Studying online…a journey into two ‘dark ages’

Train track by unsplash 


What was supposed to be a monthly blog entry has seemingly turned into a quarterly one.  Two online courses captured not only my interest, but any free time I might have had a claim to.  One dealt with records of up to 1500 years old that are (in many cases) still well preserved, able to be studied and continuing to release their historical secrets – the world of medieval manuscripts, belonging to the so-called ‘dark ages‘.  The other looked at resources from a mere 4 decades ago up to the present, which were either already lost, difficult to preserve, or in danger of being lost forever – the digital domain, threatening a digital ‘dark age‘.

On a gloomy day in January, while picking myself up from proverbial rock bottom, I enrolled for both courses.  Initially unfazed by the thought of doing two simultaneously, I had felt that personal experience with studying online would be helpful.  I needed a challenge, after all, and I had time on my hands, so I’ll handle it!  Well, I did.  Just!  They overlapped during the final two weeks of the 7-week Deciphering Medieval Manuscripts MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), and the first two of the 3-week ALIA/TAFE course, Born Digital.

Tip 1: it’s unwise not to plan for the courses you enrol for…these two just grabbed my attention on the day, topics that have interested me for some time. They ended up taking a load of my time and leaving me frazzled on some days.

Some will say that’s a no-brainer, but it’s amazing what we can do on impulse. Avoid impulsive planning when it comes to online training. :/

Motivation was twofold… or so I thought. Firstly, to remain ‘in the learning zone’ (with LIS related topics) to avoid brain-rust; secondly, to maintain an ALIA PD portfolio, which, against all odds, I yet have high hopes for.  But as I started reflecting on this, other motives became apparent which, admittedly, I didn’t enjoy owning up to:

  • a desire to become ‘really good’ at some area of librarianship… so I continue exploring;
  • the nagging knowledge that joblessness equates to digital-skills-lossness! (Relax, that’s not a word, I know.) 😉  Digital technology is moving faster than  we frail humans can keep up with, so how could lil ol’ me expect to walk into the job market if I don’t make a personal effort to at least try to remain informed on current tech;
  • loneliness.  As an unemployed expat, in relative isolation (albeit due to personal circumstances), I seek like-minded company whenever I can…it is really rewarding to study and chat with people across the globe… to be skill-challenged, to practice new terminology, discussing newly-learned concepts.


It’s a week later as I continue writing at 35,000 feet above sea level, en route to Brisbane for 6 weeks, to welcome a new granddaughter into the world. This is a huge privilege as an expat, because so often we are separated from loved ones whom we seldom see. A privilege I would not enjoy, if I were employed. So, with every cloud comes a silver lining, although, oft times we are too wrapped up in the cloud to see the lining.  My January blog post drew an email response from a reader… a special person who always goes out of her way to encourage others … who cannot know the impact her comment had on me.  She motioned that many secretly long for what I had been griping (my word, not her’s) about. It made me sit bolt upright and opened my eyes to the positives of my circumstances.  For several weeks I wanted to respond, but felt that whatever I said would sound flat or patronising.  Thank you now, Cherie, for opening my eyes and changing my attitude.

Back to online learning.  MOOCs are a great way to spend (daily) free time if you have some that you can commit to.

Tip 2: The time factor varies from person to person and also depends upon the level of difficulty of the course, but roughly 6 to 8 hours a week should do it.

I have used Open University, Coursera, and Canvas.  Weak points will be found in all, but I am loathe to gripe about courses offered for free…these are institutions and individuals who give of their time, technology and expertise to help others and to spread knowledge. Certificates are available for some once the course has been paid for, but there have been a few that I have completed free of charge and received a certificate for.

Tip 3: Engagement is the key… forum discussions are a must to cement new learning. Engage, engage, engage!

I needed to ‘take the plunge’ initially, being part-introvert and often insecure in my own abilities.  It is especially challenging when the activity is mandatory, and contributions are only displayed once you have submitted yours.  I have cringed in embarrassment, but also floated on feelings of victory. Engagement makes for a more lasting learning experience.

Whether pursuing personal, or career, development, let me encourage you to jump in and try a course online.  If it is approached with an attitude of ‘let me make this fun’ half the battle is already won, and you are less likely to become one of the many who drop out and contribute to poor completion rates.

Tip 4: Do something outside of your field…aim for new knowledge.


Two months have passed.  The quarterly blog post has now morphed into a half-yearly contribution. Back home, with jet-lag finally shaken off and clarity returned to a rusty brain, I shall now attempt to complete this post.  The taste of life in Australia served only to make my mood more dodgy upon returning to the Middle East. (Suffice to say I’ve been like a bear with a sore head; or is it a mamma bear yearning for cubs!? Please don’t blame me, the Aussie granddaughters are sooo cute!)   heart

A few notes on the two courses mentioned above:

Deciphering Medieval Manuscripts was a journey of uncovered mysteries. Periodically I heard myself exclaim: “is that how/why/when it was done!”.  Absolute bliss, especially for those who, like myself, constantly desire a window to peer into the past!


Manuscript held by the Archivo Municipal de Burgos (Spain) catalogued as SJ-1/2


Well done to Coursera and collaboration between University of Colorado, USA and Universidad Complutense, Madrid.  The video lectures contained loads of information, illustrations and examples, often challenging in terminology, depth and detail.

sewing pic

Example of ‘couture à deux aiguilles’ – sewing quires together. (Image borrowed from the course)


I initially enrolled for the “free” course, thinking that if I don’t make it, I would not have wasted money.  But as each week arrived with new concepts in manuscript production I was enthralled and couldn’t wait to complete the module.  In the end I paid for the course, receiving a certificate as evidence of 7 weeks well spent.  Not being the artistic type, I avoided the hands-on practical, choosing the option to make story-boards on Pinterest instead.  At times even these were a challenge to complete before the given deadline, often taking longer than the suggested 2 hours. (Re-pinning someone else’s pin wasn’t an option for me, so I trawled through resources to find examples of the week’s concepts.) Here is the link to my Pinterest account where you would find story boards for the assignments.  If you’re interested, here is a great video to watch (6 mins) on the process of making a manuscript. Amazing! 😀

still from video lecture

Part of a still from the video lecture discussing exceptional types of MS illustration

Valuable knowledge was gained, even though I may never work with manuscripts.  I now look at these beautiful documents with different eyes and loads more appreciation. Sadly, the lecturer mentioned throughout that cataloguing records are not consistent and descriptive data is often shortcoming, making it difficult to search for particular facets of these primary resources, within online databases.  However, the chance to explore these wonderful  items up close from my home PC was amazing.  Kudos to wonderful efforts from many quarters (one of many sites available online) in getting so many of these resources into digital format, for more folk to study and/or appreciate them.

Here is a link to Medievalbooks, an amazing blog by Erik Kwakkel, a professor specialising in Codicology, Paleography and Medieval manuscripts.

Tip 5: Have fun, but approach online learning as you would a regular course – take notes, read from extra sources, meet deadlines, ask questions and study for quizzes (if there are any).

The second course I did was Born Digitalpreservation of digital information.

File 11-06-2017, 09 29 07

Screen grab of the course’s home page


ALIA/TAFE courses are amazing, not least for the information and hands-on practical they contain, but especially for the helpful, knowledgeable instructors presenting their courses. I usually approach them with a mix of trepidation and excitement, but have always managed to hold my own. This time it was harder, though. The forum discussions, comments and suggestions from others were as much part of my learning as the course material was. Every so often I was ‘googling’ to find out more about a concept (…that effect of being unemployed).  Nevertheless, I seemed to know a little more than some…so found the ‘imposter syndrome’ start to wane after the 2nd week.

The curriculum began with a rather clear definition of digital preservation, working through relevant methods of preservation, hardware/software involved, conversion process, preservation best practice, to social media and what is on offer in the digital domain to save your Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram pics, etc. Valuable knowledge that anyone working in the LIS sector needs today.  I’m thrilled to have done the course. However, after a year it will probably look vastly different due to the rate of change in technology.

Some vital points were stressed…

  • Digital preservation is a must! Preservation of everything – our ubiquitous mobile images, emails, social media chats, blogs, websites, forums, reports, diaries… whatever is comprised of those 1s and 0s, online and offline.
  • Our tendency to carelessness in ensuring the longevity of our digital data. How blissfully we create and delete;  we store info yet fail to regularly back up to current media formats. (Here is a handy how-to guide from OCLC.)  We relegate those annoying BU tasks to a day in the future when we may have both the time and the inclination, but which never seems to come around.  This results in a loss of valuable knowledge, frustrating for sociologists, historians, archivists yet to come.
  • Apart from a lack of backups, we are facing an unprecedented loss of data due to rapid changes in hardware and software, with no surety that even our best efforts at preservation will actually be effective a mere 10 years from now.
  • So another reality becomes increasingly apparent: paper is best! Yes…paper. If it’s something you really need to preserve, print it!!

print icon

Print icon image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


This course made me view my personal digital activities with new eyes.  I began to make plans to save, store and backup my digital data. To buy cloud storage, to leave a digital legacy, and to backup on those pesky hard drives as well.  With it the realisation dawned that Flickr may not, after all, live in cyberspace forever.  Shock and horror! I may just have time to retrieve and save the most precious images I have so faithfully stored there for the past 6 years. Ugh!

Tip 6: Complete assignments. Do all the activities. Don’t quit.

This turned out to be a rather long read.  If you’ve read this far, thanks for stopping by. 😀

Happy blog-June to all who are partaking – I admire you, immensely. You rock!


Thing 23: Bringing it all together

Once a day I endeavour to check my Twitter feed.  For me, it’s the most important time of my day, as it is the source of the majority of my library-related information and PD.  I click on links, read about new ideas, new technology, library life, it’s struggles and victories, and engage with blogs via links that are posted.

I try to log in to LinkedIn once a week.  This gives me a chance to catch up on the groups I follow and to find new contacts. I don’t have a large network on LinkedIn because I choose not to link with people I don’t know. Many whom I do know, are not on LinkedIn. Especially enjoyable are the posts from individuals, groups or companies I follow.


Social media and donuts by Photo Giddy on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Pinterest is a social platform that I engage with when I have time, or when specifically looking for ideas on a topic.  Of course, once you start on Pinterest you need to know that you have, at the very least, an hour to spare.  It is the greatest visual fun and a real eye-opener to the innovative nature of humans.

Instagram – well, that’s a different story…I began my account as a public one, hoping to soon be in a library job, where I could share books, events, ideas, news etc., along with personal bits along the way.  However, that has not happened, so I post things of interest to me, now and then, but more importantly, I use it to follow librarians, libraries, museums and topics of interest in the GLAM sector.  In this way I get to see campaign ideas, displays, makerspaces, new books, and more.  I love it! For this, I log on probably every other day.

But, here is a secret…I operate another Instagram account, with which I engage VERY frequently every day…and were you to stumble upon it, you would shake your head with pity, and declare that that woman is touched in the head! It is my dog’s account…yes, you heard right, my dog’s account.  If you haven’t yet discovered the ‘doggie world’ on Instagram, or indeed, even the ‘kitty world’, I suggest you take a look at the #dogsofinstagram or #catsofinstagram hashtag and go exploring.

As an aside, it has opened up a world that, I believe, can only exist virtually in the social media realm!  One where people regardless of colour, nationality, culture, religion, geographical confines, age, interests, status in life, or whatever, can connect, challenge each other, support each other, chat, share tips, mourn and laugh together and love each other, unconditionally.  All through the name of the dog, or the dog’s account. No stigmas, no expectations, no mockery, no bullying…only fun and unconditional acceptance.  It is wonderfully therapeutic, brings a smile to one’s face every time, creates happiness and disperses loneliness.


Dog by Rodrigo Monteiro on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I use Facebook to follow library-related accounts and pages of interest, and to connect with a few family members afar off.  For me, the most beneficial page to follow has been the ‘Troublesome Catalogers and Magical Metadata Fairies’ group…I have learned quite a bit in the month since I have joined this group. Because I find that Facebook can quickly become addictive to me, I have confined use of it to my iPad, and do not log in on my PC or my phone, so that it is not constantly intrusive to my daily routine. I take a moment over a cup of coffee every other day, to catch up on the newsfeed.

The ‘Reader’ function on WordPress is a great way to keep up with other bloggers, and those I follow are all wonderful library blogs. Blogging on WordPress has been somewhat of a challenge since I created my first blog in 2010.  I discussed my lack of ‘blogging drive’ before in a previous post, but Rudai23 has put paid to that. 🙂  Posting once a week over the last 23 weeks proves that it is indeed possible, even when you don’t feel like it. Of course, from now forward, it would also mean finding content or a topic to write on, but it won’t be weekly for me. 😉  However, I am more encouraged on the topic of blogging, and have lost most of my fear of ‘being out there’ in case the grammar police are on patrol, or the syntax is incorrect.


Hootsuite by Wes Schaeffer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The  above 6 accounts are the main social media accounts I engage with.  After signing up with Hootsuite, I decided to link only 2 – Twitter and WordPress.  I did not agree with the App’s permission requests for Instagram or LinkedIn, for privacy reasons, and so cancelled those.  Here is a snapshot of my dashboard from this morning…


I found Hootsuite easy to use, although I worked through the tutorial at first.  I can see how it will help to bring social media accounts under one umbrella for ease of monitoring.  I look forward to using it to monitor the hashtag of the next Twitter chat I attend.

It must be super helpful when used within a library situation, where many social media accounts are monitored and regularly posted to, specifically because of the time constraints of a busy workday.  I love that Tweets etc. can be drafted and scheduled to be posted at different times, so engaging with different users/followers throughout the day.


Content curation: how does it build value by Stefano Maggi via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

At this point I’m cracking open the (virtual) champagne bottle, and getting out the crisps and dip.  CELEBRATION time, as I come to the end of Rudaí’s 23 Things! Thank you to the team who developed this programme – it has truly been a beneficial learning experience.  A time of personal and professional growth.


Champagne by CycloneBill on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As always, thanks for stopping by.  😀


Featured image:  Embracing social media by RDECOM on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Rudaí 23 – Thing 7: Podcasts


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


What is a Podcast? Think iPod and Broadcast….you get Podcast. These are MP3  recording files that can be streamed or downloaded via the internet. Each mobile phone has a recording device, and most have a built-in app for listening to podcasts, such as the Podcasts app which is default on all iPhones. There is Stitcher, for Desktop, Apple and Android systems, and software like Audacity and Soundcloud to record with.

Why are Podcasts important? According to Williams & Sawyer (2013), who wrote the book Using Information Technology, podcasts are an expression of personalised media. Today there is virtually a podcast on any topic.

A few days before I read through the Rudaí 23 Thing 7 write-up about Podcasting, I spent some time thinking about what I would do with a podcast. The idea of making one for librarians came to mind. So I was thrilled to discover the link in Thing 7’s write-up, to Steve Thomas’ Circulating Ideas podcast for librarians. 😀  What a treasure trove! Food for librarians. Here is a link to his interview with public librarians attending the PLA 2016 Conference in Denver, Colorado. Bonus: at the end of this particular episode, Steve gives a talk on the ‘how to’ of Podcasting. Thanks Steve!


I took my time about getting to Thing 7. I had decided to challenge myself and record a Podcast. But with the challenge came procrastination. Well, besides the fact that it is Eid and the entire family is at home (making it rather difficult to get any serious writing done), I don’t relish the sound of my own voice. And it’s the Tour-de-France! And Wimbledon! Aaaah, choices, time, priorities…. I know that I am going to record, re-record, RE-record…etc., so I’m trying to find the moment when it’s going to (sort of) go smoothly. 😉


How can libraries incorporate podcasts? I’d love to hear suggestions from librarians who read this, or from anyone with great ideas. One use I thought of, was to record stories from folk in the community, and to post them on a page affiliated to the library website. These could be stories of survival, historic times, how tos (from experts), mothering, business tips, etc. Whatever the community has to offer, really. Thing 7’s writer, Emmet Keoghan, provides a link to a site that is an example of this. Personally, I’m sad that I did not think of recording my parents when they spoke of days gone by in the town where I grew up, or of their young days. These are stories that belong to the community really; conversations that we should foster. In current times we are connected by various devices and apps, but we are often disconnected from each other. Libraries can bring a whole community together, building a sense of belonging.

“To be a librarian is not to be neutral, or passive, or waiting for a question. It is to be a radical positive change agent within your community.”

R. David Lankes

In libraries they can be used for book reviews, author interviews, guides to using sources, and I’m sure much more. Here is a site with ideas for podcasting aimed at teachers, but since librarians can be seen as teachers/facilitators, we can use and adapt these suggestions too.

Podcasts are great for commuting. Plug in the headset and engage your mind while you drive, ride the bus or train. Here is a site I found for 6 Career-boosting Podcasts To Listen To, or how about 51 Smart Podcasts That Will Make Your Commute Way Better. My all-time favourite list that I discovered while doing an online course is the College InfoGeek’s 21 Educational Podcasts that’ll make you smarter.   Ooooh, and this…

13 Podcasts...

Remember to subscribe to your favourite podcast by way of the RSS feed.

RSS feed







By Jin Tan on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Overdrive, the popular provider for e-books and audio books to public libraries and schools have a podcast blog, Professional Book Nerds, where they discuss new books, interview authors and do book recommendations.

I also found myself wondering about the legal side of things and discovered an article from creative, the Podcast Legal Guide.

And so, to my (8 minute) contribution folks. (Umm, please forgive the hiccups during the reading. 🙂 )  I read an excerpt from one of my favourite authors (on librarianship) – R David Lankes‘ book for librarians and their communities, called…

Expect More by David Lankes

              Image from

It was hard to choose which excerpt to read from.  I chose a section about ‘walled gardens’ (he uses a classic example – Facebook) from Chapter 5, and then a piece about librarians from Chapter 7. 🙂 Thank you David, for permission to read.

I actually found a great App for the iPhone, called OPINION.  Super easy to download and use.  It also allows simple editing of a recording.  I uploaded my recording really fast to my Dropbox account, and from there I uploaded it to my Soundcloud account. Voila!

Hoping you’re inspired to search out some podcasts, or to get PODCASTING!

My thanks for stopping by. 🙂 Have a great day.

Clipart of person recording from
Dolphin clapping gif from (public domain)

Reference sources

Lankes, R. David. 2012. Expect more: demanding better libraries for today's complex world.

Williams, BK & Sawyer, SC. 2013. Using information technology: a practical introduction to computers & communications. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.