Saturday, 1 December 2012

Attempting NaNoWriMo

So November has been an extremely busy month with no time for blogging, for number of reasons, but mainly because on the evening of October 31st I decided I was going to have a go at NaNoWriMo for the first time. For those unfamiliar with it, basically, every November, people around the world attempt to write a novel – or at least the first 50,000 words of a novel – between November 1st and 30th. To “win”, you don’t need to have finished the novel; you just need to have written 50,000 words of it during November. There are online forums and chatrooms and virtual and real-life “write-ins” to offer mutual support (and Twitter of course!). 

I used to write a lot when I was younger; prose, poetry, songs. I even had a poem published on Daisy Goodwin’s website as her “poem of the month” when I was at university. For various reasons, I stopped writing towards the end of my undergraduate days, and have struggled to get back into it since.  For the past couple of years I’ve considered doing NaNoWriMo but decided I just didn’t have the time or any ideas. This year I was toying with the idea of doing it as a “rebel” and getting back into my poetry again. When I got into bed on the evening of October 31st, an idea for a novel suddenly popped into my head, and so the next day I decided to actually sign up and have a go. I didn’t really think I’d finish – I had a lot booked in for November already, and didn’t think I could possibly maintain the momentum to do 50,000 words in 30 days anyway. I hoped I might manage to write a few thousand words to get me started.

As it turns out, I hit the 50k mark on 29th November. I was surprised at how easy it was; for the first week or so I struggled to stay on target (it works out as an average of 1667 words per day), but as my word count grew and I got further into it, the words came more easily. The novel is nowhere near finished yet, but I have a first draft of a novel forming before my eyes for the first time ever, which is amazing! And I am so incredibly happy to be writing again. I’ve even already got an idea for my next novel too!

I’m not sure I’d like to say I could offer any tips as such, but I can share a few observations which might be useful to anyone thinking about doing NaNoWriMo next year:

  • To make time to write I had to give up other stuff; day trips or cinema at the weekends, television, time spent messing around on the internet, etc! This also probably means I have been neglecting my friends a bit, which I will try to make up for in December! I am single and child-free so I can’t comment on fitting writing around family life, but I imagine it must be tricky. That said, I didn’t give up everything; I still managed to go running twice a week, go to Spanish class, run a new professionals’ event, go to London for the day to see a friend and also go there for one night for a gig (the ever-wonderful Alanis!) – and to work full-time! It’s about prioritising I guess, and if you want to write 50k words in one month then writing has to be one of your priorities for your free time.
  • I loved the community feel of NaNoWriMo, not just the online support offered through Twitter and the forums, but also the real-life Write-Ins which I went to on Sundays at a café-bar in Bristol. It was lovely to meet other people doing the same thing, and to sit and write together. I will really miss this aspect of it – but happily, Lisa is looking into setting up an online group for librarians who have done NaNo and want to continue writing with support from each other.
  • I didn’t read anything during November – not just because most of my spare time was devoted to writing, but also because I was worried about inadvertently copying someone else’s plot or writing style! I’ve missed reading so I’m really hoping that this will be less of a risk when writing at a less frantic pace.
  • When I was away from a computer, I wrote by hand. It was frustrating typing it up rather than writing new words (and difficult to resist the urge to edit!) but better than not doing any writing at all, I feel. 
  • I haven’t slept much during November, not just because I often stayed up late to keep writing, but also because, particularly at the start, my brain would be buzzing with thoughts and ideas for my novel, keeping me awake. As a result my caffeine consumption has rocketed. This may not be entirely healthy.

So, what next? Well, I am going to keep writing. I’d like to have finished the first draft of this novel by Christmas, then I will put it away for a couple of weeks, before taking it out again to start the editing process. The ideal outcome would be getting it published, and this is what I will work towards. Ambitious, yes - but plenty of people become published novelists, so why not me? As I mentioned earlier, a group of librarians who want to keep writing together are forming an online writing group, so that will be brilliant for keeping up the support that NaNoWriMo offered.

To anyone considering doing NaNoWriMo next year, all I can say is yes, do! I am so glad I decided to give it a go – without it, I’d still be having vague thoughts about doing some writing one day, and not actually doing any. It has been the kick up the bum that I needed, and, without sounding too clichéd (and I promise my writing is better than this!), it has changed my life for the better. I am so excited to see what I can come up with. And if you don't "win", then that doesn't matter - you've still done some writing which you might not have done otherwise. If you need any further convincing, read Bethan’s lovely blog post on her feelings towards writing since starting NaNoWriMo, and Samantha’s post on finishing.

Happy writing!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Library Camp 2012

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. A combination of a busy start of Autumn term and being a bit unwell for a while has lead me to fall behind with life in general. However, I managed to make it to this year’s national Library Camp.  It was held in Birmingham again, but at a different venue. Once again it was free to attend and took place on Saturday, which I found really helpful – it’s super-difficult to take time off work at this point in the term! I won’t explain the unconference concept again – see mypost from last year’s national Camp or see the Library Camp website – basically the agenda is set on the day when participants propose sessions, there are no presentations, and it’s OK to get up and leave a session if you think you might gain more somewhere else.

As usual there was a cakecamp running alongside the library stuff. This year I felt confident enough in my ability to bake without poisoning anyone and brought along my vegetarian rocky road (based on the lovely Nigella’s recipe – swap the marshmallows for dried fruit and glace cherries). I was very impressed at the quality of the baking and ate far too much cake, as usual!

I had decided I wasn’t going to propose any sessions, having lead two at Library Camp South West in Exeter in July (which I never got round to blogging about as I flew off on holiday the day after so the moment was lost – apologies!) and finding it very scary and intense and not doing it very well! As usual there were lots of proposals and I found it difficult to decide where best to go; there were some sets of sessions where I would have liked to go to several of them and others where I wasn’t immediately grabbed by anything. I’m not sure I ended up choosing the right sessions every time.

The first session I attended was on swearing – what do you do when someone tells you to fuck off? Expertly led by Sarah, this session was well attended by people from a range of sectors. We discussed how the context in which someone is swearing affects how acceptable or not it is; obviously it’s not when the swearing is directed at staff in aggression, and casual swearing in conversation is not OK in certain environments. We also discussed what kind of training we’d had on dealing with aggressive behaviour and how useful it had been; the feeling was expressed that often the authorities organising the training aren’t aware of the kind of aggressive behaviour library staff can face. We seemed to all agree that there needs to be a policy in place for dealing with swearing and aggressive behaviour, and that we need to know that we have the support of management. This made me think about the policies we have for the online Chat co-op that my library is part of. I work on this service for 3 hours per fortnight, and there are loads of guidelines in place for Chatting, including very clear guidelines on how to handle aggressive patrons. Chat is a strange and challenging environment to work in as it moves quickly and you don’t have eye contact or body language to work with, but I feel confident that I would know what to do if I was faced with swearing or aggression there, due to good, clear policies that everyone uses. This session also made me reflect on the training I’ve had on dealing with aggressive behaviour; it was helpful, but university-wide rather than library-specific, so it didn’t deal with library situations or policies. It was interesting to talk about the differences between sectors – academic library users are essentially stakeholders so they hold a different status to users of a school or FE library, for example, which can affect how we can deal with difficult behaviour; again, it would be helpful to have specific training for our library environment. We are actually going to have a session on “managing student behaviour” from our Library Customer Services team leader as part of our staff development programme next month, so I am now thinking that this will be really useful and will do my best to attend.

The second session I went to was the #uklibchat live session on careers. The “live” element was meant to include live-tweeting it and engaging with those not at Library Camp joining in on Twitter, but patchy wi-fi made this aspect challenging! I took away some useful websites for job-hunting with which I wasn’t already familiar. Someone pointed out that everyone seemed a bit subdued in this session; there was certainly an agreement that there is a huge amount of competition out there for jobs and that it really is tough at the moment to find something suitable. This really brought home to me how lucky I am to have been made permanent in my role recently.

Next, I attended a session on media literacy. I went to this one as I wasn’t entirely sure what media literacy was, but had been hearing a lot about it.  This session was another one where there were attendees from a range of sectors, which I felt really enriched the discussion. We talked about various aspects of media literacy; how to explain biases in newspapers and television news and how to encourage information-literate use of the internet. Many of the attendees were from school, college and public libraries so much of the conversation was about children and young people. Some really good suggestions were made, such as encouraging children to publish on the internet themselves i.e. on blogs to help them understand that copying and pasting from the internet is stealing other people’s work (how would they feel if someone took their blog post without asking or attributing it to them?), getting children to edit Wikipedia pages to show them how easy it is for anyone to do, and creating displays to explain how different newspapers have different biases. What I took away from this session was the idea that maybe I should be talking to school and college librarians and teachers about what kinds of information literacy are taught at school if any, and at what kind of point the first-year students who come to use are with information literacy. We have a limited amount of time with the students – usually an hour, or maybe two, per year, and then whenever they come to the desk or to Chat to ask for help with searching – so it would be helpful to know this in order to help shape our advice and training to make it as useful and effective as possible. I also think it would be great to have some more cross-sector discussions about information literacy in the future, at Library Camps or other events.

After a lovely lunch, sessions began again, and I went off to Michelle’s session on living and working abroad. I had put out a request on the wiki for someone to talk about this, as it is a personal interest and ambition of mine, and Michelle kindly volunteered to share her immense knowledge on this  topic. Michelle has lived and worked in six countries and, while none of this work was in library or information services, she still had loads of advice for making the move abroad for those of us who were interested in it. She spoke highly of working holiday visas, which are offered by Australia, New Zealand and Canada, generally with an age limit of 18 to 30 or 35. These last for one or two years and allow you to work, though the main purpose of your time there should be holidaying. There are also restrictions such as not being able to work for the same employer for more than six months. This is definitely an option I’d consider in the future; I’m not sure whether I’d be able to find temporary library work (the point was made in the session that library jobs are being cut pretty much everywhere, and that in some countries there are laws which mean that a foreign applicant can only be given a job if no suitable citizen has applied for it) but it would allow me to experience living in another country. Michelle has since sent me a link to this useful website about working holiday visas.

We talked about expenses and finding somewhere to live; Michelle explained that she lived in hostels and that this is OK if you don’t mind sharing a room – they are cheap, there may be other people living there rather than just passing through with whom you can make friends, and you can often get your bed free in return for cleaning the hostel or similar. Again, this is an option I would consider in the future, although I do wonder if I’m now a bit old for that!

We also discussed the CILIP LIBEX international library and information job exchange, where you can arrange to job-swap with a librarian or information manager in another country. I have looked at this scheme before, but one big problem with this is that you are supposed to swap homes too – I rent a small, damp one-bed flat so I can’t do this; another participant said she’d been actively pursuing exchanges through this programme but they had fallen through for this very reason – she would need to swap with someone who was in a position to live in a room in a shared house. The other problem would be getting work to agree to it; we are in a challenging position at work at the moment so a swap just wouldn’t be do-able. This does look like a great scheme for someone whose work and living situations allow for it to happen though, and one that I will consider in the future if my situation changes.

I really enjoyed this session – it was good to hear about Michelle’s experiences. Michelle pointed out that waiting for the “right time” to travel is often in vain – there is never really a “right time” so really you just need to do it if you want to. I am very guilty of thinking it’s never the “right time” so this has given me something to think about.

For my next session I decided to go and find out about iPad lending in libraries. We heard about experiences from FE and medical libraries. In the FE library this was as a response to not having enough computers, and in the medical library it seemed to be more to do with the number of electronic journals now read and used by the users. We talked about the benefits of using iPads – as mentioned, they ease the strain on the computer area, if you allow them out of the library then users may find that helpful, and the apps available can be useful – and also the challenges; cost, security, damage, limitations of being able to create work i.e. essays on them, and the need to clear them before loaning them out again. What was surprising for me was that the things that immediately sprang to my mind as being potential massive problems – copyright/licencing issues and security/damage – did not appear to have been big problems so far. I found it really useful to hear about these experiences; I am not aware of any plans at my institution to loan out mobile devices at the moment, but in the future I will feel able to contribute to discussions about this if they arise.

For my final session I chose to learn about web services and widgets, and how library data can be used. I’m afraid I was late to arrive so I missed some of this session and I don’t think I really caught up! The discussion was around ways of using library data to make services more useful, and I think to allow for personalisation. There seemed to be quite a few issues around getting hold of this data, particularly for public libraries. I will look out for other blog posts on this session to find out what I missed, as it sounded interesting!

There ended Library Camp 2012, and it was time to find our way back to central Birmingham and to the pub (I apologise to all concerned for my embarrassing lack of geographical knowledge of my home city – in my defence, I only lived there until I was 18 so if I needed to get anywhere other than my local area or the city centre, my Dad would drive me [as he did that morning!], so I never paid attention!). As I’ve explained in my write-ups of the sessions, I did take away some useful thoughts and ideas. However, I’m not sure I attended all of the right sessions. It’s tricky with an unconference – without a pre-planned programme you need to decide quickly which sessions you are going to attend, and the nature of an unconference means that you don’t know what a session is going to end up being about as you would in a conference session with a presentation and structure. This year we were given leaflets containing a space to write down sessions (space for all of them) and plan your day, which was really helpful, however! What I should have done was write down every session so I could decide whether to leave a session and go to another one.

A few people have commented that Library Camp this year was a bit subdued, and I’m afraid I have to agree. I think that part of this was personal; I wasn’t feeling 100% so I don’t think I contributed to discussions or conversations as well as I do when I’m my usual cheery self – but there was still an air of something. The time of year (busy teaching schedules and the gloom of approaching winter after a rubbish rainy summer) maybe? Or the general economic gloom at the moment? I’m not too sure. Whatever it was, I don’t think it was any fault of the event itself, so I’d like to say a big well done and thank you to the organisers. Maybe next time things will be looking happier.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Latest happenings

It’s been a while since I last blogged as I have been really busy with finishing off my Chartership portfolio. It’s now finished and submitted, and all I can do is wait! It feels quite strange to have let go of it; it’s been part of my life for over a year! If I pass, I’ll write a post on my tips for putting together your portfolio. If I don’t pass, then it’s back to it!

I’ve decided I’d like to give some more time to my non-LIS interests for a while.  I’ve enrolled in Spanish evening classes, which I’m really looking forward to. I love languages and started learning Spanish when I was at uni, but have since forgotten much of it, so it will be good to start again and try to keep it up.

I’ve also started a new blog about something which has become important to me recently – travel, specifically solo travel. I’ve experienced and learnt lots during the trips I’ve done so far so I thought I should start writing it all down. Hopefully it might be of interest or use to other people too.

Other plans include looking into studying geology and volcanoes in some way, picking up on the half-finished poetry collection and the various ideas for novels that I have sitting on my computer, and starting street or hiphop dance again.

I’m by no means reducing my LIS activities though! I will be continuing to look after LISNPN, and within my CDG role I’m currently starting to help plan an event for new professionals in Bristol later this year. There is also going to be lots to do at work as the new academic year begins, with new responsibilities and challenges, so I am expecting to be kept busy.

Good luck with the new academic year, everyone! Don’t forget to take some time for yourself every so often.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Presenting in a webinar

Some time last year I was asked to speak in one of the webinars in the “New Librarians Global Connection: best practices, models andrecommendations” series run this year by the IFLA Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning and IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group, with the American Library Association (ALA). As a co-manager of LISNPN I was asked to speak for ten minutes about how the network began and developed, to share our experiences of setting it up and running it, and to offer some tips to any LIS new professionals who might be looking to set up similar networks.

I had never even attended a webinar before, let alone presented in one, so I was nervous to say the least, but I accepted the invitation as it sounded like a fantastic opportunity both to further promote LISNPN on an international level, and to develop my own presenting skills. 

The first thing I did when I started preparing was to ask Ned, who created and developed LISNPN, to send me any useful information he had about its beginnings; I joined the admin team a few months before the network was launched, but as I was not involved in its inception, I was aware that I was missing information which could be useful for anyone wanting to create a similar network. Ned was really helpful and sent me lots of information about how the network began and what kinds of promotion were most effective.

This isn’t specific to a webinar presentation, but I found it really difficult to fit everything I wanted to say into ten minutes! This is a problem I’ve had with every presentation I’ve done so far, and so I made sure that I started preparing it a few months before the webinar, so I would have plenty of time to re-work it and get it down to the right length. 

Having never participated in a webinar before, I did a bit of research so I would know what to expect. I read Jo’s and Bethan’s excellent posts on presenting in a webinar, which offered some really helpful tips on how to prepare and present. Realising from this that I would need some headphones and a microphone, I asked them and others on Twitter whether they would recommend a particular set. In the end I purchased these which were fine; I could hear everything well and apparently I could be heard clearly too.

As I was not going to be seen by my audience, I decided to write a script to read from. I didn’t want to risk losing my way or getting flustered, for two reasons: 1) I only had ten minutes in which to speak, with a lot to fit in during that time, so I didn’t want to risk wasting any speaking time, and 2) as I wasn’t standing in front of the audience, if I went quiet then the audience and organisers wouldn’t know why and might ask if I was still there, which would be even more off-putting! At the same time, I was aware that a script can sound very unnatural, so I made sure I practised it enough times that I knew the material, that I knew where each sentence was going, and could inject some natural speech into it as I went along. Reading from my script worked well for me during the webinar – it ensured that I included everything that I wanted to, and because of my practice I think I made it sound natural. However, I was very careful to turn the pages over quietly, having heard what sounded like the rustle of paper during one of the presentations before mine! I haven’t heard the recording yet so I don’t know whether this was successful!

When creating my PowerPoint presentation, I decided to keep it very minimal as I didn’t have much in the way of facts and figures to share. I mainly used it to display links to LISNPN, to blog posts about LISNPN and for my email address and Twitter handle, thinking that, being an online event, attendees could just click straight through to these and, for example, be looking at LISNPN whilst listening to me talk.  

We had a practice in the webinar tool a couple of weeks before the webinar, which was really helpful. My biggest tip for anyone presenting in a webinar would be to have a practice run! This meant that I knew how to dial in and how the webinar tool worked, as well as being able to check that my headphones and microphone were OK. I would recommend Skype for dialing in; very easy and it didn’t cost me very much at all. The tool was fairly easy to use. Presenters were muted until it was their turn to speak. We would send our PowerPoints in advance and when it was our turn, our presentation would be loaded up already. There were simple “back” and “next” buttons to move through our slides as we spoke. Down one side of the page was a chat box which all attendees could use to ask questions, pick up on things etc, and which the speakers could also use to answer the questions or engage in discussions. I was told that it could be a quite an intense hour, but that it would be fun! After the practice I felt much less nervous and was looking forward to the webinar. 

Unfortunately, on the day we had lots of technical problems! I was actually unable to log in to the webinar tool, so I was unable to see or join in with the chat box, or to see my or the others’ slides. Luckily I was still able to dial in, so I could listen and speak. This made presenting a bit tricky; as I couldn’t see my slides I had to rely on one of the organisers moving through them for me, meaning that I had to introduce verbal cues to move to the next slide into my presentation, and as I couldn’t see the chat box, meant that I felt like I was talking to myself, which was a strange feeling! I think I still gave a good presentation, but I was really disappointed to not be able to see or join in with the chat box. One of the organisers passed questions on to me verbally, and I was able to answer verbally, but I feel like I missed out on the overall webinar experience by not being able to engage that way. Afterwards, a very kind audience member emailed me a transcript of the chat box, so I was at least able to see what was said and asked eventually, which was great. 

Despite not being able to engage in the webinar tool, the online nature of the event made it easy to engage on Twitter. There was a hashtag for the webinar and, although lots of people tweet during conference presentations, I felt like the fact that the webinar was online allowed more people to tweet and engage with others’ tweets i.e. it wasn’t restricted to people with smartphones. I was able to see what attendees were saying about my presentation, thank those who had directed positive comments towards me (I had put my Twitter name on the first slide), engage in discussions with attendees, and express my disappointment at not being able to join in fully due to the technical problems (this is what prompted aforementioned lovely person to copy and paste the chat box for me). Being online, I had Facebook and LISNPN open at the same time, and it was thrilling to see the Facebook “Likes” for the LISNPN page flooding into my notifications, and the number of new members appearing on LISNPN throughout the webinar!

I really enjoyed having presenting in a webinar. I loved the level of engagement with attendees that it allows, and it was great to reach an international audience. I just wish that I could have logged into the webinar tool and been able to participate fully! I definitely hope that I have the chance to speak in a webinar again, and that there will be no technical issues next time. My slides are below if anyone would like to have a look, and I will post a link to the webinar recording when it is available. Thank you very much to Loida and the IFLA NPSIG for inviting me to be a speaker!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tips for applying for conference bursaries/sponsored places

As conference season has started and LIS people, in particular new professionals, are starting to look at how they could attend events despite the costs, I thought it would be a good time to share some tips for applying for bursaries and sponsored places to events. This is based on my fairly recent experiences of winning a sponsored full place to attend Umbrella2011 and also helping to judge the applications for a sponsored place to a conference last year.

So you’ve found a conference you really want to attend, but you don’t think your workplace will be able to finance it - or perhaps you’re a student, temporary worker or currently unemployed and would need to fund yourself. Where should you look to find opportunities to apply for bursaries or sponsored places? Mailing lists are a really good place to find them; they are generally advertised here. In the UK, the LIS-LINK, LIS-AWARDS and LIS-PROFESSION Jiscmail lists are good ones to keep an eye on (I’m afraid I can’t recommend listservs outside of the UK as I don’t know them very well). You’ll often see them Tweeted as well; follow the Twitter accounts of your local CILIP branch, Special Interest Groups and CILIPInfo. Opportunities will often be posted on the LISNPN forums so it’s worth checking those too, as well as the webpages for your local CILIP branch and the Special Interest Groups of which you are member, and of course those of any other professional associations you are a part of, such as SLA. Generally you will need to be a member of the CILIP branch or Special Interest Group to apply for the bursary, so this does necessitate being a member of CILIP. I have many complaints about CILIP and their membership fees, but the opportunity to apply for sponsored places is for me a benefit of being a CILIP member. If anyone reading this is aware of sources for bursaries for LIS events which do not require a membership to the group or association offering it, please do add a comment below for the benefit of those looking for them.

Once you’ve found a sponsored place or bursary that you want to apply for, the first thing to do is to check that you are eligible. It sounds simple but do read the instructions carefully, as it only wastes yours and others’ time if you turn out to not be eligible. As previously mentioned, in my experience some kind of membership is usually required, and the opportunity may be restricted to people in certain geographical areas or at certain points in their career. It’s also helpful for those judging if you indicate your eligibility; this doesn’t have to be in the actual application, but do state in your covering email or letter that you are a member of the SIG/a member of the local branch/a new professional etc.

Similarly, take some time to read exactly what they are asking for in the application, and address this clearly. Many will simply ask for a paragraph or a certain number of words on why you want to attend and/or what the benefits of attendance will be for you, but others might ask you to address two or three questions. Treat it like a job application where you need to go through the person specification and explicitly indicate how you meet it; don’t just write a very general paragraph if they have asked specific questions. Look for a word count and stick to it if one is given!

In a similar vein, show that you have taken the time to find out what the conference is about and have considered how this is suitable for you; address the theme of the conference in your application and explain why you feel this makes the conference an ideal or important one for you to attend. If a conference programme is available, have a look at it and pick out the specific sessions which you think would be most useful/beneficial to you, and refer to these in your application. This again shows that you have a genuine interest in the themes and topics of this particular conference, and are not just wanting to go to “a conference”.

Explain what the benefits of your attendance would be – to you, to your service/colleagues, and to any other areas of the LIS community in which you are involved. It’s great that you’re interested in the conference, but what the judges want to see is more than just interest, it’s the reasons why you are the person who would actually benefit most from it, the person to whom the award would be most useful.

Most bursaries/sponsored places have conditions attached; usually a write-up for one of the group/branch’s publications. Mention this in your application to indicate that you’ve registered the conditions and are willing and able to meet them. If there are no conditions given in the guidelines, then mention your willingness to write up your reflections or share them in any other ways that would be useful. This demonstrates your appreciation of the opportunity and your understanding of the importance of sharing learning and outcomes from events with your peers.

Once your application is finished (and proofread and spell-checked!), it’s a good idea to send it in advance of the deadline, just in case the person collating the applications has any problems opening your document.

My final tip is to just go for it – what have you got to lose?! 

If anyone has any other tips or experiences they’d like to share, please do leave a comment.

Good luck everyone!