ALIA Board Nominees in the Spotlight

I know I haven’t blogged here in ages. I’ve been posting to my pregnancy blog and generally busy with being pregnant and working full time.

But my attention was caught by this great blog post from @aliangac where they ask nominees for the ALIA board a series of questions and post the answers. I thought a reflective post on in would be a worthwhile thing to do.

If you don’t work in a library, you may wish to stop here. The rest of this post is likely not to be of interest to you.

I really liked the questions. They’re not hugely hard hitting, but they benefitted a lot from thought and reflection (which some candidates did notably better at than others). They also gave enough room to help distinguish the candidates. I especially appreciated the questions from Kyla. Practical questions are great for this purpose.

The first thing that caught my attention was that only four of the nine nominees answered the questions put to them by the New Grads group. I’m genuinely curious as to why this is? It’s a great opportunity to put your thoughts out there and let voters see why they should vote for you. Not just for new grads but for all of the other ALIA members who are following on Twitter or via the blog. I have no idea why the others didn’t respond but I’m certainly a lot more likely to vote for those that did.

I really appreciated hearing what the candidates had to say. It was possible to get some idea of what their specific interests were and where their talents lie. For me, this helps select people to vote for who are more likely to take ALIA in directions that match my preferences.

I found it interesting that quite a few of the candidates appeared to take an ‘Ask not what ALIA can do for you…’ approach. I’ve noticed this before from people in the profession and don’t necessarily disagree with it. However in this setting with new grads as an audience, this can be as much about selling ALIA as selling themselves as representatives to ALIA. Questions 2 and 4 address this directly and it would have been nice to see some more original responses to these.

It’s of particular interest to me because I did need to be sold ALIA. As a poor student I was unconvinced and even when looking for reasons to join, didn’t find much that spoke to me. The argument that eventually tipped me over was that ALIA accredits library schools and that this is an important and not simple process (thanks to my lecturer Paul Genoni for this and other reasons). Even more convincing would have been strong evidence of ALIA embracing and pushing new technology and helping members get their heads around it. I still think this is an area that other library organisations do better at and ALIA should address more seriously.  I don’t believe that the current PD scheme does this effectively and I have some pretty serious reservations about a mandatory PD scheme overseen by ALIA.

The next thing that stood out was that quite a few answers seemed to take the straight ALIA line with little to no personal additions or interpretation. This would be ok if I wanted to maintain the status quo, but it’s not exactly a compelling argument for adding someone to the board. At least, not to me. I’m more interested to know what you’d do differently, not that you’d keep doing the same things that are currently being done.

So those are my thoughts on the responses so far by nominees. I’m hanging out to read @HughRundle‘s blog post with his questions to nominees and their answers (due March 11). If it’s anything like last time, Hugh will be asking some extremely relevant, up to date and hard hitting questions and it’s always very enlightening to see how nominees handle them. I’m sure it will further help me refine my vote. I’ll blog my resposes to it if I have the time and energy with my advancing pregnancy.


RailsGirls and the Trove API

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to attend #RailsGirlsPerth. This was an opportunity for girls to learn about Ruby on Rails, a web programming framework. It was a free event organised by the wonderful Darcy and Marcus, held at Spacecubed.

It kicked off on Friday night with an installfest. I had already installed Rails on Craig’s laptop (which I borrowed for the event) but I went along to meet people and take in the vibe. There were a few people I knew there, but many more that I hadn’t met yet. It was great to see so many women keen to learn how to program in Ruby and so many guys there to help get them started. Railsgirls events were also happening in Brisbane and Sydney. We caught up with them on Skype and I spied a @web_goddess at the Sydney event.

Me and Jo (@history_punk) coding all the things (via @history_punk)

The coding started in earnest on Saturday. Before I knew it, I was up over my head in the niceties of Ruby with the very capable help of Myles and the assistance of some excellent coffee that Darcy had organised. I had decided that I wanted to use the Trove API after being inspired by the wonderful things created by @wragge.

I’ve been hearing about APIs for a few years now but had never used one and I wanted to change that. I also wanted to do something with Twitter. I came up with the idea of extracting vintage knitting patterns from Trove using the API and visualising them in such a way that they can be tweeted.

Initially I was really confused. It had been 12 years since I’d done any really serious programming (in my undergraduate degree) or even used the Windows terminal. I was grouped with three girls who had experience programming in .NET which was a bit intimidating. By lunchtime I was feeling like a rather dim bulb and doubting that I’d have any finished code to show by the end of the day.

Things started coming together as I began to map Rails terms to concepts I’d learned when programming previously (e.g. gems == libraries). It also helped that the Rails framework does a lot of stuff for you (a bit confusing at first if you’re not used to it) and the Ruby syntax is very clean and easy to read. This made it possible to get working stuff together in a day.

I was also grappling with the Trove API and trying to make it output what I wanted. Getting an API key for Trove was super simple and took a few minutes. Coming to terms with the syntax of the API was harder. What I really wanted was an output of the contents of this list. After quite a bit of fiddling, I ended up compromising with a list of the newspaper articles tagged with ‘knitting’. Then it was a matter of harmonising my variables with the metadata I wanted to capture in my database and adding the ability to tweet items. As Myles promised and I had trouble believing, the Twitter part was very easy (about 2 lines of code). It produced tweets like this:

So now I had a working chunk of code that could grab specific content from Trove, display the metadata I was interested in and give the ability to tweet it. However it was only running locally on my laptop. The next challenge was porting it to Heroku, a cloud based service for hosting web apps, so that other people could see it and interact with it. Fortunately, the documentation for setting up Rails on Heroku was top notch and I was mostly able to follow it without hitch. It involved using my first Postgres database which was cool as Postgres helps pay my mortgage (via Craig who is a Postgres developer/consultant).

After some work and a bit of fiddling, I had a working Rails web app hosted on Heroku, pulling in information from Trove and allowing people to tweet items from it. You can see it here. Not bad when I’d just started learning Ruby on Rails that day! Much kudos must go to Myles who talked me through quite a lot of it (and had great patience with me). I don’t fully understand the code I wrote, but I can revisit it and hopefully get my head around it better. I’d like to clean it up a bit, make it more visual and iterate through the Trove output so I can capture and display all 700+ records (rather than just the first page). Still, it’s a great start and far more than I thought I’d be able to get done in one (admittedly 10 hour) day.

I really can’t thank the organisers and sponsors of RailsGirlsPerth enough. It was an amazing and inspirational event. I met a number of really interesting people who I’m hoping to stay in touch with and learned an enormous amount. It’s given me a whole lot more confidence about playing with APIs and coding in general and it provided a very welcome distraction in what was a really hard week.

If you’re interested in trying something like this, keep an eye on the RailsGirls website and Twitter feed to find out when more events are happening (they are worldwide). You can also get a taste of Ruby at the TryRuby website. I’d highly recommend giving Ruby on Rails a try if you’re interested in playing with APIs or increasing your tech knowledge in general.

The Rails Girls Perth crew and participants (via @GentlemanTech)

My foray into family history

I’m fortunate enough to sit near the family history specialists at work. Fortunate because Tricia and Leonie are both lovely and very interesting people. It is family history month this month and last week they co-ordinated a wonderful series of talks at work. Many months ago, Leonie started twisting my arm about giving a talk. I told her quite truthfully that I’m not particularly knowledgeable about family history. She didn’t let this stop her and decided that I should give a talk on apps and suchlike for genealogy.

So that’s how Geneappogy came about. I spent a while researching various apps for family history and it quickly became apparent that it would be at least as useful to talk about apps that can be generically helpful for research and information storage. I also covered why devices are so convenient as a research tool and what other tools they can replace.

In the Jungle  © Molly Tebo

I felt  like a bit of a fraud since I hadn’t tried all of the apps I was talking about. One I did try however was BillionGraves. This is a pretty cool idea which is all about crowdsourcing the recording of grave yards. Last weekend I went for a walk to a nearby pioneer cemetery and tried it out. I used the app on my smartphone to photograph the graves, this took about half an hour (and it automatically geotagged the images). When I got home, I transcribed the information from the gravestones via the website which took a few hours more. I was impressed that it was so easy and relatively fast to do. Now the information on those grave stones is searchable by genealogists all over the world which is nifty. 😀

Back to the talk. It was held in the State Library theatre which is quite a formal venue. I was glad that I had a decent crowd (over 50) as it made the theatre look not too empty. I’m not going to go much into what I talked about, but if you are interested in finding out more (I’m looking at you @MsSMuffett), my e-handout is available here and the prezi I used is here.

Despite the large amount of information, I got through it fairly quickly. The audience were polite but did contribute when I asked them to. They asked some good (and a few curly) questions. At the end I invited them down the front to ask further questions and to try out some of the apps on tablets and smartphones I had brought along. A number of people said complimentary things about the talk and they were most interested in seeing Google drive and Evernote demonstrated rather than the dedicated FH apps.

Finally, I was asked by the president of the WA Genealogical Society to do another talk along the same lines for their members. Quite flattering really! I’m glad it went so well and I could help out my work buddies. 😀

In defense of Shambrarians

A week ago, the ALIA National Advisory Conference came to Perth. The topic was ‘Future of the Profession’. You can get some idea of what was said from the Storify, but the guest speaker was my good friend and mentor Kathryn.

Kathryn made a number of excellent points and at one stage she asked the room to embrace shambrarians. Now this is an easy thing for me for reasons I’ll get to, but apparently not everyone in the room was so supportive. Indeed, in the last week, Hoi and Peter have both written excellent blog posts on the matter, which I’d encourage you to read.

So just what is a shambrarian? I would count them at minimum as qualified professionals who work in a library doing librarian-y tasks but have non-librarian qualifications. I’m talking teachers, historians, people with degrees in communication, IT, etc.

In my job I’m fortunate enough to work closely with a number of shambrarians. My opinion on this topic was formed early in my time as a librarian when I was accepted into the graduate program at the State Library of WA. The year I started, the program included me and one other graduate, Theresa. She and I quickly became close friends and I gained a great deal of respect for her intelligence and capabilities. She had a degree in teaching and had just finished Honours in history. This meant that from the outset she was far more knowledgeable about the State Library collections than I was, as she had used them in her research.

Theresa (R) and I (L) at NLS5
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Matthias Liffers:

Unfortunately it didn’t stop some people from treating her differently because she didn’t have a library degree. This irked me because it was apparent that she was a fast learner and was no less capable than I. Indeed, I could see that her skills and knowledge were really useful because they were different to those of the other staff (in the same way, skills I’d gained before becoming a librarian were also particularly useful).

It seems that some people believe that their library degree automatically makes them better at everything to do with libraries than people without one. This sentiment was somewhat apparent at the NAC when mention was made of non-librarians getting jobs in libraries (with the implied subtext of ‘stealing our jobs’). I believe that no degree is a meal ticket. If you want to get a job, you need to ensure that you’re the best candidate. If you’re not, then it’s wise to look in the mirror before casting elsewhere for blame. I know that it’s a tough time to get a library job, but I have a lot more sympathy for the librarians in this discussion who are looking for ways to improve their technical skills rather than those who would shut the door to a more diverse range of skills.

Now I work in a team with, among others, Theresa and Carina (another ex-grad shambrarian) as well as Jocelyne who has a teaching background. My manager is also an ex-teacher and my director is a historian. Shambrarians to the max and I love it! I also really enjoy working with library officers who often show as much or more initiative and willingness to learn than some librarians.

I believe that a certain amount of diversity is going to be vital for libraries if we are to survive and prosper. Hiring people from different work and study backgrounds really helps to avoid myopia and brings a broader wealth of experience and ideas to the table. I can see many ways that this is of benefit to my workplace and to the profession. I don’t feel threatened by shambrarians and I love working with them. I’d love to see them become more welcome in and involved with our professional organisations and conversations.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear from people who have alternative viewpoints and can give me (preferably objective ) reasons that they are not in favour of shambrarians.

Moodle Milestone

Last week at work we hit a milestone with our Moodle project. First, a bit of background. This is a project I’ve been managing and working on for more than six months now. A large part of my role as eLearning Librarian is to work on how my library can provide services online and setting up an online learning platform is part of this.

Moodle is an open source learning management system that was started in WA by the fabulous Martin Dougiamas. It’s now being used all over the world including as the main learning management system for UWA and Murdoch University. Many TAFEs, Government departments and other organisations are setting up Moodle sites to provide online training to their staff and clients.

I love that Moodle is open source. I think it makes so much sense for libraries to support open source initiatives as much as possible. There’s a clear philosophical overlap here. I also appreciate the Moodle community. I was fortunate enough to go to a Moodlemoot last year and meet a bunch of Moodlers, they are an incredibly friendly and helpful group. The way that open source projects like Moodle have a tendency to build helpful communities is something I think libraries can learn from and tap into.


So the first stage of this project has been to set up the system and make courses available to public library staff in WA. The milestone we reached was the soft launch of these courses. It’s been quite a process writing them, testing them and creating documentation and I feel proud of what we have achieved.

I’m also excited about what comes after, the prospect of making courses available to our clients. I see this as a really compelling way forward for libraries. It fits well with the idea of libraries being a community space (both physically and online) for the sharing of knowledge. At the outset we will be looking to create courses that reflect our key collection areas.

I’m hoping that we will move towards co-created courses that take advantage of community knowledge. This way we can act as the conduit between people with knowledge and those who wish to learn. It’s a bit arrogant to presume that we have all of the information that people want. Getting the community involved in course creation is a cool prospect and one that I also hope to test with the help of public libraries.

Is this a tall order? Absolutely! There are a lot of issues that will need to be overcome with regards to collaborative course creation. It’s going to be hard for libraries to let go of some control and learn to trust our communities a bit more. I think it’s a very worthwhile effort to make however and I hope we have uptake from people who are interested in sharing their knowledge and learning new things.

Becoming a Librarian, some more thoughts

My most recent post was some advice for people who are thinking about going into libraries as a career. I was really delighted by the comments that people left on that post and further discussion that it sparked on Twitter. There were some excellent points made that I’d like to explore a bit further.

Customer service was a point that came up a lot:

Secondly, it’s a customer service profession. Even the ‘back room’ roles like cataloguing are customer service roles. It’s about connecting people with information, people, ideas… And that underpins everything we do. – katiedavis

I have been very pleased to read in the comments an importance being placed on customer service, both as a library user and as (hopefully) a future librarian. I would like our cultural institutions, in general, to be seen as approachable by any member of the public, and I think that an emphasis on customer service is an ideal approach. – Kelly

I’m really happy to see comments like this. I worked in very customer service oriented industries before going into libraries (training for retail and call centre staff) and it’s something which makes all the difference to me. I have been nonplussed by some of the ‘service’ I have seen at various libraries where the staff treat clients like an inconvenience or talk down to them. Just because we’re generally not providing a paid service, doesn’t mean we should skimp on customer service.

All New Librarian Action Figure
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by blg3

Another point raised was about community connections. This goes to the heart of the work that I’m doing and where I’d like to see libraries headed:

I love that the library is a community space, that we are the place people can go when no one else will help them – Julia de Ruiter

I love working libraries mainly for the interaction and knowing I can help the customers out with most of their enquiries or direct them to the right answer. – pyloncoltrait

I really believe that libraries can bring together people with different knowledge and interests and help them to share them effectively. In my job I’m looking at ways of facilitating community knowledge online and many libraries are taking it in lots of other cool directions. This can include makerspaces, workshops, craft groups or the many many other means that we are connecting people. It’s happening in academic and special libraries too where librarians are often the people who know where to go for infomation in people’s heads, not just in books and organise events that bring technical and academic communities together.

The last point I want to make is about continuous learning. Don’t be a librarian if you don’t like learning new things and upskilling on the go, it’s not a great profession for resting on your laurels.

I like finding out about new things no matter what they are. – Petra Dumbell

Adaptability and flexibility are key. – jamesmcgoran

Definitely agree that keeping up to date is an important part of our job. After all, we encourage our patrons to be lifelong learners, so why shouldn’t we practice what we preach? – Andrew Spencer

There have been some amazing librarians who have recently retired in WA; Kerry Smith and Carol Newton Smith. Both of them were learning and engaging with new things even as they were heading into retirement. That’s admirable and something I hope to emulate.

Our roles have changed greatly and the changes are happening more quickly now than ever. It’s often necessary for librarians to ‘unlearn’ what they know – yaketty

I think in many ways I was using tech learning in my last blog post as a metaphor for continuous learning. It can be a good way of quickly identifying people who do not wish to learn new skills, as tech knowledge is currently viewed by many as firmly in the too hard basket.

As I commented to @flexnib on Twitter, we have enough people in the profession who are fighting change. We don’t need more coming in!

So it looks like there is a fair bit of agreement that librarianship should be a learning profession where we need to keep updating our skills. My next question is how we can help our less enthusiastic colleagues to increase their skills? Do you have any tips to share on how to do this, or is it a lost cause?

So you want to be a Librarian?

I had a call yesterday from someone who was thinking about re-training as a librarian. She’s had a career as a teacher and wanted some advice from a recent graduate about the pros and cons of studying librarianship. She also wanted to hear about why I did the triple qualification Masters degree (libraries, records and archives) instead of the Graduate Diploma.

The first thing I told her was, don’t do it unless you are interested in learning about technology. You don’t need to know much about it at the outset but you are at a real disadvantage if you’re not willing to learn.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by ebayink:

She sounded taken aback by this. She asked if there were still traditional librarian roles available. Yes there are of course, but increasingly fewer and if you’re going for these and you’re up against someone with an interest in/experience with tech you are likely to be at a disadvantage.

I told her that it’s not enough to like books. Yes, I love books and it influenced my decision to take this career path, but I don’t work with books at all in my current role (and that’s ok with me). It’s not just about the books any more and I want to be clear about that to people thinking about joining the profession.

I mentioned different types of libraries (public, academic, special etc) with some of the differences and encouraged her to go into her local library and talk to the people who work there about what they do and how they find it. I also suggested that if she gets a chance, to ask the library manager what skills they would be looking for in a new librarian.

Some of the things I wish I’d been told when I was considering librarianship as a career is:

  • To follow librarians on Twitter and ask them questions
  • To read blogs written by librarians and pay attention to the comments
  • To learn about the direction(s) the profession is going in and think about whether these are a good fit for me
  • To investigate the options available for non library degree graduates (shambrarians) in libraries
  • To dig deeper into records and archives before studying them (a subject for a future blog post)

To be an effective Information Professional, you really need to keep learning throughout your career. Going in to it as an alternative to a job you don’t want to do any more may work for you, but it’s a good idea to dig deeper and learn more before committing to a change of career.

Do you agree? Disagree? What do you wish you’d been told before you went into librarianship?