Personalised library services?

On the 22nd March at Homerton College, myself and Libby Tilley, librarian at the English Faculty here in Cambridge, will be running a one-day symposium on personalised library services in HE. The event has arisen from an article that we wrote together back in September 2009, originated by Libby, entitled ‘Boutique libraries at your service’ which was published in Library & Information Update in July 2010, and the subsequent commissioning of a book on the same subject by Ashgate.

The article (which is accessible in full via the above link by kind permission of Update) examines the potential application of the boutique hotel model to libraries due to their focus on personalised service. It also stands as a defence of subject librarians embedded in their departments who have developed local specialist services to their unique user groups, an approach which is at odds with, and threatened by, the more anonymous centralised approach. Ultimately it proposes a new ’boutique library model’ which comprises: subject librarians taking a boutique (or personalised) approach; centrally managed activities which support local services; and collaborative activities to further enhance service excellence.  Interestingly, our spirited defence of the local boutique approach increasingly chimes with the current reversion to – and celebration of – the embedded faculty librarian in US academic libraries.

Although the article was received favourably, albeit by a smaller audience than we had hoped (due to its publication in the digital version of Update), several librarians responded to us by saying: ‘Yes great article, but surely it just articulates what we do already?’ While there may be some truth in this, our feeling was that the value of this approach could be better enhanced and  recognised by exploring its intrinisic value (and the reason for its evolution) in a paper and by formulating a model. We hoped, and still hope, that the model can be applied across the Higher Education sector and, if necessary, used to defend the development of local specialist services where and when they are under threat.

I’m also of the opinion that although we think we personalise our services, that in reality we don’t work that approach hard enough. Do you know what all your PhDs are researching? Do you become actively involved in the research process? Do you give out induction materials to named students?  Are your service guides relevant to one student group or as many as possible? Do you regularly meet with all your users face to face? Do you greet everyone who comes into your library? etc. I know that I couldn’t honestly say yes to any of those. Are we missing a trick or tricks? I’m sure we are and that we could be sharing our personalised success stories.

Anyway, this blog post was by way of an introduction to our forthcoming symposium. If you are interested in exploring personalised library services further and examining the application of our wider boutique model then we’d love to see you here in Cambridge on 22 March. As I write there are around 20 places left.

4 thoughts on “Personalised library services?

  1. magistra says:

    I wondered about coming along to this, it sounds like a good way of getting a feel for new directions in academic libraries. And then I saw the price…

    Why are library events often so expensive? What is the money being spent on? I regularly go to academic day conferences which cost 15-20 GBP. I can afford that out of my own funds. I can’t afford to pay 75 GBP for an event personally, and as it’s not directly related to my job and I’m only a temp anyhow, I’d be unlikely to get work to pay for it. It seems to me that you’re cutting out a substantial potential audience with this kind of pricing.


    1. libreaction says:

      The price of this event is comparably inexpensive and simply covers costs for hiring the venue, AV support, lunch and refreshments. It also pays for speakers travel expenses and administrative materials. We will not be making any profit from this event.


    2. Libby Tilley says:

      There are an awful lot of courses our there in the wider librarianship community which cost more money – which people must be paying for because they are often full. This is a conference with a difference – one reason why it’s called a symposium. You’ll get the personalised approach, the oportunity to contribute and engage with the topic in workshops with key practitioners in librarianship. It should be challenging and motivational. And yes – as Andy says we’re not making a profit in any case!


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