Sunday, 16 February 2014

Safari :An exhibition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat, especially in East Africa.

Being a good librarian I'd be amiss if I didn't start a post like this with a good old fashioned Dictionary definition. However, it was the famous Bear Hunt book that really came to mind when the idea of a Library Safari was broached, swiftly followed by the line  "Lions and Tigers and Bears..."

The name meant I'd heard it all by the time the day of the CILIP SW Library Safaris came round. Whether we were taking nets? If the library could expect a new Zebra print rug afterwards? Did I have a good pair of binoculars? 

But the fact is that these Safaris, an opportunity to  find out how libraries work and about the teams and people that work in and run them, were inspired. With five running across the region the attendees were given an unrivaled insight to what it means to work in information and library environments. 

On paper the Bath Safari was fairly traditional. More so than some of the other safaris.  Two HE libraries, a FE college and Bath Central. Academic and public, maybe the most obvious of the many information roles available. Certainly the roles that I was most familiar with when I first considered librarianship. After all, how many of us have been influenced by positive experiences in public libraries as children before recognising the value of academic libraries to our studies as young adults. 

Because the visits were so traditional I wanted to make sure my presentation (due to be delivered at the start of the day)  covered a wide range of routes into the profession.  If you are interested in this, a slightly edited version, (minus a slide with career history from my team) can be found on this Prezi :

In reality the Bath Safari turned out to be far from traditional. Starting at the heritage site of Bath Spa University the tourists got to visit what I consider to be one of the greenest and most creative of university campuses. It is also, in contrast to the site at the University of Bath, one of the smallest universities in the country.  This meant that the participants saw how, despite operating on a much smaller scale, the library provides 24/7 access to IT and study resources for students. With the safari coinciding with a CLA visit it was also a chance to broach the subject of ethical and legal use of information within the profession, something that for the newcomer can often be a minefield

At the opposite end of the spectrum the safari next made the trip over to larger University of BAth where STEM research is paramount and the explorers met with individuals in both non traditional and traditional roles. This included the team working on a project that will ensure  research data is safeguarded and preserved for our future researches and students. Also, they gave us Licorice Allsorts, demonstrating that all good meetings should involve cake or sweets of some sorts. 

From University of Bath we travelled to Bath Central Library, a city centre location that I had used personally while completing my Chartership portfolio. Highlights here included items such as a human skin bound copy of Machiavelli's The Prince as well as the extensive Juvenile collection in the stacks. Much of this collection, while not particularly rare or valuable, represents an insight into the book both as an object of desire and as a piece of literature, reflecting past social norms. More importantly the safari participants were introduced to the range of services offered by public libraries, including story time, children's services, archives, volunteering, audio books, book clubs and access to free wifi and computers. It was also here that, for the second time during the day, they were shown that the most obvious route into the profession, that is the post graduate qualification, isn't the only option available.  

Leaving Central Library we made a dash across a very soggy Bath (pun intended) to City of Bath College to meet with Naomi Elliot, Head of Library and Learning Resources, our final stop of the day. Here we all had our eyes opened to the range of services offered by an FE library including literacy support, in the form of the Six Book Challenge, learner support, through the provision of a  traditional library service, (books, magazines, IT, enquiry services) and technical support, including a IT support desk provided by students training in IT. We also had a demonstration of their online streaming system that includes the recording and storage of student performances and presentations.

As coordinator of the Bath Safari the only awkward part of the day was at the beginning. That period when people are arriving, drinking tea and coffee, and generally NOT TALKING AT ALL. It's so rare for me to go to an event nowadays, even as a relative new comer to the south, that I'd forgotten how difficult these situations can be. As such if I was involved in this  event again I would certainly find some way to break the ice at the initial meet up, possibly by the option to create name badges, such as is often used at Library Camps, or, conversely by a more structured meet and greet that would take us straight into the formal part of the day. 

With hindsight I would also factor in a break in the afternoon. I should have realised that anyone aspiring to work in the information and library sector would need regular access to tea. As a consequence by the time we reached City of Bath College everyone was desperate for a sit down and ready for a brew from the college cafe. Luckily this was something we were able to accommodate due to the fortunate timing of buses earlier in the day. I would have hated to impact on Naomi's enthusiastic tour due to the lack of tea!

I've yet to receive comprehensive feedback from the overall event coordinator. However for me, all the work and effort that had gone into the day was made worth while by a comment made as we left City of Bath College. It is this comment that I will leave you with, in the hope you will either be inspired to run your own Safari, or consider a career as an information and library professional.....  

"I am so excited about becoming a librarian now"

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Online chat in Libraries - the Practicalities

In the last post I wrote I'd got up to the point where we'd purchased our chosen chat service and had the web development team scratching their heads over how best to get it into the CMS. 

My role at this point was to work out how we going to get from a working system to a fully functioning service. The problems I had to solve can be summed up fairly succinctly by the 5 W's 
  • Why we were introducing the service?
  • What would be it's purpose?
  • Where would the service be provided?
  • When would we would provide the service?
  • Who would staff the service?
I should add that for the sake of simplicity I'm going to talk about this process in a linear, singular manner. The reality was actually that this process started months ago, back when we were talking to other services about chat. It has been the subject of much discussion, project reports and team work between myself, the E-Resources Librarian, and the wider Librarian team.  We knew from the beginning that the chat service needed to be owned by the service, rather than individuals and as such decisions were discussed at Librarian Forums with ultimate decisions being made by LMT. The wider teams were kept informed and involved through the trails and other communication throughout. 

The why and what had been answered months previously. We were introducing chat to improve customer services, it's purpose was to provide an additional communication channel through which our users could contact us. This was vital for me. We weren't replacing anything with chat, not would we ever force anyone to communicate with us in this way. Chat was simply going to be another option, a way for students to contact us at time and place of need.

Where we were providing the service was really done to the web team. We knew where we wanted it - we'd been told to make it as high profile as possible. However  the logistics of embedding the chat widget into the University CMS without it standing out like a sore thumb was tricky. In the end we launched with chat visible on the side bar of our Discovery service and on our 'Contact Us' page. We've had to wait for the customised web button for the library home page but that is in the pipeline.  

By far the most difficult decision was deciding who would staff the service. Talking to other services had shown that staffing levels varied with some using front library assistants, others only using librarians and several variations including mixed staffing levels depending on level and interest from staff. 
Based on our current enquiry handling we made the decision to start the service staffed only by our librarian team. The knowledge (although not the skills) to troubleshoot problems with our eresources just didn't exist consistently across the Library Assistant team. Training and development was needed to address this, not just for chat but as a service development need. However with the launch of chat already delayed once and our second deadline approaching, the time to put this in place just wasn't available. Nor did we have time to create the knowledge base and example answers that would ensure consistency across the service, regardless of who was staffing it. So we opened our chat staffed only by our qualified team, understanding that this needed to be reviewed. 

The when, or the opening hours was the next big decision and was largely influenced by resourcing. We had already decided that we didn't want to go down the route of consortium cover, such as is available through QuestionPoint.  We would staff the service ourselves. However as a relatively small service (actually, for a university, a very small service) staffing was a key concern. In fact it hadn't gone unnoticed by myself that the additional workload seemed to be a primary concern. We needed to find a balance between sufficient chat hours to create impact and not over reaching the Librarian team. Through examining our busy periods and looking at what others provided we decided on  core hours of 10am - 2pm and a further evening service between 5pm-7pm when a librarian was available. It was agreed that whenever possible we would log into chat outside these hours and that, most importantly, chat would be treated like any other opening times in that it must be available as advertised. 

So we launched, back at the beginning of January. Since then we have been working out the Hs that normally accompanies the 5 W's. This was h
ow we would monitor the service and ensure quality and consistency? And how we would use this information to take the service forward and ensure that it is both used and sustainable. That will be my last post on the the chat service, but one that will have to wait a month or two when we are in a better to make decisions.