OCLC EMEARC in Berlin: conference reflections

A few weeks ago, I was at the OCLC EMEA Regional Council Meeting in Berlin and I’ve just had a notification that the presentations are online, so it makes sense to blog about it this week! It was my first time at such an OCLC event*, and it was great to be able to hear from librarians from such a broad range of nations, libraries and cultures. “EMEA” by the way, stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. The cultural mix was a real strength of this event, and one that I haven’t experienced in the same way before at any other library conference.

Here is a picture that I took of the stained glass window at the venue:

stained glass window with staircase in front of it

The building was rather special: the meeting was held at the ESMT Berlin, a business school located in the former GDR National Council building. There were little clues everywhere to the building’s former life, from the colourful window to the ball shaped lights which I recognised from reading about the former GDR people’s palace, to the tiny little crossed Meissen swords on one of the wall tiles in the large lobby.**

I learnt lots about the way that OCLC operates, of course, as well as about the member libraries represented by speakers and attendees. You can read about OCLC’s governance structure online anyway, but it was different to hear about it from the people who are actually involved. The meeting showed a great emphasis on accountability to- and involvement of- its members. I was also rather taken by the phrase which we saw everywhere in marketing materials:

Because what is known must be shared

It is a phrase so apt for librarians, and also for OCLC itself, who are all about supporting the community with sharing. From the sharing of metadata records and sharing resources through cloud systems and inter-library loan schemes, to sharing ideas and good practice at events like the very one I was attending, OCLC is definitely about sharing.

My highlights


The plenary speakers were inspiring, in the way that plenary speakers are supposed to be, and Skip Pritchard’s keynote which was all about cultural differences definitely got me thinking. The point that I took was that in the modern era we cross cultures so quickly and easily that we don’t always notice, and the potential for misunderstanding is huge. There are so many gaps that we need to try and bridge, across languages and scripts, but more than this, in interpretation, and OCLC as an international organisation obviously faces these challenges fairly regularly. I liked how passionate he sounded about working for OCLC.

Lightning struck twice

Beyond this, the lightning talks were a real highlight for me.  Of the lightning talks, Katrin Kropf of Chemnitz Public Library later won the prize, for her presentation that was all about games and the library: board games, computer games consoles with a projector screen, table football and a (sturdy) interactive table all featured. I also felt inspired by her approach that the library, with its games and books, could get out into the community, appearing at youth clubs and shopping malls and other places where the library’s target audience could be found. It was a very practical lesson in how to take the library to the user, rather than waiting for the users to come to the library.

And another lightning talk that impressed me was from Daniel Tepe of Bremen Public Library. He pointed out that some library visitors don’t spend long in the library because they already know what they want, whilst others come to the library to seek inspiration, and it’s the latter group that library digital services could serve better. The (German language) website that he pointed us to, Stabi24.de looks to me like it does a good job of making e-book and digital content not just discoverable but also visible, and presented in an inspirational way.

Breaking out

Of the parallel member sessions that I attended, I very much enjoyed a presentation from Lars Binau of DTU Denmark. He explained how, 12 years ago the library had had approximately 125,000 visits a year, and now it has roughly 555,000 visits a year. This clearly signalled big changes! And the innovative approach that he described was not just about moving books into the basement to make space for more students, but the whole building needed refurbishing. The library had to provide adequate lighting, suitable accoustics and sound dampening, and indeed air exchange, because of the heat rising off so many more people in the space. And since they were refurbishing, and since the Internet of Things was right around the corner, and it’s a technical university, well they got involved with creating what seemed like a technological playground in the library. Lars described lots of experimentation with sensors and services that meant that students were getting to personalise their environments in the library and staff were fast becoming data scientists. When asked whether students resented being “lab rats” in such an environment, Lars answered that the students get to do experiments themselves, so if it’s helping them to learn and to improve their experience of the library then they don’t seem to mind.

So those are just a handful of my highlights. I daresay I’ll continue to digest this event’s very rich fare for some time to come!

*OCLC are one of my clients
**Hours of watching the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow are apparently paying off!


My immigrant’s view of public libraries : please support them!

photo of Bibliothek: mid 20th century architectural style.
My local public library

If you aren’t from the UK then you might not know that many public libraries there are under enormous pressure, and communities are fighting to keep their libraries open. My recent visits to my local public library here in Berlin remind me how important a public library is, even for those who can afford books and have plenty of them at home! Here is my list of why the public library is imporant to me, an immigrant:

  1. I can practice my spoken language skills there. Library staff are patient, friendly, helpful and clear spoken, and that’s an important resource to a new speaker of the language!
  2. I can learn about the culture of my host nation. What the library has on its shelves tells me something about the culture of the place where I live. Books aimed at children are particularly helpful as they are not too difficult to read and they also explain more about the education that the “natives” will have had.
  3. I bump into neighbours there and can strike up a quick chat: this builds my sense of belonging to a community.
  4. There are leaflets in the library about courses and events in my local area, as well as books about the history of the borough and city, and maps and walks. The latter are a collection that shows me what is worth buying for myself!
  5. I can also borrow books that I would never buy, for example when friends visit with their children, I can introduce them to the language and culture of my host nation with children’s books.
  6. There are lots of audio books too, and these are good for me to practice my listening comprehension in the new language.
  7. I can borrow DVDs from the library, and watch them in German. I find the German telly pretty “meh”. It’s either too academic for my language skills, or too dumbed down for me to be interested! I do also borrow from the local DVD shop, but that gets pretty expensive.
  8. Most importantly for me, a library is a haven. It is somewhere welcoming, warm and quiet, where I can take a pause from the hustle of grocery shopping or whatever else I’m doing in the precinct, and be taken out of the everyday world and into an inspiring world of thought, imagination and learning, with absolutely no pressure whatsoever to buy or to spend any money. It’s not about the size of your wallet but the size of your appetite for knowledge and culture!

If that fires your enthusiasm for libraries, then I encourage you to check out your own public library. Use it before you lose it!


Do data librarians need soft skills or technical skills? Video clips from Frankfurt book fair

Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Frankfurt book fair, and took part in a panel session for Elsevier. They have produced some lovely little video clips, for those of you who weren’t there. Take a look at the clips, listed below: if you have time for just one, then I recommend that you watch Noelle’s summary (clip no. 6).

01 Dr. Heiner Schnelling on his “Library Dream Team

02 Dr. Heiner Schnelling on traditional library skills in the future

03 Jenny Delasalle & Heiner Schnelling on engaging researchers

04 Jenny Delasalle on skills to manage data

05 Claus Grossmann on Elsevier content solutions

06 Noelle Gracy on whether technical skills trump soft skills

Is the “Data-Librarian” the Future of Library Science?

Next week I’ll be at the Frankfurt book fair! I’m going to be on a panel at an event with this title. If you’ll also be at the fair and fancy hearing me speak, then here are the details:

Thursday, October 15th, 10-10:30 a.m., on the Hot Spot Professional & Scientific Information stage in hall 4.2 (Frankfurt Book Fair)

It’s on the perennial theme of the changing role of the librarian, this time looking at the difference that data makes. I’ll be drawing on my experience of working in libraries in the UK, and of course of training information professionals of the future at Humboldt University. Without giving the plot away too much, my perspective is that librarians have always done many different roles but it’s our professional training, self-identification with the profession and use of all its experience in matters like ethics and customer service that makes us librarians, and thus a part of a profession. The “data librarian” will just be one of many different flavours of librarian in the future. I myself, am a peculiar “flavour”: A librarian without a library 😉

I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow panellists and to discussing in more detail how data might affect the future role of the librarian. And I hope to see you there!

Old fashioned but active online groups: e-mail lists!

As a Librarian, there are many e-mail lists that look interesting to me. In the past, I’ve been an active member of such lists, answering questions from peers and indeed asking questions of them. At their best, they’re more than a place to watch for information, but an active forum for discussion and sharing of expertise and good practice.

There are three main sources that I’ve identified: take a look and see if you find something interesting. My tip is to look at the archives of a list that seems good, to see how much activity it has: is this level what you are looking for?

Are there other lists of e-mail lists that you recommend for librarians?

Who uses a Digital Library?


knitting on the needles
A work in progress

I always knew that OA and digitisation were “good things”, but today I’m excited about mining them for myself! My biggest hobby just now is knitting, and I just realised that vintage knitting patterns are being added to digital libraries out there. Like this one from the National Library of Australia’s TROVE collection.

(An aside: I realised this because there’s a fabulous social website for knitters called Ravelry where I can find patterns, yarn suggestions and often details of other knitters’ projects using those patterns, not to mention all the groups and other features, and I stumbled across details of this pattern on Ravelry, over my morning tea!)

Here is a list of digital library users from the recently launched (31 March 2014) German Digital Library (DDB): “Scientists, armchair historians, genealogy researchers, journalists, students, school pupils, teachers – the DDB is aimed at all interested parties.”

Perhaps they can also add “knitters and hobbyists” amongst those interested parties. I had a quick search there for “stricken” which means “to knit” in German, and came up with 153 results including a book on the rules of knitting which has patterns in it too. There are no photos of finished objects, but then it was published in 1846! It’s also not quite so useable as the Australian Women’s Weekly example because there is no nice, typed version of the text, only the image files which I found not that easy to read. But if I had a serious interest in historic knitting patterns, these collections would indeed be a treasure trove.

Many of those 153 results were images, of people knitting or of knitting equipment. I was curious to see how the knitters of yore held their work and whether their yarn was in their left hand (continental style) or right hand (British style), but either the paintings were not detailed enough or the resolution of the images was not good enough, so if I was studying such a thing, then the digital library would alert me to places that I would maybe want to visit in person: a story that must be familiar to libraries with digitised collections.

The marvellous thing about a digital library is how easily accessible and searchable it is, and that opens it up to use from all sorts of different users, some of whom the librarians would perhaps never have thought of!

The importance of evaluation

One of the things that I like so much about the chapter on “The fishscale of academicness”, by Alke Gröppel-Wegener and Geoff Walton, in the “Only Connect… ” book, is that it focuses on evaluating the information resources that you find.

Librarians often start information skills training, quite logically, with the tools that you need to find information resources. After all, you need to find stuff in order to evaluate it! Of course, Librarians do teach how to evaluate information resources (I used to base this on the classic question words: Who produced it & Where, What are they saying, How & Why are they writing, and When was it written? The University of Bath also has a handy checklist for handling academic sources), and Librarians have long recognised the importance of such skills when handling Internet information, but I like that the Fishscale technique puts the evaluation skills first. It seems appropriate, in the Google era.

Here is a link directly to the chapter, if you want to read more about The fishscale of academicness. It is also beautifully illustrated, by Josh Filhol. 

An online refresh, and a review of tools I value

dishcloth eloominator2

I wanted to record some of the social media related steps that I took, since leaving the University of Warwick, which researchers might also want to take when leaving an institution. Or avoid, by getting it right in the first place! Note that I haven’t been especially “social” in my use of these tools: they’re more about presenting a “shop window” image of my professional interests and work, and as tools for me in doing that work.

I’ve highlighted each separate tool or site mentioned just once in this post, so that it is possible to glance through it at the array of sites and tools I’ve explored using: obviously, the canny researcher would just use a few of these, to suit his/her own purposes and thus avoid having to maintain so many profiles! The tools that I’ve personally valued most lately are at the top of this post. Except Twitter, so I’ll just mention it here, as it sits behind (or in front of!) a lot of the other tools.

1) Starting a new blog here on WordPress because I was using Warwick’s own blogging platform before. I did that before leaving Warwick, so that I could point to the new blog from my old one. It’s been very simple and intuitive to build up my use of WordPress, and as a blogging platform it probably has a broader potential reach than Warwick blogs did, because of the WordPress community: not an aspect that I’ve exploited in particular, but I could spend some more time interacting with other bloggers and being more, well “social”!

2) Editing Twitterfeed to stop picking up on my old blog and start picking up on this one. Twitterfeed is one account that I forgot to update with my personal e-mail address before I left Warwick, but fortunately I remembered the password. Phew!

3) Install the Evernote web clipper onto my Chrome browser on my home computer.

4) Install the Diigo bookmarklet on my home computer. Both my Evernote and Diigo collections have been useful to me in writing a journal article.

5) Add Hootsuite as a homepage tab on my browser. (I also need to revise the settings for e-mails and texts from both Twitter and Hootsuite, and to generally clean this account up!)

6) Change my job title status on LinkedIn, and edited the text about me there, too.

These 6 steps were most important to me and I did them gradually, as I felt the need arose rather than all in one go but it’s anywhere between half a day and a day’s worth of time to have such a spring clean.

There are also social sites and tools that I’m leaving in the long grass a bit:

I’ve never been very active on Twitter, through Hootsuite or otherwise, but I’m aware that there is untapped potential here for me: it’s probably the place I would turn to if I intended to be more social in my use of the web.

I’m aware that I have out of date profiles on sites like ResearchGate, Mendeley and Academia.edu. I’ve never bothered much with Facebook, since the earliest days, but they do all have my new email address.  Maybe I’ll get round to editing these too, one day. It wouldn’t be much work but they aren’t a priority for me.

I still use IFTTT, “If this then that” to link some of my accounts together a bit, but I could probably be more savvy about it if I investigated more. I know that I’m on Rebelmouse and it presents a good looking, illustrated newsletter menu of my tweets, but for now that’s all it does for me.

Without a university e-mail address, I find that I’m using Google mail a lot more than I did, and I am just beginning to use their calendar feature too. It’s not strictly classed as social media, but email is pretty social, I find! And of course Google comes with it’s own “Google+” social aspect, based on your profile. It’s increasing and pervasive, this insistence on Google+  through the Google tools and I’m resisting it for now.

Which reminds me that I have a Youtube collection that is tied to my Google profile too, which was never very work related: videos I worked on were uploaded by the Library. This probably needs some attention as I like to keep personal interests separate from professional. I can see that otherwise, I might end up accidentally tweeting my favourite knitting patterns alongside information about h-indices, and I really wouldn’t want to mix the two!

Every now and then, I remember my poor Slideshare collection. It’s a great place to upload a slideshow that you want to share, but it’s not a profile or a collection that I’ve cultivated.

You’d think that would be enough… but there’s a third tier, of Trello and Storify and Scoopit somewhere too. And probably lots of others that I haven’t even remembered, that I investigated in case they turned out to be useful for researchers, or for my own purposes. Storify was pretty useful, for collecting tweets on a topic, I remember.

Then there are the tools that I use in a more personal context but that researchers might value too: I use Skype a lot more now that I’m in Germany. I still have my (partial) book collection on Shelfari, and I do own a Kindle… ah,  but this list has to end somewhere, so enough is enough. Phew!