Lessening the use of outdated subject headings in the library catalogue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 The aim of the project is to remove outdated subject headings from the catalogue.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 Unfortunately some of the subject headings that have been assigned to these works reflect that outdated, and often offensive, language.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was a matter of finding the current heading in the Library of Congress Subject Headings list that I would replace the outdated one with.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.

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.


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!

If you’re happy and you know it …

The theme for this month’s newCardigan GLAM Blog Club is “Happiness”, so here, in no particular order, are some of the things that make me happy.

I guess the most important thing I’m happy about is making the career switch into librarianship. As I’ve discussed previously, I started my working life in an environmental laboratory before moving into libraries. As far as career progression is concerned, I’m definitely happy with the change – I’ve been able to take advantage of more opportunities than I would have been able to if I’d stayed in the lab. I could happily spend the rest of my working life in libraries.

In my role as a librarian, I find happiness in other people’s happiness. In my previous role as an academic librarian as well as my current role as a hospital librarian, it’s the happiness shown by the people that I’ve helped which gives me satisfaction. This could be their thanks for helping them troubleshoot a problem they’ve been having with EndNote or for showing them how to search the databases effectively, or their appreciation for the literature search that I’ve completed for them. It’s this feeling that I’ve really been able to help someone which keeps me coming back to work each day.

Over the last few years I’ve done some casual tutoring in an information retrieval unit in a Masters-level information studies course. This experience of teaching future information professionals also makes me happy. It makes me feel good when I’m able to provide some real world examples and experience to help them see how the theory that they’re learning about can be applied.

I also find happiness in being busy. I currently have several projects and ideas that I’m working on outside of my job at the moment, and I do tend to start tinkering with something without waiting until I’ve completed one of the things I’m already working on. This means I end up with a few half-finished tasks that take longer to complete than they probably should. I’m making an effort this year to try and finish off (or stop working on) some of these things so that I can share the results. Even though I like to be busy, I’m also happy to switch off when required.

So, that’s what keeps me happy in my job. I’ll be interested to read what other people have to say about happiness.

Learning goals for 2018

There are a few things on my “to-learn” list for 2018. I started working with most of them last year, and I want to learn more about them this year.

  • Wikidata and WikiCite

Up until now, the Wikimedia Foundation project that I’ve worked on the most has been Wikipedia. I’ve taken part in a couple of #1lib1ref campaigns, and looked at how Wikipedia can be used as an entry point to library collections (which I co-presented at the 2014 ALIA National Conference). My total number of edits on Wikipedia is close to 3,000; most of them are corrections to the formatting of references, so I’m very much a WikiGnome. I’ve recently become interested in Wikidata, and the semi-related project WikiCite. I’ve played around with adding items to Wikidata by exporting from Zotero (there’ll probably be an upcoming post about this), and I’ll be doing some more of this in the future. My main focus is on bibliographic data within Wikidata, so that’s why I’m interested in WikiCite. I would love to be able to apply the “create once, re-use often” principle to adding references to Wikipedia, as I sometimes find myself editing the same reference in multiple Wikipedia articles. WikiCite could be a way of reducing this sort of duplication of effort. I’m definitely not a developer on WikiCite, just an interested user.

  • R and Shiny

I started dabbling with the R programming language last year, and it’s something that I would like to try and learn more about. I’d like to investigate using Shiny to create a dashboard based on a script written with R. I’m thinking that it will involve altmetrics (maybe using the new Dimensions research information system), but I’ll have to see if my limited coding abilities will be enough for that.

  • A MOOC or two

I completed a couple of MOOCs last year (mostly on statistics and research data management), and I want to try and enrol in at least one this year. I started one on R a little while ago, so I might try and finish that one off. I’m sure I can find something out there that interests me.

I’ll keep you updated throughout the year as I (hopefully) cross these items off the list.

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.