Beginning A New Pace

It’s been six months since Beginning Cataloguing opened for business, although we’d been gearing up and getting things ready for longer, of course. Today’s article provides a brief reflection on some things I’ve learned, in case they are of use to you.

1. Sometimes sense needs to be knocked into me, quite literally

As the title of this article indicates, the biggest change has been one of pace. Attending events for other sole traders and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), I’ve been struck by how many people say that they’ve never been so busy in their life, while for me, stepping out of academia has meant a welcome relief from a never-ending to do list and demands from an ever-increasing range of people.

That said, the first few of months I still pushed myself far too hard, imposing a workload whose ridiculousness only became apparent when I fell over in the dark going to the toilet in the middle of the night and gave myself a terrible concussion. Next week will be the first in which I try the normal 8 hour day at the computer screen, and even then, I’ve got Monday off as annual leave. They said it would take 8 weeks to be able to get back to the usual amount of screentime, building from none, through 30 minutes at a time, to a few hours at a time.

Which brings me to …

2. “Failure” and “Letting People Down” is OK when it’s inevitable

I spent a decade feeling I was letting people down. Stop. Think about that for a second. Ten years. And I promise, I’m not exaggerating. Moving from being a cataloguer, with targets that were tough but achievable and a to do list that could be cleared most weeks, to being an academic – a career whose many demands are well-documented as problematic – was not a sensible move for my personality type.

It was only when I hit my head and was incapacitated and so had to let clients know I would be (very) late delivering on some things that I realised I needed some slack in my schedule to allow for unexpected things like accidents. Guess what? Most people would rather receive something late than not at all, and when you can’t use a screen, you can’t deliver on projects that are 100% online. People understand that. (Thanks, people).

3. Everyone offers advice and will tell you what to do

The trick is working out whose advice to take. Fortunately, with the Covid situation there are so many small businesses starting up that there are also lots of professionals sharing experience-based advice. In particular, I’d recommend the British Library IP Centre‘s Reset, Restart programme, which has brought together a wide range of experts to run webinars covering topics from finance and funding, through marketing and even mindset.

Apart from that, I’d say find the friends who listen to you before they speak. Setting up a new business means seeing a gap in the market, and there are many people in comfy employment happy to tell you that no-one will pay for your product. Talking to people in other industries, that seems to be a common experience. I have a couple of close friends who listen first and then offer advice, and their words have been invaluable.

4. Everyone thinks they know what success is

One of my most common questions to friends who are experiencing a setback is “What does success look like to you now?” Whether it’s failing an exam or going through a divorce, we all seem to invest a bit of ourselves in what we are doing, so if those things go wrong it’s hard not to feel like a failure. But the truth is that success not only looks different to different people, but also to individuals at different points in life.

Two statistics that really helped me were supplied by my bank. Firstly, the majority of businesses don’t turn a profit at all in their first 12 months. Secondly, the majority of businesses don’t last more than 3 years. These two things are linked – banks will extend credit to new businesses as long as they believe in them. Most people will be funded in Year 1. Many will have that credit extended in Year 2. Some will have a further extension into Year 3.

So, if you are doing it and keeping going and especially if you are turning a profit you are succeeding in the hard financial terms of high street banking. And, ultimately, they are the people who will pull the plug whenever your business ceases to be viable.

5. People (or at least librarians) will put their money where their mouth is

This is where I get to say thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. I’ve been telling people for the last 5 years that I was planning this business, so if you’re one of the people who gave me advice during that investigatory stage, thank you.

Times are tough and, especially during furlough, it was hard for people to get money for training or to commission reports. If you’ve signed up for a seminar, workshop or online course, or if you’ve commissioned me to do some ghostwriting for you or run a metadata healthcheck before a systems / discovery layer upgrade, thank you.

If you’ve signed up to the newsletter, sent us feedback on it, entered its metadata muddle competitions, sent it on to other people encouraging them to sign up, or in some other way sent cheer (especially the last few weeks when I’ve been so ill with concussion), thank you.

If you’ve postponed an in-person training to the new year because of Covid, or waited for me to finish something I started before the concussion, thank you.

Finally, if you’ve agreed to speak at one of our seminars or to be interviewed for Cataloguing Careers in our newsletter, thank you.

One thing I’ve learned in the last six months is that libraries and librarians may not have much money, but you put it where your mouths are. Everyone who has encouraged me to go ahead with this set up has signed up for a training, commissioned us to do some work, or in some other way kept this little ship afloat without my having to go to the bank and ask for credit. The Micawber Principle is alive and well in the Beginning Cataloguing office (newly-decorated and pictured above).

Moving Forward

Next week, I have a couple of things to deliver to current course participants, and then my to do list says “Sort out writing schedule.” It’s taken six months and a very bad bump on the head, but now I can be on screen again, it’s time to get back on with the books.

New Links for Old

Shelfie with small pot.

We’ve made an important change to the way we link to some online book sites.

While investigating best practice for creating our newsletter, which will launch next month, we decided to introduce affiliate links. There’s a straightforward article about how these work on The Guardian website. Essentially, each time someone clicks on an affiliate link, we make a few pence.

Don’t worry – we’re not going down the road of product placement, shoe-horning links to, I don’t know, fishtanks or phishfood ice-cream into our writing. Several major book sites to which we link anyway – Abe, Abe UK, Betterworld Books, Foyles and Waterstones – offer affiliate links, and so all we’ve done is convert those. (See our book publications page for examples). We’re also not stopping linking to places that don’t offer affiliate links. Facet, who publish books by both Katharine Schopflin and me, will always be the first place we link for those books, and we’re still linking to WorldCat and other library catalogues.

The only change, from our point of view, is that when we link to Abe or Betterworld, for example, we’ll use the affiliate links they offer.

From your point of view, you should be aware that affiliate links use cookies. You can opt out of this here.

We continue to support independent bookshops, ordering directly from them where we can. However, I find Abe helpful to find rare books and, indeed, bookshops that are new to me. The books pictured in today’s shelfie were all tracked down via them this summer, when I had to replace the collection of old books that is still locked down in my old office, while campus is closed for Covid-19. I have supported Betterworld Books since it first launched, with its regular donations of books to others. It’s my preferred way to dispose of unwanted collections of textbooks, knowing most will find good homes.

I’ve commissioned Andy Horton (BPP University), who wrote his Masters thesis on corporate book donation schemes, to write a Beginnings article on this topic. I’m also commissioning some pieces on indies. If you have a favourite independent bookshop, especially if it trades in second-hand or rare books, and would like to submit a piece to the blog, do get in touch via email to find out about how we commission and remunerate guest posts.

If you have any concerns about our use of affiliate links, you can get in touch directly via info [at]

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Local Wisdom

Monthly Roundup for You

New lavenders ready to be planted in the Beginning Cataloguing garden.

Some of you have emailed to ask if we are planning on setting up a newsletter to help you keep up with our courses – newsletters work better for you than blogs, you say, because they land in your inbox.

We hear you! This is what we’ve replied to those of you kind enough to suggest this to us.

Firstly, thanks loads for being interested in our new venture and wanting to keep up with us. To answer your question: YES, I am planning a newsletter for Beginning Cataloguing, but it won’t be up and running until October.

Why so slow?

Continue reading “Monthly Roundup for You”

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Launching Soon: Our Online School

Beginning a New Business During Lockdown

Pen and notebook with the words "WHERE TO NEXT" on the cover.

Each month we plan to bring you an article, usually published on a Friday lunchtime. We’ll alternate “how to catalogue” pieces with ones on broader topics.

For our first, we beg your indulgence to share a little of the experience of starting a business during the current lockdown for Covid-19. We’d love to hear how you are all coping with the changes you’ve been experiencing too.

Continue reading “Beginning a New Business During Lockdown”

Beginning Beginnings

Applying eye makeup

Welcome to Beginnings, the Beginning Cataloguing blog.

In some ways it feels quite old skool to be starting a blog in The Year of Our Lord 2020, especially since my entry into Training was during the craze for “Web 2.0,” when it seemed every library wanted to start something with an RSS feed to keep their regular users up-to-date. Now we use Twitter to share quick snippets of news and Instagram to share pictures of our thrilling daily lives, so do we really need a blog too?

Continue reading “Beginning Beginnings”