Hi, my name is Jo and I'm a newly qualified librarian working in several academic libraries in Cambridge.

I originally created this blog as an electronic learning journal whilst participating in an extended shadowing programme prior to starting the MA in Information Services Management at London Metropolitan University.

The views expressed here are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Fourteen - Observing the Enquiry Desk

This afternoon, I spent the last session of my shadowing programme observing the part time Assistant Customer Services Librarian at the Enquiry Desk. Although she normally works on Saturdays and Thursday mornings, the librarian has been doing some additional hours to cover the rota as, following the restructure, the FLLs are no longer required to work at the desk. One of the first things she therefore commented on was how much busier it was at the desk during the week compared to Saturdays.

Having said that, this particular slot was very quiet! However, this is probably because Wednesday afternoons are traditionally set aside for sporting activities. We therefore took the opportunity to go through some past enquiries that the librarian had kindly noted down in preparation for this session. Many of these were recurrent enquiries, such as not being able to find a particular item, wanting to know how to place a reservation, etc. However, I was surprised by how wide-ranging some of the more subject specific queries were, from Florence Nightingale to viruses.

This served as a reminder that as a librarian you never know exactly what you are going to be asked and need to be able to think on your feet. The librarian also emphasised the importance of asking subsidary questions to clarify exactly what is required as sometimes people do not ask for what they actually want. Sometimes this is because they need information regarding a particularly sensitive issue. She therefore recommended restricting questions to the subject of the enquiry rather than to the particular circumstances surrounding it.

The librarian also described one or two ocassions where the the reader has either expected her to do the research for them or has not known where to start. In these situations she suggested using the equiry as a means of educating and enabling the reader to help themselves. For instance, she asked the person interested in Florence Nightingale what exactly she wanted to find out but the reader could not be specific. Although she was thinking of writing her dissertation about Florence Nightingale she had not identified a particular focus for her research. The librarian therefore showed her how to conduct a quick search using the digital library to get a feel for some of the key texts, authors and themes to give her some research ideas.

In order to reassure the reader that support is always available, the librarian reminded her that, after conducting some initial research herself, she could make an appointment with the Subject Librarian to get further help. The librarian also pointed out the importance of knowing when you have done all you personally can to answer an enquiry and when to refer it onto someone who is better placed to assist.

As with all the sessions I spent observing the desk, I once again picked up a number of practical tips for dealing with enquiries. During this particular slot, however, I became more aware of the need to treat each enquiry with a certain degree of sensitivity and to leave each reader feeling more confident in their ability to find the information they need. I was also reminded of the importance of reassuring our readers that further help is available and of knowing when to refer the enquiry on.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Thirteen - Collection Development

Yesterday morning I spent some time with the Faculty Liaison Librarian (Arts, Law and Social Sciences) to discuss the library's Collection Management Policy and stock edit procedures. The session began with an overview of the library's budget and the various considerations involved in selecting and managing stock. This was really a recap of the main points covered in the previous ordering session.

We did, however, also discuss the financial implications of subscribing to journals, electronic databases and standing orders. As the FLL (ALSS) explained, the need for such subscriptions has to be assessed particularly carefully because they tend to be very expensive. As the decision to proceed has to be made before the final budget has been set, this sometimes means that in the first year, new subscriptions are paid for out of the general book budget. Annual price increases of 6% - 8% and VAT on online resources also mean that the ongoing cost of new subscriptions can often only be met through the cancellation of existing ones. These often difficult decisions are therefore made in consultation with the relevant academic staff although the final decision rests with the library.

Given the existing pressures on the library's budget, I took the opportunity to ask the FLL (ALSS) what further impact she thought the Vice Chancellor's current focus on increasing research would have. Like the SL (S&T) she also thought that this was difficult to predict but suggested that, realistically, the library could only support increased research activity if additional funding were made available. She also explained that any partnerships with business and industry are likely to be hampered by our current user licences which permit only current university staff and students to use our digital resources for private study or research for non-commercial purposes. It will therefore be interesting to see what the actual effect will be.

Unfortunately, money is not the only constraint when it comes to collection development. Space is also limited which means that the library must aim to achieve zero growth, i.e. to withdraw as many items as are added each year. A regular review of the library's stock is, however, also necessary to ensure that the overall quality of the collection is maintained and that it remains relevant, current and in good physical condition. To some degree this is a continuous process as the Subject Librarians withdraw old editions as new ones arrive, remove or replace copies that are in poor condition, etc. However, each year the library also undertakes a major stock review to identify items to be withdrawn. Although a target is given for the minimum number of items that should be removed, the aim is to exceed this target to allow space for future growth.

The FLL explained that in the past this procedure has been based on Stanley Slote's method of identifying items for de-selection. Slote used the amount of time items remain on the shelf without being issued, and therefore presumably unused, to identify which should be considered for withdrawal. However, in 2006 the library was refurbished which necessitated a more extensive and pragmatic review. Based on the resulting shelf space available, it was decided that all items which had not been issued since 1 April 2002 would be included. Since then this cut-off date has moved forward each year which means that in 2008 any items that haven't been issued since 1 April 2004 will be included in the list of items to be considered.

This initial list is produced using the library's management system, Aleph. Any items which have appeared on previous lists are also highlighted. From this, further lists are produced in Excel which are tailored to specific academic interests and circulated to the appropriate academic staff. They are then asked to review the lists and indicate items for possible withdrawal or retention. In some cases the list will be reviewed by the library staff first and forwarded with their proposals. This consultation exercise usually takes place during exam time when the academic staff are not busy teaching or marking.

The reviewed lists are then returned to the subject staff who produce a final list of items to be withdrawn. Although some items may have appeared on previous lists or been identified by academic staff for withdrawal, the decision may be made to keep them. This may be because they are particularly large and only likely to be used in the library, or are key works that add breadth and depth to the collection. These final lists are then passed to the Customer Services Team to be split into search lists of items, ordered by the Dewey number, to be removed by the Library Assistants and then withdrawn from the system. This year I have been given a lead role in producing these lists after assisting another Library Assistant in this process last year.

Although at our site the stock review is undertaken during the quiet summer months, at our other main site it is conducted throughout the year focusing on particular areas of the collection. In the past, this did not pose a problem as there was an ALL for each subject area at each site to oversee the process locally. However, the recent library restructure means that this is now the responsibility of just one Faculty Liaison Librarian based at either site. It will therefore be interesting to see what effect this new cross-campus structure will have on this and future stock reviews.

Once the stock edit is complete, a statistical report is produced using Aleph to analyse the overall impact on stock levels. This includes a breakdown of the number of items reviewed and the number of items actually withdrawn within each collection subdivided by the main Dewey classes. This report is then presented to the Collections Working Group.

The FLL (ALSS) ended the session by explaining the role of the Collections Working Group. It is chaired by the University Librarian and is attended by the Assistant Director of Library Services (Central Services) ( formerly the Electronic Services & Systems Team)), a FLL or SL representing each of the faculties, the Bibliographic Services Manager (formerly Acquisitions), along with representatives from the Customer Services Management Team and our two smaller Health libraries. The Collections Working Group is responsible for reviewing the Collection Management Policy at regular intervals as well as monitoring the performance of our main suppliers. It also considers special deals and packages that are on offer from other suppliers and through JISC to ensure that our resources continue to represent good value for money. The group is also responsible for promoting our resources to our users by choosing the Database of the Month, for example, and advertising it via the library website.

This session was requested, in conjunction with the slots on cataloguing and ordering, as I wanted to see the life cycle of a book from acquisition through to deselection. Although there was some overlap between the three sessions, together they gave me a clearer understanding and deeper appreciation of the varied and often difficult decision-making processes which underlie our Collection Management Policy.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Twelve - Participation in Library Focus Group Meeting

Yesterday afternoon I was originally due to observe one of the Subject Librarians (Science & Technology) at the Enquiry Desk. However, as I have already had several sessions at the desk, I was invited to attend the second of two focus group meetings instead. Each year, students at both of our main sites are invited to give their views on our services and facilities in order to help us make improvements and plan our future provision. This year, to encourage participation, each student was paid ten pounds to attend. Notes and suggestions arising from these meetings are fed back to the Campus Library Management Team and the University Library Quality Working Group.

Before the session I met with the Faculty Liaison Librarian (Arts, Law and Social Sciences) and one of the Assistant Reader Services Librarians, to run through the discussion topics. These included:

  • the new fines scheme
  • our opening hours
  • the library collections (both physical and digital)
  • library training sessions
  • our comments and suggestions scheme
  • communication with students
  • self-service policy
The topics were split up between us and I was responsible for asking the group about our opening hours and comments and suggestions scheme. As we knew that library fines would be a contentious issue, we decided to deal with this last, unless it was raised by one of the participants, in order to avoid setting a potentially negative tone to the meeting. We were specifically briefed not to influence the outcome of the discussion and to act as moderators not participants.

At the beginning of the session we welcomed the students and introduced ourselves. The students were then asked to introduce themselves by stating their name, subject and year of study. Although there was a good spread of subjects and years within the group, all of the students appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties with no mature students present. The purpose of the meeting and our intentions for using the information gathered were explained. The group were also reminded that this was their opportunity to inform future changes and improvements to our services. In order to elicit honest feedback, they were reassured that all responses would be made anonymous in any final report.

Although some of our discussion points did not provoke an immediate response, most of the participants seemed willing to contribute once the discussion was underway. Subsidiary questions were therefore asked to try and encourage comment and to further explore any additional issues raised. Being an inexperienced facilitator, I initially found it quite difficult to come up with secondary questions which would not shape the course of the discussion. However, I soon took my lead from my colleagues and stuck to open questions such as, "How would you go about making a suggestion or comment about the library?" and "If you have previously made a comment or suggestion, how was it dealt with?".

Despite some of the participants being more vocal than others, no one in particular seemed to dominate or influence the opinion of the group. However, to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to speak, further comment was invited before moving onto the next discussion topic and at the end of the session each student in turn was asked to make any final comments.

Although the discussion was structured around the topics listed above, several distinct themes emerged:

Library staff and user education
Many of the enquiries that are dealt with at the Reception Desk are from people who either can not find the items they need, want to dispute their library fines or report equipment that is out of order. It is therefore very easy to be drawn into a distorted vacuum where all we apparently do is deal with problems from dissatisfied customers. It was therefore most heartening to hear the group's praise for the friendliness and helpfulness of the library staff and the enthusiasm with which they came up with suggestions for improvement. As the majority of participants said they felt comfortable approaching staff for help or to raise issues, the fact that some were not previously aware of the comments and suggestions scheme and that they can make appointments with subject staff didn't seem to present a problem. Those who had made appointments with subject staff or had attended our user education sessions were very happy with the help they received. It was, however, suggested that summary sheets could be produced for those unable to attend the sessions and that refresher training be provided for third years about to start their dissertations.

Opening hours
The participants commented positively on the new term-time 24/4 opening hours (continuous opening from 08:30 Monday to 16:45 on Friday) although some expressed frustration that, later in the evenings, library staff are not available and reservations can not be collected. As some students who have to travel into Cambridge come in early, it was suggested that the library open half an hour earlier on Mondays.

As anticipated, the main criticism was that there are not enough books to go round and that the loan periods are too short. The group were particularly unhappy with the 24 hour collection and the associated fines although, interestingly, the group were generally agreed that the fines structure was necessary to encourage circulation of stock. One person commented that they had given up using the reservation service because they once had to wait over a week for a book. Others appeared to resent having to buy their own copies of key texts. Indeed, there seemed to be a general expectation that the library should provide every student with the books they need with no appreciation of the constraints of funding and space. Given their apparent reluctance to spend lots of money on resources, I was surprised to learn that some students had purchased articles online rather than using the cheaper inter-library loans option, either because they found it quick and convenient or because they were unaware that the service exists.

In the Inter-library Loans Team we have recently received a number of requests for physical copies of available e-books from students who do not like using the digital version. I therefore found it interesting that so many of the students spoke positively about them and expressed a demand for more. I do, however, wonder whether this is because most of the participants will have grown up with the internet and digital media. This so-called Generation Y's demand for quick and easy access to information was also evident in suggestions that the digital databases are difficult to navigate and should therefore be made to work in the same way as Google Scholar. This implies a need to re-emphasise the importance of quality information sources over ease of access.

One interesting outcome of this discussion was a suggestion that the library produce a regular electronic newsletter highlighting new books, journals and digital resources that have recently been acquired by the library. This would be organised under subject headings and e-mailed to all students.

IT provision
The main issue raised was the insufficient number of PCs available in the library. There were some conflicting arguments about whether these PCs should be used to access social networking sites such as Facebook. Some students felt this should either be banned completely, only allowed during quieter periods or on a small number of standing height machines. Others, however, suggested that as these sites are used increasingly to support online study groups and to keep in touch with friends and family their use is legitimate.

The group were also critical of the number of times that the computer network has been unavailable recently and that they can no longer forward messages sent to their student e-mail to their personal accounts. Unfortunately, although these issues are the responsibility of Communications & IT Services, because the computers are located in the library they are perceived to be library issues.

Library environment
The majority of the students were very pleased with the recent refurbishment of the library and particularly appreciated the allocation of group and silent study zones. One or two, however, felt that the plain walls were too clinical and suggested that student art work be displayed to provide interest and inspiration. There was also a suggestion that the refreshment area be enlarged and, comparisons with the new entrance area at our other main site, suggest a demand for more social space within the library.

Before the meeting, I had expected to attend purely as an observer but welcomed the opportunity to gain some experience as a facilitator. This session served as an important reminder of the need to listen to our library users and to continuously adapt and evolve our services to meet their needs.

I also really appreciated the opportunity to engage with the students away from the Reception Desk and to hear their positive comments and suggestions. It was a real morale booster to be reminded that not all of our students are disgruntled or dissatisfied and that the work we do is valued. For this reason, I would recommend that all staff, including Library Assistants, are given the opportunity to attend future focus groups either as observers or moderators.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Eleven - Observing a Student Appointment

Yesterday afternoon I observed an appointment between the Subject Librarian (A&L) and a second year undergraduate student who was apparently looking for a general introduction to using the library.

To clarify exactly what the student wanted from the session, the SL (A&L) started by asking her how she currently uses the library. Her library account had previously been checked and a clear circulation record seemed to suggest that she had not used the library at all. However, this initial discussion revealed that she has in fact used our digital resources, but the books she has used have either been bought or borrowed from the university where her mother studies. As the student is about to start researching her dissertation, what she actually wanted from the session was to learn more about the resources on offer. This clearly demonstrates the importance of establishing the reader's previous experience and learning objectives without making assumptions.

Having established the aim of the session, the SL (A&L) went on to give an overview of the library catalogue, My Library Account, e-books, the digital library and inter-library loans. Throughout the appointment the librarian's tone was informal and friendly which seemed to put the student at her ease and encouraged her to talk openly and ask questions. Although on the surface the appointment seemed to progress quite casually and spontaneously it soon became apparent that the librarian was actually skillfully extracting the necessary details to tailor the session to the student's particular needs.

For instance, at each step she asked the student which resources she uses and why to establish her preferred learning style. This also enabled the librarian to discover what the student already knew. In the case of the digital library, this allowed her to focus on using the advanced search facility rather than spending lots of time on the quick search option which was already familiar. As the librarian went through the various databases on offer and demonstrated how they work, she encouraged the student to think of her own search terms to keep the session meaningful and memorable. She also paused at appropriate intervals to check that the student had understood and wasn't being overloaded with too much information. This also provided an opportunity for the student to ask more questions and to go over things again.

Throughout the appointment the librarian also gave her some specific tips and advice to take away and to consolidate what she had learnt. For example, she advised starting her research by searching different databases to ascertain which are the key texts, authors and themes. This would also help her to become familiar with the way each database looks and works. As the student seemed to prefer using online resources, the librarian also stressed the importance of using quality sources rather than relying too heavily on the internet.

Towards the end of the appointment she checked whether there was anything else that the student needed that hadn't already been covered. She wanted some help with referencing and so the librarian directed her to the Guide to Harvard Referencing which is available on our website and briefly explained how Refworks can be used to compile a bibliography. As the appointment time was almost up and the librarian had not personally used Refworks to any great extent, she advised the student to look at the online guide and to make an appointment with the FLL if she needed further help. This helped to remind and reassure the student that although the session was over, the library staff can be called upon again if needed.

As with the user education session I observed, it was useful to focus on the interaction between the librarian and the student and to analyse the underlying teaching and learning processes at work. I suspect that many students feel a little nervous about asking for help and admitting that there are things that they don't know. I was therefore particularly impressed with the skill with which the librarian used her friendly and informal style to make the student feel secure enough to open up and get what she wanted from the session. I am sure that the strategies that I observed during this appointment will certainly prove useful in my future career.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Ten - Ordering

This morning I spent some time with the Subject Librarian (Science & Technology) talking about the various factors involved when ordering stock items for the library. I asked for this session to be included in my shadowing programme as I had often wondered how the librarians decide which titles to purchase, how many copies to buy and which format to buy them in (e.g. physical book or e-book).

The SL (S&T) started the session by explaining how the budget for each subject area is determined. The overall budget for library stock is divided between the Faculty Liaison Librarians (previously Academic Liaison Librarians) based partly on student numbers and partly on subject knowledge and previous experience. The FLL then deducts an amount for set expenditure such as journal subscriptions, electronic resources and standing orders. The remainder is then split between the various subject areas, again based on both student numbers and previous experience.

To ensure that the whole budget is spent by the end of the financial year, monthly spending targets are set by the Acquisitions Team. Although these provide a useful guide, it is not always practical to order books evenly throughout the year. For instance, the Subject Librarians have to ensure enough money is left towards the end of the academic year when bulk requests are placed for key texts in readiness for the start of the following year.

Sources of orders
The library's Collection Management Policy states that the library's main aim is "to provide a wide range of resources, but with current needs and access to core materials and texts taking priority". The majority of orders are therefore placed for copies of key and essential texts as listed in the individual Module Definition Forms/Module Guides. Gaining access to these reading lists is not, however, always straightforward. In the past these have been requested from the appropriate academic staff but other pressures on their time mean that this is not always their top priority. The SL (S&T) has therefore found that it is often more effective to request reading lists from the relevant administrative staff in each department instead.

Once the reading lists are received they have to be checked as sometimes they include out of print titles or older editions. Sometimes they also include weekly reading lists which do not specify which texts are key, essential or for background reading. This not only makes it difficult for the librarians to know how many copies to order, but it also makes it difficult for the students to determine which are the most important materials to read. In these situations, the librarians have to liaise with the departments to try and source alternatives. This obviously calls for some diplomacy and underlines the importance of building effective working relationships with the appropriate academic and administrative staff.

Although the Collection Development Policy gives clear guidance on the number of key, essential and background reading texts that should be purchased, additional copies can be ordered where demand is especially high. A report is regularly generated by our library management system, Aleph, to highlight such items, i.e. where reservations have been placed but not fulfilled. Orders are also generated by a lost item report which lists items that have been overdue or missing for a specific length of time. These are not, however, necessarily replaced like for like. For instance, where an item is out of print the preference is to replace it with a more recent title which covers similar material. Out of print items are however purchased where important information is not included in alternative titles. Similarly, new editions are ordered to replace the old unless they contain valuable material which is omitted from the latest edition.

Requests and suggestions for new items are welcomed from students and staff. These can be written in the suggestions book held at the Enquiry Desk or submitted using the online recommendations form available via the library website. Academic staff will usually send their requests direct to the appropriate Subject Librarian. These items are normally purchased unless the cost is prohibitive. Student's suggestions are considered on an individual basis within the context of the Collection Development Policy. As the Vice Chancellor has recently placed an emphasis on increasing research activity within our university I was curious to know whether this would attract more requests from academic staff and consequently more funding for the library. The SL (S&T) felt that it was, however, too soon to predict what the impact will be.

Subject Librarians are also given the discretion to order items to fill gaps in the collection that are not highlighted by any of the above means. As each Subject Librarian is responsible for more than one subject area they can not realistically be expected to have an expert knowledge of all the subjects for which they are responsible. I therefore asked the Subject Librarian (S&T) whether she was required to have a degree in a science or technology subject and how she has developed her knowledge of the other areas. She explained that although her background is in a different subject area she has built up her knowledge of the collection and the different subject areas through dealing with student enquiries and communications with academic staff. This has given her a feel for which subject areas are covered well by the collection and where the demand for additional information lies.

Additional considerations
Because the library has a limited budget for purchasing stock items it will always, inevitably, be outstripped by demand. Considering which items to buy and how many copies to purchase is therefore only part of the story. The Subject Librarians also have to deliberate which format to select and how to manage the stock once it arrives to maximise availability. For instance, where resources are available electronically, e.g. e-books, these are likely to be favoured over print versions as they provide wider access, including off-site, to a greater number of readers. However, in some cases digital versions may not be suitable either because they are too expensive, can not be supported by the Digital Library or in the case of some subjects like art, the quality of the 'print' is insufficient.

Where the demand for specific paper items is particularly high instead of buying additional copies the Subject Librarians can employ a range of different loan statuses to increase circulation. For instance, they may decide to have a number of 7-day or 24-hour copies supplemented by a reference copy. Similarly, if items are prone to theft or vandalism or are particularly expensive or difficult to replace (e.g. out of print copies) they can also be safeguarded by making them available via the counter only and again using short loan statuses to increase circulation.

Ordering Items
We did not spend much time actually placing orders as I have previously witnessed parts of the process through shadowing the Acquisitions Team and through the earlier Cataloguing and Classification session. After going through the process of placing one or two orders I did, however, begin to appreciate just how time-consuming and administratively intensive the various checks and procedures are. Despite this, because of the manifold considerations outlined above, ordering is not something that can be easily delegated to non-professional staff. I am, however, hoping that my previous experience of ordering goods and services, processing invoices and monitoring budgets will prove to be useful preparation.

Although I have always suspected that ordering stock is not a straightforward business I had not previously appreciated the true complexity of the underlying decision-making processes involved. It soon became apparent during this session that our Subject Librarians, along with most other librarians in most sectors, face an increasingly difficult balancing act of weighing a limited budget against the demands of readers.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Nine - Observing the Enquiry Desk

As mentioned in an earlier post, today I was originally due to attend the cross-site Staff Learning and Development Group (SL&DG) meeting at our other main site. However, due to the recent staffing restructure, the meeting was cancelled to allow those affected time to settle into their new roles. Instead, I spent two hours observing the Assistant Customer Services Librarian (formerly Assistant Reader Services Librarian under the old structure) at the Enquiry Desk. The remainder of the time I was due to be at the SL&DG meeting will be spent observing a one-to-one appointment between a student and the Subject Librarian (A&L) on 15 April (see the amended Shadowing Programme Calendar under the Learning and Development section of this blog).

The first part of the session was spent going through the online enquiries which are detailed in the updated Shadowing Programme Enquiry Log (see the Learning and Development section of this blog). The Assistant Customer Services Librarian also showed me how to process an application from one of our students to use other academic libraries under the Sconul Access scheme. Although I have dealt with applications from students from other institutions wanting to use our library under the scheme, I had not previously been involved in the process from the perspective of one of own students.

Firstly, the librarian looked at the student's library account to check that they are in good standing with us, i.e. they do not have a history of losing items or unpaid fines. The band which applied to the student was then determined: Band A - staff and research students, Band B - part time, distance learning and placement students or Band C full-time taught postgraduates. Our official stamp was applied to the back of a Sconul Access card to verify that the student belongs to our university. The front of the card was completed with the expiary date of the student's registration and the appropriate band. It was then authorised with the librarian's signature and the application form was filed away. After the session the card will be sent to the student who can use it, in conjunction with their student card, to apply to use the library of any UK HE institution participating in the Sconul Access scheme. The student will also be reminded to check the list of participating libraries on the website and to make contact in advance of their visit to check opening times and conditions of use.

The remainder of the session was spent discussing the Assitant Customer Services Librarian's application for Fellowship, the highest level of professional qualification awarded by CILIP. Chartered members of CILIP who have successfully completed two cycles of revalidation are eligible to apply. The application consists of a personal statement, a current CV, a portfolio of evidence and two written statements of support. The librarian showed me the work he had done on his portfolio to date which included details of his particular contribution to local history and local studies in previous professional roles and in his own time. He also showed me the wikki he has developed on the local history of his home town in Scotland.

This discussion reinforced my belief that, even though I am at the very beginning of my library career, it is never too early to start thinking about Chartership and gathering evidence for a portfolio. Talking to each of the librarians I have shadowed about their previous careers and professional interests has also given me a valuable insight into some of the various opportunities that librarianship can offer and has prompted me to consider more seriously which sector of the profession I would like to enter and what shape I would like my career to take.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Eight - Cataloguing and Classification

Yesterday morning I was given a brief introduction to cataloguing and classification by the Subject Librarian (Arts & Letters). When I was comparing Masters courses, I was surprised to find that many of them no longer cover this area in any significant depth as these tasks are now largely automated and many library schools believe that specific classification schemes can be picked up on the job.

It is, however, apparent from looking at advertisements for jobs in the information sector that cataloguing and classification skills are still in demand. I was therefore careful to pick a course with at least one dedicated core module to give me a sufficient grounding in the subject. Although I have previously done some reading in this area, I struggled to make sense of the theory without observing it being used in practice. I was therefore keen for this session to be included in my shadowing programme to make sense of my reading to date and to help me in my future studies.

The Subject Librarian (A & L) started the session by showing me the full catalogue record for an existing item in our Library Management System, Aleph, and briefly explaining the use of fields, subfields and MARC tags. Although Library of Congress subject terms are used, in the past our own subject terms were also added which lead to some duplication for older records. Although cataloguing and classification was previously undertaken by individual Subject Librarians, in a move to improve consistency, it is now the responsibility of the Assistant Librarian (Cataloguing & Metadata) based in the centralised Acquisitions Team. There are, however, occasions when catalogue records are still created and amended by the local Subject Librarians, for instance when ordering new items, adding donated items and recataloguing existing items.

Ordering new items
This process was demonstrated using the example of a book about Chinese film. Firstly, the librarian searches the database of our main supplier, Dawson Books, to check that it is in print and available to order. The database can be searched using the author's name, book title or ISBN. Once found the Dewey number given by Dawsons is noted down. The library catalogue is searched to see what other items are held on this subject. The Dewey number from the Dawsons database is amended to ensure that when the book arrives it will be labelled correctly and shelved with similar items in our existing collection. To add a new catalogue record a template is opened in Aleph and the ISBN, author's name, main title and imprint of the book are entered. This is then saved and pushed through to the Acquisitions module of the system. A message requesting the amended Dewey number is added to ensure that the spine label is correct when the book arrives. The remaining details such as the budget code, vendor's name and quantities required are added to complete the order which is then submitted. The item will now appear on the library catalogue with a note to indicate that is on order.

Adding donated items
If the library does not already hold a copy of a donated item, a catalogue record is downloaded from the Library of Congress or the OCLC (Online Computer Library Centre) database via Aleph's Cataloguing module. The record is checked and amended to delete any superfluous fields. The Dewey number is also checked and amended as described above. The record is then saved and a system generated bib number is allocated to the title. A barcode is stuck to the item and it is added to the catalogue record as a new entry. The cutter letters, collection and loan status are also added at this stage. An acquisition grid is stamped to the back of the title page and the bib no., shelf mark and item barcode are written in. The item is then set to 'in processing' and is passed on to be correctly labelled before being set to 'in process' and put into circulation.

If an item needs to be recatalogued, the librarian will firstly check how often it has been borrowed. If usage has been low and there are multiple copies in the collection then it is likely that it will be withdrawn. However, if it is the only copy and usage is low, the librarian may decide to keep it in the interests of maintaining the depth and breadth of the collection. This is where the librarian's subject knowledge and experience come into play. If the decision is made to keep the item, a catalogue record is downloaded from the Library of Congress or OCLC database, as described above. This is merged with the existing catalogue record which is then edited to add and remove fields as necessary and to amend the Dewey number. If only a record relating to an earlier or later edition can be found, a general note of the original publication date will be added. Once the catalogue record has been saved, the item is added and the cutter letters are entered. Any changes to the collection and loan status are also made at this stage. Once all the changes have been made the acquisition stamp is updated and the item is relabelled before going back into circulation. If an item needs to be added to the catalogue in a hurry, the fast add function can be used to create a very simple catalogue entry. This can then be merged with a full catalogue record for the same title at a later stage.

The nature of the subject is such that I was only able to gain a very basic introduction to cataloguing and classification from this session and so it was not practical for me to have a go at cataloguing any items myself. I am, however, confident that having witnessed the theory being applied in a real-life situation has helped to consolidate my reading and will allow me to better understand the subject when I study it more closely as part of my Masters course.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Interim Review Meeting

This afternoon I met with the ALL (A&L) who has been co-ordinating my shadowing programme to discuss progress to date and whether my original aims and objectives are being met.

My main reason for participating in the programme is to gain a deeper insight into the role of the professional librarian before fully commiting to a Masters course in September. At our preliminary meeting we identified the following core activities to be included in the schedule as a means of fulfilling this goal:

Observation of the Enquiry Desk
So far I have observed four different librarians at the desk and have compared their different styles and ways of working. Although most of the enquiries have been fairly routine, I have still been able to collect a number of useful tips for working at the Enquiry Desk. As described in earlier posts, there were even a couple of ocassions where I was able to put some of these into practice to directly assist one or two of our readers. These sessions have therefore increased my confidence in dealing with routine enquiries at the Reception Desk and have equipped me with some valuable examples of best practice for use in my future career.

Assisting a User Education Session
Although I have assisted with several user education sessions in the past, I wanted to learn more about what goes into planning and delivering this type of training. I was therefore able to focus on the various factors that need to be considered such as: the type of students involved and the level of detail required (undergraduate or postgraduate? 1st, 2nd or 3rd year?); their previous experience (are they likely to have used the library before?, what resources might they already be familiar with?); the timing of the session (are they completely new students already overwhelmed with information?, have they already completed assignments and are more aware of the help they might need?).

It was also interesting to observe how the smaller group size and venue elicited a more relaxed atmosphere and a less formal style of delivery. This made it easier for me to get involved and help those students who needed further one-to-one support.

Visit from Graduate Trainees
When I first considered applying to Library School, I was worried not having followed a graduate traineeship might put me at a disadvantage to those who have. Talking to the trainees, however, I was soon reassured that I have had an equivalent, if not a richer experience working as a Library Assistant.

Comparing our roles it was apparent that most of our daily tasks, such as shelving and reception duties, are much the same. Although some of the trainees have been given additional para-professional tasks such as basic cataloguing and classification, my involvement in the Inter-library Loans Team and special projects, such as the stock edit, have given me a similar insight into professional tasks. Also, although the trainees participate in a programme of group training sessions and visits to other libraries, the Library's own Learning Hour programme and summer visits to other libraries have given me similar opportunities to learn more about libraries and librarianship in general.

I was equally reassured to learn that, although they were mostly recent graduates, many of the trainees shared my apprehensions about returning to study and my worries about finding a professinal post in the future. Through talking to other people with similar aspirations and concerns I was therefore able to re-evaluate the value of my experience and to rationalise some of my fears and insecurities about returning to study as a mature student.

Academic Liaison - Attending the Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Faculty Board Meeting and Course Validations
After shadowing the ALL (A&L) in the summer (see my Summer Shadowing Report), I was keen to learn more about what the role involves in practice. It was therefore suggested that I observe a Faculty Board Meeting which would also allow me to see the course validation process in action.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I was particularly interested in the comments made by the student representatives as these helped to explain some of the negative, even aggressive behaviour we frequently encounter in the library. The students aired their frustrations with issues such as IT network outages, changes to student e-mail and teething problems resulting from the restructure of the Student Information Centres. This seemed to suggest that tensions don't necessarily originate from within the library itself but from an accumulation of perceived failiures with our university's systems and procedures generally. These perceptions also seem to stem from the increasingly high expectations which are bred by increasingly expensive tuition fees.

The discussions surrounding these issues also suggested that frustrations can occur when students have not fully understood what is expected of them. This is a common problem especially when it comes to library fines. Often our readers feel aggrieved when we explain that the fines stand because it is their responsibility to check their library accounts regularly and renew their loans online. As one of the academic staff suggested, perhaps this highlights a need for our university as a whole to do more to make our informal expectations of students more explicit.

The other aspect of the meeting which drew my attention was the consideration of proposed new academic pathways as part of the course validation process. As discussed in my earlier post, I was surprised that some academic staff proposing these new courses feel able to judge the extent of their impact on the library's resources without actually consulting the ALLs. I think this highlights a need to raise the profile of the library and the value of the services that we provide which unfortunately seems to be generally true of all libraries.

Remaining schedule
The second half of my shadowing programme will cover the other areas that were identified as being core to the profressional librarian's role. These include sessions on cataloguing, ordering and collection development as well as more sessions observing the Enquiry Desk. I also plan to accompany the ALL (A&L) to the cross-site Staff Learning and Development Group meeting but as this requires additional time to travel to another site, it may not be possible if any other Library Assistants are absent on that day. If this is the case then the time will be given to additional sessions observing the Enquiry Desk and possibly observing a one-to-one appointment between a Subject Librarian and a student.

Another factor which may disrupt the planned schedule is the current restructure of library staff which initially comes into effect on 1 April. This means that most of the ALLs will become Faculty Liaison Librarians (FLLs) with cross-site responsibility for their respective subject areas. The ALL (A&L) is likely to become the Staff Learning and Development Manager which means that, like the FLLs, she will no longer be staffing the Enquiry Desk. As my final shadowing session was planned to be with the ALL (A&L) this is therefore likely to have to be changed.

So far the shadowing programme has certainly met and, in some respects exceeded, my expectations. I had anticipated that my involvement in the various activities would be purely as an observer but was delighted to be given the opportunity to get actively involved where appropriate. This hands-on experience combined with the enthusiasm and encouragement of those people I have shadowed has certainly boosted my confidence and helped to confirm that librarianship is the career for me.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Seven - Observing the Enquiry Desk

This morning I observed the Reader Services Librarian and the Subject Librarian (Arts, Law and Social Sciences) at the Enquiry Desk. I was due to observe the Subject Librarian (Health and Business) but unfortunately she was called away to another meeting.

Online enquiries
The online enquiries are checked by whoever is on duty at the desk at 09:00 and 17:00 each day. Many of the e-mails received relate to fine/account queries, problems with the library facilities or other reader services issues. The Reader Services Librarian therefore tries to check the inbox at quiet intervals throughout the day to pick up any issues before they are referred to her.

One of today's messages was from an oversees student who was trying to access an item that had been included on her reading list. The Library Catalogue and Digital Library were checked to find that it is only available in hard copy. An e-mail was sent to the reader to explain that the enquiry would therefore be referred to the appropriate Subject Librarian as it may be possible to have the relevant sections digitised and made available electronically. Although the Subject Team request copies of reading lists from the course tutors to allow them to check them and ensure that the appropriate resources are readily available, not all of them do so. Unfortunately, this frequently results in students coming to the Enquiry Desk for help to find items, either because we don't have them in stock or because the details on the reading lists are inaccurate.

Hands-on experience
During the slot with the Subject Librarian (ALSS) a reader came to the Desk as she was having some problems submitting an inter-library loan request using the OPAC. As a member of the inter-library loans team this presented an ideal opportunity to gain more hands-on experience at the Desk. The reader had received an error message to say that she was over her inter-library loan limit. There is currently no limit to the number of requests a student can submit and I was able to explain that in the past this message has been prompted because the need by date has been entered in the wrong format, i.e. DD/MM/YY instead of DD/MM/YYYY. As the student couldn't remember which format she used I took her through the whole process of submitting a request step by step to ensure that she hadn't input any other details incorrectly. It gave me a real sense of satisfaction to be able to resolve the reader's query and to hopefully leave her more confident in her ability to use the library.

User education and best practice
Like all the librarians I have observed to date, the Subject Librarian (ALSS) uses every available opportunity to educate our readers so that they can use the library independently. For instance, if a student says that they can't find a book she asks them for the shelf location to ascertain whether or not they have checked the Library Catalogue. If they haven't she will take them to the OPAC and tell them how to search the catalogue but will ask them to do the searching themselves. She then takes them over to the shelves, points out the shelf-end labels and helps them to find the item they are looking for. If the reader has already searched the catalogue for a book and has searched the shelf themselves, the Subject Librarian (ALSS) will check the full catalogue record to see how many pages it has. This gives an indication as to how big the book is likely to be. If it is a very slim volume, she therefore knows to check that it isn't hidden between two larger books or hasn't been pushed to the back of the shelf.

At all my sessions at the Enquiry Desk it has been extremely useful to pick up best practice tips such as these. During the remaining observation sessions I hope to pick up others that will help in my future career and to gain more hands-on experience.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Six - Observing the Enquiry Desk

Yesterday lunchtime I observed the Academic Liaison Librarian, Arts, Law and Social Sciences (ALL (ALSS)) at the Enquiry Desk for two hours. As the first hour was very quiet I took the opportunity to ask her about her previous career in Public and Further Education libraries. Having only worked in one library, and not having any fixed ideas about which sector I would like to work in, this discussion gave me a useful glimpse into other areas of the profession.

Customer care
We also spent some time discussing how she prefers to work at the Desk and deals with waiting customers. Like the ALL (A&L), the ALL (ALSS) tries to acknowledge anyone who is waiting and will use her judgement whether to ask the reader she is engaged with if she can deal with waiting customers she suspects can be dealt with quickly. If an enquiry is particularly complex, she tends to ignore the telephone but if she has just finished dealing with someone, she will answer the phone before moving onto the next person. The ALL (ALSS) also makes a concerted effort to educate readers so that they don't become dependent on library staff and gain the confidence to use the library independently. For instance, our students often don't realise that they can request items from our other sites. The ALL (ALSS) therefore tries to make sure that readers are aware of this and shows them exactly how to place a reservation.

Difficulties and recurrent issues
It was also interesting to compare common and particularly difficult issues that arise at both the Reception and Enquiry Desks. As our university has a high percentage of international students, issues frequently arise due to language barriers. Although it is sometimes embarrassing to ask someone to repeat themselves several times, it is important not to assume that you have understood or to guess what the reader is asking for. The ALL (ALSS) also explained that libraries on the continent are often organised quite differently and tend to put less emphasis on self-service and user education. This can lead to different expectations of library staff and perceptions of unhelpfulness, particularly for those working at the Enquiry Desk.

Other common problems relate to fine disputes and readers' behaviour, particularly with talking and eating in inappropriate areas of the library. In some respects it was a relief to know that even experienced and senior members of staff find these situations awkward and difficult to deal with. It was also reassuring, although also slightly depressing, to know that the often discourteous and disrespectful attitudes of some of our readers are not reserved exclusively for the Library Assistants!

What was perhaps more depressing than this was an act of vandalism that was brought to our attention by one of our Ophthalmology students. A whole chapter had been deliberately cut out of a brand new book. Like many of the Ophthalmology titles, this was a particularly expensive book which now leaves the Subject Librarian with the dilemma of whether to make all copies counter issue only, which will cause inconvenience to innocent students.

So far, my observations of the Enquiry Desk have shown me the positive aspects of the librarian's role and the rewards of helping readers to resolve their queries and to make the most out of using the library. This session made me think about the less favourable aspects of the role and some of the difficult issues that I am likely to face if I am to pursue a professional career in library work. I do, however, think it is important to reflect on this and to honestly consider whether I am prepared to endure the downsides of the profession. I am happy to say that, on balance, the rewards still appear to outweigh the negatives and I haven't been deterred from pursuing my goal of becoming a professional librarian.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programe: Session Five - Observation of the Arts, Law and Social Sciences Faculty Board meeting

Yesterday afternoon I accompanied the ALL (Arts & Letters) to the Arts, Law and Social Sciences (ALSS) Faculty Board meeting which she attends as the University Librarian's representative. I asked to observe this meeting as I wanted to learn more about the Academic Liaison Librarians' roles and their interactions with the academic staff and our university at large.

The Faculty Board is chaired by the Dean and is attended by the Associate Deans, Heads of Department, Programme Leaders, student representatives, representatives from the Students' Union, representatives from the Partner Colleges and Joint Venture Companies associated with the Faculty and other key members of Faculty staff. Representatives from central support units including Communications & IT Services, Registry, Student Affairs, Academic and Quality Systems Office, the Students Union and the Library are also invited to attend as observers along with the Faculty Administration Manager. Although the observers can contribute to the meeting they can't table papers for discussion.

The primary purpose of the Faculty Board is:
"On behalf of Senate to formulate strategic plans for curriculum development within the Faculty, including consideration of proposals for the development and location of new and existing pathways within the Faculty's remit. Faculty Boards are also responsible for overseeing the implementation of the University's policies and procedures for assuring academic standards throughout the Faculty."

The Board also tries to resolve any problems arising from the Faculty's courses that can not be resolved by individual programme committees, e.g. a lack of studio space and equipment for the arts students. If the Faculty Board can not reach agreement on a particular issue, then it is passed to the Senate (which is chaired by the Vice Chancellor) for a final decision. A recent example concerned staff who are employed by our Partner Colleges to teach our university courses but can't access the same digital resources as the students. This is because the user licences only permit access to current university registered staff and students. As it is a problem that can not be resolved internally, it was referred to the Senate who consulted JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) for advice. Many UK universities are experiencing the same problem and so JISC are currently in negotiations with individual publishers to try and resolve the issue. It is, however, quite rare for any issues to be escalated beyond the Faculty Board.

There was a very full agenda for the meeting including items such as the University Calendar 2008/9, Faculty Student Profile Statistics, National/Regional Initiatives and the Quality Enhancement Audit of the quality of Student Handbooks. For me, some of the most interesting discussions arose out of the issues raised by the Students' Union and the student representatives.

One of their main concerns relates to a recent reorganisation of the Student Information Centres which has led to changes in the process for submitting assignments. This has resulted in some initial disruption in students getting back their work after marking. For instance, one of the student representatives reported having received an incorrect fail mark because a marked essay had been lost and was having problems in getting the mark corrected. One of the academic staff present explained that there was a formal procedure for dealing with this and was surprised that the student was experiencing such difficulties. As with any large institution, there are always going to be some problems in effectively communicating the official policies and procedures to a large student body. It is certainly a problem we encounter daily in the library. I don't think this is necessarily because we are not doing enough to inform our students. Although we communicate the necessary information via our website, induction tours, welcome leaflets and notices in the library, we regularly come across readers who, even in the second or third year, still do not understand how the library operates. I have long suspected that the underlying problem is that often many students have never been in an environment were they have been expected to be proactive in finding out what is expected of them and in fulfilling their responsibilities.

Indeed, this very point was raised in a discussion surrounding the six week break at Christmas. One of the student representatives reported that some first years feel the break is too long and that it disrupts their study routine and momentum. Some were also unsure of the purpose of the break. As members of the teaching staff suggested, the vacation should ideally be used to reflect on what has already been learnt and to prepare for the second semester. There was also a reminder that details of modules and reading lists can be found in the course handbooks or can be obtained from the individual module leaders. Although I was astonished this was not already obvious to the students and that they were having to be spoon fed in this way, I was also not entirely surprised. I think that being proactive is a skill that needs to be learnt and, as one of the tutor's at the meeting suggested, perhaps more needs to be done to make our informal expectations more explicit at the being of each academic year.

Another issue which drew my particular attention came out of the consideration of proposals for new pathways to commence in September. As mentioned in my report of the Summer Shadowing Programme, I had already learnt of some of the unfortunate consequences of not consulting library staff when proposals for new courses are drawn up. I was therefore not surprised to see that under the heading of "Anticipated impact on resources for both the Faculty and Support Services" almost all of the proposals suggested "only a slight impact on Support Services in terms of use of Library resources". Although this might be true for each individual course, there seemed to be no appreciation that all of these "slight impact[s]" add up to a huge impact when several new courses are approved on top of the existing number of pathways available. I suspect that this lack of consideration is not unique to this institution and reflects a general need for all libraries to be more proactive in raising their profile and marketing the value of the services that they offer.

I found it very enlightening attending this meeting as I was able to better appreciate the direct impact that decisions made elsewhere within our university can have on our students and the service that we provide in the library. I had previously been surprised and quite demoralised at times when some of our readers have reacted hostilely, even aggressively, when I've tried to resolve routine issues regarding their library accounts or unforeseen problems with our services, e.g. temporary computer network failures. However, hearing some of the students voice their frustrations, I could clearly see how a culmination of issues across our university could easily lead to this build up of tension and a perception that all of our university's services are inadequate. I think this is exacerbated by the fact that students are now paying increasingly high course fees which may also account for the expectation that they should be spoon fed information rather than actively staying informed. In a way, it was reassuring to know that these are not issues isolated to the library, however, at the same time I think it poses serious questions about how our university deals with the increased expectations and changes in attitude that come with paying course fees.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Four - Observing the Enquiry Desk

This afternoon, I spent another hour shadowing the ALL (Arts & Letters) at the Enquiry Desk. Several sessions observing the desk have been included in my shadowing programme schedule to allow me to compare how different members of the Subject Team prefer to work and how they interact with the readers. I'm hoping that this will allow me to pick up lots of examples of best practice that I can use later on in my career.

For three of these sessions I have been deliberately placed with the ALL (Arts & Letters) who is co-ordinating the schedule, to give us an opportunity to discuss how the programme is going and to fill in some background information in preparation for particular sessions. For example, much of this hour was spent talking about the Arts, Law and Social Sciences (ALSS) Faculty Board meeting which I will be attending with the ALL (Arts & Letters) next week. An overview of this discussion and the meeting itself will be included in my next blog entry.

I particularly enjoyed this session as I was able to use my own subject knowledge to directly help with one particular enquiry. A reader is currently doing her dissertation on illustrations of fairy tales and was looking for a book by Marina Walker which had been recommended by her tutor. I used this book to research my undergraduate dissertation on Oscar Wilde and the Fairy Tale and know that it contains lots of photos and illustrations related to fairy tales. I also know that it is actually by Marina Warner and that we have copies of it in the library. We searched the Library Catalogue using the correct author's name but found nothing. I know that the book is called From the Beast to the Blond and we were able to find it by searching key words from the title. I was also able to recommend another of Marina Warner's books No Go the Bogeyman which I also recall includes pictures related to myths and fairy tales. As the reader was particularly interested in illustrations of eastern european tales, I was also able to suggest she look at the two Virago Books of Fairy Tales by Angela Carter. These include folk tales from all over the world, including europe. Although these two books are illustrated with woodcuts they weren't really what the reader was looking for but she was able to identify the names of a few eastern european fairy tales to help in her research.

I went away from this session with a real sense of satisfaction from having helped the reader progress her research and with a taste of the rewards that the librarian's role has to offer. Being able to put myself in the librarian's shoes also gave me a confidence boost and helped to confirm my belief that this is the career for me and that, although I still have a lot to learn, I might just have what it takes to become a professional librarian.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Sessions Two and Three - User Education Session for Film Studies Students and Visit from Graduate Trainees

Yesterday afternoon, my shadowing slot was split into sessions. The first was spent assisting the Subject Librarian (Arts & Letters) in a user education session showing first year Film Studies students how to make the best use of the Library Catalogue and the Digital Library. For the second session I joined the ALL (Arts & Letters) and a group of Graduate Library Trainees for an overview of our library's website and digital resources and an informal discussion over refreshments.

User Education Session with First Year Film Studies Students
This session was included in my shadowing programme to fulfil my objective of learning more about the librarian's role in preparing and delivering user education sessions. I have assisted in several of these before for both undergraduate and graduate students, lead by various members of the Subject Team. This involved setting up the PCs with guest logins, passing round handouts, helping anyone who is having problems keeping up get back to the correct screen, answering basic queries and helping to close down the PCs and tidy up the room afterwards.

The content covered in this particular session was very similar to the others including: basic and advanced searches using the Library Catalogue; using e-books; accessing My Library Account online to renew books, make reservations and book study rooms; conducting quick searches and subject searches using the Digital Library; looking at useful websites. The librarian also talked about using different search terms to broaden or narrow searches and trying alternative search terms, e.g. cinema instead of film. She also warned the students that while popular sources such as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) where fine for gaining an overview of a film and checking castlists, etc. they should not be relied on too heavily. Instead, they should be ensuring that they use good quality, authoritative sources such as academic journals and broadsheet newspapers as well as books in order to gain good grades.

Although this session was essentially the same as the others I have assisted with in the past, in some respects it was also quite different. Previous sessions have mostly been held in a larger room with between 15 and 25 students whereas this one was held in a much smaller room with only around 13 students. This gave it a more intimate feel which was also reflected in the librarian's slightly less formal style of delivery. Compared to the larger groups, this seemed to make the students more attentive and engaged with the session with fewer people surfing the net and checking their e-mails instead of following the demonstrations. The timing of the session was also slightly unusual. Given the content it would appear logical to run this session, as the others have been, either at the beginning of the academic year or in preparation for a particular assignment. However, these students had already completed their first essays. The ALL and Subject Librarian involved in designing the session explained that waiting until the students had completed an assignment without this training might allow them to better appreciate the relevance of what they were being taught and to identify those aspects of their information searching they find more problematic.

Although my role in this session was the same as it has been in others, I was much more focussed on analysing why and how it had been put together and delivered in a particular way. The intimacy of the surroundings also gave me the confidence to be more hands on in helping the students, particularly one girl who after the session asked me to help her conduct a subject search using the Digital Library. This helped me to put myself in the audience's shoes and to think about what their expectations might be and whether the design of the session had been effective in meeting those needs. It also allowed me to imagine myself in the librarian's role and to appreciate more fully that as an information professional I will need to develop a number of new and different skills sets, not least presentation and teaching skills. Rather than finding this daunting, it leaves me with a sense of excitement as the satisfaction of teaching and the potential variety of the librarian's role are the things that first attracted me to the profession.

Visit from the Graduate Library Trainees
Immediately after the user education session, I joined the group of about six visitors who are currently participating in a Graduate Library Trainee scheme at Cambridge University. They had already been given a tour of the library by the ALL (Arts & Letters) who was now showing them the website and digital resources available to our staff and students. They seemed particularly impressed by this as their own college libraries are still very traditional with the provision of electronic resources remaining the responsibility the main Cambridge Univeristy Library at West Road. Afterwards we went to the staff room with other members of library staff to chat over refreshments.

I initially felt a little initimidated by the Graduate Trainees as they were all working in some of the most prestigious university college libraries and were all young recent graduates who appeared much more confident and articulate than me! However, having recently been accepted on the MA Information Services Management course at London Metropolitan University, I was determined to find out if any of them had applied for the same course and whether they shared some of my apprehensions about returning to study. Most of them had applied and been accepted on the course at UCL or courses elsewhere so I was a little disappointed that I hadn't found any potential college buddies amongst the group. However, I was reassured that I wasn't alone in my anxieties about funding the course and the uncertainty of finding a job at the end of it.

I was also keen to find out how their experiences as Graduate Trainees compared with mine working as a Library Assistant. Many of them had been given specific projects to do, had participated in trips to other libraries and had attended regular training sessions together as well as working as library assistants. This helped to confirm my belief that although I have not undertaken a formal Graduate Traineeship, through my role working at the library, attending the library's regular Learning Hour sessions, participating in visits to other libraries, undertaking the shadowing programme and making the most of opportunities to get involved in special projects, I have had an equivalent experience. Meeting the Graduate Trainnees has therefore made me appreciate the value of my experience in this and previous roles and made me feel more confident about returning to study as a mature student.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session One - Observing the Enquiry Desk

Today my extended shadowing programme kicked off with a two-hour session observing the ALL (A&L) at the Enquiry Desk. A copy of the enquiry log for this session is posted under the Learning & Development section of this blog. This will be updated after each session spent observing the Enquiry Desk. Between enquiries, the ALL (A&L) explained how the desk is organised and how she personally likes to work there.

During the day, the Enquiry Desk is currently covered by all members of the Subject Team on a rota basis, each slot usually lasting two hours. During the evening it is covered by the Duty Librarian and on Saturdays by a part-time Assistant Reader Services Librarian who works on Thursdays and Saturdays. During the vacations the desk isn't staffed but there is a Duty Librarian rota to deal with any queries that need to be referred from the Reception Desk. This will all change after 1 April 2008 when a new staffing structure comes into effect which means that the ALLs will no longer be required to cover the Enquiry Desk. It is anticipated that a small number of Assistant Librarians will be employed to help cover the desk as well as providing general support for the Subject Librarians.

The rota system means that communication is very important in maintaining the level of professionalism and customer care at the Enquiry Desk. Changes to the rota, details of any user education sessions and special notices are recorded in a paper diary which is kept at the desk and checked by the librarian at the start of their slot. An electronic Calcium calendar is also maintained at the Enquiry Desk which is used to book appointments with the Subject Librarians. Only the librarians have access to this calendar through a personal log-in. Each member of the Subject Team indicates time slots when they are free to see students which are colour coded to easily identify which slots belong to which librarian. There are currently no service level agreements to dictate how many hours each librarian should set aside for appointments but the average is about four hours per week. Most of them prefer to put in recurring slots, e.g. every Tuesday between 10:00 and 11:00. It is, however, crucial that they regularly check these against their personal diaries to avoid any clashes with other meetings, etc. When a librarian books in a session at the Enquiry Desk on behalf of one of their colleagues they add the student's name, student identification number (SID) and brief details of their enquiry to the calendar. When the librarians add their availability to the calendar they can also set the system to send them a reminder e-mail a few days before each session. If the student can not make any of the listed slots, they are given an appointments leaflet and asked to e-mail the relevant Subject Librarian to arrange an alternative time. If the student can not wait and is particularly distressed then a call is sometimes made to the relevant Subject Librarian at the desk to see if they are free to help.

Diary management is evidently of paramount importance for those working at the Enquiry Desk but it struck me that there is some duplication of effort in the way in which diaries are managed. For example, the details that are added in the paper diary at the Enquiry Desk are similar to those that are put in the equivalent paper diary at the Reception Desk. Also, when the details of an appointment are added to the Calcium calendar they are also e-mailed to the Subject Librarian to help them to prepare in advance for the session. The ALL and any other relevant Subject Librarian are also copied in for information in case of absences. There are, however, plans to use the new Outlook e-mail and calendar system to merge these diaries into one electronic calendar which will also automate the e-mailing of details. However, as not everyone is completely familiar with the full capabilities of this software, some training and discussion is neeeded before this can be implemented.

As well as diaries, the librarians also use a Subject Enquiries Form to aid communication. These slips are used to record the date, the module title/leader (if applicable), a brief description of the query, the reader's contact details (e-mail and telephone number) and an indication as to whether a reply is required. The librarian taking the query will add the initials of the person they have referred the query to as well as their own initials. This pro forma provides a useful reminder of the details required in order to allow the relevant member of the Subject Team to respond to the enquiry.

Customer care
In order to be able to deal with enquiries immediately the ALL (A&L) opens the circulation system, the Library Catalogue, the library website and her own e-mail account at the start of each slot. The librarians often need to demonstrate how to use the catalogue and the digital library using the PC at the Enquiry Desk. As the reader sits opposite the librarian, this means positioning the monitor at an angle so that they can both see the screen which does not always allow easy visibility. There are plans to link a second monitor to the PC to enable the reader to see exactly the same as the librarian on their own screen.

It is the responsibility of the librarian who is on duty first thing in the morning to deal with any on-line enquiries. This often means referring them to a specific member of the Subject or Reader Services Teams. Again, other relevant members of the team are copied in for information where appropriate in case of absences. This is particularly important in this instance as there is a service level agreement which requires all enquiries to be responded to within 12 hours.

With enquiries coming in via e-mail, telephone and from readers in the library it can get very busy at the Enquiry Desk. The telephone will oftern ring while the librarian is dealing with a reader in person and often there will be more than one reader waiting by the desk to speak to them. It is important to acknowledge waiting customers whilst minimising the disruption to the reader who currently has the librarian's attention. The librarian therefore has to use their judgement as to how to best deal with these peaks in demand. This means having to assess quickly whether a particular query would be better dealt with via a one-to-one appointment and whether waiting readers should be warned that there is going to be a significant wait and and given the option of coming back later. It will be interesting to see how each of the different librarians manage these situations.

There are also many ocassions when the desk is quiet which gives the librarian an opportunity to get on with their other work. However, it is important that they do not become too absorbed and appear to be easily interruptable. This may therefore restrict the kind of tasks that they can do at this desk. The ALL (A&L) tends to take reading with her as this is easy to put down and pick up between enquiries.

As a member of SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries) the library keeps a record of the number of enquiries that are dealt with at the Enquiry Desk. SCONUL collects these statics from libraries in universities and HE colleges throughout the UK to allow institutions to compare their services and to inform policy decisions as their website explains. A simple table is used to record how many enquiries are dealt with in each one hour slot and whether they are non-subject queries (e.g. where is the photocopier?, I can't find a particular book) or subject enquiries (e.g. I need help finding articles for my assignment, I don't know how to use the Digital Library) and whether they were referred to the Reception Desk (e.g. to get a refund for money lost in the photocopier). Although these statistics are useful they don't necessarily reflect the amount of time and effort spent on dealing with each enquiry.

Personal observations
Whilst observing the ALL (A&L) it was interesting to compare working at the Enquiry Desk to working at the Reception Desk. Because of the grading of the Library Assistant post we have to work within clearly defined guidelines which means that whilst we can deal with basic enquiries (e.g. helping readers use the self-service machines, demonstrating how to renew items online, etc.), any subject enquiries and requests for help using the Digital Library are referred to the Enquiry Desk. There is therefore some degree of pressure on the librarian at the desk to be able to either answer the reader's enquiry or refer them to someone who can. Although many of the queries are common and easily dealt with, the librarian could be asked virtually anything. It is therefore important for them to be able to remain calm and think creatively on their feet otherwise our readers could be in danger of losing faith in their professional ability and in the library service as a whole.

This is especially important when dealing with readers who are feeling distressed or confused by the library's systems. For instance, one student came to the desk very frustrated as they could not find an article using the Digital Library which they found previously but had been asked to pay for. She was agitated and felt that the system wasn't user-friendly enough. With some careful questionning it transpired that the student had previously found the article online without searching via the Digital Library which explained why she had previously been asked to pay for it. She was shown how to conduct a subject search for the article and how to download it to her memory stick. This search also found another article that was of use to the student and which was available in the Journal Collection. The student therefore went away happy and confident of being able to conduct another subject search on her own. However, her frustration led to her citing several other instances of not being able to access the information she wanted and voicing her dissatisfaction at the service she had received from particular members of library staff in the past. The ALL (A&L) maintained her professionalism by listening to the student but not commenting on her criticisms of other named colleagues. Instead she kept the student focussed on the issue at hand and reassured her that help was always available either at the Enquiry Desk or through a one-to-one appointment. After being given the opportunity to voice her frustrations and receiving reassurance of the help on offer the student seemed happy and her confidence in the library service restored.

This inital session observing the Enquiry Desk has made me realise that as well as being an information profressional, the librarian also has to master the secondary roles of counsellor, teacher and ambassador of the library service as a whole. Rather than deterring me from wanting to become a librarian myself, this has helped to confirm that the role can offer the daily variety, challenges and rewards that I have been looking for and has fuelled my determination to enter the profession.