Sunday, 12 January 2014

Libraries@Cambridge conference 2014

I have been to four Libraries@Cambridge conferences now, and when I compare the conference to others I've been to (thinking about Umbrella and CILIP New Professionals Conference mainly) I think Libraries@Cambridge is as good or better in lots of ways. It's free, organised in a relatively short time frame by Cambridge librarians, with most of the speakers working in Cambridge libraries, so it's usually very relevant to me. I think it's great hearing from the newest graduate trainees alongside the Bodleian's Head of Assessment and the UL's Head of Innovation.

I thought that the keynote presentation by Frankie Wilson was particularly good. A few bits that resonated with me: 
  • It's easy to change rules but harder to change the underlying culture – conscious and unconscious behaviour, values and climate.
  • Every time someone asks at the enquiry desk ‘how do I do…?’ that is feedback, and there may be something you could make more intuitive.
  • Do you pay enough attention to feedback, and do you take action? It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying that first year undergraduates for example just needs to learn ‘how it works'.
  • Are all staff (from student shelvers up) empowered to share their ideas for innovations? I consider myself lucky that I've always felt that I could share my ideas, both at Newnham and Homerton. However Frankie's mention of student shelvers has prompted me to make sure that our shelving team know that they can make suggestions.
  • "If you do the same thing every time, you’ll get the same results every time." This sparked a conversation in the Twitter backchannel with Sarah Burton, Ned Potter and Jo Alcock. We came to the conclusions that if something already works okay it probably won’t get changed, but it could potentially be better. However just because something fails once doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work another time in different circumstances.
  • Different groups/types of users will have different needs, so watch out for unintended consequences of your changes – what's better for one type of user may be worse for another.

Ben Outhwaite
Liz and I both went to the parallel session on Special Collections thinking that there may be something we could apply to Homerton's special collections (the annuals and Alice in Wonderland collection in particular for me). This session was split into three mini presentations - Ben Outhwaite from the UL's Genizah Research Unit, Suzanne Paul from the Manuscripts Department at the UL, and Camillo Formigatti and Daniele Cuneo from the Sanskrit Project, also at the UL.

Both the Genizah project and the Sanskrit project involved academics working with library staff on special collections to catalogue and digitise. Ben Outhwaite said that as well as benefitting from the academics' expertise, having academics working on special collections has led to events, funding etc. which wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. I think our special collections at Homerton have scope for collaboration with academics, something to think about more in the future.

Suzanne Paul worked with Emma Dillon from King's College London to put on a programme for Emma's students – each student was given photographs of a fragment, they then learnt palaeography, notation and so on in class, and then at the end of the term they came to the UL to see their fragment, learn about how they were stored etc. and worked on a catalogue record for the item. While this was a lot of work to put on, it benefitted both the library and the students. 

After the lunch my second parallel session was 'Quality for Who?' by Paul-Jervis Heath. I had volunteered to live-blog this session for the conference blog, so you can read the whole thing there.

The project that Paul and his design team have been working on has been to study students and academics and come up with 'personas' or sets of motivations and behaviours which are present in everyone at different levels. For example these are the three student personas in brief (there is a lot more detail in this PDF)
  • David is at Cambridge in order to get a job at a top firm. He's kind of interested in his subject, but targets what he does in order to build a network and find a job later. He 'hacks' the system by dividing the reading lists with his friends, and they then swap notes on the books they have read. 
  • Mattias is here to enjoy the things that university has to offer. He wants to do well, but he wants to make friends and have fun. 
  • Katrina is reading every single book on her reading list and is really feeling the pressure. She isn't sure she's on the right track, and is working well into the night and all weekend.
Paul students like David are setting things up on their own such as Facebook groups to share notes on books. Would it help if librarians were to set up an official version of this? Perhaps then students like Katrina would be helped because they wouldn't feel like sharing was cutting corners. However I was wondering as Paul said this whether or not we should be trying so hard to make things easier for students? I'm not saying that we need to set an artificial difficulty level, but it would feel a bit wrong to me if the library was encouraging students not to go through their reading list thoroughly! I'd be interested in what other people think about this though as I do recognise 'Katrina' in quite a few of our students. We have been coming up with ways at Homerton to encourage students to take regular breaks, and we occasionally liaise with personal tutors if it appears a student is struggling or putting a lot of pressure on themselves.

I was interested by Paul's explanation of Kano categories for service features, which I had not heard of before.

Graduate trainees' presentation
The final session was made up of lots of mini presentations by speakers from across the University including this year's graduate trainees, Isla Kuhn from the Medical School Library, Georgina Cronin from SPRI, and the team from Christ's College (Lucy Woolhouse is the graduate trainee at Christ's, so she was working extra hard during this session!)

As always, a lot of the valuable stuff at a conference comes over pastries at break time or over a glass of wine at the end! I had a good catch up with some friends, and met a couple of lovely new people, including on the bus ride back to the station!

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