30 Jun 2021

Reflecting on Kildare Library Service's Online Events in 2020

Photo courtesy of authors
Guest Post by Amye Quigley, Bridgette Rowland and Shona Thoma of Kildare Library Service

Amye Quigley is an Executive Librarian with Kildare Library Service. She coordinates Kildare Readers’ Festival as part of her role as the Kildare Right to Read coordinator.

Bridgette Rowland is an acting Executive Librarian with Kildare Library Service and helps coordinate the STEAM programme for primary schools as part of her role.

Shona Thoma is an Executive Librarian with Kildare Library Service, coordinating events for children and young people, including the annual Children's Book Festival 

In April 2020 it became apparent that the pandemic would curtail library events for a long time to come, even if we couldn’t have predicted how long the lockdowns and restrictions would last. 

At Kildare Library Service, programming across all areas from children’s activities to age friendly, and from local history to Grow it Forward are now delivering successful online events. In this blog post, we offer reflections from three perspectives on how we made the transition from being entirely location based, to developing a range of virtual events for all ages. 

Shona Thoma, coordinator of the Children’s Book Festival, reflects on the challenges of delivering a festival programme with limited resources. Bridgette Rowland, coordinator of the STEAM programme, highlights new potential when working with schools. Amye Quigley, coordinator of the Kildare Readers Festival, outlines the process which led to the first online programme for the festival, and what that means for the future. 

Kildare Young Readers Festival and Children’s Book Festival

Children's literacy and creativity are supported and celebrated by Kildare Libraries events throughout the year. Two festival periods, the Young Readers Festival in May and Children's Book Festival in October, bring a particular focus to author events and workshops, giving children the opportunity to meet writers and illustrators, and explore their creative abilities. In May 2020, amid pandemic disruptions and significant time constraints, all events were provided online, with 20 events scheduled from 16th to 22nd May. 

In March and April, many library staff had been redeployed to work on the Community Call helpline, and IT restrictions prevented most staff from accessing emails at home. Organisation of events and managing bookings was very challenging without the library team and access to branch emails. Despite this, we felt that the Young Readers Festival should still take place in some way, offering fun activities to children stuck at home, and continuing to work with artists at a very difficult time for live performers. 

Pre-recorded video content was commissioned from two artists: storyteller Niall de Búrca, and illustrator Tarsila Krüse. Working with existing suppliers reduced the need for paperwork which would have been particularly difficult to arrange amidst so many of the unknowns in the early days of the pandemic. Six live events took place online, requiring registration, and providing much valued interactive sessions with children and their parents, these included storytelling, Yo-Yo-Yoga, and craft workshops. The safety and privacy of attendees was a key consideration, with great care taken to gather parental consent and ensure their supervision, and again working with existing suppliers with valid Garda Vetting in place. 

Photo Courtesy of Authors

With schools closed, all events were available for open booking, quite a departure for the May festival, but something that worked out very well. Schools delivery has been crucial in the past to reaching a wider audience of children than regular library users. Without the ability to publicise events through library branches, we promoted the festival via our recently launched blog, social media and eNewsletter. 

Feedback showed excellent satisfaction and that these events reached a different audience than when taking place in libraries or schools, many parents attending library events with their children for the first time. 

“It engaged him and allowed him to interact with kids his age and made him feel part of something outside this house and that means a lot to our kids right now.” —Parent feedback, Young Readers Festival May 2020

In October 2020, a further 34 online workshops and author visits were scheduled for the Children’s Book Festival. These comprised of live and interactive online events taking place via videolink to classrooms throughout the county, and 10 events held during the mid-term for children and parents to enjoy at home together.

The opportunities and challenges that we have faced by providing online programming will be familiar to anyone operating in this environment, we have highlighted some of the most significant when working with children and schools in the list below. 

STEAM Programme

Overview of the Programme

The Kildare Libraries’ STEAM programme supports the primary school curriculum across the county through workshops and talks in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. Popular workshops have included planetarium visits, Lego engineering workshops, CSI forensics workshops and robotics workshops, with the emphasis on a hands-on model making the children active participants in the learning. The programme is planned a year in advance and aligns with the main national STEAM festivals throughout the year, starting with Engineers’ Week in February and concluding with Science Week in November.

Adaptation Following Covid

In March 2020, when Ireland first entered a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just nineteen workshops out of a total of 154 planned for the year had taken place and, with libraries and schools all closed, we found ourselves with neither a venue nor an audience. What we did have, however, was pre-booked facilitators many of whom were more tech savvy than average due to the subject of the workshops and who were keen to adapt and innovate. In addition, with the schools closed and both teachers and parents scrambling to navigate the home-schooling environment, we recognised that the STEAM programme could fulfil a need for high-quality educational supports.

Some facilitators chose to create pre-recorded content that we could use on our social media channels and which could be viewed at any time whilst others adapted their workshops for live delivery through Zoom and both deliveries had their advantages. For example, environmental scientist Nikita Coulter filmed a series of beautifully illustrated biodiversity videos talking children through the meaning of biodiversity and Ireland’s ecosystems. While Tech Create delivered live coding, digital design and 3D printing workshops to children using open-source software which the children could access for free.

When the schools reopened in September, the STEAM programme was reimagined again for online delivery to schools. With children no longer taking part from home on individual devices we had to work with facilitators on a format that would be suitable for whole-class delivery and, where possible, would still include a practical, hands-on element. This had to be balanced with ensuring the delivery was in line with Covid health and safety protocols in schools. To this end, many of our facilitators supplied resource packs to accompany the workshops, with a minimum of one pack per class pod, which allowed children to carry out activities in real time with the facilitator. 

The 2021 STEAM Programme and Beyond

With the pandemic and restrictions ongoing, the decision was made to retain the online delivery model for the STEAM 2021 programme. However, we have been able to capitalise this year on some of the key opportunities the online medium allows – chief amongst them being the potential for bigger events and for access to a larger variety of speakers. In March 2021 we held a hugely popular talk for families by Professor Luke O’Neill entitled ‘Vaccines, Viruses, and the Immune System: The Real Science Behind Covid-19’. In June, we also held a panel discussion with a range of speakers from STEAM backgrounds in partnership with Maynooth University. The convenience of the online model and the potential for larger audiences makes booking high-profile speakers more viable and schools get to engage directly with leading STEAM figures.

Opportunities and Challenges

The online delivery of children’s programmes at Kildare Libraries presented various opportunities and challenges:


  • Increased engagement – we had many schools engage with the programme for the first time based on the convenience of not needing to arrange costly transport into the library or permission slips from parents.
  • Increased accessibility – we received feedback from parents and teachers that for children with particular additional needs the online delivery removed some of the anxieties they may have faced around visiting a new venue.
  • Potential for larger events – we were no longer bound by limited capacities within libraries and could have multiple classes attend an online event.
  • Increased choice of facilitators/speakers – we can potentially engage speakers from anywhere in Ireland or indeed abroad.


  • Potential weakening of the library’s role – With the workshops no longer taking place within libraries, there was a risk of the visibility of the library’s role and our wider supports being diminished. To counteract this, we encouraged staff to introduce the workshops and to promote our other library supports and use the workshop as an opportunity to build their relationship with their local schools.
  • Wi-Fi/technical problems – while this could not always be anticipated our staff and facilitators offered to do technical trial runs if a teacher was unsure of the technology or their internet connection.
  • Adapting workshops for delivery online – not all of our 2021 facilitators were able to adapt their workshops and some have been postponed until such time as they can delivered in person again.
  • Risk of school closures due to Covid – All of our facilitators offered a plan B where, in the event of a school closure, the workshop could still be delivered remotely to the children at home with the support of the class teacher.
  • No shows – with the schools not having to travel to a venue, and despite frequent reminders, we have had the occasional incident of a school forgetting to log in on the day.

Kildare Readers Festival

Kildare Readers Festival has been held in Co. Kildare every year in October since 2010. It is programmed by a committee of Kildare library staff. The audience has a mixed age bracket with an unknown level of technical skills. It runs for a fortnight with events hosted in the seven main library branches, culminating in a weekend of events held in the Riverbank Arts Centre.  

Planning for the Kildare Readers Festival starts in January every year. When Ireland went into lockdown in March 2020 the committee put all planning for the festival on pause. As the pandemic restrictions extended, many other literary festivals were postponing, rescheduling, or cancelling their 2020 programmes. The decision was made in June 2020 that we would have to move the festival to an online platform if it was to go ahead. We started to plan for a reduced number of events over the festival weekend only, up to a maximum of six events. For contrast, in 2019 we held 27 events over a fortnight. 

The committee had no experience of bringing events online. We attended as many events as possible held by festivals that were going ahead to get an idea of what other organisations were producing. There was plenty to consider; how to hold the events, live, pre-recorded, on what software platform, would IT give us access to that platform, would we be able to manage it all ourselves, would we have to get outside expertise, how much would this cost, would technology let us down, would anyone attend, etc. We chose to go with pre-recorded content. 

We planned to record the events in our usual theatre venue. However, between the county specific lockdown for Kildare, Laois and Offaly, and availability of the Arts Centre, we had to quickly reassess, and plan to record events over Zoom. Staff did not have the software to do post-production on the videos recorded so this had to be outsourced to a production company. 

We then had to decide on what platform we wanted to present the festival. There were discussions around Facebook or YouTube, and whether events should be ticketed, or open to all. We decided to upload the events to Kildare Library’s recently launched Vimeo channel. They were password protected and “released” to the public on a scheduled date and time, to make it feel more like an event to be viewed together. Despite our initial plan to only hold six events over the weekend of the festival, we hosted 13 events over a week with just over 1,600 views of the events. 

What did an online festival allow us to do? 

It provided us with access to authors we would not have otherwise been able to invite to the festival due to budgetary constraints. We should have taken greater advantage of this in hindsight, but it allowed us to invite a poet and an author living in the US. 

It freed up budgets from transportation and accommodation costs, but this was counteracted by higher production and post-production costs so that the recorded events had the same look and feel to the branding. 

What would we do differently?

While we provided a set of guidelines to our authors/guests around ensuring their sound and cameras were clear, checking their internet connections, etc., more rigorous pre-checks would have helped deliver higher quality. We should have been clearer about the use of technology required, as a couple of recordings were made on phones and tablets which were being held by hand. We should have been more confident in our abilities as a committee, as we soon found that we managed live events with great success. 

The festival committee subsequently programmed our events for the national Ireland Reads Campaign in February 2021. We held eleven live online author events for various age groups using Zoom. We are now also using Eventbrite to manage the bookings. 

Based on the feedback received, being able to catch up on the events later was appreciated. Being able to attend from locations further afield than Kildare and its surrounding counties was a bonus for some. A hybrid approach of online and live events is planned for 2021, which will be dependent on Government guidelines closer to the time, frustrating the planning process once again this year. We realise that events that would normally be held in our libraries will more than likely have to be online again in 2021. We are looking at the possibility of using the Zoom webinar function instead of meetings, which is being tested with other library events this summer. Due to the availability of some guests we would like to invite to the festival this year, some events may have to be pre-recorded, but feel this blended approach will be successful. Bigger literary festivals than Kildare Readers Festival have gone with this model of live and recorded events in 2021. 

No going back! 

All events, but particularly those for adults, such as Kildare’s Parenting Programme and Toys, Technology and Training series have reached record numbers by being hosted online. The improved accessibility afforded by online events is the aspect most commented on now by the programming team in Kildare, with the knowledge that we won’t go backwards in this regard. We have developed the interactive element of our online events, which is important for giving a sense of occasion and sustaining community around our activities. Looking forward, post Covid, we hope to adopt a hybrid approach, with in-person workshops forming the core of programming but being complimented by online talks from international guests, and the broadcasting of in-person, in-Kildare, events to wider audiences. 

28 Jun 2021

Remote Cataloguing Projects During Lockdown at the Library of TCD and the 1872 Printed Catalogue Conversion Project

The LAI Cataloguing and Metadata Group's AGM (2020) and networking event took place on 10th March, 2021 hosted virtually by TCD Library courtesy of the LAI Zoom account. This event featured a number of presentations on remote Cataloguing Projects during Lockdown at the Library of Trinity College Dublin and the 1872 Printed Catalogue Conversion Project.

Christoph Supprian-Schmidt (Acting Keeper, Collection Management), in his opening remarks outlined the situation for cataloguers during lockdown and explained how Library of Trinity College Dublin used the COVID-19 lockdown period to work on a range of remote cataloguing projects. He noted that at the one-year mark of the original lockdown, these projects will have added well over 200,000 records to Trinity's main online catalogue, Stella Search with most records are coming from the 1872 Printed Catalogue Conversion Project, - the focus of the presentations of the evening. 

While the loading e-book records, cataloguing digital collections and the remote cataloguing of new books (from scanned title and key pages and other cataloguing data), continued, TCD Library also used this time to work on the 1872 printed catalogue conversion project. This work was facilitated by access to scanned pages (and OCR data) of legacy catalogues.


The TCD Library Printed Catalogue 1835-1887 by Trevor Peare, former Keeper (Readers’ Services)

Trevor Peare presented the historical background to the 1872 Printed Catalogue and its 40-year conversion project. James Henthorn Todd (1805-1869) was primarily responsible for the first TCD Library printed catalogue. Todd entered Trinity 1820, graduating with an honours degree in Science in 1824 followed by a Fellowship and ordination 1831. He was appointed Assistant Librarian 1834 and finding the existing catalogues inadequate, he began work on a new library catalogue in 1835. By 1846, the entire library had been re-catalogued., Todd was appointed Librarian in 1852 and the first volume of the printed catalogue was published in 1864. Todd died in June 1869 and Henry Hutton and Jan Hessels were appointed as editors 1872. The final volume of the nine-volume set was published in 1887. The edition of 250 copies included 48 Presentation Copies.

John Gabriel Byrne entered TCD in 1952 and graduated top of the class in engineering in 1956. He also studied French, Latin and Greek. He completed his PhD 1957 –1961 and began lecturing in 1963. He was appointed the first Chair of Computer Science in 1973 and became interested in the printed catalogue in 1985. He arranged to begin scanning of the original text in 1990 and the first database and search system 1993 was available in-house in TCD in 1993 and on the internet by 2005.  The 5121 pages of one set of the eight volumes were separated in 1987 in order to make a microfiche copy and these pages, which were provided by Dr. Charles Benson, Keeper of Early Printed Books, were used to develop this on-line system. There are about 250,000 entries in the catalogue (including 'see references').The catalogue contains entries in at least eighteen languages. English and Latin occur most frequently and other languages in the Roman alphabet include French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Welsh and Irish. 

Dirty secrets of OCR, or, how to wrangle a big set of bibliographic legacy data by Joe Nankivell, Junior Bibliographer (Early Printed Books and Special Collections) 

Joe Nankivell described the process of transforming the raw data from John Byrne’s OCR project into MARC records, with a particular focus on the data-cleaning side. The data had been shared on a memory stick that contained all Professor Byrne’s project files, including the records that formed the basis of his searchable online version of the printed catalogue. These records were distributed across over 5,000 files, one for each printed page, each containing between 30 and 50 records. The first task was to merge all these records into a single file where they could be manipulated in bulk, to impose consistency across the dataset prior to line-by-line proofreading by the wider team.

The OCR records had a superficial resemblance to rudimentary MARC records, with clearly identifiable bibliographic elements – a main heading (usually the author), the title, an imprint statement with place and date of publication, and a shelfmark. They could not be simply transformed and loaded, however, for three main reasons: Mapping difficulties due to inconsistent data structure, and more complex records that needed nuanced approach. OCR errors, as the original scans were low resolution. Missing data information not captured by OCR, or lacking in the original record.

The talk focused mostly on the first of these problems. One of the largest issues was how the 1872 catalogue handled multiple editions of the same title. These needed to be represented in MARC with an individual record for each edition, but in the printed catalogue they are filed under a single uniform title, usually reflecting the earliest edition held by TCD. This in turn appeared in the OCR data as a single record. Joe described the process of separating these out into new records using OpenRefine data-cleaning software, which proved to be the ideal tool for working with such a large and complex dataset. 

Some of the OCR errors could also be identified and cleaned at the batch-edit stage, as they followed predictable patterns. And the data was further enriched at this stage by separating the imprint out into fresh fields for place and date of publication, as well as printer, series, date range, language, and other information that was available in some of the more detailed records. This allowed the creation of more technically precise MARC records, populating fields for country, language and date. 

With the batch edits complete by the end of April, the dataset was shared among colleagues from across TCD Library, who painstakingly compared each line of the data with all 5,121 pages of the printed catalogue. This work went on over the rest of the year, and was finally complete just before Christmas 2020. In the final phase, the proofread data was given its final integrity checks and further augmented by Niamh Harte, the project manager who converted the records into MARC format and loaded them into TCD’s live online catalogue one volume at a time. All the presenters paid tribute to the work of their TCD colleagues Niamh Harte, Barbara McDonald and John Byrne on this project.

 *Special thanks to Joe Nankivell for his help in summarising his work on data-wrangling and OCR for this blogpost. 

 Patricia Moloney is secretary of the LAICMG and works as a cataloguing librarian on the Dónal Ó Súilleabháin Collection in Special Collections, Glucksman Library, University of Limerick.

25 Jun 2021

Controlled vocabularies should no longer be created and used because they are biased.

Blogpost by Alison Kindegran. MLIS student at UCD. Graduating in 2022.

"LCSH" by Travelin' Librarian / CC BY-NC 2.0.


Controlled vocabularies are organised and arranged word and phrases used to retrieve items via navigation and searches. The purpose of this essay is to form an opinion on the narrative:

“Controlled vocabularies should no longer be created and used because they are biased.”

To form a well-rounded opinion extensive research was conducted. While it was easy to find many articles and journals agreeing that controlled vocabularies are biased and therefore should no longer be used, the argument to continue the use of controlled vocabularies was under represented. There were by far more challenges noted than benefits. However, the writer of this essay did take into consideration all points and did not allow the majority of those in agreement with the statement to sway their opinion from the outset and used self-debate for both sides with supporting articles for each side to form the understanding of both sides and ultimately to form a conclusion.

Benefits of Controlled Vocabularies:
The main areas that are beneficial are:

•    Users with limited knowledge of a topic:
It is believed that even if a user has limited knowledge on a topic they wish to perform a search, the main benefit of controlled vocabularies is that once you have the heading then all classifications or variants will be found.  

•    Vocabulary Deficits:
The use of controlled vocabularies is beneficial for vocabulary deficits; this is where one user may have limited terms on a subject. The benefit is, if they have one term it will still retrieve their search, showing the additional terms available thus adding new terminologies to the user’s vocabulary which would close the gap of deficit in the future and an additional benefit to the user.

•    Topics/Concepts Covered:
Controlled vocabularies guarantee the topic and concepts are covered in the article if the subject heading is listed this assures the topic is covered in the article. Controlled vocabularies can make a search more specific. The hierarchy structure will go from broad to specific as the user goes through the headings where they are narrowed down.

Challenges of Controlled Vocabularies:
The main challenges of controlled vocabularies:

•    Synonymous Concepts:
There are a number of popular used examples when researching the synonymous challenges and the most common examples for this are around soda, pop, soda pop and coke. Soda pop and coke are examples of words that often represent the same idea, or thing. However, those are used differently in different regions and some regional dialects use different terms altogether. The author would not use these words at all. As the author is from Ireland, the words used would generally be fizzy drink, mineral. Also here in Ireland, there is no use of a particular brand or drink type used interchangeably to refer to a number of drinks just the drink noted. For example, coke is used in the above example as it referring to any fizzy which seems to be acceptable in the USA. However, Coca-Cola also known as Coke is to refer to this drink only in Ireland as Coke would be considered completely different to Fanta Orange (alternative brand and drink type) this would not be used interchangeably.

•    Word Form:
Word form is also a challenge. An example would be the word “Online”. The writer would use online all in one and not hyphenated. However, the word online is also acceptable in other formats such as: on line and on-line.

•    Homographs:
Words that look that same but have different meaning, these may or may not be pronounced the same. The pronunciation is not an issue but rather the same spelling of different meanings which would result in the incorrect result. For example, if the user wanted to search bat referring to the animal their result would also include bat referring to the sports equipment. One could argue that the use of qualifiers would remove any issues with this for example: bat (mammal). Similar issues arise with homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled different such as fowl and foul.

The above is not an exhaustive list but an example of the main benefits and challenges with controlled vocabularies. So where is the discussion or argument for bias?

The writer would argue that the bias begins with ignoring that it exists. In the research carried out the challenges that were noted by those who overall would advocate for the use of controlled vocabularies did not address bias at all. This is a concern as not addressing these concerns from those who believe that controlled vocabularies are bias is not helpful in their efforts to portray the benefits and advocate for its use. By and large, those who advocated for the use of controlled vocabularies where libraries, universities or individuals associated with these libraries or universities where controlled vocabularies are used and/or a taught subject. The writer of this essay believes that as it is used and/or taught they do not wish to portray it in any negative light. However, the writer believes that anyone can advocate for something while still addressing any issues it has such as bias.

Ways in which controlled vocabularies are bias:
•    Outdated Terminology:
This is particularly the case in racial categories. There are not reflective of current terms and inclusive of all racial groups.

For those who identify as non-binary, the LCSH term “gender non-conforming people” is an exact match for “non-binary people”. Being gender non-conforming is not the same as being non-binary, although some will identify with both terms. People do not have to be non-binary in order to be gender non-conforming.

•    Too simple in terms and non-representative:
An example of this would be that all First Nations groups are not part of the LCSH or Library of Congress Name Authority File.

•    Non-Proactive Approach:
Most would accept that historic terms for certain groups of people could be described as historical, inaccurate, non-representative and offensive so would expect changes to be made. However, a major issue is the non-proactive approach in addressing these required changes. LCSH as an example have been slow to update the changes. There are a number of resources which would help them make these changes including representing bodies or groups if they were not fully educated on the correct terms. They are freely available.

•    Language Vocabularies:  All languages are not included.

With a number of clear bias found as set out above consideration was given to what the alternative would be if controlled vocabulary was no longer created or used. The result being keywords being used as an alternative. Using keywords, non-controlled vocabulary or natural language as it is also known has a set of advantages and disadvantages of its own which are outside the scope of this essay. In summary, these searches would likely result in a broader search which may include non-related topics.

It is difficult to portray in general terms the impact that these biases have on those they impact. In order to highlight that impact the writer will include an individual focus piece as part of this essay. The piece will focus on one particular individual and their experiences.

Individual Focus: Safiya Umoja Noble

Safiya Umoja Noble is an Associate Professor at UCLA in the Departments of Information Studies and African American Studies. She is also an author of the book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press). She has also done a number of Tedx Talks including one entitled “How biased are our algorithms”.

Safiya talks about her mixed-race background and how she had grown up during a time of cultural revolution. The 1970’s was when civil rights movement was highly active and the Black Power Movement was “creating change for how African Americans saw themselves” (Noble, 2014).

Her white mother was aware of a previous study that was done in the 1940’s where black children were given a black doll and a while doll and asked which doll was the best, the prettiest, which one did they like the most? The black children would all pick the white doll. Her mother tried to instil her daughters’ pride in her own black heritage and did not want her daughter to feel negative thoughts and feelings towards her own race.

This experience led Noble to research this further in 2009. One of the first searches she conducted in 2011 was a simple entry into Google “black girls”. The results were of a pornographic nature where they sexualised black girls. In contrast a search for “white girls” returned blonde haired blue eyed general pictures of girls with no implied sexualisation for this general search term in the results. She worked to change this and only months later the algorithm changed and this result in a search for “black girls” is no longer the case.

She is advocating for the pursuit of socially responsible information and technology. She talks about the exploitation of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo where they work in deplorable conditions to source parts required for technology. She wants everyone to consider the part they play in all the above.

In her book, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press) she talks about how the public generally views what they find on places like Google to be credible and fair. However, her research found that it was largely misrepresentative. Taking marginalised and oppressed people and making them further marginalised and oppressed with their racist and sexist algorithm bias. She talks about how it is designed to make some heard and others silenced. She finishes the book by seeking alternatives. She argues that there needs to be searches that are for public interest and not driven by marketing and money-making schemes.

The writer of this essay would agree that they also would have considered Google or any other search engine to be credible and fair. While the writer would not consider it the best resource for research, it is the most used way to source information in the modern digital age. The term “Google it” is often used as a response to a query raised by others rather than suggesting an alternative search engine or other resources. It has become an easy and acceptable form of mass use for information. The writer has used it for personal use and to find that the results were most likely skewed in a way that further marginalised people is alarming and seriously problematic. It has truly opened the writers mind to the impact of this on those it affects and the public at large.


There is no doubt that bias exists within controlled vocabularies. The bias has been formed due to historical bias, intentional bias, unintentional bias and unconscious bias. The individual focus piece opened up the problems further. However, it is the writer’s belief that the use of controlled vocabularies remains beneficial. The writer believes that with a number of changes the bias can be removed and the benefits of controlled vocabularies will remain. The end of controlled vocabularies does not address the biases but rather shifts it somewhere else. That is why the recommendations will focus on removing bias and making better more inclusive controlled vocabulary options.  The writer offers a number of recommendations to address and remove forms of bias within the controlled vocabularies. The benefits can be advocated for while making changes to the issues. It does not have to be one or the other.


Education: While some bias will have been intentional the writer would like to believe that these are historical and that no truly inclusive database owners, creators and users would like to continue with these bias terms. It is fully acceptable that the desire to create change is there but the knowledge on terms may not. This is where the education around the terms will be required. There are a number of international and local groups that can assist with correct terminology who should be sought out and collaborated with to bring about these changes.

Support the change:  Change is a difficult transition for most people. Change is usually met with resistance. In order to support those affected by this bias, first of all, support change. This is an opportunity for those affected by bias to be supported and to support those addressing the change with guidance and education.

Evolving terminology: Understand that this change will be ongoing. A term that was acceptable decades ago can be considered outdated or offensive today. Understand that the same will be true for words used right now. They become obsolete and new terms will inevitably develop over time.  
Understanding: Just because a term does not offend or affect one individual, it must be understood that it may not be appropriate for those who are part of a particular community or group. Don’t use outdated terminology and don’t accept it within your controlled vocabulary or indeed anywhere else. Advocate for your family, friends, colleagues and even strangers who are part of these marginalised communities.

Accept Feedback: Provide an option for users to give feedback on existing controlled vocabularies. Those who are affected are best placed to assist with change.

Show Progress: All words which are under review for removal or areas where terms are to be created could be highlighted. The changes will take time and overall will be an ongoing challenge. Let everyone know that the bias is being challenged and addressed from within.

Proactive: This is one of the most important steps. Without being proactive and creating the changes required the argument turns in favour of no longer using controlled vocabularies due to bias.


15 Jun 2021

Library Engagement and Information Services (EIS) at Maynooth University Library in a time of COVID

Guest Post by Edel King (MLIS from UCD, 2015). She currently works as a Library Assistant in the Engagement and Information Services Department in Maynooth University Library.

During the past year the Library EIS team have had to learn a lot of new ways of working. While this was challenging, it was also a great opportunity to learn, and it gave us time to get involved in library projects in a way that would not have been possible in normal times.


When Ireland went into lockdown in March of last year, the normal desk work that we do stopped. We worked from home on designated tasks given to us by senior management in the library, which allowed us time to develop new skills. 

One of the team, Linda O’Connell, wrote a reflective blog post on her career as she nears retirement. It was published on LibFocus (and can be read here) and gave us all great insights into our valued colleague. Bernie Mellon did some research on the Ogoni Nine (a group of men executed in 1995 for protesting the pollution of their homeland Ogoni, in Nigeria). This was in preparation for a book I am a Man of Peace: Writings Inspired by the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection (which can be viewed here). Helen O’Connor wrote a blog on an Integration and Diversity event attended by library staff that was also published on LibFocus (here). I wrote a report on front desk innovations from around the world in the last five years. I learnt a lot about usability testing, seating mapping, wayfinding and other ways of getting feedback from the user on their library experience. 

We kept our users abreast of developments during the lockdowns on our website and social media channels

Working on site

When we went back on site in August last year, library staff were assigned to either a red or green team. Each team alternated between a week on site and a week working from home. 

It seemed for a while that every time we came back to campus after a week away, something had changed. Sometimes it was a new policy regarding students and opening, at other times a new way of doing something that had to be learned. Alongside all this my colleagues in Library IT Development had implemented a new Library Management System (LMS) called ALMA, and we had to get to know it. It was challenging at the time, but I think looking back, we all feel like it upped our skillset and our confidence in our ability to manage any challenge obstacle that came our way grew.

New Services

As the new academic year began library services were extended and we were exposed to many new challenges. This included managing chat and email from home, Click and Collect, Digital on Demand and facilitating laptop loans. Doing shifts of chat and email from home gave me the excuse to invest in new toys, namely a wireless keyboard and mouse – to protect my neck of course! 

My home workstation

Both the Click and Collect and Digital on Demand services have been very successful. These services began in March 2020 and a year later, we have satisfied nearly 4,000 Click and Collect requests and nearly 400 Digital on Demand requests

Once we began to have students back on site, they booked slots to come in in person. Initially for 2 hours, this was and later expanded to 3.5 hours. Keeping track of the various booking systems and check in apps kept us on our toes!

Project Work

Being in two teams meant that we had some available time in our week off campus. This allowed our manager to delegate projects for each team to do during their week at home. It was a great opportunity to catch up on projects that required time and concentration. We worked on two projects: one related to extreme overdues, the other related to renewals.

The overdues project involved dividing up a list of nearly 1600 overdue items between us, returning the items on ALMA, waiving the fines on the associated accounts and changing the item policy to WWithdrawn. This project gave us all a chance to gain valuable experience of using ALMA very thoroughly.

The overdues project looked at items checked out of the library years ago. By contrast, the renewals project looked at items on current students’ accounts. Owing to the varying COVID restrictions there have been issues with students coming to campus and returning items on their account. The purpose of this project was to alleviate the pressure on students to return their items by renewing the items and extending the due dates on them into the summer. 

Blog Posts and Exhibitions

Because the EIS team work full-time on the desk, we sometimes don’t have the same flexibility to attend events, as other library staff. Our new work pattern and the move to delivering courses via Teams and Zoom, afforded us new opportunities. A couple of us from the desk took part in an Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) project. The result was published blog posts on LibFocus. The blogs were on developing resilience and Libraries of Sanctuary. We enjoyed having the opportunity to reflect and write.

I completed two sessions of Academic Writing Month, one in November and another in February. The group met once a week for one hour over a four-week period via Teams and progressed our writing. Myself and my colleague David Rinehart created and presented a poster on AcWriMo at the Irish Libraries: Living with Covid-19 seminar at Maynooth University in January (recordings from the seminar can be viewed here).

The poster myself and David created for the Irish Libraries: Living with Covid-19 seminar

One of my published blog posts for Academic Writing Month related to another project I worked on this year. For World Book Day in March, myself and two staff members from Special Collections & Archives, Adam Staunton and David Rinehart, were tasked with doing an exhibition using the Microsoft application Sway. It was on African Women Writers. 

One of the six themes of our Library Strategic Plan is Equality, Diversity & Interculturalism. A task under this theme is to, “ensure a diverse range of Library exhibitions and events that reflect both our increasingly diverse university community and national developments”. Organising this exhibition for World Book Day contributed to the action under this task.  

Image from the African Women Writers exhibition (image courtesy of Elaine Bean)

As both Adam and David are relatively new to the library, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to work with them on these projects and to have the chance to get to know them. We highlighted the exhibition on social media and got a retweet from one of the authors included and a comment from another. It was a great opportunity for the three of us to learn a new application and to introduce ourselves to some new writers. The three of us expanded the exhibition for Africa Day Ireland on May 25th. It’s great to be able to publicise the authors from the Global South in our collection.

Library Strategic Plan 2020-2023

Another member of the EIS team, Bridie O’Neill, had the opportunity to work in an administrative support capacity with the Library Strategic Plan Steering Group. This involved attending a training session on using Planner and subsequently inputting the various actions associated with tasks from the Strategic Plan to Planner. She had started working in the library just before lockdown and she told me that she thoroughly enjoyed being part of the collaboration and that the process really made her feel part of the library team. Other tasks delegated to my colleagues involved transcribing, maintaining a list of internal and external memberships and other ad hoc duties as required.

We were assigned tasks with regard to the Strategic Plan  

I was also able to assist in progressing another task in our Strategic Plan over the past year. Namely, “we will develop a core collection of current books relating to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)”. With input from the Maynooth University Equality Officer, I placed orders for a core collection of textbooks on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to be purchased for the library. 


The members of the EIS team have had a very varied year. We have been challenged like never before. But we have embraced it all as well as all of the other opportunities that we have been afforded away from the desk. The pandemic has been a tough time for everyone, but it has also given myself and my colleagues at the desk a chance to push ourselves and do things we might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. We gained in experience and skills, the Library benefited from the new tasks and projects we took on and it kept us busy during a very uncertain time.

8 Jun 2021

An exploration of the effectiveness of the Accelerated Reading Programm

Blogpost by Sinead KelleherGradDip in Library and Information Studies, Graduating in the Summer of 2021

In an information rich society, it is evident that literacy skills and in particular, reading is an essential skill to have. The Department of Education in Ireland recognises this need and in 2019, provided a practice report to teachers, “Effective Interventions for Struggling Readers A Good Practice Guide for Teachers” (Department of Education and Skills, 2019), this report explored new forms of reading intervention methods. Different intervention methods using technology to improve reading skills (Valmont, 2003) are being used more often by teachers. One method the report suggested for struggling students to improve their reading was a web-based reading intervention program called Accelerated Reader (Department of Education and Skills, 2019). In 2019, two hundred schools in Ireland were using this Accelerated Reading programme, (Department of Education and Skills, 2019). This literary review will explore the literature surrounding the Accelerated Reading programme and in particular how Accelerated Reading effects a student’s reading in terms of quality, quantity and the effectiveness of the programme in improving reading standards. This review will also explore how the implementation of the Accelerated Reading Program in schools has an effect on the results of the Accelerated Reading programme. Within this paper the term Accelerated Reading/Reader will be abbreviated to AR for the sake of ease of reading.

How the Accelerated Reading Programme Works

The Accelerated Reading programme was developed by Renaissance Learning as a reading tool to assess, analyse and develop a student’s reading and is done in the following way. The student reading level is assessed through their STAR reading level test. The results are automatically fed back to the teacher, who then allocates a target level of points for the student to read. Students then read a book within their reader level bandwidth and do an AR comprehension test based on the book they have read. Books are levelled using the ATOS reading formula. Students earn points in the test based on how many questions they answered correctly with an aim to reach their points target assigned by their teacher (Cuddeback et al. 2002). Literature such as Cuddeback et al. (2002) suggests that AR could be used as a tool to measure a student’s reading by using this three-pronged approach of measuring the quantity of the number of books read by the students the quality of the reading tested through the AR comprehension test and the reading challenge by progressing through the reading level bandwidths.

Quantity of Reading

The literature that supports the Accelerated Reading programme indicates that the more you read, the better a reader you become and that students who are not such good readers will avoid reading, (Topping et al. 1999). In this sense the Articulated Reading programme gives the student the opportunity to read more (Topping et al. 1999; Krashen, 2003; Moyer et al., 2011). Research papers including Cuddeback et al. (2002) supports the premise that AR gives its user’s a gentle nudge into reading although it does concede that their research mainly focused on reluctant readers. Studies such as (Topping et al. 1999; Cuddeback et al. 2002) show that the AR system allows teachers to measure the number of the books students have read and in this way, teachers can use the AR system as a tool to monitor students reading levels and therefore identify students who are at risk readers.

Quality of Reading in terms of Comprehension and Challenge

As well as monitoring the reading levels of students the AR system is promoted as a tool to monitor the quality of the participants reading levels (Topping et al. 1999). The literature within this review found varying different results from different studies on this. The findings in (Foster et al., 2014; Shannon et al., 2015) supports the premise that the AR program is an effective tool to analyse the quality of the participants reading comprehension. Foster’s findings were based on an evaluation of an American school in the Caribbean. His results showed that if a student does not do any additional AR reading that their reading level will fall behind, in addition research in this paper showed that the Accelerated Reading program’s use of reading levels was a valuable tool in designing personal reading goals for students, which contributed to the quality of their reading achievements.

Other studies in the United Kingdom such as Gorard et al. (2015) evaluated the AR reading system involving a randomised control test of 349 participants in 4 schools, the participants did a 22-week programme of AR and reports indicated an increase in the level of reading comprehension, with a particular increase with children from disadvantaged communities.

Most educators and advocates of reading will agree that the quality of reading will improve by challenging a reader, it is not enough to read the same type of books at the same level, even students at a high reading level will benefit from reading at and above their level, this method is promoted through the AR program in testing and reading at appropriate reading bandwidths (Topping et al. 1999). This supports the scaffolding model of education, a model which is used in most school environments, and is used in primary schools in Ireland. In this sense the AR system is the scaffolding model which supports the students reading, the zone of proximity, which is when an educator or peer exacts the correct level of knowledge Zygotsky (1963), or in this case the reading level of the student in order to challenge the student by reading to the next level, not reading below or too far ahead in reading levels. The student will progress under the guidance of the teacher by following the feedback from the AR testing system. In this sense the literature in the review examines the Accelerated Reader as an evaluation tool to determine reading levels. Nunnery et al. (2006) reports the positive effects AR has on the reading achievements of at-risk students and children with learning disabilities. Literature such as Johnson et al. (2003) showed that there was an increase in reading achievement and vocabulary development in a group of students from a low socio-economic background.

Although literature such as Biggers (2001) argues that the AR programme only assessed a lower more literal level of comprehension ignoring a higher level of reading comprehension which would generally include a more critical or analytical comprehension of the book. Literature such as Cuddeback et al. (2002) argues that educators should not put the importance of higher comprehension over lower level comprehension. Literal comprehension can sometimes be undervalued. Cuddeback et al. (2002) suggests that higher order comprehension can be sometimes a result of a student’s background and in this sense the AR program reduces the bias in testing all students at a more literal level. Literature such as Cuddeback et al. (2002) supports the use of the Accelerated Reading Program with the added measures of other teaching directives that promote a lower and higher level of reading comprehension.

Accelerated Reading Program and Incentives

An integral part of the AR programme is its reward system to encourage reading. Cuddeback et al. (2002) points out that literature such as Cameron et al. (1994) shows that motivators when properly administered will have a positive effect and actually encourage intrinsic motivation. However, Biggers (2001) argues that the AR system favours the more competitive child and questions whether reading levels will drop when the rewards stops. Edmunds, et al. (2003) shows that when reading motivation decreases, reading decreases, however, although there wasn’t a decrease in motivation when students were given non- reading incentives to read, incentives alone have not had a positive impact on children’s reading motivation. Other motivators such as a teacher reading aloud and allowing students to talk about what they are reading can be used as powerful motivators in reading for students. Literature such as (Chenowith 2001) also discusses this challenge with the Accelerated Reader programme that although students who participate initially do read more books than the non-participants of the AR system, in her study the reading slowed down or even stopped when the program finished. Further studies such as Belland et al. (2013) suggests that a combined effort of computational scaffolding such as with AR with teacher support can benefit the student. Other literature sources such as Pavonetti et al. (2002) discusses how the AR system does not promote long-term reading using points and testing strategies. This variation in findings suggest a gap in the literature indicating that further research is needed into the longevity of the effects of the Accelerated Reading program on a student’s reading habits.

An obvious incentive to foster a student’s reading development is to provide material that they are interested in reading. Students surveyed in a study, (Thompson et al. 2008) described how within the AR reading lists there was a lack of supply of multicultural books or of books with a high readability level. Biggers (2001) suggests that the AR publisher does not take into account the reader’s interests when compiling reader’s list to correspond with the star test results. The students surveyed in Huang (2012) suggested that the biggest negative experience associated with the AR programme was the lack of the selection of reading material. As the school in question purchased the economy package from the publisher the reading selection was curtailed and therefore student choices were limited. Research such as Huang (2012) cited that the economy package restricted the reading material to authors from big publishing companies and newer or books from smaller less-known publishers/authors were not made available to them. Pavonetti et al. (2002) discussed also the economic limitations of the Accelerated Reading Program, in that it is an expensive package, the school just pays for the program and that the price does not include any books. Krashen (2013) suggests that instead of spending money on expensive reading software that the money would be better spent on providing more reading material and a reading environment.

Implementation of the Accelerated Reading System

Literature has shown that the incorrect implementation of the AR Programme can have detrimental effects on the results of the tool, Foster et al. (2014) has pointed out that students who read a lot and did well on the reading tests did better than those who didn’t get the correct guidance from their teacher, thus showing that teacher’s need to pay attention to best practice when using the AR system. Nunnery et al. (2006) also found that children with learning difficulties achievements had higher reading gains when the AR system was implemented well in comparison to a group where the AR system wasn’t implemented well. Waters (2016) also explores the importance of the correct implementation of the AR system and cites the lack of guidance from Renaissance learning in using the system for the teacher and suggests more input in training from them as a factor to resolve this. Moyer et al. (2011) showed in that with the teacher’s participation a more customised approach to the Accelerated Reader program increases the reading results for the students. Waters (2016) discusses the importance of involving parents within the AR system, suggesting that the school could have parent evenings in which the students could discuss the various reports from the books they read. This would become another motivator for the student, extending the incentive aspect of the Accelerated Reader program.

Literature such as Gorard et. al (2017) in looking at methods to support the correct implementation of AR found that many children in the UK were leaving primary school with low levels of literacy skills and although they were offered the support of the AR system within secondary schools, AR coupled with the new challenges of starting in secondary school proved to be too much an adjustment. These findings show that the AR system is more appropriately suited to primary school levels although more research in this area is needed.

Gorard et al. (2015) also focuses on the value of a good implementation of the AR system, for an AR system to operate effectively it’s important to have a well-stocked library, a wide collection of books of varying interest including fiction and non-fiction banded accordingly and easy access to computers with internet connection. Critics of AR such as Biggers (2001) have also noted that in school libraries where the books have been divided into AR reading books and regular reading sections students have been denied access to those reading sections.


In conclusion although the literature review shows that the Accelerated Reader programme has an effect on student’s who are in the at-risk reading group, it does also highlight limitations of the Accelerated Reading programme.

Most of the studies of the AR programmes are conducted with at risk readers, therefore studies on the effects of the Accelerated Reading programme on a more generalised normative student population would need to be done. Most of the literature’s findings are based on studies in American elementary and middle schools there is very little peer-reviewed literature based on studies in Irish schools. More research would be needed on this within the Irish school system to evaluate properly the programme within Ireland. Further research into a comparative studies of other reading intervention assessments such as the Lexile framework which has shown some positive results, Archer (2010), would be a useful study. Also, more studies on the long-term effects of the Accelerated Reader programme are needed to establish whether it is a tool with long term reading benefits. Finally, there is a limited number of peer-reviewed published papers available on this subject so further studies on the gaps in the literature on AR as shown in this literary review is essential to provide a more thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the Accelerated Reading programme.


Archer, L.E. (2010). Lexile reading growth as a function of starting level in at-risk middle school students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54 (4), 281-290.

Belland, B.R., Kim, C., & Hannafin, M.J. (2013). A framework for designing scaffolds that improve motivation and cognition. Educational Psychologist, 48 (4) 243-270.

Biggers, D. (2001). The argument against accelerated reader. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(1), 72-75.

Cameron, J., & Pierce, W. (1994). Reinforcement, Reward, and Intrinsic Motivation: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 64(3), 363-423. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1170677.

Chenoweth, K. (2001). Keeping score. School Library Journal, 47, 48-52.

Cherry, K. (2020). The Zone of Proximal Development as Defined by Vgotsky. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-zone-of-proximal-development-2796034.

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Department of Education and Skills - National Educational Psychological Services, Ireland (2019). Effective Interventions for Struggling Readers A Good Practice Guide for Teachers. Dublin: Department of Education and skills.

Edmunds, K. M., & Tancock, S. M. (2003). Incentives: The effects on the reading motivation of fourth-grade students. Reading Research and Instruction, 42(2), 17-37.

Foster, D. K., & Foster, D. P. (2014). Estimating reading growth attributable to accelerated reader at one American school in the Caribbean. Reading Psychology, 35(6), 529-547. doi:10.1080/02702711.2013.789764.

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Gorard, S., Siddiqui, N., & Huat, S.B.  (2017). What works and what fails? Evidence from seven popular literacy ‘catch-up’ schemes for the transition to secondary school in England. Research Papers in Education, 32:5, 626-648, doi: 10.1080/02671522.2016.1225811.

Huang, S., PhD. (2012). A mixed method study of the effectiveness of the accelerated reader program on middle school students' reading achievement and motivation. Reading Horizons, 51(3), 229-246.

Johnson, R. A., & Howard, C. A. (2003). The effects of the accelerated reader program on the reading comprehension of pupils in grades three, four, and five. The Reading Matrix, 3(3).

Krashen, S., The Lack of Experimental Evidence Supporting the Use of Accelerated Reader. Journal of Children's Literature 29(2), 16-30.

Moyer, M., & Williams, M. (2011). Personal programming: Customizing accelerated reader helps delsea regional high school encourage student reading. Knowledge Quest, 39(4), 68-73.

Nunnery, J. A., Ross, S. M., & McDonald, A. (2006). A randomized experimental evaluation of the impact of accelerated Reader/Reading renaissance implementation on reading achievement in grades 3 to 6. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 11(1), 1-18. doi:10.1207/s15327671espr1101_1.

Pavonetti, L. M., Brimmer, K. M., & Cipielewski, J. F. (2002). Accelerated reader: What are the lasting effects on the reading habits of middle school students exposed to accelerated reader in elementary grades? Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(4), 300-311.

Shannon, L. C., Styers, M. K., Wilkerson, S. B., & Peery, E. (2015). Computer-assisted learning in elementary reading: A randomized control trial. Computers in the Schools, 32(1), 20-34. doi:10.1080/07380569.2014.969159

Thompson, G., Madhuri, M., & Taylor, D. (2008). How the accelerated reader program can become counterproductive for high school students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(7), 550-560. doi:10.1598/JAAL.51.7.3.

Topping, K. J., Terry, P.D. (1999). Computer-assisted assessment of practice at reading: A large scale survey using accelerated reader data. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 15(3), 213-231. doi:10.1080/105735699278198.

Valmont, W. (2003). Technology for Literacy Teaching and Learning. Houghton Mifflin.

Waters, T. K. (2016). Improving reading: A case study of the accelerated reader program. (2016) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Gardner-Webb University School of Education, North Carolina.

Posted on Tuesday, June 08, 2021 | Categories: