29 January 2017

GLAM Blog Club #1: What I learned in 2016

The lovely New Cardigan community for gallery / library / archive / museum (GLAM) professionals has launched #glamblogclub, a monthly topic to encourage Australian GLAM folk to write something regularly. As a repeat #blogjune offender, I'm always grateful for an external impetus. This month's topic - 'What I learned in 2016' - provides a great chance to reflect on the year that was. The two overarching themes for my year, which seem almost at odds with each other but actually slotted together nicely, were technology and nature.

2016 was the year that I began to more fully embrace my role as an IT professional as well as a librarian. I've written previously about some of my confidence issues starting out a couple of years ago in a new job managing a library technology team. Last year I consciously decided to spend a lot of time during the year building my skills and networks on the IT side. I joined Women in Technology and became certified as an IT service manager. I still made time to read some library publications, but I found this content was often less relevant to me than reports from tech strategy groups like Gartner (on topics like cloud computing and learning analytics) and newsletter-style content from outlets like The Mandarin (good for a critical appraisal of public sector digital transformation strategies). 

On the job I arranged for colleagues in our IT security and architecture team to document the library's as-is technical architecture to help us with future planning: partipating in this activity and partnering with enteprise architects was such an interesting experience that I decided to propose a session for this year's THETA conference about it. I continued to represent the Information Management portfolio on the board that reviews and approves technical developments of all kinds, and in the process learned a lot more about how areas outside the library - such as HR, finance, facilities, student administration and academic parts of the university - make use of IT.

While I still identify professionally through-and-through as a librarian, it's been good for me to fully accept the hybrid nature of my role. I don't have to give up my librarian passport to go to live in the land of IT; being a dual citizen is not only possible but  desirable as technology now underpins almost every service that my library offers.

In life outside of work, I settled into a new suburb after buying a house in late 2015 with my partner. Our new suburb is far more diverse and friendly; one of our next door neighbours is a sprightly 95-year-old lady whose late husband built many of the houses in our street. I am slowly learning more about birdscaping as I try to improve a small garden previously tended by owners with a scorched-earth policy. We don't have many birds visiting our garden yet but there are certainly plenty around just waiting to be tempted by a garden with more fruit, seeds and insects and a water supply.


My quality of life has improved dramatically as I can now walk to and from work through a lovely native forest that surrounds the campus that I'm based at. One benefit of this has been losing weight and getting fitter. But that benefit pales next to the enjoyment of watching small changes that take place as the seasons come and go in a place that you have become familiar with. 

I've seen incredible things, like the morning that was so foggy all the thousands of spiderwebs that were usually invisible emerged like magic (above) or grass trees with their spikes in full bloom with thousands of tiny star-shaped flowers attached (below). 

I don't know if this is what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), mindfulness, or just a writerly attentiveness to the small details of plants and animals, but my daily walks in Toohey Forest leave me both calmer and more energised (and it's not just me - science says it's good for all us!) I'm looking forward to more of this in 2017.

24 October 2016

Thoughts on the CAUL Negotiation and Influencing Skills Workshop

Along with a couple of other colleagues, I recently completed a Negotiation and Influencing Skills Workshop. This two-day course is organised ​annually by the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and facilitated by Steve Lancken from Negocio Resolutions.

The philosophy of the course is that it is possible to build positive relationships with those we negotiate with and to expand the value that both sides can receive out of those relationships. This is quite different from the more traditional view of negotiation as a combative exercise in which one party wins and the other loses.

Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/meeting-relationship-business-1020145/. CC0 Public domain. 

The course encourages participants to adopt the Harvard Model of Negotiation or "principled negotiation". Some of the key aspects to this model include:
  • focusing on each party's interests (which can be met in lots of ways) not on positions
  • using objective criteria / standards to inform the discussions
  • taking a creative approach and brainstorming options without criticism or commitment
  • separating people from the problem (i.e. always aiming to maintain or improve a relationship, even during difficult negotiations)
  • having a good understanding of your alternatives if the negotiation can't come to a successful conclusion. 

Part of the course was identifying our own negotiating styles (without being too judgmental of our self-perceived shortcomings!) and being mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. There was also a strong focus on asking open questions and developing good listening skills. Throughout the course, the importance of spending time preparing for a negotiation was emphasised, and there were lots of good tips about dealing with difficult people or situations.

The willingness of participants to share real-life examples was a critical part of the learning. Steve Lancken has a good understanding of the library sector and all participants had shared concerns and some common experiences, by virtue of being from higher education and from libraries. This sector-specific focus made the course even more effective in my opinion.

I approached this two-day workshop with some trepidation, particularly since I knew it involved role plays (not a favourite thing for introverts!) However it ended up being one of the best training courses I had ever been on. I have already been able to practice some of what I learned in recent chats with vendors of some of our library systems. I have felt a lot more confident and in control of the situation than before I did the training, and the outcomes of those discussions have been extremely positive.

The recommended text for the course is available to buy or to borrow from a number of Australian libraries:

Fisher, R., 1922-2012, Ury, W., & Patton, B. (2012). Getting to yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in (Updated and revised, Third ed.). London: Random House Business Books.

Highly recommended!

12 August 2016

Notes from Speak Up! Presenting at Conferences for the First Time

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the Brisbane panel for the joint ALIA/NLS8 event Speak Up! Presenting at Conferences for the First Time. I thought it would be useful to share some notes.

What makes a good proposal/presentation idea

It’s essential to have a clear idea of who you think the audience is for the presentation is and what they will take away from it. The takeaway could be new information, or a change of attitude, but in the best thing is when your presentation encourages audience members to take some practical action in their own work or professional practice.

Coming up with ideas

Ideas some to me in two main ways.
  • Something has been done in my workplace or professional practice that other people may find useful. Sometimes this can be something good, but often sharing experiences of something that has not gone well can be even more useful. Another panellist Fiona Emberton made the good point that being critical is OK but you should always protect your organisation and turn ‘fails’ into positives by focusing on the learnings.
  • Something that I have read or seen elsewhere has provoked a reaction of some kind in me. Usually the emotion that is aroused in me is curiosity, but sometimes it can be disbelief or anger that will drive me to action!

Collaboration and co-presenting

Collaboration is really rewarding. I personally think it works best when the collaborators aren’t too similar but instead bring something very different to the table. For example, the eResearch Australasia conference seeks to include Point-Counterpoint sessions, where two presenters offer competing perspectives on the same topic, almost like a debate.

People sometimes falsely assume that collaborating will be easier because the same amount of work will be shared out, but actually a successful collaboration requires more effort than working on your own. You not only have to get your own part right, but you need to work together to make sure that the whole thing is coherent. And while it can be tempting to think that you will be less nervous if you have a buddy, the opposite can be true - collaborators can fuel each others’ nerves rather than calm them!

The warning signs for a trainwreck proposal

My personal top three:
  • The proposer hasn’t followed the submission guidelines.
  • The topic is way too large for the requested timeslot.
  • The topic has already been well-covered at previous conferences (unless you are explicitly providing a new perspective, or extending/updating the previous work in some way).

Preparing the presentation

For work-related presentations, I have to use a branded Powerpoint template. Otherwise I use Google Slides which I find very clean and simple. I often find it useful to present from a PDF version - there seems to be less chance of the formatting go bung.

I think a lot about my introduction & conclusion and usually write those out in full because people will remember them the most. I usually have a rough script for the rest but I try to know the content well enough to just glance at my notes if I need to on the day.

The most important thing I do about a week before the conference is to do a full run-through out loud several times with a stopwatch. Despite my best efforts to keep it tight, I usually find that my presentation is 30-50% longer than I thought it was. Doing this a week before means I have time to reduce the content. It can be difficult to get rid of information you think is important but you need to be really ruthless and learn to kill your babies. There is nothing worse for you or the audience than getting the 5-minute warning card when you have 15 minutes of content left!

Feeling nervous

I still feel nervous every time I present. I often have presentation-related dreams or nightmares in the week beforehand and feel quite nauseous on the day. Although I don’t think I will ever not be nervous, the more I have presented the better able I am to regulate those emotions. I can observe how I am feeling with a bit more detachment and know that after the first minute or two I will usually feel better.

At the Brisbane event, the other panellists emphasised that a bit of nerves can be a good thing. Adrenalin can spur you on to deliver a great talk!

On the day

I try to get a good night’s sleep and stick to my normal morning routine. I try not to drink extra coffee as that just adds to the jitters! I arrive at the venue early and if possible I go through the following steps:
  • stand where I’ll be presenting and work out the layout of the room
  • make sure I know how the microphone works
  • quickly skip through my slides to make sure they are working as expected.
Introducing myself to the chair and other speakers helps me feel a bit more at ease. I always wear something that I feel comfortable in and that is suitable for having a lapel mike attached to it. I also often wear my lucky shoes and/or a ring that my partner gave me that has a computer key with the German word for Help on it!

Breathing is really important. Take a few deep breaths before you get started and don’t forget to pause at logical breaks. Sometimes I even write myself a reminder in my notes to stop and have a small rest.
I find it useful to have the stopwatch running on my phone and to have rough timings written in my notes so that I can check at different points whether I need to speed up or slow down or am on track.

Keeping an audience engaged

If it’s possible to introduce an element of interactivity, that is always helpful. This doesn’t need to be complex - a simple poll where people have to raise their hand in response to a question can be really effective.

Storytelling approaches are useful if they are suitable for your content.

You can also build in opportunities, especially at the end, for self-reflection. Ask a question or provide a challenge for people to take away.

Leave enough time for plenty of questions. No-one will be bothered if you go under-time if that means more time for questions! If someone you know will be in the audience, ask them if they are prepared to hit you with a Dorothy Dixer. Asking the first question is also a good thing to do if you are the chair and everyone is being quiet - you can get the ball rolling.

Handling tricky questions

Take a deep breath. Repeat the question back to the person to check that you have it right - this is a good practice anyway for live streaming and recording, as often the questions can’t be well heard by those not in the room.

If you don’t have a good answer, don’t waffle. You can throw it out to the crowd: “That’s a great question. I don’t have a response to that myself right now but I am wondering if anyone else in the audience might like to comment?” It is also OK to say that you don’t know but you would be interested in following up after the presentation.

After your presentation

Stick around in the room for a few minutes at the end in case anyone wants to approach you.

Make sure you are available during the next break so that people can talk to you over tea or coffee.

Share your slides on the web - I use Speakerdeck. Tweet the link to your slides and if you have a blog, embed your slides there along with a search engine friendly summary.

Finally, have a think about whether you can turn your presentation into a newsletter or journal article so that you can get your work out to an even broader audience.

The NLS8 idea I’d like to see

NLS8 could provide a space to open up a really important conversation about volunteering - the good, the bad and the ugly.

A huge number of Australians volunteer every year with organisations whose values they support. For new librarians struggling to get that first foot in the door, it can be a great way to get some experience when paid options aren’t readily available but I’m not sure that all organisations are meeting best practice guidelines. It would be good if new librarians going down the volunteering path knew how to set up their volunteering situation so that it was mutually beneficial and not exploitative.