TheLibraryRant

Xmasphoto2For some time my deputy, Ange Fitzpatrick, and I have been playing around with the idea of producing a regular podcast. Today we finally took the plunge and in no time at all – without stopping and with no script to speak of – produced the first edition on Audioboo.

It was a very enjoyable experience and one we plan to keep going for the forseeable future.

Why are we doing it though?

- To rant about stuff that annoys us (although not in a career ending way!)
– To rave about things we like
– To discuss professional library issues
– To explore and review new sites, books and articles
– To keep ourselves professionally engaged
– To discuss our experiences of running a busy library service

Obviously lots of stuff won’t make it into each podcast – the confidential, the truly sensitive – but rest assured, as the title suggests, we will rant.

There are plans to have guests in future podcasts and possibly even proper sound effects. Gosh!

If you want to listen to the festive introductory edition, go visit: http://audioboo.fm/TheLibraryRant

And a happy Christmas to you all!

Lego librarian for hire!

This blog post is a bit different to my usual musings. You may or may not know that I’m an accredited Lego Serious Play trainer. A what I hear you cry? Well essentially a guy who uses Lego in workshop style sessions to solve work-related problems such as poor communication, ineffective management, team troubles, that sort of thing.

The technique is surprisingly effective and is far more memorable, insightful and engaging than regular training as participants get to play with Lego (yay!) but more importantly, examine their working lives from a unique and new perspective.

But isn’t it just playing with bricks? On the surface yes, but every group I’ve been through the process with has cited tangible benefits from the experience: increased understanding of themselves and their colleagues; and, better still, tangible personal actions to take forward in the workplace.

I have been using the method for some time now and am happy to lead workshops at conferences or training sessions for groups/organisations: Please do email me if you are interested or just want to find out more.

There’s a guy over the pond who also happens to be a librarian and is also using the Lego Serious Play methodology and his video very neatly sums up the technique and value of the approach:

53 interesting ways to communicate your research

Today I’m making way for a guest post from Aoife Brophy Haney, a PhD here who is looking for contributors to a forthcoming book on communicating research. She specifically asked me to put this in the eyeline of the UK librarians community on twitter and the blogosphere, so don’t write this off as irrelevant to you. Take it away Aoife:

Hello! We are editing a forthcoming book entitled 53 interesting ways to communicate your research. The book is designed to provide researchers with practical, imaginative, tried and tested, ways, to communicate their research.

The book will be published in e-book and print formats as part of the Professional and Higher Education series. Details of the series are available at http://53interesting.wordpress.com

The series is published by The Professional and Higher Partnership. Current titles in the series may be read online free of charge on 24symbols’ cloud library (http://www.24symbols.com/en/).

The book will consist of 53 contributions, each of a few hundred words based on the series ‘recipe’ for contributions, as follows:

  1. identify a problem (here, concerning the communication of research);
  2. propose a solution (one that you have tried and tested);
  3. explain how to implement the solution;
  4. identify potential pitfalls and outline how to avoid them.

The contributions will cover a wide range of themes from conferences to communicating in writing, in person and online.  Some examples of problems in these areas include: getting your message across in poster presentations, using images effectively, and communicating your research to non-academic audiences.

We are currently seeking contributors to this book of essays, which will be targeted at early career researchers. Proposals are welcome from anyone either inside or outside of academia – the key is that you must have an interesting idea to share. To send your proposal please:

  1. e-mail us at 53interestingways@gmail.com with ‘53iwtcyr’ in the subject line
  2. tell us your name and affiliation;
  3. explain in a single sentence what problem your contribution would seek to help the reader solve;
  4. explain, again in one sentence, what your proposed solution would be.

Please keep your entire message to no more than 50 words.

The deadline for proposals is 12th October.  We will contact (by the 31st  October) all those whose submissions we wish to discuss further. We won’t use your e-mail address for any other purpose.

If you would like further information on the book, please contact our publisher, Anthony Haynes, via the following page: http://pandhp.com/contact-us/ .

Aoife Brophy Haney
PhD Candidate
Judge Business School
University of Cambridge

Getting my mojo back

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!

‘Yer know, that personalised stuff that Andy Priestner is always on about…’

I’ve just received the jacket design for the book I’ve co-edited/written with the stupendous Libby Tilley who presented on the same topic at last week’s SCONUL conference in Liverpool. The cover image has been supplied by the talented Rachel Marsh who usually photographs wading birds. Apparently jelly babies are more biddable.

I won’t blab on to much about the book’s contents again here, other than to say it gathers together lots of chapters and case studies from active practitioners, across the UK library sector and beyond, to examine the opportunities that a tailored , highly personalised, approach offers our users in this the ‘age of the individual’.

Next week Libby and I will be at the first CILIP ARLG study conference in Newcastle where we will be exploring the approach , with the help of the inestimable Laura Wilkinson, through a workshop in which participants will be building with Lego bricks.

The book is due out in August in printed and electronic form.

Further details on Ashgate website

Ebooks: an epiphany

I’ve been having something of an epiphany lately in response to the brave new(ish) dawn of ebooks. Despite being a ‘switched-on, social media-using, tech-savvy, go-getting librarian’ I’ve never been that excited by them and until this year resolutely refused to sit on committees or advisory boards to discuss their adoption and value. I gave in because finally there were some electronically available versions of key textbooks that students actually wanted to use (rather than just dodgy packages full of titles that publishers couldn’t shift) and I was starting to spend some of my budget on them (although only around 5k per annum).  Joining the Cambridge University ebooks advisory committee has prompted me to think more strategically and clearly about the format and where we might be headed. It’s also encouraged me to ascertain in more detail where my users are at with ebooks. And what I have discovered has been fascinating…

Although overall use of ebooks has gone up across the University, and conversely circulation of print books continues to fall, many users are still resisting e format. No surprise there, but what is surprising is that they are starting to resist in greater numbers.  In 2011, 74% of of respondents to our annual Information & Library Services survey stated that they used ebooks, in 2012 this has dropped to 61%. The 39% of respondents who stated they are not using them cited that: they do not like reading on screen (these made up the majority); they wanted to mark passages; there were device incompatibility issues; they ended up printing them and that they were therefore more expensive for them to use; they are not as portable or accesible as they need to be; and that ebooks were simply not a ‘fit’ for the way they work. A few weeks ago I tweeted a parallel stat from Forrester research that showed that in 2011 46% of publishers considered  iPads and similar tablets to be the ideal e-reading platform, in 2012 this stat has dropped to just 31%.

From a personal point of view, with my writer/researcher hat on, I know I find ‘e-only research’ a bit of a nightmare. Despite being a technically able chap I find alt-tabbing between e-resources  and keeping a multitude of different windows open is much less preferable to being surrounded by printed AND e-resources.  I want both and I think in the main so do our students and academics.

And yet all too often, when ebooks and printed books are discussed,  an ‘either/or’ mentality creeps into the frame unbidden. This is somewhat inevitable in the current climate as senior managers of University libraries and the even more senior people leaning on them desperately seek to find a way to cut costs. But do ebooks really cut costs? They might in the short-term but as soon as we reach the point at which we’re all buying e in preference to print, you can bet your bottom dollar that publishers will increase ebook prices in order to maintain their revenue streams. And who can blame them? And what of the user while decisions are being made simply in order to cut costs? What of their experience? Of their preferred ways of working? Of their need for print and electronic?

For the last two years I’ve had a policy whereby my team will look for and then purchase an ebook in the first instance rather than a printed book. However thus far we have only been able to purchase 31% of our high demand titles as ebooks. And of those that we do have, only 30% of the titles are used and on average only for enough time to read one or two pages or to print out a page range. In short, with the exception perhaps of our remote executive students, ebooks are being accessed but they’re not necessarily being read.

There are a myriad of other problems surrounding ebooks, not least the expectation that some of our incoming students have that they will be able to access them all on their Kindles. Device and platform compatibility is a whole other ball game. What also of student disabilities? Ebooks are ‘no-go’ for dyslexic students for instance. There have also been some recent ‘contrary studies‘ in Cambridge which have shown that use of some printed titles has gone up despite availability of e-alternatvies. Many users in our survey also made a distinction between work and pleasure: they are happy to read fiction on their Kindle but much less keen to read academic texts electronically. I could go on. At length.

So where does all the above leave us? For me at a point where I honestly don’t think I can ignore user feedback any longer. I will encourage my team to still check for e first and to buy it, but I’ll now be choosing to supplement that purchase with one or two printed books.

Maybe, just maybe, print is not dead yet. But if it does die, due to lack of foresight or economic pressures, then I suddenly feel sure it will eventually return, but first I’m very afraid we all have to get completely fed up of spending our whole lives exclusively staring at screens through our spectacles. (I note however, that the much vaunted death of the printed book has been happening for quite some time now, as the image on the left attests.)

A final word from Newsweek, whose excellent poster sums up my feelings about the currently raging format war perfectly…

So long, and thanks for all the quips

Today is a very sad day at work as my Deputy, Kirsty Taylor,  is leaving to return to the Other Place to become a college librarian.  Kirsty has been a colleague of mine off and on since 2000 (although the poor girl did have a break from me for a few years when she worked at Nuffield College, Oxford and the New Zealand parliament – don’t feel too sorry for her!) and, as a result, we work together very well, having a natural shorthand with each other as evidenced by this typical exchange – Andy: Can you do this? Kirsty: No.

Sarcasm and directness are both part of our working relationship  and as I said in my leaving speech for her earlier today it’s sometimes very useful to have people around you who will say “No”, especially when the person doing the asking is someone as pushy as me. I am genuinely grateful to her for helping me to steer our service in the right  direction over the last 4 years and I recognise and appreciate that she’s often picked up unglamorous  process and procedure while I’ve been blithely forging ahead. She’s also instituted hugely important changes that have stuck, for instance, holding weekly team meetings which now happen, without fail, every Tuesday at 10am.  That’s going to be one of her legacies.

Worth mentioning as well that she’s a grafter, quietly and without any fuss – unless it’s a SDC Platinum problem (which have been known to turn the air a vivid shade of blue) – she get’s stuff done. Even now, on her last day, she’s set her mind to sort out installation of a Bloomberg outpost at the Economics library. You spend a helluva lot of your life at work so I’m also grateful that she’s been so damn easy to get along with. It’s going to be very weird that she won’t be here next week but I’m very pleased for her that she has a new challenge ahead of her in a new environment. I think we’re both agreed that change is good and it’s high time she was making all the decisions.

Kirsty recently relented a little in respect of a debate that has raged between us ever since we first met. I consider myself to be a Northerner having been brought up from 3 to 16 in Newcastle and Northumberland and having a Geordie mother, but Kirsty – a Geordie born and bred – has never accepted my claim (typically greeting my assertion with scorn). Recently she admitted for the first time that at least ‘I behave like a Northerner’. I think I’ll take that (it’s all I’m gonna get).

One final memory is of a party thrown by Kirsty at which, needless to say, the drink flowed well, so well in fact that afterwards, in the early hours of the morning, the wife and I were briefly apprehended by the police while playing shoot-em-ups in the street. Perhaps the fact that we were dressed as Lara Croft and Superman respectively persuaded the officers to let us go after just a few words of caution?

Until the next time our paths cross…