I’m going to level with you. This past summer I found it a bit of a struggle to get motivated or to put it another – more evocative – way, to get my s**t together for the new academic year. Partly this was because I was feeling drained due to my extra-curricular writing (my Tenko book is now up on Amazon) but also, I think, because I was all too aware that I was coming up to my 17th year of student inductions. 17th! Now I’m sure there are people reading this thinking ’17 years – a mere bagatelle’ but then again there’ll be others thinking ‘I didn’t know he was THAT old’. However, wherever you are on the scale, you will probably agree that it’s a significant amount of time. Anyway, my motivation had evaporated.
My first induction experience at an Oxford college involved a simple tour of the library including a demo of Proquest’s Business Periodicals Ondisc (BPO) on multiple CD-ROMs and the memorable discovery that Americans called a toilet a restroom (‘Why does she want a rest, she’s only just got here?’). Last year’s inductions were considerably more complex, and in addition to a physical tour, incorporated a Prezi, hands-on elements and peer video testimonials. Unfortunately we over-reached ourselves a little and our enthusiasm was ultimately constrained by the available technology. Nevertheless it is probably that same factor – technology, or more specifically, technological progress, that has helped sustain my interest in academic librarianship all this time.
This year has seen some notable progress. We finally removed the last of our electronic content off a dreary Sakai portal (which Kirsty Taylor and I created in desperation back in 2008) thanks to the installation of a proxy server (that I first asked for… now let me see, ah yes, back in 2008 as well). The proxy effectively allows authenticated access to our databases to our users wherever they are in the world. It’s also been great to move away from guiding students to separate ebook sites to just pointing the new intake to access them all on the Library Catalogue. It may not seem like much but that too is worth celebrating. As is the more personalised and coherent feel of our blog/website, with its instant chat with a named librarian (now using Zoho following the demise of Meebo), and friendly blogposts now accompanied by photos of us library post-writers.
There is, however, in all of this progress a tangible feeling of only having got there in the end despite the odds being stacked against us. These odds are chiefly generated by institutional politics, lack of understanding, and, sadly, lack of vision, on the part of others (and that’s not a dig solely at Judge, its true of everywhere that I’ve worked). Sometimes of course this triple threat is insurmountable. Our library smartphone app hit the dust as a result and I found it pretty galling I can tell you to have to advise a new student this week who eagerly asked if we had one, that: ‘We wanted one. We tried to get one. We don’t have one.’ I should add that this lack of an app isn’t any one person’s fault, but speaks volumes about the library’s place, or absence of a place, in the overall institutional mindset. And it’s perhaps that too which has contributed to my malaise – feeling that I don’t have the same fight in me to overturn out-dated perceptions or bad decisions. I could understand it, or at the very least accept it, if we ever put a foot wrong with our service but we don’t.
We just don’t.
So why, with 5 inductions behind me do I find myself suddenly motivated again? Well, neatly enough, for 5 different reasons:
1) Shortly before the inductions I completed our annual report and it’s reminded me of just how much we did last year and given me new targets to aim for.
2) Technologically, as I’ve already implied, we offer a more coherent service than I’ve ever known, or fronted, before. We’re still not where I want us to be (ebooks being the best example of us only having just started the journey) but we’re the best we can be within the constraints we operate under. And I’m proud of it.
3) I realised I have a great team who as well as being tech-savvy completely grasp the tenets of customer service. It’s been great to see them in action this week.
4) The new students have been a breath of fresh air – asking intelligent questions and absolutely ‘getting’ our offering and writing inspiring comments on evaluation forms like ‘Don’t change a thing’ and ‘Why isn’t your excellent service/databases used to market the course more in brochures and at interview?’ Why indeed? And finally,
5) The recognition, once again, that the great wheel keeps on turning and that means constant change and therefore constant challenges.
I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Mary Morris from a 1982 episode of Doctor Who, who can tell you far more eloquently than I can about the ‘great wheel of life’ and how it always turns… (clip should start at 5mins 52secs, but depends on the device you’re using)
And yes, that is Nerys Hughes. Always wanted to tag a post with old Nerys!