Staying connected in a crisis: virtual working

Jisc have published a helpful guide, Check your tech as part of your coronavirus planning, on making contingency plans in case of self-isolation or workplace closure as a result of COVID-19.  While written for HE/FE audiences, it may have wider application. We’re using some of their headings to highlight resources that may be useful for information professionals who find themselves temporarily displaced from their workplace.  

Obviously, if you are unwell, your energy should be directed to following medical advice and convalescing.  Work can wait!

Collaborate with the right platforms

If you are going to be working from home for whatever reason, do make sure that you have access to the Usernames and Passwords for all the systems you will need remote access to.  Too many of us rely on the saved password feature on our work computers! We suggest that you use use a password manager to record these rather than Post-It notes!

Many of us already support library users at a distance using chat or video. You may find some useful suggestions amongst the recording, slides and tweets from MmIT’s 2018 webinar on using video in your library and information service  (#MmITvideo).

We’ve discovered some helpful guidance on good practices for COVID-19-necessitated online meetings.

Access digital content wherever you are

This should be a quick win for info pros, but have you taken advantage of all the software that you are entitled to download on your own tech? Within HE, you may have subscriptions that permit you to download Office 365 and EndNote, for example, while you are employed or studying.   It may also be worth ensuring that you’ve downloaded the latest version of Adobe Reader and updated the apps that give you access to e-content.

Check out what your employer permits you to save or access away from the workplace (there may be restrictions due to GDPR or sensitive data).  If you can access files remotely through a VPN, test it out in advance.

Are you registered with your local public library for e-books and e-audiobooks?  Most services offer Borrowbox or Overdrive but you’ll normally need to obtain a pin number as well as your library registration number.

Support your most vulnerable

Does your workplace or union provide access to online support services or tools like the Big White Wall ?

Can you access Reading Well recommended titles through your workplace or public library service? You may find that some of the titles are available as e-books.

Virtual spaces for wellbeing

We have a number of posts which touch on aspects of Digital wellbeing on our blog.  Whether you  want to feel better without logging off, find 20 quick ways to beat digital distraction or balance work and life, you’ll find resources of interest.

Many people find podcasts a great way to relax and/or distract themselves.  Everyone has their own favourites but we’d recommend the back catalogue of Jo Woods’ Librarians with Lives podcast.  Plus you can read all about Jo’s experience of Creating, producing and marketing a podcast for information professionals.

Finally, for a bit of light relief try Wash Your Lyrics from @neoncloth.  It generates hand washing instructions accompanied by lyrics from a song of your choice!

Making Connections: Derbyshire Libraries and Digital Inclusion

Wendy Kurcewicz
Wendy Kurcewicz

In today’s digital world people are often told that they will need to ‘go online’ to ‘get things done’, but some don’t know where to start when they have no access to the internet and little or no experience of a computer or the online world. This can result in people feeling fearful and uneasy and becoming digitally excluded.

Derbyshire library staff support people in our libraries to get online via digital help sessions. Staff understand that online tasks and transactions can be difficult and will sit down, listen and help people work at their own pace through the challenges that going online can present, enabling them to unravel what might seem like a maze.

Initially, staff can help with the urgent, more pressing matters – to complete and send off a form, update a Universal Credit account or type up and save a CV in order to apply for a job before the deadline passes. Then, in future sessions, they enable people to move on to connecting with family and friends, finding a better gas and electricity deal, grabbing a bargain and learning how to search effectively online for employment. Eventually, people’s confidence and motivation grows as their digital skills expand. At the same time people forge new friendships with others around them using the library.

Our public libraries are in the heart of our communities and, as safe and trusted spaces, they have always been ideally placed to provide support to the people in their communities. Of course, in recent years this support has evolved to encompass digital and in Derbyshire Libraries, as in many library authorities, we provide access to free computing facilities, free Wi-Fi for those who have their own device and free tailored support to help people make the most of digital.

This support can offer a lifeline to the internet access and assisted digital help that is badly needed by so many. In Derbyshire we also offer some outreach sessions, taking the library service to people in a different way by delivering support in a range of additional community venues such as Job Centres, Adult Education and other community centres. We are working with our Thriving Communities approach to develop different ways of working. We are listening to local people to understand their needs and make the best use of our resources to provide better services and opportunities for residents.

The role we play is vital. It should not be underestimated how important it is to help break down barriers and provide support that can build confidence as well as skills; that unlocks potential and helps prevent people, including the more vulnerable and isolated, from becoming disadvantaged due to a lack of digital access and know-how.

chesterfield library
Chesterfield Public Library

When people are digitally excluded they often find themselves socially and financially excluded too: public libraries can be a gateway to other areas of assistance. Our partnership working with other specialist advice and information partners in Derbyshire communities enables us to refer and signpost to further appropriate support for individuals, which some people may struggle to access on their own. For example, debt or benefits advice, help with mental health issues, adult education information and careers advice.

In these different situations, we are not only connecting people digitally, we are also connecting them to the very real people, services and spaces within their community. Connected support and an holistic approach is key when dealing with such life critical areas, ensuring that people are able to make positive changes for themselves going forward.

This ethos is shared by the Online Centres Network. Supported by the Good Things Foundation, a social change charity, Online Centres can be found across the country, and many are public libraries. Their vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital. I attended the Good Things Foundation Digital Evolution event in November: jam-packed full of ideas and examples of good practice, it was a refreshing and inspirational day.

By the time you read this 2020 will be well under way. For those of us working to support digital inclusion, in Derbyshire Libraries and beyond, the New Year will bring with it continued endeavours to help and encourage people to try new things. For example, setting up and learning how to use email, or downloading eMagazines or eBooks onto a new tablet via Derbyshire Libraries’ free eLending service. Whatever it is, I know that we all share the same New Year’s resolution – to continue to recognise the importance of digital inclusion and provide opportunities for people to become confident, skilled and independent users of digital, as well as providing connected support and helping people to make a real, positive and lasting difference to their own lives.

Wendy Kurcewicz

Senior Librarian, Digital Inclusion

Derbyshire County Council Libraries

Derbyshire County Council Thriving Communities:

Good Things Foundation:

Start 2020 with MmIT: #DigitalInclusion

Each January MmIT runs an afternoon event on a topic of broad interest to LIS professionals, which incorporates our brief AGM from the previous calendar year. We’re beginning 2020 by considering #DigitalInclusion – looking at this from various angles. The full programme will be available shortly.

  • Where: Cilip HQ, 7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE.
  • When: Thursday 9th January from 13:00-16:30.

Please book via the Cilip website. There is a small fee to attend the four talks which form the event, but any MmIT / Cilip member is welcome to attend the AGM at no cost.


September #uklibchat discussing the environmental footprint of technology

We were delighted to partner with @uklibchat earlier this month to discuss ‘Green Tech’ and the environmental footprint of technology. During the 90 minutes available to discuss this critical topic, there were 60+ tweets.

The agenda generated discussion on the environmental impact of the 24/7/365 library; recycling e-waste (at organisational and personal level); the potential of electric vehicle technology for mobile libraries; the environmental impact of online resources; and apps which support green initiatives.

The tweets have been collected into a Wakelet and are available here. If you’d like to save the Wakelet as a PDF to read later (on a device – please don’t print it!) then click on the three dots and export it.

How Libraries can support Digital Humanities: reflections on #GaleDHDay

By Antony Groves (Learning and Teaching Librarian at the University of Sussex) @AntonyGroves

At the beginning of May, Gale organised their first Digital Humanities Day at the British Library. The event brought together a diverse range of speakers from around the world who spoke about different aspects of Digital Humanities (DH) scholarship; from infrastructure through to research and teaching. This post will draw out three themes from the day in an effort to better understand how we can support this growing area of work:

  1. Collaboration in DH research is key and libraries can play a role within these collaborations. 
  2. There are many different datasets, techniques and tools being used yet a common approach we can take to developing training.
  3. We should work on our own data projects if we wish to really understand what is needed to support the academic community.

Collaboration in DH research is key and libraries can play a role within these collaborations.

In the afternoon session, Dr Sarah Ketchley stressed that “Digital Humanities projects are inherently a collaborative undertaking” and the earlier presentations of Professors Mark Algee-Hewitt and Joris Van Eijnatten highlighted this. The work done by Prof Algee-Hewitt and others at the Stanford Literary Lab has involved a number of ‘distant reading’ projects where participants have used a variety of computational techniques to analyse large collections of digital texts. Looking at grammar and language respectively, Prof Algee-Hewitt’s research involved digital novels whereas Prof Van Eijnatten focused on newspapers using The Times Digital Archive; both resources that libraries can provide.

Throughout the day, flags such as these indicated potential roles for libraries in DH collaborations. For example, Dr Julianne Nyhan reflected on infrastructure and the challenges to researchers of obtaining data in a format that can be ‘mined’ – in one case having to obtain a hard drive from a provider. This is somewhere librarians can help and Lisa Mcintosh, Director of Access Services at the University of Sydney Library, shared an impressive list of services offered by their library in support of digital research:

  • Provide content for text and data mining
  • License permission and copyright support
  • Recommending tools and TDM (Text and Data Mining) resources
  • Integrating text mining into Information Literacy classes in the Humanities
  • Assisting humanities teaching staff to integrate text mining in the classroom
  • Getting started with data visualisation training • Data analysis and visualisation guide

There are many different datasets, techniques and tools being used yet a common approach we can take to developing training.

For those wondering which students this area of scholarship might appeal to; the answer is all of them. In an inspiring talk about introducing DH in the Undergraduate Classroom, Dr Sarah Ketchley showed that her 2018 ‘Introduction to Digital Humanities’ module was full, with 35 students from 21 different departments across campus. Not only is this type of scholarship appealing to students but it is also invaluable to them. For one reason, as explained by Dr Melodee Beals, “evidence is merely data with a direction”. If we want students to critically engage with evidence-based research, helping them to analyse the underlying data is of great importance.

The tools that students use in Dr Ketchley’s class have included OpenRefine, Voyant Tools and more recently the Gale Digital Scholar Lab – a cloud based platform containing a range of software that can be used with Gale databases to which the institution subscribes. This cloud based approach avoided issues encountered by previous cohorts where a whole lesson had to be dedicated to downloading and installing the required programs. Dr. Tomoji Tabata also introduced an open source tool called Stylo to be used for ‘rolling stylometry’, a technique to detect stylistic changes in passages of text.

Throughout the day, reference was made to many different techniques (e.g. topic modelling, named entity recognition, sentiment analysis); tools (e.g. Gephi, Google Fusion Tables, MALLET); and data sources (e.g. TROVE, Hathitrust, Gale Historical Newspapers). With so much out there, it can be hard to know how best to start providing support. Thankfully, Associate Professor Ryan Cordell brought clarity to this undertaking by proposing four steps to teaching humanities data analysis:

  • Start with creativity 
  • Teach using domain specific data 
  • Foreground corpus over method
  • Foreground mind-set over method (‘programmatic’ thinking more important that programming’)

We take a similar approach to developing our Information Literacy training sessions and find that it works well. In the short amount of time that we often get to see students in workshop, making the content of the session as relevant to a given cohort as possible increases engagement. In addition, focusing on how to approach searching (as opposed to how to use a particular tool) means that they can apply this learning to a range of tools that they may encounter not just the one or two included in the session.

“Work on your own data projects to understand what is really needed to support your academic community”.

This is a direct quote from the final presentation by Lisa Mcintosh, which was the perfect way to finish the day. While listening to the research presented throughout the day was fascinating and certainly highlighted areas where we can support this scholarship, managing our own data projects and facing the same barriers that our researchers encounter is what will really help us to understand the support that is most needed.

This may sound daunting but hopefully this post has shared at least a few resources that can be explored further, and take encouragement from Prof Van Eijnatten who asserted that “if I can write a few lines of code anyone can”.

#MindfulTech19 : start 2019 by resolving to manage technology rather than letting it manage you

The MmIT Committee warmly invite its group members and others working in the library and information community to our meeting of talks, incorporating the MmIT  AGM for 2018, on 9 January 2019.  Hot drinks will be provided and we have four excellent speakers to help us consider the topics of mindful technology and how to beat digital distractions.

The programme:

  • How to feel better without logging off  Dr Sue Thomas (Visiting Fellow at Bournemouth University and author of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age). “Encounters with nature have measurable positive effects – heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, stress melts away and the brain is more able to concentrate. This talk looks at how the same benefits can be gained by accessing nature in VR and online, and explains why we need more nature, not less technology. This is a chance to be mindful of the ways we connect to the natural world both on and offline”.
  • We aren’t addicted to our phones, we are addicted to being social  Dave White (Head of Digital Learning, University of the Arts London).  “Much of being mindful with technology involves us reflecting on our motivations to engage – are we making a positive choice or simply being pushed around by addictive platforms? Are we in control or simply feeding the data machine? A useful way to consider this is through the notion of personal agency. In this talk I will discuss how we can define clear modes of engagement when using digital technology and how we can retain our agency in an environment which has atomised knowledge and communication”.
  •  Mindful Tech: balancing work and life Antony Groves (Learning and Teaching Librarian, University of Sussex). “Last summer I blogged about mindful tech offering digital solutions to our digital problems.  Today I’ll discuss how I seek to bring balance to both personal and professional life through the mindful use of technology”.
  • 20 quick ways to beat digital distraction Andy Tattersall (Information Specialist, University of Sheffield). “Did your New Year Resolutions include making 2019 less digitally overwhelming?  This talk will take you on a whistle stop tour of 20 ideas and technologies to help you beat digital distraction”.

Date: Wednesday 9 January 2019 1-4.30pm

Venue: CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE

Free to attend; book online at

MmIT is a Special Interest Group of Cilip, the UK’s library and information association.

Save the date: MmIT’s #MindfulTech19

Is it too early for New Year Resolutions? Worried about technology taking over your life? Then start the year with CILIP MmIT as we consider Mindful Technology for our January 2019 half day of talks incorporating our 2018 AGM. Four speakers will consider how to manage technology rather than let it manage you, including discussion of mindful technology and how to beat digital distractions.

Date: Wednesday 9 January 2019 1-4.30pm

Venue: CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE

Free to attend; bookings now open

Conference tech: the hardware

MmIT Committee member Alison McNab writes:

I’m looking forward to attending #ILI2018 next month (if you are a member of MmIT you can claim a 25% discount – see our blog post for details of how to claim it).  We will be staffing an MmIT stand with giveaways and a competition.

I’m giving a lightning talk at ILI on using social media to promote and amplify events and thought it might be helpful to talk about the tech that helps me do so.  The two devices I use are an iPad and mobile phone.  I find a tablet much lighter and easier than a laptop when balanced on my knees but I do know other people who prefer having the full keyboard on a laptop for rapid tweeting or blogging.

A spare power supply is essential if you wish to keep tweeting after lunch! You can’t guarantee having access to a power point at a conference, but it is probably worth taking your charger plug and lead along just in case.  Delegates who bring and share access to a multi-USB adaptor and/or an extension lead are true digital citizens!

  • Entry-level power banks (left) are low cost and often feature as a “high value” giveaway  from library suppliers and publishers.  They should help you top-up your phone charge to last out the day.
  • The more powerful high-capacity power banks (centre) can carry enough charge to keep your laptop or tablet topped up throughout the conference or a transantlantic flight.
  • My most recent purchase has been a battery phone case (right), which gives me four times the battery life (YMMV), and the some newer versions even offer wireless charging.

My final tip is to charge all your devices and chargers the night before the event starts, and top up the charge whenever possible.  I’ve found an article that advises that shallow discharges and recharges are better than full ones, which mentions the new-to-me  Battery University as an authority!

[Note: my “tech” was purchased personally, apart from the entry-level power bank which was a publisher giveaway.  Obviously other brands of tablets, power banks and phone cases are available….]Technology to keep tweeting at conferences