Monday, 10 March 2014

Reviving the CILIP in Kent branch and presenting to other librarians

A few of us were interested in reviving the local branch and also in sharing new initiatives/recent work with other Kent librarians. To get the ball rolling a Lightning Talks events was organised which also included a chat about how best to start up CILIP in Kent again. My write up of the event can be seen on the CILIP South East branch web page.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

I can't hear you...

A little summary of my attendance at a voice coaching taster workshop:

The course was offered via our in-house Staff Development team and it was of interest to me because my voice is 'little' - I'm not naturally loud and booming. Sometimes my voice whispers away in the background trying to be heard over the din made by 200 students in the lecture theatre and I hoped to develop some techniques to help me project my voice. During the year I deliver a number of talks in an old ballroom-type space at a partner institution where I have to stand on stage and talk to 50 people without the aid of a microphone in a two storey high space - it was this session I had in mind when I decided I needed to attend this course.

The first activity was to lay on the floor and practise breathing from the belly not the shoulders. This is an activity much-practised by actors. We had to feel our breath going in and out of our bodies to get in tune with how our body relaxes when we breathe in this way. The intention of breathing from the diaphragm is to calm yourself and avoid higher breathing in the chest which tenses you up and can make your voice sound stressed.

The only way I can think to describe activity two is as 'wiggling and jiggling' our bodies. We started on all fours (!) to stretch out our backs then gradually began to stand up and continued by stretching our arms and rib cage. This was still about feeling the breath go in and out of our bodies although heaven knows what the people in the meeting room opposite thought we were up to. We also practised a spine roll and whilst our heads were dangling by our knees we had to shake our shoulders side to side, let our arms swing loose and babble - I kid you not.  Still, in for a penny, in for a pound - I was certainly beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone but not in a scary way as we did all these activities as a group.

Babbling was quite appropriate for me as one of the other presenting quirks that happens to me at the start of term is that I often babble some fluffed words for the first few talks of the year. I think I go a bit rusty over the summer and then can't articulate the words as well as I'd like to (after the third/forth talk this disappears and I'm ad-libbing away). We spent a while doing some humming, tongue twisters, stretching our mouth/jaw/face and talking with our thumb in our mouth. Thankfully for me we weren't asked to sing and all the talking out loud/humming stuff was done as a group so we were all idiots together. We did a lot of saying 'ahh' as if we were in the dentist's chair and then attempting to project the sound across the room. All this was about opening up our mouths to get our tongues around the words and to give the sound a wider hole to escape from.

Then it was time for some Shakespeare. The breath is the start of your communication (words/speech). Taking a breath means you have time to pause and connect with your space and audience. A good tip for public speaking be it meetings or lectures is to think 'new thought / new breath'. To practise this we read a section from A Midsummer's Night Dream - reading aloud then taking a breath at each point of punctuation. It's quite difficult but it works. Taking a breath keeps your audience engaged as they are subconsciously thinking - they are about to breathe, there must be more talking to come, therefore I must keep listening…

The final set of activities involved the group splitting in two and standing opposite each other like tram lines. We picked a partner and had to talk to them and then every few minutes we had to step further away from each other and keep projecting our voices to our partner. The technique I picked up from this segment was the most valuable to me. As my voice is fairly little I should stop trying to talk over noise and instead imagine I am bouncing my words along the floor to my intended audience. Hopefully this technique will help me conquer the battle of trying to project my voice the next time I’m in a lecture theatre and the microphone ceases to work.

It was a challenging course in terms of getting over the embarrassment of being on all fours with your colleagues (not something I'm recommending for our next staff meeting although it was an effective icebreaker). In future I shall be attempting to bounce my voice of the floor so that it projects to my audience and I might (behind closed doors) try warming up to make sure I can articulate my words clearly for the first talks of the year.

Friday, 7 June 2013

That 'quiet' time of year..

Lots of non-librarians ask me if I'm away on holiday for the whole month of August (I wish!) and there are lots of people, librarians included, in my own organisation that say 'now it's June and the students have gone it will be peaceful'. Hmmn now the thing is the students I look after are here until the end of July and back in the first week of September. I can't remember the last time it was 'quiet'. I might get some respite from student tutorials and meetings in August but I'll be busy preparing for the new students arriving in September and answering emails from students keen to start their dissertation.

I thought I'd start making a list of all the summer jobs I need to do between now and the 1st September. I do this every year to keep me on track with all my tasks as there are some that I know won't get a look in during term-time. I think of my 'Summer Jobs 2013' list as a living document. I add things, add more things, add deadlines/names/notes, change deadlines and delete things once I've completed them. By the end of August I expect to see one or two things left on the list (previous experience tells me that there will always be things added at the last minute plus a few boring tasks will hang on in there in the hope that they will be achieved - this year I expect this will be the action to tidy my email folders).

So at this moment in time my list looks like this...

Yes, a simple word document. I don't want it in Evernote, GoogleDocs etc because I don't want to be reminded of it when I'm at home.

I'm a list person and so my Summer Jobs list will spawn lists for almost each action on it - but over the years this tactic has worked for me so I'll be sticking to it for the foreseeable future. So in 12 weeks time I'll let you know what's left on this list!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

LILAC conference - 25th-27th March 2013

On 25th-27th March I attended the LILAC (Librarian Information Literacy Annual Conference) conference in Manchester. An enormous number of events were on offer and it was an exciting, informative and exhausting three days.

I’ve come back to work brimming with ideas that I can use to improve my information literacy sessions. The three events that made the most impression were Transfrom your training the sequel: return of the interactive IL trainers by Emily Shields, Rosie Jones and Karen Peters; the Teach Meet and Alan Carbery’s Arming the teacher librarian: using experiential learning and reflective practice to guide pedagogy.

As well as the listening; thinking; reflecting and participating that went on during the daytime there were also ample opportunities to socialise and network.

Gorton Monastery was the venue for the conference dinner – a stunning interior, if a tad chilly. The networking event was held at the John Rylands Library, a huge Gothic building, built with the proceeds of a textiles business and very archives/special collections in tone. I took a liking to the signs displayed next to their collections – I think they helped to set the tone and expectations about the building and purpose of the collections. Whilst networking I met some people I had previously worked with and put faces to names I’m always seeing on mailing lists.
Since being back at work I’ve compiled a short action plan to make sure I apply all the knowledge I gained at LILAC. Here are a couple of my information literacy ‘resolutions’.

The Tidy Librarian’s LILAC Action Plan

A) Improve my presentation images

·         Take some useful images with my own camera for use in my presentations.

·         Try the Public Domain Image site which I saw referenced on many slides.

B) Information literacy sessions

·         Try using PollEv for online voting.

·         Use the jigsaw method with Foundation Degree students.

·         Use the IL trainers' activity called ‘choose a picture that represents…your feelings about searching’ with the Research group.

·         Question my current lesson plans – are they inclusive of trans/digital literacy?

·         Suggest a researcher information literacy strategy at work and use this to market our offer to PhD students, the research centres and research active staff.

C) Personal Professional Development

·         Begin to build a teaching portfolio using a teaching journal as recommended in Alan's workshop.

D) Building my professional reputation in my organisation

·         Keep blogging and tweeting.

·         I need to get more items in Faculty newsletters; integrate to a greater extent with the research teams, muscle-in on staff development days. I shall attempt to promote information literacy (or whatever we want to call it) better at learning and teaching committees.

E) Building my professional reputation in the library world

·         I should and would like to present something at a future LILAC event. I have previously been reluctant to realise that what I do in my day-to-day work does have value and is of interest to other people in the library world. There were a couple of sessions at LILAC where I sat back and thought ‘I do that already’. However I think to present at a conference you need to ground that work in theory.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Getting a belated introduction to learning and teaching

Over the last few months I have been attending a workshop series at my institution that consisted of five discussion-based workshops each focusing on a particular learning and teaching theme. The themes were planning a session; giving a lecture; leading a seminar; providing feedback to students and observation of teaching.

Despite being involved in delivering information literacy sessions for almost a decade my theory base of learning and teaching is limited.  When studying for my Masters in Library and Information Studies there was no acknowledgement that we would go on to ‘teach’ and hence no formal training in designing and delivering instruction was included in the course. All my teaching knowledge was learnt on the job (and sometimes on the spot!) followed by attempts to improve that teaching through continuous, usually informal, personal reflection.

I do not feel that my institution adopts a supportive role in encouraging all those involved in learning and teaching to improve their ‘classroom’ skills. There seems to be a reluctance to accept that some non-Academic staff have a substantial role and influence in the learning and teaching of students and that those staff would like to improve skills that the institution deems are outside the scope of their staff category. An obvious course to participate in to improve my knowledge is the PgC in Learning and Teaching but at my workplace this is validated for Academic staff only.  Initially I was a reluctant participant at the practical workshop sessions because they were aimed at those new to teaching in Higher Education and I felt I had more practical experience to work with. The course did not provide a qualification and this is something I have long strived for on my CV.

However, despite my reservations, I did ascertain a lot about learning and teaching as well as validating knowledge I already have.  Since the end of the course I have reflected on the knowledge acquired and have started to think about how to apply it to my day-to-day work.

What did I learn?
Looking back at my notes I think there are four key aspects of information that I can take from the sessions.
1. A good teacher keeps trying to improve what they do.

All the informal personal reflection I have carried out over the years was along the right lines. Whenever I get back from a session I scribble down notes for the next run through of the session – what didn’t work/ideas for next time or other sessions – or I write formal notes in response to student evaluation form comments. This activity means I’m always trying to move things on/get things right for myself and the students. I need to continue this method but endeavour to record more of these thoughts than I currently do.

2. Turn first year dependency into final year independence.

A good teacher encourages their students to be independent learners. A good teacher doesn’t get final year students pestering them about reading a draft or how to find a book – they should have grappled with this; got it under their belt and be able to do this on their own. This is a tough challenge for me as I get limited time with students and have to work hard over a number of years to achieve this independence from a distance. It is possible but maybe I need to improve my coaching skills for those students who attend one-to-ones and assess my strategies for group work – can they go away without needing my specific support?

3. Develop mindfulness in the learning and teaching setting.

It turns out that I am mindful when in the classroom but I didn’t know that’s what it was!

Mindfulness – being aware of/paying close attention to your responsibilities – such as thinking and asking:
  • Can they hear me?
  • Did they understand that last point?
  • Checking for puzzled faces in the audience
  • Putting yourself in their shoes
  • Does the session ‘feel’ like it’s going well?
  • Is it going badly? Can you turn it around?
This is something to keep doing in the classroom. I think the key teaching skill I need to take away is to pick up on those puzzled faces and ask them what they need to make them unpuzzled.

4. Lesson plans – always make one.

I usually but admittedly not always create a lesson plan. I started to make them in my current role because it was expected and as the librarians team-teach sessions from time to time it is a good way to map everything out for the other person.
Making a lesson plan forces you to think about what you want the students to be able to do, both in and after the session (a step towards independence). It moves you on to think about how you are going to get them to learn that information – talk/activity/reading – and how it fits with their assignment i.e. constructive alignment.

… and number 5 – read up about Carl Rogers; go back and refresh my memory about learning styles and read the odd book about being a lecturer HE...

 What did I learn? That I’ve picked up a lot on the job; that I have surface learning for some of the above and can move on to deeper learning by reading some trusty tomes and that I’ll always be working at my learning and teaching if I want to be a ‘good’ teacher. I think ‘keep going but take it up a notch’ sums up my next move.

What did I enjoy?
I enjoyed being back in the classroom as a student rather than standing at the front. It was surreal after ten years of being on the ‘other side’. I had to dust off my note taking skills and remember to write up the session each week which has always been my tried and tested way of absorbing the knowledge.
One of the tasks we were set was to watch an experienced Higher Education practitioner deliver a lecture. I found it an enlightening experience but I don’t feel confident enough to discuss my criticisms/praise with the lecturer – there were lots of things I thought were good teaching and learning strategies but a couple of areas where I thought things didn’t quite work out but we all have our own styles.
Meeting colleagues on the course who were embarking on their first teaching assignments was interesting. They were worried about working with groups of thirty students whereas I work with multiple groups of thirty and routinely deliver lectures for 200 students. They too had similar concerns in terms of not having had any formal teacher training. It was a supportive group who were quite honest and self-critical in their contribution to the discussions. And we were all committed to getting it right.

What worked well?

I had thought the session on providing feedback to students after an assessment would be least relevant to me but I was surprised by how engaging and useful it was.  I’m not involved in deciding or designing assessments instead I have to find out what the assessment is; work out what the students need to know in order for them to tackle the assessment and then design my teaching session to facilitate that learning.
Unexpectedly I picked up ideas about why students want feedback; what type of feedback they want; delivering negative feedback and getting them to write their own feedback for themselves or their peers. One tactic I might use more of in future is to get them to mark their own work or their classmate’s work. This self-assessment should encourage them to model what their tutor does so they understand the assessment criteria and what they should be aiming for in their work. This has worked well with keyword exercises in some of my sessions – they have to swap papers and assess the search words other person has thought of. By enhancing this and getting them to check the other person’s work against a checklist of core search skills I hope to get them to see what they should be looking for when searching.

What, if anything, went wrong?

I found it hard to contribute to some of the discussions partly because I am shy in that environment until I trust the group but also because I felt unfamiliar with some of the topics. As discussions progressed, particularly in the week about leading a seminar, I reflected on how my role in learning and teaching is different from the academic tutor’s role – for example I am parachuted in to timetable slots and often see students once whereas a tutor has more time to build a lasting rapport and learn names. I struggled to make a link between my work and the seminar theme because of the nature of the sessions I deliver - although I get the seminar slot I rarely deliver a traditional ‘seminar’. I ended up picking up things about asking students questions rather than facilitating discussions.

What would I change?

If I did this course again I would push myself to contribute more to the discussions even if it was to say that I was finding it hard to relate the topic to my day-to-day work.
What (potential) impact could this have in my workplace?
I have picked up lots of tips about learning and teaching and pointers about what to read and what skills to develop in the future. It has certainly encouraged me to reflect on my skills and the way I work. As I reflect on the notes I took I am buzzing with ideas for workshops which I intend to investigate further. I hope by looking at my sessions with a fresh and more informed perspective that I can improve the learning of my students so that their ability to search independently and more confidently increases. We are moving to a resource discovery tool soon and this gives me the opportunity to revamp my information literacy sessions and make them less about database instruction and more like ‘seminars’.

What can I practically apply from the experience I’ve had?

As the workshops progressed I noted down a number of things to investigate or to try in future workshops:
  • Try to reduce the number of PowerPoint slides in my presentations – can I turn any of the text in to images/diagrams/infographics?
  • Look at the generic library induction – do we have constructive alignment issues by trying a one size fits all approach?
  • Try negotiating some ground rules in the year one lecture. As it’s the first lecture the students attend, I should try saying what the nature/purpose of a lecture is – schools do not lecture students so this is an alien concept.
  • If students are utilising their phones in lectures/sessions for socialising – I can re-engage their concentration by using the phone as part of the session. For example, I could ask them to look up a phrase or how many articles are retrieved on a search for ‘health’?  Maybe I could get them to tweet/email in what they want to know about the resources or get them to check whether we have a particular book in the library and what the classmark is.
  • Make the seminar a trial run for the assignment – make it significant/relevant. I do this but maybe I don’t make it obvious to the students.
  • If we are mindful of our classroom we are always on the lookout for ‘assessment’ or students’ comprehension of what we are saying – we look for puzzled faces; ask if they have any questions or would like us to repeat anything. I want to test their knowledge by getting them to write down the clearest/muddiest ideas they have taken from my lecture/seminar. I could do this at the beginning or end of the session but must make sure I clear up the muddy ideas asap. Something like this might work best if I see the students for a couple of sessions.

I have offered to participate in a ‘safe’ teaching observation exercise which is being run by the workshop leader. The idea is to run a micro-teaching session that will be observed by others in the workshop group. Getting feedback on my teaching skills in this way is both terrifying and exciting. I’ll report back on the experience.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Course write up - Web of Knowledge Update Training workshop Nov 2012

This update session focussed on features and enhancements recently applied and also looked at forthcoming features. The event was a mixture of presentations and hands-on practical searching.

I was interested in attending this event because I do not use WoK frequently and needed to know more about it before promoting it further within the Faculty and to the PhD students.

The agenda for the event covered the following topics.

Search engine and navigation enhancements

>> you can now use ‘left-hand truncation’. For example: *saccharide retrieves polysaccharide/sialylsaccharide/eligosaccharide.

Alerting enhancements

>>if you have a personal account for WoK you can now renew all your search and citation alerts simultaneously.

Author identification enhancements – improved author finder tool and ResearcherID now searchable across WoK

>> an updated Author Search option in the Web of Science guides you through a series of steps that are designed to disambiguate common author surnames. You type in a surname and initial; select the author’s research domain and then choose their organisation from the list. This search might be useful if you are looking up an author and you have some background information on them. As a warning, this search is only as good as the information you have available on the author and frankly is rather fiddly.

>> try the Author Search by looking for Stephen Hawking.

Cited reference enhancements

>> the Cited Reference links now display the full reference of the citing article – so it has more in common with the Cited by links in Google Scholar.

ResearcherID and ORCID integration

>>For me, this was the most interesting piece of information gained at the workshop. Researchers can set up a personal ResearcherID (basically a code that is unique to them; the code is attached to all their research output indexed in the WoK). This ResearcherID only works in WoK however a new ID option is gaining popularity – ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID).

ORCID is rapidly becoming the preferred ID option because it can be used across multiple database platforms rather than just WoK.  So if a researcher has an article indexed in WoK or Medline their ORCID will be displayed in both databases – allowing the researcher to get maximum exposure and for readers to follow ORCID links and see the researcher’s full output. ORCID allows researchers to attach their ID to their research output. See

Introduction to the new Data Citation Index

>>This is a new database in WoK – it provides a single point of access to research data from repositories across disciplines and around the world. Most of these repositories contain data sets such as statistics about ice and snow levels from The National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Essentially it offers access to sets of data which can be used in research. Most (but not all) of the repositories seem to be freely available so the Data Citation Index acts like a resource discovery tool.

>>Apparently there is no standard way to reference data sets so WoK provides a recommended way of citing the data.

In summary

There was a lot of jargon – taxonomic; supatax; DCI record; geospatial field….. this was a little tiring and not something that you could engage students with. The event was not particularly interactive – the group followed the presentation on their computers and then did a short worksheet. We sat in regimented rows and I only managed to speak to two other people! However, it was comforting to see that live demos can be problematic for everyone – search results looking different and resources on a go-slow.

I’m not convinced that undergraduate students would find this level of detail useful however there are some items that will be relevant to the PhD students  – I will be investigating the ORCID scheme further as this seems most relevant to the students I support.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Inductions: done and dusted

Inductions are done - well until April when I get a new cohort.

It has been exceptionally busy - busier than last year although I can't figure out why.

The last week included:

Two introductory talks for distance learning students who were visiting for their block placement. Always a treat to meet these students - not only are they lovely but I get to visit them at a 'Jane Austen' country house - the kind of place where you imagine taking a turn around the room and promenading in the garden for the afternoon!

A couple of student tutorials - squeezed in between this and that.

Three workshops on searching for evidence - I usually say that you can tell when a workshop is not going quite as planned (blank faces, confused faces etc) and I thought that was the case with all three of these workshops. However the students' comments at the end and on the evaluation sheets were all extremely positive. I think the session was forcing them to think about new search techniques and the strained faces were a sign of learning rather than not understanding.

A drop-in session for the final year students who are embarking on their dissertation - I had a queue form outside the door which I took as a compliment.

Wrote an article for the departmental newsletter about my work during the induction period - attempted to highlight all the non-tour type of induction work that goes on.

A lot of workshop planning for events looming in the coming weeks.

A couple of meetings in which I volunteered to run library update sessions at the next meeting. I vaguely remember saying something like "I'll do some stuff on copyright, linking to the VLE and e-Library troubleshooting". I have a feeling I may regret this next term when they only give me 5mins on the agenda.

Now that inductions are over I can focus on some workshop planning, book ordering and getting ready for next term. As a friend once said 'Academic librarians are for 3 years, not just the 1st semester'.