Online Resources for Library and Information

I have recently been doing some investigations of online resources that you could describe as portals to Library and Information information. What has surprised me is that although I have been active in this field since 2004 there are some incredibly useful portals out there which had not previously come to my attention. Obviously, some of these are newly devised resources, but others have been around for a long time.

The interpretation of what a “Portal” is, appears to have become a rather slippery concept. In my days as a library assistant, I was taught by a wise and ancient Reference Librarian that a Portal is a website, or a webpage that collects, collates and possibly curates information from other online sources and simply posts the links to those resources. This is the definition of Portal as Gateway – something that allows you to step from your location to many others beyond.

Portal

Some of the resources that I have investigating certainly do that. Observatory for a Connected Society is an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone. It contains links to reports, case studies, government papers and comment and review by current Influences. It also includes a calendar of interesting events. The resource has been developed in partnership with RAND Europe and consequently also includes some high level comment about topical issues from their researchers. It has the feature of sending you alerts when they add something new which is either a good thing or bad thing depending on your point of view.

The UK  Government Library Taskforce has been quietly gathering details of research on Library and Information and although they do not have a special website, you could call their “Research Overview” spreadsheet a portal. The link to the spreadsheet is available on Gov.uk and it gives information about many research studies: who they were conducted by; who were the funders; what new research is being done, and so forth. Each entry includes a link to a report on the research itself. I wish this resource had been around when I was doing my PhD.

inward portal

Of course, a gateway can lead you inwards as well as out and a really good resource is the British Library Social Welfare portal. This leads to a multitude of resources from the British Library collections.  It includes working papers, reports, books, briefings, literature reviews and briefings.

Similarly, for any technical information about Library Management Systems, there is a resource called Library Technology Guides.  This is a one man website of comprehensive information and statistics about library systems, the companies that develop them, and the libraries that are using them. The information is collated and data is analysed to provide insight as well a merely linking out to the source of that information.

However, a completely different type of resource caught my attention, and it is something that I would not at all define as a portal. It is more of a Knowledge Hub as it is a place which gathers together knowledge and information on any subject whatsoever and then disseminates it to anyone who may be interested. Like a town square where you arrive for one thing and get tempted by something else through another doorway. In fact it is really a cross between a journal and a magazine.

market place Lisle Sur Tarn

It is called The Conversation, you may have come across it before, I have seen articles from this shared on social media. It works as an online magazine, but the articles are written by academics and researchers about the work in which they are authorities. In that sense, it is a portal to information, but the information is all gathered in one online presence. I believe that this is a resource that is essential for every academic or school librarian to know about, and probably extremely useful to any public librarians who have customers with very enquiring minds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unlocking ground breaking research: Open Access Week 2017

 

open padlock

“Old padlock” by Futurilla is licensed under CC BY 2.0

So it is nearing the end of Open Access Week and here in the UK Institutional Repositories have been promoting the benefits of allowing the ordinary person to read scientific work. I follow some Jisc lists and I have been watching as various events unfurl, the most amazing one that has overshadowed everyone else is Stephen Hawkins’s PhD thesis. He gave permission for Cambridge University’s repository Apollo to make the digitised copy of his work open for anyone to read. Needless to say, the repository was overwhelmed. Apparently by Tuesday 410,000  had viewed the thesis. By Wednesday the Altmetric figures showed that the thesis was shared 1525 times, 964 times on Twitter and of those, 840 were members of the public.

On Tuesday another 30 Cambridge alumni gave permission for their theses to be digitised and uploaded as open access. The only drawback of all this is the expense of digitising the work, but the university are working with a charitable fund; Arcadia Fund to make this happen. The project is explained here.  Apparently there is also a project in collaboration with the British Library which will digitise another 1,400 theses that had been microfilmed.

Evidence Base works with IRUS-UK which has done its own little contribution to Open Access Week. IRUS-UK records the number of times a thesis has been downloaded and in advance of OA week the IRUS-UK tech team developed the function to report repository usage statistics daily. This means that repositories can calculate the impact of Open Access Week; has their usage increased, have more thesis or articles been downloaded? It will be interesting to find out what has happened and I may well report back on that.

However, my favourite remark from an open access staff member of another university was “We are not doing anything specifically for OA week – We OA all the time…” This is surely how it should be and one day there will be no OA week because it has become normality.

 

Libraries promote potentially dangerous books

Last week it was the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week when libraries across America hold a variety of events to draw attention to attempts of banning books from schools, bookshops and libraries. The ALA always appear to me to be activist librarians and the organisation of Banned Books Week is an outward expression of their stance on freedom of information, upholding the right of free speech and an individual’s right to read. A truly objective librarian does not censor the reading matter of other people however much they dislike it themselves. For example, I would ban all Mills and Boon books, but I concede that, for some people, reading Mills and Boon brings pleasure.

Banned Books Week started in 1982 when librarians noticed that, increasingly, the content of many books were being challenged. They found that although the content of books were being questioned, many more people fought against the books being banned outright. The ALA website has links to lists of these books and actually some may surprise you.

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Which of these books faced being banned?

This year, the UK have been joining in, with the British Library holding a discussion event on Censorship and the Author  and Islington library compiling their own list of Banned Books. Their list suggests that if the challenges to the books had succeeded we  may not have had the Harry Potter series, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Roald Dahl’s Matilda. However, London is SO behind the times. Fife Libraries in Kirkcaldy held a Banned Books event LAST year.

This event was not scheduled for Banned Books Week but was part of  Book Week Scotland which is held each November. Fife Libraries’ “Banned Books and Prohibition Cocktails” event was rather more fun than a debate on censorship, it took the form of a Speak Easy, and teamed up local gin producers with the library to offer prohibition style cocktails as well as book readings and the books themselves available to borrow – presumably in plain covers! It appears that the local constabulary were not invited. I am not sure about how much more aware the good (or bad?) citizens of Fife become about the importance of freedom of speech or reading, and the issue with censorship, but I do know that many more people became aware of the library with the event attracting some people who did not usually visit libraries. Hopefully the event opened their eyes to the great delights of of literature and expanded their thoughts enough for them to come back and explore the library shelves for the “dangerous”, potentially forbidden books.

CILIP Conference, Day two – Reaching people.

The theme that I have picked out from the second day of the conference is the way that libraries can reach everyone. This is specially true of public libraries. Neil MacInnes, Strategic Lead-Libraries, Galleries & Culture, Manchester City Council spoke of the work that Manchester Libraries are doing to bring information and literature to the people of Manchester. This has required quite a lot of revision of the service but they appear to have succeeded in getting more people using the libraries and perhaps significantly, more people using the items that have been held in archives for many decades.

For example, the geographic locations of the branch libraries were compared with the current centres of habitation, and it was realised that some libraries were not where the people are. This meant moving some of the services, some be co-located with other services. The Central Library, which was built in 1938, had become unloved, and so it was completely refurbished. Such effort brought in many more visitors. The overall remit is not merely getting people IN to libraries, but is also getting books OUT to people. They had a Shakespeare folio in the archives which had been seen by very few researchers. Now it has its own taxi and security staff and is taken to branch libraries where students and school children can see it. It has been viewed more times in the past few years than it has been for decades.

Work like this is so important to show that libraries are not dead archives for the intellectual only. Showing a precious object can inspire and stimulate a sense of history as well as showing off treasures to be found in ordinary libraries. Manchester is managing to shout out about their achievements. After Neil’s talk a delegate said to me “Oh, the Central Library from my city does many of these things too.” but that other city is being quiet about their achievement.  It is important these days to be Loud Librarians, to be one of the strident voices clamouring for attention and funding, and to demonstrate the impact on society and learning that libraries have.

And that brings me to the second workshop that I attended, “Loud Librarians” by Selena Killick (Open University) and Frankie Wilson (Bodleian Library, Oxford). And they are. Loud, that is. This workshop was very well attended, so many of us wanting to be loud!! Selena and Frankie had us working (always a good thing for a workshop), and considering:

  • Who were our stakeholders
  • What were the main outcomes they wanted
  • How we could record how we addressed those outcomes – not just numbers

It was a very practical session and I will certainly use their techniques, so simple, logical and effective.  They told us how we could demonstrate the ways that libraries are reaching out to people.

I then attended a series of seminars on the themes of Information Literacy and Literacy and Learning and the presentation that stood out was Dr Konstantina Martzoukou’s (Robert Gordon University) talk about trying to reach “Syrian New Scots” – how to give essential information to Syrian refugees in Scotland. The project was working with groups to find out what information they wanted and considered ways of giving them the information. The plight of the refugees was made very clear by the inclusion of a poignant video showing the city of Homs, before the current conflict and the devastation the conflict has caused.

Jason Vit of the Reading Agency outlined the current work that they are doing to engage people with reading. This included working with bus companies to put up posters on busses, and having “pop up” bookshops in certain places. They are developing “Hubs”, certain towns, where they are concentrating efforts to increase the literacy of disadvantaged communities. The Reading Agency take a down to earth and innovative approach to reaching people, wherever they are.

So, this conference consolidated my belief that libraries do get information out to people and that there are other organisations that we could work with to do that. We also have to realise that we are the vehicle by which the ordinary members of society can have objective, authoritative information, to balance the subtle persuasion of  internet giants or the noise of press and politicians. It means that we have to be very Loud Librarians shout about our services and successes instead of being quietly complacent.

 

 

CILIP Conference 2017

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So, here I am, in Manchester at my first CILIP conference. This post is about three inspirational speakers that I heard in only the first day there.

Carla Hayden

Day one was very thought provoking and quite inspiring in a number of ways. The first Keynote speaker was Carla Hayden, the first Librarian of Congress who is female and of colour. Shockingly, she is only the third Librarian of Congress who is a qualified Librarian. She spoke amusingly with wit and charm about what she had achieved in Baltimore: about her interview for being Librarian for congress and about her visit to the British Library.

She said that she was initially unsure whether to apply for the post of Librarian of Congress as she has been instrumental in trying to open up access to libraries. She was not sure that a National Library, and archive as is the Library of Congress, would be the right place for her, but at her interview, with the President of US, Barack Obama asked about increasing access to researchers to their resources. She know then that she would be right for the post. Since then she has embarked on a programme of digitising many of their items.

She is visiting the UK with her mother, who on entering the British Library commented “This is just like a public library”. This, of course, is a good thing, because it is a demonstration of how a National Library can be welcoming and friendly. I believe that Carla Hayden wants to develop that feel at the Library of Congress, especially after she spoke to an American researcher there who told Carla that the British Library is “better” than the Library of Congress. The researcher had no idea who she was speaking to! Carla completely won us over, were are most definitely “Her UK People” and we gave her a huge round of applause at the end of her speech.

Luciano Floridi

The second Keynote speaker was inspirational in a different way. Professor Luciano Floridi of the Oxford Institute of Information presented us with some interesting concepts of power and the way that Library and Information services could ensure that Power is balanced democratically to make society fair and informed. He reminded us that information is about answering questions.

In the past Power has resided either with the people who answer the questions or with the people who ask the questions. He put forward the theory that currently Power is held by those that control the questions that people ask.  It is the role of Library and Information Science professionals to ensure that people can ask novel, innovative and surprising questions.  He suggested that it is important to gather the answers now of questions that may be asked in the future. This is how a democratic society develops.

Matt

The third inspirational speaker was at a workshop about using teenage volunteers in libraries to help at the annual Summer Reading Challenge.  Matt is a young man who was a volunteer at Bolton Libraries and Museum Service. He spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his experience and how it can help teenagers. Bolton Libraries and Museum Service set up a teenage volunteer group to help with the Summer Reading Challenge and organised training events for them. They enabled the volunteer workforce who were asked to come up with their own group name. They chose the word “Imaginators”, because the group believed that they were helping the younger children develop their imaginations through reading.

Matt worked as an “Imaginator” for a number of years and now has come tot the stage in his life where he is applying to university. He feels that being a volunteer has meant that he has an “edge” over other entrants, working with younger children is a good thing to have on his CV. His intention is to study the classics and he now has gained the skills to explain WHY he wants to do so. He considers that working in a library has inspired him to eventually become involved with Library and Information work. He actually did apply for  a paid post in the library, which he was successful in getting and now he has a Saturday job in Bolton libraries.

The way that Bolton Library and Museum Service have worked with a group of teenagers to plan, organise and develop a training programme, with a series of outcomes and rewards (Pizza and lots of biscuits) made me think about the reasons for using volunteers in libraries. The relationship that any organisation has to have with volunteers is that there has to be an outcome for everyone involved. Basically, there has to be a point to using volunteers other than exploiting free help.

From the volunteer’s view this could be training that helps with personal and professional development, or simply the feeling of well being that they gain. From the point of view of the organisation, they can show that they are investing in people and their skills as well has getting tasks done and providing their users with an improved and enhanced experience. This sort of win/win situation is not easy to achieve and takes time and effort to plan and instigate. Definitely a lot of food for thought there.

Mark Hepworth and Information Literacy

television remote

Enter “Television Remote” by Walt Stoneburner is licensed under CC BY 2.0a caption

Today I am feeling guilty, or at least regretful. I should have written an article that I started planing over a year ago. Articles take a long time to craft and may be in gestation for some years, only because work gets in the way. This is what happened when I intended to write about my small piece of research with Mark Hepworth. Mark Hepworth was an academic specialising in Information Literacy and I first encountered him when I was a PhD student moonlighting as a University Teacher at Loughborough University. He died last year and to honour his work in the field Aslib Journal of Information Management  have published a special issue Mark Hepworth: In Memoriam.  I really should have written and submitted that article.

There is an obituary about Mark in the Times Higher Education which gives a little insight into his life and work. My first work with him was helping to teach a module on Information Literacy at the Department of Information Science at Loughborough. It was a very practical module because it taught the students about Information Literacy by actually developing their own information seeking skills. Then I graduated, went off the the exotic climes of Nottingham, and returned to work (not study, this time) at Loughborough. On my very first day of paid research work at LISU I was handed a sheaf of questionnaires and asked “Can you finish this project for Mark, please? He is going to do some work in Africa”.

The project was about one of the things that meant a lot to Mark. It was a development of a previous project that was looking at the possibility of developing a messenger system that appeared on television screens, while you are watching the television. It was in collaboration with Nottingham Community Housing Association who were putting the concept into reality with the help of a software company. The research was to find out whether it helped communication between the housing association’s team of social carers and made the elderly and vulnerable residents of homes feel included and safe.

This theme of vulnerability, communication and information and the digital world ran through many of Mark’s projects. It is somehow ironic that at the time I took over the project, unknown to many of his colleagues, Mark was falling ill, with Motor Neuron Disease, rapidly becoming vulnerable himself. It did not prevent him from going to Africa, however.

The messenger system comprised a box, like a Digital Television box, through which the television signal was fed. I was not told the full technical details of this box, but this was the link that would send and receive messages from a website.  Messages would check on the well being of the user, “how do you feel today?”; or be reminders “Don’t forget your doctors appointment at 10.30”; or give information “armchair exercise in community tomorrow”. The messages could only be answered by the recipient using their remote control to check one of a series of multiple selection answers, so it was no replacement for email, twitter or snapchat. But then, not all for the people we researched were interested with that sort of digital technology. Pictures could be sent and friends and relatives could be registered as users on the website.

The research looked a number of things:

  • The users satisfaction with the system
  • The well being of the users
  • The ease of use of the system
  • The information that users wanted to have

It found that participants that were digitally competent found the system frustration because it was a one way messaging system, they could not use it to send alerts. However, other participants felt safer, more included in society and reassured that someone was looking out for them.

Nottingham Community Housing Association have continued developing the system as a commercial enterprise and won an award for technology at the 3rd Sector Care Awards 2016. This, then, is my tribute to Mark and hopefully I will manage to write up the article, before it gets too late.

A full report on the research is available from the Loughborough University institutional repository

 

 

Books and Cycling

 

I have a Google alert that notifies me of anything that crops up about children’s mobile libraries and bookmobiles. This is because of my doctoral research into children’s mobile libraries and their effect on literacy. I am still fascinated by the subject, but these days I have little time to really read the alerts. I collect them with some false hope that one day I will collate all the information to produce the definitive work on children’s mobile libraries. Every now and then I have a little clear out of the data that have accumulated, such as vanished links or notices saying that Y will not be visiting X today because of rain/snow/mechanical breakdown. Actually, perhaps I should keep account of the days that mobile libraries are off road and the reasons for doing so. Someone, somewhere will no doubt really want that information.

But I digress. Today was one of the clear out days, and I found a fascinating podcast about a Bicycle Bookmobile. Like me, you may have seen some posts circulating around social media of bicycle libraries in developing countries, but this time I was really surprised to find that the podcast was an interview with a university teacher who has started a service in Arcata California. When I searched further I discovered that there are many “Bikemobiles” in the US.

The interesting feature of the Arcata bicycle bookmobile is that it combines the two passions of Melanie Williams, books and bicycles – which is obvious really. She was a university teacher that took a group of students to help reconstruct some libraries in a area of the US which had had a natural disaster, and she describes how that experience changed her life. She realised how important books are to literacy. She is an educator, and now in another role is promoting children using bikes to improve their health and to give them road sense before they become drivers.

While doing this it occurred to her that a bicycle bookmobile would be a great way to help literacy and promote bikes. All the books are children’s books with the theme of bicycles. She describes and recommends some in the interview. The podcast lasts for around 20 minutes, the first half is about books and the second half deals with promoting cycling. It is really worth listening to and can be found here.