To Harrogate in a Hand Cart (UKSG 2014)

This week I was mostly attending the annual UKSG conference in a very sunny Harrogate*.  Which was lucky, given that every time recently someone asked me where I was going, I’d kept on saying “Huddersfield”.  Ahem. Despite my geographic lack of nounce I did manage to turf up in the right place, and a full (and exhausting) few days it was.  The following is an attempt at capturing some thoughts on the event**.


Traveled up a day early as the conference was due to kick off at 10am sharp the following day, and I didn’t fancy a crack of dawn start.  Helped by the fact that UKSG and a couple of publishers had sponsored by attendance, and thus covering pretty much all my major conference expenses.  The drawback being I was expected to be on stage at the start of the whole thing to be awarded by sponsorship…erm, plaque or something (it wasn’t quite clear – it might have been a big bag of money for all I knew).  Pleasant enough journey up from the Peak District (brother’s birthday treat), nice hotel and then an evening meal with a couple of chums – although we failed to be served in two restaurants before we found one that would serve us.


Day One of the conference proper, and thankfully the Harrogate International Conference Centre wasn’t too far a walk, and with the cool but bright sunshine there was a good feel in the air.  I managed to walk onto the stage for my award (and goodie bags), and only slightly messed up the publicity photographs by appearing in them.

The first two talks were Prof Xiaolin Zhang China Going Forward: research, scholarly coms and libraries and Dave De Route with The Future of Scholarly Communication. I confess the first of these talks was a bit full of graphs and quantitative data that flashed by at such a rate, that it started to feel like the last 30 minutes of 2001.  Without a great deal of time to digest the slides, the twitter channel came alight with what would be one of the memes of the conference, meaningless graphs!  Where I did follow his narrative I got a little annoyed to see a neoliberal*** imperative inherent as once again science and technology were equated to a healthy economy and hence a “self-evident good”.  Slaves to the almighty capital are we all it seems.

Dave’s talk on the other had I was more interested in, and his comment that while the Internet was designed for scientific communication, it hasn’t really helped it advance as much.  Thus are the forms of communication (the journal etc) we use still fit for purpose?  He raised the idea that given they had worked for centuries there must be something they do right, and they have lasted because they are social objects.  However, he suggested that the research article will be dead as of 2030.  And now – are we at a turn in scholarship dissemination or part of an ongoing transformation?

After this (and a brief break) we went off to the first of the breakout sessions.  I went for one entitled Open access comes of age: implementing open access policies at UCL, Manchester and beyond.  it was interesting hearing the contrast in policies and approaches at the two institutions.  I was also interested to hear more about OA Intermediaries – or as I seem to perceive them, another way publishers can cream money out of HE.  It seems they are there to help APC bills get paid on time…so I read this as organisations that take payment, to make a payment.  My note to myself reads “So, they’d be on the Golgafrincham B Ark then!”.  The speaker’s comment “There really is a role for intermediaries” seemed to have the subtext “There really are good profits to be made as intermediaries”.

(Yeah, sorry, the neoliberal critique mode doesn’t seem to turn off any more.)

Back then for the next set of plenaries.  Firstly John Rogers with Open access and research management.  Some interesting perspectives coming from the research manager direction, although very much slanted towards the exploitation of research.  Given John’s background in research and enterprise though that wasn’t a big shock.  He did highlight the idea of unexpected events being triggered from open scholarship; such as ORCID with the research community seeking to identify themselves uniquely in a shifting community.  He also casted skepticism on HEFCE’s expectation that there would be no additional costs for the OA transition, given the significant resource requirements needed in the medium term.

Then it was Steven Hill of HEFCE with a talk entitled Towards the Next Research Excellence Framework.  In this he noted that we are coming to a big change about how we think about research and do it.  The current way research assessment is done need to evolve in order to take account of how research is being done and disseminated; for example the developments in open research and open science in recent years.  He also very neatly discussed the post-2014 REF policy from HEFCE, and the 3 requirements that apply to journal articles and conference proceedings after 1/April/2014:

  • Must be deposited: (author version at least) on acceptance.  Where is flexible, but unis probably mean IR
  • Must be discoverable: (publicly available metadata record (people who need to read outputs will seek them out)
  • Must be accessible: – 12month by STEM or 24 months for AHSS submitted materials.

This was considered a simple overview, and he admitted there was nuance; such as if monographs and data were also shared openly, then this would count towards the assessment credits.  Meanwhile HEFCE are continuing to broadly review metrics used in research assessment and performance.  It was hoped that this work would help HEIs to think about how they use metrics themselves for staff management and assessment (if you can get over the depressing neoTaylorism inherent in all metrics in HE that is).  He also highlighted the idea behind open research assessment, given that in the research cycle there is much of the focus placed on the funding and publishing phases to the neglect of other areas.  He insisted that this will change, meaning that the network of outputs that now represent research (not just articles) need to be considered.  All of which means a big challenge for assessors.

The next breakout I attended was about the JISC APC pilot and its successor JISC Monitor.  For some reason every time someone mentioned the word Monitor, all I heard was “Lizard”.  Not quite sure why.

The APC project concludes in July 2014, and has brought publishers, libraries, funders etc together to explore issues around managing the process of paying APCs for gold OA.  They developed case studies aimed to identify best practice which pointed out that people are generally still in early stages of establishing institutional workflows and processes  to mange it.  Notably publishers aren’t willing to develop UK specific solutions, as other countries’ approaches to OA are different, and hence there’s insufficient market interest (or profitability).  Once again the value of intermediary service was flagged up.   
The day was wrapped with three brief lightning talks which were refreshingly brief and punchy.  Peter Burnhill’s fairies of digital archiving were probably the one that I was most entertained by – the core message seeming to be “Don’t rely on publishers to be the digital archive of record” mind you.
After that there was a reception, but as it had been so hot in the conference centre I dashed back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothing, before the evening’s quiz and curry.  Didn’t win the quiz, but the curry and company were excellent – and I rounded off the night shopping at Asda for some water!
Rock and/or roll.


Day 2 kicked off with a triple header of plenary talks around rust, impacts and workflows.  Carol Tenopir spoke about trust and authority issues in scholarly communications – key messages: peer review is still the coin of the realm, and altmetrics is largely an alien concept to most academics even if they do like to see stats like download and article views.  This was followed by one of my favourite talks of the conference by llama-friends Ernesto Priego  discussing The Impacts of impact: challenges and opportunities of multichannel work.

Ernesto forewent the stat heavy approach to presentation, concentrating on snappy slides with short phrases on them – as someone suggested – a presentation for the twitter age.  A key message I took away was something I’ve commented on myself, and that is the polarisation between positions in the OA debate.  I also liked his comments about academic view points being mythologist, and how they are a diverse group not a block with differences across culture and background.  He also picked out the issues around OA and its STEM focus, and how AHSS researchers experience a very different, and more isolated, academic environment (monk-like; sounds familiar).   He also introduced the snappiest quote of the whole conference “Publishing: Where content goes to die”.  If I were you, I’d go watch his talk now, it’s very illuminating.

The final talk of the session was Guilhem Chalancon giving a perspective of a young researcher’s approach to knowledge management.  There was a fair bit of chatter about this one following the session, in particular the absence of the library (or its systems/OPAC) from his knowledge gathering apparatus.  Confess that’s familiar to me, as the library tends to be my fall back when I can’t find information elsewhere.  My favourite factoid from Guilhem was that the attention span of internet users is somewhere around 8-9 seconds…which I can…hey, shiny object on top of a list of 35 top lolcats!!!

Oh dear, too much Buzzfeed has warped mine too it appears.

After this I shot over to watch a session from Graham Stone and Joy Palmer about the LAMP project on library analytics and data; which stemmed from an interest in how supermarkets and online retailers use their users’ data for competitive business reasons; so why can’t libraries do the same.  Choice comment from the audience was a publisher wanting to get their hands on this “Useful to us” data.  Ahem, more freebies from academia for the publishing industry?  I understand though from talking to folks around the session that this isn’t the first time this question has reared its head.

Back to the main auditorium then for three lighting talks.  The first on Knowledge Unlatched from Frances Pinter (essentially a library consortium that pay publishers to make their monographs OA) raised my hackles for reasons I’m still not 100% sure about the idea of giving publishers effectively a guaranteed return on a monograph like this, although i guess it might help bolster the flagging commissioning market for AHSS books.  In my view it just seems to keep the LIS/HE sector in a subordinate position to the publishing industry; rather than engendering a more equal partnership.  Ellen Collins talked about Open UK and Monographs reporting on a 5 year research programme looking at what happens to sales and usage when books were made OA.  How OA monographs affect the publishing and dissemination environment was a key part of this work.  Naturally she noted that lots of stakeholders and would need to be involved in any changes in OA monographs publishing.  Changes would need to take place both conceptually, and practically at many levels of the industry.  She concluded that the monograph world is changing, OA needs to work with it.  Personally I don’t think the OA world is working against monographs, but I suspect there might be a need for more revolutionary moves than simple progress before this area is working as well as it once did.

There was also a talk about the OA collections at the Royal Botanic gardens, but I confess it didn’t especially grab me.

Following a lunch (where the repeat of the previous day’s hot food drove a small splinter group of us to a nearby pub for more simple, and digestible, fare) I went to a breakout session by Anders Söderbäck entitled the The Library Happens Elsewhere.  As this involved a lot of discussions in small groups I didn’t make extensive notes; beyond the issue of trying to gaze 10 years ahead is never an easy one.  Among our discussions was a critique of how important the library catalogue and resource discovery systems actually were to end users.  I confess we didn’t exactly end up singing their praises.

There was another breakout session after this, but I had to hightail it up the the hitherto unknown 7th floor to participate in a UKSG Conference Webinar.  Sound problems dogged this one a little bit (not to mention the oven like room) but it was an interesting experience all the same, although I’m not that sure how much value it was to the listening audience.  Hope it was useful to some!

The day finished with some more rapid lightening talks, of which the only point that chimed with me was Ed Pentz discussing Implementing ORCID and noting that they are the path to sustainability (though corporate membership) by the end of 2015.  A good chunk of the audience there had already claimed their ORCID ID, so it seems to be doing well.

And that was it for the day – although there was the jamboree of the conference dinner, which was okay but to honest nothing stunning. Sadly I ended up having  a rather long and intense post-dinner conversation in a side room, so I never did get to explore the dance floor (or the cheese tasting), but the Yorkshire cider was rather nice.

And the less said about the town cryer the better.


Day 3 started with an apology for saucy video content at the disco (which I’d totally missed) and then a series of short talks around issues of resource discovery.  Truth be told I wasn’t as interested in the theme of this session as others (and the terrible wifi was really starting to grate) but there were some good speakers (including my old staff member and friend Valérie) so it wasn’t a waste of time by a long mark.  The last speaker Simone Kortekaas interesting was presenting around a topic I’d been discussing with other people during the conference, that was the concept of doing away with the library catalogue; although the point was made that falling back on Google is all well and good but there’s no guarantee of their or their services longevity either.  It had worked for her library for over 6 months though, so there might be something to it.

The last breakout I attended was around MOOCs and OER with Siobhan Burke of JORUM speaking.  As I’m attending an OER conference in a couple of weeks I went along to brush up my background knowledge.  I was interested with the idea that the term MOOC has more social currency than OER, despite the latter being longer in the tooth.  It was also eyebrow raising to hear that while completion rates on MOOCs can exceed 40%, on average only 13% of sign ups actually complete.

Back then to the very final plenary session and a cancellation of a talk on open data which was a shame.  However, the other scheduled speaker was Bill Thompson of the BBC (and previously the Guardian) on The Open Library and its Enemies.  By a country mile this was the single finest talk of the whole conference, and I was fascinated how much it resonated with the topics I’ve been lecturing on to my students back at NTU.  Actually, I wished they could have been there along with me to hear it, as they’d really have benefited.  I shan’t attempt to capture the essence of this one, but once a copy of the video goes up I’d encourage you to watch it!

The final talk then, was a bonus talk by Sarah Durrant entitled Surviving is important, thriving is elegant.  My hat is off to her for stepping in at short notice, but frankly it was basically a sales pitch full of what I suspect Mrs Llama would have described as “Kaftan wearing, lentil eating hippy shit”.  I rapidly switched off, and by the tone of the twitter back channel (and rapidly evaporating audience) so did most other people.  A real shame as it was a very flat end to what was a cracking conference.

And so, then after a pit stop to pick up a lunch to go it was time to depart Harrogate and return to Leicestershire (as I was teaching on Thursday).  Thankfully, I had very fine company from LISU/Loughborough all the way back so the 4hrs flew by.

Would I go again? In an instant (and there were some calls on twitter for me to give a talk next time – which I would love to do).  Will I be able to afford it?  Hmn, that’ll be the big question!


To be honest while there were a few niggles, overwhelmingly this was a cracking conference.  I came away much inspired and re-energised in various ways.  There were some great talks and moments, not to mention all the fantastic conversations I had in and around the event which aren’t easy to capture here.  I was really grateful to have been able to attend, for which my hat is off to the conference organisers and sponsors for their generosity in this respect!

Of course somethings weren’t so great (I thought someone would explode over the paucity of the venue wifi) as is natural with any event with 1,000 odd delegates; but I’m pretty sure the conference team were working their fingers to bone to keep things ticking along as well as they did (I speak from the experience of being on the other side of the fence).

The Good: Content of talks, variety of delegates, networking, discussions about my research, stimulation and inspiration,  curry night, freebies, my hotel room (which I saw very little of)

The Bad: Venue temperature (boiling & freezing in places), special catering, conference dinner food

The Ugly: Venue wifi, lack of water generally

But don’t take my word for what went down – check out some of the following links for more:

*Oh the handcart?  That refers to my rolling suitcase 🙂

**A cut down (and polished) version of some of these reflections will pop up in the UKSG Insights I believe (along with thoughts from other sponsored delegates) – so if you’re pressed for time, I’d wait on that rather than wading through this posting.

***I think there’s something of a neoliberal critique of the whole conference fermenting in my head which I might share on the blog in the coming week.


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Welcome to Level 2

And so I slide into the second (of potentially four) years working on my PhD.  It’s been a bit of a choppy week for me workwise as I’ve had some family issues to deal with, which have taken out a few days from my schedule.  As such I’m not going to belabor the epistolary formula this week and just give you the short report for once.  I’m sure there may be some of my (semi) regular readers who’ll be glad of that!

Library camp: Despite no longer being a librarian, I owe a lot of what I am and my outlook to that glorious becardiganed set. As such I’ve signed up to attend the Library Camp 2013 unconference in Birmingham in November.  And offered to run the odd session or two too.

Editing: I’m still working on the chapter. Go away.  I don’t want to talk about it right now. (Gah!)

Research Training: Despite horrid train issues I made it to the briefing for the RPC (or the Professional Research Practice Course I think it’s called now) briefing on Tuesday.  Turns out you can opt to do the whole module 2 in a three-day intensive burst or every couple of weeks.  I’ve opted for the burst mode.  I’ll miss seeing some of the old gang, but as they’ve relocated it out to City Campus it really is a pain and a half to get there for me.  That’ll all be in November.

PhD Chat: As a consequence of the briefing for the course I did catch up with some of the old gang, and had a very intensive conversation with a few of them.  Thanks folks, that really helped cheer me up (and I am NOT going to finish this PhD as quick as some of you seemed to think!).

New year, new job: Yes, I was interviewed (or rather had an informal chat to my department head and a module leader) on Thursday.  As a result I am now a university lecturer of sorts – I’ll be leading seminar groups from next week on a core media module.  More on that…once I know what it is I’ve got myself in to!  Excited as this is just what I wanted to do as part of my PhD experience, and mildly terrified as to what I’ve taken on!

My dad: Thanks for asking…he’s likely to pass in the next few days.

Next week: Looks like a busy one.  I’m deadlining myself to edit the last half of the chapter so I can wave it past my supervisors, I need to sort out this research training course and of course find out just what I’m teaching in these 23 seminars I’ve got lined up!

On eBooks

Freezing someone's hands offAs an ex-librarian I’ve been around ebooks for years, but this week marked only the second time I’ve sat down to read one cover to cover.  Last time was about three years ago when I was testing out a Sony eReader and I read The Importance of Being Earnest.  It was during a cold snap when I was travelling to work on the train a lot, and so I can recall my fingers freezing on the brushed metal case.  The book wasn’t too hard to read, although it’s one of my favourite plays and I’ve read it a few times before in print, so probably not a fair example.  It did convince me though that eReaders are all well and good, but I’m not cock-a-hoop over them – why by a single function item that locks down all your purchased works with DRM?  Seems a bit mad to me, plus I do a lot of reading (for pleasure) in the bath and I just know until they invent one that floats I better not think about it.

This week though I finally had to bite the bullet and sit down and read an entire academic work (all 500 odd pages) in an eBook format.  Benkler’s Wealth of Networks – an appropriate one to start with I thought.  I’ve actually put off reading this one for a couple of weeks because it was only available in an eBook format.  When I read, even when sitting at a desk, I like to change position every 15 minutes or so.  As I was going to have to read this book off my LED screen in my PC room that wasn’t going to be an option.  Score one point against the format, although I guess if i had a tablet that would be less of an issue.  But I don’t have a tablet, and hence by only having this book available to me electronically, I feel I’m at a disadvantage to start with.  I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I do spend a lot of time in front of my PC screens (yes, two of them) at home, and previously at the office; but if I ever wanted to read a document of any size I’d run off a print copy.

The Ebrary viewing pane - can you say "wasted real visual estate"?However, given the ash deforestation in the news currently I think it behoves me to try and acid killing any more trees than I have to for this PhD so I resolved to read it on screen.  The book happened to be in the ebrary format via the library catalogue   Now personally I’d much rather have the book in a nice compact PDF format, which allows me to maximise the screen – rather than reading it in the rather clunky looking e-reader webpage*.  But no, the publisher and suppliers must use their restrictive DRM formats to stop me walking off and actually using the book in a more user-friendly manner.  As Lessig (Code 2.0, 2006) said “We are entering a time when copyright is more effectively protected than at any time since Gutenberg.”  Oh and did I mention the DRM would allow me to download a local copy…40 pages at a time to read or print.  I didn’t fancy working through the book in such a staccato fashion, so I concluded I’d have to make use of the ebrary screen shown here.

The first thing that struck me was the waste of screen real estate – there are three panes that make up the reader screen, but only the one on the far left is for the book; and it only allows you to read it a page at time.  Yes, that’s a naturalistic HCI isn’t it (heavy sarcasm).  The natural magnification sadly doesn;t fill the pane, but a quick fiddle with the buttons on the top of the screen sorted that out (although someone seemed to have forgotten to give them mouse-over information, which was another frustration)

The other two panes are the chapters so I could skip about the book or in my case work out how many more pages I had to read.  I confess I did use them a couple of times when I came back to the book, but only because I couldn’t use a post-it to mark my place like a normal book.  Nor indeed flick through the pages quickly to give myself an idea of how long the work was.  It’s strange to say that lacking the natural human-book interaction of the weight and thickness, that it actually made me feel like the book would go on forever; and that did impact on my ability to read it – it distracted me from the wheft and flow of the narrative to the detriment of my engagement with the text.

"No wait, it goes at 306.55343769! How could I have been so foolish"The other pane at the bottom is the bibliographic details.  I wonder what bright spark designing this thought “No one wants to see both pages at once, but I bet EVERYONE wants to see the Dewey Decimal number for their entire reading experience“.  No wait, I know what bright spark – it was a bloody librarian – this is exactly the sort of wrong headed thinking that some of them go for** (sigh). Considering the user experience first folks might be a better plan.  I was pleased to see a download option (until I spotted the 40 page limit) and yes the ability to add notes or have a Dalek read it aloud to me sounded attractive   However, the read aloud function is crippled in that you have to select the text, a page at a time, and then command it to speak.  This doesn’t add a lot of functionality from my POV to be honest, although I’m sure some readers will like it.  As for annotating the text and adding notes to it; to be honest I’d much rather keep my notes in my own cloud and physical locations rather risk having some proprietary system locking them away from me due to a license expiration.

However, I did espy an option to launch an ebrary reader which I hoped would be somewhat similar to a PDF reader (and perhaps offer some more functionality like double page spreads perhaps?).  I clicked the button and had a polite dialogue button tell me to be patient and stop worrying.  Okay it didn’t quite say that, but the implication of the dialogue box was “You have pressed a button. Now don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, we’ll launch the reader soon…”  And then it announced that my version of Java for Chrome wasn’t up to date.

I'm sorry Captain, but I still can't get IE7 to open this ebookFast forward 15 minutes while I fiddle about installing the ereader software plug in, then downloading and installing Java and try again; only to get the same “Out of Java error” message before closing the browser down, reopening it and finally getting the reader to open.  Huzzah, that’s 15 minutes of HCI Epic Fail from my perspective as a researcher.  15 minutes during which I could have been reading the book, rather than sitting at my PC fuming quietly.  Print 1: eBooks 0.  of course perhaps it works fine if I was using Internet Exploder, like most universities ICT depts still seem to assume but no, thank you, if you think I’m back to browsing the internet with stone knives and bear skins I’m afraid you’re very much mistaken.

However, finally having got the pop-up reader running and the book visible I started to read. Now foolishly I thought the time it took the reader to launch – more than couple of seconds/less than a minute – was the entire book downloading into the proprietary reader.  Nope, turns out that each page loads separately when I press the arrow key or click the next page button.  And there’s a pause of two or three seconds on average (sometimes longer, never less) for them to load.  And this totally breaks the natural rhythm of reading.  So much so that I lost count of the number of times I had to flick back to the previous page (thankfully still in memory) to work out what had just been said mid sentence.  This really, seriously impacted on the experience of reading the book; significantly damaging the readability in my opinion.  On top of this there’s the delight of reading 500 glowing pages and the effect it has on the eyes.  I can happily read hundreds of pages in print during a day, but on-screen it is just so much more a fatiguing experience.  But I am proud to say I did manage to finish the book!

Now my experience doesn’t mean that eBooks as a whole are a failure, far from it.  What I’m trying to point out from this researcher’s perspective is that the systems that publishers and suppliers tie poor libraries into are a poor substitute for the physical book experience.  It has certainly reinforced my reluctance to put an eReader anywhere on Santa’s list this or any year.  I’m not sure if there’s an easy solution, and doubtless some book suppliers will say “But we wouldn’t expect anyone to read a whole eBook!”.  That might be acceptable practice for undergrads and taught post-graduates cherry picking the odd chapter here and there, but we researchers do need to read entire books.  And for us I strongly believe that as libraries increasingly come to rely on eBooks as the solution to shelving space and staffing resources, that it is researchers who will suffer the most.

My eyes today by page 500Ebooks are the future? Pah, not for this reader.    And so with a heavy heart and deep sigh I glance at my planned reading for the next week to see another work is eBook only.  It think I might need to leave it a week to allow my eyes time to recover…

But that’s my experience.  Maybe I’ll find it easier with time as I learn to adapt to reading more online, but I certainly have my doubts.  I’d love to hear from any one out there who’s found a good coping mechanism for enforced lengthy sessions reading eBooks that doesn’t end in your eyes melting!

*And actually I discovered late today that Benkler has made a PDF of this book available – gah!

**Thankfully not many, but enough in strategically significant places sadly.


As I’ve discussed elsewhere I’ve been watching the JISC Video on the future of libraries.  It’s got me thinking about where I see the role of the academic library, and indeed the librarian, in the coming years.  I must confess that increasingly I think the strongest role that the library can carve out for itself in the academic tundra is that of the third place.

The concept of the third place has been around for a while, and it’s one that places like Starbucks have embraced and attempted to corner for themselves.  If you’re not familiar with it in essence it is the space that we occupy that is neither work nor home, yet somewhere else where we spend a significant portion of time.  Whilst I feel at times this makes the third space the Leicester railway station, I think the idea of a third place is a good one.  We all need somewhere to be at times, and as students the library has fulfilled this function wonderfully over the years. 

I need only think back to my time at uni – when I wasn’t in labs (work) or in my flat (home) I was in the library (often not working).  With the advent of coffee shops, book shops and creative zones in many of the major university libraries these days I can see today’s student would spend even more time here.

A friend of mine, a PhD student, does just this – a large portion of her time is spent using the library and its attached coffee shop and wireless signals.  I suspect she does have an office (work) and I know she has a home, but she prefers to spend her time in the third place, the library.  This does mean that moves towards making libraries less austere and more welcoming environments where noise, food and drink and activity other than simply reading books acceptable practices is a sensible one.

So far, so good.  That means the academic library is doing all the right things for longevity.  But what about the humble librarian?  The JISC video makes some suggestions about the kind of librarian of the future, and I can say in all honesty that they were describing my own attributes (modest? Nah, this is my blog so a spot of self-aggrandisement never hurt).  But this leaves many librarians who posses what I’ll call more traditional librarian traits in a somewhat less stable position.  I know friends and contacts around the country, wonderful people all, whom do not fit into JISC’s description of the librarian of tomorrow.  What will their role be?

Will it be like the bindery staff I worked with at York with unique and invaluable skills but whom never the less found themselves surplus to requirements in a modern library?  Or like Bangor where a diminishing load of face to face teaching, increased automation and deprofessionalisation of the roles meant an end to the need for subject  or information librarians as we know them?  I fear the answer is yes.

Their role as classifiers of stock is supplanted by cataloguing staff and shelf ready books.  Their role as information literacy teachers is increasingly diminished by the increasing level of ICT literacy taught in schools.  Their roles as experts on the collections is long gone with the disconnect from book processes, and the introduction of ever more sophisticated search engines, algorithms and the ever present Google.  What role is left for them? 

I’ll tell you – the third place.  Serving coffee in the cafe and lending a ear to other be beleaguered former staff forced out into the icy tundra of academia. 

Okay, this might be cynical view, but the truth of the matter is with credit crunch forcing the economic revelation of costly professional staff wages, with a deprofessionalisation of many of their roles and a seemingly diminishing profile in many institutions – it is time for academic librarians of all flavours to step up and be counted.

Diversify and engage with new challenges or to diminish and go into the West.   The choice is up to you.


Librarians are regarded as figures of fun by society as a whole.  Or rather should that be easy targets of derision for cliché minded comedians and writers.  We all know the archetypes of the stereotypical librarian – prim and easily shocked, or likewise sexy and dynamic, but hidden behind glass, comfortable shoes and a 1950’s hair-do.  Yes, these are the tropes we see played for cheap laughs time and again in film, television and related media (c.f. Ghostbusters, Attack of the Clones, The Mummy etc).  But that’s not what I’m thinking about right now.

I’m thinking about how vital it is for librarians to have an innate sense of humour about themselves and their profession as a whole.  Call it a natural defense against the slings and arrows of outrageous media fortunes if you like, call it rising above puerile mudslinging if you prefer; but whatever you do as a librarian make sure you do it with a wry smile.

I’ve been teaching workshops over the last couple of years advocating the importance of humour as a communication and education tool.  It sweetens the pill, it makes the audience more receptive and it can even be used to illustrative tricky or controversial topics.  It’s the number one weapon in my professional arsenal, even if i know sometimes it’ll be a dud and not a delight when I use it.  But do you know what, I don’t let this bother me.

Why?  Because I have a sense of humour about everything I do.  If a session goes disastrously wrong (and they do, let’s be honest) I don’t rage, I don’t fume, I don’t kick the cat.  I roll my eyes, and laugh at the situation.  Though I usually wait until the audience has left, as they might be quick to call the men in the white coats to come collect me.

Sadly, if you read most of the librarian literature, or listen to the great (and the not so great) speak on the profession, you’ll hear words like “Crisis”, “Challenge”, “Professionalism” and the like bandied around.  Honestly, every time another speaker gets up and in grave tones explains about the problems and issues that the profession faces, or the struggles they’ve personally faced in their quest for unquestioned excellence; I just want to tell them “Hey, lighten up!”

Humour builds relationships, it protects one’s psyche and generally makes one a much more likable person.  When a speaker makes me laugh, I want to talk to them more, find out what makes them tick and learn more about whatever they were actually talking about.  When they drone on about professional issues without a single hint of self-mocking I generally avoid them like the plague.

So next time you catch me smirking in the middle of one of your conference presentations, don’t take offence.  On the contrary rejoice – you’ve tickled my funny bone, captured my attention and imagination. 

And I’m 10 times more likely to buy you a drink later.  And if you don’t want to take my word for it…


Like many other Web 2.0 librarians and CILIP members I’m looking forward to following the debate online this afternoon at and around the CILIP Council meeting.  It’s been building up for a bit, and I’ve blogged elsewhere about the meeting itself so I’ll avoid filling the Internets with the same old thoughts twice.

What has been especially interesting is the build up, so much so that I think the actual meeting itself (in the virtual realm at least) might well be a real anticlimax.  I discovered a rather nice site called Twitterfall this morning, which is allowing me to run a constantly updated twitter feed on all the folks who are talking about it.  I’ve picked up more than a few more followers and followed a few people myself too – and now that I see #cilip2 is trending on Twitter doubtless there will be more this afternoon.

This is one of the reasons I like using social networking sites – interacting with a broad cross section of really quite enthusiastic and knowledgeable fellow librarians.  In fact I’m not all that bothered what comes out of the meeting this afternoon.  Indeed what I suspect will come out will be neither world shattering or epoch making. 

And more crucially is anyone going to dare to acknowledge the elephant in the room?  The future of CILIP itself.

CILIP might start using more social media to interact with its members, but I doubt we’re truly going to see the start of CILIP 2.0 today.  CILIP is, after all, made up of it’s members united together in common interest.  To date this is driven in a very organisation 1.0 way, committees, panels etc (and I should know since I’ve served on a few).  But CILIP 2.0 is actually already extant – the membership is already engaging in new domains; and in the same way that folksonamies allow the community to define taxonomies things like twitter have allowed us to form our own professional collectives and networks.

Perhaps the only question that needs to be really answered is – can CILIP survive into the second decade of the 21st century – or do social networks and Web 2.0 (and Web 3.0) make it an anachronistic dinosaur?  Sure like a woolly mammoth with a spear in its side it might stagger on for a few years, but with falling memberships and its financial problems exasperated by this is it already fatal wounded?  Will we mark today as the moment that the long, slow slide into the tar pit of oblivion was finally acknowledged?

Or will we see the evolution of a leaner, fitter CILIP elephant come forth?  I’d like to hope this is the case, I think there is still a place for a professional society for librarians.  But I don’t think it’s the creatre we currently have.