2016 has received a lot of flak for being a generally crappy year. On paper though, my 2016 has been a pretty good year. We sold our house after a stressful and drawn out process – hoorah! We settled into a new area in a house we love closer to family and friends. I’ve had some great days and evenings exploring places, discovering new restaurants, and doing fun activities. I came to the realisation that I wanted to freelance so I left my job and I’ve had a successful first few months as a freelancer. I’ve strengthened existing friendships and relationships, and built new ones.
However, I think 2016 has been one of the most challenging years of my life. I’ve learnt a lot; and thought I’d share my main lessons. I do look back at my previous ‘end of year’ blog posts (I’ve been doing them since 2008!) so this is partially for myself to look back on, but as before I’m sharing publicly in case this is of value to others too. So here’s my main lessons from 2016…

Being authentic and comfortable with showing my true self leads to greater fulfilment

Authenticity is something that’s been important to me for a while, and I’ve been striving to learn more about myself to enable me to live more authentically. I’ve learnt a lot about my values, my strengths, and my motivators. I’ve been fortunate that in most areas of my life I’ve been able to align more strongly with these, though it hasn’t always been easy. Going freelance has been incredibly helpful in this respect; everything I do in my work is now up to me, so not only can I ensure I align the work I do with my authentic self, but I can also align the way I do it. I attended my first event as a freelancer a few weeks ago, and during the networking someone paid me a great compliment when they joked that I shouldn’t be so honest if I want to sell my work as a freelancer (I think I said something about enjoying working for myself but that my boss was a bit of a slave driver!). I loved this; I don’t want to ‘sell’ myself or my services in any way other than the truth because there’s no point misleading people and working with people who expect a version of me that is different to who I really am. I’m a hard worker, I’m passionate about the work I do, I’m a night owl rather than a morning person, I’m not a huge fan of phone calls, I’m silly, I make fun of myself, I enjoy giving and receiving banter and I have a filthy mind. I’m fortunate to work with some amazing people who accept and value me because of, or in spite of, all these qualities.

I’ve also found that I’m fortunate to have people in my life that I can be completely honest with. I love that I can have conversations where I don’t have to filter what I’m saying and I can show my vulnerabilities and know that they will still respect me and won’t judge me negatively for this. Living more authentically, both in what I do and how I do things isn’t something I can achieve like an item on a to do list but is something I aim to practice as much as I can and when I am able to do so I find it incredibly fulfilling.

Time (and money) spent with those I love is worth every second (and penny)

This might seem an obvious one, but my actions in the past might not have shown this. Family and friends have always been the most important thing in my life, yet although I always valued my time with them I used to spend far more time and energy on other things (such as my career) and used to save money to the extent that it was detrimental to both myself and those I love. This year I’ve started adjusting my priorities in terms of how I spend my time and money. I am fortunate to have a great support network, and I appreciate the people who are part of this. I want to show that in my actions so this year I’ve spent more time with family and friends, both in person and texting/chatting online, and I’ve spent more money travelling to see people and doing fun things together. I occasionally regret purchases I’ve made, but I don’t regret any of the money spent on experiences with those I love. At times my priorities shift in a different direction, but I’m much more aware of how important it is to invest in my relationships so try to make sure to prioritise this more. One example of this is that once a week my partner and I try to go out for lunch/coffee/walk/cinema; we’re now both self-employed so try to make the most of being able to do so during quieter periods, and I really cherish this time we spend together.

Constantly striving for perfection can be debilitating

When we went to therapy last year, one of the things which touched a nerve with me was when the therapist mentioned that I was a perfectionist. I’d never really realised this, or accepted it anyway, and was quick to defend it by showing that I just always want to improve and for everything to be the best it can be and for people to perceive me and my work in a positive way. Then I realised I’d basically just described a perfectionist. Oh. I’d always seen my drive to improve as a positive thing, but this year I’ve seen a negative side to this. At times I have been so wrapped up in trying to do the right thing and get everything perfect that I’ve neglected basic things such as sleep. It’s also caused delays on things I’m really motivated to do and have spent a long time thinking about though often avoided actually making concrete progress on because I’ve been worried things aren’t quite perfect. I need to let go of this more often, accept things are very rarely perfect, and that actually things don’t usually need to be perfect – good enough is often OK.

Sometimes I experience emotions that don’t make logical sense… and that’s OK

Up until the last few years, I’ve not really let my emotions show much; I haven’t consciously held them back, just not felt the need to let them show often. I prided myself on being a fairly rational person, so my emotions have made logical sense most of the time. This year however I learnt that sometimes your emotions don’t make logical sense, but that’s OK. Sometimes great things can be happening in life, but you might feel some elements of sadness. This is particularly the case when going through change; dealing with change is an emotional rollercoaster whether you perceive it as a negative change or positive change (amusingly it took leading a workshop on change management to make me realise I was going through this process at the time!). Sometimes you might feel differently than you thought you would about something, or someone, and that’s OK too. I now pay more attention to my emotions, though I try not to spend too much time worrying about them. Which leads me to my final lesson…

Being a reflective person who analyses all situations can be totally paralysing

After almost 10 years of introspective blogging, I think it’s safe to say I’m a reflective person. This is something that has been beneficial in my career – as a reflective practitioner I really enjoyed working towards my CILIP Chartership (and Fellowship which I’m currently doing). However, there’s a fine line between reflecting and overanalysing. Reflecting on what you have learnt (like in this blog post) I find helpful; overanalysing a situation or a conversation I don’t find helpful. I do it though, and this year I’ve done it a lot. I think this is partly due to self-doubt due to changes in circumstances, partly due to a general lack of confidence, and partly because I’m just so damn curious that I want to understand and make sense of everything. I can’t. I’ll never know everyone else’s interpretation of a situation, and I’m even less likely to be able to understand their interpretation, and I don’t need to. Though try telling that to my brain sometimes. This one is definitely a work in progress to try to stop overanalysing things and focus more on living for the moment.

What have you learnt this year? Any words of wisdom to pass on?

I’m struggling a bit at the moment with my physical and mental health, so for 2017 I’m not going to set specific resolutions and instead am going to try to continue to follow the principles that help me live a more fulfilling life. I’m going to make more time for self-care (reading, crafting, walking, exercising, pampering, spending time with family and friends). I’m going to try to live more in balance every day – incorporating work, hobbies and interests, family and friends, physical wellbeing, and mental wellbeing. Oh, and I’m going back to Disneyworld!

Hope you all have a great 2017 🙂

I recently read a book about portfolio careers (I’m coming to the realisation that this seems to be what suits me and what I’d like to do with my freelancing). One of the things the book talks about is the importance of knowing our ‘motivated skills’ which the authors explain as things we’re good at, enjoy and are proud of. I’ve done the StrengthsFinder before, but I liked the idea of the exercise in the book to help identify our motivated skills so I’ve been working on this as part of my freelance planning.

One of the things I found incredibly useful at the authentic leadership session at Clore was thinking back not just the last few years, but right back to my childhood to see what common themes there are throughout my life. The exercise in the book asks similar. You are encouraged to write down achievements from throughout your life, alongside the age you were when you achieved them (I’m not sure what this is designed to achieve and I didn’t like this much as there seem to be periods of time where I don’t achieve anything and then a big period of change!). Once you have your list of achievements, you’re asked to select the 7 that stand out as your proudest achievements; I chose ones spanning from age 6 to age 32 (my current age). You then map these against a series of skills, to see which seem to be common themes within your achievements. My top motivated skills came out as:

  • Motivating and leading (in 6 of my 7 chosen achievements)
  • Persistence (in 6 of my 7 chosen achievements)
  • Having high energy (in 5 of my 7 chosen achievements)
  • Communicating (in 5 of my chosen achievements)
  • Helping others (in 4 of my chosen achievements)

I had quite a few skills which were in 3 of my chosen achievements including; solving problems; managing time; teaching; organising people; managing money; being practical; and physical activities.

So what does this tell me? I’m not at all surprised to see persistence up there; some may call it stubbornness but whatever it is I am definitely the sort of person who keeps going when I’m determined to do something. I hope this will be something that will help me in my freelance work (especially when things aren’t as easy), but of course I need to make sure I’m directing that persistence in the right direction.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see motivating and leading at the top of the list too – that’s something I’d like to be able to ensure I do in my work which is largely collaborative and for the benefit of others. I hope to continue to work in this way and continue to develop these skills. I’m surprised to see having high energy so high in the list; I would like to bring more energy to my work – by my nature I’m quite an active person, and I hope I bring an element of this to my training but it’s definitely something I’d like to do more of. Communicating underpins most of my work so is definitely something I do a lot of; I’m comfortable with many forms of communication but do still need to develop in some areas (I’m not so suited to formal communication for example but have to do this sometimes). I’m relieved to see helping others in my top list, as this is what has driven my decision to go freelance. I’m really passionate about helping other people develop and definitely want to prioritise this going forward.

I found this exercise really useful to help me confirm some of the things I already felt were my strengths, as well as highlight some of the things I might not have realised as much. It’s reassuring to do this sort of exercise and end up with similar results to other exercises but to have got to them a different way. I plan to revisit this list and the exercise (and probably this blog post) periodically to remind myself of these skills, and ensure I am utilising them.

Do you know what your strengths (or motivated skills) are? Are others aware of them (e.g. colleagues, family, friends)? Do you get the opportunity to utilise them?

I love a challenge. I’ve always loved puzzles and games and I’m motivated by goals. I like to stretch myself. I’m competitive; mostly against myself but also sometimes against others (fortunately I’m not a bad loser at all though so although I will always try hard I don’t mind at all if I lose). When it’s something where I’m trying to beat myself though, I’m not usually so happy when I fail as I always want to improve.

Last year I participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge and set myself the challenge of reading 20 books. I exceeded this (and rekindled my love of reading!). So of course this year I had to set a higher challenge. I went for 30 books. All well and good. But hang on, what’s this about another reading challenge? Ooh tell me more. One reading challenge is clearly not enough!

I discovered the 2016 Reading Challenge via Lisa Jeskins. I really liked the idea of this as it not only encourages you to read 12 books, but it encourages you to stretch yourself and try something new. I felt that would benefit me, and chatted to a friend about it, and we decided to do it. I set about writing my list of books. When I next saw my friend she was excitedly telling me about all the books she was looking forward to reading. Oh. My initial list wasn’t what you’d call exciting. It was more what you’d call intimidating. To give you an idea, it included War and Peace. I realised the challenge was supposed to be fun and changed some of my choices. Over the year I’ve adjusted them as I’ve progressed to remind myself I’m supposed to be enjoying reading, not turning it into a chore!

Here’s my current list and where I’m up to at the moment (those in italics are completed or in progress):

  1. Published this year – Animal by Sara Pascoe (which I adored)
  2. Finish in a day – F**k It: Do What You Love by John C. Parkin
  3. Meaning to read – The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo (in progress)
  4. Recommended by a librarian/bookseller – The Path: A New Way To Think About Everything by Professor Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh (in progress)
  5. Should have read in school – Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
  6. Chosen by partner/sibling/friend – Life Or Death by Michael Robotham
  7. Published before you were born
  8. Banned at some point
  9. Previously abandoned
  10. Own but never read – The Virgin Way by Richard Branson
  11. Intimidates you
  12. Already read at least once

So I’ve completed five, two are in progress, and I have five to go. I’ve got Harry Potter and The Cursed Child on its way for the one that intimidates me (I’ve never read a screenplay). I might attempt 1984 for one published before I was born (I was born in 1984 so seemed appropriate) but I’ll be honest I’m not excited about reading it. I have The Well of Loneliness as a potential for the banned book, but again I’m not overly excited about it. I rarely abandon books so it will have to be Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde for that one (which I know a lot of people love so maybe on a second attempt I’ll like it!). For the one I’ve already read once I’m tempted to re-read either The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, or a Harry Potter book.

In total I’ve read 19 books so far this year, so I’m a little behind schedule for the 30 but I’ve got quite a few non-fiction books I am part-way through and some great new fiction books I’m really looking forward to reading so am hopeful I’ll reach 30 by the end of the year. Who am I kidding? It’s a challenge I’m in control of so I’ll make sure I read 30 by the end of the year, even if it means reading some baby books on 31st December!

And then, do you know what I might do next year? I might just enjoy reading. You know, like a normal person. Maybe not commit to multiple reading challenges. Oh but what’s that? Ooh is that a challenge I can sign myself up to?! There is seriously no hope for me.

I’d love to hear any recommendations for the ones I still have to go on my list, or recommendations in general, particularly for fiction books. Please don’t tell me about any more reading challenges though!

Given all the personal changes that have been happening in the last few months (selling our home, finding one to rent, relocating, handing in my notice, starting work as a freelancer) it’s fair to say my CILIP Fellowship progress has stalled. I had a statement drafted, but obviously this was on the basis of me working in my previous role so much of it is now out-of-date. I’m still keen to work towards Fellowship though, and have arranged to meet with my mentor tomorrow. Being the deadline driven person that I am, I therefore spent today reviewing where I’m at. I know we all go about these things differently but I thought it might be useful to share my process in case it helps others who are working towards Certification, Chartership or Fellowship.

I started out with the online PKSB tool (which is incredibly easy to use and really useful!). It only took me an hour or so to work my way through the sections of the PKSB and add ratings to the areas I think are a priority for me. This gave me a shortlist of 17 different areas I might want to focus on. Not much of a shortlist really, but much preferable to the full PKSB! I downloaded the ‘Development Report’ which exports to PDF any of the areas where your current rating is lower than your ideal rating. I printed it out (old school I know, but that was so I could go and scribble on it whilst sitting in my favourite chair in the garden as it’s lovely and sunny today!), and starred the ones I felt were highest priority for me to develop. These were predominantly things where I had the biggest gap, or things that are particularly important for me to develop at the moment.

I managed to narrow it down to about 8 items, and then decided to map these broadly to the 3 assessment criteria for Fellowship. After a bit of jiggery pokery I have 3 items for each criteria:

Criteria 1 (Personal development)

  • Teaching and training skills (8.6)
  • File planning (1.2)
  • VLEs (8.8)

Criteria 2 (Organisational development)

  • Strategic marketing (11.1)
  • Strategic planning (10.1)
  • Financial management (10.6)

Criteria 3 (Wider professional context)

  • Knowledge sharing and collaboration (2.7)
  • Partnership development (9.5)
  • Leadership skills (9.1)

This may change of course, but it’s been a really useful exercise to help me get going again. Once I had this list I started to think about potential things I’d like to do in the area, and potential pieces of evidence I could produce to support this. Mostly these will be separate reflective pieces that will discuss the different things I have done to develop on the area, how they have helped (or not!), and what I plan to do next. It’s been useful to think about the types of activities I would like to do for each, and the types of things I already do that I would like to reflect on further for Fellowship.

I can’t believe how much clearer things are in my mind now that I’ve spent a few hours on this. It only took a maximum of 4 hours (and that’s including some snacking, chatting to my partner, chatting on Twitter, emailing, and playing word games!) and I feel so much more prepared for both my meeting with my mentor tomorrow and empowered to help me prioritise development areas to support my Fellowship. I got the same value from my Chartership and it’s why I love the CILIP Professional Registration process.  Here’s hoping I can dedicate some time to this in the next few months as I know it will be really beneficial.

It’s August 1st 2016 and it’s a very exciting day. Today marks my first day of self-employment. It’s been almost 6 years since I’ve been in a traditional librarian post, but I’ve been employed by at least one library every day since August 2005 so today is a big change for me. I blogged last time I changed jobs how strange it was to not have a library. Today I have no library, no employer, no manager, no colleagues, no office (though I do have my home office which is what I’ve been using for months anyway!). I have no organisation employing me. It’s just me and my laptop.

Many people over the last few weeks have asked me what I’m going to be doing when I’m self-employed. Mostly they’ve asked me what my business name will be and what I will call myself. Well, I’m still the same person so I’ll be calling myself Jo Alcock. I’ll need to register as a freelancer of course (for tax purposes etc.) so will probably need to have a formal business name then, but for the most part I intend to just go by my name. In terms of what I’m going to be doing, well there are some things I really want to do but I also want to remain open to opportunities. I’ll be continuing to coordinate the Knowledge for Healthcare Leadership Programme (which runs until Feb 2017), and I’ll be evaluating the pilot programme for CILIP Leadership Programme. I’m planning to develop more training workshops, particularly in supporting people in their research (e.g. Statistics for Librarians is one I’m hoping to work on developing soon). I’m also hoping to be able to make time for more of my own research, ideally working in collaboration with libraries or related organisations. I’d love to do some observational research using ethnographic techniques, and I’d also love to continue supporting libraries with other research too (including focus groups, surveys, interviews, etc.). I’d like to do more coaching in future, and I have my ILM coaching qualification which I’ve been continuing to use skills from, but I’d also like to do an additional coaching accreditation which I may look into doing later this year. Once I have that I’d like to look into doing more one-to-one coaching; both in person and virtually. For the short term though, I’ll mostly be focusing on the leadership development programmes I coordinate, the training I want to develop, and my voluntary roles of Review Editor for the New Review of Academic Librarianship and 2017 Conference Planner for SLA Leadership and Management Division.

I’m also taking some time out in the next few weeks (I worked through my leave and June/July was very travel heavy for work so I could do with a break!). I have TV, films and documentaries I want to watch; I have books I want to read; I have places I want to visit; I have things I want to experience. We might even book a holiday! Now that both myself and my partner are freelance, it should hopefully give a little more flexibility in being able to fit non-work things around our working days. It of course brings some elements of uncertainty in terms of finances and levels of work for future, but I’m surprisingly OK about that at the moment as the pros outweigh the cons at present. I’m sure there will be times where I wonder if I made the right decision, but since deciding to go freelance my overwhelming emotion about it has been one of excitement and that continues.

So what have I been up to in my first day of self-employment? I’ve updated my LinkedIn profile, changed my employment status on Facebook, done some digital tidying, done some work for the leadership programmes, and looked for potential reviewers for some reviews I have for the New Review of Academic Librarianship. I’m about to get some lunch and go for a very exciting trip to town to get some wood glue. So glamorous! 😉

Taking me back to the title of the post – am I still a librarian? By training and background yes, and I still very much feel like part of the profession. Some of the types of things I’m going to be doing are likely to have some similarities to the role of a librarian, but they’ll probably have more similarities with other professions such as training and research. I’ll still be a librarian though and will continue to revalidate my chartered status each year (as well as working towards Fellowship). I won’t be just a librarian, but then no one is ever just one thing in life so librarian is just one of the many things I am and plan to continue to be 🙂

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the UX Libs II Conference in sunny Manchester (well, it was sunny one of the days!). For anyone not aware, the UX Libs events are for people interested in user experience (UX) research. The first UX Libs Conference was held in Cambridge last year, which sadly I wasn’t able to attend but I followed the tweets from afar.

The first conference focused predominantly on sharing different methods you can use to support UX research and was very practical in focus (attendees were assigned teams to work on a research project in one of Cambridge’s libraries). The second conference focused more on sharing what had happened since the first conference (a lot!) as well as a group challenge on advocacy to help us think about ways to engage others in the approach.

It was a packed schedule (I’m really not a fan of 9am starts!), and we were kept very busy; the variety of different types of activities was good. We had keynote presentations, practical presentations, group work, and workshops. I really enjoyed both workshops I attended and wish I could have attended all four!

There’s a lot I want to digest from the conference, but my initial points to share are listed below:

Thinking about our own user experiences can help us reflect on what library users may be experiencing
I do this a lot when I’m away – I had a fantastic experience at Hershey a few weeks ago for example and it caused me to think more about the type of experience I can offer, as well as the experience libraries can offer – in a similar way that my trip to Disney and Universal did (I previously blogged about this). I was really impressed with the way the attendee badges were personalised (thank you Matt!) and it was nice to see the organising committee thinking about how to enhance our experience (the badges wished speakers good luck for their session for example, a very nice touch).

Training and encouragement is crucial to the success of a UX project (and I would imagine any research)
This was a particularly key point in one of my favourite sessions from the conference, Helen Murphy and Rachel Claire Walker’s session on what they learnt from their UX research across a number of libraries at University of Cambridge. Their main lesson was the fact that staff in the libraries they were working with would have appreciated more training and encouragement, and this finding was echoed in many of the other practical workshops. Even if we’re familiar with a research method (but especially if we’re not!) the importance of support and encouragement can’t be underestimated in my opinion.

Different types of research outputs are to be encouraged
Something that was mentioned in quite a few of the keynotes and workshops was the fact that the best form of research output isn’t always a huge written report (thank goodness, most of us sigh in relief!). There are some people who love writing long reports, and some who love reading them, but for the most part it’s far more likely that people will want the highlights from the research in summary form, with additional data should they want to delve deeper. Research findings may be shared using presentation (by that I’m including slides but also just verbal presentations), an executive summary document, a blog post, an infographic, or simply by sharing recommendations. The main point here was to consider the needs of those who will be using the research outputs as well as the time taken to produce the research output (to ensure the findings are still relevant).

Failure should be embraced and shared more openly
This is something I was so pleased to see encouraged at the conference. I’ve been saying for a while now that I’d love to organise an event where people shared the things that haven’t quite gone as planned, a Library Fail Conference if you will. Somehow I think selling this to some people could be tricky! UX Libs took an interesting approach to this though, with the workshops falling into either ‘Nailed’ (things that have gone well), ‘Failed’ (things that haven’t gone so well), and ‘Derailed’ (things that have adapted or been delayed). Excellent rhyming there too; I approve. It’s so useful to share these things though, to take time to reflect on why and learn from this ourselves, and also to share with others to help them as well as get insight from them if they have experienced similar. Most session proposals were for ‘Nailed’ sessions, but I think (and hope!) we might see that changing over time at future conferences (not just UX Libs Conferences) as we become more comfortable with sharing the things that haven’t gone so well.

We are all leaders
We were asked by Donna Lanclos at the opening keynote of the conference to raise our hands if we are leaders. About half the room raised their hands, when in fact she argued everyone should have. I support the notion that we are all leaders in some way – whether that be leading a team, leading a service, leading a project, leading change… (I actually asked the same question at my SLA workshop and also argued that everyone should have raised their hand!). Over the conference there was quite a lot of discussion about leadership and change management and we were encouraged to consider how to do this in our own roles and in our own organisations. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s crucial to develop our services and keep current.

Librarians are great
As with many of the lessons I learned, this wasn’t anything new, but a very pertinent reminder. The result of the EU Referendum was the final day of the conference and it certainly had an impact on the mindset of many of us that day. I found it very odd to wake up in a hotel on my own to the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I was disappointed (I’d voted to remain), and felt very out of sorts about why my vote was in a minority, and what implications the result of the vote might have. When I got to the conference I felt instantly comforted by the supportive environment of others there, who were going through similar thoughts but were there to offer hugs and reassurance that whatever happens to the future of the country, as librarians we will continue to share and help each other, within the UK and further afield. Hooray for librarians! 🙂

My conference experience

I started the conference with this tweet:

You can probably guess what’s coming:

So I may have gone against my goal of not presenting by volunteering to present for my team, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the UX Libs II conference. I particularly enjoyed the workshops in the second afternoon, which enabled me to do some (terrible) drawing, and some highly important foam crimping. Aside from the silliness, I learnt a lot in both these workshops.

Process interview with picture. My drawing is terrible but useful process! #uxlibs

A photo posted by Jo Alcock (@joeyanne) on


Doing some crimping in Andy’s cultural probes workshop (photo from Andy’s blog)

What next?

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to put many of the ethnographic research methods into practice in my work yet, but would love to do so in future. I do a lot of interviews in my current role, but they’re mostly over the phone (and usually with librarians). I’d love to do more in person interviews with users and use additional prompts (whether it be observations or things like cognitive maps).

I’m also still fascinated about whether libraries can learn from the retail world and would love to do some experimental research into this. For example, does changing the layout of part of the library change how people use the space? Do changes in layout/book storage/availability of bags affect borrowing? Has anyone done any research into this sort of thing in your library, or would you like to? Let me know if so!

Thanks to all involved in making UX Libs a thoroughly enjoyable conference 🙂

Nine years ago today, I created Joeyanne Libraryanne, a corner of the web for me to reflect on all the things I learn and share things I’m passionate about. Over that time I’ve changed job roles, changed organisations, been fortunate to have had a whole load of incredible experiences, learned many new skills, and developed new passions. As I reflect on those things, it seems pertinent to use this opportunity and this space to share my next challenge. 

At the end of July, I’m going to be leaving my current role to become a freelancer. This isn’t something I’ve had in a long term plan (I don’t do career plans anyway and as I reflected on in my end of year post in December, I’m more focused on living a fulfilling life in the present than worrying too much about the future). Going freelance is something I realised a few months ago that I needed to do. There’s so many things I’m passionate about, and I really want to dedicate time to them. I’m fascinated by how things (and particularly people!) work. I’m passionate about helping people develop. I want to do more research, and help others do research by giving them skills and confidence to do so. I want to develop and run more training workshops. I want to do more to support leadership development, and I want to continue to mentor and coach. I hope that by freelancing I can dedicate more time to these things, as well as having the flexibility to explore other opportunities too. 

I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in a few weeks, but I’m so excited about what the future may hold. I’m sure I’ll continue to blog what I learn and share anything that might be of interest to others. In the meantime I’m off out to enjoy dinner at the UX Libs II Conference in Manchester (which I’m sure I’ll blog about soon!). Cheers! 

My bullet journal (orange) and note book (teal)

My bullet journal (orange) and note book (teal)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may well know that I have always favoured electronic methods for note taking and organisation. Some of my earliest blog posts back in 2008 were about online calendars and task management apps I used to use on my iPod Touch. I’ve tried many different tools over the years, and for the last few years have been very happy with Omnifocus for task management, Google Calendar for my personal calendar (I have Microsoft Exchange for my work calendar), and Google Drive for note taking. It’s been a fairly easy system to use, and I haven’t had too many problems. However, of course, it relies on me accessing a device of some sort, and spending a lot of time in front of a screen. I’ve been finding that increasingly I don’t want to do that as much, especially outside of work. I’ve also recently been enjoying making handwritten notes (which I sometimes digitise aspects of). As I’ve started to experience an increase in the number of non-professional appointments and tasks I have (since moving areas we seem to actually have started to have a social life – shock horror!), I decided to try good old fashioned pen and paper* for organising things.

I started out by trying the Pirongs Lifestyle Journal.

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

Pirongs Lifestyle Planner

This was very pretty and I quite liked the vertical layout as it works well with the fact I love lists. However, it was massive (A4 hardback) and didn’t seem to quite meet all my needs. I found I was keeping it in the home office so I wasn’t checking it that often and wasn’t using it regularly or reliably enough. As I was thinking about it more, I was reminded of the bullet journal. The bullet journal is an organiser that you design yourself in a blank notebook and adapt to your needs (I recommend watching the video from the bullet journal homepage if you’re interested in learning more – it’s a great introduction). Bullet journalling is something that had intrigued me for a while but sounded a bit too difficult for me at the time. However, armed with a new notebook and an hour or two in a hotel room, I numbered the pages of the notebook, created an index page and a future log, and started my bullet journal. Since then I’ve been doing it each day (about 6 weeks now) and have adapted things as I go. I upgraded to a medium (A5) sized Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook that already has numbered pages and an index, and I’ve been using that for just over a month (spoiler alert: I love it!). I’ve discussed my experience a bit on Twitter and some people were interested in hearing more so here’s a brief overview of how I’m using my bullet journal at the moment.


I like to be able to see a yearly calendar at a glance, and like the grid format so I made one of those for the front of my bullet journal. I don’t use this that often but it is useful for seeing how many weeks away something is or what day of the week a date is. I keep mine as is and don’t add any key dates to this page.

Bullet Journal - Yearly overview

Bullet Journal – Yearly overview

I then have a page for each month where I list the dates and days of the week. I’ve done up to the end of December so far as I don’t tend to need to plan too far in advance so this is plenty. I use this to note any travel (e.g. conferences, meetings) or any events. This is helpful for me to see at a glance what things I have on and when.

Bullet Journal - Monthly overview

Bullet Journal – Monthly overview

I’ve actually found that I’m not referring back to this often so am thinking of experimenting with a slightly different approach (happy to share more information later so if you are interested in an update let me know!).

Daily logs

The main part of the bullet journal is the daily logs. This is where I write down any appointments, tasks I have due or things I want to do that day. I also choose to write down highlights of my day at the end of each day. Some people use the logs to jot down notes too, but I don’t currently do this. I include an icon for the weather which I’ve seen a few people do and I quite like as something more visual and I find it interesting to look back on. At the moment I’m in the process of slowly moving over everything, but my bullet journal initially started out as non-work tasks as I have Omnifocus for my work tasks, so this is mostly non-work tasks at present.

Bullet Journal - Daily Logs

Bullet Journal – Daily Logs


There are a few different versions of symbols people use in bullet journaling. This has developed over time and so I initially tried the official bullet journal way. I have to confess though that only lasted a few days as I found it too complex for me and I couldn’t easily see which tasks had been done and which still needed to be done. I think if I was using it to store notes and other types of information it could be useful, but for tasks I found it too much. I have decided to use the following icons (for now, this may change!):

  • Clock symbol for appointments
  • Open tick box for tasks to be completed
  • Shaded tick box for completed tasks
  • Crossed out line for removed tasks (those that are no longer relevant)
  • Tick box with arrow for migrated tasks (those I’ve delayed but are still needing to be done)
  • Heart icon for highlights of the day or things to be thankful for


Collections are used to describe any other notes, particularly lists. I have a number of these such as blog post ideas, books to read, TV to watch, monthly favourites (for my gluten free blog and my beauty blog) and packing lists. At the moment I add these in when I think I need a new one, but I imagine in future if this is something I continue I’ll be able to add most of these at the beginning. The beauty of the bullet journal though is that you can add these wherever as you’ll have them in your index to find more easily. This gives you an idea of the things I have in mine at the moment:

Bullet Journal - Index Page

Bullet Journal – Index Page

Habit tracker

Something I added in April and am finding quite interesting is a habit tracker. I currently log my exercise via iDoneThis, but thought it might be something I could do in my bullet journal instead. I’m also trying to read more frequently and do more crafts, so I included those in the habit tracker. The other two columns for this month are to track if I completed my daily log in my bullet journal and if I tracked my food/exercise in MyFitnessPal. I recently added a column to tick if I’m in bed by 10.30pm as I’m slipping into bad habits with staying up late (I’m not doing so well at the moment you’ll see!). It seems to be working well so far, as both a motivator and as a visual way to see what I have done, so I think I’ll continue with this in some form in future. I may well change the columns each month if I want to motivate myself to develop new habits, and I’m planning to try a different layout next month.

Bullet Journal - Habit Tracker

Bullet Journal – Habit Tracker


You’ll see from my photos that my bullet journal isn’t the prettiest you’ll come across, and definitely not the most colourful. I did get out my coloured fine liners when I started my current bullet journal but I found this added another level of complexity and anxiety that I didn’t need. I don’t want it to be complicated so sticking to one colour is good for me 🙂 Some people love to add doodles and sketches and drawing and quotes, but for now I’m keeping mine nice and simple and focusing just on using it to help me organise things rather than as a scrapbook. I am getting quite fussy about the pen I use though and recently spent about an hour in a stationery store trying out all the pens (I have a pen test page at the back of my bullet journal now!). I’m left handed so smudging is always a potential issue. I also press on very hard when I write so bend or break fine liners easily, but I love the way they write. I love the Sharpie Pen in the first few photos but have bent the nib after a month! I’m now trying out the UniPin which is surviving so far but may well suffer a similar fate. If anyone has any recommendations for more robust fine liners I’d love to hear them!

My thoughts so far

I’m really enjoying the flexibility of the bullet journal and the fact I can adapt it to suit my needs. It’s helping me keep things organised and I am enjoying updating my bullet journal, particularly at the beginning and end of the day. I’m also really enjoying reading blog posts and watching videos to see how other people use their bullet journals and get new ideas I can adapt. I tried a weekly spread for the first time last week and have adapted that for this week, and I’m looking forward to trying some new things for next month (which may well actually involve scrapping the weekly spread but that’s the beauty of this system, you can just adapt it and see what works for you!).

I’m also looking at ways to integrate my existing practice into the bullet journal which I think will help me move my work tasks over. I use the GTD approach as it seems to work fairly well for me so I’m looking at ways to integrate that into my bullet journal. I have a few ideas but suggestions very welcome!

So there you have it, my bullet journal experience so far. If you use a bullet journal I’d love to hear your tips and advice too – is there anything you find really useful that I haven’t mentioned? I’d be happy to do an update once I’ve used it a little more to see if it sticks – let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know more about.

* Actual pen and paper not a service called ‘Pen and paper’ that my partner though I meant when I was discussing it with him!

Last week I attended the 39th UKSG Conference and Exhibition, held in Bournemouth. For those who don’t know, UKSG is an organisation that brings together all stakeholders involved in provided resources to users; it was initially the UK Serials Group but has since expanded to incorporate all types of resources (largely electronic). The conferences include both librarians and publishers, as well as others such as consultants and researchers, and it’s one of the most mixed conferences I’ve attended in terms of representation from publishers and suppliers as well as librarians. It also has a number of international attendees. I have attended once UKSG Conference before (in 2013) but this time I’m more involved in the community as I support both JUSP and IRUS-UK services (Jisc-funded usage statistics services for UK institutions). I was co-presenting a breakout session so presented on two days with my co-presenters Jo Lambert (Jisc) and Graham Stone (University of Huddersfield). I used this opportunity to practice my story telling, and will reflect on this aspect more in a separate post. For now though I wanted to share some initial thoughts about the conference.

I really enjoyed the conference – even more so than I was hoping to. Although I support JUSP and IRUS-UK, my role is one of evaluation and user support so I don’t work with electronic resources or open access directly. Despite this, there was a lot I took of value from the conference. Some of it was incredibly thought-provoking (e.g. Ann Rossiter’s plenary where she outlined the reasons why publishers need to embrace open access publishing, Dave Parkes’ breakout session on the Psychogeography of Libraries, and Emma Mulqueeny’s plenary on those born in 1997 or later); some of it was useful to me in my current role (e.g. Hugh Murphy’s breakout on metrics in academic libraries); and some of it got me thinking about things I’d love to do more of in future (e.g. Donna Lanclos’ plenary on ethnographic approaches, Dr Sarah Pittaway’s plenary on student engagement, and Sarah Roughley and Sarah Bull’s breakout session on market research in libraries). I also really enjoyed visiting the exhibition stands, catching up with professional contacts, and meeting new people.

Whilst I was there, I made daily video reflections. I’d watched Jess Haigh’s videos from LILAC Conference and really enjoyed them so decided I’d like to give it a go. My videoing definitely needs some refinement (one thing for sure is that I need to make shorter videos so they’re not such a hassle to upload and easier to watch!), but I enjoyed reflecting in this way. I even managed to do this whilst taking time out for fresh air on days 2 and 3 (the gorgeous weather helped!) and I particularly enjoyed doing that – I didn’t even mind the fact that I got some very strange looks from those who saw me (I did attract some video bombing on the pier!). I tend to take time out at conferences to reflect anyway, so recording it just made me think things through a little more comprehensively which was useful. I hope it might be of interest to some people who weren’t able to attend too. If you’re interested, here are my videos…

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Overall, I was really impressed with the UKSG Conference. The event was extremely well organised; there was plenty of time between sessions and in the breaks and lunches which always helps. I had some fascinating conversations and am sure many of them will continue long after the conference. I’m planning to think about ways I can take forward some of the things I found particularly interesting (largely around research in libraries and enabling others to do research in libraries), and will be looking out for opportunities to get involved. I’d also like to attend UKSG in future and will definitely look out for ways to support the event. I enjoyed presenting a breakout session so will definitely consider this conference in future if I have things I think attendees would be interesting in learning about.