CILIP Cymru 2016 Conference

CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (UK), and CILIP Cymru is its Welsh branch. As I was studying and working at Cardiff University earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be invited by them to run a one hour seminar at their annual conference in May.

Sitting on the train on the way over elicited a surprising degree of angst; I didn’t really know anyone else going, and the prospect of trying to mix with a hundred librarians – and furthermore to talk about their jobs while not being a librarian myself – was pretty intimidating. Fortunately, when I arrived I recalled that librarians are not intimidating, in isolation or en masse, so my concerns were soon behind me.

A greater stroke of luck came with the weather. I don’t know if it’s ever reached 30°C in Swansea before. I don’t know if it ever will again, but by golly it was magnificent for the conference. Being a seaside town, and being in a hotel on the marina, was enough to make the whole thing feel more like a holiday, albeit one with rather more focused activities than is normal.

To deliver the seminar, I relied on my usual partner in such matters – Prezi (and you can find my thoughts on Prezi here), and went with a 20/20/20 split to the hour: 20 minutes talking to the audience (who were arranged in four groups of between four and seven), 20 minutes getting the groups to write down their responses to two questions I posed on large sheets of paper, and 20 minutes going over the results together.

It was a fantastic learning experience for me and a chance to share my research, and the session produced some interesting discussions, not least of which was the observation that each of the groups formatted their thoughts differently on the paper – one group used lists, one bullet points, one a spider diagram, and the fourth a random scattering of ideas. Food for thought in itself!

Making the Jump to Prezi

“Prezi is not a replacement for PowerPoint.”

That’s what I was told in the workshop, at least. Having been a user for roughly four years now, I’m tempted to disagree, although with a caveat. If you’ve got a decent sense of visual communication, and reasonable graphical skills, then Prezi certainly can be a replacement for PowerPoint, and if it encourages you into a different mode of presentation that’s probably a good thing too.

But hold on a moment – what is Prezi?

It’s a presentation tool, first and foremost. I also sometimes use it as an organisational tool for laying out ideas that I’m never intending to present, but that’s a bonus rather than the point. The key way it’s different from PowerPoint (as the blurb happily states) is that it’s “non-linear”.

In PowerPoint, you make a slide, fill it with a few bullet points (if you’re unwise, too many bullet points, a purple wavy title and some kind of ghastly transition effect), whereas with Prezi you have more of a mind-map thing going on. It’s based principly around an online editor, which presents you with a blank canvas across which you can pan and zoom. Even before you put information on this canvas the movement suggests some kind of idea clustering, hopping from idea to idea, focusing, pulling back etc. etc. and this is very much the case.

Having had some architectural education I’m not a bad hand with Photoshop, which I’ve found tremendously useful for making things to put on my canvases, but this is not a prerequisite. The first thing you’ll notice when you fire up the editor is that Prezi suggests any of a range of attractive looking templates. These comprise a background image and various brackets and arrows in which the user has only to click for a textbox and then jot down whatever idea they fancy.

The movement of the camera is important, and should always be in your mind when you’re making a Prezi. That’s one of the main reasons I like it: it enables you to be a “director” for your ideas, starting out with a simple one that gets the attention of the audience, moving to the side a little or zooming out a bit to expand on it, following branches of ideas in succession to create trains of thought, finishing with an overview to show how things are linked… I could go on. It’s simple to use, provides more information, and can be very pretty in the right hands.

There are one or two things to point out though…

“How do I present my new masterpiece?” you may wonder. Well, there are two options. Either you can download the presentation, which will give you  a zipped folder that you unzip, in which you’ll find a file you can “play” with Adobe Flash Player. Once it’s open you just click with directional buttons or a slide-advancer like any other presentation and the camera will slide smoothly from one spot on your canvas to the next. According to the FAQs this should work fine with a Mac, but I’ve personally run into issues here, although I’ve never once had a problem with a Windows machine. As for Linux… um… I honestly don’t know.

To download your work you’ll need the right sort of account. Prezi offers a free educational account to folks with with academic email addresses (.ac.uk for example), but if you haven’t got one of those you’ll have to stump up for the premium account, or…

Go online and log in to Prezi. You can play your presentations in the same way from the website, but be warned, if you find yourself in a venue with poor internet connection you’d better be good at painting an image verbally.

The second thing to be aware of is one you may have heard about before in connection with Prezi: the dreaded motion sickness. There’s a simple rule here. Don’t make the camera move large distances at a single click or it’ll whizz across masses of bright colours, text and images in one stomach-voiding leap. Similarly, don’t build in rotations. You can do it, but a after few whole-image 180°  flips I guarantee your audience won’t be able to keep down their doughy little flapjacks and pots of yoghurt.

But with a bit of care and attention, some practice, a few run-throughs of the finished article, perhaps you’ll agree with me that Prezi offers a more sophisticated and attractive alternative for anyone ready to make the investment. Of course, if you’re reading this on the train with twenty minutes left in order to cobble together some semblance of a presentation before you arrive at your event, I’d suggest sticking with PowerPoint.

Blogging? Again?

The first thing to admit is that this isn’t my first blog. I’ve had two before, which might make it seem odd that I’m not happy and have once again decided to start from scratch.

There are a couple of reasons for my decision. The first blog was one I started in 2012. It ran on Blogger and was a venue for my creative writing. I’ve been doing this creative writing business for years and years now (like so many hopeful writers), and it seemed sensible to build a sounding board to gauge feedback and drum up support for my efforts.

This was only moderately successful. Blogger is a dismal, hobbling thing that feels as though it’s stuck in the last decade (at least, it did when I checked). WordPress may be rather limiting in its free form, but it’s significantly better at most things and gives a prettier result.

Fast forward to 2015 and I’m ready for round two (I’ve been doing a PhD this whole time, don’t forget). For the second blog I moved to WordPress. The function was ostensibly the same: a showcase for creative writing. I went all out with daily flash fiction posts, original artwork, and the response was… tiring. It’s hard to admit it, but no matter how diligently one tries, if you’re releasing a story in daily 200 word chunks it’s likely to be rambling, hard for anyone to follow, and only take energy away from other writing projects.

I concluded that a site in which I intermingle work and leisure projects (libraries, architecture, digital, creative writing etc.) into something cohesive would be a far better idea – something I could make a sustained case for. Those past blogs were experiments. I tried daily flash fiction (for around six weeks in each case) and now I’m constructing a different experiment. All part of the learning process.