Mapping Information Landscapes – a first step

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, Events) by ronan on 04-04-2014

Manchester March 2014Spent a great couple of days at Manchester University last week working on Mapping Information Landscapes with colleagues Fred Garnett and Drew Whitworth. The aim was to secure some funding to develop a rationale and methodology that would help gain a deep understanding of urban “cityscapes” from the information patterns they present. We looked at the issues from a range of different perspectives; scientific, philosophical, technological, geographical, knowledge management, information science.

So what is my interest in this? Well, I’m not so sure about the mapping aspect; that is,  I don’t know how it might be done, although I’m sure there is technology that can help. The information landscapes certainly engage me, and the terms communities, resources and learning in this context are all difficult to define and shape into something that has wide appeal; herein lies the problem for the academic. Yet in all communities, information forms the basis of learning and the associated resources can be in demand; in addition, the skills required to engage with resources can be in demand. This landscape can be monetised and institutionalised or it can  evolve more openly (my preference). Perspectives can be from the ‘information’ point of view, i.e. watching information flow(s) through communities. Equally, a perspective from the individual might provide a sociological lens, or a ‘learning’ (theory) perspective may be used to understand knowledge creation. An economic view, in this era of neo-liberalism, would perhaps seek to monetise the landscape and identify a commercial angle. Cultural and heritage angles are also important.  I’m interested in all these views (and others) of the information landscape.

I was impressed with the range of people – some of whom are in the photo – from Norway, Russia (5 delegates), Brazil, Pakistan and the UK. Fred has promised to curate the conversation that has come out of the event, and this will shed more light on the issues and, more importantly, the progress we may have made. Fred’s presentation slides can be found here


Winter wanderings

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, General, Research) by ronan on 19-01-2013


View from MacMillan building carpark Bradford College 08:45 17 Jan 2013

As summer temperatures soar in Melbourne I’m back here in a snow covered Yorkshire looking at the short days of winter. Incredibly busy on my return from Australia with much to do on the £50m new build at Bradford College – specifically for me the library facilities more about that in a later post. Also organised a call for research and received 18 successful projects which are all up and running. The Bradford College application for Taught Degree Awarding Powers enters into its next phase with a resubmission being put together for June.

I have also been directing the XCRI (eXchange of Course Related Information) JISC-funded project which ends its 18 months in March 2013. Spending a short time on a project to evaluate the successor to BeCTA’s Generator which is being piloted by LSIS.

On a more personal note I am applying for the Higher Education Academy’s National Teaching Fellowship Scheme which is due at the end of March. My doctorate studies at the University of Sheffield enter into their second stage with the commencement of my thesis – more about this is a later post.

Visit to University of Melbourne

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, General, Professional practice) by ronan on 21-09-2012

My visit to the University of Melbourne to look at learning spaces was hugely enhanced by  my host Peter Jamieson who was a wonderfully enthusiastic guide.  I certainly appreciate the time he took to show me all of the different areas on their campus. I was given a tour of really interesting learning spaces, and I will do a fuller more detailed posting about this later. Of immediate note was the plectrum-shaped table in the learning classroom which is something I would really like to investigate putting into our own learning spaces.  Also the use of plywood to make bespoke library shelving incorporating  a good finish and can be rather more attractive than expected. I think the most important aspect of my visit, and something that Peter kept emphasising, was the need to think more deeply about our students’ behaviour. Peter Jamieson is an authority on learning spaces and was an engaging, humorous and enthusiastic guide.  I greatly appreciate the time he took to show me the range of interesting and different views of learning.

Visit to RMIT – Melbourne

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments) by ronan on 20-09-2012

I visited the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Swanston Academy building a brand new piece of architecture on Melbourne’s Swanston street having opened its doors just 3 weeks ago. Dr. Sue Reynolds, Senior Lecturer at the Business IT and Logistics School gave me a tour of the new facility. In return I made a presentation to her postgradute Masters Level Library and Information Management students which was well received. My subject was the position of public libraries in supporting lifelong learning. It was exciting to be delivering a lecture in this iconic building – which incidentally was featured on the current issue (Sept-Oct 2012) of Architecture Austraila. It was also nice to be taken for lunch, by Sue and her team,  to a cozy book-themed restaurant in the basement of the State Library of Victoria and in the afternoon to visit the busy bustling City Library in Flinders Street. Thanks to Sue.

From Lending to Learning – published

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, General, Information Literacy, Professional practice, Research, Technology Reviews, VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)) by ronan on 29-11-2010

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Ahh – finally… my book which is now available – an extract from the opening pages:

“As I write this introduction a debate on BBC Radio 4 suggests that in order to effect public sector efficiency savings, volunteers should run public libraries along the lines of charity shops. There are regular announcements of this type in the media with yet more initiatives to change public libraries. To breathe new life into them, to put new energy into the service and to take new approaches that range from raising noise levels to the provision of coffee and chat facilities. At the heart of all such announcements lies a very important, yet simple, question: what are public libraries for?

Wander into any one of the hundreds of public libraries in the UK and you will see a range of services there that have evolved in a fairly haphazard way. This is not to say that there is poor quality of service, simply a lack of consistent strategy. One is tempted to ask some very obvious questions. Who looks after the public libraries of this country? Is the power to shape the future of public libraries in the hands of the central government, the regional assemblies, local authorities or made-up agencies, quangos, held together by the short-term thinking of hands-off politicians and civil servants? What are the reasons for keeping an institution such as the public library active over centuries – is it simply tradition? And, looking ahead, what might be the public library needs of our grandchildren?

In the chapters that follow I try to unravel the complexity and distil a logic that might offer a way to view the public library not simply as a national institution steeped in tradition, or as a purposeless place providing little more than popular glossy magazine titles, but as a learning space. Or, more correctly, a space owned by and dedicated to learners.”

Order this title now through your local public library – or buy it yourself, read it and send me your comments.

Rónán O’Beirne From Lending to Learning – The development and extension of public libraries. 2010 Chandos Information Professional Series Chandos Publishing an imprint of Woodhead Publishing Ltd., Cambridge. ISBN 9781843343882.  – 216 pages  234 x 156mm  paperback £45.00 / US$75.00 / €55.00

Colombo Swimming Club – Sri Lanka

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, Events, General) by ronan on 29-11-2010

On my final day in Sri Lanka I stayed at the Colombo Swimming Club hotel and availed of their wonderful outdoor pool. Olympic gold medalist David Wilkie learned to swim in this pool. But I suppose of more significance was the fact that scientist, science fiction writer and Sri Lankabhimanya, Sir Arthur C. Clarke CBE FRAS swam laps of this pool on a daily basis during the second half of his life. Apparently he called this pool his “million dollar pool” and according to the hotel website he used the daily swim as a meditation that spawned the plots and characters for his fictional work.

Arthur C Clarke died in Colombo in March 2008 he had lived here since 1956. He obviously grew to love the country…….

The island of Ceylon is a small universe; it contains as many variations of culture, scenery, and climate as some countries a dozen times its size. What you get from it depends on what you bring; if you never stray from your hotel bar or the dusty streets of westernized Colombo, you could perish of fulminating boredom in a week, and it would serve you right. But if you are interested in people, history, nature, and art – the things that really matter – you may find, as I have, that a lifetime is not enough.” (Clarke in The View from Serendip, 1977)

Colombo Public Library

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, Events, General) by ronan on 16-11-2010

I found time Saturday afternoon to go to a sevens rugby tournament at the headquarters of the SLRU Longden Rd Colombo. It was an incredibly hot day for rugby and the humidity made it even more difficult for the players. Luckily I was in the shade of the stand thanks to our hosts. We sampled the local brew Lion lager (4.8 abv) and enjoyed some good rugby played with real passion – a sin bin in sevens is just two minutes – not really enough time for proper atonement and reflection. Despite the recent flooding that there was on the day we arrived, which made thousands of people homeless, the rugby pitch was rock hard and made for a fast game.

The traffic here today on the Galle rd is very heavy due to the cricket test – Sri Lanka take on the West Indies. I ventured out to see if I could find the National Library of Sri Lanka but gave up – nobody seems to have noticed its fairly recent construction. I discovered later that the national library is part of or housed in the national museum – but the public library is the building I am interested in and I did manage a photo from the car as I passed it by. Fish curries are superb.

Envisioning the future

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, General, Professional practice, Research) by ronan on 01-10-2010

I have been reading an interesting collection edited by Sue McKnight called Envisioning future academic library services; initiatives, ideas and challenges published by Facet 2010. It was brought to my attention not by the marketing efforts of Facet but rather it was well reviewed in the Times Higher over the summer, which on reflection, the marketing reach of Facet may have had a hand in; I don’t know much about the dark art of book marketing.
There are some interesting contributions Derek Law as always is provocative – one of his sub-sections headed “academic partners, not servants” will strike a cord with many.

Andrew McDonald looks at libraries as place while Liz Wright  opens her chapter on future leadership with a quote from William Gibson which I paraprase here: “Only charlatans say they really know the future”.

Paul Coyne, from Emerald and a good friend of Bradford College, writes very well and covers much ground in his look at ‘the discovery and consumption of scholarly content’. He provides a great definition of Library 2.0 (from  Maness (2006)) – it has four essential elements:

  • it is user-centred
  • it provides a multimedia experience
  • it is socially rich
  • it is communally innovative

Martin Lewis – University of Sheffield – Information Commons – gives a policy level overview of the role libraries might play in managing research data, this is also taken on an international level. His sub-section ‘what libraries can do about data’ gives a clear rationale for what should be done locally, nationally or internationally. He also usefully looks at funding although I suspect that will date quite quickly.

So its a good collection of essays and will be a good text to accompany the discussions of the newly-formed Bradford College library futures group in which about a dozen library staff have already expressed an interest. I’ll deposit the book in the staff library when I’m finished with it –  promise.

Appleton Academy and the Public Library

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, General) by elearning4bradford on 07-04-2010

As noted in an earlier post, with Bradford College as the sponsor, I am on the governing body of the Appleton Academy. I also attend the design group meetings where for the past year or so we have been looking, along with representatives of the Bradford public library service at the feasibility of developing a joint-use facility. With the high number of stakeholders involved the process has been complex and at times difficult. The local public library in Wyke has been in need of repair for some time and the main impetus for the local authority has been to see a new library for the community. The Academy, unique for its all-through provision,  in turn sees benefits in having a prestigious community library provision within its building offering extended out of hours services. Bradford College sees the potential for lifelong learning provision within this community venue.

The potential for economies of scale through linkages, both physical and strategic , between the Academy’s learning resource centre and the public library will now be realised following a decision by the Bradford Council’s Executive on March 30th to go ahead with its part of the scheme.

Professionally the challenge for those of us involved is to design and deliver a superb facility fit for the local community.

Art Libraries Quarterly

Filed Under (Built Learning Environments, General) by elearning4bradford on 07-04-2010

Two articles in the quarterly Art Libraries Journal Volume 35, No. 1, 2010, published by ARLIS caught my attention. It is actually a special issue titled Plus ca change? and carries (mostly revisions of) papers form the ARLIS UK & Ireland’s Cambridge conference 2009: Tradition and transformation.

The first piece to attract my attention was by  Karen Latimer Librarian at Queens University Belfast Medical Library – Redefining the library: current trends in library design. This a very well written overview of recent library architecture in the context of changes to learning and teaching brought about by technology.

The second piece is by Melissa Terras – Senior Lecturer at the Dept. of Information Studies at UCL – Should we just send a copy? Digitisation, usefulness and users. This tells the story of digitisation using the popularity of the Mona Lisa image as a device for explaining the issues associated with the preservation or representation of cultural heritage; it also touches on issues of retrieval – but the central question “Should we just send a copy?” remains fundamental to many other aspects of our profession.