A writing and thinking retreat

The gardens at Wolfson College

This week I spent 3 days in Cambridge at Wolfson College, which was the college I lived at for a term in 2011 when I was an Arcadia Fellow. This was one of the most amazing few months of my life, as not only did I get to work for 3 months on thinking about how information literacy should be taught in the future, but I got to work with the fabulous Emma Coonan.

I recall being pretty terrified about being away from home  and spent most weekends fleeing back to London. But I found Wolfson a friendly, welcoming place and somewhere I immediately felt at home. I particularly enjoyed meeting all the other students and fellows from around the world. I made some fantastic friends during my time there and probably had some of the most memorable breakfast conversations ever. I will never forget the breakfast where I was joined by several international fellows who were staying at Wolfson, and we discussed the fall of the Roman Empire. There was a point I recall saying to the professor from Pakistan and the Malaysian Ambassador for the Lebanon, I think we could do with a PowerPoint with a map on it as we discussed Hadrian’s Wall and some of the Roman sites in the Middle East. I started listening to Radio 4’s Today Programme after I left Wolfson to try to recreate these high brow moments before I start my day. It’s just not the same.

This week the canteen was shut so I spent a lot of time on my own, although I did get to spend some time in the wonderful Library, chatting to the College Librarian Meg Westbury about information and digital literacy, our mutual research interests in online learning and phenomenography. I also went on a wonderful walk to The Orchard Tea Rooms in Grantchester and thought of my dear Brazilian friend, Cris, a journalist who was there for the same time as me and who I used to go walking with. I wandered in the beautiful gardens and spent a lot of time in my room writing and reading.

Rethinking Copyright by Ronan Deazley

The purpose of my trip was to try and nail my keynote for ALT-C, which is now in around 3 weeks time. I am so honoured to be invited to keynote this conference, but also slightly terrified as it’s a big conference and one that a lot of learning technologists attend. There was no pressure when I saw the other keynotes I was up against either: Dave White, Donna Lanclos, Josie Fraser, Ian Livingstone and Lia Commissar! I am going to be talking about copyright and e-learning, the subject of my new book, but I really want to make my keynote different to other talks I’ve done before. I started reading Ronan Deazely’s book, Rethinking Copyright while I was away, and have been struck by his writing on what copyright is (and isn’t) and the public domain. So if I can hint a little, then I might be saying something on the history of copyright and on the notion of the public domain. Ronan is the main editor behind the website CopyrightUser, and Chris and I recently wrote the guidance for libraries on this site.

Anyway, mostly what I appreciated while in Cambridge was some perspective on things and some time to concentrate on the subjects I am most interested in. I have spoken before about the importance of finding a place where you can think, and at Wolfson I have definitely found that place, and I was more productive in just three days there than I usually am in a week!

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Finding your place

I was asked to make a video about tips for new researchers and I was taken back to thinking about a workshop Emma and I ran twice on doing research as a librarian. We talked about finding your niche and finding a place to think. When I talk about finding your place I mean both of those things. But I also think librarians struggle with their identity as a researcher (as I suspect many people do, undergraduate students for example). But librarians often spend a lot of time helping other people do research and providing ‘support’ when in reality they should be acknowledged as researchers. I am not sure why they are not, but I think changing your own attitude towards your identity might help. If we didn’t have libraries and librarians a huge amount of research would be impossible. We provide access to the literature, we hold archives of huge significance which we help people to navigate and interrogate. We are not just providing a support to the research process, we are underpinning it, we are providing the research with the foundations on which it stands. As we know, all research and ideas are built on things that have gone before. So finding your place is all about recognising, even if you think you don’t do research, as a librarian you probably do. Or as someone who provides specialist advice and support to others on information related issues, then you are in a pretty important place! A house won’t stay up without solid foundations. And good research has to be built on solid information and knowledge.

I think research can sometimes be an exclusive place that makes people feel they are not worthy. Even the language and methodologies, in fact any of the -ologies are horribly scary. That’s not to say anyone can just do research. There are things you need to do properly, like devising a decent research question – and one that can be answered! And finding an appropriate way to collect the data you need. It’s also important not to just go looking for evidence that backs up what you think is true. Having a critical friend with a different perspective to you can be really helpful here. However, for me finding your place is all about finding the topics that you are passionate about, so the research really matters to you. The best research projects I have worked on are ones where I feel like I am making a difference, or helping to develop something that will make a difference, even if just in a small way. And there are lots of different types of research, much of what I do has a really practical application. But that still doesn’t mean I don’t try to read some literature, see what others have done in the field, and develop a robust methodology. One example is the research I’ve been doing with Chris on librarians and copyright – what do they want to learn more about and what aspects of copyright cause them concern? And then let’s try and see what their experience of copyright as a phenomenon might tell us about how to improve things. This research helped us write the recent guidance for librarians on the Copyrightuser.org website. But it should also help us to develop and improve resources like Copyright the Card Game. So, I urge you to start thinking of yourself as a researcher and get out there and try to find your place where you can make a difference!

Conversing about copyright

I was lucky enough to record a podcast with James Clay earlier in the week which is now available from his website. He interviewed me and Chris Morrison as part of a series of podcasts that James records on issues related to e-learning. It wasn’t just a shameless plug for our forthcoming book Copyright and E-learning: a guide for practitioners or Copyright the CaPF_Fortune_Cookie_11062016195137885rd Game, it was great to talk about a range of issues related to copyright and how to approach the issues that using new technologies gives rise to. Some people might think copyright is boring and restrictive, however, have a listen to our podcast and hopefully see that understanding copyright is empowering and there are ways of teaching others about copyright which don’t involve sending people to sleep! It’s also important to think about embedding copyright good practices into the range of training available in your institution and teaching it in a positive way about what people can do. And of course as people who know me know, I do love conversing about copyright, and eating cookies and cake, and talking about Star Wars parodies. It’s all in the podcast and it’s not long until the book is published either! I’ll also be heading to Dublin in just over a week to talk about Copyright and E-learning and play Copyright the Card Game at the DIT E-learning Summer School.

On why there is never enough time

Time by Old Rollei

Time by Old Rollei licensed under CC-BY and available at: https://flic.kr/p/5YW8LF

I’m always finding myself running between meetings, switching between projects and tasks, wearing different hats (metaphorically not really – although I do have two hats I like quite a lot!) and wondering why there are never enough hours in the day. I kid myself I can multi-task, but it’s not true (no one can), if I try doing too many things at once I just do them all far less well. So I find myself working on tasks for short bursts of time and then moving on to something else, before switching to something new. Lisa Jeskins told me about the pomodoro technique and I think without knowing it, this was what I had been doing. Apparently it’s good for mental agility, which must be a good thing.

Last week, talking to a colleague she said ‘you like to be busy, it’s how you get so much done.’ And I was struck by this and decided it was probably true. No sooner do I tick one thing off my Wunderlist app, then I’ve added another, or four more tasks. I guess the key to getting things done (yes I have read the David Allen book) for me is good planning and trying not to let too many deadline collide. But sometimes having a lot to do makes me more efficient, whereas a day with no meetings can drag by and be wasted if I am not careful. Some of the things I’ve been working on this week include:

  • Hosting a placement student from UCL who is spending time in LTI and the Library
  • Finishing my guide to copyright for PhD students with our Repository Manager, Dimity
  • Planning the evaluation for this year’s SADL programme and briefing my new research assistant
  • Planning the next London Digital Student Meet-up with Moira Wright from UCL
  • Planning the first conference for LSE POWER – the women’s professional network with a fantastic bunch of colleague
  • Planning a series of workshops for LSE’s Learning and Development Group on sharing good practice in planning, designing, delivering and evaluating training
  • Finishing a co-authored chapter on copyright literacy to be published next year by Routledge
  • Proof reading Copyright and E-learning, my forthcoming book
  • Writing a piece for the Statistics Department website on why their students inspired me through the SADL programme.

On top of this I’ve got plenty going on with ILG work (we’ve just finished judging this year’s Research and Information Literacy award), I’m preparing for a CLA licence negotiation meeting next week and starting to think about my talk on 10 years of digital literacy at the UCISA digital capabilities event next month. But will I slow down? Never! When there are projects to plan, papers to write, conferences to attend and a world of copyright and digital literacy to enjoy! There never will be enough time, but that is what makes my job such fun! That and working with some  great people who keep me motivated!

Lessons from LILAC 16

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LILAC experiences – higher or lower than you expected?

I’m giving a webinar with Lisa Jeskins next week and we have been asked to reflect on LILAC 2016 and the lessons learnt. It’s been useful to read some of the blog posts and tweets again and try to recapture the hectic 3 days. LILAC for me is like all my Christmas’s come at once and I want it to last forever, but of course it doesn’t, it passes in the blink of the eye. So it’s what is left behind after the dust settles, the exhaustion is over and the buzzing in my head has stopped, that I want to focus on.

We planned a panel session for the conference close, but concerns over travel meant this was cancelled. Not before I hadn’t written some ideas down about thoughts that struck me over the three days, so these were useful to return to a few weeks later.

I started with this idea that information literacy is like the sea as I was just struck by how many words began with C that had been themes at the conference. There are some parallels with the sea and IL – like the ocean, information literacy has real depth at this year’s LILAC. That’s not to say we’ve been bobbing along at the surface level for the past 11 years, but I feel as a discipline information literacy is really growing in depth. The keynote from Char Booth really highlighted this to me. And yes IL is a discipline, which has rigorous research that underpins it, journals published in the field and at its beating heart, a vibrant community of practice. It’s this vibrancy and passion that stay with me, that the people who teach in this field really care about lifelong learning and they are trying to make a difference. Ultimately we all want people equipped with the ability to deal with what life throws at them, and to have choices about what to do, say and believe. This is what I think we call critical information literacy. It’s far more than critical thinking, or whether a source such as a newspaper or website is trustworthy. It’s about politics and social justice and it’s a big issue that is way more than any librarian can deal with on their own. So that leads me to an important topic, of collaboration. I’ve said it before but its worth repeating. All the best work I do is a result of a collaboration. If you work as a team, yes it’s harder in some ways and requires negotiation, but ultimately what you produce is way better. My recent work with Chris Morrison on copyright literacy shows that, but also the work I’ve done over the years with Emma Coonan, Maria Bell, Debbi Boden, Nancy Graham and Gwyneth Price.

Collaboration is also vital because IL has been about librarians for a long time and this needs to change, we need to bring others into our community. It’s hard to know how to do that with the big L at the start of the conference name – are we being inclusive – possibly not. Do others attend and feel they are imposters, or interlopers? Possibly? We need to talk more to the people at the fringes who come to LILAC but perhaps feel that it’s not quite their space and who feel the need to apologise for not being a librarian. As I said earlier, if we are to tackle the really big important issues about why IL matters, then we need to work with others. It’s too big a job for one professional group alone and by working with teachers, administrators, educational developers, learning technologists and others, then we might get somewhere. This is why I was struck by James Clay’s keynote on Digital Capabilities – this terminology is one that appeals to a lot of groups of professionals, and James recognises the valuable role that librarians play, but we are just one of the players here.

And what about the LILAC newbies, the new professionals and first time attendees? The IL community that exists is built on networks and friendships that in some cases have lasted over a decade. But we need new people and new young professionals to join us and feel welcome and part of this. LILAC is not a private members club, ruled by an elite who control all the power about what happens. It’s inclusive and open and welcoming, we hope, but how can we make it more so? Should there be a LILAC un-conference? Should we let the delegates have more say and control?

What about the programme? Is it too packed? Is it too intense? Do we need more down time for people to just chill and reflect and chat? Or is the intensity part of it’s appeal and charm? I could have walked into any parallel session and I know I would have learnt something and enjoyed it, but at times I felt overwhelmed with what to attend with so much going on all at the same time.

Some of the key themes for me were:

  • creativity – games, play fun, competition, panic rooms, virtual worlds. We had a hugely inspiring keynote by Nic Whitton and Alex Moseley on the role of games in learning where we learnt through play. And I was delighted to take part in the first Lilac Lagadothon, a games competition which was possibly the most exhausting 1.5 hour of my life pitching a new game 6 times!
  • we heard a lot about criticality – critical pedagogy, critical librarianship and the relationship with social justice in talks from our keynote Char Booth and from Alan Carbery and Sean Leahy.
  • there was a strong theme of communities, collaboration and sharing and building on others ideas running through lilac – building networks of interest for example the Google group I set up for librarians interested in or pursuing doctoral research.
  • challenges and challenging were also key at LILAC 2016 – challenging established knowledge, notions of power, social justice
  • capability (of ourselves) but also of others – not just digital capability, but librarians as teachers and researchers.
  • and of course copyright – it doesn’t always come back to this for me, but I think framing copyright as information privilege (as Char Booth did) was really helpful to me and fits with the idea that copyright literacy and education is empowering!

These are just a few thoughts, I hope to share more next week at the LILAC webinar, which will be advertised on the Information Literacy website, but should be next Monday (11th April) at 2pm.

The start of the academic year

Copyright the card gameIt’s been a hectic few weeks, with term starting a week earlier at LSE, to take into account of the new academic year structure, and the inclusion of a reading week in Week 6 of term. Start of the term means new academic staff induction events, an Open House in LTI, Welcome Week for our new students, where we promote Learning and Development opportunities from across the school and the launch of the third year of the SADL Programme (it’s not a project anymore!).

I’ve also been busy running more Copyright the Card game sessions, for colleagues in IMT last month and then for around 40 Cambridge librarians last week. I surprised myself that the game could work with so many people and in just under 2 hours. That is what a cup of coffee does for me! It also proved that no one can resist a copyright fortune cookie as a prize!

Today I gave only my second ever webinar, for EIFL, on the topic of digital literacy. I had around 50 people tune in from around the world and the recording should be on their website soon. It was a great experience and an opportunity to share some of the work we’re doing with people around the world. On that note, I’m currently in the process of preparing 3 presentations for the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL 2015) which takes place in just under 2 weeks in Tallinn, Estonia. I will be presenting a paper on the impact of the SADL Project, written jointly with my colleague Maria Bell. I’ll also be presenting on the UK Copyright Literacy Survey data with Chris Morrison from University of Kent and presenting with Geoff Walton from Northumbria University on the advocacy work the Information Literacy group have been doing outside the HE library sector, including work on TeenTech. This is the third ECIL and then third I have attended so I am looking forward to catching up with colleagues from Europe and beyond.

Last week I attended an event at the Digital Catapult on Euston Road, organised by CREATe (the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy, based at the University of Glasgow) on the subject of orphan works. It covered the IPO’s Orphan Works Licensing Scheme, the EU Directive and how different institutions are handling orphan works. It was great to meet up with members of CREATe, who are behind the website CopyrightUser.org. It was a week of copyright for me, as the UUK-Copyright working group had a meeting at the CLA.

And of course last week, there was some fuss about me being appointed an Honorary Fellow of CILIP. So all in all it’s been a pretty good start to the new academic year.

Information literacy in the UK, in Vienna

I’m presenting tomorrow in the University of Vienna at the Austrian Library conference on the topic of information literacy in the UK. I’ll be speaking about the work that the CILIP Information Literacy group are currently undertaking to get information literacy recognised outside higher education and the library sector. The group are funding 3 research projects that specifically explore IL in other sectors; a digital champions project in Newcastle public library, a study to explore the value of IL in the workplace and a project to explore the role of school libraries in developing young people’s political awareness. I’ll also be talking about the TeenTech Research and Information Literacy award which is being launched this month.

Closer to home, a key way of getting a wider understanding of what information literacy is and why it matters has been through working with students as partners at LSE, on the Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy project. I will say a little about this project and you might ask why we call it digital literacy? Well terminology does matter and while I might understand it as information literacy, I’ve found the term digital literacy has had far more resonance with academic staff and with students. So I will conclude with a brief talk about definitions, frameworks and some further reading. It’s great to be in Vienna this week, the weather is sunny and warm and the cakes are divine!