My route into Libraryland

My fellow SLA Europe colleague Woodsiegirl has created the Library Routes Project, a wiki set up in October 2009.

The idea is to document how people got into the profession, and the career path which has taken them to their present role.

I have been meaning to add my ‘story’ for some time, as I have always been fascinated by how people end up in this unusual profession. I went from being a motorcycle messenger with Pegasus Couriers, hurtling around the wintry streets of Thatcher’s London to become a cataloguer grappling with the delights of the Dewey Decimal Classification and AACR2 (Anglo American Cataloguing Rules mark 2)

My story begins a few years earlier. I left University in 1984 with a degree in Geography and Computer Science (the kind of thing possible then at Keele University). The logical thing to do at that time would to have become a computer programmer or something similar. However, during my last year at Keele I had something of a Damascene conversion whilst sitting in the Computer Lab one sunny Sunday afternoon. I looked around the computing lab and realised that with the exception of one other equally laggard student, I was the only there who had not completed the assignment due in on Monday morning. Some had completed it weeks ago. The shocking truth was that they preferred being in the lab with their computer terminals to frolicking out in the sun with their fellow students. I suddenly realised that I preferred being and working with people rather than cold inhuman computer technology.

This new found realisation left me at something of a loss as to a career path post University. However one faint possibility did occur to me at that key point. During my four year degree course (this was back in the halcyon days of full grants), there were just two options for paid work at Keele. The first was behind the student union bar fending off drunken scholars five deep demanding Pernod or Newcastle Brown Ale. The second was to work as an evening assistant in the Library. Both jobs paid the same, but the second involved working with attractive young library assistants who were local girls (surprise surprise there weren’t any young men at that time). The choice seemed obvious to me, and I greatly enjoyed spending time with these exotic creatures (you have to realise that after being surrounded by 4,000 students for weeks on end, spending time with a ‘real’ Potteries local was very appealing). As you can probably tell the spirit of Melville Dewey (or S R Ranganathan come that) did not enter me during this period.

I spent my first post University year working intermittently as a loft insulator – the period of my live I was at my fittest and most agile. The job involved heaving bales of fibre-glass through narrow loft hatches and avoiding putting my foot through delicate plaster ceiling panels. I then moved to London with my girlfriend and needed to find work quickly. I turned to my ‘trusty steed’, and became a motorcycle messenger. After a couple of months of risking my life in the cut and thrust of London streets helping to oil the wheels of the Thatcher boom economy, I decided this was not a good long-term career choice. So I wrote to thirty university and college libraries to see if they had any vacancies. I received two replies inviting me to interviews, and ended up on a six month contract at South Bank Polytechnic (as it was then known).

Within a few days of starting as cataloguer I began to think that this career could be the one for me. Having had 25 years to consider why this might the be case, I have decided on a combination of reasons. Firstly I had never been able to find one subject I could settle on to the exclusion of all others (the archetypal jack of all trades and master of none). At the same time I found I was interested in almost all subjects and had a desire to dig deeper to find out more about them.

At the end of my six month contract I was fortunate enough to be taken on as a Graduate Trainee, which allowed me to learn about a range of library jobs within the Polytechnic. Nothing I experienced during that year dented my enthusiasm for the profession, so I found a place at North London Polytechnic (as it was then called) and spent a year learning about the theory. This was actually the hardest part of my life in Libraryland, as I found the theory dry and boring. Many students actually gave up during the year, but my knowledge of how enjoyable of the actual work was drove me on and got me through.

This story is turning into something of an epic, so I am going to break it into two parts with the second exciting File:Sarcasm mark.svginstalment to follow in a later post.

Lynne Brindley appeals for UK web archiving was somewhat surprised to hear Lynne Brindley’s voice in my bathroom as I was brushing my teeth on Thursday morning this week.

It turned out she was being interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 talking about the lack of legislation which would ensure we don’t lose the vast amount of information only published on the World Wide Web.

The British Library has already managed to capture 6,000 sites in our UK Web Archive, but this is mere drop in the ocean compared to the millions of websites (past and present) in the UK alone.

It is reckoned that the average life expectancy of a website is less than 75 days, and that at least ten percent of UK websites are lost or replaced with new material every six months.

The problem is that until UK copyright law is changed, every website owner has to give permission to capture their site, and fewer than 25 percent of owners even reply to our requests.

In the meantime I suggest you nominate websites so we can capture more content.

I am rather proud of the fact that even this humble blog is being preserved for future generations of Infields to read.

Librarians of the future discussed at the Online Information Show

My fellow SLA Europe Board member Marie Madeleine Salmon went to a lot of trouble to organise three international events during the recent Online Information Conference.

I spoke at the first of these on the Tuesday, and had been planning to write up a summary until time slipped away from me.

Fortunately an excellent summary was written by Penny Crossland, and appears on the Resource Shelf blog here. A longer version is published on the VIP LiveWire blog here.

What’s not to like about LIKE?

LIKEIn a year that has seen cuts in commercial library and and information services resulting from the UK recession, and the sad demise of the City Information Group in the summer (CiG – RIP), it is good to have something new and positive to talk about.

LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) is a networking group for Library, Information, Knowledge and Communication professionals, who meet on a monthly basis to share stories, learn and exchange knowledge in an informal and relaxed setting.

According to one of their fans: “The best thing about LIKE meetings is that they attract interesting and friendly people. It’s rather like a very good dinner party.”

They are already up to their tenth meeting, to be held on 28 January in The Perseverance in Lamb’s Conduit Street, featuring Liz Scott-Wilson Head of Information Management at Tube Lines talking about Information behaviour & culture change.

At their previous get together in December they looked forward to the coming year, and recorded some LIKE members’ New Year Resolutions.

SLA name to stay SLA

The last few weeks have seen what must be the most hotly discussed library profession related topics since the (UK) Library Association changed its name in 2002 to CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).

The results of the electronic voting was finally announced on 10 December on the SLA Blog SLA Name Will Stay: Alignment of Association to Continue. The vote against the new name was fairly convincing with 2071 voting yes and 3225 voting no.

Although I initially felt a bit deflated by the result after all the efforts those in favour, I was all too aware that the proposed new name was not particularly engaging. Although I wonder if we could ever find one that would be. At the previous failed name change vote in 2003, the choice was Information Professionals International, which to my mind is equally anodyne.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in the campaign was to give the impression we were moving away from the ‘L’ word rather than creating a bigger ‘tribe’ (to quote Seth Godin) in which librarians would be a big and welcome part. Many traditional librarians in the United States seemed to feel it was something of an either or situation.

Also the heat of the discussion has shown that although the stereotype of information professionals is of a shy and retiring middle aged woman wearing a bun, if they feel strongly about an issue, they are prepared to ‘storm the barricades’. I am reminded of the acknowledgement from Michael Moore, after librarians saved his book Stupid White Men from being pulped in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in America:

“I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group.
They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them. You know, they’ve had their budgets cut. They’re paid nothing. Books are falling apart. The libraries are just like the ass end of everything, right?”

Hazel Hall wins Information World Review Information Professional of the Year 2009

Dr Hazel HallAs the fortunate recipient of this award in 2003, I was very pleased to see it go to Hazel Hall this year. I have known Hazel for many years and always been impressed by her support and enthusiasm for her students, and at promoting the potential of the information and knowledge profession.

She has published and presented widely in international journals and at conferences including keynote presentations, plus numerous publications in the professional press and books.

She has also been in the vanguard of adopting social media activities such as Twitter, and trying to persuade  resistant information professionals of their benefits.

Hazel is Director of the Centre for Social Informatics in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University. She is also leading the implementation of the UK Library and Information Science Research Coalition.

The awards are organised by IWR magazine and Online Information Conference organisers, Incisive Media.

Peter Williams, Editor of IWR magazine, described Hazel during the presentations as an energetic and enthusiastic information professional whose work invigorates the professional landscape, both within and beyond the UK.  2009 has been an outstanding year of achievement for her and one on which future success will be built for the profession as a whole, as well as on a personal level.

TFPL Connect International – Monday 30 November

I managed to force my flu wracked body along to this Monday evening pre-Online Exhibition discussion organised by TFPL. As well as the impressive panel listed below, I noted the room was full to bursting with 80 of the great and good of the information world. Many had flown in early for the Online show from the United States and Europe to be able to attend this event.

As something of an old stager at these kinds of events, I recognised quite a few faces around the room. These including three previous winners of the SLA Europe Information Professional Award (which was previously called the European Special Librarian of the Year); the current holder Gimena Campos Cervera , Annabel Colley and ex-Surrey Policeman Kevin Miles who I nominated for the award way back in 1999.
Natalie Ceeney

The panel consisted of Natalie Ceeney (NC) the CEO of The National Archives, Doris Springer (DS), Manager Information Services at Bain & Company in Germany, and Morten Nicholaisen (MN), the Executive Director of Dialog.

Although I enjoyed the evening, somehow it didn’t quite live up to it’s billing. I think part of the problem may have been that it was a Monday night. Also, although Natalie was as controversial as her reputation predicted, the other panellists were not able to match her, and so the sparks did not fly.

The questions for the evening included:

How can we improve Britain’s economy?
NC. By making more effective use of knowledge. We should treat it as the third big asset after money and people. We should encourage mashups and innovation, and allow public access to the data and let them work out what to do with it, and to question its accuracy. She pointed out that the Welsh government already has a policy covering every document and how which element they will make available on the web.
MN. We should encourage better and more creative use of published information.

How can we improve personal use of information as exemplified by the Scandinavian countries?
MN. Recent surveys have shown that part of the reason why Scandinavians are statistically some of the happiest people in the world, is because they are happy to share personal information. The older generations do not understand how the younger generation think and works with online information. For example the fact they don’t look beyond Google when searching for information. He finds showing a product like Dialog to young consumers is difficult. It does not look cool compared to free web products. And this is coming from the boss of Dialog.
NC. Felt the culture was different in Britain and the public would not accept sharing of personal data. We draw the line between private personal data and public access much closer to home in the UK to compared to Scandinavian countries. She thought that UK citizens are coming increasingly concerned about how much personal information is open via social media sites such as Facebook..

Victoria Ginnetta – we have seen much more flexible working as a way of responding to the recession likely. How likely is this approach to carry on in the future?
DS. Full time workers are still key to Bain in Germany.
MN. This recession has been the worst he has seen in forty years. 2010 will be better, but perhaps not by much.
NC. The UK public sector will see a delayed response to recession, they are now heading towards a spending recession. The result will be more outsourcing, the growth of long delivery chains. We won’t be able to rely on long term employees.

Liz Blankson-Hemans – What attributes does the profession need to help break out of traditional roles?
MN. Info pro’s in corporates need to be better at sharing critical information with more people in their organisations. Desk top info does solve this problem as it leads to information overload. An info pro can determine what information is critical.
NC. By being the people who are best at getting the most out of information.
DS. Info pros have not been good at internal marketing.

Steven Philips – Given the pressures on publishers income streams can we expect to see a divergence in Business to Business (B to B) and Business to Consumer (B to C) revenue models. Will the B to B begin to subsidise consumer access?
MN – Not much experience of publishers selling directly to consumers. Currently very protective, but need to be less risk averse.
NC. Admitted she had not successful when at The British Library, but felt it is happening in Government publishers such as in Met Office free public information is used to get people to trade up to charged content.
SP. Publishers may have shot themselves in the foot by giving too much away for free. This makes life difficult when trying to charge corporates.

Is Stephen Fry a social media saint or sinner?
None of the panel are users of Twitter and admitted that they didn’t really get it.
Hazel Hall felt they were missing out on something important and explained how it took her eight weeks to really get Twitter. If Facebook is suburbia then Twitter is the city centre. She reminded the audience that when email first came along we had much more time to get used to it than with these new social media technologies.
Mary Dee Ojala pointed out that even if you don’t Tweet you must be monitoring what people are saying about your organisation on Twitter.

Information Law with Charles Oppenheim


DSC_0021 by OneIS.
Picture from OneIS

A late night last Thursday due to attending an excellent talk by Professor Charles Oppenheim on information law. The event was the second in a series of talks organised by the wonderfully entrepreneurial information professional Jennifer Smith and sponsored by her OneIS company. Charles generously agreed to make his slides available on the One IS website

For his talk Charles cantered through a range of important and controversial topics, which was described as a chocolate box taster approach rather than an in depth analysis due to time constraints.

Having known Charles for many years I was already aware of his amazing ability – not only to bring what could be quite dry topics to life with amusing examples, but to explain really quite difficult subjects with clarity and brevity.

The topics covered were data protection, personal data, cloud computing, protecting your reputation online, disability discrimination, contracts and last, but by no means least, copyright.


Data protection

This is a notoriously difficult and worrying topic for information professionals, and in fact anyone whole collects data about people in the United Kingdom. It all stems from the Data Protection Act of 1998, and covers information about individuals ranging from the innocuous to highly sensitive. One curious exception to its provenance is financial information, and we spent some time during the lengthy questions and answers session at the end pondering why this might be the case. My theory is that the UK banks recognised the law would have a disruptive impact on their activities, and used their considerable influence to ring-fence this area.

The Data Protection Act is based on the following eight principles, all of which have legal status (either civil or criminal), and is regulated by an Information Commissioner:

  1. Personal data must be obtained fairly, and for a bona fide purpose.
  2. It can only be used for one or more purpose, which must be clearly specified.
  3. The data obtained must be adequate, relevant and not excessive. Charles gave a wonderful example of a town council who included a question on chest size on their form for all new employees. The reason they asked the question was to help them keep their stocks of overalls correct for those staff who did ‘dirty jobs’, such as dustmen and women. However, when a secretary complained about the question the council (and the vast majority elsewhere in the country) were forced to change their policy.
  4. The data must be accurate and up to date (where relevant).
  5. It should not be kept for longer than necessary. (This led to a discussion of the recent news story about the UK police being forced to delete their DNA records of innocent civilians after six years, instead of keeping them forever).
  6. The data should be processed in accordance of the rights of individuals, who retain the right to sue for inaccurate information.
  7. It must be protected from loss, damage or destruction.
  8. It must not be transferred outside the European Economic Area. (This led to a discussion of Google and Amazon data servers which are based in the United States).

Charles then went on to give brief overviews of five more information law topics:

1. Cloud Computing – In particular the risks of exporting or storing data outside of the European Economic Area. Many organisations are not aware that by using Google or Amazon S3 servers their data is being stored in the United States, and so in breach of UK law.

2. Protecting your reputation online:

–       This topic was about slander (temporary) and libel (published) where the reputation of an individual is harmed by false statements, to more than one ‘third’ party.

–       It only applies if there is a reputation to be harmed. So saying Jeffrey Archer is a crook would not be libellous.

–       An email to an individual is not libellous, but if it leaks out to others, then it becomes so.

–       This is a particularly thorny topic due to the big differences in libel law between countries, in particular between the United States and the UK. We currently have the strictest libel laws in the world.

–       Charles recommended regularly ‘Googling’ yourself to see what has been written about you online.

3. Disability discrimination – How you must make reasonable adjustments to cater for those with disabilities.

4. Contract law – This consists of five key elements. Offer and acceptance, consideration, intention to create legal relations, legal capacity and formalities. Charles reviewed the three levels of formality. 1. A verbal or email agreement (unlikely to accepted in court). 2. An email with a digital signature (generally accepted as binding). 3. An email with a signature and full encryption (full legal strength).

5. Copyright – Charles ended on this most complicated and controversial topic which led on to a lengthy question and answer session. He wanted to ensure we were all aware of the fact that just because content was freely available on the Internet, this did not mean it was not covered by copyright law. He recommended using sites such as Flickr which are covered under Creative Commons licences.

Free vs Fee – the Future of News – SLA Europe meeting 3 November

Another successful SLA Europe event this evening, this time at the swanky venue of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, five minutes away from Blackfriars station.

The hot topic was Free vs Fee – the Future of News. And stemmed from the fact that most newspapers have offered their content via the Internet for free with the expectation that display advertising would create enough revenue to cover the cost of creating and distributing their content. However, with the continuing decline in physical newspaper sales and the softening of the display advertising market, news organisations are exploring new ways to charge for their digital content.

On the panel were Jeremy  Lawson  VP Sales, EMEA, Dow Jones & Company, Andrew Hughes – Commercial Director for the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), Laurence C. Rafsky Ph.D. – CEO of Acquire Media and Laurence Kaye – Principal at Laurence Kay Solicitors. The panel was excellently moderated by Donald Roll – Managing Director, Europe for Alacra.

Here are my notes from the evening:

Don Roll introduced the evening by talking about the steep decline in newspaper circulation, the recent arrival of the first free quality newspaper in the form of the London Evening Standard, and how the NLA wants to ensure newspaper publishers receive payment for web content.

Andrew Hughes – NLA initiatives

NLA are moving towards creating a set of licences for commercial use of newspaper websites.

UK newspapers spend £1b a year in creating this content, which is quite different from paper published information. For example 31% of newspaper websites has never appeared in print.

The plan is that for those who charge for access to newspaper content will be charged by the NLA, who will also charge end user clients for access to content.

Existing licences will be extended and new ones created where necessary

e-Clips Web – Working to improve access to content by using newspaper CMS systems.

Laurence Kay – The legal view – 10 key points

1. Professional journalism, ‘trusted content’ and UGC (user generated content)

2. Change takes time! Business models and culture takes time to change.

3. Global Media / local copyright?

4. If content is going to be free, why does copyright matter? Provides the framework for access and usage rights.

5. B2B versus consumer copyrights

6. ‘Effects-based’ approach to copyright. Helps to work out how to apply rules to the real world. Look at the commercial impact of activities.

7. ‘Legal’ versus ‘Illegal’ content. When to take action or technical measures over infringements.

8. Who are the ‘intermediaries’ in the value chain? E.g. Where does Google fit in? Searched for or ‘scraped’ conent?

9. ‘Fair Use’. Big variations across Europe. United States has a broad definition. If the use is commercial is that no longer fair use?

10. We are still lacking 21st century infrastructure to cope with licensing and payments for use.

Laurence C. Rafsky – What do we mean by free?

Once freedom has been tasted there is no going back.

Value chain –

  1. professionally produced but given away selectively – e.g. advertiser supported
  2. Non-professional content
  3. Gifted professional content. E.g. Stephen King novel
  4. Free to some but not others
  5. Content that should not be free.

Two enemy camps

  1. Information wants to be free – the hippies
  2. Corporate suits who want to charge for everything

The solution will need to be  a compromise.

A question for the NLA to consider:

Do you use copyrighted material for commercial gain without payment to content owners?

Do you use copyrighted material for commercial gain without permission from the content owners as we understand it?

The crux of the debate is between these two viewpoints.

Can we separate business use from personal use? Google don’t distinguish between the two.

Jeremy  Lawson – Supporting publishers and their right to monetise their content.

Questions from the audience:

Did the newspaper industry start digging its own grave by giving away content?

New York Times started with some free and mainly fee access. They ended it because when compared pay per click ads versus pay for access would give ten times the revenue. But as ad revenues fall they may go back to first model.

Should be driven by economics.

Do you think news aggregators are a serious threat to publishers?

Links are fine, but extracts complicate the issue as readers may not link through to content. But as web content grows and newspaper content becomes a smaller fraction, increasing hits to newspaper sites lose their economic value to the publishers.

85% of newspaper traffic comes via Google. So should Google pay the majority share?

Is the Kindle from Amazon a potential future model for subscription access to newspaper content?

Disagreement – ability to break news up into selected streams for readers counts against Kindle model.

When will paper newspapers die?

Laurence C. Rafsky predicted that by 2030 newspapers would cease to exist in paper form as a  mainstream product.

He compares their future to candles today – they will become a decorative only production.

As he pointed out, if you had a choice, why would you use paper for something that only has a value for a few hours, and then you need to scan it to create a digital version which can be archived.

B2B vs B2C

Issues about consumers within a business environment – now that the genie is out of the bottle, how do you get individuals in a corporate environment to accept paying for information.

The event was kindly sponsored by Dow Jones.

The Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals

I had a feeling my last post (Would a librarian by any other name smell just as sweet) might not be my final word on the subject.

What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much heat the name change vote would generate. It is quite rare to see information professionals in ‘passionate mode’, but this issue has brought plenty out of the woodwork on discussion lists, blogs, facebook and twitter. Here are links to a selection; Am I a Strategic Knowledge Professional, ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy

As I mentioned before, the membership of SLA contains 2,000 different job titles, what I wasn’t aware of was the fact that only 25% of members use the title librarian. So already the term is a minority within the organisation.

Amongst the passionate comments attacking the new name have been a few calmer rational ones which I include below:

  • If we were not called the Special Libraries Association I believe many more people who are in the information profession would find a professional home with us.  The new name is meant to be broadening and inclusive.
  • But I want to be fair: it’s easy to criticise and far harder to take a leadership role and come up with alternative ideas which pedantic old cynics like me might take a shine to and approve!
  • SLA leadership has been between a rock and a hard place on this issue for some time and it’s to their credit that they have been trying to do something, even if I don’t hugely like the result.
  • I think the old name is life-expired and something new is indeed needed.
  • Imagine trying to find one name to cover everyone who works in the medical profession. Doctors, consultants, surgeons, nurses, secretaries, hospital managers. All quite different jobs all supporting patients either directly or indirectly.
  • As a member, I wouldn’t feel that we’re obliged to call ourselves Knowledge Professionals.  That certainly doesn’t describe what I do, it would sound a bit pretentious – for me.
  • Having read up, I realised that “new-SLA” wants to embrace folk like KMs and CIOs, not just the librarian/info. pro community.  So the focus is broadening, but not changing to exclude librarians.
  • My feeling is:  if that’s the case, well so be it, “librarian” won’t do for a KM or CIO.  The natural response to that is, of course, well “knowledge” won’t do for me!
  • I wouldn’t mind being a librarian member of a “strategic knowledge professionals” association.  It doesn’t mean I have to change what I call myself or what I do, in fact it would probably send the message to anyone reading my CV that I’ve a broader remit than might be implied by the title “librarian”.
  • Being Europe-based, if I’m going to be a member of another professional body it’s easier to justify and better for my career and CV if it has a less CILIP-duplicating slant.

Hopefully the excitement will calm down as we move towards the name change vote in November, and we can start planning for the next 100 years of the association confident in the knowledge that knowledge (sorry couldn’t resist) will still have resonance and meaning in 2109.