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.