Thursday, 10 June 2010

Communication amongst librarians

How serious is the problem of non-communication amongst Cambridge librarians? The means of communication are there — a whole heap of them, in varying degrees of activity, including CULIB, the Cambridge Library Group, the Camtools Cambridge Librarians site, the Facebook Cambridge Liibrarians group, the ucam-lib-discuss email list, the brownbag lunches, the Arcadia seminars, the libraries@cambridge annual conference. So if we don’t communicate it’s not for lack of opportunity.

I raised this question in the early days of the Facebook Cambridge Liibrarians group. I sought people’s favourite instances of things within the Cambridge library landscape that

  • should have been communicated & hadn’t been, & the consequences
  • had been communicated particularly badly, & the consequences
  • needed to be communicated now, & weren’t being, & the actual or potential consequences
  • had ever been communicated particularly well

I’m trying to remember what examples of any of the above have been cited in the course of the communications arising from recent Cam23 activity.

Perhaps what’s needed is not new channels of communication, just bolder use of the existing ones. As Cam23 is showing, when we’ve something to communicate about, we do communicate.


  1. Just checked out Transportdirect. Thanks for that. Rowland

  2. Any chance of putting a rss feed on the CULIB site? I know vaguely it's there, but I always tend to forget about its existence. If I had a feed to send the newsletters to me, I might remember to pay more attention!

  3. I will pass this on to Kate Arhel, who's in charge of the web version.

  4. Thanks for raising this, Aidan. I've felt for a while that it's hard to know what ways there are of communicating. ucam-lib-discuss, for example, has only just come to my conscious attention, so I've been over to the mailman page and signed up. But, if you hadn't mentioned it, I'm not sure how I was expected to know it was there.

    As a member of library staff, I'd imagine that as a part of induction into a new job it would be checked that I was on all the appropriate lists/in the right groups, but this has certainly not been my experience. And as there's no easily-findable list of ways of keeping in touch, it's hard to know what one is missing out on. I'd love to see a list like this on the libraries@cambridge pages. Indeed, I think those pages could be better organised and more inviting overall. Searching through them just now has revealed the existence of ucam-lib-charter, so I've signed up for that, too.

    (This comment is a real rant, I'm afraid. It's not directed at you, Aidan.)

    Another bug-bear is that there's an email list (is that lib-list?) which only one person per library can be on. Which is perhaps fair enough, but then when interesting events are advertised on that and no-one passes the message on it's annoying. That's an intra- and not inter-library issue, though.

    As for the facebook and camtools groups, personally I'm uncertain about using Facebook in a professional capacity, so I might check that group but I'd be wuite unlikely to contribute much. And I really don't 'get' camtools - is that because the groups I'm in never do much with it, or am I doing something wrong?

    One final thing (and then I'll shut up). Before embarking on Cam23 and throwing caution to the wind, as an aspiring but not actual librarian, I've felt wary of contributing to/attending events that have an air of being for 'librarians' as opposed to library staff. This might merely be my shyness, though. Maybe other people can comment on whether they've felt the same?

  5. Yes I totally agree about there being a problem of intra- as well as inter-library communication, Girl in the Moon. Very interesting point on the distinction (if there is one) between "librarians" and "library staff". I think the whole one-person-per-library only adds to that too.

    I do have more examples of communication problems though some date from 5 or 6 years ago when many of the tools mentioned by Aidan didn't exist yet. However, I do think that there is a real need for "outreach" (for want of a better word) - even cam23 is a self-selecting pool of people, probably all with interest in communication/finding out what's happening. We also need to find ways to hearing from (and getting messages to) other people.

    I will come back to this soon.

  6. I agree with a lot of what Girl in the Moon said, apart from the idea that only librarians could participate in things - I've found the Medical Library staff very encouraging but maybe that's not the same across the board.

    Re. ucam-lib-discuss, I hadn't heard of it. I just tried to sign up and it only gives options or I put mine in even though it's, but I don't know if that will work. Anybody know?

  7. Sorry to take over your blog, Blurtmetry, but you have raised an issue which concerns me a great deal. I have some (limited) experience in media and communications and it grieves me to see the anxiety with which information is handled at the moment.
    Communication between librarians from all groups has enormous potential but has been fragmented. It makes sense to have email lists for particular groups (eg Colleges, UL staff, archivists, etc) of course. I wasn't aware that lib-list was restricted to one person per library, certainly in the places I have worked this wasn't so.
    Beyond these, the ucam-discuss list has been around for years but seems to be largely dormant, I wold be interesting to know why. There is also CULIB and the Cambridge Libraries Group, there are sites in CamTools and Facebook for Cambridge Librarians. Perhaps it would be helpful to have a "list of lists" and sites somewhere with an explanation of who should/can join but I realise that requires someone's time and effort to set up and maintain.

    It seems to me there is now a real need for information to be disseminated and discussed beyond the silos of these email lists, a central point of reference, preferably not based overtly within the UL (which is not really where one would look for information about all the libraries). The danger is that the existing official channels are becoming too hierarchical and institution-bound to encourage cross-institution information flow, so it is taking place in less formal and less authentic places. It might be a good idea to have a Web (or Web 2.0) presence where all libraries (including the UL) could share information and ideas between colleagues. I am sure this would help to encourage professional development, improve services and (importantly) build trust between groups of us.

  8. This partly accounts for my enthusiasm for Twitter. Conversations from all over the place can be joined up there.

  9. I should have said that this discussion had its roots in one started in (on? by?) Thingblogging . That discussion gave due credit to its own roots in one at 23 Criminal Things ...

  10. In response to Sarah's comment, I (think) I'd be interested in being the person who created and maintained a 'list of lists'/central web presence. But I think it needs some careful thinking about how it can be made to work: for example, there's no point having yet another place than only some people know about/check, and I wonder in what ways it would need to appear authoritative/authorised if not a part of the UL structure.

    Are people interested in pursuing this further?

  11. Perhaps what's needed is for the person keeping the list of lists to be a proactive participant in all the lists (using 'list' as a generic term for the publications, groups, web presences &c), making sure that the individual lists got to hear of one another's doings. That again wd require caution: the two contrasting risks are of stagnation and of information overload....

  12. Girl in the Moon's comment about the plethora of possibilities to keep oneself informed perhaps chimes with our feeling the need to punt information out in an increasing variety of media. There's obviously a lot of important information being disseminated, and it would be wondeful not to have to visit, or pull in from, so many different sources. And this is where I think Twitter Facebook et al are not necessarily helping, because they create yet another source one thinks one ought to visit. Actually of course groups of multiple sources, to make matters worse!
    Are we making rods for our own backs, creating multiple sources, not just for the would-be receivers, but for all the two-fingered non-typists feeling obliged to put similar stuff via on multiple media?
    I would put in a word in defence of Camtools though - it is a great resource to 'park' information needed by a restricted group, all in one handy shop, rather than being a disseminator of info.

  13. I think maybe the answer is to try to find ways in which posted/disseminating information in one format is automatically relayed by other media too (ie having your blog posts or email alerts available as rss which people can use if they choose, but also via twitter and on facebook). Make the technology do the work of replicating and let users choose the format of information that they prefer to use?

    I've been thinking about this issue more broadly. I agree that there are lots of methods of communication already but we don't have as high a "take-up rate" (however you want to word it) as maybe we would like. Advertising/marketing types would say you have to use lots of different media to reach the maximum number of people, since people will prefer different methods of communication.

    So, a central listing is useful just to make people aware of what is available. I'm not sure whether it needs to be independent of the UL (my personal feeling is that there's a general move towards brining all the libraries in Cambridge together and maybe this should be encouraged as we're definitely not there yet). But wherever it is, there maybe needs to be some active "promotion" or "marketing" of this to try to reach the librarians not currently actively taking part. Or encouraging people to become creators rather than consumers? I'm sure Aidan finds that there's a central core of people happy to contribute articles to CULIB (for example) but that there are lots of people who don't ever participate (even though they might read it).

    I want to find out what people are doing, even those who don't think that they are doing anything worth talking about outside of their own library. Some people don't even realise that they have things others would love to hear about.

  14. Sorry, keep forgetting that my login for comments doesn't publish my name even though I tried to tell it to so I'll sign off this time,


  15. A central core of contributors to CULIB? It doesn't feel that way. In a brief trawl of old issues I do see one or two names that have cropped up more than once, but it's extremely rare that we get any material unsolicited. We've always had to go looking.

  16. Sorry Aidan, I didn't word that well. I didn't mean that only the same few people contribute to CULIB. I meant more that there is a central core of people who do contribute to various things (using CULIB as an example because I know of people who have said "ooh I couldn't write something for CULIB" but it holds true for other things) and then a wider circle of people who are interested at consuming this information but unwilling to see themselves as contributors of content.

    Interesting that you have to go looking. That's basically the point I'm trying to make more generally (if a little incoherently).

  17. I promised at the start of this discussion to give some examples.

    They date from a few years ago when I was first working in a faculty library. I'm not including ones from when I was a graduate trainee on the grounds that it was aeons ago, but I recognised that things have been changing in my first post about this. So these specific examples might not happen in the same way in 2010 but I think the general principle still feels true. If only going by responses on this discussion and on my own blog. And also because, since I moved to the UL 4 years ago, I still have to make a conscious effort to find out about what is going on in other libraries (and sometimes even in other areas of the UL).

    1) I came to my Cambridge faculty library job from a job in the US, where we had made much use of macros in our work (in all modules of the library system - acquisitions, cataloguing, circulation). I was keen to use macros in my work in Cambridge.

    Macro Express was being used in the UL. I only knew this, however, because I happened to have a friend who worked in a library where they had borrowed the UL macro files (a well-connected library, so to speak). If I hadn't had this personal friendship and hadn't mentioned the issue to this particular person, I may have spent a great deal of time investigating, pricing software, writing macros and so on. You get the picture.

    This was in 2002 when Voyager was rolling out across Cambridge. Maybe macros had been advertised and discussed, but I wasn't the Librarian and maybe hadn't been involved in that discussion/on the right email list/in the right meetings to hear about it.

    2) Similarly, I found it quite hard to get details of UL cataloguing policy on various issues and was eventually able to do it only via another friend who knew someone who worked in the Cataloguing department. I know that the documentation situation has improved, along with the development of bib standards in the lib@cam domain. But I do still feel there are barriers to the flow and exchange of information in this area.

    Those are just two examples of the kind of thing I felt I faced often and, even if the situation has changed in the 4 years since I moved to the UL, I still think there's work to do. Unless - as I said in my blog post - everyone else is happily networked, well-informed about what everyone else is doing and I'm the only one who is in the dark?


  18. Sorry to be taking over your blog comments like this Aidan, I probably should have made this into a post over on Thing blogging. I just wanted to add that we do all work in quite a hierarchical institution. And while every library and every department might not function that way, there is a pervading culture and I sometimes think that does impede communication. It creates the atmosphere which led Girl in the Moon to comment about being unsure whether things were for "librarians" or "library staff".

    Right, I really will be quiet now!


  19. I'm coming back to this very late because I've now got a concrete example of iffy communication. There was an email sent to the lib-list email list on Monday this week (19 June) about institutional access to the RDA toolkit. I didn't receive it, because I'm not on lib-list (the boss assures me that it's only supposed to be one-per-institution on there, and I was also told that at my previous job), and no-one forwarded it round our library because it hadn't been noticed that the message was sent to a list with restricted distribution.

  20. Sorry - that should say 19 July.

  21. Have only just noticed the comments of 23 July. They prompted me to see if all Haddon staff had had the RDA email. If they did, then maybe that will be because the Haddon address on lib-list is haddon-library at . I hope so!