Well, I made it! On Wednesday this week I graduated from Sheffield University with an MA Librarianship (with distinction, no less!). It’s the culmination of a year of hard graft and not much sleep and it feels great to actually have my certificate and be able to say I am a qualified librarian!


Here’s me and the certificate: My graduation


I don’t remember exactly when I decided to pursue librarianship. It feels like a lifetime ago, although it will only have been in mid-2011. Since then I have had four library jobs, moved house three times, and notched up thousands of miles on the railway, commuting between Leeds and Sheffield for the MA course. Despite the last few years being difficult at times (waking up at 5am every day and spending four hours on trains is not my idea of fun) I am so pleased I had a chance thought one day along the lines of “maybe I could be a librarian!”, because it’s been a great experience and I’ve learned so much. I even enjoyed throwing books away for four months!

So what’s next? Well… chartership, I suppose. I’m holding off on starting the chartership process because I haven’t got a permanent or long-term contract in my current job, and I’d like to get a bit of stability before I get going with chartership. After the stress of summer 2014, where I tried to hold down a job, research and write a dissertation, and buy a house all at the same time, I’d quite like to have a quieter summer this year! Instead of pursuing another qualification or certificate, I’m going to do more informal things like going to networking events and one-off training sessions. I’ve been to a couple of seminars recently and it’s nice to dip into interesting topics without having to commit to lengthy or expensive courses. This week I’m going to a talk about technology-enhanced learning, which I’m really looking forward to. My first year as a qualified librarian is turning out quite nicely so far 🙂


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Creating screencasts

Last term I went to a presentation about using screencasting technology in various ways to support teaching and learning. It was delivered by Dr Emma Mayhew, a lecturer from Reading University, and was mainly attended by lecturers and learning technologists from the arts and social sciences faculties here at Leeds. The talk was interesting on two levels: not only for the information on screencasting, but also because I haven’t spent very much time “mixing” with groups of academic staff, and it’s good to see things from a different point of view sometimes.

Emma’s presentation started off with the assertion that modern students suffer from information overload, need more flexibility in their learning and want to access information in different ways. To try to meet these needs she has started to use videos to support her teaching. So far she has created screencasts to advertise modules, to explain concepts in lectures, to describe things like essay marking criteria or plagiarism rules, and to give feedback on essays. She has even used them as substitutes for meetings with her colleagues! Here’s a collection of screencasts created by Emma and her colleagues from the University of Reading as part of their GRASS project.

In a nutshell, screencasts are videos of your computer screen, usually with a voiceover as well. You can record yourself clicking around the desktop or going through a full-screen presentation, and you can (depending on what software you use) record yourself using a webcam at the same time, so your face shows up in the final video. Most of the screencasts on the GRASS website are Prezis with voiceovers, but there’s also a PowerPoint one (with webcam) and one demonstrating a piece of chemistry software.

The (anonymised) essay feedback videos, which I found really interesting, were made by recording the desktop and a webcam feed simultaneously – so you could see the lecturer scrolling through the essay in her browser and speaking to you about it at the same time. These aren’t available online but you can read more about them here and a similar scheme from Cardiff Uni here.

Emma showed us lots of online resources you can use to create presentations or videos, including Prezi, Powtoon and Videoscribe (subscription-based with free trial). She uses Camtasia (subscription/free trial) to create her videos, although there are plenty of other services out there (including Jing, which is free but has limited features). Emma also pointed out a couple of websites where you can download pre-prepared backgrounds for Prezi, including Prezibase and Prezzip (doesn’t have many free ones). I was surprised by how willing she was to pay for templates and software subscriptions rather than relying on free alternatives, although I’m not sure if this is just me being a skinflint! I imagine some of the subscription costs (e.g. Camtasia) might be paid for out of the GRASS project fund.

I asked about accessibility, as I am currently creating my own videos and have been thinking about including transcripts or subtitles as an alternative for people who aren’t able to watch them. Currently the GRASS videos don’t come with transcripts or subtitles, but apparently they have considered filming someone doing British Sign Language to accompany some of their videos. I think this is an unusual approach and am slightly wary about not providing a text-based alternative to videos, as not everyone who can’t watch a video can use BSL. I was interested to hear that one of the lecturers involved in the project found video feedback really useful, as he is dyslexic and prefers speaking over writing. I had previously thought of videos as being quite time-consuming and a lot of effort for staff to create, so it was good to be reminded of situations where they are actually the easy option.

There was a discussion around licensing issues with screencasts and online presentations, and this was the bit where I found it really… interesting… to be the only librarian in a room full of academics! I’m not sure everyone in the room was on the same page about copyright, Creative Commons and “fair use”, and there were some quite dodgy statements being made. (N.B. I’m not accusing anyone involved with the GRASS project of any licence infringement!)

Someone also asked about how to get more “traditional” colleagues on board with this sort of thing. The recommendation was to get them to write a short script and then to offer to video/animate it yourself, removing some of the hassle. I quite liked this idea, although you can’t start offering to do everyone’s videos for them all the time, due to not actually having unlimited time. But it’d be a good start – saying, for example, “I’ll help you make this first one and show you how easy it can be, then you can try it for yourself”.

Although I have made short screencasts before, I thought this session was quite a good refresher, and I learned about some new (to me) resources. I’m currently working on short informational videos for my current job and have been feeling quite creative since I saw the sorts of things Emma and her colleagues have made. Hopefully I’ll be able to share the results with you soon!

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Last week I did my first teaching session as a professional librarian. It… was ok, I suppose? I shared the teaching with my colleague as she’s more familiar with the sessions than I am, so it was an opportunity for me to ease into teaching before going it alone at the end of the month.

The session was about bibliometrics, which is one of my main responsibilities, and involved a mixture of talking to the students, demonstrating websites to them, and getting them to have a go themselves. I did a lot of the talking bits, while my colleague did the demonstrations. I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about my “performance”; there were a couple of moments where my mouth ran away with itself, leaving my brain to catch up, making some of my explanations of statistics a little bit more jumbled than I would have liked. I think I could have been a lot clearer about what exactly some of the things I was talking about actually were, to make it all sound a bit less confusing. My worst bit was when I forgot I was talking about the Journal Impact Factor, which is a specific number calculated in a specific way, and started to talk about characteristics of journals which can be measured and demonstrated (but not necessarily by using the JIF).

The feedback forms from the session were positive, though, which I suppose is the main thing. I think my problem was that this is the first time I’ve ever given a presentation that I didn’t write (or co-write) myself, and therefore I didn’t know the material as thoroughly as I usually do. I don’t think it was actually a bad session, it just wasn’t as easy or polished as I’m used to. It’s just reinforced to me that I really need to learn the material and make sure I’m 100% familiar with it in time for my sessions in a couple of weeks’ time. Wish me luck!


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EndNote tips

Last week I got to do my first proper bit of advising in my new role as a Research Support Advisor. A student came to us with a complicated EndNote query and it was my job to try to work out what to do. I’m not a frequent EndNote user – I chose to use Mendeley to manage my references during my MA – and I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means. Between us we created a sort of work-around before later discovering that we’d approached the situation all wrong. It took me so long to work out what we were supposed to have done that I’m going to share what I learned so that other people in my position can save themselves a bit of time!

Problem 1: I want to cite a book several times and have the page numbers for each citation appear in separate references in my footnotes.

The student was using the MHRA (Footnote) style and was having trouble making page numbers display in his footnotes. He also wanted each citation to refer to a separate footnote, as he was citing a different page from a book each time. My very first thought was that his footnotes looked a bit weird; I should have stuck with that thought because it turned out to be very important. However, I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, so instead we ploughed on with what we thought was going on. First of all, I suggested creating records for different book sections/pages in the EndNote library, and putting in the page numbers for each section, then citing each one in the document. This would create a separate footnote for each citation, with the page numbers displayed, like the student wanted. We also worked out how to make the citations themselves display page numbers in the body of the text, by editing the “unformatted citations” (the text that talks to EndNote which is hidden behind what you see on the page – your citation might be a superscript number like this: 1  while the unformatted or temporary citation actually says this: {Burton-Roberts, 2010 #4@56}). The trick is to put “@x”, where x is the page number, at the end of your unformatted citation. The style you’re working in has to be configured to display the page number, but most of them are set up for this.

HOWEVER. Although we’d managed to find a sort of solution, all of the things we did seemed a bit… wrong, somehow. Surely there was an easier way of doing this – numbered referencing is quite common! It took me a good half-hour of reading around various guides before I worked out what the actual problem was – and this is what I had noticed but not realised yesterday. The student’s “footnotes” were actually the reference list, or bibliography, which comes at the end of your document and lists all the sources you’ve read and/or cited. To insert actual footnotes into a Word document you have to do an extra step compared to what you’d do for a style like Harvard.

For Harvard, you can click “insert citation” on the EndNote tab in Word, and you’ll get an in-text citation looking like this: (Burton-Roberts, 2010) as well as a full reference in your reference list/bibliography at the end of your document.

When you’re using a footnote style, you need to create the footnote using Word first, and then use EndNote to link it to the source you’re citing. First, with your cursor in the text where you want the first citation to be, click the References tab in Word, then click Insert Footnote. Then click into the footnote itself, which has appeared at the bottom of the page. Now go into the EndNote tab and click Insert Citation. Once you’ve chosen the item you’re citing, the information will appear in the footnote. You can make the footnote display a page number by editing the unformatted citation (click Convert Citations and Bibliography, click Convert to Unformatted Citations, add @x to the relevant citation). Once you click Update Citations and Bibliography, the page number will display in your footnote. If you also want the page number in the text, the easiest thing to do is just to type it in in the correct place, e.g. blah blah1 (p. 56).

I’ve never used footnotes before, so this was all brand-new information to me. I’m glad I’ve worked out the “official” way to do it, as I’m sure this is a query that I’ll come across again in the future!

Problem 2: The first citation in my text is numbered “4” instead of “1”, and the next one is numbered “2”.

This stumped me for a while. When we searched on Google all the answers pointed to formatting errors caused by deleting citations or copy-and-pasting, but neither of these applied to this student’s document. Finally I spotted that the authors in his reference list were listed in alphabetical order, rather than in the order they appeared in the text. This turns out to be quite straightforward to sort out – you need to go into the EndNote program itself and edit the style. Click Edit, then Output Styles, then choose the one you want to edit. When you’re inside the style template, find Sort Order in the Bibliography section, and choose the appropriate order (e.g. Order of appearance or Author + Year + Title).

I’ve edited styles in Mendeley before, so this was sort of familiar to me, but it was good to get the chance to actually have a go in EndNote. It was also good to be able to solve a student’s problem – that’s one of my favourite parts of working in libraries!

Although most of our students use an EndNote style specifically created by the University (and therefore won’t need to mess about with formatting), some don’t (like the student I helped the other day), and neither do researchers writing articles for publication in journals. I’m more confident in my ability to help these types of people now that I’ve dealt with this query and learned a bit more about how EndNote works.


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Open Access for the Humanities

During my first week at my new job, my team hosted an event called “Open Access for the Humanities” in conjunction with SPARC Europe. It was a free event, open to anyone who was interested, and consisted of four talks – two by OA publishers, and two by researchers from the University, giving their perspective on OA.

The first speaker was Frances Pinter who, as well as being the CEO of Manchester University Press, is also the Executive Director of Knowledge Unlatched, a project which sounds a bit like Kickstarter for publishing. Essentially, the idea is that academic libraries each pledge some money to make a book OA. If enough libraries pledge, then the book is “unlatched” and will be published OA (or made OA if it has already been published). The more libraries who participate, the less they each have to pay, as the cost to publish each book (the Title Fee) is a fixed sum decided by the publisher. The pilot project involved a package deal where libraries pledged to pay for publishing a set of 28 books, spanning a range of subjects. It was a success; 297 libraries participated, and ended up paying less than $50 per book. I like the idea, especially given that OA for books is something that really needs work, but I’m not sure if scaling up to larger book collections would go down as well – libraries still have to pay for the ebook licenses for non-OA textbooks and don’t have unlimited resources. This interview with Frances on explains more about KU and addresses some of the scaling-up issues.

Something else that was quite interesting was the collection of author interviews on the KU website: they give a good snapshot of the attitudes that authors in the humanities have towards OA publishing.

After Frances, we heard from Brian Hole, the CEO of Ubiquity Press. UP enable authors to publish their work for much lower fees than those that the large publishers charge. You can publish in one of their OA journals, or you can set up your own; they provide the support for universities or libraries who want to set up a press or a journal but haven’t got the resources in-house. They’ve got a large peer review database which is shared between all the journals, so their publications are held to the same rigorous standards as other, more established, journals (fighting the perception of OA as inferior quality). You can also publish books or other types of research – Brian said they’ll publish anything, including research data, software and wetware (I think he meant cyberware), but I haven’t been able to find any unusual examples on their website.

UP’s aim is to make OA publishing affordable and sustainable for everyone, so they offer a range of options to reduce costs, for example fee waivers or simple file hosting (without editorial support etc) for institutions in developing countries. I really like this as it gives everyone a chance to make their research visible without having to go through the expensive traditional routes.

The two Leeds authors who presented at the event gave their own takes on OA publishing and what it means for them. Malcolm Heath spoke about the tension between the author as a publisher, and the author as an author, two personas which can often want quite different things. Alaric Hall then illustrated some of the benefits of OA using examples from his own career; he got a job based on the fact that his interviewer had been able to access and read one of his recent publications, and he built new international research partnerships thanks to his work being freely discoverable online. He also mentioned how he uses Wikipedia as a pre-publication research space, reading, editing and creating articles relevant to his research, and collaborating with other editors to improve the information. It was good to hear an academic being positive about Wikipedia for once!

Overall the event was really interesting and I enjoyed hearing about initiatives that go beyond green vs. gold. I was also very happy to go away with some post-it notes, a pen and a lovely sticker which is now on my notebook.

SPARC Europe are hosting four more OA events before Christmas, in London, Coventry and Scotland. See here for more details.

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New job

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a new job! I’m now a Research Support Advisor, which so far involves teaching PhD students about stuff like literature searching and research impact, as well as answering enquiries about bibliometrics or referencing. So far I haven’t had a huge amount of stuff to actually do, but now that things are settling down and I’ve learned more about stuff I should be able to start getting on with things.


The team is practically brand-new; they were only formed in July and only actually started working in the same office as each other about a month ago. My fellow Advisors were mostly faculty support librarians (aka subject or liaison librarians) before they came to this team, which was set up as part of a wider restructuring process. As a result of all this change, nobody has quite worked out how the team operates, or whether everyone’s carrying equal weight in terms of their areas of responsibility, so it’s possible that my role might change slightly as the year goes on. Certainly at the moment I feel like I have a lot less work to do than the other Advisors, one of whom oversees the institutional repository and the e-thesis repository, and another of whom carries out expert literature searches for medical research teams.


We are each responsible for providing teaching sessions to PhD students in our faculties; my faculties are Biological Sciences and Environment, and I’m scheduled in to provide several sessions for those students between now and Spring 2015. I’ve already sat in on a few of my colleagues’ sessions and I’m starting to get ideas about what I might do during mine – we are delivering the same content but there’s scope for adapting it to your audience if necessary (e.g. science students and arts students search for different types of literature in different places online).


I’m also going to be helping my colleague with the expert searching service she provides, and at the moment I’m practising running a search through several different databases, to familiarise myself with the techniques. Although I’ve got experience of working with medical databases and using advanced searching techniques, the work I’ll be doing is extremely technical and methodical and it’s important that I learn to do the process exactly right. My colleague gave me a three-week deadline which I had initially thought was very generous – but almost a week has passed and I’ve only got through a tiny bit of what I need to. For an example of the type of detailed search strategies I will be using, see the appendices to this Cochrane Collaboration systematic review.

Although I haven’t done much yet, I’m sure I’ll have loads to do as I settle in and become more established in the team. There are ideas floating about to revamp our e-learning offering, which will generate quite a lot of work for me, and when the team becomes more well-known outside the library I will start to get more enquiries from staff and students. For now, I’m just getting used to my new environment and trying not to get too lost!


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Well, I’m glad that’s over.

This summer has been a busy one for me, as I attempted to research and write my MA dissertation, work part-time in Sheffield and buy a house at the same time. Things like “sleep” and “social life” became alien concepts for three months while I concentrated on staying upright, alert and able to speak and write coherently. As is often the way when you’re doing lots of stressful things at once, they all ended up clashing horribly (and exhaustingly) over the same weekend. On the 29th of August I collected the keys to our new house and received an email inviting me to a job interview. On the 30th of August we moved house. And on the 31st of August I finished and submitted the most important piece of academic work I have ever produced.


On Monday the 1st of September I woke up feeling extremely happy and carefree!


I’m not convinced my dissertation is the world’s best essay (by a very long shot) but I think I made a good attempt at doing research of a topic I didn’t know much about, using techniques I had never used before. I think the stress of juggling so many life events at once might show up in the writing, especially one chapter which corrupted and had to be rewritten from scratch close to the deadline, but I’m pleased that I’ve produced a halfway decent piece of work. People keep asking me about how it went and, honestly, I can’t remember much about it any more (I think this is my brain protecting me from the trauma of the final weeks). I’m mainly glad that it’s all over and I can go to the pub without feeling guilty.


I’ve adjusted quite well to being a non-student again – it’s nice that all my spare time is my own and I can spend it watching the Apprentice or wandering around Leeds without thinking “I really should be doing some reading/literature searching/essay writing”. It also helps that my NUS discount card is still valid! For the moment, I’m enjoying a quiet time, without any courses or organised activities to do. I keep toying with the idea of signing up to a MOOC or teaching myself a new skill, but I think I need a bit of a breather before I get stuck in to something new.


As for that job interview I mentioned… I only went and got the job! I left Sheffield two weeks ago and have started my new job – my first “professional librarian” job – in Leeds. I’m going to write more about that soon, but suffice it to say I am enjoying it, especially the (much) shorter commute, and learning huge amounts.

As for right now? I’m going to have a cup of tea and watch the Apprentice.

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