Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Futureproof: making libraries indispensable to learning, teaching and research

We really DO want to think that we are indispensable. Sometimes we are, a lot of the time we are not. Taffy, Student Education Officer for Exeter spoke at the UC&R/CoFHE conference plenary this morning here in gorgeously sunny Exeter and from his advanced age of 22 gave a good insight into how students operate:

1. Students think that they use electronic resources for their studies about 85% of the time - and yet a good 30% of them can never find the e-resource that they need. Perception issues, jargon problems, something somewhere not adding up?

2. Ejournals are a 'catchall' name for all electronic resources - referencing issues here?

3. It is perfectly possible to get a good 2.1 at University without ever using online resources, and in any case, if they are not easily available via Google then I might not ever bother trying to look any further.

4. Eresources do not = Wikipedia but Wikipedia is very useful.

5. There is a real problem in that students do not know who to contact in the library, that they wish they had more help from the Library and yet when all of this is on offer to them (ie contact details and training) they fail to take it up.

How many of us chat with our students often enough that we know what it is that they don't know or they do know? What are the hooks that we are not using that will get them to us? I am not at all convinced that expanding our repertoire of ways and means of contacting students using Web 2.0 ie facebook, twitter, chat room facilities, texting, etc etc is the right way around all of this. Based on a conversation from a librarian at Warwick today I think that we haven't done enough research into what students do in terms of their regular student journeys. I still maintain that face-to-face contact is important and for all the potential ease of Web 2.0 tools to interact with people, it is often the chance face-to-face encounter and help that results in the 'best' comments about how helpful we might have been in a student's life. Our comments book at the Library has a number of comments from 3rd years in it - and yet if you analyse them they are usually to do with how we physically did something for them that made a difference. Warwick do masses of work now on analysing statistics so for example they know that on Tuesdays there are loads of Chemistry students in the Library - a fantastic bit of information that they could base their skills training times on. So for me - the challenge is how to find out, not just how the students are studying that we can help with, but how to maximise what we do offer in order to encourage the best face-to-face interactions.


  1. I absolutely agree - yes to this, yes to the Web 2.0 comments etc.
    We have difficulty in encouraging face to face contact in our College Library for various reasons. Students tend to blank us and turn down offers of assistance; it is difficult to be on hand at the point of need so that we can demonstrate our usefulness, but we know anecdotally that we do make a difference when we get the chance. Generally though, we still seem to be perceived as being backroom support, useful but not essential and not someone a student would go to for help.
    Re analysing statistics (a bit different from the value of face to face interaction) do you remember Prof David Nicholas speaking at the libraries@cambridge conference 3 (?) years ago and saying that UCL created a post in Readers' Services to analyse data on library use? Surely something that should be adapted for all our libraries?

  2. Exactly what Warwick have done - I was talking to the post holder

  3. Very interesting, thanks Libby. I agree that we can do much to analyse how people actually obtain and use the information they need to do their jobs (in my company's case). Ditto for deep log analysis of usage (where vendors provide the data, grrr).
    In an organisation where 99% of our employees are remote to a librarian (often separated by time as well as distance) and only have access to library resources online, we have limited opportunity for face-to-face interaction.
    We've found pictures of our smiley helpful faces on our Ask for Help pages, links to our communicator (chat) software complete with presence indicators (green for free, red for busy etc) do something to encourage folks to ask for help but it's a huge challenge.