Thursday, 27 March 2008

Training events from SINTO.

A picture for you to think about while I tell you about some training events.
Today we ran the repeat of the Deaf Awareness course with Richard Stacey and I am pleased to say we had a good number of people on this course. For more information see the SINTO wiki.

We have what I think is a very strong programme of events coming with a wide range of events which show how SINTO can respond quickly to the training needs of local LIS staff.

In April we are running the Effective Enquiry Desk Work event which we have run twice before. Tim Buckley Owen gets to the heart of what it takes to be a success at the enquiry desk.

Later in April we have our annual trip to the Library & Information Show in Birmingham. Now in its 19th year this is a major showcase for products (with over 120 exhibitors) and a places to meet suppliers and colleagues.

Inter Library Loans have always been at the heart of library services and SINTO was set up as an ILL agency between libraries in Sheffield. But what is happening now that many libraries have gone digital? Users still need access to material that you don't have on your (virtual) shelves but how can you locate and obtain e-books and journals? Stephanie Taylor will help us explore this new environment in May.

If e-books are the near future then is cataloguing & classification the distant past? I don't think so and there is still a need for library staff to understand the basic principles. Keith Tricky presents a Brief Introduction to Cat & Class in June.

The SINTO Members' Day and AGM on the 12th June is an opportunity for the SINTO community to get together. This year we are looking at the link between research and practice. How can academic research and research in the workplace help us provide a better library service? The keynote speaker is Ian Rowlands who will be talking about his research on the information behaviour of students and academics.

Then in June Stephanie Taylor returns to give a workshop on Advanced Internet Searching.

And what about that photograph? Well it shows a picture drawn by pavement artist Julian Beever. The bottle and ladder are drawn on the pavement but with a perspective that makes it look like a 3-d object. The artist is kneeling at the end of the picture in the middle distance while the lady with the glass is much closer to the camera. Strange but true! Have a good weekend.

The most modern (public) library in the world.

Also well worth sharing is this blog from the Shifted Librarian about the public library in Delft, Holland. It really is an amazing looking building and it is hard to imagine that any British Library Authority today could even begin to think of providing a library at this level.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Ig Noble Awards (The)

I just had to share this press release from the Society of Indexers.

Sword swallower meets The Indexer
The brainchild of Guardian journalist and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, Marc Abrahams, the Ig Nobel awards celebrate research that 'first makes people laugh, and then makes them think'.
Australian indexer Glenda Browne received this accolade last October for her article on the humble word 'the' and why it causes so much trouble for people trying to put things into alphabetical order. She shared the stage with, amongst others, Dan Meyer, fellow Ig Nobel winner for research into the injurious effects of sword-swallowing.
Dan (aka 'Cap'n Cutless, Swashbucklin' Saber Swallower') was back on stage recently (and giving a practical demonstration of his skills!), as part of the 2008 Ig Nobel Road show touring the UK during Science and Engineering Week. This time he was sharing the platform with Maureen MacGlashan, editor of The Indexer, the journal in which Glenda's article was first published and which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.
Joining the motley crowd of Ig Nobel award winners (whose research ranged from 'Scrotal asymmetry in man and in ancient sculpture' and 'The effect of country music on suicide' to 'Homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck' and assembling the world's first periodic
(four-legged) table) were fifteen members of the Society of Indexers, who entered into the spirit of the event by holding up letters that read 'INDEXERS UNITE'. 'We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to get across the idea that indexing is a serious business and that there are people who do it for a living,' said Maureen. 'Most importantly, we showed that we can laugh at ourselves for what we do and how we do it'.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Black Swans in the antilibrary.

In his book "The Black Swan" Nassim Taleb begins with an account of Umberto Eco's library. This library contains 30,000 books and the significance of this collection is not that Eco has read them all but that it is a research tool for future reading. "Read books are far less valuable than unread ones.... Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary"
I don't think that a librarian would ever make this distinction but the idea of the importance of unread books - of unknowns - is central to The Black Swan.

Taleb's idea is that our lives are dominated by Black Swan events; that is events which are extremely rare but have very high impact. These events can not be predicted in advance because they are completely different to anything that has happened before. Afterwards, these events are subject to intense scrutiny and explanations are developed which appear to show how they could have been predicted, but this does not prepare us for the next Black Swan. He seems to suggest that none of the unread books in the antilibrary would enable us to predict these events although some of the books (including presumably his own) can help us to deal with the effects of Black Swans on society.

Taleb also claims that information is bad for knowledge. More knowledge does not mean that you make better choices, only that you are more confident in the choices you have made. This echoes Eliot's line about "Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

So a mixed message for libraries! What you don't know is more relevant than what you do know so libraries are important. However the events that will have most impact are unknowable and providing people with more information does not necessarily help.

The profession is faced with its own Black Swan in the shape of the Internet. The development over a few years of a system which (potentially) offers every individual the ability to find any information they want instantly from their home or office (or mobile device) could not have been anticipated and is having a massive impact - modified only by the fact that the potential and the reality are very different. So how do we cope?

In the announcement of the Skills Exchange milestone (last posting) Stephanie Taylor makes the point that the Skills Exchange concept is very different from that of an email list:
"The Skills Exchange is all about creating a sense of community, which of course an email list is not. The email list does not really lend itself to discussion, which is why many descend into little more than announcements of events. They also tend to be narrowly focused. So if your interests are broadly based, you end up with little more than a cluttered inbox, adding to information overload! If you remain so narrowly focused, you miss the big picture of trends and developments in the sector. Again with The Skills Exchange, the idea is that all the debates can take place in one place, making it easy to monitor sector developments."

This is fundamental to dealing with Black Swans - and even grey cygnets, their less traumatic offspring. You don't need more information. You need to step back and think, and the best way of doing that is to talk to other people. Librarians are very good at doing things right but we need to focus on doing the right thing. Forums such as the Skills Exchange, CILIP communities and the SINTO wiki are an ideal tool for this. Librarians claim that they have less time to get out of the library and network. They don't even have time to spend an hour or so on the computer networking. However they are making a grave error if they think that keeping their noses to the grindstone is helping their users or their employers in the long term. Stop what you are doing and look for Black Swan in your organisation. Help your manager, and your manager's manager to look for Black Swans. That is your job - after all you are the custodian of the unread books.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Skills Exchange

I mentioned the Skills Exchange on-line forum previously and it is now celebrating passing a milestone .

The new online community where librarians and information workers can meet to exchange ideas now has over 100 registered users - well over actually - 121 at the latest count, and growing all the time. This should now be a user-base that can be of genuine use to each other in the exchange of knowledge and experience in the LIS sector.

It is cross-sectoral in its make-up, with representatives from the academic, public and commercial sector. This can become a valuable feature of The Skills Exchange, as a fresh perspective on tackling similar issues can often lead to new and innovative thinking.

I wish the Skills Exchange all the best in the future and recommend it to all librarians in the region.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

What will happen when MLA Yorkshire disappears?

I have posted on the demise of the regional MLA bodies and how disappointing this is. Roy Clare was apparently very cross with the response of MLA Yorkshire and the comments by John Tarrant, preferring it would seem that MLAY should just roll over and play dead and not rock the boat. I e-mailed Roy (or the Admiral as Perkins likes to call him) asking for his comments but he has not bothered to reply.

The question now is what will happen post-MLAY? It is not the role of MLAY to set up a successor body to take over from them although Annie Mauger (Chief Executive) has said that she is prepared to facilitate any discussions. It is up to the library services in our region to decide what they want and how they want to achieve it. The wants list would certainly include a body that could represent and lobby on behalf of libraries with the regional and national decision making bodies such as Yorkshire Forward; strategic planning; promoting and supporting library and information services; co-operating with the museums and archives sectors; and supporting and delivering regional training and CPD activities. What is needed is some sort of regional development agency for libraries along the lines of LLDA in London. or Libraries and Information East Midlands.

There are a number of bodies already in existence that could play a part in this. The Society of Chief Librarians in Yorkshire is a forum for public libraries. Yorkshire Libraries and Information is the Regional Library System for Yorkshire and Humber (although if you visit their home page you will see it was last updated in November 2003). The CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside Branch represents CILIP members in the region and organises some CPD events.

Then there is SINTO. We have grown from a Sheffield based partnership to one covering South Yorkshire (and north Derbyshire), and now have members in West Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. There is no reason why we should not extend our remit to cover all of Yorkshire and the Humber. This would require a major expansion of the SINTO office, but I don't see this expansion in terms of SINTO recruiting more members. Instead, the libraries in the region need to decide if they want to set up a development agency and then build on the existing structures, including SINTO, to achieve this.

All this needs to be discussed by the SINTO Executive and the existing members. It is possible that they will decide they don't want SINTO to change and grow. One of our USPs is that SINTO is a local consortium for local libraries and expansion might damage this. However, the opportunity is there to build on the ashes of MLA Yorkshire.

Friday, 7 March 2008


I used the above picture in a posting some time ago. It's a piece of sculpture I spotted when walking around Barcelona last summer and I suppose it just tickled my fancy. Later I began to wonder what the piece is called and who the artist is, but a search on Google images failed to find it. Then I heard (through Phil Bradley's excellent blog) about a service called Picanswers. You post photographs to this site with a question and see if anyone replies. I posted my Cheeky Sculpture picture and a few days later I received a detailed reply giving full information. Here is part of the reply:

"The sculpture in your picture is located in the Park of Carles I along the Avenida Icaria, in the district of Sant Martí in Barcelona. It was made by Eduardo Úrculo in 1999 and is a homage to Santiago Roldán, president of the Olympic Holding from 1989 to 1993 (so it says at the base of the sculpture)."

There were also links to other photographs and a Youtube video clip. It just goes to show the power of social computing.

I'm still not sure if this blog has much power or influence but I checked recently and it is getting an average of 12 hits a day. If we ignore the weekends, when my intended audience should have better things to do, that's almost 17 per day. It peaked on the 5th February this year when it had 33 hits. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Assistive Technology for Libraries

Affinity Supreme electronic magnifier
This week SINTO ran a half-day seminar on Assistive Technology for libraries. In this event we looked at technical fixes - hardware and software - that could be used in libraries to help deaf people and people with visual impairments to access library materials.

Emma Arnold from JISC TechDis gave a presentation on the TechDis Accessibility Essentials series of publications. The first of these - making Electronic Documents More Readable - gives practical information about how the appearance of a document on the screen can be changed to suit the needs of the person reading it. It covered Microsoft Word documents, PDF documents in Adobe Acrobat Reader and webpages in Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. We picked up many useful hints - for example I did not realise that the Adobe Acrobat Reader can convert text into spoken words.

Next Tony Shrubb of Force Ten Co demonstrated software that can be installed on PCs to improve accessibility and displayed the latest in text magnifiers and text readers.

During the seminar there was a discussion about how well libraries are meeting the needs of people who have problems in accessing standard text. Most libraries do make provision e.g. providing large text and audiobooks and in providing specialist equipment. However it was conceded that awareness and training of front line staff could be a problem and that a user with special needs might not always get access to the services that would help them. Examples were given of library staff who were not aware of what assistive technology was available or how to make best use of it. It was pointed out that training of all staff was expensive in money and time and, as use of these services was often low, it was difficult to maintain staff skills at a high level. On the other hand, the low level of use might be a result of the poor service offered.

I drew attention to a survey of the experiences of blind and visually impaired people using electronic information services in public libraries which supports this view; saying that these access technologies may attract very little use in libraries without significant investment in staff training.

The trouble is that this is only one of many areas where more investment is needed in equipment and staff training. Training events like this one organised by SINTO help to improve the skills and understanding of library staff at the operational level. They also raise awareness of the demand for these services and the technologies that are available to meet this demand. This awareness needs to be disseminated to the users of our services on one side and the decision makers and funders of our services on the other. The expectations of users should be increased and the funders should be challenged to provide for this need.

SINTO is very happy to provide training for library staff but I often wish that SINTO member organisations would work with SINTO to promote this awareness to those people who can make a difference.
More information about access can be found on the SINTO wiki.