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.