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May 15, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Elly O’Brien, Information Specialist, Bazian Ltd

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing? If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

What if your new job isn’t one you applied for? Elly O’Brien tells us about coping with your contract being transferred to a new employer.

Firstly, I must confess that my first week was over a year ago!

I had been working on a project (the NHS Evidence Specialist Collection for surgery, anaesthesia, perioperative and critical care) at the Royal College of Surgeons for around a year when the project’s commissioners, NHS Evidence, announced that they were planning to change the business model of the project and put it out to tender. Following a tendering process, I was transferred to a new employer under European legislation called the TUPE (ACAS provides a good overview) which protects employees’ rights when a project changes provider. The tendering and TUPE process was understandably stressful, at various stages I did not know whether I would have a job come April 2011 and if I did have a job where that might be based. Thanks to supportive colleagues and excellent HR in all parties involved, I had secured a job and was moving to a new employer.

The biggest adjustment I had to make was that I was no longer based in a library. I had bid farewell to seemingly endless desk shifts, mending staplers, stopping users trying to sneak coffees in…I am being deliberately facetious here! In all seriousness, it was a major change. In particular I had to further develop and hone my communications skills because I now would have very little face-to-face contact with clients to whom we deliver our services and products.

The team I was in was entirely new, previously the company’s Information Team had been one person – now there were seven of us. Being an entirely new team was very comforting, after the disruption of the previous few months it was nice not to be “the new person” but to be part of an entirely new team. I knew three of my new colleagues through our previous work on the Specialist Collections, but still we had to figure out the dynamics of our teams, our personalities and ways of working. The lasting legacy of this unique context is that our team is communicative and collaborative, with people always ready to ask for (or offer) help and for the opinions of others.

One of the aims of changing the business model was to standardise practice and output that had varied from collection to collection. This involved a lot of work looking at different methodologies, taking best practice from each of them and amalgamating to form new processes. The aim was that once we had looked at these different methodologies we would then write an overarching process and methods manual as well as standard operating procedure documents for specific workstreams. Obviously, this was not all done in week one! I have never been someone who has the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude, but I’ll admit I did find this challenging. I had to look objectively at what colleagues across different collections and I had done in the past. As we were putting in place new processes, I also had to continually review the processes we had put in place in order to improve them. There was no room for sacred cows!

Before I began this job, I had learned about critically appraising research papers, but only in the context of teaching critical appraisal skills to peers and library users. It was clear that I would be regularly critically appraising a large volume of papers once we began producing Evidence Updates. Trying to understand a variety of research methods and the implications this variety can have on the quality, reliability and generalisability of the research paper was probably the single steepest learning curve. In my first week we had an internal training session run by one of the Health Research Analysts from our Science Team, who is very experienced in reading and interpreting papers. The session was great as it helped to give me a foundation of knowledge, but equally helpful was the open culture of the company and our team, one of my colleagues dubbed our philosophy: ask early, ask often.

In this role I regularly draw upon knowledge and skills acquired during my Master’s degree (Library and Information Studies, UCL). Part of our role is to trawl different websites for content to add to the NHS Evidence website, I use my cataloguing and classification skills when adding these documents via the new Resource Management System created specifically for this project. I am responsible for our website and use the HTML and web design skills I learned during my Master’s and further developed in my previous job. Even the management module, that at the time I found quite dull, has been useful as it gave me a theoretical knowledge of concepts such as Key Performance Indicators which, as contractors, are used by our client to regularly measure our performance.

April 13, 2012 / bethan


One of my last jobs before finally saying goodbye to the manuscript forever was doing the index. I did have a choice about doing this – I could have paid for a professional indexer to do it, but I decided to bite the bullet and produce the index myself, for two main reasons:

1) it seemed like a good Information Professional skill! And a good chance to add ‘indexed a book’ to my CV – who knows if I’ll ever have that chance again?
2) (and this is the deciding one) Phil Bradley told me it would be fun. And when Phil Bradley gives you advice like that? You take it!

But however sure I was that doing the index was the right thing to do, it was a daunting prospect. The closest I’ve ever come to doing an index was constructing a thesaurus in library school (and I think that was my lowest mark of the course…). So to get myself feeling a bit more prepared, I attended a Society of Indexers Introduction to Indexing course.

The course helped me feel a lot more confident about preparing an index, and taught me some of the basics of how to go about it. The most valuable lesson of the day? An index is not a thesaurus! You’re not preparing a controlled vocabulary, where you decide that one term is the ‘correct’ term – you’re offering a way in for your users, to find the information they need. Double-entries are not only acceptable, they’re encouraged!

Indexing is all about trying to identify what people might look for – what they might want to know from your book. I can’t decide if indexing your own book is an advantage or a disadvantage! One one hand, you know the text inside-out, and it probably takes you less time to pull out the main index points than it would take someone who’s coming to the text cold. On the other hand, you maybe know the text too well, and might miss some really obvious points that an outsider would pick up on.

The guidelines from Facet came with the warning that ‘Remember, reviewers often notice poor indexes’, which definitely contributed to my performance anxiety… But they also gave me helpful advice and answers to my ‘this might be a silly question…’, and were kindly encouraging!

The practicalities

The trainer on the indexing course told us about some indexing software, and also mentioned that Microsoft Word had an indexing tool built-in, but that she didn’t recommend it. It seemed slightly superfluous to buy software for a single index, so I decided that I’d give the Word tool a go, and if I found it difficult or clunky I’d look for something else – or do the whole thing manually. The first job was to get my copy for indexing out of a PDF and into Word, while making sure that the page numbers matched up. This was slightly tedious, but not difficult – though my page numbers did get out of synch somewhere around p180, and I had to spend some time tracking down the mis-match and updating the index.

The Word indexing tool wasn’t hugely user-friendly! Having to create a bookmark first for entries across multiple pages was a particular annoyance, and I kept forgetting… But it was good enough to do the job, and I decided that the time it would take to find and learn another tool wasn’t justifiable, especially as I had only 3 weeks to do the proofreading and index.

Once I’d done my second run-through of the index, I copied the index out of the Word document, and saved it as a plain text document, to remove all of the links and ‘noise’. This left me with a plain old list of terms and page numbers. I then went back and checked this against the text – was the page reference right? Is that actually a big enough reference to justify an index-point? Did I spell everything correctly? Is there another term that people might use if they’re looking for this? What else should I put it under?

There are certain practicalities that would never have occurred to me without actually doing the index. For instance, I double-indexed most acronyms under the acronym and the full name (eg CILIP and Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). I didn’t do this for QR codes/quick response codes. Why? It was the only entry under Q! I don’t know what the official indexing policy is on this, but it seemed to me that a double-entry there would be a waste of space. So they’re in as ‘Quick Response (QR) codes 82’ – I’ll be checking the printed version to see if Facet have kept it so…

So, with a finished index, my next concern: is it long enough? At home, on a Sunday evening, and with no LIS textbooks to hand, where do I turn to find out? My twitter network! And big thanks to @chaletfan and @merry30 who delved into their shelves and memories for me, and reassured me that 7 pages sounded just right for an index.

So, I learned a lot, and I’m very glad I did it, but is it a good index? I guess I’ll have to wait for the reviews to find out!

March 12, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Carly Miller, school library

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing? If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

What to do if your first professional post isn’t what you expect? Carly Miller tells us about how to get the most out of a difficult situation.

I should start by saying I didn’t really like my first professional post and that I left after three months. This means my blog post is probably going to be a little bit different from other people’s but hopefully still just as useful!

What was the biggest learning curve?
Really the entire experience was a learning curve. I think library school really focuses on the positives and presents a really idealistic view of librarianship; it didn’t prepare me for finding my job upsetting, disagreeing with management or what to do when your legal rights such as a lunch break are being ignored.
I think I was also quite surprised by the lack of understanding from teachers about what a librarian is. A lot didn’t realise I needed a qualification and I was often seen as the person who was there to solely fill the photocopier and stapler up. I think there needs to be some collaboration between librarians and PGCE courses to nip this attitude in the bud.

But my biggest learning curve was that you need to follow your instincts. In between the interview and start date there were things that made me realise the job wasn’t going to be for me; I ignored my instincts and just carried on when really what I should have done was voiced my concerns and then, if they weren’t adequately addressed, stepped aside.

What have you had to do that you didn’t expect?
What I really didn’t expect though was the lack of support. It was very much, here is the library now get cracking. A person had been in post temporarily for a year before me, they interviewed unsuccessfully for the permanent post and when I started they didn’t know what their employment situation was going to be once the crossover period ended. Neither of us were briefed or prepared for what was needed of us and we were just expected to muddle along; it was an extremely awkward, uncomfortable and unproductive situation that I had no idea how to handle.

What technologies have you needed to use?
Aside from the LMS (and the photocopier that teachers often needed help with!) there wasn’t much in the way of technology, most of my experience with it was trying to find free resources that would be useful and looking to the future.

I really wanted the students to have the opportunity to start using things like twitter and blogs to communicate with the library as a lot of universities are using them now so I set up accounts. Unfortunately access to them was then blocked and even though I requested the restriction be lifted it hadn’t been at the time I left.

One thing I became aware of where I was, was the potential danger for management to see something fancy and new and grab it without fully thinking how it would work in practice, which is obviously something I would have to work around if I’d continued in the role.

What new skills have you learnt?
The role really made me consider management skills, I don’t think the management was great where I was and since leaving I’ve worked in a job where there was an amazing line manager and a thorough induction process. The whole experience made me think about management and leadership skills; basic things such as ensuring people are introduced to each other and showing new starters where they can put their lunch are actually really important for putting someone at ease. I was also told when I requested a meeting that existing staff took priority over new which I think is a mistake, I think it’s really important to ensure new staff are settling in and given an opportunity to raise any concerns.

I really hope the experience has improved upon my management, leadership and mentor skills that I’m starting to develop as a new professional.

Biggest challenge?
The whole experience was a challenge; it was a challenge to work alongside the person whose job I had taken, it was a challenge to try make the changes to the library the head of sixth form had implemented work and it was a huge challenge to be honest with myself and admit to everyone I’d made a mistake.

Most fun thing?
I think working with the students would have been fun but unfortunately as I was not only replacing someone they liked but also making them unemployed it wasn’t that easy to start building a relationship with them. Plus they didn’t like the changes to the library, I didn’t either but I had to try make them work and so that put an additional barrier up.

Has what you learned in library school been useful?
Yes even if I wasn’t really able to put it into practice! At library school I learned the best way to run a school library, best practice on redesigning the physical space and advice on weeding stock. I had no say on any of this really but at least I knew that things were being done wrong!

If your first professional post isn’t right for you, it’s not the end of the world! Try talk things through at work, talk to your professional colleagues and just try and learn as much as you can from the situation.

February 28, 2012 / bethan

How this book was wroted

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This advice from the King of Hearts to the White Rabbit is often jocularly given to people who innocently enquire, ‘So, how do you write a book?’ – and seems, on the face of it, eminently sensible. How else would you tell a story?

But as with thunderstorms and children, no two books ever come into the world in quite the same way. If one person has ever managed to write a book by beginning at the beginning and going blithely on until ‘The End’, they can rest assured that I will never emulate their feat.

This book was certainly not written from the beginning to the end. It was written in circles and patches, and fits and spurts and starts and stops.

A good analogy might be that of a patchwork blanket. I designed the pattern, then delegated squares to contributors, who ravelled up their knowledge and returned it to me. These squares were being constructed by many people, in many places, and not even I knew how they would all eventually fit together – the pattern was changing even as the work progressed. I collected the squares, fit them into the pattern (with minor alterations where required), and sewed the disparate squares into a blanket that is much more than the sum of its parts.*

In non-metaphorical terms (phew! that’s the extent of my knitting knowledge), the process went pretty much something like this:

1) I talk to publisher, and decide overall framework for book. Chapters are sketched out, with vague ideas of what might be in each.
2) I write a plan for each chapter, including:
a) proposed word count
b) proposed topics of case studies, and how many
c) what sort of think I might say in the introduction
d) what bits I might need to write
e) what kind of exercise I could include
3) I look at the proposed case studies, and start thinking of people to write them. Most of my first choice contributors say yes, and start writing
4) I complete and send off draft chapter
5) I talk to the publishers again, and re-think the entire framework for the book
6) I write new plans for each chapter, and discover I need some more case studies. I contact new potential contributors.
7) Case studies start coming in. I slot each into its proposed place in the chapter, and start fleshing out the chapters around them.
8) I suddenly realise I’ve done very little research for the bits I’m writing. Cue flurry of inter-library loans.
9) Case studies continue to come in. I continue to work on whichever section of whichever chapter has the most case studies in.
10) I realise I still have some significant gaps, and recruit more contributors.
11) I now have at least some content for each chapter. Time to start revising them!
12) Case studies continue to come in. I now have some chapters complete, some at little beyond planning stage.
13) Repeat 11 and 12 until nearly all case studies are in. Panic about word count, and start chopping words out wherever I can.
14) Feel overwhelmed and devote several days to sorting out all of my references.
15) Proofread.
16) Put all chapters together into one document. Check for house style, references, and any stray words I can cut out.
16) Send to publisher.
17) Final case study arrives. Slot into chapter, hastily write introductory paragraph. Send to publisher.
18) Publisher accepts manuscript. Tears, champagne, etc.
19) (what, you didn’t think acceptance was the end of it, did you?) Hastily start work on adding content to companion website (hi!)
20) Answer copy editor’s queries. Discover typos in names of two contributors. Feel ashamed.
21) Three contributors independently have things that need to be changed in their case studies. Send increasingly grovelling emails to publishers (who are lovely, and make all changes)
22) Await arrival of proofs for checking and indexing…

So the story of this book is a long way from being over! And I guess it did have a beginning, after all, even though it didn’t start with ‘Chapter One’…

* I mean, really, I can’t think of more than 3 or 4 uses for a pile of knitted squares – but a blanket! You can do anything** with a blanket!
** As long as it’s vaguely blanket-based

February 14, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Laura Williams, Assistant Media Librarian at ITV

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing?

This post comes from Laura Williams, Assistant Media Librarian at ITV. If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

I completed my librarianship MA at the University of Sheffield in September 2011 and started working as an assistant media librarian at ITV upon completing the course. The first month of my first job after library school has been exciting, hectic, interesting and stressful.

My Role

The archive collection totals about two million assets; programmes, including news and sport content from the organisation are held on tape or film in physical archives in various locations across the country. As a media librarian I manage the content placed in the archive after the programmes initial broadcast. My role is to respond to enquiries about the collection, fulfilling requests from within the organisation and external customers for content. Our content is requested for reuse in new programmes which are being produced or for repeat broadcast. I am also involved in several projects including one to clean up the metadata in our database and weeding the collection.

Day to day, my job is extremely varied. One of the aspects of my job I love most is arriving in the morning not knowing what the day will involve. I might be dealing with returns and shelving items, or fulfilling requests for material or responding to enquiries about the collection. Enquiry work is diverse; requests to search our collection for material span extremely wide range of subjects, in my first month I’ve searched for footage of zombies, care homes and sofas.

New Skills and Knowledge

Knowledge gained at library school to be put into practice whilst skills gained in previous roles are being developed further. In previous jobs my roles have been primarily focused on customer service, working on enquiry desks and user education however this role places greater focus on collection management. I have been working on projects which have required in depth knowledge and understanding of metadata. I’ve been able to build upon the theoretical understandings gained at library school and build practical experience. My job didn’t require a library qualification but it has most definitely proved useful. The theoretical knowledge gained at library school has allowed me to learn the practical elements of the job quicker and bring a higher level of understanding to the role.

A Steep Learning Curve

With any new job one of the biggest learning curves is often learning sector specific jargon. My knowledge of television production was non-existent so I’ve been required to develop knowledge quickly in order to fully carry out my role. The collection I work with is comprised of thousands of programmes stored on different formats. Parts of the collection can be sent out to other locations though many items have restrictions on where they can be used and how. I’ve need to learn how to identify different formats, what they are, where they can go and how they can be used.

The majority of my work involves use of our media asset management and workflow management software. Whilst the system has some similarity with library management systems I have used in the past, there has still been lots of learn. Getting to grips with the software has been a steep and fast paced learning curve. Becoming familiar with the technology quickly has been important as almost all the work I do involves the system; everything from finding tapes on the shelves, to shipping materials to other sites and cleansing metadata.

A Few Surprises

I didn’t know what to expect when I started the job but there have been some good surprises. One thing I’ve done which I didn’t expect has been watch lots of television. As with the majority of library and information jobs, possessing a good working knowledge of the collection is an advantage. I can now watch lots of television without guilt, in the knowledge that it could come in useful at work. A part of the collection I am responsible is the programme archive of a popular long running soap opera. I’ve made an effort to learn about the programme, gaining knowledge of key storylines which has proved useful for enquiry work. Knowing the collection is important; for example I’ve been asked to provide copies of episodes to be used in an advert, the customer asked me to choose the episodes so knowledge of the programme proved useful when deciding what to give to the customer. I love my job because knowing that the work I do contributes to getting the programmes we watch to our television screens and computers is exciting.

January 17, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Simon Barron, E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing?

The first post comes from Simon Barron, E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library. If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

Three months ago, I started at my second professional post in librarianship. Starting a new job is always a challenging experience: it’s the perfect trauma cocktail of learning new things, meeting new people, and settling into a new place. With dissertation deadlines passed and the new year fast approaching, many new professionals will be in the same position – starting in a first post or starting a new job. This blog post is about what I’ve learned while doing this new job and what I wish I’d known a month ago.

In October I started work as E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library. I left my cosy, comfortable first professional post, I left my cosy, comfortable first flat that I’d lived in on my own, and I moved to the completely unfamiliar North-East of England. On the evening before I started, I re-read the job description so I had a rough of what was expected of me and I did some research into the library itself by poking around the OPAC, the website, and Wikipedia. The week before I’d been to Library Camp in Birmingham and attended some sessions on cataloguing and digital repositories to refresh what I learned in library school. I felt prepared and I felt excited.

Basically, this job involves maintaining the electronic resources of the university library – electronic journals, ebooks, electronic databases. I’d always wanted a position involving cataloguing (particularly digital resources) and so I was delighted to discover just how much cataloguing the job involves. Delighted and intimidated as I began to realise how much I didn’t know about real library cataloguing. The evening after my first day, I scrabbled through my library school notes for information on metadata, MARC, AACR2, and all the other cataloguing concepts that I was aware of and that I must have been taught but which, at some point in the year between now and library school, must have snuck out of my head. Suddenly I actually need to edit catalogue fields, put full stops and commas in the right place, and decipher the arcane numerology of the MARC system. It was a steep learning curve.

I was also struck by the wealth of new technologies that I needed to use. Quite different from the desk-and-shelf general library work of my first post, this is a computer-based role managing an ethereal digital collection and navigating dense webs of hyperlinks. I knew it was a ‘techie’ kind of role and my previous experience working in IT support stood me in good stead but learning about so many new technologies so quickly was still a challenge. As well as the new OPAC and library management software, I need to work with the electronic resource management system, adjust URL resolvers, enable Shibboleth authentication, and configure the library’s proxy server. And journal subscription spreadsheets are some of the most intricate and byzantine that I’ve ever seen. Good general advice for dealing with new technology is to mess about and explore: there’s probably nothing you can do to completely break something (although on my second day, my manager pointed out a button in the LMS that I should never ever press under any circumstances: it’s a good idea to avoid these kinds of buttons!).

One of the things I’ve learned over the past month is the importance of communication: within and outside the institution. Although communication was important in my previous job in an Army library, it was also restricted and often difficult to send and receive information from inside the camp. In my new role, I need to keep abreast of e-resource developments and to liaise with publishers and suppliers to ensure we have access to everything we’re paying for. As well as subscribing to half-a-dozen JISC mailing lists and a host of new RSS feeds to keep in touch with other people doing the same work as me, I’ve been picking up and talking to new Twitter contacts to share information (and indeed, frustration). A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that we couldn’t access any of the journals of a major publisher. It was only because I was following their Twitter account that I was able to discover that it was an outage problem with them and not an access problem with us.

Taking on a new job, I’ve also communicated with my ‘network’ more and relied on them for support. We were told in library school about the importance of a professional network and keeping in contact with the people around us and I’ll admit, I only half-believed it. But being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar (but lovely!) people, I’ve relied on the people I know to support me and keep me going. This includes my friends from library school, my regular bunch of library folk on Twitter and Facebook, and my email contacts. As well as general friendly banter, they’ve given me advice and tips about how to survive in the cold, unforgiving North-East (apparently ‘shy bairns get nowt’).

It’s been a month and so far I’ve survived my new job without incident. I’ve met new people and I’m learning new things about library technologies, about e-resources, and about how big libraries work. Though I do feel like I’ve been thrown in at the deep end, I think I would have drowned without the background that I received at library school. My Masters degree wasn’t perfect and there’s loads that I’ve had to pick up on the job but it provided a background. Even if I’ve had to fill in the foreground myself, that background to librarianship has kept me from embarrassing myself – for at least my first month!

January 9, 2012 / bethan

Logistics: or, holding it all together

A few people have asked me how I organised this whole book thing. The most honest answer is probably ‘accidentally’, but some thought did go into it! Here are a few things I did/learned about getting together 70,000 words from 50+ people.

1) Generous timelines. I started contacting potential contributors in Jan 2011, and asked them to get me a first draft of their contributions by April. Given that the book was due to the publishers at the end of November, this may seem unnecessarily early, but I wanted to make sure that a) I had enough time to read the contributions and ask for revisions (as/if required) b) there was enough time to find alternatives if something went wrong c) I gave people plenty of chances to miss their deadlines.

I got my first contribution in in January (the very same day I asked for it!), and my last in November. I was still finding new contributors in October… Some contributors got their contributions in way before deadline. Others had to ask for extensions, or drop out due to changing circumstances or other commitments. I expected all of this to happen, and I’m really glad I planned in the extra time. It was frustrating occasionally, especially if I had some time blocked out to work on the book, and didn’t have the contributions for the bit I wanted to work on, but I never got annoyed with contributors. They were doing me a favour, and as long as I had time to spare, I was willing to let them take all the time they needed. I know just how easy it is for other things to get in the way (for instance, I promised to start blogging regularly here… 2 months ago), and I’m always willing to be as flexible as possible with deadlines.

2) Backup, backup, backup! My book mainly lived in the cloud, with the working copy in my Dropbox. I found Dropbox absolutely invaluable for this project, and am now an enthusiastic convert. Access to all of my documents, with changelogs, and undelete capabilities? From any computer – even offline? And my phone? Wonderful! Simply saving into the Dropbox folder is much easier than remembering to upload each version to a remote store, too.

There was also a working copy on the wiki that Jaffne set up to monitor my progress. This was partly so she could keep an eye on what I was doing, and offer comment and advice, but also to have a back-up copy – again, with changelogs and revision comparisons. I uploaded a new copy of each chapter to the wiki after any changes – sometimes even when I just changed a word or two! I was determined that it be an accurate reflection.

I also kept backup copies – on my work drive, in my gmail, on my external harddisk, my phone, and my kindle – usually zipped up, and named with the date. I was definitely working on the LOCKSSS principle… I never actually (rather, haven’t to date!) needed one of the backups, but knowing that they were there really helped me to manage my stress levels.

3) I like stats. While most of my progress was recorded on the wiki, I also had a massive google docs spreadsheet, containing details of what was in each chapter; who was contributing and what; dates of communication with contributors; things I needed to remember; and the all-important word count. (Also a note of the council’s number for reporting flytipping. I’m not sure I can remember why, but I’m fairly certain it’s not directly relevant.)

Word count! Obsessed as I was with the book, I was possibly even more so with the word count. It was a concrete measure of progress, and I updated it religiously. Seeing those figures changed really helped me too feel that I’d accomplished something – even when I was in editing mode, and the count was going down!

I had a target for each chapter, and the whole book. The word limit was 70,000, so I aimed for 66,500, and um… came in at nearly 72,000. I’m pleased I aimed low! As you can see, nearly every chapter came in over the proposed word count – some quite significantly. This is the word count after I went through with a) a fine-tooth comb and b) a big hefty axe. I cut around 6000 words in total, including having to seriously cut some case studies. This was the worst part! I hated having to chop down what people had so carefully and generously written for me, but I just had too much great stuff to fit in. But they’re not going to be wasted! Full versions of the case studies I had to condense will appear on the website.

Things I hadn’t taken into account when planning out my word count? References! They take up more words than you’d expect – a single reference can add anything from 20-100 words, so 10-15 references per chapter can add significantly to your total. I also hadn’t budgeted for a glossary. It only came in at 151 words, but at a time when I was so desperate for words I was going through replacing ‘in order to’ with just ‘to’, and shedding adjectives all over the place, 151 words feels like quite a significant extra.

4) Work every day. This was the only way I managed to keep on top of the work and my sanity! I didn’t work on the book every day for the whole 12 months, but for the last 2 months it became a vital part of my day. I aimed to do 1-2 hours a day weekdays, and 3-5 a day at weekends, and managed this most days. But I had to trick myself into it! I’d promise myself ‘Just 15 minutes – get a little bit done so you feel ok that you’ve done something*’. Once the 15 minutes was up, I was usually be deep enough in that an hour would be up before I realised. By breaking it down into these chuncks, the huge project gradually came to feel manageable – so much so that when I finished the manuscript, I sat back, blinked, and thought ‘Is that it??’.

(* Virtuous plans to incorporate this into the rest of my life have, sadly, failed. Seems big projects > laziness > small projects.)

So, that’s how I kept (reasonably) sane and (fairly) productive through the biggest project of my career so far. What are your best tips for tackling a large project?

November 18, 2011 / bethan

The extreme oddities of the information profession

Well, we’re nearly there! According to my highly scientific* measurements, the manuscript is 82.5% done – which is a bloomin’ good job, as I’m going to be sending it to the publisher in 10 days …

[* I make it all up]

If you’ve had any kind of contact with me over the last few weeks (or if, indeed, I’ve been notable for my lack of contact), you may notice that I’m obsessed with this book. I bring it into every conversation, to the extent that I’ve started to sound like a chicken (think about it…) I told my doctor about it. And my taxi driver. I’m analysing every conversation I have for ‘should that go in the book?’ potential. Someone sends me a link to a good article or blog post; I open Endnote. I have back-ups in every place I can think of. I’m basically incapable of concentrating properly on anything else.

I never expected it to take over my life like this. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I never realised to just what extent it would worm its way into every aspect of my consciousness. And it’s not going to end once the manuscript’s in! Along with the work I’ll need to do for the rest of the publishing process, I’m going to be adding content to the website.

I’ve already got a guest blog post lined up, which will be the first in a series of posts about ‘My First Month’, following new professionals in their first month in a new role, and looking at their expectations, challenges, and funnest bits 🙂 The first post is from Simon Barron, e-resources coordinator at Durham University Library, and will be posted later this year. I have a couple more lined up to follow, and if you’d like to contribute a post about your first month, do let me know!

These posts help to reflect the unexpected challenges and pleasures of information work. No guide to the information professions can hope to capture all the strange things we’re asked to do! I’d like to know: what’s the oddest/most unexpected thing you’ve ever been asked to do as an information professional?

Responses will go on a blog post here, and (hopefully) some will go in the introduction to the book. I asked this on twitter yesterday, and got some fantastic responses, including:

‘book a scalextrix track for a client event’
‘search for any articles on the change in sound as a replacement hip joint is banged home’ (‘ding ding ding donk’, apparently…)
‘Hold a horse while the potential donor of archives examined its leg’
‘Go from 1 part of a campus to another 2 miles away on a camel’
and, possibly my favourite so far, ‘wake a tramp with a stick’

So, what’s your favourite/least favourite/downright weirdest thing you’ve been asked to do as part of your job? Let me know in the comments, or you can tweet @bethanar or @lisnewprofs. Thanks!

October 6, 2011 / bethan

Out with the old…

Gosh! It’s been a while hasn’t it? *checks corners for cobwebs*.

Rest assured that silence here has not meant no progress on the book! Due to a slight case of ‘taking on more stuff than I have time for’ (otherwise known as ‘chronic yesitis’), I haven’t managed to make much time for blogging. I’ve now built some time for updating this website into my schedule, which means I might manage to update it at least a third as often as I plan to…

So, what’s been going on? Well, quite a lot! The first big change is to the structure of the book, as you can see from the revised table of contents. Gone are my beloved ‘micro, macro, and meta’ divisions, in favour of a more straightforward 13-chapter structure.

My editor suggested the change, and, though I kicked against it a bit at first, I came to see that she was right. One of the problems was that 25 chapters was Just Too Many. My editor thought that readers might find that many chapters a bit daunting – and I had to agree! I was finding writing that many chapters daunting, too…

I was also having to be a bit contrived to get things to fit within the the ‘micro, macro, meta’ framework. In real life, of course, things don’t fit so neatly into those divisions – it’s perfectly possible for an activity to combine developing yourself, improving your service, and benefiting the profession.

The 3 Ms helped me a lot when I was planning the book – they helped me to think about what I needed to cover in different aspects of information work, and to make sure that I had a decent balance. (As it turns out, I’ve got rather too much personal/professional development material, leading to all sorts of difficult decisions – more about that in a later post). They’ve served their purpose, and done their time, and I shall retire them gratefully.

What else is new? Well, most of the book, for a start! It’s now starting to take shape as a proper book – all 56,000 words of it… There’s still a lot to be done (I’m not planning on sleeping in November), but I’m starting to believe that I can actually pull this off. A lot of thanks for that must go to the lovely Jaffne, who has set up a wiki to monitor my progress, and is setting me deadlines, giving me encouragement, and generally being an all-round good sort. I also owe a HUGE thank-you to all my contributors, who have written most of those words, and provided me with some amazing material.

I’ve got some more blog posts gently percolating in my head. Expect posts in the (fairly) near future on: choosing contributors; editing case studies; motivation & time management; indexing; and various other things as they come to mind. Hopefully some of these will appear on a new version of the website – I’m planning to move to a self-hosted wordpress install, at some point before publication.

Don’t expect anything too soon, though! This weekend is going to be given over to cake-making, cocktail-drinking, and library-idea-sharing. Yes, it’s Library Camp UK! If you’re there, do come say hi 🙂

April 19, 2011 / bethan


I’ve never proposed for a book before. Oh, I’ve met plenty I like, but none that I’d be prepared to foreswear all others for. I fear I may be counted a mere book philanderer, as it is undeniable that – no matter how much I liked it – I have never put a ring on it.

But this book is different. We will be inextricably wedded for most of this year. Like a new lover, thoughts of the book fill my days and spill over into my sleep. Like an old partner, it can exasperate as well as thrill and delight.

With any proposal (even an invited one) there is always an element of uncertainty. Not only content, but form, is important. If I said to you ‘go on, write a proposal for a book.’ – would you know how to do it? what to include? what to exclude? how long should it be? how much detail? include a synopsis? a sample chapter? promise to sign away all rights and honours in perpetuity if only – please! – they’ll say yes..?

Fortunately, Facet have anticipated this, and have guidelines available. These are slightly different from the ones I was sent (I didn’t have to submit a sample chapter at the time of proposal, for instance), but the fundamentals are the same. They’re useful as they force you to think about audience at the same time as content – not just ‘what do I want to write about?’, but ‘why do I want to write about it?’ and ‘who will read it?’.

I spent a few days thinking in general terms about the content of the book, and had a google doc filled with notes that I kept adding to. I also talked it over with colleagues (by ‘talked it over’ I mean randomly shouted chapter headings at them when they were least expecting it), and then sat down to pull the whole proposal together. The result (if you really want to see it!) is here.

So, I waited, nervous as any prospective suitor, to see how my proposal was received. I did think about finishing this blog post here, and making you wait too, but a simple comparison of that proposal and the current table of contents will reveal the answer: Readers, she said no.

Well, not ‘no’ no, obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this. More like ‘yeeeeeesssss, but…’. Ok, if I’m being perfectly honest, ‘really valuable advice about the scope of the book that helped me look at the bigger picture, and come up with a range of chapters that will make a much better book than my very limited original vision’. This email feedback was followed by a great face-to-face meeting (we managed to squeeze in a breakfast meeting before dashing off to work our respective stands at Online 10), and I came away with the idea of ‘micro, macro, meta’ which has driven the development of the book.

I can’t pretend that it didn’t hurt – just a little! – to be told that my first proposal wasn’t good enough. Even partial rejection is always tough. And, just as no-one wants to be told that their work isn’t quite good enough or not quite right, no-one wants to be the person saying that! But this editorial process really is necessary and valuable. Looking back at my original proposal, the flaws in scope are glaringly obvious – so much so, that I was almost too ashamed of it to post a link! However, in the spirit of openness and letting people learn from my mistakes, it’s there in all its narrow-focussed glory.

So what came out of the process? Well, a much better proposal! Blogs to follow on choosing topics and contributors 🙂