missrachelsmith

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STOP PRESS: My top media tips

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Since 2010, one of the areas I feel I’ve really progressed in is writing. When I started working towards CILIP Chartership, this journey was already beginning – I’d written a few webpages from scratch and I’d pulled together the odd report. But I hadn’t really had any involvement with media and PR (although in a previous life I did quite fancy being a broadcast journalist, so I had a bit of background knowledge about this area). However, in terms of the Library’s reputation, this was becoming an increasingly important area for us…

In 2010 and 2011, the Library was regularly getting slammed in the student newspaper, for one reason or another (fines, damning comment articles, etc). In some ways, I can understand this – we’re one of the biggest University departments relevant to all students, and bad news is often deemed more interesting than positive. But the newspaper was also getting a lot of its ‘facts’ wrong, which was not ok, and the editors’ weren’t asking us for the Library’s take on anything they were reporting on. So a couple of articles published in 2011 were unbalanced and full of errors. Although the newspaper published retractions in subsequent issues, the damage was already done.

So when I was promoted in late 2011, I decided this was something that needed to change. We needed to be more proactive about getting Library news out there and build up a relationship with the editorial team, so that when they were planning an article about the Library, we could put our point of view across. I attended a training session from the University’s Media Office and then I got started.

Be proactive: write a press release

Now, we regularly release news about Library news, events and activities to the student press. I identify stories I think the student media will find interesting – so, new developments, interesting statistics – something that has a coherent narrative and will make a great headline.

Next, I draft a press release. Here are my top tips!

  • Follow your organisation’s guidelines. The University have a number of press release templates, so I usually start by choosing one of these to ensure my formatting is correct and I write the release in line with the Media Office’s guidance. If you work for an independent library: start by googling ‘press release template’. The University of Reading and the University of Leicester have some good starting points to show you how a good press release is structured.
  • Think about your audience. Write with them in mind.
  • Start with a hook. Ensure your headline and first paragraph hook the journalist and make them want to read on.
  • Be succinct. You need to make sure the writing itself is tight and interesting, rather than waffling (like I often do on this blog!). I aim for one A4 page maximum for the main body of the release.
  • Don’t be vague. Don’t leave your release open to creative interpretation, or assume that the journalist reading it will understand Library jargon. Make the writing as straightforward as possible.
  • Stick to the facts. The main body of the release should present the facts, rather than offer an opinion on them. Obviously you can focus on the more positive facts where possible, but …
  • … don’t leave out the negative. Bad news is fine, as long as you explain the situation and what you’re doing to minimise the impact on your customers. In fact, I usually find it’s better to be up-front about bad news, as at least you’re being transparent.
  • Include statistics. Both librarians and journalists love a nice statistic.
  • Always provide a quote. This is where you can offer an opinion! The rest of the release tells the reader the facts, but journalists usually want a nice quote from someone central to the story. Our quotes usually come from either the Librarian, or the Deputy Librarian.
  • Write the quote yourself. I used to ask the actual person who was being quoted to provide the quotes, so that it would be as genuine as possible. The problem is that often, senior management just don’t have time – so now, I always draft the quotes and then check it through with the person being quoted. It saves time and it means the quote fits in nicely with the rest of the release.
  • Try and make your quote sound as if it’s spoken. Journalists like to give the impression that they’ve spoken to the person involved directly, so try and make the quote sound quite natural. This part can be a bit more informal.
  • Pre-empt questions. I also try to pre-empt any questions that student journalists might have and include that information in the release, to make their job as easy as possible. When you’ve finished your first draft, read it through with your ‘journalist’ hat on, and try and think whether there’s any questions you’ve left unanswered.
  • If there’s a lot of information, provide additional details. I usually do this at the end of the press release. Then you can provide schedules, full details of statistics, etc, so that the journalist has all the information they require to write their story.
  • Say you can provide a photo. And give details of what the photo is of. The newspaper may or may not take you up on it – often they use their own photographers – but it’s nice to offer…
  • ... Or let the media know of potential photo opportunities. You could invite photographers from the newspaper to an event you’re running, or organise a media call for photographers to attend.
  • Finally, get someone else to check it over. You may need to get sign off from senior management, or you may need to run it by the central media team (I do both). But even if you don’t need to do that, get a colleague to check it over for you. A second pair of eyes is always good!

Then, send it out to relevant media contacts – if you have a central media team, they should be able to provide you with a list of contacts. If not, you may need to build up your own by getting in touch with the publications where you’d like the news to be featured to find out who is the best person to send it to.

Be reactive: writing responses to media enquiries

I thought I’d also mention reactive responses here. With press releases, you call the shots. With media enquiries, the newspaper does. If a newspaper picks up on a story which you haven’t released to the press, they may contact you to ask some questions or to get a quote from someone involved. A lot of the tips above still apply about writing style etc, but here’s my advice on dealing with media enquiries:

  • Know when the journalist’s deadline is and keep to it. These people have tight deadlines for when the article needs to be ready and there is no wiggle room. If the enquiry arrives in your inbox on Monday and they need the information by Friday, make sure they have it by Friday. In fact, try and send it to them by Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning if possible.
  • Answer their questions. It might seem a bit obvious, but they’ve asked you particular questions because they want to know the answers.
  • Let them know who they can quote. If they want to use any of the text you’ve provided as a quote from someone in the library, let them know who they can quote. Again, I usually pick the Librarian or Deputy Librarian.

So how does this work in practice?: Fines Friday

Last year, the Library decided to donate one day’s fines revenue to charity for the first time – a perfect media story. We also asked students to vote for which charities the money would go to. So I drafted a press release in association with the student charity committee, which along with the rest of the publicity, was released a week before Fines Friday:

Fines Friday press release

There was immediate interest from the student newspaper (here’s where we get into the reactive part!). An issue was going to be published just a couple of days after Fines Friday, and they wanted to know the total money raised so they could include it as part of the story, as well as the results of the student charity vote. I closed the charity vote late on Friday afternoon and sent the results over, and our Systems Manager checked the fines totals first thing on Saturday morning and sent that to the journalist too.

This was the resulting news story on Page 3 of that issue:

Library donates day of fines to charities

I was really pleased with how this turned out. We also had great media coverage over the course of 2012 about Library 24/7 and building developments. And best of all, the student newspaper has also started to contact us when they’re planning to publish other Library stories, which I’m really happy about. And at the moment, I’m hoping that the next issue of the student newspaper will include a story about our progress towards Customer Service Excellence, our performance in 2012, and the introduction of a number of Key Performance Indicators. So it’s onwards and upwards!

Written by missrachelsmith

February 10, 2013 at 18:17

Posted in Librarianship, Marketing

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Organising ‘Marketing Libraries’

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Earlier this month,  I organised a one day training event on behalf of the CILIP Career Development Group North Eastern division committee. The day was entitled ‘Marketing Libraries : Strategic and Creative Communications for Information Professionals’. When the committee first came up with the idea of running an event on marketing, I found myself accidentally volunteering (one of my favourite hobbies) to take the lead on organising the day. Given that my job centres around communications and marketing, it seemed a little unfair not to help out!

Someone suggested the University of Sunderland’s strategic marketing workshop, and I was keen for the rest of the day to cover practical areas of library marketing and look at some of the toolkit steps being used creatively in different library contexts. So I contacted speakers, organised a venue, developed the programme – and co-ordinated other members of the committee who handled advertising the event, the booking process and payment.

And you know what? Marketing Libraries was the first time I’d done any of that stuff. I’ve organised training sessions before – I do it pretty much weekly at my Brownies group. Organising events is part of my role (I’m currently juggling six separate induction fairs over the next two weeks! I might try to blog about that). But I’ve never organised a professional development event before on that sort of scale.

So how did it all go? Well, the preparations for the day took longer than I expected. You know, organising the timings and writing the programme for a training day actually takes quite a while, because you have to make executive decisions on things like how long each session will last, when people will want breaks, which order the presentations should go in, etc etc. And then after you’ve done all that you still have to make sure the booking process and costs are sorted, write some vaguely attractive sounding blurb and make sure all the speakers are happy with how you’ve presented them and their session, before you can even tell potential participants that the event is taking place!

This ‘not really accounting for the time things would take’ thing continued into the days before the conference, when I suddenly realised there were lots of little jobs to do, like making sure the room was correctly laid out, buying gifts for the speakers, printing the event handouts, finding name badges… there is a lot of work that goes into a training day that you just don’t realise as a delegate attending. I think at future events I’ll definitely be more appreciative of the effort that goes on behind the scenes.

On the day itself? Well, everything went well on the whole (apart from when the projector decided randomly to time out twice throughout the day – why does technology never behave?). Although I was concentrating on making sure the event was running smoothly, the sections of the workshops and presentations I did catch were really interesting. Myself and Aude, the committee’s Secretary, shared the job of introducing the speakers throughout the day, which was probably the most terrifying part of all – having the confidence to speak to large groups of people is  something I need to work on.

All in all, I get the impression that delegates seemed to enjoy the training day and took some useful information away from it – job well done. And the CDG North Eastern committee are satisfied that the event was successful and profitable, so I’m happy about that.

All that’s left now for me to do is look at the course feedback, and write a review for CILIP about how the day went. So I haven’t finished organising Marketing Libraries just yet!

Written by missrachelsmith

September 23, 2012 at 15:31

Building an infographic

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I spend a lot of time building awareness of Library resources, services and facilities. And for the last few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of my time working on building awareness about, well, buildings. Over the last couple of years, all of our libraries have been undergoing redevelopment work and the end is in sight for the current phase of the Main Library development project. After the refurbishment of our entrance level in 2011, a new four storey extension is due to open in April. Offering 500 additional study spaces and increasing the size of the Main Library by 42%, the £11 million East Wing is a big thing to communicate…

At the moment, we’re focusing on trying to raise awareness amongst our internal audiences primarily (University students and staff) about the East Wing opening in April, and what benefits that will bring for their study, research and teaching. As well as telling students about the great new facilities the East Wing will provide, with the backdrop of £9000 tuition fees being charged from the the 2012-2013 academic year, we need to demonstrate value for money. We’re using lots of methods to try and get this information across, including working with student media, writing articles for staff publications, social media, our webpages, digital displays… but I’ve decided to go for a something different in terms of printed materials. The thing I’d really like to post about this week is the infographic I’ve created to try and illustrate to the University community the benefits the East Wing will bring to them…

 East Wing in Numbers

How did I go about building the infographic? Well first, I looked at the facts and figures available about the East Wing. The key information I was aiming to get across was the size of the extension and what it means in terms of study facilities. When you’re talking about floor space, 12,400 square metres is quite hard to visualise. But 3 football pitches really serves to illustrate this. I tried to draw attention to the additional study spaces and the increase in study rooms by making these part of images of study tables and doors, respectively. I also looked at the length of shelving provided by the East Wing and decided to compare this to the most iconic building in the city, Durham Cathedral (the Main Library has fantastic cathedral views!). Then I used a combination of images already created (such as the architects’ floor plan of the extended building) and graphics I created myself using a combination of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop Elements and put these together into an A3 document using Adobe InDesign.

We’ve had some really great feedback from the Vice Chancellor, which is brilliant, because the VC is obviously an important stakeholder. As well as sending this to all colleges and departments, the Librarian wants large versions on the hoardings at the breakthrough areas to the new extension and potentially a pull-up banner as well (one of my jobs for next week!).

I’ll be interested to analyse whether this is successful way of communicating this message more widely to University staff and students. And as for that, I’ll have to wait and see!

Written by missrachelsmith

March 3, 2012 at 20:57

New Year, new job

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So it’s been a while. You know how it is – life takes over. Blogging and Chartership work haven’t really been at the top of my to do list. Outside of work, there’s a lot of family drama unfolding. I’m pleased to say though that things are looking much more positive as far as work’s concerned. Back in November, I had an interview for the post of Communications and Marketing Officer for Durham University Library and Heritage Collections. And I got the job!

My new role is to continue and develop Durham University Library’s communications processes. I am responsible for ensuring that we deliver clear, consistent and effective information about Library and Heritage Collection resources, services and developments to internal and external audiences. Planning, managing and developing promotional campaigns, publicity materials and events from initial concept to final production are part of my duties. I’m going to be advising and supporting our Web Steering Group and scoping potential mobile applications. I will be heading up collecting feedback, evaluating how effective our services are at meeting customer needs and responding to the National Students Survey results. I also have some responsibility for internal communications.

That’s what the job description says.

I’ve come back to work after Christmas to a series of introductory meetings and I’m using January to review, plan and prioritise. And at the very start of this process, what I’m already starting to realise is that it’s a big job. I’m managing marketing and communications for 5 libraries, one of which is just about to open a £10 million pound extension in April. So far, so at least kind of within my comfort zone. I’ve worked in the Library for two years and I’ve been involved in all of our major campaigns and publicity activities. I have been a student at the University. I know what we offer as a library service, I know our main customer group and I’m confident I can promote what the Library does to our different audiences.

But as well as the libraries, I’m responsible for effectively marketing our archives and special collections. There’s also the small matter of our growing special collections gallery space, which will be hosting the Lindisfarne Gospels in 2013. And then there’s the two university museums. And all of the outreach work that goes with this.

I’m really excited to have been offered the promotion. It’s definitely going to be a challenge and a job that I can hopefully do some really interesting things with. It’s my first ‘professional’ level post, and my first ‘graduate’ job. And I’ve managed to get it without postgraduate qualifications in either librarianship or marketing. I feel massively lucky that my colleagues have recognised that I work hard, that the standard of work I produce is good and that I’m capable at handling whatever’s thrown at me.

But with the very serious concerns I have for my family, who are falling apart over 300 miles away, I can’t help but feel that a lot is being thrown at me right now.

2012 is certainly going to be interesting…

Written by missrachelsmith

January 15, 2012 at 12:09

Public libraries: 3 big changes

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Two weeks ago, I headed back to the town where I grew up on the south coast to spend three days working at a large public library. As a child, I used the library to take part in the summer reading challenge, and as a teenager, to revise for my GCSEs and A levels. I hadn’t been to the public library for a while, and as I woke up at my parents’ and walked to the library in the pouring rain on my first day of the placement, I wondered whether I would find it as I remembered it. There’s a lot of talk in the news and in the industry press about public library budget cuts and I was interested to find out how that was affecting the library and the services it offers. And I was intrigued to see what it was like to be behind a public library counter, rather than in front.

Whilst I was revisiting my old life, I found a library service which was changing and moving to new ways of working. These were the key points of change I picked up on during my time at the public library:

1. Budget

The budget the public library is operating on is massively and rapidly reducing. The county council library service had to make £1 million of savings in the last financial year and they’re looking at making the same cost saving this year as well. To do this, the library was attempting to save money where possible and had implemented lots of little income streams, such as asking people to pay to hire meeting rooms, selling greetings cards and auctioning rarer books for disposal. This was a difference between the public library and the university library, where I work, that I wasn’t expecting. Traditionally, libraries are seen as a ‘free’ service (although they’re not, of course. Customers pay for the public library service through their council tax and for the university library through their ever-increasing course fees). Beyond simply borrowing a book, there wasn’t much you could do in the public library which was free. This seemed a little sad from a customer perspective, but from the perspective of the public library’s tightening budget, necessary.

2. Staff and structure

The county council library service had recently undergone a major restructure in terms of staffing and structure. The public libraries throughout the county had been organised into tiers, determining their opening hours and levels of staffing. After the tiers came a major staffing restructure in March 2011. Collection management was centralised, whilst specialist roles such as the children’s librarians, reference librarians and community librarians were spread throughout the library service, working with a number of different branches. The remaining staff within the branches worked in front-line or management roles and were directly engaged with running the library they were based in.

It was interesting to talk to staff about the restructure and how it had impacted upon their jobs and the service that the library offered. I came away with the feeling that the staffing structure was becoming leaner, that several jobs had been lost, and that even visiting six months down the line, a few of the creases had yet to be ironed out. However, the public library staff seemed to be making the best of it and making it work. I was really impressed by the positive attitude demonstrated by all of the staff I met in the face of such big changes to their established ways of working.

3. Service

The public library is currently preparing for another big change – they’re moving to self-service and RFID in November. This will mean an entire new customer service desk layout in the entrance level to the library, which houses the circulating stock out on the open shelves. Transactions will be handled by RFID machines, which will allow customers to borrow and return items, as well as check their Library record and renew items. There will be a small visitor desk created which will handle library registrations and enquiries, but on a much reduced scale.

I’ve seen RFID in action at a public library in the North East, and it’s spangly technology – the way that the self-service machines recognise a stack of items is pretty magical. The new kit will certainly have the wow factor, but it will mean a shift in the way customers experience the library service. I think that the word ‘service’ implies a personal element, rather than a machine. The library I work in operates on a self-service model and I feel that although it works well in terms of handling the volume of customers we see, we’re constantly trying to get across to students that Library staff are approachable and that we’re (as one of our ‘identities’ says – we don’t call it a logo, otherwise Marketing are down our throats!) here to help. The public library is a public service; by moving towards using RFID, the human element will be reduced and I think that’s a really important part of what public libraries do.

Bearing the first big change that the public library is up against in mind, and the fact that the public library is looking to save a million pounds before the end of the financial year, the move to self-service also rings alarm bells. Will this decision make the impact of budget cuts upon staffing even more drastic?

Over the next year, I’m going to attempt to revisit the public library to see how self-service works in practice and how staff are adjusting to this. I’m also going to try to monitor what the local press is reporting about what’s going on at the public library.

It’s true that change is inevitable, but not all changes are necessarily for the better. It will be interesting to see what kind of changes lie ahead for the public library and what kind of challenges and opportunities they bring.

Written by missrachelsmith

October 7, 2011 at 15:50

In the clink

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Prison is one of those places I never thought I’d go to. I don’t really fancy life behind bars and I hope I’ll never have cause to visit any of my family or friends there either, you know? But some librarians work in Her Majesty’s Prisons around the UK. In fact, the closest library to the library where I work is a prison library. A Category B men’s prison, the jail serves the local courts and has a high prisoner turnover rate. I arranged to visit for the day to find out more about what prison libraries and librarians do…

Security

Perhaps it’s a bit obvious, but the biggest difference that struck me about my time at the prison library was the importance of security. In prison, everything revolves around it. Walking to the library, we travelled through pairs of locked doors every few metres around the prison buildings. Alongside the librarians, prison officers assigned to the library were present at all times to ensure the security of both library staff and prisoners. Due to their customer group, stealing of library property was an issue and prisoners are unable to access the internet, word processing software or printing facilities. Security issues also extended to the stock that the library offered. There are a number of banned items and subjects which you won’t find in the prison library’s collection, from the obvious – books about bombmaking, for example – to the ones you wouldn’t have thought of, like the Igguldens’ Dangerous Book for Boys.

Customer journey

This heightened awareness of security stretched to the customer experience of using the library. The customer journey begins when the prisoner fills out an application form, or ‘app’ to visit the library. Each wing has appointed times when library officers collect those who have filled out an app. The prison officer takes the men to the library for around half an hour and then the group are escorted back to their accommodation or their next activity. I found it interesting that the customer experience of using the prison library begins sometimes days before their visit. This had its own unique set of problems – sometimes when called to go to the library, the men are busy, for example. If prisoners forget to fill out a library app or are unavailable when the library officers come to collect them, they are unable to return their books on time. These were issues that library staff were debating on the day I visited and I hope they continue to investigate ways to resolve this.

Prison libraries and public libraries

Something that I found surprising was the close relationship between the prison libraries and the public libraries in the area. The library service, like the educational provision in the prison, is tendered out. The county council currently provides library services to the prison and the library staff are employed and managed by the council. Therefore, there were a number of crossover points – one of the part-time librarians working at the prison also works for the main public library in the city and the prison and public libraries use the same library card system. The prison libraries in the county use the same library management system as the public libraries and borrow books from there. This close relationship between the services means that data protection is paramount. Library Orderlies (prisoners who work within the prison library) can use the library management system, but can’t access any information on patrons within the public library network. Similarly, only very basic information – surname, current cell and prisoner number – is held on the library management system about the prison library’s customers.

Although I wasn’t aware that the two systems were so closely linked in my area, it appeared that this had a number of benefits – the library is able to provide access to a wide range of material, and there is continuity between the service provided within the prison and libraries within the local area.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I turned up at the prison gates, but I found the atmosphere within the prison to be calm and controlled, and the prisoners seemed to respect and value the service that the library offered.

I’m not sure that prison libraries are for me, but it’s not so bad in the clink.

Written by missrachelsmith

September 15, 2011 at 09:44

Library Day in the Life Round 7

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This week, I’ve been taking part in the seventh round of the Library Day in the Life Project, where librarians and information professionals around the world tweet and blog about what they do. As I’ve been stretched for time this week, both in work and out, I haven’t had enough time to blog properly, but here is a round up of my #libday7 tweets for your perusal…

Monday 25th July

Spent my first two hours of my day on the helpdesk, serving customers and ploughing through a history reading list #libday7
 
Sorting out attending North East Communications and Marketing Group meeting and ILM Award in Team Leading training in Oct/Nov #libday7
 
Amended designs this year’s induction freebies for Freshers Fair and emailed printing company for revised quotes #libday7
 
Investigated and followed up on user’s query about broken PDF links #libday7
 
Spent most of my afternoon scanning book chapters about Thatcher, urban decay and sex work. Not all in the same chapter! #libday7
 
Blitzed through a chemistry reading list in double quick time… #libday7
 
Just blogged: CPD23: Talkin’ about Things http://t.co/oDqvJ9F #libday7
 
Tuesday 26th July
 
Started my day by editing and sending off our news from member libraries submission for the next issue of SCONUL update #libday7
 
Proofed inserts for our handy guide wallets for new students #libday7
 
First attempt at using SwishMax to create slides for our new digital signage… now looking at opening hours guides for next year #libday7
 
Review meeting of our customer service training this afternoon – met with the other trainers to discuss and tailor sessions #libday7
 
Finishing my afternoon on the returns desk… and then home! #libday7
 
Wednesday 27th July
 
After quickly catching up with my emails, starting my day with a spot of scanning, dabbling in digitisation… #libday7
 
On the returns desk for an hour before lunch. Usually very quiet so I’ve brought an English reading list with me #libday7
 
So busy this afternoon that I forgot all about #libday7 tweeting! Sorted two Chartership visits/work experience placements…
 
Spent quite a bit of time mocking up a testimonials page for repository and attempting coding (badly) #libday7
 
And rounded off my working day by finishing draft of opening hours guides for 5 library sites and sent to library services manager #libday7
 
Thursday 28th July
 
Started my day dealing with quotes for wall planners, as well as raising a requisition for our door dial freebies for freshers fair #libday7
 
Just finished checking an English reading list, onto investigating using Google Calendar to manage our opening hours webpages #libday7
 
Quite a successful library treasure hunt planning meeting with @victoriahedley1, now time for tea! #libday7
 
Met with Library Services Manager to discuss instructions/publicity for new photocopiers, opening hours & the new reference library #libday7
 
Just blogged: CPD23: Organising opening hours http://bit.ly/qqGqQD and the end of my #libday7 Thursday!
 
Friday 29th July
 
Just edited webpages, wrote news story & blog post, updated social media and created & distributed notices about new photocopiers #libday7
 
@_froglette_ It’s Library Day in the Life Round 7 (or #libday7) – librarians around the world are tweeting/blogging about what they do!
 
Quickly proofed our A5 Handy Guide, which is just about to go to print #libday7
 
Followed up on actions from yesterday’s Treasure Hunt planning session #libday7
 
Spent two hours on the help and information desk, mainly fielding special collections questions, as the network is down! #libday7
 
Spent the last hour or so of my #libday7 tying up loose ends – re-editing opening hours guides, editing testimonials page, reading lists…
 
Followed up a missing book query from a customer earlier and wrote to do list for when I arrive back from my holiday #libday7
 
A busy week!

Written by missrachelsmith

July 29, 2011 at 17:05

Service!

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(I watch far too many reality TV cooking programmes.)

I’ve been thinking about service levels and customer service quite a lot recently. I’ve always been passionate about good customer service – I began my working life on a bakery counter aged 15, and I learnt that being polite, friendly and informative in my approach to front-line services gave the customer a better experience and made doing the job a whole lot more worthwhile. Granted, there are differences between selling doughnuts and finding academic information, but in essence, the way I went about serving customers then is more or less exactly the same now I work in a library:

Rachel’s Golden Rules of Customer Service

-          Make eye contact

-          Smile

-          Greet your customer (I think the word ‘Hello’ makes the world go round)

-          If you can deliver on their request – that’s great.

-          If you can’t help, but someone else in the library can, make sure you pass your customer on to the correct colleague (make sure you know who knows what). And follow it up – did your colleague respond to the query? Or do you need to consult someone else?

-          If your service can’t meet a customer’s request, suggest an alternative. An example of this – as a library, we don’t buy used textbooks from students. But I know that the academic branch of Waterstones do, that some of the college libraries do, and that Purple Books, a website set up by some of our students, does. So I make sure I know about local services so that I can point my customers in the right direction.

-          It might seem obvious, but when a customer comes to make a comment or complaint, make sure you listen. And make tell your customer what you’re going to do in response to their feedback, and follow through on that.

-          Try to end the transaction on a positive note

-          Say thank you, and smile!

The only thing I’d add to this model, which sets information services apart from retail environments, is that working on a library service desk, try to assess what your customer needs, not necessarily what they want. Your customer might come to you wanting to find out how to access a particular article on their reading list. But they might need to know what an academic journal is, how to find these on the library catalogue, how to find their reading list online, how to find full-text e-journal articles… and you need to try and judge what level of information they need when they’re asking you for assistance.

And actually, I don’t think that good customer service is very difficult. I don’t stray far from my golden rules, even on a really bad day (and I’m having enough of them recently to safely say that). As a customer, that’s the level of service I expect to receive. And if I can do it, you can do it!

Written by missrachelsmith

July 5, 2011 at 17:37

Training and development

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If there’s one thing you should learn about me, it’s that I don’t really do easy. And I don’t think that CILIP Chartership is an easy qualification, which is probably why I’m really enjoying it. Working towards Chartership is making me think, it’s making me reflect on what I do, and it’s making me take responsibility for my personal development as an information professional.

My Chartership journey is also challenging me to have a go at things I never thought I’d do. I can now add the words ‘accredited customer service trainer’ to my list of professional achievements. Flashy, isn’t it? But not at all easy. I want to use this post to reflect on my journey to becoming a customer service trainer for the library and what I’m learning from it.

The journey begins

Improving the customer experience of the library service is a key part of the library’s strategic plan for the next five years. As an organisation, we’re exploring various ways of doing this, including looking into Customer Service Excellence status and ensuring that all staff members undergo customer service training. Providing a great level of service to my customers is something I see as a priority in my role, so when the opportunity came up to become a customer service trainer and deliver training courses to my colleagues, I threw my hat in the ring…

Train the trainer

I was excited to hear that my head of service had chosen to put me forward for training and assessment to become a customer service trainer, along with three other colleagues. I hastily scrambled together a training-focused version of my CV, and went along to a ‘train the trainer’ session. At the time, I sketched out my thoughts about the day in my Chartership art journal (please excuse rubbish phone camera images!):

On the left hand page, the trainer, ‘Deborah’, discusses great and awful customer service, surrounded by the training materials we’d be using. I felt that there was a lot of information hurled at us during the 5 hour course, after which we would be left to deliver customer service training sessions to our colleagues. My confusion about conveying the course content is expressed on the right hand side of page one.

Page two, and it’s my turn. I’m in the spotlight, delivering the ‘Excellent Customer Service’ course to a faceless audience. And back in March, with the only training I was going to receive under my belt, I felt distinctly uneasy about that.

I didn’t feel that the train the trainer course was enough to thoroughly familiarise myself with the course materials, and actually, the course materials themselves weren’t all that relevant. The customer service training programme we’re providing was originally designed for the tourist industry – there are sections about increasing customer spending, the importance of tourism to the local and national economy, and so on. My workplace, a university library, doesn’t operate in the arena of tourism. We are not a commercial business. So there was a lot of preparatory work to be done between the trainer briefing and the first sessions, which were arranged for June, to ensure that the training we were going to deliver would be useful.

Be prepared

I met with the other three in-house trainers to organise the administration of the sessions and plan how we were going to deliver the training. It was decided that we would split down the day-long course into two half-day sessions. Two of my colleagues took the first half of the course, and I worked with another member of the academic liaison team to deliver the second session, which included providing information to customers, meeting specific needs and handling complaints.

What were the big challenges for me? Well, I actually found getting to grips with content I hadn’t written quite difficult. Normally, if I give a presentation or deliver a session, I’ve put the content and activities together. And I think that’s the way I learn and remember things – by creating and doing. It was important for me to look at the course content in quite some depth to really understand what I was trying to get across, and what I was asking the course participants to do.

Something that I’ve definitely taken from the experience is the importance of communicating with my colleagues. There were a lot of emails going back and forth between the trainers about what arrangements had been made, issues arising and adapting the course content. When I tailored activities to make them more relevant, or added in new slides to illustrate a point, I had to ensure that I kept my colleagues up to date and explained the rationale behind the changes I was making. Keeping up with the correspondence amidst one of my busiest periods in the academic year (the exam term, Library 24/7 and the start of the redevelopment work at the main library) was tricky, and next time round, I’d hope to improve on this.

And the session itself?

I’m never very good at accepting compliments, but the feedback from participants was positive. A number of participants highlighted the second session, and some of the sections that I led, as the parts they found most valuable about the course.

In terms of how I felt about the session; the course participants were a really nice bunch of people and were generally enthusiastic about thinking and talking about customer service. The session was quite relaxed – we presented sitting down, and there were lots of opportunities for discussion. I had been quite nervous about leading the training session, even with one of my colleagues by my side, and the participants’ attitude and the general atmosphere definitely made me feel more confident.

Next time…

We’ll be running a second set of sessions over the summer, and next time I’ll be concentrating on the first section that I’m presenting, which I feel was the weakest part of the material I delivered. This was partly due to ‘start of the training session’ nerves and also because I had spent less time looking at this section. We also slightly overran the three hours we’d allowed for the session, so my colleague and I also need to think about timings and whether we need to cover less material, or cut one or two activities.

Providing customer service training courses to my colleagues has also been an important training and development activity for me. I’m directly contributing to a key aspect of my organisation’s strategic goals, my increased knowledge of customer service is feeding back into my front-line duties, and on a personal level, it’s been a great opportunity for me to develop my communications skills in a range of ways.

So not easy, but I don’t do things because they’re easy.

Written by missrachelsmith

June 29, 2011 at 16:08

Thoughts on the 2011 New Professionals Conference

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If you’ve followed my posts for any particular length of time, you may have picked up that I’m relatively new to the library and information profession. So I was really pleased when my line managers said that they’d support me to attend this year’s CILIP New Professionals Conference, held on Monday 20th June. After a bit of a mad journey, which involved getting thoroughly confused with the Manchester bus system, I did finally arrive at Hulme Hall at the University of Manchester to meet other new professionals, listen to the speakers and participate in the workshops. In this post I’m going to try to pick up on what you could describe as the incidental things; the running themes, the throwaway comments and the things that were missed. And I’m going to tell you what I thought, and what I’m taking away from it.

Social and online networking was mentioned a lot

Helen Murphy talked about the cpd23 programme, which I’ll be taking part in over the coming weeks and months and involves using social media for professional development. Ka-Ming Pang and Jo Norwood suggested starting up hacklibschool-type web chats for UK LIS students, Voices for the Library representatives talked about Twitter flash mobs as activism. Yet when I looked around, there were a number of people who didn’t include Twitter names on their delegate badges. And Rachel Bickley’s survey suggested that some experienced professionals see online new professional communities as cliquey. I’m pretty pro social media as a communication and networking tool, but I think it’s important to be inclusive; you shouldn’t need to have a Twitter account to be fully involved in a professional conference.

Engage

Engagement seemed to be a key theme emerging throughout the day. Alice Halsey and Simon Barron discussed engaging with people to advocate libraries and information services and prompt change in society. Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert talked about special collections outreach and engaging the local community. Megan Wiley discussed engaging with colleagues – ‘don’t assume that your colleagues know what you’re doing. Tell them’. This engagement theme was linked to issues surrounding threats to library services and articulating our value as information professionals. Maybe engagement is part of the answer, and as I find the activism thing difficult, maybe that’s where I can make a contribution towards the #savelibraries cause.

The old meets the new

There was lots of talk of the old and the new. One of Rachel Bickley’s survey respondents questioned, ‘why can’t the new profs just get involved with the old profs?’. In Nicola Forgham-Healey and Franko Kowalczuk’s workshop, we were asked to think about old and new professional skills.  Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert discussed ‘teaching old books new tricks’. I got the sense of new professionals perhaps struggling to find their place within an old, established profession, or the traditional profession of librarianship trying desperately to grasp the new. One or the other, or maybe both. I haven’t quite decided.

Question: Why do so many new professionals end up floating into the library and information profession by accident?

When asked why they chose a career in libraries and information services, 4 of the conference speakers confirmed that they sort of ‘fell into’ the profession. Answers on a postcard please…

I really hope that CILIP types amongst the delegates were taking notes

There were some important points raised about the way CILIP caters to its new professional members, and potential members. In terms of marketing the profession to potential new professionals, why aren’t sixth formers hearing about libraries and information services as a career choice? Why does CILIP charge the same subscription rate for everyone earning above £17,501, when a new professional’s salary is so vastly different to that of a library director? And can CILIP do more to attract student members?

The speakers blew me away

Massive admiration. They were very brave to talk in front of lots of people (something I need to improve on… I’ll be blogging about it soon after my upcoming public speaking jaunt on Friday). And they had interesting opinions, they talked about diverse subjects. I learnt about some areas of information work, such as careers information and special collections outreach, that I haven’t really encountered before.

The standard routes into the library and information profession were really reinforced

Which for me was a sad thing. From what I could gather, all of the speakers at this year’s New Professionals Conference either had a CILIP accredited Masters, or were in the process of undertaking one. In a time of downturn, an MA isn’t a possibility for everyone. I would have liked to have seen more engagement with the idea of non-typical routes into the profession.

And the issue of unemployment was skirted around

The title of this year’s New Professionals Conference was Professionalism and Activism in a Time of Downturn. Although recent news on unemployment figures has been quite encouraging, it’s still a tough old job market at the moment. What happens when you’re new, and you can’t even get into the profession?

All in all, I found that there was a lot to take away from the New Professionals Conference, and I met some great like-minded people. It might not be a detailed account of all the papers I heard (as evaluating is ‘not describing’!), but these are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.

Written by missrachelsmith

June 21, 2011 at 13:20

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