Tuesday, 27 September 2011


I was honoured to be presented with a book token at last week's Cam23 party. In case anyone is interested in what I did with it, I went to Heffers after work today and emerged with this:

It's not one of the ones I've read, and I have a minor Everyman fetish (am reading an Everyman edition of Chekhov at the moment), so I am very proud to have this item in my possession. When I read it, I will think of you.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Thing 23

Thing 23 - Reflection week

And so things draw to a close. What a fascinating and at times challenging experience this has been. And mostly very enjoyable too, if tiring.

For me, the best thing about the programme has been getting in touch with other librarians. It's been great to have a support network of other people exploring these things at the same time so that we can encourage each other and compare notes. Without wishing to single people out embarrassingly, I've been more impressed than I can say by Annie's apparently boundless energy and enthusiasm. For the past three months she has been everywhere - not just blogging on the Cam23 2.0 site (and on her own blogs) but also commenting and tweeting all over the place. So thank you, Annie.

It was wonderful, finally, to meet other bloggers at last night's wrap party. I'm only sorry I couldn't have done it earlier. I wish all the best to those graduate trainees who are leaving Cambridge. Those who are staying around, and those who are just arriving, I hope to meet (again) before too long.

It's also been brilliant to be able to follow people who are doing CPD23. It has proved an excellent complement to Cam23, and if similar programmes run in the future I look forward to being a part of them somehow.

As for the Things themselves, by far the most useful has been Google Reader. It's revolutionised the way I manage RSS feeds. How did I exist before? I don't remember. Also delightful: LightShot! How simple it is, and how effective. It was also fun trying out screencasting. Though I try not to dwell on negatives, my feelings about Pushnote are unchanged, I haven't used iGoogle for a couple of months, and I confess I have hardly visited LibraryThing since my initial excitement wore off. I haven't got into the habit of using my Twitter account much either, though I still log in periodically, and perhaps it will become a more regular haunt now that less of my time will be taken up with blogging. But at least it's good to have tried these things out. As librarians we ought to feel an obligation to keep up with new technologies, or we will run the risk of being left behind. They may be a useful weapon if we are ever called upon to justify our existence.

OK, enough of the Braveheart stuff. I've done quite a bit of Wordling here and there in the past few years, so I thought I'd use Tagxedo, which I was introduced to by Erin's post, to add a bit of colour.

Well. Where now? I'm sure I'll appreciate the Cam23-shaped hole in my life for a bit, but those inevitable withdrawal symptoms will steal upon me before too long. I think the blog will go into at least semi-hiatus, but I won't hesitate to resurrect it if I think of anything interesting to write about. And I hope some of the other blogs will also continue. I'll keep following everyone's progress. Until we meet again.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Thing 22

Thing 22 - Wikis

Next week's reflection apart, this is the last Thing I am obliged to write about, and also, for me, the most difficult. What do I know of wikis?

Well, occasionally I find myself following a Google search result to the Countdown Wiki or the Family Guy Wiki, and I use Wikipedia daily, though sometimes I have to remind myself that I shouldn't take everything I find there at face value. The fact that anyone can edit it means that vandalism is rife. Take as an example this edit of the entry for my home town of Frome, which ingeniously amalgamates the previous edit with the entry for the Black Sea resort of Varna. Sample lie: 'Like other Somerset towns, Frome has its share of stray dogs, for the most part calm and friendly, flashing orange clips on the ears showing they have been castrated and vaccinated.' To set the record straight, Frome did not have eighteen mosques in the 19th century, and there is no Prince Boris I Boulevard anywhere in Somerset (or, indeed, the United Kingdom).

The dome of Frome Cathedral

Apart from the occasional amendment to Wikipedia, though, I haven't had anything to do with contributing to wikis. As Anna says, we used to be able to edit our library website using a Wiki, but my memories of using it are so slight as to be practically nonexistent. Probably I never did.

In a customarily perceptive post Annie compares the function of wikis to that of Google Docs, which we explored as Thing 9 many, many weeks ago. I suspect she is quite right to suggest that wikis are better for long-term projects. They're also preferable to other technologies as the reach widens. Wikis may be on the way out, but Wikipedia at least should survive, because a wiki is probably the most appropriate way (at the moment) of managing a collection of information to which presumably tens of thousands of people contribute. If, however, you're working on a smaller project with a small group of people, it's less hassle to use Google Docs.

I feel an obligation to apologise for such a half-hearted traversal of the wiki, but I know I'm not the only person feeling a sort of lethargy at this stage of proceedings. It's been fun (I'm sure that will come across when my Thing 23 post appears), but at the same time a break from blogging will be welcome. I will be rejuvenated by the time of the party on Thursday. Hope to see a lot of you there!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Thing 21

Thing 21 - Reference management

Reference management is not a sexy subject. Not for normal people, at any rate.

But I am not a normal person; I am a Librarian.

There can be few things more satisfying than compiling a lengthy and meticulous bibliography. I spent two or three months last summer doing precisely that, as I assembled my Masters dissertation. At UCL we were alerted early on to the existence and usefulness of something called Reference Manager, but I confess I never got into the habit of using it, and in any case have always rather enjoyed assembling my bibliographies slowly and painstakingly. It gives me a sense of achievement I don't imagine I would feel if I simply bunged all the information into a reference management program and clicked 'Hey presto'.

My pride and joy

Still, in the name of research, I have decided to try out Zotero, which seems the most accessible of the three methods mentioned in Suz's Cam 23 post.

In theory it should save a lot of work assembling a bibliography if you can just click a button next to the Amazon URL. A flaw is that Zotero's system appears to import mistakes from Amazon records too. So an edition of Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, one of the author's shorter works, listed inaccurately on Amazon as having 1524 pages, says the same when I add it to my Zotero references. Like a downloaded catalogue record, it saves time to start with, but requires double-checking to eradicate errors.

The Zotero reference panel

It's nice to be able to add automatically any number of different kinds of resource. Not just books and journal and news articles, but also videos from YouTube, which it didn't occur to me to cite in the bibliography of my dissertation but which might have brightened it up a little.

The really exciting bit was exporting the list to a bibliography, and testing the different types of referencing available. My preferred system is Harvard, or at least some quirky variation on Harvard my mind has devised. It only took me a couple of seconds to export my selections to a Rich Text file, and I was impressed by how classy it looked. Not perfect, and it needs quite a bit of tweaking, but feel the speed... How much simpler life might have been if I had bothered to investigate this last year.

My exported Zotero bibliography

So, some very promising investigations. I'll be interested to try out other reference management programs to compare them to this one, but surely this is the kind of thing that every librarian can get animated about. Order out of chaos.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Things 19 and 20

Thing 19 - SlideShare

Of the many things I dread, public speaking is pretty near the top of the list. My favourite time of year is Christmas; my second favourite is the moment after I finish my final library induction tour at the start of Michaelmas Term, when there is the longest stretch of time until I have to do another one. The actuality is never as bad as the anticipation, but all in all presentations are something I avoid making if I possibly can. Like Laura, I am in awe of those to whom such things come naturally.

I had to make occasional presentations in seminars when I was a student, of course, but not generally using slides. My lecturers sometimes used PowerPoint, but it sort of passed me by. I had to rack my brains to think of a presentation of mine that I could upload to SlideShare, but then I remembered a short one I'd helped to assemble for a piece of UCL groupwork about children's libraries, mentioned before in my post about Google Docs. (In all honesty, it was more my colleague Clara's handiwork than mine, to give credit where it's due, though I contributed the pictures.) I uploaded it to SlideShare and it should now be visible here:

SlideShare seems a handy site, though there's no system of peer review, so the quality of searchable presentations may vary wildly. That said, a simple search for 'children libraries design' brought up over 1500 results including a number of slideshows which were impressive, if not always particularly relevant to the search terms.

Thing 20 - Prezi

If my conflation of these two Things into a single post (not that they don't go together) seems a little rushed, it's because I am a little rushed. I will be away all weekend playing the piano in a production of Oliver! which is being assembled from scratch between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, and want to get this post written so as not to have to play catch-up next week. All of the songs have been buzzing around my head for the past month or so, and I decided that in the interest of not producing something unutterably boring I might as well relate my first ever Prezi to the musical in some way.

I was relieved to read the Book Gryphon's soothing words in the Cam 23 post: 'your first attempt is likely to be fairly poor'. I feel able to report without too much shame then that my first attempt is poor. Comparing it to other Prezis on the site, and particularly to this superb tutorial by thewikiman, it is pedestrian in the extreme. I'm sure there is a learning curve, but I'm not even on it yet. But I can see that Prezi-making is a skill that can be mastered, and I am not inexpressibly disheartened by my feeble efforts at this stage.

I had planned on using Creative Commons-licensed images from Flickr in my Prezi, but was saved the hassle of crediting them all by Prezi's option of a specially tailored licensed image search via Google. I haven't worked out how to exploit fully the changes in size and perspective that Prezi offers yet, but I hereby vow to keep trying until I establish something approaching competence.

For the moment, though, I must prepare for the workhouse. So long, fare thee well, pip-pip, cheerio, etc. etc.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Thing 18

Thing 18 - Reflection week

Reflection time again? The weeks are simply flying by. And I am off on holiday for the second time in a month, shirking my Cam23 2.0 drinks party attendance duties once more. I wouldn't even have been able to come on the extra day (Saturday) because I'm attending a wedding next weekend. But if I've got the hang of scheduling posts, this should appear at some point on Monday afternoon. Hello.

Glass reflections
Glass reflections by JMaz Photo on Flickr

I have found the latest batch of Things more relaxing, by and large, than the previous ten. That's because most of them - LibraryThing, Facebook, Flickr and Podcasts - come under the heading of Play rather than Work for me, and so I've had a lot of fun tinkering around with them. LibraryThing, for instance, I don't really envisage using for professional purposes, but for my personal library it might be quite handy.

I feel as if I'm running out of steam rather, hence the comparative brevity of this post, though I've been quite good at keeping up so far. At least the end is in sight, with only five Things left - and one of those is the final reflection, and two of the others we get a whole week for - so it should be manageable. Looking ahead, though, the last things are very much outside my comfort zone. I suppose it's good to be stretched. I must say how very grateful I have been for everyone's support along the way. I find the blog comments most encouraging. Thank you.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thing 17

Thing 17 - Podcasts

I already use podcasts a lot. I see from iTunes that I subscribe to about 25 of them, on and off, and listen to them on my iPod, usually when walking to and from work, or travelling further afield. Not only do podcasts allow me to keep up with radio programmes I generally can't listen to because of being at work (apparently radio is banned in the library, say the spoilsport powers that be), but they also alert me to things I would otherwise have missed. The BBC Radio 4 Documentary of the Week podcast is a case in point. Each week is likely to throw up something new. A couple of months ago it was this, which turned out, to my surprise, to be one of the most moving programmes I had heard in years. I would never have happened upon it otherwise.

Listening to library-related podcasts is not a regular occupation of mine, though I discovered and sampled quite a wide range of them last year. The MA course at UCL has one compulsory exam on matters of professional awareness, and I decided that listening to podcasts would firstly provide me with an idea of what different libraries might use podcasts for, and secondly keep me thinking about libraries constantly, whether I wanted to or not. Once the exam was out of the way, I had a break from them, and I confess I haven't gone back.

From what I recall, the more successful podcasts tended to be those produced by public libraries, particularly those aimed at teen audiences and involving input from teenagers. I don't know if any British libraries do this, but US libraries seem to have grasped the potential of podcasts aimed at slightly geeky adolescents who are into not just books but also the other facilities libraries now provide - video, music, gaming - and several are beginning to exploit it rather well.

By contrast, those podcasts I listened to which were produced by libraries in the UK tended to be practical guides for library users - a small, finite series of short programmes to explain borrowing procedures, catalogue searches, the logistics of library access, that sort of thing. Of course, there are also podcasts aimed not at library users but at librarians themselves, which I intend to explore properly when I have a bit more time.

I haven't podcasted before, but one of my brothers contributes to a university comedy podcast, and with some success. I can certainly see the value for libraries of producing audio and video tutorials, as covered earlier in the programme when we looked at screencasting, but I think a podcast should ideally be an ongoing thing. If you're going to have a library podcast, why not make it a monthly occurrence - perhaps an informal chat between library staff to explain what the librarians have been doing at work recently, or to broach other library news? It's a nice additional extra, like using Facebook for your library. Still, I wonder if it might turn out to be a minority interest. Perhaps a Doodle poll for students would clarify matters? Ah, all I have learned this summer is beginning to coalesce.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Thing 16

Thing 16 - Flickr

Another thing I'd been looking forward to. I like the fact that so much of the content of Flickr is rights-free (or fairly rights-free), so that anyone can use it, but I hadn't got around to exploring what had to be done to embed pictures from Flickr in my blog posts. Actually, with Flickr coming up on the Cam23 agenda after my holiday, I'd already half-decided before setting off for Germany that this might be a good excuse for me to join Flickr myself and post some holiday photos. So that's what I've done. You can browse a set of pictures of German signs and writing here and one of various church windows of Cologne and Bonn, many containing very beautiful stained glass, here.

This is an authentic Stange of Kölsch, the beer all Cologne people must drink many times a day to prove their loyalty to the city, linked from my Flickr account.

And this is the bottom section of a window in Cologne Cathedral.

Such a wide-ranging repository of images is a godsend to the librarian desperate not to have to fall back on clipart once more. With this and Wikimedia Commons, no library poster need ever be unattractive again.

And in the spirit of sharing media, here's a video of the process of making chocolate at the Lindt-sponsored Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne. I put it together using Windows Movie Maker, which I had never used before. It only took me about 15 minutes. Might be useful for library videos.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Thing 15

Thing 15 - LinkedIn

I have had no previous experience of LinkedIn other than that of finding unwanted results from the website in Google searches. Whenever I've followed up a link to the site I have been arrested by how sterile and formal it looks. I dare say you can pimp your profile a bit, but it's not designed for frivolity. This is very much the professional end of the social networking wedge.

Helen draws an astute analogy between LinkedIn and Monica from Friends. In a programme peopled with irritating characters, Monica stands out as being - somehow - more irritating than the rest. It's hard to imagine that a character more annoying than the other five might exist, and yet there she is, resplendent in her pedantry and joylessness. And that's the impression I have hitherto held of LinkedIn. Still, in the spirit of intrepidity and obligation, I have created an account for myself.

There are a few reasons why I haven't tried out LinkedIn until now. For one thing, it's for people who like to network. I can see the value of professional networking, but it's just not me. It's not that I lack ambition entirely - future employers please note - but the notion of secret handshakes and backslapping and building up your profile until eventually, inevitably, you become Prime Minister and make your best chum Chancellor, all this puts me off. If one day I should get another job, I hope it will be because of what I know and not who I know. But perhaps this is the attitude of one who lives in a dream world, and I concede that it may be necessary to make some small concession to LinkedIn, in case of emergency.

For another thing, what would I put on my profile? This is the only real job I've ever had. When I applied for this one, I included my GCSE results (including grades, natch) on my application form. GCSEs! That kind of thing stops being of interest to anyone, let alone potential employers, after about the first week of A-levels. And presumably nobody cares how I did in my piano exams either.

Still, it turns out my adult life has not been as entirely devoid of incident as I had believed, and so here I am. I managed to pad things out somewhat with undergraduate sidelines and stuff I got up to in my gap year. I can't pretend that my current status of '0 connections' is likely to cause me any sleepless nights, though I fear it does make me look a bit like Joseph Heller's Major Major Major Major ('Even among men lacking distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed with how unimpressive he was.').

Anyway, if you would like to get in touch to offer me a job, you know where to look.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Thing 14

Thing 14 - Facebook

I already use Facebook. I use it far too much. But enough of my personal problems. Let's think about Facebook for libraries.

I went to an excellent training session some months ago at the English Faculty, where I saw presentations by Ange and Helen among others. It alerted me to a number of relevant things I might have failed to consider beforehand, and gave me the push I needed to start King's College Library's Facebook page, which may be found here.

Although layouts are fairly prescribed, and you can't mould it to the same extent that you can a blog, a library Facebook page is essentially what you make it. The information you broadcast determines the impression you give to the world at large. And you are broadcasting to the world. Most of the people to have 'liked' our Facebook page are current students, but we have also picked up a few King's College fanboys curious to see what the library looks like - inevitable, I suppose, given the emblematic status of King's College.

It's important to remember that Facebook is not our main channel of communication with students. If we need to get in touch with them, email is our first resort, and if we want to make the wider public aware of any developments within the library then we can post a news story on the College website. So what is the purpose of our Facebook page?

I see it as a light-hearted diversion from the library's main purpose of providing a service to students. Our page allows us to keep interested parties in touch with what's going on in the library. We can post useful things like information on library access or links to our Delicious bookmarks, but it's good not to let things get too austere. Maintaining visual interest is quite important. That means uploading new pictures every so often, whether of the library itself, some ducklings hanging out or a scan of an old news story about a seal visiting King's; or this cover of an 18th-century score from one of our collections, which I posted to coincide with the Royal Wedding:

As with a personal Facebook account, a decision probably has to be made about how often to update. It's not a good idea to post several things a day and swamp your fans' news feeds, or they will either block you or 'unlike' you (both of these are bad). On the other hand, you don't want to let the account stagnate due to infrequent posts. My feeling is that about one post a week is probably a happy medium.

When I started the page I was posting fairly regularly, but things have tailed off in recent months. When term starts again I'll make an effort to liven it up. If I felt myself capable, I'd like to turn it into something like this, but I'm not sure it would be appropriate.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Thing 13

Thing 13 - LibraryThing

I'm a librarian, but I'm also a bookworm, and so this is probably the single Thing I've been most looking forward to. I used a basic LibraryThing app on Facebook for a short while a few years ago to show friends what I was reading, but I had never had my own LibraryThing account. I thought it would be nice to be able to add a LibraryThing widget to my blog, so I set about doing that.

Registration was not only easy, but even pleasant. It's a nice touch that the code required 'to verify your humanity' (I can think of a few people who would fail that test...) has to be entered from the cover of a book:

Being the kind of geek who keeps a reading diary, I know everything I've read for the past several years. It was the work of no more than a few minutes to add all the books I've read this year to my account, using Amazon.co.uk as my search source. Then I played around with the formatting of the widget available to Blogger until I found something that suited me. And so on this blog you should now be able to see something like this at the side:

This morning I logged on to find that on the basis of the books I'd listed I had been invited by another user to a group called BBC Radio 3 Listeners, which I duly joined. I'm still very much on the nursery slopes with LibraryThing, but I think it is likely to become a regular haunt.

As far as using LibraryThing for libraries is concerned, it seems to be a nice optional extra but not essential. I don't know how easy (or desirable) it is to incorporate aspects of LibraryThing into a library catalogue. Looking at two Oxbridge libraries that use LibraryThing, one has not been updated for three years, while the other is updated every week or so with new additions. It requires someone to put the effort in, and it may be hard to monitor just how much library users get out of it. As my colleague Anna points out to me, we already have our own more mercenary way of notifying users of new books - via the Amazon Store on our library website, where we advertise new books by Fellows and graduates of King's College in the hope that kindly visitors will buy them.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Thing 12

Thing 12 - Bookmarking tools

If it's not too lazy of me, I'll restrict myself to using Delicious for Thing 12, rather than all three suggested websites. My brother is staying with me this week, and we are quite busy getting up to mischief in the evenings, so I haven't got much time to explore the Things outside work.

First things first. The idea of social bookmarking is a smart one, both because it enables you to share favourite websites with others and because it lets you access your own bookmarks yourself (keeping them private, if you want) from any internet computer. So much more convenient than having to configure umpteen web browsers on as many different computers.

I have a little experience of Delicious already, albeit essentially second-hand. My colleague Anna has created a Delicious account for users of King's College Library, both patrons and library staff. This account groups together links to useful websites - ebooks, publishers, other libraries, cataloguing guidelines, and so on - and has recently begun to incorporate a number of useful online texts for the use of students of the Pembroke-King's Programme, which runs every summer for eight weeks. Anyway, the point is that I am already conscious of some of the advantages social bookmarking possesses for libraries.

You call that delicious? This is delicious!

When you hear the name Delicious you probably imagine something exciting and extravagant (Cologne's Schokoladenmuseum, for instance - of which more later, I am sure), but aesthetically, the website is ever so slightly austere - elegantly minimal, you might say - and the notion of sharing links is perhaps more techie than sexy. That said, there's no reason why it can't be both - texy, if you will - and any reservations about its appearance are easily overcome when its functionality becomes apparent.

Setting up my own account was simple enough, though I couldn't install the Firefox add-on as it was not compatible with my current browser, Firefox 5.0, which was released in June. Presumably this issue will be resolved sooner rather than later, but for the moment I used the bookmarklet, which lives on my newly enabled bookmarks toolbar.

I decided to assemble a collection of bookmarks related to music, whether websites I visit regularly or pages of interest I bookmarked myself months ago with the intention of exploring further at some point. Eventually the list began to look a little unwieldy, which is where the tagging system became useful.

Tags help you to isolate similar sites from within a group of bookmarks, which is arguably a better arrangement than the way web browsers organise bookmarks: within folders, each bookmark with its own fixed place. Multiple tagging can make it easier to find a particular bookmark, and allows you to place any single bookmark in any number of separate disciplines. In Firefox at home, I have separate folders for blogs and music, but where do I bookmark a blog about music? I don't have to worry about that with Delicious.

Another thing I like is the simplicity of changing your settings so that links open in another tab or window as a default. I've come to realise that I'm quite tyrannical about this sort of thing. The 'house style' of this blog, if it's not too pretentious to write of such a thing, is that links to pages within the blog open in the same window, while links to external sites open in a different window. If you suffer from a similar neurosis, here is how to change your settings on Delicious:

  • Click 'Display options' at the top of your list of bookmarks
  • Choose 'View advanced options'
  • Choose to open bookmarks in 'new window'

There is one problem I know I am not the first person to have identified, which is that you can't include spaces within tags. That can be awkward if, for example, one of your intended tags is someone's name. I wanted to tag the singer Peter Pears in one of my bookmarks. Clearly if I tag his two names individually, clicking one tag will produce results about several Peters, while the other will produce results mainly about fruit.

Pears: created the role of Albert Herring in 1947

So what is the solution? Using a hyphen or a full stop or an underscore to break up the names? In the end I just ran them together as PeterPears, and repeated that formatting in other tags, but as there is no standardisation there is no guarantee of finding other people's bookmarks on the same subject when you click the tag. Perhaps something for the Delicious bods to think about.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thing 11

Thing 11 - Reflection week

I'm on holiday this week. Sorry not to meet everyone yesterday, but we have plenty of time.

But wait! Surely my commitment to Cam23 is not so great that I am sacrificing valuable time exploring the fascinating byways of German Gothic architecture to write this drivel? Well, no. I've written this in anticipation of reflection week, and am taking this opportunity to try out Blogger's 'scheduled post' option. If I come back next week to discover it's not worked, like those desperate occasions in my youth when I would return home to find the video timer had gone wrong, I will be royally miffed.

Kölner Dom at night. Image from Wikimedia Commons

I presume this is the occasion to think about what we have liked and not liked about the course so far, whether there are things (or Things) we have particularly responded to, and how we want to progress.

By and large, this has been a very enjoyable month. The thing I have liked most of all has been the chance it has provided for me to get in touch with other librarians in Cambridge. That isn't something that I've been in the habit of doing since I started working here five years ago. Of course, I see my colleagues, and very charming people they are too, but apart from occasional meetings with staff from other colleges, and the libraries@cambridge conference each year, that's about all the socialising I do.

I think it's important to keep up with people's blogs and post comments as often as possible, just to maintain momentum. I have been trying to be proactive about this. It's very encouraging to receive comments and tweets from other people doing the programme, especially if you don't know them personally. I'm fairly good at keeping track of what other people are posting, but the problem of starting to follow lots of blogs all at once is that it takes a while before you start to remember who's who. If I haven't commented on your blog yet, it is not (necessarily) a personal affront. I may easily get around to it in the coming weeks.

As for the things themselves, they've been a mixed bag but mainly good. You don't get much time to try them out before reporting back, but Cam23 has to move at this kind of pace. iGoogle has not become a regular haunt of mine, and I suspect Google Calendar and Pushnote won't either, but I really like blogging, screenshots and RSS (as I already did), and can see that screencasts, Doodle and Google Docs are likely to be the perfect tools to use when the necessity presents itself.

I'm not quite into the swing of Twitter. I do get it, having used it for a couple of years already in a non-professional (I may say very non-professional) capacity, but I'm not sure exactly what kind of tone I want to pitch. Part of me would like to be posting very worthy stuff about new technologies and projects all the time, but I don't think I could realistically maintain the pretence. My mind is simply too trivial to be continually occupied with thoughts of professional development, and so what I have tweeted so far has been essentially light-hearted, if by and large library-related. I sort of hope that taking part in Cam23 will somehow mould me into a more professional (or at least more professionally aware) person. I know, not desperately likely, but perhaps it will have at least some effect on how I approach my work.

I am now compelled to go and shove some things in a suitcase, but I shall see you anon. Have a lovely week.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thing 10

Thing 10 - Pushnote and Evernote

I conform to Ned Potter's ingenious library stereotypometer infographic in only a small number of ways. I don't listen to Adam and Joe, I don't drink gin, I don't knit and I don't wear a cardigan, but at least I can say I'm a leftie (in handedness and politicalness).

There are a few things, though, that bring out my generally dormant illiberal side, and the culture of commenting is one of them. In the old days, we the public kept quiet. The BBC told us what was going on and we accepted it. We were happy then. The rise of the internet has seen the media become democratised. Presenters of current affairs programmes ask us for our opinions, the more banal the better, and all online news websites offer a comments facility.

There must be something in the comments section of news websites and blogs that appeals to the meanest of human instincts. I have trained myself not to scroll down too far when reading any article for fear of happening on something that will cause me to abandon all faith in humanity. The anonymity that the internet provides means that people can be freer with their opinions than they would be in person, safe in the knowledge that they will not be held to account for whatever poisonous trash they write. (You may be familiar with Godwin's Law.) Just last month, Shaun Usher, who runs the superb and popular Letters of Note blog, disabled its comments facility because he was having to spend so much time removing insults posted by trolls. His feelings on the matter are entirely comprehensible.

I love the internet as a place for discussion. Discussion is good. I use Twitter and message boards and blogs to exchange ideas and opinions. Nevertheless, I can't escape the perhaps reprehensible feeling that the democratisation of media has meant the enfranchisement of idiots. They were always among us, but we were able to avoid them. Now they infest the places we thought were safest. The words of Kent Brockman come back to haunt us: 'I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.'

A man ahead of his time

All of this is a prelude to my saying that the central idea of Pushnote, that one can comment on any webpage without having to register to use the website, is ever so slightly repulsive to me, and I confess that my first explorations of Pushnote have not even suggested to me, let alone convinced me, that it is something I might want to use in the future.

Creating an account was simple enough; finding friends was next to impossible. It told me to follow Stephen Fry, which I did more through force of habit than anything else. How to find other people I knew? (The short answer is that probably nobody I know is even on Pushnote, it's such a minority interest.) I had hoped to be able to find people who are Facebook or Twitter friends, but how to do that was a mystery. It doesn't help that the Pushnote FAQ are out of date. They instruct you to click 'Add Friends' from the homepage, when there is no such button. There is a 'Find people' button, which lets you search Gmail contacts (of which I have none) or look for people by name. I searched for a few names in case I recognised anybody, but in vain. So far, so frustrating.

You can probably tell where this is going, but let's plod on. I installed Pushnote for Firefox and hied my way to the BBC website, which is one of the ones I visit most regularly. What might I find there when I clicked the little star in the corner? Well, the most recent comments included:

  • always my first site of the day
  • Possibly the best site for any information on the web. . .almost!
  • One of the best websites for news, sport, entertainment
  • Best news site on the web
  • great for everything so useful
  • Best website ever.

It's not the commenters' fault that what they write is so tedious. It's just that Pushnote has the same handicap as Twitter (love Twitter though I do) - there's only so much you can say of interest in 140 characters. Plus I know all this already. Might a visit to a site I never use be more enlightening? I visited Bing.com, where I discovered the following:

  • Bing is kack!
  • I saw the movie Unknown yesterday and when running a search they used bing. I understand they probably got payed to use it but I was like "who the hell uses bing".
  • Not a bing fan. And sick of the constant advertising of it on Gossip Girl.

I hear you, brother. But there are only six comments on Bing in total, and this is one of the 25 most visited websites worldwide. At the moment, I can't see Pushnote having any great application simply because its reach is so pitiful. If it takes off, like Twitter has, perhaps its value will become apparent. As it is, even Pushnote's chief proponent, Stephen Fry, has only ranked five sites in the last six months. I really don't think it's got legs.

After this dispiriting experience, I wasn't really inclined to try Evernote. My first action on loading the website was to check to see what Pushnote users thought about it, but of course nobody has either posted a comment or rated it. But I am turning into a loyal and conscientious Cam23er, so plunged in.

The auspices were good. Any site that uses the following image in its 'Getting Started' section is OK by me.

"I understand more than you'll ... never know."

The real task was working out just what Evernote is. My assessment is that it's a sort of online clipboard for you to gather together things that you're working on or that interest you, and it might be especially useful if you want to access things from multiple computers. An advantage is that you don't need to download the desktop client to access your files (which might be a problem at work), you can do it all online.

I experimented with making notes, copying images into notes (I found a nice sketch online purporting to be of the young Franz Schubert, though if it is, which I doubt, then he's doing a very passable impression of Ronan Keating), and saving text as a note using the Firefox web clipper add-on. Evernote also has a cute elephant as its logo.

Picture of Schu / A Different Bert (delete as appropriate)

Perhaps it's just a reaction against Pushnote, but on first impression I really rather like Evernote, at least as a toy. Whether I will end up favouring it over other ways of doing the same thing, I can't tell. But unlike Pushnote, I will at least be exploring it further. No matter what.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Thing 9

Thing 9 - Google Docs

Every so often it is necessary to put together a presentation or a proposal in conjunction with other people, and files get shared by email and multiplied so that it can be difficult to keep track. This is where Google Docs comes in handy, as the video LK posted on the Cam23 website demonstrates.

I've used Google Docs once before, when I was one of three students assembling a presentation on children's libraries for our Masters course at UCL. I say 'used', but in fact only one of us really did any editing online. It was still useful as a way of sharing files, though, and perfect for our situation, as part-time students who weren't able to meet up during the week to discuss our project in person.

Carousel in the children's section of Frome Library

I decided to practise on a programme I assembled for the concert I sang in a couple of weekends ago. If I'd had space I would have put a picture on the cover, so that was what I thought I'd try. I uploaded the file using my Cam23 Gmail account.

I then chose to 'share' the file with myself on one of my other email addresses. (I really have too many now. I make it six at the last count, though there may easily be a few I've forgotten.) The notification came through and I (Gareth 1.0) set about editing.

How convenient that you can insert pictures direct from a Google Image Search, and that the search filters out images likely to have copyright issues. I happened upon a beautiful picture of a stained glass window that fitted very nicely.

Logging back in as Gareth 2.0, I found everything as it should be. So, my first tentative experiments have been gratifyingly successful, and I can quite envisage using Google Docs again every so often, particularly if there is a necessity to put a document together with several other people not located on site, as preparation for the summer school King's runs annually with Pembroke, for instance.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Thing 8

Thing 8 - Google Calendar

As an undergraduate I kept with great meticulousness a diary of what I was meant to be doing. Since starting work I have fallen into the habit of using my Outlook calendar for work and my mobile for personal use. It's a habit I'm comfortable with, and I didn't expect Google Calendar to provide much that would persuade me to abandon current procedures.

That said, the interface is attractive and it was quite easy to set up, though there doesn't appear to be an option to set the clock to adjust for daylight saving time. It is British Summer Time at the moment - you just have to look at the rain through your window to know that - but Google makes no acknowledgement of the fact. In the end I had to pretend I was in Algeria to get it to tell the right time.

Google Calendar works quite like Outlook's calendar facility - setting start and end times, optional reminders and so on. I started to encounter problems when it came to reminders. Reminders can be displayed in two ways - as a pop-up window, or as an email. I tried both, neither with unmitigated success. In order to benefit from pop-up reminders you have to have Google constantly open in your browser. This seems more hassle than my current system, which works because I have Outlook open all the time anyway.

Outlook - my faithful servant

As far as email reminders are concerned, I have been using for things related to this blog a Gmail account I created specially for Cam23. I have set this account to forward all emails to my work address, which I check using Outlook. But the email filter at work is mean. It lets emails about new blog comments through, but not emails from Twitter or, it turns out, Google Calendar. So I end up unreminded.

I can see Google Calendar has its advantages - the ability to share your calendar with others is handy (though do I want other people to know what I'm doing all the time? and anyway I've got Twitter for that...) - but by and large I share the reservations expressed here by my colleague Anna. Like her, I'll give this a fair chance, but I don't really expect it to become a fixture.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Thing 7

Thing 7 - Doodle

I set up a purely theoretical trip to the cinema to see the final Harry Potter film during the first week of its general release (I confess that I will be going to see it in actuality as well as in theory), and invited a few friends to join me. The creation of the poll was simplicity itself, and the responses it received provided a useful demonstration of the strengths and weaknesses of Doodle.

"It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." ~ Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Doodle handily collates results on your behalf, so I could instantly tell which was the best time for us to go simply by looking at the bottom row - the only time when all five of us were available.

On the other hand, Doodle seems to be easily corruptible. Perhaps you can alter this if you create an account and change your poll's settings, but the default setting lets anyone reply to the poll and post comments, without using e.g. e-mail authorisation. This means that any person can enter someone else's name and reply on their behalf, or leave a scurrilous or abusive comment.

The times I entered as choices effectively selected themselves - they are the times of all 13 screenings of the film in 2D at the Arts Picturehouse from this coming Friday. 13 may seem a small number, but even so when I loaded the page after creating the poll it displayed the message 'This poll is bigger than usual' and hid some of the options. If one wanted to offer 20 or 30 or 40 options, for instance, to schedule a single meeting at some point in the next few weeks, it might become an unwieldy poll to navigate, and e-mail might turn out to be a preferable medium.

Still, quibbles aside, Doodle seems very user-friendly, and I can envisage it being the ideal tool to use in certain situations.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Things 5 and 6

You will have to excuse me if things seem a little rushed in this post. I haven't had much time to play around with the things we're exploring this week, but I wanted to write this before I go away for the weekend tomorrow evening. I am going to be singing in this concert - and incidentally, if you fancy an impromptu excursion to Somerset, which I admit is unlikely, there can be no better way of spending your Saturday lunchtime. Plug over.

Thing 5 - screenshots

Although I can't claim to be a master of the art, making screenshots was at least already within my capabilities. I haven't used screenshots in my previous posts in any demonstrative capacity, merely to provide a minimal amount of visual appeal. My attitude is that one picture is better than none (depending on the picture, I suppose). But I had just used the old and cumbersome way of Shift + Print Screen, then pasting into Paint and cropping as necessary, and saving as a PNG to minimize image loss and graininess.

A very brief acquaintance of LightShot is enough to convince me of its value in saving time and effort. After installing the Firefox add-on, it can't have taken me more than 30 seconds to create this screenshot from the BBC homepage with my first attempt:

I haven't tried downloading the LightShot application, but if I find myself using the add-on a lot then I'll explore further.

Thing 6 - screencasts

Now we're starting to get outside my comfort zone. I've never done anything like this before. But when it comes to demonstrating a procedure, a video will suit some people better than a series of stills, so I decided to try and make a screencast showing how to place a hold using the King's College webcat. We have an in-house catalogue which operates independently from Newton and LibrarySearch, and it might be useful to be able to direct confused freshers to a demonstrative video.

Unless I have misread the small print, Screencast-o-matic offers only limited functionality free of charge, so it is not possible to do any retrospective editing of picture or sound. Everything has to be executed in a single take, and you cannot add any commentary afterwards, so making a screencast is effectively a performance in real time. No pressure then.

After some tentative experiments, I decided that my video could do with title cards at the beginning and end to brighten it up, which I designed using Paint (very retro of me), and also some background music. I'd have preferred to use a relevant song like this, but thought I'd better choose something which wouldn't present any rights issues. Searching my computer I found a little MIDI arrangement of this song that I'd made at school. I wonder now if it's a bit intrusive, but if it bothers you then you can always turn the sound off. Anyway, without further ado:

I like that Screencast-o-matic shows the movement of the cursor and of each click with little animations to aid the viewer's focus, though I had to be careful to click on each button when I would normally simply press return to save time, remembering that such a demonstration has to spell everything out. I also paced myself quite slowly. Having a piece of music with a set length (about 40 seconds) helped me in this respect - my first attempts would have been too fast for most newbies to follow.

I uploaded my screencast to YouTube and called it 'How to place a hold', but didn't give it any tags. Perhaps if I had, there might be a more germane selection of videos in the right-hand column instead of i.e. 'How to pick a lock'.

It's been really fun exploring these things, especially screencasts, and if I get a bit more fluent I can see them both being useful tools in the library.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Thing 4

Thing 4 - Twitter

I must confess, I already use Twitter. Two years ago, walking down Green Street, I encountered a familiar figure. It wasn't until he had passed me that my brain registered it was the King of Twitter himself, who had been a boyhood idol of mine. A day in which no member of my family shouted 'Baaaah!' was a sad day indeed. Anyway, being a creepy kind of guy, I turned around and stalked him as far as Tatties, where he went inside for a drink. Foolish, having got so close to the man, not to approach him, you might justifiably say, but something in me (probably a desire not to make an idiot of myself) decided me against it. He must be assailed by many strangers every day, I reasoned. But when I got home I signed up to Twitter and said hello to him there. What a bizarrely 21st-century way of communicating.

In 1996 there was a rather good radio comedy series by the writer Gary Parker called Seymour the Fractal Cat, which is sometimes repeated in various obscure corners of BBC Radio. I remember vividly its description of the popular perception of internet users as 'socially challenged individuals e-mailing each other Mr Spock's inside leg measurement'.

"I've already measured it, Captain. 22 inches."

Nowadays, of course, the internet is not solely the province of such people, nor is Twitter merely a haven for acolytes of Stephen Fry and people who want to tell you what they've had for breakfast. Just this week the Pope began to tweet (no news of his breakfast yet, but I'd hazard a guess at bread and wine). I usually use Twitter for sharing news stories and videos and music and jokes with friends, and occasionally I meet new people along the way.

I thought I'd better create a separate Twitter feed to use for Cam23 so as to keep professional and personal life separate, and here it is. I've also put a gadget on this blog showing my recent tweets, though I may take it down again if using this Twitter account doesn't turn into a habit.

It was easy finding people to follow. First of all, Annie's list of Cam23 tweeters gave some guidance (though I made a tentative policy decision not to request to follow people with private accounts, so as to spare them the embarrassment of rejecting me in case they should want to remain private - social media can be a bit of a minefield in this respect), and there are lots of Cambridge librarians on Twitter already, some I know and many I don't. It seems an excellent way of finding out how other libraries and librarians operate and keeping in touch with library news in Cambridge and further afield. Before long, people had started to follow me back, and were sending me messages to make me feel at home. I have even followed Annie's example and set up an RSS feed for the term #cam23 on Twitter.

It's interesting to look at the variety of different types of Twitter feed that librarians have, whether they tweet as individuals or as corporate bodies, what level of formality or informality they pitch; and to consider the pitfalls of having a single library twitter feed. Who takes the responsibility for updating it? Do all tweets have to be vetted before posting? and so on.

I sympathise with those who see Twitter as frivolous. 140 characters are not enough to express anything of any great profundity. But I think a lot of objections to Twitter arise from a misunderstanding of its purpose. It it ideal as a tool for distributing pieces of information, and the added extras - hashtags and the like - enable further intercommunication. If you want to write at length, use your blog and then let people know about it on Twitter. I don't know at present what my own feed is going to turn into, but I'm sure Cam23 will give me lots of things to do with it.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Thing 3

As you will have noticed if you've visited before, I've been doing a little housekeeping. The theme is now blue rather than pink, and I've added some links to blogs in the sidebar on the right - not just Cam23 2.0 blogs, but also a couple of cpd23 ones and some others which may be of interest. The list will continue to grow.

Thing 3 - RSS feeds

I already subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds, but have been unhappy with my system for some time. I have got into the dubious habit of using Internet Explorer as a subscription agent, and I know I am not alone in finding IE so irritating as to have dispensed with it now almost entirely. Its RSS aggregation facility is sluggish, with minimal functionality.

Bill Gates - he'll have some explaining to do on judgement day

Google Reader is much friendlier. Once I had added my first blog I was pleasantly surprised to see that the small number of blogs I had chosen to follow with my Blogger profile since registering last week were already present in the sidebar as 'Blogs I'm following'. Convenient. It's also convenient to be able to access all of your blogs from any computer via a login, not only from a single computer at home.

Google Reader has a similar function to iGoogle in that it acts as an aggregator, gathering several things into one place; only Google Reader seems more intuitive, which perhaps comes from its being born of necessity. If you want to follow a large number of blogs, it's immeasurably simpler if you can do it all from a single page. iGoogle by contrast is something of a mishmash unless, I presume, you learn to manage it skilfully (which clearly I haven't yet done).

I'm still exploring Google Reader, and there is much to be explored. I like the option to 'star' particular posts. I set this post as a starred item so I have it easily to hand as a reference timetable for the programme.

In the spirit of spreading the word and encouraging intercommunication, here are some blogs which may appeal. There are bloggers like thewikiman who write about the challenges facing the 21st-century librarian with humour and insight. Until now, though, I have tended to gravitate naturally towards blogs which look back rather than forward, dealing with special collections, library discoveries and the like. For some months I have enjoyed reading MusiCB3, the blog of the UL Music Department and the Pendlebury, both of which I loved with great devotion as an undergraduate. The Cambridge Library Collection Blog is the brainchild of CUP's Kate Brett and Caroline Murray, who write about the out-of-print books they are gradually making available again.

On a more frivolous note, the Orkney Archive has a reputation for being both fun and fascinating. I have followed The Age of Uncertainty for a couple of years - it's the blog of a second-hand bookseller who frequently chronicles the items that he comes across at work. And in searching for Cambridge library blogs I encountered this. Wrong Cambridge, but it's a useful reminder of the diversity of libraries, and of the manifold applications of blogs. Whether it will become a regular read or not, I can't say.

How about the rest of you in blogland? Have you discovered any exciting features of Google Reader - or any better blog aggregators? I'd be delighted to receive any tips, and will keep tabs on other blogs in turn.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Things 1 and 2

Thing 1 - iGoogle

iGoogle is essentially an enhanced version of the Google homepage. Remember the Google homepage? I only tend to go there nowadays when there is a customised version of the logo to look at, and in the first instance always use the Google search box on my web browser when I want to find something online. But once I'd started to put some gadgets on it, it became more attractive.

A homepage that lets you see news and weather, check your e-mails and Facebook and Twitter, search Amazon or National Rail Enquiries - it could prove quite handy. Certainly the click-and-drop method of rearranging things appeals to the librarian's sense of order. I created a separate Library tab, but couldn't find many relevant gadgets to add (a search for 'library' brings up a piano arrangement of The Christmas Song and the trailer for The Terminator in the first few pages of results), so at the moment it looks sparse with only the Cambridge Libraries Widget and Copac and WorldCat search boxes.

One thing I really appreciated was the range of 'themes' you can choose from to make the header more attractive - after some experiments with musical and bookish themes I settled on the lovely picture of Clare Bridge above, which is visible from our library if you look out of the right window. It's early to say how useful iGoogle will prove to be, but I know it will continue to be relevant to Cam23, so I'm sure I will get into the habit of using it.

Thing 2 - creating a blog

I have never used Blogger before, and so was delighted to have a good reason to try it out. Over the last couple of years I have got into the habit of following other people's blogs, and I like their malleability (the blogs, not the people). A blog can be whatever you want it to be, and you can reveal as much or as little of yourself as you desire.

First impressions: Blogger is good. It seems mostly intuitive, and the process of setting up the blog was straightforward. Fiddling around with design settings is something I naturally enjoy, so it's nice to have a new toy to play with. I chose a fairly straightforward template which I then customised with links on the right-hand side, a computery font for the title, and a background photo of some piles of books I took a while ago (some of the overflow from my bookshelves). I expect the blog will evolve into something more settled and permanent in the coming weeks, but for the time being I am going to keep experimenting with widgets and changing things around. A little less pink might be a good idea.

"It's like, how much more pink could this be? and the answer is none. None more pink."

I don't know if I have any grand plans for this blog. My intention is for it to be finite, but I am aware that a number of participants in last year's 23 things have continued to blog since the end of the programme, and can imagine myself doing the same. I would like it to be a gateway to discussion and a means of communicating with other librarians and non-librarians. I would also like to keep it fairly light-hearted (occasional jokes, pictures, multimedia...). Early days yet.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Hello. I'm Gareth. Something in the way of introduction may be desirable. I went through a period of being a child, during which a number of valiant and foolhardy attempts were made to educate me, culminating in my evolution into a librarian. I have worked at King's College Library for five years and recently completed my MA in Library and Information Studies at University College London.

For the benefit of outsiders, I should relate that I am writing this as part of the Cambridge 23 Things project, which was such a success on its first outing last summer. Credit for this blog's title must go to The Polemical Medic, who suggested it to me in a blinding flash of inspiration at the weekend. The 28 years I have spent on the planet having been mostly uneventful (at least in terms of what I have been up to; there have been some world events of note), a relaunch may be just what is called for.

I followed last year's 23 Things with interest, and was inspired to join in this time by an instinct that it would be not only a useful thing to do (and to put on my CV) but also a lot of fun. I will report back on Things 1 and 2 presently, but this post is simply by way of saying hello. Please feel at liberty to do likewise in the space provided. I look forward to reading everyone else's blogs.