Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas stockings!

Have you ever left a Christmas stocking untouched? I thought not! What sacrilege that would be!

Many, many people (perhaps including you), do not always appreciate librarianly advice - perhaps not even ASK for it.

So, I know you haven't asked for this, but let me do the honours and 'unwrap' the contents of a virtual Christmas stocking - just for you, dear Engling. The collective wisdom of five library staff have put these stocking 'fillas' together...............I am sure that you will enjoy every one!
  • Watch David Tennant, and others in 'Much Ado About Nothing' on Digital Theatre Plus (check here for login details)
  • Read a Cambridge Companion online- just so easy to download a chapter onto your paperwhite Kindle paperwhite to take on that skiing trip you have planned
  • Pinterest - our Library's newly purchased books and DVDs. You might even spot the perfect dissertation secondary crit book there
  • Think differently - read the 'Ragged-trousered philanthropists' (staff member recommendation)
  • Mug  - bring to the first tea@three in the Library in Lent Term
  • UbuWeb - what, you've never heard of it? Somewhere in the ether it says that: "UbuWeb was founded in response to the marginal distribution of crucial avant-garde material"
  • London Underground Shakespeare map - a very very cool map for the visually minded and the RSC have been especially inventive in promoting it. Quick- you might get a tea towel for mum for Christmas.
  • USB powered electric pencil sharpener - to use just before you go into the Manuscripts Room at the UL
  • Bookfinder or AddAll are good sources for finding cheap copies of texts that you want to scribble in - highly recommended by library staff who get twitchy when you write in books
  • ejournals@cambridge....hmmmm....the best evah site to find ALL the online journals Cambridge has - pleeeese don't just use JSTOR
And just in case all of this is not enough you could get some wonderful (occasionally useless, but fun all the same) 'stocking filla type' information by following us on Twitter or Facebook

Well - we've dredged what's left of our collective brains and there's nothing left.......ENJOY your Christmas stocking and have a very good vacation.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Tea@three: engaging students in focused conversation over a cuppa

What is our library service about? Well, I hope it’s not about us, or our collections, or our space, but about YOU! By ‘you’ I’m thinking of an actual, or possibly future, user of the library collections, space and services. If you want a fun introduction to what a local media company  - Tripos Productions (tweeting as @TriposMedia) thought our service was all about then look at this really short promo video of theLibrary that they made for us.

And why are ‘you’ so important? 


Bottom line, without you we have no mission, no purpose and no need to provide support for excellence in teaching and research. This very basic premise is what many of my colleagues in Cambridge, such as Andy Priestner have been trying to communicate within the institution and beyond, in the broader information landscape - ie that there really is no point in providing all of the above if they’re not needed or wanted or perceived to be useful. Librarians have typically given lip service to this issue over the last ten years or so, but have still held tightly onto their current roles and collections and……….without actually asking themselves what it is that students need. The danger in asking this is so obvious; which is why many of us don’t do it. Why dangerous? Well, you might have to change what you do every year, you might have to accept that some parts of your current library space, collections and services are actually useless, you might need to look at how to become more efficient to be more effective, you might need different skills; you might just have to change. 

So, at the English Faculty Library at the University of Cambridge, we try to address the above issues by thinking of different ways to engage with our students, so that we identify with their needs and change our service accordingly. The model we use is similar to the ethnographic approach frequently in use by library services exploring student behaviour and study habits. This is not to say that we are perfect or, indeed, overly strategic about this. Happy accidents happen too. Take the current example of our two ‘rooms’ that we will let students book, ostensibly for group discussions. In reality what is happening this year is that graduates, who take a teaching role here and supervise English Literature undergrads for one-to-one tutorials, are finding university rooms that might once have been free to book for tutorials, are no longer so. We have had more than 60 room bookings within 4 weeks of this term, compared to the same number of bookings for the whole of last academic year. I’m delighted that our Library is providing a much-needed service. And in any case, the students come to their supervisions and then, usually….borrow books. Win win.

Tea@three is just one avenue for gathering ethnographic, qualitative style data. It started because I wanted to provide some TLC for hard pressed students in exam term, also because I wanted to get to know them better, and because, hand on heart, I wanted to find out how on earth an Arts student went about their work (I worked in a Science Library before this,  and have a Social Science background).

The details:
When: at 3.00 pm, varying times a week, more frequently during exam term than in other terms, lasting 30-60 mins depending on conversations etc. Sometimes I tailor tea@three for particular year groups, the grads or societies, Faculty student reps etc, or just to say thank you to particular student or academic groups. 
Where: usually in my office which is large and spacious and can take about 20 students at one time – at a push. Sometimes we move to the Faculty’s Social Space for all sorts of reasons, mostly because my office is not sound proof; communication between staff and students becomes less of a priority then.


  • Students often say…..‘I’ve been meaning to ask you..’
  • Learning student names, building relationships that last. Picking up anecdotal information about:  the latest party, the favourite academic, the best play production, the different methods used by teachers. We then use this information in obvious situations: teaching new freshers, at the issue desk, in conversation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, other academics, or at Student Consultative Committees.
  • Sometimes there is a ‘I don’t suppose you could…..’ type of comment such as ‘Is there any chance that you could summarise the exam times for us and put them up on the website?’ If we think the suggestion is helpful and sensible for us to do, we do it. Most of the suggestions are NOT typically library-related ones, but by helping them with one thing that isn’t what we think of as connected to library work, they then come back to us with questions that are.
  • Impromptu career sessions – for example, an alumnus doing TeachFirst came back this half term, came to a tea@three session and ended up talking to two year 3 students wanting to do this next year once they graduate. One of the best careers conversation.
  • Gaining an understanding student language: for example asking students what would be the best label for our ‘subject guides’?
  • Opportunities to welcome visiting academics
  • A specially invited tea@three group which morphs into a focus group exploring for example changes to the curriculum. Eg What do students think are the implications for the Library?
  • Making lego and puzzles available– an interesting tea@three session in exam term resulted in a lego model depicting ‘tragedy’ proving to be an interesting medium with which to continue their revision in an unusual collaborative mood whilst drinking tea! 
  • Students dropping by outside tea@three times and just chatting about work, library changes or for help with a quick question about Zotero or…or… 

There is plenty out there about ethnographic research, or user-centred design, and to that end I have been gathering articles and information that helps inform what I do.  Colleague, Andy Priestner and I have also written extensively on the subject of developing user-centred library services.
See the publicly available Zotero group tea@three bibliography developing.




EVIDENCE of how tea@three engages with students

  • In our ‘comments book’ in June 2013
    Student comment
  • A comment from graduating student in the 2012 NSS: "the faculty library always does little things to brighten their students' days (tea@3, chocolates, puzzles)"
  • Regular emails from students addressing me in a friendly manner ‘Hi Libby….’ . The barriers between staff and students is much less apparent
  • Establishing connections with the undergraduate ‘English Society’ – we now run a regular annual event with them.
  • Students have been recently involved in the interview schedules for new Deputy Librarian
  • A group of students last year offered to help us run several of the larger tea@three sessions, including our Valentine Day tea@three well-advertised by them using poetry.
Valentines Day t@3

The $6 million question – how can we afford to do this?

I never underestimate the advantages of being in an environment such as Cambridge where I can target a very specific subject group; getting under their skin, almost becoming one of them, whilst maintaining the ability to drive through change for the better that impacts student lives. Tea@three is possible because it’s Cambridge and it’s for English Literature students who have flexible working hours. But overall, it represents the principle of engaging with students IN ORDER to better understand their needs and to enhance relationships. 

I can’t think of a better use of my time.

Monday, 30 September 2013

How I (sometimes) work

Challenged as I was by Georgina to answer the questions about how I work - I thought it rude not to do so..........but consider yourself warned - it ain't pretty. There is a plan - if only I could find it.

Location: Cambridge (UK)
Current gig: Faculty Librarian, English Faculty
Current mobile device: iphone 4
Current computer: Probably Dell (Uni has an agreement with them) with  - yes a very nice widescreen flat monitor.
One word that best describes how you work: one word? eek? impossible - I will allow myself two: focused and forgetful

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? GoodReader, Google calendar, facebook, Google maps (lapsed Geographer), Thunderbird (I love email)

What’s your workspace like? Ah, depends when you look. Currently looks quite pretty with new chairs and a hand-made quilt wall hanging.......
Mostly my desk is roughly akin to the many many layers of sedimentary rocks that you might see in the Grand Canyon. Yes, I've lost the odd thing, but mostly I know where everything is. Once the piles of paper start to topple then I might have a tidy up.

What’s your best time-saving trick? Always go out at lunch break for a brisk walk. Saves making  a huge numbers of errors, and generally I've solved one of any number of problems by the time I get back.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Google calendar is brilliant for a project management approach to a task, breaking it down into manageable chunks of stuff that must be done by x or y. When things are serious good old pencil and paper to-do lists.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? ipad

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? Moving at the speed of light during a 5 minute conversation with staff from one subject to another, to another. We're all exhausted at the end. Also - sending emails with instructions. My logic is - send an email before I forget what I was thinking about. (see last point below)

 What are you currently reading? Trashy novels - can't even recall the current title. Though recently I have avidly read some 'Rough guides...' for Vancouver and Grand Canyon. (told you, I'm a lapsed Geographer.)

What do you listen to while you work? My own voice muttering.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Introvert definitely. Love my own office, can come out to play when I choose.

What’s your sleep routine like? Well for someone who has 'done' kids the one thing I'm brilliant at is getting up early in the morning.

Fill in the blank: I too would love to see Heather Lane answer these same questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Keep asking questions

Is there anything else you’d like to add? To deal with the two words up above: Focused - When stuck into working at something I don't need to switch off email etc etc to concentrate; I just don't notice anything else. Forgetful - it could be an age thing, or just there's too much in my head to keep it contained and I just cut swathes of conversations and information clean out of my head - hence the prolific emailing.

Well - I told you it wasn't pretty.

On how car rental experiences made me think........

Airport rental cars and libraries - anything in common? Well, they're a service, they have 'customers' who need a resource. What's not in common? I suppose the rental resource is very identifiable; a car is....a a car - right? Libraries – well they’re just more complex but still a service.

An odd comparison you might think, but my very recent user experience of the one made me wonder about the other.

A centralised rental car system (such as in Phoenix) works as follows: As the consumer, I still have choice about who I book with. But I have no choice about where I physically go to deal with the booking on arrival; there is only one bus stop to find at the airport, one type of bus to look for to travel in and one place to pick the car up. With all rental car services under one roof, all the car servicing, checking, 'keys handing over' is dealt with completely separately to the booking-in system. One building means economies of scale, and so I have access to food, bathrooms, and lots of frequent buses getting me to and from the airport.

What's not to like? I suppose there was that slight frisson of worry when the bus set out on what appeared to be a 3 hour long journey to the rental centre from Phoenix airport, with no information given out about how long it would take to get there. 'We must remember to allow plenty of time when we come back', we muttered to ourselves.

For a customer, car rental services have certainly done their homework and worked out exactly what it is that people want. Customers clearly still want choice, they want a person looking after their needs on the other side of the 'Alamo' (in my case) desk, and someone to hold their hand as maps are explained in order to negotiate the hellish road system about to be confronted. But the process of getting to the centre, documentation vetted, through to picking up the car (two upgrades, and a free bottle of water to cope with 35 degree temps merely 10 mins later), and then the utter relief of how easy it was to return said car and get back to the airport in plenty of time for the return flight was brilliant.

So why think of libraries? The car rental service was centralised and the process was beautifully efficient and effective. I assume it's cheaper to run it this way. But in our second airport they were in the middle of changing over from one system to another and I accosted the poor (yes, Alamo) lady at the service desk and asked her what the change to a new centralised system was like from her perspective. She was very kind and, though slightly shocked, gave me two answers that I thought rang all too true for the current library centralisation scheme I find myself in the middle of.

  Firstly, she didn't like change. Not rocket science at all, but it makes the clear point that many of us do not like change, especially change that we cannot understand especially well and, by definition, that change management is absolutely crucial to win over good people to a new system.  Just because one person thinks centralised is good certainly doesn’t mean that the next one will.

  Secondly she worried about the lack of control over the bus drivers: they would not belong to the company, Alamo, any more, but just be generic drivers employed to run buses for ALL the rental car services. Would they be loyal? Would the service desk people know the drivers' names? How easily could they deal with problems?  Would the service the bus drivers offered match their current standards. Wow! Familiar or what?! What good would a generic library assistant be at my issue desk wondering where the heck we had stashed the ... extra barcodes; the sellotape, the reservation keys, a spare pencil etc. I’ve experienced this – and it was BAD!

She finished by saying 'But I'm sure it will all be ok'!! Well, day 1 of the new system we returned our car and I think there were some niggling problems they were facing ( eg the new buses were all much longer than the previous ones and causing traffic jams!). Funny how often the devil is in the detail. But, on the other hand what a relief for us to catch a bus that runs every 5 minutes to the airport, rather than waiting (as we did on arrival) all tired and worn out, for 20 minutes before an Alamo bus came our way.

So - I was left with a few questions - what is perfection for our customer? What does that look like? Have we 'got it' yet? Can we combine the premium offering of REAL choice, along with useful centralisation in our libraries? Is it possible for Cambridge, that extreme bastion of choice and 'boutiqueness', to get something right and combine the quality and engagement that personalised service choice offers with a few choice centralised polices and processes that actually make a difference, or will they muck it up? Only time will tell.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Marketing Schmarketing?

So why go on a marketing course where you find that plenty of the content is familiar and you end up providing plenty of the right responses (at the right time)? This is, of course, an exaggeration, but not far off.  However before you think of me as unpleasantly arrogant, let me explain that the reason I went on this course was to learn, and learn I did. I find that it can be tempting to look around at training that is offered, from all sorts of quarters, and quickly dismiss something with a 'done that' attitude, not always considering what opportunities are missed and what the message this gives to those around us. Perhaps this IS slightly arrogant of us.

So why did I go to this course? Partly because I think there might be something to be gained by not just going to library-focused training, and mostly because I want to keep on learning, and I am willing to try other avenues. Although the course was on marketing, which I have considered previously in my Librarian role, and which my colleague, and co-editor, Andy Priestner, has written about, it looked to offer a different perspective (Business) and none of the other participants were librarians!  In fact I consciously made a point of selecting it from a series of modules that are part of a course I am dipping into at Loughborough Business School.

What did I learn and come away with? Lots of snippets, some theory that I hadn't come across before, brilliant interaction and conversation with people working in such a variety of different jobs, new perspectives and some concrete plans of 'what to do next' in my own context. Oh yes, and an assignment that needs to be written by 11th September!! Ho hum.

Here are a few thoughts that rang true for me. If you are reading the points below you may start saying 'yep I know all that', but of course you might not want to tell me that.................
    · How are we telling our customers what we provide?
    · Who are our influencers and how do we market what we do to them?
    · Don't skimp on the basics - it's so easy to get carried away with the fun of the next service or product that we forget to keep the books tidy on the shelves.
    · Analyse, choose, implement. Make sure the process is applied.
    · Stop trying to do everything for everyone and be targeted - otherwise we run the risk of under-performing.
    · It costs to exit from a strategy. Check the financial implications.
    · Don't always keep on doing new things - check that you are getting as much value from the products and services you already provide. Don't stop innovating but if the user is not bothered with some new thing don't persist to the nth degree!
    · Don't run out of things people want
    · If you find yourself telling a user 'we don't do this', make a note and investigate why you don't.
    · After sales care is vital. When things go wrong for a user - what do we do? And how do we deal with the customer?
    · Building relationships is all about creating a mutually beneficial relationship, but remember that the relationship is on their terms. Just because we wag our tails madly when we see them does not mean that they want to engage. It is important that we respect this. Some might even want to engage with us remotely. Banks do this all the time - it means more ways that we communicate but more ways we engage.
    · Market the 'value' of our services in order to get people to open their wallets.
    · Internal marketing - essential criteria are the ability to persuade, negotiate and recognise and use internal politics. CRUCIAL matrix - Power vs Interest. For LOW interest and HIGH power make sure that they are given a briefing every eg 3 months so that they know what is going on. These people are the change agents and we need to recognise their level of interest. If assume they want to come and see us and are interested in us then we have missed a trick.
    · Use PLAIN words to sell products, don't dress things up with 'fake' terminology.
    · A well-known brand of drink as an example of 'flanking marketing' using segmentation - £10.00 bottle, competitor came along with their version at £9.20. What did they do? Provided a 'special' bottle at £11.00, a regular at £9.90 and a 'value' bottle at £9.00. Tactical strategy which removed competitor fairly swiftly. As a manipulator I like this.
On a practical level some of the things I will be doing soon:

1. buying at least one sofa

2. sending our students a quick one question survey on their preferences for invigilator-manned opening hours

3. preparing a briefing conversation for bosses

4. creating a different system for allocating students to email lists

5. working harder at collaborating with college librarians
And one lovely fellow-attendee is going to help me overhaul a workflow process! Yay!

    Sunday, 3 February 2013

    Conference keynote and patchwork

    The thing I love about making anything using patchwork is that each project is unique; the choice of fabrics changes everything, the way it's finished can be yours alone. Of course, you can buy a kit, follow a pattern and use the fabric chosen for you, but so much of the pleasure of the craft is taken away by doing this.

    Having very recently completed the top side of a quilt, and having to invent my own system for finishing it off, I was reminded of the keynote that a colleague, Andy Priestner , and I very recently gave in Denmark at the Winter meeting of the Danish Research Librarians Group. Not perhaps the most obvious of connections from all sorts of points of view!

    Patchwork essentials: you need fabric, an idea of a pattern (perhaps), a means of sewing bits of fabric together
    Keynote essentials: you need a speaker or two, a message, a means of presenting the message

    Keynotes tend towards the same style. Perhaps about an hour, often one presenter, usually based on a poweropint presentation. Given that we had 105 minutes to fill we had to be a bit more inventive, or risk boredom. We had been asked to speak about some of the content in 'the book' so from one perspective we knew our stuff. It takes very little, actually, to get us on our favourite hobby-horse - ie 'boutique' strategies for managing our libraries! How to present it engagingly was more complex and meant that we needed to re-think what a keynote should look like. Activities were introduced, including an excellent quiz that Andy conducted, together with several opportunities for delegates to engage with neighbours when discussing a particular question or issue. We both took turns in speaking, so that the style of talking and presenting varied including using different styles of powerpoint slides. And so on....

    The point being - it was fun re-inventing what a keynote could look and feel like. Just like it's fun (for me!) in creating a piece of patchwork. It all comes down to creativitiy, imagination and the sort of content that inspires you, as presenter or patchworker to want to continue to engage with it yourself.

    It helps that our keynote audience were recpetive and cooperative with our endeavours and that we left Denmark having made a number of helpful connections. Just like it is when I meet another patchwork addict..........

    Tuesday, 1 January 2013

    New Year Delights!

    Sometimes things are just beneath your nose and you never notice them. Other times they are obvious - because they are the perfect solution.

    Here are a selection of resources and links that might just be the perfect solution to the current essay or dissertation or academic interest. Or they might be totally distracting........but worthy for all that!

    1. Gorgeous apps!
    (Oh and if you don't have an iPad, we now have one in the Library where you can try out any of these apps - and more)
    British Library apps for smartphones and tablets:
    • Treasures. This includes the the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and medieval books
    • Nineteenth Century books. This includes access to novels of the 18th and 19th Century eg Daniel Defoe's The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Fiction and Prose literature eg Frankenstein
    • Royal Manuscripts. This includes illuminated medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from the BL's exhibition.
    • ebook treasures. More information available here. 
    TouchPress with Faber brought out the (now) well-known version of The Waste Land by T.S.Eliot but have recently produced an app for Shakespeare's Sonnets. These productions take the meaning of a 'book' to a new level including a wonderful variety of performances, commentary, notes and images.

    Watch for Faber and Bloomsbury's new online resource for drama and if you want to request a trial contact Libby.

    2. Fascinating news from the University Library.
    Did you notice that during 2012 the UL's news diary had a number of literary items?

    3. Digital Theatre Plus - no excuses for continuing to promote this resource. For login and password which you need either on or off campus email Libby and ask for it. Recently added to the list of full productions is Ibsen's A Doll's House.

    Much more available other than productions - including documentaries, interviews and learning resources.

    4. Time-saving devices and strategies.......always good to know about when putting your New year resolutions together! Some useful ones that we promote include:
    • Zotero - for collecting references, creating bibliographies and citing works. Referencing - almost pain-free! Ask Libby or Niamh for more details. Look for the book by Jason Puckett in the catalogue and/or look at his website for more.
    • Google Calendars - time management at its best, including links to when your books are due back in the Library (save yourself all those fines). Look here for instruction on setting up a feed. Just scroll down to 'Loans feeds'.
    5. Coming new in 2013:
    Oxford Scholarly Editions Online
    Oxford Bibliographies Online: British and Irish Literature