CityLIS Onlife

***In this post, I describe how we have established, and continue to develop, a digital identity for CityLIS, the collective tag for activities within the Department of Library & Information Science at City, University of London.

I feel this post is timely, as we have recently set up a group on Humanities Commons, to enhance and extend our digital identity, and to explore new ways in which we can engage with contemporary scholarly communication processes.

Although there is focus on the digital, the need to balance our online and offline personas and activities, Onlife, is emphasised.***

CityLIS on HComms

This term I have been thinking about how to further develop our digital identity at CityLIS, in the light of ever changing technologies and scholarly communication processes.

Many of us now live in a society where the distinction between online and offline activity is blurred. Luciano Floridi calls this ‘Onlife’, and a corollary is that our individual and collective online profiles have meaning to everyone with whom we engage electronically. Of course, we would like this meaning to be positive, and consequently we should, perhaps, pause for reflection on what constitutes an online profile, and indeed what we understand to be a ‘positive’ online profile.

These are questions that doubtless will have different answers for different people. I think online profiles and digital identities can be regarded as essentially the same concept. For expediency, I suggest they are a confluence of how we describe and represent ourselves, and how we engage with others. Our identity should be authentic; indeed, the definition of digital identity is increasingly used to refer to a mechanism of authentication for financial and other transactions. I also support the idea that it is more holistic if our online personas do not stray too far from our offline counterparts, and that planned development is important for both individual identities, and the collective identities which represent groups of people, such departments, projects, organisations and institutions. This is not a novel concept, and often enacted within a ‘social media strategy’. Our social media profiles are not, however, the only mechanisms via which our digital identities are formed. It is important to consider that all of our online engagement contributes our reputation, and should not be separated from our real world existence.

Whilst it seems everyone is living Onlife, I notice that many students, colleagues and whole academic departments have limited or no digital identity. Despite the overheads required in time and ability, I think the moment has come for all those of us in the academy to have a digital presence. There are many reasons for this, and plenty of work exists which advocates, for example, the increased attention, (altmetrics), enhanced recruitment and wider professional engagement which can result from extending our analogue lives into the digital realm. However, they are not discussed further here, as my intention is to write about what we are doing at CityLIS from the standpoint that we already believe it is not only worthwhile, but essential. Digital Digital scholarly communication has developed rapidly in the last 5 years, fundamentally challenging and changing the ways in which knowledge is created, shared, organised and developed. Anyone who wishes to be part of this activity has to inhabit the digital as well as physical environment, and to engage with its methods and processes.

Within the context of our work at CityLIS, we encourage all our members to establish an individual digital presence. We encourage engagement and activity that is consistently professional, relevant and/or interesting to colleagues and/or friends. This does, and should, allow for warmth, personality and the occasional surprise, but the fine line between the personal and the professional is hard to tread for some. Whilst I understand this, the need for everyone in the modern library & information services profession to embrace digital communication is critical, and there is really no excuse at all for students and academics not to have a research blog. In some cases, the personal and professional cannot be reconciled, and multiple electronic profiles may be the only solution for those with greater personality spectrums than others.

In addition to our longstanding, institutional, electronic communication systems, (email and VLE forums), CityLIS has had an active online presence since 2009, when a couple of individual staff members took faltering steps into the, as then, unexplored realms of Tweeting and blogging. Initially the collective digital persona of CityLIS was enacted through posts on our individual blogs, and via Twitter updates tagged with #CityLIS. The twitter tag allowed others to contribute to the CityLIS collective persona, as searching for the tag returned a feed composed of posts from multiple authors.

Eight years later, we have established a standalone digital identity for CityLIS, via our account @CityLIS on Twitter and our CityLIS News blog. Both accounts take input from our members, and so portray a collective, online profile.

From September 2017, individual Twitter accounts, and a personal, professional blog will be mandatory for all new CityLIS members. We recognise that communication skills beyond the academic assignment are essential. Employers tell us that communication skills, and social-media ‘savvy’ are key abilities which are sought after in today’s workplace. Some of our cohort already engage with the Onlife at a broader level, and it is clear that our media sharing already includes books, articles, images, videos, podcasts; the digital genie is not going back into its virtual bottle. I have set-up an Instagram account for CityLIS, and should time permit, we will investigate how we could add image sharing to our online identity. Each additional facet to our digital identity, however popular or helpful, requires additonal time, and this is one of the main challenges to establishing and maintaining online presence.

The concept of Onlife, however, does not exclude the material world that we inhabit, and it is important for our physical and emotional wellbeing and professional success to blend our digital personas with our analogue existence.

To this end, I would like to outline some of the innovative approaches we are taking at CityLIS to encourage knowledge creation, understanding, and sharing, alongside relationship building, with each other, with academic and professional colleagues and with the wider community. These approaches are designed to enhance both our individual and collective, digital and analogue identities.

For the past 5 years, all CityLIS members have been encouraged to set-up a Twitter account, which they can use to follow our well-known course and departmental hashtag #CityLIS. This tag has proved so popular, that other LIS departments have set up their own, for example #ucllis and #aberlis.

Students and staff are strongly encouraged to tweet, but this is not assessed in any way. Those who choose not to share resources and conversation via Twitter are asked to check what others are posting. The Tweet feed serves as an excellent way to communicate amongst our masters students, and it has proved to be a way to keep in contact with our alumni, and the wider community. Although other social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Facebook are used by some students, these tend to be used by partial cohorts, a particular student year for example, and have not been as successful in gathering everyone together as Twitter. As mentioned above, we now also have a collective @CityLIS Twitter account, run by the course team. We monitor Tweets tagged with #CityLIS and retweet them from our account, alongside original announcements and resources. This provides a wide-ranging and varied feed, reflecting the wider interests of our students, staff, researchers, friends and alumni. The Twitter feed is useful for potential students, in that they can join in the conversation before they arrive at enrolment.

All members of CityLIS set up their own blog, suitable for professional, reflective writing and for some student modules, formative assessment. Apart from posts set for assessment, frequency of blogging is at the discretion of the individual. We all benefit from reading each other’s thoughts and ideas, and from experiencing different styles and levels of writing.

Personal blogs also serve as portfolios for students to take away with them once they have left the course, and in some cases the written reflections and essays can help in providing evidence of skills for job applications.

A selection of student posts is chosen for cross-posting to our collective CityLIS News blog. These can be found catagorized under ‘Student Perspectives’. They serve as an historic record of our students’ thoughts and work, and also as a window into the activities and interests of our masters students, which is useful for potential course members, and for anyone interested in contemporary writing in library & information science (LIS).

In January 2017, we introduced a new category on the CityLIS blog; CityLISWrites. In this category we publish some of the best, or most interesting student essays, which were submitted as assignments in the previous term. Much of the high quality work completed for assignments by our students lies forgotten once it has been graded. Our innovative approach encourages the students to develop their essays once feedback has been received, and to share and comment on each other’s writing. This is broadening understanding of topics and experience of writing styles and approaches, and a glance at our blog statistics shows the essay posts attract a lot of views. We are confident that sharing our work at this level enhances our digital identity.

Use of Creative Commons licences, and the existence of the Turnitin system make plagiarism from the essays unlikely, whilst citation of and engagement with student work becomes more likely. We will see what happens in time. The essays are published as stand-alone blog posts, with the permission of the authors. Grading and comments are not included. Essays to be published are chosen by the course team, from those with a grade of 60% or above. This approach works well for items of unique work, and it is accepted that not all modules or courses would produce assignment work suitable for sharing.

The face-to-face
CityLIS has a strong focus on face-to-face teaching and social interaction. Students need to attend the scheduled classes in order to gain the maximum benefit from the course, as not everything can be rendered as a digital document to be shared on our e-learning system.

In addition to our scheduled classes, we arrange a variety of optional, professional visits for our students, and we run a series of discussions around professional issues that are open to everyone, whether associated with the univesity or not. This latter series of events is  referred to as ‘AfterHours’.

We run three Open Evenings each year, at which potential masters students can find out about LIS as a discipline, what it is like to study with us, and what sort of careers the course could lead to. These popular events are attended by staff, current students and alumni, and we often have guests from the univeristy library, mentoring service, and from recruitment specialists and our professional body CILIP.

Potential CityLIS students are also welcome to attend a scheduled class of interest, if they would like to find out what attending a university course might be like, before committing to studying.

Details of all CityLIS events, and selected scheduled classes can be found on the  Events listing on our blog. Events are also promoted using Twitter. We successfully use our digital profile to enhance our physical identity.

Open Access Repository: Humanities Commons
Our newest venture goes beyond collecting and sharing our student blog posts and essays, and aims to facilitate sharing of our significant research papers, data, dissertations, theses and presentations. Whilst staff and research students are able to use the City Repository, the Humanities Commons network provides us with the opportunity to create a core collection of our combined intellectual output, including that from masters students, alumni and affiliated colleagues. The Humanities Commons offers an open access repository, and as such makes it easy for documents of all kinds to be shared. The concept of open access is a key factor for change in scholarly communication processes, with the aim of making research findings free and available to all, via the internet. The non-profit network is open to all, and anyone can register in order to establish a profile, upload their work, join groups and engage in further professional communication activities. All outputs uploaded to the repository are given a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), that serves as ‘a permalink, citation source, and assertion of authorship all in one’.

We have established a private group, CityLIS, on the Humanities Commons, which any student, staff member, alumni or honorary members can request to join, once they have registered with Humanities Commons. Members can associate their uploaded files, with the CityLIS group, so that their work is included in our collection. The collection is visible to everyone, whether a member of our group or not. The group function also allows us to communicate with each other via a private discussion forum, to schedule events, to link to a website and to work collaboratively on documents.

This initiative, for us, is a work in progress, and we are encouraging our cohort to both sign up to Humanities Commons, and to join our group. We are especially keen for our alumni to share dissertations that were awarded a mark of 60% or above, and for our PhD students to upload their completed theses. In time we hope to add other significant publications, so that the collection extends and enhances our digital identity and reputation.

The success of this new facet to our CityLIS digital identity, one of a collective repository, remains to be seen. It will depend on how willing our cohort is to share their work, and to spend some time understanding how the network functions, and exploring ways in which it can be used. At the time of writing, March 2017, we have 9 members and 5 shared documents.

New communication technologies and services appear almost daily, and it is inevitable that our current solutions and practices in respect of our CityLIS digital identity will have to evolve with hardware, software and social and professional trends. There is a need to be constantly aware of how Onlife works, and to understand which are the most effective and sustainable pathways through the infosphere. This takes time and resources.

Our digital identity utilizes services external to the university. This is risky, in that we have no control over the future of the services, nor even over whether they continue to exist, or not. Nonetheless, we believe establishing our digital profile in the wider networked environment is essential, if we are to be present in the spaces where knowledge creation, sharing, organisation and development takes place. Onlife diffuses the borders between our personal and professional activities, and whilst this requires diligence in navigation, we cannot be left out of the conversation.

Digital engagement requires understanding of coding, file formats, backup procedures, citation styles, copyright, attribution and permissions, design, all of which can be complex to learn and to practice. Digital identities require a high level of digital literacy, and are consequently demanding of time and effort in addition to that required for teaching and research. In academia, the responsibility for collective digital identity is often added in to individual workloads, without recognition or additional resources.

Finally, the blurring of boundaries in the infosphere allows for anti-social behaviour that is difficult to control. Keeping our digital identities safe from hacking or other abuse is yet another concern. As in real life, identities on the internet are not always trustworthy.

Measuring Success
The possibilities offered by digital scholarly communication seem exciting and liberating, offering innovative ways to work which we believe will be more efficient, effective, enlightening and enjoyable. The move to Onlife, advancing our reputation and identity by blending our online and offline personas is essential. The success of this move is difficult to measure precisely however.

Twitter, blogging and repository platforms will readily provide basic descriptive statistics and analytics which can show digital engagement over time, in terms of members, followers, views, downloads, comments, citations and retweets. Correlating these measurements with organisational aims and objectives is harder, and this is something which we have yet to explore.

Onlife does not provide us with a blueprint for success, and much is still uncertain. What is certain is that the activities which I have described here are a work in progress, and comments and suggestions are welcome.

Another certainty is that time only goes in one direction. Forwards then.


@CityLIS on Twitter.
Our blog: CityLIS News
CityLIS on Humanities Commons

The multicultural, interdisciplinary record of humanity: library and information science

Whilst the cuts to public libraries within the UK have attracted significant column inches in recent years, as a discipline, library and information science is not often in the news. Whilst stemming from the ancient, socio-political stance that preservation of, and access to, the record is ‘a good thing’, historically, this has been rather taken for granted. Library and information science is not an outstandingly popular subject in the UK, and salaries for information professionals are modest. A colleague of mine pointed out that he would love for school children to say ‘when I grow up, I want to be a librarian’, but LIS clings stubbornly to its reputation as a subject with limitations.

I am prompted to comment now, as we are living in somewhat extraordinary times. Where it seems there is a real chance that facts have become what we read on a state controlled social media. Where Orwell’s 1984 has sold out on Amazon, and yet prejudice, hatred and willful consumption of disinformation has never been greater. My Twitter dashboard is filled with anxiety and political commentary pretty much overnight, in response to the US Executive Order on immigration.

So I would like to take a moment to mention our work in Library & Information Science at City, University of London. Our London Library School, CityLIS, has grown from the first course to be offered in Information Science, in 1961. We have always welcomed those interested in any aspect of the information communication chain, irrespective of personal background or academic discipline. CityLIS is an international, interdisciplinary cohort, which collectively supports and works towards the understanding of information and documentation, from micro-blogging, through physical and digital books, papers, journals, creative outputs and commentary in any format, to high-level analysis. We work towards the preservation of, access to, and understanding of humanity’s record.

Library and information science skills are essential not only for those who aspire to work in a library, or information office. They form the bedrock of understanding to those pursuing an academic career, to those working in the media, to those promoting humanitarian causes, to those teaching, to those in the caring professions, to those in the creative industries, to those working in businesses, to those with leisure interests. Library and information science skills are essential to everyone who inhabits civilized society.

Library and information science is a broad field of study, which focuses on the topic of information, and which draws from a plethora of approaches, including those of computer science, human computer interaction, media studies, cultural studies, psychology, linguistics, education, history and philosophy.

The communication of information is the heart and soul of our information society.

The mechanisms and instantiations of our record are continually evolving in response to technology, politics, socio-cultural mores, and economics. At CityLIS we also emphasize ethics. We base our understanding and development of processes of the information communication chain on history and philosophy, especially the work of Karl Popper, Luciano Floridi and the developing approach of the Turing Institute.

CityLIS promotes library and information science as an important, independent discipline, which supports progress in all other disciplines. We welcome students and colleagues who wish to work for an open, rational and educated society.


CityLIS by #citylis: montage by @lynrobinson cc-by


Connected Education: CILIP / CityLIS Employers Forum 2/11/16


Slide from CILIP presentation. Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

The question of content for a Masters course in Library or Information Science is often considered from an academic perspective. In the UK, academic courses are regulated by the QAA, with the exact syllabus usually based on the recommendation of the Programme or Course Director, backed up by a teaching team and course advisory committee, the latter comprising students, new professionals, employers and other members of the profession. Significant changes to the syllabus may take over a year to plan, according to local quality assurance procedures.

Courses approved by the professional bodies in the UK (CILIP), US (ALA) and Australia (ALIA) all address the core content of library and information science, whilst each exhibits their unique strengths according to the interests and expertise of their academic staff and research students. In the UK, CILIP approved courses are informed by the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base, PKSB, which provides a connection between the world of work, and that of academia.

In order to further connect our academic understanding of LIS knowledge and skills with that of employers, and also with providers of vocational learning and continual professional development, CityLIS hosted a half-day Employers’ Forum in conjunction with CILIP, on November 2nd 2016.

The Programme and panel members can be seen on our (historic) Eventbrite site.

The Forum provided space for a discussion on how to provide coherent, whole career support for library and information science professionals, in order to create the workforce needed for the future.

The event brought together leaders, employers and heads of service from across all sectors, for what proved to be a lively and constructive conversation between all parties: employers, learning providers and CILIP. This was arguably the first opportunity a comprehensive mix of stakeholders in LIS education had been brought together, and the positive atmosphere has encouraged us to think of ways to continue the conversation, to promote library and information science as a meaningful and exciting career choice.

The free, informal event featured a mix of panel discussion, presentations, workshop activities and group feedback. Conversations focused on what skills were either missing or in need of further development within the LIS workforce, and the role of academic, professional, vocational qualifications, and continuing professional development (CPD), in shaping the future workforce.

Nick Poole, CEO CILIP commented on findings from recent workforce studies:

  • Need to have due regard for the heritage of the profession and its accumulated knowledge-base
  • LIS profession must lead positive change; it is too often seen as resistant to change
  • Need to respect each individual’s motivation for joining the profession
  • Few information professionals aspire to lead their organisation
  • Importance of information literacy and critical thinking
  • Importance of personal and professional ethics
  • Bridge between theory and practice in professional education
  • ‘skills’ is too narrow, think about competencies and attitudes

More general observations from the Forum, were that major implications for the workforce came from converging technologies demanding cross-disciplinary skills, and disruptive internet developments. David Stewart (Director, Health Libraries North) emphasised that librarians must become business-critical instruments of informed decision making.

A minority of the group, around 7 out of 70, felt that formal education was not effective in preparing students for the demands of the workplace. The same number however, conceded that they did not know what contemporary Library and Information courses offered, as they had not been in contact with academic education providers in recent times.

The topics identified by employers as important included: data literacy, information risk, evidence-based practice, teaching skills, workplace experience during education, budgeting and finance, metadata, RDA (although some responders suggested cataloguing should be removed from courses), creativity and innovation, and critical thinking.

Mindful of my well known advocay for the value of library and information science as an academic discipline, both for personal education and development as well as for providing a foundation for workplace skills, I contributed that whilst the demands of employers were broad, the amount of material and experience which could be fitted into the one year masters in either library or information science was limited. Most of the topics collectively suggested above are already covered by Library Schools, although the amount of time spent on each aspect might differ. One of the challenges faced by LIS course providers is how to render the broad spectrum of LIS subjects into a series of lectures, demonstrations and practical sessions that can be delivered and assessed within an academic framework, and which offers the student the best preparation for the workplace, and life(!).

The core LIS curriculum is shrink-resistant, and the information communication chain offers us little that is ‘optional’ to the information professional. Cataloguing is perhaps the only significant topic for which continued relevance has been debated in the literature, but it is also a practical skill that attracts fierce advocates. Digital culture and digital society have extended the knowledge and skills to be negotiated by information professionals to include a realm of digital literacies from data to ethics. At the same time, our analogue world still holds attention and demands we respect legacy systems and schemas. All this leaves little room for emphasising subjects peripheral to LIS such as marketing, finance, teaching, leadership, management and business. That is not to say these are not important, but that they may be better taught outside the main academic LIS curriculum. Indeed, these latter subjects are all domains in their own right, and would arguably be better served by specialist coverage, either on a further academic course, or via CPD.

Employers demand workforce ready employees, but it is unrealistic to expect that those who have just completed a formal qualification will also have had time to acquire organisation specific know-how, and to be adept at the interpretation of theory for specific practice. Even those with work experience may find new situations challenging at first, and then there is the continual change to working practices wrought by technology.

It has become fashionable to criticise academic, thinking skills and to emphasise the value of low-level practical ability over a headful of knowledge and facts that may never be used. This argument rests on the short-term economic gain that comes from employing non-professional staff. This is commonplace within the library sector, especially with the emphasis on encouraging volunteers to run public library services. Whilst this promotes the idea that information work is a low-level skill, the skills gap in information handling and technologies is often reported.

Those with an aptitude for lifelong-learning, and critical thinking are better placed to adapt, analyse, innovate and lead. These skills and abilities are those nurtured by a masters course, perhaps uniquely. Leadership, business acumen, teaching, marketing and other broad talents requested by employers, all stem from the attitudes, values and knowledge base instilled by the masters in LIS.

The economics however, are sometimes insurmountable, and the rising cost of a masters course means that many who want to study, and who would benefit from so doing, are unable to.

There is quite obviously scope for both academic nurturing and workplace experience however, and part-time study offers one way to address this. Shadowing, mentoring and secondments are also ways in which formal study can be integrated with work experience.

Academic study of any kind should not be seen as one-off achievement. There is always more to learn. It would seem sensible that formal academic study, workplace experience and CPD should be considered symbiotically, rather than a choice of one or the other.

Having said all this, there is also a case for vocational training and development for those for whom academic study may simply not appeal, or may not be feasible.

A collective effort to provide a comprehensive, connected approach to LIS education would benefit all of us within the domain, and help to attract, retain and develop a vibrant and successful workforce.

There is more information available now than at any other time in history, and it should be our priority as a sector to emphasise and facilitate the exciting possibilities and careers within this field, for those with either business or more altruistic ambitions.


Forum participants were asked to imagine the skills needed for the workforce in 2030 .. Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by


CILIP will use the outcomes from the event to inform current work on the Public Library Skills Strategy, and their wider work on a UK-wide Information Skills Strategy.

CityLIS is collaborating with colleagues from the health sector to encourage a connected approach to LIS education at all levels, and a further meeting with other LIS education providers, to address the development needs of healthcare knowledge workers, is planned.

This event was sponsored by Demco Interiors.