Sunday, 28 August 2011

CPD23 - Thing 14 - Online reference sources

This week we are focusing on three online referencing tools - Zotero, Mendeley and CiteUlike.

The very existence of these tools which are designed to help academics and reasearchers in citing sources efficiently, correctly and quickly shows just how times have changed (and consequently I feel very old although in the words of Bruce Forsyth doddery I am not!).

I'd not previously heard of any of the tools, which is unsurprising since I'm not an academic/reference librarian or researcher. While they might not be directly helpful in my day to day work, I realise however they could be useful for drafting and including references when preparing an article for a professional journal such as CILIP Update.

I zeroed in on deciding to explore Mendeley this time (basically because, I don't use the Firefox browser which rules out downloading the add-on and when searching CiteUlike no relevant articles appeared for export control related topics so this seemed less helpful to my immediate needs).

If you've never used Mendeley before, it's been described as the 'Last FM' of online referencing, since it is created by the same people behind that site. Personally it reminds me very much of Google's Picasa image management application (which I love) that lets you store, tag and categorise all your pictures. Mendeley basically does the same thing but for PDFs. It also allows you to annotate, highlight and add notes electronically to a PDF instead of scribbling in the margins on a printed paper copy (which I've done from time to time). From a bibliography point of view, you can incorporate references seemlessly into Word. You can also collaboratively share documents if necessary. There is also a desktop and online version, which means I can sync between work and home PCs.
If you are not convinced of Mendeley's value, one of the best reviews about the site is available on the Makeuseof website - see the posting about 'Organize your PDF files and collaboratively research with Mendeley'.

Basically Mendeley is a tool that I never thought or knew might be useful but now realise might be quite helpful.
In fact, Thing 14 also made me think about all of those online tools, applications and websites that exist but which we haven't stumbled across yet.

You might like to know that PC Mag has a list of the Top 100 Undiscovered Websites which provides some food for thought. For instance, who knows, a web app that helps create mind maps or, an online tool which can convert anything (images, documents etc) and email them to yourself in 4 easy steps.
In the same vein, I also periodically read with interest, Phil Bradley's Internet Q&A column in CILIP Update and keep tuned in with his Web 2.0 weblog. This is a great resource to keep tabs with applications you might need to use in connection with a particular activity at some point in the future.

This post has also made me sadly reflect on all the things I don't know or will never know, never experience, never see, never touch, never feel...all that is unknown.

Coincidentally it was announced in the news this week that scientists have estimated the number of species in the word at 8.7 million (compared to previous vague estimates of between three and 100 milion). Mankind is only aware, however of a small proportion of this total (around 14%) of all potential species. That indicates how much more there is to learn about the world. A sobering thought!

Friday, 26 August 2011

CPD23 - Thing 13 - Online collaboration and file sharing (Google Docs, Dropbox and Wikis)

After my mammoth post for Thing 12, I am now turning belatedly to the subject of online collaboration via tools such as Google Docs, Dropbox and Wikis.

Collaborative file sharing tools

To be honest I've not yet had reasons to use Google Docs or Dropbox. So, as suggested I tried out one of the suggested tools - in this case Google Docs (purely because I don't want to get into the rigmarole of downloading more software and because of network restrictions on my work PC).

On first impressions, Google Docs is very easy to use if you want to do simple editing and sharing. And to test it I've uploaded and shared a video of my dog:   -

However, I am more than well aware that it can't provide every functionality, as fellow CPD23 Things blog Sherm Sez highlights much better than I have. He puts out for instance, that it doesn't provide support lots of Excel functions and it is limiting in requiring an active internet connection (which is where Dropbox holds it own more by being accessible in an offline version).

In reality, however I mainly edit documents collaboratively in a work context. Since I work for a large government department we already have our own internal bespoke collaborative secure workspace or electronic document records management system (EDRMS) called Matrix.

This effectively has the same functionality as both Google Docs and Dropbox allowing access to:
  • edit, create and upload new documents
  • download, amend, edit and reupload documents
  • add keywords to describe documents
  • view author and revision history 
  • access previous document versions
  • search functionality
  • connection to email software (eg Microsoft Outlook) and so can send either pointers or files to mail recipients or upload an email to system
The difference between an internal EDRM system such as Matrix, which is quite sophisticated, is that it is only accessible on internal networks and it is not so easy if you are seeking comments from outside government departments or organisations.

I do sometimes seek external comments and I could feasibly see myself using Google Docs to share some draft website guidance material in the future. However, I'd be very wary about privacy issues and settings. Sharing information in this way would only ever be applicable to content that is non-contentious and unrestricted content. For wider government information, alternative secure systems would have to be found.
The value in using free or low cost online collaborative tools, such as Google Docs and Dropbox, is that if used wisely in the right context, they can save money for government departments and organisations looking to find quick and simple ways to share and collaborate on particular issues. This is highlighted in a blog post "Doing more with less: Vive la frugalista" by Jenny Poole who works at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). She highlights the professional value for BIS of using another online collaborative tool called Huddle as an alternative to complex intranet systems where possible.

The issue of taking advantage of the opportunities for online collabarative opportunities offered via 'cloud computing' networking tools while being mindful of secruity considerations is one of the biggest work trends that IT teams across government are grappling with. The Cabinet Office, for instance, has information on how the public sector could use cloud computing in a programme known as the G-Gloud Programme. Also in July 2011 as announced in the IT press, the Foreign Office awarded a contract to Huddle, the online collaborative tools suppliers to provide a cloud computing based system for civil servants to access classified and restricted documents.

Collaborative editing tools

I'd put 'wikis' in a slightly different category description of online collaborative workspace tools. Compared to tools like Google Docs or Dropbox, they have a slightly different end purpose. Google Docs and similar tools are for editing time defined documents or short term collaborative projects. In comparison, wikis are effectively webpages that are constantly evolving. They can be edited, refined and shared into an indefintite future by multiple people - the best example being Wikipedia.

I'll also freely confess here to being a massive fan of Wikipedia. I use it regularly as a ready reference source (eg to check whether Kosovo was a region or a country - answer's on a postcard please! - or to read up on whatever happened to the stars from 'Thirtysomething'). Don't know where I'd be without it!

However, I am of course conscious that its reliability can potentially be called into question because it allows collaborative and anonymous editing is feasibly open to abuse such as false or misleading information. Even if these allegations are not real, its still important for us all to be confident that the information on the site is correct, readable and accurate since it is open to being referenced as fact by everyone including journalists, cited in court, quoted in academic texts and many more daily examples. For this reason, independent analysis of Wikipedia, for instance via the Wiki-Watch software analysis tool, is important.

I've not created a wiki in a work context yet, but have used contributed to others, most notably to the Library Routes project wiki.

In terms of my day to day work, there is the potential need to create a wiki for internal training purposes to replace outdated hard-copy training manuals. One solution to this might be to use the Civil Pages wiki funcationality developed by the Cabinet Office. Daily Mail readers might scoff (see article on 'Civil servants to get own £1m "Facebook" site so they can gossip without fear of public exposure and ridicule') but, this does provide a potential secure internal communications tool.

I'll let you know in a future blog posting what is decided and what route we eventually decide to take - to wiki or not to wiki.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

CPD23 - Thing 12 - Puttting the social into social media

Over the past few weeks, with the riots in the UK, we've seen many of the downsides of social media as Twitter and other social networking sites were used by people keen to instigate looting and violence. In light of this, social media is being analysed by the popular press and the public closely and the questions raised by Thing 12 are very topical.

However, we should remember that the whole concept of social media is not new. The US writer and critic, Howard Rheingold was one of the first people to coin the term 'virtual community' back in 1993 in the early days of the web before general public use.

The benefits of social media in building up networks

Looking at social media from the context of professional point of view there are undoubtedly some advantages from a professional development context by providing:
    - opportunity and space for 'reflective practice' via blogs - being prepared to be naked and stand above a parapet to share our opinions. (As discussed in CPD23 - Thing 5)
- saving on formal training costs for instance by providing access to online presentations via Slideshare, instructional films or 'webinars' on Youtube or Howstuffworks or via podcasts such as the TED website or even enabling you to watch a 'live streaming' of a conference.

Many more benefits are highlighted in Debby Raven's article on social media called "Opportunities not to be missed" published in CILIP Update, July 2011 (pages 43 to 45). The article emphasises that using social media professionally can help
  • share ideas and develop communiations
  • as reference source particularly for up to the minute ideas
  • source of engagement eg with policy officials who might otherwise be remote
I'd definitely recommend reading this article if you haven't yet as food for thought to justify to managers why using Twitter and blogging is far from a waste of time!

(And HOT OFF THE PRESS published on 22 August 2011 - a new three page article written by Phil Bradley looking at the social media resources you should use as a librarian. He also covers how we should social media differently and why it is vital we participate in as many networks as possible and become filter authorities, since this is how we will be better able to influence. Its also in social media where the future of search technologies is moving towards)

My own experiences of a truly SOCIAL online networking space

Until now (before CPD23 Things), I've been a very shy blogger and am only just getting comfortable with using it in a reflective context. Personally blogging makes me concentrate on conveying carefully what I think and want to say (unfortunately not always well expressed). Overall it helps me open my thoughts and see connection points and I hope to stick with it!
To be honest, I've  also not really taken the opportunity to follow conferences or discussions online via Twitter or other web-streaming sites though I'm aware that this is becoming a way of engaging with a wider professional community online. In fact, when I was involved in organising the Network for Government and Information Professionals (NGLIS) conference in April 2011, we promoted a Twitter hashtag (#opengov2011) to enable attendees to blog about the event which was referenced in CILIP Update and in the information professional blogosphere. This enabled any one not able to attend to get a sense of the main learning points and created a bit of a buzz.

From my limited experience, if used wisely, using Twitter to tap into a conference can be beneficial in changing the event dynamics by allowing attendees and others to get more involved (such as by being able to tweet speakers and ask questions).

If you want to know more I'd recommend checking out Bryony Taylor's blog which provides a great list of 10 reasons why Twitter is great for conferences. She's also posted a summary of the 5 ways I use social media for professional development which provides food for thought.

Being involved with CPD23 Things has encouraged me to start to follow other bloggers and to post comments where I wouldn't have previously. As a result, I've come across people working in areas that I wouldn't normally come into contact with through work. I've picked up a few new followers on my Twitter feed and likewise am following new people and new ideas. So some benefits it seems personally.

Some disadvantages

I am dubious about social media being a unique answer to professional prayers. In reality social media actually oils the wheels for people to connect up in real life and offline. Correct me if I'm wrong but I get the impression that the higher you progress careerwise, the less social networking skills are valued and the more that face to face contact and interactions count. I guess this depends on sector and profession but until the web 2.0 generation start getting into senior management, I suspect that there is still a large cultural change to be made in encouraging people to build a sense of community online.

Another big downside of social media is that it a fast ephemeral medium. When posting, you have to be thoughtful about tone, language, credibility and sense of authority. When participating in online communities, you need to be wary of privacy controls and have some measure of determining who you are communicating with online.
Does social media really foster a sense of community?

To answer this question fully we have to look at what 'community' means. Community is defined as a group of likeminded individuals such as a village, members of sport team, your workplace or school, a group of friends with whom you share a hobby or other interest. People (on and offline) tend come together if they have one or more of the following:

  • shared interests
  • shared problems
  • shared values
  • shared information
All in all communities need a  shared sense of purpose and passion. Online social media groups can of course have all these characteristics (examples that spring to mind include Mumsnet, TripAdvisor).

I don't think that social media communities necessarily need to meet up offline in person to succeed, although this really depends upon the original motivation for the group. Sometimes the best connections are regardless of time and geography with people you might never meet. It depends on trust which is lacking everywhere sometimes.

New social media can spring up all the time, but to really succeed and prosper, all communities (on and offline) need to have a shared sense of momentum or leadership. This might be created in a number of ways, such as by generating debate and consistently ensuring that for instance blog posts are repied to. Alternatively, there might be the opportunity for meeting offline at events. There needs to be a 'buzz' created by giving the impression that there is lots of interest to participate. (Hence Google+ approach of being an invitation only community currently as it builds up interest and mystique before being opened up to the wider public). But somebody somewhere needs to invest time in creating the space to make the community work eg by building webpages, posting comments, providing feedback.

Basically, just as you don't go generally go to a party or a pub on your own, I don't think people join online communities if they have no interests - the what's in it for me question!?

When you join a community, you are investing part of yourself and your time so you also need to be mindful of joining something that has value for you. I think there is a higher risk for social media sites to be ephemeral and a waste of time because there is either no momentum and not enough critical debate or shared communication or lack of relevant information.

Ultimately, whether social media fosters a community sense is both yes and no - and depends on lots of factors and answers to our own personal questions - does the group meet our needs? does it look interesting? is it worthwhile?


Social media - we have to remember is the modern day technological re-working of what people have been doing for centuries ie communicating, forming networks and communities of likeminded individuals except that now it is a hyper-reality - where there is more of everything eg more news, information, scandal, comment, opinion and everything is speeded up.

Since I am now touching on the world of philosophical debate (and the concept's of Jean Baudrillard, 'the French philosopher who spoke about hyperreality as 'more real than real') it might be a great time to finish before getting too deep....

Monday, 8 August 2011

CPD23 - Thing 11 - Mentoring

Like most people, I think that mentoring is intrinsically a great idea.

For a mentor it can be an opportunity to give something back and for the mentee, it can provide a sounding board, exposure to different ways of thinking. A mentor has been described as 'a wise and trusted professional advisor' and this sums up the role very well.

Also, its been analysed that it actually pays to have a mentor.

For instance, in 2006 Sun Microsystems conducted a survey to assess the effectiveness of its company mentoring program. It found that 25% of employees who took part in the program had a salary grade change, compared to only 5% amongst those who did not participate. In addition, 28% of participating mentors had a salary increase, compared
to only 5% of non-participating mentors.
When it works, mentoring can be very helpful for both individuals and organisations - for instance it can help to improve employee retention, build morale, reduce stress, build teams, increase commitment, and accelerate leadership development.

In a nutshell, mentoring is the secret weapon of success in life. Indeed, it is recognised as such by schools and colleges who have successful, active alumni departments and by businesses and individuals who seek a support network.

Unfortunately, personally I've not had any luck with developing a long lasting mentor/mentee relationship until now. I'd be willing to explore  approaching someone who is willing and able to act as a mentor for me, but not exactly sure who that might be at the moment.

Probably the reason I've not succeeded in finding a mentor previously is that I've not been ready. You need to be in the right place emotionally to get the most of a mentor/mentee interaction. For a mentoring relationship to work, you need to be able to answer YES to all the following statements:
  • I'm responsible for my career goals and would enjoy the benefit of a mentor's guidance to create a plan for success.
  • I'm ready to listen, but I'm also ready to share my ideas so it's a give and take relationship.
  • I'm ready for objective feedback to consider new ideas and new approaches suggested by my mentor.
  • I have realistic expectations for my mentor relationship. No one is perfect and good relationships take honesty, effort and time.
  • I'm busy with school and/or work, but I'm ready to make a commitment for my future by communicating with my mentor.
To expand on the words of wisdom in the CPD23 Thing 11 blogpost and the referenced links such as the inspirational words of Dr Seuss found in the article on 'Sharing Program:The Big Boy Boomeroo of Mentoring', I have done some further research into the importance of mentoring.

One source of reference is a guy called Bud Bilanich from Denver in the United States who brands himself online as the 'common sense career coach'. He has blogged about the link between mentoring and career success. One of his top tips for success is to find a mentor - and he is not alone. Most career professionals advocate the same thing.

Bilanich helpfully highlights what to look for in a mentor, namely:

What makes for a good mentor? A good mentor…
M Motivates you do accomplish more than you think you can.
E Expects the best from you.
N Never gives up on you or lets you give up on yourself.
T Tells you the truth – even when it hurts.
O Occasionally kicks your butt.
R Really cares about you and your success.

This is a very helpful mnemonic and something we can all use to find the right mentor for us. In this process of finding an appropriate mentor he also emphasises that the relationship is built around confidence - with confident people around, you will be well on your way to career success.

This is one of the reasons why mentoring is particularly powerful for young and more disadvantaged people in helping them to succeed.

Until I am clearer about what direction I want to go in with my jobs and career, I am going to be careful about finding a new mentor.

In the meantime, I am mindful that is just as helpful and you can learn just as much by being a mentor, so I want to take the opportunity to give back myself and become either a CILIP Mentor or a Candidate Support Officer for the Career Development Group (whose role is to support people through the Chartership process).
To quote fellow CPD23 Things blogger, Infopromom, says - "being master of my fate will require impetus and proactivity on my part – I cannot be passive but must step out of my comfort zone to continue to grow and learn". Powerful, beautiful and true words!

Friday, 5 August 2011

NGLIS Summer Social 2011

Who says that working as an information professional doesn't take you places?

On 28 July 2011, the Network of Government Library and Information Specialists (NGLIS) held its Summer Social at the London Eye. The event was kindly sponsored by Moreover Technologies and Thomson Reuters Legal UK and Ireland.

I'd never been on the London Eye before - so this was a great opportunity to visit what is now considered an icon of the London skyline in style. (I would say that I've now 'flown' on the Eye but not sure if this technically correct since EDF Energy are now the major corporate sponsors and not British Airways).

It also showed NGLIS at its best - providing a great networking opportunity. I had the chance to talk in a relaxed atmosphere to retired members, colleagues and fellow professionals from other government departments and with suppliers - all of whom I wouldn't normally get the chance to speak to during my day job.

NGLIS is one of the networking associations that you should consider joining as an information professional (see my blog post on CPD23 - Thing 7 - Face to Face Networks and Professional Organisations) . It is independent of CILIP. If you aren't a member of NGLIS you should think about joining. This is what you get without even breaking the bank (currently £10 per year - a bargain!):
  • a professional journal - watch out for my article on the Businesslink website convergence project in the Spring/Summer 2011 edition.
  • a conference
  • networking events and meetings on topical issues
And by the way here are some interesting facts about the London Eye:
  • It took 7 years to build and create the Eye
  • You can see around 25 miles from the top as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day
  • The Eye welcomes around 3.5 million visitors per year. That is equal to 6,680 fully booked Boeing 747 Jumbo jets.
  • The Eye can carry 800 people per revolution
  • Each capsule weighs 32 tonnes
  • The wheel's circumference is 424 metres - which if unravelled would make it taller than the UK's tallest building at One Canada Square at Canary Wharf, London

Here are some more photos of the event:

A great time was had by all! And thanks to Thomson Reuters for the cakes some of which safely survived my tube ride home - they were delicious!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

CPD23 - Thing 10 - Routes into librarianship

Thing 10 is all about sharing and blogging about our experiences in library and information work to date.
I took quite a traditional route into library and information work by going through the stages of:
  1. Studying for an arts/humanities undergraduate degree
  2. Working as a Graduate Trainee after successfully applying and securing a one-year traineeship at a university library as part of the CILIP Graduate Training Opportunities scheme (or SCONUL programme as it was known in my day - does that show my age?)
  3. Studying for Masters on CILIP accredited course at City University
  4. Starting first professional post in government information service
  5. Achieving Chartered Member status of CILIP
  6. Continuing to progress through my organisation and build up my skills and experience
I was interested in library and information work from quite young - at the very least since working in my school careers library and getting careers advice. I also remember a personality and careers advice test once which recommended a number of possible future careers including becoming a solicitor, arts administrator and a librarian. In fact, I might have had the idea even younger when I loved going to my local library and organised my bookshelves at home in alphabetical order!

I originally applied for the graduate traineeship and to study for the Masters because I was interested in a versatile and flexible career. On the whole, this has been in the case for me. I've had lots of opportunities so far despite mainly working for the same employer within a large central government department. Via my career and jobs I've had the opportunity to deliver training overseas, work with companies, give presentations, organise events, use modern technology, make a difference to the UK economy - which I would never have thought of doing when I first thought originally about librarianship and information work.

I've also moved away from the 'traditional' concept of a librarian (if such a person or concept really exists). Working as an information professional is all about people, customer service and enabling people and organisations to succeed.

I've been mostly happy with my choices so far.

If interested you can read my Case Study on the Info Professional website. The Info Professional website is a site set up the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and Lifelong Learning UK to provide the inside take on library and information careers - taking you places you've never imagined - so definitely worth a look if you are new or young professional. You might also want to check out the Library Routes Project wiki which provides a forum to share your experiences in the library and information profession. I've just added this posting to the wiki. Why not share your experiences or read those of others as well?!

My challenge now is the big what if....what next? To be honest the answer is, I don't exactly know apart from a desire to progress, move on and learn new things, get paid better and become more professional.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

CPD23 - Thing 9 - Organising Yourself (Evernote)

....this is Part 2 of Week 6 of the CPD23 Things for Professional Development online learning programme - and is all about organising yourself and your life online.

Thing 9 is all about an online tool called Evernote which allows you in the words of the site developers to "remember everything - capture anything, access anywhere, find things first".

I'm new to this tool and at this stage not sure whether I'll use it regularly, but am sure it has its uses - it sells itself as allowing you the ability to take notes on webpages and archive from future consultation and the ability to organise, annotate and tag sorted notes. I kind of advanced Delicious (which allows you tag and share bookmarks).

Advantages and disadvantages of Evernote

From my own point of view I'm often sending email pointers to friends and colleagues which I sometimes want to refer back to myself. This can be annoying because typically I'll have forgotten the original weblink and need to remember where I located it online. Also, since I work across several PCs, I have online bookmark links left, right and centre - so Evernote might be helpful here.

For this reason, I've downloaded Evernote onto my home PC. At first glance I don't find the main screen particularly helpful in terms of layout but maybe that's because I'm not using the application in 'real anger' so to speak. However, other existing users of Evernote seem to praise it highly - see:
There's even a blog dedicated exclusively to tips and advice on using Evernote - see: Ron's Evernote Tips

The downsides for Evernote are that I cannot download onto my work PC due to system restrictions, although I could work round and use the online access which is beneficial.

The Cloud

Evernote is just one example of an application on 'The Cloud' where you can store, share, communicate and run your life online. Of course, using tools like Twitter, Facebook, online photo sharing websites and blogging are other examples.

(PS: If you don't know what I'm talking about, there is a great overview of cloud computing including an overview of how it works, the benefits and how to use if for business purposes which can be found in the guidance on cloud computing on the Businesslink website)

In an ideal world cloud computing means no more pesky PCs which run the risk of hard disk failures and crashes but instead promises an integrated, organised, productive way of working from anytime, anyplace, anywhere - pure heaven!

However, cloud computing is not without its problems - the big bug bear being security concerns but also usability, standardisation and connectivity issues. See a BBC news article about cloud computing for business goes mainstream which highlights some of these concerns further.

Back in October 2010, the team at Channel 5's The Gadget Show featured one of their head-to-head presenter competitions to demonstrate the pros and cons of cloud vs non-cloud computing (View the feature at: This was designed to look at looking at which performed better across a range of tasks. The competition showed that the cloud was less helpful if editing a movie or sharing large amounts of data but more useful when sharing information or recovering lost data. Brilliant stuff which was presented in an entertaining way and gave food for thought about the possibilities and limitations of cloud computing for people generally.

The trend seems to be for increasing moves to intangible computing in the ether.

Before too long I wouldn't be surprised if loads more tools and apps start to replace Evernote and other services (indeed I've seen talk online that Delicious might be sold off and I've recently had experience of a book sharing website closing which caused me lots of frustration to transfer my 500+ list of books to a new site).

One interesting example of the trend towards 'cloud computing' is looking at the history of IBM which is now 100 years old. IBM shows where computers came from and where computing is going into the future. IBM have a museum at their Hursley research centre site in the US which includes the first portable computer - the IBM 5100. Nowadays, however IBM is focused on software and development and into the future, the museum will have to get more creative about demonstrating the intangible nature of IBM's modern development as a company. (To find out more see IBM at 100: From typewriters to the cloud including a video of how far we've come in technology terms)

The future definitely seems to be about more mobile devices, apps and tools like Evernote and working online from everyone. More reasons for me to keep up to date, get a smart phone and keep up with the trends. What this will do for my work-life balance I dread to think, but at least I'll be taking steps to become less fuzzy round the edges and more organised.