SubjectsPlus- Online content solution?

SubjectsPlus- Online content solution?

I wish all technology were as obedient as SubjectsPlus

When I attended the Lilac conference 2015, there was a session about libguides, a solution used by many university libraries to manage content for their subjects. It looked particularly useful for subjects such as careers, where a lot of the resources were useful for multiple pages. I took notes and left it at that.

This year I came to the realisation that I have a lot of useful knowledge about websites and other resources that I can’t currently promote effectively. Students are generally too lazy to use the VLE and the Online Library and want faster and easier ways to access the information they need. Our online subscription databases are used very little and nobody uses the library catalogue. Those students whom I catch studying in the library and interrogate about what they’re doing, benefit from my expertise but only because they were here and I started the conversation. Promoting resources to teachers doesn’t help much because I a) can’t catch them in the first place and b) they forget the resources exist and don’t use/promote them either. Offering to promote them in lessons is met with no reply- the library is forgotten despite my best efforts. Yet, when I help students they are often surprised and pleased that resources exist.

I decided to try to change the way I provide information to our 6th form students.

Our VLE is SharePoint and I find it very clunky to add certain resources- some items are blocked by filters, which is a shame as I find that social media such as Twitter can be very useful to discover new reports and information. Even dropbox is blocked! There was a need for me to able to upload documents, link to database pages and include links to resources. I also realised that I would need multiple pages to display information, which might not be suitable for the VLE and might clash with subject pages that already exist for class work. Lastly, I know from talking to students that they are TOO LAZY to sign in to the VLE. I know, I can’t believe it either, but there you go…

A free option for schools?

While searching for libguides again, and realising that I would probably need some real money to pay for it (we have no money in the budget left) I stumbled across SubjectsPlus. SubjectsPlus is an open source content management system like libguides, allowing you to add resources in a flexible way. You can create guides and collections, add FAQs and basically build a database of electronic resources and uploaded documents. I realised that this might solve some of my problems, so I asked our techies to install it for me to play with.

My first thoughts- this will require some technical knowledge. My optimistic self decided that I would learn a lot from just attempting to make a database on this, so I wasn’t phased. Also, there are good wikis and Google+ groups to help the less knowledgeable user. However, finding out what it is exactly I need to learn is proving tricky. Simple tasks like linking my Delicious account to SubjectsPlus haven’t worked and I don’t know why not. I’m VERY good at finding and following instructions and it’s hard to tell how much of the issue is caused by the school’s firewalls without spending quality time at home. Does this also mean that students won’t be able to see these links in school?

Planning is also key. You can collate guides under collections and sort items by department. Deciding how you’re going to structure this resource will take some time and investigation into how the elements work together. Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now and again, I suspect I’ll need to play with this at home or wait until later in the year when I’m less busy. The one part I don’t understand so far is adding resources- this appears to be where you can add databases. I need to research how this works some more, and see how others have used it.My earlier investigations made sense, but other library activities have distracted me and I’ve forgotten what its purpose was.

I’m starting slowly, adding in basic information first!

Finally, I realised that most of the information I have isn’t recorded at all and is just tacit knowledge. Therefore, deciding to try SubjectsPlus has been useful as a knowledge management exercise, as I’m now making books lists and extended reading lists to add to the database. I’ve reorganised my links and created a taxonomy to tag them with, so that they can be sorted by subject, key stage and some purpose, such as “Research” or “Information Literacy”. The knock on effect though, is that I’m now looking at my physical collection with the same eyes and finding that it’s lacking organisation and consistency!

In summary, SubjectsPlus could provide solutions for school libraries and librarians looking to organise their resources and knowledge for curriculum, extra curricular and careers/HE topics. However, it does require a resilient and determined approach and/or technical knowledge and planning to build and implement. There is a wealth of guidance online to help use SubjectsPlus and some example websites, but not many examples that fully implement its potential resources. My aim is to start small- add a few guides, upload pre-existing documents and start creating book lists to upload and add as I go along. Have you had any experience of building a similar database?  Let me know!

Images from SubjectsPlus.


Thing 6: Reflective Practice

Thing 6: Reflective Practice

I’ve found it a little hard keeping up with Rudai23, but feel like it’s connecting me to many more people that before through the blogs and the small interactions I’ve had with other librarians on there. As Sarah Kennedy says in one of her posts, it’s nice to see that I fit in with the library world, having tried hard on my own to develop my skills and myself in order to take on new challenges. Sometimes I suffer from social anxiety, which I am trying very hard at the moment to overcome, as I feel that it’s the biggest barrier to my career development. I’ve been going to more conferences and trying to participate more and meet new people. It’s been great to be reminded that a lot of this can be done online, and that it’s not as scary as I may have thought.

It’s also been interesting hearing from librarians in different positions and locations and finding similarities between us. As a school librarian, it can be quite lonely tackling everything by yourself so, following blogs from other school librarians and learning that they don’t have secret knowledge that I don’t, is very reassuring! I’ve been following more librarians on WordPress as we go on so, it will be lovely to see how many new people I’m interacting with by the end of the course.

How I fell into librarianship

How I fell into librarianship

It’s one of the best parts of librarianship that so many of use come from other industries- we’re such a diverse bunch!



I stumbled into librarianship, but in hindsight I think it was always meant to be, I just hadn’t realised. As a child I was a typical bookworm, brought up in a house with wall to wall books, spending every Saturday morning in the library with my well-worn library ticket. I followed my passion for reading into an English Literature degree, but left uni without any idea of what to do next.

I worked for years as a marketing consultant in an insurance company, in what felt like a “proper job”, with a proper salary. But I hated it. Marketing was interesting, but the ultimate purpose of the company wasn’t to help our customers, it was to make money for the shareholders, and this wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. There had to be something more, so I plucked up my courage and left, with nothing to go to. Bold or reckless I’m…

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Storytelling for Presentations

Storytelling for Presentations

The TED Commandments- see number 4,
The TED Commandments- see number 4, “Thou Shalt Tell a Story”.
Found on Duncan Hull’s Flickr-

Before the end of term I was approached by a Psychology teacher who asked if I could help with presenting and show her Sixth Form students how to present better. She told me that the main problems were:

Not enough talking- presentations took only a third of required time.

Not enough content in the speech.

Slides were just for decoration.

In a grammar school you might assume that students had been drilled in public speaking but after asking the students, I found out that they could not remember one lesson where they had been told how to present their work. I don’t think that this is an uncommon situation. Like ICT skills, I think it is often assumed that students pick up this ability but although they are given lots of practise, they are not provided with guidance. This leads to multiple experiences of horrible presentations, which don’t improve much because students aren’t taught how to make them better.

Presenting can be divided simply into 2 aspects- the talking and the slides. This is just like a book, isn’t it? The use of text and image together can make or break a story. Both must be working together to tell a story visually, aurally, and somewhere in between there is a greater understanding than within the parts. Of course illustrators and graphic designers are experts at this, but our students reckoned they spent 90% of their prep time working on the slides in PowerPoint and weren’t paying enough attention to the presentation itself. They are avoiding speaking in front of their peers and so, neglecting planning the dreaded words that will have to be spoken. Excessively self conscious, they don’t want to look like they tried in case they fail. There wasn’t enough time to work on all of this in the lesson without overloading them, so I decided to pick on the part I knew they hated the most- the speaking.

Storytelling is highly regarded as a key skill, for leaders, visionaries and of course, to sell products. When you are presenting, you are being given your chance to tell a story. This includes choice of content, use of words and expression and body language- all important for presenting. I wanted a video to exemplify the essence of presenting and storytelling to the students, in order to make the concept click. Although there aren’t many YouTube videos that fitted the bill (I only wanted a short snippet) I found this one from the Harvard Business Review, “The Art of Purposeful Storytelling”. From this video I took 4 key points which were:

  1. Presenting is unique because you can create an emotional and interactive connection with the audience, which is absent from submitted papers.
  2. You need to know your information inside and out and prepare FEROCIOUSLY for your presentation…
  3. … but on the day, you drop the script and talk authentically. Excellent preparation will allow you to do this.
  4. You know you’ve accomplished your goal when your audience takes ownership of your presentation, e.g. discussing it, sharing it with others.

For the next part of the lesson, I wanted to play a game to relax the students and tackle the issue of timing. Suspecting that most students were taking it for granted that they knew how long their allocated time was, I decided to recycle that old Girl Guides / Scouts game where everyone stands up and you time a minute. The students were timed for 3 minutes in this case and had to sit down when they thought that the time was up. Many of them got it right ( I suspect the clock ticking was audible) but they were surprised at how long it felt.

Finally, we had 30 minutes to work on a practical exercise WITHOUT slides. For this I used Chris Riddell’s “Illustrations in Search of a Story” series, which I’ve used now for a few different activities. I gave students 15 minutes to write a 1 minute story, rehearse it and then recite it in front of the class without the script. They were allowed 3 prompts which were to be written on an index card I gave them and handed in before their story. The pictures are fun and imaginative, which I hoped would help them get over their fear. Although they baulked at the prospect of not having a script to read from, they cheered up once I pointed out that their stories could be about anything, as silly as they liked and didn’t even have to be good at all.

Found on the Booktrust Website. I usually plug his work while using these.
Found on the Booktrust Website. I usually plug his work while using these.

The resulting stories were actually, rather good. As each student got up, I could see that they were nervous but having a few prompts helped and many of them presented far better than I thought they would. As with anything, there were a couple who tried to coast and this annoyed the other students who learned from their friends’ mistakes that a badly prepared presentation is usually rubbish to watch. Their teacher was really pleased with the session, the students were grateful and they were set a task for homework to present for 5 minutes on their recently submitted independent reports, without slides or a script.

After a fortnight I returned to the scene of the crime, to view the results of my intervention. The students seemed visibly more relaxed than in the previous session. In fact, the one who’d been the most nervous was much more relaxed than some of the others. Timing was much better than previously, according to the teacher, and everybody was able to talk without their reports or a script. The teacher was super pleased and is now asking me to come back and do regular sessions on different skills with her class next year.

Please feel free to borrow this idea for any sessions you may be running. If the same teacher agrees, I’m hoping to prepare a session on PowerPoint Slides, focussing on text and image working together and picking how to convey information in slides.

Totally Addicted to Tweets… Thing 5.

Totally Addicted to Tweets… Thing 5.

Taken from SEO on Flickr
Taken from SEO on Flickr

Hi, I’m @kiminthelibrary and I love Twitter.

Twitter is the answer to the nightmare that is Facebook.

Having joined Facebook as a teen, my account is an embarrassment. The one good thing about Facebook is that it allows you to check on people without having to talk to them. The problem is, many of my relatives only communicate on Facebook. This is a blessing and a curse as this means I still have to look at it occasionally, so that I don’t seem heartless. On the flip-side, I only tend to add professional contacts to Twitter, so I can keep my relatives away from my more professional face (this is much more healthy for the more attractive, censored, beautiful dream-version of myself, which is my professional face).

As the Twitter interface has changed, it seems that many of the people I follow aren’t tweeting much. I see the same people tweeting repeatedly in my feed and feel like I’m missing a lot of the content. It could be that I’m now following so many people that I’m missing half of what’s going on. It’s also annoying when I’ve been scrolling forever just to discover that I’ve only been reading “things I’ve missed” and not what’s currently occurring. Bummer.

Twitter is such a rich resource to keeping up with publishers, organisations, other school librarians, bibliophiles, professional interests and book/library humour. So much so, that I show my 6th Formers how to get the most out of it for research and further reading/enrichment. Yet, there are times when I only want to look at school library news but my feed will be full of fake library statistics (@fakelibstats) or Word of the Day from the Free Word Centre (@freewordcentre) or even super exciting competitions from publishers (@hotkeybooks @macmillankidsuk @barringtonstoke to name a few). All wonderful accounts, but classic information overload.

Lists could be the answer to my prayers, so I’ve started a list on Twitter for School Librarians. Thing is, to get to it on the Twitter phone app, you have to go on an epic journey to find your list. Having half-remembered some previous issues with Tweetdeck, I tried HootSuite, which among other functions, allowed me to add the list to my home page. I’m now tempted to make lists for other categories, so that I can find information when I need it. This could also solve my earlier problem of having too much in one list on my feed, as the tweets will effectively be divided between different lists, making older tweets more visible.

My next task will be to find an effective way to keep on top of Twitter chats, such as #uklibchat and I definitely don’t want to miss #schlibchat when it starts!  I already followed the accounts, any tips?

Thing 4: Google+

Thing 4: Google+

Will I ever win this game? Taken from Emilie Ogez
Will I ever win this game?
Taken from Emilie Ogez

I was already on Google+ when I looked at it again as #Thing4 for Rudai23, it never was one of my favourite tools. Keeping up with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram always seems to take up too much time and adding more networks on top of these feels quite oppressive! How does anybody ever keep up while retaining their sanity?

Being such an introvert, I think it will take time for me to want to “Hangout” with anyone on Google+ although I can see how beneficial this will be to those working remotely or collaboratively. I already use Whatsapp, Facetime and Facebook messenger for similar functions so I don’t see that I’ll be using it much. When Google first tried to upload all of my photos, I viewed it with extreme suspicion! As I already use iPhoto with my iPhone, I already have back ups of my photos on my laptop.

It’s such a shame that using Google+ feels like extra effort, as there really are so many librarians on there! I don’t know why, but it feels like something is missing from it’s design. Perhaps its too functional to be appealing?

So, I’ve begun to sort through old contacts and add new ones. I’ve created a new School Librarians circle and will see where it goes from there. Perhaps there will be a Google School Library Hangout sometime soon?

P.S- I’m slowly improving my LinkedIn Profile! The public address is now

Thing 3: My Professional Brand

Thing 3: My Professional Brand

My main priority on the Internet is usually to get the correct balance between “visible” and “invisible”. This entails tweaking settings so that my friends can see me, my acquaintances think they can see me and everyone else sees what I’m sharing with them. To this end I’ve kept my email in my maiden name and created some profiles in my maiden name and others in my married name, and never shall those two sets meet. This is also a partial defence against students trying to find me online. Unfortunately, one of the first instructions in this Thing was to standardise my name between social media platforms. Sorry guys at Rudai, I didn’t do it!

However, I DID create a LinkedIn profile and started filling some basics in. It definitely feels like a more American thing to do and the site itself feels like Facebook for “go-getters”. I quite like the process of leaving the past behind online but, it is becoming increasingly difficult. Part of the reason I applied for Rudai23 was in the hope that I could fix my bad habit of reinventing myself on every new platform, as I grudgingly accept that doing so is not helping my professional appearance on the WWW. Although my name doesn’t immediately bring my face up or any social media “nasties” through a quick Google search, it’s actually more damaging to think that important contacts may be looking at the faces of other people with my name, who apparently aren’t that worried about their (or my) image.

Obviously I will need to spend more time with LinkedIn to improve my profile (and dig out my old CV to check the dates), but I’m not sold so far. It seems like the value of being on LinkedIn may increase with time and use but I wonder how much of the information will I already be getting through other social media, such as Twitter. LinkedIn reminds me of Google+, in the sense that I used it to connect with other information professionals. There are various incentives to being on the platform, such as the awards and recommendations system, but it appears too much like Facebook, which I avoid these days. However, perhaps by snooping into other people’s profiles and careers, I can get some more ideas for my own. For me, this would be worth the effort.