Monday, 11 April 2016

Library 2.016: Privacy in the Digital Age

Recently I registered for the online conference Library 2.016: Privacy in the Digital Age, the first of three scheduled this year run by Library 2.0. Recordings from the conference are viewable online.

The conference looked at issues surrounding privacy and security online. It had a US focus but there was plenty that was relevant to the UK. For me, the most interesting presentations were, firstly, Jessamyn West's The Digital Divide and Privacy Concerns, which discussed the privacy needs and wants of "ordinary" people. She pointed out that while having lots of passwords to protect your online privacy is the ideal, in practice it's unlikely that people will be willing to do this and it's important to balance privacy with realism. I also found M. Ryan Hess's Make Your Library a Privacy and Security Resource interesting, with discussions of various privacy and security tools including Firefox, Ghostery, Disconnect and DuckDuckGo. On a more theoretical level, Martyn Wade's presentation on The 'Right to be Forgotten' and Its Impact on Libraries and Librarians was also interesting.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Information Services Group Visit to the Zoological Society of London Library


The CILIP Information Services Group recently organised a visit to the Zoological Society of London Library, which I signed up for really quickly. The Library is located near London Zoo, and we gathered in the Council Room of the ZSL headquarters to begin the visit.

ZSL is the charity behind London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo, as well as being a research institute funded by UCL. We were told a bit about the history of ZSL, which was established by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy in 1826. Impressively, women were admitted as fellows from 1827. The Council Room is full of pictures of individuals who have made contributions to the Society, including Prince Albert, who was the President from 1851-61, Harry Johnston (who discovered the okapi and many, many other animals), and Miriam Rothschild. Famous names in the visitors' book include Elizabeth II, Emperor Hirohito, John Paul Getty and Jackie Kennedy.


The Library, which can be reached online at library.zsl.org, is located upstairs in the building and is a rich resource of books and journals about zoology and animal conservation. It is open Monday to Friday, and is open to all for reference purposes, but only Fellows of the ZSL can borrow books. We got to wander around the Library and explore for ourselves. Naturally I went straight to the penguin section:



My favourite part of the visit was getting the chance to look at some of the archives and rare books that the librarians had very kindly got out for us. They included an early "Daily Occurrences" ledger, the very first Council Minutes (with the signature of Sir Stamford Raffles), the animal record card for Winnie the bear (the original Winnie-the-Pooh), newspaper clippings concerning an escapee eagle, and a medieval tome containing pictures of all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures (some real, some imagined).

Daily Occurrences 1865

Council Minutes

Animal record card for Winnie the bear

Goldie the golden eagle

Ulyssis Aldrovandi Monstrorum historia


I really enjoyed the visit, which was fascinating.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

ARLG London and South East Visit to the Conway Hall Library

Conway Hall entrance. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I visited the Conway Hall Library with ARLG. Conway Hall is a building near Holborn, London, owned by Conway Hall Ethical Society. It was opened in 1929, named after Moncure Daniel Conway (1832-1907), an anti-slavery advocate and supporter of free thought. These days it hosts a wide variety of performances, lectures and classes.

The Library contains the Ethical Society's collection, the largest and most comprehensive Humanist Research resource of its kind in the UK. Members of the Ethical Society can borrow books, and the Library is open to the public for research.

The Library is beautiful, as befits a resource contained within a Grade II listed building. The resources it contains include historical texts, artworks, music, pamphlets and archives. We got the chance to look at several items from the collection, including records of previous lectures and events held within the building.

As well as looking around the Library, we also got a tour of the building as a whole. The lecture hall is particularly impressive.

I enjoyed the chance to look around such an interesting and unusual library.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

#uklibchat: Mid-Career Directions - Reflection

At the beginning of March I took part in my first ever #UKLibChat. The theme was 'Mid-Career Directions' and I thought it seemed quite appropriate for me. I graduated five years ago last summer, have been in my current job for five years and have recently begun Chartership, so I am clearly no longer a "new professional".

To prepare for the session I read Laura Woods' thought-provoking blog post on the subject, which was really interesting. In it she talks about how her experience has helped her work out what she likes and what she doesn't like, so she knows what to focus on when selecting and applying for future jobs. It's slightly different for me as I've only had one role since graduating from my Masters (except for a few months temping) so I don't quite have the breadth of experience, but undoubtedly I've gained a lot of experience in my current role.

The libchat itself has been Storified here if you would like to look it up. I really enjoyed it and it left me with lots to think about. One of the interesting things about the chat was that no one seemed to be certain what exactly "mid-career" meant. I actually see this as a positive as to me it implies flexibility, that it can be whatever you want to make it. We discussed ways to stay motivated and relevant and how to keep up with CPD, and I left feeling more confident than when I arrived.

Monday, 22 February 2016

16th Annual Durham Blackboard Users' Conference

The theme of this year’s Blackboard Users’ Conference, held on 7th & 8th January at Durham University Business School, was “Learning From Failure”, which was suggested by delegates from last year’s conference. The keynote was delivered by Eric Stoller, who addressed the issues of digital identity and failure on social media.

Blackboard themselves also addressed the conference, although they called their talk “Reflections on a shared journey” rather than examining the concept of learning from failure. They examined the changes that the system has undergone over the years and the needs of Blackboard today, including a resilient server, trained staff, backups and appropriate network access. These days the system is “mission critical” and users have higher expectations.

A Sessions: Is There A Place for Blackboard Collaborate in Blended Learning Design – Matt Cornock, University of York

This session looked at whether Blackboard Collaborate could be useful in blended learning – learning that mixes face to face and distance learning. It covered the issues that can be experienced with Blackboard Collaborate including loss of sound quality, connection reliability, issues with the launcher and whiteboard interaction. MC discussed a case study in which students on a creative writing programme used Collaborate to try and replicate the face to face environment. It was found that this didn’t work as the online environment could not facilitate the spontaneity and natural atmosphere of a face to face environment. Also, remote students by this time had already formed their own social groups for mutual support so they did not need to approach these sessions in the same way.

However, Collaborate has been proved to be useful for such functions as library tutorials and support, as well as group work, some individual tuition, teleconferencing and careers workshops.

B Sessions: Designing A Pre-Induction Course: Mistakes, Issues and Success – Steve Dawes, Regent’s University London

This session examined the issues faced by staff at Regent’s University London when designing a pre-induction course for students. The course was designed to streamline the induction process for students which can often be daunting.

The course was designed to be a simple student-centric platform with a single login so that all students could access it even if they did not yet have their own personal login details. It focused on the key information that students would need when arriving at university, including information about accommodation, visas and study skills. The students were not taught how to use Blackboard – it was hoped that they would be able to pick it up through completing this simple course.
The homepage was designed to resemble the University website so that students grew familiar with the structure of the website. There was only one course link to click on to get to the information they needed. There was an element of interactivity: e.g. a checklist entitled “Are You Ready?” consisting of a series of yes or no questions checking if students had everything they would need. There was also an interactive map of the campus.

987 of the trial students completed the final survey. The most popular elements were the introduction and the “Are You Ready?” questionnaire. In general there was a good student uptake with positive feedback, and a reduction in emails to student support. This was done for the Jan rollout and will be improved for the September cohort.

Future potential improvements include polls, Collaborate sessions, media content and group inductions.

C Sessions: Growing Pains: Preparing For A Teenage VLE – Andy White, University of Cumbria

This session charted the University of Cumbria’s use of Blackboard as their VLE platform since 2003. At the time, study was mostly campus based but videos would be filmed and posted out to distance learners. Students also had to send paper-based submissions through the post.
Over time there was a move to integrate Bb usernames and passwords with University ones, and they got the licensed mobile site in 2012. In 2014, Bb was listed by the University as “mission critical” for disaster recovery.

This year it was decided that every programme should have a presence on Blackboard. A benchmarking exercise was introduced in order to check whether courses were active, if they contained any broken links, or had any hidden content. An annual review is now planned to ensure that high standards are maintained.

D Sessions: Working With Students as Partners to Help You Identify and Learn from Your Mistakes: Developing a Pre-Arrival Study Skills Course for all Undergraduates – Sam Nolan, Eleanor Loughlin, Malcolm Murray, Elaine Tan and Jacquie Scollen, Durham University

After it was suggested that students wanted more contact before arriving at university, it was decided at Durham that a pre-arrival study skills course should be developed. A short 2-week course was trialled last summer, covering topics such as preparing for academic study, independent learning and digital literacy. A videographer was employed to film staff and current students talking about relevant topics. Other areas such as library services were also explored. The course will be rolled out to all students in the next academic year.

The course contains information about coming to Durham, preparing for arrival and transitioning to independent learning.  It also contains information about classes and reading materials, as well as support services such as library services. To date, the course has received 103, 576 views. Student feedback suggests that those using the course feel more prepared for their arrival at Durham.
The presentation explored mistakes the staff felt they had made and the steps they plan to take to rectify these. For instance, they felt that they should have involved students as consultants from the start of the project, and made risk management a priority earlier on.

E Sessions: The SPECTRE of Blackboard Design – James Leahy, Regent’s University London

This session looked at the syndrome of “Persistent Empty Courses” at Regent’s University – the problem of lecturers not making good use of Blackboard courses to enhance learning even though the offline course was excellent. In this example, the presenter added banners, logos and videos to the course to demonstrate the potential of online materials.

F Sessions: Establishing High Stakes Computer-Based Testing through Blackboard As A Supported Service: An Institutional Perspective On Key Challenges and Lessons Learned – Richard Walker and Andy Parkinson, University of York

This session looked at the growing use of VLEs for formal assessment and explored the ways in which staff at the University of York have coped with the challenges of implementing this. Exams on the VLE must be intuitive, flawless and fit for purpose, with a dedicated infrastructure and automated marking.

Staff were aware of possible issues that could arise, including loss of student data and multiple workstation failure. They took steps to minimize this, including creating separate exam accounts for students.

Some of the issues encountered included students being sent to the wrong rooms, and ongoing challenges with timetabling. One issue involved the randomization of questions – some students were shown the harder, essay-style questions first while others were given multiple-choice questions – this could be seen as unfair, so the issue was later rectified.

G Sessions: How I Have So Far Failed To Create A Fully Accessible VLE – Al Holloway, University of Northampton

Al Holloway’s presentation explored how he has tried to create a fully accessible VLE, but this has been difficult without the wholehearted support of all staff. Accessibility issues include Blackboard themes and layouts, video content, recorded lectures, documents and content authoring, and different browsers.  Some staff responded to his requests to look at making their material more accessible, but others made less of an effort. He emphasized the importance of gaining support from key stakeholders, and suggests implementing a method to audit accessibility.

H Sessions: Electronic Submission on Large and Complex Courses – Chris Boon, City College Norwich


This course looked at ways to manage the Grade Centre in Blackboard given the widespread use of electronic submission. These methods including splitting the class into groups, creating categories, and using Smart Views.

I found the conference really useful, and it was good to meet other people who work with VLEs. I picked up some useful pointers and learned a good deal.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Chartership - the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base

Towards the end of last year I finally took the plunge and registered for Chartership. I found a mentor and began to make plans. After many years of procrastinating, I was finally about to begin the process.

My first task was to go through the PKSB (Professional Knowledge and Skills Base) and pick out areas I thought I might like to develop. The PKSB looks really daunting at first, but remember, you aren't expected to do everything! I found blog posts about the process by WoodsieGirl and Steve Carlton, which were really useful in helping me work out exactly what I needed to do.

I began by going through the entire PKSB and giving myself a score for each area, as well as a score for my ideal skill level. I ended up with roughly three categories: areas in which I feel my skills are up to scratch; areas in which I don't have much expertise but which are not immediately relevant to my role and projected career path; and areas which are relevant but which are in need of improvement. This last category is certainly the most important in terms of Chartership.

Area of PKSB
3. Using and exploiting knowledge and information
3.3 Information retrieval
5. Information Governance and Compliance
5.3 Copyright, intellectual property and licensing
8. Literacies and Learning
8.6 Teaching and training skills
8.8 Virtual learning environments
11. Customer Focus, Service Design and Marketing
11.4 Service innovation, development and design
Other PKSB elements
Ethics and Values
Wider Library, Information and Knowledge Sector Context
Wider Organisation and Environmental Context

After some thought I settled on the categories above. I discussed them with my mentor to make sure I was on the right lines. I wanted to make sure I chose a variety of skills and knowledge areas from different areas, with a good mix of concrete skills and general awareness.

I already have some ideas of how I'm going to develop my skills, and I have made a plan of sorts - it's just a matter of sticking to it! One of my objectives was to attend the 2016 Blackboard Users' Conference in Durham, and I did that at the beginning of January, so I can tick something off my list. I've also completed a MOOC about literature searching. Next  up is a write-up of the conference, after which I need to tackle some reflective pieces.

My tips for the initial PKSB assessment are as follows:

  • Try not to get overwhelmed: remember, you don't need to aim for a 4 in everything - you only need to select up to 10 areas.
  • Ask for advice, or at least, try and and find out how others coped with the assessment: as I mentioned, I found the blog posts mentioned above very informative.
  • Discuss it with your mentor: either before, during or after your self-assessment. They can help reassure you that you are on the right lines.
  • Don't worry about getting your initial scores completely right - they are just estimates and you will not be tested on them.
Now to put my plan into practice...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Wiener Library

Although I've worked close to The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide for several years now, I'd never actually visited. It wasn't until a colleague told me about the weekly library tours, which take place every Tuesday lunchtime, that I thought to visit. We ended up making it a bit of a work thing: three of us went one lunchtime, to be followed by the other two a week later.
The Library, formed in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, is Britain's Holocaust library and the oldest collection of its kind in the world. It holds over one million items, including illustrated and rare books, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimonies.
Our tour included the main Library reading room, with considerable collections available on open access for the use of readers. Items stored elsewhere in the building, including photographs and fragile items, can be requested. Members of the public can use the Library, open on weekdays, free of charge, though first-time visitors do need to bring some ID. You need to become a member if you want to borrow books.
We were taken downstairs to view the stacks, and were able to see several fascinating items which our guide brought out to show us. One was a Nazi colouring book and another was a book of photographs of Hitler and assorted small children: both were bizarre and rather chilling. There were also some documents relating to Jewish refugees who came to the UK.
The Library runs a programme of temporary exhibitions on the ground floor. The current exhibition is Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering the Armenian Genocide which is on until 25 February. This exhibition focuses on one particular family around 1915 who recorded their experiences before, during and after the genocide in letters, diaries and photographs.
The Wiener Library is well worth a visit, even if you don't need to use the research facilities. Tours run on Tuesdays at 1pm, and you can visit the temporary exhibitions during regular opening hours.