Making an impact with the BLA

The Business Librarians Association (BLA) conference is one of the highlights of my year at work. I’ve been to three so far and they get better year after year. This year’s conference was held in Sheffield from the 13-15 July. The theme was “Making an impact: demonstrating value”.

Production LineAs a member of the BLA committee my conference starts a day earlier than most delegates with a final committee meeting at the venue. At this meeting we run through the programme for the next few days and divide up the remaining jobs. The final task is to make up the delegates packs. We’ve got this down to a fine art now as you can see from the production line in this photo.

One of the jobs I had at the conference was to tweet from the BLAlibNews account. It was the first time that I’ve live tweeted from a conference and also used this as my sole form of notetaking – yes, that means there are no visual notes to show you. I have however created an archive of all of the tweets from the conference (on the #BLAlib tag).

Rather than trawl through all of the tweets and reflect on every session in this post I’m just going to pull out my highlights. All of the presentations will eventually be uploaded to the BLA SlideShare account.

A is for Advocacy… (Keynote by Antony Brewerton)

Ant’s ABC for libraries is advocacy, branding and communicating your worth. Here are the key points of each:

Librarians have always had an image problem and we need advocates. Students can be our most effective advocates – lots of universities are using students to create videos about library services to promote them to Freshers.

Antony expanded Jerome McCarthy’s 4Ps of the Marketing Mix to 7:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion
  5. Physical evidence
  6. Processes
  7. Participants

He showed us examples of marketing campaigns from Oxford Brookes (where cakes featured heavily) and Warwick. At Warwick the main library has a brand and each of the different facilities (Learning, Teaching and BioMed Grids, Wolfson Research Exchange and MRC) have their own sub-brand.

Communicating your worth
It is difficult to attract new users so we need to work on building relationships with existing users. When it comes to this we need to think about selling the benefits and outcomes rather than the tools. This is something which I try to remember whenever I am teaching.

Question Time

Question Time

Question Time

The panel discussion this year took a different format from previous years. Chair Emma Thompson channelled David Dimbleby to host Question Time. The panel consisted of the four speakers from earlier in the day, Heather Thrift, Antony Brewerton, Clive MacDonald and Steve Giannoni. The questions had been previously submitted by members of the audience:

  1. What is the role of the library in the employability agenda?
    SG: supplies need to be aware of the changing roles of libraries so they can support us better in achieving that
    CM: we need to focus on practical solutions; placements and projects
    AB: libraries need to get information skills of all kinds (including employability) embedded into modules and work with other central university services to provide them
    HT: we need to reinvent traditional tools and show that library resources can be used to break in to future job markets
  2. Do libraries need to embrace social media?
    CM: students value face-to-face interactions most but they will expect us to know and use technology.
    AB: we need to get students promoting the library using social media e.g. writing posts on library blogs
    ET: we also need to monitor what is said about our libraries and respond
  3. Are students primarily learners or customers?
    HT: We have customer services divisions in our libraries; we are therefore sending a message to our users about how we view them.
    AB: This has been an issue for the past 10-15 years and it’s far me complex than this or that.
    SG: it’s irrelevant what we think, it’s about student perceptions and how we manage them
    CM: they are learners but they need and want the best elements of customer services from library staff

Huddersfield University Library Impact Project workshop

This session consisted of two parts. The first a presentation introducing the project delivered by Graham Stone (sadly Dave Pattern had to stay in Huddersfield to resolve a problem at work).



The project’s hypothesis is that there is a statistically proven correlation between student library usage and attainment. The data used to measure this was circulation transactions, e-resource usage and library entry statistics.

As the project nears its end the team are nearly in a position where they can prove the hypothesis.

Further research will look at whether usage of reading list items raises attainment and whether a VLE makes a difference

To find out more you can read the project blog and the slides from the presentation.

The second part of the session was a discussion workshop. We were split into groups and presented with one of four questions to discuss. After 15 minutes we came back together for each group to present their answers.

1. If we assume a link between library usage and attainment, what does good practice look like?

  • responding to feedback
  • analysis of surveys, including NSS
  • Bloomberg/Reuters certification
  • testimonials and publication of positive feedback
  • access to materials and provision of learning space
  • promotion of services

2. Can we actually demonstrate that the library adds value?

  • ask high achieving students what they are doing; are they using the library or not
  • can’t assume that non-usage means students are doing something wrong; perhaps course does not demand it
  • is reading beyond the reading list making a difference to grades?
  • application and interpretation of information, not just use
  • are higher achievers better at choosing resources? Yes; evaluation is key

3. If students are not using the library or the resources, what can we do to change their behaviour? How could gender, culture and socio-economic background affect library usage and how could this be addressed?

  • librarians and information skills need to be embedded and relevant
  • resources need to be simplified
  • cultural issues; one right answer or unrealistic expectations of help available
  • student ambassadors/champions
  • promotion/marketing of resources
  • content AND functionality are key

4. If the hypothesis is proved to be correct, does cutting library budgets mean that attainment will fall?

  • use usage statistics to identify which resources to cut
  • move to eBooks over multiple print copies
  • point of need training and making the most of what you’ve got
  • year on year cuts will of course have an impact
  • evidence is crucial; can we show resource use is linked to student performance
  • to measure value of subject librarians test information literacy before and after information skills training

Analysing Service Quality Among Postgraduate Chinese Students (Keynote by Bradley Barnes)

In the future there will be greater competition for Chinese students from outside the UK. In addition to the expansion of China’s Higher Education market there are external issues which may mean Chinese students are less likely to apply to UK universities: Visa processing, reduced economic growth in China and the fear of no job on return home.

Bradley Barnes, Professor of International Management & Marketing at the University of Sheffield, has carried out a survey of Chinese students in order to analyse service quality. The survey was based on SERVQUAL and split into sections: responsiveness, assurance, empathy, tangibles and reliability. The results showed that the subject university was underperforming in all areas – the issue therefore is understanding and managing expectations.

Concerns about the expectations of Chinese students are that they, and so the answers given in the survey, are skewed by cultural factors. A major contributing factor is that the students have little knowledge or experience of the UK. Barnes sees a simple solution to this, we need to educate Chinese students before they arrive so they are more aware of cultural differences.


Social media and the academy (part 2)

This is the second post on the Fifth Bloomsbury Conference on ePublishing and ePublications. The topic was Social Media and the Academy. Details of the context of the conference and the early sessions can be found in part one.

3. Examples of the use of social media by scholars
In this session four scholars from different disciplines told us how they use social media in their research. First was Claire Ross from UCL speaking about humanists and social media. She spoke of two Digital Humanities initiatives that are using social media to expand discussion of the subject: Digital Humanities Now and Digital Humanities Answers. She stressed that social media can be used at all stages of the research cycle to enhance research capacity and improve the quality of work through enhanced ability to find, use, disseminate information. As a PhD student her blog is her primary method of dissemination. It shows she is research active.

Tom Coates from Imperial came next talking about how social media was used on the Fanosearch Project. The project team for this is international with additional collaborators spread out across Europe. Social media tools were therefore utilised to break down the barriers of location. Some such as Skype, Dropbox and IM became ingrained in the workflow. A blog was used for sharing data and Twitter to track results and for public outreach.

Alex Murphy from Edinburgh spoke about the use of social media in an unsocial environment. His research involves data collection in a remote mine. Experiments are monitored via the web with text alerts if problem occurs. To connect the mine to civilisation low bandwidth solutions are necessary. Twitter is used to monitor the experiment so key facts can be received anywhere, fast and reliably. Non-video Skype is used for conference calls.

Alun Salt from the University of Leicester talked about building networks with you at the centre. He identified a series of tools which he uses for different purposes:

Input only (information in);the library, mailing lists, Google Reader, Flipboard
Output only (dissemination); Zotero, Mendeley, Facebook
Two-way communication; Twitter, blogs, email

He also stressed the importance of creating connections between accounts and targeting multiple services because not everyone uses everything.

4. The role of intermediaries (publishers/librarians)
First to speak in this segment was Anne Welsh, Lecturer in Library and Information Studies at UCL. She used Ranganathan’s 5 laws of library science to show that the central principles of the library remain the same despite rapid change in how our services are delivered.

  1. Books are for use
    Digitisation is increasing access to collections, especially older archival materials. Digitised content is being aggregated on sites such as the World Digital Library and as a result requests to see the physical items behind the digital objects are going up. The idea of the librarian as gatekeeper is long out of date.
  2. Every reader his book
    Librarians are mediators who help people find the right information. Traditionally librarians have used publishers catalogues to identify stock to buy for their collections. It was only pressure from librarians that forced publishers to embrace technology and use RSS feeds to deliver this information in a new format.
  3. Every book its reader
    When shopping online everyone is used to having recommendations made to them, seeing tags to group similar items and reviews from other customers. Librarians are now embracing these social elements in their catalogues. The best example of this is from the University of Huddersfield.
  4. Save the time of the reader
    Welsh boldly stated that everything we do as librarians should meet this need. I feel that now especially as libraries are competing with the idea that information can be found easily online we need to make libraries and our resources easier and faster to use. This goes back to Chris Batt’s idea that we need to teach information skills to systems. In an ideal world yes, but in the meantime librarians need to teach information skills to our users and using new technologies and social media we can find new ways to do that.
  5. The library is a growing organism
    When we think of a mobile library these days the first image that comes to mind is not a bus, but a phone. Libraries are embracing mobile technology and expanding the service beyond the library walls. Technology is also being used to enable embedded librarians to carry out their jobs with greater effect.

The next two speakers were publishers working for Nature and the Public Library of Science. Jo Stichbury presented on Nature Network, a social network for scientists. The aim of Nature Network is to develop a community through groups, forums, hubs and Q&As. All of which can be either private or public. At the heart of the network are the blogs; Nature Network is both a host and aggregator of scientists blogs. An interesting statistic from the Network is that Twitter is tenth largest referrer but still only drives 1% of the traffic to Damian Pattinson from PLoS One spoke about using social media to add value to open access content. At PLoS they are using social media to

  • disseminate research; through in article sharing buttons, community and aggregated blogs, comments and media coverage of papers.
  • measure impact; using article level metrics including hits, downloads, citations, ratings and comments. This shows the importance not of where an article is published but it’s individual impact.
  • enhance content; hubs connect data to articles and related content, aggregated from open access databases and social media sites, is linked from the article aggregated from open.

Before I move on to the final session of talks on the future of social media and the academy there is one talk from the €œAdapting or adopting tools€ theme that I wanted to cover. This was given by Jason Hoyt from Mendeley. He started by breaking some myths of building a social collaboration tool:

  1. Build it and they will come
  2. Scientists are on Facebook so they will want to join an academic network
  3. Academics do not want to socialise online

Picking up on something from Chris Armbruster€™s talk relating to institutional repositories, Hoyt identified four barriers to institutional repository uptake among academics:

  1. understanding of copyright laws
  2. re-keying the bibliographic data
  3. finding the correct full-text version
  4. time

Mendeley are currently working on a JISC project to see if institutional repositories can be helped by adding a social layer. This is the JISC DURA project. Using Mendeley you can add your publications into a local folder for the institutional repository, Symplectec is then used to communicate that data to the repository. Newsfeeds can then push details of the deposit to Twitter etc.

Hoyt also discussed some ways that Mendeley can help librarians. They are looking to open up groups and reading data to librarians so we can see what is going on in our departments. By giving librarians access to Mendeley usage statistics it would be possible to see what usage and engagement is being made with articles downloaded from the library€™s subscription databases. This would also make it possible to understand the impact or reach of research from your institution and compare it to that of other institutions.

Jason was asked about the hot topic of copyright, and specifically in this case whose responsibility it is to ensure that articles uploaded and shared through Mendeley are not in breach of copyright laws. Mendeley considers that the responsibility for this lies with the end user – they need to be aware of what they can do with the articles they download from databases and share on Mendeley. Publishers have contacted Mendeley when they have been made aware of breaches, but to date there have been no takedowns.

5. Predictions for the future
In the final session of the conference Cameron Neylon and Geoff Bilder were asked for their predictions of how social media might change the nature of scholarly communication. Cameron Neylon kicked things off by stating that work is not research if it isn’t read and made use of by someone else. Researchers are therefore looking for effective methods of communication. With the advent of the Internet we can put the raw research online and disseminate the final research output to the world. Neylon relies on his network to search for new research and information for him. The concern is that we’re not yet good at packaging data to make it more discoverable, more useful. We’re only just getting to the point where open access movement seems unstoppable, but this could have happened in the mid-90s. The question is not what can we do (technical limitations are relatively trivial) but where are the communities and how can they become part of the mainstream.

Traditionally the narrative of research is published through journal articles and blogs are used to describe and critique the literature. Reviews are only relevant if they are timely therefore peer-reviewed journals are not. There will be, has already been, a shift here. Where pre-print research is available citations reach their maximum on the date of publication. This shows people are not reading the final, peer-reviewed, article. What we should be talking about to measure impact is reuse and to do that we need effective communication

Geoff Bilder began his part of the talk warning us not to put too much stock in his predictions. He was convinced Google Wave was going to change scholarly communication but it died within a year. A central question that we need to ask about social media tools is what are people going to use them for. Academics will use social media tools that can easily separate the personal, professional, public and private e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn. Tools that makes our lives as authors easier makes our lives as readers harder. Where librarians and publishers can help here is to create and promote tools that can save you time but keep you just as informed or better. Another key thing to consider is whether the time is right? Geoff urged us not dismiss things because they did not work the first time – hasn€™t Google Wave just been reinvented as Google+.

And finally here€™s a slideshow of my visual notes which I drew alongside my longhand notes:

Personalised Library Services in Higher Education

Last week I attended a symposium on Personalised Library Services in Higher Education. It was run by Andy Priestner (Library and Information Centre Manager, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge) and Libby Tilley (Librarian, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge).

Andy and Libby had an article, Boutique libraries at your service, published in CILIP Update last year and were subsequently commissioned by Ashgate to edit a book on the same topic. The purpose of the symposium was to explore the boutique model which had been set out in the article and develop ideas around the themes of each chapter.

The presentations from the day can be found on the Symposium page of the Personalised Libraries in HE blog and there is also a document of the tweets from the #pls11 tag. Below are my notes from the event. If you’ve read my previous post on making visual notes you will know that I am experimenting with a new note-taking technique. This was my first attempt at it and I’m a convert.

And so, on to my reflection of the event. In the first presentation of the day Andy and Libby introduced the model they had created and explained that there should be a balance in every library service between the following elements:

  • Boutique or personalised services
  • Collaborative activities
  • Centrally managed activities

Their model also has the user as part of the mix and there was much discussion about where they are placed in the diagram. Many suggested that the user should be at the centre but, there was disagreement about how much the user is aware or affected by the internal workings of the library, their interaction is through the service provided.

Boutique libraries model

Two questions I have found myself returning to after the event are

  1. how we assess our users’ needs
  2. how do we define and group our users

In her presentation Jane Secker highlighted the fact that surveys only go so far to assess user needs. Speaking specifically about researchers she said that to truly understand librarians need to become researchers themselves and experience life from the other side. At Warwick in the past we have run focus groups with students and I really feel it is only through conversations, not the one-way traffic of surveys, that we can really come anywhere close to understanding what our users want.

When talking about building relationships Chris Powis covered some of the ways we define and group our users. Whether it is by location, course, department or method of study we hit upon the age old problem of classification – many people will fit in to more than one group.

To provide a personalised service we have to do a certain amount of generalisation by group because it is simply not possible to meet everyone’s individual needs. I think what I’m looking for is a way to make our response and service flexible, perhaps the start of this is simply to undersdstand that our users approaches to work and study are changing. In my job I support many groups of MBA students and my default position has largely been to define them by their method of study; full-time, part-time or by distance. Now that we are all becoming more connected, more reliant on the Internet and used to the ease of access to information I think these boundaries are blurring; the full-time students are now just as likely to want, or expect, electronic access to materials as the distance learners for who this is the only means of finding information.

In my role as a subject (or liaison) librarian I think the main thing that I’ve taken away from the symposium is some new ideas for engaging staff and students and building relationships with them. This is then the starting point for developing a service that is tailored to meet their needs.