October is always the busiest month of the year, somehow… and, as usual, I am catching up now that it’s November. This year I am full of things to write about, most especially from the Frankfurt book fair, where I was lucky enough to be a panellist on a Hot Spot stage. This post is about all things I spotted at the book fair, which I found to be connected to Germany. 1. The Gutenberg press was represented by its museum, and you could see items being printed at the fair itself.
2. Porsche museum. Another museum proudly signposted the best of Germany, in this case its strength in car manufacturing.
Porsche not only make cars, but are also publishers and indeed a fashion company, as I found out at the Frankfurt airport shopping mall!
3. BID, the professional society for German Libraries & Libriarians. They are a kind of equivalent to the UK’s CILIP, properly called “BID – Bibliothek & Information Deutschland”. They were represented by two stalls at the fair: one for the main organisation, and one for a group called LIS. At both of these stalls I spoke to students from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences: they had also attended the morning panel discussion, being students of my fellow panellist, Dr. Petra Düren. They also spoke excellent English and were good advocates for their professional association!
I know that there was a lot more of Germany there for those who sought it: there was German apple wine to sample at one of the stalls, and plenty of German beer around, but I didn’t quite make it… I was busy being distracted by all the other people who were at the Frankfurt book fair. People like Open Athens, who I had a nice chat to about how students at the universities I worked at in the UK would often rave about all the information they found “on Athens”. What the students really meant, of course, was the resources that the library subscribed to for them, and which they authenticated to, using OpenAthens!
More soon about all the other people I spotted at the Frankfurt book fair, in my next blogpost…
This post isn’t library-related, but I wanted to share some reflections on the things that I’ve found different here in Germany, compared to the UK. I’ve written before about some of the challenges for a Brit, so this post covers different points. And I’ll start with something at least book related!
Independent bookshops. Naturally, I love these! Most of them are for German language material of course, and there are also many independent publishers based here: Germany still has fixed prices for books, and there’s a good read in the NY times if you want to find out more about this.
Sensible shoes. This is something I approve of: you rarely see German women tottering around on ridiculously high, cheap plastic heels. There is a good reason for this: many pavements are made of tiny cobblestones which make going out in high fashion shoes into an extreme sport! Plus, I think many Germans aim for something high quality that will last a long time: if you’re going to invest a lot of cash and wear the shoes for many years then just you won’t put up with something less than comfortable.
Good public transport. I can’t speak for the whole of Germany but here in Berlin it’s usually on time and many bus stops have a digital display to tell you when the next bus is coming. And if you get lost on foot, there’s usually a map at the bus stop, showing you where you are! The S-bahn is perhaps the least reliable option, but only because it’s so old that they’re always having to repair it.
Two single duvets on your double bed. This idea is GENIUS! No more fights over who’s got too much/too little. ‘Nuff said!
Wait for the green man. (I mentioned before that I always look 5 times when crossing. And I probably don’t need to mention the famous Ampelmann with his hat.) Lots more Germans than Brits will wait at pedestrian crossings when there are literally no moving cars around, for the green light to cross. There are also sometimes cars waiting to turn across your green light as they are allowed to make such turns. So why wait for the green light when the turning car is bound to show up? Strange!
Main meal at lunchtime: bread and cheese/cold meat for dinner. The evening meal here is called “Abendbrot” which literally means “evening bread” and of course said bread is usually dark brown and full of nutrients, bought from one of the many bakeries of which the Germans seem so proud. I still like to cook at evening time since I work from home so my other half gets two proper meals a day now and has had to start watching his weight!
Sunday closing. Not just Sundays either: fewer shops here are open late at night in my part of the German capital city than in a provincial town in the UK, and whilst museums are open on Sundays (and well visited since there’s not much else open!), they are closed on Mondays. Small business owners go on holiday and just put a sign on the door to say when they’re back, or open only at quirky times of the day. There is a rhythm to life here which is rather old-fashioned and sometimes a nuisance but it also feels highly civilised and respectful of life outside of business. You can still get milk & basics from a 24 hour petrol station if you’re desperate, and the shops at the main train station and airports will be open for those arriving on a Sunday. Bakeries will be open on Sunday mornings for your all-important daily bread, and you can eat in a cafe or restaurants on a Sunday. Florists are also open on Sundays so you can buy something to give to hosts/place on a gravestone. Quaint but civilised!
Sausage as haute cuisine! Well, maybe not quite but it’s certainly something of which the Germans are proud. I can’t get a good British banger with all its breadcrumbs, chemical flavourings and unknown ingredients: the sausages here seem to be made of meat. And salt: there’s lots of salty, meaty food!
Swimming pools close in summer months. Actually, this is not as bad as it sounds because the lifeguards have all gone to work at outdoor bathing sites (quite a few are nudist, another difference from Blighty), but it does make me wonder why they can’t take on more lifeguards as casual staff over the summer. Then I remembered that it probably takes 5 years at university to qualify as a lifeguard here in Germany (I exaggerate!) because every job here is treated like a profession, requiring hard-won qualifications. In a way this is also quaint but civilised.
Plugs are smaller. Obviously the British 3-pin plug is superior (I jest!) but I like the neatness of the continental plug when travelling. I don’t like the fact that my products with 2 pins for the UK bathroom socket have to be plugged into first an adapter for 3 pins, and then an adapter for continental sockets. Apparently continental plug items can sometimes be plugged into UK bathroom sockets (I’m not recommending that you do this: sounds dodgy to me!), but it definitely doesn’t work the other way around.
Knitters hold the yarn in the left hand, and knit much faster! (OK it’s not every day for every Brit, but that’s why it’s no. 11 on my list of 10!) I learnt to do this and it really fixed my problem with overly high tension. I now knit combination style and avoid repetitive strain problems, plus I’m trying out 2 colour fair-isle with a yarn in each hand. Not mastered that yet, but we’ll see…
So that’s my list, and you may have gleaned that I find Germany quite charming as well as confusing or frustrating at times. I wanted to mention the reliance on cash again, but I blogged that last time (it’s still annoying!). I don’t have children but from what I can tell, the support for parents is better here. Also, I haven’t touched on German bureaucracy: maybe I’ll write about that another day!
So my blog is called “A librarian abroad” and I haven’t blogged very much about my trips! This week I was in New York to visit a client: I saw lots of Soho/Noho and I must say, it’s my favourite part of the city. I daresay that I felt more at home there because it’s got lots of older architecture which makes it feel more like Europe, and of course because it’s where New York University is to be found. Here is a picture of their lovely red sandstone library:
I didn’t try to go in and visit: it was really, really busy and I could see the card barriers just inside the doors. I did look in through the windows, and I love the repeated square maze-pattern lighting, which you can see if you look very hard in my picture. Not only is it visually appealing but there’s no need to worry about the alignment of your shelves & your lights, as with strip lights!
It’s nice when you can speak your own language on your travels. Well, almost! I learnt to call the toilet a “restroom” for a few days, and to ask where the nearest “trashcan” is, but still forgot to call a full stop a “period”! Also, there’s no such thing as a flapjack in the US (apparently there is something called a flapjack but that’s what I would call a pancake!) and the nearest I could get to the ubiquitous (in the UK) British flapjack was an oatmeal cookie or granola bar, neither of which is quite the same.
And of course, as a tea drinker, I struggled to get a decent cuppa: it’s even more difficult than in Germany! I actually bought one “tea” that was undrinkable from the “Argo Tea Cafe”. I was enticed in by the name, but suspicious when I saw the bubbles on top of my tea and caught a scent of something more like bubble-gum than earl grey tea! Then I realised that there was no trace of either tea leaves or tea bag. I tried to drink it, I really did, but I had to settle for a bottle of water in the end.
Finally, here is a photo of the nearby physics building in the same warm, glowing red sandstone finish as the library, which of course my photos don’t capture:
I’m interested in tools that measure/monitor social media activity, partly because they can potentially be used by the authors of such activity (ie I can learn something useful for myself!) but partly also because of the prevailing wind of performance measurement by numbers. What do the numbers tell me?
I’ve previously looked at Twitter & tools for measuring that. But now I’m looking at my blog, and I’m starting with what WordPress can tell me about it, what I think is worth measuring and how it can direct my future social media activity. You can get a flavour of my discoveries by just reading the stuff in bold!
Number of views
The WordPress dashboard features a graph of recent activity, but also a “Site stats” link on the left-hand menu. Clicking on this presents me with a nice clear blue bar-chart with a snapshot recent view numbers, on a daily basis. I’m much more interested in the monthly view: this is where I can check trends and see how consistently my blog is doing. In general, because there is more content over time, I should be accruing more views over time. I ask myself, what if it doesn’t? Would I stop blogging? Yes. Am I happy with the number of views I have, and the growth rate? Well, I don’t know what to compare it to, but perhaps I could compare it to my most viewed month.
I can look on the bar charts for anomalies and WordPress also tells me my “best ever” day, in terms of views, which has clearly influenced one particular month. Such a spike seems worth investigating: why did my blog suddenly accrue more views on that day? I think I know why: it was a great blog post title and it accrued a lot of Twitter activity in terms of re-tweeting, including by influencers on Twitter. This was partly because I was blogging about a presentation by one of those influencers, and also because I made a point of tweeting at him to tell him, so that he re-tweeted! This sort of context could tell me how to accrue more views in future.
I’m also aware though, that views can be anything from a long sit-down and read with a cup of tea, to a glance and click away…
Referrers to my blog
Below the graph and headline numbers, I can see referrers to my blog: I clicked on “summaries” to investigate these, and once again I can choose the time period to view. I chose “all time” and I would estimate from the numbers that nearly 50% of views come from search engines (I looked into this and the vast majority of these were from Google), and about another 40% come from Twitter. Another significant referrer is my old blog, and I can see the URL of an event I presented at, too. I got 4 views each from comments I made on influencers blogs. These stats tell me less about the success of my blog, and more about the influence of my other activities.
Given how many blog views come from Twitter, it seems to me to be worthwhile continuing my presence in Twitter. I’m sure that I could build on Twitter’s effectiveness in driving traffic to my blog, by more direct tweeting at influencers. However, I’m not only seeking views of my blog as pure numbers!
I’m particularly pleased to see the number of views from the event I spoke at, because I know the audience from that event: these are people who I know I want to reach! So I can consider further speaking engagements as a wise investment of my time, in terms of driving traffic to my blog (especially if, as with that event, it is widely publicised and links are made to my blog and/or online profile).
What the stats don’t tell me is why people followed the link and what they thought when they did: is my blog reflecting well on me? I think so, because after that event I had a number of enquiries, but I don’t know for sure. All I know is that the event was effective as a way of raising my online profile.
Commenting on influencers’ blogs is considerably less effort than speaking at an event, and could also extend my reach to those with shared interests. What if I were to try writing less on my blog, but commenting more on others’ blogs, as a part of my mini-strategy? In this way, I could get more views for content already written, but would people lose interest in my blog if I post less often? This is perhaps worth trying!
For me, this was a fairly disappointing area, because although I can see that lots of views come through search engines, most of the search terms are apparently “unknown”. And indeed, glancing through those that are known, many of them involve a search for my name or my blog name. I can take from this that my blog name is worth hanging on to!
This is interesting, because it suggests a level of engagement with my blog that goes beyond viewing it: presumably those who share it have at least scanned through the content! Their sharing might also bring more views. My most shared posts appear to be the ones that I consider to be most academic. Looking at the service that was used to share my post is also quite telling: Facebook is significant, with twice as many shares as Twitter, and I’m not a big user of Facebook. Perhaps I should be? I could investigate whether being active on Facebook makes a difference! But I confess: I’m not sure I have time to do that in the near future.
Followers & Comments
I can also see numbers of these on the main Site stats page, and I know that commenting isn’t a big deal on my blog. Perhaps it would be if I commented more on others’ blogs? Looking at top commenters is also not especially useful to me, since there aren’t so many, although I like that I can see at a glance if I am following the commenters’ own blogs. This is a space to watchif I do choose to comment more.
The summaries of these interest me, because a click also seems to be an interaction level deeper than a mere view. What are my blog readers clicking on? This might signify what they are interested in, and thus indicate what I could blog about in future. Lots of people have clicked on the link to my LinkedIn profile, which supports what I found in the search terms. There are clicks to Twitter: to a picture tweet of my leaving cake from Warwick. I already know that some of my blog readers are former colleagues! This makes me think though, are picture tweets more effective at attracting attention? Not one I can investigate in the near future, but definitely food for thought.
Reflecting on my goals, on impact and other sources beyond WordPress
My goal when blogging is partly to raise my profile, so that potential employers and customers know who I am and what expertise I have. Beyond that, others might be interested to read what I have learnt or benefit from my experiences, and I’m happy to share. I know I’m successful in that when I meet people who have either read my blog, or know of its existence, they tell me so. I don’t get so many comments on my blog but I do get them in person. Perhaps I could gather such anecdotes if I were going to report on my blogging activity to others.
In judging my own success at this, I ought to reflect on how much time I spend on my blog, and consider the return on my investment, in comparison with other profile-raising activities. That’s why I’ve started using some time management tools, so that I can add that dimension into my reflections.
What if I was explicitly trying to achieve “impact” through my blog? I would like to simplify “impact” into three varieties:
A highly significant interaction with a small number of people
Bringing information to a target audience, who engage with it in a moderately significant way
Outreach to a wide-ranging, various and large population
Perhaps the first two varieties belong together, since they are essentially about things that are measured in a more qualitative way. WordPress’ stats report gives me clues about where to look for more qualitative information.
What is “highly significant” about an interaction will of course be open to interpretation and vary widely from one field to another, but I feel it’s beyond the scope of my blog. It is perhaps something that I could achieve through the sum total of my activity over a long period of time, or indeed through interactions with an individual.
What I mean by “moderately significant” is that the information given is actually read and interpreted or used by others, in some way. Perhaps my blog content gets re-purposed into some other librarian’s guide for students, or it at least prompts such a guide to be written. The only way I’d know about this is if someone were to tell me, or possibly if they linked back to my blog and people clicked on that link, and I watched referrals. In the meantime, I know that I re-purpose my content myself, so that’s a good start!
Which brings me to the “Outreach” notion, which is what I think most of these stats really indicate. It as a possible foundation for my second flavour of impact, and in any case, my profile does have a significant impact on my own life and career! What the WordPress stats do for me is they indicate the success of my blogging in achieving outreach, and they pointout where I should look for qualitative clues about deeper impact.
I bought a new computer recently, which provided me with plenty of challenges!
My new computer is one of those old fashioned ones that comes with separate parts: my old lap-top is not ideal for working full-time at home, so I decided to get the sort of thing I had in the office, in the past.
I could have tried to buy a hard drive in the UK and have it shipped here: the Internet is great at that. But I like a challenge, so I went to a local shop and picked up a perfectly good hard drive with Windows 7 installed already. I thought it’d be just a case of buying a new language pack to convert it from German to English. I mean, why would Microsoft miss the opportunity to sell me something?! But no, it seems that since they’re now pushing Windows 8, I can’t upgrade to the version of Windows 7 that has language packs… hmm. Just as well I took all of those German lessons last year!
Well, it’s not so bad: I mean, I do live in Germany and I really ought to learn the language, so having my operating system in German will just help me to learn! Well, yes but it slows me down: although I understand most of what the computer is saying to me, sometimes I have to get the dictionary out, and even when I already know the words, my brain processes the information more slowly!
I did order a QWERTY keyboard from the UK, and an ergonomic one at that: I do a lot of writing and I touch-type. German keyboards are nearly the same: they are QWERTZ, and it’s really annoying for me, because I don’t notice until I try to type a “y”! Of course, because my OS is in German, I have to keep reminding my computer that my keyboard is English. It automatically tries to switch it to German for me, from time to time. Helpful if you’re truly bi-lingual, no doubt. And I do sometimes try to write stuff in German, which further confuses my computer!
Because a lot of my work involves MS Word and Excel files from clients, I also chose to purchase MS Office. I couldn’t do it on the Internet, because the Microsoft website kept recognising that my OS was in German and no matter what I did, the German language version landed in my basket. Fortunately, the telephone sales people were able to help me out (in English!) and I got the English software: phew. No doubt I should have been braver and tried to speak German, but I find computer things quite stressful already!
Every time I download software now, I have to tell it that I want English language. Which means that I have to navigate through the menus in German to find the hidden depths where they let me select English. I’ve actually left MS Explorer in German, and find it interesting/educational to get news headlines in German on the MSN homepage: it is of course, also news about Germany. You realise how much of a bubble the news media create for each country, once you’ve escaped one of them!
So that is a few computer and language challenges, but there are a few other big differences that I noticed from the beginning:
Look left, then right!
I don’t drive here (public transport is excellent in Berlin), so I don’t have to remember which side of the road to be on: the other day I was a passenger in a car and it felt weird to be on the wrong side (in my eyes). I still take longer to cross roads: I look about 5 times, just to be sure that I’ve looked properly. Actually, I do that when I visit home too now, in case I’ve become accustomed to continental ways and I’ve not noticed!
Cash The currency is different, of course, and it took me ages to get used to the coins, and not fumble for ages to pay the exact right amount at the till. My tactic of just handing over whole euro amounts to cover the cost did not work: people here are always asking for the exact 2 euro 38 cents, or whatever!
I also had to get used to carrying cash all the time: even though I do have a euro bank card (which took me a while), it’s not so common to pay by card here, to the point that you might not be able to pay (i.e. can’t buy what you need) if you don’t have cash.
Drink & Food (priority order!)
Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I import Yorkshire tea bags!
I miss brown sauce (though it is available from specialist shops here), bacon (no, black forest ham is not the same!) and I also found that I’m having to adapt all my favourite recipes. For instance I now use honey in place of golden syrup, although there are other syrups I might try out: I love the bio shops here with all their variety of foods, and no doubt I’m becoming healthier, as I adapt.
Weather I love waking up to sunshine almost every morning. I really was taken by surprise at how much sun there is here. I loved the snowy winters: Berliners are great at clearing it out of the way and getting on with life, although by the end of the winter you do get the feeling that we’re all essentially hibernating until the warmer temperatures arrive!
What took adaptation for me, was that the sun actually made my rosacea really bad. It turns out that I have a sensitivity to sun that I never knew about when living in cloudy England! I have taken to wearing a hat all the time, so that the shade protects my nose (how English I look!). And factor 50 sun cream, and anti-biotic gel at night… now my skin looks normal again. Phew!
The one and only time I’ve really felt homesick, was the sight of a hill-farm country scene on my packet of Yorkshire tea. I didn’t even live in Yorkshire, I don’t understand cricket and I lived in a town all my life, but somehow that scene is quintessentially English and it got to me… Awww!
These are just a handful of the things that use up my emotional energy and brain power! Experiencing such challenges does help one to appreciate what many Library users face, such as all those international students and academics from other countries. It makes life richer, but also slower and sometimes a bit daunting or frustrating!