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.