Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Arlis Conference Dublin 2017

This is my report for the Arlis conference, which I also submitted to the Cambridge Libraries Newsletter (doesn't include the edits they made). With the year now corrected (oops).

ARLIS Conference Dublin 2017: [R]evolution: Re-imagining the Art Library

The Art Libraries Society (Arlis) conference took place at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin this July. Always a glamorous and intellectually stimulating conference, this was no different; the Irish contingent put on an amazing show, ably assisted by the many wonderful galleries and libraries Dublin has to offer.

Francis Bacon's Studio, at Dublin City Gallery
 Popular themes this year included discussion of space, in its physical and digital sense, and of the library as the potential third space. One particular highlight was Daniel Payne of OCAD University in Toronto and his talk in the dissonance between perceived space, cognitive space and physical space, and how harmonising these can lead to a sense of place rather than space. Another was an excellent lightning talk from Nicole Lovenjak, one of the authors of the recently published The State of Art Museum Libraries 2016 White Paper – fascinating, if rather depressing, reading. She had recently worked as a consultant on the planned closure of Dayton Institute Library and dispersal of its contents, and had effectively rescued archives of unique material which might otherwise have been lost.

This was also my first foray into conference speaking, so I gave a lightning talk entitled Doing More With Less – which certainly seemed to strike a chord with the audience! It led to lots of interesting conversations with all sorts of librarians, so I’m grateful for the opportunity (and that’s another thing to tick off on my bucket list!).

The Cathach, the earliest extant example of Irish
writing (c.560-600AD), at the Royal Irish Academy
And it wouldn’t be an art libraries conference without taking in at least one art exhibition, so we enjoyed a prosecco reception and a special viewing of Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting at the National Gallery, and visits to places like the Royal Dublin Society, Chester Beatty Library, the Royal Irish Academy and Dublin City Gallery, which houses Frances Bacon’s studio. Sheer indulgence!




So yes. Maybe you didn't spot it, but I GAVE A PRESENTATION. Me. Okay, only a lightning talk, and not a terribly brilliant one at that, but the important thing is I got up in front of my peers and delivered something with the assumption that I would be imparting information that they hadn't heard before. Take that, imposter syndrome!

It was good, although in hindsight I probably dwelt too much on the problem rather than the outcome, meaning a lot of people came up to me to offer sympathy rather than congratulations. However, in all of that, I got a tweet (look! I quote: "#neverknew"!):
And even better, the director of Arlis himself asked me for advice on something. Score!

Next step was to write about it publicly: Cambridge Libraries Newsletter ✔
And I mentioned it to the assistant director here, and she suggested I write something about it for the UCM Blog. It's not going to be a conversation with a woolly bear, but they might still publish it...

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

CPD catch-up

I emailed our HR recently, because they were asking what courses and training I'd been doing. When I made the list of things I'd done/attended/learnt over the course of the last 15 months, it actually came to quite a lot. As in, nearly attachment-worthy-size!
I've done some stuff, I'm planning on doing more.
I guess you could say I've been pretty busy. To my utter delight, I've also been pretty organised about it. Turns out I'm not the best at Bullet Journaling, although I am the king of To-Do lists. I've got a bullet journal, and I take it everywhere. I don't use it for keeping appointments, or as a diary, and the idea of trying to keep track of my frequent targets is one which is slowly falling by the wayside (though it does force me to look back and say "no I really do have to do that someday...just not now"). But it's brilliant as a notebook, and I've found writing everything in there from meetings, courses, training, lectures, etc etc etc...it just keeps it all in the one place. I know damn well where my notes are now, and I don't have to look in one place for CPD notes, then in another for meetings (and hope that I've remembered right). And it's chronological, so I can just check the dates on the index, and list everything there. So I did.
Goals for the month: 1. Write a list of goals for the month.
Since the conference I haven't let the grass grown underneath my feet. First of all we presented to CLAG, then FDL and CCLF, about the conference, how it went, what went on behind the scenes, and our thoughts for the future. You won't be surprised to know we're already thinking about next year's conference, and how to make it even better than this year's! But in addition to this I've gone to two training sessions; one on fundraising for library projects, and one on writing engaging content for blogs (This is the bit where you're supposed to say "But why would you need that? You're entertaining already!" Guys? Helloo?), and I've just started a 4-part library carpentry workshop.
In addition to this (but completely non-work-related) I've just finished a 4-part session on sewing, run by our local children's centre. I must really like learning stuff!
I made these!
Fundraising for Library Projects was really interesting. We had talks from three people, one who works to raise funds for library projects at the UL, one who became a bit of an accidental fundraiser for King's College Library, and one who has to try and convince people to spend fortunes on a database which equates to a cost of nearly £800 per user! Each had some really interesting points to communicate. For me there were several take home messages, such as: come at the fundraising from the donors' point of view - their reasons for giving can be quite diverse and may not perfectly line up with why you're trying to raise the money, which means adapting your message to suit them. Another is to really consider whether the return on investment is worth the effort - there is a lot of failure involved, so is it worth you losing your time to fundraising efforts instead of spending it on your regular work? Also helpful was talking to the other attendees, who could share their experiences of fundraising and finding suitable projects. This was a great session, and I would recommend it if it's repeated.
Aligning aims with those of the donor is very important; I look forward to advancing and perpetuating humanistic inquiry with my digitisation project.
The other session I attended was Writing Engaging Content for the New UCM Blog. UCM is the umbrella which covers all the university museums and the Botanic Garden, and their blog is about to be relaunched. I thought there would be a lot I already knew, but there were some surprising gems I'd not thought about before, such as coming up with lots of titles in order to find the perfect one. It was interesting learning from someone who doesn't come from an academic background, as there are some practices prevalent (and useful) in academic blogs that she encouraged us to eschew for communicating on the UCM blog - such as citations, which I think are often necessary! Was it a good session? Well, yes, I guess. I have to admit I felt a bit flat when we shared our blogpost ideas - the course leader was very enthusiastic about most of them, saying things like "I definitely want to read this!" and "Please write that one!" - and when she got to me her response was "Can it be linked to anything else?" But there was another librarian there, and she told me how much she'd enjoyed the Cambridge Libraries Conference this year, so that cheered me up.
Apparently letters from Queen Mary aren't blog-worthy unless there's something more interesting they can be linked to.
So there's a lot to come. I'm going to be presenting a lightning talk at ARLIS in Dublin this July, which is so far out of my comfort zone I can't even see the zone anymore. I'll have to write that, then I still have IAML in Exeter (maybe), and Library Carpentry homework to do, and I've just sent out a survey to the staff here about what to put on our quick reference shelves - I was surprised (in a good way) by the number of responses! Maybe there's hope for UX in this library yet..

Monday, 9 January 2017

See what I did there?

So this happened.

I'll be blogging again about it as an audience member, since I did make copious notes on the day, but this is going to be my "holy heck how did this come off" post.


It all began in the summer of 2016. I'd been back at work for about 8 months, finding myself in a bit of a CPD rut, having not been able to go to any of the conferences the previous year and feeling like I was being left behind. Meg W emailed round, looking for volunteers for the next Cambridge Libraries Conference, and I thought it would be a great way to kickstart my CPD, and to give something back to the community that I've gained so much from. So I signed up, and she seemed delighted, and I went along to the first meeting.

The more we talked, the more I thought "yes, I can contribute in some small and very minor way," and we tossed around ideas for themes, before going away with strict instructions to sign up for a job on the committee list (I immediately went for internal speaker lead. Not too scary, hopefully). Weeks pass, and still no one has signed up to chair, so I bite the bullet and stick my name down there too, along with Tom, my partner in crime, and Martin and Helen G, who both offer to help shoulder some of the burden.

As I look back, it's hard really to see what I actually did. Yes, I contacted a few of the speakers in the first place, but then handed this job off to someone else. I weighed in on a few debates, made suggestions (I think I may even have been the one to first suggest the themes of superheroes and failure!), and pushed for a couple of things I wanted to see - like the opportunity to talk about failure as a positive thing, and the Castle of Reflection (totally not the Fortress of Solitude): a space away from conference information overload which would allow people to gather their thoughts again. But it was definitely other people who made it happen!

It was funny, because I'd talked to my line manager about getting involved, and she was very encouraging. We had my staff review recently, and discussed how it was all going, and I mentioned I'd sort of ended up co-chairing it. She surprised me by saying "that's not surprising, you're good at that sort of thing," and it's funny because I hadn't realised that at all.

Then I thought about it.

In 2014 I got married. We had about 80 for the ceremony, about 160 guests for the rest, and my soon-to-be husband and I organised that all ourselves. And a few years before that, my not-yet-husband and I organised the BUSA (now BUCS) National Student Archery Champs. Which was attended by about 250 people. And in between those events I'd organised, or helped organise a whole host of other archery events, at local and regional levels.

I don't know, the word "organise"...it just seems so intangible, doesn't it? What it feels like to me is that I was there, just watching while other people did tasks. Observing, but not acting. It's hard to pin down what it was I actually did, and at points I think I took on too many other trivial tasks in an effort to prove I still had value as a committee member. The badges were completed at a ridiculously late hour the night before the conference, the posters with the timetable not long before that; both could quite easily have been delegated to others.

Going back to archery, I've done a lot of coaching in my time. One thing we teach at the very beginning is how to pull arrows out of a target. We have these dense foam bosses, rather than straw, and it can sometimes be really hard to pull arrows out. So one of the things I teach is that it is far, far easier when there are two of you pulling the same arrow. Until you've ever had to do it, you don't realise what the difference is - pulling on your own is exhausting, and you can really wrench something if you're not careful, and then you get someone else on the end and all of a sudden it's like a hot knife through butter, and you actually have to be careful not to pull too hard and come flying back with the arrow.

I guess I'm trying to say that hopefully it wasn't that I did nothing while everyone else worked. Hopefully the reason I found it so easy was because we were all pulling together!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Mapping your workflow for improved productivity

When I saw this advertised, I'm pretty sure I signed up on the spot. I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient - I've got way too much to do and never enough time to do it, so if there are tools out there to help me stop procrastinating and just get on with it, I'm all ears. I mentioned Evernote in a blogpost previously - I stuck with it faithfully for several months, but I've let it fall by the wayside for a number of reasons, the main one being that it had added to my workload instead of taking away.

Kirsten took us through a number of systems, all designed to be 'tool-agnostic', that is, not requiring specific apps or software or specialist equipment. Also, they could be used on or offline - for example using tailored apps, apps you've already got, or just pen and paper. She had two important caveats:
  1. Whatever system you use, you need to trust it, otherwise you're creating more work for yourself (like me and Evernote).
  2. Be aware of the weaknesses of the system/s in place (particularly one area where things can fall down is when shifting from personal to collaborative, or online to offline, and vice versa).
Since Evernote collapsed on me (or I on it), I've taken to using a lot of Post-Its. Like, between me and Futurelib, we've probably kept a few extra staff on this year in the Post-Its company. I've also begun putting more into my work diary, and on reflection, I can see that I am a pen-and-paper-person at heart. It took this course to really beat it into me though! So I'm going to find an offline system and see how it goes. Kirsten is a devotee of Bullet Journalism, which a colleague of mine has recently been raving about. I can see its merits, but the fanaticism of its fans has always put me off a bit. Still, I'll have a go in the new year and see how I get on. Already bought my shiny new Leuchtturm journal!

A number of different methods of improving productivity were introduced and described - some fairly obvious and some a bit of wishful thinking, but Kirsten extracted the most important take-home message from each to sum them up for us, which I found very efficient!

Personal Kanban - 3 columns: To-Do | WIP | Done
Why this works - limit your WIPs - no moving To-Dos before you've moved a WIP. I also like the fact that at the end you have a whole bunch of Dones as a record of your achievement.

Essentialism - Do less, do it better
Why this works - you delegate the stuff you won't be amazing at, thereby only producing amazing work. Of course, this relies on the fact that you can delegate, which often we can't. Kirsten's take-home message was "be careful what you say yes to".

Focus Funnel - Filter tasks: eliminate, automate, delegate, procrastinate or concentrate
Why this works - this and the Eisenhower Decision Matrix (urgent/not urgent, important/not important) encourage a triage approach to prioritisation. Does this task really need doing? Do you really need to be the one to do it?

Action Method - Break projects into 3 categories: Action steps, references and backburners
Why this works - Kirsten's take-home from this was "work with a bias towards action". Everything is manageable if you can break it down into its component steps. I'm not sure everything fits so neatly into these three categories, but if my next bout of productivity fails, I might refer back to this.

Kaizen - Iterative approach which reviews and experiments to constantly improve
Why this works - it encourages you to be reflective and innovative, finding out what works best for you, and ensuring that you don't tie yourself to a system that no longer suits you.

And finally
Getting Things Done - Capture, Clarify, Organise, Reflect, Engage
Why this works - it encourages you never just to think about something, but to add value to something each time you think about it. The idea is you should never waste your brainpower on simply remembering things, which allows for a more creative space. It sounds like a good system, though 5 steps for every task that takes longer than 5 minutes feels like it might take up more time initially.

We got onto the task of mapping our workflows, from inbox to completion, and we had to identify our inboxes. This was a freakin' revelation for me. Your email inbox is your inbox. So is your in-tray. And so is your pigeonhole. But so is every idea you have. Every phone query you take. Meetings, assignments, colleagues popping by for a quick chat....these and more are all inboxes which set tasks for you to complete. How does a task move from one of these to your done pile?

I have to confess, we were a bit lazy on our table. I took the handouts, and I intend to set aside some time to do one for each inbox. I think if I can adapt them a bit, they'll be really useful for work for when I'm not there and a task needs doing. Then we spent the rest of the time chatting between ourselves and discussing the experiences we've had and the tools we've used. Other things which were teased out during this time which I noted were:
  1. Digital tools are often more successful if they're collaborative because of the accountability and the impetus to share with colleagues (which is definitely true in the case of my Google calendar, which I use with work, my partner, and even my wind band!)
  2. Planning a project and breaking it down into steps - it sounds very meta, but one of the steps is making the plan and breaking the project down into steps. Allow time to plan.
  3. Getting things done is easier when you've shared your aims with someone (either digitally or telling them face to face works!) because you make yourself accountable.
Kirsten then pulled us back to finish with her final take-home advice:
  1. Small changes one at a time is the best way to start new habits (or if you're going to make a massive change, make the time to devote to doing it properly).
  2. Be strategic - what is the smallest change you can make that will have the biggest effect?
  3. Sustainability - can you keep this up? (A resounding no from me for Evernote there). Along with this, I think - is your system robust enough to cope when things go wrong? I went away for two weeks and when I came back I couldn't even bear to load up Evernote because of all the things waiting to be done.
So there was a lot there to take in, and a lot of systems to try. As I mentioned up-post, I'm going to try a sort of bullet journal. I liked the standard symbols and the way it records everything accomplished (which my to-do list on a Post-It doesn't). I also liked the simple visualisation of Kanban, and I can see it being a great way to store my library project wishlists as well as the projects I'll have completed.