future of libraries

Everyone should read this article! Then maybe write their own...

Librarianship was yesterday featured in the Guardian's Beyond the Job Series. The article was entitled Beyond books: what it takes to be a 21st century librarian and was written by Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood. Screen grab of the Guardian article on libraries

I am so happy about this article! For loads of reasons.

First of all, this is a brilliant piece. Here is a quote - I originally highlighted three paragraphs I really liked in order to copy and paste them, but realised that would basically be quoting half the article... Here is one bit I liked, but I liked all of it, and you should go read the whole thing.

"Books are only one aspect of what libraries and librarians are about. Librarianship is a people profession; a librarian's job is to connect people with the information they are seeking, whatever format that may take. At their heart, all library jobs have a central purpose: to help people access and use information, for education, for work, or for pleasure. In all library roles customer service and communication skills are important. If anyone ever thought they'd become a librarian because they liked books or reading, they would be sorely disappointed if they did not also like people too."

The article says all the things you'd want it to say, as a library professional, and all the things you'd need it to say, as someone curious about entering the field and needing to know the reality of it.

Second of all, it is in the Guardian. It will be read by thousands and thousands of people, all of whom will be educated about what librarianship consists of even if they don't go on to try and become one. It is a proper bonafide Echo Chamber escape. I believe the genesis of the idea came from this post on Emma's blog, and the comments that followed.

Thirdly, it mentions the Library Routes Project. Laura and I wanted to break this resource (which, if you're unfamiliar with it, documents librarians' roots into the profession and their routes through it) out of the echo chamber but have been unable to do so, really. I actually contacted the Guardian to propose an article about it, but didn't get a response. Emma and Katie have found just the right medium in which to mention it, and they got in lots of references to Bobbi Newman's Library Day in the Life Project too (you can see my video contribution to that project, here). Perfection! Since the article was published around 24hrs ago, the Library Routes wiki has been viewed hundreds of extra times - finally by some non-librarians, I hope.

Fourthly it mentions me! And this slide-deck:

I sought to get this slide-deck seen outside the echo chamber as much as possible, and although that certainly happened this will really add to it - in fact Emma commented that they were going to try and link to it from a Guardian article way back then, now it has finally come to fruition. It's really kind of Katie and Emma to include a link to this, so thank you to them. As a Guardian reader since literally aged 12 (yes, I know...) and someone who literally loves the paper and the institution, being mentioned by a Guardian article is definitely (literally) pretty fabulous!

So the question is, can any of us repeat this success elsewhere? Emma and Katie are presumably forbidden from reproducing their work in other publications, but there is nothing to stop the rest of us finding avenues for writing a guide to librarianship and getting it published in neutral, non-library places. Are you up for the challenge?

- thewikiman

Libraries at Cambridge Event

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:

Picture of academic search from Microsoft, screen-grab

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!

Picture of a really, really big screen

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):

Escaping the echo-chamber on Prezi

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.

It did put me in mind of Bethan Ruddock's outstanding presentation at ILI2010, though. In her talk, entitled Do Libraries Have a Future? - you can see a transcript of it on her blog - Bethan says this about a LinkedIn discussion on the fragmentation of the library profession:

"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. :)

There are some more blog posts about the day, from Annie Johnson, from Katie Birkwood, from Libby Tilley, and from Sarah Stamford - let me know if I've missed any.

- thewikiman

*Okay, no one is calling it that. Just me.

Echolib / LISNPN / Advocacy: New Year's Round Up

A quick catch-up post for all the stuff I've not mentioned in previous posts but which has happened in the last couple of months.

The Echo Chamber

Lots of echolib stuff has been happening recently. The article I wrote a while ago for Library & Information Update has finished its embargo and so now can be made available - I've been displaying it on the Echo Chamber Netvibes page, but you can also download it in PDF format, here.

Continuing the Stealth Advocising theme from a few weeks back, I created a video version of my If you want to work in libraries... slide-deck. It has some funky hip-hoppy latin music in it that I wrote when I was about 17! Woof. Here it is - as ever, in the interests of spreading the messages far and wide, feel free to use this however you like, embed it wherever, etc etc.

The Slideshare version of this has now been viewed more than ten thousand times, so surely LOADS of those people must be outside the echo chamber, right..?

I also wrote an article for PostLib, the journal for retired librarians! I was really pleased to be asked to do this, I like to see the divide between senior and new professionals being bridged whereever possible. The resultant article is now available: Statistics, the Media and the Library Legacy (PDF) - and owes a big debt to Ian Clark [Thoughts of a Wannabe Librarian] who read it over for me and gave me his approval to use some of his ideas! It mentions the echo chamber in passing - but really the main thrust of it is to note that, if you take combined footfall and internet usage stats, public library use in the UK is actually UP over the last couple of years (quite considerably), contrary to popular reports.

Laura and I will present a new version of the Echo Chamber presentation in Cambridge in a couple of days, to an audience of 200 or so people - the biggest we've spoken to yet, so we're really excited about that.


There's also a couple of articles I wrote about LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, available elsewhere. They're both on CILIP platforms but both are freely available to all - Moving forward together opens Library  Information Gazette in digital form, and The LIS New Professionals Network takes you to CILIP's Information & Advice blog.

Look out for a BIG competition on LISNPN later this month, with a library-related-prize worth literally hundreds of pounds and well worth winning.

Library Routes Project

Remember Library Routes? It's still going! And there's plenty of great entries that have come in in recent months - there's now over 150 contributions from Information Professionals about how they got into librarianship, and their path through the profession. Check it out if you haven't already, or if you've not done so for a while. The project homepage has more than 25,000 views now, so maybe some of those will be from people outside the Echo Chamber too.

Gazette Profile

I was really pleased that Debby Raven featured me in the last but one edition of Gazette, following up on the Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals post. You can read the interview, again via the Digital Gazette magazine platform, here. Incidentally the permanent, to-be-added-to, and containing the wisdom of the people who've commented on the original, version of the Essential Careers Advice post is here on its own page of the blog - check it out and tell if there's anything that needs adding to it. What do you know now that you wish you'd known earlier?

All of these articles are available together on the Papers & Presentations page of my website.

And finally...

I created a hectoring advocacy poster a few weeks back - it's deliberately harsh and provocative, but I do think there is an underlying truth to it.

Poster that says there's no such thing as abstaining from library advocacy


- thewikiman

I'm writing a book on marketing libraries and I'd like your input

Image of a notepad I've been approached by Facet Publishing to write a book on marketing modern libraries. It's intimidating (the previous Facet book on libraries was written by Terry Kendrick, who is a marketing legend and a member of the Marketing Guild and all that stuff) but a really exciting thing to be a part of. The idea is for it to cover all aspects of the nuts and bolts of marketing libraries - the grass roots - and to cover a wide spectrum of sectors, too.

Although the echo chamber theme will pop up here and there, this isn't a book about marketing the profession (or the industry) - it's about marketing your specific library. So, I would absolutely love to hear what you think you'd like to see in such a book. Each chapter will be on a different theme, and they'll all feature a case-study. I'm yet to finalise the proposal with Facet, so if you can give me your ideas quick I'll try and make sure they're addressed!

Stuff I'm currently intending to cover includes:

  • Grass roots essentials
  • Going to where your users are / user studies
  • Marketing with social media + web2
  • Marketing on no budget
  • Marketing to internal stakeholders
  • Language, style + materials
  • Special collections, Archives and Library Branding
  • Understanding the media and using them to market your library
  • Rebranding, reinvention, and the Unlibrary concept
  • Quick wins (a brief overview of a bunch of other people's success stories)


What else would you like to see in there? Would you want more than one chapter on web stuff as it is so important these days? Do you think there should be a chapter about advocacy because without it we won't have any libraries left to market, or will the kind of people who'll buy this book not have time for all that? Do you know of a library with a story that would fit any of those themes as a case study?

I would absolutely love it if you can leave me some comments, or email me your thoughts if you'd rather it be private, and tweet a link to this post to encourage others to do the same (or share it on Facebook). I want to make the most relevant and useful tool possible. Thank you! :)

- thewikiman

P.S There will be a separate marketing blog and twitter account coming soon, once we've made the final decision on the name of the book. It'll cover all the stuff the book will cover, and also report on any other great marketing schemes happening out there in libraryland.

A Library Christmas Carol

A christmassy looking lampost covered in snow A mean-spirited, miserly old Librarian named Ebenezer Scrooge sits in his Library on Christmas Eve. His Assistant-Librarian, Bob Cratchit, sits inactive in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to let him use social media to promote the library. Scrooge's nephew, Fred, pays his uncle a visit and invites him to a Christmas party; Scrooge reacts to this with bitterness and venom, also spitting out an angry "Bah! Humbug!" in response to his nephew's suggestion that libraries need to change if they are to remain relevant in the digital age.

Later that evening, after returning to his chilly apartment, Scrooge receives a terrifying visitation from the ghost of his dead former Head Librarian, Jacob Marley. Marley, looking tired and ill, relates his unfortunate story. As punishment for his backwards-looking and pessimistic professional life, his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth weighted down with all the physical journals he eschewed an online subscription to. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same fate. Marley informs Scrooge that three spirits will visit him during the night, with the first at midnight. After the wraith disappears, Scrooge falls fast asleep and dreams of saying “Ssshhh!” to frightened minors.

He awakens in time for the arrival of the Ghost of Libraries Past, a strange Victorian-looking figure, candle-lit and very formal. The spirit escorts Scrooge on a journey into the past to previous Libraries from the ages, having promised to return him by half-past-twelve. Scrooge expects to be told that old-fashioned libraries were terrible and not respected in times gone by; in fact, invisible to those he watches, Scrooge sees how libraries have always served the information-needs of their communities, using the most appropriate platforms available for the written word. For much of history this has meant books and journals. Scrooge feels great nostalgia for the time when libraries were thought of as great intellectual institutions, where great minds were formed, and great ideas researched. He reflects how well he’d fit into the front-line staffing of Libraries Past. The spirit returns Scrooge to his apartment, and Scrooge notices that it is actually 12:35am. He tells the spirit that he will have to fine him for this late return, and that the spirit may be prevented from taking other curmudgeons out into different time-zones until the fines are paid in full. The spirit complains that this is grossly unfair and mumbles to himself that this is a typically cynical scheme to extract money from patrons, and Scrooge explains to him that the reason for the fines is not as a revenue stream but as a deterrent to keeping people for too long when other Ghosts may wish to borrow them, and anyway they’re called ‘customers’ now. After this the spirit evaporates, and Scrooge waits patiently for his next temporal adventure.

The Ghost of Libraries Present - a majestic giant with an iPad, on the back of which is written “I work here, how can I help?” - then takes Scrooge through London to unveil Libraries as they will happen that year. He is shown new, dynamic, fluid, innovative libraries – libraries catering brilliantly for extraordinarily diverse information needs. At first he is sceptical but soon he sees how well these libraries serve their communities – be they public, academic, business, health or any other community. He sees libraries introducing new technology, new collections, new classes, and new directions. He sees libraries training people, helping people find jobs, providing solace and a place to work, and being a hub around which networks and relationships can be built. He sees children being entertained and educated, adults crossing the digital divide, and great minds being fostered. But he also sees that libraries are being undermined by those with a powerful and loud public voice, and those who do not have libraries' interests at heart. He sees libraries struggling against cuts, despite being needed now more than ever before. He sees many potential library members completely indifferent to the plight of the industry because they are unaware how libraries can be useful for them. They think libraries are still much the same as the ones Scrooge was shown by the Ghost of Libraries Past.

When Scrooge is finally delivered back home, he is abuzz with how many great things are going on, right now. But he is worried that not enough people know about them, and fears that society will not continue to benefit from libraries for much longer if things carry on as they are.

The Ghost of Libraries Yet to Come takes Scrooge by the hand. Scrooge half-expects to be shown desolate former library buildings being boarded up; unhappy former librarians trying to find new jobs; perhaps even to find himself in a churchyard, the spirit pointing to a grave, and Scrooge looking at the headstone and reading the name of the deceased: ‘Libraries. From Alexandria to Google – but not beyond.’ But he sees none of this. In fact, he sees nothing at all. Ahead of he and the spirit stretches a long, blank, vista of nothingness. “I do not understand, spirit,” says Scrooge. “Will you not show me the future of libraries?” The spirit shakes his head. “Can you not predict the future, spirit?” Again, the spirit shakes his head. And then the Spirit speaks.

“The only way to predict the future is to make it happen, Scrooge. The future of libraries has not already been determined; it is up to you and your colleagues in the library community to shape the future you wish to see. Battles are being lost but you can win the war – if you decide to do so. If you focus your efforts on such a goal. If you are willing to adapt, to change, to meet new needs, to promote, to advocate, and to work collaboratively with other Information Professionals and their institutions, all over the world. Can you do this, Scrooge? Can you step up to this collective challenge, or will you let others dictate your fate to you? Will you allow those who do not have libraries’ best interests at heart to shape this future narrative? Or will you take control of it yourselves?”

Scrooge realises that he and everyone else must assume responsibility for the future, and promises to do everything he can to make sure librarians are in control of their own destinies. He is then deposited at home, and the final wraith vanishes.

Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out onto the street hoping to share his new found optimism for the library profession. He sends an Amazon Kindle (3G version) to the Cratchit house and sets up a Twitter account for his library, to the stifled surprise of the twitterati. As the years go by, he holds true to his promise and writes his and his peers' own future of their profession. Together, they make it happen...