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.  


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Learning outcomes

Any of you who know me will know that I'm a sucker for doing courses in things that interest me, so you won't be surprised to learn that I've recently added "tour guide" to my list of qualifications. Luckily, the taught sessions fitted nicely around my working week, but a friend who was also doing the course was not so lucky, but did manage to get given some time off work to do it. In these straightened times, there is a need to justify much of what we do, so in order to prove the potential value of the course to her employers, I helped my friend think about her expected learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes can be quite a tricky thing to get to grips with, especially if the training or course you are doing is very short, for example over a half day, when you could spend a large proportion of the time considering what you expect to get out of the session etc. thus shortening the time you have to actually learn on the course! The course we were undertaking was spread over a period of 5 months, and a detailed plan was issued before the start of the course. This meant we had plenty of time to consider what we might be taught, what we wanted to learn, what we expected to learn and how we would put this learning to good use after completing the course.

For me, I found this in-depth consideration of what I expected to get out of this course extremely useful, and it focussed my mind on how to get the best out of the course, what transferable skills I already had that I could improve upon or those I didn't have that I could gain, and how I might use these skills, and my new knowledge, in the future. So, what was important to me was not that the course lasted for 5 months, but rather I wanted to concentrate on the outcomes.

You may be wondering where I'm going with this ... so am I! There's something niggling at the back of my mind ... I recently read on the CILIP website that the current qualifications - chartership, fellowship, accreditation, revalidation - are being somewhat revamped under the Future Skills Project. Excellent: It's always good to keep things fresh and up-to-date. However, what struck me most was the following statement:

"A revised model for revalidation will be implemented which has a stronger focus on inputs (amount of time spent on CPD) than outputs (impact of CPD). "

Now, if you know me well, you will know that I do have a habit of making literal translations of things! So, to me the above statement says: Spend more time doing CPD activities, but don't worry if you don't learn anything along the way. It seems odd to me that in today's financial climate one is expected to undertake lots of CPD, often with an associated high cost, and that the rationale one has to produce in order to persuade one's organisation to pay for your attendance at any training event is no longer of any relevance to your professional body! Personally, I would have said that the outcomes were far more important than the amount of CPD you do. That said, this is not a criticism of CILIP, merely a comment on my preferred way of doing things.

I suppose, for me, it’s a bit like if you don’t have a plan, how do you know when you’ve reached your goal, or achieved anything, so having a set of learning outcomes allows you to see what you expected to learn and then you can see if you’ve learned this and more, and thus, provided you have learned something, you feel you’ve achieved something!

Well, that’s all for now! Call back in a little while for the next post which, if I remember when I come to write it, will be about evaluation … !

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Opening the office doors

Just before Easter the Bibliographic Services Team opened its office doors and invited staff from other parts of the library to come and see what actually goes on in the team: A little bit of demystifying can work wonders for cross-library working relationships!

Our Open Day advertising was based around our READ-ability Initiative and our PIC Project, and ensured that we focussed on showcasing many of the things we do that other library staff perhaps didn’t realise we did! Previous open days have usually been based around the route of the book (from order to shelf), or journals work, so this latest venture was a bit of a departure for us.

Here’s the blurb:

Down in the fusty, dusty basement, cataloguing staff have their noses in great tomes of wonder - the manuals of AACR2, RDA LCSH and MARC21 and the Dewey classification schedules! True? Well, yes, at least partially!

We do indeed live in the basement, but it certainly is not fusty and dusty! We have windows – although they don’t actually open, and look out on to the pavement – and because of the fast throughput in the office, there is little in the way of dust! Although cataloguers by name, we do so much more, and we shook off our old mantle years ago – where were you when we moved to online manuals and online Dewey schedules, got involved in Twitter chats, mashdmu events and raised our heads above the parapet?

So come on down to our office and learn about:

·      our READ-ability Initiative - committing to improving the experience of students and other library users when interacting with the library catalogue and the library stock, helping them to find that elusive piece of information they need. It is about articulating and understanding what we do and how it can help users, and telling everyone!
·      our PIC Project - pulling together much of the work performed around cataloguing in Bibliographic Services, and recognises that much of this work helps to PIC!!
·      the more traditional activities associated with a thriving Bibliographic Services operation, like journals work, ordering, financial controls and much, much more!

Intrigued? Want to know more? Then abandon the arena of user activity and bound down to the basement to learn about the creation of metadata and keyword consistency to ensure discoverability of our resources!

We made an early decision to limit the number of participants to each open day to 15, given that there were five major topics we wanted to cover, and each demo would be around someone’s workstation. We also decided to go the speed-dating way – five groups of three people stopping at each of five demos, each demo being no more than 15 minutes long! This meant we could show more of what we do, but in less detail, so nothing should have been too technical!

The idea of only being able to share tiny snippets of what we do may sound a bit limiting, but the initial greeting and the final goodbye stressed the idea that nothing was too much trouble for us and if anybody wanted to know about more detail about anything they’d seen then we were happy to get a phone call, an email or a personal visit and would go into as much detail as required! Also, if there was something we hadn’t covered at all, we’d be happy to do more tailored sessions.

Every member of the team who was available in the office on the day of the open day (i.e. not on a service point, on leave, poorly, or not scheduled to be at work) had a part to play and showcased some part of Bib Services work to the visitors. My own role was simply to keep an eye on the time and make sure groups moved on as soon as their 15 minutes was up! That proved quite challenging and I’ve since invested in a handbell!

Party bag!
The office was fairly buzzing with activity and chatter for the 90 minutes of the open day, and it was pleasing to see people interacting and learning from each other. At the end of the session, each participant was asked to complete a feedback form and given a party bag – no, not a bribe, just a thank-you for coming gesture!

Judging by the feedback we received, it seems our open day was successful! Of the 11 feedback forms returned, 10 rated the overall open day event as “excellent”. Comments on specific aspects of the open day were also very positive, and some of the suggestions made by our visitors are currently being considered by the team, before we offer our next open day. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Post-31st March!

Hard to believe we are already into April 2013, when it seems like the year only just started!

So, RDA is now longer coming our way - it has already arrived! With a bang? Well, no, not for us really, since some major bibliographic record suppliers have been providing records in RDA format since January of this year. What we have had to do in relation to our own cataloguing work is look at the RDA standard and see what we can and can’t currently adopt, due to limitations not in our cataloguing software, nor our cataloguers' abilities, but in our OPAC.

Decisions made at a cataloguers’ meeting earlier this year will remain in place until our OPAC has the capabilities to display all the new RDA-specific fields, and that, unfortunately, means that wherever possible, the cataloguers will be avoiding importing RDA records. Where an RDA record is the best record available, then it will be imported and modified to suit us, but the resulting record will not be shared with the cataloguing community at large.

Problematic fields for us include the new 264 field, so we will not initially be adopting this, but we will retain fields 336, 337 and 338 if they are in the record. We have had much discussion about 245 $h and have reluctantly decided to adopt this practice, and are hoping that users will find the item-type icon acceptable as an indicator of material-type, until our OAPC is improved.

This situation does, of course, mean that our knowledge, skills and experience of using RDA will lag behind the rest of the cataloguing community, though we are dipping in and out of our toolkit and looking out for suitable training.

Here’s hoping for a speedy resolution to our display problem!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

What's in store for 2013?

Over the last couple of months I’ve written about half a dozen blogs – in my head, that is! Interesting topics keep whizzing into my head, but before I’ve had time to commit them to a blog, something else has whizzed in to replace it! Oh for more hours in a day, more days in a week, more weeks in a month etc.!

2013 is already proving to be a year of change, a year of development and a year of trying to keep up!

We have team open mornings coming up shortly, but before that we are considering (by which I mean evaluating and adjusting) our team delivery plan. This is no mean feat: in order to evaluate and adjust, we need to measure if we’ve come up to scratch against the current plan, and only once we’ve measured can we then think about evaluating (have we done what we said we would, and if not, why not, and what do we need to do to achieve our goals) and then adjusting if the plan seems unrealistic, i.e. overly optimistic or if we are considerably exceeding our goals!

Once we’ve done that we can then use our READ-ability Initiative* and PIC Project* to draw colleagues in to see what goes on in a Bibliographic Services team: Some things they’ll be aware of, some they’ll know quite a bit about, but I’m pretty sure some of what we do will come as a big surprise!!

And hot on the heels of all this comes our RDA planning, training and implementation! Not much to worry about there then!! Following the excellent CIG e-forum on RDA, we at least have a reasonable idea of what to expect with RDA, and our next cataloguers’ meeting will be an RDA-themed one, at which we will certainly have plenty to talk about! As for training, well, we have a plan for several layers of training: specific, detailed training for cataloguers; slightly less detailed stuff for other Bib Services staff, but with a specific focus for information assistants who directly support the cataloguers; and a session much more focused on changes to OPAC for colleagues in the rest of the library. Phew, we are going to be busy!

That will probably take us up to Easter! I’m trying not to think beyond that; to do so would probably cause meltdown!

On a personal level, I’ve decided not to take part in the Six Book Challenge. A recent blog post from Woodsiegirl persuaded me that I really didn’t have to take part. Last year I read a trilogy that I had been meaning to read for about 30 years, and was so surprised/disappointed/upset as this experience completely changed my view of the area in which I grew up to the extent that I’ve almost stopped reading: I’m sure this wasn’t what the Six Book Challenge intended!

You may have noticed that the cataloguers’ wiki has only sporadically been updated recently. This is something I’m not happy about, but has come about for a variety of reasons: I’ve been finding interesting snippets to add whilst I’ve been using my tablet, but as yet, I haven’t discovered how to copy/paste useful links so that I can pick them up on my pc; work has been really busy, so finding time to update the wiki whilst at work has been almost impossible; and I’m doing a course at the moment which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is taking up more of my time than I anticipated. I am adding just a few links at a time, but do have every intention of updating more frequently soon. I’ve also reduced my Twitter activity a bit too as I was finding far too much stuff of interest and getting soooo side-tracked!! No doubt, I’ll soon start to miss the interaction, especially with those wonderful cataloguing chums who know all about RDA!

Ok, that's all for now as I must go and do some research!

*Planning to share more detail about these in a future post.