Connectivity and the 21st century

Our newest committee member, Robert Cunningham, has written a concise and informative report on Nick Woolley’s fascinating talk at the MmIT AGM event at CILIP in London on 17th December. Thank you to Nick for his lecture, and thank you to Robert for this report. Read Catherine Dhanjal’s report about Andy Tattersall’s talk here.


“Connectivity and the 21st century: the power of digital technology to connect knowledge and communities”

by Robert Cunningham

Nick Woolley, Head of Academic Library Services at Northumbria University, was the second of our guest speakers at the 2013 AGM.

The theme for Nick’s presentation was the importance of linking the physical library and its resources with digital technology.  Nick began his presentation by giving an overview of the use of technology at Northumbria University, including their new “Digital First Strategy”.  Although Nick is a strong proponent of digital technologies, he reminded delegates that physical library resources are resurgent: although e-readers have been on the market for half a decade already, they are yet to defeat print books in many people’s choice of reading material.

However, Nick argued that a library’s physical resources are not limited to traditional print books and journals. Instead, it is important to remember that the physical spaces in the library building are still in high demand as students increasingly want to collaborate with each other using mobile technologies.  As a consequence, Nick underlined the importance of connecting the physical and digital libraries by wowing delegates with real-life examples.  The AGM was especially impressed by Nick’s demonstration of NFC (Near Field Communication for those who aren’t sure) in which he tapped his smartphone against a university library book fitted with an RFID tag. To exclamations in the room, the book and smartphone communicated with each other in a conversation that could revolutionise library transactions.

Even more futuristic than NFC, Nick also discussed the possibilities provided by wearable technology (e.g. clothing and jewellery) as well as augmented reality.  He prophesied that the latter in particular is exciting for libraries as it could allow directional information to be overlaid into your field of vision when strolling around the library shelves.

Like the other guest speakers at December’s AGM, Nick’s underlying theme was – quite coincidentally – that technology should be used not for the sake of it, but instead to underpin and enhance sound pedagogy.  He said that the “digital divide” between physical and electronic information is becoming less apparent because the library is already digital and that technology should be used to connect the two.  By doing this, technology can become an enabler; giving new possibilities for the data libraries collect in demonstrating value and informing student progression and retention. However, technology should be servant not master: the important thing is to choose suitable technologies and exploit them to their fullest potential.

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No LIS is an Island – MMIT Group AGM December 2013

As an information specialist at the University of Sheffield, Andy Tattersall’s role is to investigate perpetually changing technology, to ascertain its implications and to find ways for academics to use it without it distracting them from their academic focus. A tough challenge.

In his address at the Multimedia Information & Technology AGM at Cilip in December, we found out how Andy focuses on helping those who will consider using technology and looks for opportunities to help them to become more efficient.

Essential to working successfully in a LIS role is the ability to make connections outside their field and to be good at working, emphasises Andy. He’s involved in many groups across the university from marketing to learning and technology – concentrating on taking technology and making it understandable.  

Solving Genuine Challenges

Identifying organisational problems and where technology can help overcome these helps to embed technology within the university.

Finding accommodation for meetings can be a problem. Using technology can also help to overcome transport problems and to overcome challenges posed by bad weather such as snow. As a result of Andy’s efforts, a senior lecturer is now using Google Hangouts with her PhD students, for example.

Using tools such as Google Drive and Chromebooks are helping to ensure that students and professors have vital documents such as PhDs, medical data or dissertations securely backed up.

Individual Solutions

Devising individual solutions to individual problems is also essential in helping academics with issues such as:

  • Information overload
  • Lack of interest in technology
  • Bad experiences of technology
  • Attention deficit
  • Being scared to fail
  • Being too busy to get to grips with technology
  • Misunderstanding technology.

Raising Awareness

Disseminating information about the possibilities of technology is another core part of the role. At ScHARR, Andy and his colleagues run regular ScHARR Bitesize sessions – 20 minute slots where they ‘show and tell’ new technology. They’ve run 75 sessions to date, helping people to be enthusiastic learners.

Trend Spotting

Spotting trends is also essential and Andy highlighted gamification and the greater use of mobile technology as two which are key.  Trends to watch in 2014 include:

  • MOOCs
  • Altmetrics
  • Augmented reality
  • Crowdsourcing of knowledge.

Andy can be contacted at:    He is also MMIT Group’s Secretary.

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