“What are you doing here then?”

At last the start of term madness is over and I can stop worrying about: a) an MBA group who are on my back for immediate help; b) a teaching session I haven’t yet prepared for; or c) not having time to respond to urgent emails from non-library colleagues who don’t seem to suffer the same start of term overload as me.

Last week, rather like the crocus heralding the spring (although they seem to herald the end of January now don’t they?) a student’s request to remove the ‘consultation chair’ from our new ‘business information point’ (of which more anon) rather than for asssistance with a complex data request marked a return to a much less frenetic pace than we’d been experiencing since mid-September. More relevantly to you dear reader it means I’m free to blog again – albeit largely in snatched moments at lunchtime or before working hours.

So what do I want to blog about now I finally have the time? Well my whiteboard has a list of blog post topics ‘as long as a very long thing’ that have been frantically scribbled down over the past two months.  To divulge a selection:

– Barry Letts and control freakery (finding that I probably have more in common with a former Dr Who producer thanI imagined)
– Miranda and advocacy (about being struck dumb at a BBC sitcom recording)
– The Gathering Storm (what  can be done to make the start of an academic year less exhausting, if anything?!)
– Just Say No  (saying ‘No’ is OK sometimes, if it’s good enough for the cast of Grange Hill it’s good enough for me)

– new Business Information Point (a visibility success story)

I was going to ask you all to vote for your favourite but I’m heartily sick of the telly shouting at me to do that so I won’t. Besides its the latter that really ‘floats my boat’ right now, not least because I’ve got to think harder about it anyway in preparation for a poster on this topic for the Libraries@Cambridge 2011 conference in January. So what’s this success story then?

Well, quite simply I decided to install an additional enquiry desk, branded the ‘Business Information Point’, for our service in the business school’s hugely busy common room in order to increase our visibility. I’d been thinking about doing this for some time because:

  • the Common Room is where the business of the school takes place;
  • our physical space is tucked away in one corner of the building;
  • students don’t have time to do anything between lectures but grab a coffee and a snack from there;
  • although footfall is rising year on year there’s plenty of key school people that we library staff rarely see;
  • I believe  librarians should be getting in the faces of our their stakeholders (in the nicest possible way).

We checked that taking up a table and two chairs in the Common Room at peak times 10-30-11.15 / 12.00-14.15 wouldn’t be a problem, added a few things to the library laptop, rustled up a sign and a rota (all five of us would take turns to staff it) and away we went.

Although we received rather baffled looks from students when we first announced this service in their inductions and, when we started staffing it, plenty of surprised academic and support staff  looking us up and down and saying ‘”What are you doing here then?” we quickly realised,that the enhanced visbility it was going to offer us was going to prove invaluable. The new Business Information Point was getting us in the eyeline of many staff members who we direly needed to reconnect with.  In fact I remember thinking that the conversations that were taking place were so important that it didn’t actually matter very much if students didn’t come to us with their enquiries there, but as it turned out that this was the ‘calm before the storm’. We’ve since had queues, groups and more enquiries than we know what to do with. Myself and my team have worked harder than ever as a result, and we’re all pretty exhausted, but we’ve significantly raised our profile again and in a brand new way.

And the conclusion we’ve drawn? However wonderful our blog presence and email responses are they will never beat face-to-face support.


4 thoughts on ““What are you doing here then?”

  1. thewikiman says:

    Fantastic! Information provision, unlimited by the walls (both physical and, er, perceptual) of the library building. Going where the users are. Responding to need. Ace.

    Can I request the Miranda one next because I’m intrigued.


  2. Jo Alcock says:

    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing this, it’s often the most simple changes that seem to make a massive improvement to service. I always wanted to do something similar to this but with tutorials within the academic school (for both staff and students) with the added bonus of being able to spend time in their space to get a feel for their needs, and also additional exposure for the library.

    I also am intrigued by the Miranda post, looking forward to that.


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