Monday, June 25, 2007

June mentoring meeting

Karen and I met up for what is due to be one of our last meetings. We looked at:
  1. Strategies for making the most of my evidence for the portfolio and the best way to present it (e.g. attended Thesaurus course last week, attending K&CUK and Umbrella conferences next week)
  2. Strategies for making the most of planned activities (in PPDP) that aren’t going to happen before I plan to submit (marketing course, writing a website strategy – though there’s still a chance for this one, conducting e-newsletter subscriber survey)
  3. Strategies for effective/efficient use of the evaluative statement
  4. Update to dates on the project plan in light of holidays in May, July, and September
It was, as usual, a good meeting and we managed to cover each of these items. Better still, Karen had some good suggestions!

1. Strategies for making the most of my evidence

This was a relatively quick one. We agreed that the best way to capture the learning and present it as evidence was to write about it in the blog. As a result, our conversation focussed mainly on what aspects to emphasise when writing things up. For example, I attended the CILIP thesaurus course a couple of weeks ago and found it really interesting and very useful but probably not for the reasons that were intended. I still need to write this one up, and will put a link here to it when I do, but basically, I think that what we need in the short term are a series of subject headings and that only in the long-term would we want to look at creating a thesaurus.

Action D: Write about decision to go with subject headings instead of a thesaurus

2. Strategies for making the most of planned activites (in the PPDP) that aren’t going to happen

This was a more meaty one. There are a few things that I planned to do in my PPDP that I submitted but it’s now looking like I won’t do them before September when I want to submit my application. Oops.

For example, I had planned to conduct a survey of our e-newsletter subscribers. Nothing too fancy, just something to help me evaluate the value that is being delivered to our subscribers, gather feedback on some of the changes that I have introduced since I took it over last October, and a mechanism to generate some ideas for improving it. I need to write this situation up as a separate entry (see below) so for now, it will suffice to say that I’m looking at doing the survey a month or so after I hope to submit.

Karen’s suggestion for managing this ‘forced omission’ is to write it up in the blog (as mentioned) and then submit this entry along with a project plan for the delivery of the survey as evidence. We have agreed that it isn’t as good as having done the survey but I will also include an invitation to contact me regarding the project if that would help my application. Form what I understand, the evaluation process can take some time and I may have actually carried out the survey and analysed the returns by the time they are looking through my application.

Action D: Write about survey delay
Action D: create project plan for survey delivery

3. Strategies for effective/efficient use of the evaluative statement

1000 words isn’t very long. As you can see from my entries, I tend to exceed word limits. This part of the submission is going to cause me some real problems. Karen’s first suggestion was to try to make as much use of the detailed CV as possible (given the assessors are expecting something pretty comprehensive and probably a lot longer than the evaluative statement). She provided me with a copy of hers from her Fellowship application back when we were first setting up the mentoring relationship and has suggested that I look at it for guidance. Her second suggestion was to produce a covering page for each item of evidence and to use that space to describe things like the context, the execution and the outcome associated with the piece of evidence. Doing so will free up some valuable space in the evaluative statement and enable me to use a couple of sentences of introduction and reference.

Action D: schedule creation of evidence cover pages

4. Update dates on the project plan

This last item was a reasonably quick one. I went over the changes that I had made to the project plan and talked a bit about why I had moved them around. The main point coming out of this agenda item was that I was no longer looking at submitting on 6 September as I’m going to be on leave that week. As I can’t submit it any earlier (because a year won’t have elapsed since I started) and because I had planned on using that week (i.e. it won’t be ready any earlier), it looks like my new target submission date is going to be 18 September.

That’s pretty much it. It was also encouraging that Karen commented on the fact that it looked like I had everything that I needed and really it was just a matter of finishing a few things off and then getting it all organised and pulled together. I suspect that I will find that bit just as much work, if not more!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What’s the worst curse or expletive you can think of? No, that doesn’t quite capture it...

I came up with quite a few colourful ones this weekend. I have been squirreling away bits and pieces of evidence for my portfolio in a cardboard box in the garage. It squats happily with the other things 'in storage' towards the back of the garage. It has some suitcases, ski and camping equipment, Christmas decorations, an old TV and our kitchen table (which is currently not in the kitchen while we get ready to do some work in there) for company. Every once in a while, I take a few more bits and pieces out to add to it and make a note of them on an evidence grid.

This weekend, I went into the garage to get my bike out for a bit of a ride and what did I discover? That for the past who-knows-how-long, our bathtub has been draining onto the ceiling of the garage and that sometime in the last week, that ceiling finally gave way. The result? A large hole in the ceiling of the garage, a lot of standing water on the floor, very wet suitcases / ski and camping equipment / Christmas decorations / TV (now junk) / kitchen table (now badly damaged)...and a portfolio box, once full of evidence, now full of near-pulp.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How to construct a thesaurus

This is the first CILIP course that I've attended though it isn't the first time I've been here (while studying, I carried out a feasibility study for what was then the Library Association).

There are a couple of courses that were on yesterday and the coffee and registration is in one room for both courses. This is a great idea from a networking perspective but the room is full of tables and chairs meaning that delegates aren't as encouraged to mingle as much as they might be if there were only a few tables. The result, though, is that if people are talking they're only talking to the one or two people in their immediate vicinity. ( here first and sat at a began to fill up but no one is sitting at my table :( Could it be the shaved head, goatee and swastika tattooed on my forehead? Kidding.)

So, at 9:30, we were called up to our meeting room to begin the training session. The presenter, Keith Trickey, was very knowledgeable and a good speaker and he dove straight into things. I have a bit of an academic hidden inside me who really enjoys talking/thinking about things like the ways in which nouns/verbs define adjectives/adverbs as much as the adjectives/adverbs describe the nouns/verbs. For example: heavy suitcase (a suitcase that is heavy) vs. heavy smoker (a person who smokes a lot). This relationship is important because in a thesaurus, words are usually separated from each other meaning that the information that travels in the context is lost. The same is true when verbs are turned into nouns – the verb carries some additional information in its conjugation and context (e.g. manages --> management) that it loses when it becomes a noun.

Anyway, having talked about these problems with dissecting words and compiling them into a thesaurus, it was straight into some of the rules and methods. (It is not my intention to record all of my notes here – I have assembled a mind map to supplement the course handouts for my future reference). Then it was in to some exercises. The exercises were fun and helped to illustrate some of the challenges and to demonstrate some of the rules in practice.

Finally, we spent a bit of time talking about the process of creating a thesaurus. This included ‘top tips’ and a look at some of the software that can be used for creating thesauri. My only criticism of the course, which I thought was otherwise really good, was that the only piece of software that we really talked about in any detail and had a look at was Multites. Quite a lot of time was given over to playing around with it – I started to get bored here...I don’t need to see each of the ways you can add a term in this particular programme.

On the whole, my feedback form contained positive comments/scores (with the exception of this one point about the time spent on Multites).

So, what did I learn? Well, the rules for assembling a list (like whether terms should be singular or plural) are good practical things that I can take away and put into use when it comes to creating a subject thesaurus. I think that I also have a better understanding about the different strengths and weaknesses of the different options (subject headings, taxonomies, thesauri, etc). I also feel more confident about evaluating existing thesauri for application to my contexts.

Having consolidated my thoughts from yesterday, the next set of actions on this matter that I have are around identifying potential existing thesauri for our use and then looking for anyone else who is looking to introduce or has recently introduced, a rail industry-specific thesaurus. Having seen what is involved in creating one from scratch, doing so is definitely my last choice!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Surveying subscribers

We publish a monthly e-newsletter for which I am responsible (content, creation, distribution, data management, subscriber satisfaction / evaluation). I have done quite a bit to improve on each of the first four aspects and now need to turn my attention to the last. Apparantly, we conducted a survey almost two years ago now so I think that another one is about due. On top of that, I’m interested to know what subscribers think of the changes or whether they have even noticed them. Some of the changes they are not likely to have noticed (such as the changes to the template which ensure that every issue conforms to XHTML, WCAG and CSS guidelines - all links open in new window), some they won’t know about (such as the new software we use to manage subscriber data and e-newsletter distribution) and others they almost certainly will have noticed (such as the new look our e-newsletter has received).

I haven't done a whole lot of thinking on this one yet but I can immediately see three ways forward:
  1. The first is to put together a few questions in an email to which we ask subscribers to reply. This is probably the cheapest option but:
    1. it’s probably the least professional and slick looking to the subscribers
    2. it’s more onerous on the subscribers
    3. and certainly creates a fair old bit of work for me in compiling the responses for analysis.
  2. The second is to outsource the entire thing to a company specialising in this sort of work. This is likely to yield the most professional-looking result for the subscribers and would be the least onerous for me in terms of data compilation and analysis but is almost certainly going to be the most expensive option.
  3. The third option is to use something like (opens in new window) which would enable us to create our own online surveys and does the data complilation and some basic analysis for you. It’s the least flexible of the options (you are working within the confines of an OTS product) but it probably offers the best combination of professional appearance, simplicity for subscribers, simplicity for me, and cost.
I have had a go at putting something together use (there is a free version available but I think that we would want to use one of the paid subscription versions as the benefits of doing so are in our favour – e.g. limitations on the number of forms submitted are raised or removed depending on which package you opt for) and am happy enough with it.

Has anyone out there done a survey like this before using a tool like What software did you use? Any ‘top tips’ I might use?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Metadata and the RMS

The Business Support team (of which I am a member) has been working on the last few aspects of a project to introduce a workflow management system that we refer to as the Research Management System (RMS). When I started looking at how we might apply a metadata schema to our publications and how we might store that metadata (database vs. embedded), the RMS seemed like the most sensible way of capturing the metadata and certainly presented a way of storing it as well (though this isn’t my preferred option – more on that later).

Creating a schema

I looked around at other organisations and tried to find a schema that we might adopt but they were either too tailored to their current applications or were too general. My conclusion was that it was best to create something that could be adopted by the industry as a whole but that would certainly meet R&D’s needs. I have already written a bit about this work but as a reminder, I basically assembled a series of elements from the Dublin Core and the e-Government Metadata Standard and then created a few that were specific either to the industry (e.g. Asset Type) or to R&D (e.g. Research Objective). For as many elements as possible, I have used existing, internationally-recognised encoding schemes (e.g. W3C’s Date-Time format) and for the R&D-specific ones, I have used schemes developed through a consultative process with our Heads of Research Section and a selection of Research Managers (e.g. Audience Group). I have created the Application Profile though I have yet to create the XML definitions and publish them on our website, though this is ultimately my objective.

Applying the metadata

The RMS is due to go live next week and the metadata schema, along with the controlled vocabularies that I have had to create to support some of the R&D- and industry-specific fields, will be put to the test. Without going into too much detail here, we have worked as many of the elements into the process flow as possible so that as our Research Managers work through a project and record it in the RMS, some of the data that they enter is held in metadata fields for later application to any publications that emerge from the research. Clearly, not all of the elements can be populated this way (title for example can only be completed once the publication has been completed) but many can (such as research topic).

At the end of the research process, there is a knowledge management stage where the method for publishing, promoting and evaluating the publication is captured and the remaining metadata elements are completed. Some of these are set to defaults that will almost certainly not need to change, such as the publisher (that is pretty much always going to be our organisation). It is all looking like it should work but of course there is really only one way to find out for sure.


My one disappointment in this project was the inability to sort out a controlled vocabulary for subject element in time for the launch of the RMS. The problem I encountered is that existing controlled vocabularies are either too granular (for example, SELCAT ( have a highly detailed thesaurus on the topic of Level Crossings, just one of the many areas of research that we pursue) or insufficiently granular (the Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary, or IPSV, directs users to categorise anything having to do with the railways, from electrification to passenger crowding, under Rail transport). Developing one of our own is just too big a task to try to sort out in only a few weeks (at the same time as all of the other projects that I am working on) so for the time being, the field in the RMS will be populated with: [IPSV] Rail transport. Although this is largely useless to us, it helps us tie in our work with that of the Department for Transport and other government bodies applying the IPSV.

Towards completion and "subjectfulness"?

The next stage of this project for me will have three aspects:
  1. The first is to refine the schema and existing vocabularies (Do we have all of the elements that we need? Are there any that have been included that just aren’t necessary? Are the controlled vocabularies: sufficiently granular? too granular? incomplete?)
  2. The second will be to create a final version of the application profile and to publish the element and encoding scheme definitions that I have had to create to accommodate some of the metadata that is specific to our requirements.
  3. The third and final aspect is to resolve this issue of subject headings. I am attending a CILIP workshop tomorrow called “How to construct a thesaurus” which I am hoping will give me some ideas and strategies for solving this problem. I would like to use existing vocabularies (to build in as much interoperability as possible) where possible. Maybe the solution will be to use things like the SELCAT vocabulary and the rolling stock manufacturers’ parts vocabularies but to only go down to a particular level within them (not sure what the implications of doing so would be, yet).
Metadata in the database vs. metadata in the document

I have already written about this little bug-bear of mine but it is still an issue for me. At the moment, I am going along with a database-held metadata solution but this is largely due to the presence of this option and the distinct lack of any alternatives. I think that once the metadata schema is relatively set and the encoding schemes in use, that I will turn my attention to resolving the issue of how we embed the metadata into the documents themselves...

Sunday, June 10, 2007


One of the priorities that our Technical Writer has is to introduce xml-based content classification to better enable content reuse. This is something that could be of benefit to our organisation as a whole and we are eager to get others to start thinking about it. Last year, two of the team attended a conference called X-Pubs (opens in new window) and found it really helped them to move their thinking on this topic forward. I was hoping to go this year (it was last week) but given that I am already out of the office for a Thesaurus course (opens in new window) tomorrow, the Knowledge & Content UK conference (opens in new window) and the CILIP Umbrella conference (opens in new window), both at the end of this month, it would have meant that I just wasn’t able to keep some of the day-to-day aspects of my job moving forward (why is it that all of these conferences are in June???) and my event-supported CPD was pretty healthy as it was. As a result, the plan was to try to get some of the people in the organisation who we want to have thinking about xml and content reuse to attend instead. Unfortunately, there were no takers…

Is there anyone out there who attended X-Pubs this year?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Umbrella 2007 – clippers2007 wiki

My company has agreed to pay for me to attend the Umbrella conference this year. I’d not heard of it before my mentor suggested that it might be worth attending and as it is in my backyard this year, it seemed like a good plan. Fortunately, I have an employer who believes in supporting staff CPD (it helped that they didn’t have to pay for travel or accommodation) so they were happy to give me the time and the delegate fees.

I had sort of forgotten about it, to be honest, as I had taken my eye off of the CPD ball lately but reading another Chartership colleague’s blog ‘Musings of a chartering librarian’ (opens in new window) this morning, I was reminded that a few of us on the LIS-CILIP-REG list (a listserv for chartership candidates) had agreed to update a wiki together – (opens in new window). So I have just gone and added my two cents to the ‘Who we are’ page.

I hope to be able to make some notes at the Conference that I can post both here and add to the wiki…

Managing Up

My experience of managing a team of people has taught me that there are a few rules to follow (mainly HR-driven ones) and that after that, it’s a case of good manners, good planning, good sense and experience. Each person is different so trying to define ‘how to manage a person or team’ can only ever be boiled down to a few basic principles.

Managing upwards is something that I suppose we all engage in (even if that only ever looks like ‘I can get that ready for you by the end of the week’ type of comments (expectation setting) but I wanted to read a bit about how to do it well so did a little research. It would seem that every HR consultancy has written something on the topic (some articles more helpful than others) but two principles kept emerging:

  • Know yourself: know what your strengths and weaknesses are
  • Know your manager: know what motivates them, what their priorities are, and how best they ‘digest’ information
On the back of these two principles, you can look for the best overlap of strengths (yours) and priorities (you manager's). Using your communication skills (and as librarians, we should have a bit of a head start over some of our non-librarian colleagues with this one), make sure that you are presenting the most useful information at the most appropriate time to your manager in the format that works best for your manager. I think it also helps to have some credibility with your manager and to have some vision as to where things (at a business, department, team, and job level) are going. After that, I think that we’re back to my earlier principles of good manners, good planning, good sense, and experience.

So where does this leave me in terms of gaining something that I can apply to my day-to-day working life? Well, I’m not too sure. I think that I know my own strengths and weaknesses reasonably well (had to do a fair bit of this sort of thing as part of the first module of my diploma in management, including some interesting exercises around things like management techniques and learning methods). I think that I’m pretty tuned in to my manager’s priorities and given that every time that I suggest a new idea or project, he asks me to write it up, I guess I can pretty much figure out how he likes to receive information (though I have also noticed that the organisation I work for has a keen leaning towards having everything in a paper of some description).

I suppose I could do a more formal analysis of my strengths/weaknesses with my manager’s motivations/priorities but it looks like it’s a case of experience and communications skills. Experience only comes one way so I guess I’ll focus on trying out some different ways and combinations of communication with my manager and try to figure out to which one he responds best. Rereading that last sentence makes it sound like a bit of a lab experiment and I suppose that to some extent, it is…here’s hoping I recognise the results when I see them.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Why does someone always have to spoil the fun?

So, I have, for the first time, experienced an annoying side-effect of having a publicly accessible blog today…spam. It was a thinly veiled plug for a service that had little to do with the subject of the posting (nothing offensive but not welcome either) so I have deleted it.

It’s too bad…I really enjoy reading people’s responses to my entries…someone’s always got to spoil the fun.

Anyway, I have basically taken a month off from posting (and other chartership work) so it’s back at it.