From lab bench to reference desk

So how did I get here? Well it wasn’t a road to nowhere, that’s for sure (apologies to Talking Heads). I never planned to become a librarian, which I think is a common experience for many librarians. In high school my main interest was in science, so I ended up studying chemistry as my undergraduate degree. This led to me working in an environmental laboratory as my first job, where I spent most of my time working in client services rather than in the lab itself. The skills I picked up in this role stood me in good stead later – dealing with stressed clients, entering samples into the laboratory management system (a bit like cataloguing, I guess), and managing competing tasks and deadlines.

After four years of working in the lab, I started thinking about whether it was time to move on to something different. There were some ownership and management changes within the company, and the lab would be relocating from Sydney to Newcastle. I would have been happy to make the move north, but I wasn’t sure if the job was still right for me. I’d been the Chairperson of Safety Committee, so I started thinking about a career shift towards OH&S. I also had librarianship in mind as another potential new career; I’d enjoyed using the library when I was studying and thought I wouldn’t mind working in one. In the end the deciding factor was the length of each of the courses – if I remember correctly it was three years for a Masters in OH&S, or two years for a Graduate Diploma in librarianship. I took the shorter option, which I think was definitely the right one.

I started the Grad Dip through Charles Sturt University in the middle of the year, and quit my job in the lab at the end of the year. I didn’t have a job to go, but hoped for the best. Early in the year I applied for a job as a Shelver at Macquarie University Library (MUL). It was only part-time (20 hours a week), so I figured I’d have time to study as well. I was offered the job, and my career in libraries had begun.

I spent the next 12 years at MUL, and I feel very fortunate to have worked there. Most of that time was spent working as a Liaison Librarian for the Faculty of Science, although I had the opportunity to work in a range of different roles. I got to the point in my career that I did by saying “Yes, I think I can do that” if an opportunity presented itself. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but I had to make the decision to try something new.

That’s what led me to the next phase of my career. I felt that I needed a change of scene, and when a job came up at a nearby hospital library, I applied for it and got it. I’ve been able to use some of the skills I developed from working in an academic library, such as supporting EndNote and database searching, as well as learning new ones, such as e-resource management.

One thing that has allowed me to get to where I am now is a supportive leadership team. I have been lucky to work in two libraries where my team leaders and managers have always encouraged me to apply for secondments or new positions, or to present at conferences. They have also been open to suggestions for new services that the library could offer, and for trying new things. Unfortunately this isn’t the case in all libraries, so I do count myself as fortunate to have been in this position.

So that’s my story of how I got here. It’s not the most dramatic or exciting path, but it has worked for me. I’m glad I made the choice to become a librarian, and I think I’ll be working in libraries for a while yet.

The Learning Analytics data cycle

There are several steps to the learning analytics (LA) data cycle. These include:

  • Collection and Acquisition: data is collected and acquired from one, or several, sources.
  • Storage: data is stored so it can be worked on. This storage may be located within the system which is used to produce the data, or the data may need to be exported and stored elsewhere.
  • Cleaning: there will usually be a need for some cleaning of the data so that it is in a format which can be used by the analysis software. This will be especially true if the data has been collected from a range of different sources, as each source will have its own data format.
  • Integration: if data is collected from multiple sources, it needs to be integrated into a single file so that it can be analysed.
  • Analysis: a software package is used to analyse the data to produce statistics about it.
  • Representation and Visualisation: in order to make the results of the data analysis easier to understand, they need to be represented and visualised in some way e.g. as a graph or chart, or a network diagram.
  • Action: finally, some action should be taken on the basis of the results of the data analysis. There is no point in initiating this LA data cycle if there is not going to be an action at the end of it.

Although LA have traditionally been used by departments other than the library, there are library systems which could produce data which could be analysed using this cycle. We can collect data about loans (from our catalogue), database access from proxy server logs), and website usage. Librarians are very good at collecting data and statistics about our patrons and collections, but often there is no particular reason for collecting them. LA ties nicely into the philosophy of Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP), which is defined as:

Evidence based librarianship (EBL) is an approach to information science that promotes the collection, interpretation, and integration of valid, important and applicable user reported, librarian observed, and research derived evidence. The best available evidence moderated by user needs and preferences is applied to improve the quality of professional judgments.

Booth, A. (2002). From EBM to EBL: Two steps forward or one step back? Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 21(3), 51-64. doi: 10.1300/J115v21n03_04

By using an approach similar to the LA data cycle, it’s possible for librarians to collect the evidence that they can use to improve existing services or develop new ones.

Before LA are used at an institution, there needs to be consideration of policies and planning around it. There should be policies dealing with the ethical collection and use of the data, as well as a clear outline of how the results of the data analysis will be used to improve the learning experience. LA is nicely suited to be part of the quality and evaluation system within an institution, and the LA cycle could be incorporated into a continual improvement process.

As LA can potentially use data from a range of units from across the university, there needs to be some strategic planning around how it will be implemented and used. The results of LA data analysis could be used to inform changes to teaching practice, and these changes need to have a sound planning framework associated with them. Strategic planning could also help mitigate the “bright and shiny syndrome”, where institutions rush to embrace the latest new technology without a plan for how it will be used. LA is a powerful tool for providing insight into the learner experience, but it should not be relied on as the sole driver for change.

At last, some library content on the blog

Most of the posts on this blog have related to geocaching, but this one is going to have some library content.

Ithaka S+R recently released a report titled Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Chemists, which raises some interesting points. The study interviewed chemistry researchers and research support staff (including librarians) from across the UK. The goal of the report is to

inform research support professionals about the latest research methods, practices, and information services needs of academics chemists and how they have been changing, inspiring their aims to develop robust, relevant, innovative research support services.

I must say that the findings of the report match my experience as a Liaison/Research Librarian for chemistry. There is very little interaction between the academic staff and librarians, which I’ve come to accept. I run a training session for postgraduate students in how to use SciFinder, but that’s the extent of our formal training. Reflecting the report’s observation that most contact between chemistry researchers and librarians concerns the library’s collection, most of the queries I receive are requests for a new journal subscription or book order, or problems accessing online journal articles.

A few of the themes explored in the report were covered at the Research Support Community Day which I attended in Brisbane recently. These include research data management, changes in the way scholarly literature is accessed, and open access and new publishing models. Chemists recognise that they need help with these, but don’t realise that the library can help them. They value the library for its role in managing collections, but may not be aware of the services which are available to them. However, the report does note that libraries are finding it increasingly difficult to provide researcher-focused services, due to limited library budgets and staffing resources.

The three recommendations from the report are:

  • Chemists require better knowledge management infrastructure, systems, and training
  • Chemists require highly customizable and efficient current awareness services.
  • To navigate the complicated and in some cases apparently contradictory publication mandates from funders, institutions, and government, chemists require advisory services to support their research dissemination needs.

Suggested opportunities for libraries and other research support service providers to develop new services for researchers are then discussed. All in all the report provides some food for thought, and suggests services that the library could provide which would be appreciated by chemistry researchers.

Information Online accompanying post

This post includes some more information and hints and tips about geocaching that I didn’t have time to include in my presentation at Information Online in Brisbane.

Firstly, some hint and tips for hiding a cache. If you are thinking of listing a geocache on geocaching.com, you MUST read the guidelines for placing a cache first. Then read them again. And then once more. Once you have a good understanding of what is allowed, make sure that your cache meets the guidelines. Each cache submission is reviewed by a volunteer reviewer, and if they feel that your cache breaches the guidelines, it won’t be published until it complies.

One of the most important guidelines concerns getting adequate permission from the landowner before placing a cache. If you are hiding a cache in your library, put a note on the cache page indicating that the cache was placed with the library’s permission. Even some public land, e.g. National Parks in NSW, require formal written permission to be obtained prior to placing the cache.

Another point to keep in mind is to make your cache container as large as possible. If you’re setting up a multi- or puzzle cache which requires cachers to gather information from several locations, it’s nice to reward them with a reasonably-sized container. Families with kids are particularly attracted to larger caches as there is usually some “swag” in there for the kids to look at and swap.

A recent development on the geocaching.com website has been the introduction of Favorite points. Under this system, cachers can assign Favorite points to caches that they loved finding. These points act as a way of encouraging visits to your cache, because caches with lots of Favorite points are obviously seen as something special by cachers. Hiding a creative cache is a good way to attract Favorite points, either by using a creatively designed container, or by taking the finders on an interesting journey as part of the cache experience. Check out the Creative Cache Containers Flickr group for some inspiration when designing a container.

If you wanted to find out more about geocaching in your local area, there are several geocaching organisations around Australia, such as those listed below:

I hope that this post has given you a bit more of an idea of how to go about hiding a cache in your library. If you have any questions or want more information, feel free to contact me via email (andrew@geocachinglibrarian.com.nospam – remove the “nospam”) or Twitter.