Thursday, 12 January 2017

Here's to MicroAdventures!

First post of 2017 and the first for a very long time. There are a  number of reasons for this hiatus but two main ones. First my personal laptop died, a victim of old age rather than anything more malicious. Secondly I’ve been working to a stress risk assessment for the last year that requires me (for my own good) to leave work firmly behind me at 5pm. No evening working, no checking emails at weekends, no going anywhere near work stuff outside of 9-5.  And because I now rely on my work tablet for access to Word I have for my own well being avoided any professional activities other than those that fall within work time. I've now got to the point where I feel I don't have to be so rigorous with that separation.

I have of course continued to be busy. In June I attended the ARLG annual conference during which I managed to find some of my old enthusiasm for what I do, mainly thanks to the wonderful colleagues who reminded me just why I love working in libraries. I also organised cross service UX training and took the lead in a review of library spaces using UX techniques. I’ve been refining the library chat service and supporting other services across the university in implementing their own online chat. I’m also at the start of a number of interesting projects including introduction of the CSE standard and introduction of an enquiry management system. Throughout this all we are still continuously reviewing our services and processes, ensuring the teams have the training they need and identifying areas that can be refined or improved. 

 Outside of work it’s been a year of firsts. I climbed my first trad route in South Gower, I stayed in my first bothy in Scotland, where I also saw my first pine martin and climbed my first Ben. I bought my first property, held my first house warming and then adopted a beautiful ragdoll cat that has very much become part of the family. I learnt how to tile, created kitchen work tops from scaffold boards, demolished cabinets and have slowly started to create a home that reflects my style and personality.  And I’ve done nearly all of this with the lovely Ross supporting me and holding my hand.

This year will see more adventures to come. I hope to get fit, find solutions to ongoing injuries and start climbing again, stronger and better than before. I’m travelling to Australia to meet a new nephew, will see my twin for the first time in over a year and have plans to catch up on friends around the country. More immediately I’ve set myself the goal of improving my printing techniques and have already started with reduction lino printing using a home made printing press. (following Umbrella Studios instructional videos) I’ve set myself the goal of completing prints good enough to exhibit this year and hope to find someone willing to show them.  I’m also starting my first photo a day project, something I’ve never done before. I’ll post monthly updates of how I’m getting on with the months photos included. 

 So generally I'm positive about the year to come despite the challenges I know are still to come  and happier in mysefl than I have been for a while. Things are still difficult at work but to mitigate that Ross and I are planning adventures (#microadventures - sorry private joke) and I'm focussing on the things that make me happy. This year I hope to fill the blog with these things so hopefully many more posts to come.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Lessons Learnt - Webchat (Part One)

What seems like many moons ago I wrote two blog posts on setting up a new chat service at Bath Spa University. You can find them here and here.

Since then I moved to a new role at the University of Southampton and in doing so took on another chat service, one which was also still in relative infancy. I was tasked with making the existing chat a sustainable service in light of restructures and an evolving library service. Hard in any organisation but difficult in one as large as University of Southampton libraries. Very difficult in light of the fact that chat was popular, incredibly popular, compared  to most other libraries I know of. 

We are still moving through this process of change and while I have struggled with the task at times one thing I am certain of is that with chat we are offering a valued service that picks up questions that might otherwise never have been answered, or even asked.
During this time I have been approached several times by other libraries interested in setting up a chat service and have always been happy to share what I have learnt. I often point them towards my original blog posts and recently realised I should probably add a more updated version.  So here it is. Lessons learnt after over two years of working with online chat services. (Part 1)

First off technology.  I covered this in much detail during my first blog posts. Obviously things have changed. Some services have disappeared. Some have sprung up. Libraryh3lp, the chat service I’m most familiar with is still out there and has recently had a refresh with new features.  It’s also the one we use at Southampton. We see glitches with it, odd behaviour and delays in chats appearing that no one can explain but generally it does the job. If we were a smaller service with only a few users I suspect we wouldn’t even notice these bugs but with multiple staff logged on and sometimes fifty chats a day we do indeed see problems arise, even if our users never realise.  I still recommend Libraryh3lp to anyone wanting to start a chat service because generally there isn’t much between most of the library focused chat services. Libraryh3lp stands out in that it is cheap and in the two years I have been using it have always provided prompt and helpful responses to any questions submitted to their support team. Aside from our unexplained glitches the area it still lacks is in-depth reporting, making it difficult to gain anything other than basic reports. On the plus side the refresh did give us the ‘conference room’ an area on the staff side of webchat where the team can ‘chat’ to each other when logged on. If I was talking to my boss I’d say that it had enabled peer-to-peer support. In reality it has allowed a sense of community to grow between teams that are based across multiple sites, mainly supported by the swapping of envy inducing cake stories.

So with hindsight I would say that the technology is the least of your problems. The only thing you need for sure is permission to make edits to your website, a helpful IT support team and someone within your library service with a little bit of web knowledge. Yes, your chat box may not be the prettiest of things but actually getting things working is only the start of the battle. 

The  next issue I’ll look at is opening hours and staffing. I won’t go into the intricacies of our new staff rota, the difficulties of maintaining this across sites and teams and the challenges of engaging staff for whom chat is a new or relatively small part of their roles. Wherever you pull your staff resource from you need to bear one important thing in mind. If you are going to advertise chat between set times than you will save yourself a lot of bother further down the line if you consider it in the same way you would a new service desk. So that means not just considering a rota, but also, cover for breaks and absences, both planned and unplanned, and someone to manage all of this. Chat may never be big enough to be someone’s entire job but it will need resource just like any other forward facing service. It may be ok to rely on the good will of a few enthusiastic and willing team members but sooner or later you are going to find that this isn’t sustainable, normally around the same time you are under pressure for other reasons. 

If you don’t think you have the resource to advertise opening times then I’ve always believed it’s perfectly acceptable to provide a service ad hoc, as long as you manage expectations and make it clear that chat will be available on an ‘as possible’ basis. It may not be ideal but the nature of a chat service does mean that it’s very much a ‘here and now’ service. People like chat, but won’t necessarily miss what they’ve never had. What you don’t want to do is offer a service which you may have to reduce or withdraw. 

It could be that you have a team who log on when possible, or you could use one of the newer features we are seeing in chats – the ability to instigate a chat with a user browsing specific webpages. You often see these sorts of chats appearing when browsing commercial websites and they do offer an interesting way of offering a proactive chat service without the need to advertise ‘opening hours.’  We quite liked the idea of this but felt that given we do offer advertised hours and have an established and well used chat service we would need more resource to go down this route as an additional feature.
In Part Two I’m going to explore training and common problems we see in handling chats. Hopefully you’ll find it useful!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Hockey - Then and Now

A couple of weeks ago I rescued some books from our relegation pile - that's the rubbish pile for those outside the library world. I'm notorious for this sort of thing although usually I'm after maps or library ephemera to play with. This time the material was a little (not much!) more modern. 

The library was discarding books from the sports section and I'd found myself with four about hockey, including a 1962 copy of Hockey for Women and The Official Manual of The Hockey Association from 1966. I really just took them for general interest but after discovering a few photos that particularly tickled me I thought I would share. This post also ties in nicely with the Euro Hockey Championships currently being played in London and my own club's centenary coming up next year. Apologies in advance for the poor photos - I will try and retake them at some point.

When I first started playing club hockey I played plenty of games on grass and my club owned a set of the 'cricket' style goalie pads. Strangely enough these didn't encourage me to be a goalie and I stuck to doing what I did best - running extremely quickly up and down the wings, trying not to get caught off side. For me this worked until I discovered alcohol and hangovers - at which point I had to develop a little bit more skill to compensate.

Nowadays defensive players wear more protective gear than some goalies would have worn 40 years ago with full face masks and knee pads common in the professional game during short corners. Goalie kit is almost unrecognisable and most leagues insist on shinguards as a minimum for outfield players. Many will chose to play with protective gloves and mouth guards and those who don't do so at their own risk.

Goalie gear of old and below, a modern kit below
 (Picture from

This isn't to say we've all become soft. Composite sticks and lightening quick playing surfaces mean that hockey has become wickedly fast. In addition rules have been changed to speed up the game - offside disappeared years ago, players can now self pass from a free pass and set plays, such as long corners  have been altered to open up the game.  And that's before you take into account the levels of fitness achieved by today's athletes, surely very different from the line up of 60 years ago when women often played in long skirts and garters were recommended to keep up stockings. 

In the modern game balls can travel up to 90 miles/hour at short corners and even at the level I played at an aerial ball could do some serious damage if it made contact with an unprotected hand.  I can't imagine that most of the current English squad are even aware that once a ball could be 'rolled on' by hand and that it was possible to both stop and catch a ball during open play using your hand.  The hand stop method was actually recommended for short corners and the technique is described in length in the 1966 Hockey Coaching manual I have. Nowadays anyone attempting to stop a penalty corner push out by hand is likely to break a few fingers for their trouble!

The elusive roll on - a move I'd only been told about. 

Roll outs aside some training routines haven't changed much and I found a few familiar diagrams in Melvyn Hinckey's 'Hockey for Women.' However some fitness ideas from the books were a little more, um, intimate. Given my old club's ability to break into fits of giggles during training I'd like to see them attempt the wheelbarrow manoeuvre on the bottom without creating mass hysteria!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Summer Endings

So this summer I finally cut my ties with CILIP. It had been a close thing, I hadn't really made up my mind until the day the renewal was due. I had given it a fair amount of thought over the last year, normally around the same time I added another copy of Update to my never decreasing 'to read' pile.

Now I've gained a fair amount from my relationship with CILIP. I got an enormous out of completing chartership and have no regrets about putting in that time and effort. I was also, very briefly, a candidate support officer, have participated in numerous workshops and have been the recipient of a number of bursaries that have allowed me to go to conferences that wouldn't otherwise have been an option for me in my early career. Throughout this relationship I have grown, undoubtedly improved as a librarian and certainly become a more reflective person. Yet I now consider that relationship to be at an end, at least for now.

I could argue that the money is going to a better use. I have in fact set up a direct debit to the Trussell Trust in lieu of my CILIP membership so hence forth they will be receiving the twenty pounds a month that my membership cost me. But the reality is that I don't give enough to charity, that I could afford that £20 and more and so it isn't really enough of a reason for me to have left the organisation. 

It was after chartership that things unravelled. I wanted to be a mentor. But there were no courses and despite several attempts I struggled to get information from CILIP about how I should proceed. In the end I gave up and became a candidate support officer. Given the chance I suspect I would have enjoyed and embraced this role, but an unplanned new job and the consequential region change brought an early end to my involvement with CILIP regions and I simply haven't re-engaged since.

Around this time I became increasingly uncomfortable with the organisation itself. The changes to the board that didn't seem exactly transparent. The debacle over the name change that left everyone involved slightly bemused. The sustained lack of any real action as the public library sector is decimated. The senior official who told me during an interview for a bursary that they didn't understand the relevance of the maker movement to libraries or education. Not enough to make me leave in itself but enough to ring warning bells and make me realise that my views on the library world didn't exactly match that held by my professional body. 

I also started to wonder whether in fact my professional body, through it's need to support a range of information professionals working across numerous different sectors and skill areas, could offer me the support I need at this stage of my career. Certainly my decision has been influenced by the nature of my job, which requires neither my qualification or membership. The fact of the matter is that I manage people and customer services. I have a team of over forty and a diverse range of responsibilities few of which were covered by my LIS MA. My years spent in the hospitality industry stand me in as much stead as my qualification when it comes to customer relations and increasingly I'm seeing that it's the work place training that have allowed me to develop into the manager I am today. For that I have in the main individuals to thank - people who have been willing to invest in me as a person and allow me to grow.

But most of all the decision  is down to me. To the Updates left unopened and unread. To the pile of management books on my desk that I have yet to engage with. To the pressures I've felt throughout this year as I struggle with a job that at times seems so huge I've wanted to run back to Manchester. To my personal demons that have made me doubt my abilities and my reasons for being in Southampton.

I know I will re-engage. There are many things I want to pick up on professionally, including revisiting makerspaces and the ever evolving area of ebooks that I once knew in detail. But I want to do those things for me. I want to enjoy the learning and discovery again rather than feel it is something I should be doing because I have a responsibility to continue to learn. But first I need some time to just pause and think.

I'm not ruling out re-joining CILIP although it's more likely I'd look to other professional bodies in the future. But right now now my free time is exactly that and if nothing else I no longer need to spend even a few moments of it recycling yet another unread Update.