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It’s been quite some time since I wrote in this blog, as I was off work for a year on maternity leave and have now been back for a few months but not yet got back to blogging. I am now doting mother to a one year old son, and back at work part time.

And so, the end is nigh…

…hopefully not in the apocalyptic sense of course, it’s just that it’s my last week at work before my maternity leave starts. It’s all very exciting. I’ve completed all my final tasks now, including finishing teaching, writing up a project, clearing my desk, and saving any necessary files onto the shared library file space; and my replacement has been appointed, so I’m all set now! I was almost too efficient about finishing up, as I wanted to be prepared in case I had an unexpected early arrival, and was generally concerned about leaving too much to finish off in the last few days.

It’s fairly quiet at the university at the moment, as most students are doing exams, or not yet back; though there are still enough students back to make driving my car around the university quad to a parking space a challenging obstacle course. I’ve had a few enquiries by email and one or two in person, enough to justify my existence and make me feel useful.

I’m convinced my brain is slower getting steadily fluffier, due to being preoccupied with such exciting things as baby bedding, baby clothing and so forth, so it’s probably good timing to make a graceful exit at the end of the week before I a) can’t intelligently answer any library enquiries and b) can’t get up from the sofas at tea break.

I’ve had a really good year here at Bangor, really like my job and my colleagues, and will hope to drop in and see them all later in the year. I’m still going to be keeping half an eye on library news and developments in the UK via email and Twitter, but of course most of my attention will be on other things this year.

Fingers crossed for a safe arrival…

I was just thinking about writing my first blog post of 2010 about working from home and snow, when I popped onto Twitter and discovered that Marieke Guy (UKOLN remote worker) and Brian Kelly had done the same thing!

It’s my first week back at work after the Christmas break, and I had a good day back on Monday catching up with work and emails and other library staff, and mostly clearing my desk and computer files ready for the replacement who takes over when I go on maternity leave before the end of the month. I’m not teaching this month, partly because students are not back yet, and then mostly doing exams when they are back, so I haven’t been asked to run any student sessions; and partly because I am now large and unwieldy and breathless and find it easier to do computer based work. The main task I now have left before finishing work is completing the Web 2.0 Scoping Study I’ve been working on; I did a lot of work on experimenting with web 2.0 tools and writing the study during the summer, and then had no time during the autumn term due to a busy teaching and enquiries workload.

Luckily, I emailed the study to myself on Monday, thinking I might get a chance to do a bit on it at home, but completely oblivious to the weather forecasts, as they’d been predicting bad weather for a week or so, and so far, the snow in my Welsh village was mainly staying on the mountains!

So when we awoke on Tuesday to find ourselves snowed in, I was very grateful that a) I had a copy of the report accessible from my email and b) I had the kind of job where it was possible to work from home, especially given that my planned work this week involved writing and researching, rather than face to face teaching. In addition, I worked for years for a dispersed e-learning organization called CETIS (a JISC service), and did a lot of home working, so am used to the discipline of typing away on the computer with two dogs and a cat for company.

Interestingly, given that I am working on a web 2.0 study (investigating how web 2.0 tools such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr are and can be used by libraries and archives), it has been fascinating to see how much difference web 2.0 technologies make to the home working experience. For starters, I have been able to keep up with the outside world not just via my work email, but also via Twitter and Facebook, which have helped me keep up with the usual professional news and reports (Twitter) and also with weather conditions (both networks). I have also found Twitter very companionable whilst working from home, and posted more tweets than usual.

I also find that you feel quite self conscious about working from home, and very keen that colleagues know you are still working and not taking advantage of the snow to skive off work, so the online networks are also very useful for maintaining contact with people and showing that you are online and “at work” even though not physically in the office.

The other difference with home working is the decision whether to maintain the same working hours; for most of the week I’ve been working office hours with lunch and tea breaks, just as I would at work; but unintentionally had a bit of a longer lunch hour yesterday due to going out in the snow to watch my other half do some fire juggling next to a horse (long story!), which I then compensated for later by spending some time “at work” in the evening reading a new web 2.0 study which I had found out about on Twitter.

Working from home has actually been a real advantage for me this week, not only have I probably got more done than I would have at work, as researching and writing is actually easier to do in the solitude of home; but it’s made it much easier to get through week 32 of my pregnancy, tired and big and heavy, without having to take time off work due to tiredness from travelling.

In summary, I think it’s great if a workplace can trust their workers enough to enable them to work from home during times of adverse weather (or even late pregnancy!), and that not just broadband connections but also web 2.0 technologies can be used effectively to maintain contact and an online work presence; demonstrating just how valuable these tools can be. I can even update my blog from home!

It’s just a few days until Christmas, and Wales is beautifully cold and icy, with snow on the hills and small flurries of snowflakes adding to the atmospheric end of term feeling. Tomorrow evening I break up for the holidays, and have decided to make my last blog post of the university term festive in theme, by talking about some of my favourite literary Christmases.

One of my all time favourite Christmases as a child was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Christmas in Little House in the Prairie (luckily we didn’t have a telly, so the fantastic books were not ruined for me by the saccharine tv series). I think my mum must have very cleverly encouraged us to read about this Christmas so that in comparison, our own presents seemed plentiful!

In Little House on the Prairie, the blizzards on the American plains where Laura lives with her pioneer family are so bad, that Laura and her sister Mary fear Father Christmas will not be able to cross the creek. Laura falls asleep listening to her parents talking about the stockings they have hung over the fireplace, and whispering about using the last of the sugar for gifts. But in the morning, a visitor arrives, their distant neighbour Mr Edwards, who has been all the way to town in the blizzard to meet Father Christmas and get Laura and Mary’s presents, and swum across the wild creek with their gifts. When Laura and Mary check their stockings, they find a tin mug and a stick of candy each, plus a flour cake covered in sugar, AND a coin. They are overwhelmed at this multitude of gifts. I think this is a great story to read to children at Christmas, and it remains one of my personal favourites.

One of my other favourite Christmases is a classic which is probably on many lists; Christmas in Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, a book which famously begins: “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo”, and is, once again, an account of a fairly poor Christmas, and a reminder of the importance of family, and love and helping others, as the four sisters in the story decide to share their meagre gifts with people poorer than themselves. Incidentally, Little Women’s main character, the feisty, flawed and storytelling Jo is one of my all time favourite fictional female characters!

Moving from America to the UK, another Christmas I always loved was the dark, magical snowy Christmas in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, second in a fantastic series of five fantasy novels for children. In The Dark is Rising, Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, begins to experience all kinds of mysterious events, and learns that he is the last of the Old Ones, and part of the fight of the Light against the Dark. The backdrop of snow and ice and the festive season really creates the atmospheric magic of this book, set at the darkest time of the year.

A lesser known children’s book set at Christmas is Castaway Christmas, by Margaret Joyce Baker, a novel about four children who accidentally end up alone without their parents at Christmas, dealing with floods and all manners of disasters. As a child, I found it exciting and nerveracking, and it made you very glad of a warm home and a fire at Christmas.

The other Christmas I always remember fondly is from another old American classic, What Katy Did At School, where Katy and her sister Clover are stuck at their boarding school in the Christmas holidays, and are very sad, until unexpected Christmas boxes full of presents arrive. One year I was away from home myself at college, and a Christmas box arrived through the post, and I opened it with so much joy, thinking of Katy and Clover and how much they too enjoyed their Christmas boxes!

Finally, a new Christmas book to add to my favourites is a children’s picture book I bought this year, which is based on the now classic poem and picture book, Twas the Night Before Christmas, but with a new twist. The book, called A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, features a pirate version of Father Christmas with a sleigh pulled by eight piratically named seahorses, and looks to be a great one to read for Christmases to come!

We have a copy of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the children’s books section in the Normal College library down by the Menai Straits, where we keep books for teacher training, shelved at 823 Wil.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is shelved in the same collection, at 823 Alc; and there is a copy of Little Women and the sequel Good Wives in the Main Arts Library here in Bangor kept at PS1017 .L5; plus a book about Little Women called Little Women and the Feminist Imagination : criticism, controversy, personal essays edited by Janice M. Alberghene and Beverly Lyon Clark shelved at PS1017.L53 L68 1999.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (including single copies of the novel, or a collection of all 5 books) is also kept with the children’s books in the Normal Library, at 823 Coo; and there is a copy in the Welsh Library in Main Arts Library on College Road at X/DG 430 COO.

We do not have a copy of Castaway Christmas, a comparatively lesser known book, in any of the libraries; but What Katy Did At School and the other Katy books are housed with the children’s books, close to Susan Cooper at 823 Coo. A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas is not in our collections, but can be bought via the Amazon website.

Wishing everyone a fantastic fictional Christmas, and it would be interesting to hear about other people’s favourite literary Christmases, I’m sure I’ve left some good ones out!

I’ve been hesitating to blog this meeting, as I didn’t find it entirely useful, and am not too keen on criticising meetings. For one thing, I used to organize day meetings and occasional conference sessions when I worked for an e-learning organization called CETIS, and know that inevitably, you get the odd speaker whose presentation content or style is quite different to what you had expected as organizer; and I have also presented at meetings where it’s quite clear that the session I’ve been asked to do isn’t perhaps as relevant to meeting delegates as the person who asked me along may have thought. So I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of providing agendas which meet everyone’s needs and expectations.

I booked into this meeting at a suggestion from a senior member of staff that it might be useful, and agreeing that a roadshow on e-research sounded very useful for my role as User Support Librarian here at Bangor University, where I support university members hunting for research and information.

The meeting opened with a general introduction, and we were then given a talk on e-Research from a speaker from the National e-Science Centre. He seemed a very nice man, and was fine as a speaker, but the content was mostly about things like different types of computers which could be used, and was perhaps a bit general for me, and not so relevant to my work.

The next speaker talked about Web 2.0 tools. I hoped to find this interesting, as I’m very interested in Web 2.0, currently experimenting with various tools and writing a scoping study for our library on their potential uses for libraries, and was interested to hear about the uses of Web 2.0 for e-research. Unfortunately, the speaker gave quite detailed descriptions of various tools which I already know and use, and so I didn’t find the talk very useful, and also unfortunately ran over time (20 minutes were allocated and he spoke for 45), leaving insufficient time for the next speaker (who was cancelled), and leaving me feeling quite anxious about getting to stop for teabreak (I’m currently pregnant, so it’s hard to sit still and not eat for large amounts of time!).

After teabreak, we had another presentation from the same speaker, shorter this time, but again, not as relevant as the title promised; and then an interesting presentation on the use of Facebook to do research into young males and gaming (specifically Grand Theft Auto IV). I found this very interesting, both the use of Web 2.0 to gather research in a way which suited the participants, and some of the findings; though there was perhaps too much emphasis towards the end on the findings, when really we were there to hear about the e-research aspect, i.e. the merits of using online technologies for research. Nonetheless, it was for me the most interesting part of the roadshow.

The final session on video collaboration was again a bit too general for me, but then I have attended the odd session on video conferencing at other meetings, and I was tired after a long morning of sitting still.

Overall, thanks to the organizers and the speakers, and apologies if I’ve offended anyone; but it was part of my remit to write up the day for my blog, and I guess the focus of sessions was just slightly different to my hopes and expectations, not to criticise anyone who made the effort to organize or present.

Refworks Guide for Workshops

This is the Refworks Guide for workshops:

RefworksforBeginners

This biliingual (English / Welsh) powerpoint presentation briefly outlines some printed and electronic library resources for music students:

Library Resources for Music Students / Adnoddau Llyfrgell i Myfyrwyr Cerdd