Friday, 5 May 2017

Building trust

Well, here I am back at the blog posts again, and managing to make it back within the 18 months I mentioned on my previous post about communication!

During the past 15 months, there have been many blog posts written - mostly in my head, but one or two have made it to draft form on here, but none have actually seen the light of publication! I'm sorry about that! I'm sure you've not missed my ramblings, but I'm genuinely disappointed in myself for not making the time to share my cataloguing thoughts with you, although in reality there haven't been many thoughts about the act of cataloguing, nor about RDA, nor hardly about the future of cataloguing, as I've been distracted by so many other things recently!

So, I've just read a call for papers for a local conference, the topic of which is centred around that of trust. An interesting topic, which I believe is relevant to all of us, which made me think about my own approach to building trust. I don't think it's something I consciously do. It's a bit like my approach to communication I was telling you about in the last blog post - something that is such an integral part of me, and the way I think and operate, that I simply automatically live by these rules - if you want to call them rules!

I could not talk at a conference for 40 minutes on the subject of building trust, because I only have six golden rules that I try to live by, so that would probably only take about six seconds!!! For what it's worth, here they are:

Always put other people first

I suppose this is actually about supporting people, in whatever way I can. For me, life is about human relationships, and it's those relationships that build the world. There is simply enormous satisfaction to be had from supporting people to develop and achieve, to grow and to succeed, and being effective at supporting them helps to initiate and cement trust.

Make time to listen to people

People are invariably most interesting to listen to. Each of us is unique, we've all had different experiences, and we all have so much to share and to learn from each other, that to not listen to others would mean missing out on so much. Listening to others, and being interested in them helps to develop trust - both ways.

Never promise more than you know you can deliver

Bit of a customer service mantra, this one, really, but I think it applies in many situations where people are involved! I guess it's about managing people's expectations, so they are not left disappointed, angry or sad, as such negative emotions can lead to a breaking down of any trust that has been built up - and it sure is a difficult hill to re-climb.

Always deliver what you say you will

Yes, agreed, this one sounds rather like the previous one, but it is subtly different in emphasis. So, you've not promised things that are not within your gift, but equally, you won't let anything get in the way of the things you have agreed to deliver, so you can keep that promise.

Never bitch or gossip

Eek, I didn't much like writing either of those two words, but it is so very important not to be drawn into the grapevine, the rumour machine, the office politics. It would be easy to do, but quite catastrophic for a relationship with work colleagues. If people tell you something in confidence, don't be the one to break that confidence by sharing with others - at least, not unless there are lives at stake - and never let yourself be drawn into judgmental conversations about colleagues.

Show people you're human

The place for being the real you is at home, with your loved ones, who accept you for exactly who you are, warts and all, as a friend of mine used to say! But, there is absolutely no harm done, and probably lots to be gained, by showing yourself to be human at work, now and again. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that one should show one's vulnerability at every opportunity (if indeed one was that vulnerable), but occasionally it's good for people to understand that we're all people, and we're all in this together, and a little bit of trust and support goes a long way.

So, that's my thoughts on building trust. As ever I'd be pleased to hear your views, and what you do to build trust between yourself and others, after all, we're all different and all have our unique ways of doing things.
See you next time!

Thursday, 11 February 2016


I don't know about you, but I often engage in distraction activities!! Today I have been trying to focus my thinking on project management, ahead of the CIG e-forum tomorrow, but I find I've been side-tracked into thinking about communication in general. 

So, realising I hadn't blogged for well over a year (well, that's not true, I have blogged weekly over at lynneaboutloughborough, I just haven't blogged here recently), I thought I'd share my thoughts about communication with you. And then, whilst looking through my list of blogs, trying to find bloggingcataloguing, I found one of my others (threebooksinalibrary) and got engrossed in reading some of the posts on that, and realised that that particular blog was probably the one to use for sharing aspects of my life unrelated to my cataloguing work and my tour guiding (à la findingursula).

But, back to communication ...

For me, life is all about relationships with others. In order for those relationships to work properly, I need to communicate, regularly and in different ways. I suppose, thinking about it, I have a number of, well, rules I guess, that I try and live by, particularly when I'm engaged in face2face communication with people. As I said, these are my rules, and are very personal to me, but you might be interested to know what they are:

Never make assumptions about anything - don't assume that people know what you're talking about, why you're talking about it, why you're talking about it now, why you're talking to them about it, nor that they will feel the same way as you do about it ...

Never talk in riddles - for me, this includes colloquialisms, adages, idioms, metaphors, abbreviations, acronyms, management-speak etc.. Obviously, there are some exceptions I would apply, so, for example, I would use RDA in conversation with my cataloguers because I know they know what this means, but in conversation with other library colleagues I might simply say "the standard that governs the way we catalogue". Of course, by applying this idea to my own communication, it often turns into "Lynne-speak" which is probably off-putting for others, and can mean that I will go into minute detail, giving far too much background information! My personal experience of hearing phrases that seem to be in regular use is usually one of embarrassment because I might have a vague idea of what it means, but not a complete idea, which means I have to ask. While for me it might be mildly embarrassing, for someone with less confidence (gosh, are there really such people out there?!) asking for clarification would not be an option, and as a result, the meaning of the communication could be lost. 

Never use, and certainly never accept, "you know" - for me, this is like the "um ..." in a presentation - a simple expression that might tell the listener a lot (or, at least, can lead the listener to jump to conclusions and make certain assumptions). If people use this phrase when talking to me, they're likely to hear "hang on a minute, no, I don't know: have you got time to explain it to me in more detail so I can understand more" - or something similar!

Always communicate more than you think you need to, whilst at the same time avoiding overload - there are times when it's really important to communicate regularly for a while, for example, at a time of change (err, so that's all the time then!), or during the lifespan of a project. Other regular communications could be a staff newsletter, or updating service, and, in my opinion, such communications should appear on same day/time each week/month etc. so that people will come to expect it receive it and look forward to it. And, there absolutely those times when communication needn't be regular, and can probably be more effective because they are unexpected.

Hope you have enjoyed my very personal, unofficial, probably wacky ideas on communication!

See you back here soon - well sooner than 18 months, I hope!       

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Metadata - Making an Impact, CILIP CIG conference

CILIP Cataloguing & Indexing Group Conference 2014

Metadata - making an impact

Certainly made an impression on me!
I am very conscious that I haven’t blogged about cataloguing for over 6 months now, which does disappoint me somewhat. My only excuse is that I’ve been rather busy blogging weekly over at lynneaboutloughborough, and since the beginning of April I’ve added the role of part-time Team Manager for Service Development and Delivery (User Experience) to my existing part-time Team Manager of Bib Services role, and as we know, two halves make more than a whole, so time to blog has been in short supply.

However, the Cataloguing and Indexing Group conferences are always so inspirational – and this year’s (2014) is no exception – so it’s well worth me taking the time to blog about it, so here goes …

This was my fourth CIG conference: I dipped my toe in the waters way back in 2000 when the conference was held in Hereford, but found the lure of small children (aged 8, 6 and 3 at that time) was too great for me to take in much of the conference content. Time, as they say, flies, and it wasn’t until 2010 that I was able to make it to another conference, but I sure am glad I did! It was inspiring: It was beyond inspiring!! The people, the conference content, even the location was inspiring and eye-opening, even though being away from home for the first time in yonks was rather daunting (and, if I’m honest, I’m still not hugely keen on being away from my family). The 2012 conference was no less inspiring, and despite RDA looming overhead (and the knowledge that our OPAC would not be able to cope with changes to fields) I managed to take away such a lot from that conference, so much so that I ended up with a huge “to do” list, and am still, today, working towards achieving some of those things!

To 2014! As ever, the conference was well-attended, the programme interesting and varied and the location excellent! More than 70 cataloguers, librarians and a variety of other information professionals gathered at the University of Canterbury for three days of intense debate and discussion around the cataloguing and related issues of the day.
The university library extension

If there was ever any doubt about the contribution and impact that cataloguers, metadata specialists, or whatever you wish to call people who work in this area of our profession, make to the overall experience of the library user, then this doubt was completed expunged by the talks that were presented and the discussion that were had at this CIG conference, entitled: “Metadata – Making an Impact”. This three-day event, taking place on the beautiful campus of Canterbury University, was divided into four themes:
1.      Impact of Metadata Standards

2.      Impact on the Organisation

3.      Impact of Metadata on Users

4.      Impact of Metadata Professionals

and the presentations within these themes were a mixture of full-length papers, and shorter, lightning talks, with a selection of poster sessions on the afternoon of the 2nd day. The hard work of participating in the conference was punctuated by the fun quiz on the first night, the conference dinner on the second, and a choice of activities on the final afternoon, including a demo of RIMMF, a visit to the University Archive to see the British Cartoon Archive, and a visit to Canterbury Cathedral Library.

Attendees came from all walks of library life – academic libraries, National libraries, public libraries and special libraries – and also included suppliers of services to libraries. This meant that there were opportunities to network with colleagues from many backgrounds during the breaks – and boy, did we network, well, I certainly did, having chatted with almost exactly half of the people who came along!

To review each of the presentations in this blogpost would be too ambitious: It would make for a very long read, and my time is limited. So, I shall try and pick out what were the highlights of the conference for me: These may well be different from your own highlights, so I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences too! I believe presenters’ own write-ups of their presentations will be appearing in an issue of Catalogue & Index, later this year.

1.      Impact of Metadata Standards

So, we were worried about the impact of RDA on our work. We spent many hours reading and learning about it, discussing it and being trained in it, and now we’ve adopted it. So just when you thought it was safe to come look out from your RDA bib record, along comes something else to scare you: BIBFRAME (and just in case you thought I was shouting, I’m not really, this is how the phrase appears on LoC website (amongst others)).

Thomas Meehan, from UCL went out of his way to explain to us exactly what BIBFRAME is and to put our minds at rest and reassure us that it really isn’t as complicated as we might have thought! I love the idea of triplets, for it appeals to my musical inclination, but I also love the idea of linked data and all the opportunities that this brings to our world. It was announced at the conference that Thomas was the well-deserved recipient of the Alan Jeffreys Award for his fantastic work on demystifying linked data. Follow these links for a very basic description of BIBFRAME and for a more detailed introduction to the concept and its applications.

Chris Biggs from the OU talked to us about the challenges that were faced when trying to combine metadata from many different sources to create the OU Digital Archive (OUDA). His description of adding various fields to MARC records struck a chord with me, and it was somehow a relief to know that I am not alone!

The focus of the next two talks was on RDA: Great to hear that there are moves afoot to simplify the standard!!!

2.      Impact on the Organisation 

Gosh, who’d ever have believed all the work that goes on behind the scenes of television screens! Listening to Laura Williams, we learned that the metadata managers at the BBC certainly have their work cut out in making sure that every little bit of filming is easily retrievable, because you just never know when someone might want it! And the very idea of persuading other, non-metadata, staff to provide good quality metadata in the first instance is simply admirable!

Your library service may well contribute your serials holdings to SUNCAT, but did you realise how much work goes on to get your data into a suitable format for sharing?! I know I certainly didn’t, and, if I’m honest, I’m somewhat ashamed, listening to Natasha Aburrow-Jones, of what little attention our serial records actually get. They deserve more: Metadata matters. Food for thought for me.

As cataloguers we all want to get it just right, but I’m sure none of us are under such pressure as Arwen Caddy to get it right first time: As soon as she and her team have created a record it is locked down, and can never be edited!  I don’t know about you, but in my cataloguing team there is a certain degree of checking of work that goes on: Hopefully, there is not (and I’m sure there isn’t!) a culture of “it’s ok to make mistakes as they’ll be picked up later” but rather a desire to ensure we also get it right first time! 

Before the start of sessions pertaining to the third theme of the conference, there was a panel discussion on e-book metadata. As you might imagine, there were many chestnuts here, old and new, including use of ISBNs and eISBNs, overwriting of records, de-duping, the repeated 020 field and $z, and the use of 035, 040 and 590! The overall messages were: Analyse feedback from users; and we need to shout louder!!

3.      Impact of Metadata on Users

In a fit of pique I recently deleted my own Pinterest account, but learning from Claire Sewell about the use Cambridge libraries make of Pinterest, I now wish I hadn’t. Well, actually, maybe now would be a good time to create an account for my own library, or even hook into our institutional account?  Claire has also produced a Storify of the conference.

Ruth Jenkins gave us an absolutely fascinating talk on her analysis of the use of LCSH and social tagging to help in the retrieval of sources based around LGBTQ issues – so, perhaps novels aimed at the teenage market, where the central character is lesbian. There is so much that can be learned from reading about people’s experiences, but this can only be done if the reading material can be easily retrieved in the first place. C’mon cataloguers: We have a responsibility here, to be inclusive!

We may think all our library systems work just fine together, but what does a real researcher make of them? Anne Welsh described the many frustrations she found, particularly with output from our catalogue to our referencing software, whilst she was researching for her PhD. Words I would use to describe Anne’s experience are: Gobsmacking; Shocking; Probably preventable! Anne questioned the validity of feedback from users: How do we know how representative those views are? [And I’d add, particularly when those views come from a tiny proportion of our users.] She asks, do we know what users are actually doing or trying to achieve when they sit staring at a screen? Probably not, but shouldn’t we?

Anne’s presentation was a hard act to follow - brilliant content, fantastic use of pictures: I thought I’d blogged about our PIC Project, but on looking for the link I find I have made reference to it, but never actually written the post! How disgraceful! So, very briefly, our Protecting the Integrity of the Catalogue Project was about ensuring that our catalogue accurately reflected what was on our library shelves, and what we had access to. Activities undertaken that helped to PIC included stockchecking, physical re-classification, withdrawing, binding, repairs, relocations etc..

There followed the poster session. This was held just outside the lecture room, and quite frankly, I was staggered and so envious of the creations, which were just soooo visual. I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos, so I’ll just list the titles of the posters from the conference programme:

o       Using metadata from the Institutional Repository for the REF submissions

o       Metadata quality checking: Integration of workflows in relation to reading list software

o       The impact of reclassification

o       Changing positions: New roles making an impact

o       The impact of RDA in Cambridge

4.      Impact of Metadata Professionals

If you’re using RDA at the moment it’s likely that you learned this after having been trained to use AACR. But what of those folk new to cataloguing who are starting their cataloguing careers, and RDA is their first encounter with a cataloguing standard – digital RDAers, perhaps? Deborah Lee set about analysing results from her experience of training of two, new cataloguers in using RDA: How much training was needed? How did this training differ from training that had previously been offered? Some useful conclusions shared, and definitely something to think about when embarking on training for new cataloguers.

My best attempt at being visual!
So, mentions of the READ-ability Initiative abound on my blog, but I realise I never got round to sharing the whole thing! Record Enhancement to Aid Discoverability was about improving LCSH, authorising name headings, re-classifying, separating e-books from their hard copy records, submitting bib records to the institutional repository, and acting upon Typos of the Day!

I have written phrases in my notebook like: “rigorous application of project management methodology”; “appetite for appropriately managed risk”, but I can’t do justice, in this short blogpost, to the talk given by the Chair of CIG, Robin Armstrong-Viner, in which he wowed us all with his complete turnaround of backlogs of incoming stock, changing the way this was handled. With the systematic introduction and application of project management skills (and a generous supply of money) the work of the metadata department has become a shining example of what can be achieved.

The theme of project management was continued by Celine Carty, who explained how she had applied the principles of project management at Cambridge. She stressed the importance of communication , especially with staff involved in doing work towards the project, particularly if they were unsure of the benefits.

The final speakers of the conference were from the university of Canterbury. Josie Caplehorne and Clair Waller who explained how they had come from different library backgrounds to work at the university and how their new role as metadata assistants was both challenging and rewarding.  For me, this was a very uplifting and positive end to the conference.

It would be totally out of character for me not to apologise, so, having avoided the temptation at the beginning of this article, I will do so now: Please accept my apologies if you feel I have not done justice to your presentation: This is entirely my own failing, partly because my capacity for actually writing notes for the duration of the conference was not as great as in previous years, and the delay in me writing up those notes has meant that some hieroglyphics that made perfect sense at the time, are now completely unfathomable!

My final activity of the conference was a visit to Canterbury Cathedral Library where we were treated to some really choice items! Look, but don’t touch was very much the order of the day, and we did! We peered through the glass with awe at the collections of material the librarian had kindly unearthed for us: And were thrilled to be able to touch some of the bookcases that so very, very old! Many thank to CIG for organising this visit, and to the cathedral librarian for taking the trouble to show such a large group of us around!

As I stepped out of the cathedral into the busy town of Canterbury, a plan formed in my mind: A cataloguing plan? Well, yes, but also a plan to re-visit Canterbury as a tourist rather than a conference-goer!

Looking forward to CIG16 – wherever that may be!


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Getting used to a new catalogue interface

If you’ve been used to using the same catalogue interface for the last 10 years, the idea of learning the vagaries of searching a new catalogue interface could be quite daunting.

This was the position I recently found myself in. I wasn’t daunted, but I was conscious that our new catalogue didn’t quite operate in the way as our old one, and often didn’t produce the results I would have expected. So, I wondered how other library staff were getting on with it: Did they find what they were looking for? Did they find searching easy? Did they wonder about their unexpected results? Were they frustrated by anything? Did they like the new interface? Did they think our users would find it easy to use?

So many questions!! Wouldn’t it be good if we could pool our knowledge and share our searching hints and tips with each other, to minimise the re-inventing of wheels, and to give all staff access to the same knowledge. How would this best be done? A stand up and talk lecture? Booking a lecture theatre and allocating each member of staff a pc on which to try things out? Compiling a written list of hints and tips, and circulating this to everyone? Hmmm. And then it came to me!

The cataloguers had spent rather a lot of time using and getting used to the new interface in relation to the changing cataloguing standards (i.e. from MARC21 to RDA) and so perhaps we were the ones best placed to host a sharing event! So we did! And it worked really well!

This is what we did: We offered an open day with a difference!

We sent out an email invitation to all library staff:

Dear All,
On Tuesday 11th February, the Bibliographic Services Office will be hosting a
Catalogue interface familiarisation event
This event will take the form of an open house, between the hours of 10 and 4.
You are invited to come down to our office on Tuesday 11th Feb, anytime during the hours of 10 and 4, when you are not on front-facing duties, and bring your catalogue queries and questions, likes and gripes with you!
You will be able to share any worries and concerns, as well as any comments and questions you may have, with any member of the team. We will do our best to address any concerns and answer any questions on the spot, but in the event that we dont know the answer we will investigate and get back to you as soon as possible after the event as we can.  
If you are not at work on this day, or you work evenings/weekends, I will be available to answer your questions on the evenings of Monday 10th Feb (5-8) and Wednesday 12th Feb (4-6.30), in the LGF Office.
We look forward to seeing!

And followed this up with a reminder at 10am on the day of the event:
Just a quick reminder that this event opens today at 10am and continues throughout the day until 4pm. Everyone is very welcome!!

Each member of the Bib Services team was available between the hours of 10am and 4pm to answer any questions that anyone who came down brought with them. We also invited one of our colleagues from the library IT side of our operation to come down and help answer questions. Having an extended drop-in time meant that most people were able to come along, and could fit their visit around their scheduled front-of-house activities without having to excuse themselves from the rota, and likewise Bib Services staff could still undertake their own rota duties but there would still be some of our staff available throughout the event. Front-of-house duties can be a difficult obstacle to overcome when sessions are offered that are potentially of interest to all members of library staff – someone has to staff the desks/counters!

So, the idea was that when people arrived in the Bib Services office they could chose who from the Bib Services team they wanted to talk to, and they could chose if they wanted to do this on a one2one basis or as a small group (no more than three people to a group). This meant that people could choose to talk to people in the team who worked at a similar level (e.g. Information Assistant to Information Assistant), or to people they already had a good relationship with, or people who they thought might be better able to answer their questions. 

Also, when visitors arrived, they were greeted by a member of the team who gave them a sheet of hints and tips that had already been compiled, and offered them bribes, sorry, I mean sweets! Each member of the team also had a plate of biscuits or a bowl of sweets from which visitors could help themselves. In the event that no-one was immediately available to greet, there were also some games and things to do on the  “welcome desk” so that no-one needed to feel left out.

"Reception desk" - a couple more games were added later!
As well as the email publicity, we placed a poster on the staff noticeboard, and a poster on the office door, and a welcome poster above the “welcome desk”. One member of the Bib Services team very kindly offered to go around all the other offices and remind people that the event was taking place, and personally inviting them down to take advantage of our offering. This actually proved to be the most successful part of the advertising: Nothing quite like the personal touch!

We also sent out a reminder at about 2.15pm:

Just a reminder that the catalogue familiarisation event finishes at 4pm today, but there’s still plenty of time to come down and share your likes and gripes with us!!
Hope to see you shortly if you haven’t already come down.

For the whole day there was a buzz in the office like I’ve never witnessed before! And, judging by the feedback forms we received after the event, it seems most people not only had their questions answered, and learned a bit more about the new catalogue interface, but they also seemed to enjoy the event!

Some of the strengths of the event, as evidenced by the feedback included:
  • one2one attention
  • the informality
  • convenience of drop-in
  • expert help and advice
  • ease of asking questions

We had about 25 visitors over the day, and received about 68% of feedback forms returned, and out of a possible score of 340 points we received a healthy 298.

At the end of the event we sent out a thank-you message, and a suggestion about what might happen next:

Dear All, 
Many thanks to those of you who came down to the LGF Office and took part in the catalogue familiarisation event. As I suspected, we in Bib Services learned a lot from you, and I hope you learned enough from us to make your visit worthwhile.
If you had any queries that we were unable to answer on the spot, these will have been passed to me and I am currently working my way through them, and at the same time using your questions as a basis for extending the FAQs we had already compiled. This may take me a little while though, so I hope you will bear with me.
If you came to visit us, I’d be ever so grateful for your feedback, and I have attached a feedback form in case you didn’t get one on your visit.
Many thanks for your support,

A couple of days later I was able to email out to all staff a list of questions and answers that had been received on the day of the event. Where there were unanswered questions, or questions that needed further investigation, these questions were included with suggested action points.

Following the familiarisation event, a number of further questions were received and answered via email. But, I wanted to go further! In our world, the world of cataloguing and technical services, we are used to taking part in e-forums, and this was what I wanted to do next, to give people another opportunity to find out more about the new library catalogue interface.

Unfortunately, the timescale was too tight to create an email group of which all library staff would be a member, although the advantages of such a group would be that the email list would include an archive accessible to all. In the end, I used my own email account, and advertised that I would be at the end of my email to answer any catalogue questions, during a two-hour period on a specific day. As you know, with the ALCST and CIG e-forums, these are structured around a specific set of questions, but I decided against any specific format, and simply accepted any questions that were posed of me.

The event was publicised on email:

Dear All,
As a follow-up to the library catalogue familiarisation event of last week I would like to offer you a different opportunity to share your comments and queries about the catalogue.
On Wednesday 19th February, between the hours of 10am and 12 noon, I will be at the end of my email to answer any questions you may have, and to take your comments on the new library catalogue interface. As these emails will be coming in along with all my other regular emails, please adopt the subject line “library catalogue comments” so I can easily identify your email and respond quickly.
If you are not able to participate tomorrow, please do send your comments to me at any time to suit you, but be aware that, although I will respond, it may not be immediately.
I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow,

In the event, we had about 5 different library staff emailing a total of about 8 different questions. I answered all the questions myself apart from one, which I referred to the only other cataloguer who was in the office at the time. Again, all questions and answers were recorded and issued to staff, like the results of the previous events.

As with the previous event, questions were received after the scheduled event, and these were also answered and included in the feedback. Again, staff seemed pleased to be offered the opportunity to ask their questions in the knowledge that someone was listening and likely to provide them with an answer.

As a result of all this activity, the Bib Services team is planning to create an extended FAQ for library staff in the use of the new catalogue interface, based on the questions and answers that were received at the various events. I am also going to suggest that we create a new library email list that can be used like an e-forum, for discussion about new services etc..

Overall, I think the two activities were quite successful, and I would hope to run similar events the next time we move to a new service.

PS The box labelled “Open me!” on the “welcome desk” contained loads of different quotes about libraries, catalogues, and cataloguers!


Monday, 25 November 2013

Not for the want of ideas ...

Please accept my humblest apologies for it being ages since I last blogged. As the title of this post implies, it's not for want of ideas, but more due to lack of time, or, I suppose, if I were being honest, I've chosen to spend my time on other activities - like my other blog, going to lectures and events and generally trying to spread myself as thinly as possible!!

So, some of the things I thought I might blog about included:
  • annual development reviews
  • one2one meetings
  • evaluation (or so it appears, having read my last but one post!)
  • RDA - adoption of, or lack of adoption of!
  • volunteering in public libraries
  • local studies collections
  • my team's READ-ability Initiative and PIC Project
  • process reviews
  • project work
  • how cataloguers are a public good
  • the super-library concept
  • CILIP involvement
  • library budgets
  • customer service
  • e-book collections

but I'm having difficulty choosing and honing in on just one idea! So, what shall it be? For a blog entitled "Blogging Cataloguing" I seem to be veering away from the topic, but that could be because I actually haven't done much cataloguing for quite a while now, as our backlog receded and the cataloguers are generally able to keep up. Having said that, I have been reliably informed that we have doubled the number of orders we would normally place in November, this year, so I'm expecting a flood of new books to come in, and I might just have to dust off my Dewey login, and update my RDA knowledge!

Actually, new books have already started to roll in to the office, and are causing quite a stir. The "holding" shelves are stuffed, the trolleys are teetering and there are enough cardboard boxes to build a substantial dwelling.

The way we work is to split the acquisitions/cataloguing process into small parts, and have staff working on different bits at the same time, in order to ensure a steady flow of new books through the office. However, if one person is opening boxes, then this person can't also be doing spine labelling, or if another person is paying invoices, they can't be jacketing new books. So, we're ending up robbing Peter to pay Paul, and then robbing Paul to pay Peter, clearing a blockage in one part of the system and then creating a blockage in a different part of the process!

Still, it's only a temporary blip! We seem to be keener than ever to spend our money as quickly as possible, so I'm sure it'll soon run out, and we will be able to reinstate all those database maintenance jobs that we try to do in the background, those little things that can make the user experience so much better. Things like, improving the quality of LCSH in our records, improving the quality of our name headings, updating our classification numbers to reflect the latest edition of Dewey, ensuring that all our hotlinks still work and generally improving the quality of our bib records.

As you might expect, all this frenzied activity on the new book front is coinciding with other work which is to do with upgrading our OPAC, introducing a discovery product, introducing new software which will help to improve our ways of working, particularly in the field of ordering, and working out how best to integrate a new-to-the-team, but established operation, and the staff associated with it.

Personally, although it's still November, I'm looking forward to the Christmas vacation!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fun, games and objectives!

Or: The Team Away Day

On the last Friday before I went off on holiday for two weeks we had a team away day. When I say “team” I really mean the service area of which my team is a part, not just my team. It was quite a last-minute decision, so there wasn’t much time for planning, but we knew the focus of the morning would be setting the aims and objectives for the coming year! Hardly a topic for people to get excited about, but a real necessity, in the current climate, to articulate what we wanted to achieve over the next year.

For the first time ever, we went off-campus and hired a relatively inexpensive room in The Phoenix. This was a controversial decision: Some colleagues were appalled at the very idea of wasting time walking to the venue, others didn’t understand what the benefits of going somewhere else could possibly be, while others were ambivalent. To say anyone was excited by the prospect would be a gross exaggeration – except for me!!

As it turned out, the hired space was almost ideal, with three large round tables, an interactive whiteboard, coffee and tea on tap, and, best of all, patio doors that opened onto a decked area furnished with picnic benches and tables, which provided a break-out space for group activities.

I don’t know what you think, but I find objective setting meetings can be quite hard to run: It’s sometimes difficult to get people engaged in the activity, to see how what they do on a day-to-day basis contributes to the aims of the service as a whole and to the aims of the institution, so over the years I’ve tried different ways of involving people. I still remember the year I got it right and was rewarded with a bunch of flowers from the team: Never quite reached that level of success since, but it did give me the impetus to carry on doing things in my own style, so each year I try something different!

So, this year, I had a couple of days to come up with something new and different to complement the aims and objectives setting part of the meeting – and that was a tall order! I thought about things that had motivated me over the years, and tried to translate this into fun activities that would work for the team and get people enjoying themselves, but at the same time in the mood to consider their objectives.

Eventually I settled on a couple of games and a quiz, so we did two of these fun activities before settling down to consider our objectives, and then we finished off with the third one. And, during the whole of the morning, people were working on another quiz!

At first I think people were a bit sceptical about taking part in daft things, that seemed to bear no relation to their work, but once they’d relaxed into it, I think they could see the relevance and had a good time to boot. What worked particularly well was that there were three tables of eight staff, which was fortuitous as I’d already decided to divide the team into three groups, and rotate the games round the groups. It was interesting how the groups had divided themselves, and I felt little need to interfere with the composition of the groups. So, we had a table of men, with one woman, a table of women with one man, and a mixed table! All tables had a mixture of people from the three different teams that were represented at the meeting.

The three activities and the individual quiz were:

1.      The picture match where I provided a random set of pictures and each person in the group chose a picture that they think was most like them and each explained in turn why they thought this. The rest of the group were then allowed to agree or disagree with the choice, and say why. The aim of this was to help people who didn’t necessarily work together often to get to know each other better, to foster trust and an appreciation of diversity.

2.      A word game where the group divided themselves into two teams and each team taking it in turns to define either a big word or a small word, big words earning a bigger score. This was a competitive game, and the aim was to help people appreciate the versatility of the English language and that whatever words they used for their annual development review were as valid as any others.

3.      The quiz was designed to discover people’s learning style so that, like the first game, people could appreciate that we are all different, but are working towards the same goals.

4.      The individual quiz was simply a list of acronyms for which the answer was the spelled out version of the name. Of course, the acronyms were all related to our area of work, or our organisation. A small prize of a memory stick was awarded to the person who scored the highest: The winner got 35/45.

The objective-setting part of the morning, led by the head of our teams, proved quite effective too. A list of suggested objectives, together with a brief description and the names of the lead people, had been circulated to staff earlier, so at the away day, people were asked to identify where they were likely to be involved and to suggest changes and additions to the aims. I am pleased to say that there were a number of changes and additions, and I think everyone came away with a clear idea of what their part in the team’s aims was.

Overall, I think people appreciated being away from the "office" and felt able to forget the day job and devote a period of time to what is fundamentally an important activity. For my part, I felt that sandwiching the objective-setting between some fun activities allowed people to relax into the objective-setting and feel more involved and able to participate fully. What we ended up with was a fairly comprehensive, but achievable list of things to do over the coming year, and hopefully, we each also gained an insight into what made each of us tick.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Across the sectors and through the decades

I qualified as a librarian in the early 1980s and during the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to work in public libraries, industrial libraries and academic libraries, gaining different experience in each sector and being able to bring ideas with me from one sector to another.

The public sector

I started my career in public libraries, initially working as an assistant on the issues and enquiries desk. I travelled to different branch libraries and experienced life on the mobile library, as well as shadowing the reference and children’s librarians. After a while you got to know your customers; the same people would come in on the same day each week, and would be looking for similar reading matter each time. Even in a busy town library it was possible to develop a rapport with the regulars and provide them with the service they expected. I thoroughly enjoyed the mass 9am shelves too!! This was a real bonding experience and helped to get one familiar with the library stock. It might also amuse you to learn that the public library had just moved from the Browne issue system to an automated one – Plessey light pens and barcodes had just been introduced, and we were excited to be part of the IT revolution!!

*Most remembered book: the westerns of J T Edson!

My second role in public libraries took me behind the scenes, where I supervised a team of retrospective cataloguing assistants. This role was very much out of the gaze of the public, but nevertheless, one had to be mindful of the users when deciding what areas of stock to re-catalogue/re-classify next so as to cause minimum disruption. It was during this role that I gained experience of a couple of things that I now realise were extremely important in furthering my career and my love for that career: cataloguing/classification was fun, interesting and rewarding and we became intimately familiar with library stock; supervision of a team was the stepping stone to managing a team; and you can never quite sit outside the hierarchy! This particular role was interesting, not just for its cat/class operation, but also because the project was run by the staff at County Hall, so my training and overall direction came from them, but working on the ground in the town libraries I had to liaise closely with the town and district librarians!

*Most remembered book: In and out of the box (a biography of Robert Dougall)

I was quite glad when the time came to move from public libraries, not because I didn’t like the sector, but more because I got fed up with the train commute and was lucky enough to secure a job about a mile away from my home.

The industrial sector

Industrial libraries proved to be very different from what I was used to in the public library, the only similarities being with the smaller public library, as the firm’s library was quite small and it was great to develop a professional relationship with so many of the staff. The huge difference, of course, was in the information needs of the staff, so much so, that the service was actually divided into the Library, staffed by a librarian, and the Information Service, staffed by information scientists.

As an assistant librarian I was responsible for ordering, receiving, cataloguing, classifying, processing and shelving all the new books. I issued books, stamped newspaper and also helped out with inter-library loans, and occasionally journals work when necessary. Staff would come into the library for a variety reasons, and as in the public library it was easy to recognise their information needs, as they would come in regularly, often to consult the same journal or resource. They were all specialists in their field, and it was my role to help them with their “quick reference” enquiries, often referring to the Merck Index, the BP (British Pharmacopeia), Martindale or the BNF (British National Formulary), but I made sure to steer clear of Chem Abs!! I was not allowed to do any in-depth enquires: these were assigned to the information scientists, the staff who had first degrees in biochemistry etc., and experience of using expensive dial-up information tools, like Dialog!

One of my proudest moments was producing a series of leaflets for staff outlining the services offered by the Library and the Information Service. I was keen to get people who didn’t normally use the library to realise we had something to offer almost everyone, and this was one way of drawing them in. I was also involved in helping to develop an automated in-house library system; remember, we are still talking early 1980s here, and computerised library systems were still in their infancy, and although we looked at ALICE, even that was too grand for our purposes. I also remember having in-depth discussions about the principles of AACR2! However, at this particular firm there was limited scope for career progression so I eventually secured a post in an academic library.

*Most remembered book: The chemistry of heterocyclic compounds (series)

The academic sector

And once I got there I realised just how similar the industrial library and the academic library were. It had never really occurred to me before, but I had got used to dealing with people with doctorates and people whose interests lay in the chemistry of heterocyclic compounds, anti-oxidants, free radicals, anti-coagulants etc., all areas that had never entered my vocabulary until I took up the post in the industrial library: My father was an industrial chemist, working with nylon, but I didn’t even do a chemistry “O” level!

The interaction with the users was, however, somewhat different as initially I was dealing with issue desk functions - arguing about fines (we didn’t have those in the industrial library), claims returned items (we never lost a book in the industrial library!) and people activating the security alarm (we didn’t have a security system in the industrial library!) I soon got fed up of that, so I moved into cataloguing!!

I moved from a one-person cataloguing (and doing everything else) operation to a department of cataloguers! That was one BIG difference! We ordered humungous amounts of books! We checked in thousands of journal issues a week, and the inter-library loans department was incredibly busy! We all took turns at staffing the enquiry desk – where I should say that being in the cataloguing department was tremendously helpful in knowing about new resources – but relied on the subject specialists (librarians, not information scientists) to do the complicated, expensive dial-up research. These days, of course, this doesn’t happen: Users input vague words into discovery systems and out pop millions of potentially useful references! 

Both positions I held in the academic library – at the issue desk and in the cataloguing department - were at team leader level, so my experience of supervising staff in my earlier roles, proved to be a great foundation on which to build.

*Most remembered book: Kotler Principles of marketing


In summary, in my experience the principles of librarianship are remarkably similar, regardless of the sector in which they are being applied, as are the principles of management. But it is the application of these and other principles that can highlight the difference: UDC is perhaps not best suited to a public library collection but may be common to both an industrial library and academic library; the buying power of a small industrial library is never going to match that of a huge county library service, nor a large academic library; journals/periodicals/serials do not feature much in the public library, but are primary research material in the industrial and academic sectors; selection of material may, however, be quite different in all three sectors, as a public library service may rely heavily on publishers’ lists, the industrial library may simply buy stock that is requested by its staff, and an academic library may purchase stock requested by the academic staff and by the specialist subject librarians; to name but a few. 
I’ve spent 32 years in the profession, and after 26 years, I am still at that same academic library. There have been enormous changes during that time – automated library management systems that included issue functions, an OPAC, and inter-library loans; dial-up information sources; databases on CDs; the internet; electronic resources; student fees; tightening budgets etc. – but the principles of helping people find the information they need, by organising it properly and being able to retrieve it easily, have remained a constant, not only through time, but also across the sectors.