Thursday, 14 July 2016

The WHY of libraries and librarians

Funnily enough, in the middle of writing this (which was actually months after finishing the book mentioned further down and starting thinking about it all), I discovered a library consultant had just written a blog post in which he says how important Simon Sinek's concept is for him. So it's not just me, Andy Priestner says it too!!

It starts with the Carnegie Library Lab online learning programme. Tom Forrest made our little group of Carnegie Partners watch a video by Simon Sinek then put into words the WHY, HOW and WHAT of our projects. I'll let you watch the video below so you understand what I'm talking about (it's 18:34 long and totally worth your time, but if you're in a hurry you can go for just the first 6 minutes).

Simon Sinek makes the point that most organisations know WHAT they do and HOW they do it, but not always WHY they do it - the WHY being their purpose, their beliefs, their reasons for doing what they do the way they do it. This WHY is essential as "people don't buy what you do - they buy why you do it"; it is the WHY that inspires people to "buy" into what you do and creates loyalty for your organisation (from both staff and customers). When you communicate you should communicate your WHY first not your WHAT, because your WHY is what people will react to the most. On another level, if you act according to your beliefs (your WHY) in HOW you do things and WHAT you make, it means WHAT you do to achieve your WHY can take many forms but still makes sense, for example branching into different products or services. What you do in your organisation proves what you believe in, what people do by buying into your products or services proves what they believe in.

Ok, that's a very quick summary (you should really watch the full video!) Simon Sinek wrote a whole book about this topic, entitled Start with Why. I don't often read non-fiction books, but this one came warmly recommended by a fellow Carnegie Partner so I stuck my teeth into it (no, no literally! Who do you think I am - I would never do that to a library book); it took me ages but I read it.

And it made me think. (I know, it's unbelievable - right!?)
It made me think about the WHY of libraries, their raison d'être, and people's perceptions of it. And it also made me think about WHY I am a librarian, what it is in me that makes me passionate about the role of libraries.

The WHY of libraries
It's not easy to phrase in a definite way what public libraries are for - in the profession and outside of it everyone has their own variation on the matter. A couple of years ago I was at a debate organised by CILIP North East on volunteer-run libraries; on one side were founders of a volunteer-run library, while on the other were professional librarians. I was struck by the fact the volunteer library people seemed to think a library was about books, whereas the librarians defined the library as being about access to information. I think the librarians' point of view then is representative of our profession: we do not believe libraries are about books - and yet so many of our residents (even those taking our defense), stakeholders, decision-makers think so. Where does this discrepancy come from? Where did we go wrong?

Could we have made the mistake of communicating too much on WHAT we do, rather than on WHY we do it? No wonder some of our customers or stakeholders don't understand why we are introducing digital and making activities in our libraries, if we have made them believe we were mainly about books. No wonder politicians say things like: "Public libraries are outdated; they have been replaced by the Internet" if we have made them believe the wrong thing about libraries' role. No wonder we're struggling for survival, if most people have no clue WHY we're essential to our communities.

In my last job interview - the one where I was actually re-applying for my own post, and if I failed I was being made redundant - I suggested re-writing the library service's vision and mission statement. It was probably a bit of a risky thing to say in those circumstances (!) but I ask you: does your library's vision statement say why the library service exist, what is its raison d'être? Mine doesn't. It jumps straight into the WHAT. It says " we do", "we will", "we have". It doesn't say "we believe in", "we are here for". It looks good but it's not enough: it's not inspiring, it's not going to make anyone think twice about cutting our budget again. Because it doesn't say WHY we do what we do, and it doesn't leave scope for our potential to do other things, to adapt to our customers' needs.

WHY I am a librarian
Now I'm not saying changing the way we talk about our libraries will save us from budget cuts - but if it helps change perceptions, wouldn't it be worth a try? Maybe something like this...
{WHY} * Libraries exist to defend people’s rights to enrich and improve their own lives, their environment and society.
[HOW] Our library staff make this happen by facilitating access to and the sharing of information, knowledge and culture.
[WHAT] We keep our buildings safe and welcoming, we maintain collections for members of the community to consult and borrow, we organise and host learning and social activities.
How's that?

Start with Why also made me think about WHY I am a librarian and why I am now so committed to public libraries it is hard for me to think of leaving them. The answer is easy: I believe in them. I believe in the role of public libraries; public libraries' WHY align with my personal principles and interests. Public libraries defend people's rights; I think if I wasn't working in a public library I might want to work for a civil rights association, or - as one of my friends once suggested to me - for a politician! (I did laugh in his face.)

Thinking about the WHY of libraries and of myself as a librarian has made me change the way I introduce myself and talk about libraries outside of the library sector. In my current role I regularly deliver workshops for entrepreneurs, inventors and established businesses - I always explain that I am an information professional (think Mystique in X-Men : First Class: "Mutant Librarian, and proud") and why I'm the person they need. But it is a stance I am now also using within my own library service, especially with frontline staff: explaining that this is what we stand for, all of us, together; this is why we exist and we do those things.
I have started using what I believe is the WHY of libraries to promote and explain the events I've recently organised - for example the hackathon. Organising a hackathon in a library, using library data released under an open licence makes sense: because libraries' raison d'être is to enable people to improve their circumstances and environment, by sharing information.
I've started using the WHY / HOW / WHAT structure in articles (though not in this one, otherwise it would be less chaotic!) and in presentations - and I should probably use it more.

And what about you?

Try this at home
Take a pen and a piece of paper - or grab your nearest device with a notebook function. And type/write down:
  1. The WHY of your library or information service - why does it exist in the first place, what is its raison d'être? What, as an organisation, does it believe in?
  2. HOW is your organisation achieving this? In what ways does it put its WHY into practice?
  3. WHAT are the kind of things you are actually doing, at the end of the line? WHAT services do you propose to your users?
Then take a breath, jump a few lines, whatever - have a little pause. And continue.
4. WHY are you, personally, in libraries? What is it you believe in that aligns with your organisation's purpose?
Then be ready to shout about it. Be an advocate for what you believe.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

CryptoParty Newcastle round-up

The first CryptoParty Newcastle took place at Newcastle City Library on 22 May. It was organised via the Open Rights Group North East by a core group of four individuals (including me!) who care about privacy and sharing knowledge of how to protect one's electronic communications.

"Attend a CryptoParty to learn and teach how to use basic cryptography tools. A CryptoParty is free, public and fun. It is an open format where everyone is welcome independent of their age, gender or knowledge. People bring their computers, mobile devices, and a willingness to learn!"

Here is a round-up of posts and pages about the event.

  • Planning page on the cryptoparty website
  • Some visuals to promote the event
  • The event's page on the cryptoparty website (likely to be re-used for future events)
  • Crypto Party…in a public library…in the UK by Ian Clark on his blog
    Ian has been making the case that part of librarians' role is to help citizens protect their intellectual freedoms, including the right to privacy. In this article, he praises the fact this cryptoparty is hosted and promoted by Newcastle Libraries and hopes that other librarians and libraries will follow in our footsteps.

Below are some of the social media posts that helped promote the event (my sincere apologies for the video!! I'm still embarrassed about it, but it was great that Newcastle City Council Comms team took such an interest that they asked about doing a video and posted it on social media).

"Cypherpunks. Newcastle Library is hosting a #CryptoParty, this Sunday"
Newcastle City Council video


To protect our participants' privacy, we didn't take pictures during the event ;-)

Alex, one of the organisers, had prepared handouts which were distributed to people, and are now online ready to be used by everyone who needs them.


  • Cryptoparty hosted by Newcastle City Library by Shannon Robalino, one of the CryptoParty Newcastle participants and a librarian by profession, on her blog
    Shannon describes what happened at the cryptoparty and her experience of some of the tools. She also mentions the perception a majority of the population seems to have, that they do not need to protect their privacy, making cryptoparties a bit of an echo chamber. At the end of her post she points to some further reading and to the Radical Librarians Collective and the Library Freedom project.
  • What we learned from hosting our cryptoparty by Alex Haydock, one of the organisers, on Medium
    Alex explains the reasons behind cryptoparties and gives recommendations on how to organise one, with examples based on our experience in Newcastle. "In many ways, libraries are the perfect venue for an event like a CryptoParty", he writes. His article covers finding a venue, what groups to reach out to help organise and promote the event, what online resources are available, as well as what the plan is for the "after-CryptoParty Newcastle".
  • CryptoParty Newcastle and user privacy in libraries by, erm, *me* on Informed
    Starting with a definition of what a cryptoparty is, I explain why we held one in a public library by showing how it fits with the role of libraries and librarians. I then tell of how CryptoParty Newcastle was actually organised and what we did on the day. To conclude, I make suggestions on what librarians can do for user privacy in their institutions.

That's all folks! (except now you may have the Looney Tunes theme tune stuck in your head. Sorry!!)

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The SCL Learning Offer in the North East

Last Friday 6 May I had the opportunity to attend the Society of Chief Librarians' Universal Offers roadshow at Newcastle City Library.
My understanding is that the Universal Offers have been developed by the SCL to better promote what public libraries do but also help library services understand where they might be lacking or leading compared to others in England. When a public library signs up to an Offer they agree to provide a core package of services linked to a particular area. For example, the Digital Offer includes: "free internet access (for a minimum period of time), clear and accessible online information about library services, staff trained to help customers access digital information". The Offers are continously expanded and new ones are developed.

The regional roadshows allow librarians to come together to share best practice but also provide feedback on each Offer - for a snapshot of the North East event, check out the #neroadshow hashtag on Twitter. I spent my day at the Learning Offer table, as I had been asked to share my experience of releasing and re-using library data and how the Wuthering Hacks hackathon I organised last month encouraged members of the public to "develop and share ideas and learn together" in libraries, which is one of the points in the Learning Offer.

The Learning Offer also covers "that coding and making stuff"; as library staff felt they needed more information about how to run these types of activities, the SCL has produced a toolkit called Code Green to help them.
In Newcastle we have recently invested in some kit, so my colleague @biblioluke and I had set up some (Raspberry Pi, Arduino, etc.) in the room for roadshow attendees who'd never tried these to have a go. I am afraid the first thing I did with attendees arriving to the Learning Offer table in the morning is engage them in a bit of making! They created foil sculptures - which were fantastic and included a bird, a boat, a bracelet, a dog, a caterpillar (or similar type of creature) - to show off how a MakeyMakey works!

The reason for this post is simply that I took a few notes during the day, and instead of forgetting them I thought I might as well write them all up. Below is therefore a quick roundtable of some of the things I heard from colleagues in library services across the North East.

The Learning Offer in the North East: what other libraries are doing
  • Gateshead Libraries, like many others, offer a weekly job club: in 4 to 5 weeks unemployed customers learn how to write their CV using a computer, search for jobs online... Theirs is mainly attended by people over 50 years old. They may not get a job straightaway but they get a huge confidence boost.
  • In Middlesbrough the local history volunteers are realising how valuable their local knowledge is and therefore building their confidence too. They are now presenting to other groups and doing talks, one volunteer even teaching another how to use Powerpoint when they weren't particularly IT-savvy! 
  • In Northumberland the first Code Club is about to start at Hexham Library. When the library service was looking for volunteers, most of them seemed more interested in working with schools... In the end the Council's Digital Team helped get the Code Club set up, so the library is getting benefits from the activity with minimal input. 
  • In North Tyneside the Lifelong Learning arm of the Council deliver courses in libraries and are happy to take suggestions from library staff on further courses to offer.
  • Stockton Libraries took part in the BBC Get Creative Day on 2nd April and invited local creative people to showcase their work and run workshops for customers, including one on pottery and another on book art!

Thoughts on the Learning Offer
  • Local Studies and Family History are actually a big part of most services' learning offer (more than coding!)
  • The Learning Offer gives public libraries a chance to target other groups - those that maybe don't use libraries much / that we don't cater for very well e.g. teenagers, young adults in education.
  • More and more services are being pressured into generating income, but most of our customers can't afford to pay for things including learning activities.
  • Barriers to implementing the Learning Offer: space, time, money, staff. There are also less learning providers and they are offering courses in libraries with now-reduced hours.
  • Some Councils are putting pressure on libraries by asking: "OK, the library is doing this because it fits with its role, but what does it bring to the Council as a whole?"
  • Comment on the hackathon case study: if libraries ask Councils/IT anything to do with systems and data, the first answer they'll get is no.
  • Through SCL we could work more closely together. It's great to be able to meet people at the regional roadshow and know who to ask for advice on particular topics, though more formal peer mentoring or training is needed.
  • Next steps for the Learning Offer: more stuff for adults! Coding is not just for children [I couldn't agree more!]

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Coding: what schools do...

...that libraries could take inspiration from.

Last week I got sent on a training organised by the North-East group of ASCEL, the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians. Now, I'm clearly not a children's librarian (my association wouldn't be ASCEL but more something like: ACGIFL, the Association of Copyright Geeks and Intellectual Freedom Librarians! If it existed, of course.) My colleague who was supposed to go had an emergency and basically the head of the Children's team came to me and said: "Aude, it's training about coding, robotics etc. - you're into those things, would you go so the place isn't wasted?"

So there I am the next day, at the Open Zone CLC in South Shields. The Open Zone CLC team help school teachers across South Tyneside with IT. They provide support and training on the technical side of things but also deliver computing lessons for pupils as young as 4 years old and up to 18.
Interestingly, Open Zone also runs some workshops for parents, specifically on e-safety - however, they found there was a very low take-up, as the vast majority of parents don't realise how important safety and privacy online are!

Our trainer started by telling us about the new computing curriculum for Key Stage 1 & 2 (primary school, 5 to 11 year-olds), which encompasses computer science, information technology and digital literacy including e-safety. The day was then spent trialling some of the tools and devices Open Zone use to teach what the national curriculum prescribes.

Screenshot from "Daisy the dinosaur"
We started by trying out some coding apps for younger children:
 Daisy the dinosaur (free iPad app; can be used by 3-year-olds)
 Kodable (didn't try that one)
 Hopscotch (free iPad app; good but I got confused by the categories)
 Scratch junior (the little brother of the MIT platform; free app available for Android, iOS and even Kindle)

Before moving on to tools for an older age range we got to play with Bee Bots - though to be correct the ones we used were Blue Bots (connecting to a tablet via Bluetooth). These bees are programmable floor robots - and they're really fun.

Other recommended educational coding platforms for an older age range:
 Scratch (obviously!)
 Kodu (Microsoft programme that works with Xbox controllers and apparently "a bit more exciting than Scratch")
 Codecademy (free online courses for different programming languages)
 Hour of Code (yay!)

Blue Bot programmed on iPad and raring to go

I got called "swotty" several times during the day, and the first was when the trainer started talking about the Hour of Code. I totally agree when she said it is brilliant to get people started with coding and can be used for both children and adults. Where I disagree is when she recommended the Star Wars Hour of Code (in her defense, she did admit it was partly because she is a Star Wars fan!) whereas I think the Minecraft one's the best (because the squares make it easier to program how far the character needs to go. Plus Minecraft is way cooler than Star Wars - right?!  Erm, let's move on...)

Next on the agenda was Lego. Open Zone use Lego WeDo with primary school pupils and Mindstorms with secondary. We got to try the Mindstorms EV3. The programming interface still uses "blocks" of sorts but the options on the EV3 are definitely more advanced: first of all you have to figure out which motors to use (the robot has 3!) to make it move, and then there are all sorts of options and sensors to play with.
Note: if you checked out the Blue Bots and thought they were expensive, don't look at the Legos or your eyes will water.

Below is a very short video of an EV3 I programmed to: move forward, wait 3sec, turn around, move forward.  

After that (and some lunch), the trainer took us through a lesson plan she uses to teach pupils enough coding to create a game using Scratch (in a one and a half hour session). I'd played with Scratch before but not in-depth so that was my favourite part of the day!
Open Zone use the Scratch 1 offline editor (they have it installed on all the computers) rather than the web-based version.
Idea: in a library setting Scratch could be used to re-create scenes from books, for example.

Finally, we talked about the BBC Micro:bit which every Year 7 school kid is supposed to receive... at some point this year of the next, and had a look at Raspberry Pi. Open Zone had just received some Raspberry Pi kits they'd bought from their counterparts in North Tyneside. I had seen the Build IT kits demonstrated at the last Maker Faire UK but getting my hands on one I was less impressed. I guess it's handy for schools because it comes with a breadboard and the Pi mounted on a card (so less risk of losing one) plus some cables, LEDs, resistors... It also comes with a project booklet, but when 4 librarians have a look at the very first project and all conclude that it's not clear what one is supposed to do, I feel like my library didn't miss anything not getting those.

All in all it was an interesting day where I got to try out several tools - a bit like a "try before you buy"! And now it's time for a think with my colleagues to decide what we actually can and want to do in terms of offering coding activities for our customers young and old to learn in libraries.