was ace.

Here is @ManchesterNLPN's excellent Storify of the day - check out the tweets to get more of a feel for all of the presentations. Thank you SO MUCH to NLPN for having me. Loved it.

How the terrible fonts on my website led me to New Zealand...

Every so often I will search twitter for the URL of this website. I recommend doing this - you can see what people are saying when they link to your site, what people respond most to, sometimes what they don't like. Occasionally I'll reply with more information if appropriate.

Maybe twice a year I'll run a similar search for, and it was doing this that led me to discover the following tweet:

LIANZA is the Association for Library and Information Professionals in New Zealand. I replied to say 'you don't like the font..?' and someone else joined to say how much they ALSO didn't like the font! I got some useful feedback on the font you're looking at now on this site, too - so thanks to Seonaid, they've since been tweaked! And the Toolkit website was completely overhauled in terms of visual style, as a result of that chat.

Anyhow, Ines on the LIANZA account and I got talking, which resulted in this:

(I've mentioned before that although I work part time and make part of my living through workshops, I don't ask money for conference talks apart from expenses.) This led to an email exchange and to cut a long story short (is that the most misused phrase ever? I've basically let the long story run its course here, apologies...) I'm delivering a keynote at the annual LIANZA conference in November. I'm more excited about it than possibly anything I've ever done professionally! I will be setting out a library communication manifesto in my talk.

The other keynotes include Justin Hoenke, who I can't wait to meet in person after we worked together on Buy India a Library. I also can't wait to hear Kim Tairi speak. The whole programme looks ace. I also get to be a 'human book' which I've not done before...

For anyone interested I gush a bit more about NZ in an interview for LIANZA's Library Life magazine (PDF).

Digital Marketing Workshop, Wellington, November 12th

While I'm out there I'm also running a workshop for PiCS, for whom I also run workshops in Australia every two years. If you're interested there's more info including booking here.

It's a really fun course - we dip into absolutely loads of tools which help libraries (and library services) communicate. Every single thing we cover is useful - they solve existing problems - relatively straightforward to use, free, and immediately available. This is not about the future of libraries or tech just on the horizon. It's about things you can do the minute you get back to your desk.

We'll cover online publishing (including Prezi and Sway), Geolocation and Augmented Reality, Marketing with Video, Measuring Impact on Social Media, and various other smaller topics.

Some feedback from recent UK versions of this course:

“Very up to date - thanks - very useful, practical and relevant course - I’m brimming with ideas”

”So much of it was useful... really easy tools to use and could results in some quick wins for us. Tips on blogging were useful too and hopefully will inspire us to actually start one. Augmented reality bit was fascinating - lots of potential there”

”I thought this course was excellent, one of the best courses I have attended at the BL... ALL the content was useful - Ned was excellent in really understanding the BL collections and needs and shaping the course appropriately. I have already recommended this course to colleagues!”

“This has been a fantastic course - I have learnt so much and gained more confidence around a number of digital marketing tools and how to use them effectively. Ned’s knowledge and brilliant presentation style is great and kept me hooked for the whole day. Everything has been amazing”
— UKeIG, NHS, British Library

So if you're in New Zealand it would be great to see you there! LIANZA attendees get a reduced rate, too...



If you need a conference / event / project website, Strikingly might be the option for you

The short version of this post is: if you'd like a clean modern website for your online presence, and aren't looking to do anything too complicated, Strikingly may well be the right choice for you. It's easy to use for both author and viewers of the site, and it's free as long as you don't get TOO much traffic.

Over the past couple of months I've been tinkering around with the website builder Strikingly in spare pockets of time.

I really like the vertical scrolling style websites you can make in Strikingly - I first saw that style when Matt Borg used it for stuff like the UXLibs site. You can use normal navigation to skip to whichever page you like, or you can scroll down and they all appear below the homepage - meaning you never have to load up a new page to explore the website. This long-form one-page style saves time and works well.

Where it doesn't work so well is if you have a lot of complicated information to display on many different subjects - in that setting a traditional website may work better. But if you have just one story to tell Strikingly can do it with an uncluttered, stylish, and very mobile friendly site. For example for a conference, an event, a project, a collaboration, or even a personal website to act as a CV or something for the Googlers to find.

I already have this main website made in Squarespace (which I reviewed here), so in order to have a reason to sign up and play with Strikingly in earnest I built a site for my Training offering. You can find it here if you're interested - the top part looks like this:

Click the pic to open the website in a new window

Click the pic to open the website in a new window

At the moment this feels some way ahead of Blogger and even Wordpress in terms of the interface - it's pleasant to interact with a Strikingly site. You can actually blog using Strikingly, but if you do that and achieve success with it, you're going to exceed the 5GB of bandwidth that comes with the free version of the service. You can upgrade to the 8-or-16 dollar a month packages but I doubt anyone reading this would want to that - so to my eyes, Strikingly is a good option for someone who wants an online presence, perhaps to document some projects you've worked on, an online CV, or to showcase your skills if you're job-hunting, but who doesn't want to commit to blogging. Or, as mentioned, for an event, conference or collaborative project.

The editor looks like this:

As you can see you choose the type of section you want, then edit the content to your own. You edit the actual site - so what you see is truly what you get, rather than there being a seperate Editor interface. This makes it easier to see exactly how the changes you make are going to affect your design.


  • It's fairly fool-proof in terms of making things look nice. You are set up to succeed and would have to out of your way to make a duff site, even if you have no experience of web design or blog-building etc
  • It's very easy to create a site. There are nice templates which are relatively customisable
  • It's free, as long as your site is not too popular! (See below)
  • It's Responsive Design, so everything about your site is retained when viewing it on mobiles - it's just re-ordered to best fit the size of screen. Below is a screen-grab of Preview mode where you can see your site in tablet or phone view:


  • If you exceed 5GB of bandwidth per month, you'll need to upgrade to a paid-for package. There's more on understand bandwidth requirements here but to 5GB ought to be enough unless you're blogging and building an audience. I don't know what my bandwidth usage is anymore as the Squarespace package I have is unlimited, but in my old wordpress days I used between 10 and 20GB a month - had I not been blogging and thus creating traffic I think 5GB would have been more than enough
  • You need a lot of imagery. As with all modern website designs, it's a lot about pictures - so you'll have to use some. There's plenty of inbuilt options to choose from but in making mine I had to hunt around for things which were relevant, and not just stylish for the sake of it
  • Following on from that, all these new website builders (like Squarespace too) are really aimed primarily at start-ups and freelancers; sometimes it feels like an effort to find the options which aren't all about a: the hard sell or b: vaguely trendy lifestyle stuff that may work in a San Franciso web design office but is hard to imagine having any meaning elsewhere
  • It's not THAT flexible - as mentioned above, a more complicated site is better off with a different website builder. The editor is easy to use but a little constraining so you can't micromanage the finer details of how each section is arranged
  • And the usual disclaimer as with any new site-builder - who knows how long the company will be around? Unlike Wordpress which is open-source and sustained by the non-profit community, Strikingly exists as a business, and businesses go under... There's no reason to expect Strikingly to stop existing, but you never know.

So could Strikingly work for you or an enterprise you're involved with? If you do decide to give it a whirl let me know what you make with it.

Aim your professional development output at '1 Year Ago You'


What do you know now, that is useful and pertinent to your professional life (or even your personal life) that you didn't know 1 year ago?

Whatever it is, the chances are there are plenty of people still at the '1 Year Ago You' stage who could do with hearing about it. So why not blog about it, write an article about it, or submit a proposal to speak about it at a conference or event?

I know lots of people who don't do any of those things because they consider that they simply don't have anything to say. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have nothing to contribute - there's so much dialogue already, after all. And Imposter Syndrome runs through our profession like a vein. 

Imposter Syndrome: For a Man, or a Woman

Imposter Syndrome: For a Man, or a Woman

But we want new perspectives. We love to hear others' experiences. We need to know what has worked and what hasn't in professional situations other than our own. In short, we do want to hear from you, and we'd welcome your professional development output. (That's the rather awkward phrase I've come up with to describe the kinds of things we do as part of our online presence, or at professional events.)

Framing what you might choose to say as 'advice for 1 Year Ago You' is often enough to make people realise, actually, yes, they could present a paper or write a blog. The blog you are reading now is almost entirely aimed at Past Me - we're all learning useful stuff all the time and where appropriate I try and repackage that into something others might find useful. Most of the posts on here are about things I wished I'd discovered sooner.

Of course, it doesn't have to be '1 Year Ago You' specifically. It could be '6 Months Ago You'. Or '1 Day Ago You'. But someone, somewhere, will be at the exact stage you were before you learned about that useful tool / technique / concept / article / platform / literature or whatever it might be, that made it all click for you. So 'cascade the knowledge', as they say - you DO have something to say, and there will be an audience for it.

Why don't English conferences make you feel like this?

Library badges  

Back in 2006 when I got my first position in a library, in a job-emergency and with no intention of staying in the profession, one of the many many things I didn't expect librarianship to involve was exciting foreign travel. But so far it's taken me to Philly, to Latvia, to South Africa, and next year to Vancouver.

In part 3 of my posts about Cape Town (part 1, including a presentation on professional brand, can be read here; part 2 about the trip itself can be read here) I wanted to discuss something that the LIASA 2013 conference made me think about: English conferences have something missing. They don't seem to make people feel inspired and uplifted like other conferences do. Why is that?

NB: I originally, erronously, entitled this post 'Why don't UK conferences make you feel like this?' - but one thing which came out of the Twitter discussion I had about this subject while in SA is that there are plenty of people who've been inspired by conferences in Ireland, Wales and Scotland; this is borne out by the Storify embedded below. Apologies, rest of the UK...

English reserve

LIASA in Cape Town was on a pretty large scale - several hundred librarians from several countries. Here's how it made me feel: excited, uplifted and optimistic. This is exactly what I want from a conference: you come together with your peers, you share ideas, you go away not just with practical ideas to apply to your job, but feeling inspired about librarianship. This is how I felt after SLA2011 in the USA, too. Interestingly, this is how I felt after the New Professionals Conferences I've been to, and this is how, judging from the Twitter reaction to them, people feel after attending LibCamps. But this is not how I've felt after, for example, Umbrella, or LILAC, or various JISC-related things I attended as part of a previous job, or smaller events I've been to organised by ARLG or CDG. That's not to say these events weren't good events, or weren't useful to me - they were mostly both of those things (LILAC particularly). They just didn't send me home beaming on the train / plane with optimism and uplift.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that English reserve and cynicism is what stops some events reaching the heights I'm describing. The events I've been inspired by have either been on foreign shores where English reserve and cynicism aren't applicable, or for New Professionals conferences where the delegates haven't been around long enough to become cynical or reserved. People seem to get very inspired by unconferences such as Mashlib and Libcamp, and Radical Libcamp - and by definition unconferences should be populated by a self-selecting group of engaged and non-cynical (about the profession, at least) delegates. So basically in situations where the English reserve and cynicism can't get a proper foothold, the conference can flourish and leave everyone feeling reinvigorated - is it that simple?

Now, I'm aware not everyone agrees with me on this. Colleagues of mine, my boss for example, have been to English conferences and come away inspired, so maybe I'm either a: going to the wrong conferences, or b: approaching them in the wrong way? If you have time to leave a comment, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

What's the most inspiring library event you've ever been to? Storify time

Finally, I conducted a brief and unscientific poll on Twitter this morning, so you can get some other perspectives on peoples' most inspiring library events. Thank you to all who took part and RT'd my request for input. I was going to total up the 'traditional UK conferences versus other types' votes, but the waters are murky there as there's plenty of responses from people not in the UK in the first place. So I've attempted to categorise the answers but I'll let you draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, make a note of these as events to try and attend in the future (be sure to press the 'read next page' button at the bottom - there's loads of good stuff here)...


This will automatically update here as I add things to the Storify. (Storify is great, by the way.)