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!