About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

Lessening the use of outdated subject headings in the library catalogue

For this month’s GLAM Blog Club theme of “Lessen”, I thought I’d write about a small project I started recently. The aim of the project is to remove outdated subject headings from the catalogue. Our collection has a focus on material which deals with hearing loss and vision impairment; it also includes resources relating to other disabilities and disability studies in general. Some of the items date back to the early 20th century, and the language they use to describe people with disabilities is certainly not acceptable today. Unfortunately some of the subject headings that have been assigned to these works reflect that outdated, and often offensive, language. Inspired by other projects that replaced or updated problematic subject headings relating to transgender people and citizenship status, I decided to do the same for the disability-related headings which were applied to items in our collection.

I’m lucky that I work with a relatively small collection, and that my library is not part of a consortium or cooperative cataloguing program. Our catalogue is shared with a university library which my institution has an affiliation with, but I’m able to do all the catalogue record maintenance for my library’s collection. I also had the support of management and my colleagues (who are academics in the fields of hearing and vision loss). The project also aligned with two of my organisation’s values — respect and empowerment. It was about respecting the people that we serve by using appropriate language, and empowering staff to make changes.

There wasn’t anything too sophisticated about the method that I used to identify the catalogue records which contained the problematic headings — I simply searched the “Subjects” field in our library management system for terms e.g. handicapped, retarded. This gave me about 400 records which needed to be updated. From there, it was a matter of finding the current heading in the Library of Congress Subject Headings list that I would replace the outdated one with. For most terms this was a straightforward process e.g. “Visually handicapped” was replaced with “People with visual disabilities”, however others were less so. For example, books about people who have an intellectual disability use the problematic heading “Mentally handicapped”; this maps to the current heading “People with mental disabilities”. I thought that there was potential for this term being confused for people with a mental illness, so I decided to use a local heading of “People with intellectual disabilities” instead.

This wasn’t a large project that involved thousands of records, but I’d like to think that’s it’s small step in creating a library collection that is more inclusive. We can’t go back and lessen the use of outdated or offensive language in the works themselves, but by not replicating it in our catalogue records we can lessen the harm or damage that it causes.

Playing with LibGuides

As part of Library and Information Week (LIW) this year, I was looking for an online activity that I could create to engage and educate the staff in my organisation about the library’s services and resources. I work in a special library which provides services for approximately 450 staff who are spread across 20 sites around Australia, so I was looking for something that could be completed anywhere and at any time during LIW. Inspired by the work of one of my colleagues in my previous workplace, and after reading about librarians using Google Forms to create online escape rooms, I decided to use LibGuides as a platform to create an online mystery for staff to play, with the offer of a gift card as a prize.

I chose LibGuides instead of Google Forms because I had recently taken out a subscription to LibGuides, so wanted to put the platform to use. It was also one of the resources that I wanted staff to know about, so it made sense to include it in the activity.

The premise of the activity was that the library’s resident skeleton, Seymour Skinless, had disappeared (Seymour is not the first library skeleton I’ve met, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr Thrifty and Lola). Staff would have to find clues and answer multiple choice questions in order to track him down. There were six services and resources that I wanted staff to learn about, so I came up with a clue for each one. Each clue had its own LibGuide created with four answers listed (A, B, C, and D); clicking on the correct answer would take staff to the next clue (incorrect answers resulted in a “Sorry, try again” message). Staff had to take note of the letter of each correct answer because that sequence of letters was needed to reveal Seymour’s location. When they’d located Seymour, staff had the option of entering a random draw for a $30 gift card.

Screenshot of the launch page of the activity, incuding a photo of Seymour Skinless.
Screenshot of the launch page of the activity.

If you want to have a look at the activity and play along, the launch page can be found here, however some of the links on some of the clues won’t work because they’re for pages on our intranet.

The feedback from staff who completed the activity was very positive, with several comments about how much fun it was to play. Based on this I’m planning on doing something similar for LIW next year – maybe a bit more structured and interactive. Whatever shape the activity takes, Seymour will be part of it.

Learning, learning, always learning

A quick post to start the year, on the January GLAM Blog Club theme of “What I learned last year and/or what I want to learn this year”.

Last year was a big year for me on the learning front. I started to learn how to be a manager, after moving into my first library manager position. After six months I’ve learnt that the role can be both challenging and rewarding. I wanted to learn what patrons thought about the library and our services, so I ran a survey and attended department meetings. One important thing I learnt was that people like having a lolly jar available on the desk. As part of the change involved with starting my new job, I learnt that sometimes you have to say no to opportunities when the situation changes.

I’ve already learnt one important lesson this year – you can’t assume anything during a library system migration. The migration has gone pretty well, but there were a couple of things that could have been done better. One of the areas I want to work on this year is making sure that the library is offering services that are valued by our patrons. To help with this I’m currently learning about service design by participating in the ALA course “Getting started with library service design”. The course has given me a good introduction to the process of service design and how it can be used in libraries. I’ll also be learning about building an engagement toolkit in a workshop at the upcoming Information Online conference. As well as these formal learning activities, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunities for informal learning too, as I continue on my learning journey as a manager.

Made it to my century

Earlier this week marked 100 days since I started in my new job, which is my first experience of being a library manager. Taking a leaf out of Sally’s (The Library Boss) book I thought I’d take the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on what I’ve achieved in that time:

  • I’ve updated the library’s Collection Development Policy to make it more readable and sound less “official”.
  • I ran a survey of staff from across the organisation to get their thoughts and suggestions on the library (they like us!)
  • As part of trying to re-engage with staff I’ve met with all the Regional Managers (sometimes as part of a team meeting) to let them know what the library can do for them, and to get their suggestions on what we can do to help them.
  • To make sure that students have access to information about library services I ensured that the library content in the learning management system is consistent for all units.
  • I’ve also set the deadline for migrating our catalogue records from one university library management system to another, and am collaborating with the staff at both universities to ensure it’s a smooth process.

I feel very, very lucky to have supportive colleagues within the organisation, both within the library and at a more senior level. I can see that the organisation recognises the value of the library, and I am grateful for that. This isn’t always the case in special libraries.

My next 100 days ends in February. I wonder what they’ll bring?

Collecting, but not for a collection

It’s been just over a month since I started my new job and became a first-time library manager. It’s gone very well, and I think I made the right decision to take this opportunity. In my first few weeks on the job I’ve done some collecting, which fits nicely with the August GLAM Blog Club topic of “collect”. Yes, I have ordered some books for the library’s collection, but the collecting I want to talk about in this post is less visible and not as material as that.

I’ve spent some time collecting my thoughts about my new role. This started not long after I accepted the offer to take up the job, as there was a gap of several weeks between leaving my previous job and starting the new one. It certainly increased in pace after I walked through the door on my first day. My new notebook (which I’d received as a farewell gift from my previous colleagues) quickly filled up with my questions, thoughts, and things to do. As time has moved on I’ve been adding to the notebook less frequently. The content has changed, too; there are fewer questions for other people, and more notes and questions for myself.

I’m trying to collect all my thoughts about the library’s services and resources so that I can try and get a feel for what the library does which works and what doesn’t. I prefer to have a plan and think things through before launching something new or making a big decision (I guess it’s the T (for Thinking) in my Myers-Briggs ISTJ personality type coming out). I don’t want to fall into either of the traps identified by Steven Bell in his Library Journal piece last year of over-promising and under-delivering, or trying to make my mark by launching something new and shiny too soon. I’ve got some ideas for potential new services that the library could offer, as well as some things that perhaps we could stop doing or change the way we do them. I get the feeling that others within the organisation would be happy to see some new ideas coming out of the library, so I don’t want to let them (or the library) down by not having thought things through.

Part of the process of evaluating what the library currently offers involves collecting evidence. I have always had an interest in evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP), and I’m looking forward to putting it to good use. EBLIP arose out of the evidence-based medicine movement of the late 1990’s, and was initially embraced by medical librarians. It has since become more widespread within the LIS profession, however, and has been formally defined for about 15 years. An early definition was proposed by Andrew Booth in 2002:

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.

Further refinement of the definition by Jonathan Eldredge recognised that the evidence could be either qualitative or quantitative, but should be always be as rigorous as possible. A third definition from Ellen Crumley and Denise Koufogiannakis includes the importance of librarians carrying out high quality research in order to add to the evidence base.

So what sort of evidence have I been collecting, and what do I plan to collect? I’m currently drafting a survey which will be sent out to all staff in the organisation and will focus on these three things:

  • Whether staff are aware that the library is available to them
  • Which library services and resources are important to the staff
  • How satisfied the staff are with the library’s services and resources

From the results of the survey I should get a good idea of where the library needs to focus its efforts in order to deliver a useful service to its patrons. To get some more personal responses I will be meeting with managers across the organisation to get their views on how the library can best support their staff (a variation on the Management By Walking Around technique). I’ll also be asking the other librarian (who has worked here for many years) what their thoughts are on how well the library is meeting our patrons needs and if there are any new services we could introduce.

Although the main focus of libraries is usually on collecting items for their collection, I think that it’s important that the collection of evidence is also a part of their practice. It can provide a way for the library to ensure that it is relevant to its users, and may even help to provide justification for the existence of the library. I’d encourage you to have a look at the EBLIP journal, which has been around for over ten years, to see some examples of how EBLIP has been used to evaluate and improve library services in a range of settings.


Holidays, milestones, turtles, oh my!

A few weeks ago I posted about how busy this year has been for us in terms of geocaching. Well, it hasn’t gotten any slower!

Earlier in July we spent a week on holidays in Cairns. We had a good time enjoying the warmer weather, and doing some day trips to Green Island, the Daintree, and Kuranda. While we were there we found our first ever Chirp cache, which was pretty cool. Now that we know the Chirp app works on our phones we’ll see if we can track a few more of these down.

Once we got home from Cairns we continued on our Hidden Creatures quest. Along the way, each of the Shoes family reached a milestone. Sensible Shoes reached 800 finds, Shoes Junior made it to 450 finds, and Little Shoes logged his 350th find. It only took us 24 days to go from 700 to 800 finds – our fastest ever 100 finds.

Finally, we ended up discovering the World Turtle in the Hidden Creatures promotion. When we first started on the quest, we would have been happy with getting the Yeti. However, it got to the stage where we were 17 finds away from reaching World Turtle, so we decided to put in one more day of caching to get there. Along the way we got to our 800 milestone, and Shoes Junior and Little Shoes had their best day of caching with 20 finds each.

We’ll probably take it a bit slower now. We’ve filled in July on our calendar, but we’ve got quite a few gaps in August. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to fill it this year, we might need to wait until next year to do that. Our goal (which might be a bit of a stretch) is to see if we can get to 1,000 finds by the end of the year. We’ve got a couple of tools on order which should help us get around a bit faster and find more caches. I’ll talk about them in my next post.

Gimme some lovin’

As well as working on a couple of other challenges, we’ve recently starting focussing on trying to find “unloved” geocaches i.e. ones which haven’t been found for six months or more. Our motivation for doing this is to rescue the caches to keep them active, and in some cases to confirm that the cache is still there. It gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling when we can let a cache owner know that their cache hasn’t gone missing. There’s also the thrill of the hunt, and knowing that we can accrue some more months if we can find the cache.

There are several challenge caches which you can qualify for by finding a certain number of years worth of unloved caches. A few days ago we qualified for a “Five Forgotten Years” challenge cache, and we’re about halfway to the next qualifying level of 15 years. After that, we need to find 50 years worth of unloved caches in order to qualify for the next challenge cache.

Our unloved cache finds

We’re using a couple of well-known online geocaching tools to help track our progress – GSAK and Project GC. GSAK (or Geocaching Swiss Army Knife) is a software program for Windows which lets you create databases of geocaches, such as all your finds or puzzles that you’ve solved. You can then run macros on these databases to calculate all sorts of statistics about your finds. We use the PreviousFind macro to calculate the number of days that our unloved caches have been unfound. GSAK is free to download, but a nag screen appears after 21 days which you can pay to remove if you want to.

Project GC is a website that can produce all sorts of statistics about geocaches. Lots of geocachers use it to produce statistics for their profile, but there are a range of other tools available, such as Days since last found. This feature has been very useful for us to plan which caches to find in order to earn some more unloved months. The basic tools on Project GC are free to use, but if you pay to become a member you have access to a lot more features. If you want to find out more about this great geocaching resource, have a listen to this episode of the Podcacher podcast, which features an interview with Magnus, the developer of Project GC.

Fill ‘er up!

As mentioned in a previous post, this has been a very busy geocaching year for us. We’re working on three challenges that have helped with this.

The first of these started in April, when we began to work on filling our calendar. In order to do this, we need to find a geocache on every day of the year. It doesn’t mean we need to go on a streak and find a cache every day in a row, but checking our finds grid to see the empty days and try and find a cache on those. So far we’re up to 209 days out of 366, and should be able to keep it up for a couple more months.

Our “Finds by found date” calendar

I think we’ll find it more challenging towards the end of the year when the weather starts to warm up – it makes it more uncomfortable for us and also more comfortable for the snakes.

The second challenge we’ve set ourselves is to try and fill in our “Finds by hidden month” chart. This is also known as the Jasmer challenge, and to complete it you need to find a cache that was hidden in every month since geocaching began in May 2000. For some of the older months, there aren’t any caches in Australia that were placed during those months, so the alternative Ausmer challenge has been developed instead. Even though there are fewer months in this version (it’s only from January 2001 onwards), we still probably won’t be completing this challenge. We’ll do our best to fill in as many of the months as we can, though.

Our current Jasmer grid

The third challenge involves finding a special type of geocache. Find out more in an upcoming post.

Wow, it’s been a busy year!

2018 is shaping up to be the biggest geocaching year yet for Sensible Shoes. We started the year on 524 finds, and currently we’re on 762 finds. That’s 238 finds this year alone – over half of all the finds from our previous 10 years! If we keep this up we’ll be at 1,000 finds before we know it (actually, in another 238 finds).

We’ve taken part in the recent promotions that Geocaching HQ have run, which has helped to build our find count. The first was the Planetary Pursuit, which we didn’t complete, but we did get as far as Uranus. We’ve also gotten into the current Hidden Creatures promotion. We recently unlocked the Dragon (which is available after 50 finds), but we’re not sure if we’ll make it all the way to World Turtle (for which you need 100 finds). At the start of the promotion we decided that we’d be happy if we made it to Yeti (35 finds), so we’ve done better than we thought. Maybe the World Turtle isn’t out of the question!

The hidden creatures that we’ve found

As well as a record year for finds, we’ve also set a new record for hiding caches. We’ve put out four new caches, and so far they’ve all been found fairly regularly. Although they’re not a formal series, there is a bit of theme to their names (which also reflects the type of hide or the location) – Hedwig, Umbridge, Aragog, and The Hogwarts Letter.

If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, we’ve got a new Instagram account where we’ll be posting pictures and videos of our caching adventures. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post about the various date-based geocaching challenges that we’re working on at the moment, and another post about our search for a special type of geocache.

Creating my future (and a library)

I’m not really the artistically creative type, so for this month’s GLAM Blog Club I’ll be talking about creating the next stage of my career. Next month I’ll be starting a new job as the manager of a small special library. This role is my first ever management position, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge. It’s only a small library, but I think it’s a good fit for me in terms of moving ahead in my career.

The positions that I’ve held up until now have created this opportunity for me. I’ll be able to draw upon my academic library experience (working with university staff and postgraduate students) and my special library experience (working in a small team, doing a bit of everything, being innovative and creative). I think I’ll be able to put them all to good use to maintain and create a fantastic library service.

The episode of the Turbitt & Duck podcast which featured Justin Hoenke resonated with me in a couple of ways. Firstly, I think I’ll be able to relate to the “Wow, I’m the manager … what do I do?” scenario, as I’m pretty sure that will be me for the first few months of the job. Another thing I need to be aware of is to not get my new staff offside by introducing too many creative or innovative ideas straight away. I’ll also keep Justin’s advice about looking for the creative opportunities in mundane activities in mind.

As well as creating a new stage in my career, I’m also really excited to have the opportunity to help create a new library space. The library will be moving to the campus of its partner university (hopefully within 18 months – two years). This will provide me and my team with ample opportunity to think about creative ways to use the new space, and to make sure that we’re providing the best possible library service.

I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my career. It might even give me the creative spark I need to try and write more often!