Archive for March 2011

Further, higher

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For the last 3 days, I’ve been visiting a local college which offers further and higher education level courses to undertake a work experience placement at the Learning Resources Centre (or LRC). I’ve always worked within university libraries, so when I compiled my Personal Professional Development Plan for CILIP Chartership, I thought it was important to include getting to know other sectors of librarianship. Yes, I know that an FE/HE college library doesn’t exactly fall into a different sector (both are academic libraries, after all) – and you might not think the two environments would be particularly different. In fact, if you’d asked me what I expected the LRC to be like before my placement, I would have said something along those lines. But there are pretty important differences and these are the three that struck me the most…


The University Library is much, much bigger than the LRC. The LRC is split across two floors, covering a total area of just under 2000m². This space houses the Library’s book stock (there’s around 65,000 print items) and the e-learning area, which boasts 200 PCs. There’s quiet and group study areas for students to work in and a small staff workroom. Compare this to the main University Library, where I work – we’re currently having a major extension built, which alone will give us an extra 3200m² of space. We already have a comparatively massive four-storey building. Across the five library sites and library stores, we hold around 1.6 million print items. Not to mention our online collections – we hold over 270,000 e-books – the LRC has just bought its first 100 after trialling e-books through a JISC deal that offers them access to 3000. Then compared to the LRC, the University Library has many more staff (at the LRC, they were surprised that there are people working at the University Library whose job is to shelve), we charge much more in fines, we have a much bigger budget… the list goes on. And all of that’s not at all a criticism of the LRC – it just really puts things in perspective for me. I don’t know how I hadn’t recognised the sheer size of my own workplace before, but there you go. However, though the University Library is bigger than the LRC in pretty much every way, this doesn’t necessarily correlate with student numbers. The college has just under half the students that the university does…


…and these students come from diverse backgrounds and take lots of different courses. The college offers A-levels, vocational courses such as hairdressing, catering and plumbing and degree-level qualifications in subjects like podiatry and social work. They also cater to under-16s who have been kicked out of mainstream school and run courses for students with learning disabilities. There is a massive variety of customers using the LRC, which is a big challenge. It also struck me that the average LRC customer is younger than the average university student, which brings its own issues surrounding respect for the space and disruption. Although students using the University Library come from all over the world and we have to cater to diversity in terms of nationality, our students are over 18 (so are generally that bit more mature), usually come from standard academic backgrounds and all study higher-level academic qualifications.


What really stood out as a difference between the University Library and the LRC was the different approach taken to customer services. The University Library offers staffed services during daytime and evening hours, but actually it’s pretty much self-service, with borrowing and returns machines that handle the majority of circulation. This was completely different at the LRC: there are no self-service machines – all circulation is handled through the library service desks on each floor and there are dedicated staff who help students in using the e-learning area. The same staff members who work during the weekdays also staff the LRC at weekends and evenings, which I imagine helps to ensure a consistent service, and all staff up to and including management level man the service desks. The self-service machines that we use at the University Library are good for volume, but not so great in terms of contact with customers. University Library staff try to be friendly and helpful when serving customers, but the self-service machines make us (at the very least) distant. The LRC staff are equally friendly and helpful, I would say, but by the very nature of the service they offer, they are more visible and approachable. The LRC might not have our communications and marketing budget, but they definitely have one up on us there.

I just asked my boyfriend how I should end this blog post, having just outlined the major differences between the LRC and the University Library and bearing in mind I’m hoping to write again about my time at the LRC next week. His suggestions:

1)      Goodbye.

2)      And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

3)      To be continued… (Eastenders drums)


Written by missrachelsmith

March 26, 2011 at 11:56

A few of (a librarian’s) favourite things…

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My second library anniversary draws ever closer, and in the time I’ve worked here I’ve learnt a number of things about your common-or-garden librarian. Librarians are generally a very nice and knowledgeable bunch of people. High proportion of vegetarians, knitters, technology geeks, film buffs and dog/cat lovers. They do like a good acronym (CILIP, RFID, LMS, anyone?). And if there is anything to be discussed or decided, there’s a group for that: group meetings, project groups, purchasing consortiums, task-and-finish groups, interest groups, regional groups, working groups…

In the spirit of pretending to be a proper librarian, I thought I’d dedicate this post to two of the regional interest groups I’ve recently attended. Here in the North East, representatives from the academic libraries in the area (Sunderland, Teesside, Durham, Newcastle and Northumbria universities) often meet to discuss common interests, ideas and issues. I’ve heard of a few exchange events going on elsewhere in the country through JISCmail lists and Twitter: the cpd25 consortium put on staff training and development days for librarians within the M25 circle, the (lib)TeachMeets in Cambridge bring librarians involved in teaching together and NoWAL, the North West academic libraries group, recently held an exchange of experience event. But these are the more official events, the kind that you can book on – I think there must be hundreds of other exchange meetings going on within the LIS community (I can use librarian-type acronyms too!). In my experience alone I’ve been involved in four different exchange groups that the library contributes to and I’m sure there are others that happen even within my workplace that I’m not aware of.

Anyway – back to my subject. Back in February, I attended the North East Repositories Group, held at the University of Teesside. This was quite a formal meeting, with a proper agenda, minutes and Chair. I learnt that most of the institutional repository staff at the other member institutions were new to their role, suggesting that repository positions might have a high staff turnover rate. Two of the other institutions didn’t have technical support for the repository within the library and relied on external hosting – hearing about some of the problems they faced made me think we were lucky to have this support in-house. A change in staffing structure meant that another university no longer had a repository manager and advocacy of the repository was shifting to the academic liaison team. One institution was just setting up their repository, with their sights firmly set on the REF – I’m interested to see what happens there, as this didn’t seem to be a particularly long-term goal and their repository wasn’t necessarily engaged with Open Access, one of the key projects of institutional repositories. Amongst the group we discussed a range of issues; supporting different kinds of research outputs, publisher’s policies and embargo periods, recording author names, the REF… It was interesting to hear what our peers in other universities are doing. It helped me to see what both what we’re doing well as a team, and where our weaknesses are.

Due to the nature of its subject, the North East Communications and Marketing Group meeting that I attended last week at Newcastle University was very different. Usually more informal, with workshops and presentations, group meetings also involve lunch and tours of the host library. This time round, there was a presentation from Newcastle’s graduate marketing and communications project officer on the ‘marketer’s ideal library’. The presentation came very much from a marketer’s (rather than librarian’s) perspective and discussed a range issues surrounding library marketing including branding, staffing, advocacy, marketing materials and new technologies. Whilst Newcastle’s graduate project placement was about to come to an end, one of the other libraries had recently reinstated a marketing post. Talking to staff from other institutions, library videos seemed very much to be the order of the day, although nobody was planning to be as brave as the Harold B Lee Library. One university had installed a Big Brother diary room-style booth to capture student feedback on video(!) whilst another had gone for post-it note boards to invite and display comments from library users. We also talked about marketing e-books and internal communications amongst staff. Hearing other people’s experiences helped me to understand the common challenges associated with marketing academic libraries and I definitely noted a number of ideas that we might look into here.

There are a lot of groups going on internally, regionally and internationally that the library is involved with. Although I don’t see the need for quite so many groups, I do think attending these regional groups is really valuable for me at the start of my career in libraries. They help me to understand the wider context of the different areas that I work on and they help me to assess how we’re performing as a library service. And in both repositories and marketing, we’re not doing badly at all.

Written by missrachelsmith

March 15, 2011 at 21:00

Danny Boy

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Last week, it was all quiet on the twitter/blog/email front. In fact, it was a busy week both in and out of work. Home was busy with dentist appointments, selling the car, Brownies meetings… and work? Well, my working week was busy because of Danny. Who’s Danny? Danny’s the work experience student I supervised last week. It was the first time I’ve supervised a work experience placement, and it was quite an experience for me too…

Before the placement, I hadn’t been too well and I was trying to catch up with work deadlines, so I only had time to sit down and think about Danny’s visit a few days beforehand. The Library Services Manager, who coordinates all of the library’s work experience placements, talked me through what she expected from me as Danny’s supervisor during his week with us, and the procedures that needed to be in place before the placement started. We also talked about the sort of tasks that might be appropriate for Danny and I scouted out other colleagues who have supervised work experience students to ask their advice.

I’d met Danny briefly at a preliminary meeting, so I’d tried to get an idea of what he expected from his time at the library, and the sort of level I should pitch his tasks at. I planned a timetable including some daily duties, such as shelving, processing new books requests and working alongside me on the returns desk. I scheduled in scanning book chapters for the digitisation project, working on our Easter vacation publicity and a visit to the new special collections gallery. I also roped in the Collection Services team to supervise Danny marking up items for relegation whilst I attended a couple of meetingsand the Library Services team to provide some back up tasks, just in case.

During the placement, I got to know Danny and tried to gauge both where his strengths were and the areas in which he needed more support. I soon realised that he was hardworking, quick to pick up tasks and very good with technology, for example. This meant that he finished the new books requests I’d hoped he might get through in a week by Wednesday, and he seemed to particularly enjoy working on digitisation. I tried to ensure that I was flexible enough to play to his strengths – when he finished some tasks quicker than I had anticipated, I had other tasks for him to do and when a gap came up on his timetable, I offered Danny the option to do some more scanning work. On the other hand, Danny sometimes found spelling difficult – this meant that whilst I expected him to be able to check a list of potential donations against the library catalogue, I provided all of the text for the posters he helped to design.

When I introduced a new task, I tried to provide Danny with some context so that he understood why he was being asked to each activity and how that fitted in to the work of the library. When I explained what I wanted him to do, I broke down complex tasks into a number of stages (we began working on the Easter marketing materials by choosing the graphics and colours for the campaign, for example, before I set him off designing posters, screensavers and plasmascreen slides) and I tried to set clear boundaries so that he knew what I was expecting from him. I also tried to give him feedback as the week went along, so that he knew how he was doing.

Danny worked really hard during his time at the library – he was enthusiastic about all of the tasks I set for him (even the slightly more tedious ones!), he used his initiative where necessary but asked questions where he wasn’t sure about something, and he communicated effectively to staff and students. Throughout his placement, Danny received glowing reports from all of the staff who worked with him, which I made sure was reflected in the report I wrote for his portfolio.

After the placement, it’s a lot quieter without Danny around and I’m catching up with some of my more complicated work (I have an e-resources benchmarking report that is looming ominously). But there is a key question remaining for me personally: how did I get on as Danny’s supervisor during his placement?

I think the timetable I planned for Danny was strong, with everyday tasks that would build up his confidence and allow him some independence from me, but enough variety to keep Danny motivated and give him a broad experience of the work that we do here. Although I was pleased with the planning I did, I think I should have put more thought into the preparation of activities – on the first day, I found myself noting down instructions for some of the tasks I was introducing as I went along. This was a bit of an oversight on my part, mainly due to the fact that most of the tasks I was giving Danny were the sort of things I do without really thinking, but after this point I made sure that the rest of the week’s activities were prepared in advance.

I think I was quite a supportive supervisor during Danny’s work experience placement – I did try hard to look after Danny, as I knew he wouldn’t really get a chance to get to know many people in the short time he was working at the Library. I also feel that I was responsive in the way I managed his time and workload, adjusting tasks to suit his working pace, preferences and ability. This helped us to get the best out of Danny during his placement and I hope this enhanced his experience. He certainly said that he had found working at the library more interesting than he thought it might be, and that he hadn’t expected to be working on things like e-resources and marketing.

What areas could I improve on if I were to supervise another placement? Well, I’ve already identified that I need to think more about the preparation of tasks and think about this from a ‘new to the library’ perspective. Another area for improvement is that although I was a supportive and responsive supervisor, I possibly need to work on being authoritative when necessary. Danny was efficient and motivated to complete tasks accurately, but I think if I had been supervising someone less enthusiastic, I might have found it difficult to manage them effectively.

It’s actually been a little bit strange starting this week without Danny working alongside me. I’d got sort of used to having him here.

Written by missrachelsmith

March 8, 2011 at 13:20

Posted in Chartership

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