missrachelsmith

Posts Tagged ‘Current awareness

Public libraries: 3 big changes

leave a comment »

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

CPD23: Talkin’ about Things

leave a comment »

I’ll admit it before I even start –  this is sort of a cheaty post. Before I sail off into the sunset (well, before I spend most of August messing around in boats, at any rate!) I thought it might be good to reflect on how I’m doing with my CILIP Chartership work and professional development activities. And coincidentally, Thing 7 of the 23 Things for Professional Development programme is about professional organisations. It’s nice when things work out like that, isn’t it?

Last week, I had a meeting with Jackie, my CILIP mentor. We discussed my progress on my Chartership work – I’m not tackling everything on my Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP), but I have added lots of things I hadn’t thought about at the start of the process, of which CPD23 is one! And the way I see it, your initial PPDP is a guide, rather than a definitive structure. I’ve got lots of things planned over the next 6 months as well – I’m attempting to keep up with the CPD23 programme, I’m tackling an Institute of Leadership and Management Award in Team Leading in November (another professional organisation!), organising possible work experience placements in public libraries, there’s a module of a Masters in Librarianship course in January… so I’m keeping myself occupied!

I just need to make sure that I remember to record and reflect on all the things I’m doing. Taking part in CPD23, I’m finding it tricky to keep up with everything Chartership-wise alongside work and general life. Jackie suggested that when I don’t have time to write an in-depth reflective piece, it’s ok to make notes – then, if I want to use that piece of evidence for my final portfolio, I can go back and write something more formal at a later date. As I go along, I’m creating an updated version of my PPDP and noting down actions and evidence, so I’m going to add a new column on this document to record my initial thoughts about training sessions and development work.

We also talked about organisational structure and how to reference aspects of the library’s strategy when I’m putting together my portfolio next year. Linking your training and development to the overall aims of your organisation was something I picked up on when I recently attended a Building Your Portfolio course. Having ploughed through the 20+ page library objective document for the next year, I was struggling to see how I could effectively include this in my submission. Jackie and I decided that I should include first two pages, which outline the library’s mission and five main goals, and then drill down into individual objectives as appropriate to each piece of evidence, so I’m feeling happier about this.

The other thing I’ve been a little bit concerned about is the level of reading required of Chartership candidates, which Jackie’s going to look into. I haven’t done a Library MA, so I haven’t read a huge amount of academic texts about librarianship and information management. It’s not that I don’t read, but I generally read CILIP Update, the odd journal article, lots of blogs, newspaper articles… is that enough?

And at some point, I’m going to have to draw a line in the sand, pause on the development activities, and start working on my portfolio. I think I’m going to aim for June 2012, after the exam term tails off. Almost a year away. Or less than a year away, depending on how you look at it…

Written by missrachelsmith

July 25, 2011 at 21:30

CPD23: Feed me

with one comment

Ok, so I’m already slightly behind on the 23 Things for Professional Development programme, despite being only a few weeks in. And the theme for Week 3, somewhat ironically, is Current Awareness.

I think that one of the most useful things about social media is that it helps me to keep up to date. Now, I tend to find out about industry, national and international news first through the people I follow on Twitter – the 140 character posts can’t give me all the details, but often link to further information. Before newspapers and television came word of mouth, and I think it’s interesting that things seem to be coming full circle in terms of the way news circulates.

And I totally love RSS feeds – I’ve supported teaching sessions for academics on using RSS feeds to keep up to date with new research, so I’m pretty familiar with RSS technologies. Subscribing to blogs and news feeds means that I don’t have to go to lots of places to find out information, or repeat searches – instead I can sit back, and relax, and current awareness material comes straight to me.

BUT:

I’ll admit it, I’m just plain lazy with the way I manage my Twitter account and the RSS feeds I subscribe to. Are things in useful folders or lists to keep my different interests organised? No. Do I ever go through and weed my RSS feeds, or the people I follow on Twitter? Not really. Do I try and match up the Twitter accounts I follow to the blog RSS feeds I subscribe to? Nope, although it sometimes happens by accident. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop – I just gobble up all the information I can get my grubby mitts on.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that as an information professional, I sure could do more about organising all that current awareness material. I do not want to become the information equivalent of Audrey Junior (the man-eating plant from the Little Shop of Horrors).

So I’m going to use Thing 4 to:

  • Attempt to follow a few more organisations and other libraries on Twitter to keep up to date with current news
  • Investigate my Twitter followers and followees – do any of them have interesting blogs which I haven’t explored?
  • Audit my RSS feeds in Outlook. Which ones do I actually want to read every day alongside my work emails?
  • Look at my Google Reader account, which I rarely log in to. I’m going to try to use this to organise most of the RSS feeds I subscribe to. I also want to create folders so I can find things more easily.

Feed me, Seymour…

Written by missrachelsmith

July 11, 2011 at 13:45

Posted in CPD23

Tagged with , ,