Keeping up with academic library themes

Working mostly from home, I don’t talk to colleagues as often as I used to. Also, being freelance, I don’t have as much opportunity to attend training sessions and conferences as I used to have, but nevertheless, it’s important for me to keep in touch with developments in my discipline and improve my skills, just like Siobhan O’Dwyer described in the case of early career researchers. There are some sources that I particularly value for keeping me informed and up to date, which I wanted to highlight here:

  1. For keeping researchers and their needs in mind, good lunchtime entertainment: Radio 4’s Inside Science and The Life Scientific.
  2. BrightTALK channels: I like to listen to these whilst doing other stuff, and if they’re really good then I tune in and look at the slides too!
  3. Email lists & newsletters: Jiscmail for the UK and the ALA for the US. Daily digests help to keep it manageable to follow these. I also get a regular roundup of news from ResearchInformation.
  4. Blogs: I especially like dipping into the Scholarly Kitchen, RetractionWatch, LSE’s Impact of Social Sciences, Nature blogs and lately, Danny Kingsley of the University of Cambridge. The easiest way to follow such blogs? Twitter feeds!
  5. Twitter: I like to keep an eye on the following hashtags: #ecrchat, #uklibchat, #librarians #altmetrics #OA and recent discovery: #publishinginsights  Actually, I’ve been collecting academic hashtags along with colleagues from piirus.ac.uk, so if you want more then take a look!
  6. A MOOC? I did one MOOC module recently and blogged about it for my regular client, piirus. It was my first MOOC and it’s not an investment of time to be underestimated, but very much worthwhile. If you’re looking for one to suit you, then the platform for the one I did was edX, and you can find lots of courses on their site.

Finally, and this does count as a learning experience (honest!): I go to a local knitting group to pratice & keep up my German. It’s amazing what you can learn from such a group – and not only vocabulary!

What sources do you regularly turn to, or recommend?

6 advantages of a virtual meeting over a face to face one!

I work from home, so that means that I take part in quite a few virtual meetings. Whether you prefer Skype, Google Hangouts or full video conferencing, there are some advantages to virtual online meetings, as opposed to in person or even teleconferencing. Here is my list of six things that I gain from virtual meetings:

  1. No travel time: you can attend from where you are already
  2. No travel costs (although you might want to invest in some tools)
  3. It’s easy to share your desktop with folks, to show what you mean
  4. You can see faces, so it makes you feel more connected than by teleconferencing
  5. You can video record a meeting for others to watch if they could not attend
  6. Nobody will catch your cold, and you will catch no-one else’s!

Of course, if you turn the video off, or teleconference instead then you can attend a meeting in your PJs and no-one will know. And of course, I have found that there are disadvantages too:

  1. Technology needed requires a little time to install & get familiar/comfortable with (and might cost). For freelancers: different clients may prefer to use different technology!
  2. Internet connections & free tools can sometimes let you down: it’s better to be plugged in than rely on wifi if you’re using VoIP.
  3. In virtual meetings, only one of you can talk at a time: this might be an advantage, of course! But you lose the many “mini” interactions that take place around a larger, in-person meeting, eg pairs of attendees around a table chatting whilst waiting for a meeting to start or the person at the end who asks an extra question in private. So the virtual meeting is less personal and less social than meeting in person.
  4. It doesn’t signal your commitment/interest/availability to your client, so you may have to work extra hard with other forms of communication, to compensate. If you really want to impress someone, then it is better to go and see them in the real world!
  5. There is no travel time but you do need to prepare: plug your camera/speaker/microphone in, sign in to the software, put a smart jacket on, tidy your shelves behind you, silence your mobile phone and turn that washing machine off! You may also need to organise a back-up plan, in case your internet connection fails you.

Sometimes a real meeting is what you need but often, a virtual chat is more efficient and if you live miles away from your client or team then it might be your only realistic option.

What tools do you like to use for meetings, and what advantages do they bring you?

A trip to New York city

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:

NY Uni Library
Or is it a pic of a tree? I’m no photographer, sorry! But you get the idea: the library is opposite Washington Square Park…

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:

NY Uni Physics building
With classic NY street “furniture!

I also write for Piirus: a selection of my recent blogposts for them

As a freelancer, one of my clients is Piirus: they match researchers together so that they can work collaboratively, and I am their social media manager. Consequently, I’m writing a lot over on the Piirus blog! Lately, I’ve been participating in the Thesis Whisperer’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), called “How to Survive Your PhD“, and if you want to know what I’ve been finding out on that course then please do take a look at my latest blogpost for Piirus.

I also share a lot of my tips on using Twitter on the Piirus blog, including a kind of mini series lately on the hashtags that may interest anyone supporting researchers, or indeed researchers themselves. In other topics that I’ve blogged about for Piirus, I looked recently at motivations for digitisation and I shared tips for researchers considering crowdsourcing projects. If you’re interested in following my writing over on the Piirus blog then please do take a look. Although I will keep writing here too, of course!

Clear out your e-mail inbox with Boomerang!

This is the story of why I like to use Boomerang. It works with Google mail so if you don’t use Gmail or don’t want Google to have your e-mails then it’s probably not for you. (Although you might find this post by Benjamin Mako Hill an interesting read, if you are keen to block Google from accessing your emails. I digress…).

If you’re like me and use your e-mail inbox as a bit of a “to do” list, well you probably know that it isn’t the most efficient of such lists. You probably have another, real to do list somewhere else (my pieces of paper floating round my desk) and have to balance your inbox with that list/those lists. Maybe, like me, you also leave messages for yourself on your calendar for any important deadlines, and every now and then you try to block out time on your calendar and plan in advance so that your colleagues can also see how busy you are when you’re available.

I once read somewhere that every time you have to read an e-mail twice, you’re wasting time! And yet you sometimes do have to read them twice: once to know that it’s nothing urgent (perhaps on your smart phone, of an evening), and then a second time when you’re ready to deal with its contents (eg the next working day). OK, so checking e-mails on your smartphone like this is definitely a waste of time, but sometimes you read stuff at work and know that you can come back to it in a couple of days, or even later.

Then, you leave it in your inbox and later you have to wade through your inbox to get to the e-mail that you know is now urgent/important, and there’s a risk that you might not remember it in time. Who hasn’t had to apologise to someone for leaving their e-mail buried for too long? I know it’s not just me…

With Boomerang though, I can send emails out of my inbox, and set them to come back at a time when I will need to/be able to deal with them. You get 10 such “boomerangs” per month for free: it definitely helps to keep the clutter out of my inbox.

Now all you have to do is to get rid of the uneasy feeling that just because your inbox is not packed full, that does not mean that you have no work to do!

Working from home works for me!

I already blogged the things I like about working from home… so here is its opposite. Four things that are not so great and how I overcome them.

  1. It can be lonely: telephone and videoconferencing help to overcome this, but really, loneliness isn’t something I struggle with. All the e-mail interactions help, too.
  2. I lack a change of scenery in my day. But when I get a change, it really helps: it’s amazing how much a little lunch time walk can lift my spirits and inspire me.
  3. It’s annoying sometimes when the weather is great and I don’t even get a commute in it. I can always just step out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air, though. That is better than working in most offices!
  4. I have to cook and wash up for myself at tea/lunch time… as well as all the breakfast and dinner things…

I got 7 advantages and only 4 disadvantages, so there’s proof that it works for me.

A quick way to save time, online: A browser for privacy

Here is my tip for 2015: Install a browser that is specialised for privacy, such as the Epic Privacy browser. I find it much quicker than editing settings on other browsers, and it really does lead to faster webpage download times. Tracking information is not passed on to the websites that you view and adverts are not personalised, and that’s why it’s quicker, I believe.

Happy New Year to one and all!

 

3 time-saving, tidy-up tips

Here are three ways you can invest a little time to save it in the long run, based on things I found were wasting my time:

1) Wake up your computer faster by clearing your desktop! Apparently it helps your computer to boot up faster if you have no documents & only short-cuts on your desktop. Wikihow has lots of tips on how to make your computer run faster, but just keeping files in order and off the desktop is relatively quick and easy to do. In any case, it gives me a lovely sense of order to have very little on my desktop, and tidiness generally saves me time looking for stuff. Or should I really say “organised messiness”?!

2) Back-up phone contacts and only leave the people on your phone who you know you’re going to call. (A quick Google search will reveal how to do this, for your phone.) I used to have at least 20 people under each letter of the alphabet, regularly causing me to waste time scrolling through all those names when searching for the people who I wanted to call! I can always look up old contacts in my back-up, if I really need to.

3) Be efficient with passwords: find a system that works for you! I lose count of the times I’ve had to fill out those “lost password” boxes and then wait for the password to arrive in my inbox. Sometimes, whilst waiting, I got distracted and the link in my inbox timed out and I had to start all over again… now I have a system that works (please forgive me for not sharing it!), it saves me from frustration, as well as time!

What could you do, to save yourself time in the long run?

Time is precious: record how you have spent it.

I’ve tried a couple of tools out lately.The time-tracking tool I’m using right now is from Yast, and it’s free, unless you want to pay for additional features, of course. I also installed an app on my smartphone, called Gleeo a while ago: it’s a freebie and it works well, but I don’t always have my phone handy and I didn’t like the way it displayed how I had spent my time.

I’m also a list-maker and when it comes to time management, I rather like this recent blog post on “Ask a Freelancer“, but my lists are just pieces of scrap paper that float around my desk looking untidy when they are actually crucially important! I’ve always had a list for things to do in the immediate future (today, or this week at least: really urgent stuff is asterisked), and one for longer term aims (in the next month or two). Sometimes I have one for very long term aims, too, and once a week or so, these get updated. I’ve also learnt, when taking my own notes at a meeting, to use asterisks to denote things that I need to do: these can get transferred onto my usual lists, or just get done in one go so that they never appear on the main lists.

However, I much prefer looking at lists of things that I’ve done, as opposed to lists of things “to do”. Reflecting like this helps to keep me focussed on priorities because if I know I’ll look back at how I spent my time then I’ll make an effort to impress myself! That’s why although my Yast account has my professional projects listed, it also has projects called “housework” and “knitting”: these things are important to me and I like to allow them into my day since I work from home, but I also record my time, to keep them under control.

By recording the time I spent on my priority activities, I can have the satisfaction of looking at a day well spent. I like the way Yast displays my days’ and weeks’ activity back to me. I don’t beat myself up when I have empty days (sometimes I just forgot to set Yast recording), but I do congratulate myself for days that are full of the colours of projects that I believe I should be working on!

What is your top time management secret?!