Friday, 29 June 2007

Kelham Island Museum

I have just heard on Radio Sheffield that Kelham Island Museum was very badly damaged by the flood. This is a serious blow to Sheffield's heritage and our sympathy goes out to all our colleagues who work there.

Floods latest

Flooding in the Don Valley. Picture from Business Link South Yorkshire.

Over the last few days the floods have moved down the Don Valley from Sheffield and Rotherham to Doncaster. Rotherham station is still closed and there is disruption to travel around Doncaster. However, the sun is shining at the moment and the waters are receding. But there is still the possibility of more heavy rain at the weekend.

The Don Valley which suffered the brunt of the flooding on Monday is a major industrial site and industry in Sheffield has been seriously hit. Unfortunately, Business Link South Yorkshire which might have been a major source of help to affected companies is also located in this area and was itself badly affected. Today they were able to circulate an e-mail update containing a list of useful contact numbers. The above picture is taken from this e-mail and I have added the list of numbers below. (Stop press. I have added two extra numbers given out by Radio Sheffield)

Useful Telephone Numbers
Public helpline to co-ordinate all requests for help with the clean up operation.
All South Yorkshire
0800 915 6912

Sheffield Council Surrey Street Sheffield S1 2HH
Emergency Planning Department
0114 272 6444
0114 273 6844

Sheffield Business Floodline
0800 915 6913

Doncaster Council 2 Priory Place Doncaster DN1 1BN
Emergency Planning Department
01302 734444
01302 736901

Barnsley Council Town Hall Barnsley S70 2TA
Emergency Planning Department
01226 770770
01226 772099

Rotherham CouncilBailey House Rawmarsh Road Rotherham S60 1TD
Emergency Planning Department
01709 823870 01709 823877 01709 823876

Environment Agency
0845 988 1188

South Yorkshire Police
If traffic is causing waves to further flood your property
0114 220 2020

Yorkshire Water
If flooding is being caused by a public sewer
0845 124 2429

Electricity Supply
0800 375 675

National Grid
Gas Supply
0800 111 999

Yorkshire Water
Water Supply
0845 124 2424

Yorkshire Forward
Grants for SMEs affected by floods
0800 0226201

Health and Safety Executive Edgar Allen House 241 Glossop Road Sheffield S10 2GW
Covers all South Yorkshire for health & safety issues.
0114 291 2300
0114 291 2379

Environmental Health Department
01709 382 121

Environmental Health Department
0114 273 4611

Environmental Health Department
01302 734 444

Environmental Health Department
01226 772 498

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Quietly flows the Don

The river Don by Lady's Bridge, Sheffield, today.

It is flowing quietly at the moment but the forecast is for heavy rain at the weekend and the danger of more flooding. Apart from that things are getting back to normal.

SINTO is organising its programme of CPD events for the second half of the year. At the moment some of the dates are provisional but I am starting to put information on the SINTO web site. It is a wide ranging programme and there should be something of interest to everyone. I will be posting about individual events in more detail later on. I decide on the courses we are going to run in consultation with the SINTO special interest groups but if you have any suggestions for courses please contact me. It was recently suggested that SINTO should run a course for CILIP Chartership candidates. I will get in touch with the CILIP Career Development Group for Yorkshire & Humber about this but I am keen to do something. If you are a Chartership candidate or know of any please get in touch.

I got into work this morning to find the campus was closed because of impending power cuts. I walked into town, took a picture of the Don (above) on my mobile phone, e-mailed it to myself and then went to the Central Public Library to use the people's network. Here I logged into Blogger to access Sintoblog and downloaded the photo for this post. Nothing remarkable in this and I am still very much a digital immigrant with a very strong accent (see previous posts), but it does show how far we have come in the past few years.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Floods of information

I am back in the office today - I was working from home yesterday. My colleague Gilly Pearce was in yesterday so SINTO did not close!

It seems that library services in our area escaped without too many problems. Obviously there was a lot of disruption over the past few days but actual damage to buildings has been slight and only a few closures of branch libraries have been reported. However there is the threat of power blackouts in Sheffield today.

One feature of a major incident like these floods is the way in which people need information. At the moment people in Sheffield need to know which roads are open, when the power will come back on and where they can get help. So what is the role of public libraries in providing information?

In a situation like this the first source of information is the media and Radio Sheffield and the other local radio stations provide a vital service. Their web sites, such as BBC South Yorkshire, are an important part of this service.

The local authority web sites such as are another vital source of information and have tried to keep up with the changing situation in the aftermath of the flood.

A good example of community information on the Internet is the Sheffield Forum: a discussion forum where people can post messages about any topic related to Sheffield. This quickly set up a thread about the floods which as attracted a lot of postings. Many of these contain very useful information, links to further information and offers of help. However, as it is a discussion forum, it also contains a large amount of general chat which can make it difficult to find specific and reliable information.

So where do libraries fit in? Hopefully they are able to act as an access point for people who do not have Internet access and I expect that librarians are able to refer people to reliable sources of information. It would be nice to think that libraries are providing a proactive service in making information available to their communities.

What does concern me is that libraries have a very low profile in all this. I have heard nothing on the radio to suggest that people could use their local library as a source of information. The local authority websites do not refer people directly to libraries as a source of information and the library web sites are not carrying special links to flood related information. As far as I am aware libraries do not feature in the local authorities emergency plans. For example Sheffield City Council has set up a Humanitarian Assistance Centre in the centre of the city to provide advice and information. Are library staff involved in this? Given that many people can not get into the centre are the branch libraries acting as local contact points? If they are then why is this not being advertised on the library web site or advertised on the radio?

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The Great Sheffield Flood

Today much of South Yorkshire is mopping up after yesterday's floods and hoping that it is all over. However the fear about the Ulley Dam which is in danger of collapsing is keeping everyone on tenterhooks.

The direct result on libraries in Sheffield has not been too bad. As far as I know, no libraries were actually under water although several were affected indirectly. Tinsley and Hillsborough libraries are closed and Walkley has suffered from some water damage. The mobile service has been reduced but the fact that it is operating at all is typical of the dedication of this service.

Rotherham town centre was also badly hit and so far I have not had any news about the effect on libraries. I will post more information as I get it.

Friday, 22 June 2007

SINTO Members' Day

The SINTO Members' Day held on Tuesday seemed to go well. As usual, the opportunity it provided for networking (and yes that does mean meeting up with old friends and having a chat) was an important benefit, but the presentations on Skills for the Future were also of interest. I have provided more information on the SINTO wiki.

Access to legal information

Peace Gardens, Sheffield

The journal Legal Information Management (7 (2) Summer 2007) has published an article wot I wrote about public access to legal information. In this I return yet again to my theme that the rise of digital information has restricted access to scholarly information for many people.

In my article I mention a warning that Dr John Jarvis of publishers John Wiley gave to a House of Commons Select Committee that giving the public access to medical literature would lead to "people who may have illnesses reading this information, marching into surgeries and asking things". The same applies to legal information. A little learning is a very dangerous thing when it comes to the law. There are probably enough litigious people around without encouraging them! If people come to the library with a legal problem the last thing most of them need is access to shelves full of law reports and legislation. They need to be directed to consumer guides to the law and directories of legal advisory services. However it is a basic tenet of a democratic society that everyone should have access to all forms of legal information if they need it.

I point out that public libraries can not afford to provide access to specialist resources and databases while academic libraries do not have an obligation to meet the information needs of society as a whole. Local co-operative schemes such as SINTO can help to improve things but as long as this country fails to adopt a national information policy there is always the danger that some people will be denied access to the information they need.

Monday, 18 June 2007

The future of libraries.

Winter Gardens, Sheffield.
In my posting of the 14th May I mentioned the debate between Tim Coates and the library profession represented by Rob Froud and Robert Gent about the future of public libraries. Tim has accused public librarians of poor leadership and failing to meet the needs of users while Rob and Robert suggested that Tim does not understand the ethos of public services and has a limited vision for public libraries. Now Frances Hendrix has entered the argument in the 15th June issue of the Gazette with a claim that public librarians lack a long-term vision for the service. "What vision do Froud and Gent have for the sector?" she asks. "What is the brave new world for public libraries when all around us is changing at breakneck speed?"

Some people are very wary about getting involved in an argument between two opposing camps. They believe that there are issues to consider and debate but are suspicious of people who want to get on a soapbox and make personal attacks. Flaming is a popular pastime but seldom generates light as well as heat. On the other hand calm, well-balanced discussion does not get the level of publicity that we need. We owe it to our profession and our users to argue passionately about what we believe in.

I hope that tomorrow's SINTO members' day will show both balance and passion. The theme of "Skills for the future" is inseparable from our vision of what the future will hold. As one of the presenters will argue, what the profession needs are analytical skills to help us make better decisions.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Native or immigrant in the digital world?

Dr Jan-Martin Lowendahl
On Wednesday I attended the UKeIG annual seminar "Riding the waves or treading water?: confronting the challenges of a volatile electronic environment". The morning session included two presentations by Dr Jan-Martin Lowendahl, research director of Gartner - an information and technology research and advisory firm.

Dr Lowendahl's first presentation "Emerging IT trends and tools to deal with hype, maturity and alignment" was a general review of IT developments and how organisations could respond to these. His emphasis was not on the new technologies themselves but rather the new ways of doing things that are enabled by these technologies. An interesting concept was the "Hype Cycle" which can be applied to all emerging technologies. This starts with the trigger that creates a new technology. This results in an upward curve of increasing positive hype as people enthuse about the benefits, leading to a peak of inflated expectations. Then comes a trough of disillusionment as problems become apparent. This can be followed by an upward slope of enlightenment as the real benefits are explored followed by a plateau of productivity. Most new products follow this cycle and existing products and ideas can be located on the cycle. Clearly the idea is that you don't get carried away by products that are climbing the peak of inflated expectations, nor do you reject products that are in the trough of disillusionment. Instead you identify those that will end up on the plateau of productivity and adopt those that align with your institutional aims. Looking at the Higher Education Technology Hype Cycle Dr Lowendahl positioned some products and concepts as follows:
On the slope of inflated expectations - Technology enabled classrooms, podcasting learning content.
In the trough of disillusionment - e-learning repositories, e-portfolios.
On the slope of enlightenment - RFID Library management, 802.11x on campus, Internet2/Next Generation Internet.

In his second presentation "Digital natives hit the workplace" Dr Lowendahl explored the concept that there is an emerging generation who are native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the internet. They process information and behave differently than previous generations. The rest of us can only aspire to be "digital immigrants" and most of us will retain a noticeable "accent". For example, digital immigrants tend to use the word "digital" as in "digital camera" while the natives will just say "camera". The opportunities for misunderstanding and lack of clear communication are huge according to Dr Lowendahl. He contrasts the outlook of digital native learners with digital immigrant teachers.

Digital natives
Prefer receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources
Prefer random access to hyperlinked multimedia information
Prefer to interact/network simultaneously with many others

Digital immigrants
Prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources
Prefer to provide information linearly, logically and sequentially
Prefer students to work independently rather than network and interact.

He then considered what the impact of this generation will be when they grow up and reach the workplace. Clearly this will have an impact on libraries, both in terms of the expectations of our users and the impact on our workforce, and this was picked up by the other speakers. Sue Hill (Sue Hill Recruitment) looked at how informational professionals need to keep abreast of these developments through CPD; Val Skelton (TFPL) reported on research about who is managing information in the digital world and Peter Godwin (University of Bedfordshire) reported on information literacy teaching.

The value of this seminar was not that the issues were brand new but that the speakers were able to present them as a coherent narrative that focused on the issues that are facing the profession. SINTO will be picking up on these issues in our Members' Day next Tuesday.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Deaf awareness

Dorothy Miles 1931-1993. Sign language poet and playwright.
Last week we ran a course on the Deaf Community - raising awareness for library staff. The trainer, Richard Stacey, uses (at least) two languages, English and British Sign Language (BSL). He speaks English in the atonal way we often associate with deaf people and to be honest it can be off putting at first. We tend to panic. Will we understand them? Will they understand us? Are we expected to understand those hand movements? Should we write things down?

The delegates soon found that these fears quickly disappeared and that communication need not be a problem. Richard covered the nature of the deaf community, general communication tactics, finger spelling and etiquette surrounding conversations in different contexts. By the end of the session everyone had greater understanding of the issues involved and were more confident in their ability to communicate with deaf library users. More information on the course can be found on the SINTO wiki.

I was surprised that there were not more delegates on this course. There is a relatively high proportion of people with hearing loss in our area due in part to the industrial heritage of Sheffield and most libraries would have deaf or hard of hearing users. Four public library authorities were represented along with staff from three other organisations. Given the benefit that is gained from a modest investment in such training I had hoped that there would have been a greater response. Many of those that did attend said that their colleagues would have benefited from attending the course.

As I have said before, I think libraries respond to the expressed training needs of their staff but do not always identify their own institutional training needs very well. I am keen to run this event again but it does depend on there being sufficient interest not just from individuals but from libraries.

Friday, 8 June 2007


I made the mistake of checking my Technorati ranking for this blog today. It's 3,360,615th! To cheer myself up here is a nice picture of some pansies in the Botanic Gardens in Sheffield and a link to a very relaxing presentation: 500 years of female portraits in western art from YouTube.

Oxford Online Champion Awards

On the 14th May I posted about the MLA Love Libraries Awards and now MLA has announced another set of awards. Under the headline "Are you a library champion for online resources? New awards recognise public librarians’ work in promoting online resources" MLA has launched the Oxford Online Library Champion Awards 2007.
There are four categories:

  • Oxford Online Library Champion of the Year. Designed to honour the exceptional contribution of an individual member of library staff who has successfully championed Oxford Online resources.
  • Best Overall Strategy to Promote Awareness of Oxford Online Resources. An award for the public library authority which has carried out the most imaginative and effective range of awareness campaigns to promote the availability of Oxford Online resources to library members and the general public.
  • Best website promotion. An award for the public library authority which has used their website most effectively to build awareness of Oxford Online resources.
  • Most effective staff training. An award recognising the public library authority which has best demonstrated their commitment to staff training on Oxford Online resources.

Nomination forms are available at

As with the Love Libraries Award I am generally in favour of this. The MLA/OUP National Agreement covers 145 out of 149 library authorities in England and means that over 48 million English residents can explore good quality online resources free of charge until 31 March 2008 simply by joining their local library. If OUP wants to promote this by sponsoring these awards then they are to be congratulated. However there is an issue here. Despite the headline, this award is not about promoting online resources - it is about promoting the resources of one particular publisher. To quote the CILIP Code of Professional Conduct , librarians should:

8. ensure that the materials to which they provide access are those which are most appropriate to the needs of legitimate users of the service

This implies that we should provide access to a range of resources and not just the output of one publisher. It is similar to a debate that is going on as to whether library catalogues should provide links to Amazon as a source of information about titles. This is done by some academic libraries but I don't know of any public libraries doing this. I suspect that most library authorities would not want to be seen promoting a single commercial company.

Personally I don't think that librarians should be too concerned about this. OUP has taken the initiative to set up this agreement with MLA and if other publishers want to make their resources available in the same way then they can. Also OUP does have a reputation for good quality products. Given that public libraries can't aford to pay the commercial subscription rates for all electronic resources the alternative would be to rely on free sources such as Wikipedia. I am not anti Wikipedia but I think we are providing a better service by making Oxford Online resources available as well. I don't believe that any librarian chasing the prize - a two-night luxury stay for two people in Oxford, lunch at the Printer’s House of OUP and individual tour of OUP Museum, tour of the Bodleian Library, and a copy of the new edition of the leatherbound Shorter Oxford English Dictionary - will really compromise their professional commitment to providing their users with the most appropriate materials. On the other hand we must be aware of the ethical dimension of such awards.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

From the blogs

I have just spent an hour checking up on my RSS feeds with Bloglines. There were a lot of new entries in my 13 feeds and most of them were things that I didn't really have to know but were very interesting. I suppose you could argue that this is the problem with blogs - they can distract you from your "real work" but on the other hand I think that information professionals do need this wide perspective.

So what did I learn. From Sheila Webber I discovered a reference to an article about library blogging which lists 213 library blogs - that is blogs by librarians but excluding official library blogs. Many of them are American but it does have international coverage.

Tim Coates is continuing to challenge public libraries in various ways. One posting is about the backlog of books awaiting processing before they go onto the shelves. Another looks at recruitment in public libraries and if this is a "closed shop"? Pete Smith from Rotherham picks up on this.

Finally Lyndsay Reese-Jones is blogging from the SLA (Special Libraries Association) conference in Denver, Colorado and giving a flavour of some of the presentations.

There is a list of some library blogs on the SINTO wiki. If you have your own favourites please add them.

Oh, and the photo? Not a library this time but a famous Sheffield landmark - the factory where they make Henderson's Relish!

Monday, 4 June 2007

Information Commons

Todays photo is of the new University of Sheffield Information Commons building. This building has 7,800 square metres of space, 1,300 study spaces, 100,000 volumes on the shelves and 500 PCs (I have to confess I have not counted this myself - I just took it from the press release). If you want to know more go to the web site. There are plenty more photographs including a couple of live web-cams so if you want to look at a library all day now is your chance! At the very least you can use it to check out the weather in Sheffield.

What you can't do unless you are a registered member of the University is to visit the Information Commons. For a variety of reasons - primarily pressure on space and secutity issues - the University has decided that public access will not be permitted. However the University is committed to the SYALL access agreement and access to library services is available through the Main Library, St George's Library and Health Sciences Library. Special open days will be organised later.

Friday, 1 June 2007

SINTO Members' Day

Today's picture is of the Learning Centre at Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate campus.

On the 19th June we are holding the third SINTO members' day and AGM. We are obliged to hold an annual general meeting and they are inevitably rather dry affairs - although it does mean that SINTO is accountable to its member organisations. The idea of holding a members' day as well is to involve all library staff in SINTO libraries and to develop the concept of a community of librarians in our area.

The theme of this year's event is "Skills for the Future". How will the practice of librarianship change in the next few years? What new skills will we need in order to cope with this change? How can we ensure that we gain these new skills?

The day will start with refreshments from 12 noon and the opportunity to network with colleagues from the region. At 12.45 we have the AGM and just after 1pm we will introduce our keynote speaker Professor John Tarrant. John was vice-chancellor of Huddersfield University and is Chair of Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) Yorkshire. In his presentation on skills for the future John will refer to the Demos report Knowledge & Inspiration: the democratic face of culture produced in August 2006 for the MLA.

This will be followed by four short presentations by practitioners. Biddy Fisher, Head of Information Services at Sheffield Hallam University will talk on research on the future of library and information services. Sally Gibbs of Lifelong Learning UK will outline the work of LLUK in workforce development for the sector. Stephanie Taylor who has run courses for SINTO will look at mentoring and networking as essential soft skills and finally I will give a brief account of the new social computing tools provided by SINTO - including this blog. At the end of these sessions there will be a discussion forum led by Bob Usherwood.

Librarians on the whole are very good at doing things right - we take great pride in our professionalism - but we do not always pay enough attention to whether we are doing the right things. The world changes and what we need to do to meet the demands of our users has to change with it. This event gives us the opportunity to sit back and think about what is changing.