LibraryBox at #i2c2 6 March 2014

Penny Andrews at i2c2 by Andrew Walsh

Penny Andrews at i2c2 by Andrew Walsh

As soon as I heard about LibraryBox on Twitter, I knew I wanted to be involved. When Jason Griffey set up a Kickstarter to fund development of new features for LibraryBox, I signed right up. When the call for i2c2 came out, wanting sessions about Innovation, Inspiration and Creativity, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about and pitched two ideas, planning on leading whichever was chosen, if any, with a more experienced colleague. The other idea will live to see another event… Originally, I was going to do this workshop with a public librarian, Sue Lawson, but she was unable to attend. This worked out for the best, as it did me good to run a 60 minute workshop without relying on anyone else. Thanks to Jason for sending me a beta build of LibraryBox, as the Kickstarter models weren’t going to be ready on time.

Here are my slides. As it was an interactive workshop, they don’t make a lot of sense on their own.

So here is a short extract from my notes. Not the full thing, I am an international librarian of mystery after all. If you’d like me to run a LibraryBox workshop for you, just get in touch.

What is LibraryBox
LibraryBox, plural LibraryBoxen because librarians love neologisms almost as much as they love acronyms, is this tiny thing here. People can anonymously download public domain and openly licensed content from it, along with anything licensed for use with the LibraryBox, for example ebooks by a local author.

History and PirateBox
So LibraryBox is a fork of PirateBox. Fork is a software term really. It means that the PirateBox uses open source software and LibraryBox is based on that same code but went in a slightly different direction to suit the needs of its community. PirateBox is very popular in the open source community – it has been used to share all kinds of content as the name indicates and it lets users upload as well as download content.

Jason Griffey, a librarian in Tennessee who developed LibraryBox, made two major changes to the basic PirateBox to make it more suitable for libraries. First, he removed the upload capability to give librarians more control over the collection and, in his words, to “stop it from becoming PornBox”. Second, he restricted the suggested content to public domain, openly licensed and personally licensed content, so libraries didn’t have copyright and legality issues. It also means you can use LibraryBox as a tool for open advocacy.

How it works
In reality, LibraryBox is an off the shelf wireless router with a USB stick plugged into it. It’s a physically tiny stick because that makes the footprint of the Box smaller, but it could be any size. What’s special about this router is that it has a switch on it that lets the router pretend to be the internet – it creates a secure and anonymous local connection without actual internet access for devices in WiFi range. The USB stick is used to set the router up as a LibraryBox, provide the various pages users see when they connect to the LibraryBox and to host the content you want to share.

The code is open source, so anyone can buy this router or a similar one and a USB stick and follow the instructions to set up their own LibraryBox, or they can pay Jason Griffey to make one for them. The cost is low except in staff time – this model of router costs under £30. It’s more like $150 from Jason, including the USB stick and pre-loaded content. He ran a very successful Kickstarter to improve the code and make it work better for libraries, which is how I got my LibraryBox. The new features include being able to update LibraryBox via FTP and mesh networking of LibraryBoxen so you can update a master LibraryBox with content or improved software and all the others within range will automatically update.

Users see the LibraryBox in their list of potential WiFi connections and can connect without a username or password. If you try to go to a website, it takes you to the LibraryBox landing page. It’s like The Cloud’s WiFi in public places for that, only it never makes you log in and it isn’t annoying and full of adverts. The landing page has various menu options that are set up to take users to folders full of content that look just like Windows Explorer or Mac Finder windows, so they can open and download files.

It’s powered by USB – it has a mini USB slot, so you just plug in the mini USB cable into a computer or a phone charger or even where there is no power an external battery like the Pebble I have to charge my iPhone or a USB solar panel or a hand crank.

While library staff love statistics and demographic information, or some do, the LibraryBox is designed to be private and anonymous. This means you can use it to share information that people would not pick up or download if they could be seen or if it was logged on home or library computers. Important information about health, sexuality, domestic violence, forced marriage, religion, substance addiction, politics. Using a LibraryBox with your community doesn’t mean you have to be radical, but it means that you can be. You can certainly extend your radical collections way beyond what can be purchased and catalogued.

Digital Divide
The LibraryBox is designed to work where there IS no internet, or where the internet is heavily filtered. Lots of people have smartphones but can’t afford a data package or unlimited data and lots of libraries and other settings such as schools, hospitals and public places have no WiFi or WiFi that blocks certain types of perfectly legitimate content. The connection is quick and downloads are near instant, which is fun, and particularly useful in rural areas where connections are slow even when broadband exists.

The content is also DRM-free and you don’t have to log in, which removes a lot of barriers. Even if your users don’t yet have a device that can connect to WiFi, you can use LibraryBox to demonstrate all kinds of things in a safe, relatively frictionless way without the risks and problems of the live internet.

(I’ve cut all the stuff here about how the LibraryBox has been used and what you could do with it. This bit was awesome. I’ve also left out the tech stuff. We then played with the LibraryBox live and I answered questions etc. Let me put on a workshop for you!)

Post-it ideas
I asked participants to tell me how they might use a LibraryBox and their favourite thing about it.

Look at all their ideas!

LibraryBox Post-Its at i2c2

LibraryBox Post-Its at i2c2

People also tweeted from the session, though not too much as apparently it was “too engaging” for that. I feel overwhelmed by how lovely people were about the workshop. The Storify is presented below, using a kind of workaround that may not always work.



SLA & ManchesterNLPN Event: Scanning for New Technologies


My first event as a member of the SLA Europe Events Committee

Originally posted on NLPN:

The Manchester NLPN team are very pleased to be involved in a new event alongside SLA Europe.


Scanning for New Technologies will feature The Next Web’s Editor in Chief, Martin Bryant, taking us through the latest apps and devices and the potential they hold to streamline our professional lives. The Next Web is a popular technology news, business and culture website, definitely one to bookmark if you haven’t read it previously.

The session, sponsored by Swets, will cover a range of current technologies, and will also feature some good old horizon scanning to help enhance your awareness of forthcoming technologies.

Spaces are limited, so don’t miss out! Visit the SLA Europe website, or book via the online form

The event is taking place on 11th February 2014,  6pm-9.15pm
Venue: Central Manchester Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester M2 5NS

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Evidence-Based Librarianship at Librarycamp UK 2013

My session pitch can be found at the Librarycamp UK 13 wiki.

The session was huge and well-covered by tweets and photos, so I suggest you read the Storify I made first. Below are the notes I made during the session, tidied up a bit. They aren’t comprehensive (look at the Storify!) because I was facilitating the session and trying to make sure people got to speak, a broad range of perspectives were covered and so on.


Lots of people asked where they could find research they can access, and Evidence Base are working on making sources easier to find.

Somebody asked about studies on movement in social spaces. He had found work on art galleries, museums etc but only a handful for libraries or attempts to build on it. There is lots on space in Higher Education libraries, but less for public libraries? Most research is about how library spaces contribute to learning. There are definite gaps.

The group was very big, but I knew a range of sectors and viewpoints were represented just from the people I knew personally. I asked the PhD researchers who are also practitioners, Andy Walsh and Bryony Ramsden, about their work.

Andy – research is practitioner-led as that’s what’s supported by employers. A lot of the work is done in his own time.

Bryony – research on use of library space. She negotiated reduction in working hours.

Neither expected their research to be immediately implemented in the workplace, or at all – not due to any lack of ambition for their work, but down to priorities.

A single student comment is often taken more seriously by the powers that be in academic libraries than the evidence provided by a two year, extensive research project. “Experts” are not often consulted.

Being a researcher can enhance the perception others have of you in the broader organisation – you are “one of us”. That still doesn’t mean your research will be used, but it helps cement your relationships with some groups.

Sarah Childs works for the CMI, who have a project connecting management practitioners to theorists and researchers. The practitioners review research articles written for a competition, and in return the researchers can win a prize and also use this work as evidence of impact for research assessment exercises and funding applications.

If you carry out research at work – has it had an impact on your service? For most people it changed the way they worked or their specific team, rather than the wider library or organisation.

Our attention was drawn to CILIP members’ access to subscription resources. Liz Jolly recommended American sources like Educause.

Health librarians spoke about the Quality Assurance Framework and the importance of using evidence to inform the development of new services in the NHS.

Special librarians explained that they had no time to do their own research in their libraries – they have broad support for evidence-based working but no resources to do it themselves, so they concentrate on gathering examples of best practice and shared resources.

Several people recommended the LIRG website and the group is for anyone interested in research, not just active researchers or people with doctorates.

You can learn about research and evidence from conferences – you don’t need to attend to get useful content out of them. Often abstracts and slides are made available – and if someone is interested enough to speak about a topic at an event, they’ll often happily talk to you if you contact them.

Library schools were criticised for not teaching students how to take the skills they learn in research methods classes and from carrying out dissertation on to be a practitioner researcher. Lecturers may well base their teaching on research, but they could refer more directly to times when they have worked with practitioners or where their research has been used in practical situations.

Not everyone felt they had the critical appraisal skills for reading research, and some books were recommended (see Storify).

As librarians and researchers, we can often end up wasting time on critique of the methodology of studies rather than thinking about what useful ideas we can take from the content, however slight.

Liz Jolly explained that post-1992 or “learning-focused” universities are very keen on collaboration and multidisciplinary research. Students are seen as partners in teaching, learning, research and the development of services. If you work in HE, think about developing a research project with students. Carry out usability studies of your catalogue. Use students as researchers and help them to develop the skills they need as well as getting users actively involved in research.

Andrew Preater spoke about the importance of user experience and usability testing of systems. Apparently it is relatively rare, at least at a level beyond basic testing, but it repays the investment.

Some universities carry out literature reviews as well as benchmarking studies before drawing up tender documents for library systems and services. This should be encouraged. It’s about more than just stats and small case studies.

It was recommended that we keep read the UKSG study of library discovery systems.

Public library research is often carried out by academics, but not carried out or read by recent practitioners.

Brighton’s library school students mostly carry out action research based on libraries’ needs. A list of potential projects is circulated to dissertation students.

We should share with BAILER, the organisation for library & information science education, about our research needs, and we should also collaborate with the wider research community. Human-computer interaction and user experience experts are not confined to the library world, for example.

Librarycamp and OpenCPD at FLOSSIE 2013

I spoke yesterday (9 Nov 2013) at FLOSSIE 2013, held at QMUL in London. To quote the organisers:

Flossie 2013 brings together FLOSS women developers, entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers, digital artists and social innovators for an exciting mix of talks, spontaneous discussions and open workshops. Flossie 2013 brings the benefits of open thinking to artist and entrepreneurs and the insights of diverse innovators to FLOSS development.

Flossie 2013 is a two-day event for women who use or are otherwise interested in opening and diversifying technology to drive innovation, to share and inspire. For us, diversity is the solution – not the problem!

@pennyb at FLOSSIE 2013, photo by @DigiEnable

@pennyb at FLOSSIE 2013, photo by @DigiEnable

I wanted to talk about OpenCPD, the MOOC and OERs that Librarycamp spawned. We announced this project at Internet Librarian International last month. The talk went well, and I met some awesome people. I hope that the people who asked questions and offered advice will stay in touch, as it was great to chat beyond the information professional world about this. Questions were asked about how libraries becoming more social affects library spaces, which taps into both discussions I’ve had at library school and the PhD work of Bryony Ramsden, whether or not basing work like this on theory (pedagogical, mostly, because I want this to be a good learning experience for people AND not harm anyone) is exclusionary and wider issues around open access and digital preservation and discovery. EXCITING.

I used Presefy to present the slides, and that meant people at home (and in the lecture theatre) could follow along in real time, as I tweeted the link. I used my phone to change slide on the big screen and for the people following simultaneously. I used my Kindle again to read my notes, as I did at ILI last month – hat tip to Simon Barron for that, as I find it really useful to have the notes in that format.

Here are the slides:

Here are my notes, numbered for each slide. They don’t contain everything I said, but I did convert them into full sentences:

1. Hello. That’s me. I’m an MSc Digital Library Management student at the University of Sheffield, and a Librarycamp organiser. I’m also the project director for OpenCPD.

2. Librarycamps run on Open Space Technology, so unlike this conference where presenters put in abstracts that were selected and programmed, people pitch on the wiki or in person (or most often both) and then those sessions are put into spaces and facilitated by the pitcher or someone else who has volunteered to help out. You attend what you like and can change session or walk out whenever you like. No slides, no advertising, no agenda.

3. Librarycamp has changed my life and career. It is also true to the spirit of Open Culture. People with caring responsibilities and evening and weekend work can struggle to get involved with the in-person events, as can other marginalised groups, so the MOOC and OERs can make this type of learning more accessible and broaden the reach of the social elements too. It’s a shame the cake can only be virtual.

4. Here’s the big idea – I decided to start this project as an extension of Librarycamp. Everyone else was very supportive and lots of people who have led sessions at Librarycamp have offered to help. This is good, because I need a big team to make this happen. I can’t just recruit and pay people to fix the problems.

5. A lot of people think I have ideas above my station doing this, but that’s part of the problem with my profession – it can be very hierarchical. We need more of the hacker culture to come into work as well as lurk outside it. We need people with no qualifications to be involved, and we also need senior people to get on board, otherwise it will have limited effect.

6. There’s an extra bit of jargon too – cMOOCs and xMOOCs. cMOOCs are the original connectivist MOOCs, which are about social networked learning and more peer-oriented, and xMOOCs are what most people these days know as MOOCs – run by universities with big name professors either appearing by video or designing the content.It’s not necessarily that clear-cut, as some xMOOCs have a lot going on via forums and hangouts and some cMOOCs are definitely driven by ego or small groups – both can restrict their openness and accessibility, even if they don’t mean to. Even cMOOCs haven’t tended to think about how materials would work outside the MOOC – slapping on a CC-BY licence is not enough.

7. OpenCPD working properly as both OERs and a MOOC is very important for me, and I know that will be difficult. We hope to share the OpenCPD resources as OERs via a variety of distribution methods – the MOOC, Jorum, Librarycamp website, a wiki with contextual information, and at events and in library schools via LibraryBox. We will use a wiki to collect pitches – same as we do for camps – as well as encouraging specific individuals to sign up. The wiki will also be used to provide contextual information for the OERs for those not taking the MOOC, and to crowdsource subtitling, translation and other things that will make the resources more accessible.

It’s telling that Jorum, the key repository for OERs in Further and Higher Education, has instructions for putting stuff in but not a lot about effectively getting stuff out and using/repurposing it. We’re librarians, helping to fix this could make this project be about more than educating our profession.

8. These are what already exist. They’re quite different. New Librarianship focused on a superstar professor and his main current theory, and encouraged you to buy his book. The videos were poor quality webcam footage, which made it easier to study by just reading and doing the quizzes rather than watch lectures. I completed the MOOC. I’ve completed lots of MOOCs. This was run on Coursesites, which is a Blackboard product. It was interesting, but very much top down from the experts.

Hyperlinked Library is very unwieldy. It’s run on WordPress with Buddypress and I have ended up quitting every MOOC I’ve tried on this platform. Every participant is encouraged to blog and they are rewarded with badges for all sorts of things. It felt like the Girl Guides. Too much content is generated by peers for students to read it all, AND still reflect on the work set by the academics running the course and the readings. It doesn’t always fit in well with a busy work and home life. Some people really enjoyed it, but it was not a good model for our MOOC, which has to appeal to a wider range of people. Hyperlinked Library also isn’t open – the organisers chose to take applications and restrict numbers.

9. I think we’re going to use Moodle, because it’s open source without requiring everyone involved to be a developer, plus there is a lot of experience of the platform in library world. That knowledge base plus the opportunity for people to develop skills that will be useful in the workplace points towards this as a good solution.Even if Udacity or similar would let us specifically in, that defeats the point – we want this to be open and scaleable, not a special case. Other platforms restrict what you can do, or their model is based on instructors selling courses, or they’re not open source.

10. This has to be a cMOOC and not an xMOOC, but I want to avoid the pitfalls of the overly connected MOOC, which seems to only attract people in a certain kind of role (people who work in or support education and have time to play with all the things). My initial plan is for facilitators to record a video “lecture” which will be broken into small, mobile-friendly chunks and run a Google Hangout or Ustream chat, plus a Twitter chat. They would also be encouraged to provide a reading list of open access and free materials. Everything would be archived and given decent metadata for discovery and preservation. We could also link to sites like Meetup and local librarian groups and networks to encourage face-to-face discussions.

It is also important to publicise the materials and recruit potential facilitators via traditional channels, as if it is just something for the Twitterati it won’t do what I want it to do – that openness again. Unlike the physical events, there’s no worry about “selling out” all the spaces before people with limited internet access or exposure to social media hear about it. We want it to be open to everyone – including non-librarians, too.

Library Student Day in the Life

So I signed up to take part in the Hack Library School Library Student Day in the Life, but I kind of failed at tweeting with the hashtag because when I felt moved to tweet about library school, which was reasonably often, I didn’t have the characters left or the wherewithal to use such an unwieldy hashtag. I mean, #HLSDITL. Ouch.

information school, sheffield

 You therefore get a blog for this week. I am not blogging every week of my Masters the way I did my graduate traineeship, because there isn’t enough variety for that and I have enough writing to do for my assignments. However, I will try to check in regularly to update you on my studies. This semester I am taking one core module and two optional modules. Next semester I have three optional modules and three core modules, followed by the dissertation, so I am also trying to do the work for one of those this semester as well as paid employment and voluntary work.

Monday – no lectures. In the morning, I had training on some of the specialist software awarded to me by Disabled Students Allowance, namely Dragon Dictate.  It was not an easy session. However, I went in to university in the afternoon to meet with some radical librarian chums to talk about ethics, theory and actions we might take. This came about via a chat on Twitter, where we expressed disappointment that nothing like Rethinking Economics exists for librarians. Hack Library School of course exists, but that’s very much for and about students as well as student-led, and it’s very North American in a lot of ways. After our meeting, I went to the track for a great sprinting training session with my regular coach.

Tuesday – I had a meeting with the supervisor for my Independent Study module. This module allows more experienced students to take on a topic of interest that is not covered by existing modules and work with a specialist tutor to produce a 3000-5000 word piece of work. I am researching Open Access mandates in the UK, which will surprise nobody who knows of my research and practitioner interests in OA and related topics. Thankfully my tutor is a) very much an expert in this topic, having published widely on OA and also been involved at a high level as an information professional and b) is very clear about what he wants from me.

I had rewritten my Independent Study proposal after an initial draft, and my tutor informed me that the Programme Co-ordinator for my course had approved it, which was good. It meant we could move on with the work. We worked on refining my research questions and took a good look at the data I had collected and some initial findings. We agreed on actions to take before our next meeting, and it was all very interesting and reassuring.

This module is what is sustaining my interest in my course at the moment, which is a curious mix of things I already know and things I never want to, and in common with other postgraduate professional qualifications, is both academic and practical and not quite enough of either. This is not a specific criticism of my course or institution, just the way library school is, and it is more frustrating for anyone who has more knowledge and experience rather than less. My tutor for this module has suggested that I see lectures etc as an opportunity to reflect and gain new insights, rather than necessarily gain new knowledge, and this helps.

Independent Study feels like what I always wanted university to be, and could never be at undergraduate level unless I had gone to Oxford or Cambridge and had, well, one-on-one supervisions.  I didn’t. I dropped out of two very highly-rated non-Oxbridge universities and then finally got my BSc with the Open University, which is a different kettle of fish entirely.

After the meeting, I had a strategy support session with my Asperger Syndrome specialist tutor, which was useful, then met a librarian friend for lunch.

In the afternoon, the regular lecture for Information Retrieval, which is shared with undergrads and very heavy on the PowerPoint slides, was replaced for one week with a practical metadata session for postgraduate students only. Staff from the university library showed us how to create a MARC record in the library management system, Alma. I have done some cataloguing and a lot of metadata before, so it wasn’t very new to me, but it was good to work on that system.

Wednesday – Wednesday mornings this semester are the core module, Management & Strategy for Digital Libraries. I tend to chip in a lot. We’re having catch-up/consolidation sessions on this module soon, which is good as other than the two strategy sessions, I have found it a bit hard to follow outside the readings suggested and what I already know from my own interests. There is a large gap between students on my course in terms of knowledge and experience, which I think will be addressed soon – in part by the catch-up, as some students were not here at the beginning of term. The group is small, as there are not many people on my programme and this module is just for us.

The group went out for lunch after the lecture, which was lovely, and then I went to the orthodontist. Less fun, as a wire had broken invisibly and a tooth has rotated. I have to put up with high pressure on that tooth for a few weeks before (hopefully) getting my final wire preceding jaw surgery.

Thursday – I caught up on reading and began preparation for my talk at FLOSSIE next week. I also did some data collecting and analysis for my Independent Study. In the evening, I met with a digital archivist friend and talked about data protection and professional qualifications.

Friday – I worked on some preliminary reading for some research I may be involved with.  I also did some research and made some arrangements for my upcoming trip to Berlin for the Berlin 11 Satellite Conference.  Five times as many people applied for places as were accepted, and I was awarded a travel grant. I feel very lucky.