Sunday, 12 February 2012

Personalising services: snippets from the diary

Co-editor, Andy Priestner, and I very recently deliberated a tweak to the name of our forthcoming book to be published by Ashgate. The original title referred to personalised services but almost without realising it, Andy had started to use the word 'personalising' instead. This gives the process and concept a more active, and engaging feel to it. It made me think a little harder about what helps us to create a service that is 'personalised', but is also 'personalising'; where the established mindset of providing a 'personalised' service sits within a dynamic 'personalising' environment.

The 'personalised' mindset in a library service means that we should be pre-disposed to acquire knowledge about our users, show a genuine interest in them, display empathy, and be flexible and adaptable, with library staff possessing a fair degree of autonomy in the decision making process.

But I think that 'personalising' a service means more than this. It implies that in any given situation an individual student or library user should leave feeling that their visit was special (not just to them, but also to us) and that their specific needs and requirements have been addressed. Is this possible? I think that this is precisely why personalising services is an active, growing, organic 'thing'. Your first interaction with a student in a new job is likely to be less 'personalised' than one six months later. We are always gathering information and knowledge (or should be) about our users that we can use in our interactions with them. Just because all students have the same borrowing time frame doesn't prevent us personalising our service on a daily basis with them depending on our knowledge of their needs.

Two really obvious snippets from my diary:
1. I know that a particular elderly academic rarely reads email and so will not receive their system notice reminding them the book is due back. I pop the details in my diary and get in touch with them personally by phone to remind them it's due back and/or personally renew it for them. I would be unlikely to do this for the same reason for an undergraduate but that's because their needs are different. (Question for myself: what current procedures and process can we change so that we operate more like this?)

2. I have a new resource coming out on trial. It may well be useful for a broad spectrum of people, but I know that there are two postgrads who specifically requested it some months ago. Their emails will be included in the general email list that they are a part of, but they also get a personal email from me letting them know about it. Their names went down in my diary some months ago for this purpose. (Question for myself: although I use my personal email address rather than any generic ones to send information out, many emails still go to student 'lists'. If email is still the preferred means of receiving information, the challenge is to become more personalised and targeted.)

I'm sure that we all do this sort of thing but the challenge for me is to consider how much more we can do? And how much more can we afford to do? Conversely, how much more can we afford NOT to do!

Not everyone wants the red carpet treatment - but it's our job to know who doesn't and to treat our users as individuals.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Library Day in the Life Day 5

Checked and approved the final draft of the Literature Timeline Display boards before they get sent for printing. The boards are part of a six month project involving converting the old copier room into a diplsay gallery (great job by EMBS during Christmas vac). Annie Liggins, graphic designer, has designed four display boards with a literature timeline spanning 780-current day, making use of images from the library collections. Rachel Thorpe, alumnus, supplied all the text, some of which came from the Cambridge Authors site that she was involved with when an undergrad here a few years ago. Andy Cosgrove, currently in a final year studying furniture design at De Montfort, has been i/c the cabinet design and production. The display gallery will include a plasma screen with digital signage software enabling a more interactive display environment. Our first display planned for the end of February will be on Dickens.

Recently piloted a new reader service here - starting the inter library loans service. Many libraries in Cambridge already provide this service, so nothing new there. But it's new for us, so settling into the routine of this with new procedures in place.

Quickly slotting in a set of email requests and responses before first meeting of the day with Directors of Studies of the Faculty.

A lot of interactions with colleagues and staff today via phone, email and in person but especially enjoyed following the Guardian's Higher Education network discussion including a Cambridge colleague Andy Priestner. Looking forward to looking at the digest of comments soon.

This afternoon - ran tea@three for grads. Only a few came along but we had a great discussion about grad writing groups. The graduate research forum rep was there so we talked briefly about the session we're co-running with an academic on Zotero for grads.

I'm done - just a few invoices to approve and the weekend beckons. Only three of the library staff left standing at the end of the week, but we are ably supported by our great invigilator team who have rushed in to save the day (well actually several days!) and filled slots this week when most needed. Thanks to all the Library staff here at the English Faculty. Fabulous lot.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Library Day in the Life Day 4

Shelving first thing - too many trolleys of books left from last night to leave for long and only two of us in until 10.00 today; more illness amongst staff team.

Paper build-up on desk to deal with but prepping for teaching session needed first.

This is a trial session for a college group in their second term here. Probably closest in style to the scaffolding approach now used by some libraries for teaching, but most importantly is a trial for an activity that will a) fit in with proposed changes to teaching in the Faculty which include scope and space for the Library to put on extended classes as part of the range of teaching on offer b) allow students to explore resources, produce author bibliographies of primary and secondary works and evaluate them in the knowledge that their work will contribute to an interactive online literature timeline. Session went really well, students like the information display and especially the reading list links that we are trialling as well, so fund bidding here I come. Actually a brisk lunchtime walk and I have now widened this out so that all second year college groups will join in this programme - and it's getting quite exciting. Just need to work out exactly what funds I need for now and transmit the excitement upwards.

More staff calling in ill for afternoon and evening shifts so as Assistant Librarian is ill, the re-arranging and phoning for replacement staff falls to me. Staff who ARE in are extremely obliging and willing to help out. Fabulous team here!

Assist staff with peculiar issue desk queries today - realise now how wonderful the Assistant Librarian role is in the Library and that without them here I get all these odd things to deal with! Makes me think about the rules that are made in libraries. We were talking yesterday at the staff training event about how often situtations need a 'grey' response. If we're too black and white we fail to demonstrate empathy. Not alwasy easy the bigger the organisation though if I recall correctly John Lewis 'pay desk' staff are given responsibility for 'breaking the rules' depending on the situation if it improves the customer experience. Much more personalised. I digress - but definitely went for the grey response.

Colleague visits to talk about an aspect of the Library management system that I've been using for some time.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Library Day in the Life Day 3

Handouts loaded onto the VLE.

Joint staff meeting with Judge Business School on personalising our library services. This was a really nice relaxed time with English staff and Judge staff discussing how personalised our services should be. Amazing how we all view things slightly differently and how our assumptions about situations differ. Communication is similar as well. Just to give a small (but probably confusing) example.. I recall sometime ago sitting in on a meeting that I shouldn't have been at and acting as an observer. Person A said something, Person B minuted it, but when Person C read the minutes some days later, they commented that this wasn't what Person A said. Person A said it was. What was going on? Simply - an assumption had been made by C about what A had said, and the subsequent interpretation of it by C was different to the INTENDED point that person A had made. No big deal really but person C had acted on their interpretation of the comment rather than the actual comment that A had made. Interesting communication issues that go on all the time. How many times do we say something to a library user and ASSUME that we have been clear, when a different message was understood by them. Have we provided a personalised service then?

Ok - back to base and dealing with emails - way too many today again. Setting up meetings, reading papers for a meeting this afternoon, responding to a blog about a potential change in web interface, problems with mounting the paintings, REF impact information to absorb, and - oops need to go to the issue desk now for my lunch time stint.

Work experience pupil wants to come here in March so checking with staff - we usually take about 4 per year but it looks like we have our full quota in place so can't take any extras.

Long communication meeting this afternoon with pre and post meetings necessary to clarify issues.