Tag Archives: skills

Silence in the library

I’m getting worse at updating the blog – it’s not unexpected though, as less new and exciting stuff happens to me these days! However, I thought I should probably just do a quick update on what’s going on with library life at the moment.

Exams and dissertation season has been and gone, and blimey, that was busy. People were banging on the doors fifteen minutes before we open, so desperate were they to get their hands on our thesis collection, and the demand for laptops was so high we had to turn people away. What amused me were the “regulars” who would come in every day for two weeks and ask for the same three theses – why didn’t they just photocopy the relevant bits?! There was also one guy who would come in every day and ask for a laptop – it got to the point where it felt like I worked in a pub (“the usual?”). There was, of course, all the stress and frustration that comes with exam season – not for me, but for the students. We had printer problems, network problems, printing credits going missing and essays disappearing. It meant I got to use all my customer service and “dealing with difficult situations” skills from those training sessions earlier in the year! 

The past couple of weeks have been noticeably quieter – yesterday we probably had about 50 people come in during the day, and it’s only going to get quieter now that the majority of the students are finishing their year and going back home. We’ll still have some nursing students and postgraduates, though, so it’s not going to be completely dead, but it is noticeably different to the atmosphere a few weeks ago. It’s just so quiet! Term doesn’t finish for another three weeks, but after that we’ll be on summer vacation hours until the Autumn term starts (and I’ll be gone by then!) – three more late Wednesdays and then I’ll be on regular hours for the rest of my job. We had a team meeting the other day and it was the first time that anyone mentioned that I’ll be leaving quite soon – it was quite weird to hear that said out loud! I know that the new GTs have now been chosen, and I’m looking forward to getting put in touch with them quite soon (or at least I assume this will happen, as it did for us last year). 

 The other week I went to a public lecture on digital humanities, which I was expecting to be quite interesting – and it was, but not for the reasons I expected! It was about Doing things Differently: writing, academic journals and social media in the online world. It was presented by the editors of an online journal, and the blurb made mention of Open Access, which I wanted to learn more about. I’m interested in social media too, so this sounded really good. However, the actual event did not live up to expectations, and there were some mentions of “Creative Commons” which made all the library staff whistle through their teeth like builders. (Creative Commons doesn’t mean you can use any old thing off Google image search!!) It was interesting to hear about journals and OA from the perspective of two academics, but it was a bit of an eye-opener too, as I somewhat naively expected researchers (and editors of online journals) to be a lot more clued in on technology, resources and social media. It shows that there is a lot of work than can be done by libraries and information professionals to support researchers and improve their knowledge and skills when it comes to these areas.

Last week I had a surprise delivery of 120 new books – rather more than I usually get! It is nice to be able to tell the academic staff that we’ve bought all the books they wanted, though, and the monthly new books newsletter looked very impressive! We’ve used up all our budget for this year now, so the book deliveries will dry up until next term. That takes a big chunk of work out of my day, but there are other projects to be getting on with over the summer, so I’m sure I’ll still have plenty of things to do.

We’re currently running a Patron-Driven Acquisition exercise with e-books, which is where hundreds of titles get loaded onto the catalogue, and if a student clicks on one and reads it for more than five minutes it triggers the purchase of the book. Some of the titles are interesting, to say the least – we found one about Jungian theory in relation to sand. Bit odd! The purpose of the PDA is to provide more material online while the book stock at one of the site libraries is unavailable as it moves into the main library over the summer. The move is now underway and we are having to keep on the ball when it comes to sending books to other sites – books might say one thing on the system while actually needing to be sent somewhere else. Needless to say there’s a lot of signage around to keep everything straight!

Now that the academic year is coming to an end the big project is renewing all our digitised material for the next year. This is the first time we’re doing it with the new software, so it’s a big learning curve for everyone. My first task was to write out the instructions for the renewals process, which is easier said than done – we kept getting updates to the instructions as people tried them out and discovered bugs. We are now in the process of contacting all the academic staff to find out what they want us to keep – if all goes to plan then we can upload or delete the relevant files before September and get everything straightened out. This has involved two new spreadsheets so far and I’ve been using my newfound Excel skills to add fancy conditional formatting and other bells and whistles, which has been fun in a nerdy way. The whole process is just a bit weird for me though as although I’m setting up a lot of the work, chances are I won’t be able to complete it all before I leave (depending on the speed of responses from lecturers), so I won’t get the satisfaction of seeing this through to the end.

We’re coming towards the end of the stock take as well – we’ll finish scanning the shelves with the digital library assistant this week, and then it’s just a case of tying up the loose ends and getting everything to add up. It’ll be strange not having scanning to do as part of my daily tasks!

One last thing that’s happened recently is that I gained two new qualifications – I’m now a Microsoft Office Specialist in both Word and Excel. I had to sit an exam for each of them to prove I’ve got the skills, which meant a lot of quick learning of things I’d never really done before. It’s already come in handy as I have been able to “decorate” some  spreadsheets with special formatting to improve their functionality. It’s a handy thing to put on a CV too, especially seeing as I haven’t got the time or money to take the ECDL, which some job applications require.

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Enhancing Your Professional Profile: Job Hunting and Social Media

On Thursday I went up to the MMU Business School to attend an afternoon of talks as part of our regular training schedule. The theme this month was Job Hunting and Social Media, and there were three sessions over the course of the afternoon on different aspects of this topic.
 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/aslanmedia_official/6292167103/The first session was entitled “Amazing Applications”, and was run by the University’s Careers Service. There were a couple of good points raised during this session, such as the importance of mirroring the employer’s language in your application (are they groovy and relaxed, like In nocent, or businesslike, like Barclays?) to show you’ll fit in with their culture and the need for clear structure in your answers. I liked the advice about using the STAR technique when giving evidence of competencies (list the Situation, Task, Action, and Result) as well. Apart from this, though, I felt that this was a session better suited to students than to us, as we already had to fill in an application form to get the GT job. I’ve written about applying to library school before, and the advice is pretty much exactly the same for applying for jobs: research the employer thoroughly, list all your skills and experiences before you start writing the application for easy reference, and give evidence for every single one of the competencies required, in the order they require them. I didn’t feel that this was the most helpful session I’ve ever been to, although it’s always good to refresh your knowledge.
 
The next session, run by @catmcmanamon and another librarian, was called “Your Professional Profile”, and was much more interesting. It was about how you can use your online identity to show potential employers your value to them as an employee. A good point that was raised was that social media is user-centred, and that this is something we should be exploiting in order to get ourselves out there and show ourselves in a good light. Essentially, you’re putting the best of yourself on show for everyone to judge. This of course means that you’ve got to engage responsibly; it’s no good putting yourself all over the internet if it’s not helping you out. Paris Brown is a good recent example of when your online presence hinders rather than helps your image.
 
Responsible engagement means occasionally biting your tongue – tweeting about a bad day can lose you your job! Many workplaces and universities have specific policies about what would happen if you were to bring them into disrepute with your actions. We saw several examples of students losing their places at university or being taken to court for writing inappropriate tweets, such as Joshua Cryer last year. If you want to check whether you’re at risk for being fired, there’s a website for that (which also shows some excellent examples of what not to do!) Remember that people have suffered serious repercussions for “joke” tweets before, so it’s definitely a case of “think before you tweet”.
 
“[S]ocial media is not a lesser form of communication; it is as worthy of a disciplinary hearing as anything said out loud.”Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
 But the real point of this session wasn’t to discourage us from using social media altogether, but rather to use it as a force for good. In order to show your best self online, you may need to do a bit of spring cleaning – hide or delete things that don’t paint you in the best light and make sure all your privacy settings are up to date. This is especially important on services like Facebook, who change their privacy policies and settings pages frequently. Another way of improving your online identity is to flood Google with impressive results that push down unwanted ones – after all, nobody really reads past the first page or so of Google search results. The trick is to have a managed, “PR-ready” profile on the accounts that Google ranks highly, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and Facebook.
In this digital age, employers are looking for people who are digitally literate, so using social media astutely can help you with this. It doesn’t have to be all dry and dusty, though; you can show your personality too, as long as it looks “professional”. Pinterest and Flickr are good ways of showing your hobbies and interests, for example. An interesting tool that I hadn’t heard of before is Vizify, which creates “graphical biographies”. We had a little play around with it during the session, and it’s really simple to set up your own Vizify page and populate it with the information that you want people to see – your education, employment history, hobbies, and anything else. It collects the information from the social media services you link to it, and you can pick and choose exactly what it displays. I had some fun creating mine – check it out here. (Among other things, it’s made me realize that I need to stop tweeting about how much I hate trains!)
 
You can also use social media to make great connections (obviously) and hunt for new opportunities. Start following updates on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or RSS from companies and brands who do the sort of work you’re looking for, and get yourself noticed by them. Interacting with the important people is easier online than it would be face-to-face, as social media isn’t hierarchical. A good tip is to use keywords in your profiles and bios so that you’re more easily searchable, as well as talking about your interests (professional and personal) and interacting with relevant people. It takes time to build up a good network of people who can help you get where you want, but there are plenty of success stories out there that show what can be achieved.
 
This session will be run for students during Employability Week here at MMU, and those students are in for a treat! I’ve been feeling quite inspired by this talk, and have been tweaking my “identity” all weekend. Next stop: a proper photo.
 
Finally, we had a short talk about job hunting in the LIS sector. It’s getting towards the time of year where I need to be thinking about getting some part-time work for the next academic year, so I was looking forward to picking up some tips. I’ve created a Google Doc here of the helpful job search websites we looked at during the session, which I would love for people to add to and share. Darren, who ran the session, recommended thinking about the job you want, not the sector you want to work in. If you like teaching infoskills sessions, there’s no point in applying for a cataloguing job just because it’s at an academic library, when there could be a more suitable role in a different organisation. He also pointed out that librarians aren’t just called librarians any more – they’re also information officers, data analysts and knowledge managers (here’s a large but not exhaustive list), so it can be a bit hit-and-miss when searching on job websites. Some websites have a drop-down list or selection of tick-boxes which help you narrow your search to a field, e.g. “library” or “information management” or similar, which can help prevent you from missing out on jobs with unusual titles.
 
Darren’s tips for job hunting are as follows:
  • Use RSS or email alerts for searches (where possible) so that you don’t have to keep going back to websites to run the same search.
  • do placements not volunteering
  • keep up on your current awareness
  • join a professional body (it’s cheap for students and GTs)
  • attend training courses and events (look out for the free and cheap ones)
  • join peer networks like the Manchester NLPN 
  • share job opportunities with friends and peers – they may well do the same in return!

Overall, this was a great afternoon and it’s certainly got me thinking about ways to get my personal brand shipshape and ready for the competitive jobs market that lies ahead.

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First team-teaching session

I’m aware I haven’t updated the blog for a couple of weeks – I was struck down by a horrible flu and then went on a couple of weekend trips, and then Masterchef started, which all conspired to eat into precious blog-writing time. However, not much has happened in library life, so it’s not like anyone’s missed out on much.

The main thing that has happened is that I finally got to help teach an induction and infoskills session, trying out my presentation skills from our training back in December. I did the first part of the session on my own, which involved explaining the admin sort of stuff to the students, including usernames and passwords, printing and photocopying, and other thrilling IT-related things. I think I did quite well at this, although it’s quite hard to judge this when you’ve got a sea of blank faces staring at you. I said everything I wanted to say, and was able to answer the questions that were asked as well, so as far as that goes I’m happy with my performance. The only thing that I was unsure about was whether I was pitching the information at the right level. The thing about teaching, presenting and lecturing is that it’s not at all the same as having a conversation with someone; when you’re having a one-to-one conversation with another person, you’re getting simultaneous feedback – that’s all the nodding, “mm-hmm”, “yeah”, “right” sort of stuff that they’re doing while you’re talking. This helps you judge whether they’re understanding what you’re saying, and whether they’re still interested in hearing it or not. When you’re teaching or presenting to a roomful of people, it’s more than likely they’ll just sit still and listen without offering any of this feedback, which is part of why presenting can feel so disconcerting and scary. I found it really difficult to know whether I was going too fast or too slow and if I was explaining things in enough (or too much) detail. It’s something I think you just have to get used to, as there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It was marginally useful to stop and ask “is that ok?” “are you ready to move on?” and other similar questions, but these were often met with silence anyway! I think the most useful thing we do here is to get students to fill in evaluation forms, so you do get feedback, albeit a little delayed.

For the rest of the session I was involved in the hands-on demonstrations, showing people how to use the catalogue, ebooks and databases. This is something I enjoy doing as I think it’s something I’m quite good at – I like explaining things and helping people to understand them, and it’s more instantly satisfying than giving a talk or presentation!

All in all, as a first taste of teaching and presenting to real live students, I think it went really well, and I’m definitely not put off by the experience. I’m itching to do some more, but opportunities are more limited at this end of the year. Fingers crossed…

 

Apart from the teaching, not a whole lot has happened recently at the library. We’ve just been plodding along! We had our busiest week last week, with over 1000 assignments due in, which meant students queueing up to use staplers, printers and laptops. It was only a tiny bit stressful in the end, as most of them were fairly well-prepared and hadn’t left everything until the very last minute. Of course, you always get one or two exceptions… This week is the start of the three-week Easter break for the majority of students (some run on a different calendar), so we’re getting about 30% of the visitors we had last week, and life on the issue counter is a bit more sedate. I’ve been working on a spreadsheet detailing our journals holdings (print and e-) and that’s been keeping me occupied for the last few weeks! The end is in sight, though, and I’m hoping I can get it finished before the long weekend, so I can start looking at some of the other stuff I want to do (more spreadsheets, mostly) next week. That’s about it for now, though – nothing super-exciting. I’m just looking forward to the Easter weekend – I really need the rest!

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December Training Session: Presentation Skills

I’ve just done a very brave thing. Well – not very brave, but still, it took some guts to do this, and I’ve never been brave enough to do it before. You may have already guessed that it’s something to do with presentation skills, and you’d be right – I just watched myself doing a presentation on camera. Like, probably, most people (everyone I’ve spoken to about it, anyway), I hate seeing or hearing recorded versions of myself. I never ever watched the DVDs they made of us doing our mock Spanish oral exams, because it would have just been unbearable. However, I watched this one. Why? Because I felt good giving this presentation. For possibly the first time ever, I felt relaxed and unpressured while talking, and I thought it’d be interesting to see what that looks like. Turns out it looks alright. I mean, it wasn’t perfect by a long shot, like, seriously, what was my hair doing?! And why can’t I stand upright properly? And I still went bright red. But the actual talking and giving people information bit, that was pretty good. And I think that’s partly down to the fact that we’d had a really good training the week before about giving good presentations, which I will now proceed to tell you about.

We turned up to the session having been told to bring a three-minute presentation about anything we wanted, and I’ll admit to being pretty nervous about this, because my preparation style is somewhat haphazard, and I’m a big fan of such concepts as “leaving things to the last minute” and “winging it”. So I had put some photos of tapas together on some slides the night before, done a rough scripty thing in my head, and just trusted myself that I’d remember who Alfonso the Wise was. When the time came for presenting to the group, we all did quite well, and gave each other some good feedback. I really enjoyed this part of the session as we’ve built up a good group atmosphere in our trainings that means we can feel comfortable with each other. It was really interesting watching everyone’s presentations and finding out about everyone’s specialist subjects, which ranged from Doctor Who to British cinema to Scarborough. The other interesting part was getting the feedback. It’s easy to be critical of yourself and so it was good to get other people’s perspectives. I was convinced I was speaking at about 100000 mph but everyone wrote that I was enthusiastic and energetic, so that made me feel better about being quite a “lively” speaker.

After this we had the theory part of the session, where we picked up some helpful tips from Paul the trainer, who seems to have had a hundred jobs and who knows a lot of useful people. Paul is a very engaging presenter, even once getting a room full of people excited about some old University buildings at our new staff induction session, so I think we all felt like we were getting some very reliable advice here. Paul had done some good research on what makes a good presenter, and according to him these qualities include competence, poise, commitment and dynamism. Apparently the more you like someone, the more receptive you will be to their message, so it’s important not to be a distant or closed-off presenter. We’ve all had those presentations where the speaker is talking to their shoes or the screen more than they’re engaging with you, and we all know how tedious and uncomfortable those presentations can get.

Paul’s tips for a good PowerPoint or similar presentation are: keep it simple. Clean text and not too much of it. A good rule is the 6×7 rule: no more than 6 lines per slide, and no more than 7 words per line. Make your visuals interesting – the “full bleed” picture option on PowerPoint is one of my new favourite things – and don’t go crazy with slide transitions.

As far as content goes, the lesson was that structure is very important. Have a beginning, middle and end. Use a “hook” and a “promise” at the beginning – the hook is something impactful, like a controversial statement, a statistic, or a question, followed by the promise, which has a handy acronym: INTRO. Interest your audience with the hook, then tell them why they Need to listen to you, give them a Title, outline the Range of key themes, and give them an Objective: “by the end of this presentation, …”. The key is to interest people with all types of learning styles, so you need to answer these four questions – Why am I here? What are you talking about? How will this work? What if…? This ensures that you’ve got planners, reflectors, and everyone else onside. The end of your presentation is the part that people will remember, so you’ve got to reinforce the message here. Revisit the promise and show how you’ve fulfilled it, then give the audience something like a summary statement or a “thank you” so that they know you’re finished.

The really interesting part of the session was when Paul shared the stuff he’d learned from teacher training and from a lecturer in acting. In teaching you are taught to stand by the door of the classroom to welcome the pupils in the morning, and this shows that you’re welcoming them into your environment. This is a technique you can use as a presenter – arrive early, and be in the room before the audience. Acknowledge them when they arrive so they know it’s your space they’re coming into. Moving a piece of furniture can show ownership of the space as well. A useful acting tip was on grounding yourself – a natural reaction to the pressure of presenting is for adrenaline to rush to your extremities (the fight or flight response), making you fidget with nervous energy. This can be distracting, so you should teach yourself to stay “grounded”, or rooted to the spot, by adopting a stance that is very balanced. Apparently actors stand on pencils to make themselves more aware of where their feet are!

There are loads of other things I could mention that we learned, but you get the general idea. The session was really informative and helpful, and we went away feeling a lot better about the next session, where we would be filmed giving another presentation. For this one I tried to take some of the lessons we’d learned on board, especially making the PowerPoint slides look pretty. Of course I didn’t do much more preparation than usual, but I did make sure I was informed enough to speak confidently about the topic (the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, if you’re interested. It’s a really good story, especially the bits about William Chester Minor). Having now watched it back, I think I did a good job of it. I need to work on grounding myself still, and the ending was weak (this is definitely down to my off-the-cuff haven’t-thought-about-a-proper-ending preparation technique, which I’m willing to admit needs refining), but the speed and pacing were good, and I didn’t even sound like I was from the West Country (I’m not), unlike on my podcasts.

I’m really glad I got the chance to go to this training and to get some really great advice which I know will be indispensable in the future. My next go at presenting will be to real, live, actual students, when I get to team-teach a Library Induction session. I’m excited to present to strangers, as I haven’t done it much, and I love a challenge. Of course I’ll let you know how it goes!

One of my pretty slides from my OED presentation.

One of my pretty slides from my OED presentation.

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