It worked for us – Shared Parental Leave

In November 2015 I went back to work. My husband, Alan, stayed at home with our then 10 month old son to finish the year of parental leave. It was both the most amazing experience for all three of us and a steep learning curve but we would do it again in a shot. It was something  we decided we would try fairly soon after we found out we were expecting. Alan wanted to do it and who was I to hog the baby? Then we had Evan and fell madly in love with him. Even if I had wanted to I don’t think Alan would have let me stay off instead of him.

For me 10 months was plenty of time off, I don’t think I could have gone back before 8/9 months but the last month of maternity leave I was chomping at the bit to get back. Alan was a little more nervous about being at home and “in charge” of our independently minded son but still very keen. Although his vision of building forts and playing all day quickly vanished.

What we learnt was that being a new dad on shared parental leave even when the baby is 10 months old and you think you have done lots of shared parenting isn’t that different to being a new mum but without the support of a team of health visitors and other new mums. It was a big change and not always as Alan expected it to be. Suddenly he had to do all Evan’s meals, get him to nap (particularly hard in the first few days when Daddy being home was far better than napping), shop, do washing and socialise. Even though we knew this would be the case it was a shock – partly because he tried to do things my way, rather than finding his way.

I had 2 things I did every week – Monday Playgroup and Baby Sensory. Both were with friends Alan knew and he did head off and do them. I think the first time he had to sit in a circle and sing “Evan’s here today, Evan’s here today, let’s all wave our hands, Evan’s here today” was so far out of his comfort zone it might as well have been on a different planet but he carried on going. Probably because of the scones. They bake nice scones at play group.

This is pretty much the scene –

Baby sensory was a more enjoyable experience. Probably because it was activity based so there was no awkward chatting to other parents and Evan loved it.

Both Baby sensory and playgroup were easier because he went with our friends, he wasn’t the only dad at play group but he was by far in the minority and the only one at Baby Sensory. Mums bond in the early days of babyhood with sharing intimate stories of birth, not sleeping and hormonal crying. Dads on parental leave join the party late, can’t really talk about stitches and pelvic floors and don’t have many other dads to talk to at the things set up for parents. This can only really be rectified when it becomes the norm and there are more new dads on leave, doing whatever suits them rather than trying to fit in with things that suit new mums. Saying that just having more dads at anything would help.

It was interesting the different comments Alan received compared with me. He was a novelty and nobody once asked him if he was going back to work. He was but he might not have been. Even our amazing health visitor who in all other regards was my rock in the early days reacted to Alan being off (she knew he was going to do it) as if it were a novelty at Evan’s one year check. I ended up crying telling her how unsupported we were in doing this. I suggested that health visitors should give any dads starting shared leave a call or even visit and treat them like the new parents they are. She was brilliant and said she hadn’t thought about it like that but would definitely take it on board and start to think what they could do to support new dads who are on leave.

For all the difficulties in adjusting Alan says he would do it all again in a shot. His bond with Evan is awesome, it has made us even more equal parents and it made my return to work easier. Until you have been off with a baby you really don’t know what it is like. It probably took 6 weeks to really settle into the rhythm of being at home and by then it was almost Christmas and it was almost over.

For Evan it was a great experience, he got 2 months of time with Alan which were different to time with me. The connection between them strengthened and we think it helped him when he went to nursery as he had already experienced a change of  carer, albeit a less dramatic change than starting nursery.

We were lucky – we earn similar figures so financially it made little difference who was off but I know many couples find this the barrier to doing it. However I would say if you absolutely can do it then do – even if you don’t take the whole year to make it work. It gives the mum the chance to explore how she wants to go back – full time, part time or not at all and the dad the chance to be a dad.

We did learn some lessons and would do a few things differently next time –

  • Have a handover week or fortnight – we had had a few weekend days where Alan had been in charge of things like the changing bag and deciding when Evan needed to eat or sleep but weekends are different.
  • Alan would find his way of doing things. I never told him he had to do anything a particular way but he felt he should replicate my routines. I am an extrovert and multi-tasker. Alan is neither of these things and needed to find his way of doing things.
  • Do activity based things so baby is occupied but it doesn’t involve lots of talking about how amazing it is that he as a man has done this amazing thing. (This amazing thing which is exactly the same non-amazing thing I had been doing for months)

It isn’t just about us though, until it becomes the norm for people to share parental leave it will always be tricky, not least until people stop treating dads as a novelty and think before they say or do something “would I be saying this to the mum?” They also need to acknowledge it is hard and it is more supportive to encourage than to comment on how it must be because it is so unusual.

Employers also have to get behind it. Difficult in a time when we are still fighting discrimination against women on maternity leave but if all parents take time off would it help that fight? I hope so. We have a very long way to go as as society until we catch up with Sweden and their Latte Dads but if we want an equal society we have to aim for it. It takes the pressure off men to always be the one to carry on working and allows women to return to work sooner.



Evan on the first day of shared leave.



1 year back from Maternity Leave

Let’s ignore the fact I haven’t blogged for almost 4 years. I have been busy – not least producing a tiny human. Which is what made me think about writing this blog post. A year ago today I returned from Maternity leave back to a job I love from another job I loved. The two jobs – shared a common factor. Both involved a lot of cake but otherwise being on maternity leave was quite different to being at work. My days were completely controlled by another human being, there was not a break from them, even at night they could call me to duty and sometimes I didn’t get a legally required lunch break after 6 hours. Saying that being Evan’s mum full time was also fun – baby sensory, long walks with friends and watching Hey Duggee (and every episode of Grey’s Anatomy). He is awesome.

Evan was almost 10 months on 2nd November 2015 when I headed back into work. I had been in for keeping in touch days about once a month from when Evan was 5 months. This is something I can’t recommend highly enough. I was also doing something a lot of women don’t get to do – I was sharing my parental leave and for 2 months Evan was at home with my husband. I might do another post on sharing parental leave but again I can’t recommend this enough either.

Before you wonder, yes I did go back full time. Now if you were wondering this can I ask – would you have wondered this if my husband was writing this? Something I have realised since going back is that until we change the assumption that if someone works part time it will be the mother we won’t get very far at increasing the number of women in  work (We also need to get away from assuming either will have to be part time).

I have friends who work part time and love it, some are stay at home mums who love it or stay at home mums who hate it or working mums who love it or hate it – every mum has their own story and they don’t need to be asked about their decisions. They can also change their minds on their decisions.

For me I love working, I loved my job before I had Evan and I still love it. At first being back was a shock to the system. I had to get to know my job again, after it had been someone else’s for 8 months but getting in my car every day and being Helen Rimmer, Librarian rather than Evan’s mum felt good. I could make tea and drink it. I was connected with the world again – gossip and news coming to me through work and Twitter. I had a professional identity again. I also remembered I was quite good at my job. People asked me my opinion on things and listened, they trusted me and I work with brilliant people.

It hasn’t all been easy, some things had changed and some things not happened all of which I then needed to either live with or change. It probably has taken the year to really feel that my job is my job again but I have a supportive manager and a great team. These are two vital ingredients to successfully heading back because sometimes being a mum will be the priority. If Evan is ill that trumps anything else.

I’ll admit the hardest time was when Evan started nursery just before his 1st birthday but within 3 days he no longer cried when my husband dropped him off and clearly loved it. Last week twice when I picked him up he cried because he didn’t want to leave. He has done things there we would never have had the inclination to do with him – mainly the really messy things. He is also a lot tidier than either of us – this has to be down to nursery. He gets to eat a huge variety of food and generally wolves it down.

He gets time with us after work (and with my husband before work – I leave before he gets up). Generally almost 2 hours of undivided attention every evening, where we talk to him, play with him and sometimes when he lets us just cuddle him.

I am definitely a better mum for working, I am more patient with Evan and happier.

If you are a mum and reading this – whatever your decision work wise, make sure it is yours and it works for your family. You don’t have to go back to work, you don’t have to work full time or part time but you need to do what is right for you. Everyone who isn’t you needs to stop asking stupid questions about your decision and support it. We are in 2016 – it shouldn’t be a surprise that a mother works and is happy about it. Equally it shouldn’t be a surprise if a father stays at home or works part time.

Digital Literacy – inspiration from Cardiff

By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society: for example, the skills to use digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; as part of personal development planning; and as a way of showcasing achievements.


A couple of weeks ago I headed to LSE for one of their NetworkED seminars entitled “Putting digital and information literacies into practice.” It was delivered by  Cathie Jackson, Janet Finlay and Joe Nichols from Cardiff University about their Digidol Project. It was one of those presentations where you come away inspired to do lots of things and also wondering where to begin.

Cardiff have a solid background in Information Literacy (IL), it has been part of the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy since the early part of this century with a view to it being fully embedded. They explained that they have had a good top down buy in to IL and in turn this is helping with Digital Literacy. Cathie made a few excellent points about embedding IL (something close to my heart):

  • Has to be embedded this is the only  way it makes sense in academic context. It has to be entirely embedded and Not preserve of library but library provides support so academics can deliver IL.
  • Subject Librarians worked with academic staff on a course by course level.
  • Not too precise – what is comfortable for discipline.

She also mentioned the excellent Cardiff Information Literacy Resource bank which I myself have used and which academics can pull things from to use in their teaching. The items are deisgned so anybody anywhere could reuse them – worth pointing academics in our own institutions towards this resource.

Whilst IL is embedded in at least 66% of Cardiff’s courses DL is not massively widespread and embedded. Cardiff are bringing it all together, building on the strong IL foundation and blending  digital literacies, academic literacies, information literacies  together in the education strategy.
They have strong support from management. For example the Chief Operating Officer uses digital media incl blogs. This managerial involvement is seen as key to getting digital literacy on to the agenda. They are also involved in the central staff development programme.
One of the areas they have indentified as being an is issue is the communication gap between service providers and staff and students.
Taking Beetham and Sharpe’s  2009  model they have added another layer at the bottom for Awareness :
Cardiff found IL was stopping at skills and there was a need to look at how to apply it for example to produce a presentation. Different literacies mapped on to the pyramid from Beetham and Sharpe.
They came up with core tasks – building blocks for practices. I.e. find, manage, manipulate, producing, share.
They also identified practices – e.g. Giving presentation, Managing online presence, writing an essay
They also thought of the highest level and what do you want to see from a graduate  in other words what you want to see at end of course.
They looked at different models including the SCONUL digital literacy lens and now have set of 5 core tasks and examples at higher levels. This has been critiqued by their subject librarians. One key point is that DL (and all literacies) flow round triangle, students don’t reach top and finish.
There are some pertinent points:
  • Difficult to talk about practices and attributes – core tasks tend to be combined.
  • Practices need to be disciplinary based I.e. science versus arts
  • Some disciplines expect a read paper.
  • Tools are changing every week – using concept mapping including external tools and how they match the core tasks but also important to understand what people do I.e. tasks maps back to services this allows new technologies to be mapped back.
It is all about conversation – need to talk to staff and students about what they use and get other services involved. Conversations can happen on social media which led on to thinking about what opportunities might social media provide?
They asked students “What do you think you would benefit from?”
“how could they use social media promote themselves”
So the answers to questions might not be what you expect but provide great opportunities for developing new areas of training. This echoed the skills gap they had observed. Service providers (including the library) might have tools to solve the problems and tasks of the staff and students but often the two don’t match up.
This is where developing learning literacies helps to enable the staff and students.
Connecting with other areas of the institution such as careers to bridge these gaps works well.
Putting digital and information in practice
Strategically driven
  • Building on establishes iniatives
  • Detailed in university strategies and action plans
  • Key gatekeepers and decision makers
  • Learning literacies development framework
  • Promoting ac ownership
  • Task and practice focused
Scalable and sustainable
  • Linking services to practices – knowledge hub
  • Initiating and maintaining conversations
  • Building communities of interest
This is a link to the Prezi.

Week 4: Organisation AKA Helen tries to get everybody to love Evernote as much as she does #RHUL23

Image representing Evernote as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

This week’s 23 things is on Evernote Organisation. Which has given me the chance to talk about my favourite thing Evernote.

I’m not a naturally organised person but Evernote has helped me no end. This is the post I did for 23 things RHUL on Evernote to give some background about what it is.

There is far more to it than just a notebook. I asked Twitter for examples of innovative uses and the following replies came back:

Not being a knitter I have no real idea what Lynne means but it sounds good! I also use it for recipes. This notebook contains them. What is absolutely brilliant about this is that you can search by ingredient. You might have chicken to use up, search your recipes and all the recipes with chicken are there. Brilliant.

Samanatha Halford takes it further and tags ones in cookbooks:

Or there is the fact you can create a blog post and share it to WordPress:

There is also a facility called Evernote clearly which strips away websites so you can see it clearer which has real educational advantages for people with some additional needs. Here is this blog’s home page:

Melon the librarian

This is a video about Evernote Clearly which shows a bit more about what it does:

Reskilling for Research Data Management : a Workshop for Academic Librarians

Research Bar

Last Tuesday I went down to UWE in Bristol for a day all about Research Data Management (RDM) and academic librarians. It was a really interesting day on something which I personally hadn’t thought much about but luckily lots of other people have! To be fair one of the points made was that the majority of institutions feel we are working with other areas over and above RDM but it provides a real opportunity for librarians, especially those working in liaison roles.

One theme that did run through is that librarians are not necessarily the people leading on this (i.e. writing policy etc) but they can be instrumental in success and education of researchers because of the cross departmental nature of liaison work.

So first of all … what is Research Data and why are we thinking about it?

Research data is the data created when research is undertaken.

It is basically the next big area to be looked at in terms of research – how is it curated, how can it be accessed etc

The UWE day came out of a JISC project: Managing Research Data: a pilot study in Health and Life Sciences

The Presentations from the day are available here.

One presentation interested me greatly. Using the RLUK Reskilling for Report and mapping the gaps. It looked at the gaps librarians have in their skills and how to fill them. The gaps were identified as:

1. Ability to advise on preserving research outputs (49% essential in 2–‐5 years; 10% now)
2.Knowledge to advise on data management and curation, including ingest, discovery, access, dissemination, preservation, and portability (48% essential in 2–‐5 years; 16% now)
3.Knowledge to support researchers in complying with the various mandates of funders, including open access requirements (40% essential in 2–‐5 years; 16% now)
4.Knowledge to advise on potential data manipulation tools used in the discipline/ subject (34% essential in 2–‐5 years; 7% now)
5.Knowledge to advise on data mining (33% essential in 2–‐5 years; 3% now)
6.Knowledge to advocate, and advise on, the use of metadata (29% essential in 2–‐5 years; 10% now)
7.Ability to advise on the preservation of project records (24% essential in 2–‐5 years; 3% now )
8.Knowledge of sources of research funding to assist researchers to identify potential funders (21% essential in 2–‐5 years; 8% now)
9.Skills to develop metadata schema, and advise on discipline/subject standards and practices, for individual research projects (16% essential in 2–‐5 years; 2% now)

The list fills me with a bit of dread but I can see how useful it is and also how important it is for future proofing the role of liaison librarians.

Luckily the afternoon introduced some tools to educate staff on Research Data Management.

First up were the RDMRose team:  According to their site they say:

Week 2: Social Networking #RHUL23

I’m catching up with 23things myself. I have blogged in the past about social networking so don’t really want to repeat myself but I think Social Networking is important for libraries and librarians both for promotion and for networking. Personally my key professional network is Twitter.

When I started work on 23things RHUL I asked for tips from other people who had run it in the past – this request went out via Twitter and the responses came thick and fast. Some from participants of 23things as well as people who had run it. But this isn’t the least of the reasons to interact professionally with Twitter.

Why should you be on Twitter?

Learn about library – Find out what influential people in the library world are thinking and doing.

Networking – start conversations and get to know your peers.

Keeping up to date – often Twitter is the first place people find out about major news events. It is also very useful if you commute or have to travel at all as this post I did illustrates.

Sharing – not just funny pictures of cute animals or you tube videos of dogs chasing deer but ideas, information and opinions (be careful on the opinions bit though. Tweets have a long lifespan).

Get answers – if you are stuck with something ask Twitter and often the answer will appear. There are a lot of clever people on Twitter.

Entertainment – Twitter is full of jokes, funny videos and quick wit. Follow celebrities, especially comedians and you will laugh a lot.

Compliment / Complain – had great service?  Tweet about it and let others know when a brand does well. Had bad service? Same applies. Also most companies take Twitter seriously so they will respond to complaints as they are public.



23 things at Royal Holloway – is go! #RHUL23



The week before Christmas we launched Royal Holloway’s 23 things programme (RHUL23). For those who don’t know –  23 Things is an online learning programme designed to introduce library staff at Royal Holloway to new media and technologies (more information is on the About page of the 23things blog)


I am a bit nervous about it – I know how brilliant it can be as a concept and I really want this to work as well as it did at City but as with anything you can’t tell until it is well underway how it is going.


I have to thank Emma Cragg, Laura Wilkinson and Rowena Macrae-Gibson for their advice and encouragement in getting this started – all their tips from their own experience was invaluable. I can only hope this goes as well as their iterations.


The first week concerned blogging and RSS feeds. I used to think blogging was an indulgent frippery, all navel gazing and self-importance but have found that it has become a more and more essential part of my working life. Sometime things can be a bit introspective but I have also found the use of reflection as a learning tool has helped me a lot.


I’ve blogged before about professional versus personal in social media and RSS Feeds both posts say much of what I would say now in reflection on week one of RHUL23 – blogging saved my sanity two years ago after major surgery and gave me a different perspective on blogs. Couple that with the fact this blogging has helped me find an outlet for my film reviews as well as interact with my profession and I really feel a place for blogging.


Professionally I also think that blogging is an important tool which helps maximise the library’s reach to our users as shown in my work on the Cass Library Blog – it works because it is part of a set of tools, including Twitter and Facebook (and Libguides). There is no point in only having one of these outlets in isolation – you might miss a whole swathe of your users but I shall blog about that next week when we do Social Networking …


This is the Prezi introducing the programme: