Friday, 13 August 2010

Things discovered

After getting increasingly stressed all this week about getting behind with 23 Things, and muttering enviously every time I saw someone else's blog pass the finishing line, now that I've almost finished I feel a bit regretful. But, to sum up:

I've most enjoyed:
* Finding that these Things were a lot easier than I ever thought!
* Trying out new things
* Being able to talk to other people about them

I will definitely use:
* Google Docs - for shared editing of funding applications and publicity
* Wordpress - for project blogs
* Wikis - for discussion documents (eg. the UL "Working together" paper)

I'd like to try:
* recording people reading aloud very short extracts from books in the Tower and putting these into our blog, possibly a Hallowe'en ghost story?

I wish I'd had more time for:
* Reading other people's blogs - some people write posts with a lot of content in them, that deserve more attention than my speed reading on late duty.
* Posting comments on other people's blogs

I'm still not convinced by:
* Twitter (though I'm a convert to JournoTwit)

The future: the main question that's been bothering me all through 23 Things is "These 23 things are the things I need to know, and other people have identified them for me. How will I identify the things I need to know about in future?" But now I've realised that I can "just" try things out and talk about them to other people. In fact, carry on using the skills that Cam23 has taught me. 23 Things is not about informed people telling you what to do (though I'm very grateful when they do) but about empowering people to find out answers for themselves. And I really do feel that has happened: many many thanks to the Cam23 team, it's been one of the best educational experiences I've had.


We're already using it. This is the first time I've been able to look at a Cam23 action and think
Been there. Done that.

At the UL we have a divisional wiki for Collection Development and Description. The action plan for the year is posted on the wiki, and each head of department writes a running commentary on what has been achieved. It's a closed wiki: only named people can contribute as much of it is confidential (like the reasons why we haven't achieved everything on the action plan). It's very straightforward to use, and you can set up an RSS feed type of thing which lets you know when the wiki's been updated. It doesn't make me think of Hawaii any more than this picture ...

(George Eastman House Photography Collection)

All Greek to you?

Looking for something easy as it's Friday afternoon. Here's part of the Wordle image for my Cam23 blog, translated into Greek as a novelty.

Google Docs

Google Docs is something I'm keen to use at work. Cataloguing projects often have a fast staff turnover and yet we ned to document cataloguing policy. Putting this on the intranet means that you have to do HTML every time you need to add or change something.

So I planned to use Google Docs to store our project cataloguing documentation.
But I found when I began to copy our cataloguing notes into Google docs that the formatting went haywire. It's not quite such an instant solution as I hoped. However, I admit I'm pretty impatient, so I will persevere. Until now, whenever I've needed to collaborate on a library document with other staff members we've used the collaborative function on Microsoft Word. In order to use Google Docs I'll have to persuade other people to adopt it too, so it will be interesting to see if they're happy to change.


I found Zotero to be the most time-consuming Thing so far, and it's taken a fortnight before I can write about it! It was such a hassle! I was surprised I had to download Firefox just so I could look at some referencing software. Apparently the UL doesn't like Firefox? Or Zotero? Or Zotero has some feud with Internet Explorer? I usually use Explorer.

I don't need to manage references myself, for home or work, though as Libby says, I can use it to organise al the references featured in 23 Things. But when I found it so awkward to set up, I realised just what the students have to struggle with and why they probably go for a system like Endnote which the Computing Service actively supports.

All that said, Zotero is beautiful to look at and made me feel like a proper researcher and terribly professional. I can see that if you're writing a dissertation/thesis you need some substantial software to manage it, and once I'd got it set up Zotero didn't fail me. And to my surprise I've used it quite a bit. I often have to acquire a rather rapid knowledge of a topic in order to write a funding bid or do a presentation or exhibition, and while I've been working on the Tower Project I've looked for articles on hundreds of topics, from the books Kipling read as a child to the late Victorian view of the 19th century. Until now, as soon as the event was over, I dropped my notes into a folder and forgot the whole thing. But this time I kept all the references, including all the JSTOR articles, on Zotero, and there they are for future use. Brilliant!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Blog for Tower Project

Here it is, hot off WordPress - the Tower Project blog

Do keep an eye on the blog - it's a great way to explore our collections.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Telling it how it is ...

Last week I was determined to get a blog set up for the Tower Project. But, being new to all this stuff, the process was a bit baffling and by Sunday night I was thoroughly confused. Happily, on Monday I took my laptop over to the Cam23 drop in session, where Libby and Emma Jane smoothly resolved my bafflement over how to set up a Wordpress blog. Monday afternoon I wrote my first post. By Tuesday morning three other project staff were editing, and by Wednesday afternoon we had a project blog (due to go live this week). I must emphasize that other Tower Project staff have done most of the work on design and set up. But I did manage to organise it. Which I still find both amazing and exciting.

Setting up a blog was a totally new kind of work-related experience for me and to be honest, a bit unsettling. Let me explain. In the past, when we acquired a new cataloguing system/program, some authoritative person would turn up and issue instructions, and we would follow them (or not). But when we're trying to implement things with skills we've only just acquired I think we might find that it's a bit daunting. Especially when there's a quite different hierarchy of expertise and skills and it's usually the younger (and more junior) staff who are at the top.

I'd never used Wordpress before Monday lunchtime, and I could have waited until I was less of a beginner at it, but I was keen to get on. So, for example, the process of adding contributors to the blog became a process of trial and error. I certainly didn't know what I was doing. But here's the thing (as they used to say on the West Wing). It doesn't actually matter. You don't have to know it all. You can work it out as you go along and do some cursing and (when it goes right) excited squeaking.
We're learning, and it doesn't matter if things are a bit messy.

I hope this doesn't sound patronising. I'm writing it a bit tentatively. I'm sure some people will put into practice their Cam23 skills in a far more planned fashion. But for people who face a September that's already packed with work to do and might put off trying out new things, I would encourage you to have a go: it's so satisfying, you feel like you've really achieved something.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Discovery or dictation?

My number 2 bus takes an hour to creak its weary way into Cambridge every morning, so podcasts are a lifesaver for me. And they provide some surreal moments: the soothing tones of Donald Macleod's Composer of the week (BBC radio podcast) just about audible over the CRC kids' staccato conversation. But for work? I watched the library podcasts but I have to say I wasn't convinced of their value. Yes, they impart information. They were much better than anything I could produce myself. But the creators seemed to simply see them as a different way of imparting the same information as a leaflet. Not a single library video achieved any sense of the taste of discovery, they simply documented the process. So watching these videos was like reading a recipe without ever getting to eat dinner. Finding a book on the shelf and using a self-issue unit - is that really what libraries are about? When you think about your younger self enjoying libraries, don't tell me that the day you cracked the secret of self issue was one of the highlights. The highlights are the days you see a picture, grasp an idea, join a conversation. Where is the excitement, the sense of being let loose in a world of ideas, of being part of a process of discovery? This seems to be something that video could do better than a leaflet - think of the film Educating Rita, which makes you feel the experience of learning new things. Yesterday I wrote in a blog comment that people respond best to blogs showing genuine feeling rather than facts. The same must apply to video: there must be a sign that it was created by a person with a beating heart. Not convinced? Watch this West Wing video to the end! Only 4 minutes.