Thursday, 29 September 2011

CPD23 - Thing 18 - Screen Capture and Podcasting

How to summarise Thing 18 to an IT illiterate person?

Podwhating, indeed!!!

Initially both words sound very odd and confusing.  In essence, both are simply about using online web tools to communicate.
Depending on the context both tools are very appropriate for my work in engaging with business about export control (and I am sure they can be helpful in your work or personal context too if you can think creatively). I've actually considered using podcasting already, so Thing 18 is definitely helpful in sparking ideas of how to take things forward in reality.

What is 'screen capturing'?

"If you can see it, you can capture it" is the slogan of a piece of screen capture software.
This is the functionality or process of capturing or recording a person's interactions on screen. Screen captures are sometimes referred to as screenshots but in fact they are a short video which some people confuse wrongly with video editing (ie involving a camera). However screen capture does not need a camera - just you and the relevant software (either free, bought, online or downloaded).

It is useful for recording what you might do to navigate a series of website screens (which might be a great alternative to providing a lengthy text description - instead you can share a short video which can be uploaded to YouTube or another website who to actually use a website or piece of software online).

Overview of Picasa - Screencapture video

To demonstrate what you can do with this type of functionality, I produced a short 'screen capture' about using Picasa, a brilliant image organising software tool.
This is exactly the type of short instructional video that is potential useful for my work in explaining how to use websites and databases. It is a real great alternative to a standard text guidance document.

I used Screencast-o-matic, a free online video recorder, for this and found it provided:
  • clear instructions - countdown to recording - 3,2, 1, go! 
  • stop and start buttons clear
  • logo on free version not very obtrusive
  • has option to restart recording 
  • adjustable screen capture window
  • good clear audio sound recording
so it quickly and very easily did the job I wanted. The trick in preparing a screen capture video is to prepare a properly drafted script (to avoid embarrasing UMs and AHs and random pauses) particularly if the video is to be uploaded onto a professional website and this might take a bit of practice.

Ultimately good instructional videos using screen capture tools also hinge on a good audio ie obtaining a proper microphone rather than an inbuilt PC mic.

What is 'podcasting'?

noun -- a multimedia digital file made available on the Internet for downloading to a portable media player, computer, etc..
verb (past and past participle podcast) [with object] - make (a multimedia digital file) available as a podcast.
(Oxford Online Dictionaries definition) -

This is the process of producing a series of audio broadcasts which are published online. Some people confuse a podcast by associating them with single one-off audio programme or recording. However the key feature of podcasts are that they form a number of episodes which can then be updated and shared via a feed (which people can subscribe to receive online).

There are 4 stages to producing a podcast
  • pre-production (ie planning what to say)
  • production (ie recording)
  • post-production (ie editing)
  • publishing (ie upload to website and alerting people to the information where they can find it) 
As with screen capturing, good podcasting hinges mainly on the pre-production statge in preparing a well-drafted and thought out script (beginning, middle, end). I therefore am aware that podcasting is potentially beneficial in schools and teaching settings in helping in language, comprehension and communication skills.

Podcasts and Government Communications

Podcasting is also a great way for governments to communicate (admittedly one-way but in a manageable and potentially more engaging way rather than via screens or pages of writing). Podcasting's biggest asset is that it uses the power of talk.

Some great examples of UK public sector organisations and departments already using podcasting are:
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg and there is certainly scope for the UK government to use podcasting more strategically. (Note: I can't locate a single consolidated list of all government podcast feeds although the Australian government do helpfully provide a listing!)

Back in 2008, Simon Wakeman, who works in communications and marketing at Medway council, reported that approximatly 32% of local councils were planning to use podcasting in the next six months. I would presume this figure would have gone up somewhat in the intervening years, however, from my own experience there are plenty of untapped opportunities for using podcasting (or indeed other forms of social media).

The trend towards greater use of e-media tools (such as podcasts) is already more obvious, given the financial cuts and is long predicted in IT and media circles.

For instance, the professional service firm, Deloittte produces an audio news podcast called Global Insights which looks at issues affecting the global business community. One of this series has focused on E-Government trends which are seen as moving from an option to an obligation. Deloitte predicted that in 2011 (and I am sure beyond as well) that e-government tools would increase significantly. One of these tools is undoubtedly the podcast itself, which offers a cost effective way to communicate online with a wide range of audiences.
The UK's People and website helpfully give some practical examples of podcasting's potential uses in a public service context - such as recording council meetings, interview leaders, audio tours of city, explanation of business services, highlighting case studies.

It highlights the advantages of podcasting for government (locally and nationally) as a cost effective communication mechanism (using at minimum a microphone and some free software). However, to work effectively in the long term podcasting really needs to be thought about in the context of other communication methods.
The challenge for government organisations (across marketing and policy teams) is to ask:
  • what is the value of audio communication?
  • how does a podcast fit with other communication methods?
  • how will we manage any issues surrounding use of tools eg queries about cost? senstivity of topic matter?
  • who is the target audience?
  • will a podcast on particular theme generate sufficient interest?
  • how does podcasting change our communication with our audience?
  • is business doing something similar or better and are we wasting our time?
  • how will we measure and evaluate its success and compare with other communication methods?
  • what skills do we need to make podcasts?
    • Oral and Communication Skills - writing, listening, questionning, drafting, reviewing
    • Teamwork Skills
    • Presentation Skills - preparing structured information designed to meet audience need
    • Analysis Skills
    • IT Skills - editing software

Just part of the communications mix....

Screen capturing and podcasting are not rocket science (damn - just done myself out of a job!). However, I'm sure that most people are not aware of these communication mechanisms (and need handholding). There is therefore a lot we can do as information professionals to educate our colleagues and push forward with some practical examples of how these tools can help share the messages we want to communicate collectively for the benefit of our organisations and our customers.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

CPD23 - Thing 17 - Presentation Software 'ology'

Despite a week or so with no CPD23 Thngs related posts, I am still keeping up with the activity programme. Thing 17 was slightly delayed in being published and I wanted to wait until this appeared so that I could keep with the proper sequence (since I like orderliness).

Give yourself a pressie (or should that be 'Prezi')

Prezi is a popular piece of presentation software which enables you to create dynamic (sometimes rather seasick-inducing) presentations that are not bound by the limitatations of a slide pack as with Powerpoint and similar tools. Its power is in demonstrating connections and is potentially more visual if used well.

Here is my first attempt at producing a Prezi-based presentation:

Prezi compared to Powerpoint

As a first time user, I found Prezi quite difficult to manipulate and you definitely need to take time to plan and think through the structure. Some of the downsides are that there is no spellcheck, limited font and editing capability. There are also the usual plusses and minusses of being available only online.
Having said that, Prezi is cool and innovative. It offers a refreshing alternative to the problems of Powerpoint which include the following:
  • screens detract from eye contact with your audience
  • reading and listening is distracting
  • slides as crutches
  • information overload
  • wordy and bullet points
It's hard to believe that it is over 25 years since Powerpoint was first devised. The idea was developed by Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin, two employees of a company called Forethought back in 1984, before eventually being bought out by Microsoft. Powerpoint now represents almost a 95% share of the market with over 500 million users worldwide and businesses make an estimated 30 million powerpoint presentations each day (facts and figures from BBC website article on 'The Problem with Powerpoint').
No wonder with Powerpoint's reach globally in business and organisational life, people feel frustrated and are keen to seek alternatives. That's human nature. In fact that's why Powerpoint developed in the first place - as an alternative to overhead projectors and acetate sheets (remember those?) and flip charts. (As an aside you might like to know that it was reported in the Guardian on 28 August 2011, that there is an Anti-Powerpoint Party (APPP) in Switzerland who want to outlaw the software).

How to improve the lost art of presenting

While I can sympathise with the APPP,  we have to remember though, that presentation tools are only that - if people are bored by Powerpoint (or other presentation software packages) then is it really the fault of the tool? People are bored by people.
Powerpoint used sparingly and in a considered, structured way can be very powerful. I'd agree that creating presentations is an art and a science. Too many people put no creative thought into the process. But when they do the results can be very appealing and engaging.

This is where I'd recommend everyone to read either:
  • Slide:ology : The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte (who created the Al Gore slides for the film an 'Inconvenient Truth' and who blogs at the Duarte blog)
  • or alternatively Garr Reynolds's book Presentation Zen (who blogs on professional presentations at the Presentation Zen blog).
These books both advocate a more creative visual way of delivering presentations. You can read a review of both books on the Powerpoint Ninja blog.

To see what we are all missing I took the following title to heart and include as an example of the potential of great presentations (rather than the bad or the ugly).
View more presentations from @JESSEDEE

I don't think Powerpoint presentations will die yet given their ubiqutousness, despite the advent of new presentation tools like Prezi (and Google Docs, Sliderocket and others). However we should all do our best to think carefully about audience friendly presentations, bearing in mind scientific opinion and research about cognitive neuroscience which should inform our delivery of presentations (See 'The Scientist' article 'Pimp your Powerpoint').

Maybe there will be a way of integrating Prezi into Powerpoint (if they are bought out by Microsoft?) so we get the best of both tools....and that idea is already taking shape in the form of pptPlex, which is a Microsoft beta version addon that provides similar Prezi-type functionality, although this because it is a test version it has limitations (such as not allowing videos to be integrated into your presentation).

When neither Prezi or Powerpoint will do

It also seems ironic that in this most media orientated of ages we seem to have lost the art of public speaking and delivering confident presentations. As a result, as the journalist Cory Franklin highlights in his article 'Powerpoint: the kudzu of modern communication' bemoaning its dreary reach and strangling of human communication, we seem to value a young novice with highly developed technical skills appears more seductive than a far more polished communicator but who lacks the technical know-how.

In some circumstances we should remember however, that no presentation IT software tool will do. Just imagine our political leaders delivering their major speeches using either Powerpoint or Prezi regardless of their merits in context. Can you really picture when Winston Churchill gave a major war speeh going 'Click' - Next slide: "We shall never surrender." It would never have worked......

Where information professionals can help

As Ned Potter, the Wikiman has shown with his creative Prezi based presentations (such as Escaping the Echochamber), information professionals can aid their organisations in marketing and communications skills (and of course in directing people to using the right tools in the right context). We should continue to seek out these new tools and weigh up their pros and cons to make sure they serve our organisational and personal purposes.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

CPD23 - Thing 16 - Library Advocacy and Activism

Confession time - I don't consider myself to be either a library activist or advocate. I mean this in the narrow sense that I am not very vocal and active in proclaiming the benefits of library and information services (surely not the only one who admits to this?). This doesn't mean that I don't think this issue is unimportant though....

More than just buzzwords

Over recent years, however , more and more librarians (including many new professionals) are defining themselves as activists  - in the UK people like Johanna Bo Anderson, Maria Cotera, Ned Potter aka the Wikiman and in the US people like Jessaymn West ('putting the rarin back in librarian'), Alan Molaro (whose blog is the Information Activist Librarian). I envy their enthusiasm, passion and commitment.
WI campaign for libraries
In response, CILIP (who could be accused of not being active enough in this area) are now taking more active steps to focus on advocacy as one of its main roles. One great win is to get the support of the Women's Institute who have adopted libraries as its campaign in 2011.

The idea of information activism is not entirely brand new (witness Dale Carnegie and others from the past), but now in the face of market pressures, political and economic pressures due to recession, competition from online sources and behemoths (the mighty Google and fast nimble new internet service providers), librarians are realising that they need to take more active steps to promote and market themselves and move out of what Ned Potter labels the echo chamber (where librarians are simply talking to each other instead of marketing a message to people outside).

Activism and me

To date as I indicated above, library activism has passed me by somewhat, so to speak. Not sure exactly why. Maybe its because fortunately none of my local library services have been directly affected yet by cuts or have developed an active Friends network of supporters (and people generally become activists eg in climate change most often when they are directly impacted personally).
However, this might change as my local council is currently conducting a review of the library service (which it would be naive to think won't emerge unscathed). If my local library is threatened, I would like to think that I could and should do something, although what I don't know exactly.

Despite this, I have got active in some small ways. For instance, on 5th February 2011, you might remember we had a national Save Our Libraries Day in the UK. CILIP encouraged as a minimum that people borrowed items from the library and this is what I did, but I was kind of frustated and felt it would have been more fulfilling to have done more. I therefore look forward to 2012 and the launch of National Libraries Day and seeing if I can do more.

Be the change

It is said that charity begins at home. Likewise with advocacy and activism which are both like ripples, that spread out from individuals who are inspired, motivated and empowered to connect with others.

We should therefore all look at ourselves and ask whether we are each doing enough to shout loudly and speak up for the work of libraries and information professionals. Getting published is one way to do this but it is often easier said than done.

Why is it for instance that when library closures and campaigns are reported in the press, that there are always authors interviewed but never librarians? This annoyed so much a few months ago in a piece on BBC Breakfast that I wrote in to the producers to complain.
The future of libraries and inforamtion professionals?
Clearly, journalists have their own agenda and visions of how to report a story. Too often they go for cliche, something that will attract maximum attention and therefore alight on people who can sell a story, such as authors due to their fame because they are more in the public eye.

Simple actions we can all take

I think we all have a role in advocating the changing face of libraries and information professionals away from the usual unrepeatable cliches. That means each speaking to all friends and family about the value of libraries and information resources. How many of your immediate circle actually use a library at all?

There are also some really simple steps that we can take (as suggested by the Women's Institute Love Your Libraries campaign:
  • to carry and USE our library cards with pride.
  • sign the Petition in support of public libraries on the Government's e-petition website. Any petition that has over 100,000 signatories will trigger a debate in Parliament.....there are only 7,000 signatories so lots of support is still needed.
  • write to your local MPs and councillors to say how much you value your local libraries (and yes they will reply back from previous experience).
Also not forgetting the very worthwhile forum Voices for the Library which you should all check out for further ideas and campaigning tips.

General thoughts on being an activist

In getting involved with being activists/advocates, I think we have to recognise what success looks like, how it happens and how people interact and work together. Successful advocacy and activism is built on:
  • People
  • Passion
  • Partnership
  • Planning
  • Promotion
and this depends on individual and organisational values and culture.

As Johanna Anderson says in her blog piece on activism, we should all be advocates (or as I would put it we should all share our passion and enthusiasm). Activism goes beyond just passion - it is about hard work and doesn't just happen overnight. It means being strategic and being aware of other people, attitudes and opinions and knowing when to act or behave in certain ways ie be strategic. (Basically we need to recognise which projects and campaigns are worthwhile pursuing and which are not).

Advocacy and activism in government departments

I've mainly referred to advocacy in the context of public libraries which seem most embattled in modern 2011 austerity Britain. However, advocacy is also needed within government libraries as well. Government information professionals are needed for many reasons because they help oil the wheels of good government by:
  • storing and using data effectively so that it is properly protected, accessible as required, and easily available to support good decision-making.
  • directly impacting on government cost opportunities: the Office of Fair Trading has estimated that stimulating and facilitating the re-use of public sector information could potentially contribute £1bn to the UK economy per year
  • enabling policy officials to have the information available to do their job eg a permanent secretary knowing information is secure, efficient handling of Freedom of Information requests and collaboration between teams.
Many government information service units/libraries have already learned the hard way to change or face cutbacks and have learned that they need to work to promote themselves on a more strategic basis to colleagues.

Its for this reason that in December 2008, the government published a knowledge and information strategy document called "Information Matters". This is an action plan to guide government in better use and management of knowledge and information. However my feeling is it still needs promoting across government departments. (An advocacy gap here, I think!)

However, time moves on and now all government departments face huge internal organisational changes. There is therefore a risk that "Information Matters" is forgotten in a maelstrom of other activities. At the same time I fear it is becoming all too easy to sideline librarians and information professionals who might not seem to represent the core work of a department eg policy work.

Amidst these change pressures it is important for professional civil service groupings (such as the Knowledge and Information Management Profession) to have a well organised, supportive and active Head of Profession. I don't get this sense of direction or support from within my current department. Additionally while there are senior groups in place (the nebulous Knowledge Council) in government, I don't get any feeling of how this impacts on me on a daily work basis. ((Probably another role for me to advocate internally, there!)

Library advocacy pictures say it all.....

Pictures convey much more than words as these posters show - they convey powerfully what I want to say but far better:
Vintage poster campaign to Love Libraires created by Phil Bradley

Washington State Library Marketing Initiative


I recognise this posting might not be very coherent....I should have labelled it 'random ramblings', but CPD 23 Thing 16 does give me (and I hope others) lots of food for thought about what more I (and we all) can do personally to ensure libraries are not taken for granted and thrown to the wolves just because they are easy targets.

Friday, 2 September 2011

CPD23 - Thing 15 - Event participation

In Thing 15 we are encouraged to think about our involvement in seminars, conferences and events in all their glorious technicolour.
A suitable alternative sub-title would be Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?'. Some of you may remember that this was a cult BBC children's TV programme from the 1980s. To be reminded of your mis-spent youth, see:

I've done just what it says on the tin and been fortunate to participate in a number of events, either by attending or organising. In particular as:

  • Aerospace and Defence Libraries Group (ADLG) conference in 2009 
  • CILIP's Umbrella 
  • IFLA's World Libraries Conference held in Durban, South Africa in 2007
There is a tendency to think that being an attendee at an event is equivalent to having a day off. In fact, conferences and events are hard work in themselves if you are truly to make the most of them - by networking, listening hard, asking the right questions. Having said that you should take a balanced approach about pacing yourself throughout the day (and evening if the event runs over a few days).

As a conference attendee, I've always tried to reflect and share on my learning experiences. However, there is always more that I could do better, such as being more prepared in advance and asking more questions. This and other suggestions are offered by the writer and speaker Scott Berkun in his blog post - 'How to get the most out of conferences'.

  • Network for Government Library and Information Specialists (NGLIS) conference on "Do Information Professionals have the key to the door?" in April 2011.
I was slightly reluctant to put my name forward to help with organising this, but it is one of the activities I've been most proud of recently. It provided an opportunity to learn new skills, for instance liaising with suppliers. And I learnt that I can be a bit of a control freak.
By actually organising an event, you really feel you are making a much bigger difference.

I am now looking forward to getting involved in planning the 2012 Government libraries conference and making it even more successful than before.


At the moment, I would classify myself as a 'presenting virgin'. I've only had a chance to present at one 'biggish' conference, at a work related Export Group for Aerospace and Defence Annual Meeting in October 2010. I jointly presented together with my manager about export control awareness training and activities.

Given the opportunity I'd like to find many more chances to present although I'm sure to be quaking in my boots and am sure to feel under prepared.

I'm inspired by Lisa Cotter and Donna Robertson, two Australian health librarians, on presented a paper on 'Presenting at a conference - you CAN do it!' and by the experiences of those who've presented at librarian New Professionals Conferences.

Now I just need to find the right events...