The Library in the Life of the User part 1 – destination Chicago

Hancock Tower

Hancock Tower opposite the conference hotel

I am looking forward to attending the LibUX in a day event this week.  In anticipation of that here are some posts lightly edited from ones I wrote for work…

As part of my work getting interested in LibUX I found myself dispatched on short notice to the other side of the Atlantic to attend the OCLC event “The Library in the Life of the user” in Chicago (a number of the talks were recorded and I will link these as appropriate). This is the first of three posts talking about what I heard and found while I was there.  Subsequent posts will talk through the second half of the event and detail a visit I made to an interesting local library.

I flew out to Chicago the day before the event and spent a happy few hours reading a range of books on ethnographic approaches that I had downloaded from EBL before departure (my user experience was the pages of one book turning black on me when the loan expired).  My favourites were User experience (UX) design for libraries which is a great short read on designing better websites for library services.  I also read the ERIAL toolkit – a practical guide to ethnographic research in libraries where I felt the information on coding data was particularly clear.  Alongside this I watched More than usable – library services for humans which was the closing keynote from the UXLibs conference in 2015 – a great broader discussion of why usability and user experience matter (with fun space travel anecdote).

I managed to find my hotel and meet up for a bite to eat with a mate from Library School who happened to be in town for the giant Society for Neuroscience Conference.



The next day I woke up bright and early (Chicago is GMT-6) answered a load of email and went for an early morning wander when it finally got light.  I then managed to talk my way into the Galter Health Sciences Library at the Feinberg School of Medicine – blog post to follow on this.

The conference kicked off after lunch with an opening talk by Lorcan Dempsey from OCLC.  This was an informative run through to set the context.  He was quite pleased with the title of the conference as a shift from the traditional model of considering the user in the life of the library to one where we are interested in the library in the life of the user – until two people sent him a 1973 PhD that used the same phrase.

He described shifts taking places in education models and the technological environment.  In a digital world the library needs to organize itself around the workflow of researchers and learners. We have been about outcomes but increasingly need to be about the process (reuse, data, copyright, revision and discussion).  He made use of some great infographics from to illustrate the players in the research flow.  For him there needs to be a big shift towards engagement.  This will involve innovation and increased collaboration.  He illustrated this with work that has happened around collections where discoverability has redefined collection boundaries and moved the focus from ownership to access. It is a hard to summarise the talk but I recommend it for people who want to better understand how changes to academic working practice will influence our future plans.

Next was a talk on what we can learn from research about online communities – specifically Wikipedia editors.  Aaron Shaw suggests that free culture communities have a two part mission – access to knowledge and empowerment that chimes well with library culture.  His research has shown that while access has been improving empowerment has not.  The marker for this is a decreasing number of active Wikipedia editors.  One very clear finding is that the introduction of login being required to edit was a big disincentive – it reduced the need to revert vandalism but saw a larger drop in content creation.  The discouraging effects of logins are a familiar story for libraries!  There is also a significant gender gap in the editing community.  I wonder to what extent we have tried to consider variations in usage in this way?  Do some demographics make additional use of our services?  Do they use them in different ways?

We were encouraged to learn from parallel worlds and to create user centric strategies.

After a quick break we heard from Andrew Asher (of the Erial project above) on Why Ethnography?  He explained how a library is like a tropical island

What are libraries?

Libraries are social institutions

Libraries are social relations. Social relations embedded in those of other social institutions

Libraries are technologies

Libraries are symbols and symbolic systems

Libraries are beliefs

Libraries are practices (people doing things)

Which all add up to what anthropologists call culture.

He went on to discuss three ethnographic approaches so watch the talk if you want to learn more about observing, mapping and interview approaches.  You will hear about what people include on their personal maps of libraries (in short – computers and social areas – never the librarians) and you can see how we might consider where students spend their time and how it influences the collections they need.

Last up for the day was Paul Jervis Heath from the Modern Human Design Agency with his talk on work at the University of Cambridge. For him design is more than the visual. Other parts of iceberg – information, interaction, structure, concept, proposition. The Microsoft Zune MP3 player – worked well as a piece of kit but had no itunes software equivalent so managing the music was basically your problem and it failed accordingly. He talks about some of the cool projects that Cambridge have been working on – like an appstore and theSpacefinder.  His point was that only by observing closely and then reimagining what we can do will we invent the future.

The day ended with a reception at theNewberry Library where sadly we only saw a function room and a temporary display on theatre in Chicago.  I popped off after for a drink on the 96th floor of the Hancock Tower with some nice Canadian Librarians.

Plane takes off

An UHMLG summer trip away – day 1

This was my first attendance at an UHMLG event (the summer residential conference) and it was great to meet new people and catch up with familiar faces.  Sadly we only got as far away as Luton but the hotel was comfortable and you got used to the plane noise.

The theme was “influencing, inspiring, leading: reflections on personal and professional impact”.

We opened with Jane Savidge talking about use of leadership circles.  These are grounded in the Nancy Klein thinking environment from “Time to think”.  I read this a while ago hoping it would help me find ways to lift my thinking beyond immediate pressing issues.  In practice it is very much about listening and good questions.

Leadership circles (8 to 10 people) are aiming to break down silos and the gap between academic culture and professional services. In their aim to encourage deep thinking they do correspond more to what I had hoped for.
It sounds like it has been successful for forming relationships. It has also influenced more widely how meetings are being run throughout the university – you can see the people who are involved. The circles were related back to the 7 Habits idea of circles of influence – these have been expanded.
Anthea Sutton followed with “Librarian as leader: skills, competencies & development opportunities in library and info profession”
This was based on original research for NLH back in 2008 (later published in HILJ) and updated for a talk at the recent EAHIL conference.
Andrea contrasted her own leadership journey where she has risen (in her view accidentally) into a management position over her time at ScHARR. Management not synonymous with leadership but management can go in hand with it.  On the other hand she offered her colleague – Andy Tattersall. Andy is a specialist in electronic networks, communications. Has influence in the organisation and beyond. Very good at monitoring future trends. Leadership through expertise.
Literature says leadership is hard to define. Is one profile appropriate for our profession anyway?  A magic check list is not possible, there is no single profile, leadership courses are not Fairy dust (Greenhalgh).
Current opportunities – formal programmes (CILIP leadership thing). Your institution may be running them. Leadership MOOCs, mentoring / coaching, observation, peer support / networking, reading, writing / publishing.  360 degree feedback highly recommended – something I have always tended to dodge.  We are not good at assessing our own competence. Something to think about as (hopefully) more people engage with the PKSB.
After tea we were treated to a talk by Roisin Gwyer on influencing up.  I took limited notes as I was focussed on listening.  Starting with Yukl influence tactics we had a tour of a range of models and theories but the value for me came from the experience shared. I loved the ideas around being opportunistic – we are going to need to say things twenty times to get ideas accepted.  Having an acceptable compromise position ready in advance is something I need to do more of. Hopefully the slides will go on the UHLMG site.
The last couple of segments were a round table that worked moderately and then an update on Knowledge for Healthcare. Great to see this progressing – and I am now getting more actively involved in the national programme through Chairing a task and finish group on Metrics (get in touch anyone with strong views!).
After the group AGM we were whisked off for a BBQ at the rather lovely Offley Place.

UKSG Glasgow reflections

This was my first attendance at the UKSG conference. Having mostly been focussed on health information and NHS needs (and with an NHS training budget) I tended to focus my conference attendance on HLG.  I was lucky enough to be able to take my talk on extending ejournals to the NHS for a last outing (slides above) and brilliantly this meant UKSG covered my conference fees, hotel and train ticket. If I ever come up with anything that would fit with UKSG interests again I would submit again for that reason alone!
What interests UKSG was one of the questions I came away with. The range of talks was very wide encompassing apps, open access, open data, copyright, discovery, ethnography and other letters of the alphabet (search UKSG for talk recordings). While I was interested in many of the things I attended they often felt less practical than the average HLG talk. This perhaps reflected the high level of a number of speakers or the very particular specifics of their examples. It almost certainly reflects my ongoing health focus. The open access side was probably the most interesting for building my knowledge.  I did not have any great moments of revelation.
My favourite session was on ethnographic approaches. This an area increasingly in the spotlight and a likely candidate for my next years objectives. It was great to hear about the progress of research by @librarygirlknit and @llordllama (and a big pleasure to have met both of them IRL for the first time). I need to think about how to use these approaches to understand activity away from the library.
The HEFCE review of metrics sounds like it should be a good read but sadly won’t see the light of day till after the election. I enjoyed the presentation on efforts at Faber to make money from digital outside of the sale of ebooks. Having been tempted into buying one of their beautiful editions recently I had been impressed by their website. The model seems to be one of building loyalty and a community of a sort around both their core products but also desirable crafted items. There was some commentary for and against this fetishisation of the book on social media. I think it seems a good way to go – the basic edition remains available and the objects created are useful and beautiful passing the William Morris test.
I was pleased with how my sessions went. Both times there were a good number of people and some really interesting discussion was prompted. Having to spell out a lot of the NHS jargon meant there was no problem timing wise. It took about twice as long as at HLG to deliver a similar volume of material! It was also great to have the chance to talk to lots of publishers about licence extensions. Hopefully a few of these discussions will bear fruit.
The conference itself was very slickly organised (even the wifi worked OK). The social programme was fun though I tapped out early from the Ceilidh. No MD20/20 was served and no Teenage Fanclub played (to my knowledge).