30 June 2015

Reflections on #blogjune 2015

Well, the end of the month came around quickly! Thanks as always to Con (@flexnib) for kickstarting and thanks to all the other participants. I've loved reading all your posts over your month and hope to see more from you in future.

This year I wrote just six posts (plus this one) compared to thirty last year. But I'm not beating myself up about it as I was really pleased with the posts that I did write; a couple of them (Times a-changing in library systems and linked open data and my contribution to the imposter syndrome discussion "I'm not a technical person, but...") have been viewed more than usual and are already my second and third most viewed posts on this blog.

One of the nicest things has been contributing to some of the shared discussions through the blog and on Twitter. It seems that these will continue through a new collaborative blogging venture that must surely be the most positive outcome of #blogjune.

Ironically my top two takeaways from this year's experience aren't about blogging at all. Kate (@katiedavis) wrote a great piece about the many ways that it's possible to contribute to this inspiring, messy, rewarding, complex, frustrating and wonderful profession of ours:
Blog. Comment on blogs. Tweet. Speak at conferences. Ask a question after a conference presentation. Write journal articles. Then tweet about your journal articles. Contact your nearest ‘library school’ and offer to speak or make a short video or write a blog post or host a tour for their courses. Write a short piece for inCite. Start or join a journal club. Kick off conversations on an elist (okay I’m stretching here. Do people still use these? I have to say I’m not subscribed to many and most get filtered straight to trash). Find an interest group on Facebook and stoke some conversation. Tweet links to the blog posts you’re reading, even (especially!) non-LIS ones. 
Contribute big: write meaty content. Or contribute small: make a comment here and there.
So I'm currently most enthused by my #blogjune experience not about writing more blog posts, but about finishing a journal article (meaty content!) that will be a more scholarly write-up of my conference presentation at last year's eResearch Australasia on scenario-based learning and in-house data management training for library staff. I started this in October 2014 but never finished it: it's time. The other thing that I am fired up about is a possible research project. I don't know yet how feasible this is but I am going to think more seriously about it.

Maybe by the time the next #blogjune rolls around I will be able to report some progress on both these activities. Until next year, adios amigas!

28 June 2015

Expanding my LIS research methods toolbox

Credit: Andy McGee, 2011. https://flic.kr/p/9Sb4Ut. 
Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0.

I'm hoping to register tomorrow to attend a workshop that is coming up as part of the 8th International Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) Conference, which is being held here in Brisbane at the Queensland University of Technology.

The workshop is called Quantitative vs Qualitative Research Methods: Determining the Best Method for Evidence Based Research and it's being delivered by Dr Sandra Hirsh, the Director of the School of Information at San José State University. According to the blurb, the workshop
will provide participants a thorough understanding of the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, including how to choose the best method for performing effective evidence based research. Participants will also learn about various techniques within each research approach, expanding their ability to determine not only the best approach, but the best and most practical technique for performing their evidence based research. 
My reason for wanting to attend this session is that I have a research project in mind. I've undertaken substantive research projects previously for an MA by research way back in the 1990s before I was even a librarian, and then again for my MLIS (metadata nerds and insomniacs are welcome to check out my dissertation in VUW's institutional repository, Gaining Expertise in Creating Metadata: An Exploratory Study!). But it's been a long time since I did research methods coursework and I'm wanting to avoid falling into the trap described in a really good In the Library with the Lead Pipe article a few months back urging librarians to #DitchTheSurvey:
This article is a call to arms: it is time to ditch the survey as our primary research method and think outside the checkbox [....] Our field is ripe for rigorous research, but our over-reliance on the survey is limiting the depth of that knowledge. With the survey method dominating most LIS studies, we strongly recommend that librarians increase the diversity of their methodological toolbox. Determine the methods that will most appropriately answer your research question and even go so far as to seek out questions that can be best answered by less frequently employed practices.
I was considering applying for an ALIA Research Grant Award (maybe next year - no way I will meet the 30 June deadline for this year now!) and initially I was tempted to stick with the tried and true survey, despite the fact that my topic would likely be better suited to qualitative methods like interviews or focus groups. I'm hoping that attending Sandra's workshop will help me expand my toolbox as the authors of the article mentioned above suggest.

I haven't talked much about my idea for a research project with anyone except a couple of trusted colleagues. It seems a good idea to me but I'm uncertain about committing to it as I know that it will be a substantial piece of work that will likely have to be done in my own time. (This is not because my place of work would be unsupportive of the research - in fact, my supervisor has specifically asked me to include in my performance plan some activities that are just for my own interest and development - but it's hard to see how that would work in practice.) I've been pondering whether the project would be a good chance for me to collaborate with someone from another institution. It might mean the workload of doing the actual research work could be shared (though often collaborating takes more time!); it might also ensure that I'm not caught up in my own bubble-view of the problem that I'm interested in exploring.

I'm sorry to be missing what is sure to be another highlight of the EBLIP conference, Kim Tairi's keynote on research practitioners and role conflict. As Kim writes in her abstract, "one of the trickiest things to do is be an active researcher and a practitioner. Embedding research into your work life with the competing pressures of a professional role is often a juggling act." I'm looking forward to seeing Kim's slides after the event to pick up on some tips about keeping those balls in the air!

Halpern, R. et al., 2015. #DitchTheSurvey: Expanding Methodological Diversity in LIS Research. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Available at: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/ditchthesurvey-expanding-methodological-diversity-in-lis-research/ [Accessed June 28, 2015].

18 June 2015

"I'm not a technical person, but..."

Impostor syndrome seems to be emerging as a theme in posts and comments this #blogjune: both Kate Davis and Kathryn Greenhill have written great pieces about this. I appreciate people's willingness to share their vulnerabilities in this way. There is something reassuring about knowing other people feel the same way, even if it's a little dismaying to see how these feelings hold us back from contributing fully in our workplaces and developing as professionals.

A few months ago I spoke to my supervisor about some insecurities I had about my new role. My place of work has a fully converged library-IT structure, so much so that we do not even have "the library" as an organisational division, just library services that are delivered out of different groups  in ways that (hopefully!) maximise the use of central infrastructure and encourage innovation and collaboration by different types of information professionals. As a middle manager within this unusual organisational structure, I'm expected to contribute to operations, planning and strategy for systems and services that are well outside my own area of expertise. This was implicit in the position description for my job but it has still been a surprise and a challenge.

Although the primary focus of my team is on library systems, scholarly repositories and publishing platforms, I represent my director and my portfolio in a range of forums where IT infrastructure, application and support across all areas of the university is discussed. In these forums I often feel nervous about speaking up. I worry about making a fool of myself and about making my director or my colleagues look bad and this can affect the way I contribute. What I had observed, and what I talked to my supervisor about, was a tendency to start any comments I was making with something along the lines of "I'm not a technical person, but..." Obviously if you want to build credibility, being tentative and giving people a reason to dismiss what you say before you even get started because you obviously don't even believe in it yourself is not really a great start.

I know that this is not rational. I know that I have successfully managed complex projects with technical aspects and have learned enough of the lingo to be able to effectively work with software developers, business analysts, systems administrators, storage analysts and other types of IT professionals. I know that I have skills and experience that other people in these groups do not, including an understanding of critical legal and regulatory requirements like copyright, recordkeeping and privacy. I know that there is a need for people who can build bridges between hard core IT professionals and other groups of users and stakeholders, and that is one of my strengths. I know that IT managers come from a variety of backgrounds and cannot have in-depth knowledge of everything, and that by the time they reach middle or senior management their technical skills must necessarily give way to other types of expertise anyway. I know that succesful IT programs need more than just technical understanding and that the soft skills that librarians have can make all the difference. And I know that my seat at the table has not been given to me by accident because someone failed to notice I am a complete fraud.

But knowing all this doesn't always make me feel any better, and I am trying to understand this so that I can change it.  I do think that diversity is part of the problem: I went to a meeting this week where I was the only woman and there were eighteen men: I have joked in the past that this will be the closet I will ever get to feeling like Julie Bishop! Librarianship is a female-dominated profession and being visibly in the minority in workplace situations rather than in the majority must affect me somehow. Being an introvert makes some of these situations challenging, and being a perfectionist can also lead to unconstructive behaviours like failing to speak up for fear of making a mistake.

Anyway, here's what I am doing to try to address this. I would love to hear from you if you have any strategies of your own that you think I should try!
  1. I've acknowledged this is a problem that I need to address. I've talked about it with my supervisor and other colleagues and I'm talking it about it here. No regrets.
  2. I've identified this as a professional development need and am considering how best to build my IT skills and knowledge through internal training courses, external events (the CAUDIT Leadership Institute might be a possibility) and self-directed learning.
  3. I am preparing for meetings well in advance, so that I can think through and write down my concerns rather than try to verbalise them on my feet during the meeting. If you are responsible for organising meetings, please people, send out agendas and papers in advance to help everyone make their best contribution.
  4. I've had positive feedback from a senior staff member about my participation in at least one of these groups, and I have tried to take this on its own merit, and to consider that how I come across to others and how I feel on the inside could be quite different. I've realised that I can help others that might be feeling like me by preparing them for what the meetings will be like, trying to make them feel comfortable during the meeting (it isn't hard to give someone presenting to a committee a warm smile and your attention) and providing positive feedback after meetings about the contribution someone has made. Doing this for other people helps me be less hard on myself too.
  5. And finally, I'm removing the phrase "I'm not a technical person, but..." from my vocabulary. I am a technical person, and I need to start seeing myself that way and presenting myself that way to others.

10 June 2015

Blogging vs other writing

Kate Davis' post from several days ago on why she hadn't been blogging really struck a chord with me. Among many other reasons, Kate mentioned finding it difficult to blog while also trying to write more research-oriented things. It was good to be reminded that blogging is a great way to make a professional contribution, but not the only way.

About eighteen months ago, I did some hard thinking about how best to add my voice to the professional discourse in the areas I had been working in (mostly research data management). I'd done a lot of conference presentations but was re-evaluating the effort required for this compared to doing more writing. As an introvert, the public speaking side of conferences has never been easy for me, and I was finding it harder to justify to myself the amount of work required to prepare for what could sometimes be a fairly ephemeral engagement with peers. (Not all conferences are like this, of course, VALA being a good example of a conference that requests a full peer-reviewed paper and publishes proceedings.) I decided to make a conscious effort to direct my energy into longer-lasting written contributions rather than presentations. When performance plan time came around late last year, I added a couple of goals to submit at least one individually written manuscript and one co-authored manuscript to relevant journals and to blog monthly. 

While I haven't blogged much this year, I was lead author on a peer-reviewed article that's been accepted for publication in a special issue of Program: electronic library and information systems being guest-edited by an academic that I really admire, Dr Andrew Cox. While we would have preferred to publish in an open access journal, my colleagues and I decided that presenting an Australian viewpoint in an international special issue on research data services was important. We also felt that the journal's policy enabling us to upload a pre-print to our institutional repository immediately on publication of the article (no embargo) satisfied our need to have a version of the content freely available for download by practitioners like ourselves.  

Writing that article took a lot of time: I'd conservatively estimate my own contribution at fifty hours, most of which was done in the evening or on weekends. In addition to the writing itself, the process involved a lot of other activities:  meetings with my co-authors and email correspondence as we refined what we wanted the article to achieve, drafted separate sections, and then tried to weave those into a coherent and balanced whole; integrating relevant literature and referencing it properly (thank you, Zotero) to meet the more academic standards of the journal; uploading the paper through a manuscript submission system clearly designed to put off all but the most persistent potential authors; and responding to a round of constructive feedback from peer reviewers (which most definitely improved the final article).

Kate's post reminded me that while I've been feeling bad about not blogging, I really haven't taken the time to celebrate getting a journal article accepted and giving myself some credit for all the work that was involved in that. Maybe I will feel more celebratory when it is actually published and can be read by people other than me and my co-authors? There is definitely something to be said for the immediate satisfaction of pushing 'Publish' on a blog post and seeing it out there in the world. 

05 June 2015

Times a-changing in library systems and linked open data

Twitter activity around Hugh Rundle's blog post last week, Burn it all down, suggested that Hugh's frustrations - with lumbering dinosaurs of library systems, with MARC as a standard that is holding back rather than facilitating innovation, with the wait-for-a-vendor-to-do-it culture in libraries - are shared by a lot of people.

I really enjoyed the post and agreed with it wholeheartedly, but it also made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it was this part:

Librarians - and specifically, library leaders and managers - need to build a culture that takes responsibility for our own destiny and our own decisions. All too often I hear librarians complaining that they would do things differently if only. If only IT would let us. If only our library software vendor would provide that feature. If only we had more money. If only there was an agreed new linked library metadata standard. [my emphasis]
 Perhaps this made me think: oh no, I'm the manager now, so it's my responsibility to do something about it and not just complain!

Since then though, a few interesting things have happened that have convinced me that the times could be a-changing sooner than we think.

Last week saw the release of a new report by Marshall Breeding on library systems platforms: given that Breeding invented the term 'library systems platform', you'd expect this to be a really useful summary; I haven't had time to properly read it yet but it looks good. Breeding suggests the new platforms will continue to support MARC but not exclusively:
New metadata formats based on linked data, especially BIBFRAME, have not yet been operationalized, but they provide an example of new and emerging metadata practices that will need to be adopted by all resource management systems in the relatively near future. [my emphasis]
On Wednesday, we had a visit at my workplace from several reps from one of our vendors. Part of the session involved a development roadmap that made it clear that MARC in a relational database and RDF in a triple store would both need to be supported as part of hosted library systems infrastructures in the near future.

Then yesterday my partner Conal Tuohy, who's a software developer with an interest in libraries and linked open data, received a book that he had ordered on OCLC efforts in this space. The abstract for that book puts it pretty bluntly:
The linked data architecture has achieved critical mass just as it has become clear that library standards for resource description are nearing obsolescence... This transformation [from traditional library metadata to linked open data] is a high priority because most searches for information start not in the library, nor even in a Web-accessible library catalog, but elsewhere on the Internet. Modeling data in a form that the broader Web understands will project the value of libraries into the Digital Information Age. [my emphasis]
Yes, these are all vendor-driven activities (though it's always worth remembering OCLC is a not-for-profit) and not local efforts to create change. In my workplace there is a strong focus (for often sound reasons around supportability and sustainability) on the purchase of supported enterprise IT solutions over developing and maintaining open source products, so I need to be realistic about what's possible and likely in that context. Which is, to be honest,  is a procurement process in the next 2-3 years that will likely result in a purchase from one of the major vendors. The control we have over that process - when it happens, how requirements are specified (Hugh makes some interesting comments on this), and how we roll out a new system, both technically and in terms of change management - is not as much as we might like, but nor is it negligible at a time when some vendors that are truly prepared to conceptualise library services in a new way are entering the market and need partner libraries to take a big leap with them.

Outside of many technical concerns, all of this is making me think about how to prepare my team for this new world. What new skills will they need and how can they build them? As I tweeted Hugh last week in response to his post, we are not talking about just changing from one schema or system to another. The world of linked open data relies on an understanding of graph-based models of knowledge representation that can be really hard for people to grasp (speaking from my own experience and also observations).

Outside of our small technical team, how can we start conversations with other librarians, particularly in acquisitions and cataloguing, about what is on the horizon so that when the time to implement new systems - systems that will displace the traditional ILS and decrease the emphasis on MARC as the one-standard-to-rule-them-all - that those staff are excited about new possibilities rather than terrified? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know it's going to be an interesting ride over the next few years.

Breeding, Marshall. “Library Services Platforms: A Maturing Genre of Products.” Library Technology Reports, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/ltr.51n4.
Godby, Carol Jean, Shenghui Wang, and Jeffrey K. Mixter. “Library Linked Data in the Cloud: OCLC’s Experiments with New Models of Resource Description.” Synthesis Lectures on the Semantic Web: Theory and Technology 5, no. 2 (April 30, 2015): 1–154. http://www.morganclaypool.com/doi/10.2200/S00620ED1V01Y201412WBE012doi:10.2200/S00620ED1V01Y201412WBE012.
Rundle, Hugh. “Burn It All down.” Hugh Rundle. http://www.hughrundle.net/2015/05/28/burn-it-all-down-2/.

02 June 2015

Recent reading - Implementing Web-Scale Discovery Services

Thompson, JoLinda. 2014. Implementing Web-Scale Discovery Services: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Rowman & Littlefield.

As part of my new job, I'm now responsible for strategies around library systems, including my university's discovery layer (we use Summon from Proquest). As I've never been involved in the implementation of a discovery layer, I was hoping to find a resource that would quickly give me an overview of the types of decisions that the project team at the time would have made, and the kinds of things that might need to be re-visited at as part of a program of continuous improvement.

I got a copy of this book through the power of interlibrary loan (thank you very much, UTS, for sending this via the Bonus+ scheme), renewed it for a second month and then still took it back late, which is a good sign that I was finding it really useful! I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about how systems like this work behind the scenes.

The book is well-structured, easy to read and, as the title suggests, very practical in its orientation. All the major discovery products are included and the discussion of their various features is very balanced. There is no sense that Thompson is pushing one product over others; in fact, a lot of emphasis is put on finding the right discovery layer in the context of your specific library, and not assuming that what has worked elsewhere will be best for you. There is also a good amount of space given to non-technical aspects of implementation; how to communicate with people who will be affected and how to conduct a roll-out in ways that will minimise disruption and ensure a good uptake. One of the most useful features is a number of checklists that could be used when deciding which discovery layer to get and how best to set it up to suit the needs of your community. Each section finishes with some key resources for those that want to build their understanding through additional readings.

As a result of reading this book I sent an email to our Resource Discovery Specialist to find out more about how we have configured Summon at Griffith. He has invited me to sit down with him in the next few weeks to have a look at the admin console, which is where all the major tasks are undertaken. I feel like I will be able to ask more sensible questions and know what I am looking at as a result of reading this book. Combined with the evidence that we have at Griffith for how highly used Summon is, the book has also made me think that we should be providing more information and training to our librarians and to our academic staff and students on how to make most effective use of it. 

01 June 2015

Systems librarianship as a happy accident

Last year's #blogjune was a great experience for me: I read more, wrote more and felt more engaged with library colleagues. You might think then that I would have used that as inspiration to keep writing more on my blog, but you would be wrong!

Part of the explanation for the lack of activity on my blog and also on Twitter is that I started a new job in October last year, as the Manager Content and Discovery Services at Griffith University. This was a big change for me and not one that I had been expecting to make. In their book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, Engard and Singer report on the results of a survey that found the majority of systems librarians have 'accidentally' ended up in their roles: "Given the variety of ways a person can become a systems librarian, we come to the role with different combinations of skill sets, knowledge, and comfort with technology." Basically I saw a great opportunity to work for someone I really admired as a leader and decided to go for it.

While I don't regret the decision for a moment, it has been very challenging. Overnight I went from being located outside of traditional library structures (in an eResearch Services team) and working as a project-focused semi-specialist in an emerging area (research data management) to managing a team of mostly librarians. I've had to learn a lot of generic management-y things (budgets, reporting, HR, health and safety, enterprise architecture, activity-based costing); project work has prepared me for some of these, but not all. I've also had to get up to speed on a number of technologies I knew little about, not having worked with commercial library systems since managing projects involving Endeavor's Encompass around ten years ago. I'm fortunate in having a highly knowledgable and patient team, who have guided me through not just our integrated library system and discovery layer, but also interlibrary loans, proxy services, link resolvers, e-resource management tools, library stats packages, subject guides, course reading list solutions and open access journal publishing. (Thankfully, responsibility for self-checkout machines is not on this list!)

On top of this, I'm project managing two projects in areas that are more familiar to me: the upgrade of one repository with new functionality for storing and streaming multimedia collections; and a complete overhaul of another repository for institutional publications. And then there's juggling any number of other new initiatives (hello ORCID identifiers) and still trying to help out when I can with the evolution of research data services at Griffith.

Perhaps more important than all of these technical developments, for the first time I've had to think about longer term strategies for helping a team of experienced library professionals stay motivated and resilient in the face of some big changes to the kind of work they do and the systems they work with now. Singer and Gordon put this quite nicely: "Our primary goal is to facilitate those changes that help our institution carry out its mission. A secondary role is to help our fellow librarians adapt to these inevitable changes."

It's no wonder then that my own professional activities have taken a bit of a backseat over the past eight months. There is no more room in my brain! So, this year's #blogjune for me will be, hopefully, a chance for some much-needed reflection on my new work life and the things that I am learning.

Thanks to Con Weibrands (@flexnib) for getting the ball rolling, and to Peta Hopkins (@petahopkins) for providing an easy way to see what all the other participants (just download the OPML file and add it to your reader).

Engard, Nicole C., and Rachel Singer Gordon. 2012. Accidental Systems Librarian (2nd Edition). Medford, NJ, USA: Information Today, Inc.