Reflections on UCISA CISG-PCMG 2017

From 8-10 November 2017 I digitally attended the UCISA Corporate Information Systems Group / Project and Change Management Group joint conference, theme ‘Everything Changes’. This mean I set aside dedicated time to watch the presentations that were live streamed and follow the conference backchannel on Twitter using #cisgpcmg17 but I didn’t travel to attend the conference in person.

Across three days and many presentations I heard wide range of experts all speaking eloquently and passionately about their subjects and through their words and ideas I came to understand something about our sector’s vision for a global digital university and how to thrive despite the turbulence, complexity and uncertainty of change as the norm.

A global digital university is an organisation that can clearly articulate their purpose, that can diversify their business models and learning pathways to suit a range of students and educational needs, that can combine access and modularity with academic integrity,  that can bring together people and data in smart and secure spaces, that can seamlessly fuse their physical and digital environments, that invest their precious cash and KASH wisely and most are all are always willing to learn.

In this article I explore four themes that underpin this vision and that came up time and again throughout the conference: strategy, agility, analytics and security.  All of these themes are underpinned by fundamental importance of  learning with cultural leadership in creating the fertile working environment that will allow university professionals and students to exploit new modes of course delivery, access to learning and technological advantage.

I also reflect on what it was like to attend a conference as a digital attendee and some thoughts on using digital tools in Office 365 for knowledge management based on trying out different ways of sharing information from the conference with colleagues. As part of this I created a Sway storyline for the conference which you can take a look at if you want a more day-by-day account of how I saw the conference.


The first theme is strategy. Jean-Noel Ezingeard, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University opened the conference with an analysis of the external challenges that for the sector. These include increased competition, a new regulatory regime and funding challenges within a climate of Brexit uncertainty and increasing media criticism of the sector. The need to diversify income and how and where to make capital investments will be key.

Jean-Noel spoke of competition for funding between the physical and digital estates and how universities will balance this. Later Magnus Bergfors from Gartner spoke about digital business “blurring the digital and physical worlds” so it will be interesting to see what strategic capital investments universities make as the physical and digital converge.

The third aspect of digital business is people and Rob McWilliam spoke about how to make innovation customer-centric. Rob now works for Jisc but this talk was based on his previous industry experience in the retail sector. If market dynamics mean universities are going to have to adapt from undergraduate first-degree machines to have more diverse portfolios, Rob supplied a potential blueprint on how to execute strategy through: purpose, listening to customers, world class execution and continuous reinvention.

Universities often base their strategies on our common purpose:

  1. Educate Students
  2. Lead Research
  3. Curate Knowledge

However, they are mostly variations on what we already do and they end up being pretty similar.

If retailers can differentiate, so can universities. Walmart’s purpose focuses on saving people money; Amazon’s focuses on enabling people to find anything they want to buy online.

As traditional areas of supply and growth dry up the challenge for universities is to find a meaningful (unique) mission for each institution and support it with distinctive, innovative, customer-centric mechanisms for development and delivery. With limited resource, where will your institution place their bets in this brave new world?

Universities have to be selective, so they will have to get used to making faster decisions and risking many small failures for bigger rewards. Innovation is the best place to fail. You need to be prepared for failures in order to have successes. If you don’t like that idea then tough: failure will come anyway.  Most decisions are ‘two way doors’ not ‘one way doors’. You can try and if they don’t work you can stop or change. So stop deliberating and start testing.

Leadership is not just about strategy, it’s as much about culture. Matthew Syed said that leaders are cultural architects; leaders create the psychological environment in which their teams operate.

This shared culture is important. Robert Lambert argued it’s easy to dismiss purpose, values and mission are quite fluffy but they are what keep people going when the going gets hard, and the going is getting harder.

Emma Bull exemplifies this sort of cultural leadership in her role leading organisational development at the University of Wolverhampton as the search for strategic, significant and sustained change. It was good to hear a strategic  leader thinking about how to get provide a supportive environment , how to find and empower change agents across the institution and how to embed change in ways of working.

So universities are operating in an uncertain and competitive environment. They will need to diversify, understand the needs of their changing customer base, find new opportunities and fix their weaknesses. They will need decisive, strategic and cultural leadership. They will need to choose how they raise and spend both cash and KASH (knowledge, attitudes, skills and habits).


Agility is all about the knowledge , attitudes, skills and habits needed to navigate continual change. It requires is a cultural shift and mindset centred on learning and incremental improvement. It’s less a method and more of an attitude that recognises that people, working in a system that supports them, are the engines for success.

Mind the Productivity Gap

Robert Lambert started by providing a fairytale view (as in grim) on traditional development: trying to squeeze productive work in between trying to squeeze product development between the specification of distraction, the gantt chart of devastation and the test case management system of doom. In this model releases are larger so have a higher risk of breaking things and longer feedback loops.

Jose Casal added that most change organisations have become queue management functions rather value adding. 90% of most projects has been wasted in a queue. It’s typically because we have too much work on the go.

It’s a myth that you know what you need and how to build it at the start. Agility comes through discovery. You have to learn your way through complex problems, develop good and best practice for the complicated and obvious problems (see the cynefin framework to help make sense of a situation and understand which problem space you are working in). Agility and creativity need time and space so don’t necessarily expect being agile take less money or time overall: expect it to increase quality and reduce rework.

Fflip your working

Both Lambert and Casal were full of advice for releasing agility. Lambert provide tips, five for making the most of people and five for the systems that support. The people steps are all about purpose and expectations: agile starts with clear purpose and objectives.

Rob McWilliam provided an example of this when he spoke of how Amazon initiate change proposals. Any change at Amazon starts with someone writing a press release that says what Amazon are going to do and how it benefits customers. It’s accompanied by a set of FAQs that explain how Amazon is going to deliver it.

It is debated long and hard by senior leadership before it is handed over to development and delivery teams. By working backwards from that press release, rather than forwards from a solution or specification, everyone working on the project understand what they are aiming for.

Lambert’s environmental steps are for the growth, training, support and encouragement people need to thrive. Management is about designing processes and systems and pulling the levers of c-operation because many of the opportunities existing between not within teams.

Casal advised thinking about flow, fitness for purpose, learning, impact and people more than scope, time and cost. Think about how motorways work: give yourselves enough space to operate at a safe and sustainable speed and only release agility at a pace people can keep up. At times of congestion, and most organisations always have more good ideas than they have change capacity, limiting speed allows you to all go forward faster together rather than inefficient stop/starting, or worse pile ups.


Many speakers spoke of innovation needing the psychological safety to try but fail as a key part of learning your way through a problem.

For Matthew Syed this was an essential part of a growth mindset and an adjust, rather than a blame, culture. Within a growth mindset you are more curious and resilient. You test not just at the end of development to confirm what you know but throughout development to find out what you don’t know: each experiment is a learning opportunity. Google found out the most profitable shade of blue for web links using A/B testing and conduct thousands of A/B tests a year.

One of the main reasons for early and ongoing testing is it provides you with data, and many speakers pointed out getting better at getting insight from data is going to be another important engine of success.


Rob McWilliam said customer-centric organisations are truth-seeking organisations.

They dig into details and data, working from evidence not assumptions. Within retail, there is increasing use of data analytics over market research because data evidences actual rather than intended behaviour.

Matthew Syed compared and contrasted the aviation and healthcare industry, In aviation near misses are common but each one is logged and analysed and used to drive improvement. In healthcare, recording of avoidable harm is often avoided making it hard to differentiate negligence from systemic errors that should be identified and fixed.

Within the higher education sector there were multiple examples of data at the heart of change.

Andy Youell from HESA spoke about the changing data collection landscape, the data architecture and the behaviours that will allow multiple agencies to get the insight they need from institutional data.

Keith Jenkins and Hazel Waller from Jisc described some of their shared services for research data, bibliographic data and learning analytics. Jisc have developed a national learning analytics framework and a roadmap that will see better retention and attainment, efficient campuses, improved teaching and curricula and personalised, adaptive learning for students thanks to more sophisticated analytical techniques.

Similar trends are evident in procurement, according to Magnus Bergfors and he shared Gartner’s model for the evolution of these analytical techniques.

As all these platforms generate more data: on student records, on research publications and data, on learning interactions, on longitudinal outcomes, on what universities are spending their money on; there will be more data to mine for insight and intelligence but integration strategies will grow in importance as will questions of data ethics and protection if data analytics is to be an asset rather than a liability.


The final theme woven through presentation picked up on this need for data protection and talked about universities should approach their cyber security strategy and compliance with the GDPR.

GDPR is looming as one of the major items on the 2018 agenda but Andrew Cormack gave a succinct overview of what is involved.  He spoke of the move from DPA to GDPR as as not just defining what personal data is being processed but being more explicit about why that data is being processed.  If you are already doing data protection well, none of the changes but under GDPR you need to think more about your motivation and legal basis across the full information lifecycle.

Screenshot 2017-11-09 09.53.31

Pleasingly for an information scientist, the foundation of GDPR is information lifecycles.  At its most simple the collection, processing and disposal of data but more complex cases my involve sharing and disclosure.  To share data internally data processing is more explicit if you if each usage is treated as its own life cycle.  So any data reuse or transfer triggers a new collect, process, dispose lifecycle.  To share data externally you transfer responsibilities through agreement/contract.

Data protection helps us protect the people behind the data and is usually coupled with IT security in order to safeguard the data itself ensuring it is freely available for authorised use but protected from  leakage, theft and other threats.

Arthur Clune whisked us through a brief history of cyber security, threat modelling and mitigation in order to optimise security and reduce vulnerability.  Optimisation requires a careful balance between protection and the user experience, safety and inconvenience and assurance and cost.  This requires a holistic view of technology, data classification, systems and processes, a good knowledge of your risk profile and adherence to basic fundamentals: patching, passwords and processes.

So far, so textbook but the talk by Jamie Woodruff was a truly eye opening insight into the ethical hacking business and a salutory reminder just how many potential security vulnerabilities there are in complex information environments.  His insight into cyber attack vectors, social engineering and common vulnerabilities and scam techniques was truly unnerving.

Screenshot 2017-11-09 09.53.31

Social engineering is the art of manipulation for information. Know as ‘bugs in the human hardware’ based on cognitive biases. It’s a cyber attack that relies on minimal technological intervention. People are the weakest link in all infrastructures around the world. They will screw up. They are susceptible to these types of attack … they are just so curious and trusting.

As our environments become ‘smarter’, it’s not just people who are vulnerable: children’s toys, smart homes and smartphones, CCTV and even the humble printer all provide easy access to our most private domestic and workplace spaces, activities and thoughts.  As we rush to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits these technologies provide, we need to be mindful of the varied threat agents, from lone hackers to highly industrialised criminal enterprises, walking in the shadows of our digital campuses.

Conferencing as a Digital Attendee

Attending a conference as a digital attended provides an obviously different experience to attending in person.   It was driven by constraints but enabled me to experiment.  I was interested to find out:

  • How much you can get out of a conference without being physically present?
  • What digital channels there are for engaging with a conference?
  • What channels can you use to discuss and share knowledge from the conference with colleagues?

It’s important to be able to do this that the conference offers options for digital participation.  In the case of the UCISA conference this was:

It’s acknowledged that this experiment is only possible because UCISA provides the live video stream.  In this case, there is no direct cost incurred for accessing the live stream and being a ‘digital attendee’; the feed is made freely available upon registration.  The video stream is provided by Mediasite and I used Tweetdeck to help keep up with discussion on Twitter.

I also tried out different tools and channels for knowledge transfer in Officer 365.  During the conference I tried:

  • Yammer
  • Sharepoint Site Newsfeed
  • Shared OneNote Notebook
  • Sway Storyline

Of these, Yammer was probably most useful for live conversations as the conference was taking place, OneNotet was useful for taking notes and clipping screenshots of slides and comments and using Sway provided the most engaging way to write up the conference for wider distribution.

I’ve attended a few UCISA conferences in my time but this was my first entirely online.  I found there are pros/cons to each mode of attendance:

 Pros  Cons
  • Informal networking and conversations
  • Conference exhibition
  • Participate in parallel and interactive sessions
  • Get to visit other places / change of scenery
  • Cost
  • Time
  • Harder to pay attention and take notes at the same time
  • Cheaper (sometimes even free)
  • Takes up less dedicated time
  • Note taking, amplification and slide clipping easier
  • Online networking (conference back channel) easier
  • Relies on availability of digital channels
  • Harder to network – it’s quite an isolated experience
  • Only usually covers plenary not parallel  or interactive sessions so not the full experience
  • No exhibition or handouts (digital exhibits not yet a thing)
  • Food is less good (although I did make sure I went to the pub for my ‘conference dinner’)

My main finding is attending in person is obviously better for networking but there are benefits for knowledge sharing in digital attendance.  A possible option might be to buddy up with a colleague, a kind of pair conferencing, so one attends in person and one attends digitally.  Combining both perspectives after the conference would probably be a great way to combine the best of both worlds and aide knowledge sharing.


Community, Advocacy and Freedom: CILIP 2015 Conference Report

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Spotted in the floor tiles in St George’s Hall

Last week I attend the CILIP 2015 Conference in St George’s Hall, Liverpool (2-3 July). This was a magnificent venue where references to justice and knowledge were literally built into the walls and the floor.

This was my first CILIP conference and I was keen to take advantage of discounted registration for students to hear about the profession from a range of current practitioners to complement by Masters study at #citylis (City University, London).

The conference programme featured a number of keynote presentations from a variety of speakers, many of whom were not library or information professionals but added their perspectives to ours. This was complemented by breakout sessions that covered:

  • Information management: building success
  • Information literacy and digital inclusion
  • Demonstrating value: what’s your impact?
  • Digital futures and technology

along with a track of Fringe events that included Q&A sessions with keynote speakers and an opportunity join in hack sessions with exhibitors like the Ideas Box.

It’s not nice to be a librarian … it’s AWESOME to be a librarian … we do important things … throughout history we have done powerful things for human kind … librarians have that power – R. David Lankes

Screenshot 2015-07-06 18.29.36
Librarians: changing the world since 2000BC

The conference received a rousing start from R. David Lankes on the position and potential of librarians and was concluded by a presidential address from Jan Parry on the importance of critically reviewing ourselves and our services, before other people do, if we are to make a good impression. These talks extolled the power and professionalism of librarianship, neatly bookending proceedings, and instilled a feeling of optimism.

In between I attended every keynote and spent most of my breakout sessions in the Digital Futures and Technology track. These sessions were held in the unusual setting of the Civil Court, a 19th century courtroom with wooden benches and ink wells and talks delivered from the witness stand. Many people will have sat in this courtroom listening and arguing and now it heard today’s advocates on the subject of “wicked problems”, research data management, user experience, access management and linked open bibliographic data.

My only detour from this track was towards the end of the conference I couldn’t resist the Delivering Value session featuring the British Library and Wigan Library Service as I thought this juxtaposition would offer a truly macroscopic view of librarianship in in the UK. I was rewarded with a frankly inspiring hour that soared from the British Library’s Living Knowledge project envisioning how to stay at the forefront of All the World’s Knowledge and embed it across the UK to how a local library service has placed itself at the centre of Wigan’s community and the promises that make up The Deal, the council’s pact with the people who elect it.

I took notes on each session I attended and links to these are available in the session notes section below. Rather than describe each session again in detail I want to draw together my thoughts and reflect on three themes that I kept hearing again and again across the conference: community, advocacy and freedom.


People were the pulsing, beating heart of a conference that celebrated both the community of librarians represented and the communities they serve. Again started by Lankes he urged us to speak more about librarians when defining libraries:

A mandated and mediated space (virtual and/or physical) owned by the community, stewarded by librarians, and dedicated to knowledge creation.

Time and time again speakers provided examples of how these spaces help create and connect vibrant communities (as in the above examples of the much admired Liverpool Central Library). Libraries may be changing but they aren’t dead and never will be as long as there are people in the world who want to learn and to be informed.

This becomes even more urgently evident during times of crisis as in Ferguson and Baltimore when libraries provided citizens with safe spaces. Another example was provided by Barbara Schack of Bibliotheques Sans Frontieres / Libraries Without Borders who talked about the Ideas Box. This is a media centre than can be transported anywhere in the world within an hour. It contains technology, content and materials that trained facilitators can use in crisis struck communities to enable people to come together, opening the boxes and creating a space where they can be human again escaping the crisis that surrounds them and contributing their information, knowledge and creativity to healing their society and their culture.

Erwin James also spoke about how books changed the way he thought about life. Prison enabled his immediate physical needs to be met fully for the first time in his life but again it was reading that enabled him to become human: to find a way to participate in society through culture. He spoke of how a single story brought wonder into his world and gave him the ambition to find “a good way to live”. He began to read, then write, then learn. Prison was for him a community resource that brought him peace, optimism and hope.

Libraries are refuges but they don’t just make communities when times are tough they co-create communities every day in small ways for all citizens. They use knowledge exchange and creation as social acts of conversation. As Lankes says “we bridge ideas into our environments”. We help people learn whether that is for their hobby, for work, for pure joy and wonder, of democracy. Librarians are people who collect resources and provide guidance that help people to learn and these resources increasingly cover digital and material technologies, such as those used in maker spaces, as well as books.

Libraries embody their communities: the people who provide and the people use them. Libraries are inherently political: they are by and of the people. Our job is to make them for everyone and defend them in a tough world.

This is not easy. Librarians, like others, are faced by “wicked problems”. Andrew Cox described these are complex, unfamiliar, stressful situations where the way forward isn’t clear. The problem is linked to other problems, there are numerous intervention points and numerous constrains and it is not clear that the situation is “solvable” by any one group. Cox used the example of Research Data Management (RDM) as an area lacking in information, agreement and relying on too many assumptions. Navigating these complex issues requires flexibility, enterprise, collaboration and courage and we must move forward with positive deviance, constructive dissent, empathy and collective intelligence. Most of all be a community of fate who stand together, but not a fatalist community: crisis narrative does us no favours.


We do not live in a neutral world and so we have advocacy: the practice of influencing decisions and changing society. Doubt is an interesting episode of The Good Wife about advocacy and using evidence not just establish the truth of things but to make that truth sing louder than any alternative.

“The problem is it’s not a good story, it’s just a freak accident, there are no villains.”

“But if it’s true?”

“But it doesn’t sound true. The prosecution’s story sounds like the truth.”

Doubt depicts informed democracy in action as a jury deliberates a seemingly open and shut case. As the episode unfolds small sections of the case are revealed in flashback fragmenting the picture and revealing competing versions of the truth. It also argues presenting the most factual version of events is not enough especially as the truth doesn’t always sound true in the face of competing narratives that offer better stories. At the end of the story the jury don’t have reasonable doubt, they have “reasonable ignorance”.

CILIP 2015 was also a story about advocacy. Many times throughout the conference, sessions urged us not to leave the senior managers and politicians who make decisions about library services in “reasonable ignorance” about the work librarians do and the value this brings to the communities they serve. Cory Doctorow told us obscurity can be dangerous and damaging.

In competitive and constrained times we cannot assume that the value of the services we deliver and love is self-evident to those who make decisions that govern the existence of those services.

Hence, the video Wigan Library Services created that summarised their contribution to their communities and council goals just over 5 minutes. The music and imagery helps transform statistics into a more powerful and eye catching narrative. It was placed in front of their chief executive and has now been seen by the entire senior management team.

We also cannot assume that times will get easier: we will always be in competition with something and there will always be challenges to face. There was some disagreement, however, on what we are competing with. Ken Chad identified choice as a key competitive forces with Google, Amazon and electronic subscription libraries like Epic! (for children) and Safari (for professionals) providing alternative library services target at specific groups.

R. David Lankes held a different view arguing that Amazon, Apple and Google are not in the advertising and consumer goods business, not the information business. His position is that libraries are in competition with the other services competing for the same public resources. Stuart Hamilton offered some suggestions on where this competition may come from. IFLA have been a partner in the development of a new set of UN Sustainable Development Goals and there will shortly be a UK Sustainable Development Plan. Demonstrating how you help the UK meet these goals will increasingly justify the funding and relevance of libraries in the post-2015 information environment. For non-public libraries your organisation’s strategy provides a similar guide to relevance.

All arguments are not created equal and we heard from Full Fact about their work as independent fact checkers sifting out information you can rely on from the misinformation. They check claims made in political arguments so we are not forced to choose between “blind faith and blind cynicism” in public discourse. Their experience showed that expertise matters and it’s possible to make fact checking systematic and impartial. Again their message was that doing their work, even communicating their work was not enough. Their third team is their monitoring team. Communication enables expertise to be vocal but monitoring of trends and issues enables it to have relevance. As information expands, attention decreases.

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Quotations on the wall in Liverpool Central Library

Whilst we must tell our story it must appropriate the language and aspirations of those we are addressing in order to be heard. For libraries to survive amidst this cacophony of competing commercial and public forces our stories don’t just have to be good, they also have to be targeted and relevant. For all the new technologies and trends we need to matter, communication and making a persuasive case are still crucial core skills.

The sum of these arguments is to suggest that librarians need to turn up, be present, go to meetings, and should be more assertive in owning the narrative around what they do and more ready to engage in the selling of that narrative to others.

We have to fill the narrative vacuum around the profession with the vibrancy, vitality and variety of ways communities use libraries. This will enable us to dismiss lazy assumptions, demonstrate value and go beyond measuring access to information towards explaining the impact that access, and its removal, has on our communities in order to ensure the “integrity, preservation and provision” of information as demanded in the Lyon Declaration.


If some narratives can be reconciled, then others must be resisted and the erosion of civil liberties is one of them. The conference underlined our profession’s commitment to:

  • learning
  • openness
  • intellectual freedom and safety

but also noted that sometimes these clash and striking the right balance is difficult. In particular tension is encouraging access and openness whilst ensuring privacy and respecting creativity.

Liberty is campaigning to save the Human Rights Act

Cory Doctorow talked about the unintended consequences of Digital Rights Management (DRM). As a security process this has done nothing to prevent piracy but prevents us exposing and fixing vulnerabilities in software. It has crippled creativity and criminalised scrutiny and eroded the negotiating power of artists without doing anything to protect digital rights.

Shami Chakrabarti moved the discussion to the broader context of universal human rights and how the political and ethical debate is lagging behind advances in technology. Even as we want to be free it is important to that freedom not to totally abandon privacy. At the very least there should be public debate on the ethics of surveilling entire populations because of the dangerous acts of a few.

Open data promises to provide people with greater freedom of information, but it also threatens ever-deepening surveillance. The amount of data held in our smartphones is significant, even scary. These devices empower and enable daily but they also have the potential to be compromised and used as “digital pathogens” against us. Using this data ethically and appropriately and participating in debates about who should be able to scrutinise these data and devices relies on literacy. Expanding our literacy to encompass big data is a challenge for librarians not just citizens and Virginia Power talked about the increasing demand for digital preservation, information governance and statistical and analytical skills along with some handy resources to provide support if “this data world is scaring you witless”.

In many respects the arguments about freedom were not about being able to do or say anything but being able to fairly and openly scrutinise the systems in which we exist and that govern us: whether these be political systems or software. Freedom will never be absolute but will be constrained and qualified but our freedom is certainly curtailed when we are not able to subject the actions of others to scrutiny or we are excluded from debates.

A functioning democracy needs to be an informed democracy: we need open, reliable and relevant evidence, persuasive advocates and literacy if we are to sustain our ability and our right to make sense of our society, invent and innovate, change the world, be human and be free.

This means, more than ever, we need librarians.

Session Notes

On Writing Essays

Like many of my #citylis classmates I’ve spent much of the past 2 months writing essays, with the remaining time spent prevaricating or indulging in some festive fun. This is what scholars do. Our job is to read widely, appraise critically, synthesise astutely, ferment wisely, distil succinctly and communicate clearly. Perhaps this is why we are always going on about coffee and alcohol too; we recognise and appreciate other alchemic crafts. Each publication is our craft brew of ideas.

I know people generally think students are ill-disciplined wastrels. However, most of my colleagues are either working and studying part-time as part of their professional development or they are studying full-time as an career switching investment whilst juggling their family commitments. No-one wants to squander the privilege of being able to advance their knowledge, gain a qualification and have access to some of the best tutors and literature sources in the business.

Juggling the ideas, research and writing for four courses during the same period is a difficult mental challenge. It’s been hard work and downright stressful at times. Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes you think I’m never going to finish this. It took me a while to find my rhythm but now I’ve found a routine that works for me and once established have been disciplined about sticking to it. I work on average 5-6 hours a day, every day including weekends. That work includes information scanning, reading, writing and ‘busy work’ in that order. I run and do yoga to rest my brain and eyes and make sure my body doesn’t seize up from too much sitting at a desk. My guilty pleasure is watching Escape to the Country with a cup of tea in the afternoons. Most importably I rarely skip second breakfast.

Reflective Practice

One of the things I want to carry into Term 2 is that routine. Now that we’ve experienced a whole term cycle and its demands you get a better feel for the pace of work. Most classmates have been commentating on the perils of procrastination and the pressures of deadlines. One of the maddening things about research is the more you read the more you realise there is to read. Sometimes hours can pass and you realise all you have done is collect even more things to read. No actual reading. Certainly no writing. If only they offered a Masters of List Making. Next time of course it will all be different.

I doubt it.

We will likely still procrastinate. Sometimes it’s a genuine avoidance tactic; sometimes it’s what you might call a sorbet for the mind. A cleansing activity between more demanding work phases. Sometimes you need to step away and stop hammering at a problem to allow your sub-conscious the opportunity to ease the passage of stubborn thoughts. Sometimes it’s a sign of tiredness and a signal to take a break. Part of learning is understanding here are always areas for improvement to look for and thinking about how you will at least try to do some things slightly different next time.

One of mine would be to plan better to allow more contingency for ‘off hours’ and ‘off days’ to make sure I’m using energy wisely and not wasting too much attention and to lessen the despair when a session feels like no progress has been made. I now know how much effort on average it takes me to write an essay of around 3,000 words. I also know from my running training that periodisation is important and I organise my running into micro, meso and macro cycles to balance effort and optimise performance. I want to think across the whole term and plan a framework for my intellectual activities in the same way.

I also want to write more regularly. I found with writing essays the hardest part is always getting started. Sometimes you just have to sit and write and perhaps that will be easier if writing becomes a habit. Last term we had our DITA blogging to practice writing and I’ll continue to blog. To this I want to add more time spent writing reflective notes after reading important sources and putting more words in towards assignments more regularly.

I Love Scrivener (and Zotero and Todoist)

One of the things that’s really helped me with this is buying Scrivener and using it to collect my research, structure my ideas and write my early drafts for each writing project.

Scrivener is a data and a writing tool that provides a full studio with many features for writing projects.

Early this term I want to explore Scrivener more to learn more about its features and take more advantage of it. I could improve how I combined it with Zotero for my references and understanding the formatting options so I don’t have to do so much final formatting manual. I’ve started a CityLIS template to store my settings and I’ll want to refine and enhance this before writing my next set of essays and the Big D.

You can save formatting and settings as a template for future projects. If only I knew more about all the possibilities …

Sitting down to organise my thoughts and start writing has definitely been easy with Scrivener and it joins Zotero and Evernote as an essential in my research toolkit.

I still love Zotero as my collect, curate and organise tool for research. I’ve started to think about how I can improve my Zotero habits to work better with the kind of research I’m doing now. I’ve been using collections more to support early assignment research and then selection of sources. I’m using their colour coded tags to indicate which resources are read, unread, to read and have been cited. I’m also using tags to record how deeply I’ve read a source. Have I done a quick skim (mostly), a deep read (some) or a full critical appraisal (hardly any unless you have to write an essay on such a thing).

Zotero allows up to 6 tags to be colour coded and assignable using numbered shortcuts.
This makes it easy to see what I’ve not read, what I want to read next, what I have read and what I’ve cited.

Zotero is based on the idea of index cards (remediated practice!) so I’ve also started using standalone notes to capture concepts and definitions and put more effort into connecting related items to each other. Of course these kind of good habits do get neglected the closer you get to a deadline so now is a good time to try and get these habits embedded and tidy up both my Zotero library and my overflowing Evernote shoebox of interesting things I’ve saved.

Smaller Actionable Chunks

Another thing that really worked for me was breaking work into smaller tasks. This does help with procrastination and organising a schedule. ‘Write essay’ is a really had task to get going with. The activity is too vague, the reward to far away. Humans are just not psychological equipped to work with this. I’ve been using Todoist to manage my tasks for a while. One of the reasons is because it allows sub-tasks. Along with priorities, tagging and easy scheduling it’s really easy to organise both macro tasks and an action list of micro tasks to work through each day.

I’ve now got a template ‘Write Essay’ task for each essay structure that includes the main phases to work through to which I add specific tasks under that. For everything I want to read I add it as a Todoist task. For books I add each Chapter as a sub-task. Latterly, once I’d worked out my outline structure I started adding write section tasks underneath a write First Draft task. Write 250 words would also work. Yes it does take a bit of time to make everything actionable. I told you I would get a Masters in List Making.

Example of Todoist sub-tasks. Splitting longer reads into smaller chunks makes it easier to measure progress and gives a better sense of getting things done – important for the confidence momentum gives. In cricket they would call this “keeping the scoreboard ticking over.”

Yet, there’s nothing that beats procrastination better than checking of a task. Bing! Stuff read. Bing! Stuff written. Yay! Todoist also adds a bit of gamification by giving you karma points and graphing your productivity trends. More than this I did find it comforting at the end of each work session to have a clear idea of what I was going to work on in the next session by adding priorities and scheduling tasks. Be realistic though if you look at your list of things to do today and it’s a dauntingly long then you and procrastination are just going to hang out a bit longer because where to you start with that?

Karma! Karma points for actioning tasks Todoist allows you to keep track of your productivity. Colour coded projects help to make sure your directing your attention at the right areas or balancing your attention correctly across projects/priorities. Anyone would think I had a deadline this week.

Looking Ahead to Term 2

In Term 2 citylis core modules now vary between the MA/MSc in Library Science and the MSc in Information Science and there is one elective choice so our happy cohort will mix up a bit. this term I will be learning about Information Retrieval, Information Resources and Organisation, Information Domains and hopefully Data Visualisation once the electives are confirmed. I’ll continue to write more generally in this blog along the way and am hoping to extend my DITA blog to cover topics in Data Visualisation which will be my most techie Term 2 module.

In the meantime I’ve bought some new running shoes in the sales to celebrate getting to this point and I like forward to breaking those in. It’s time to enjoy a few days rest: drinking wine, sleeping, catching up on the news, tackling on the pile of domestic chores that have built up on the wayside and dipping into the pile of books I’ve accumulate that are in various states of ‘readness’ are all on the agenda. I also need to catch up on Last Tango in Halifax! Then onwards to Term 2 which begins on the 26th January.

Diving into Domains, Documents and Digital Ecosystems

CityLIS Term 1 Week 5. In which we dipped into domain analysis before going fully immersive; we practiced techniques for collecting and archiving tweets as a prelude for visualising and analysing them; intrepid citylisters took field trips to Highgate Cemetery (check out the DITA blogosphere for some interesting blogposts on this) and screened The Internet’s Own Boy; I investigated how big worlds can actually be quite small; we learnt about storing digital assets in repositories and what happens when you set them free; and we explored what makes good communication, (written and oral), and how to deal with the parts we find uncomfortable.

Catching Waves

In DITA this week we explored issues around researching social media.  Ernesto compared this to pinning butterflies.  I find that metaphor makes me think more of capturing a specimen from the vortex of ideas this course unleashes and pinning it into my dissertation so I’m using the metaphor of catching waves instead.  Forever rolling against the sands of time (and entropy) collecting and analysing social media feels like trying to map patterns in the shifting tides and waves that lap against our shores.  So much of what we see is on the surface and ephemeral.  This week’s session helped us venture into the deep.  My submersible for this expedition was a Twitter API application I called DITA Venturi.  I initially thought of this merely for it’s connotation with venturing but then I discovered the Venturi effect and realised I’d managed to quite aptly traverse from thermodynamics last week to fluid dynamics this week.  Apparently the Venturi effect can convert pressure into suction and Venturi also invented a device for measuring flow through a pipe.  Quite an apt analogy for sticking an application into the Twitter stream and trying to analyse it’s flow and extract it for posterity.

We learnt about two possible data transports for APIs: XML and JSON and noted that XML’s qualities make it more suited for documents whilst JSON’s simpler model of key value pairs and arrays make it good for small chunks of data.  It is JSON that is presented by Twitter API endpoints and we then used Martin Hawksey’s TAGS google scripting to extract the results of a Twitter search into a Google spreadsheet using our Twitter applications.  This provides a one off or ongoing capture of tweets and all the power of spreadsheet analytics for interrogating that twitter archive including provided summaries and graphs.  Hawksey has also built some great visualisation tools that can be used to visualise the twitter archive in different ways such as TAGS Explorer (you can try this with the demo spreadsheet that is provided by default).  This week’s DITA blog on putting this together isn’t due until after reading week so I’m going to wait until I’ve attended the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday and use #bl_labs as my case study.

This was all pretty cool and also beautiful.  Data visualisation is spectacular and artistic.  What I haven’t been able to make the leap to yet is what insight it gives.  I can understand archiving tweets.  The Twitter API only contains tweets from the previous 7 days and then it becomes much harder to access from within Twitter’s vast and commercially valuable data vaults.  Capturing tweets provides a handy corpus that researchers can go back and consult but I cannot yet understand what TAG Explorer is telling me.  What does data visualisation add and how to we approach using this corpus for meaningful research rather than just because it’s interesting?  We will pick up where we left off after reading week so I look forward to finding out.

The Science of Small Worlds

It’s quite good that I’m behind on the University of Southampton’s Web Science Mooc (#FLwebsci) as this week’s topic of using network theory to analyse social networks really complemented DITA thinking.  In this week we looked at network properties and scale free, small world networks … like the web.  These are networks where most nodes have very few connections but a few notes, known as hubs, have huge numbers of connections.  This network pattern makes even global networks ‘small’ because most nodes can be connected by a paths containing a small number of ‘hops’ between nodes.  This is typically 6, leading to the phrase “six degrees of separation”.  This video from PBS Nova explains how social networks look and how this pattern is replicated across many natural and human networks.

I watched this RSA Animate short on the Power of Networks provides a great visual accompaniment to an article by our tutor Lyn Robinson along with Mike Maguire on using the Tree and Rhizome and metaphors for patterns of information organisation.  The tree view of knowledge classification comes from the Aristotle tradition of branching hierarchies: the rhizome was a term developed by philosophers Deleuze and Guattari to describe and organisation model based on a continual shifting set of connections between things.  The tree is like a narrative, the rhizome is a map for a constantly shifting world.

Seeding Knowledge by Ceding Control

We had a preview of some aspects of the British Library’s experimental work that may feature at the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday in Information Management and Policy this week when James Baker from the British Library came to talk to us about his job as a Curator in Digital Research at the library.  Digital Research is exploring digital collections beyond resource discovery to research at scale and lowering the barriers to digital researchers.  the library’s legal deposit has been extended to UK published websites so the library can now archive born digital resources.

Some Examples:

(1) Personal Lives: From Letters and Diaries to Computer Forensics

The implications for archiving with the transition from letters and personal correspondence to Digital Lives. The British Library is interested not just in content as received on computers but performing forensic analysis on hard disks to understand “the life of how someone interacts with the machine”.  This raises data protection issues so hard to make this collection public.

(2) Infectious Texts

Combining text mining and close reading to map networks of re-printing in 19th-century newspapers and magazines (a kind of historical version of what we are doing in DITA with Twitter data).

(3) The Mechanical Curator

This project over one million images from within 65,000 books digitised as part of the Microsoft Books project. Initially they were posted on Tumblr, then Twitter then the whole collection was loaded onto Flickr (with metadata also available on GitHub) under a CC Zero (public domain)  licence.

| “We enjoyed losing control of the collection”

James listed some of the remixing and interactions: teaching (learning about curation), hacking, experiments, #immersive adaptions, incorporation into Wikimedia that the experiment has spawned.  Using web infrastructure and UX “off the shelf” they were able to experiment with doing  things it would be impossible or prohibitively expensive to do with BL systems.

Some Questions/Issues to Negotiate:

  • Derived Data: what to do about data built on data, additional metadata and potentially incorrect data
  • Remixed Collections: what happens when images are decontextualised
  • Reintegration: incorporating user generated data back into BL collections

Collections 2.0

This made be think more about how the nature of collections and research may both change if digital collections become more open and extensive, connecting with some of our DITA themes.

We are Digital Makers: in a more participatory web architecture and culture we all have the opportunity to curate and create our own ideas and projects from raw digital material provided by libraries into the public domain.

Hacking research: uses of collection data outside ‘serious scholarship’:

  • community cataloguing and classification
  • art
  • machine learning
  • education
  • entertainment

What is the “role of the curator?”

James is a curator and part of the experiments also involve thinking about how curation might evolve as a result.

| “How do we manage this dispersal?”

It sounded to me like seeding an ecosystem (by ceding control), a different and diverse role for a curator from the more traditional managing a collection. It made me think of Hans Rosling’s describing public data in his Ted Talk The Best Stats you’ve Ever Seen.

But this is what we would like to see, isn’t it? The publicly-funded data is down here. And we would like flowers to grow out on the Net.

James spoke of a spectrum of information control from authority and finality (an institutional mindset?) to adaptability and evolution (a hacker mindset?).

This raises further questions like:

  • understanding and tackling the issues that arise when informations bridges different spheres
  • what is the role of the library along this spectrum?

Thanks to James for coming along and sharing his insight and some of the British Library’s Digital Research ideas and experiments with them.  you can take a look and James’ presentation on Slideshare.

On Communication

In RECS this week we discussed communication both oral and written.  This was an interactive, and humorous, session brimming with anecdotes and views on what makes good and bad writing and presenting.  When I thought about this as preparation for this session I thought about people like Hans Rosling, Daniel Kahneman, Tony Judt, Roger Deakin, Geert Mak, Hilary Mantel and David Attenborough.   I think of being absorbed by their calm authority and their skill in distilling complex subjects into clear, simple prose. They have the quiet confidence that those who don’t see will see.  They dive beneath the froth and foaming waves at  the surface and guide you into quieter, deeper territory towards something more profound.  Like skilful divers they have mastered neutral buoyancy and have the balance, control, technical proficiency, knowledge and experience to achieve this equilibrium.  More than individuals and their ability  I thought of how good communication makes me feel.  It is about transmitting the joy and awe of rising above and standing at the summit of a mountain seeing a vista clearly laid out before you as you have never seen it before.

Yet most of us find these skills difficult and uncomfortable.  So this session was designed to help us explore and confront the good, the bad and the ugly.  Afterwards I compared the discussion we had on the art of speaking and writing with ease with my constant attempts to improve as a runner and wrote myself some motivational guidelines that might help with both!

Full Immersion

In LISF this week Lyn Robinson took us right to the cutting edge and spoke to us about her recent conference paper at Internet Librarian 2014 on immersive documents (see also her blog post) potentially a future development in the history of documents as we shift to an increasingly digital and multimedia world.  Both immersion and submersion derive from the same Latin verb meaning to dip, soak or plunge.  Immersive unreality refers to virtual worlds that are so real they are perceived as real.  Lyn located this type of document emerging from the nexus of pervasive networked computers, multisensory multimedia and participatory interaction.  At the moment this is most often tied to gaming of fan fiction but if this kind of transmedia document becomes more prevalent what are the implications for libraries and information centres.  If the British Library is navigating the shift from letters to personal computers and book deposit to born digital and researchers are struggling to capture and interrogate social networks what on earth would a library or archive of immersive documents look like?

These are early days.  There are no immersive documents yet but there are some great examples from fiction of what they might be and some interesting prototypes emerging e.g. The Craftsman.  Immersive documents need new forms of creative writing and new forms of design for transmedia and for hardware, narrative form and content producers to converge (currently developing at different speeds). They also need to go through the technology adoption curve and make the leap from early adoption to mainstream use.  Part of me remains suspicious that if you asked the majority to choose between passive and participatory they would choose passive.

This session did make me reminisce wonderfully about the Fighting Fantasy series of novels.  Who didn’t read these without bookmarking the previous branch with your finger in case you’ve made a wrong turn? These were individually participatory and gave the reader some agency in determining the outcome through the branches.  I guess we are back to the tree and the rhizome again: digital immersive documents probably offer much more in making this less a branching narrative and more an evolving narrative and also more real than leaving your fingers in three different places to check that your decision hasn’t made you dead yet so you can go back and explore an alternative story if you’ve been stupid.

There are going to be ethical and cultural issues if this form takes off:

  • what are the privacy implications?  Bad enough surveillance of activity and communication but now add performance, fantasy and dreams
  • are stories define by the medium or do stories drive the medium?
  • could you experience someone else’s experience or would context awlays get in the way

Some of the issues for LIS may include:

  • are immersive experiences documents?
  • indexing and versioning
  • retrieval systems
  • dissemination
  • preservation
  • information interaction behaviour
  • immersive literacy

Rest assured though.  If it does come and you’ve studied at CityLIS you are going to be prepared!

Digital Flânerie

Not much Flânerie this week as I was busy setting up my new computer.  Next week is Reading week so apart from heading to the British Library on Monday I’ll mostly be spending my week with my nose in a book, (or its digital equivalent), and thinking about upcoming assignments.

Image Credits

Featured image: Heading up through the bubbles by Saspotato. Source: Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


From Running to Communicating

This week in our Research, Evaluation and Communications Skills class this week the emphasis was very much on communicating.  We we asked to think about good and bad writing and presentation styles and think about our favourites writers and presenters.  We were also asked to think about what we liked and disliked about writing and presenting.  This was an interactive session with lots of great ideas and input.  By the end of it I was thinking about how I could put together a motivational guide for myself based on the good advice discussed in class and by reflecting on my own previous practice, not just in writing and presenting, but also drawing on my training programmes from my time as a hockey player and now a runner and project work.

Just Start.
Beat prevarication by aiming low.

At the start you think it will be hard knowing what to put in: by the end you realise it is harder deciding what to leave out.  Still that blank canvas is daunting.

One thing I’ve learnt from my running is it’s sometimes best not to think about the end, just think about the next step.  The prospect of training enough to finish a race can be so nerve wracking it becomes dispiriting.  Instead in my running I initially try and concentrate on why I run not how far or how fast I am running.  I think about beautiful trails and fresh air; clearing my head and feeling energised and healthy.  I tell myself to just get out and do a little bit every day.  If I felt like stopping after 500m I could but at least I would have started. Once out I nearly always run further than I think I will but the key to running consistently for me is not to put pressure on myself by thinking a run isn’t worthwhile if it isn’t what I planned.  Anything will help.  When I join several runs together and train consistently I get fitter without even noticing and enjoy the process much more than when I focus on targets.  Like running, writing and presenting are not just skills they are habits, and forming good habits is hard.  The hardest part, however, is the first step.  Once you’ve got going you have momentum so to get going I tell myself to sit down for each study session and write not much of anything to begin with and go from there. I always write more than I think I will.

Be You. 
Find an authentic voice by using a style that suits you and your audience.

Adapt your persona to suit your audience but be sure that persona is still true to you. There is no best way if doing it that way makes you or your audience feel uncomfortable. There is no bad way unless it distracts from what you are saying. As long as you are enthusiastic about what you are trying to say your audience will likely be engaged.

The same is true for running.  Go running and you will see hundreds of people and hundreds of different styles.  Some look incredibly uncomfortable, others look as though they are flying over the ground.  You also can’t sprint a marathon or jog a sprint.  There has recently been a trend towards minimalism and more ‘natural’ running styles in the running literature.  This has come from the idea that there is a best way to run and it’s based on their way our ancient ancestors ran hundreds of years ago.  It has become the new evangelism in running.  It has led to a wealth of self-help guides encouraging people to adopt their running gait from heel strike to midfoot strike without there being much evidence that one is universally better than the other,  It has also seen running shoe fashion move towards shoes with less cushioning and a lower to the ground structure.    For many it might have brought them more strength, less injuries and better running.  For others it has brought the opposite either because such a style doesn’t suit them or their running or they have attempted to transition too fast.  You cannot go from one style to another in a single training cycle but it doesn’t stop people trying.  So the literature is filled with more research and opinions for and against with the end conclusion usually being the best style is the one that works for you, by keeping you injury free and healthy, rather than prevailing fashion.  Stay strong, be flexible, wear simple and comfortable shoes that don’t use too many gimmicks.

Build confidence by practicing regularly.

One of the reasons I am trying to blog more at the moment is because I know at the end of this year I will have to write a dissertation.  A dissertation is maybe like a half marathon of writing so can’t be entered into lightly. It needs preparation and practice to even finish never mind do well.  Preparation for a race will likely include following some kind of training plan that will aim to build fitness gradually over time using periodisation.  This involves varying your training over long and short cycles and organising it into phases so start with shorter easier tasks and culminate in more race specific tasks before tapering towards the end so you will feel fit and fresh.

A typical training plan will include the following phases:

  • Base (develop basic stamina and endurance)
  • Build Up (increase strength and endurance)
  • Peak (mix longer and faster sessions to develop all round intensive and extensive endurance)
  • Taper (ease down on sessions so your body stays in good condition but is able to reap the benefits of training by having more recovery)
  • Race (enjoy the results of all that preparation!)

Writing and presenting are kind of the same.  They involve a period of researching and playing with ideas and notes.  Maybe organising those thoughts into more of a structure and fleshing them out into a first or second draft.  You’ll research the point where’ll you’ll need to start taking things out rather than going longer and spend some time away from the project before going back and reading it through and polishing it.  Finally you will publish or present it.

This all becomes a lot easier if you do it regularly.  Runners have maintenance phases so writing and speaking in front of an audience whenever possible will help find or maintain your communication rhythm and style between formal projects.  This is one of the reasons I’ve started to blog more and write about the weeks: I’m hoping my communication ‘fitness’ will improve and things will be slightly easier for being familiar when more formal assignments come along.  I also know from running that the sessions I find the hardest and most dread are often the ones that leave me feeling most exhilarated and motivated to continue afterwards.  So just keep trying.

Let it Go .
Beat perfectionism by being agile


Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done is essential.

Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

One of my biggest problems is knowing what to leave out and when to stop.  I don’t like to let ideas go so I squeeze them in until they have no room to breathe.  It is difficult leaving out painstakingly excavated research and carefully crafted words by the wayside so I tinker … but less is often more.

I got better at changing my mindset so I could tame my inner perfectionist and accept good enough more often once I had worked on some agile software projects and learnt about iterations and definitions of done and thought about my work in terms of releases and continuous improvement and quality in terms of fitness for purpose.  To author agile I: allocate effort, rapidly revise work,spend more time taking things out than putting things in, leave incomplete features on the back burner for future releases then stop.  It may not be perfect but it will be fit for purpose.  Most people most of the time won’t notice the difference between good enough and great and will forget about the bad but you’ll notice, and get exhausted by, how much more effort you have put in to achieve the finality you crave.  So just ship it.  Once it is done it cannot be redone or undone so by all means reflect but move on. Next time is waiting.

Entropy, APIs and the Public Record vs the Right to Privacy

CityLIS Term 1 Week 4. In which we move on from the history of documents to the relationship between information, the universe and everything; we play with the shift from a static, publishing web model (Web 1.0) to a service oriented, participatory web model (Web 2.0) by exploring web APIs and mashups; #citylis went to Internet Librarian 2014 (#ili2014), European Conference on Information Literacy 2014 (#ecil2014) and supported Open Access Week (#oaweek); we explored the tensions between freedoms of speech and information and data protections and the right to be forgotten; and we thought about ‘asking’ as research method.

Let’s Get Meta-Philo-Physical

After completing the history of documents Lyn Robinson turned to philosophy and as many sciences as she could throw at us in one afternoon to explore definitions of information, and the gaps between these definitions, across multiple domains. We covered Liebenau and Backhouse and their semiotic theory of levels in understanding information, Popper’s three worlds, Shannon’s 1948 Mathematical Theory of Communication, Professor Brian Cox on entropy and Sir Paul Nurse on Biology as organised systems of information. Not forgetting Luciano Floridi and his philosophy of information.  The book chapter David Bawden and Lyn Robinson wrote on conceptualisation of information across domains is well worth a read.

“We are faced with two kinds of gaps: the gaps between the concepts of information in different domains; and the gap between those who believe that it is worth trying to bridge such gaps and those who believe that such attempts are, for the most part at least, doomed to fail.”

Robinson and Bawden (2013).  Mind the Gap: Transitions Between Concepts of Information in Varied Domains

After being fairly comfortable with history this was fairly mindblowing – in a good way. We discussed information as difference (which I had to write down in three different ways to get my head around) and also information, entropy and the constant interplay of order and disorder. Is there more information in low order/high entropy systems, as Shannon argues, or is there more information in high order/low entropy systems?

It is counterintuitive to think that as the disorder and uncertainty around the arrangement of documents increases the amount of information increases. In LIS, we instinctively think that as order increases so does information. This may not be true. Findability may increase but this may not be the same as information.

Perhaps one of the compelling things about big data is the insight that comes from mining data that is more disordered than in a traditional database. Therefore, there is more to be uncovered about the possible arrangements of things within: hence being able to find more information using NoSQL techniques across a large unstructured corpus than using SQL techniques across a database ordered according to a particular scheme. Alternatively there is no information in big data until order has been found using complex algorithms and approaches (e.g MapReduce).

Blogging Mashup Mixtape Party

In the digital world I reached back towards my love of mixtapes to explore the present Web 2.0 possibilities for mashups by using open content, licensed for reuse, and web services. This was huge fun an involved creating Spotify playlists (including my mashup mixtape and cityLIS radio), Twitter widgets, watching Ted Talks, turning my websites into pictures based on human DNA, playing with WordPress shortcodes and sticking all of them together. Also discovering someone has hacked together a cassette player and tapes as a controller for Spotify playlists using Raspberry Pi. Very cool.

In fact, there were numerous music related API and mashup posts across the DITA blogosphere.

To Know and Forget

This week’s information management and policy session was on Information Law and there was a really interesting discussion about the issues arising from the European Court of Justice ruling (ECJ C–131/12) in the case of Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González. This ruling allows individuals in Europe to request that Google remove links from search results to content about them published on the web as part of the European Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).

“The internet has revolutionised our lives by removing technical and institutional barriers to dissemination and reception of information, and has created a platform for various information society services. These benefit consumers, undertakings and society at large. This has given rise to unprecedented circumstances in which a balance has to be struck between various fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom to conduct a business, on one hand, and protection of personal data and the privacy of individuals, on the other.”

European Court of Justice Opinion ECLI:EU:C:2013:424

Our discussions ranged over the practical issues, the various roles of publishers and information indexers and mediators, such as search engines, and the ethics and the debate in the public sphere is also ongoing as the many parties involved attempt to implement and digest the ruling.

The European Union has produce a Mythbuster and a Factsheet to help with interpretation.

Google publishes a transparency report on their impementation of the ruling and has also assembled an advisory council to guide it. The council holds a series of public meetings across Europe and invites contributions from members of the public.

Luciano Floridi, a member of the Google advisory council, popped up again with an article in The Guardian considering the right to be forgotten as an exercising of power over information that needs to be carefully considered.

Floridi argued that publishers should have more of a say, a sentiment echoed by the BBC and The Guardian with the BBC saying they will beging to maintain and publish a list of their content for which they have received removal notifications.

Digital Flânerie

Image Credits
Featured Image: time disappears by Travis Miller. Source: Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Needs to Knowledge Past and Future

CityLIS Term 1 Week 3. In which we completed the story of documents from the dawn of time to the present day and discovered everything connects; I found out how catalogue cards connect with the pre-history of the web; the Economist wrote about the Future of the Book and played with it’s form; we learnt about asking questions and finding answers using databases and information retrieval and knowledge management.

CC-BY by John Blyberg. Source: Flickr
CC-BY by John Blyberg. Source: Flickr

Inspired Library and Information Science Foundations (LISF) and the story of documents Part 3 this catalogue card shows us the use of classification schemes within a cataloguing code using a 20th century format, the index card.  It also provides some additional user created metadata added to the official typed record.  An added identifier is “the Lemur Book” referring to the animals that usually distinguish the cover of an O’Reilly book.  We also see something written on that links into the information retrieval themes covered in the Digital Information Technologies and Architecture (DITA) information retrieval themes and the contextual siting of search around a seeker and their information context and needs: “What we find changes who we become”.  This image itself was found by practicing information retrieval techniques from the DITA lab session.

Linked History

Yes in this week’s LISF lecture we completed our history of the story of documents taking is from the enlightenment to the present day in the ongoing quest for bibliographic control over the world’s knowledge.  This featured much coverage of the 19th century and Victorian pioneers who laid down such robust foundations for modern library and information science they are still the cornerstones of the discipline to this day.  This includes intellectual tools such as catalogues, classification schemes and memory institutions such as the British Library and the public library network.

The Ancestry of the Web

These themes were reinforced in Week one of the FutureLearn MOOC Web Science: How the Web is Changing the World from the University of Southampton.  I watched a Lecture (activity 1.10) by Professor Les Carr on the pre-history of the web.  This discussed familiar territory now including Paul Otlet’s Mundanaeum and Vannevar Bush’s Memex.  He spoke of the importance of the Mundanaeum not just as another attempt to collate the world’s knowledge but also stressed new intellectual tools: librarians, queries, and technologies: the index card.

Query became part of the bibliographic record.  Content was interlinked.” – Professor Les Carr

He also spoke about the 1937 idea by H.G Wells to use microfilm to capture all the world’s knowledge as The World Brain, a permanent encyclopaedia.

There is no practical obstacle whatever now to the creation of an efficient index to all human, knowledge, ideas and achievement” – H.G. Wells

We then passed through the emergence of the internet, a network of network, inspired by the work of computer scientists such as Vint Cerf towards the emergence of the web.  Despite this lineage from the attempts for bibliographic control and capturing all knowledge the web this wasn’t really the impetus for the web.  The web was intended to solve information management problems at the CERN research lab in Geneva.

The web’s architecture contained three core ideas that realised and embedded interlinking and querying in the digital record:

  • URIs/URLs – the idea that everything has a unique identifier
  • HTTP – a mechanism for allowing clients and servers to communicate via the internet
  • HTML – the ability to encode document structure and links to related documents in a simple markup language

From Geneva it expanded throughout the scientific research community and was then given to the world.  As Tim Berners-Lee famously said: “This is for Everyone” and everyone took it and used it for new and different purposes extending the web into the information service we have today.

If you are not taking #FLwebsci yet register quickly and catch up before it closes.  It’s a well put together course with great discussions going on as participants share their thoughts and experience.

The Future of the Book

Lyn’s whole epic narrative arc of documents from the ancient world through to the world wide web was also supplemented this week by an essay published in the Economist on the Future of the Book called From Papyrus to Pixels.  The article itself is a fascinating read connecting books past, present and future and discussing the connections between formats, technologies, authors, readers and publishing business models to trace things that endure, things that may change and things that may fade and revive.  For all that has changed the essence of the book as a route to pleasure and for encouraging connections between people and knowledge persists across millennia.

Books will evolve online and off, and the definition of what counts as one will expand; the sense of the book as a fundamental channel of culture, flowing from past to future, will endure.” – The Economist.  Future of the Book Essay.  From Papyrus to Pixels.

Interestingly the essay is also provided in three formats:  an audio version, an ink stained, coffee ringed skeuomorphic virtual book and a web page.  It was noticeable when I first encountered this information presentation that my first thought was to call it a ‘traditional’ web page.  I clearly thought using the web to deliver audio or digital reconstructions of a retro physical paper format to be more cutting edge.  The web succeeds most when it takes what was best about old formats and technologies (codices, radio) and brings them them forward to the web creating richer ever more intricate and converged documents.  I still find turning pages (even fake ones) more immersive and a two page layout in soothing black and white more engaging than scrolling through a long single column of text with brightly coloured images, headings and marginalia.  How technically and conceptually clever of them to prompt such debate even before a word has been read.

Finding and Knowing

Over in our cityLIS digital world we covered databases, information retrieval and the precision of search engines.  I had never paid such close attention to the practice of searching before.  Perhaps I have become a lazy searcher carelessly tossing free text searches into the most obvious search box and uncritically accepting what comes.  Thanks to this week’s lab I paid close attention to different types of information need, to different search methods for information retrieval, the precision and recall of different search engines and came up with some varying conclusions.  This also came up in our research methods class where we were introduced to Cyril Cleverdon who was the first person to suggest formal testing of information retrieval systems and developed the measures of precision and recall as part of his investigation into the comparative efficiency of indexing systems.

Cleverdon is an entity in Google’s Knowledge Graph and bridging the gap between information needs and knowledge was another theme of the week.  This connected into our Information Management and Policy lecture on Knowledge Management that was given by guest Lecturer Noeleen Schenk from Metataxis.  In this session we covered some of the models, benefits, drivers, tools and challenges involved in managing knowledge within organisations.

Setting Out

I have been writing about various, thoughts, ideas, work and research in various places over the years.  My interests span many disciplines from history to sociology to software engineering to information science.  I describe my journey as:

I am a historian who became a social scientist who became an information technologist who became a business analyst who found information at the heart of all these things so went back to my first love – archive and information science.

I’ve now decided to start a single blog to write about all these things whether it be academic study or reflective practice stemming from professional experience.  It will be a professional blog about my life’s work; a space to write about my continuing intellectual voyages of discovery from this point.  Previously I was worried about keeping my interests separate and targeted at very different audiences.  Now, in true interdisciplinary fashion, I’m more concerned about keeping them together and exploring bigger pictures.


The blog is organised into three top level sections covering my three main areas of interest.  These are (in order of current priorities):

  • Iddilica: The Art, Science and Ethics of Information Gathering
  • Culturion: Culture, History and Sociology
  • Addylica: Analysis Programming and Design

Themes and topics I’m particularly interested in at the moment are wide ranging and include:


  • Self and Society in the Age of Digital Reproduction
  • Surveillance Society; Expose Culture: What do we Mean by Privacy in the Internet Age?
  • Information and the Practice of History:
    • The Right to Know and the Right to Forget (ECJ C-131/12)
  • Freedom of Information and Freedom of Speech
  • The Ideal of the Commons
    • Data. Commons
  • Research Data Management
  • Data Science for the Social Sciences
  • Digital Curation and Preservation
  • Data and Metadata
  • A Social History of Innovation
  • Cartographers of the Digital Age
  • Quantified Self
  • The Evolution of the Internet/Web
    • Web 1.0 Searching *The Internet of Documents*
    • Web 2.0 Social *The Internet of People*
    • Web 2.5 Spatial *The Internet of Places*
    • Web 3.0 Sensing *The Internet of Things*


  • Me, Myself and Everyone: Identity Curation in the Networked Society
  • The Sensing Web: The Emerging Significance of the Internet of Things
  • The Sensing Web: The Curation and Preservation Challenge of Big Data
  • Realising the Memex: Linked Data, Associative Indexing and Digital Information Management
  • From Liked to Linked: Assessing the Emergence of Web 3.0
  • One Web (Connected Knowledge for People and Machines): The Implications for Catalogues and Cataloguing
  • Web 3.0: Mapping the Shift from Document Thinking to Data Thinking and the Significance for Libraries and Information Centres
  • Wayfinding the Digital Commons: Link Curation and Connected Knowledge
  • Authenticity and Continuity in the Age of Digital Reproduction
  • The Shelfie and the Patron Record: Protecting and Sharing Identity via Reading Patterns
  • The Privacy Paradox: Surveillance Society; Expose Culture and the Disciplinary Power of Identity Construction
  • Architecture and Usability of Academic Discovery Systems
  • Open Access: Authentication and Authorisation Barriers Accessing Resources
  • Shift to Full Lifecycle Research Data Management (Data + Pub)
  • Bibliographic Data as Linked Data
  • Understanding the Implications of ECJ C-131/12 for Archiving, Cataloguing and Information Seeking
  • Architecture and Usability of Academic Discovery Systems
  • Open Access: Authentication and Authorisation Barriers Accessing Resources
  • Navigating Library Ecosystems