Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Day in the Life - Libday 8

Twice a year, as part of the Library Day in the Life project, librarians and library staff spend a week Tweeting or blogging about their day.  This enables them to connect with others within the profession, promote their workplaces (and themselves) and gives those who are interested in librarianship an opportunity to find out what it's all about.  It also gives us a chance to challenge perceptions of librarianship - yep, we do more than stamp books.  In fact, we don’t even do that anymore.  Users are issued with printed receipts instead. How’s that for challenging your views of libraries (if not your belief system at large)? Of course, we now spend most of our time mourning the demise of the book stamp but, occasionally, when our tissues get soggy and our noses get sore, we remember there are actually other things we can do.

Having had a busy few days, I'm going to have to buck the trend for daily posts and write about my week instead.  There - you see?  Despite common preconceptions, librarians can and do rebel on occasion - sometimes we even fail to pay our gas bill and spend all our money on cake talk above a whisper. 

The week started well - we were all still in a celebratory mood having completed a major project towards the end of the previous week;  we've been reclassifying the entire library stock (17,000 items) due to some site moves that are scheduled for later on this year.  Leading on this project at my site meant overseeing the work throughout various stages - from jointly submitting a paper to the Director of the Service on the pros and cons of keeping the previous classification scheme, to carrying out a review of the collection and quality checking the work once complete.  Our Information Assistants worked consistently hard on the project, maintaining momentum and displaying a high level of commitment throughout, without which it would have been impossible to meet the deadline. I spent the duration of the project mentally waving golden pom poms in their direction and resisting the urge to cartwheel down the aisles on completion of another section. 

Another reason we were in a good mood was due to all the positive feedback we received via our 'Love Libraries' survey - something put together by the Promotions Group for National Libraries Day on 4th February.  We added this feedback to our NLD12 display, which also featured information on the British Library, Copac, SCONUL and, of course, our own services.  As has been a popular topic of discussion within library circles recently, marketing is increasingly becoming a part of the librarian’s role in a way that it may not have been in the past.  Before, we held the key to information - people had to come to us if they wanted to know more about the impact of Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating to you and me) on personal relationships (yes, this really happened – as an information request, I mean, not to me).  Now, information is more widely available meaning that unless we promote our services in such a way that appeals to our users and recognises their changing needs, then our knowledge, expertise and resources are wasted and our users are limited to relying on fewer, potentially less trustworthy, non peer-reviewed and information-poor resources.

We need to actually talk to people, not just send emails, display a few posters then settle down to a bit of cataloguing and hope for the best.  Two conversations I had with academic members of staff recently highlight this – a lecturer studying for a postgraduate certificate in Academic Practice was pleased to hear last week that, following a conversation I had with her recently, the library has decided to extend loan limits for academic staff who are also studying. Had I not spoken to her, I wouldn’t have known she was struggling to keep her borrowing for both her research/teaching requirements and her studying needs within current loan limits – and she wouldn’t have known what we could do to help.  In addition to this, on Wednesday a Public Health lecturer ushered me into his office for a quick chat about some materials I sent him on the new digitised newspaper collection at the British Library. Having found out previously that much of his research focuses on public health in the nineteenth century, I knew he’d find this a valuable resource – and he was pleased that I’d remembered him. 

Communicating with our students is obviously equally important and we need to constantly think of new ways to promote our services to them and gather their feedback if we are to maintain/see an improvement in our NSS scores.  The quiz we ran last week in support of National Libraries Day was one way of doing this, and our 'Love Libraries' survey (although primarily an opportunity for them to lavish us with compliments) saw some users suggesting changes we could make that would improve the student experience.  Through collecting such information we're able to make changes before National Student Survey feedback is collected, and in doing so we not only improve our scores, but avoid relying solely on information that only comes our way every twelve months.

But back to my week - by lunchtime on Monday I had carried out various tasks such as making rota alterations to accommodate training, checking a reading list for one of the Subject Librarians and making a few changes to Information Assistant task rotation.  The remainder of Monday was spent having a meeting with one of my team members, writing up some minutes from a meeting on the previous Friday and carrying out an impromptu one-to-one training session on Ovid Online.

Tuesday passed in a blur of more meetings, authorising annual leave requests, dealing with fine queries and beginning work on an article promoting open access - the first of three I’ll be writing for the Spring edition of the Library newsletter.

On Wednesday I caught up with a number of colleagues from the main library and the Learning Development Centre at the LDC Showcase event.  Again, events such as these are an opportunity to learn about what's been going on in other departments, find out if we can offer any support to them or update them on what's happening at the library and remind people of the existence of our site.  Don't get me wrong, we're not exactly off radar but being one of the smaller sites, located a good fifteen minute walk from the main campus, means we have to work that bit harder to remain in people's minds.  Lucky for us I’m always willing to go along to various events and drink all the wine and eat all the cheese blow our trumpet. 

Thursday saw me carrying out some staff training on the Library Management System, then sending out the service desk rota for the coming week before heading off to the main site for a meeting with our Systems Administrator about managing system records for Continuing Professional Development users.  Since moving into my current role I've addressed a number of issues related to keeping up with the registration and departure of these users, but there are still a number of kinks that need ironing out.  The meeting was helpful in establishing exactly what information we need and how we might go about obtaining it.

Friday is what I often refer to as my 'busy day' due to being mostly spent on banking procedures, the submission of financial information via our online system and - inevitably - re-writing the service desk rota to accommodate commitments that crop up at the last minute.  Last Friday was particularly busy as I battled to cover vacant desk slots due to staff sickness, attended two meetings and liaised with the Marketing team about a design they've been working on for some canvas book bags we’ll soon be selling in the library.

A busy- but average - week, then, with perhaps a few more meetings than usual.  Of course, many of the smaller- admittedly somewhat mundane - jobs (dealing with broken photocopiers, unresponsive catalogues, shelving, relabeling items, streaky printers etc) don't feature here, but attending to these is just as important as the more - am I pushing my luck here?  - 'glamorous' aspects of the role.  In addition to this, an ability to deal with the unexpected, whether that be staffing issues, an urgent request from a lecturer or an essential maintenance issue is crucial, and these skills are called upon more often than you'd expect, meaning that all those Tuesday evenings at Brownies, learning how to 'be prepared' didn't go to waste.  (I tend not to tell anyone that I only got four badges – or that the one featuring a little yellow saucepan for ‘Cook’ was forever beyond me).   

Looking back over my week I can see how varied my role is - the fact that I carry out a wide range of tasks on a daily basis, from shelving and relabeling items to banking library takings, training staff members, attending meetings and events, writing for the newsletter and liaising with other departments - is what keeps things interesting.  Very little of the role involves frowning disapprovingly over my spectacles whilst 'shhhing' people, wearing tweed or sporting a Croydon facelift.  And as you can see, very little of it (well, none actually) involves stamping books.

I do, however, have a cat.  As do a number of my librarian colleagues.  Does this mean that despite all I've said we're actually all crazy cat ladies (and men) at heart?  I'm afraid so. That's one aspect of the Librarian stereotype many of us live up to - and long may it go unchallenged.  Look, if Austin Powers can have one and Number 10 can have one, so can we – right?!

Friday, 26 August 2011

You gave us 'Search Smarter...' But I gave you Rick

Okay, in my defence I had fallen behind and therefore only just noticed the 'Search smarter, Search faster' video on the 23 Things blog as I scrolled from week 7 to week 8.  Damn you 23 Things team! You beat me to it!

To make up for this slight oversight on my part, here is a video of Rick Astley.  Because, well, why not?  There's a lot to be said for dancing like your dad.  Not all of it good, mind...


I'm glad I didn't post this earlier today.  I was suffering from technology fatigue having discovered that no matter what I did, the link to Survey Monkey that I included in my last post just wouldn't work.  And still doesn't. I apologise to those itching to have a say on the use of QR codes as a promotional tool. I'm sure you exist in your thousands.  Admittedly the survey consisted of only 4 questions, so not exactly a reliable starting point from which to build our marketing strategy…

After spending some time quietly banging my head against my wrist rest (asbestos rumours and a general disapproval of violence at work make the wall a no-go area for such activities), I spent some time investigating SlideShare.  At first I felt pretty frustrated, concluding that it’s a bit like Wikipedia in slide format; lots of information from various sources and of questionable reliability.  I found it difficult to find something relevant, and being confronted with page upon page of results always puts me off. Especially when they feature presentations such as 'Free Ipad - Legit' and 'Herbal Viagra Guy Almighty'.  However, I work in a library.  I am not intimidated by vast oceans of information.  I took a deep breath, stopped cursing Survey Monkey (yes, there was still a slight preoccupation going on with that) gave my search terms some thought and rediscovered filters.  Aaaah.  I limited my search by language, date, user type (pro) and file type.  The results were somewhat more satisfactory and I was able to see how useful SlideShare can be for sharing information and teaching materials, promoting work and getting ideas. 

I still have concerns, however, about the authenticity of some of the information and would therefore suggest a cautionary approach when recommending it to students, particularly those carrying out research related to drug prescriptions and medical procedures.  This can be said about many sources of information though - the aforementioned Wikipedia and YouTube to name only a couple.  As long as we can get the 'never, ever, EVER cite Wikipedia as a source of information in your assignments' message across, and as long as users know they must always check the source,  then these websites can be a great way to gather information.  For example, the ’Search smarter, Search faster’ video created by the University of Sydney provides an excellent illustration of how YouTube can be exploited as a learning tool:

No time to Cha Cha, Mister Dinosaur, I’m off to make a start on Thing 17.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Prezi, Doodle & Survey Monkey

Okay, I admit, I wasn’t very patient with Prezi.  It looks straightforward but is actually…a bit of a faff.  Well, when you’re racing towards the finish line and don’t have hours to while away on it, perhaps it just seems that way. 

Anyway, it looks impressive.  I watched the one on the 23 Things blog, and the one created by ‘For Your I.A’s Only’.  Both were great – imaginative, visually pleasing and engaging.  Definitely the sort of tool you'd want to use in a presentation, and I intend to put it to good use next time I’m up there preaching to the masses.  As mentioned by the 23 Things team, it has so much more impact than PowerPoint.  I just wish it didn't make me feel the same way IKEA flat-pack furniture makes me feel - frustrated and borderline suicidal.  But that's what you get for not reading the instructions, I guess. I'll come back to this though - and will make a prezi on my experiences of using Prezi.  How brilliantly ironic of me.

On to the next Thing: Doodle.  I found this refreshingly simple.  It took me all of two minutes to set up a meeting and send out the invitations.  I always find it frustrating trying to arrange meetings with people from different areas within the university - we're a busy bunch and rarely around at the same time so this is definitely a useful tool for arranging meetings that involve people from various locations, with varying availability.  Of course, I could send them an Outlook calendar request but is this really necessary when the meeting is just a one-off? In future I'll be using Doodle to make meeting arranging a doddle.

Thing 15: Survey Monkey

Creating visible and easy to use feedback systems is something I've been working on at SHS, and the Subject Librarians are planning to use Survey Monkey during the next round of training and inductions.   It's so easy to use and I like the simple format.  I created a survey on the use of QR codes as a promotional tool:

Overall I found the above tools useful and I know I'll be using them again and again, long after I've completed the 23 Things course.

Twitter and LinkedIn

Okay.  Twitter set up (@clarelou100).  No, I really didn't have a Twitter account until now.  I'll stop for a moment to allow you to catch your breath.  Recovered? Okay, good.  Let's move on.  I know how popular Twitter is, but I've never really got to grips with the idea of sharing my every move with, well, the world.  Do people really care if I’m wearing my novelty 'Tuesday' socks on a - gasp - Thursday?  No. I don't think they do. Or do they? I spent some time looking at friends’ Twitter accounts this week and suddenly I DID want to know how their morning run went, what they wore to their cousin’s wedding, that they ran out of washing up liquid just before the in-laws came round for dinner.  Strange.  Clearly, I’m easily swayed.  So I had a go at posting a few tweets.  I found myself addicted and suddenly almost every thought was Twitterfied in my mind to 140 or fewer characters.  This is cause for alarm.

I can see the wider benefits of Twitter, though.  It provides opportunities to connect with a broad network of people, to get our opinions out there, to link with others who share our interests or views (or not, as the case may be), to engage in professional debate etc. I could go down the social sciences route now and start talking about democracy, the younger generation, election voting, X-Factor, the London riots etc, but you’ve heard it all before and I’m already 6 weeks behind, so we’ll save that for another time.

We already have a School of Health Sciences Twitter account (@CitySHSLibrary) which is updated on a daily basis with health-related news, information on free e-resource trials, service updates, promotions etc and we currently have 145 followers.  I don't know what that means in Twitter world.  Are we the wildly popular head cheerleader or last to be picked for the netball team? I have no idea, but it does mean we're able to connect with 145 individuals/organisations that we wouldn't be able to in such an informal fashion/on such a regular basis otherwise. How many of our users actually have Twitter accounts is debatable, given that a high percentage of them are mature students with families and jobs to juggle, but we are constantly striving to promote social media, E-resources, online account access etc, and the stats tell us we’re making progress.

I've also set up a LinkedIn profile and have added some contacts.  It was interesting catching up with old colleagues and it’ll be useful to be able to get in touch with them should I need to draw on their expertise (or vice-versa, of course!) 

Anyway, 1.5 days to go.  11 Things to catch up on. #Stressed.  

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Librarian on Location!

Okay, I had to have a play on PhotoFunia.  All I can say is you don't want to see a photo of me as a cherub.  I actually scared myself.  Instead here are some photos of me as a work of art (ahem) and a film star (I'll have to work on my serious look).

Remember the days..?

So, still being behind, I've just looked into Creative Commons. Yep, it makes sense. It works for the creator of the work and it works for people like me who don't much fancy being sued for using someone else's stuff. Everyone knows where they stand. I found this CC licensed image on Flickr and it got me thinking about how quickly things change in the world of technology.

Eleven years ago I got my first mobile phone. I was beside myself at the prospect of being able to contact anyone, anytime, anywhere. And I did. Oh, I did. Until my credit ran out. Then it was back on the parents’ blower and back to threats of "Hang up that phone this MINUTE before I…" Well. I probably shouldn’t say. The dates that were never arranged! The rumours neither confirmed nor denied! The…Okay I’m getting carried away. But remember those days? The days when we actually (half) believed people when they told us they lost our number and had no other way to contact us? When we dashed home to breathlessly dial 1471 to see if he’d called? When we picked up the telephone just to check for a ring tone. Six times in an hour? When we refused to leave the house in case we missed that call? I’m not painting a great picture of myself here am I? Come on though, we’ve all been there. But no more! Or not so much anyway (even technology has its limits). Thanks to new technology we can connect with others at any time, via numerous devices and technologies – mobile phone, iPad, Facebook, Twitter, Skype to name but a few…We’re constantly available and able to find out more about one another than ever before. Hmm, comforting or scary?

And of course our work lives have changed. Email has made communication easier, and people fatter. Why pick up the telephone or wander over to your colleague’s desk, all of nine feet away, when you can email? And munch on a chocolate biscuit as you do it? Of course, there’s always the risk that something said in jest may not come across that way via email (and do you really want to resort to the winky face?), so there’s still a lot to be said for face to face communication, or maybe for not saying things in jest via email at all.

In addition to email, work related Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts and the MyCity portal mean there are few excuses for being behind on recent goings on as we are constantly connected to other departments and other sites. As a result I’m sure we at West Smithfield are far more ‘in the loop’ about things than we may have been in the past, and people at other sites are actually aware of our existence, which is always a bonus.

And E-books! Students now have access to an ever increasing supply of books they can access anytime, anyplace. The "My dog ate my text book" excuse has almost had its day. I love to see that look of skepticism replaced by one of enlightenment when I tell our users that E-books also mean no due dates and therefore no fines. E-book usage at SCHS between July 2009 and July 2010 more than tripled and I’m sure Patron Driven Acquisition will increase their usage even further; based on a report I read recently, PDA items which are available electronically are twice as likely to be accessed by students than non PDA items, also available electronically. Which makes sense. Meeting demand and expectations is half the battle.

The introduction of iPads and Kindles also mean E-books are becoming part of our daily lives. When you see someone reading an electronic version of the latest John Grisham on the commute, you know E-books are no longer the reserve of academia and are here to stay.

So it's great that we're all embracing recent innovations. They make our lives easier and our arms less tired from lugging around all those books. But has it made our lives more simple? For though we feel more organised, we are constantly switched on, constantly available, constantly 'plugged in'. Am I the only one who occasionally aches for the days of old, when you could board a bus without being abused by iPods, ring tones, the tap, tap, tap of Blackberry keys and a complete stranger’s mobile phone rantings that "Keith was bang out of order last night, mate! BANG out of order!"? Perhaps this is also partially responsible for the uptake of new technology – how many of us have developed an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mentality and have a panic attack if we get on the bus only to discover we have left our iPod at home and will spend the entire journey learning all about Keith’s failings the night before?

Whatever the reason, and for all it's positive and negatives, what we do know is that technology will continue to progress and continue to shape our lives. Many of us choose to embrace it, others try to shun in favour of a more simple existence. But one thing is for sure - when your gran knows how to tag you in a Facebook photo, there's no going back.

Image: Sean MacEntee (Flickr)