Surveying my learning

Since the middle of 2014, I’ve been working with Professor Hazel Hall and Christine Irving of the Centre for Social Informatics and Professor Robert Raeside, Dr Tao Chen and Dr Robert Raeside of the Employment Research Insititute on a project to better understand the UK library, archives, records, information, and knowledge management workforce. You can read about of the aims of this project in Hazel’s blog.

My work has been mostly to do with setting up a survey using Edinburgh Napier University’s installation of NoviSurvey. This service was chosen because it offers security around respondents’ data (which is kept on Napier’s secure servers) and the ERI team-members have experience in using it. Other online survey services were considered but they either cost too much, stored data outside of EU protection (although all that stored data in the USA offered SafeHarbor protection) or both.

The initial version of the questions was set up in NoviSurvey by Tao – he tells me this took two days. I then tested the survey in every browser and platform combination I could lay my hands on: versions of Windows from XP to 8, MacOS10·8 and 10·9, Ubuntu Linux, various versions of Android, WindowsPhone and iOS; Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Opera. I didn’t have access to hardware running all these combinations but I filled the gaps by running VirtualBox virtual machines on my Mac or by using free online emulators. (It would have been challenging fun to set up the survey from scratch using HTML/CSS/PHP/MySQL but it would have been much harder – I’d have had to learn a lot very quickly about coding for old browsers and much more about data security. The time and budget didn’t allow for this, and there’s no point in reinventing the wheel unless you can invent a better one.)

This confirmed that NoviSurvey worked well on every combination, although the user experience was far better on laptop and desktop systems. It also allowed us to make the language and question functionality consistent through the survey. We also did a lot of piloting – thanks to Napier’s librarians, colleagues in the CSI and others for this! Following this, we did some final question- and layout-refinement, and made links at the end of the survey so respondents could easily send the survey-link to friends and colleagues in their social media circles.

There have been some challenges along the way, but I won’t dwell on these. But they’ve given me more non-techie learning experiences. The survey went live in early March. Since then, I’ve been monitoring the response rate daily, while Christine and Hazel have been marketing the survey via their contacts in the sector and their copious social media contacts. I’ve contributed a little to this, but my social media circles are much smaller. Tao and Robert have analysed interim results which confirmed that respondents levels are mostly in line with the geographical and sectorial distributions we expected. The main difference is that there are more respondents from Scotland than CILIP and ARA membership patterns would predict, but this is probably because Hazel and Christine are Scotland-based and so are better known here, although they do Library and Information Science work all over the UK and abroad.

The survey closes at the end of April. I’m looking forward to being involved in the analysis and writing up of the results. Most of the statistical work will be done by Tao and Robert using SPSS, but I hope to learn a little about how this is done. I’ll also be involved in making the final reports look good and read well – you can’t keep this old publishing professional down. (I still miss spending a lot of time in Adobe Creative Suite, especially working on educational books. I don’t miss the corporate games and commuting in my last two years in that role – these combined with a health problem to make my life hellish. And I’m very glad to have dodged Adobe’s move to a subscription model.) I’ve been happy to learn a lot about setting up questions in NoviSurvey, and how to use its results-reporting mechanisms. It’s been fun learning more about Library and Information Science, and thinking about links with other areas of social informatics, especially my own niche around Scotland’s hyperlocal democracy.

We’ve been very encouraged by the response rate, but I’d love to end the data-gathering period on a massive high. Also, key groups currently under-represented in the survey are:

  • men
  • those in the East of England, East Midlands and Northern Ireland
  • those working in
    • Information Management
    • Knowledge Management
    • commercial/business
    • schools
    • national libraries and archives
    • armed forces
    • legal
  • frontline workers such as library/archive/information assistants

So any UK readers who work in UK libraries, archives, records, information or knowledge management, please go to and take the survey. Please also tell your friends, colleagues and contacts about it. It take no more than 15 minutes to complete, and will help CILIP and ARA target their work to suit you – and you could win £200 of vouchers of your choice!


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