CILIP Wales Conference 2017-Part 2 Friday

So with nerves abated, and the mind refreshed after the inundation of things to think about from the day before, time to enjoy day 2 at CILIP Wales 2017.

Now that I knew where I was going, I also elected to avoid turning up 90 minutes early this time, enjoying another seaside walk beforehand. Though I still ensured I collected another goodie bag – one can never have too many pens and bookmarks after all. Records of the presentations themselves should be available to view online. Searching Twitter for CILIP in Wales should head you in the right direction.

Dr. Jane Secker – Copyright!

Kicking us off today, Dr. Secker Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City University gave us an engaging presentation on the relationship Libraries and Librarians should have with copyright – with an interactive feedback spell illustrating the frustration and confusion commonly felt by many! To help combat this she laid out the case for knowing more.

It is a fundamental feature of many of a library service – from ILL’s to digitization, access, preservation and general copying requests of users, and we are best placed to be able to educate others about good practice. We need to keep up – especially with ever changing technology and law: consider how intrinsic copying is to the Internet.

With global figures suggesting a reasonably high lack of confidence over implementation – just 57% surveyed across 14 countries reported a moderate level of confidence – and with such caution often leading to very risk averse decision-making, Jane asks – what is the solution?

More knowledge, more skills, more training? With the real risk of information overload – tailored critical copyright literacy she suggests is the way forward, marking a shift in mindset. By focusing on what we need to know we have the opportunity to be copyright educators via the broader information literacy role.  Developing more flexible approaches will hopefully lead to improved engagement and higher confidence in copyright.

To this end and in the spirit of gamification, Jane and her colleague Chris Morrison have promoted Copyright the Card Game, and The Publishing Trap to assist with copyright training and are aimed at academics, PhD students and researchers. They have been  trialed and showcased with success and you can find out more on both here:

Copyright the Card Game

The Publishing Trap

It seems to me a thoroughly appealing way of engaging the uninitiated with an accessible, fun but also important education in an arena where fear of infringement risks penalties ( I refer you back to the figures from David Teague’s speech in part 1! )

Breakout Session 1

The morning sessions were then divided up into three more groups. Paul Jeorett – University Librarian for Wrexham Glyndŵr University led a group exploring the LIS role in the Prevent agenda – an instructive and engaging look at what librarians need to know in the prevention of terrorism. Juanita Foster-Jones Development Officer (VLE ) with CILIP led a workshop exploring some of the communication and advocacy activities from the Impact Toolkit to practice working on the key messages we wish to bring out.  Liz Grieve – Head of Customers, Communications & Marketing at Denbighshire County Council gave us an “outsiders” view of how libraries could respond to the current climate, noting it is odd how there attitudes to libraries differ internationally – citing Russia and South Korea as examples where they are viewed more positively more widely. She suggests a local focus is more likely to see success – becoming more directly involved in communities whilst ‘leaning in’ to the important conversations. Suggesting less of a reliance on the statutory rights claim provoked some healthy debate afterwards too!  Though to be clear, she was not advocating, removing those rights, merely, as I understood it – not being overly reliant on the statutory rights as a weapon to defend itself with.  Perhaps, instead of defending this line from the Act, the focus should target on more specific positive areas that libraries can involve themselves with.


Paul Pedley – Protecting the privacy of library users

After another scrumptious lunch, Nick Poole introduced Paul Pedley who gave us a very thought provoking speech on the nature of privacy – and the interactions and responsibilities required between librarians and their users, and their users data.  Again, this is an area where the field is ever evolving alongside the ever changing technology.

Paul began by reminding us that we are members of one of the few professions that has privacy issues explicit to its code of ethics.  It is a part of Michael Gorman’s Eight Central Values, and librarians have access to substantial levels of individual personal data, but Paul poses the question of whether Libraries are simply to working to ensure their own lives are easier rather than the users, and suggests there are still struggles to keep up to date.

As Paul noted the privacy issue is inherent across many of the activities within the library service. Consider the details of users that are visible with self-service pick from shelf schemes and what information is printed on receipts. Card access to separate rooms still reveals information about the card user, suggesting that there will always be a difficult balancing act between giving up enough identifiable information to allow proper functionality v protecting the individuals right to privacy.

This is particularly evident with online databases, and personalisation tools, including personal searches, history of items borrowed and so forth. More broadly online how far do people actually monitor and understand privacy policies? Do they read agreements? It has been estimated it would take c.200 hours per year to read all the privacy agreements people sign up to!

Information is exploitable, and is exploited – again this connects with David Teague’s speech and we have to be very careful in the library profession how any data is communicated too – simple things such as telephone notification of reservations – leaving a message could reveal a sensitive book topic to an unintended listener.  Co-location of library services and Hubs often involve close proximity to conversations pertaining to sensitive personal issues.

Beyond these issues, Paul brought up the risks of blogging about the work life: where revealing the  behavioural idiosyncrasies can be considered just as informational as any other piece of data, and thus potentially identifiable. There are real life examples of this having consequences.

The talk contained reams of such examples, which was really interesting and quite concerning too. There are 400 CCTV cameras in the British Library. How far is this valid protection or unfair invasion?  Biometric data, online cookies, and commercial interests can create a confusing picture for anyone who’s not an expert in the area, whilst of greater concern, he notes, is the level of willful disbelief in the extent to which our information is taken from us without us knowing or understanding how it is being used.

Thus, what to do? Paul suggests going back to 1st principles and asking what role do we have as librarians in this: To defend, protect, be radical, revolt or be activist in attitude? Does responsibility lie with the individual user or the organisation or educator?

Perhaps then, the most important question is – if not us, then who? We are in a great position to activate, engage and educate about privacy in the digital age, and so now is the time to shift from walking to talking.

Breakout Sessions 2

After a really energising talk, the prospect of more, in the second set of Breakout Sessions was too tempting as Paul led a follow up Privacy workshop to zero in or more detailed concerns and allow for more tailored discussion.  Elsewhere Louisa YatesDirector of Collections and Research at Gladstone’s Library,  gave an inspiring workshop on some of the practical outreach models, that helped Gladstone connect with it’s community, transforming from a specialist scholarly resources into a thriving community and heritage hub for national and international visitors.

I have to confess Paul’s follow up talk instilled an immediate instinct to go back and wipe my entire digital footprint clear, though the fact I have taken to-rebooting this blog suggests pragmatism recovered itself eventually! Paul provided more direct details of applications, programmes and just general additional informational awareness to illustrate the extent of the general user’s ignorance,.

I wasn’t aware of the likes of Firefox lightbeam which allows you see which websites you’ve interacted with – often revealed many 3rd party visits you never knew had taken place.  I also didn’t realise how easy it was to leave your digital footprint – even the details you give for secret questions and answers contribute to your online profile. Whilst much of the rest of the room all nodded wisely in agreement when Paul asked if they used fake details for these questions, I took a quick note to immediately change my habits!

Whilst it is obviously impossible to go completely dark, the first steps to minimising it stem from awareness. There are two books that Paul flagged up as well worth a read if you wish to know more. Eli Pareser – The Filter Bubble and Cath O’Neill’s Weapon of Math Destruction – the latter of which I have since sought out and will be reviewing my thoughts on down the line here.

The nature of the algorithms and personalisation has consequences that people don’t fully appreciate, for instance using Google – a search request committed by several people scattered across the global would return a difference in results that is quite disturbing. In the age of the ‘echo chamber’ this is quite alarming.  There are alternative browsers and search engines that protect your privacy, and don’t track your search results – such as Duckduckgo.

The talk was replete with many more details that I simply couldn’t absorb all in one go – or note down legibly! Suffice to say I would fully encourage those looking to learn more to go straight to the source – Paul is on twitter @priv_lib and has a blog that naturally provides far greater clarity of his speeches and work than I could endeavour to sum up.

The key take-home is clearly to stay aware and keep up to date regularly! I have much to learn, and having noted down the many other sources to delve into later on, it was time for a much needed coffee .

Nick Poole – Closing Remarks

After a successful two days, full of idea-laden presentations, energetic conversation, good food, I won’t deny it, Nick brought an end to the proceedings with a vigorous call to arms, reminding us how important our profession is, and will prove to be mentioning the Million Decisions and Facts Matter campaigns that are currently among the chief issues to promote loudly and widely.  He suggests we are living through a revolution that may continue for the next 20-30 years as things change dramatically and the skillset involved in handling information is going to be crucial.

Further to this will be a vital alliance of skillsets across the professions – good networking again! – CILIP has a strong independent voice and it is vital to be able to have a voice that is able to get the message across and influence people – especially in government. We need to aim high, for those standards of diversity and equality, and we need to collaborate support each other and seek further support to build the economy we want!

And on that note – a very stimulating conference came to an end, much to think about, and personally I found it extremely instructive and heartening to begin my own professional journey meeting the pros with their vast experience to draw on! I look forward to meeting many more of you in the future, but on a personal note it was to nice to meet you, Nicholas, Mark, Gareth, Kathryn et al! (You’ll have to excuse me, after taking so much in, as is usually the case me ability to recall names is really quite horrendous )!


Book Review – Alex Bellos: “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland”

How many folds of a sheet of paper would it take to reach the moon? And how many more to the edge of the known universe? Clue: it’s less than a hundred.  Isn’t the idea of solving a mathematical conundrum by the simple act of inventing Imaginary numbers taking the piss? What is Euler’s Identity? Why is π not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be and what the hell do : τ, ℑ, ∫, ∑, ∝ all mean? Are all Cretans liars?

So many questions for which I don’t have an answer but here’s one chap who does: Alex Bellos. Alex’s Adventures in Numberland is a pop-sci book that  blurs the line between accessibility and brain-acher – at least for a chump like me who’s not had to try and decipher impenetrable equations for the best part of 15 years – but well worth the challenge nonetheless.

Working in a library I have become well used to spotting many varied books, both fiction and non-fiction that come in leaving me thinking ” I must read that”, “there’s another for the list” and “ooh that’s something different, why not?”  The list is presently a pretty modest two pages long so far, hopefully not too unhealthy after a year “in the service”, covering crime capers to classics, science books to politics, history, nature and philosophy.  This most recent one covers a hitherto under-read realm in my reading sphere.

As I am always acutely aware that there are so many subject areas that I know too little about, when a book pops up the list in one of those areas that I’ve allowed to go untouched for too long I welcome the opportunity to renew acquaintances. And so MATHS!  I remember at least some classes at school being not completely awful and as maths is in everything, everywhere according to all the science documentaries, why not find out more? At the very least I was able to go into this one with the surefire guarantee there would no exam waiting at the end of this book.

This is Bellos’ second book – a fact I discovered upon reading the first pages – so I would assume he’s accustomed to judging the level required for the lay reader – and one certainly cannot be a lazy reader if you want to enjoy what he has to offer. Across ten chapters the author draws out a thematic exploration of some of the key discoveries in mathematics history, roughly keeping it to a chronological narrative where possible  – though there’s plenty of room for back and forth – it’s no surprise to see the Ancient Greeks regularly re-appear with each new chapter.  Each section comes in roughly three acts, designed to help you keep up with the fast moving flow of the argument : i) an accessible introduction with an anecdote or two to help establish the context, ii) a fleshed out middle bit that goes into specific details, often using graphs and pictorial assistance to convey the significance claimed initially, before moving swiftly into iii); a conclusion that assumes you’ve taken all the information in in one nice digested mouthful and are ready to move on to the next – connected – discovery.

If you’ll excuse the consumption metaphor here a moment – certain chapters go down more easily than others, the opener is a pleasant aperitif that considers how societies have various relationships and superstitions with certain numbers – in Japan there is a  particular reverence for 3, 5 and 7 – but don’t like 4 . The reason being the word for 4 – shi – is also the word for death. Likewise the number 9’s homophone ku also means torture. I can’t help but feel this was an avoidable confusion, but then linguistic evolution everywhere can be quite mad.

There are surprising statements that can be drawn on so simple an issue as odd and even numbers – historically and culturally there has been a gendered split in association – the number one and odd numbers in general are considered more masculine, whereas even numbers have feminine links – or so suggest certain studies cited in the chapter.  We –  in its most general sense – also are rather fond of even numbers because of their ease of understanding – a point that can be intuitively accepted quite easily. We generally “like” seeing the number 50 more than we would 23 for example. Understandable, I can’t stand 23.  This observation  has not gone unnoticed by researchers for Advertising companies. However much we would consciously protest we would not be duped by such superficial differences, we are far more likely to buy a product called Solus 36 than one called Solus 37 – so say the statistics at least!

Thus, the opening chapter is an enjoyably breezy and informative overview of some of the ways people respond to and interact with numbers – interesting, accessible and digestible – the ham salad of starters.  It isn’t necessarily a gradual linear progression from smooth mouthfuls to calling for Dr. Heimlich, but there are – for the more rustier mathematicians approaching this – certain parts that will require a clear head, a pitcher of coffee and more than just a one hour lunch window of reading time to get stuck in.

In chapter 7, the abstraction of mathematical concepts has come to the fore with the question of Imaginary numbers – a concept that was invented to deal with the somewhat vexatious issue of negative numbers. We remember ( well so claims Alex)  from school that a negative times a positive is a negative, and a negative times a negative is a positive right? So what’s the square root of -1?  An apt response comes from the 16th century Italian mathematician Girolamo Cardono who revealed that thinking about these things “gave him mental tortures.

It is a position that I had some sympathy with at the trickier parts of the book.  For the lay reader who’s not touched equations in a long time, there will be times where you may, like me,  having to re-read words like sinesoid and parabolica several times before you understand what is going on. However, once you do get there, there is a satisfying sense of at least being able to appreciate at a basic level why those more “in the know” are in awe of certain breakthroughs. The development of understanding of the triangle, conical shapes, and angles, and it’s practical application in the worlds they emerge in is fascinating. For me at least, the word triangulation now actually means something! Being able to calculate far off distances for travelling ships or the position of the stars in the sky using the same simple principle is fascinating and rewarding to read once you’ve settled your mind into a mathematical approach.

In fairness Bellos is upfront about the varying level of technical language used to explain these concepts and one has the sense that there is a limit below which an explanation behind the notation and terminology for Imaginary numbers, quadernicons, and infinitesimals would be too simplistic to make it worthwhile. Still, there is enough to be able to enjoy to compensate for the parts where you may find your brain curled up in the fetal position demanding a more straight forward read (I duly followed up with some PG Wodehouse after finishing this).  I tried to take notes on most of the chapters I read with a little bit of information for each one, and I succeeded mostly – although Chapter 8 in my notebook simply reads: “Calculus – hmm, something Newton, 1800s, infinitesimal, help.”

On the other hand, and looping back to my introduction the nature and spectacular size of doubling explained through folding paper is a strikingly succinct way of conveying the exponential swiftness of growth. A 0.1mm fold of paper, folded 6 times has the thickness of a small book, a further 6 folds ( doubling ) gets you close to a metre in size. So far no quibble from the brain. But then it begins to take off rather quickly. Another 6 folds leads to a height equivalent to that of the Arc de Triomphe. Now we’re at 18 folds. It takes just a further 22 doubling folds to reach the Moon. It makes straightforward sense when you see the numbers written down, and multiplied by 2, but this visualistion lends a resounding sense of “wow” about this very simple idea.

The final chapter that discusses proofs is a welcome relief after the more abstract concepts that have preceded it, with Euclid’s Elements invoked to remind us how savvy those Ancient Greeks were,  and discussion of the cellular computation behind the mathematical plaything The Game of Life neatly brings old and new together to sign off a challenging but engaging book about numbers and maths. After an appropriate break I’ll happily try out Bellos’ first book in this area, and I do recommend it for those with an interest in numbers and popular science books – it is a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf, but for now, where are you Jeeves?