Our politicians talk about ‘the basics’ all the time, but what they mean are things that you can correct at the last minute on your word processor: spelling, punctuation, that kind of thing. But the most basic thing of all is your attitude to language. If your attitude to language has been generated by a parent who enjoys it with you, who sits you on their lap and reads with you and tells stories to you and sings songs with you and talks about the story with you and asks you questions and answers your questions, then you will grow up with a basic sense that language is fun. Language is for talking and sharing things and enjoying rhymes and songs and riddles and things like that. That’s so important. I can’t begin to express how important that is; the most important thing of all. A sense that language belongs to us, and we belong in it, and that it’s fun to be there and we can take risks with it and say silly things in it and it doesn’t matter and it’s funny.

Philip Pullman on storytelling in The Guardian


Dreams of endless libraries

Oh Neil. As if your writing wasn’t enough. Then you go and make my little librarian heart skip a beat.

When I pass a bookshelf, I like to pick out a book from it and thumb through it. When I see a newspaper on the couch, I like to sit down with it. When the mail arrives, I like to rip it open. Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron

Thing 5: the one where I’m talking about the woman in the mirror

I’m asking her to change her ways!

I’m not really. That’s not even my favourite Michael Jackson song (obviously, that has to be Off The Wall or The Way You Make Me Feel) . 

Aside: for YEARS I used to think that MJ had a song called Librarian Girl instead of Liberian Girl. Easy mistake to make. In fact, so easy that when I was on the Library & Information Professionals Social Society at university (LIPSS for short, no sniggering at the back there) that I once picked up the mail for the Liberian society instead.

That segues nicely into Thing 5 which all about reflective practice – something I first encountered at Library School in Sheffield.

(NB. I actually started writing this post at the end of May. I know. I’m massively behind CPD23 schedule. To make up for this, I’m currently writing this blog post whilst sat in the MOTHERSHIP, the British Library. I think that is adequate compensation, ne c’est pas?)

ANYWAY. Back to the topic at hand. Reflective practice. The dreaded words. For all those who were forced to do this at Library School or for your Chartership, these words will strike dread into your little organised heart and you will also begrudgingly admit that it has its uses. Plenty of other professions engage in regular reflective practice as a matter of good practice (particularly medical and allied health professions). Anyway, I have a little theory about attitudes towards reflective practice and it’s this:

Reflective practice goes against the grain, the core, the essence of being British.

Reflective practice makes you feel hideously self-conscious. There is a slight Americanised-slash-therapised air about it. Putting yourself under a microscope and examining closely how an experience has impacted on you. It’s essentially like being Mark Kermode but ABOUT YOURSELF. It’s also something that is remarkably hard to do with any veil of irony and self-deprecation. It’s all very…earnest.

But then again, this whole CPD23 project is essentially a reflective exercise. So I suppose it’s not a very great leap to go that extra bit meta and reflect on my reflections thus far. (Though being so late, the reflections might be a little dusty…)

Looking back at my first entry for CPD23, my main motivation for participating was to recapture that dewy, youthful vigour and enthusiasm for my career. Something which had perhaps been dulled by the onslaught of real life following the japes of Library School. Temping jobs and moving house and all that standard Life Stuff had propelled me along to this point. And I think that the self-reflexivity of participating in CPD23 has helped to jolt me out of this and think more consciously about my career and skills. It has been that comma, that breath, that stop where I have made space to draw a Google Map of where I am now comparatively to where I started from.

And like everything in life, from driving to instructions for making Hollandaise sauce, the theory differs from the practical. Thinking about all the things that you do as a librarian has proved different to the actual experience of it all. And the differences aren’t bad, they’re just unexpected. I hadn’t expected to end up in a job in which ‘librarian’ didn’t feature in my job title or that I’d rarely touch a book or library management system. All the previous CPD23 things have solidified and coalesced how I feel about where I am now. The things have also forced me to act on my curious magpie collection instincts. Thinking about Storify would have never probably manifested itself into trialling it and eventually using it for work but CPD23 galvanised me into action.

So whilst I anticipate more Good Things from the things of CPD23, if nothing else, I’ll always have Storify.

The single observation I would offer for your consideration is that some things are beyond your control. You can lose your health to illness or accident. You can lose your wealth to all manner of unpredictable sources. What are not easily stolen from you without your cooperation are your principles and your values. They are your most important possessions and, if carefully selected and nurtured, will well serve you and your fellow man. Society’s future will depend on a continuous improvement program for the human character. And what will that future bring? I do not know, but it will be exciting.

Neil Armstrong

The great unsold truth of libraries is that people need them not just because they’re about study and solitude, but because they’re about connection. Connection with other worlds and different views, even if that’s no more than being among other people thinking and breathing.

Bella Bathurst, The Library Book

Thing 4: the one which gives me yet another excuse to tweet. A lot.

One of the things that I love about my job is that it presents an excuse to indulge some of my nerdish interests and pass it off as work. Sometimes one feeds the other and a workish thing becomes a procrastination thing. In any case, a large aspect of my job involves current awareness activities which involves me scanning RSS feeds daily as well as keeping an eye on our corporate Twitter account. (And sometimes making remedial infographics about Twitter, using Microsoft PowerPoint. I know. I hate myself for using PowerPoint too. Point me towards a good user-friendly infographics generator and I will stop. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait for Easel.ly to come out of beta.) So Thing 4, well, it’s my sort of thing.

I never really got Twitter until I started tweeting professionally. Within the first few weeks of my job, I set up a Twitter account for the online specialist library that I was responsible for. The Twitter feed acted as a surrogate for all the related ephemera, flotsam and jetsam that I came across on my scout for content for my online library. If ever there is a perfect medium for ephemera, it’s Twitter. What wasn’t so perfect was that Twitter isn’t readily accessible for those working in the NHS (the NHS networks are notoriously restrictive). You may notice that I used the past tense in that sentence. The NHS contract I work on provided a different service to the one it does now and so when it changed a year ago, the Twitter account died a natural death. (A humane one, I do assure you.)

Since then, I’ve risen like a tweeter from the flames and have been taking the lead on our corporate Twitter account @kingsfund_lib. Previously, the account had been fairly static with Twitter only being used for notices on opening hours (rare); enquiries (rarer); and information product updates (actually fairly frequently but not nearly enough for Twitter).

We started using Twitter as another arm of our current awareness services by automatically feeding through the RSS feed from our current awareness bulletin. This kept our Twitter feed ticking over nicely and provided another way for our audience to keep up-to-date (if your bag is health management and policy. No? Well, I don’t blame you…)

Whilst this has proved moderately successful in terms of encouraging a higher level of engagement from followers (more RTs than previously, for example) I am a concerned that this is a) highly irritating to have @kingsfund_lib flooding you (well, more a steady drip) and b) drowning out other Twitter content from the service.

So drowning not waving is my dilemma at the moment and I’ve recently been involved with writing a guideline for Twitter usage within our team. We’re also looking at expanding out and engaging more with the LIS and Koha community as well as sharing more of the interesting items in our archives (want to know what people ate in hospitals in 1952? We have sample menus. It appears that liver and kidney was offally popular back then. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

I’m also involved with some work on measuring our impact on Twitter. This, like many impact measuring exercises, is a bit of a Holy Grail for services with few tangible measures and deliverables. There are statistical measures which are more nuanced and can paint a better picture than number of followers (as any tweeter knows, about half of your followers are, well, to put it delicately, ladies whose clothes have fallen off). The how of it is not my thing, the dark arts of statistics is beyond me. What I do know is that the Twitter API being open provides you with a host of data if you are technologically able enough to pull it out and it has proven to be an interesting exercise so far. Like anything statty, the data in isolation isn’t as illuminating as the accumulated set which provides more scope for comparison. It has also led to the aforementioned rudimentary infographic efforts on PowerPoint (I may as well have drawn a Venn diagram in crayon to be honest.)

But wait! I’ve made Twitter sound boring when it’s really a marvel and a joy! Yes, it’s great for sharing information and it’s snappy and dynamic. It’s also good for stalking your favourite celebrities (I’m enjoying George Michael and Will Young at the moment. Sadly, only in the sense of Twitter and no other). It’s also great at doing that thing the Internet has done since it’s inception: pictures of kittens; ridiculing the Daily Mail and talking nonsense with your mates about The Avengers. Oh and if you are stuck in traffic crawling towards Trafalgar Square like I am now, you can use it to soothe your ire by searching for more information through other people’s tweets and procrastination, by talking nonsense with your mates about the Avengers.

RSS was another thing that I was aware of when I started my job but never really used. Now I’m a slavering convert with the suspiciously bright eyes of a zealot.

What’s not to like? It’s a great thing, having the Internet come to you (and only the bits of the Internet that you want!) Sometimes, in my more fanciful moments, I liken that being on Google Reader is akin to ruling over a select court and that effectively this makes me queen of a small, dank corner of the Internet.

And yes, I use Google Reader even though I’m not entirely convinced it’s the best thing. Both feed.ly and paper.li are brilliant and aesthetically pleasing aggregators (complete with mobile apps too, nice if you have a smartphone which is at least 10% speedier than my ancient iPhone 3G) but my reliance on other Google products and the subsequent integration of services which arises means that I’m yet to leave Google Reader yet. I’m like one of those girls who knows that her boyfriend is Bad News but doesn’t leave because, well, she just fancies him something rotten. (Disclaimer: I do not fancy Google Reader. Or in fact any other RSS reader. Or any other inanimate thing. Right.)

My interest has been piqued by Storify ever since I started seeing it on The Guardian. I can see why it’s been adopted by online media outlets – it gives you a way of corralling social media into a cohesive narrative. In much the same way that Our Kind exists to help people sort the information wheat from the chaff; I can see that Storify is a tool to help people pull out the narrative from the pulsating mass that is the Internet.

Rather fortuitously, last week brought an opportunity to use Storify (prior to that, I struggled to see how I would be able to use it for work). One of the things that I’ve been working on recently is measuring impact on Twitter. It’s a difficult thing to do and there are various external tools out there which look at this (Klout and Twitterlyzer, I’m looking at you) but if you’ve got an in-house Master of the Dark Statty Arts, then you try and do it better yourself. So, we were looking at monitoring Twitter activity across a hashtag for one of our events and one of the data bundles we wanted to include was all of the tweets using the #kfleadership hashtag. Previously, we had just pulled this data through the API and reformatted it in a Word document. So far, so lo-fi. Then this time, I decided to trial Storify which is not only more efficient from our end but more user-friendly for our audience. (It also looks prettier than a Word document which gains instant points from me).

In terms of pulling a narrative out of all of the disparate bits of the Internet, I’m now thinking of trialling it next for a big news story (social care white paper, I’m looking at you). I’m not sure how well it will work or how easy it will be, but like with any social media tool, you just have to muddle along and try it. You never know, you might even have fun…

This is the mystery of words. Simple things made of reed and plant fibers, and yet they reproduce our heartbeats and our breath. Mouthfuls of air trapped in timelessness. The miracle of writing!

Sappho’s Leap, Erica Jong

Thing 3: the one where I stalk myself online

So, Thing 3 asked all CPD23 participants to delve deep and find their inner Apprentice candidate: we were asked to consider our brand. Apart from the fact that this smacked a little too much of Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs, this didn’t sit too comfortably with me as I’m not entirely convinced that the concept of branding can be neatly carried over from corporations or products to individuals.

I’ve been reading $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses  which looks at how contemporary art is valued in the art market. (Bear with me, this isn’t a curious tangent…) The book revolves around the central question of what and who makes a piece of contemporary art worth price tag? The titular preserved shark by Damien Hirst certainly isn’t intrinsically worth $12 million but rather it is the external cumulative value of the Damien Hirst brand which is in turn propped up and boosted by the Jay Jopling/White Cube brand. In a circular fashion, what I’m trying to say I suppose is that I’m cynical about the notion of a personal brand as it seems like it’s an ill fit of an economic/marketing concept onto something which is more nebulous than a simple commodity.

ANYWAY. Sweeping aside my inarticulate cynicism about Thing 3, it came time for me to do something that everyone has done (be honest…)

Reader, I Googled myself.

And what did I find?

Well, a LOT to be honest. My name is a rather common Vietnamese name (particularly the surname) so a quick and dirty Google (not a euphemism) yields rather a lot of noise. Being a librarian though, this fazes me not. With the judicious application of some quotation marks and some search filters, I had it narrowed down to the likely set of, well, mes.

So according to the internet, who am I?

  • LinkedIn says that I’m a volunteer at the Natural History Museum (sort of correct, I was a volunteer at the Natural History Museum).
  • I’m on Facebook but you can’t see very much at all unless you’re friends with me (and I do mean properly friends. I apply the social pint rule to Facebook – if I’m not willing to have a beverage with you, hot, cold or alcoholic, then I’m not adding you.)
  • I’m a freestyle street-dancer according to the Street Dancers Network (alas not – whilst I harbour an unhealthy love of dance films, my talents at krumping are rather remedial.)
  • The LIS New Professionals Network profile is a bit dusty but essentially correct.
  • I’ve done a bit of fundraising for Cancer Research UK and Maggie’s.
  • I’ve replied to a few healthcare management and policy related enquiries in the trade press and on LIS maling lists.

Apart from the street dancing curveball, I think that’s respectable. My Twitter account (one of many with my name. Curse my common name…) fails to appear in my narrowed down search but in a more general one, it appears before the fold on the results page. What you learn from my Twitter is that essentially I am a) quite nerdy b) I eat a lot and c) I spend too much time on the Topshop website.

From the perspective of a prospective employer, am I hirable? (I actually found out that my current employer Googled me prior to hiring me. Despite my being unaware that my characteristically frivolous Facebook status updates were open, I still scored the job so I can only assume that they overlooked my silliness or thought that I was mildly amusing.) In any case, I like to think that like any digital native, I am internet-literate enough to realise that you should only put your name to anything that you are happy for others to find. (Not that I’m some sort of anonymous troll who leaves grammatically-incorrect comments in her wake.)

Saying that however, my somewhat-louche attitude towards my online presence springs from the fact that librarianship isn’t so constrained and corporate like many other professions. (Well, certainly for the level of my career and the sector that I work in…) I make the assumption that librarians being early adopters (only that can explain the popularity of RSS feeds amongst Our Kind) that it is implicit that we understand where the goalposts are. Perhaps I make these assumptions naively and perhaps these are points for further rumination…

A libary in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination.

Caitlin Moran, The Library Book

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