Thing 16: Library Advocacy

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 16: Advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published.

The majority of library advocacy I do doesn’t start with me thinking “I must do some some advocacy”.  Mostly it starts with me meeting someone new or bumping into an old friend and them asking me what I do.  People are frequently puzzled as to why someone with a degree, particularly a science degree, would want to be a librarian and even more puzzled that I am doing a postgraduate degree all about libraries.  In my experience there really is still a common misconception that librarians just stamp books and take fines.  I think some of the best marketing for libraries is by word of mouth, so speaking to people like this can be very useful.  At the university where I was working until August I found that many of the students I met were unaware of all the services the library could offer them.  Many of them saw the library as no more than somewhere to get hold of books and journals.  Although it will not always be enough to avoid cuts, making users or potential users aware of what is available to them is an important first hurdle to overcome.


Thing 15: Librarianly events

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 15: Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events.

Attending events is something I haven’t done a huge amount of, but I’m hoping to do quite a bit more of now I’m studying in London where so much seems to be happening.  This week I’ll be going to two events, one of which is all about attending the IFLA World Library and Information Congress.  Writing this post has also reminded me I was going to join the Cambridge Library Group as I now live near Cambridge and they seem to have some interesting events.  So far I’ve only been to events which have been free for me to attend (apart from travel costs), but I’m sure I will come across something soon that I really want to attend that isn’t free.

With the limited number of events I’ve attended so far, I wouldn’t feel confident enough quite yet to speak at an event, except perhaps an unconference.  Generally I’m someone who quite enjoys giving presentations and speaking in front of people as long I know what’s expected of me and think that the people I’m talking to will find what I’m saying interesting.  One problem I need to overcome is my recurring concern that as I’m new to the profession no one will be interested in what I’ve got to say – which really hasn’t been my experience during informal conversations with more experienced professionals.

As for organising something, I organised a meet up for cpd23 participants in Oxford a few months ago, but a proper event?  Maybe one day.

Thing 14 (part 2): Reference management, a library perspective

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 14: Zotero / Mendeley / CiteULike.

My last post was all about the experience of using reference managers as a student.  This post is about my experience of librarians providing support for the use reference managers.

When I was working as a trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library I had the opportunity to get involved with some of the user education offered by the librarians.  I tested the worksheets that were given to participants at user education sessions and helped at the sessions as a demonstrator (i.e. when the participants were on the practical part of a workshop I went round answering questions).  There were some sessions which covered just reference management and some where reference management was just part of a session on research skills.  Some sessions were a compulsory part of the course, but most were advertised by the library and open to anyone.  Mostly they were aimed at undergraduates tackling their first research assignment and/or first year postgraduates.  One-to-one sessions with subject librarians was also available.  Different sessions used different software and certain departments had a preference for different software.  The full range of courses included RefWorks and EndNote which were provided by the university as well as the (currently) freely available Zotero and Mendeley.

There is also an online guide to reference management, with specific information on RefWorks, EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley and Colwiz at  One of my projects during my trainee year was to research and produce this guide.

Thing 14 (part 1): Reference management, a personal perspective

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 14: Zotero / Mendeley / CiteULike

You mean you do it all by hand!?

One thing that surprised me during my graduate trainee year was that hardly any of my fellow trainees had ever used reference management software before.  I had assumed that everyone who ever had to write a dissertation or coursework essay at university would have used it.  I now know this is not the case.  I think perhaps this is a subject thing.  I did a science degree and reference managers certainly seem popular with the students at the science library where I did my traineeship.  If this is the case I wonder why?  Do scientists have more references, do non-scientists have more references in unusual formats which reference managers don’t deal with so well or is it just that there is more awareness of reference managers in science?  Or does it depend which university you go to?  I’d be interested if anyone has any ideas on the matter or knows of reference managers being popular in other subjects.

Trials and tribulations of reference management

My first experience of reference management was a skills session on EndNote at the beginning of my third year of my undergraduate degree.  Interestingly this was given by an academic, not a librarian.   As getting EndNote on my laptop would have involved me parting with a hefty sum of money I decided to use EndNote Web (which I thought was freely available until went home for Christmas and found it was asking for my university log in!) for the references I needed for my third year and then fourth year projects.

EndNote Web was not perfect and one day while sat at a library computer getting thoroughly frustrated at the extremely long time it was taking to do something my lovely department librarian showed me Zotero.  I tried it out, but didn’t really like the interface so decided to stick with EndNote Web.  A decision I was later to regret when less than a week before my fourth year project was due to be handed in EndNote Web’s Cite While You Write (the bit that integrates with MS Word to create in text citations and bibliographies) stopped working and did something very strange to all my citations and my bibliography.  I sorted it out in the end via EndNote, but not without further complications and a lot of stress.  I haven’t heard of anyone else having similar problems with EndNote Web, and it may have had something to do with my old version of MS Word, but my relationship with EndNote Web was irreparably damaged and I changed allegiance to Zotero.

During my traineeship I used Mendeley for my references I used at work when writing biographies of the people we held archives of, but continued using Zotero to store other references.  I used Mendeley because it was the easiest thing to get to work without admin rights on the computer I was using and it did the job.  Now I’ve started my MA I’ve had another think about which reference manager I want to use.  I’ve settled on Zotero as it’s (currently) freely available so I will continue to be able to use it wherever I end up working in the future and it can import references from the UCL online catalogue and the bibliographic databases I’m most likely to use.  Although I did have to spend a couple of hours yesterday unsuccessfully trying to get it to work with OpenOffice (I don’t have MS Office on my laptop) and then giving up and downloading LibreOffice which I have managed to get Zotero to work with.

Why bother?

So, with all the stress and difficulties why do I still bother using a reference manager?  My main reason is to keep track of all the things that I’ve read so that I can find them again if I want to reference or re-read them.  I can store my references in folders so that I can find everything I read for a particular course in one place, I can add tags to my references which I can then search (one of the tags I use is ‘to read’, which I find very useful), I can add notes to the reference to summarise it, tell me which bit was useful or said something interesting, tell me why I read it, etc.  If I had to do it all by hand I just wouldn’t be as organised.  Oh, and (when it works) it does make formatting references much easier and quicker.

Thing 13: Collaborative working online

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 13: Google Drive, Wikis and Dropbox.

This thing is focussed on tools for file sharing and collaborative working online – Google Drive, Dropbox and Wikis.  I’ve been using Google Drive (previously Google Docs) for several years both as a collaborative tool for committee and group work and as a way of accessing personal files on different computers without having to take a memory stick with me everywhere.  One big advantage of Google Drive as a collaborative tool, particularly for short-term projects or where documents are not shared frequently, is that most people already have a Google account.  This makes getting started with Google Drive easy and there isn’t that initial barrier of setting up yet another online account.

One feature of Google Drive I tried out that was new to me was the Google Drive download which puts a folder on my desktop containing all my files in Google Drive.  I’m glad I’ve found this as I quite like being able to access my documents without having to find the website and log on.

Dropbox was new to me, but it seems to be pretty similar to Google Drive.  Other than Google’s advantage of popularity I can’t see any real advantage of one over the other.  Dropbox looks nice, I like the interface and part of me thinks I already use too many Google services, but I think Google’s popularity (and therefore ease of sharing with people) is going to swing it for me.

Wiki’s aren’t new to me but they’ve never been part of my everyday work routines, though I can certainly see how a wiki could be just the right solution in certain situations.  I’ve contributed to the Library Day in the Life and UK Library Blogs wikis.  I’ve found these and the Library Routes Project wiki really useful sources of information.  They’re so simple to contribute to that lots of people do, which is what makes them great resources.  I’m definitely a fan of wikis.

Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 22.

Again, I’ve got behind with cpd23 but this week’s thing is really relevant to me at the moment so I’m going out of order to write about it now.  I’ve just started a full time Library and Information Studies MA and one of the things I want to do alongside the course is gain some experience of both different library sectors and practical skills.  My aim is twofold: to help me decide exactly what sort of job I want to get at the end of my masters and to give me experience which will help me get that job.

Although a certain amount of insight can be gained by library visits and talking to people doing a particular job or working in a certain sector, there is no substitute for actually getting stuck in and doing something. There may be some opportunities to gain this experience through paid work, but I’m expecting to have to do some unpaid work.  The course I’m on actually includes a two week work placement.

I’m quite happy to undertake unpaid work to develop new skills or gain an insight into a sector I am new. Importantly, I’m also in the lucky situation of being able to afford to do so as I managed to secure funding for my MA. As the number of funded places for masters courses has decreased and the fees for the courses has decreased, many students are going to need to work longer hours in whatever part time work they can get and will find it hard to find time for unpaid work (except possibly where this is part of the course). If entry level professional posts require experience that it is (usually/often) only possible to gain through volunteering, this is a problem.

Before starting my graduate traineeship I completed two short periods (2 1/2 and 3 weeks) of unpaid work experience in libraries. The first gave me an overview of both libraries and archives and helped me decide that I wanted to follow a career in librarianship, while the second gave me a chance to try my hand at a large number of tasks done by the librarian of a small academic library ranging from shelving to cataloguing, withdrawing stock to website content management. I learnt a lot from both experiences and had fun while doing them.  So, as far as I’m concerned, volunteering to gain experience is a good thing as long as you make sure that you are actually gaining experience.  Something I haven’t always done, but that is important to avoid misunderstandings and to make sure the work is mutually beneficial is to set expectations and objectives on both sides before any commitment is made.

Thing 12: Putting the social into social media

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 12.

Am I a social media lurker or a social media socialite?  Well, I think I am somewhere in between, but closer to the lurker end of the spectrum.  It varies between social media sites and twitter is where I’m most social.  I always respond to thank someone if they tweet a link that makes me think “Wow, that’s brilliant”, I’ve attended a few uklibchats where although I’m not particularly vocal I do participate in the conversation and I do occasionally respond to or ask questions on twitter.  Blogs I comment on occasionally but not as often as I would like and elsewhere I’m pretty much a lurker.  Sometimes my lurking is because when I come across somewhere I want to contribute I think “Oh I’ll think of a good way of writing what I want to say on that later” and either never finding time to do it or finding that someone else gets there first with what I wanted to say.  I like to follow and read posts by people from different sectors and different stages of their career, but find it easier and less daunting responding to people in a similar situation to me.  I think this is a combination of it being less likely that I have completely missed the point if they’re writing about something I do too, often having met them face-to-face as well as online, worrying that people won’t be interested in the thoughts of mere graduate trainee and, if the person I am responding too works at a certain level, that maybe one day they might interview me for a job and so anything I say now is effectively part of a job application.

However, sometimes my lurking is out of choice.  I have different reasons for using social media sites and not all of them are about being social.  For example I’ve chosen not to use the social side of LinkedIn for now – it’s just somewhere to (hopefully) direct people googling me to information I would like them to see and for me to store contact information for people I would like to keep in contact with.  My main use of twitter is as a current awareness service – when I have less time due to other stuff happening in life the interacting is the first to go.  This is because although I get something out of interacting with people on twitter I feel that reading articles other people very kindly tweet is a more valuable use of my time.  So really, the only way I would like to become more social at the moment is by commenting on blog posts more – just need a little more confidence.