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A Day in the life of a European information specialist

Ian Thomson has three roles:

  • European Documentation Centre Manager (EDC) - The EDC is there to help students and researchers in all academic disciplines with a European dimension in their work. My work is to manage the Centre, to handle enquiries, and build up the information skills of those seeking European information.
  • Director, South Wales Europe Direct Information Centre (SWEDIC) - SWEDIC primarily serves the ‘general public’, helping citizens and stakeholders to ‘connect’ to Europe.  Work in SWEDIC is more about organising events and awareness raising than simply answering enquiries.
  • Executive Editor, European Sources Online (ESO) - ESO is a subscription-based electronic European information service, which has subscribers throughout the world. It is the leading information service which specifically focuses on Europe. INSRV took over the publishing of ESO from a commercial publisher in 2007, although the editorial base of the service has always been here in Cardiff in Information Services (INSRV).

07:30 - Check the FT! | 09:15 - Checking Emails... | 09:30 - A Quick Visit | 09:45 - Interesting Enquiries | 10:00 - Reporting to the EC | 10:45 - Meeting | 11:30 - Interesting Discussions! | 12:30 - A Quick Cycle Ride | 14:00 - Promoting SWEDIC | 15:00 - Shopping Wish-List | 15:30 - Technical Catch-up | 17:00 - Rounding off the Day

07:30 Check the FT!

We have an agreement with the Financial Times (FT) to include the full text of all daily articles with a ‘European’ connection in ESO.  So six days a week, fifty two weeks a year, I need to select these articles, create index records, download the text, add a summary and, above all, try to search for further related information sources available via the web which ‘adds value’ to the index record.  This morning there are 15 FT articles to add, plus links through to related sources on EU web sites, news sources such as BBC News, Deutsche Welle,  Russia Today and the websites of various research organisations, think tanks, professional associations and Wikipedia.

As the leading European information service in Wales it is important to be able to deal with the enquiries we receive from within and outside the Principality on how Europe impacts specifically on Wales. Since INSRV has taken over publishing ESO, we have secured CyMAL (Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales) funding to allow us to offer ESO free to organisations and individuals in Wales on a trial basis. We have consciously made an effort to build up the Welsh dimension in ESO. Only two relevant articles in the Western Mail today (the ‘National Newspaper of Wales’), but I did search around and find information sources on the websites of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) and Jill Evans, MEP to add value to these records.

09:15 Checking Emails – can’t put it off any longer!

I have managed so far to not look at my emails, but I know after four days away (including a Saturday and Sunday) there will be hundreds awaiting me.  There are eighteen substantive ones requiring serious follow-up.   A University of Zagreb colleague, who I have done work with in the past, is planning a workshop on ‘New developments in EU legal research’ in the autumn and wants me to participate.  She asks me to comment on the provisional programme and suggest amendments.

In another email, the EDC Librarian at the Charles University in Prague asks me if I can help her track down a document that she has a reference for but is not publicly available on the web. I send a short email to the European Commission official in Brussels in charge of EDCs asking if he knows of the document (he doesn’t but investigates on various internal databases and sends me a copy two days later).

There is also a batch of messages from new ESO subscribers with problems accessing ESO through remote access systems such as Athens – an ongoing issue, which is proving difficult to resolve for a whole range of external reasons, most of which are out of our hands.  Glad that I will be meeting up later today with ESO ‘technical guru’, Jeff Thomas to discuss this and other ‘technical’ issues.

09:30 A Quick Visit

Quick visit to visit Brian Meredith, Manager of the Enterprise Europe Network Wales, which is based in the Guest Building alongside the EDC, to discuss some European developments that I need to bring to his attention as I act as a consultant to EEN. As its name suggests this network primarily serves the business community.

09:45 Interesting Enquiries

The first of three interesting enquiries today – all from postgraduates beginning work on their dissertations during the summer vacation.  The first is from a EUROS student who wants to find information on the EU and the arms trade.  Quite challenging, but once I discover that ‘arms exports’ is a better term to search than ‘arms trade’ ESO comes up with the goods.

10:00 Reporting to the European Commission

It’s the beginning of the month (July 2008) – and two regular monthly tasks – firstly, I have to send a monthly report to the European Commission on our SWEDIC activities, including enquiries received, events organised, media appearances etc.  Today I was able to report on an event we organised last month at SWEDIC with the Community Development Foundation called ‘My Voice in Europe’. The event brought fifty school children from South Wales to debate, draw and act out their images and opinions of Europe with professional trainers. SWEDIC now has excellent facilities for such activities. 

Secondly, I begin to create a PowerPoint presentation outlining our SWEDIC and wider European activities of the month.  We present this on our large plasma screen in SWEDIC throughout the week, alternating this with showing the news as presented by Euronews, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Russia Today etc.  The PowerPoint presentation needs to be eye catching so I am becoming expert at finding websites where you can download striking images.  I don’t finish this second task and will have to come back to it later.

10:45 Meeting

Leave the EDC/SWEDIC to meet up with INSRV colleague Sonja Haerkoenen.  We have arranged at 11:00 to meet a EUROS lecturer to discuss a possible SWEDIC / EUROS event in the autumn to mark the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (EYID), 2008.  A short and productive meeting which, hopefully, will lead to a showing of a European film focusing on an intercultural theme, with a reception and discussion somewhere on the university campus.  Much more planning to be done though.

11:30 Interesting Discussions!

After a quick snack, back to my desk…. another postgraduate, this time from CLAWS, is looking urgently for up-to-date information on the EU perspective on climate change and energy security. Even though their dissertation will be written from a legal perspective, for a topic like this, she needs to find information from a political, economic and environmental perspective as well. She is amazed at how up-to-date some of the information we can find for her through ESO, as well as bringing together information from a very wide variety of official, practitioner, academic and news sources.

Send Email to the Head of the European Commission in Wales to seek their approval and financial support for our EYID event, and also for a reception to welcome visiting ERASMUS students in October from all colleges in South Wales. 

Have an interesting talk with a former EUROS student who has worked in the USA and all over Europe since graduation.  Now, he is going through the very tough process of applying to work in the European Commission – he is here at the EDC catching up on current issues to be able to deal with the tests and interviews he will have to go through in the coming weeks.  Had a very stimulating discussion on current challenges facing the EU.

12:30 A Quick Cycle Ride!

Go off for a cycle ride around Bute Park for some fresh air and exercise – how lucky we are to have this haven of peace so near to the Guest Building.  Then have some food.  I take quite long breaks at lunch in compensation for my early arrivals and late departures on most days.

14:00 Promoting SWEDIC

My colleague Ceri Thomas and I have a meeting at SWEDIC with Jane Brookes, INSRV’s new Communications Officer.  I am keen for Jane to get to know about SWEDIC and ESO, both of which have ‘communication’ at their heart and to see if her professional skills can bring something to the challenges we have with our very small team to market what we do more effectively. I would also like Jane to be our bridge with Public Relations and Communications (PRCOM) within the university. It turns out to be a useful first meeting.

15:00 Shopping Wish-List

Catch up on a few emails and look through some publishers’ catalogues.  I have no budget for purchases but fortunately we can order books for review and indexing in ESO for no cost. 

Similarly, by indexing articles from appropriate journals in ESO we obtain all issues of about sixty journals without payment. 

We also have an arrangement with local Members of the European Parliament (MEPS), whereby we can order through them many official publications.  People may have their doubts about the EU, but certainly they like writing about it – the literature of the subject is vast and I need to keep on top of it, as well as web-based information.

15:30 Technical Catch-Up

Ceri and I have one of our monthly meetings with INSRV colleague Jeff Thomas to discuss ESO ‘technical’ issues. Jeff worked with us for a year in 2007 creating an excellent operating system for ESO ….  He has now largely moved to other INSRV activities and we MISS him. We need such a person on ESO: maybe a formal webmaster or service owner.

Today, we discuss various issues: the methods whereby public libraries access ESO, remote access difficulties with ATHENS and SHIBBOLETH, creating a strategy to deal with ‘broken web links’ (a huge problem), creating statistics of records created by ourselves and our freelance staff, the formatting difficulties we are having at adding our Information Guides to the service, and various smaller issues.  With a public service like ESO with paying subscribers you have to offer a very high quality of service – both in terms of content and functionality

During this meeting also helped a  CARBS student looking for information on the impact of the 1999 Erika tanker accident in the Bay of Biscay on the oil industry.  ESO has come up trumps on all enquiries today.

Ask Ceri to find out when Cardiff County Council are holding their ‘European Day of Languages 2008’ event in a couple of months for hundreds of local school children.  They usually ask us to attend the day-long event in the City Hall and man a SWEDIC stall.  We need to get it in our diaries as soon as possible, as September is a very busy time for us when the new academic years begin.

17:00 Rounding Off the Day

Ceri closes SWEDIC and I go for another break and snack.  Come back at 17:30 and start creating more records for ESO from numerous websites that need to be checked on a daily basis – it certainly keeps me on top of developments in the EU and the wider Europe.

Try to catch up on some more emails: I have just returned from Kaunas in Lithuania where I trained young journalists from all over Scandinavia and the Baltic Republics on how to ‘report from Europe’ at a European Summer Academy organised by the university there. Their Communications Department would like to develop links with JOMEC here in Cardiff and have asked me to investigate, so I send an email to their Head of School to see if they might be interested.

Finally, I need to prepare the agenda for the next meeting of the Steering Group of the European Information Networks in the UK.  I chair the Group, which meets three times a year in London and we have a meeting in three weeks.

Time to go home… a stimulating, although tiring and long day.