15 October 2012

Devices and desires ...

Sooner or later, discussions about ebooks in academic libraries refer to the popularity of what used to be called (awkwardly) "e-reading devices" ie in current parlance Kindles, iPads and other similar tablets and e-readers.  One popular line of argument goes: because students have these devices we librarians need to buy lots of ebooks.

There is a lot to unpick here, in terms of what these devices are designed to do, library content and how they related to libraries.  This post is confined to a small bit of research I have done at this College, to find out more about student ownership of equipment.

In March 2012 I asked our graduate and undergraduate students which pieces of equipment they owned.  Of 177 respondents :

136 owned a desktop or laptop computer
11 owned an iPad
13 owned Kindle
7 owned another mobile reader.

Interestingly, in relation to ebooks, 50 students said that they printed out what they wanted and read that.

 A few weeks ago I thought I would take this further by asking new undergraduates what equipment they owned.  Of 105 students, all owned at least one piece of equipment :

95 owned a laptop or desktop PC
16 owned a Kindle
6 owned an iPad
4 owned either a tablet, or a smartphone on which they would read an ebook
None owned a Sony or other e-reader.

If your library has carried out similar research I'd be grateful if you would comment and share your figures.

7 October 2012

Freshers' week ... and the not-so-fresh librarians

The door to our Library opens.  In comes a young lady, who gazes around our large ground floor room and says "Wow!  A real library with proper books.  All the other Universities I looked at just had desks and computers".

Welcome to Cambridge; and to Freshers' week, the information steeplechase for new undergraduate students and librarians alike. Someone could write a piece on the role alcohol plays for both groups during these days.

As far as I am concerned, the new students deserve abundant praise and respect.  Despite all the obstacles that starting at a university brings: getting lost, not knowing which day of the week it is, equipment not working, passwords not recognised, and last-minute changes to their timetable that send them haring off across a strange city, they remained calm and apparently capable of assimilating yet more information.  Or they were too shattered to resist.

Freshers at our College have two opportunities to engage with the Library: a 5 min talk as part of the general introduction, and then each attends a library visit (15 mins) as part of a subject group, with either myself or my Assistant Librarian, which covers the basic stuff. They have to survive this, plus introductions to their Faculty library and, if they want more, can attend a tour at the University Library (both of which I plug heftily in the general talk). And that's just the libraries.

From the librarians' point of view, it's a matter of re-igniting one's enthusiasm each year.  I agree with Libreaction's excellent post about the difficulties of motivating oneself. For those whose Library's activity rises and falls with the academic season, September is a month with an upward gear shift each week.  Tension mounts as the days pass, it's like getting ready for a show.  You have to write the script (website, leaflets, notices, talks), fix the props (new books, computers, printers), sell the tickets (student records on the system, invitations to tours sent out) and finally bring up the curtain on your services to a glazed, information-overloaded audience.

Ideas abound for improving the student experience of library "inductions" (awful word), I have to mention Kirsty Taylor's brilliant attention-grabbing addition to her Oxford College Library's registration form.

We considered livening things up a bit this year by offering incentives to attend the library visits, but ditched them.  The prize draw was too patronising, the treasure hunt too time-consuming and the bowl of sweets sent completely the wrong message as we don't allow food in the building.  So earnest scholarship it had to be ...  after all, why not?

And here's the thing. Changing our approach (see my previous post) to couch the library information in terms which clarified the Library's role in the transition from studying at school to studying at University, gave a better presentation of ourselves.  Consequently, I felt more confident about the introductory process. A win/win.  As an aside to this, bearing in mind the traditional nature of much of the communication at Cambridge, I was intrigued that when I mentioned the Library Facebook page in the general talk, heads went up around the room as if someone had, at last, mentioned something that was part of their real world.  We were making sense.

It could be co-incidence, or dire threats from the Senior Tutor, but I'm pleased to say we had the best turnout ever this year, with all but two students attending their visit in the first week.  And many have been back, got to grips with the catalogue or browsed the shelves, and left the building with armsful of books.  

So here's to the 2012 Freshers!

23 September 2012

Without more ado ...

Picture the scene.

A conference hall.  A few hundred, maybe more, individuals attempt to sprawl on well-stuffed seats with their knees skewed awkwardly to one side, tapping at iPads and stabbing at netbooks with intense concentration as they try to connect to the promised wi-fi.  A solemn chin, reminiscent of an insecure blancmange, lowers on to the rasping chest of a portly chap who, quite by chance, acquired a glass of wine from each of the service points over the lunch break.  His eyes begin to close.  Little Miss Muffett, in the tuffet next to him, leans to the other side, a little fearful that he will topple on to her.

On the stage, an Assistant Information Executive wearing one of last year's suits from Next is saying a few, slightly too quiet and breathy words into a microphone that isn't working.  She is trying to introduce the next speaker, a dark, gangling guy in glasses.  He has travelled from Gloucester/Bournemouth/Newcastle/Amsterdam, and is glancing at his watch because the 5-a-side football starts at 7.30 pm and he really wants to thrash the other team.

The introduction draws to a close.  "... and so, without more ado ..."

Huh?  Without "more ado?"

Conference Bingo!  More than two ados in a day, and I start checking the list of events for a chance to make an early exit.

Where does this wretched phrase come from?  Why do we use it?

"Ado", according to the Oxford Shorter Dictionary, is first recorded in the late 16thc and means fuss or trouble, derived from "at do".  As in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  Not to be confused with Black Lace's Agadoo-do-do, or Sinatra's Do-be-do-be-do.  In slang terms a "do" can mean a hairstyle, a party or a bonk; and to stray further, the Urban Dictionary offers us an evil hacker or a pathetic individual.  Maybe this is a hack in itself.

According to Google Images, Ado is a bus.  So "More Ado" would be a ten lined up in a coach park?

Alternatively, "Ado" can mean a footballer, a a set of component object moder objects for accessing data sources, the American Darts Organisation, a curtain making firm in Berkshire or the Alabama Development Office.

So, why do we recourse to this dated phrase?  Is it like

(which nobody ever is) ie a phrase which the mind receives without real meaning but which signifies that the End is Nigh.  Or is it a typical British understatement, ie that a formal introduction to a speaker is a lot of fuss and trouble, and Ms Next is apologising for having bothered us with it?  "Well you don't want to hear me going on ..." she says, and indeed often we don't, especially as her summary is on the speaker's website or printed in one of the handouts in the cardboard folder, you know, the one with "EduLitPubEasy : information for today's end user" splashed across the cover.

I wish we could invent a new phrase, perhaps one more suited to the digital age.  Should we Link to the next Item?  Press This and See What Happens? Boot up the Speaker?

Any ideas?  Or do you think there's mileage in this quaint old phrase?

So, that's enough from me.  Without more ado, get on with your life ...

13 September 2012

A fresh look for freshers

While at the CILIP ARLG Conference in June, I attended a workshop by Kay Grieves and Jan Dodshon from the University of Sunderland on their Seven Step Toolkit for creating strategic marketing plans which really work.  Despite their being obliged to cram a lot of information into a short session, it inspired me to rethink what we do.

My first task was to apply their methodology, so I spent an afternoon working through their seven steps.  I found it very helpful to break down our Library membership into different, cross-cutting segments, looking at what we offered to, and how we communicated with, each one.

I decided to focus on the critical period when students first arrive at the College because, if we get it wrong then, we risk losing their interest for the rest of their studies.  I asked myself What do I want when I go somewhere new?  What makes me feel at home?  What can, and perhaps more importantly what can't, library staff do to make this work?  Coming to Cambridge is a huge learning curve for most, we need to make it as easy and straightforward as possible, and not overload bewildered newcomers.

Each year the College sends out a Guide for Undergraduates, in which the Library has about a page of information.  However, as I’d already written our piece for this year’s edition it was too late to make any changes to it this time.  Not a major problem as I am assured that most students never read it (although I doubt this).

So I moved on to the leaflet which is included in the Freshers' welcome pack.  In the past this has been a straightforward account of catalogue searching, how to borrow books and where to find electronic resources.   This I decided to change completely.  I designed an A4 folded leaflet.  (We don’t have a budget for professionally printed glossy covered guides).  The front shows photos taken earlier this year of students happily working in the Library and a picture of the building from the outside so there is no mistaking it when you see it.

For the inside pages, inspired by Sunderland’s Quality Promises, I split the two pages into What you can expect us to do for you and What we expect you to do.  This was a very useful exercise as it made me think about, and write down, what exactly we could commit to providing, rather than offering vague promises.  I realised that we assume students know what is "normal" library behaviour here.  Writing down what we expected of them, eg managing their borrowing, taking note of signs and messages, following H & S rules, rather than just listing instructions, made things much clearer.  I ran these past the Mongoose Librarian (thank you!) to double check the tone and content.  The back page was then given to basic information – opening hours, staff names and contact details, with our web address.    

On their first day our Freshers attend a series of talks by College Fellows and staff.  I use our 5 min slot to describe the roles of the different libraries at Cambridge and, I hope, fill my audience with enthusiasm to discover them.   On the following two days we welcome our Freshers to the Library in subject groups, show them around and how to search for and find books using the catalogue, and how to borrow and return stuff.  Most importantly, we get to meet each other.  

A meeting with the Undergraduate Tutorial Assistant allowed us to rewrite both the timetable for these visits, spreading the tours over two days so they will be less tiring for us and more flexible for the students, and the invitation email so that it explained the purpose of the visit more clearly.   

Next, the Library web pages.  I tried setting up a blog page in WordPress, but after an afternoon familiarising myself with how it worked I realised it would take me too long to be able to produce what I wanted.  So I returned to our basic web editor.  I checked around some of the other Cambridge College Library websites for ideas and was surprised to notice that they contain less information than ours; I’m not sure what this signifies.  I put out a plea on Facebook to our students for suggestions, unsurprisingly at this time of year

there was little response.  Anyway, I rearranged, updated and rewrote much of the information on ours so that it should, I hope, be easier to read and understand.  I then collected together a few guidance video clips and slides in a new “Libraries and study help” page.  It will be interesting to see how much use this page attracts. 

Lastly, I am planning a few informal sessions for Freshers next term.  These will be held in the office as I don't imagine we will get more than a maximum of 10 or 12, probably less.  The aim  will be to develop the key student skill of

Eating Cake, but may digress into other topics, eg deciphering reading lists, finding electronic resources and using ebooks.  These will be promoted via email and our Facebook page. 

We will review these changes before we start the next academic year, it will be interesting to see what comments the students have. 

So, thanks to Kay and Jan.  In the time available, and with limited resources, I am conscious that this is but a superficial application of their technique and I haven't followed their advice very strictly, but it made me rethink our approach and, hopefully, this will bring benefits to our students.

2 July 2012

The Last Chance Saloon

It's nearly closing time, and in the drab Last Chance Saloon
Old Father Time removes his bails, the Reaper strokes his scythe;
Around them, sipping absinthe from their dirt-encrusted spoons,
While No One Here Gets Out Alive's the jukebox's only tune;
The wretches sprawl, the damned, defeated, doomed, discarded, dumb,
The obsolete, extinct, ignored, the long-forgotten ones:

The lectors, liftmen, linkboys, and the men who lit the lamps,
Gestetner operators and the gentlemanly tramps,
French onion sellers, cobblers, milkmaids, girls who plaited straw,
Switchboard operators, bus conductors, and there's more,
Point duty coppers, rag and bone men, ostlers, usherettes,
Mudlarks, circus ringmasters and vamps with cigarettes,
Matrons, A.A. Roadmen, shorthand typists, and oh look,
Squashed together mutely in the dark and dismal nooks
Sit pale, bemused librarians with boxes of old books.

20 March 2012

The Cambridge Conundrum : Sherlock Holmes considers ...

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment".  
Sherlock Holmes in A study in scarlet.

Following on from an earlier post, I have been thinking more about how academic librarians can make informed decisions about collection development, especially the balance between the print and electronic books.  I am becoming increasingly impatient with statements along the lines of "the book is dead" or "students want everything electronically", when they are produced as unquestionable common knowledge.  From what I can detect, undergraduate and postgraduate use of texts is far more diverse and subtle than statements like these would have us believe.  

Puzzling this over, I thought it might be a good idea to call for assistance.

Naturally Sherlock Holmes responded at once, sensing an opportunity to display his remarkable forensic skills in a prestigious academic setting.

I began by showing him the ebooks@cambridge statistics on the use of its collections in 2011.  He compared them with the 2010 data and immediately ejaculated, "Watson!  Here is a massive increase of 1,275% in the number of individual hits!  It's across all the platforms!  Look, 14.4% ebooks scored 100 or more hits, and 3% of which scored at least 1,000 hits". 

"So ebooks are really taking off then," I said. "We should stop buying print?" His brow furrowed.

"Certainly not.  Without further evidence we cannot explain a sudden rise in one year's figures.  It's only of interest if it reflects a continued trend".

"Well it does" I said.  "They went up last year, and the year before".

"Ah but note this, Watson" he said, tapping a bony finger on my computer screen, "that over half the ebooks, 63.82%, scored 10 hits or less. I thought you were buying books most in demand?"

"A lot of them were from packages" I replied, feeling a little uncomfortable.  And wishing he would stop sticking his fingers all over my screen.

"Have you any further evidence?" he asked, quizzically.

"The Judge" I answered.

"The Judge?!  Capital, Watson.  The Judge.  Who else would be more likely to produce an unbiased and reliable piece of work.  May I see it?"

I showed him Andy Priestner's slides.  He poured over them thoughtfully.  "But this Judge," he muttered, "shows that the use of ebooks went up, but fewer students were actually using them.  How very curious."

He whipped out a small violin and thoughtfully plucked at a few strings.  The sound was hideous.  As soon as I decently could, I interrupted.

"Two other colleagues have been comparing the use of print and ebooks in their libraries, Sherlock"  He sighed, laid down the violin and waved a limp hand.

I passed him a small white envelope.  As he did something with it which I cannot reveal, I showed him this post.  

"Education and English, eh?  The bedrock of civilisation.  Well, it appears from their work that the unpopularity of (or demand for) a print book cannot be ascribed to the availability of the same text as an ebook. So we should not assume that a decline in print borrowing is necessarily a consequence of the availability of e, without first considering other possible causes. Elementary, my dear Watson.  Any other evidence?"

I pointed to a group of students, sunning themselves outside in the College.

"We've just run a survey" I explained, "of postgraduates and undergraduates."

"And what did you discover, Watson?"

"They like Google Books".

Sherlock clutched his forehead.

"And there is a clear majority who say they use print and ebooks.  In fact, they say they mostly use ebooks when a print copy is not available."

"Why don't they like ebooks?"

"They don't like reading from screens.  A lot of them print stuff off".

I placed the figures in front of him, and he pounced upon the paper, rapidly scanning down the responses.

"Hmm.  It says here I love my Kindle, but I don't want to put work ebooks on it - I want to enjoy it.  I would find reading work ebooks much easier on that kind of screen, but prefer to have the computer there for easy transfer of diagrams to notes, checking with other sources, etc.  This is the work of a young woman with a lisp from Nottinghamshire whose aunt ..."

"And there's a killer question, Sherlock".

"Killer?" For the first time, a real flash of interest gleamed in his eye.  "Tell me more about this ... killer".

"I asked students: Imagine there is a key book on a reading list.The Library can buy an ebook version which will be shared online by all students. What would you advise the Library to do? (Assume all options are affordable).  53% answered that they Library should buy both, 17% said buy print and only buy an ebook if it is requested, and 15% said buy the ebook and only buy print if it is requested."


"So", I said carefully, realising that it was nearly 5.30 by now and I was due to be in a pub with some mates, "what is your overall opinion, having looked at the evidence?"

"My opinion, Watson?  What I see is an endorsement of ebooks which is measured and which is far from exclusive of print.  Your students are more traditional than it may seem.  Your ebooks, both purchased and "free" are being used more."

He paused, and looked at the spring light filtering through the trees outside the College.

"But they don't all necessarily like them, or want you to stop buying books at all.  I would advise you to stop thinking in terms of either one or the other, look at the evidence and give your readers what they want".

"But, can we afford to buy both?"

"That", he replied with an enigmatic smile, "is another question.  Excuse me.  I am wanted in London on urgent business. I can say no more, but you may hear something in the news shortly about the Iranian embassy." 

16 March 2012

How to succed in library management

Part 3 of an occasional series.

Marking time

Don't you agree that a row of pansies in a flowerbed is so much more attractive than a haphazard wildflower garden?  I do hope so, because if not you have no business to be reading this post.

Today we are going to look at a particular problem, that of orderliness in the messy area of human activity.  I shall describe my latest success in shaping staff to fit the particular constraints of time.

I like to imagine my staff consist not of arms and legs and other curious anatomical protuberances, but as tiny colour-coded rectangles which I can move about in tessellated patterns on my new timetable database*.  As well as being satisfying aesthetically, it provides me with a representation of human activity in attractive pastel shades, and looks especially gorgeous on my 2048 x1536-pixel resolution at 264 ppi iPad.

It is all due to the introduction of my latest technological solution, the Homochronosphere.  This gigantic timepiece, 10 ft in diameter, hangs immediately above the staff entrance to the library and is programmed to recognise faces and physical dimensions even when the lights are turned off.  Each member of staff is matched to a unique identifier (anonymously coded to represent a member of the insect world) that is in turn represented by a coloured cube on the online Staff Rota database, to which only I and my colleague Igor have access.  If any member of staff appears on the database at an unexpected time, for example 5 minutes late in the morning, an instant screen alert appears before me, a 115dB alarm is activated at the entrance and a Supaweight Grabble Hook drops down from the ceiling, seizes the miscreant, and suspends him/her upside down by the ankles.

It is an ideal solution to the age-old problem of employee time and attendance monitoring.  Despite the cost of setting up and implementing the database (and I had to sacrifice two key members of staff to afford it, imagine the pain that caused me) the Homochronosphere ensures complete equality of opportunity.  So even those working hard and conscientiously can be assured that they are being treated no differently from the slackers.  The alternative, having to find out which ones aren't pulling their weight and dealing with the problem face to face, was such a timewaster and fraught with interpersonal challenges.  I am convinced that my working day (and I spent at least 10 hours a day at work, and then take papers home) is better spent checking through the data for each individual and making the occasional adjustment to the Homochronosphere and the Hook (it can get so dreadfully messy).

*Unfortunately, commercial confidentiality forbids me from revealing the details of this product.

Part two : Communicating with your staff
Part one : How to get your own way at meetings

7 February 2012

Assessing the value of print and ebooks for academic libraries

How does one assess a library collection, especially the relative value of print and electronic book collections?

Among various recent studies of academic libraries, this one from Tina E. Chrzastowski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library study, sets out to value ebooks in terms of their cost, use and cost-per-use; and also their perceived “esteem” by users.  It concludes that ebooks represent better value for money than print (Table 1 p.4), and that ebook "attributes seem to signal a "win-win" for libraries and library users" (p. 14).  However, I would advise caution in accepting this findings as applicable to other institutions, and will explain why.

This research, funded by Elsevier, looks at the cost and usage data for the ebooks held by the UIUC library in 2008-11, during which time their collection increased from 292,002 to 614,203 titles.  As is often the case with ebook statistics, the data on use is limited to the number of title hits; and in this case covers the majority, not the total, of their collection.  As the author admits, we cannot extract more information that this, so we don't know whether the hits are from unique or returning users, nor how many returned information which the user sought, nor how many users stayed for, say, more than 5 minutes in any ebook.  And, as the data was provided by publishers, a second, impartial analysis of the data would have been able to confirm the findings.

With that in mind, let’s look now at the analysis of the cost per view (Table 4).  Over the four-year period, this fluctuates between $1.48 (£0.94) and $.68 (£0.43).  Good value, you may think.  But buying ebooks in large discounted packages would be bound to yield a reasonable rate of return; the point is surely how much of what the library's users wanted was actually available in the ebook collection, and how much was not?  And good value ... in comparison to ….?  As far as I am aware, no one has yet collected data on the number of times students open a print book and read it, whether the whole book or just a few pages, and it is difficult to see how comparative figures could be accurately collected.  There are very good reasons for buying ebooks, but we simply can’t claim on this evidence that they represent better value to a library than print.

The second measurement used in the study, the “esteem” of ebooks, is drawn from the activities and responses of 129 students using a collection of Elsevier ebooks only, 114 of whom identified themselves as being at doctoral level, and 77 (of the 129) as studying physical sciences (fig 4).  Now, I'd suggest that postgraduate physicists are one of the groups of students who would be most comfortable with using electronic resources and therefore ebooks, so we can't assume that these figures would be necessarily representative for students of other subjects or at other levels.  

Fig 7 (p.14) reveals the students' attitudes to the information in Elsevier ebooks.  While 54.8% said the ebooks were "nice to have" over a quarter (27.1%) said that they “could have done without it".  I'm not sure that "nice to have" is a sufficiently explicit statement to tell us much, and at just over half the sample it isn't a ringing endorsement, as the author admits.  I should point out that while respondents were asked questions about the advantages of ebooks they were either not asked about their disadvantages, or the results were not included in the published report, which suggests an unfortunate bias in the research.

Having assessed the value of ebooks, in Table 1 (p.4), the study goes on to illustrate the relative costs of maintaining ebook and print collections.  To establish the costs of maintaining a print library, the author draws on the work of Courant and Nielsen. While this is very clear and readable, its application to UK circumstances should be very closely examined.  Here are some reasons why.

A nice clean library

Firstly, the authors propose that a print library has costs associated with space, cleaning, maintenance, electricity, staffing, circulation and access which are less than those associated with e.  Courant and Neilson analyse print costs per item, based on these books being retained in perpetuity, but certainly the Library where I work is engaged in ongoing and rigorous weeding, so any libraries with the same kind of collection management would need to revise the figures.

Secondly, their figure for construction costs assume that buildings must be completely replaced every 40 years.  Our Library was built in the late 1920s and there is no prospect of it being replaced for at least a decade so again, our figures would differ significantly from those in the report. 

I have looked more closely at the figures Courant and Neilson quote for cleaning costs, as these are the easiest to compare accurately with the Library where I work. They assume an average cleaning cost over the lifetime of a library of $3.64 (£2.30) per book.  This figure is obtained from the University of Michigan’s Buhr Shelving Facility, a vast remote store, using five year’s worth of data, averaged, estimated at the cost per square foot and calculate at a cost per book based on the storage capacity of various shelving types.  I find that using this figure, the cleaning costs for our Library would be something around £92,000.  However, a few calculations reveal that the actual cleaning cost per book for our Library is £0.029, and at this rate, we would have to retain
all the books for 79 years to achieve Courant and Neilsen’s sum..  Now we do have some books published in 1931 or earlier, but at a guess I would say that at least half of our collection is much more youthful. 

Lastly, we should also consider the content of the library with which we make the comparison.  In our case, it would be inappropriate to compare the cost of the ebooks in our current collection, which represent a proportion of reading list material plus more from various collections, against our print collection, as this comprises a mix of research, undergraduate and principally textbook material.  When/if e-textbooks become available to us the cost of ebooks is very likely to increase dramatically, thus revising costs in favour of print (should print textbooks still exist).

Therefore, I would suggest that all Courant and Neilson's costs should be recalculated for local circumstances before assumptions are made about ebooks being cheaper than print. Recently I carried out a comparison of the print/e costs for a small collection of Elsevier titles based on purchase/subscription price alone.  This revealed that over a period of three years (the likely lifespan of a print edition) the costs of purchasing print across the University were less than 3 years' annual subscription to e.  It seems to me that it is only relevant to add in the library building and maintenance costs to the comparison if an institution plans a completely new purpose for the building, and I wonder whether, for example, an administrative building would cost less than a library to maintain, or be as productive?

As Courant and Nielsen conclude (10), libraries often occupy attractive sites in the centre of University towns.  Institutions which are tempted to repurpose or sell off library buildings and make provision for their readers through electronic resources are applying a solution which doesn't fit the problem.  There are extremely good arguments for academic libraries to develop ebook collections, but savings from print collections are only part of the picture.  Antagonism to the ejournal "big deals" (c.f. A Man of Badly Encoded Character's blog post) and the current volatility of ebook publishing suggest that a measured transition, taking into account a wide range of factors, would be wiser.

Further UK studies will be of interest. But whatever decisions are made about the future of academic libraries, they must be based on accurate evidence, not glib assumptions, especially about the relative costs and benefits of both print and electronic provision.

27 January 2012

How to succeed in Library Management

Part Two of an occasional series

Communicating with your staff

The golden rule of library management is to make sure no one finds out that you don’t know what you are doing, so the ability not to communicate well with your staff is vital to your success.

Here are ten top tips on how to do it.

1. Establish your groundrules. Make sure none of your staff escapes the knowledge that you are so terribly busy. You can do this by filling your diary with as many events you can, providing very few of them actually bring you into contact with them.  However, this must always be a constant surprise to you.  Goodness me, I have to go to another meeting! you say, before gathering your papers and bustling out of the room.  Hint that you are coping (just) with an unspecified but heavy burden of many top-level, confidential matters. An awkward meeting this afternoon?  So sorry, but at very short notice you simply must meet the Head of the Library Board, or a private donor who just might give the Library a million pounds.  And if you're trapped in the corridor by your assistant who wants to know why that piece of equipment you ordered doesn't meet his requested spec, you must regretfully break off to answer a very urgent  text.  
2. Timetable your unpredictability.  Avoid appearing at regular times in the Library.  Explain that this is because you are so often called to attend mundane meetings (a bore but absolutely unmissable) or conferences (absolutely fascinating but you never quite find the time to report on them to anyone).  As an amusing twist you should also turn up in your office when your staff are under the impression that you are safely away holidaying in the Nordic fjords.

3. Never solve a problem.  Isn't that the other person’s job?

4. Emails and phone calls. Now, don't be foolish.  If you absolutely cannot avoid not replying to them, couch the response in such a condescending tone that it is made clear to the recipient how fortunate s/he is to be hearing from so busy a person as yourself.  Then answer only some of the points, and miss out the critical bit.

Phone calls should always be returned out of office hours.  This is because you are so terribly busy and means you need only leave a message.  Emails should of course be sent no sooner than 5 minutes before any deadline.

5. Changing your job title, or the description of your department are both useful as they increase the potential for incoming missiles to go astray, especially if you are too busy to reveal the new names.

6.  All changes to working practices should be made by first fixing the institutional procedures behind the scenes and then sending a firm, directive email to the entire institution,  preferably when most of your staff are on a training course/holiday/off sick.

7. You run a happy ship, don't you?  Of course you do.  So if anyone is unhappy with the way things are done they must be, shall we say, out of step.  Treat those unfortunates with the utmost sympathy and offer them re-training or, better still, counselling.  Subsequent illnesses can be diagnosed fairly speedily (we are all under so much stress in this department) but if they lead to absenteeism you can rely on shrinking staff  budgets and the unemployment figures to help you out.

8. Like a good double agent, you should share occasional nuggets of information with your staff, but restrict them to matters which raise more questions than they answer.

9. While maintaining silence about your own activities, you must make absolutely certain you are aware of every scrap of communication by and between your staff. There is usually someone who is loyal, or ambitious enough to supply you with information about what they are all thinking.  Any criticism is a discliplinary issue because of course the Library’s P.R. image is of international significance, so ban all use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, by anyone unless you have approved it first.  Then create an account as Miss Muffin Cheeks and enjoy stalking your staff.

10. Don't be too disappointed that your staff have such a narrow view of their work and are constantly engrossed with trivial matters like missing books, argumentative students, floods in the media centre, system crashes at peak times and the $k in the 049 field.  Any criticism can be rebuffed by pointing out that their concerns are a little behind the times for such a progressive department, and encouraging them to adopt a more aspirational approach.  You can only pity those who lack your ability to live in the clouds.

How to succeed .... part one

16 January 2012

Happy birthday ebooks@cambridge!

This post is a slice of virtual birthday cake for ebooks@cambridge ...

The original project team
... which began when the six College librarians, seen here in front of a wall of rare books just to demonstrate their utter versatility, got together to work out how to buy electronic books for Cambridge University staff and students.   [Cambridge is unusual in that it has a large University Library, separate Faculty and Department libraries plus Colleges each with a library - they are all autonomous to some extent, Colleges in particular, but work together in different ways.]  

Anne Jarvis and Sarah Stamford at the launch

In January 2006 the first batch of ebooks went live (keen-eyed readers will note a numerical theme developing here) and, being librarians of the jolly sort, invited all our mates to a launch party.  With cake.
Six years on and the project has grown into a fully-fledged service with a collection of over 6,000 ebooks.  

We were extremely fortunate to attract start-up funding from Professor Robert Z. Aliber, and in subsequent years from the Isaac Newton Trust.  Their support enabled us to build the service and, in due course, to attract contributions from virtually all the Cambridge libraries.  Critically, we saw the project as being not only an acquisitions process but also a complete service to librarians and readers, from selection to purchase and on to online help, guidance sessions, promotion materials and feedback.

2010 Guidance session for librarians
It hasn't always been straightforward, as anyone working with ebooks and libraries will appreciate.  We have dealt with a number of suppliers, each with different processes, licensing terms and platforms; grappled with library catalogue records which varied from the useful to the ... less useful, and survived various technical hitches and platform crashes. 

The 2007 project team (minus a couple)
As the project developed the team expanded, allowing us to bring together expertise from all sectors of Cambridge libraries.  This brought home to us the realisation that no one library, or group of libraries, was in a position to direct the future of the service, we had to work together.  Thus, apart from a few hitches, it evolved collaboratively.

So what are the challenges today?

Moving from print to digital. 
The argument that academic libraries should follow the path of journal provision by switching from buying print to electronic books has been around for a while, so I won't repeat here. As far as Cambridge is concerned, I'd point out that librarians are obliged to meet the requirements of their readers, and if there is still a need for print (as there is at present) this shouldn't be dismissed lightly. At a time of critical financial pressure we must retain a healthy scepticism about both the ebook landscape and the bibliosaurs who cannot countenance any change. The future from the Cambridge librarians' point of view, has to be strategic, flexible and evaluative; the pace of change and the extent to which is applied needs to be addressed promptly and collaboratively.

Although publishers are releasing more new publications as ebooks, and backlists are being mined for corpses into which new digital life can be breathed, very little has changed with regard to textbooks since 2006. It looks like publishers will seek to replace the print sales of textbooks by marketing them as ebooks to students on e-readers. Not good news for libraries who serve undergraduates.  But publishing is in turmoil as much as librarianship.  We can eagerly anticipate a war between Apple and Amazon to capture and exclusively control content, which can be packaged and made available on their devices.  If, more likely when, this happens publishers, booksellers, ebook aggregators, librarians and Uncle Tom Cobbley will find themselves very much on the sidelines. However, there are ...

... New opportunities.
Librarians have a great past and present as organisers and purveyors of information.  There is terrific potential for us to work with academic authors and students in creating, disseminating and developing digital materials for research and teaching.  We're not done yet.

So here's to the next six years!  Cheers!

Jayne Kelly, ebooks@cambridge Administrator maintains the service ethos

7 January 2012

Libraries on daytime television?

Don't you think that in these days of urgent library advocacy we might be missing something by ignoring daytime television?  I mean, look at the schedules.  Hour after hour jam packed with estate agents, cooks, antiques dealers and emergency services.  Surely librarians are worth half an hour?  

Here are some of Dymvue’s suggestions :

Flog your folios
Quentin Spindly-Woodlouse, formerly of Magwitch’s Antiquarian Booksellers in Way on High, visits various Rare Books collections, such as those at the Dr Shipman Medical History Centre, Fitzplonkers University and the Drastic Diving Institute.  Quentin discusses the most treasured items with their curators and learns about their unique and historical value.  He then also meets the Accountant at each institution and suggests how much certain books might fetch at auction, and each curator then has 5 minutes to prepare and deliver a pitch to the Accountant, explaining why the books are worth keeping.  Finally, at an auction we see whether the books reach the expected sums.  The programmes attract a lot of human interest as the curators bravely watch their treasures go under the hammer, and the Accountants grimace at the paltry sums achieved.  

Circulation, circulation, circulation
A group of students compete with each other by attempting to locate in their library every book and journal article on a reading list.  Each begins with 50 points, but lose 5 every time they have to ask each other for advice, 10 if they check the catalogue, 20 if they phone a mate at another university, and 25 if they ask the librarian.  Meanwhile, the librarians have had to guess which books and articles will be on the reading list and to buy them for the students, so they score points if they get any right.  Students can also lose points for hiding the books, tearing out pages or smuggling them out of the library, and there is often keen competition at the issue desk when 30 students find there is only one copy of a 1973 paperback to share between them.

The follow-up to this series, e-circulation, e-circulation, e-circulation, challenges the students to find all the items on a reading list electronically, using a range of linking systems each with a unique password and different search options.  Anyone using Google Books or SuperTorrentDownload is immediately disqualified and awarded a degree.  The librarians are then quizzed and awarded points for being able to remember the licence terms for each product.

Cash in the knitting basket
Angela Rippon visits a library to help the staff raise money for a good cause.  They show her pieces of their knitting (sensible cardigans, fingerless gloves, the Archbishop of Canterbury) which are then valued by an expert. The staff then go to a craft market with the knitted goods, and try to reach their target by selling them.  Failure to do so results in painful unravelling.

I’m a Resources Centre Manager – Get me out of here!
Ten Resources Centre Managers are stranded in an abandoned book warehouse in East LondonConditions are tough : they must survive by eating abandoned takeaway dinners and anything they can hunt down in the service ducts ; heating and lighting is intermittent and subject to frequent failures, and management restructuring takes place every week.  The managers are set various tasks each week, like creating an Incentivisation Scheme, getting each other on their radar and finding low hanging fruit.  Programme 6 springs a surprise catastrophe when a roof section caves in and floods the contestants, leaving them to reshelve as many books as possible in the dark without ladders.  Participants are voted off by the public until the last one left is pronounced “King of the Bungle”.  

The graduate trainee

Fifteen aspiring young library graduate trainees compete for the chance to catalogue Lord Sugar’s collection of shower curtains.  They are judged by completing tasks, such as 

  • creating an app for the library while at the same time fixing the photocopier,  unblocking the toilet and re-drafting the staff coffee rota
  • finding 12 large print romance novels for a bad-tempered elderly woman who claims to have read everything in the library already
  • promoting a children’s reading scheme with no funding apart from colour-in sheets provided by the local minicab service - these have pictures of Ninja Turtles
  • motivating a team when, after shooting a video to advertise everything the local library can offer, the leader is told that it is about to be closed down
  • moving the library books, dvds, cds, games, pictures and media centre to an Arndale Centre unit, finding that the new accommodation is actually 1,000m smaller than anticipated and the wrong shelving has been installed.

How clean is your archive?
Kim and Aggie visit a series of Archives, taking readings on temperature and humidity, examining mould spores and levels of dust. They advise the curators on the care of the artefacts.  In one episode, Aggie demonstrates the remarkable effects of household bleach on a letter signed by Henry VIII, and Kim finds a nice plastic folder for one of Newton’s notebooks. One programme in the series is entirely devoted to the issue of whether cotton gloves should be worn when handling old paper.

Reality cat rescue
An adorable kitten is stuck somewhere in a library.  Two pairs of librarians compete to rescue it.  The task is made more difficult by blindfolding one member of each team (the searcher); the other (the anchor) can track his movements on a screen and can send instructions by 2-way radio to the searcher but only by speaking to him in Dewey Decimal numbers.

The Great library bake off
Ten passionate baking librarians battle to be crowned best library baker. Each week three challenges are presented and, in an interesting twist to the usual format, contestants also have to ensure that no other librarians are allowed to eat the exhibits before judging is completed.  All librarians can be armed with palette knives, scrapers, flywhisks and toasting forks, and any caught actually eating cake is branded with a biscuit cutter.