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.


The smell of old books

Oxford Sept. 2011 068

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

I learned about cataloguing antiquarian books last week and (sort of) catalogued one this week. The bibliography side of  librarianship is something I’d like to learn more about, but haven’t done a great deal of. I learned a little bit about it during my time as a graduate trainee in Oxford. I remember sitting in a little room somewhere in the Bodleian (I think) listening to a presentation about book conservation; and one of our last few training sessions was about antiquarian books – we looked at some lovely books held in the library of Christ Church College. In the library where I worked as a trainee there was a room of antiquarian French books, where I met the oldest book I’ve handled to-date, a little book from the 1500s whose name now escapes me. The room was very cold and humidified and smelled, as it should do. However, since those days I’ve had very little to do with antiquarian books, and I’m not sure how likely  it is that I’ll work more with them in the future, but I’d like to think it might happen one day, so I was glad to have the chance to learn about cataloguing them.

I suspected that cataloguing antiquarian books was going to be somewhat different from cataloguing ‘normal’ (post 1820/1840 depending on who you ask) books, but I didn’t realise quite how involved it can be.  I was particularly unprepared for the effort required in (for example) counting leaves and pages, and you really do need to know your stuff in terms of how books were made before the era of mechanisation, and some knowledge of the history of printing probably comes in handy, too. I learned about lots of technical terms I wasn’t previously aware of, and was slightly bewildered by the use of symbols – the 300 field vaguely resembled a mathematical equation!

The cataloguing of antiquarian books is a fascinating area of  librarianship, and one I hope to learn more about. Apparently Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography is worth reading, and we just happen to have a copy of it in the library…

What am I here for?

As regular readers of this blog may have gathered, my current role involves a lot of cataloguing. In fact, it is the main purpose of my job. I like cataloguing; I think it’s important, and I think it’s important that it’s done properly. By properly, I mean according to cataloguing rules and standards, although I’m not averse to adding or subtracting information from a catalogue record if I feel that doing so will make it easier for people using the library catalogue to find what they’re looking for. Usually this can be done without breaking any cataloguing rules anyhow (e.g. by adding a note).

Of  course I also want any downloaded records used on our catalogue to be of good quality. Good, not ‘good enough’:

…we must not cut corners and we must never think that “good enough” is good enough, because it is not.

This quotation is taken from the text of Heather Jardine’s paper on being a cataloguer in 2012, which has been posted on the Work and Expression blog. The last paragraph is particularly relevant to what I’m trying to say here.

What Heather describes in her paper is what we are experiencing in our library at the moment; in the sense that all acquisitions staff are involved in acquisitions and cataloguing, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on things like their particular post or the time of year. Although I still catalogue items ‘from scratch’, there are not a huge number of these items because the preference is to download bibliographic records from other places. This is obviously good, in some ways, because I’d never be able to catalogue all the items we order, and of course there is no point in duplicating work. If there is a record available from elsewhere, it is downloaded during the acquisitions process. The people downloading the records are not trained in cataloguing, but this is not a problem, because they have been trained in how to spot a lovely, full and accurate bibliographic record.

Or at least this was the case until recently. In the past few weeks, we have received new instructions about how we are to manage the acquisitions process.  One of these is that we are only to give downloaded bibliographic records the most cursory glance before ‘OK-ing’ them to go into the catalogue. This means only checking for the presence of the most basic fields. We were given no guidance as to what constitutes a basic record, so in the end I made a very short checklist for people to use. It is much shorter than the existing one, but I fear it is as much as we can get away with, because of the emphasis on doing things faster and “smarter”.

However, reducing the amount of time allowed to check downloaded records is not working smarter, because if records are not properly checked there are likely to be more errors creeping into the catalogue, which means more work in the long term. More worryingly, it increases the likelihood of people not being able to retrieve records when searching the catalogue and thus not being able to find items in the library. As Heather says,

If we neglect our cataloguing, if we cut corners and start to get slovenly, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down around our ears. If the data is wrong, then the management information will be wrong. If the data is inconsistent, then the LMS will not operate reliably. If we make mistakes, then when we get those books sent back to us with complaints, we will not be able to explain anything, we will just have to apologise.  Our colleagues will lose confidence in us and we will lose confidence in ourselves. And we certainly will not be able to sell skills that we cannot demonstrate that we have.

Even if people use the checklist, there are still errors that might be missed if people are not allowed to take the time to find a good record and not just a ‘good enough’ one.

Apart from affecting retrieval, the implications of the idea that it is OK to import incomplete or inaccurate records as long as they contain the basic information are not great for anyone who is a cataloguer, as well as not being very good for the long-term viability of the catalogue. It seems like a slippery slope to me: if we are happy to download incomplete records from other sources, then what is the point of the cataloguer (mainly me in this context) creating decent records when cataloguing from scratch? Obviously, I know there is a point to this (see above!), but does my employer? Why am I here if accurate catalogue records don’t matter anymore?

My job is becoming increasingly about things other than cataloguing. In more recent years it has become more of a mixed bag of cataloguing, acquisitions and working out in the library – none of which I have a problem with -, and now I’m also partly responsible for the upkeep of the institutional repository. Again, I don’t mind this, and it’s great to be able to get experience in other fields of library-related work, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the role of ‘cataloguer’ specifically is being eroded. As Heather  says in her post, this kind of mixing of roles is becoming par for the course nowadays, and it’s OK up to a point, but the role of cataloguer as cataloguer is still important and I fear that this, and the value of cataloguing in itself, is being lost sight of – at least in my workplace.

Thing 10: Graduate traineeships, Masters degrees, Chartership, Accreditation

For this ‘Thing’ we were asked to blog about our experiences as a librarian so far. I’m afraid I’m going to cheat, having written about this not all that long ago, and use the  post I wrote for the ‘Library Routes  project in 2010:

I thought I would join with other people in the library world and write about my library roots/routes for the The Library Routes Project. So, here I am, a library assistant in the shiny new library (I will have to stop calling it that one day, although it is still quite shiny at the moment). But how did I get here? Well, my career path hasn’t exactly gone the way I expected it to, but never mind…I’m not entirely sure why I wanted to become a librarian. I have fond memories of the local public library’s summer reading schemes for children, particularly one about the Aztecs, but I’m not sure that this influenced my choice of career at all! I think I probably went into librarianship because I couldn’t think of anything else I could do (!). Or, alternatively, because I had the privilege of access to education, books, information, reading and learning and I liked these things and thought they were important I wanted to help other people to access these things and like them and find them important, too. I still do.

I finished my degree in English and Religious Studies and then my Master’s in Theology (Jewish-Christian Relations), and decided to apply for a SCONUL graduate traineeship (now the CILIP Graduate Training Opportunities scheme). I think I had twelve interviews, or it may have been sixteen, and then I decided to give up for that year and got a job opening envelopes and processing magazine subscriptions. It was very dull, but we got tea breaks and the people were nice.In 2001, I did six weeks work experience at my local public library (the one with the Aztecs) and applied for a SCONUL traineeship again. After quite a few more interviews I got a job I hadn’t actually applied for, at theTaylor Institution Library in Oxford. I think I got this job because it was in a modern languages library and I’d done A Level German and they hadn’t found anyone suitable in the first round of interviews, so they added me to their list. [The way the Oxford traineeships worked was that you applied using one form, indicating which libraries you were most interested in working in. It looks like it’s different now, in that you don’t indicate your preference at all.”]I loved working at the Taylor Institution. It was a beautiful, old-fashioned library, with eccentric staff and even more eccentric readers (as were allowed to call them then).

 I met my husband during my year at Oxford – he was working at the Economics library, so we had training sessions together. These training sessions were really useful, giving us insights into aspects of librarianship that we may not have come across in our day-to-day work, and included visits to different types of libraries. The year confirmed for me that librarianship was the career I wanted to pursue, so I applied to do a Master’s in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth. I was lucky enough to get AHRB (now AHRC) funding.

I enjoyed the year at Aberystwyth, although I would question whether what I learned during that year has been any help to my in my various jobs – but that is a discussion to have another day! Having a postgraduate degree has helped me get jobs, but whether it has been of any practical use in any of the jobs is debatable. Anyway, I finished my course and applied for lots of jobs and had lots more interviews. Eventually, I was offered a job as a senior library assistant at an FE college, which I took because I was desperate. This was a mistake and I hated it almost immediately. My colleagues were lovely and I learned a lot, but the students were, with some exceptions, awful. Like my colleagues, my job involved a lot of ‘crowd control’ and taking abuse. So, I spent the next 18 months trying to leave. I applied for lots of jobs and had lots of interviews. On a more positive note, I started my chartership and my ECDL!

In July 2005, I got a job as assistant librarian for reader services in my current place of work – then known as the Library of Doom! Despite the library’s rather ominous nickname, I really enjoyed the job at first. It was my first experience of managing other people, which was a challenge, but not too bad at first. It got harder as time went on and my manager left…but I won’t go into all that because you can read about it elsewhere and this blog and on my old blog!

In 2008, I was seconded as a faculty liaison librarian for three months, which was really interesting and a very different role to my reader services post.

I completed my chartership* in 2009 – the highlight of my career to date! [I found it a really useful experience and it enabled me to feel more positive about my career, which was something I really needed at the time. You can read more about my experiences of chartering elsewhere on this blog.]

After almost five years of struggling on as an assistant librarian, I decided that I couldn’t do it anymore (well, it wasn’t quite that simple) and went down a few rungs of the career ladder to become a library assistant, assisting with periodicals and cataloguing – indulging my geeky side! I’m now the happiest I’ve been in my job for a long time.

I realise my routes might seem like they’ve gone the wrong way, but I have learned a massive amount about librarianship, work, career development, management, other people and myself over the last nine [now ten] years since I began my career as a library professional. My experiences may not all have been positive, but most of them have been worthwhile. I feel that I’m now being more helpful to people as a cataloguer-in-training than I was as an assistant librarian, so perhaps I’m where I originally set out to be after all – for the moment, anyway.


Since I wrote the above, I’ve started working as a senior library assistant, still doing cataloguing, and still enjoying it, for the most part.