SWOT’s up?

Today we took some extremely valuable time out to meet as a team to conduct a SWOT analysis. This followed a briefing earlier in the week at which every team member was individually tasked to come up with strengths, weaknesses (internal influences), opportunities and threats (external influences) for our Information & Library service. Everyone was given a wadge of different coloured post-it notes on which to record their take on the current status quo ahead of the session and this morning they were added to four separate flipchart sheets, before we discussed and debated the findings.

Strengths were first up and we all felt pretty upbeat and cheery as there was some very affirming content on that sheet and it was great for us all to hear it.

  • expertise;
  • creativity;
  • innovation;
  • forward-thinking approach;
  • willingness to assist users;
  • strong customer-service focus;
  • 24/7 access;
  • wide range of e-resources;
  • a popular blog/website;
  • our teaching role;
  • listening to our users;
  • making an impact beyond the library walls.

Weaknesses. Out of these arose a clear need for:

  • a more appropriate physical space with more study desks (which could be more representative of the service we offer);
  • more project planning;
  • improved relations with some internal depts;
  • less confusing access to ebooks;
  • better marketing;
  • improved knowledge of the specific content of each of our databases (we can all use them as experts but, for example, we might not know which one to go to for OECD economic surveys).

Opportunities seemed easy to identify and included:

  • new technologies and social media;
  • collaboration in Cambridge and beyond;
  • more classroom teaching integrated with the curriculum;
  • lack of information skills of some of our stakeholders;
  • forthcoming secondment and shadowing schemes;
  • new faculty, researchers and support staff;
  • our new Deputy (no pressure !);
  • very specifically the installation of new Bloomberg and Datastream installations at Economics which may take some of the pressure off us here from non-JBS students;
  • courses and conferences;
  • identifying and carrying out more point-of-need support;
  • the fact that we are highly-regarded (giving us a platform from which to build);
  • demonstrating non-’library’ expertise and support (e.g. Prezi, Qualtrics);
  • and our relative freedom and autonomy (which of course allows us to take up opportunities in the first place).

Threats came last, which, on reflection,was a bit of a mistake as it ended a great session on a downbeat note. Contributions included:

  • budget and funding cuts, including our increasing reliance on Exec Ed funding and the fact that library services can be seen as ‘soft targets’;
  • e-only initiatives leading to false assumptions that staff can be cut/librarians are not needed (perhaps not so much here as elsewhere in the University);
  • the fact that a lot of what we do, despite our marketing, remains invisible to some stakeholders;
  • Googlisation;
  • unavailable content (e.g. key textbooks as ebooks and specialised industry/market databases);
  • media perceptions of librarians;
  • ignorance and ill-informed user expectations (e.g. everything is available for free online);
  • centralisation of Cambridge University libraries (inasmuch as might negatively impact on our service);
  • keeping current in rapidly changing technological/business information environments;
  • and misconceptions as to what it is we do on the part of stakeholders.

Examining and discussing these issues as a team was very useful and brought out ideas and contributions which otherwise might not have been shared or explored.
The SWOT framework proved a useful framework on which to hang discussion and the element of physical activity also added value. Perhaps most important of all was the fact that everyone’s voice was heard and the discovery that, thankfully, we’re all on the same page. Some of the weaknesses and threats may be hard to address but now at least we all know they’re on the table. We plan to repeat the exercise next year to see how far we have come and to assess what has changed.

The fact that the session was expertly organised and facilitated by Kirsty pointed up how much we’re all going to miss her when she packs her bags shortly for Oxford. We’re going to miss you Taylor! I can’t sign off, dear reader, without revealing how with the above title of this post you were let off very lightly. Other contenders were: ‘SWOT to trot’, ‘SWOT’s happening’ and ‘SWOTs up pussycat. It’s Friday.

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