Solution-focussed conversations: a workshop

Yesterday, I attended an internal development workshop led by Carole Pemberton. A big part of my new role involves meeting and having conversations with people. Sometimes this is just to get to know them and find out what they do and what sorts of research-related things are going on in the faculty/school, but sometimes (quite often) we talk to try and find out how I can help them. Even if the conversation doesn’t start out as a ‘problem-solving’ conversation it can often turn into one, particularly once people start talking about things they don’t like, or would like to change (which happens quite a lot!). I think I’m probably an introvert (no kidding),  so this aspect of my work can be challenging and sometimes scary.


Image by Joe Wolf via Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

However, on the whole, it’s very interesting and I’m enjoying it. It’s nice to get out and about on campus and meet new people and feel like I’m becoming more involved and at home in the wider university, if only in small ways for now.

My role is to support people with research/scholarly communications so I need to be solutions-focussed in my conversations with them. There’s always a danger of a lot of complaining about things but not much being done to sort them out – in general, higher education institutions tend to be great at talking about problems but not very good at actually solving them. I learned yesterday that this is because we (HE staff) tend to be content (information)-focussed – we like information and asking questions and gathering more information because it makes us feel clever [idea that knowledge=power?] – because we are clever (apparently).


And of course it’s often easier to talk about problems than it is to deal with them – information gathering during a conversation is really just another form of procrastination! [Another interesting things I learned yesterday was that people who are grandiose and talk down to people they consider to be ‘beneath’ them are doing this out of anxiety – their place in the (possibly perceived) hierarchy is their safe space.]

So what is a solutions-focussed conversation? Mainly, it comes down to good listening and asking the right questions. These should be ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ questions, but, interestingly, not ‘why’. Again as ‘clever’ people, we like to know why, but knowing why something is happening/has happened doesn’t actually help to find a solution to the problem. In a solutions-focussed conversation it’s not about exploring feelings about the problem, but finding a solution to it. This was quite difficult for me get to grips with, because I’m used to counselling conversations, where people are always asking ‘how does this make you feel’ (which I hate, btw). [Another interesting point, if you want to find out how someone who doesn’t like talking about their feelings feels about something you should ask them what they think about it instead].

Questions should only be asked to help the other person’s thinking not to feed your curiosity

Here are some examples of good questions to use in solutions-focussed conversations:

  • What is important to you in your work right now?
  • How often does this problem happen?
  • What have you done to improve things?
  • What is the biggest obstacle you are facing?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • So what?
  • What would be the most useful thing you/we could do?
  • Who else can help?
  • How have you solved problems like this before?
  • What are you going to do about it in the next week?

Not Listening by LadyJillybean via Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

What is good listening? Well, things like good (appropriate) eye contact, making supporting noises/actions so the person knows you’re listening (must be genuine!), repeating information back to make sure you’ve understood it, and also:

  • Using the other person’s language (e.g. if they say it’s a nightmare, say it’s a nightmare, not that it’s bad)
  • Remove distractions
  • Look involved
  • Slow down so you can pay proper attention
  • Be aware of the other person’s changing emotions during the conversation – when do they become more animated/excited/sad/bored
  • Removing yourself – i.e. not thinking about yourself and what you’re going to say next

Good listening is getting yourself out of the way

At the end of the conversation, you should have some sort of plan of how to tackle the problem. You don’t need to have a plan to totally solve it, but you should have at least the first step in mind. As with many things (e.g. cake) it is easier to tackle problems in small stages.


Cake by Josh Lowesohn via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For example, you might not be able go straight in to having a conversation with someone you don’t like, but you might be able to go in and say hello or even just try to think about them in a more positive light. One (more) thing I found useful (although thankfully it doesn’t really apply to me) was the idea that if you really can’t get on with someone in any other way you can still agree on some common ground, even if it’s very general (e.g. you want to make things better for students).

As well as the actual conversation part of solution-focussed conversations, we talked about ‘peripheral’ but essential and very relevant things like ‘presence’. It sounds airy-fairy, but how you present yourself in terms of your physical presence can have a big effect on people’s attitudes towards you – and also on how you perceive yourself. Think of peacocks. We discussed this TED talk by Amy Cuddy:

It may not be as scientific as she claims, but we tried it in the workshop and just the fact that it makes you stand up straighter and therefore breathe more easily must be of some benefit, I would have thought. Perhaps it’s just psychosomatic, but I’m not sure that matters if it works for people.

In summary, solution-focussed conversations follow the coaching cycle:

  1. Defining the topic/goal
  2. Listening, asking the right questions, finding options
  3. Agreeing actions (must be willing to actually do them), even very small things.

A symbolic picture of an acorn by knitsteel via Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Copyright is hard: the CILIP Copyright Conference 2017

Yes, it’s official, read all about it, etc.; copyright is hard. Like we didn’t know! But it seems to be one of those things people secretly know but dare not admit, especially not at a copyright conference…until now! I think this was my favourite moment of the conference: when Ronan Deazley said these words. And then lots of people said them! And I realised I was not alone, which was good in one way, and then not so good in others, because I thought everyone else knew what they were doing! It’s OK, they actually do – knowing something is difficult is not the same as not knowing how to deal with it.

My other favourite moments of the conference were during Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s presentation when (1) we wrote down how copyright makes us feel on a paper aeroplane and flew them across the room (or not, in my case) (2) we had to admit to copyright crimes. I had only committed one (of the ones they asked about). I’d better not tell you what it was.


The conference mid-confession of copyright crimes

Even apart from these revelations, the conference was much more interesting than I expected it to be. I didn’t understand absolutely everything, but I understood more than I expected to, and learned a lot.

The programme and presentations from the conference are available on the CILIP website.

Does my data look good in this?

…was the title of a conference/workshop on research data management in the creative arts I attended yesterday. We started off with this:


It was one of several “Curious Items” placed on the tables around the room. Our task was to think of a title for the item, describe it, say what it was made from, decide why the object was created (its context) and decide on the purpose of the object (what we can learn from it). We decided to call our object “Mind Mattress”… The purpose of this exercise was to get us to recognise (if we hadn’t already) the difficulty of assigning specific and accurate information to arts and humanities ‘objects’ – unlike in science, we are not dealing in facts, but in ideas, emotions, concepts, and other ambiguous, unquantifiable things. This was followed by a presentation by Leigh Garrett, Director of the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Library and Student Services at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) on “Stuff and data: an introduction to research data management in the creative arts”, during which we had to answer questions:

  • What is research data in the creative arts?
  • Why do we want to manage research data in the creative arts?
  • What do we need to consider?

Answers to these questions (and more) can be found at in Leigh et al’s article on ARIADNE.  I will add links to the presentations from the day once they are sent out.

Next, we heard from Amanda Couch, a lecturer and artist from UCA. She works with food, in particular offal. She shared various aspects of her research (and her research data) – a case study. I found her comparison of Instagram  to a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ (or Wunderkammer) very interesting, as well as the use of Instagram as a way of capturing research data (as someone who is dyslexic and dyspraxic Amanda has found this visual/’wordless’ way of data collection very useful as a way of making a record of her practice).


Part of my Wunderkammer (Instagram)

We then moved on to look at “Arts data management in the real world”; two case studies of the use of arts research data. The first was Glasgow School of Art – Dr Robyne Calvert and Nicola Siminson talked about their experiences of implementing research data management and how research data became essential to the rebuilding of the Mackintosh Building following the devastating fire in 2014.

The next case study was about engaging arts researchers with EPrints research repositories, presented by Stephanie Meece (UAL) and Amy Robinson (UCA). They talked about the Kultur project; the aim of which was

to create a transferable and sustainable institutional repository model for research output in the creative and applied arts…

This meant making quite a few changes to the standard EPrints ‘look and feel’ to make it more ‘arts friendly’. For example there is a much improved and increased use of images on the sites created for UCA and UAL; language has been changed to better reflect that used in the creative arts; there are different item types and sub-types available as options when adding items to the repository. We have (relatively) quite a lot of engagement with creative arts staff/researchers, and I wonder whether there are some simple customisations we could make to our repository in order to make it friendlier and easier to use for these folk (and others).

After lunch (yum), Daniela Duca from JISC spoke about current developments in research data management at JISC. She left us with two questions:(1) What should a next-generation research environment look like? (2) What skills do people need to prepare for research practice now and in the future? Perhaps topics for a future LRS Seminar?

We then had a “repository rodeo”. No horses or bulls were present, alas (or perhaps just as well). Instead, there were short presentations from Figshare, Arkivum and Artivity – all of which you can have a look at online instead of me fruitlessly writing about what was said.

We then split into groups again to think about the future of research data in the creative arts. I was in the group looking at service development. Only one person on the table was actually currently doing anything with research data management in their institution, and this was not specifically for creative arts research data. It was very interesting to hear about what they are planning/doing and one question that came out of our discussion was is it really a good thing to have a[n institutional] research data repository? which sounds like a weird question to ask in the context, but is actually a good point. There are plenty of places where people can put their research data that are not actually institutional research data repositories (e.g. subject or funder respositories), so do we really need to have our own research data repository? The answer is probably, ‘it depends’!

Finally, we looked again at our “Curious Items” and found out what they actually were. The name of our object was really “Breathair Hollow”, a “breathable polyester cushion substitute for urethene foam that uses a hollow yarn to reduce weight”. So there we are.

Flipping the classroom

Last week the LRS team plus guests attended a workshop on “The Flipped Classroom”, led by Lynne and Alyson from Learning and Teaching Enhancement. In true ‘flipped classroom’ style, we had to do some work outside of the classroom before the workshop itself – most of which was  watching videos, one of which I will share here (sorry I don’t have links for the others – they’re on BlackBoard). This one was particularly useful for me as I had no idea what flipping the classroom entailed – it actually wasn’t as radical as I had expected! Also, there are penguins (and a walrus):

After I’d watched the first video I had a few questions/statements written down:

  • Learning styles? The other week I attended a presentation during which it was said (by the presenter) that the whole idea of learning styles was being questioned…Anyway…
  • What if the students don’t read/watch the materials in advance of the class?
  • What is students don’t have access to the internet outside of the university environment?
  • I don’t want to participate or be active.
  • I don’t like group or collaborative work.

A few of my questions/concerns had been allayed by the time I’d finished watching the other videos and reading the materials on BlackBoard – I particularly liked the ‘scrambled classroom’ idea; a combination of flipped elements and short ‘lectures’.

In the workshop, we started off by doing a pop quiz about the materials we were supposed to have looked at, using the Socrative app, a free online voting system which we had all downloaded. This was quite a fun way to do things and of course also a good way of testing whether or not we had all prepared for the workshop!

Lynne and Alyson both gave a good overview of what flipping the classroom can mean in practice, and talked about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching in this way. The advantages are:

  • Students can learn at their own pace
  • Students with learning disabilities can revisit the materials
  • Devoting class time to the application of concepts may give instructors a better opportunity to detect errors in students’ thinking and spend time with individual students
  • Students can work collaboratively
  • Technological innovation allows distribution of resources (avoids, e.g. not enough copies of books)

Disadvantages/concerns are:

  • There is a limited amount of scholarly research on the effectiveness of the flipped classroom method
  • It requires careful preparation and time
  • Students need access to technology outside university
  • Will students engage with the flipped classroom method?
  • Putting more content into the curriculum means more work for tutors
  • Does it work for all students?
  • The flipped classroom method has had poor evaluation from students

In the second half of the workshop we looked at how we could use the flipped classroom method in our own teaching. I found the idea of doing this quite challenging because I mainly teach researchers and academic staff and I was worried they would find it patronising, and wouldn’t want to engage with the pre-class activities because they wouldn’t have time (or would say they didn’t have time). It’s often difficult enough to get academic staff to turn up to a booked session, never mind asking them to do work for it ahead of time as well. But perhaps I’m doing them a disservice…

Anyway, we got into two groups and each group made a plan of how they would carry out a flipped classroom session. This was our plan for a session teaching academic staff about our institutional repository:


As you can see, we talked about the division between the flipped part (tasks to do outside the classroom before the session) and the ‘teaching’ (face to face classroom-based stuff). I think, for academic staff, it’s important not to give people too much to do outside the classroom because they probably won’t do it and it may put some them off attending the session altogether. Also, the

so what?

is really important. No one wants to go to something or do something they feel will be waste of time, so  we need to make sure that students (and staff) know the benefits of taking part for them, personally as well as generally.

Technology, digital capabilities and the language of change

This talk by David Walker, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Sussex, was the first in our series of Learning and Research Support (LRS) Seminars.

The premise of David’s talk was that the language we use to describe, implement and travel through change does not reflect the (difficult) reality of how it feels (and is) to go through change. Therefore, language becomes a barrier to successful change.

Embrace the unruly

(Donna Lanclos)

Alongside this is a long-held belief that (new) systems will make everything better, when actually what we really need is to have difficult, “messy”, conversations and deal with what is already going on.

People are taught to want transformational change, but actually, in the Higher Education (HE) sector, change tends to be developmental rather than transformational [n.b. I don’t think transformational is a word, I think the word should be transformative. WordPress doesn’t think that’s a word either, though].  I.e. a shiny new library management system is not going to make everything better in one fell swoop. Well, we think we know this, but the idea that a new LMS is the answer to everything is still a prevalent myth within the library world  – perpetuated by the producers of such systems, of course.

The next big thing

(Dylan Williams)

Or rather the seductive temptation of the next big thing: we look for this amazing new thing that’s going to fix all our problems but actually we should just be getting on and doing things to improve the situation.

The nature of terms associated with change can breed uncertainty and resistance, says David. Let’s take a look at some of those terms (as we did in the seminar):


Hands up who gets turned off by those words? *puts up hand*

Resistance is [not] futile

(David Walker)

It’s really not. I’ve been there (and I am there, currently going through a departmental restructure, and I can tell you that resistance to change is always going to be there, whether those in charge believe or know it or not. I sometimes think that the people who are responsible for implementing change (I know everyone is responsible for implementing change to some degree, but you know what I mean) don’t really believe that people are going to be resistant to it. There is still this idea that people will just to what they’re told and when this doesn’t happen the people in charge don’t know what to do. This is probably partly because, as David said, change is a complex process – it is not just about the actual change (which is enough) but also the ‘ripple effect’ of emotions and consequences for people’s lives and the service in the long term; things which will feed in to the resistance. As David also said, there is quite often a  failure to explain the rationale for change [in a way which is helpful to those most affected by it].

Resistance is a primary cause of failure of change. In my experience, it’s not a failure in terms of the change literally not happening, but rather to make the change a positive experience (if that is possible) or to run smoothly. If nothing else, resistance makes the change process longer, which is usually the last thing people need.

Higher education is dominated by

de-humanising language

This was a bit of a shocker (surely HE should be the epitome of liberal, humanistic thought?), but when I heard David say it, I already knew it was true, I just hadn’t thought about it properly before. I’ve thought a lot about how HE is now a market, using the language of the market and business and commerce (e.g. students are now customers), but I hadn’t made that leap to actually seeing it as being de-humanising. But, arguably, by seeing HE as a market is almost automatically envisages those whose lives are involved with HE less than human – currency, transactions – and the philosophy of HE seems to be no longer about education and thought but about the market: Universities don’t seek after truth or knowledge but rather the top ranking on the leader board, to be market-leading, world-beating, transformative, innovative, leading, leading, leading. In what? It’s not really about people, except as numbers or survey results, FTEs, cohorts. I feel tired just thinking about it.

At this point, one of my colleagues made a good point: people are so used to hearing these words [see word cloud above] that we don’t even hear them anymore – we are word blind (deaf?).

Another one of my colleagues also said, (I paraphrase) this is all bit toxic isn’t it?

“Transformative” makes people feel bad


Was what we were doing so bad that we have to do something entirely new and never be able to go back to what we did before?

What can we do?

  • Talk about improvement rather than change
  • Promote dialogue – legitimise everyone’s voices
  • Recognise that change impacts on culture and is an emotional process
  • Acknowledge concerns and give feedback
  • Change/improvement should be a sustained process – it takes time and is not a one off event
  • Use partnerships as an approach to engagement, including external partnerships across the HE sector – work with others, share expertise and experience instead of duplicating work and working against one another
  • Share a common language – learn to understand different professional languages (e.g. technical terms). This does not mean everyone has to do “management speak”
  • Gain an HE teaching qualification to improve knowledge of teaching practices and educational theories
  • Gain some other qualifications (e.g. PRINCE2 (project management), IT qualifications) to support meaningful discussion with colleagues in other departments

Myth busting makes me feel good

The idea of ‘digital natives’ is a myth. Just because most young people can operate a mobile phone or send an email or watch dodgy YouTube videos this does not mean they have digital capabilities that are “fit for living, learning and working in a digital society”. The skills they have are not transferable to (e.g.) an educational context – we  can make all the search boxes on our library management systems look like Google but this isn’t going to help people find the resources they really need or learn how to assess them or write a good essay or save their work safely or create a webpage or program something or print something out or turn the computer on (or off).

As David said, we need academic staff who are skilled in using technologies so they can pass these skills on to their students, or at least model them.

An avalanche is coming…

(Barber et al)

…and people generally don’t have the skills to deal with it. David argued that we need to increase focus on “maker pedagogies” – students (and us) as creators and researchers – students as producers. Although I think I understand what he’s trying to say (we need creative people for jobs in creative industries, the idea of students as producers seems again to be part of the language of commerce. Of course it’s good if students (and academics) produce work and research outputs but is it not OK to study for the action/work of studying  and learning and the improvement of knowledge as an end in itself? I think once we lose the idea of ‘study for pleasure’ it’s only a matter of time before reading for pleasure and visiting galleries for pleasure and listening to music for pleasure go out of the window as well. But I may be overreacting.

We do need people to be creative, but I’m not sure that HE is a very creative place anymore. Producing does not necessarily mean being creative in the wider sense of the word.

“Up-skilling” is killing me

Not literally. It just saps my soul every time I hear it. It is meaningless. Just say ‘learning new skills’. It’s a bit like my other pet-hate phrase, “going forward”. What happened to “in the future”?

Moving on…

Support staff are the best

Not surprisingly, support staff are needed to enable technology enhanced learning (TEL), in other words to help people use technology effectively when they’re studying, learning and/or teaching. A good thing which came out of the session with David was that we all recognised the need for us in the library to work together with people in IT and LTEU (Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit) to provide effective support to people. At the moment it’s a bit confusing for people – who should they go to for help? It would be good to sit down with colleagues in other department and have a nice chat about what we all do  and how we can help each other (and students and staff) out. I wonder if that’s possible?

Medway Researchers Room opens

Last Friday I attended the opening of the Medway Researchers Room at the Drill Hall Library. This is a dedicated room on the first floor of the library (I didn’t realise how much space is actually up here). There is space for relaxation, group work or individual study, as well as a screen to practice presentations with. It’s a nice space, quite bright and comfy, so I hope it gets used to its full potential. There were a lot of people at the launch – probably about 50 (?), including lots of actual research students!  There is a big white board in the room which researchers were encouraged to write questions and suggestions on. The Drill Hall’s research support team) provided packs for all the researchers attending the opening:


(There was also a notebook and pen, but a certain toddler took a shine to it!) I think it would be good if we could create something like this pack to give to new researchers – for example, when we deliver sessions as part of the Researcher Development Programme.

The opening of the room was a good opportunity for the researchers to get together over tea and cake – it seemed like a lot of them hadn’t met before and it was good to see everyone chatting and making new friends, and of course it was also useful for them to meet library staff. It was especially good for the researcher from CCCU as she hadn’t met any other research students until that point! The Drill Hall Research Support Team are hoping researchers will use their space for social as well as study purposes – this plan seems to be going well as they’ve already had a request to set up a researchers’ dating site!

Pedagogy and practice

Pedagogy:  The method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. (Oxford Dictionaries)

The Learning and Research Services team (of which I’m now a part) held our first ‘Pedagogy and Practice’ (P & P) session last week. As Sam Gamgee almost said in The Fellowship of the Ring (at least in the film version): “Now, there [was] an eye opener and no mistake!

Although I’ve taught a lot of people a lot of things over the years I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘doing teaching’ – bad syntax I know, sorry. I used to make ‘lesson’ plans, very early on my career when I was young and keen and encouraged to do so; but then my career path took me away from delivering training/information skills sessions and into user services, where, although I did help out with inductions and things this was quite rare, and the actual planning and pedagogy side of it was left to someone else (usually someone from the Academic Services (now LRS) team.

So, to say I was daunted by last week’s session might be an understatement. In the event, of course, it wasn’t that bad, although I did feel that I had a lot less to contribute than the rest of the team. I found the  mini ‘teach meet‘ part of the session particularly difficult, partly because of the subject matter – innovation or good practice in our own work – I couldn’t think of anything to talk about! In the end I talked about the drop-in sessions we’ve been holding (of which more in another post).

I have a lot of catching up to do, in terms of both theoretical knowledge and teaching practice. My’teaching’ at the moment is me standing in front of a PowerPoint telling people things about repositories and Open Access and questions at the end if we have time. Interaction is minimal (unless it’s a hands on session using the repository) – but I think that’s partly due to the nature of the beast – I’m imparting information rather than skills, most of the time…but having said that, I’m sure there must be more interesting ways to go about this, and I’m hoping the  P & P sessions will help me to learn some new techniques in this area. Another issue with the teaching AH and I do is that we’re mainly teaching researchers and academic staff, as opposed to undergraduates who are the majority ‘audience’ for the rest of the LRS team, and sometimes its hard to pitch the session at the right level or sufficiently engage people, among other things. Again, I’m hoping these are subjects we can talk about at a future P & P session.

It was fascinating to listen to everyone else and hear about what innovations they’ve made and their experience and knowledge of both pedagogy and teaching in pratice. I think I learned more about it all in those two hours than in my past 10 years as a librarian! I’m very much looking forward to future sessions and hoping I can contribute more as the time goes on, as well as putting into practice some of what I learn.

The big deal with big data

The university has been discussing big data, which is defined as…well, it depends who you ask. Forbes magazine lists 12 different definitions, including the best one I’ve seen so far:

(#10) The merger of Madame Olympe Maxime and Lieutenant Commander Data.

Ho-hum. I’m afraid, in the absence of anything better, I’m going to go with Wikipedia’s definition, as this seems to be the one that fits with what we understood as ‘big data’ at last week’s conference:

Big data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate.

Having said that, it wasn’t always entirely clear how big data was being defined at the conference, and a lot of what was talked about could have applied to data in general, not just massive data sets. It was interesting to hear what was said in the light of having attending the CPD25 event on engaging and supporting researchers, where Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum talked about digital preservation. He mentioned the 5 Vs of data, which were also part of Maria Kalli‘s paper on big data and the undergraduate curriculum. She defined big data as:

a data set with characteristics that for a particular process at a given point in time cannot be effectively [perused] using traditional [analysis methods]

Which is interesting in that she doesn’t mention the size of the data set at all only that it has problematic characteristics.

Dr Ali Swanson from the Zooniverse citizen science project run by the University of Oxford kicked off the show with a fascinating and engaging talk about the work of Zooniverse, where scientists enlist members of the public to help with the gathering or analysis of very large datasets. There are some amazing projects going on, including Penguin Watch, which I heard several people say they were going to take a look at after the conference!


Dr Swanson was keen to emphasise that these methods are not to do with education and engagement, but are a research tool (although people are educated and engaged as a result of participating as researchers). It was interesting to learn about how the scientists check that data is correct. This is done by aggregating data into “consensus” using algorithms – using this method it has been shown that ‘the public’ are correct 97% of the time when compared to answers given by experts, which is pretty good as far as I can tell.

And now for a little break to look at

That’s what we should all be doing with big data – making it into lovely graphics!

But back to reality. Maria Kalli was up next, as well as trying to define big data, she made a good case for the inclusion of statistics and data being at the heart of science-based undergraduate curricula, particularly as there are currently (and likely to be in the future) lots of jobs in big data. She also talked about the importance of students being able to extract and filter information, something very relevant to the work of library services – perhaps this is an area in which we can become more involved in the Business School curriculum? (I realise Maria was probably talking about mathematical and statistical information but the principles are similar – it might be a way of ‘selling’ information literacy to business students?).

Dr Kalli was followed by Mr Jonny Greatrex, a Proper Northerner, who spoke about participatory journalism – asking people what they want to know about. This style of journalism has been pioneered by (e.g.) Jennifer Brandel of Hearken fame. Interesting, yet counter-intuitive; it consists of asking the audience to suggest  questions they want answering, then asking them to vote on which question they want answered, and then involving the person who asked the question in the reporting process. ‘News’ content produced using this approach generates more page views and greater engagement time.

I thought that this sort of approach could be really useful in terms of our engagement with library users – it could/should help us give them the services they actually need, rather than those we think they need. It’s not just a question of asking them, it’s also engaging them in the process of deciding upon and even in the implementation and/or delivery of those services.

Dr Dan Donoghue spoke about principle components analysis as an approach to handling big data, followed by Professor Jim Griffin, from the University of Kent with his paper on big data and statistics. He argued that (usually) the more data you have the better data modelling you can do, and the shorter the interval between observations the more information you have overall, but the increases in information become smaller the shorter the interval. My example of this [so if you think it’s wrong don’t blame Professor Griffin] is that if you watch the news once a day you will see less news than if you watch it every 5 minutes but the information you gain will be about the same [unless something massive happens when you’re not watching]. The more data you have, the more complicated the structure of your analysis….is what I think he said, but  it was getting towards lunchtime and statistics are not my strong point.

After lunch, I took a break to do some work and then went back to the conference for the panel discussion at the end of the afternoon. It was very interesting to hear the questions that had been sent in, and of course the responses from the panel, which showed a mix of views about data (big and otherwise), what it is and how it could be used across the university. This is definitely something we as library staff need to get involved in, if only to ensure that those in charge know what services we offer and the kinds of knowledge and skills we can contribute – and of course to enhance the services provided to students and staff across the university.

I was particularly thinking about research data and the possible implementation of a CRIS (Current Research Information System) at some point in the mid-future, but this wasn’t specifically mentioned at the conference. I would think that we will have to think seriously about what to do with our research data at some point soon(ish) and it will be interesting to see what part library services has to play in this (if any). Hopefully, it will be something we can contribute to, if only in terms of the CRIS’s relationship with the repository.

All in all, it was a worthwhile, if slightly brain-tiring day. If only we agreed on what big data actually is…

And remember:

But that’s a whole other blog post.

Leadership for librarians

Yesterday, I attending ‘Leadership for Librarians’ a training workshop presented by Andy Priestner at the University of Kent, part of CILIP in Kent’s programme of events.

We started with the easy bit: thinking about absence of leadership (i.e. bad leaders). Sadly, examples of these came to mind quite easily for all of us! Then we thought about great leaders – I chose my cardiologist because she is ace, and we recognised that leaders are not only people in positions of authority.

The key to successful leadership today is influence not authority. – Ken Blanchard

I’ve seen this truth borne out plenty of time during my working life – library assistants often make the best leaders! This quotation was also the one I identified with most of those that were stuck on the seminar room wall (one of our tasks was to guess who said each quotation).  As I suspected:

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else through hard work. That’s the price we have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal. – Vince Lombardi

We then went on to look at the differences between managers and leaders, and had to try and identify attributes of management and attributes of leadership. This was harder than I expected and led to some interesting team displays of team dynamics!

Management is doing thing right, leadership is doing the right things. – Peter F. Drucker

We followed this up by asking the (obviously rhetorical) question:

Do libraries need leaders?

Of course! Not least because there are many specific leadership challenges facing libraries, e.g.:


And not so many (good) leaders – at least in the experience of those in the room. We talked a bit about why this might be. Various reasons were given, such as the natural temperament of librarians (which I personally think should be, err…shelved as an idea in 2016. We are way past that). I think partly it’s because we have a lot of managers who have come up through libraries and been promoted to management positions without having the qualities really necessary to be good leaders. They may (or may not) be good managers, but leadership is a different kettle of fish. It’s interesting that nowadays a lot of library leaders have come in without a library background – you don’t need library experience (or indeed a library qualification) to be a good leader. Leadership is more transferable across fields, whereas managers probably will need more specialised knowledge of their working areas.

Then we took a good hard look at ourselves though the medium of post-it notes.


By Photoforia via Flickr

It turns out I value my family more than I thought I did. Which sounds wrong. I suppose it wasn’t really all that surprising – I’m always longing for home, whatever form that might take – literal or otherwise. I like the German concept of Heimat, for which there is no English equivalent, although for me it is most poignant in it not being its opposite – alienation, and it’s not to do with geography or nationalism in my case; more wanting to be a Hobbit.

To finish the morning off we looked at what qualities we respect most in leaders – time for more post-its!

We followed this with a discussion about leadership styles (including our own) – authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire (there are others). I scored most highly for democratic – I’m not sure if this is because I value other people’s opinions or because I can’t make decisions on my own (probably both). We talked a bit about situational leadership, which sounds like a good idea – having the most appropriate leadership style for the situation you’re in at the time. As we said, people have a tendency to want to label themselves, but it may not always be appropriate (or true) to say (e.g.) ‘I am an authoritarian leader’ because we’re probably not just one thing all the time, and if we are this is likely to be a mistake because we need to be sensitive to situations and respond appropriately.

After lunch (I think), we watched this video:

Not all of it, I hasten to add. Six minutes was more than enough for me. I totally got the concept, but I found Mr Sinek a bit irritating. To save you watching the video, the idea behind starting with why is that instead of telling people what and how you do things (like we tend to do a lot in libraries) we should instead tell people why we do them – this way they are more likely to engage with us and our services. The reason this works is because ‘the why’ speaks to our emotions, rather than our reason….as demonstrated by our next example of leadership…


By Findntake via Flickr

In case you’re interested, @andytraining thinks Steve Jobs’ leadership style was a mixture of charismatic, autocratic and transformational. I’m sure Steve was a great leader, but I have a bit of a problem with him saying all those things he said about how Apple could change the world for the better and then allowing his phones to be made by people working and living in terrible conditions. Anyhow…

Now we were on to the really hard bit, assessing our own leadership (or lack of it). Actually completing the leadership challenge assessment wasn’t too bad, although people like me who are not currently in leadership roles found it harder to score highly because of lack of experience (even though you don’t have to be in a ‘leadership role’ to be a leader). I found that, in line with my democratic leadership style, I am allegedly good at enabling others to act (yay!) not so good at “encouraging the heart” (alas). I used to be better at encouraging people, I think – perhaps I have become more selfish over the years…I found it interesting to think back over my career, such as it is, specifically about how I used to manage people and I think, really, I tried to manage people with love (I know, yuck) which was (fairly obviously to anyone with sense) a mistake – I was an extreme teddy bear and wanted to keep everyone happy all the time, which, amongst other things (including other people’s poor management and leadership), led me to the edge of a nervous breakdown. This might be a form of servant leadership, but I’m not sure I was as selfless as all that. But we must move on….

To the personal leadership development plan. I was feeling quite positive about the day before I filled this in (lucky it was at the end!). I just didn’t know how I could practically do things to meet the leadership challenges I needed to meet. Perhaps I was just tired, but I was also thinking about my performance over the day. I am very concious of how I behave in groups, monitoring myself all the time. This is partly because I have got into trouble before for ‘misbehaving’ (e.g. being too negative) in group settings before and I know I can say things without thinking them through properly and end up sounding/being rude to people or making a fool of myself, or being ‘rebellious’ (which is often frowned upon in the workplace). A lot of workplace stuff makes me quite angry – partly because of my experiences at work (see above) and I do have a tendency towards negativity sometimes. Also, I can get bored quite quickly, which also leads me to ‘misbehave’, I fear. And then there are irritating people whose opinions I feel I must question. And so it goes on. Also (and so) I am very insecure and did I mention socially awkward and anxious?

Anyway, I thought I’d been rude to someone (by accident) so I was thinking ‘oh no, I’ve done it again, everyone’s going to think I’m rude, Andy is going to think I’m rude’, also I felt like I’d talked to much throughout the day and people would think I was overbearing, etc. I used to be so shy I wouldn’t speak in groups so now I think I say a lot because I might miss my chance if I don’t say it RIGHT NOW! I feel that I lack some kind of knowledge/instinct about what is good social behaviour – I may of course have behaved perfectly well all day, but the problem is I don’t think I did. I hate that uncertainty – I’m an adult, I should know these things.

So my filling in of the plan did not go well. I will have to look at it again and see if I can do better when I’m in a more positive frame of mind! However, I am generally feeling positive about leadership and what I could do with it, as it were. We are going through big changes at work at the moment, particularly (so far) in terms of management and leadership culture, so I’m hoping what we learnt on Tuesday will be of help in working through the changes, getting to know our new leaders and seeing how we can also lead within the library. I think, also, we can really use the idea of ‘starting with why’ in our relationships with our users. We need to tell them why we do what we do. Here’s a bit of Andy’s ‘why’ for libraries:

We work in libraries because we passionately believe in uniting people with the information they need when they need it so they can successfully educate themselves and learn more about the world around them…ultimately we are seeking to help you be the best that [you] can be.

Sounds good to me.