Saturday, 21 October 2017

I'm a Fellow: a story of meanders and the occasional ox-bow lake

Yesterday a beautiful certificate arrived in the post. It made me think a little about 'success' and what that means and, inevitably, what it doesn't mean.

A book that I have at work and fish out every so often and read snippets from, and which has made a significant impact on me, (in conjunction with attending one of his amazing lectures on how to be a successfully busy person) is 'The Heart of Success' by Rob Parsons - one of the most humble, but successful, people I have come across. Depends on your definition of success of course.........

If I had to point to the things that I consider to be 'real' successes in my professional life - the things that I remember instantly, without having to dredge my memory at length to find them - they are often small and rather insignificant. Here are a few:

  • working alongside someone and making a difference to them, and to their workflows
  • really useful conversations with academics when making a cup of tea, or by the photocopier
  • shelving books when it's not in my job description, but I can call anyone on it because it is a strategic activity (staff management, collection management, space management, I could go on)
  • making time as often as possible for a 30 minute walk at lunchtime
  • meeting close professional friends for regular sanity checks
  • taking the time to visit a contact where they work and knowing how useful that was to both of us
When I started to write my application that resulted in this rather beautiful certificate, I was a little unsure about whether it would be good enough. But when I started to plot the things that had happened over the last 10 years on a timeline, then I found more confidence. It made me realise that one of the keys to 'success' for me is stickability and commitment, but dovetailing that with an innovative style. If you constantly change too many parameters you never have time to truly reflect and evaluate. I created two sorts of timeline to help me unpick all of this - one for fun using tiki toki. The other I defined as:

 "Publications Bibliography: deliberately starting with early work, and progression to most recent work, in order to demonstrate the changes over time and how areas of writing and presentations were influenced by other factors, both internal and external to the workplace. A story of meanders and the occasional ox-bow lake."

Image result for meanders ox-bow lakes

Ultimately of course as I consider that in the foreseeable future I can happily give up work and devote myself to other (important) things, you realise that success at work is probably overrated (it's dead nice to have it while you're there, don't get me wrong).Trite though it may seem, 'you can't take it with you'! And chances are the minute you leave work the next person in will change a lot of what you have done. 

So bottom line - what's success about? I would probably say that it's about making 'work', work for you, it's about being confident of your skills and using them to help the people who most need it, and it's being confident that little tiny successes are sufficient! We don't need to conquer the world, just try and do our best.

But in any case, thanks to CILIP for being a professional body that encourages librarians to be successful!

Friday, 19 August 2016

How much of a difference does it make?

Attended another great ALISS event ('Doing more with less') yesterday and listened to a presentation on using the Inspiring Learning for All framework to set objectives and evaluate outcomes. The presentation was concerned with how setting objectives and evaluating them by using this framework ensured that you could demonstrate impact. It made me think.....

The other presentations informed my thought processes:
  • What if your team was cut in half overnight and you had to displense with all those lovely 'added value' things that we do. What would our final list of priority activities look like?
  • What if you had a staff culture of being research practitioners - so that significant changes were underpinned by research (ideally disseminated research as a further 'test' of solidness).
  • What if you constanly played with yet another new techie tool ...
Bottom line - how much of a difference would these all make to a student? What, of all the things that we do - the workshops we run, the TLC we provide, the resources we make available, the study space we make available - actually have an impact? How much of a difference does it make and is it remotely possible that we could evaluate and measure this in such a way as to create the sort of impact that a senior administrator in a University could immeditately understand.

So - currently my thinking goes a little bit like this.
  • I reckon that we still don't have much of a clue about the enormous LACK of impact we have on students. They are wrapped up in their own worlds which, let's face it, doesn't put the Library anywhere near the top of the priority list.We need to disintangle those things that we hold dear from the service we offer, so that at the very least we focus on those (possibly few) things that make the most impact - although see the next point about being a bit canny about what this might be!
  • There are some easy quick wins that we can do that really do work and are impactful. Lets be known as responsive and do away with the need to have things signed off in triplicate.
  • Impact should be specific. If we are known to be friendly and approachable that is lovely and reassuirng. But we need to ask oursleves what that friendliness and appraochabliity means for our students/academics in terms of their teaching and research activities - that's the information that will make an impact on our managers and on the University.
  • Many of us have not had to lose over half of our staff and decide what our priorities are - we have not really needed to consider what things are having the MOST impact, we carry on inventing new and better ways of doing things because we like doing it, we like playing and tweaking. How about if we stopped, asked ourselves a question about what we are doing first and then conducted a very short bit of reseach to INFORM our decision before jumping? (Yes - I shall now put the external book box return to one side until we can find out what impact it might have....)
  • I implemented the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation recently for some training and found it very useful. It became much clearer what the impact of the training was (not all what I thought it would be) and I have used that to summarise the outcomes of the training when talking to senior management. So impact information should be shared. It's no point keeping it a secret.
  • And then the real killer question to myself was - how could we actually demonstrate/document the possible impact on a student that attending a library workshop might have. And even if we can do that, do we ever weigh up the time and resources we put in to the workshop against the impact it has had. Questions that need some research!
 So - as ususal too many questions but a great challenge to try and be smarter in what we do and how we do it.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Space Time Continuum

Some very cool new ideas for helping libraries to re-think their design of spaces were presented today. What totally appealed was the scalability of some of the ideas. The bare minimum for a low intensity work space was brilliant. We only need a lamp and a cushion and we're there. The high intensity option would be pretty impossible where I work, but I can see shades of grey and I get the point. I loved the idea that we need spaces which can be flexibly arranged so that more people can easily be packed in during exam revision time.

I especially liked the use of terms like primary, secondary and tertiary to describe types of work. Despite my query at the presentation about the impact of disciplines on the space designs, I can really see how this classification is pertinent to all subjects.

So there are several things that I wonder about. Given the size and complexity of the project it was going to be impossible to include other things alongside the space research, but I wonder how 'teaching and learning', the invisible library user and 'time' fit into all of this.

1. Teaching and Learning
Do subject librarians know enough about how their academics teach which impacts how their students study and learn, to then be able to translate that into relevant designs for space in their libraries. In Cambridge, I guess that we might. So I know that the Cambridge English degree is all about practical criticism; it's all about close reading of primary texts and an enormous part of the fresher induction is that teachers want to know ASAP what the student's 'voice' is - right from the start. What do THEY think?! Contrast that to my dim memories of a social science subject where theories had to be understood and learnt and applied in the right context - I don't suppose that it is massively different now. Academic teaching style in Cambridge differs - in English the 'singleton' supervision is much desired and fought for by college teachers as essential. For engineers or geographers, small groups are the norm. Do these types of things impact HOW someone studies and learns? What paraphernalia they need? Or do study needs ride above the wave of teaching differences? How should we be designing teaching spaces in libraries? The project definitely gives a nod towards how expertise is shared by library staff, though the glass box consultation room feels a bit too much 'on show'. I think that I would have to retreat to my relationship management mantra on this and say that library staff can teach 'on the hoof' wherever they are, but that it is knowing the user that is really important to enable that to happen. But many of us would advocate that some type of defined 'teaching space' is helpful.

2. Which brings me to a second point expressed by the project team themselves. What about all those students who don't use any library space that we think they could or should or might? Does it matter if they don't? Are we in danger of designing for those who are already IN the library at the expense of those who are not? A crucial bit of UX work at EFL by Helen Murphy showed that one group of students come and use the library to gather resources, but will never write an essay there. They infinitely prefer their college room for this task. Is this a problem? No. Should our designs think about them? Yes - probably. They use the library to borrow books and that's ok? Does this justify the intense focus on study space in libraries by the project. Perhaps all we need is a 'landing zone' and all the collections easily available? Or perhaps we can just send all the items a user wants to their room and save them the trouble of needing any library space at all? I'm definitely not advocating one or the other, but designing library space must also always be about designing space for this type of functional activity.

3. Finally a third point - one which might change the use of the study spaces for all sorts of reasons, and that is 'time'. In Cambridge we are woefully behind the HE library trend and for the most part do not provide access 24/7 (exception are some colleges, and a few faculties/departments with swipe card access for a few), and not on Sundays, and certainly not year round! SO my question is (and that is all it is, I have no solutions) is what would happen to the use of study spaces if they were available 24/7, or on Sundays, or...or....Anecdotal impressions from Cambridge Colleges are that without the 'invigilator' there, noise levels go up, rules get broken etc. Some people probably leave, others might arrive looking for a different type of working space. When so many of our students spend the wee small hours finishing that weekly essay, what would change if they did this in a library space? Would they come at all? I don't know. But I do wonder if 'time' should be included in a project looking at how people use space.

I am amazed at how much data was gathered and analysed in the project about space. I can't imagine why anyone would ignore the findings and the design opportunities. It would be wonderful if equal attention were given to the aspects described above - then I would challenage anyone to suggest a more robust and useful template/model for future library design.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Rambling thoughts about communication

What do you do, when you don't know where to go or what to do next?

Arriving in a country where English is not the primary language, fills me with a mild level of panic. I'm not entirely incapable, but I'm not one to relish the puzzle of figuring out what is being said to me in another language. I like to feel that I can identify a few key signposts that will smooth the transition from 'delayed flight ankst, tired and crabby mentality', to 'right, I know what to do next'. In an airport, you expect certain things to happen, and in a certain order. So when it doesn't, as was the case recently in Rome,.......I find myself left dithering and indecisive, casting around for clues to help; alternatively on one famous occasion in Denmark with Andy Priestner, we found ourselves collapsing with mild hysterics incapable of coherent thought, until gallantly rescued by a very kind person.

So what does happen when people are thrown into a new environment and how do they react; this could be new, as in new to university; or new, as in new job; or simply new, as in something new is on the horizon in the work place. What do we do to orientate ourselves when confronting 'new' (I blame Rome airport for these musings). Not only that, but do we make the best choices when we communicate?

Confronting a new situation - what to do next?:

  •  Scan the environment for clues - what/where/who are the signposts?
  • Actively look for an information point/contact-us point
  • Join a queue (a peculiarly British thing to do, but it works in an airport....except when you find yourself in the non-EU queue)
  • Find a person (virtual or real) with a badge - they must belong to whatever it is I need to get to know and have useful information
  • Find someone ( a peer, someone in the same situation as you) and join forces and appear stupid together/or moan together
  • Look for a map - where am I?
  • Bury my head in a pillow in the hopes that it will go away
  • Think long and hard about what the right questions are, to maximise useful information and save time

Other variables that mess with our heads:

  • How much do you love being in a new situation?
  • Do I prefer virtual contact to real life contact?
  • How likely are you to have prepped before you arrive in the new environment? Is it easy to prep?
  • Are you going to be a 'visitor' (no, I don't need to learn Italian for a one week holiday, though the odd word might come in handy), or a 'resident' (ok I really do need A LOT more Italian than I have). See Ned Potter's post about the Visitor/Resident discussion relating to social media.
  • What web tools do I have at my disposal?
  • How do I engage with others? Or is Google my best friend - always.
  • How much new information can I absorb at any one time? - how quickly does the unknown become familiar?
  • Am I a spatial person, and/or a people person? How easily can I fix things to a place, a face, a thing? How good am I at remembering names......
  • How much time do I have at my disposal? How time-poor are we?

Talking to the right person - making life easy for yourself:

I am convinced that we spend significant amounts of time talking to the wrong people and asking the wrong questions of those wrong people. Take the current 'student experience' current issue in UK HE. We have allowed students en masse to jump up and down and clamour for the things they say they deserve, with institutions poleaxed in terror at the prospect of saying 'no you can't have that, we know what's best for you'. We bow at the altar of the NSS which is driving our changes in policy. This is an interesting phenomena. It's a bit like a parent of a 4 year old giving way to the tantrum and allowing the child to throw themselves off a wall just because THEY thing it's the right thing to do. And we feed this by constantly searching for how to improve the student/user experience by talking to the students themselves (the 4 year olds in my analogy), forgetting all the time that the academics who teach the students should be the first ones we talk to. I suppose this is just one example of how easy it is to communicate badly, forgetting who we should be communicating with and why. No wonder it all seems so elusive.

I used to think that we did well in our Library with helping students get to know how to use the space and the resources. And I thought we were pretty good at the relationship building stuff. But I'm not so sure. There are still huge holes some students fall into, and whilst I'm not going to argue that we can fill every one of those ( I mean, personalised as in truly really personalised, one-to-one help is not feasible - right?), I think we could do better. I'm going to start talking more to the academics and find out what they want us to do; not jump at fulfilling every whim of the students. I'm also going to try and put myself in their shoes when they first arrive at university and recall my airport/foreign country woes.

Back to Rome: I did get the train, I did get a taxi and I did get to the hotel.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

*That*, Detective, is the right question....

Or so it goes in the film 'I, Robot' with Will Smith asking questions of a hologram.

Questions are tricky things - you may, or may not, be asking the right question, and you may, or may not, be asking the right whoever or whatever it is you use for answers. In the context of higher education, I have wondered whether a student would anticipate or expect that their questions  (which may not, of course, be the 'right' ones) could be answered by a library? It's probably no great surprise to find that a quick google search for 'library FAQs' reveals that there are hundreds of sites to go to. But do library FAQs include the right questions? Do they answer the questions that are being asked? Are they even close?

Do students have the 'right' questions? Well, not always, but for them, they ARE the right questions. They're the ones which impact them NOW.  Examples: I need to urgently print my essay for my supervisor - how do I do that here? How do I use the copier?  How can I write a better essay? How can I improve the structure of my essay? What does this word mean? How can I read more quickly? How do I prioitise the books to read? Why isn't this book I want on the shelves?

I'm not sure that we should be surprised when students don't ask library staff many in-depth important reference-enquiry style questions. That's not where they're at (even if they should be!). We may often give them information that doesn't register as useful. Perhaps we're not asked questions because a) students don't realise that the question they have is about 'something quite different'  and b) they don't realise that the 'something quite different' just might be library-related.

So - do we try and train our students to ask right-er/better-er questions or do we accept that the questions they have are ok and work out how to put ourselves into the firing line of those questions?  I think we should spend time finding out what it is they want to know and manouvering ourselves into the right position and be the people that answer whatever queries they have. They just may come back for more.

 I've also been thinking about what people (me, you, students, academics, my children, my husband etc) DO when they have a question - about anything. What someone DOES probably depends on the urgency of the question or the need. A curious child's question of  'why does the grass grow?' (generally repeated endlessly despite the answers a patient parent gives) is different from 'how do I get hold of a taxi?' or 'how do I use this new can opener?' or 'where's AandE?!' The last three imply a need that would be useful to have fulfilled fairly quickly even if only the last one actually seems life-threatening. A student might want to know how on earth they get hold of some of the key books to read for an essay due in tomorrow.

What would you do if you had these questions? Some options:
  • use smartphone/ipad/computer to get to the internet, google maps, youtube video for a demo (I actually had to do that with the can-opener thingy I bought recently). It's pretty quick to type in the keywords 'cambridge' 'taxis' to get a phone number - like wise the hospital. Use google books for the essay.
  • no internet? I'd find a person - anyone would do at all for the taxi and hospital, but a knowledgeable friend - or teacher, would do the job nicely for the grass growing question. A friend who had already DONE the essay would come in handy at this point.
  • I'd work it out myself (muttering - I can do this, I am capable) for the can-opener. For the essay a student might be creative and submit a timed exam essay on their supervisor - 'I thought it would be useful to see what I could do in a timed situation rather than read widely'.Or email the supervisor for some top tips after explaining why you couldn't possibly get the essay done earlier.
  • Find a book - ideally online, maybe already one at home in my bookshelves - or maybe browse the library shelves.
Are students generally going to Google, or their friends or the nearest person they can find, or even just finding inventive ways of avoiding the issues? Probably.

Why don't we see what we can do to impact the places that students already go to for their answers. Students seem to think that their teachers are worth listening to, so perhaps this is where we should start; Pelligrino certainly seems to think so. Training our academics to send their students to us with their questions could very easily be our top priority for getting students engaging with us in our  virtual or physical library spaces. Students *might* listen to their teachers more than us and, if we gain from that in the long run, what's not to like? I hope that *that* is at least one of the right questions........

Monday, 28 April 2014

More on tea@three

Just in case you hadn't had enough from me about tea@three - here I am trying to make it just a teensiest bit posher than it really is. But then the title is a bit of a give-away really: Ethno-thingy stuff: stories or stats?

That's all for now folks.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Did I cry at my daughter's wedding?

Actually, strictly speaking, no, although since I was asked this A LOT during the day itself, I have been thinking about why not! To be honest, yes I confess I did cry, but not at the wedding service, not when she came down the aisle, not at the first dance, but at odd quirky times.
Saying thanks and goodbye to the lovely ladies at Emily, the dress shop, was peculiarly emotional; likewise when picking the flowers up from Emma at Katie Peckett, and the final goodbye and thank you to Jennifer, the event manager at Millennium Galleries, brought tears to my eyes. My lovely brother, Jem, who allowed half his house to be taken over by Rach and me arranging all the flowers, and then let me leave an appalling mess behind at the end of the weekend, made me cry. I don't think I quite cried, but was awfully close to it, when thanking the most amazing Bakers who have loved, and cared for, and housed my daughter, and been the best Sheffield 'parents' to both Steph and Andy. My wonderful Cambridge friends, Wendy and Rosie and Steve, who were such a support, debriefing over cups of tea afterwards, helping clear the venue the next day - yes, you too brought tears to my eyes. And, of course, my super supportive best friend and husband - yes you made me cry!

Seeing Steph get married to Andy was just SO right, SO perfect, that it would have been illogical to cry; but crying about the amazing care and love of not just friends and family, but also, people who are basically strangers but with whom for a short period you've shared your life seems absolutely right and proper!

So there - I've thought it all out and worked it through and I'm pretty content with where I'm at.