Face-off: online vs offline networks

In this post I am going to write about both thing 6 (online networks) and thing 7 (offline networks) of the 23 Things for Continuing Professional Development programme. This is partly because I’m so far behind, but mostly because I don’t feel I can talk about one without mentioning the other. I am also going to flip things around and write about offline networks first.

I am a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), within that my special interest groups are the CDG (Career Development Group) and CoFHE (Colleges of Further and Higher Education).

I started my membership when I was doing my masters. My reason for joining was because it seemed like a good way to get an insight into the profession I was about to join and really who could say no to student membership for £38 for the year? What I found from that year of membership was that I didn’t really get much out of it so when it came to renewing, as a full-time worker on a moderate income, I didn’t feel it was worth the cost, and I didn’t miss it for the couple of years that I was on the outside.

I rejoined a couple of years ago because I had planned to charter. I haven’t done that yet, and increasingly am thinking that I never will, but I have found that I’m getting more out of CILIP now than I did before. Why is that? I think partly it’s down to the new regime under Annie Mauger who seems to be working hard to make CILIP relevant and useful to its members. Mostly however I think it’s because I’m more engaged with what’s going on in the special interest groups and my local branch. The West Midlands branch is really active and there’s a lot of good stuff being done.

In addition to CILIP I am also a member (through my institution) of the BLA (Business Librarians Association) and this is an absolutely invaluable network to be part of. The events run by the group are second to none as they have direct relevance and application to my day to day work. The conference, as I have mentioned before, is the highlight of my working year. You might say I am biased because I am also on the BLA committee. Being so involved in this group has played a major part in my development in the profession, it’s given me opportunities and challenges that I feel have helped me to become better at what I do.

You know that motto ‘you get out what you put in’? I think this is especially true with professional organisations such as these.

Other than Twitter I can’t say that I use any other online network to its full potential for professional networking. I am a member of LinkedIn, LISNPN and CILIP Communities but the truth is that I just don’t use them unless I’m directed there to look at something. Largely I use them as an add-on to the face-to-face interactions that I get through the offline networks. On LinkedIn I a member of the CILIP and BLA groups which provides an oportunity for communication between events. I contribute to CILIP Communities as a blogger, but the forums are something which I’ve never really got in to.

With the BLA I have tried to initiate more online discussion. I revamped the forum when I took over as Web Officer, but it rarely got used and has wasted away. We’ve got a hashtag on Twitter which is used a little. I think the reason none of these has taken off is because of the success of the LIS-Business email list. Between events this is where the community lives and interacts, and it works so why change it.

So what’s my conclusion? Before I started writing this post I had this in mind as my closing statement:

Online and offline networks each have their own benefits, neither is superior and together they make an awesome team.

As I have been writing though I’ve realised that without Twitter in the equation the online networks just don’t do it for me. The offline networks have by far the most value for me as a professional.

The result
Offline: 1
Online: 0

Strategies for managing an increased workload

As I mentioned in my last post I had my first proper speaking gig last week at the CILIP UC&R West Midlands event Lean and Mean Library Machine. Here are the slides from my presentation and below is (roughly) what I said.

Following on from Dave Parkes and Stuart Hunt who both presented on applying lean at a service level my intention was to present a more personal perspective and look at what strategies we can implement as individuals to increase our productivity. Before I looked at the strategies I use to manage my time at work I provided some context by looking at the department I support, how the library service in this area has changed in recent years and some of the main aspects of my job.

As my job title – Academic Support Librarian for Business and Management – suggests I am responsible for providing support from the library to the business school at the university. Warwick Business School (WBS) is one of the largest departments and over the past ten years has grown significantly – doubling both its undergraduate and specialist masters programmes. The way these students are taught has also changed; they can study full-time, part-time or by distance learning. This year nearly 40% of students at WBS are on distance learning programmes.

The library service in this area has also changed over the past ten years. In 2000 the service was provided through the separate Corporate Information Library (CIL) €“ now we are integrated into the main University Library. At the time in the CIL there were 5 library staff or 4 FTEs providing support for business, management and economics. There are now 3 of us or 2 FTEs. I am the only person working in this area full time. My two colleagues divide their time between multiple departments.

The CIL had an extensive collection of print market research and annual reports. Many of the databases were accessible on CD-ROM within the library and were slowly moving online and becoming available remotely. Journals were still primarily taken in print but e-journals packages such as Business Source Premier were beginning to be explored. By contrast this year our focus is on electronic resources €“ we no longer take market research reports in print and have stopped collecting annual reports. We are expanding our e-books collection and moving towards e-only subs for our journals. In 2000 training was largely provided face-to-face. Now, given the makeup of the student population we are taking a blended approach to training and increasing the support materials we have available online.

The main aspects of my job are as follows:

  • Liaison €“ building relationships with staff and students in the department. This is done through SSLCs, programme meetings with teaching staff + programme managers, training sessions, and meetings with individual academics and students
  • Enquiries €“ I receive many enquiries on a daily basis. They can be simple or complex. They can come by email, phone call or in person. Enquiry handling is possibly the most difficult aspect of the job to manage because you cannot plan for it.
  • Access to e-resources and guidance using them €“ this is perhaps a bigger element for me than it is for other departments simply because of the number of distance learning students I deal with.
  • Training €“ training is provided throughout the year, starting with induction and culminating in dissertation workshops. We also have an information skills tutorial online which I am in the process of developing further and rolling out to other departments.
  • Communication of library news €“ this is done in a variety of ways, through the business school€™s intranet, library blogs and SSLCs.
  • Collection development €“ although the transactional elements of this, such as reading list processing and ordering are no longer part of the role of the ASL we still play a large role in collection development; providing buying guidelines for reading list items, selecting items for stock and processing donations.

A couple of colleagues have asked me recently how I manage to support one of the largest departments in the University and still leave on time at the end of the day. At first I was worried that they thought there was something I wasn’t doing and were gently trying to alert me to this. What they were actually interested in however were the strategies I use to manage my workload and the answer to this is simple €“ organization.

There are a few areas of my work which have the potential to cascade out of control if I don’t keep my eye on the ball. I have identified them here and presented my solutions to the problems.

Email overload
I read a blog post recently by David Lee King called Dealing with Email. In this he asks the question: is email you €˜real work€™ or is it something you deal with so you can get on with your real work? I commented to say that for me it is part of my real work because I receive so many enquiries by email but that it is something which I find can overwhelm me if I don€™t keep on top of it. So how do I stop this from happening? I work towards inbox zero €“ it€™s not something I can achieve on a daily basis but my goal is to clear my inbox before I leave on a Friday afternoon.

To achieve this I use three simple steps:

  • First I apply the 5 minute rule €“ if a job can be done in 5 minutes or less do it. Then it€™s out of the way and you can move on to something else.
  • Next and this is an important one, don€™t use your inbox as a to-do list €“ I use the Outlook task list because this allows you to convert emails easily into tasks and set priorities and due dates.
  • Finally set yourself up a simple file structure and as soon as you€™ve replied to an email or added it to your task list file it or delete it.

Repetitive enquiries
I spend a lot of my time answering the same enquiries from different people, especially when there€™s an assignment due. One method I use to prevent this becoming overly time consuming is to post the answers on the Business and Economics Information Solutions blog that I manage. This helps in two ways; it saves me time so that rather than writing lengthy emails in response I can provide a link to the blog and students can also go directly to the blog to see if there€™s an answer to their question before they need contact me.

Constant interruptions
I often find that it is at times when I need to just get my head down and do something that I get interrupted the most; from phone calls, emails or by myself finding easier or more interesting jobs to do. I€™ve recently learnt one very effective way to get around this €“ I use my calendar to its full potential. I don€™t just schedule in meetings and events but block out time to work on specific things. This becomes even more effective if you share your calendar with your colleagues.

When I find that this isn€™t sufficient to allow me to get on with something I put the do not disturb sign up. It took me a long while to feel comfortable about doing this but I realise now that the world won€™t end if I can€™t be reached for an hour or two. I turn my voicemail on, close Outlook and occasionally will move away from my desk and work somewhere else in the library. It€™s amazing how productive this quiet time can be.

One final piece of advice I will leave you with is to make sure that you take your breaks. I find getting some fresh air and having time to clear my mind is essential for a productive day.

Lean and Mean Library Machine

Last week I presented at the CILIP UC&R West Midlands event Lean and Mean Library Machine. More on that coming soon… for now here are my notes from the rest of the event.

First up was Dave Parkes from Staffordshire University. He presented some ideas for how library services as a whole can and will need to adapt in the face of large scale cuts and the changing educational climate. As librarians have always had to deal with change he thinks we are uniquely placed to cope with the cuts ahead.

How we do this is by upgrading our skills mix – according to Parkes we don’t need to be tech junkies (although some of us might like to be) but we need to have an awareness of new technologies and how they can be applied in libraries and more broadly in education. He sees that for libraries to survive we need to be active in every aspect of the university’s work.

At Staffordshire University the library is about to be rebuilt, and rebranded as the Knowledge Hub. This will place the library at the heart of the university. The focus here is on the user – or as Dave prefers, Member. All members have a stake in the library and the services provided need to be driven by the stakeholders. At Staffordshire this has been manifested in a change in collection development policy where the inter-library loan service has been cancelled and replaced by user-driven purchases.

Next to speak was Stuart Hunt, a colleague of mine from the University of Warwick. His focus was on process improvement and the use of Processfix Rapid Improvement Workshops. The aim of these workshops is to identify one area of the library’s service e.g. acquisitions, or enquiries and to eliminate waste in this area in order to improve efficiency. Waste is defined as anything that does not add value to a process, or anything a customer is not prepared to pay for. The principle behind this comes from the lean manufacturing system first implemented by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota.

I followed Stuart and after my presentation came Richard Wallis from Talis talking about what technology can do for the Lean Mean Library Machine. He has shared his slides on Slideshare:

His points are summed up nicely on the penultimate slide:

  • We are all already using technology to help us improve our services
  • Innovation in this area is constant and as technologies evolve so do our services.
  • Although setup costs are often substantial, implementing new technologies can help us save in the future
  • The benefits are felt across organisations – within our own and through partnerships with others

In the final session of the day we worked in small groups looking at the challenges that academic libraries might face as a result of funding cuts. My group looked at the following scenario:

You are an academic librarian delivering a full induction and training programme to four departments. As a result of a library restructure you take on four more departments, how do you ensure that the quality of training is maintained across all subject areas?

In an ideal world there would have been a proper hand over with colleagues who had previously worked to support the additional four departments. This would have included a handover of materials used for training. We realise however that this almost never happens and so suggested some alternatives for if you were starting from scratch.

  • To ensure consistency of content a generic session could be designed that could easily be adapted with examples relevant to the different subject areas.
  • Detailed teaching plans could be written so that the sessions could be handed on and delivered by another member of staff in future.
  • All materials for the sessions should be saved on shared drives.
  • An online tutorial could be used to support the face-to-face sessions.
  • Sessions could be run for multiple departments at once to reduce duplication and pressures on staff time.

This was my first UC&R event and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to be involved. The presentations were thought provoking and the opportunity to share ideas through the scenario work invaluable.