Help yourself and help someone else to be more secure on the web.

Last month, without being entirely sure what I could do about web security within my own role, I attended a half day workshop with Brian Hickey from the Dublin Business School. Brian is a senior lecturer in IT and I bet he has his students quivering in their boots when he points out all the security flaws he sees around security

Brian covered many aspects of security in his talk, from the ubiquitous internet router to the more advanced topic of mobile security. The simplest of intrusions and the elaborate scams all prey on people’s negligence with their personal data online.

Brian’s practical advice spurred me on to create a short list of MUST DO items that you and anyone you know can and should do without delay to ensure the safety of your data online.

  1. Change the default password on your home router
  2. Encrypt the hard drive on your computer so that you have first line protection from a cyber attack, using something like Bitlocker.
  3. Don’t put an external facing out of office on your work email, would you put a sign up at your house saying you are out of the country for 2 weeks?

Brian’s session was pitched at a general library audience and I certainly came away with a greater awareness and some practical solutions to help me improve my own online security. Everyone, no matter their role, and those with no formal ‘job role’ at all can do a little something immediately to make themselves more secure online.

Thanks Brian! And thanks to the LIR Committee for having Brian speak at UL and at their annual seminar earlier in the year in Dublin. If you want to learn more about cyber security Brian references this excellent TED talk by James Lyne, definitely worth a watch.


Libraries, providing sanctuary to all

As the University of Limerick has been designated a University of Sanctuary in recognition of its initiatives welcoming asylum seekers and refugees, I reflected on the role played by libraries in offering sanctuary to learners.

Fundamentally, libraries offer a safe and inviting space in which people can read quietly or work collaboratively. Librarians encounter and solve complex queries, establish connections between learners and the services that can best benefit them. These professional attributes place librarians at the centre of many inter-agency initiatives to welcome and assist people from new communities to Ireland.

The Library Association of Ireland’s Western Section held a seminar on ‘Diversity in Libraries’ in Co. Clare this week. Welcoming migrant populations is nothing new in Ireland’s western counties. The Shannon resettlement programme in the 1970s and the housing of Syrian families in Co. Roscommon demonstrates the welcome that the West extends to migrants.

Galway County Council’s library service is one initiative described at the LAI Seminar .

Western Regional Section of the Library Association of Ireland

Among other professional attributes, a librarian’s project management and communications skills made Galway’s library staff crucial partners in the Syrian refugee resettlement programme. From conducti

ng research to support the committee running the project to establishing links in the community, providing internet access and English-language learning material, the library played a central role in the successful rollout of the programme. On a continuing basis, the library provides cultural information and offers space for people to meet.  Irish people interacting personally with the Syrians has given everyone that most critical of perspectives; understanding.

Today belongs to the 17 refugees from direct provision in Limerick who will get scholarships to study at the University of Limerick. Our campus library will welcome them and be a sanctuary and a lifeline when deadlines approach. I look forward to learning from the experiences of these students, to deepening my understanding of their culture and their backgrounds, so that we can go from strength to strength in supporting diverse learner needs.

Making Every Seat Count; dealing with desk reserving in an academic library

At the QQML Conference in 2017 I presented a paper describing an innovation put in place at the University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library to counter the student practice of reserving library seats by depositing their coats and bags at or on a desk or study chair, before exiting the library to participate in other activities.  This paper describes the impact and effectiveness of an intervention put in place to alleviate the Every Seat Counts 2017space constraints caused by the practice. The data from focus groups and surveys provided an understanding of the problem before and after the intervention.

Michelle Breen talk at QQML 2017 Making every seat count

The desk clearing initiative described in this study was successful in reducing the practice of seat reserving and thus increasing the availability of seats for use.  This research gives library managers practical advice about how to tackle the problem of seat reserving in libraries.

If you would like to know more about how it works please leave a comment below or email me,

When you don’t have time to read

Who among us could honestly say they’ve got loads and loads of time on their hands at the moment? When I think about the conditions I personally need in order to be able to ‘reaaudiobookd’ I think about a quiet, comfortable space, free from human or technological distraction. Where I’d find places like that right now with 2 young children is just a mystery to me.

What I have, and cherish, every day is a 48km commute to work. It’s in a private car as the public transport simply doesn’t support the route in any sort of efficient way. Up to last month I’d listen to the radio or make a call on the phone . . . Bluetoothed of course. But since I discovered Audible I have been able to start ‘reading’ again.

It started after a Ryan Tubridy book recommendation for the JD Vance book Hillbilly Elegy. Following Ryan’s tip off, I went to Amazon to download the book and discovered an audio version. I signed up for Audible’s trial and have now become a monthly subscriber. I have found a way to keep up with my reading, and another great way to pass some time on the commute to and from work.

If you’re wondering how you can get more books ‘read’ then maybe it’s worth checking out Audible, even if it’s just the trial.

Getting your creative juices flowing

A good poster is certainly a thing of beauty, and something that catches our eye and our imagination when information is presented clearly in a visual way. Academic and research conferences usually have a poster strand built in and it is a powerful way to engage non-presenters in the conference’s theme. This year’s CONUL conference has a broad theme of ‘Inspiring and Supporting Research’ which allows a wide range of relevant topics to be submitted.

Inspired by the fantastic Laura Connaughton’s talk at the WRSLAI Winter Networking event in December, I will lead a band of merry poster makers on a posters journey in the coming months. Having to get down to brass tacks with novice poster makers has made me consider all the skills that are now required of our library workforce.

Selecting a suitable project that fits with the conference theme forces us to be critically reflective of our everyday work. Setting work deadlines to one side for an afternoon is a liberating way to tackle what will hopefully be a creative and enjoyable experience for us all. Thinking about representative images, deciding on layout, font, title and all of the other elements that make a successful poster are only the first steps. The analog bits. Of course the poster will be created digitally, albeit for a printed final product and this will be another learning opportunity for us as we choose a suitable infographic software and source copyright free but high resolution images.

We want to have an impact with the audience at CONUL, emulating last year’s posters. Perhaps we are setting ourselves an ambitious target but we’re hoping to have a lot of fun along the way.

Reddit, liked it.

In December I contributed to a 12 Apps programme at the University of Limerick. The University’s Ed Tech team coordinated this and tapped in to their strong UL network of tech tools advocates. I initially selected Basecamp as the app I would write about but midway through the course the tool became a paid one so I decided I would change to the very useful Reddit.  reddit

Reddit is a social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion app (and website).

 What can Reddit do?

Reddit’s registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links. Registered users can then vote submissions up or down to organize the posts and determine their position on the site’s pages. The submissions with the most positive votes appear on the front page or the top of a category.

Content entries are organized by areas of interest called “subreddits”. The subreddit topics include information on many of the subjects we teach at the University of Limerick.

As part of the course we had to give people a task to do,  here is what I asked people to do, to get you started.

  1. Open Reddit and search for World War 1.
  2. Choose a subreddit that you want to view information about e.g.
  3. Then search within that subreddit for Ireland.
  4. You will see an entry about UL’s World War 1 project ‘Long way to Tipperary’.
  5. Perform a new search about any topic you are researching to identify online experts.

How to visualise all that data we gather

A few months ago I had an interesting conversation with a work colleague about data visualisation. He had used data visualisation when preparing his thesis and had lots of good things to say about the ways he had been able to present otherwise difficult to comprehend findings. Around that same time I had been wondering about ways to better present management data for our library’s planning and review sessions.

Libraries collect a lot of data, from a wide range of sources. To identify trends in these data they are scrutinised in great detail but having a visual of what the data is saying would take some of the pain out of that process.

I spoke to my IT colleagues about what they felt might be a good solution in our existing tool kit and one of them was able to demo PerformancePoint Services in Sharepoint. I provided the excel files that stored the data and he was able to render these in to a dashboard and this met my needs in an introductory way. Anyone that has ever used SharePoint however will recognise however that it is less than intuitive when it comes to tasks therefore I was still keen to find out more. I went back to my colleague who had used the data visualisation tool called Tableau and decided in parallel to look at some samples of it in action.

Cornell University uses Tableau to present university information that you can manipulate yourself in a visual way Harvard’s Law Library Explorer  uses Tableau also to present information about their collections

There are probably many more examples of tableau in action but these are the ones I found that are trying to do something similar to me. If you know of other examples I’d be interested in seeing them.

I installed Tableau public (free) and played around with it and am still curious about the level of systems involvement in getting the data of each of our major library vendors in to Tableau, and also, what people’s experience is of the single user licence ($1,999 per annum)  – is 1 licence dequate for a library, does one person basically present the data and others then view it and interact with it?

While I experimented with Tableau another tool appeared on my radar, Power BI from Microsoft. This product is currently being explored at my institution so it’s too early to say if it will be the corporate solution but I will be keeping an eye on it too. Power BI Desktop allows you to visually explore your data through a free-form drag-and-drop canvas; that sounds like Tableau so I guess a lot of it will come down to user experience, and pricing of course.

When it comes to data visualisation, the big message seems to be ‘Less is More’.  In my view, having the set of metrics we KNOW we WANT TO zoom in on frequently is the very first part of the puzzle to get right. With some exceptions Tableau or Power BI should be able to do the rest.

Storytelling, an art form you need to see

For the 5th cosneemstorynsecutive year, the small village of Sneem in South Kerry (Ireland) hosts an international storytelling festival in November. Storytelling is not just a made-up idea, not just a clever off-season touristic draw, storytelling has real meaning in this South Kerry parish.

Although not everyone considered it in any depth at the time, the local children at St. Michael’s National School in the village were lucky to have had the festival’s founder, Batt Burns, as their teacher in the 70’s/80’s and 90’s. You couldn’t fail to be mesmerised by the stories Batt sometimes rehearsed on us for part of his own stage shows in far flung irish and folklore communities in America. Batt would cite Eamon Kelly as a major inspiration for his delivery in seanchaí style of these Irish tales.

The weekend programme is jam packed for newcomers and seasoned storytelling enthusiasts. Household names like Jon Kenny, Mary McEvoy, Alice Taylor & Seán Ó Sé (the Poc ar Buile) feature in this year’s programme. With daytime events, guided storytelling walks, llectures and workshops, story swaps, performances for and by children, a performance of John B Keane’s The Matchmaker and a local drama soc’s production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer there is a lot to see and hear over the 3 days. Check out the programme and make your plans and reservations now for a weekend guaranteed to shorten the winter! In addition to the accommodation listed on the site, I can highly recommend Ardmore Lodge (5 miles from the village) as superb family accommodation for the weekend. 

A first timer’s reflections on becoming a published author

Academic librarians are surrounded by research, it is part of the fabric of our organisations, and topics on which to conduct research abound. So although publishing is not at the moment our ‘bread and butter’ more and more academic librarians in Ireland are becoming published authors. Terry O’Brien’s recent article discusses the research output of his librarian colleagues in Irish higher ed in a recent New Review of Academic Librarianship article.

publishedAt the University of Limerick, research is central to the institution’s mission. All staff can participate in research avtivities in a supportive environment where your findings can enhance the university’s research output and profile, no matter what the topic.

The idea for our research came from analysis of many years of LibQual data; the objective of the study was to measure the impact on library users of noise management interventions implemented at the Glucksman Library (UL) from 2007 to 2014 through retrospective analysis of LibQUAL+® survey data.
The full article is here (Open Access repository at the University of Limerick). 

I had delivered several conference papers, many presentations and written for blogs and industry magazines but writing for a peer reviewed publication was a new challenge for me. Believing that I had something valuable to contribute to the literature was the first mindshift that I had to grapple with.  The literature review and the collection and analysis of the data was made easier by having a clear research question and by being an experienced liaison librarian who had guided many students through the same process. Having a mentor and experienced co-author in Ciara McCaffrey eased my passage in to publishing; together we teased out a topic dear to many librarian’s hearts; the intractable ‘noise’ problem.

Choosing to pursue writing as part of an already busy job is a very personal decision. Devoting evenings and weekends to searching, reading, underlining, writing, re-writing, re-reading and always questioning the validity of your work is a significant undertaking.


Nervously submitting the work to a prominent journal felt, ironically, like a release, a stage in the work completed. Having your work scrutinised by peers brings a degree of fear; journal editors in this case were extremely human, 100% honest and always encouraging with their suggestions. With the feedback taken on board, the article improved, felt polished and felt like something we could be proud of. Finally seeing it in print this month brought a pride, the sort of pride that you feel at graduation, or at other significant life events for which you have worked hard.

So if you have yet to go down the road of writing for peer reviewed journals I can definitely recommend it as a learning experience, and a rewarding thing to do. Putting a new publication, a ‘real’ one now, on your LinkedIn, ResearchGate or ORCID profile isn’t something you get to do very often when you’re not a full time researcher, but it feels nice to do it.

As we benefited from the work of those we reference in the paper, we now have a duty to share and promote the research so that the next author can learn from what we did, and improve on it. To this end we are becoming keen students of scholarly communication, research impact on social media and finding new ways to communicate our research, all topics that will be discussed at a librarian’s seminar in Maynooth University this week.

With one peer reviewed publication ‘in the bag’ I suspect that I may have caught the bug and if my co-author will have me, I would go after the thrill of getting published again.