Posts Tagged ‘Work experience

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…


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

CPD23: Talkin’ about Things

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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

One liners #1

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This week I have been having a MAJOR READING LIST BLITZ. So major, it deserves block capitals. I actually quite like processing reading lists, when you get into a bit of a rhythm – there is a comfort to be found in routine and I get some satisfaction from doing quite technical tasks accurately. However, when I sat down to write a blog post this lunchtime, which was going to be about the Learning Resources Centre (LRC) at a local FE/HE college I visited last week and how they handled reading lists and academic liaison, I could see it was quickly turning into an essay. Evidently, I need slightly more mental simulation for seven hours of the day than reading lists provide. But I am noticing a pattern recurring – when I start to write a blog post about something, it turns into hundreds and hundreds of words on my chosen subject of the day (tips, anyone?).

Anyway, to avoid this, I’ve decided that I’m going to confine myself to one-liners for the remainder of this post. I’m not going to focus in depth on liaison and reading lists, but instead I’m going to tell you about lots of different things I noticed during my time at the LRC, in no particular order. Rules of the game: I’m only allowed one line of the Word document I’m writing this on per topic (I don’t trust WordPress not to eat my posts). And GO…

One liners: interesting things I learnt about the Learning Resource Centre

LMS: The LRC uses Heritage, which seems really user-friendly and is used by many FE colleges.

Fines: Are much lower at the LRC than the University Library, and staff aren’t charged fines (!).

Stock selection: Resources are chosen by academics and signed off by their head of department.

Acquisitions: Orders recorded by the LRC, but all purchases managed by College purchasing office.

Print journals: are all reference only and classified at the same Dewey number as the book stock.

Cataloguing: All LRC resources are catalogued from scratch – they don’t import MARC records.

Access: Visitors sign in at reception; the LRC has moved away from ID cards to biometrics.

Teaching space: 5 computer clusters in the e-learning area are available for teaching bookings.

Computing: Computer cluster managed by MyPC, recently changed to a thin client system.

Website: No LRC website; patrons access information through the VLE or via the web OPAC.

OPAC: Front page easy to customise, but resets to original whenever there’s a Heritage upgrade.

Grouping resources on the OPAC: can be done by adding piece of code into web OPAC URL of items.

Social media: the LRC contributes to the College Facebook page, but Facebook is banned in College.

Branding: Blue and white used (College colours); the LRC has its own logo.

Marketing: The LRC mainly use traditional print media, but are soon to get a plasmascreen.

Information skills: Staff member based in the HE building offers HE information skills programme.

Inter-library loans: The LRC group isn’t part of a lending group and only use the British Library.

And finally…

Reading lists: Formal process is launching this year; academics will use LRC template to submit lists.

Induction: In 2010, 2524 new students went to 184 LRC induction sessions (seriously impressive).

Why write an essay, when you can write it in a sentence?

Written by missrachelsmith

April 1, 2011 at 19:13

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

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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Playing catch up

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This blog post is so entitled because I feel like that is exactly what I’m doing at the moment. I recently had a week off, due to a horrible cold/flu/chest infection, and on arriving back in work this week I’m finding that there’s a lot going on and my brain is still slightly like mush. So as I can’t quite keep up with all the things I’ve missed, the things I’m in the middle of and the things I’m organising for CILIP Chartership, I thought I’d write a sort of ‘this is where I am’ post to get myself up to date.

The few weeks before I was ill were really positive in terms of progressing with my Chartership work. I had my first meeting with my Chartership mentor, Jackie, where we talked through my draft Personal Professional Development Plan and discussed how I was going to monitor and record all the actions I’m taking in working towards Chartership. Following this meeting, I submitted my initial PPDP to CILIP, and I also sent the document to my line manager and the head of the library service. We had a meeting to discuss the activities I had proposed, and I found that the Librarian was happy to support pretty much all of my development aims, suggested some ideas, and committed to supporting my training activities both from a financial perspective and in terms of work time. This left me feeling secure in the knowledge that my employers were behind my professional development, and was a fantastic outcome to the meeting.

A few days later, however, and I had to take sick leave. I’d just started a blog post reflecting on some of the training activities I’ve already undertaken – I’ll attempt to finish it soon and get it up. I also started writing a letter to my MP in support of Save our Libraries day, but again this fell by the wayside. While I was off, I missed a couple of quite important sessions: I was due to go on a Mentoring training course, run by the University, which would mean I could mentor new staff during their first weeks and months of working at the Library. It’s not the end of the world, as there will be another session organised sometime later in the year, but it would have been a good thing to cross off this month. I also missed out on interviewing candidates for the employability award run by the University’s careers service, which would have fed nicely into my Chartership work on management skills and University strategy.

Whilst I was away, the Library Services manager contacted me to confirm a work experience placement student was coming in at the beginning of March. I’m going to act as the supervisor for the placement during the student’s week with us – this is a fantastic opportunity and will fulfil part of my Chartership training aims. However, it’s a challenge to arrive back in work with a flu hangover, to be faced with catching up on all the work that was dropped while I was away, and think about organising an appropriate and interesting timetable for the student – but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

The other thing that’s happened in the past few weeks is that I’ve confirmed the work experience placement that I’m going to undertake at a local FE/sixth form college in late March, with the aim of gaining a better understanding of what it is like to work in another sector of librarianship. I’ve also got some work to pull together for the placement, because as well as learning about how their library operates, I’m also going to present sessions to the college library staff about how our reading list process works and what we do in terms of student support.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, and not been up to – and it feels much better to see it all written down and not floating around in my cotton-wool brain!

Written by missrachelsmith

February 18, 2011 at 12:30