Lifelong Learning as a Librarian

Inspired by Harriet’s blog post on sharing training for free with other library workers, I thought it might be an Idea to share some thoughts on the stuff that I’ve attended or been aware of since I got my first “professional” post back in the Mists Of Time (2010) that was free for me to do, or came as part of my CILIP membership at no extra cost (apart from travel).

Stuff run by local CILIP groups/SIG groups

I’ve been to a few things by the CILIP Yorkshire and Humberside group (I would share to their web page but because of CILIP’s incredibly helpful website design, I can’t seem to find an active one…but they’re on Twitter) and I’ve always found them to be approachable and helpful. Local committee members Do Not Get Paid and do EVERYTHING on top of working/having lives etc. I did a poster presentation at a free member’s day they put on in Leeds which for my first real foray into formalized networking; I’ve visited local libraries to find out more about my profession from angles that were so different to my own; I also did my Chartership and found the support of not just my incredible mentor but also the Candidate Support Officer and the Mentor Support Officer to be invaluable-and excellent contacts for the future.

NLPN and Other Volunteer-Led training

I went on several training days over the course of my Chartership that were run either by or supported by CILIP Yorkshire and Humberside, perhaps most pertinently NLPN’s Get Career Ready event, which sparked a LOT of self-led CPD for me, namely LISDIS, and learning about using online gamification tools in the classroom. This was back in 2015, and NLPN have consistently run events that cover various aspects of library work. The women that founded and continue to run NLPN do everything they do for free, on top of their jobs, for the love of the profession and deserve every bonus to their careers that has given them.

I’ve also attending RLC’s yearly gatherings and a few TeachMeets over the years. The people you meet at these informal and formal gatherings are often people you find yourself emailing years later asking for information about specific stuff. I’ve had a couple of “tell me everything about X” emails, and I think the informal training that happens this way can be just as valuable as a “proper” training session.


I know it’s not the same as a workshop where you get to practice the skills, but I find reading probably the most useful learning tool in terms of expanding my knowledge and giving me space to think and absorb information. I follow a wide range of practitioner blogs, get email alerts for a (ever growing!) number of library journals (that sadly are not all open access, which grinds my gears slightly, I access them through my CILIP membership) and I also review a LOT of books.

Book are expensive, but if you are willing to put some thought and effort into writing a review, this is a great way of getting free titles. Reviewing also makes you really have to read a book, as your opinion could be the difference between people buying it or not. I review regularly for Information Professional, and have done them in the past for a couple of journals. There are often requests for reviews that go round the various listserv emails and I would really recommend signing up for them where possible.

Stuff I don’t do that I probably should

I am a dreadful online learner as I never commit, and I have given up on many, many MOOCs and online courses. I also see lots of webinars that I should probably sign up to but never do, and I don’t follow through on opportunities to learn stuff from colleagues (I’ve been meaning to learn how to use a video editing software we have at work for LITERALLY MONTHS now, bad Jess).

I also silo my learning to my interests too much. This year I took on the “challenge” of becoming treasurer to a local SIG group I’m involved in, so I’ve learnt a bit more about myself and my attitude to filing, and how financial management works in principal, but I still could do with sitting down with an actual person who tells me “this is what a Purchase Order actually is”. I tend to shy away from technical skills which is a real failing. Lifelong learning involved being open to gaps in your knowledge and requires a committed drive to fill them, and maybe I haven’t found that yet.

Where do you go for your CPD/training?


Lilac Reflections

Firstly, I’d like to thank Amy and Helen at NLPN for their shout out in Information Professional last month-right back at you ladies, all about the signal boosting.

I was feeling like I’d been a lot “lazier” in my approach to Lilac than the previous year: I didn’t submit a paper or a poster, I went primarily to my mate’s sessions and the sessions I was chairing, and I utterly failed to take any coherent notes during the keynotes. Fortunately, the Lilac archive has including videos of all the keynotes and the slides to most of the sessions, so I have been able to take the time to go through them properly and really reflect on ideas that came to me at the time, which I will hopefully be more fully forming over the Summer. Now, a week later, I’m glad I was more conscious of looking after myself during Lilac by being more self-aware of how much energy it takes, and how by not presenting I was more able to take on board ideas of others without comparing them to my own (no performance comparison anxiety to worry about!).

Here, then, are my week later reflections of  what was still a very busy conference, and how I reckon I’m going to use what I saw and experienced in my teaching.

Quick win I will definitely be doing 

  • Having students be involved in the creation of displays. Have the usual searching activity, but with the definite aim of creating a display of the found materials. Choose a topic aligned with social justice, or which will generate a discussion in the class about what to include/dismiss, and use this to think about what voices are missing from the information we see/who has the power of what we get to see first/how can be actively challenge that power within seeking, searching, creating and sharing.

This comes from Elizabeth Brookbank‘s  excellent session on taking social justice into the library classroom. The highlight of the conference for me, Elizabeth’s truly reflective talk went from how she used literature, listening to voices of the communities via twitter,  and critical theory (cpd…) to go from essentially creating a Black Live Matter libguide to developing active teaching classroom activities to get students thinking about information’s role in social justice. I really wish I had caught her other session on empowering students to be information creators as again it just sounds perfectly aligned to what want to do within my praxis. I hope to see her speak again and will be following her work.

Something to think about

  • Make sure students can challenge your usefulness. If you’re doing enquiry work, give them the space to challenge you and tell you if what you’re doing is genuinely useful. Dismantle the hierarchy of you being all knowing because you belong to a “profession”, instead try and work with the enquirer as equal partners in the quest for whatever it is they need.

This comes from Lauren Smith‘s session. Although there is a LOT of difference between working for the social sector and academia, we still both do reference desk style stuff on occasion and I still have a lot of work to do on not just showing someone how to find something, implicitly encouraging them to automatically accept a traditional hierarchy of evidence. Especially considering that sometimes that two minutes you get with someone on the enquiry desk is the only time they will ever talk to a librarian one to one, I should be really focusing on figuring out how to blast as much “think for yourself and question everything” as I can, whilst still doing my job and helping the enquirer with their reference question. Lauren highlighted The Feminist Reference Desk, edited by Maria T. Accardi, which I have recently read and found to be interesting, but I could have done with more practical “this is how you do the thing” examples, I think I was expecting it to be more like Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, which is just superb. Still worth a read though, even if you’re just looking for something to nod your head along to in agreement.

Big challenge for the next year

  • Go back to the information literacy research literature.

Since my first full Lilac in 2016 I have focused on learning about teaching. I have finished the PGCHE, which was a great impetus for reading a LOT about teaching methods, pedagogy and learning theories, and this interest has carried on into 2017. However, I have kind of forgotten/put aside the theories of information seeking behaviour that I learnt about whilst doing my Masters, and that is my error,  because it is the models of information seeking behaviour (explored in Ola Pilerot’s keynote) which I should be using with the students to reflect upon what it is they are actually doing. It’s all very well me devising active learning aims to make them critically aware of the non-neutrality of search, and why vocabulary is important, if I haven’t contextualized that in the frame of searching/seeking/scanning that happens every day in their information lives. I need to go back to the books a bit, as to my shame I haven’t read half the references from Ola Pilerot’s keynote, or if I have it hasn’t been since 2014 and I can’t remember half of it!

So yes, lots of things to do, lots of reading, lots of thinking and most importantly lots of trying out stuff and seeing what works! I will of course be sharing any new activities I try on this blog (and I’ve already got an idea of modeling Wilson’s model of information behaviour in the classroom that will involve lots of moving around and will be tied into the Searching as Strategic Exploration framework, which I might test on my Brownies first…). First think is to crack on with the reading list I think!

I do have one thought on the conference which is a little less positive, and that is Noise Etiquette, particularly in terms of the noises made by devices and phones whilst taking photos, sending or receiving messages, or typing. I think having these noises on during sessions (unless you need to be alerted for emergencies or whatever) is really disrespectful both to the speaker and to the audience, and it distracted me a fair bit during this one. I know that sounds like a massive whinge, but I feel like I have to get it off my chest. If you don’t know how to turn your camera noise off, then I would suggest that instructions on how to do this for pretty much any device can now be found online.

Looking forward to Lilac 2019, in Nottingham.

Learning using YouTube-an analysis of “Understanding Whisk(e)y”

CN: alcohol

This is a blog post I’ve wanted to write for the last couple of weeks, but wasn’t sure how to approach it. I’ve been interested in YouTube as a self-directed learning tool for ages now, especially because so many people I know, including students, use YouTube as their primary entertainment tool and also the first place they go to when they want to learn anything new.

My partner is one of these YouTube visitors, rather than residents, who do not make videos themselves but are hugely influenced by those that do, and through him I happened to watch this video from The Modern Rogue, where two “professional idiots field test the things that will make you the most interesting person in the room” (The Modern Rogue, 2016). It turns out that my partner doesn’t “normally” watch this channel, but found it through the suggested watches from a channel he does regularly watch, The Whiskey Vault, which is the publicity tool for the Whiskey Marketing School (The Whiskey Vault, 2014). Presented by Rex and Daniel, with other guests, this channel explores the world of whiskey making, selling and drinking. The video from The Modern Rogue saw Daniel from the Whiskey Vault joining the Modern Rogue presenters to teach them the basics about whiskey. I watched this video with growing excitement at just how good the teaching was and how clearly Daniel displayed various learning theories and teaching strategies in action-if I’d been peer observing this I would have had LOTS to praise.

Andragogy is pedagogy, but with adult learners. It involves much more motivated student involvement as the adults are better incentivised to learn, and are often doing so with less time and from a distance (Cooke, 2011). Adult learners share much with self-directed learners (Knowles, 1975), where individuals “take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying material resources for learning and evaluating learning outcomes” (Knowles, 1975, p. 19). This could exactly describe my partner’s use of YouTube: he has an interest in whiskey, wants to know more about it, and has found and evaluated appropriate resources for this. I would argue that Daniel has created here a self-directed learning tool for adult learners that is better structured than many expensive online learning educational resources I have seen in the past, and has done so in a way that (presumably) makes him money, whilst also being open access apart from where access to YouTube is restricted. This is the model that many educators are now taking, and one that should be researched.

The more I thought about this the more I wanted to unpack what was going on in this video and explore the learning and teaching moments happening in it. Daniel has very kindly given me permission to use clips from the video in this blogpost….which I now cannot figure out how to import at all! So instead….here’s the whole video and then I’m going to break down what I think is going on below.


The first thing you notice is that this isn’t someone talking into a camera or over powerpoint slides, this is a one-to-one or small group tutorial involving active learning.

So at 2.15 , when Daniel starts to talk about the basics of whiskey, he fills their glasses. Because you don’t talk about whiskey with an empty glass. This involves the students straight away with the subject, their senses are awaken, and they have something to do with their hands, so they may be more likely to remember what goes in their ears.

From 2.31 Daniel starts to scaffold the lesson. “I’ll explain to you later what you’re drinking, but let’s talk whiskey first”- this is setting the students up with a learning objective-to know what they are drinking-but also allows them room to explore the parameters of their own ZPD (yes, I think adults have a ZDP) through the lesson’s overall aim which is to know more about whiskey generally. The students will already have some preexisting knowledge of the subject, and they can already drink whiskey, however, with help, they will then be able at the end of the lesson to talk precisely and confidently, using the appropriate vocabulary, about the specific whiskeys they are drinking.

This also links back to the location of the lesson and the use of teaching props. Everything about this video is demonstrating the context of the subject it is exploring, and through experiencing language within the contextual environment one can better make sense of what is heard – Chomsky’s translation of “surface structure” to “deep structure” of vocabulary (Chomsky, 1957, cited in Barron and Powell, 2002) but in an andragogical context.

Active learning is involving students in their own learning, using their existing knowledge and skills- activities that are more than just listening aid this process, and in this video having the students stand and be engaged in the activity (admittedly that of drinking whiskey!) promotes this method of learning and encourages the students to get more involved and take responsibility for their own learning (Walsh and Inala, 2010). Daniel is the teacher, yes, but by using active learning techniques he has transformed himself into the facilitator, helping the two students realize their own scope of knowledge and encouraging them to expand their ZPD in a scaffolded and safe way.

At 2.40  Daniel explains the term whiskey and compares it with the way vehicle is a generic term too. This is a brilliant tool to use in teaching: compare a term to a known term. So students might not know what our library’s branded discovery service is, but they know what Argos is, or Amazon or Asos or the million and one other website that are basically catalogues. Daniel comes back to this point at 5.40 to check the learning too.

From 2.50-3.10 Daniel expands on this, he uses examples the students give him, he articulates and pauses on major learning points (especially at 2.57 ish-that pause is beeeeeautiful). The two students are encouraged to ask questions, this is probably scripted but I don’t care, if you’re producing a learning video it’s a good shout to have the learner represented and that’s what they’ve done here. So at 4.36 when the chap on the left (sorry I do not know your name!!!!) asks about moonshine, he’s taking an earlier point that he wasn’t entirely clear on and relating that to his own prior knowledge, with the teacher’s guidance he learns something new and has a better understand of the process of extracting alcohol from grain–therefore we as learners watching the video ourselves also do.

Daniel uses diagrams to illustrate learning points, this isn’t uncommon but what I really  liked is that he draws them as he goes-how many times do you see that any more? From 7.50 onwards there is a really nice use of drawing a diagram to illustrate the relationships between the various types of whiskey thats just so clearly done with no need for whizzy graphics, he is also explaining the use of the tool as he goes and using a metaphor of an actual family, once again placing a not yet explored concept in a context that is known to the learner.

This video isn’t just about teaching the two students with him in the room though, it is also for the self-directed learners watching it. None obtrusive graphics are used throughout to explore and highlight points, 4.15 is an example of this.

From 9.01 is my favourite part of the video as it shows such a clear learning moment that shows the learner articulating his growing knowledge and then linking it with previously existing knowledge to form a new idea completely on his own that is then verified by his teacher. It’s just gorgeous and if that happened in a one-to-one I’d done I’d be chuffed to bits by it. He checks the learning for this towards the end of the video, at 16.17 and the student has learnt!

Discussion is a tool used throughout the video as another active learning tool. Look at the conversation that occurs around 12.31, they are exploring the market and the reasons why a problem exists, and then Daniel comes in to explain what the current answers are-in a classroom you might want to challenge the students to see if they want to solve the problem themselves, but this is a self directed learning tool directed at people who have limited time and want their learning experiences to be “task accomplishing inquiry units” (Knowles, 1975, p. 21), so a discussion can be set up but the answers are instantly given. Whilst this may not be using a more critical pedagogy, it is on YouTube, so it does involve a user community discussion below-and that’s what Daniel is talking about when he apologizes for the presenters going to get complaints at 13.19, he is acknowledging a learning community with it’s own agenda and experience even if he is not allowing it to actively contribute to this particular teaching session. As he says at 15.54, you can have varying opinions and you are all exactly right-a message I’m going to think about carrying through to my teaching, as I am quite guilty of having an agenda to my teaching which isn’t perhaps the best way to get people thinking about information resources!

Much more research is needed on YouTube as a self-directed learning tool. This is how people are learning now, controlled by one business and it’s analytics and algorithms. There are think pieces and horror stories of children watching unmonitored YouTube clips and YouTubers making millions and saying stupid things-but there should be so much more research on this than the little I could find, and that behind a paywall (Lee, Osop, Goh and Kelni, 2017).

The theories of Malcolm Knowles in the 60s and 70s could be directly applied to so many practices of adults watching YouTube in order to learn new things and discover new skills, as well as be entertained. This is a huge opportunity for librarians interested in information literacy to learn how to both use this tool better, but also to discover what  it is that motivates people to learn, to watch, and to discover.


Barron, I., & Powell, J. (2002). Story sacks, children’s narratives and the social construction of reality. London, England: SAGE Publications.10.2304/csee.2002.5.3.129

Cooke, N. A. (2010). Becoming an andragogical librarian: Using library instruction as a tool to combat library anxiety and empower adult learners. New Review of Academic Librarianship16(2), 208-227.

Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Chicago: Association Press.

Lee, C. S., Osop, H., Goh, D. H. L., & Kelni, G. (2017). Making sense of comments on YouTube educational videos: a self-directed learning perspective. Online Information Review41(5), 611-625.

The Modern Rogue. (2016). The Modern Rogue. Retrieved from

The Whiskey Vault. (2014). Whiskey Vault. Retrieved from

Walsh, A., & Inala, P. (2010). Active learning techniques for librarians: Practical examples. Oxford: Chandos.

Abstracts-we like them, we think they’re good

I’ve done several sessions this year where I have had to explain not only how to search for relevant journal articles, but what journals are in the first place. There is an assumption that students will ask if they don’t know, but many students appear to be reading and citing from journal articles without fully understanding what they are or the place they hold within academia-and why would they?

This week I did a session with the aim of getting students to do more “advanced” searching. Because journals are ridiculous, and discovery search software’s ideas of relevance don’t marry up with humans and their whims, often students miss out on what could be useful stuff because the words or phrases they are searching for aren’t in the title, but somewhere on page 18 of a 300 long list of “relevant” resources. So I tried an exercise to get students to appreciate this, and see the value in advanced search features.

Firstly I explained through a whole class discussion (large class though so only a few contributions-but I have been reading more about accepting silence and am trying to use that more rather than force answers out of people and respecting their choice to not engage) what an abstract was. Trying to find examples of this in real life was HARD! I ended up with a mixture of screenshots of Netflix catalogue entries and book jackets-a cross between and synopsis and a blurb-but the point was made. I then showed how the discovery search ordered through relevance by words in the title first and did a couple of example searches to show this

I then asked the student to write their own abstracts, using cues such as what makes them “them”, what their philosophies are, what they do and what their aims are. Some students really struggled with this; some said they were boring or had nothing to say about themselves, which I personally found quite sad, and I think says something about a culture that only embraces awesomeness and the extremes of personality and fame-these are University students with interesting, varied and valid lives who found writing a few sentences about themselves hard because they did not see their everyday as of value. I am going to think more about how I frame this exercise as it did make sense to do but I will think more about how I ask them to do it or how I set it up-maybe give them a prompt sheet with model sentences to either complete or consider-I don’t know.

I then asked them to circle the keywords in their abstracts-the words that they would search for if they were to find people like them on the library catalogue if they were a book or a journal article-we’d done a session on keyword searching earlier in the year so they already had this understanding in place. I then got them to give themselves a title.

I then had them input their keywords in a mentimeter and produced a wordcloud of them. I know wordclouds aren’t the greatest of things to use, but in all honesty I’ve used them in teaching in showing large groups of students similarities between themselves and they’ve worked, they’ve worked really well. Of course, for students who couldn’t use them, they might have never said to me “that thing you used I couldn’t see properly” so I again am going to reconsider what I use for this.

Here is the wordcloud that was produced, I’ve blanked out any words that are personal or give away private information. wordcloud abstracts

You can see that pretty much all of them included the word student, and many included words like family, and early years, which was the course title. There is then a mixture that gives a flavour of the students we have. The response from the class of seeing this was just lovely, they all saw themselves represented as part of a group with a commonality of being students. There was some hilarity to some of the words – such as “sesh”, which made me giggle especially. But when I asked them “are any of your keywords in your title” there was a universal “no”.

I then went back to the point about relevance and I think this really helped bring this home to them. I asked students what you could do about this and one of them suggested the advanced search feature so I asked if she knew how to use it, she said “sort of”, so I got her up to the front of the class and got her to do an example based on the essays they were preparing for. The students were then given opportunities with the lecturer to try out some searches of their own and find some journal articles to use in the lit reviews for their next topic.

I thought of this exercise two days before the class, and on reflection I should have maybe thought more about how to get the students engaged from the start-however as a scaffolded way of understanding how and why abstracts matter and why relevance searching that sees titles as clearly the most important part of a resources’ metadata sucks, I think it worked. I am very rarely asked to do advanced searching classes with my students, but in a big classroom like this one I think the exercise, with some tweaking, would work.

Reflections on Autumn Term Teaching, 2017

I said on Twitter last week that I was feeling really positive about my teaching of information skills sessions this term in terms of engagement and making my time with the students “mean” something, and I was asked to expand on this so here are My Thoughts.


I think I come across as a confident teacher, and I have never been nervous of public speaking. I put this entirely down to having gone to Youth Theatre and Girl Guides as a child and being heavily encouraged to get used to talking to adults and strangers in an engaging way. I do, however, now feel that my confidence is justified through my being firstly more experienced and secondly more qualified at my job.

If you can do a teaching qualification of some description, do one. It will give you mental permission to learn more about pedagogy and you will hopefully join a community of practitioners as part of your course. Getting the qualification, plus now having worked in HE doing regular teaching/training facilitation slots for three years now, I do feel that I’ve earned my stripes. I was invited to talk at a local training event this term, which made my ego explode no end, but also made me feel tons more confident in general that what I do and what I think about teaching is actually respected by my peers. Hell, I have peers now! I’m a grown up! 

Observing others and being observed helps with this, especially in creating communities of critical but constructive practice within your workspaces. One thing I would like to do in 2018 is be peer observed by one of my academics-who would be a teacher trainer so I would be putting the pressure on myself slightly but I think it would give me a greater insite as to if I’m really creating opportunities of learning and formatively assessing that in my sessions, or whether I just think I am.


This year I promised myself I would teach from a place of honesty. So I will quite happily divert the class away from my lesson plan to talk about evaluating source access points and filter bubbles and how our ideas of “evidence” shift, and how authority is socially constructed if that’s where I think that class would appreciate me going, or if that’s the natural direction the lesson goes. It might not necessarily be what is expected of a librarian, but I truly feel that to not allow for these conversations would be against my praxis. I have had far more engaged and interested students after talking about how cookies work and how Facebook makes it’s money and THEN showing them the library catalogue, which if I get them to compare to ASOS they already know how to work anyway, than I have through pointing and clicking through a PowerPoint of How To Find A Journal Article. I know that #notallstudents and I know to make sure to advertise one to one support at the beginning and end of the sessions and to encorage peer learning, but I just think that as librarians we have so much stuff we should be teaching that students just aren’t going to get elsewhere. If FACEBOOK can produce how to spot fake news videos, then this is something librarians should be jumping on.

I’m not Flying, I’m Falling With Style

From this place of honesty has come about a re-thinking of why I teach, and it has completely changed the way I approach teaching. I’m not a doctor, I’m not an scientist, I don’t save lives and I can’t change the world. But what I can do is show someone how to do something in a slightly different way that will make their life a little bit easier, or I can plant a seed of an idea in their head that might lead to a conversation that might lead to a change of mind. That’s all. That’s all I’m now aiming for.

So if I’ve done a session  for a hundred people and some of them were talking amongst themselves, I’m not going to beat myself up about it like I would have done two years ago thinking I couldn’t teach. Because students are allowed to not listen, and I cannot tick every box on the “what will have the greatest impact with the most diverse group of people” list every time. Giving myself a brake and thinking more rationally about the impact of my teaching has led me to really developing sessions that are actually better in terms of student learning. Seeing myself as falling with style but in a way that means that students can more readily engage with me, rather than flying through the clouds dispensing my wisdom on the grateful masses, I think makes me a better teacher-librarian.

#I2C2 Festival of Dangerous Library Ideas

Are YOU an “innovative” library practitioner frustrated by being unable to communicate your value to those in senior management?

Do YOU find filling in job applications for higher level positions difficult because you can’t sum up what you do in terms of the strategic language expected?

Do YOU have to write up strategic project reports and proposals that don’t come naturally to you?

Then YOU need

“How To Stay Strategic within Innovative Library Practice”!

strategic 2

So, this is the practical exercise my group came up with during the break out sessions of Day 2 of the #I2C2 conference. We had been asked to come together with others who had visualised similar problems within the world of libraries, and we all had variations on a theme of the disconnect between “us” (practitioners doing what we consider cool and funky stuff) and “them” (old-school senior managers), and the frustrations this led to in terms of us a) not being able to “get permission” to do any of the cool and funky stuff within a wider context than our own praxis and b) us not being able to communicate our skills and experience in a language contextual to strategic management and therefore not being able to advocate our value effectively.

We summed up the solution to this as being three statements that fed into each other:  Evaluate both traditional and new ideas to pick the best bits of each; Have a strategy and do everything for a reason; Recognise “other” library work and be able to progress within having to change who you are!

strategic 3

We came up with a sort-of card game, which in reality works in taking your abstract thoughts and creating sense out of them-like a cheat sheet for strategic thinking (or at least strategic planning). There are three decks, one of “innovative” ideas, one of your skillz, and one of strategic thinkery style things such as those that could appear on future planning documents of statements, goals etc.

You then have to take your idea and work out what skillz are needed to make this happen, REMEMBER these might not be skills you necessarily have yourself-think like a manager and think wider-what skills would be needed BY THE TEAM that would pull this project off (I am so bad at remembering there are other people but myself who can do stuff with me, and this exercise really forces you to think in terms of projects rather than personal goals).

strategic 1

You then have to figure out which strategic doobrys you will be fulfilling or looking to fulfill by the end of the project. Having all your workplaces strategies written out is incredibly useful as it makes you see that yes! The weired stuff you do every day has a purpose! You’re not just doing stuff for fun!

You are then given an example sentence to place these different cards in. You can delete the options or put new ones in as necessary.

“Using me/our skills in (skillz), we will meet/respond to/increase (Strategic doobry) through (fun thing). To accomplish this we will need:




Success will be measured by: (related to strategic doobry)”


Biblia the Librarian wants to do a puppy room in their library. They’ve seen other libraries doing them and think they would be an awesome way to have students chilling out at exam time, and increase their engagement with the library in general. But how do they convince their boss?


Professional networking (to find the animal sanctuary or Guide Dog association who would be up for bringing some boopable doggos)

Engagement with professional literature (to demonstrate that engagement with doggos is good for mental well-being and that this sort of thing has had positive results in other places)

Social media (to publicize the event and to record it pictorially during the day in a way valued by the students to increase engagement with library marketing)

Knowledge of ethical practices (to understand that the library must remain accessible and not everyone likes doggos or can be near them, and to think of doggos welfare)

Time management (to make sure that the project doesn’t detract from general duties and that a timetable is created to monitor the doggos)


Stakeholder engagement, Reputation, Health and Well-being, Footfall,

So the sum up would be

“Using my team’s skills in professional networking, engagement with professional literature, social media, our knowledge of ethical practices, and time management, we will increase stakeholder engagement, our repuation through the student body, and our student’s well-being, as well as footfall,  through hosting a puppy room within a setting near to the library that is suitable.  To accomplish this we will need:

Time: An afternoon for the puppy room itself and 1 hour a week for four weeks to plan the event.

Money: A donation to the Guide Dog’s Association

Personnel: X number of staff to monitor puppy room, and Y member of staff to run social media account during the event.

Success will be measured by: student’s engagement with social media marketing increasing, positive evaluation from students using the room, students who are first time users of the library coming in for the puppy room. ”

Now, we don’t know if this is any good as we’re not managers, but we THINK this would work as a way of making us think a but more strategically in the future. Please do comment with suggestions below.

I’ve written a book chapter…

…and it has now been published!

This is in “Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts from ALA publishing, edited by Samantha Godbey, Susan Beth Wainscott, and Xan Goodman. The joys of publishing in books rather than online mean that I actually wrote this a while ago, and some of my opinions have altered slightly upon reflecting on my practice, BUT it is the first book chapter I’ve ever written so am obviously quite proud of it!

You can access my chapter through my institutional repository. The full book is available to buy from the ALA.

I’d like to thank the editors for being very patient and brilliant with me throughout the writing process.

“If I’d known how much they cost, I would have used them sooner”; Evaluating Information

I tried a new activity today on evaluating sources. I’m trying to wean myself off the CRAAP test and instead have student think more about the value of information generally, and the purpose behind source access points. I also want students to directly compare information sources in terms of cost and access, to make them more critically aware of why they, as University students, are so heavily encouraged to use “academic” sources, but why they still might use simpler websites above journal articles.

Inspired by Brookfield’s (2015) suggested steps for exploring how consumer choices are restricted by devices providing access to software only produced by their parent companies (Brookfield, 2015, p. 53), I came up with a series of questions related to thinking about the purpose behind sources, and who benefits from the students using them.


I then put a series of sources in envelopes. The ones I picked were

  • My old friend Simply Psychology, the website run by Saul McLeod that is so heavily cited he’s got a h-index of 23 
  • A blog post on Religious Education that I found through a quick Google search
  • The about page of Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal
  • A made up YouTube channel which was a vlog of a trainee RE teacher
  • A made up Facebook group which was a New Youth Workers Support Group
  • A couple of books, one edited textbook and one one-author book on a particular topic

But you could use any that were specific to your subject-I was doing this with a class of RE students.

I have asked the students if I could share their answers to this and some said yes. This was such a small group in the end (I am blessed) that I got them to do this on their own and then come together at the end, and that worked really well. I let the natural atmosphere of the class dictate how much time for this exercise, which ended up being about 15 minutes, but they were working throughout and really engaged with the exercise. I think the big paper/Sharpies thing works. I am also going to use the trick of having multiple envelopes to pick and having some left over so it seems like you have sliiiiiightly more agency in the exercise and it becomes more playful that just being handed a photocopied worksheet. Flip chart paper to me screams Group Work, so being allowed a big piece of paper all to yourself I think aided with students engaging in the session.

Here are some of the end results that we then discussed, in order of the journal, Simply Psychology, and the edited book.

Evaluating resources 1

Evaluating resources 2Evaluting resources 1

What worked

  • Students all talked about the cost. I displayed the journal’s subscription page on the presentation screen and they were visibly shocked by how much institutional access was-the quote from the title of this blog comes from this discussion. Maybe the unspoken taboo of not talking about the cost of resources in front of students needs to be broken? They’re paying for it, why shouldn’t they know how much journal subs and ebook licences are costing?
  • It came out in discussion that the journal article and the blog are “like opposites” of each other, in that the journal costs loads, not many people can access it and it often includes statistics and theory, whereas blog posts are much easier to interact with, can include more personal opinions rather than research, and are free for anyone to use.
  • Students articulated that they knew that clicks mean money very strongly in the discussion, they all talked about the websites making money from advertising. We’d talked in previous sessions about citations meaning academics get more kudos and this was again articulated by the students so that is sticking!

What didn’t

  • To be honest, it was hard to tell! This was a very small group of engaged students, I’d have to do this exercise a couple more times to really figure out the kinks! I will be rephrasing the second question though, as “significant” is a subjective word.

Again, though, this is a list of stuff to think about that could be seen as a prescriptive “if I do this this and this I’ll be using the “right” resources” method. I am really running out of ideas of how to get students to value academic sources as preferably within the context of their literature reviews, or to think for themselves about source types and preferences that aren’t a list of things to think about/questions to ask yourself method.

I think the thing that hit home most this session was showing how much journals cost-I’ll be doing this again for sure. Maybe in order to get students to value information, we have to publicly display the value of information!

Any ideas, as ever, give us a shout on the Twitters or leave a comment below.


Brookfield, S. D. (2015). Teaching students to think critically about social media. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2015(144), 47-56. doi:10.1002/tl.20162


Three Minute Search Strategy-UPDATE

Sooooo this has received a LOT of love, with many people asking if they can nick it (go ahead, and let me know if it works for you) and many people sharing it with colleagues on the Twitters, which is nice. I did say I was going to try it with another couple of groups over the week, which I have done, and I had adapted it slightly off the cuff with my group on Friday.

I was watching the students really struggle thinking of related terms to their own topics, but looking over their shoulders I could think of a few things myself (I know that my lens would be different because I spend my days looking up a million and one different topics and reading very widely…but…) so I thought, hang on a minute, they’re going to have ideas for others to search for too. I asked the group if any of them had a problem with anyone else looking at their questions, and that was OK if they did, but non of them did so I got them to swap papers and look and see if they could think of other related terms or synonyms for what their classmate’s had written. I didn’t time this one as they all immediately seemed to have a LOT to write, so I waited for a natural pause before asking them to swap sheets again. I observed several students saying “oh I hadn’t thought of that one” to what their classmates had written.

I think I could have repeated this swap a couple more times and really opened up the exercise. This shows the students an example of viewing language and natural vocabularies through different cultural lenses, peer support and peer learning, and gives them “fresh eyes” on their research projects.

I also have a couple more tips related to this exercise

  • I took coloured paper with me to one class and that seemed very popular, also meant that it became not just another piece of paper/handout, but was easy to find and use as a tool
  • If you’re bringing Sharpies, make sure you bring enough Sharpies for everyone, as they are very popular. I had a class of 70 students fighting over 28 Sharpies which was VERY bad prep on my part. I also didn’t have enough handouts for that class for a different exercise. Planning and prep can make or break a session, and in that case, I flopped because I didn’t put in that little bit of effort-lesson learnt.
  • Take the original packaging for your Sharpies, and you will easily be able to tell if you’ve lost any-and students will be better incentivised to return them as they become more obviously kit rather than possible freebies.

Three Minute Search Strategy

This blog post will quickly go over something I have tried with one group that worked well and left the students searching more efficiently. I will be doing this exercise with two more third year groups preparing their research proposals for their dissertations this week, in order to improve on it.

Things used – flip chart paper (way too big for purpose it turns out, so I’ll just be using plain A4 in the future) and Sharpies, which are always a fav. One student was using her own laptop and a couple preferred to use their own pens. This was, of course, fine.

Students are asked to take a Sharpie from the massive bag of Sharpies that have become a staple to my teaching. On a sheet of paper, they are asked to write for one minute their dissertation subject; most instantly started a mind map style thing with their question in the centre, others chose a more linear approach.

Then they’re told to put their pens down and get a different coloured Sharpie, or use a different pen or font if typing, or whatever worked for them. They then were asked to write for one minute things related to their topic that don’t necessarily mean the same thing-so not synonyms. So what would people maybe associate with your topic? I gave the example of if your topic was to do with teenager’s mental health, people might associate cannabis with that-but I will be changing this example for different groups studying different subjects.

Pens down again and a different colour. Then writing for a minute (WITHOUT the use of a thesaurus) any synonyms or words or phrases that could be used for the key words in either the first or second sections.

I didn’t get the students to have three colours at the start as I didn’t want them to compartmentalize their thinking into three straight away, or limit the exercise so I could act reflexivly if something I’d not thought about before came up. It also got them to talk a bit and move about between each minute as they were swapping Sharpies, to break up the exercise and refresh their brains so they could come to their white papers anew.

I then asked them to look at what they had created, and got one that I noted was especially detailed to volunteer themselves as tribute and I showed how to turn this into a search, by doing some demonstrations using the words they had chosen.

Students broke down their topic into different searchable chunks, and could apply this breaking down to searching for resources. They saw that they did have the ability to break down a concept, think of related concepts and other ways that that concept could be described. I assured students that if they found the last section of the exercise tougher (as some did) that it would become easier for them the more reading they did as their vocabularies improved. I also made it clear that this is just a beginning and that they could spend more time on their own exploring their search strategies at length.

I did take some photos of the student’s work on this but then completely forgot to ask their permission to share them, so here’s one I’ve quickly mocked up as an example 3 min searchI got the three colours idea from a technique used in ethnographic research that was demonstrated at the CILIP event (I think….) by Georgina Cronin Many Moons ago, which I really liked. The idea of writing for one minute comes from the very popular one minute paper teaching tactic which you can find explanations of all over the place.

As I’ve said, I’ll be doing this exercise again twice this week, so I can reflect more on it each time. It may be that I got lucky with a group who were really engaged and got the idea straight away, but I’ve a feeling this is an activity I’ll be using again!