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, 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.