Monday, 28 February 2022

September Event - Assessing CILIP Level 3 LAIS Apprenticeships

Assessing CILIP Level 3 LAIS Apprenticeships

I always like hearing from people outside of the University (even though the speaker works for another Cambridge University!) as it provides a view into how other places do things.  This time the talk was about something that Sarah does in her own time and with her own equipment, but that obviously has a lot of benefits for many because of her work.  

The involvement from candidates and assessors that goes into the Apprenticeship assessment is something I knew nothing about but that was going to change, and with some always welcome interaction from the audience in the chat.

Sarah is a former NVQ Assessor so it's not a surprise that she was recruited by CILIP pathways to be in the first group of self-employed assessors.  The work involved by the apprentice’s is a great way of making the most of their current position whilst also increasing the value of their professional skills and behaviour for the future.


For each candidate it takes 12-18 months, working alongside their employer and the tutor building up portfolio evidence of their Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSB's) including statements from colleagues who work alongside them. I especially liked the idea that the portfolio, isn't just dry boring pages of text but can include videos, presentations and photos. Things that I don't think are used enough to show what we are all actually capable of so it's really nice to know this is in there as part of the assessment.

There is off-job training as well.  When the tutor and the employer think the apprentice is ready and the "Gateway" is reached, a project approval form can be submitted.  This is when the assessment begins and everything they have done is matched against the expected set of 29 KSB's.

It sounds a really good way of integrating real world experiences to a structured level of assessment. I especially liked the KSB on "The nature and value of research"- “How did you assess user needs" as that is something we all do as default from experience so thinking about a response and then writing it down really shows the level of what you do know.

The timescale for completion after someone has reached Gateway is 9 weeks, so it's something it could be planned around an individual’s work and personal life.  The flexibility of choosing when to start, when you are ready rather than an arbitrary you have to do this now contrasts with a more traditional training environment.

Sarah introduced a couple of activities with us in the audience entering our answers in the chat. We had examples of a couple of the KSB's asking what questions we would ask to assess the candidate’s skills. And I think we did rather well at that which is always pleasing when you do participate ;)

Knowing that candidates get experience, training and a qualification is valuable on its own but using this to go towards CILIP certification and chartership should give a lot more people the route towards professional recognition anyone wanting to map out a career would be aiming for.

And without Sarah's talk I would guess that many of us would never have known about it.

There are future developments, allowing people in Information Manager/Chartered Librarian and Archives and Records Managers roles to follow the same routes and be assessed in their sphere is excellent progress.

Another great talk :)

More information can be found here:  

Kevin Symonds

Research Governance and Information Manager

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit 

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Cambridge University Libraries Accessibility Service: The First Year

 Many thanks to Patrick Dowson and Lindsay Jones for updating Cambridge Library Group on the massive achievements the Accessibility Service has made in its first year of operation. The speakers explained how this new department is available to all in Cambridge with special needs and its aim is to provide equal access to services and resources.

The talk began with a look at assistive technology e.g. JAWS Text-to-Speech software, and alternative ways of reading. The Service uses alternate formats such as those from RNIB Bookshare and individual publishers but there are many challenges obtaining the requisite documents. It was interesting to hear about how problems presented by some fonts, tables and marginalia are resolved, but generally these are very time consuming and need to be checked manually.

Patrick and Lindsay went through the advice and support offered to disabled students such as the creation of a LibGuide specifically for them. The Accessibility Service has also set up its own Wellbeing ebooks collection for staff and students to utilize. Amongst the support offered to staff across the university is how to produce an accessible video for use in various departments.

After an impressive snapshot of Michaelmas Term 2021 our speakers explained the theoretical background, looking at models of disability and how they inform current practice. Members enjoyed some interactive tasks during the evening including one task demonstrating the difficulties of keyboard-only navigation. The progress made by the Service in its first year was outstanding and members were most enlightened by this comprehensive and thorough talk. 

post contributed by Janet Syme

Friday, 12 November 2021

October Event - Emma Coonan - What to expect when you're indexing

 Our AGM speaker was former Cambridge librarian and academic Dr Emma Coonan, speaking about her career move into an area which most of us haven’t given much thought to, while being closely related to what cataloguers do every day. We take the presence of an index in a non-fiction book for granted, without giving a great deal of thought, unless it is non-existent or badly done and doesn’t help us to find what we are looking for. While indexing and cataloguing have many similarities, Emma was surprised by the differences as well.

There is a great deal more to an index that simply a list of the page references where a particular term appears, which could be done by a computer, but which would not actually give us all the leads to what we actually need. A good indexer has to provide conceptual analysis, bringing together topics in a way which will help the user. Unlike a cataloguer, who has a set of predefined subject headings, a controlled vocabulary, which they can apply to the work in hand, whether or not the term appears in the title or even the work, the indexer does not, they have to use their own judgment. They have to assess the content and choose the headings which they feel the user is most likely to find helpful, so in both cases a knowledge of who the reader is can help. An indexer has an additional matter to consider, the publisher, since they are generally employed on a freelance basis by the publisher or author, who may have their own agenda and ideas, distinct from the end user of the book. 

Emma stressed that the most important thing in indexing is to try and think yourself into the mind of the potential reader, what are they likely to be looking for, and how? The example she gave was St Thomas Aquinas. Will the reader look under S for Saint, Thomas, or Aquinas? A cataloguer would choose the controlled term, and there would be a cross reference from other possibilities, but an indexer could put the page references in the index under all options to save the reader time. Do you have references to him as a theologian, a philosopher, a Dominican friar? That might depend on how detailed the book and its intended readership is. 

As a practical exercise, Emma gave us some paragraphs and asked the audience to suggest how they would index them. Everybody made different choices as to what was the key topic. (This reminded me of library school, where 12 people came up with 20 possible Dewey numbers!)  A general work might have very simple headings, while a highly technical book will need multiple subheadings under a primary term. Ideally there should not be too many page references for each topic, preferably not more than 6 according to the Society of Indexers. If there are more, consider further subdividing the heading into facets. 

Emma recommended the Society of Indexer’s basic online course for those wanting to know more about indexing work, before considering the full 4 module course. She also drew our attention to a new book on the history of indexing by Dennis Duncan – Index, a history of the. 

Post contributed by Dr Sarah Preston - Assistant College Librarian - Sidney Sussex College

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Where's the orange juice - reflections from Kay Naylor

Where's the Orange Juice?

After the Chair’s & committee’s lovely words at the AGM a few musings on the “fun and games” of doing refreshments.

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay 

The refreshments for any event are only as good as the unseen backup team, and during my tenure of CLG Committee member with oversight of refreshments I have been exceeding fortunately to have marvellous team. From the CLG committee who have rolled up their sleeves and mucked in with whatever needed doing on the day, the whole gang at the Squire who have covered whiled I disappear on an errand, loading my car when it is an off-site event, helping set up in house, and have been wonderful testers of the nibbles, to say nothing of spotters of bargains. The Squire team does include Shaun & John Corr who with a small bribe was happy to deal with time over-runs. Added to them have been various friends who have nothing whatsoever to do with CLG but have added their thoughts on various drinks and food items, normally on the lines of don’t buy X product its disgusting. Especially one friends eldest son, he doesn’t hold back anything tastes revolting!!!

There have been challenges along the way, working out what wine is vegan/vegetarian, and food items getting tweaked so were no longer vegetarian/vegan or gluten free or the other way around. Nuts were also a stumbling block until we were gently nudged that it might be a problem, if it doesn’t affect you, the brain tends to disregard it. If you ever wondered where the orange juice was, I can’t drink it so don’t buy and never thought to get it for the refreshments until it was mentioned. 

Image by JINHONG KIM from Pixabay 

Will offer my good wishes for the next person who takes on refreshments they will be having a harder task now, with the prices edging up gently and, in some case, not so gently upwards, to say nothing of a bad year for potatoes which is going to hit crisp prices, think the cheese straws will be OK, at least until after Christmas, get your supplies in now. M&S still have them on offer price of a double pack for £2.

Post contributed by Kay Naylor - former (and much missed) member of the CLG Committee, providing wonder refreshments to our members!

Monday, 30 August 2021

July event: Law Librarianship and AI


Law Librarianship and Artificial Intelligence by Jake Hearn

For the last talk of this academic year the Cambridge Library Group welcomed Jake Hearn for a presentation about law librarianship and artificial intelligence. His interest in the topic has developed from his library masters research at UCL.

Jake began by talking about his career path and identified the tasks and roles in his current job at an international London law firm:

Graphical user interface, text, application, email

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The term artificial intelligence was coined by John McCarthy in 1955 for a conference. Jake set about demystifying how artificial intelligence is being used within the legal information environment. He belives that it is necessary to ensure that the term does “not alienate the general public” through a “better understanding of the technology which it encompasses”. AI is now generally used to “refer to (sophisticated) computer software which has been programmed to automate routine tasks” and can be divided into three types:

Machine learning

Natural language processing

Knowledge Reasoning

Jake gave examples of the technologies being used such as:

  • Thomson Reuters use of natural language processing in Westlaw and the Practical Law Dynamic Tool Set.

  • software such as Kira where firms can upload contracts in batch and conduct contract analysis.

  • And the research project between Oxford University’s Law Faculty and BAILLI which provides the open access data of UK and Commonwealth judgments.

The USA seem to be more ahead of the UK with the use of AI and there are more published case studies, one example being the Case Access Project. It was a Harvard University Project which is open access, now holding over 6 million cases. The law librarians at Harvard were key players on the project which demonstrates that there is a place for us in the field. This data was also used in the Historical Trends tool. Jake showed us an example of how it works.

There are discussions about what skills do modern workers need, such as digital literacy. This chimes with many information professionals existing skills. A UK Government strategy is due to be published later this year.

During the talk and the question and answer session ethics were touched on. Privacy and data protection (if storing and recalling previous contracts and cases) has to be considered, the bias of results – AI reproduces what it knows and doesn’t aid diversity (even just in the ranking of results) - is relevant. When we employ lawyers are we not paying for the human empathy aspect as well as their expertise – is it fair to charge a large sum if decisions made by an algorithm?

Most importantly law librarians, and librarians in general, need not be apprehensive about AI as we already have the relevant skills. Law librarians know the issues with searching, natural language processing, bias - the gaps, the problems and different results that can be obtained. 

He highlighted this excellent quote from SR Ranganathan to remind us that a library is a growing organism that works alongside the organisation it serves. We are always evolving and developing and have encompassed many new technological developments in the past.

Post contributed by Kate Faulkner, Squire Law Library, Cambridge

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

June event - Gytha Lodge discussing her career as a writer and writing for computer games and currently writing her fourth novel.

 Despite being on holiday Gytha was kind enough to give us a talk on her wide ranging career and experiences. From theatre work, to writing her own books and a range of writing for video games both large and small.

As with many people we've met through the CLG you can really tell that Gytha is someone that has been really embedded into what they wanted to go. She quit her job to go and work in the theatre full time, working in various fringes and London's Leicester Square and gaining lots of experience. But bubbling underneath was always the desire to write books.

Feeling the need to focus on writing she did the UEA Creative Writing MA and that really seems to be the place that really allowed her skills to explode with the supportive teaching and continued feedback from other writers.

Especially one of the scriptwriting tutors teaching her how to pitch an idea to agents, something that had not been working up to that point.

It turns out her synopses made no sense whatsoever. As a writer she broke down the story as plot points instead of how a "normal" person would describe a story. Which sounds very sensible but we all know how what we think can seem strange to others. And it obviously worked as after that was changed she managed to get a lot of interest from agents who wanted to want work with her.

But she knew who she wanted to work with who was an agent that she had previously met in the ladies loos at Ely Cathedral! 

Your agent needs to be your mentor, friend but also the person that can say harsh things when they need to when it comes to feedback on your book. They need to be tough as they are going to be the ones going out and trying to sell it in a really intensive market.

But in Gytha's case even with the great agent no publishers were interesting  in taking her on from the first pitch.

So her agents suggested writing the second book and pitching that one instead and the first one will be easier to sell later.

Having a child and needing to actually have  money coming in she took a step back from theatre and moved into copywriting and marketing for a translation form and then slid into writing for video games.

This was working on games that had been moved over from Japan and China and they needed someone that could write good scenes in English and that did lead into actually pitching games.

This ranged from big MMO games to smaller mobile games including one of her favourite games from when she was younger, Heroes of Might and Magic where she got to make up new stories for the characters she loved. Which must be very filling both personally and financially!

But she still needed to finish her book so took a holiday and finished it off.

And 5 years after being signed with her agent she got a contract offer on her book.

But unfortunately the amount offered would not allow her to leave her job and allow her to fulfill the dream of being a full-time writer. But the value of a good agent came out again and as Gytha was now in demand she could prod other publishers to see if anyone else would be interested.

Penguin came with an offer. That was 10 times the size of the first offer. And even then her agent thought they should be paying more for the world rights. And they did.

After 21 years of wanting a publishing contract it didn't feel real but Gytha could now write full time.

Such an amazing journey and story that was amazing to hear.

Unsurprisingly there were a lot of questions from members. People wanting to know more about how to get into writing for video games, how to get an agent (some answers being to summarise your novel in one line, get other people you trust to be honest to read your first three chapters as it's amazing what you might miss). There does seem to be a lot of people in the CLG who have something just waiting to burst out and our talks bring out the opportunity to quiz those who have made it to help them on their way.

We also found out how her main character, their background and the whole detective team came about (clue: it was a suggestion from her agent) and how she has not written the titles of any book. Yet that is!

The online events we have been having have been packed full of great information and wonderful stories. We are very lucky to have people like Gytha happy to talk to us :)

Kevin Symonds

Research Governance and Information Manager - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences

Friday, 20 August 2021

May Event: Sara Rawlinson: Illuminating Cambridge Libraries: a 3 year photographic project on Cambridge Libraries


We all know certain Libraries around Cambridge. Maybe from working there, visiting colleagues or indeed attending CLG meetings in various locations. But when we can see into them in such amazing detail through Sara's work it really does open them up to us in so many ways.

I must say that personally I had presumed that the whole project was actually a commission from the University because of course these great photographs are both wonderful art pieces but also great adverts for various elements of Cambridge's college libraries and the University as a whole. But no. Totally based on Sara's desires to explore her skills and to really get to know Cambridge better it is a wonderful representation of the college libraries. And the views and angles of aspects of the libraries that Sara chose to give us an insight into. And that it took 3 years which shows the great dedication she has put into this.

Following the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of the project Sara took us through her route through a variety of issues. From choices made for old or new libraries, which people she worked with or indeed around and what permissions needed to be gained. And how she could actually get the work done in all the different locations and varied equipment she had at her disposal over time.

College Libraries are a wonderful mixture of old and new (sometimes  library buildings of both types in the same college) that represent the changing times and requirements in the colleges and by extension the University itself. It also shows the real diversity of what Cambridge has to offer it's students. Some people might only see their own college Library whilst a student and they are missing out. Sara's book gives us all a great view of some of what we are missing.


I was hoping that someone would have bought me a copy of the book for my birthday but guess I will have to do it myself!

Oh I just have from Sara's Amazon page :)

When things are back to normal I will look forward to Sara's next exhibition she puts on as her work is certainly well worth seeing. More details will be on her website:

Kevin Symonds - Committee Secretary/Research Governance and Information Manager MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit