16 October 2013

On not assuming we speak the same language

For last six weeks, I've made a point of asking college newbies whether they've heard an expression "a library catalogue". Very few, certainly fewer than one in ten, said they did. They were surprised, and I am surprised too: it has taken me seven years to appreciate an obvious fact that I speak a different language, than my library users do.
As part of library sessions, I now ask whether people have seen Argos catalogues; virtually all have. I ask what is the purpose of those catalogues; with no exceptions learners correctly say: to show what the shop has to offer and how to get it.
Exactly the same is true about the library catalogue which is not on paper, but online, - I say - just like a search box on the Argos website.
And then we dive into the deeper waters of locations, shelfmarks, accessions, reservations... - I wonder how many of those words cause cognitive dissonance in our users.

30 September 2013

Textbook piracy in FE

Publishers are missing on income by not making their textbooks as easily downloadable ebooks via college libraries. I hear from learners and tutors that they download illegal copies of textbooks and share information where to get them from. Tutors boast they have collections of textbooks on their computers. Why do they do it? - For the same reason why people use pirated music: it's easier than getting the same content legally. Not just cheaper, but easier too. What makes the situation worse is ever decreasing funding of further education. Tutors are complaining their managers refuse to buy copies of the core textbooks for tutors' use... And many of our learners or their parents are on benefits, in serious financial difficulties. JISC is doing a good job with its E-books in FE programme, but the list of the titles is extremely limited and the ebrary platform usability is really bad. The environment for textbook piracy in FE is perfect.

27 September 2013

On information skills, facts and opinions

At library skills sessions, when asked why colleges and universities encourage use of books, Access students often repeat: because we have to rely on facts, not opinions. If this was said only once, it’d be ok as a somewhat limited interpretation of what, perhaps, the student heard in the classroom.
Unfortunately, this is repeated again and again without qualifying: reliable facts, unfounded opinions. It appears learners hear in our classrooms that facts are in opposition to opinions.

It is not true, of course, that facts are in opposition to or better than opinions. Facts themselves are interpreted knowledge: what we regarded true a century ago may not be true for us now. Knowledge develops; at the same time we, individually and collectively, develop biases or get rid of them and so on. Opinions not resting on sound knowledge are useless. At the same time, it is not difficult to see that what we call facts, at large extend are underpinned by values and opinions; at the same time, facts inform those values and opinions.

By giving simplistic answers to students, we confuse them: they can’t make sense why what is found on the internet may be less reliable than what is found in books (do we, educators, really believe that either?); they can’t explain the value of blogs, they remain suspicious and sceptical about us, educators, and about their own abilities to make sense.

09 August 2013

Ask.fm for enquiry service and classroom interaction

While I was reading the tragic news on bullying on ask.fm, it occurred to me that the site might be used as a virtual enquiry desk - for healthy communication with library users. It certainly has all the necessary basic functionality:
  • optional registration (questions can be posted very quickly, without a prolonged registration and login)
  • immediate notification of the posted question by email (currently the notification emails from ask.fm don't reach my college email boxes; I have raised the question with my IT colleagues)
  • RSS output (a widget can be created to display the questions and answers on the library webpage)
  • a widget - a bit too inflexible to my mind, but very easy to use - for embedding the query box anywhere on the internet.

I imagine, this may be handy for teaching too: learners can post their questions and comments; the tutor then will respond to them or ignore as appropriate.

05 August 2013

In students' eyes, there is nothing unusual about utilising Twitter for learning

Three years ago, I invited James Cunliffe, a photography tutor from the same college I work for, to write a guest post (http://nwhc-librarian.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/facebook-in-fe-tutor-on-pros-and-cons.html) on his use of Facebook for teaching. That was the time of confusion: after consulting with tutors and managers, Facebook was blocked on on-campus PCs and tutors were told they could not communicate to learners on Facebook. Neither awareness campaign, nor training preceded the consultation, so the terrified voices - Facebook is evil! - were the loudest. Photography tutors’ experiment of using Facebook has survived and developed into the best example of utilising social media in our college I am aware of. Three years later, I learnt that something new and equally exciting has appeared – James and his colleagues have adopted Twitter for their practice. Here is what he told me recently:

James Cunliffe photoTwitter can be time consuming. Have you heard about the fear of missing out? There is always something out there, which you want to gather and share. In the beginning I was checking Twitter every day, posting, re-tweeting… I was doing it on the train during my 20-minutes journey. Recently, I’ve deliberately stepped back a bit and take it more casually now.

My colleagues, Andy and Hazel, are helping to look after the NWHC Photography Twitter feed (@nwhcphotography). For now, we don’t have any special arrangements who is going to reply or re-tweet. Perhaps, we will develop a strategy in that respect eventually.

19 July 2013

Collection development on a shoestring

Not sure whether this may become a series of posts, Collection Development On A Shoestring. For now, just a couple of ideas.

I have been thinking about the implications of the forthcoming funding cut on learning resources in my college; I expect 40-45% drop in comparison to the last year. Two immediate ideas regarding book collection development: (1) reducing the variety of titles we purchase and (2) moving more copies to short loan and reference-only status.

Collection development will have to become more focused on the most essential and only best titles. The number of their copies may stay the same or even increase. Anything additional, optional will have to go. Eventually, this may lead to better utilisation of the collection.

Last year I noticed a huge increase in enquiries for books on Marx. We’ve immediately purchased a good selection of them. Almost all were snapped by a couple of students: each could borrow up to ten different titles. If we bought just two carefully selected books, six copies each, then six students could have them at the same time. This, of course, poses a question about how strong the library’s links with tutors are and how much of help tutors can be.

The only exception I can think of is Access to HE students: they often research unusual and polemical topics, and therefore they may suffer from a too prescriptive collection development practice. E-books may be the best solution for addressing their needs. It’s easier with HE students: they normally get detailed reading lists and universities expect college libraries to provide access to the titles on those lists. Most of FE-specific programmes rely heavily or even exclusively on one textbook. Providing those textbooks may be of more importance to learners than books purchased “just in case”.

More reference-only copies will be disappointing to students who don’t have time or desire to study in the library. Librarians should promote copying and scanning services the CLA licence affords us with to address – at least partially – this problem.

15 July 2013

Libraries: from providing access to enabling and organising

Today, a college colleague of mine working on PhD asked me to help her access an article she identified on Google Scholar. My first thought was to check her university’s e-journal collection... That was a daunting task – the interface was pretty unusable; students’ reluctance to use peer-reviewed journals is not groundless, I thought.

To speed up the process, I repeated the search on Google Scholar, found six places the article was available from, one of those places was academia.edu – a social platform for research paper exchange. (The rest were paid-for platforms, we ignored them).

This made me to think that in the world were the published research becomes available free at the point of use more often, the role of libraries and librarians will be moving further towards enabling, research community organising, facilitation, advice and curation – away from offering access to the paid-for resources as their central function. Saying that, I am surprised that academia.edu was invented not by librarians – we’ve been in the business of institutional research publishing and archiving for years.

That, of course, relates to HE. For the FE sector, the picture is murky. I have just completed the last year SAR; most of the traditional KPIs (active borrowers, number of loans, even ebook usage etc.) are flat, growth happened in use of ILT/ICT equipment, PCs and learning space utilisation. If we logged IT- and study/research skills-related enquiries last year, those numbers would go through the roof too. And so, the murky picture starts getting shapes... One of my forthcoming posts will be on that.

27 June 2013

A small reflection on budget news

Today, I sent an email to my library team. It's full of questions; I am sure the answers will start coming soon too. Slightly edited, here it is:

Last night, I went to bed thinking about cuts: additional £11,5 billion the government shaves off the public sector (1/2 billion will come off education, i.e. you and me) and – I have been told – £xx,000 of our college library budget (after licences, travel and photocopying, this means the “book budget” will be half of what we’ve had this year).

Next year will not be disastrous for the service – we’ll be leveraging on the collection built in previous years. However, we’ll have to cut magazine subscriptions and purchasing (e)books straight away.

The service will eventually become irrelevant *if we continue focusing mainly on providing learning resources* – we’ll have not enough them to satisfy the demand anyway + I think, in the situation of very limited resources, mass unemployment (i.e. many students will not be able to afford even a textbook already costing almost half of the weekly jobseeker’s allowance) etc., teaching will be moving towards freely available resources, printouts, handouts on Moodle etc.

I am both sad with the cuts and hopeful that this will prompt us, the library team, to a radical reflection. We should spend some time thinking where the future for the library service in the college may be. Here is a blog post which has stayed with me for over a month now - http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/05/envisioning-the-future.html Please look through it – long; read carefully the last three paragraphs. It’s talking about public libraries, but many thoughts are applicable to us as well.

The college’s mission is Transforming Lives and Unlocking Potential (I hope I remember it well) – how can the library, i.e. us, the team, be in the centre of that?

So, we need lots of creative thinking, engaged talking, supporting each other and going an extra mile where it makes sense (as well as surrendering anything that is just unnecessary balance).

11 April 2013

Google Removes Links to WordPress

Writing the previous post, I noticed that Blogger (i.e. Google) removes hyperlinks to WordPress content unless the the URLs are spelt out.

For example, a link blog should take you to the http://nwhclibrary.wordpress.com ... Well, it's greyed out and disabled. 

Looking At The Library Blog Statistics: users choose value-rich content

For almost three years, the college library has been using a blog (http://nwhclibrary.wordpress.com/) for marketing and user education. It’s been one of the most exciting and defining developments in the library’s recent practice.

I have learnt a lot since then, also by making mistakes. We have experimented with using the blog as a social platform for soliciting views and interaction with the users. We have tried to teach them how to follow blogs, and this blog in particular, using RSS feeds… to a very little effect. One of the important lessons I learnt was that the library users (and learners in general) will not flock to the specially designed for them virtual spaces. They may stumble upon the library where they are already spend their time, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, but any form of an active engagement on their part there is very unlikely – a college library simply can’t compete with our users’ own interests, hobbies and concerns. They may, however, look for the library when they need a quick fix of the forthcoming assignment or the OpenAthens access details – either for e-books or shopping discounts.

Top pages and posts for the first three months of 2013

08 March 2013

Annual Report for Marketing Library Service*

From several colleagues of mine in the FE sector I have heard that they produced annual library reports addressed to their line managers, but they rarely heard feedback or observed any change following those reports. The documents were likely to be lost in among other papers or forgotten in the emails inboxes.

Few years ago my college colleagues and I spend some time thinking on effective marketing for the college library. One of the bottlenecks identified was the lack of meaningful communication with the college managers and key stakeholders. The library has much to showcase and the college – to be proud of that, but the venues for speaking about our contribution to the college successes are extremely limited within the institution almost solely focused on measuring learners’ progression.

As any other college service or team, the library produces its annual self-assessment report which is then incorporated into the departmental/directorial SAR; at that stage it is probably archived. The college librarian’s line manager is the one who sees the document and, hopefully, makes some conclusions out of it; then its content is virtually lost for the college.

29 January 2013

Plasma Screen for Marketing

One of the most interesting ongoing projects I have been involved, was developing a marketing strategy for the college library which would embrace a variety of media available to us. A year ago I blogged on that experience and then contributed to a JISC webinar on the same topic.

Our approach is open-ended: it should be able to embrace new solutions that become available to the library. The idea is to re-use the content the library generates in a variety of ways. Here is another example of that.

Last year the library got its hands on old(ish) plasma screen and PC; the screen is now mounted on the wall next to two MFDs (multi-functional devices: printer, scanner and photocopier in one piece). These MFDs are the most used in the whole college, mostly by learners: small queues are a normal picture there, so the location for the plasma screen is perfect.

The screen is used for publicising library services and resources, as well as tips and advice. Recently, other college services have started approaching the library for publicity opportunities.

We use PowerPoint to create simple slides which then are displayed as PowerPoint show on the loop. Most of the content comes from what's already been published on the library blog, - the main repository of the content generated by the library. Roughly once a week the slides are refreshed, new content is added, something removed.

Here is an example of the file used on the screen (PDF).

28 January 2013

More on iPads in the Library and Across the College

Last Friday, I contributed to a webinar of the use of mobile devices in education organised by JISC. I spoke on the library's iPad project. The slides are here. Some notes - edited for the presentation, rather than for a blog post as such - are below and interim reflections on the project were published on this blog a couple of months ago.

Our iPad project was born out of many conversations with art tutors and their stories of what amazing things creative folk do with them. David Hockney’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art prompted us to put together a bid to the college’s Innovation Fund for funding. We were awarded £2,500 to develop the project specifically aimed at art tutors. Six iPads 2 were purchased plus accessories and App Store vouchers. Why iPads? – They are the creative industries' standard.

We contacted Apple, they were sufficiently helpful to make sense of the licences and technology implications. We attempted managing iPads with iTunes, however the application’s functionality was partially disabled on the college network; no Apple Configurator, therefore. Each iPad is linked with its own iTunes account. Email aliases are used for that; physically, all emails from iTunes come to one live email account.