I was recently fortunate enough to attend the UX Libs II Conference in sunny Manchester (well, it was sunny one of the days!). For anyone not aware, the UX Libs events are for people interested in user experience (UX) research. The first UX Libs Conference was held in Cambridge last year, which sadly I wasn’t able to attend but I followed the tweets from afar.

The first conference focused predominantly on sharing different methods you can use to support UX research and was very practical in focus (attendees were assigned teams to work on a research project in one of Cambridge’s libraries). The second conference focused more on sharing what had happened since the first conference (a lot!) as well as a group challenge on advocacy to help us think about ways to engage others in the approach.

It was a packed schedule (I’m really not a fan of 9am starts!), and we were kept very busy; the variety of different types of activities was good. We had keynote presentations, practical presentations, group work, and workshops. I really enjoyed both workshops I attended and wish I could have attended all four!

There’s a lot I want to digest from the conference, but my initial points to share are listed below:

Thinking about our own user experiences can help us reflect on what library users may be experiencing
I do this a lot when I’m away – I had a fantastic experience at Hershey a few weeks ago for example and it caused me to think more about the type of experience I can offer, as well as the experience libraries can offer – in a similar way that my trip to Disney and Universal did (I previously blogged about this). I was really impressed with the way the attendee badges were personalised (thank you Matt!) and it was nice to see the organising committee thinking about how to enhance our experience (the badges wished speakers good luck for their session for example, a very nice touch).

Training and encouragement is crucial to the success of a UX project (and I would imagine any research)
This was a particularly key point in one of my favourite sessions from the conference, Helen Murphy and Rachel Claire Walker’s session on what they learnt from their UX research across a number of libraries at University of Cambridge. Their main lesson was the fact that staff in the libraries they were working with would have appreciated more training and encouragement, and this finding was echoed in many of the other practical workshops. Even if we’re familiar with a research method (but especially if we’re not!) the importance of support and encouragement can’t be underestimated in my opinion.

Different types of research outputs are to be encouraged
Something that was mentioned in quite a few of the keynotes and workshops was the fact that the best form of research output isn’t always a huge written report (thank goodness, most of us sigh in relief!). There are some people who love writing long reports, and some who love reading them, but for the most part it’s far more likely that people will want the highlights from the research in summary form, with additional data should they want to delve deeper. Research findings may be shared using presentation (by that I’m including slides but also just verbal presentations), an executive summary document, a blog post, an infographic, or simply by sharing recommendations. The main point here was to consider the needs of those who will be using the research outputs as well as the time taken to produce the research output (to ensure the findings are still relevant).

Failure should be embraced and shared more openly
This is something I was so pleased to see encouraged at the conference. I’ve been saying for a while now that I’d love to organise an event where people shared the things that haven’t quite gone as planned, a Library Fail Conference if you will. Somehow I think selling this to some people could be tricky! UX Libs took an interesting approach to this though, with the workshops falling into either ‘Nailed’ (things that have gone well), ‘Failed’ (things that haven’t gone so well), and ‘Derailed’ (things that have adapted or been delayed). Excellent rhyming there too; I approve. It’s so useful to share these things though, to take time to reflect on why and learn from this ourselves, and also to share with others to help them as well as get insight from them if they have experienced similar. Most session proposals were for ‘Nailed’ sessions, but I think (and hope!) we might see that changing over time at future conferences (not just UX Libs Conferences) as we become more comfortable with sharing the things that haven’t gone so well.

We are all leaders
We were asked by Donna Lanclos at the opening keynote of the conference to raise our hands if we are leaders. About half the room raised their hands, when in fact she argued everyone should have. I support the notion that we are all leaders in some way – whether that be leading a team, leading a service, leading a project, leading change… (I actually asked the same question at my SLA workshop and also argued that everyone should have raised their hand!). Over the conference there was quite a lot of discussion about leadership and change management and we were encouraged to consider how to do this in our own roles and in our own organisations. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s crucial to develop our services and keep current.

Librarians are great
As with many of the lessons I learned, this wasn’t anything new, but a very pertinent reminder. The result of the EU Referendum was the final day of the conference and it certainly had an impact on the mindset of many of us that day. I found it very odd to wake up in a hotel on my own to the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I was disappointed (I’d voted to remain), and felt very out of sorts about why my vote was in a minority, and what implications the result of the vote might have. When I got to the conference I felt instantly comforted by the supportive environment of others there, who were going through similar thoughts but were there to offer hugs and reassurance that whatever happens to the future of the country, as librarians we will continue to share and help each other, within the UK and further afield. Hooray for librarians! 🙂

My conference experience

I started the conference with this tweet:

You can probably guess what’s coming:

So I may have gone against my goal of not presenting by volunteering to present for my team, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the UX Libs II conference. I particularly enjoyed the workshops in the second afternoon, which enabled me to do some (terrible) drawing, and some highly important foam crimping. Aside from the silliness, I learnt a lot in both these workshops.

Process interview with picture. My drawing is terrible but useful process! #uxlibs

A photo posted by Jo Alcock (@joeyanne) on

https://libreaction.wordpress.com/2016/07/02/uxlibsii-in-50-photos/

Doing some crimping in Andy’s cultural probes workshop (photo from Andy’s blog)

What next?

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to put many of the ethnographic research methods into practice in my work yet, but would love to do so in future. I do a lot of interviews in my current role, but they’re mostly over the phone (and usually with librarians). I’d love to do more in person interviews with users and use additional prompts (whether it be observations or things like cognitive maps).

I’m also still fascinated about whether libraries can learn from the retail world and would love to do some experimental research into this. For example, does changing the layout of part of the library change how people use the space? Do changes in layout/book storage/availability of bags affect borrowing? Has anyone done any research into this sort of thing in your library, or would you like to? Let me know if so!

Thanks to all involved in making UX Libs a thoroughly enjoyable conference 🙂

Nine years ago today, I created Joeyanne Libraryanne, a corner of the web for me to reflect on all the things I learn and share things I’m passionate about. Over that time I’ve changed job roles, changed organisations, been fortunate to have had a whole load of incredible experiences, learned many new skills, and developed new passions. As I reflect on those things, it seems pertinent to use this opportunity and this space to share my next challenge. 

At the end of July, I’m going to be leaving my current role to become a freelancer. This isn’t something I’ve had in a long term plan (I don’t do career plans anyway and as I reflected on in my end of year post in December, I’m more focused on living a fulfilling life in the present than worrying too much about the future). Going freelance is something I realised a few months ago that I needed to do. There’s so many things I’m passionate about, and I really want to dedicate time to them. I’m fascinated by how things (and particularly people!) work. I’m passionate about helping people develop. I want to do more research, and help others do research by giving them skills and confidence to do so. I want to develop and run more training workshops. I want to do more to support leadership development, and I want to continue to mentor and coach. I hope that by freelancing I can dedicate more time to these things, as well as having the flexibility to explore other opportunities too. 

I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in a few weeks, but I’m so excited about what the future may hold. I’m sure I’ll continue to blog what I learn and share anything that might be of interest to others. In the meantime I’m off out to enjoy dinner at the UX Libs II Conference in Manchester (which I’m sure I’ll blog about soon!). Cheers! 

My bullet journal (orange) and note book (teal)

My bullet journal (orange) and note book (teal)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may well know that I have always favoured electronic methods for note taking and organisation. Some of my earliest blog posts back in 2008 were about online calendars and task management apps I used to use on my iPod Touch. I’ve tried many different tools over the years, and for the last few years have been very happy with Omnifocus for task management, Google Calendar for my personal calendar (I have Microsoft Exchange for my work calendar), and Google Drive for note taking. It’s been a fairly easy system to use, and I haven’t had too many problems. However, of course, it relies on me accessing a device of some sort, and spending a lot of time in front of a screen. I’ve been finding that increasingly I don’t want to do that as much, especially outside of work. I’ve also recently been enjoying making handwritten notes (which I sometimes digitise aspects of). As I’ve started to experience an increase in the number of non-professional appointments and tasks I have (since moving areas we seem to actually have started to have a social life – shock horror!), I decided to try good old fashioned pen and paper* for organising things.

I started out by trying the Pirongs Lifestyle Journal.

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

This was very pretty and I quite liked the vertical layout as it works well with the fact I love lists. However, it was massive (A4 hardback) and didn’t seem to quite meet all my needs. I found I was keeping it in the home office so I wasn’t checking it that often and wasn’t using it regularly or reliably enough. As I was thinking about it more, I was reminded of the bullet journal. The bullet journal is an organiser that you design yourself in a blank notebook and adapt to your needs (I recommend watching the video from the bullet journal homepage if you’re interested in learning more – it’s a great introduction). Bullet journalling is something that had intrigued me for a while but sounded a bit too difficult for me at the time. However, armed with a new notebook and an hour or two in a hotel room, I numbered the pages of the notebook, created an index page and a future log, and started my bullet journal. Since then I’ve been doing it each day (about 6 weeks now) and have adapted things as I go. I upgraded to a medium (A5) sized Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook that already has numbered pages and an index, and I’ve been using that for just over a month (spoiler alert: I love it!). I’ve discussed my experience a bit on Twitter and some people were interested in hearing more so here’s a brief overview of how I’m using my bullet journal at the moment.

Calendars

I like to be able to see a yearly calendar at a glance, and like the grid format so I made one of those for the front of my bullet journal. I don’t use this that often but it is useful for seeing how many weeks away something is or what day of the week a date is. I keep mine as is and don’t add any key dates to this page.

Bullet Journal - Yearly overview

Bullet Journal – Yearly overview

I then have a page for each month where I list the dates and days of the week. I’ve done up to the end of December so far as I don’t tend to need to plan too far in advance so this is plenty. I use this to note any travel (e.g. conferences, meetings) or any events. This is helpful for me to see at a glance what things I have on and when.

Bullet Journal - Monthly overview

Bullet Journal – Monthly overview

I’ve actually found that I’m not referring back to this often so am thinking of experimenting with a slightly different approach (happy to share more information later so if you are interested in an update let me know!).

Daily logs

The main part of the bullet journal is the daily logs. This is where I write down any appointments, tasks I have due or things I want to do that day. I also choose to write down highlights of my day at the end of each day. Some people use the logs to jot down notes too, but I don’t currently do this. I include an icon for the weather which I’ve seen a few people do and I quite like as something more visual and I find it interesting to look back on. At the moment I’m in the process of slowly moving over everything, but my bullet journal initially started out as non-work tasks as I have Omnifocus for my work tasks, so this is mostly non-work tasks at present.

Bullet Journal - Daily Logs

Bullet Journal – Daily Logs

Key

There are a few different versions of symbols people use in bullet journaling. This has developed over time and so I initially tried the official bullet journal way. I have to confess though that only lasted a few days as I found it too complex for me and I couldn’t easily see which tasks had been done and which still needed to be done. I think if I was using it to store notes and other types of information it could be useful, but for tasks I found it too much. I have decided to use the following icons (for now, this may change!):

  • Clock symbol for appointments
  • Open tick box for tasks to be completed
  • Shaded tick box for completed tasks
  • Crossed out line for removed tasks (those that are no longer relevant)
  • Tick box with arrow for migrated tasks (those I’ve delayed but are still needing to be done)
  • Heart icon for highlights of the day or things to be thankful for

Collections

Collections are used to describe any other notes, particularly lists. I have a number of these such as blog post ideas, books to read, TV to watch, monthly favourites (for my gluten free blog and my beauty blog) and packing lists. At the moment I add these in when I think I need a new one, but I imagine in future if this is something I continue I’ll be able to add most of these at the beginning. The beauty of the bullet journal though is that you can add these wherever as you’ll have them in your index to find more easily. This gives you an idea of the things I have in mine at the moment:

Bullet Journal - Index Page

Bullet Journal – Index Page

Habit tracker

Something I added in April and am finding quite interesting is a habit tracker. I currently log my exercise via iDoneThis, but thought it might be something I could do in my bullet journal instead. I’m also trying to read more frequently and do more crafts, so I included those in the habit tracker. The other two columns for this month are to track if I completed my daily log in my bullet journal and if I tracked my food/exercise in MyFitnessPal. I recently added a column to tick if I’m in bed by 10.30pm as I’m slipping into bad habits with staying up late (I’m not doing so well at the moment you’ll see!). It seems to be working well so far, as both a motivator and as a visual way to see what I have done, so I think I’ll continue with this in some form in future. I may well change the columns each month if I want to motivate myself to develop new habits, and I’m planning to try a different layout next month.

Bullet Journal - Habit Tracker

Bullet Journal – Habit Tracker

Design

You’ll see from my photos that my bullet journal isn’t the prettiest you’ll come across, and definitely not the most colourful. I did get out my coloured fine liners when I started my current bullet journal but I found this added another level of complexity and anxiety that I didn’t need. I don’t want it to be complicated so sticking to one colour is good for me 🙂 Some people love to add doodles and sketches and drawing and quotes, but for now I’m keeping mine nice and simple and focusing just on using it to help me organise things rather than as a scrapbook. I am getting quite fussy about the pen I use though and recently spent about an hour in a stationery store trying out all the pens (I have a pen test page at the back of my bullet journal now!). I’m left handed so smudging is always a potential issue. I also press on very hard when I write so bend or break fine liners easily, but I love the way they write. I love the Sharpie Pen in the first few photos but have bent the nib after a month! I’m now trying out the UniPin which is surviving so far but may well suffer a similar fate. If anyone has any recommendations for more robust fine liners I’d love to hear them!

My thoughts so far

I’m really enjoying the flexibility of the bullet journal and the fact I can adapt it to suit my needs. It’s helping me keep things organised and I am enjoying updating my bullet journal, particularly at the beginning and end of the day. I’m also really enjoying reading blog posts and watching videos to see how other people use their bullet journals and get new ideas I can adapt. I tried a weekly spread for the first time last week and have adapted that for this week, and I’m looking forward to trying some new things for next month (which may well actually involve scrapping the weekly spread but that’s the beauty of this system, you can just adapt it and see what works for you!).

I’m also looking at ways to integrate my existing practice into the bullet journal which I think will help me move my work tasks over. I use the GTD approach as it seems to work fairly well for me so I’m looking at ways to integrate that into my bullet journal. I have a few ideas but suggestions very welcome!

So there you have it, my bullet journal experience so far. If you use a bullet journal I’d love to hear your tips and advice too – is there anything you find really useful that I haven’t mentioned? I’d be happy to do an update once I’ve used it a little more to see if it sticks – let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know more about.

* Actual pen and paper not a service called ‘Pen and paper’ that my partner though I meant when I was discussing it with him!

My authentic leadership journey

A little over a year ago, as part of my Clore Leadership Short Course, I had the luxury of spending a little over 24 hours reflecting on myself, my strengths, and how to lead authentically. It was tough but transformational. We’d been set some homework to complete in our rooms the night before the workshop, and I suddenly regressed back to a 15 year old version of myself panicking about making it as perfect as I could. After about 4hrs of thinking, planning, and drawing, I came up with my lifeline.

My lifeline

My lifeline

The next day I shared this with two of my group, who were incredibly generous with their time and listened to my story, asking interesting questions to encourage me to reflect more on the common themes which bring together the things I’m good at, things I’m interested in, achievements I’m proud of and people who have been influential during my life. This was a brilliant exercise for me and really helped me identify some common strands to what drives me. After some more reflection thanks to group exercises on our motivators, I managed to bring it all together to identify my three core guiding principles which I then presented back to my group. I’ve continued to develop in various ways since the day I spent thinking about these, but my values remain the same – and I imagine they will do, as they’re core to who I am. They have been present through all areas of my life since childhood.

My guiding principles

So what are my authentic values?

1. Understanding how things, and people, work

I’ve always been incredibly inquisitive (to the point of frustration for some people!). I love learning how things work; Chemistry and Physics were two of my favourite subjects at school, though I loved most subjects as I just love learning. This has continued into adulthood; personal and professional development is something I’ve always been very engaged with.

2. Sharing my learning with others

I’ve wanted to share my learning with others from a very young age – in reception I apparently used to help other children read (I learnt to read quite early thanks to my parents). I’m fortunate that I’ve always enjoyed Maths, but appreciate many people don’t, so have often helped my friends understand some of the Maths and particularly Statistics needed in courses (I did this a lot during my undergraduate Sports Science degree). One of my favourite parts of the jobs I’ve had in libraries has always been teaching, and of course I have always enjoyed blogging (I currently have four blogs).

3. Showing appreciation for the wonderful people I come into contact with

Appreciation comes in many different parts of my life, and although I’m not great at showing this verbally (but am getting better, again thanks to Clore), I like to do small things to show my appreciation. I enjoy making things for people to thank them; this is one of my favourite things to do in terms of crafts. I also love getting gifts and surprises for people and spend a long time planning these.

Your guiding principles

Of course, the fact that one of my guiding principles is to share my learning means it makes sense for me to share this learning about my authentic values to help others learn more about their own guiding principles. I’ve discussed it with some people in person, and have included some aspects in workshops, but thought it would also be useful to share my experience in a blog post. I’d love to encourage others to do a similar reflective exercise as it was so useful for me.

I was delighted to be contacted by the Leadership and Management Division of SLA who were keen for me to run a workshop for them at the SLA Conference this year. The proposal I put forward was successful so I’ll be delivering the following workshop in Philadelphia in June:

Leading with Authenticity: Understanding Your Strengths and Utilizing Them (Sat 11th June, 1-5pm, Philadelphia)

I’m really looking forward to the session, and hope it will start a similar process for attendees as my experience at Clore did for me. If you’re coming to SLA this year and are interested in authenticity I’d love to see you there.

I’ll also be talking about my own leadership journey, my guiding principles, and my experience coordinating the CILIP Leadership Programme in the following session:

Reflections on Leadership: LMD Afternoon Tea with Jo Alcock (Tue 14th June, 2-3.30pm, Philadelphia)

If you’re not coming to SLA Conference but would like to learn more about authenticity, please get in touch as I really do love to share my learning 🙂

Resources

Bill George – Discover Your True North (and the accompanying Fieldbook which has reflective exercises similar to the ones I did at Clore)

Last week I attended a UKSG workshop called ‘Make Yourself Heard’ which was for anyone wanting to improve their public speaking skills. Public speaking is something I do quite a lot of in my day job, and although I enjoy it and I’m generally a lot more comfortable with it than I used to be, I can still get very nervous. I’d hoped the workshop might give me some tips on how to better prepare and how to manage my nerves.

Speaking at CILIP Conference 2015

Speaking at CILIP Conference 2015 (I was unusually nervous at this one)


Within the first few minutes I realised I was going to really enjoy the workshop (always a good thing to realise!). The facilitators introduced the day and explained how we were going to learn, and I was immediately taken back to my time at Clore – we were assured that the space was a safe space to explore our feelings about public speaking, and that we would be encouraged to go outside of our comfort zone but not as far as our panic zone. We were also asked to respect confidentiality, to listen to others and pay everyone the respect they deserve (including giving our full attention). This might sound obvious, but I really like it when a day begins in this way as I find it really helps set the scene. It’s something I always do with focus groups, but I’m planning to make sure I do this in my workshops in future.

We were introduced to the content, and at that point I realised that what I actually wanted to get out of the day wasn’t tips for managing my nerves, it was actually something much more fundamental. My learning goal was therefore:

To learn how to integrate my authentic drivers into my public speaking.

Quite a big ask, but I can happily say it definitely delivered!

Throughout the day we were encouraged to reflect on our experiences, pay attention to how we feel about upcoming speaking engagements, and think about how we could approach them differently. One learning point for me was when we looked at the different perspectives we have on public speaking. We were given a scenario of preparing for an important presentation on a topic we hadn’t spoken about before but knew about with 3 weeks notice, and I viewed this one positively (I chose the statement that said “A great opportunity to grow and learn”) but when we were given a scenario to share something that was a life affirming experience for us and we were really passionate about I chose the statement “The thought alone makes me feel nervous/anxious”. This wasn’t a common thing in my group and the facilitators encouraged me to unpick that a little more. I think it’s linked to my reluctance to ‘hold the space’ which I experience in both work contexts and social contexts. I’m more comfortable sharing factual information as I can see a clear benefit to sharing that with people, but I’m less comfortable sharing personal experiences as it feels very indulgent and I’m not always sure people will be interested. I’m aware this is an issue I need to overcome and I’m working on that (I feel like I’ve already made some progress on this front since the workshop last week but have a lot more work to do!). 

Our facilitators also shared with us four cornerstones and seven habits of effective public speaking, and we watched some videos of good (and poor) public speaking to help us consider what makes something effective and how this varies  depending on the context and the speaker. I found this really useful for helping me consider my learning goal of working out what feels authentic to me rather than following certain generic rules. Formal public speaking doesn’t feel natural or enjoyable for me but I realised there are things I can do to make these type of situations more appropriate for me (not standing behind a lecturn for example, or wearing an oufit I’m more comfortable in). These small things will, I think, help me focus more on the content of the message I’m delivering which should be better for both myself and my audience. 

We also got the opportunity to practice our public speaking skills at the end of the day and got some really useful feedback from the facilitators. I was very pleased with my feedback – I was told I came across confidently and that my body talk was good (I remember once learning that this was a bad habit but I’m glad that’s not necessarily the case!). The facilitators commented that I presented well when I didn’t refer to my notes which I was pleased to hear as this also felt far more natural to me. I was encouraged to slow down (there’s that point about holding the space again!) and to incorporate stories and jokes into my presentations more. 

The main thing I took from the session is that I should do my public speaking the way that feels natural to me, and integrate all I’ve learnt about being authentic into my public speaking (both formal and informal). For me that includes making sure I am focusing on talking about things I’ve learnt and found interesting and sharing this with others in a language that is easy for them to understand (which will mean adapting the message depending on who I am talking to). Another commonality with this training and what I learnt at Clore was also the importance of story telling so I’m going to try to include this in my public speaking more – whether this is my own story, or using stories about others (e.g. people who have used the service I’m speaking about) to explain things more easily.

I found the workshop incredibly helpful, and it came at just the right time. I have quite a few public speaking engagements in the next few weeks and months so will be practicing doing these in slightly different ways to see what works best for me.  I’m presenting later today and plan not to use my slides (other than a few key ones with screenshots or quotes). I’m planning to include story telling and will see if I can add a joke or two (this might be a bit more tricky given the topic is usage statistics!). If anything goes particularly well, or particularly badly, over the next few weeks of experimentation I’ll share in a later blog post. Wish me luck!

Just over a year ago I completed my Clore Leadership Short Course; a 2 week residential leadership development course. I wrote a blog post summarizing some of my main learning points but said that I thought I’d probably be reflecting on my experience for along time to come. So have I? ABSOLUTELY!

I commented at the time that I came out of Clore a different person to who I was when I started. In a way this was true, but I think I’ll always be evolving – those two weeks just had a dramatic impact so I felt totally different. However since then I have continued to develop, and as I wrote in a recent tweet:

I feel like Clore was a catalyst to beginning a different kind of learning journey. It’s one that crosses all areas of my life; professional and personal. It’s one that challenges me to reflect on a very regular basis to try to understand more about myself – my needs, my motivators, my strengths, my preferences, and my desires. I’m learning all the time, and I love it.

The week after my Clore course, my partner and I put our house on the market. Due to some unfortunate circumstances (poor estate agent choice and the fact the house was a leasehold property) it took longer than we’d hoped to sell. I found the whole process incredibly stressful, and learnt a lot about myself and the way I cope with things. Mixed in with that we had mental health issues, financial worries, counselling, and psychotherapy. I didn’t find any of it easy, but I learnt so much about myself and my partner. During this period I was holding onto the hope that moving would help with some of these problems. We moved in December, and fortunately it has helped enormously so far. It’s thrown up new things though, most challenging of which is managing a more active social life and understanding how that impacts other areas of life (and how an increase in socialising affects me and my energy levels – I’ve had some form of socialising every day for the last 11 days and I’m exhausted!).

Throughout all the challenges over the last year, I’ve been using many of the skills and techniques I learnt and practiced at Clore including coaching, effective listening, solving problems creatively, giving feedback, and receiving feedback. I’ve always been reflective by my nature (hence blogging as part of my process) but this last year I’ve allowed myself time and space to reflect more regularly, and it’s been incredibly useful.

One of the big themes from Clore for me was authenticity. I absolutely loved the session we had on authentic leadership – I had a number of lightbulb moments that day, and what I reflected on and shared with my group has stuck with me and still guides me in terms of the way I do things now. It’s something I find incredibly useful to remind myself of on a regular basis, as it helps me stay true to myself and harnesses my strengths. I was delighted to be able to put this into practice in a recent training course on public speaking, and plan to blog about this soon.

I’m a big advocate of authentic leadership, and have encouraged the Library Leadership Reading Group I co-ordinate to include readings on this. I’ve also facilitated a leadership workshop which incorporated elements of reflection on authentic leadership, and am building on this to deliver a full workshop on this topic for SLA Conference in Philadelphia later this year. Please do consider signing up if you’re coming to the SLA Conference – more information is available in the programme.

Clore also introduced me to a group of amazing people. We bonded whilst we were on the course, and got to know each other very well over the two weeks. We helped each other through the more difficult parts of the course, and celebrated with each other in the good times. Since then, we’ve continued to support each other. I feel very fortunate to have met each and every one of my group as they have all taught me something and been a great sense of support. Some in particular have had a huge impact on my life and I’m sure will continue to do so for many years to come. Last October I went to Blackpool to our first reunion, and we have other reunions planned. I love spending time with them – they’re all excellent listeners and ask such effective questions that always get me thinking.

With some of my Clore group in Blackpool

With some of my Clore group in Blackpool

Fortunately, I also get the opportunity to have a ‘Clore top up’ every few months as my group organised Action Learning Set training after our course, and have now established a number of regional Action Learning Sets (which are open to anyone who has completed a Clore Short Course, Clore Emerging Leaders Course, or Clore Fellowship). Mine met for the first time a few weeks ago and have our next one scheduled. These work really well, particularly because we’ve all had similar training and practice in coaching.

So, yes, what I learnt at Clore has had a huge impact on my life and will be with me for many years to come. As I use the techniques and approaches I learnt there more, they become a more integral part of my life, but they’re things I can always improve on and intend to continue to practice where I can.

In case you can’t tell by the gushing, I can’t recommend the Clore Leadership Short Course highly enough. If you work in the cultural sector and are interested in learning more about yourself and your leadership (in all areas of your life) I would encourage you to apply. More information is available on the Clore Leadership Programme website so keep an eye out on there for future opportunities.

On the last day of the year for the past few years now I’ve blogged a review of my achievements during the year. 2015 however has been quite a different year and I want to mark it in a different way. There have been some great times this year, but unfortunately there have been some not so great times, and through the good and bad I have learnt some key lessons that span across all areas of my life. I wanted to document these, both for myself to aid my reflection, and for others in case these may also apply to you. So here’s the main lessons I learnt this year:

Quality not quantity

It’s a common cliche (in fact many of these lessons may be, sorry!), but there’s definite truth in this for me. By this I mean quality of everything – items, experiences, and people.

I read a number of books that struck a chord with me this year, including Stuffocation: Living More With Less and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I used to be a bit of a hoarder but a project I managed in 2009 taught me the value in decluttering. I managed a special collection that needed attention and following a huge weeding process found that users thanked me for buying new stock though actually it had been there for a year or two but was previously difficult to spot amongst all the other material. The books I read this year, and my experience in preparing to moving house, cemented this lesson for me and I now have a lot less stuff and feel so much better for it. I can now focus on enjoying what I have and not feel crippled by decisions from having too many options.

Did I really need this many nail polishes?

Did I really need this many nail polishes?

I’ve also begun to echo this focus on quality in other areas of my life and am appreciating it (e.g. a smaller number of current projects, focusing on things I’m really passionate about rather than spreading myself too much with too many things going on).

Focus on fulfilment in the short term, not striving for happiness in the long term

For as long as I can remember I’ve dedicated a lot of energy on working out what makes me happy and planning to do more of that or similar things in future. That seems like a fairly reasonable thing, however thanks to some conversations with a therapist and lots of personal reflection (and shared reflections thanks to my amazingly supportive partner and some fabulous friends), I’ve realised it doesn’t work for me. Two small changes to the approach have made a huge difference to my life. The first is the change from happiness to fulfilment – yes, it might just be semantics to some, but for me it makes a big difference. The second is the change from long term to shorter term, which is still a work in progress and something I think I’ll always struggle with as a natural planner, but definitely something I have benefited from and hope to incorporate more. The Power of Now was an interesting read on this topic (though some of the book really irked me!). In the past I have done things because I planned to, rather than because I wanted to. By the time it came round to doing them however, I may not actually have wanted to; I never really considered it as it was on the plan so of course needs to be done! I realise this makes me sound a little crazy but fortunately Claire did a much better job of explaining this in her blog post on A New Chapter where she says:

People change and adapt over time and what you really want today might not be what you want in a year

This year I’ve been more open to this and have been making more decisions based on the present situation.

Previously I have also been guilty of focusing so much on saving for the future (financially as well as in other aspects) and not focusing on what’s happening in the present or trying to enjoy the process of getting to the elusive future happiness.

Learning to focus on the present, and leading a fulfilling life now rather than punishing myself or denying myself of things because of the past or the future, has been transformational for me. This blog post is one example; I’m not following my usual structure of my annual reflection because ‘that’s what I’ve always done’ isn’t an acceptable reason to do something for me anymore. It’s also massively changed my approach to personal finance which is a good thing but is taking some getting used to!

It’s OK to be vulnerable, and to share any struggles

I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who are authentic and not afraid to show their weaknesses, but I don’t feel like I was fully doing that myself. Because of this people sometimes seemed to have an inaccurate perception of me which I found a little unsettling. For example, I speak in public quite a bit through my work, and I enjoy it. I also find it absolutely exhausting, and am usually a bag of nerves before I start to speak. I’ve developed coping mechanisms over time and sometimes the nerves and tiredness aren’t as much of an issue, but I think they’ll always be there to some extent.

When I spoke at the CILIP Conference earlier this year I was really nervous

When I spoke at the CILIP Conference earlier this year I was really nervous

I haven’t consciously tried to hide these things, but because people tend to just see the bit during the public speaking, and I’ve been told I come across as competent and confident, I don’t think people realise how hard public speaking can be for me. I’m not after the sympathy (please put away any mocking violins you have in your mind!), and I fully intend to continue speaking in public as the pros massively outweigh the cons, but I’be realised I need to share the things I struggle with more. Partly it’s about being fully honest (by not hiding anything), partly it’s about showing I’m human and have weaknesses, partly it’s about developing a more emotional connection with others, and partly it’s about setting an example so others don’t feel afraid to accept and share their struggles. Also sometimes others can help out which is always a bonus (some of my closest friends know to give me time to myself before and after public speaking for example, and that helps me a lot).

Have more fun

Unfortunately it took a therapist, a fair bit of money, a few worksheets, some soul searching, and some tricky conversations to make me realise that I need to have more fun in my life. Fortunately since then I’ve had a lot more fun (seeing family and friends more, trying new things, going on holiday) and am much kinder too myself too.

Post zipwire at Center Parcs in September

Post zipwire at Center Parcs in September

And on that note, I’m going to end this blog post there. I hope you all learnt something from your experiences in 2015 (please feel free to share in the comments if you’d like to), and I hope you have a fabulous 2016. Cheers! 🍾

Do librarians struggle with work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a hot topic in all fields of work at the moment it seems, including librarianship. Many people I chat to outside of the profession are bewildered about this – don’t librarians just deal with enquiries and switch off when they’re not at the library? Well maybe some do, but none I know.

Most librarians I know do indeed spend some time doing customer facing duties such as answering enquiries, recommending resources, and teaching information literacy skills sessions. But in order to do any of these activities competently, there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to go on. If we just take one of those examples of teaching information literacy, it’s not just a case of turning up and teaching. It’s a case of developing their own knowledge, refining their teaching skills (many librarians hold teaching qualifications and many academic librarians are Fellows of the Higher Education Academy), planning and scheduling sessions, preparing teaching materials, leading the session, and supporting learners after the session. Librarians also need to know their users and their needs, which often involves a lot of communication, research, and relationship management. These aren’t things that can be done easily or completed and then forgotten about; they’re constantly evolving. Much of the work of librarians is done digitally, including a lot of emails, so many don’t need to be physically located in the library to work (meaning they can take work home).

Then you take someone like me, who is a librarian, but not working in a traditional librarian role. I am part of an academic library, but much of my work is externally-funded project work. All of my work (both internal and external) is project-based, so it varies massively every day. Sometimes I’m working on fairly short projects of a few months, sometimes on longer term projects over multiple years. I’m always juggling at least 3 projects, usually many more. I teach research skills, both for my own organisation and on behalf of other organisations. I’m also an active supporter of continuing professional development (both for myself and enabling others) so am often involved in other voluntary responsibilities to support the profession. Although my work is all in the library and information sector, and supports librarians, it’s probably more similar to that of a researcher or project manager in other fields rather than that of a librarian.

So do librarians have the same struggles with work-life balance? Absolutely! I certainly do, and many of my professional contacts do too. It’s often a topic of conversation in groups I’m part of.

My top tips for better work-life balance

I thought I’d share a few tips and resources for those interested in improving their work-life balance.

  1. Learn to respect (and protect) your time – I used to volunteer for many extra things (in all aspects of my life) and was often expected to pick things up at short notice. I then used to worry about having lots of things to juggle and keeping them all on track. Fortunately, aside from my masters dissertation taking longer than initially planned, I coped OK, but I rarely got any rest time. I have slowly come to realise that down time is incredibly important for my physical and mental wellbeing, and the person in control of that time is me. As soon as I started respecting and valuing my time more, I found that others did too.
  2. Learn to say no when appropriate or necessary – as an extension to the previous point, I had to learn to say no to things when I simply didn’t have the time, or when it wasn’t appropriate for me to do something (or was more appropriate for someone else to). I found this incredibly difficult at first, but now find it much easier. I wrote one of my CILIP columns on this topic; the PDF is available: The Art of Saying No.
  3. Consider what works for you and your role in terms of working arrangements – I’m very fortunate to be working in a role that suits me well in terms of working arrangements. I work fairly independently and am trusted to organise my work to meet any deadlines. I have been working from home occasionally on an informal basis for a few years, and recently had a formal home working application approved. This gives me greater flexibility which is useful for my unusual role (with irregular days and some long distance travel), and also means I can balance things outside of work easier than when I commuted into an office a fair distance from home. I appreciate this is an unusual setup and wouldn’t work for every role or person, but I’d recommend spending time thinking about whether you could adapt the way you work in terms of hours or location (either formally or informally) to both help support the type of work you do and encourage a better work-life balance.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time – this is one I still struggle with to be honest (working from home doesn’t help here!). I find my mind constantly flitting between so many different tasks which isn’t productive. From a work-life balance perspective, I struggle to switch off from work in evenings, weekends, and whilst on leave. This means I’m not really making the most of the down time to help raise the ‘life’ side of the scale because I’m still thinking about the work things. To help combat this I find it helpful to use to-do lists to quickly capture any of these thoughts and get back to what I was doing; turn my email off my mobile devices when I’m on annual leave; and try not to sit in front of a computer during evenings/weekends. I also don’t tend to check my phone whilst I’m with family and friends to focus on enjoying my time with them. You may well have much better tips and techniques for this one – let me know if so 🙂
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others – I’m aware of the irony in including this one in a list of things I’m sharing with others as obviously these are things that have worked for me but they may well not work for you. The most important point I’d like to pass on though is this one. We’re all different people, with different demands on our time and different levels of acceptable stress. By all means discuss these matters with other people (I’ve learnt a lot that way hence wanting to write this post in case it helps others), but most importantly of all, listen to your own mind and body and do what feels right for you.

Do you have any tips for a better work-life balance? Please share in the comments if so.

Recommended resources:

Goodbye nine to five; hello work-life balance – Guardian

The restorative power of taking a few days out – Sali Hughes

You Really Couldn’t Have Had It All – Attempting Elegance

Work/life balance, stress reduction, learning, and having fun – INALJ

Links to resources on work-life balance – LIScareer.com

Back in 2009 a terrified version of myself, along with a group of others who were apprehensive if not terrified also, presented my first conference presentation. It was the New Professionals Conference in London and I had to stand on a stage in front of over 100 people and share a presentation I’d written. I say “had to” but actually I’d chosen to. I wanted to share my experiences using social networking (a relatively new thing back then!) and encourage other librarians to join me in blogging and tweeting. I wanted to experience public speaking at a professional conference to stretch myself. I felt physically ill until my presentation, but from about 20 seconds in to my presentation that all changed and I loved it. We were all first time speakers so the audience knew to go easy on us, and many of the audience were new professionals too. Everyone was so supportive, including those who weren’t new professionals but had come along to see what we had to say. People smiled at me as I spoke, and others took notes. Many people came up to me after my presentation to thank me, ask questions, and congratulate me. They told me I didn’t appear nervous (despite the fact that I was convinced I looked like a nervous wreck). Aside from the whole being absolutely terrified thing, I actually really enjoyed it.

So I did more. I wrote proposals for other conferences, and was invited to speak at other events. My confidence grew and although I always get nervous, I learnt how to deal with the nerves better and I knew that once I began speaking I’d be fine. I have always prepared well and only ever speak about topics I am very familiar with, and generally about things I am passionate about which always helps. I still get nervous, and I can definitely improve, but I think I’m starting to fall out of love with presenting in this way. Why? Well, I’ve been having an affair.

Some of the conferences I have been invited to speak at in more recent years have asked me to deliver a workshop rather than a presentation. This appeals to the part of me that really wants to help others develop – I always wanted to teach, and I find it incredibly rewarding. Seeing someone have a ‘light bulb moment’ because of something I’ve asked them to reflect on or to apply to their own context is wonderful. I generally find that for me, facilitating active learning results in something more exciting than the traditional method of delivering a presentation.

As a learner, I definitely prefer this approach (which I appreciate may skew my opinion). During the Clore Leadership Short Course in February, we had a number of external facilitators delivering full day or half day workshops over the two weeks. Many of them involved a lot of group discussion as well as group and individual activities. I absolutely loved it and learned so much, my head was full of ideas (it was exhausting too, but an incredible learning experience). On one of the days we entered the room and I noticed we had handouts with lots of presentation slides. My heart sunk. To be fair, we did have some discussion points in the session. I learned a few new things, and some of the points made were very interesting, but I felt like I was back in a conference room rather than in my lovely active learning bubble. I noticed as I was reflecting on the fortnight that the sessions I’d enjoyed the most were those where the facilitators prompted us to think for ourselves. They often didn’t share as much in terms of theory, and focused more on sharing their experiences and encouraging us to share our own experiences and perspectives. They were incredibly skilled facilitators, but in a different way to traditional presenting. They created a safe, supportive environment to enable us to share our thoughts and our learning without fear of ‘being wrong’. They encouraged us to explore things and learn from each other. They gave us space to think.

In the workshops I have delivered I know sometimes I have tried to pack too much content into them, and sadly the active learning parts are the parts that sometimes get cut a little short. However having been a participant in this type of environment I can now see that for many workshops less is definitely more in terms of sharing content and that for these types of situation more emphasis (and therefore more time) should be on the discussions, activities and opportunities for reflection.

Recently I’ve facilitated workshops on leadership, a topic that I believe we all have knowledge of in some way and something that although I do have experience of I do not consider myself an expert in (I don’t think I ever will be; I support the view that leadership is learned and that we always have more to learn about ourselves and how we interact with others). When I started planning the workshops, I had lots of ideas of activities I wanted to do, but I also for some reason felt like I needed presentation slides. In practice, I absolutely loved the activities I facilitated (and received good feedback on them) and I didn’t much enjoy the sections I “presented” – even when the slides were just photos or pictures with very little text. It felt too structured and didn’t enable me to adapt what I said as much. Facilitating rather than presenting is a very different experience; I found it just as tiring, if not moreso, but so much more rewarding. I learned about the participants and was able to support them as they needed it, and I could tailor the guidance I provided and the topics covered based on their needs. It’s definitely a skill I’d like to develop.

I think for most of the things I do there will be part that needs presentation slides, and I’m aware that some people prefer to learn in this way so I am unlikely to remove it completely, but I’ll certainly be thinking very carefully about whether a presentation is the most appropriate medium in future. Of course this does partly depend on the topic as well as the audience and the situation (venue, time etc.); I do think there is still a place for traditional presenting, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do it (I’ll be giving a presentation at a conference next week in fact!), but in future I’ll definitely be considering when honing my facilitation skills may be more appropriate than honing my presentation skills.

What do you think? Do you prefer presenting or facilitating? Any tips for developing my facilitating skills?