Tabling Library Carpentry: talking data skills at #CILIPConf19

In advance of next week’s CILIP Conference, the purpose of this short post is to highlight a session that Jez Cope from the British Library will be delivering on the Thursday morning (with a little help from myself). The title of the session is Library Carpentry: software and data skills for library and information professionals, and may be of interest to MmIT members.  

For those familiar with the Library Carpentry moniker but less so with what it involves, Jez explains as follows:

Library Carpentry develops lessons and teaches workshops for and with people working in library and information-related roles. Their goal is to create an on-ramp to empower this community to use software and data in their own work as well as be advocates for, and train others in, efficient, effective and reproducible data and software practices.

This has been exactly my experience of engaging with the Library Carpentry Community, from learning about software skills through to using, sharing and teaching them (which I’ll speak about briefly in the session).  As my colleague Clare has written, the information profession needs Library Carpentry; the skills that it fosters can benefit us and those we support, it’s win-win.

However, like any emerging area of work, understanding the context and being able to decipher any mysterious new language makes it much easier to engage. Thankfully Jez’s introductory session should address both of these potential barriers, and you won’t even need a laptop! As he states in the programme:

This session gives an overview of the history and goals of the Library Carpentry initiative, followed by a little taster of their lessons and teaching style with a jargon-busting exercise.

So come along on Thursday 4th July to learn more, hopefully it will dovetail nicely with whatever else you have planned for the conference.

Written by guest writer Antony Groves (@AntonyGroves)


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”.

Recording of “Mindful Tech: balancing work and life”

MmIT Committee member Antony Groves has kindly recorded his talk on Mindful Tech: balancing work and life (originally given at MmIT’s MindfulTech19 event in January 2019). In an MP4 recording (just under nine minutes long) he shares his own story about why he brought mindfulness practices into his own life and recommends books and tools that have helped support his practice. We share this during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Many public and academic libraries now contain curated collections of self-help books from the Reading Well initiative, which supports individuals to understand and manage their health and wellbeing using helpful reading. In addition, the Mental Health Foundation offers a range of helpful online booklets, including a guide to How to look after your mental health using mindfulness.

Essential tools and technologies for the library and information professional – video and slides for #AskMmIT19

MmIT hosted their annual webinar on what tools and technologies should librarians and information professionals know about in 2019. We smashed all MmIT webinar records with over 230 professionals attending over the course of the 50 minute session.webinar image

The webinar panel was chaired by Andy Tattersall who was joined by three experts to look at tools and technologies new and old as well as answer questions for the event which had the hashtag #AskMmIT19

The Panelists were Christina Harbour – Anglia Ruskin University @tinalpool Claire Beecroft – University Teacher at the University of Sheffield @beakybeecroft Luke Burton – Digital Development Manager at Newcastle City Council @biblioluke and Andy Tattersall – Information Specialist at the University of Sheffield @Andy_Tattersall

MmIT Chair Alison McNab @AlisonMcNab has created a Wakelet of the event which you can view here

Useful links from the workshop

H5P Resources
There’s a page in the documentation for Canvas:
Massachusetts Library created resource guide:
Anglia Ruskin University Library Guide
Adding images to Padlet
MmIT Resources

Pocket: Read when you have the time, not when you find the content: #CILIPConf18 bursary winner


 MmIT is delighted to announce that the bursary to #CILIPConf18 has been won by Lizzie Sparrow, Leventis Library Manager.  Lizzie provides library and information services to the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and nine internationally-focused nature conservation organisations.

 We asked entrants to draft a blog post about their favourite technology.  Below we publish Lizzie’s blog post on her favourite tech tool is, Pocket.

Pocket: Read when you have the time, not when you find the content

If you’re reading this, you’re probably like me. You enjoy reading blogs to keep up with professional news, trends and ideas. Reading opinion articles and industry news can be a valuable tool in your professional development toolbox. But lots of us find that either it ends up devouring time we want to (or should!) be spending on something else, or we end up with a mountain of links to articles we were going to read but haven’t got to yet.

Lost track of time again? Image attribute: Designed by Freepik

We all know the scenario: you open a webpage looking for information and notice a link to an interesting article. You follow the link and start reading the article, which links to two more articles that grab you. Suddenly, you realise half an hour has slipped by. It’s not that reading those articles was pointless, but maybe it wasn’t the best use of that particular half hour. So maybe next time you come across this situation you discipline yourself, refusing to let your attention be diverted from the task in hand. Instead, you bookmark the articles or email them to yourself. Do you ever get around to reading them? Probably not.

If this sounds familiar what you need is Pocket. One click and the article is sat in your phone or tablet ready for the next time you find yourself with a spare few minutes. Arrive early to a meeting? Get your phone out and start reading. Miss the bus and have to wait 10 minutes for the next one? No problem, that’s two blog posts read. As of March 2018, the Android and iOS Pocket apps even give you an estimated reading time for each article to help you decide which of your ‘pocketed’ articles best fits the time you have available. And you’re not limited to text. Pocket can handle images and video too.

“Pocket fits into those little gaps in your day.” (no attribution required)

With Pocket, like many other forms of tech, it’s not the tech itself that’s so special – Pocket is a pretty simple tool. What’s special is how it can easily fit into your life to provide a solution to a problem. The one click entry makes adding content quick and easy when you need to avoid being distracted, and the access via an app makes your content available wherever you happen to be when you have the time to read it.

Pocket works on multiple operating systems and browsers, and automatically syncs. So, once you’ve set it up it doesn’t matter which of your devices you have with you. Once synced, your content is available offline, so you don’t have to worry about mobile data blackspots. That’s why Pocket is one of my favourite tech tools. I used to spend my commute aimlessly browsing social media feeling unproductive, then get to work and find trying to keep up with professional reading distracting me from more important priorities. I’ve been using Pocket for a couple of years now and feel more productive both on my commute and at the office.

With my information literacy training hat on, Pocket is also one of the tools I regularly recommend to my library users. I run a workplace library and many of my colleagues tell me they just don’t have time to keep up with news in their field of expertise because they’re too busy running projects and managing their teams. If, when I dig deeper, it’s finding time to read that’s the problem, Pocket and a smartphone is often the solution.


Report, Slides and Tweets from ‘Affordable Futures’ event

There’s a strain of contemporary culture which views digital innovation as the tool of corporate evil – suggestive of a dystopian future where Jeff Bezos deploys drones to replace you on the enquiry desk.  But at the CILIP MmIT event ‘Affordable Futures: High-tech, low-cost Library innovations’, there was a spirit of human warmth.

Partly, this was because the air-conditioning had broken in the upstairs room at the University of Sussex.  But it was also notable that the speakers – all of whom have a great deal of digital experience and expertise – spoke clearly, inclusively, and without jargon.  There was a real sense, in fact, that anyone can be a digital innovator.  All you need is an idea, or a problem.  Most library staff have plenty of both.

By the time he’d finished, Antony Groves – Learning and Teaching Librarian at the University of Sussex – had the delegates making 360 degree photographs on their phones.  Using the Google Cardboard app and a cheap Cardboard Viewer (£15, and similar in appearance to the old red ‘View-Masters’ of the 1980s), we were able to knock up a rudimentary virtual reality experience within a few minutes.  Sussex uses enhanced versions of this technology to take students and staff into the ‘hidden spaces’ on campus, such as high-security labs.

Dr Jon Knight, from Loughborough University, described how his IT team created versatile digital signage for their library using old display monitors and ‘Raspberry Pi’s’.  A Raspberry Pi is a tiny, cheap computer that you can programme.  It looks like a circuit board, and you can connect it to other hardware via USB ports.  Instead of spending half of the budget on fancy new plasmas, Jon and his team dug out decommissioned computer monitors, whacked Raspberry Pi’s on them, and created displays which gave students real-time information about group-room bookings and study spaces.

There is something quietly defiant about this approach.  If you can make something yourself by recycling old equipment, then you become independent.  Your library budget stretches further, and you are no longer in thrall to a blue-chip company that decides on a whim to make your systems obsolete.

That was very much the vibe of the final presentation, given by Carlos Izsak, a pioneer of the maker movement.  Carlos is an Education and Community Development Specialist, and founder of The Makercart.  The Makercart is a fully portable pop-up makerspace from which Carlos runs workshops and activities.  These makerspaces are places to share experience, ideas, knowledge, and equipment: sounds like a library, right?  At the event, Carlos got us to make LED Christmas cards.  Digital making, even on a modest scale, is a soothing and satisfying way to learn.

All of the speakers were looking for ways to put digital innovation into the hands of people who work in libraries.  Even as someone who writes with a fountain pen, and occasionally slips his sim back into the Nokia, I found the dissident spirit both inspiring and welcoming.  And I left the room buzzing with ideas.

By Ed Hogan.


View presentations:

Antony Groves – Creating low-cost VR for your Library

Dr Jon Knight – Using Raspberry Pi’s to drive Digital Signage in Libraries and beyond

Carlos Izsak – Making Library Makers: 3 years in the making…


View Storify here.