Thursday, 18 October 2012

CILIP in London Meeting: The TUC Collections at London Metropolitan University

Last Monday I attended another CILIP in London meeting at The Square Wine Bar, Tolmers Square, near Euston. At this meeting there was a talk on The TUC (Trades Union Congress) Collections at London Metropolitan University, given by librarian Chris Coates.

The TUC Library Collections, like the Women’s Library (on which I have blogged previously), are located at London Metropolitan University. Unlike the women’s collection, however, the TUC materials are to remain at London Met thanks to a joint-funding initiative with the Trades Union Congress.

The Library was founded in 1922, uniting collections from the TUC Parliamentary Committee, the Labour Party Information Bureau and the Women’s Trade Union League, which contain materials dating back to 1868. The Collections moved to London Metropolitan University in 1996.

The Trades Union Congress has played a key role in the development of the welfare state, having assisted with the development of public health, education and social services. It established the Labour Party and continues to play an important role in the promotion and maintenance of employees’ legal rights.

The Collections
The TUC Collections offer a major resource for the study of trade unions, work and learning. They contain material in all kinds of forms, including books, pamphlets and periodicals. Among the resources included are the following:

  • Trade union and labour history journals
  • TUC publications
  • Trade union publications (including from overseas)
  • Documents on industrial relations, including strikes such as the 1926 General Strike
  • Items relating to political and labour history
  • Documents relating to other topics such as international affairs and women workers
  • Publications relating to the Labour Party

Archival documents also form part of the collections. The TUC Library contains the Workers’ Educational Association Library and Archive, a valuable resource for the study of adult and continuing education, as well as the papers of Marjorie Nicholson, who worked in the TUC International Department, and Gertrude Tuckwell, who was involved with the Women’s Trade Union League. In addition, the Labour Research Department Archive is located within the Collections and a number of press cuttings are also held. The Library also holds the manuscript of Robert Tressell’s novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Digitisation Programme
In her talk, Chris discussed the Collections’ digitisation programme, aimed at opening up the collections to a wider audience. The programme aims to inspire adult learners, inspiring an interest in social and labour history and encouraging the exploration of resources, as well as improving general IT skills. The scheme also helps to prevent damage to the original valuable archives.

One example of the digitisation programme can be found at, the location of The Union Makes Us Strong: TUC History Online. This site forms an online history of British trade union movement, and contains timelines, essays, video interviews and digitised images and documents, such as the 1888 register of the Match Workers Strike. These resources are valuable for the teaching of union history: they engage students and encourage them to examine and interpret primary sources.

Problems and Difficulties
Chris in her talk discussed some of the problems facing the digitisation programme and the collection as a whole. One key issue is the lack of funding. Any funding is sporadic, so only certain parts of the collection can be catalogued or digitised at any one time. Currently the majority of the collection is only listed on the card catalogue; only new acquisitions since 1999 and records for British trade union publications before 1980 are accessible via the London Met online library catalogue. This means users cannot access the information remotely, and makes it harder to find relevant sources.

Linked to the lack of funding is a lack of staff: only two full-time members of staff work in the Library, along with some occasional project staff when funds allow. There is a mixed level of IT skills, both among the target audience and Library staff, which make the digitisation projects and the maintenance of the website more challenging. Staff also have to compete with the mistaken belief that the library is closing: they have seen visitor numbers drop over the summer, but in fact the Library is well and truly open!

I really enjoyed this talk and I'm glad I attended. I'd never heard of the TUC Collections before finding out about this event, and I feel as though I've learned a lot.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Adobe Connect Training Session

Last week I took part in my first online training session. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. I’m not a natural when it comes to speaking in front of an audience, and though I had experience of face-to-face teaching and training before, I had no formal experience of delivering training online. Luckily I had experience of using an online lecture tool at Sheffield, so at least I had some idea of what to expect.

At work I help to manage the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): we use the Blackboard system. My workplace has eight different sites across the country, including – for example – York, Bristol and two in London. When students access the VLE they get access to a tab specific to the centre they are studying at, which contains information like student events, staff details and opening hours for their centre.

In the last few months I’ve been involved in a project to standardise the information contained on these centre tabs, so that the headings are the same for all centres and different kinds of information can be found in the same place for each centre. Subsequently we have handed back editing responsibilities to members of staff (usually Student Services or Careers) at each Centre, but since we have also upgraded to a new version of Blackboard during this period, they and we felt that training was necessary. We also wanted to ensure that the information policy and guidelines were followed as it would be a shame to standardise the tabs only to find a few months down the line that everything had been moved around again.

Because of the need to train several people, all in different locations across the country, it was thought it would be easier, cheaper and less time-consuming to run the training online. In addition, three different members of staff were delivering different aspects of the training, all of whom work in different locations. It was much simpler to use an online system rather than try and arrange for all of us to be in the same location.

The training was to be formed of three parts. The Head of Libraries and Information would begin by discussing the information policy, the marketing manager would advise on branding guidelines, and I would conclude by explaining how to actually make the changes on the system.

Adobe Connect Pro
To deliver the training we used Adobe Connect Pro, a ‘virtual meeting room’. My manager organised and facilitated the meeting, and she collated the PowerPoint slides created by all the presenters and uploaded them to the system. The system is easy to access: participants simply need to click on the weblink included in the emailed meeting invitation in order to access the space.

Screenshot of the 'meeting room' page

Presenters speak to the group using microphones, while participants can ask questions using a ‘chat’ box on the bottom right hand side of the screen. There are a number of useful icons that participants can use, including ‘raise hands’, ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’, ‘laugh’ and ‘applaud’. In general the participants in this meeting didn’t use many of these, not being used to the programme, but were able to act on instruction when my manager requested that they click the ‘raise hands’ icon to confirm they could hear.

It was decided that the presentation would be recorded and loaded onto the VLE for future reference.

How did I prepare?
Luckily I am familiar with PowerPoint, and it didn’t take me too long to prepare some slides along with some notes to ensure I said everything I wanted to. I made sure to read through these thoroughly beforehand, and ensured that I rehearsed my delivery.

I received some training on Adobe Connect Pro from my manager before the meeting. I thought it seemed relatively simple to use, but took some time to have a look around the system and familiarise myself with it.

The meeting was due to take place at 2pm, after I had a morning off work: perhaps this wasn’t ideal, but I actually felt that it gave me time to practise at home and was ‘fresh’ when I arrived into work. I normally get a bit of an afternoon slump so perhaps this was just as well!

How did it go?
As I said, I was very nervous about the meeting. I work in an open plan office and felt rather self-conscious at the thought of delivering a presentation within earshot of everyone. In the end I managed okay as once I got into the meeting I almost forgot about my surroundings. Also, it helped that the two other presenters were delivering their parts of the session first, so I had time to take a few deep breaths and familiarise myself with the situation. I was a bit nervous about presenting alongside one colleague I hardly know and another I have never met in person, but this wasn’t a problem either.

In general I thought the session went pretty well: I got across all the points I wanted to and found the software relatively straightforward to use. Informal feedback suggested that the participants found the session useful. I was pleased with the question-and-answer session, which I had been dreading: I hate being put on the spot, but I found that I was able to answer all of the questions asked at some level.

I feel generally positive about the session. I found to my surprise that I felt more comfortable with this kind of training than I do with presenting face-to-face: I hate using the telephone and thought that using a headset and speaking into a microphone would provoke the same sort of reaction in me. I liked having the screen in front of me as it gave me something to focus on, and I didn’t need to worry about having to make eye contact or speak at a loud volume as the microphone picked up my voice. I was also happy about the question-and-answer session at the end. It seems that if you know your topic well you shouldn’t have too much trouble with answering questions about it: on some level I knew this already but it helps that I have been able to put it into practice.

I think there were some things that I could have improved upon. My manager kindly offered to hear my presentation before the session, but I didn’t take her up on this. I would have felt more self-conscious presenting to just one person, even though it was a practice run, but perhaps I should have given it a go. I also feel that I would have had time to create better PowerPoint slides if I’d had more time – the slides I had weren’t bad, but I had a long weekend off work before the presentation and only had a limited amount of time to work on them. Still, I think it is a good thing that I am able to work under pressure.

As this was my first time using Adobe Connect Pro, I think I still need to get the hang of some of the tools. For instance, other participants can’t see your mouse pointer, you need to click on the arrow icon and drag it around the screen so that they can see what you are focusing on, but there were a few moments when I forgot this and had to quickly go back and drag the pointer over. I imagine this will improve with practice, however.

Next steps
I would like to learn more about Adobe Connect Pro and online training. I’d like to explore the program and make more use of the tools available, as I’m sure it has even more to offer. It would be good experience to lead a session rather than just be one presenter: perhaps this is something I could do in the future.