25 July 2012

Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

I'm a huge fan of two of these but I will never be the Wikilady...

Google Docs

Google Docs I have been using for a long, long time - in fact I had a Writely account before Google took it over. Reasons for this are many:

  • Aversion to Microsoft Word (sledgehammer to crack a nut for most of my docs) and not having it on home laptops.
  • Using several PCs to do stuff: we have a home PC, a laptop and then I have a work PC. I like to be able to read or write my docs wherever I am without worrying about whether I have suitable software installed.
  • Collaboration at work: in this job and the last, I have often ended up using a sneaky Google Doc to avoid using Sharepoint. It's SO much quicker for opening, reading, editing, tracking changes etc. 
  • Sharing documents: there is no way for us to SHARE a document with the wide world using the ironically named Sharepoint and I find myself wanting to do this more and more. It's a moment's work to make a Google Doc public and send out a URL. 
The down side?
  • Backing things up: I do tend to trust the cloud but I also back up important stuff somewhere else. I don't do this religiously but I work under the assumption that I'm willing to risk things I haven't backed up and most of the time that's OK.
  • Clunky interface: using Google Docs on my mobile (Android) and iPad is not the easiest, even with the app. Definitely could do better. Evernote does do it better, in fact.
  • Uploading word docs and downloading them does mean you lose the finer points of formatting and it can go wonky (that's a technical term).
Ways of using Google Docs:
  • In one of our library groups we have been doing the minutes as we go on a laptop using Google Docs. If you have your own laptop or device, you can see and amend what the minute taker has written if you wish (doesn't happen a lot!). It's also there ready and shared for the next meeting.
  • I have created several teaching resources and shared them with students using Google Docs. My only alternative would be to put them in Blackboard and this immediately creates a login barrier. For example, the 3rd year social work students we presented to on social media will lose their university accounts at the end of August but will still be able to view the resource sheet we created. I also do it so we can give out an URL (always a small one!) and reduce the waste of paper handouts. We also tend to handout paper with long URLs on which students then have to type on. This is silly!
  • Forms: wonderfully quick and easy to create a survey with results going into a spreadsheet. Maybe not as good-looking as SurveyMonkey but no restrictions on numbers. We have just run a Google Forms survey with over 450 responses and still going. It took less than an hour to put up there and circulate.


Of course Google Drive is now rivalling Dropbox but I'm sticking with my existing Dropbox usage, at least for now. Why I use Dropbox:
  • Backup: we have it installed on our home computer / laptops so anything is duplicated across those and also available via the online interface for access from anywhere. We do also backup to a hard drive but that is more sporadic. This is instantaneous.
  • It's soooo easy! You install it and it's just there as a folder to copy and paste or save into etc.
The down side?
  • It's just a file store. So if you put a powerpoint presentation on there, you need Powerpoint (or OpenOffice or whatever) to open it installed on your machine. In my opinion, this is less desirable than sharing a Google Doc which needs nothing to view other than a browser.
  • It requires a software install.
  • I won't install it at work even if security allowed that - I don't want my personal files on my work computer - so I just use the web interface which is a little clunky.
The only time I have used Dropbox to share stuff publicly is for the teaching materials from our "Managing your online presence". These are linked to from this site - again, I hit a problem using our corporate systems if I want to share stuff with the wider world. Otherwise I only use Dropbox for personal and home stuff.


I hate wikis! Really - I avoid them like the plague. Clunky, usually password protected with a password I have long since forgotten and not particularly nice to look at. Apart from maybe Wikipedia which is in a league of its own.

20 July 2012

Thing 12: Putting the Social into Social Media

I've found myself being more social than ever before thanks to the CPD23 programme and I think that is one of the major benefits of taking part. I think I behave the same on social media as I do in real life - if there's a big group conversation going on I tend to feel quite shy about joining in and think I have nothing worth saying...unless I have something I am burning to say when I will eventually work up the courage! Social media has an additional speed element to it that often defeats me - I'm not lurking on Twitter all the time and sometimes I'll find there was a conversation a day ago that I would have enjoyed but everyone has moved on already.

I'm lucky in that I have some friends working in different careers but with a shared interest in social media so that gets me out of my comfort zone a little. I try to follow more general topics such as social media and education so that means I'm not just engaging with librarians - although most of my top tweeters to follow are librarians (our profession just has such quality people...)

As with many things, time is an issue - I haven't had much time lately to follow Twitter or check the blogs I follow - but when I do find a moment, I shall keep trying to engage a bit more and lurk a bit less.

Lurker by Robert Stok on Flickr
(This breaks my secret NO CATS rule!)

12 July 2012

Thing 11: Mentoring

I had a mentor when I did my Chartership and really liked the idea of having someone who was not at my workplace and not my manager to meet with occasionally and review my progress. Since then I haven't had anyone who would quite fill that role but there are several people whose opinions I respect and advice I seek. I'm not sure I feel the need right now to seek out a general mentor - and I'm not sure who would fit that bill - but it could be answer to some specific areas I wish to develop.

One big problem I am having in my current job is my lack of cataloguing experience combined with a lack of any cataloguing procedures. It's kind of assumed we all know what we're doing and, whilst I can slowly and laboriously try to work out the right answers, I'd love to be sure of what I'm doing and speed up a bit! It occurred to me that having a cataloguing mentor may be an answer to this - someone who can explain and check my work occasionally so I can rest easy that I'm making progress. I'd also like to engage in evidence based research over the next few years - again, this would be a good area to find a mentor for advice and guidance. 

Mentor needed: to help me accept the things I cannot change....

5 July 2012

Thing 10: Graduate traineeships, Masters Degrees, Chartership, Accreditation

For me, the heart of this Thing is formal, recognized learning vs. informal CPD. The former is good for job hunting or proving something to yourself or other people but usually comes at a high cost of money and time (both to you and your workplace perhaps). The latter is more responsive and flexible, can be free, yet is hard to get recognized in the long run unless you can do wonderful things as a result. 

I have a silly amount of qualifications amassed over the years. I did the library Masters purely because it was the only way to get a "proper" librarian job where I wanted to work - I'd loved working on the Issue Desk but I also knew I'd want to move on in years to come. As I was already maturing (like a good cheese), I decided I didn't have time to waste so took a leap of faith and went off and did it in a year full-time at Aber. I have to say it was quite a dreary course apart from the utterly wonderful Local Studies module (we begged for more at the end!), the more tekkie Internet Searching stuff and of course anything taught by the brilliant Geraint Evans (now author) was worth attending. It did the trick and without the MScEcon I wouldn't be where I am today...

I did go on and get Chartered. I'm not entirely sure why, looking back - I think I just felt it was the logical conclusion if you were a librarian...I'm not too sure I'd feel that now? I enjoyed the discipline of it and the reflective practice. I also did it at a time when I wasn't employed in a library (I was an e-learning advisor for a few years) so it meant I kept a focus on librarianship. 

I would only do another work-related qualification if I was very sure it was going to be interesting and practically useful. A teaching course is the one thing I'm pondering at the moment as I'd love to have a better understanding of teaching theory and improve my practical skills (which have all been learned on the job). However, with two small children and other things that need to take priority (learning Welsh to keep up with my son's homework), I can't see it happening for a few years. Otherwise, I try to research and learn about things as they crop up in my job - I've just been scanning around for any good practice or ideas on library inductions as tomorrow we are discussing what to do different this year. 

2 July 2012


Those who have worked with me for any length of time will know that nobody's heart sinks faster than mine when a meeting is threatened. I don't like negative thinking about work but past experience has taught me that nothing can be as soul destroying as hours spent trapped in a room inching through an agenda the way a slug eats a lettuce leaf...

Ideas factory or torture chamber?

In the spirit of reflection and progress, I have often pondered the key to successful meetings. I have read articles on the subject and considered practical rules (meeting conducted standing up?). Unfortunately I am not in a position to control most of the meetings I have to go to so I'm not able to implement anything too radical (this is probably good thing for those involved!)

Last week however I had at least 2 meetings which were an absolute joy. One of which was close to 2 1/2 hours long. So what were the reasons for their success?
  1. Very nice people: everyone at the meetings was considerate, sensible, good humoured and generous. There was no talking for talking's sake, no weird tensions or disputes going on, everyone was working to a common goal.
  2. The purpose of the meetings were clearly defined and, in my opinion, extremely important. We knew what we were there to do and, just as importantly, when to stop.
  3. The surroundings were comfortable - light, airy, good chairs. Trivial, but it helps!
  4. Nobody was fiddling with phones or laptops even though we had them there, we were all focussed and engaged. This was partly because everyone's comments were important and constantly being requested.
  5. We all cared about what we were there for. 
  6. Not everyone knew everyone else at the beginning but I detected a sense of satisfaction as the meeting progressed and we realised we were on the same wavelength.
  7. There was a feeling of progress and accomplishment at the end (relating back to point 2).
Obviously not all meetings can be like this but some of the above are factors that can be controlled. Regular meetings - progress reports, group meetings etc. - often lack the sense of purpose. They've been going for so long that the real reasons for being there (making sure everyone is up to date, improving our service, sharing ideas and information) are often not articulated. This could be linked to No.5 - if you restricted a meeting to those who really wanted to be there and articulated the reason for the meeting properly, this could be a huge improvement! Of course, if you choose not attend a meeting you can't complain if you don't like the outcomes.... ;o)

My quest for the perfect meeting formula goes on - in the hope that one day if I'm the one calling a meeting I can make it bearable. If anyone else has thoughts on this, or how to turnaround a meeting from hell, I'd welcome them!