My big conference adventures 2016…

Ah what a surprise…flustered and overstretched mother/student fails spectacularly in attempt to blog regularly about professional development. Who could possibly have predicted this! Oh well…. Slightly frustrating as the last few months have been full to the brim with very exciting happenings, events, and exactly the sort of ‘professional development’ activity that I intended to use this space to write deep and meaningful reflections on. However, these months have of course also been full of coursework, deadlines, very difficult children, ill children, household chaos, stroppy children, hectic work schedule, household mundanity, overwhelming amount of studying to do, and the occasional (errr pretty regular actually) need to just lie in bed, eat ice cream and watch Netflix. So…my hot takes on the exciting things I have been to have remained sadly unwritten, or in very poor draft form that I never got around to updating… Since my end of semester deadlines are rapidly approaching and I’m enormously behind on everything due to having been knocked out by some sort of crappy virus this week, I really don’t have time to be blogging right now either. But I’m hoping that doing a bit of non assessed non formal rubbishy writing here might help to get me back into a writing mode as my brain has pretty much seized up after a week in bed..

The most exciting thing that I’ve done over the last few months (other than getting a dishwasher installed which has been genuinely life changing….) is going to my first ever big conferences-two of them, in fact. At the beginning of March I went to Jisc Digifest, described as a ‘celebration of the power of digital’ for those working in HE/FE. I went to this in my own time because it was free to attend, the programme looked really interesting and particularly relevant to my burgeoning  interest in scholarly communications/Open Access stuff, and because I’m a massive loser who is so over keen about learning stuff that I’m up for using my own limited free time and money to go to library related things. Really glad I did though, as I had a brilliant time, met some fantastic people, and learnt an enormous amount by being immersed in this environment for two days. Although I felt like a bit of an imposter at times, being in sessions aimed at those currently involved in supporting OA, managing library systems, and generally doing things that I’m reading about and writing essays on, was a really good way for me to start to get a more practical understanding of challenges/developments/realities to go with my theoretical overviews. It also confirmed to me that I’m really really bloody interested in this stuff (especially OA/RDM stuff) and it’s what I want to do when I grow up. Which is good, I think. As a result of going to the Digifest and then following up with reading/looking into things that were mentioned/following new people on Twitter who made interesting comments during the session, I think I’ve broadened my perspective on things in a really good way. For example, on a whim I attended a workshop on ‘Liberating facts from scientific literature‘, about text and data mining (not even the whole thing in fact, I was brave enough to go in half way through as the tweets from it looked so fascinating and I was in another session that finished early). I’d never heard of text and data mining, I didn’t think I was that interested in scientific literature. Now totally fascinated by the whole subject and trying to learn as much as I can. Hearing Peter Murray-Rust, as an accomplished scientist, talk passionately about how he has experienced the broken system of scholarly publishing impeding the progress of science, was absolutely thrilling to me (I said I was a loser…but thrilling is honestly the right word…), and put all the reading etc. we’ve been doing on OA into its rightful context. Tony Hey’s plenary on data intensive scientific discovery and open science got me all excited about data (and science) in a way I didn’t know I could be, and I’ve now become a bit obsessed with learning more about RDM, open science, and how librarians can support more open practices (and all the debates in this area). And that’s just two of the sessions-there were loads that have given me new ideas and things to look into.  I also learnt a crap load of new acronyms and jargon, and they served the most delicious chocolate and raspberry torte ever. So all in all, massive result and well worth the use of annual leave and cost of a hostel room in Birmingham.

Exciting big conference number two was extremely exciting and big-I was awarded a sponsored student place to attend the UKSG Annual Conference in Bournemouth. This was an incredible, overwhelming, fascinating, inspiring (aagh why do I always use that word), extraordinary experience. Particularly incredible as I got to go to the sunny Dorset seaside and stay in an actual reasonably fancy hotel room *alone* for 3 nights. This is not a thing that happens in my life. Nor is attending incredibly fancy extravagant 4 course dinners with aerial acrobatics as entertainment between courses and a drinks reception with an indoor fairground and actual dodgems and a dodgy disco where I get incredibly drunk and dance the macarena with loads of librarians I’ve just met BUT IT HAPPENED. (And, obviously, I had all sorts of opinions about the ethics of such publisher funded extravagance but I drank them away and enjoyed myself cos that appears to be what I do when I get a chance to taste how the other half live….).

Dodgems for venting your frustration….
Yeah…..

Anyway, the whole thing was full on, and wonderful, and again I learnt a huge amount and got very excited about all sorts of stuff. There was a LOT of really interesting and useful content in the sessions, but I shall attempt to mention some of my highlights from the programme. Ann Rossiter’s rousing opening plenary, in which she vividly described the challenges academic libraries are facing and called out in no uncertain terms the unethical and obstructive behaviour of ‘some publishers in this room,’ got me all riled up and impressed me with its frankness, which is exactly what I want on a Monday morning… Michael Jubb followed with a highly informative presentation ‘How far has the UK got towards open access and what have been the costs and implications?’, which was full of fascinating statistics that really drove home quite how complex the current situation is, and some of the reasons why this is the case. I found that this was also highlighted by Stuart Lawson’s breakout on ‘Open scholarly communications data’, based on this research. These sessions underlined to me that what may at first, to the naïve and ignorant squeaky new open access enthusiast (that’ll be me..), seem like a fairly straightforward issue that just needs everyone to catch on asap, has in fact become a big old tangled confusing obfuscated mess due to the multitude of different interests and economic/social/political factors it ties into.
This idea of mess (which I’m beginning to see is a recurring theme in absolutely blumming everything, even though everyone seems to pretend it’s not) was drawn out directly by Donna Lanclos in her plenary ‘Ethnographic approaches to scholarly communications: tackling the mess of academia’. I’d seen Donna speak at Digifest as well and was thoroughly impressed by her directness and her approach of considering the very human (and therefore very messy-and worthy of careful consideration, observation, and respect..) factors that underpin everything we do in education, academia, libraries and scholarly communications, no matter how shiny our new digital tools may be. I appreciated the way that this session put everything in the context of people and communities, as this side of things (particularly the ways that universities/libraries attempt, often spectacularly unsuccessfully, to shape people’s behaviours and practices) fascinates me just as much as all the exciting tools that I’m trying to learn about, and it’s something I want to focus on in the future. To be honest, it seems pretty key to the whole darn thing. I also loved that Donna proposed asking the question ‘why do we make it closed?’ rather than ‘why should we make it open?’, as it is perhaps the most telling question of all…and is another idea I want to use to underpin my learning/research/practice….

Cameron Neylon‘s closing plenary ‘Investing in Scholarly Futures’ also highlighted the central importance of communities, and the (messy?) impact of different interests, values, investments and cultures. Although I was utterly frazzled and, yes, possibly still drunk at this point, this session  was undoubtedly one of my conference highlights as it really summed up the underlying theme that I take from pretty much everything I learn about scholarly communications of it all being a bit stuck because everyone wants slightly different things and no one really understands each other or is entirely honest about their motivations. (Is it just my overwhelming negativity and cynicism that leads me to draw this out as my underlying theme or is it fairly accurate….?). I was also delighted by the way that Cameron used the discussion around Sci Hub as a very telling demonstration of the dichotomies of language and attitude that exist around academic publishing, as this is something that I’ve become slightly obsessed with and had an on which I had an essay to write immediately on my return (and I want to do more, so much more, research on this….thinking of shaping it into a dissertation somehow. Heck maybe even a PhD. Hahaha…).

There were, of course, loads of other sessions that I learnt loads from, but I’m not going to try to sum them up here as  I have rather a lot of other things to do.There are great write ups from NLPNJo Alcock and probably loads of others that I’ve missed. For me it was an amazing opportunity and experience and it lit loads more fires of curiosity and ideas and embarrassingly excessive enthusiasm for the career that I would really really like to pursue. I also loved having the chance to meet so many new and lovely people-it’s surprising to me as I think of myself as quite the misanthrope, but having the chance to spend time with some proper sound librarian types has been a clear highlight of both my exciting conference adventures. Although there is no sodding way I’ll ever be able to bring myself to call it networking….

So that’s a whistlestop round up of my first big conferences, which I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to go to, although it has obviously added considerably to the frenetic nature of the last few months. I do have some mixed feelings about conferences, especially very pricey conferences, being such a big thing in librarianship, as it seems like it can aggravate existing inequalities and exclude a lot of people and institutions from some important conversations. However, on a personal level it has been enormously beneficial to go to these events and broaden my horizons (and my ‘networks’) and stoke my enthusiasm. It has been particularly interesting to see first hand how much professional discourse comes down to ‘we have all these problems and we’re trying to sort them out but it’s pretty tricky’, and that even the most experienced people rarely claim to have all the answers (in fact the only people who make out that they do always seem to be selling something….). I also feel like, considering how very new all this stuff is to me (scholarly communications and research support in particular), it has been quite reassuring to see that I’m not completely out of my depth in these environments, that I can keep up with what’s being discussed, that I already know a fair bit of what’s mentioned, and that I can identify where the gaps are in my knowledge and how to go about filling them. And also that I have (sometimes pretty strong) opinions on it all (although I often don’t feel confident enough to express them…). I kind of hope that all of this is a good sign that I’m heading in the right direction and doing the right things. And that one day it’s all going to click into place and land me a glorious career. Haha.

Glorious sunshine and seaside (majority of time was spent in windowless conference halls though, honest!)
Jen being very excited about the sea…

Also…I really like having the chance to go away without my kids, as if I’m some sort of grown up professional person. I am a terrible mother.

I can say with confidence that I won’t manage to blog again until after the end of the semester. And that quite it’s quite possible that my brain will be too frazzled to write a single word until September. Ah well….

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Facing the fear….

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend Django Girls Sheffield, a full day (plus Friday evening ‘installation party’ complete with beer and crisps!) introduction to programming, aimed at women. Although 9 full hours of working through the tutorial was really flippin intense for a complete beginner (particularly after a very late bedtime on Friday thanks to the friend I stayed with and her impressive lindy bopping community!), I’m so glad I took the chance to do this course.

Coding and programming have for some time been in the ‘this would be really useful but I’m too scared/old/incompetent’ section of my lengthy list of things I would like to learn. Although I knew a smattering of html as a 12 year old with a Geocities page, as I’ve got older my day to day computer use seems to have required less and less white letters in black boxes. As that has happened, and things have raced on at an astounding pace, I’ve felt more and more out of my depth when it comes to how the damn things actually work, and how anyone is be able to make them do the clever things they do. It’s become a sort of sorcery in my mind, something that other, different, people do, who talk in a language I will never understand…

Over the last year, especially as my awareness of all things LIS has grown, I’ve increasingly felt the need to change this. Understanding, on some level, how the tools I use every day actually work seems more and more important. Tech skills are employable, obviously, but also empowering (cheesy sorry …), and it seems important to have a reasonable grasp of it all no matter what area of the profession you end up in. Coming across Paul Ford’s brilliant What Is Code? article was the clincher-it convinced me that getting developing some sort of understanding, rather than labelling it all as ‘someone else’s thing’ is pretty fundamental to be any sort of decision maker in an awful lot of industries.

But the whole thing had become really quite terrifying to me… The amount that I don’t know seems so overwhelming that I’ve had no idea where to start, how to start, what to do…

After this weekend, I am still overwhelmed (possibly more so?), but I’m a lot less scared. It’s not actually scary! It’s just like any other skill, with a huge amount of information to take in, things to work out, and a steep steep learning curve, but lots of ways to gain the knowledge you need.

What I loved about Django Girls (as well as the incredible Mexican food from Street Food Chef that we had for lunch) was the genuinely diverse mix of people there and the enthusiasm and supportiveness of the organisers and coaches, who had so kindly given up their time to share their skills with us. Being divided into groups of 2 or 3 and assigned a coach to help us work through the tutorial worked really well for me, and our coach Liz was brilliant-down to earth and supportive. I found it very reassuring to realise that actually even people who do this stuff for a job are know where near knowing everything, and so they look stuff up and ask other people all the time. I know this is obvious. But for some reason it took hearing it firsthand to convince me…

Of course, this one day workshop has by no means turned me into any sort of programmer. It’s all still hugely  overwhelming, but I feel like I’ve been given a confidence boost and a support network when it comes to getting a bit of a handle on coding and programming. I understand a few more of the mysterious words (I have a GitHub account instead of just finding the use of the word git highly amusing!). I’ve realised that I really enjoy the logical, problem solving aspect of coding (I lurve logic). I’ve accepted that my computer isn’t going to explode if I use the command line. I’ve started to ogle the source code of websites I use instead of freaking out and turning the computer off if I accidentally display it (yes it was that bad). What I need now is time to play around, complete the tutorial, get the site that I built to work (it all went a bit wrong at the end of the day and energy levels were way too low to fix it by that point…), and gradually improve my understanding of it all. Sadly time is in pretty short supply at the moment (ha ha understatement) but I’m determined to find a few hours a week to work on it, before the effect of this confidence and enthusiasm boost wears off.

I’m not kidding myself, the chances of me becoming a competent software developer in my spare time are clearly non existent. What I would like to achieve, however, is a decent level of understanding that gives me a bit more of a grasp of what’s going on behind the scenes of the many systems I use, and how difficult or otherwise it is to get them to do other things. I hope that might be possible? Django Girls definitely showed me what a supportive community programmers can be, and how many places there are to go for help and answers. I’d really like something like CodeUp Manchester to keep me going in the future, but I can’t find anything similar nearby (unless my research skills have failed me…).

I would definitely recommend a Django Girls workshop to anyone who wants to learn more about programming-they take place all over the world so keep an eye out for one near you. And if you already have the skills, why not get involved and coach or organize one, or something similar? (Although it did look like a hell of a lot of work-so thank you very much to everyone who made it happen!)

Whirlwind

Full disclosure, the previous post was written about 3 months ago, but I only just got round to revisiting the blogging idea and actually hitting ‘publish’. Not the best sign. What happened in the last 3 months? Well, a whirlwind of studying and working and Life Things, which has only just subsided slightly. I’m coming to the end of of a 3 week break between my final hand in for my first semester modules and the beginning of my second semester modules. I thought I would be able to use this break to do All The Things that had gone by the wayside since September (like reading fiction, and knitting, and seeing my kids), and also a load of Very Important CPD type stuff such as applying for conference bursaries, shadowing librarians in different roles at work, and getting this blog going. Shockingly, I have not in fact managed to achieve All The Things, although I have made a good start on a few of them. But I’m now trying to brace for Round 2 of the whirlwind, which seems set to be even more whirlwindy…. Ah well, I’m sure I can cling on until summer (which is going to feel like a luxurious, leisurely break with just work and kids to deal with).

Despite the workload, and the general shock of going back into education after a full six years of no essay writing or mandated reading, I am absolutely loving my course. I’m so glad that I got up the guts (and, lets be honest, was privileged enough to be able to borrow the pennies) to go for it. Having heard some very mixed reviews of library courses around the country, I am particularly happy that Sheffield chose this year to launch their distance learning course, and that it’s what I chose to do. Although in an ideal world I would have preferred an in person course (not least because of the fee difference….), I’ve been so impressed with almost all aspects of the delivery and content so far, and particularly by the responsiveness of the staff, who must have had their workloads increased substantially by this new mode of course delivery. I’ve also been embarrassingly excited to be studying something that has clear real world implications for me, and that I’ve been a massive overeager geek about for the last few years. Now that I’ve got a bit more used to it, it’s really nice to be back in formal education. Especially because I get to be graded again. And good grades have, it turns out, been the primary source of my self worth since childhood (thanks for creating a lifelong need for external validation, school!).

I’ve now had all but one of my marks for the first senester’s coursework back, and I’m pretty pleased-it’s good to get some reassurance that you’re going along the right lines. My first semester modules (‘Libraries, Information and Society’, and ‘Information Literacy’) have both been interesting and relevant,  and covered a good mix of new and familiar material. Due to the broad scope of topics covered by both, I still feel a bit ‘fuzzy’ on some of the material (things I didn’t cover in my coursework…), so I’m trying to revisit some of the reading and teaching when I get a chance. The upcoming modules, ‘Academic and Workplace Libraries’ and ‘Leadership, Strategy and Change,’ look like they’ll be a bit narrower in focus. I’m especially looking forward to looking at Open Access/scholarly comms stuff in more detail as I am getting reeeallly into this side of things and currently leaning towards that being the aspect of librarianship that I pursue (but who knows what might happen!). I actually did a little squeak of delight when I saw that 40% of the module assessment is an essay on Open Access….. I am so sad. I’m a bit less excited/confident about the leadership module, but it does look like it will be useful. 

Of course, I’m also planning to be a much better person all round this semester. I am planning on displaying stellar time management skills and a complete absence of procrastination, time wasting or last minute stressing out. Every free momen will be used efficiently, allowing me enough quality time with my kids rather than weekends spent locked away from them doing work. And my house will be pristine. Of course. Totally confident this is gonna happen..

Introduction…

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for quite a while now, but since today I have approximately 37 other vital things to do, I have decided now is the time. Nothing like finding more procrastination tools. Although, of course, it is intended to a tool for personal reflection and professional engagement, not just killing time whilst I lock myself away from the kids and pretend to be studying for my MA, no not at all…

This is probably the 5th or 6th blog I have started. Previous blogging topics including knitting, sewing, cooking, gardening, parenting, overthrowing captalism and social injustice, and a Live Journal of immense teenage angst about 15 years ago. None of these blogs were well written or consistently maintained, so I’m not sure this will be any different…although of course it has potential ‘professional applications’ so I should probably give it a bit more of a go (although I have vague memories of once imagining that I could transform myself into a professional mum blogger, and I didn’t do too well at that either…).

Given that my blogs have generally begun with an entirely superfluous ‘who I am’ introduction for my imaginary reader, I shall briefly include one here. I am one of those over eager aspiring librarian types, yet also rather cynical due to a good few years working as a library assistant and feeling the frustrations… I’m in the first year of a distance learning MA Library and Information Services at Sheffield and I have two part time jobs-one in ‘customer services'(aaagh! I know! But it’s my job title so…), and one in Collections and Acquisitions, in 2 different university libraries in Leeds. I have 2 kids, a two year old and an eight year old, that I’m probably guilty of mentioning too often to compensate for the fact that I feel like I’m a bit rubbish at everything, cos they suck my energy and sometimes my soul. You can read about my ‘journey’ to this point for FLIP Network. Although the fact that I was totally mortified to read my writing when it was published doesn’t bode well for my blogging in general…

However, I do feel the need for somewhere to collect and disseminate my musings on my studies, my work, and the world of libraries and librarianship in general, with its many, constant existential crises. I’m really happy, at 30 years of age, to have finally found something that I want to do, care about hugely, ties in with lots of other things that I care about, generally suits my aptitudes and personality, and I can actually pursue as a career. But blimey there’s a lot of interesting issues to be discussed/agonised over. I’ve been enjoying following/occasionally getting involved in library twitter discussions and debates but often feel frustrated at not being able to articulate ideas properly within 140 characters (I’m hella long-winded, sorry), so it’s good to have somewhere to talk about stuff. Although I’m a bit terrified that any ideas I have will get totally shot down if I dare to air them in public…

I’m also keen to have somewhere to write up CPD type stuff I do, as I’ve been guilty of going to rather a lot of conferences/training events over the last year or so and then failing to do the necessary reflective write up at the end. Poor form, which I will be attempting to rectify in the future…