Category Archives: Uncategorized

Covid-er Yourself, At Home

I’m going to skip the preamble, because it’s all been said. Instead, I’m going to dive straight into the list of things I’ve been thinking about over the last week since the world as we knew it stopped and people started inexplicably panic-buying toilet rolls:

  •  The organisational structures and mechanisms of HE institutions are not fit for purpose. The archaic hierarchies of senates, privy councils, self-appointed committees and roles such as ‘Presidents’, ‘Provosts’ and ‘Grand High Master’ aren’t just symbolic: in practice they reflect a working culture which is incompatible with the world featuring in their visions of the future. Never has this been more apparent than within recent weeks when many universities proved as flexible and responsive as an ocean liner trying to turn in quicksand. When confronted with the realties of a global pandemic, instead of being proactive, engaged and efficient, decision-making was slow, opaque and irresponsible – and ultimately rested with a small number of individuals who seem to wield enormous amounts of power and control for no apparent reason other than it’s always been done that way. For the sector to achieve anything in the coming years, universities need to rethink their approaches to governance, staff empowerment and transparency, and those of us fortunate to be sector employees need to play an active role in ensuring this happens.

 

  • The performative nature of social media is unhelpful and damaging. Anyone who claims to have instantly and seamlessly switched to providing curriculums and services online overnight is, at best, being disingenuous. Most of us are making rapid adjustments, transforming our provision and rethinking the way we do things as fast and effectively as possible, and there needs to be honesty about this. Unless you work exclusively in this area/way, most of our roles and services are designed around working on-site, face-to-face and synchronously with colleagues and students alike. Most don’t work from home full-time (if at all) and quite a lot of people are just beginning to take advantage of flexible working (if it’s even available). Personally I found last week quite stressful at times, cocooned away responding to enquiries and preparing materials and battling with Wi-Fi, VPN and the lack of immediate interpersonal activity. The current crisis will undoubtedly impact the way we do things moving forwards, but it’s not a competition to prove our own competency or a platform to show the world how wonderfully creative and super dynamic we are – everyone’s trying their best.

 

  • There are some fantastic people in our sector who are making their voices heard, supporting peers and leading by example. We shouldn’t take these people for granted. There are also some fantastic people doing similar work behind the scenes too, with less of a public profile. We shouldn’t take them for granted either.

 

  • Generally speaking, so far, I don’t like Teams. It’s just another channel overwhelming me with information, it’s more distracting than email, and definitely not intuitive. The only thing I’ve liked so far is discovering the calendar and accessing online meetings/appointments.  It’s also okay for me to say I don’t like Teams. It doesn’t mean I’m inflexible, or out of touch, or not forward thinking. If I’ve got to use it I will, and I’ll try to get the most out of it. But I’m not going to cheerlead or bandwagon for the sake of it, and if anyone tells me email is over and it’s a Teams world from now on, so help me God. Far too many assumptions are made about technology in HE, whether pedagogically, in terms of service delivery or accessibility and certainly when it comes to student engagement.

 

  • Full respect to anyone home-schooling, caring for others, supporting family/friends who are keyworkers, or dealing with any number of personal issues. Oh wait, that’s pretty much all of us?! There needs to be a general acknowledgement and acceptance that everyone working from home is dealing with their own contextual challenges. Life is complicated and difficult, even more so now. There is no right or wrong way of doing things. Some things will work and go well, some things won’t. There’ll be good days, there’ll be bad days. It’s incredibly easy to pile pressure on ourselves, and even more so when in lockdown. And for some people, the act of getting up, getting ready and actually going to work is incredibly important and provides a balance to the day. I was incredibly shocked to read comments which implied some employers were prioritising checking-up on what their staff were doing. If that’s your primary focus as a manager, as opposed to the wellbeing of your staff at a time like this, then you should be rethinking your position. Show some respect to the people you’re responsible for.

 

  • The best thing about working from home so far? For me, it’s the personal reflection time. I’ve quickly realised:
    • I worry too much about things, what might happen, am I doing this right, am I managing my time effectively, am I planning things properly, am I… it’s exhausting and stressful and I need to do it less.
    • I like routine, I fear losing my routine, but I also feel trapped at times by routines. It felt massively liberating to go for a run on Friday afternoon, break my routine, and not feel guilty about doing so. At the same time, despite finding it personally challenging sometimes, I value commuting to and from work, fulfilling rota duties and keeping appointments. And that’s okay.
    • I’m less distracted by the dog than I anticipated.
    • Despite proximity and ease of access, I am monitoring my snack and beverage consumption and displaying incredible amounts of willpower. My vanity continues to outweigh my desire to eat all the cake, even in a crisis.

 

  • I hope journalists and media organisations will remember to challenge the government over the years of austerity, underfunding of public services and their Brexit policy, which have all fundamentally undermined our nation’s ability to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. And the Opposition, once they sort out a leader. If there was ever a time to hold our elected officials to account it’s now. Solidarity during times of crisis and upholding democratic principles aren’t, and shouldn’t be, mutually exclusive concepts.

 

  • Lastly for now, if there’s anyway we can ask certain celebrities to stop ‘helping’ by posting yet more inane, vacuous content on TwitterTock or FaceTube, that’d be great. Coronavirus is not about you.

 

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CILIP Bang to Rights?

Full disclosure: I did not read a certain ‘professional’ magazine article last week via a paid subscription or auto feed of its content.

What I did do was:

  • spot a few comments on social media about the article
  • go to the CILIP website, but fail to find the article within 2 minutes
  • Google ‘Dominic Cummings information professional’ and find what looked like a blog post and assume it was the same thing, and read that
  • follow-up by reading further social media comments and discussing topic with peers at a regional event in a pithy, drunken manner.

Not exactly a shining example of expertise or exemplary information literacy in action, but then again I’m not a Chartered Librarian, merely an experienced information professional with an accredited postgraduate qualification, who for many years would only have qualified for an ACLIP rather than an MCLIP because of my ‘para-professional’ status, but am currently working in a role with ‘Librarian’ in the title.

I am not perfect, far from it: but I’m not an industry body purporting to be responsible for providing leadership, governance, oversight and representation for its membership and their associates. Call me old fashioned, but I actually have high expectations of people in positions of power or authority and expect them to behave accordingly, despite now living in this TrumpianBorisianBrexitystopian nightmare.

And despite my 15+ years’ worth of antipathy, for some inexplicable reason I still expect CILIP to uphold the standards, ideals and best practices which it is supposed to promote, encourage and advocate for in order to safeguard the future of the professions. Which is why the article in question, and CILIP’s response to the criticism of it on social media, has been so deflating.

CILIP continually struggles to fulfil the requirements of the role. It needs to demonstrate the behaviours and competencies expected. It has to be capable of critical reflection and reflexivity.

  • What do I think of the article itself?

The currency of the content is limited, mixing old news with even older blog posts, tied together later on by a selection of interviews: there’s a lack of critical examination or contextualisation of any of the assertions made; it reads like an editorial rather than a ‘news story’ which is legitimate though problematic.

  • Do I think Dominic Cummings should be interviewed in Information Professional?

Of course, I believe in freedom of the press and democracy. If an industry publication wants to interview him, then interview him. Thoroughly. Ask tough, probing questions. Challenge his world view. Examine and dissect his responses. Hold him to account for his actions and inactions. Use evidence to illustrate points and counter arguments. Take personal responsibility for the resulting output.

  • Does the article endorse Cummings and/or government policy?

It reads like an editorial. It quotes the Chief Executive of CILIP, and doesn’t make clear if there are any distinctions between his views, the views of the organisation he represents, or the author of the piece. It touches upon Cumming’s opinion of the civil service which, given recent headlines, is a somewhat contentious topic functioning here as a hook for the story. The motivations for the article are unclear.

But overall, I believe the reaction to the article is more important than the article itself.

People don’t resign their membership from an organisation unless their membership meant something to them. Unless the organisation they were a member of was seen as occupying an important space or having a significant function. People don’t pay money to be a part of something collective in the first place without cause. People who aren’t members of an organisation, or who have never been a member of an organisation, don’t write blog posts or 280 character critiques about it, or raise the topic in pub-based conversations, unless the issue strikes a chord.

What CILIP does and doesn’t do matters to people across the information sectors. It matters because we need and expect a professional body which represents our best interests. It’s not going to get everything right all the time. It’s not going to be perfect. But the one thing it must be able to do is successfully maintain a relationship with both members and non-members, and right now it seems to be making mis-step after mis-step and not learning from its mistakes. Mistakes which it has been making for a long, long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2020: The year of things.

This year I have decided to make some resolutions. As ever, the list is long, unwieldy and unrealistic, so I’ve decided to start with something achievable: a blog post.

As I was discussing with an academic this morning as we queued for an overpriced beverage/snack from a local (chain) outlet, new year resolutions typically fail because people rush to make too many of them in January and then buckle under the burden of expectation.

Therefore, to avoid falling into this trap, I am taking a number of steps:

  1. I am not writing my list down: I know all the things I want/should/would like to do or achieve, most of them are recurring, I don’t need to commit anything to paper to remember what they are: I have done this in the past and haven’t stuck to it, so why perpetuate a cycle of negativity? Also, this isn’t just a work thing, so I don’t want to get caught up in SMART goals or some such.
  2. I am not prioritising my list: as I know all the things I want/should/would like to do or achieve, and most of them are recurring, if I do accomplish anything by December 31st it’s better than nothing. Glass half empty.
  3. I’m not going to rush to do all the things now, this minute, this instance. I have a whole year to achieve things. Relax Chris. Chill.

Of course, none of these steps are being taken in a rigid, co-ordinated, structured way. Oh no. I’m approaching them in a calm, organic, evolutionary manner. Relaxed Chris. Chilled.

It’s amazing how simply writing things down is both cathartic and revealing.

As is perhaps evident, I’m already slightly overwhelmed by 2020 and what things might happen. I’m not entirely sure why either – I feel like this should be a ‘big year’ and yet I’m slightly scared by what a ‘big year’ might mean, conceptually. This is precisely why I stopped making new year resolutions because it just becomes all a bit much. For me, anyway.

I am certain that I need to set myself some aims/goals for the year, mainly because I always fear inertia. I know which things I really want to achieve in the next 12 months. I know areas of my professional and personal lives which I’d like to develop and/or explore. But life sort of gets in the way and it’s a difficult balance to be struck between creating targets for yourself and accepting that things might not work out as planned, and that that can be okay too.

Professional things in 2020 will include giving a conference presentation at LILAC which is both exciting and terrifying. I’d also like to (finally) cement my understanding of the academic calendar so I know, with 100% confidence, exactly which modules are running, who’s running them and when [enter your own laughter here].

Personal things in 2020 will include writing and exercising more and drinking less. I was trying to whinge less, but that went out the window today thanks to a stupid journal and its stupid website with its stupid subscription and stupid stupidness.

Suffice to say, there will undoubtedly be things this year, positive things, inevitably some negative things, but one thing is certain: things ain’t what they used to be; let’s hope that’s a good thing.

 

Ghosts of Christmas Yet To Come

Yesterday at 2.45pm various members of staff gathered to usher out the end of the year by ushering out students from the Library. We were surprisingly busy, and by the sound of things several people needed a little polite encouragement to leave- in the same way that some people need it pointing out to them that, yes, that is the Fire Alarm, and yes, could you please exit the building now please, thank you.

Obviously, Christmas doesn’t figure as significantly in the lives of some and I imagine that many students are frustrated by our shutting down for a week. This year, as in recent years, our Library is open during the holidays, staffed by Security and (touch wood) with all of our requisite e-resources functioning effectively: and this clearly meets a need. Particularly at my institution, the Library is a real focal point for student activity, so it’s probably comforting to know that there is a safe study space to head to when everything else in the area is either shut down or full of revellers.

I also take my hat off to those dedicated enough to maintain discipline and focus when the world around them is all tinsel and bright lights and merry. Speaking as a student with coursework to complete, I’m already bracing myself for that moment when I eschew sleeping in, put down the mince pies and categorically state in no uncertain terms that I’m not having another glass of prosecco as I need to focus on reflective writing and literature searching.

And I can see the attraction of heading into a Library in order to get the job done, after all it’s quiet, warm, spacious (most people aren’t there) and above all there’s less temptation to stray into seasonal territory. The library is also neutral: it’s not going to judge the excesses of the previous night, and it’s not going to take responsibility for what you get up to on the way home afterwards. It’s an other space, a world in between worlds designed to meet your needs at the time you have them.

I remember one year during my UG degree I went in to use some specialist video editing software and it reinforced my notion that a University Library feels out of context during the Christmas holidays. There was something eerie about being on campus, a smattering of other students here and there, no staff, with just some bemused security officers wondering why we had nothing better to do. Like being on board an HE Mary Celeste filled with lost souls drifting inexorably towards damnation (well, a deadline at least).

I’m honestly thankful that the only festive spirits I need to encounter at this time of year are either the Muppets showing miserly Michael Caine the error of his ways or the ones best mixed with lemonade. The only problems I envisage staying at home to study are battling with my own willpower and a dodgy broadband connection. At the same time, I do hope that the students visiting the library next week are happy and on track for a prosperous new year- and that they’re able to take a moment, even a brief one, to enjoy this festive season as intended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello? Is there anyone out there?

If I’m being honest, I was surprised that it wasn’t longer since my last post. Prolific I have clearly not been. I’d like to say it’s because I have been living a full, active and hugely time pressurised lifestyle, with social engagements and workplace drama constraining the opportunities for writing.

The truth is, I just wasn’t bothered.

I realised earlier this year that I had given up on creativity for creativity’s sake. Yes, I find ways of being creative in my job (no change in role btw. for those returning readers) and have ample opportunities to be so; but I had stopped expressing myself creatively through writing (both inside and outside of work) simply because I wanted to stop. And not for some awful, life impacting reasons; merely I had stopped enjoying writing. It happened during the 2nd year of my degree- a moment when I stopped loving doing the thing I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life; and then over the years I just couldn’t bring myself to do it at all. Writing became a stick I beat myself with, like re-treading decisions and choices from the past- a reminder that I chose B instead of A, the left fork over the right.

God, I’m so over myself and this negative cycle of reflection and rumination. The truth is, I wasn’t bothered and it’s easier to not do something than choose to do it.

The other day I sat down and spent the morning writing a blog post for a work account and it felt good. Really good. It wasn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever written: in fact I noticed how hesitant my wording and phrasing was, how I struggled to decide on a tone and delivery style, and (don’t tell anyone) how comparatively ‘relaxed’ I’ve become about nth degree editing. In a creative sense, not a professional one, obviously.

And that’s spurred me into admitting I can’t remember my password, resetting it and logging in. And here I am. Writing. Feeling incredibly guilty because I should be studying. But feeling good because I’m writing. At least until my fishcakes are cooked and then I’ll stop.

A summary.

Work is fine, in fact it has been a rewarding and eventful year, the highlights of which included: giving a conference presentation for the first time, training a new member of staff in all things ILLs for the first time, and hosting The Price Is Right for the first time.

Lowlights? Well, aside from facing the same issues as many people in the sector (money, money, money, and money; oh and a general feeling that libraries and librarians aren’t taken as seriously as they should be) there haven’t been too many. I think I could have been more productive in some areas, less so in others, but it’s all a learning experience.

Oh, and I’ve started an MA. Which so far has…

[fishcakes]

Now I’ve thought about it, one lowlight has been ‘2016’, or ‘the year the world went mad’. So mad in fact that many of the great and good decided to step off and find a new playground, sadly adding to the general sense of dispiriting awfulness that the last ten and a half months have so far been filled with.

Of course, not everyone has been feeling this way about 2016. In fact it turns out that me, my friends, family and colleagues are largely in the minority when it comes to such matters. So well done Brexiteers, Trumpeters, Honey G-ers and the rest of you nutters, sorry, ‘real hard working people overlooked and ignored by the liberal metropolitan elite’.

Hello? Is there anyone out there? These days, unless they’re visiting from Mars, I think I’d rather not know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Time It Was Personal

One of the biggest challenges faced by anyone working in a front-line customer service role is dealing with difficult scenarios.

Scenarios. Not people.

I make this distinction because I’m uncomfortable with defining the ‘other person’ as difficult when, let’s face it, I can be just as difficult or pedantic as the next person. I’d much rather focus on the particular scenario first, and then consider the behaviours of the individuals concerned afterwards, in the proper context.

Challenging scenarios can be anything, from handling a telephone inquiry and not being able to understand the person on the other end of the line, to handling a direct complaint from an unhappy/upset customer. Over the years we attend courses on customer service, engage in training sessions etc. but even with training and experience, there are those moments which come along, out of the blue, and test your professional resolve.

I recently experienced such a scenario, during which my refusal to carry out a transaction resulted in a customer becoming agitated and confrontational, in a passive-aggressive way. Normally this wouldn’t have fazed me, but in this instance I was at a different location; and, unlike in my usual day-to-day work (where I am supported by senior staff) operating in isolation, one-on-one. This intensified the interaction between myself and the customer, the dynamic definitely having an effect on my behaviour, and unfortunately the customer decided to submit a complaint.

Immediately after the incident, I felt extremely upset and uneasy. In 10 years of working in academic libraries, I can’t remember anyone ever making a complaint about me personally (at least, not one I was informed of…) and in the aftermath I began questioning everything that had taken place, analysing, ruminating, regurgitating.

I realise now that there is a difference between self-reflection and beating yourself up.

Everyone is going to have a bad day, a less than successful exchange, an awkward outcome. It’s about treating these scenarios properly, considering what happened, and then trying to learn from the mistakes in order to move forwards. Of course, it’s helpful to have the support of your colleagues (which I felt I had) but ultimately it’s about you (or in this case me) and how you develop professionally.

It’s also about recognising & owning up to personal error. I’m not going to pretend I embodied the perfect customer service provider in this scenario, a point I was happy to discuss with senior members of staff. But I am now comfortable with the fact that I was actually carrying out my job requirements correctly, I tried to handle the situation properly for as long as possible and, whilst I’m still unsatisfied that a customer had a poor experience, I am more able to see this incident as a positive learning experience.

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Monkey Doodle Handy

What do you people want, blood?

Perhaps a slight overreaction, but, honestly, 23 Things Makers: what came over you?

I started reading Thing 13, then I scrolled a bit, read some more, scroll, read, scroll, read, scroll, read, scroll OMG! Will it never end! I mean, War and Peace anyone?!

This hysterical preamble is my way of building the case for the defense. My defense. For not doing all the tasks.

[Gasp]

I know. (Bows head in shame)

I’ve not been well. (Shakes head)

I tried, I really did! (Pleads with hands)

I just couldn’t handle the pressure. I beg of you, have mercy!

[Exit, pursued by angry Librarian]

I also became wrapped up in Prezis, and got slightly carried away with concocting silly questions, resulting in a substantial time-deficit; but that’s beside the point…

Anyway, here’s my Prezi.

Prezi is an excellent presentation tool. I’d never used it before [insert your own jokes about my Prezi here]; in fact, I didn’t know it existed until I came to City. It’s pitched as a user-friendly and more exciting alternative to PowerPoint, and in many ways this is a fair comparison. From what I’ve seen so far, Prezi feels like the dress-down Friday version of PowerPoint: more creative, accessible and fun to use, but no less credible in terms of its content provision. Additionally, the functionality and interactivity of Prezi make it ideally suited for collaborative work.

However, I wouldn’t write off PowerPoint just yet.

I’d be less keen as a presentationee (?), particularly in a classroom setting- where the emphasis is on absorbing complex topics- to be on the receiving end of a full-on Prezi, with it’s potentially disorientating effects and open-ended layout options. There’s something to be said for a simple, clear slideshow, backing up an engaging tutor. There are also a few technical drawbacks with Prezi, but from what I’ve been reading, these are being continually ironed out and the technology updated; so hopefully Prezi will become even more dynamic in the future.

As dedicated readers of this blog (and those of you kind/foolish enough to follow me on Twitter may be aware), I registered with Survey Monkey and went and did one. A big thank you to everyone who tackled the Questions That Need Asking, and for the positive feedback. Obviously, I’ve shown a complete disregard for the methodology of survey construction; but it’s my survey, and I’ll make it trashy if I want to.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Survey Monkey. After all the hoopla of Prezi, and the wowness of Web 2.0 in general, it was hysterically refreshing to be using a programme with Windows ’95 stylings. I suddenly became nostalgic for Microsoft Works, dial-up and Joanna Lumley; though not for my inkjet printer, which promised 3 pages per minute, but actually took 3 minutes per page.

Fist-gnawingly slow.

Survey Monkey might be a little clunky and lacking in finesse, but it does its job and sometimes that’s what’s important. The survey is open until Friday, and the official results will be revealed asap!

I’ve had some recent experience with Doodle, though in a slightly different context. This year, my university department decided to employ Doodle as the mechanism for selecting module options for the forthcoming academic year. From what I can gather, I don’t think this has proved a resounding success, possibly more as a result of poor planning and administration, rather than the merits of Doodle itself.

And I think this is a key point: It’s all very well having Web 2.0 tools at our disposal, but it’s the co-ordination and implementation which has as much to do with a project’s success or failure, as opposed to just the technology. Personally, I think a downloadable pdf or simple online form would have sufficed, but what do I know?

Doodle has a great name, an appealing concept, and is definitely worth further investigation from now on.

I have registered with Remember The Milk, and have invited a poor unsuspecting colleague to join me.

I don’t like the fact that I couldn’t just send my task to someone without forcing them to register- after all, I could have just emailed them anyway- what exactly is the USP here? Clearly I’m missing something. Maybe I should have used Doodle to schedule a chat about RTM? But how would I have remembered to use Doodle in the first place? I can’t even remember what I went upstairs for. If only there was a tool to help me organise my life, and overcome these increasing memory lapses?

What was the last Cool Thing? Oh, yeah, Google Docs.

Erm, right. Google Docs is a search engine designed to help you locate your nearest certified medical practitioner. It’s great. Amazing in fact. Everyone should use it.

Cool.

# Apologies for the lack of embedded content. I tried to embed my Prezi, but 2 hours of trying to grasp gigya codes (disappointingly, nothing to do with Quagmire) and such nonsense defeated me. It’s Sunday, I’ve already missed the Grand Prix (go Hamilton!) and don’t intend missing lunch.

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