Share + Inspire

Share and Inspire: the headline of my recent CPD event on using technology in education. As always, I checked my cynicism at the door, loaded up on free tea, cakes and biscuits, and settled in to be inspired.

Speakers from all over the world sharing their experience of using a particular piece of technology to engage with learners. I found the event equal parts enjoyable, entertaining, perplexing, and of course, inspiring.

Highlights for me included the BYOD (bring your own device) classroom, the use of Facebook for student recruitment, Instagram for connecting with local/global communities and using social media to link theory and practice. These were highlights for me because they addressed issues relevant to me and my work as a librarian.

I have recently been doing research into how libraries can engage learners, remain vital and offer a valuable service in the 21st Century. How can a learner use their own technological devices to progress their studies? How can a learner use their library if they do not know what services are offered? How can Facebook and Twitter be used to promote library resources? What are the security and privacy issues related to these resources?

Two areas of concern for me were the reliance on Facebook and Apple as two of the main providers of this technology, and how institutions will balance access and Internet restrictions. As a side note, I am very anti censorship. I do not believe that places of higher or further education should restrict learner’s access to social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. This becomes especially important as these resources are being used more and more as tools for sharing, interaction, and as the basis for important work.

I feel that librarians are in a transition phase. Technology is developing at an exponential rate and we must keep up to stay relevant in the lives of our learners.

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The reference interview – a quick guide

Wikipedia defines a reference interview as a conversation between a librarian and a library user in which the librarian responds to the user’s initial explanation of their information need by first attempting to clarify that need and then by directing the user to appropriate information resources.

About the learner:

First you must know who “the learner” is. This will help to clarify their exact information needs.

Please consider:

  • What course they are studying. This will help determine what starting point their enquiry is coming from.
  • What level. A foundation degree student may require a more detailed answer, with more types of resources, than someone studying a first diploma.
  • What purpose. A student may be starting research for a big end of year project, or may simply be satisfying their curiosity.

The learner’s real question:

Sometimes what the learner asks for and what they actually need are two different things. I recently had an enquiry where I was asked if we have any books on the 1950s. From our conversation I clarified that this learner was a fashion student who was really interested in 1950s fabric prints.

Please consider:

  • There is often a fundamental conflict between what the learner asks and the material that would answer their question.
  • The learner may not be clear themselves exactly what their real question is.
  • The learner may have difficulty articulating their real information needs.

The reference interview:

  • Be welcoming and open! Smile!
  • Ask open questions like: tell me more about what you need?
  • Consider probing questions, closed questions, repeating or rephrasing
    the question to make sure you’ve got it.
  • Ask clarifying questions to determine the learner’s real information needs.
  • Find the information for the learner. Do not give them a scrap of paper with a number scribbled on it.
  • Finish by following up with the learner as to whether you have answered
    their question, or helped them enough to get started.
  • Consider, where appropriate, offering relevant journals or database searches for further reading. One big problem for academic libraries is learner’s not being aware of all the resources available to them.

This conversation is paramount to raising the aspirations of all learners, engaging and creating a pleasant learning environment.

It is why we do this!

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Northbrook College Sussex Staff Conference

21st December 2012 may not have marked the apocalypse, but it did mark my last ever staff conference with Northbrook College Sussex. The subject of this year’s event was ILT in Education.

This is a very important subject for all college and it is essential to have a well defined ILT policy. Now well into the 21st century colleges must keep up with technological innovations to enhance the learning experience.

The first workshop I chose was entitled Using social media for promotion by Andy Halliday. Andy focused on the use of Facebook to promote his Music Flexible Learning Area and had some good ideas that I could relate to promoting the learning centre at City College Brighton and Hove when I start my new job with them in January 2013.

My first point of note is that the learning centre should have its own Facebook page and that it should be kept simple. The page would act as a group which learners and staff members are added to at their request. All learning centre staff could contribute to its content. This will act as a place to post all sorts of learning centre related information.

Recommended content is listed below:

Photographs of the learning centre to promote the space;
Subject specific links to outside web pages;
General study skills related links;
Links to staff members learning blogs;
A students’ progress reports forum for what students do after college;
A new books and journals section;
Subject specific displays and events.

I feel a learning resources group will be an excellent way to promote the centre, provide a meeting place for students and staff to interact and a way to obtain user feedback to better develop the centre.

My second workshop of the day was Twitter 101 presented by Lisa Perry. This was a very basic workshop on how to use Twitter. I have known for some time that Twitter can be an essential aid for all information professionals if utilised correctly. One thing I have discovered since researching how Twitter can be used by libraries is that everyone seems to use it differently.

I have now clarified in my own mind exactly how I will focus my Twitter usage. I feel the most efficient use will be as a tool for sharing ideas, knowledge and troubles with other information professionals across all learning sectors. As a promotional tool I will promote the learning centre Facebook page, new journals and books, specific journal articles and all online resources.

Twitter provides a way to interact and to have group discussions, and a way to acquire a snapshot of what is happening in the world at any given moment.

This post has been thrown together as I am off to York for Christmas imminently. I hope I have shared some good ideas and please comment if you would like me to elaborate, or if you have any ideas of your own to share.

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A realisation about library signage

After a recent seminar I attended on e-resources for further education, see below post, and a re-watching of the excellent 1980 series The Shock of the New written and presented by Robert Hughes, I have come to two conclusions. Firstly, that language is very important for creating a suitable learning environment.

The second being that signs do not change behaviour, especially the behaviour of the people the signs are normally aimed at. Robert Hughes said, “Pictures educate, signs discipline”. In my library I am interested in educating all learners and not disciplining them. I aim for the library to be a transformative space, a space which raises the information literacy and aspirations of all its learners. Not a space which hits learners over the head with rules.

In my previous position at Northbrook College Sussex we have no signs in the library about no food or no mobiles. Can you guess how much of a problem we experienced with learners eating and chatting on phones? Almost none at all!

No area is perfect. Learners will always push boundaries to see what they can and cannot get away with. I believe that it is by building up a relationship with your learners and helping them to appreciate the role the library can play in their lives that they learn to respect the environment and behave accordingly.

I know that my vision of a library utopia free of all signs is out of reach for a lot of institutions. If you must have signs, please follow these simple rules which I have been developing since 2001: Please avoid comic sans; please laminate your signs; please hang them straight; please avoid the use of the word “no”. Language is very important!

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UKSG E-Resources for Further Education


On the 5th December 2012 I attended a UKSG seminar in London. As proclaimed by the event summary, the purpose of this event was to discuss how to successfully promote your e-resources.

I was very excited to attend this seminar and for an opportunity to discuss how other colleges are getting the most out of their e-resources. This does seem to be a common problem. We all have e-resources, we all think they are great, but how do we get users to love them and use them like we do?

As it turned out, the main thrust of the event was in its opportunities for networking and for vendors who specialise in providing e-resources for further education to promote their wares.

My favourite presentation of the day was given by James Clay of Gloucestershire College. His presentation was entitled ‘Would you like fries with that? How to engage your learners to use more of the library resources available to them.

James gave an excellent presentation, with lots of great ideas. Many of which echoed my own thoughts on the subjects of engaging your learners.

James main idea was upselling. If a learner is borrowing some books on a certain subject, ask if they have seen the new issue of a related journal in the library. If you are helping a learner search for books, offer to find them a related article on one of the libraries specialist databases. It is by engaging your learners with all the resources and answering their queries from multiple mediums that the learners will become more aware of how the library can impact their learning in a positive way.

A second idea which struck a chord with me was taken from research conducted by the University of Huddersfield. This research suggests that students who take out more books, or use more e-resources, will get higher grades. This is no secret and is something us information professionals have suspected for years, but it was nice to hear it articulated.

The final point made by James which I will elaborate on here was one of library staff knowing their learners. This is something that I learned from my boss in my role as a library and information assistant years ago. The point made to me was that “people do not forget conversations, they forget facts”. It is by engaging in conversation with your learners that you can best understand and fulfill their learning needs.

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Library Day in the Life – Day 1

I have decided to join in the Library Day in the Life project and I will start the first of my 5 daily posts when I start my new job in January 2013.

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My development starts here!

This blog is going to form my learning log as I develop as an information professional and be a way for me to reflect on my achievements working as an assistant systems librarian at City College Brighton and Hove.

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