Sunday, 31 July 2011

A Week in My Library Life #libday7

I'm a 'Rare Books Specialist' at Cambridge University Library.  As part of Round 7 of the Library Day in the Life Project, here's a summary of the sort of things I've been up to this week.

Looking after the readers

Reader service isn't my primary function, but the whole point of having a library is so that readers can use it, so that's where I'll start this overview.  Our library has a Rare Books Reading Room that could, technically, seat up to 60 people, although they'd be frightfully squashed.  And average day would generally see up to 20 readers in at one time.  The 'Rare Books' net is cast fairly wide: it covers all printed material produced pre-1900, and selected printed material produced post-1900. Manuscripts are produced in a separate room.  The department has a team of book fetchers (who fetch around 1,000 items a week) and room supervisors who manage the day-to-day production of material and supervision of the room.  I do occasional stints on the reading room desk to cover lunchtimes, break times, evenings, Saturdays and absences for sickness or holiday.  I'm also one of the people asked to help out with non-standard enquiries. This week a couple of people were on holiday, so my share of desk duty was higher than normal.  Summer is also a busy time for the room, as lots of scholars make trips to research libraries at this time of year, making the most of a break from teaching responsibilities to get on with their own research.  Visiting researchers often want to see a lot of books in a fairly short time, they're less familiar with our policies, practices and services than our regulars, and as they're likely to be off to the next library very soon, they'll want their photocopying done as quickly as possible!

'Old Cash Register' by Jo Jakeman on Flickr
To be fair, our till doesn't look like this at all.
On the whole, I really enjoy working on the reading room desk.  Although much of the work is very routine--checking requests, checking fetched material out to readers and back in again when they're done, keeping an eye on how the material is treated, checking requests for photocopying and digital imaging, and authorising requests for self-service photography--it's a good way to get to know what sort of books people are interested in, and how they use our catalogues and other resources.  And I get to use the till when people buy pencils or pay for their photocopies. Bing! It is sometimes frustrating working on a front-line desk when the things I want to get done demand periods of focussed attention, but that just means I have to balance what I do when, so that the intensive stuff is left for when I can sit in the office (relatively) undisturbed.

Looking after the books

We're very fortunate to have a certain budget in the department for new acquisitions of rare material.   We generally purchase in order to supplement existing collection strengths, rather than to try and be 'completist' about our holdings.  As I've only been in post for a few months, I'm still getting to know the collections (have a look at our collection summaries here and you'll start to understand why!), so I don't have much of a role in choosing new purchases.  But I do do some of the background checking before we buy: double checking catalogues (both electronic and paper) to see if we, or other Cambridge libraries, already hold a copy, for example.

Once we've decided to get a book, it has to be checked on arrival to make sure we've got what we were expecting - all pages and plates are counted and checked, the condition is examined, etc. etc.  And then it goes onto the cataloguing shelf.

I love cataloguing rare books, but it's fair to say that there's a knack to doing it efficiently that I haven't yet grasped.  One can go to almost infinite lengths checking previous owners (we record as a matter of course any kinds of provenance marks in or on the books), deciding on binding materials and dates, and looking up references to the book in question.

Here are a couple of recent examples: a bibliography of the works of a geologist, acquired with a collection of his papers (this book was transferred to us from the manuscripts department) and a book of seventeenth-century German concrete poetry, lavishly embellished with extra plates relating to the city of Nuremberg by an early owner.


I'm very fortunate that I'm responsible for the Library's internal exhibition cases, located on our main corridor on the way to the Tea Room.  The exhibition programme sees a new display every two to three months.  These are curated generally by members of Library staff, and cover a range of topics which enable us to showcase holdings or themes that wouldn't necessarily be included in the main public exhibition area.  Recent topics have been Ernest Hemingway, and twentieth-century Dutch book bindings. The next exhibition will be set out this week; I've been advising the curators throughout about suitability of material for display, case sizes, caption conventions, and so on.

Project work

Our department currently has a major cataloguing project in train. The Incunabula Project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will see the Library's holdings of pre-1501 books (known as 'incunabula'), which number over 4,500, catalogued to the fullest current standards.  The cataloguing work falls mainly to the project's Research Associate and others of my colleagues, but I am working to support the project by producing on online guide to the history of the incunable collection.  With the permission of the publishers, CUP, we are producing a web version of the introduction to the collection written by J.C.T. Oates, the author of the 1950s short-title catalogue of the collection (the only catalogue currently available).  Oates' introduction is a masterful example of academic librarianly writing of its period, but to modern eyes it's somewhat wordy.  I'm doing what I can to make it useful to the modern reader by dividing it into meaningful sections, and illustrating as many of these as possible with images of our books.

These images will focus particularly, where possible, on marks of provenance and other copy-specific details, so I am taking a lot of images myself specifically for this project.  This past week I've done a lot of work taking images to slot into the webpages that I have already pretty much finished writing.  Soon I hope to be able to hand the whole lot over to colleagues for proofreading.


From time-to-time I'm obviously also involved in other things, such as supervising TV film crews who wish to use our materials, or helping with Library open days for prospective students or University Alumni.  The nature of the holdings in our department means, however that even a 'standard' day usually holds lots of interest.

On the back of similar posts in the past I've had a few emails from new professionals interested in special collections work. I'm always happy to answer any questions you might have, either in the comments here, or in email, but I'm fairly new to this myself and certainly don't proclaim myself any sort of expert!

Doing it wrong

'How academic libraries annoy academics' is a recent post by one of the blogging team at Social Justice Librarian (tip o' the cursor to Kristine Chapman for bringing it to my attention).

The post itself is worth a read (although I'll summarise it here, too) but it's the comments that are really, um, enlightening.  So go and read them. It'll give much-needed context to what follows here.

Firstly, the post.  Greyson went to the library to get a book previously found on the catalogue.  The visit was unsuccessful. Put very simply, a book marked as available on the catalogue couldn't be found in the library, and after using the 'report a problem' button on the record Greyson was told that that sort of problem had to be reported in person at the circulation desk of the library in question.

As horror stories go, it's not a classic. But it does reveal at least a couple of problems in the library system: no easy catalogue access in the book stacks, and unclear reporting mechanisms. If 'report a problem' means 'only report certain kinds of problem' then it ought to say so, and it ought to say what to do for the others.

But the details in this case really aren't the point here.  Greyson points out that a wasted half-hour like this is precisely what will make academics advocate less forcefully or frequently for the library:
"I want my faculty colleagues to be advocates for our university library. So I do what I can to give them warm fuzzies about it, pointing out new acquisitions in their areas, noting that online access to the Journal of Important Stuff is brought to their desktop by the library, etc. But some days the library doesn’t make this easy for me. Some days I’m afraid to tell them too much about the library, in case they actually try to use it and have an experience like the one above.
I absolutely know there are budget constraints, time constraints, people-power constraints and bureaucratic time-suck constraints on academic libraries. I can explain why any given problem with the library systems might exist. But I can’t make archaic systems less frustrating and more worthwhile for people who have the option to avoid contact with the library most of the time. And those are the same people I really want out there speaking for the importance of the library. What a conundrum."
In short: we're alienating the very people who could help us the most. Ouch.

This is a hard message, and an important one to hear, understand, and act on.  But what do some of the comments say? They say "Greyson, you're doing it wrong".
Example 1: "I kept waiting for the line where you went to the staff and asked for help locating the book instead of schlepping back to your office."
Example 2: "Don’t blame the library! We are here to help. Any faculty member that has contacted me directly gets my priority response, as nurturing that rapport with them is at the top of my list, since it “trickles down” to students too and helps them in the long run as well."
Example 3: "I think you should have asked the reference librarian before leaving the library. Computers are excellent starting points for information seeking, but nothing can replace good old fashioned face to face contact. Others have mentioned the following as well: just because it’s not on the reshelving cart or lying on study table doesn’t mean it’s not in the library. As a cataloger, when adding a book to the collection, the book is typically in the OPAC for about a day and a half before it actually physically becomes part of the collection. Why? Simple. After tagging the book in OCLC, and entering the holdings information for Voyager, I still have to take each book and write the call number on the inside cover, print the spine label, cut the spine label, apply the spine label, apply the protective sticker, and use a boning tool to make sure all those stickers stay stuck. Thus, new acquisitions are on the cart in my office for a day or two after they begin to show up in the OPAC, depending on how many books I have to process."
(To be fair, many of the comments are fair, balanced and constructive.)

"You're doing it wrong". Is that the best we can come up with?  I was really surprised and disappointed to see such a hostile and unhelpful reaction to a post written with the explicit attention of drawing to librarians' attention a perceived problem.

If the reasonable reader (which I would say, in this instance, Greyson is) finds something difficult, then maybe the problem is with the system and not the reader.  And it's our job to find the ways in which it's broken and to fix it. That's not always easy: it's hard, once you're inside a system, to view it as an outsider does, and to see what's illogical and what could be improved.  And even if you can see problems, it's hard if you're at a junior level to instigate change.  That's why it's great if and when readers point out what's not working for them.  (I would, of course, advise Greyson to send a link to the post to a librarian at the library in question - they ought to want to know about reader experiences.)

Yes, sure, it'd be nice if people always asked us when they're stuck, and told us when things don't work right, but people on the whole don't like doing that.  Honestly now, how many times in Sainsbury's do you actually ask where they've moved the mustard to, and how many times do you just wander about cursing under your breath hoping it will leap off the shelf into your basket?

Back to libraries... Not only were people annoyed that someone who did something in an unexpected way dared to complain, a few of the commenters seemed personally offended at an apparent attack on their work.  This misses the point. There's no point trying to defend a broken system by pointing out how hard you and/or your colleagues are working, or how much you yearn to help people with their queries.  (Indeed, maybe if the system worked better you'd feel less like everyday at work is an uphill struggle.) The broken system isn't (necessarily) reflecting badly on your work ethic, but it is still broken.

Frankly, I think we need to get a grip and stop blaming the readers. Whether it's broken because it's more-or-less the same system you've had for the last 30 years, or because it's something new that just isn't working, or whatever, if you find yourself saying to readers, "that's not how we do it" or, "oh no, blah doesn't mean blah it actually means thingummy" or, "you have to go and tell so-and-so that" then really, who's doing it wrong?

funny pictures of cats with captions
lolcat added to try and lighten the mood.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A day at umbrella (#ub11)

A couple of weeks ago I went down to Hatfield for CILIP's major conference, Umbrella. It was my first time at Umbrella, and it was the biggest conference I've been too so far in my career. I had two reasons for going: 1) to find out more about the library profession outside academia/special collections; 2) to present a poster about Library TeachMeets.


'Stormy Weather' by JD Hancock on Flickr
I must confess that I wasn't sure whether I'd enjoy it or not. I didn't have a lot of time available to prepare myself in advance: I wasn't sure which sessions I'd go to, I didn't know who the keynote speaker was, I wasn't really sure who else I knew was going. I wasn't really looking forward to spending time in a place with hundreds of other people, feeling bewildered...

But the thing is, I had a really brilliant time there. There are various reasons for that:
  1. Plentiful coffee supplies, starting with coffee at registration. I am just a nicer person when properly caffeinated.
  2. With just three sessions of papers/panels in the day it felt like there was more time to breathe than at some other conferences I've been to. It felt like there was space to keep talking to people from the previous session, and to meet someone in the break, and then to move onto the next thing without feeling unduly harried.  Mentally, too, three main themes in a day left time to think and reflect.
  3. The sessions I attended were all brilliant (see below).  The speakers were articulate and interesting, the topics were covered well, I learnt new things and started to think about things I already knew in new ways.
  4. Everyone I met there was really friendly.  This went for people I already knew either in person or online, and people I met for the very first time.  I really noticed that having a few online contacts already made me much more willing and able to strike up conversation with people I'd never met before, which was an unexpected but very welcome discovery!
  5. My poster was well received, I thought, and the 23 Things Professional Development poster (presented by Claire Sewell, designed by me) was very well received, and won the judges' first prize and attendee vote runner-up prize (for which thank you!).
So, how can I replicate this great conference experience elsewhere? That bit's hard to answer. Maybe the key is to just accept the event for whatever it is - not to try and wring out everything possible from it, and not to wish I was chatting with the 'right' people, but just to interact with who's there and see what I learn.


I went to two sessions in the Big Society stream, and one in the Technologies and Access stream.  Inspired by Joseph Norwood, I tried drawing a few pictures to sum up ideas and themes from the sessions.  My drawing skills are no match for his, but looking back at my notes after a couple of weeks, I find that they're rather handy as short-hand ways of recollecting what I was thinking.

Big Society, Big Opportunity: the response of government information professionals to the Coalition's agenda for the public sector - a panel discussion

Sketch of a train marked 'change'Sketch of a civil servant who doesn't want to let go of any informationSketch of a member of the public bewildered by the available information

This was a panel discussion between three government librarians, working in the Departments for Work and Pensions, Communities and Local Government, and Education. The three speakers all asserted that they don't really know what the Big Society actually is, but they also agreed, which is no surprise, that it means change.  For government departments it means both the devolution of powers and responsibilities--as quangos and other bodies are disbanded and more work is done locally/by communities--but also having to take on more responsibilities as intermediary layers of bureaucracy are removed (some quango business will be taken over higher up the hierarchy, and, for example, 'independent' community ventures such as Free Schools don't report locally but straight to the top).  So the first primary challenge they face is that roles and responsibilities across departments are changing, and information services need to prove their worth in straightened times. As in many other fields, they can do this by moving into non-traditional, but library-allied, roles, such as the linked tasks of records and knowledge management and managing Freedom of Information requests (and other related compliance issues).

The second area of particular interest that was discussed several times was the Transparency Agenda: the government desire to make information and data freely available to the public, via and similar means. It was pointed out that civil servants aren't traditionally keen on letting go of information, but also, and more significantly, that maybe just letting a lot of poorly ordered and managed data out into the public domain isn't really useful for anyone.  The problem is - are there the resources to sort it out?

Gilding the Lily: Images and objects need useful metadata!

Sketch of a photograph

This session presented three case-studies of non-printed-book cataloguing.  Two were image collections in single institutions (the George Washington Wilson collection at the University of Aberdeen and the photographic collections of Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff at the Natural History Museum), one a mixed bag of archives and museum objects from a variety of institutions (Suffolk Heritage Direct).  The overriding message from the three was that whatever you, as the first cataloguer, put into the system will definitely not be the last word on the form that the data will take in years to come, either because systems will change over time, or because your one-institution-dataset will ultimately be brought together with data from other places.  In the absence of a perfect world, it's probably therefore more important to get something into a system, than to worry and fret over every last word and comma and not get so much done.  As someone managing a cataloguing project - consider in your decisions what will make the data flexible in the future.

Librarians as Citizen Reporters

Sketch of a person with a megaphoneSketch of people talking to each other

I had no real idea what to expect from this session.  It turned out to be about local community websites and journalism endeavours, and that part(s) that libraries can play in these.  Some of the example sites mentioned were:
These sites enable people to help each other out locally - by sharing information, answering questions, raising issues.  They positive impacts on' real life' community--people coming out onto the streets to help clear snow, for example--and can improve community opinions of institutions such as the police or the council, when such institutions engage with them in a sensible and helpful way.

The implications for libraries of this are twofold:
  1. Libraries can support the necessary training and technology requirements for people to be involved in these endeavours.  Providing space, equipment and training is a way of showing that libraries are needed, useful, relevant, etc.  As a non-core activity, it's also something that could potentially use volunteers, without that volunteer involvement threatening current professional roles.  Perhaps.
  2. Librarians could get involved with these communities, in the manner that some councillors have done, to offer information to people who need it.  Either on a formal basis (an 'ask the librarian' thread) or informally - quietly lurking in the community and speaking up when they think can help. Either of these models strike me as being similar to the 'embedded librarian' which is growing in prominence in the academic/subject librarian world. This would, again, prove the usefulness of librarians, and hopefully raise the profile of the library and its services.
There's information about research done into these communities on the Networked Neighbourhoods site.

    Conclusions/Action Points/What Next?

    I have few definite conclusions to draw from the conference, except perhaps 'just get on and act on your ideas'. Times are hard, but sitting around whinging won't make them any better. Everyone can do something to improve attitudes or services. So get on with it.

    Tuesday, 26 July 2011

    #cam23, Extra Thing 4: Libraries widget

    I tried out the Cambridge Libraries Widget last summer, and the RSS feed and Calendar feeds when they were launched. I can see that they'll be really useful to some people, but somehow they just don't do it for me.

    So I'm going to tell you about something that I do use a lot, and is applicable to readers outside the Cambridge bubble. Did you know that you can customize the search box in your browser? And did you know that Copac (the UK National, Academic, and Specialist Library Catalogue) is one of the things you can add?

    How to add the COPAC search to your browser
    1. Go to, click on 'Interfaces' on the right hand side, and then 'Search Copac from your Web browser search bar using 'plugins' (or follow this link to go there directly).
    2. Click on the type of search you'd like to add.
    3. That's it!
    4. You should now be able to choose the COPAC option from your browser search box.
    5. You can edit you search box and add/remove search providers. In Internet Explorer go to Tools>Internet Options>'Settings' next to 'Change search defaults'. In Firefox, click on the drop-down arrow in the search box and then on 'Manage Search Engines'.
    6. If there are other sites you search frequently, it's worth having a look around to see if they have a browser search option.  As well as Wikipedia and Amazon, I have a German dictionary and the OED, in my search box and and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography search that runs from the bookmarks toolbar.
    I'd love to hear of any favourite search box/bookmarks toolbar tools that you use.

    Sunday, 17 July 2011

    #cpd23, Thing 5: reflective practice

    A while ago I overcame my somewhat sneery attitude to 'reflective practice' when I realised that underneath the (to me) management-speak-ish name it really just means 'thinking about what you've done and are doing'. Now, I may have my limitations in many fields but thinking about stuff is something I can definitely do.  Indeed, I can think about things so much that I end up having no idea what I think about them, or how I'd write that down in concise and comprehensible English. So what's my approach to reflective practice?
    Photograph of sky reflected in a leaded window
    Reflections in Oxford

    My reasons for reflective writing are three-fold:
    1. To remember what I've done, and what I thought about it. Having some sort of written record, even if it's not a blow-by-blow account of an event, really helps things to stick in my mind.  It's useful, too, just to have a findable list of what you've been up to.
    2. To sort the wheat from the chaff. Taking some time to reflect and write-up helps to work out what are the important things I should remember/act on/do differently next time.
    3. To build up a body of evidence for my Chartership portfolio.

    I find that having a framework to use when reflecting is really useful in the battle against woolly (both unfocussed and tangled) thinking.  The 'what - so what - now what' model mentioned in Emma's post is a good place to start.  For more intractable reflections I make notes under the following headings, which are my adaptation from a Chartership course I went to last summer. If you think they'd be useful for you, then by all means use them!
    • What was the event/visit/other (what were the circumstances, history or overview, facts)
    • My involvement - what did I do (actions taken i.e. what and how)
    • Feelings about my role/about the event or visit or whatever (reactions/emotions)
    • Why is this event important to me?/Why did I go?/Why was it important to those organising it?
    • Were there any significant problems that you/the organisers had to overcome?
    • In what ways have your skills, knowledge and understanding developed as a result?/What did the organisers learn?
    • What might I or the organisers do differently next time
      • How have you applied/will you apply your learning in the workplace?
      • What would I do the same next time?
    I particularly like that very last point: what would you keep the same?.  It's important when evaluating things that you've done to recognise, and build on, the good stuff as well as improving what didn't go so well!
    'Edward and the Yarn' by vlb1105 on Flickr
    Gratuitous dog picture to illustrate woolly thinking

    What now?
    The one thing that would really improve by professional reflection would be to revisit my thoughts and plans a few months after events take place.  I need to find a way of building that in to what I do.  Maybe quarterly reviews on the blog? That's not such a bad idea, in fact - I'd need to pick a memorable date, though, so that the months don't slip by unanounced too often.  In the spirit of keeping alive old cultural references how about the Quarter Days, so long as no-one minds if the December one is late!

    Tuesday, 12 July 2011

    Any umberellas? (#ub11)

    Photograph of furled umbrellas. 'Chinatown' by Thomas Hawk on Flickr
    'Chinatown' by Thomas Hawk on Flickr
    Today I'm at Umbrella 2011, CILIP's great big two-yearly (I think?) conference. I'm presenting a poster about Library TeachMeets - you can see the poster and find out more about TeachMeet over on the Cambridge Librarian TeachMeet site.

    If we met at the conference and you've tracked me down then do leave a comment to say hello, and have a look at some of my other posts via the archive and tags on the right hand side.

    Saturday, 9 July 2011

    #cam23, Things 5 and 6: screenshots and -casting

    Thing 5
    When I'm making screenshots I usually use the tried-and-tested method of hitting 'printscreen' and then editing the image in whatever image software I have handy.  But LightShot certainly looks useful, and I've bookmarked it for further reference.

    Thing 6
     'Learn more about screencasting' has been on my to-do list since before Christmas, so many thanks to cam23 for giving me the impetus to get on with it.  I found screencast-o-matic very easy to use, and it didn't have any hilarious but alarming consequences such as the Wallace-and-Gromit-style name might imply!  My only complaint would be that it made the computer a little slow to run, but that's probably an old PC issue as much as anything.
    Cambridge Library TeachMeet logo
    In order to get a little practice, I've ticked another thing off my to-do list, one that I added around the time of the first Cambridge Library TeachMeet, in September last year. That evening someone asked me how I'd made the camlibtm logo, and suggested I blog about it.  I never got round to it, but here, at long last, is a tutorial on how to create that sort of logo.  The tutorial uses GIMP; the original logo was actually created in Photoshop, but the principles are the same.

    I didn't script this in advance - I just had a practice run-though in GIMP to check I knew what I wanted to do, and a brief trial with screencast-o-matic to check it worked the way I expected. So please forgive the rough edges!

    #cam23, Extra Thing 2: Twitter Extras

    I've been meaning to set up something like HootSuite for ages and ages.  Lots of people say that the columns format makes it much easier to manage Twitter and make it work for you.  Recently I've laso learnt that you can use it to manage multiple Twitter accounts - I tweet on behalf of @camlibtm, @cpd23 and @CamLibGroup on occasion, and it would make things a lot simpler if I didn't have to sign out and in again all the time.

    So I've signed up. What do I think after ten minutes' use?
    1. It looks different. Wierdly, this really phases me.  I'm used to my own Twitter design, and I'm not a great fan of the three available HootSuite themes.
    2. It's not possible for me to tweet via there for cpd23, because another member of the team has already added that account to their HootSuite account, and would have to have a paid account and add me as a 'team member' to make it possible.  Rats!
    3. It's rather slow on my antiquated old PC, but then most things are.
    'sparrer' by Jenny Downing on Flickr
    'sparrer' by Jenny Downing on Flickr
    Verdict?  I can see why people love it, but I'm not certain whether it's for me or not.  I guess I could sign into that for my tweets, and into Twitter itself for the other account I want to use, and that would save so much logging out-and-in when I want to tweet things from both accounts.  But the format doesn't revolutionise my world - I've found other ways of managing Twitter (which may or may not involve having lots of Firefox tabs open).

    Of the other things mentioned in this Extra Thing, I'm pleased to say that I already use (increasingly redundant as Twitter now automatically shortens links, but still handy for looking at stats.  Add a plus sign ('+') to the end of a link, and see how many people have clicked, and when. If you sign up for an account you can also access all the links you've previously shortened and get browser widgets, etc.), twitterfeed autotweets my blog posts, and I've consulted Twapperkeeper and Archivist too in the past.

    #cpd23, Thing 4: current awareness

    I was introduced to Twitter, to RSS feeds and to Google Reader last year during Cam23.  I'm a regular and committed user of them all.

    Re-reading last year's posts, I see that I was particularly perceptive early on about the benefits of Twitter:

    ...if you have a wide circle of followers and followees, Twitter seems to good for spreading information and ideas quickly.  And it seems that, unlike with RSS feeds, it's information that you might not know you want to go looking for... 

    The use of hashtags seems to make it possible to create a community of people interested in the same thing, and to widen knowledge about that thing and get a buzz going around it...
    I wasn't, however, completely sold then, I wasn't sure if I'd stick at it.  That was a feeling that persisted for quite a while - I wondered if I'd go back to it after weeks away for holidays, Christmas, etc.  But I do go back.  It's important to remember that you can't keep up with everything, and just to let it waft by when you're too busy to pay attention.  But it's an invaluable way to meet people, share ideas, get answers and make things happen.  I'm feeling chuffed with myself this month for having introduced to each other some of the people who've gone on to organise #uklibchat.

    'Yesterday News' by Zarko Drincic on Flickr
    'Yesterday News' by Zarko Drincic on Flickr
    RSS is great for bringing the news to you - I use it for comics I follow, knitting blogs I follow, podcasts I like, institutional news, and a whole slew of library/librarians blogs.  The key, for me, is to remember that you don't have to read it all.  Some of the stuff I subscribe to is stuff I always look at when it comes in.  The rest, and this is by far and away the majority I either glance at and deicide to read later (or not), or is just there in case I want to fill some time with reading.  But mostly, I don't read a lot of it. Some of it I hear about via Twitter, some of it I just 'mark as read'.  There's no shame in not keeping up with everything - but RSS gives you a fighting chance if you're really keen to try!

    A Google Reader feature I've recently started using is the 'shared items' feature. You can follow other people and see what they've chosen to share, and people who follow you can see what you share.  You can leave notes and comments on shared items, too.  It's a nice way to pick up on things outside feeds you follow.  To follow someone, the easiest way that I've found is to search for their Google profile (here's me - you can use the search box from the top of that page - and here are the things I've shared) and look for links to their shared items.  Otherwise use the shared items option in reader and search for people there.

    Now, as for Pushnote, the word on Twitter and other blogs is that it's not great. And so I'm just not looking at it. Sorry.

    As for other things useful to current awareness, I wonder sometimes if I ought to use Delicious as a stuff-discovery tool.  But you'd have to have very specific tags in mind for that to be very useful - event/theme hashtags, maybe?  It's not something I've really explored.

    #cpd23, Thing 3: does my brand look big in this?

    It's taken me a long time to get round to writing this post.  Unlike many others, I'm not too uncomfortable with having a 'personal brand' that I take into account when presenting myself online.  But I am fairly uncertain of quite what my brand is, what is should be, and how I should best be communicating that.
    'Luna navideña' by nomenombres on Flickr'
    What do you think about the Girl in the Moon?

    I've written before about my changing opinions regarding my own anonymity (or otherwise) online. When I started this blog and first signed up to Twitter, I was only using a pseudonym.  I'd vaguely thought of having 'The Man in the Moon' as a stand-by pseudonym for a while - based on an in-joke from years ago - but when it came down to it, I thought I ought to at least have something that reflected by actual gender.  Thus Girl in the Moon.  I don't know what I'll do if I ever decide I want to sound more grown up than a girl...  And I really have no idea what sort of image that the name projects. Whimsical? Astronomical? Probably, I fear, astrological, even though I don't hold with that bunkum at all.  It doesn't overtly link to libraries, but I don't know if that matters.  I've tried for consistently across platforms, but girlinthemoon is fairly popular as a username, so often I've used maedchenimmond (German for Girl in the Moon) with the English as a display name.  I like to hope that isn't confusing - I do try to use other means to unify all my presences.

    I'm a bit squeamish about using a photograph of me, even though I well recognise the benefits of being identifiable.  It's not because I'm particularly concerned about privacy, I think I honestly think a picture of something else is probably more aesthetically pleasing and distinctive.  If you really want to know what I look like, most of the first image results for my name are pictures of me (except the ones that are my avatar!).  As I've changed the design of various profiles and of this blog over time, I've retained the same avatar so that there is some consistency.  I worry (probably unduly) about changing things too much and people being confused.  Equally, I am starting to wonder whether I shouldn't more often include an actual photograph of me so that finding people at conferences would be easier.

    Profersonal identity
    I don't worry unduly about this.  I do tend to think before I tweet - generally I don't talk about personal stuff, anniversaries, domestic disasters, what I'm having for dinner.  But I do talk about hobbies - music and knitting - not least because a lot of the library folk I interact with professionally online also share these interests.  I'm comfortable with that, and I think my general rule is that I don't talk about online things that I wouldn't talk about to general colleagues (not friends) in the office at work.

    Visual brand
    I'm definitely someone who's interested in design, although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise when considering the various iterations of this blog.  I do try to maintain a consistent, though not slavishly identical, design (colours, images) across various platforms.  I wonder if my avatar image is a wise choice - it's a book (what a stereotype!), it's brown-ish (pretty dull), it's not very striking.  But ultimately I am a slightly dull lass, who is interested in physical books, so maybe it's OK?

    The Google/Bing/search engine of choice Challenge
    I opened a difference browser (yes, yes, it's IE, I only use it for emergencies!) and checked I was logged out from everything.  Here are some results pages:

    Screenshot of a Google search for Katie Birkwood.

    Firstly, Google. This is all pretty good.  I have a very distinctive name, so there's little question of it not being about me. It's just about which bits of me turn up. Google does well: Twitter and this blog are the first two, then references to various things I've presented at and written about professionally and recently.  A profile page from an online network, and my Guardian article. Hurrah!

    Screenshot of a Bing search for Katie Birkwood

    Bing is a little less satisfactory.  The first two results are fine: my Ignite London talk and this blog.  But then lots of minutes from committees I was on as a student.  Oh dear.  I wonder how to make this better?  It's not as if my names isn't all over the place for library things these days.  And I can't imagine that College Music Society minutes are frequently linked to.

    Overall, there's nothing too alarming there. Phew. But I'm not sure that any of the above actually comes together to form a cohesive image.  I worry that I rely on design because I haven't got anything more substantial to fall back on - I don't talk either mainly or knowledgeably about any particular topics, I'm not sure I have a distinctive writing style... These I things I notice about other people's brands, but fear they may be lacking from how I present myself?  Tom Roper has indeed already commented that he thinks my brand is design-based, though I don't know that he meant that as a criticism (and he did say some other nice things, phew).

    A second opinion
    If, dear reader, you aren't exhausted from doing this for all the other CPD23 participants already, I'd like to hear your views.
    • What does 'Girl in the Moon' say to you?
    • Do you think I have a 'brand'? If yes, what does it say about me? If no, what am I doing wrong?
    • Should I be using a photograph of myself instead of an anonymous avatar?
    • Am I all style and no substance? Should I be focussing my efforts more narrowly (in terms of topic)?
    • Any other thoughts?
    I've a thick skin, so don't hold back if there's something you've been dying to point out...

    P.S. Multicolor Search Lab is a really cool search tool that lets you find Creative Commons images of Flickr based on their colour(s).  That's where I found the lovely purple moon (above) for this post.