An idiot’s journey through systems/e-resources librarianship

This has been a very tough week for me. I mentioned in my last post how I had practically zero systems or e-resources experience prior to this role, and this week has been all about firefighting in my various library systems! Whilst it was very unpleasant, I have also learnt a lot and I thought I would share my learning here.

1. Setting up a new system? Write everything down

I am currently transitioning all of our students at the Royal Marsden School over to Shibboleth authentication from OpenAthens. This is not a fun process. Shibboleth needs to be configured and tested for all of our e-resources (that’s 7 e-book platforms, 1 discovery service/database provider, and 9 journal platforms); I have also tried to set up WAYFless URLs to all of these different systems to improve user experience.

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I have been working on this since early September, alongside all of my other day-to-day jobs! It was really easy to lose track of where I was with the process for each resource; eventually I got my act together and just recorded absolutely everything (email exchanges and all, it’s amazing how quickly they get lost in Outlook) in a Word document divided up using headings. I’m sure there is a fancier way of doing this but it was quick and easy and worked for me.

Also, if/when I leave, then all my documentation is there for my successor to follow up on.

2. Don’t be afraid to be a pain

One of the things I have discovered about systems librarianship (at least at my level) is that it is mostly about communicating with other people, rather than doing any coding or hugely technical stuff. When I have an issue I send off a communication to the relevant customer services contact. This week I’ve been in touch with Springer, Ovid, 123library, Cambridge Core, EBSCO, Myilibrary, and RCNi because various things have not been working (I did say it was a bad week! Normally I go weeks without an issue). Of these 7 suppliers, 3 are still causing me problems several days on…

Some companies are better at responding than others. I used to be really polite and wait for ages to get a response; now I have learned that it’s ok to be more firm and chase things up. For example, I had an instance this week where the support contact said ‘sorry, that’s the best we can do’ and I sent quite a strongly worded (for me!) reply insisting on a better solution and stating that my other suppliers had managed to accommodate my request. And it worked!! They did eventually provide me with the OpenURL compliant WAYFless URL I needed. If I hadn’t been more insistent, it wouldn’t have happened.

3. Service providers are poor at communication. Be incredibly specific.

Here is a scenario from earlier this week:

  1. YiWen to Journal Provider: Hello! I am encountering an error message when I try to login to your journals using Shibboleth. Here is a screenshot of the error message. Please can you investigate?
  2. Journal Provider to YiWen, minutes later: You are not logging in the correct way. Please follow these steps.
  3. YiWen to Journal Provider: Yes! I did follow those steps! Those are exactly the steps that I followed to produce the error message!
  4. Journal Provider to YiWen: Oh yeah, I’ve just tested, you’re right, there’s a problem. I’ll get back to you.

Invariably, service providers will assume that YOU are the problem, not their system. The burden of proof is on the complainant! It is best, in your very first email, to provide an incredibly detailed, step-by-step outline of the issue, with screenshots of every single step taken. This would have saved me lots of swearing and frustration later on.

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Anyway, there we go. Those are some of the lessons that I’ve learned during one of the toughest weeks I’ve had, systems-wise. It has been quite cathartic writing it all out and if anyone else has to step into a systems-related role, I hope it helps them too.

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What does a solo NHS librarian do?

I feel really proud to be able to say that I work for the NHS. Although in my previous role at St George’s I did help provide some training and support for NHS staff, it wasn’t my primary focus. My current role is in a specialist cancer hospital supporting our NHS staff, but we are odd in that we also deliver accredited university modules at undergraduate and postgraduate level, so it is more of a hybrid HE/NHS role. I thought I might use this blog post to outline my responsibilities and what I do, as healthcare librarianship can be regarded as a specialist niche within the library profession and I want to demystify it a little.

General responsibilities

  • We are a tiny team of two – just myself and a library assistant. I spend at least half an hour a day supervising the library assistant and providing training where necessary when tasks have been delegated to them. This was a new responsibility for me as I hadn’t line managed anyone directly beforehand.
  • Answering enquiries! As we are such a small team I share equal responsibility for dealing with day-to-day tasks like circulation, phonecalls, etc – the bread-and-butter work of all libraries. Today I’ve unjammed a printer, found a journal article for a nurse, renewed some books, alongside my other responsibilities.
  • Ordering books and journals. I know this sounds very basic, but when I was at larger libraries I just instructed the acquisition department to get certain titles in, and it just happened as if by magic! I now have to liaise directly with suppliers and, more challengingly, NHS procurement and finance to ensure that the books and journals that we need are available. This can take up far more of my time than I would like.
  • Systems librarian (!?) – I had practically zero systems experience before this role and had to learn quickly! I initially found this one of the most challenging things to do. I look after our link resolver (NHS libraries use OCLC), our authentication system (OpenAthens, for now) and the backend of our EBSCO Discovery service. Our LMS is hosted by another organisation so that’s one system I don’t have to worry much about, luckily.
  • Interlibrary loans – as with book acquisitions, I used to just ask another member of staff nicely to order these for me, and it just happened. Now I liaise with other NHS libraries, local HE libraries, and, if needs must, the British Library to obtain these for our users.
  • Copyright officer – I ensure that we meet the requirements of our Copyright Licencing Agency Higher Education and NHS England licences, and advise lecturers on how they can best utilise copyright laws in their teaching.

HE responsibilities

  • I provide information skills training for students at the Royal Marsden School. We have 20 different modules across each academic year, with many of these running multiple times in the year so that we have over 40 groups of students to induct and provide information skills training for! One of the big challenges is the diversity of each student group as you can have, in a group of 20 students, 10 who have not studied for a decade or more, 5 who are recent graduates, and 5 who have already attended several of your information sessions. I try my best to produce unique info skills content for each module to minimise repetition and introduce variety into their learning.
  • Academic staff often come to me for support with finding learning resources for new modules, or when they are looking to revamp existing modules. I help to compile reading lists and also ensure that reading lists on our VLE are all linked to our catalogue.

NHS responsibilities

  • Literature searching – this service usually lies at the heart of most healthcare libraries. For the uninitiated, this is a highly technical, specialised way of searching established databases to find all the available published papers on a topic. A search looks abit like this. Librarians do these for clinical staff to save them time – it takes about 1-2 hours to do a good search, especially if I then review the results to highlight key papers.
  • Promoting the library is a huge challenge for all organisations, but perhaps especially in the NHS, where we often deal with a transient workforce who have very little time, and who are often scattered geographically.
  • Engaging with the wider NHS library community. There are a lot of national and regional shared resources and working groups, and it is a great community to be a part of as everyone is very helpful and proactive – I found it absolutely invaluable when I was first finding my feet. I attend meetings with other NHS librarians in London and the South East once every couple of months. There are national standards (LQAF) that we need to meet, and a strategic steer from Health Education England known as Knowledge for Healthcare.
  • I also provide 1-2-1 and small group training for NHS staff in literature searching and critical appraisal. This is currently on an ad hoc basis, and is something I’d definitely like to develop further in the future.

Part of the reason that I have written all of this down is that recently I have been feeling anxious about how well I am doing as a librarian. A year has gone by in my ‘new’ role and it can often feel like little progress has been made, although I know this isn’t true! There’s a lot that I wish we could do – I’d love to set up a current awareness service for NHS staff, do more to promote the library, and I’m behind on several projects – but when I write all my day-to-day responsibilities down it helps me to realise that I’m already doing rather a lot and perhaps it’s ok for us not to be a perfect library service… yet!

I’m back! Moving into NHS librarianship

It’s been an awfully long time since my last update, so I’m just going to do a quick summary of what I’ve been up to since my last post!

In November 2015 I took up the post of Liaison Support Librarian at St George’s, University of London. This is a medical school in Tooting, South London, which works closely with St George’s NHS Foundation Trust. My job move was primarily for personal reasons as I wanted to move to London to be with my partner. However professionally it was also a great opportunity to move into a new sector as a healthcare librarian. My role primarily involved providing training to lots of healthcare professionals studying for CPD qualifications alongside their busy day jobs. It was a challenge dealing with users who often lacked confidence in IT skills, but such a rewarding experience showing them how easy it could be to find high quality evidence for their work, and providing lots of support and encouragement. Additionally I was also given the opportunity to run literature searches for NHS staff, this was a very valuable skill and one that is very specific to health librarianship. Other things that I did there included helping with marketing/promotion of the library, providing RefWorks training and support, and general enquiry desk duties.

 

I felt I wanted more of a professional challenge after about 4 months, and in May 2016 I started as the Knowledge Resources Manager for the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. It’s been 10 months in this job and the time has absolutely flown by, I asked for a professional challenge and boy did I get one!! The library team consists of myself and a library assistant so I have had so much to learn – I think I will do a separate post about being a solo librarian. We provide training and support for students taking courses at the Royal Marsden School; I have had library/information skills sessions embedded into 90% of the 20 or so modules that we have run so far this academic year. In addition to this, we provide library support for all staff working at the Royal Marsden; this involves running literature searches, sourcing books/journals, managing access to online resources, and answering enquiries… among other things! Luckily we are a smaller trust than most as we are a specialist cancer hospital, so it is just about doable with a small team.

 

So that’s just a quick snapshot of where I’m at at the moment! I am hoping to bring this blog back to life as it is a useful place to keep track of my professional development. Also, others have mentioned that they have found it useful 🙂

Chartership portfolio submitted!

There are lots of changes happening in my life at the moment, which is why this blog has gone quiet in recent days! Yesterday, I finally submitted my chartership portfolio – hurrah! It’s been pedal to the metal with chartership over the past two months, as I wanted to submit before beginning my new job next week (more on this in a future blog post!).

Step 1: CILIP chartership event

I found the chartership process quite easy and straightforward. I kicked things off first and foremost by attending a CILIP ‘getting started with chartership’ event in London. This event was really useful because we were able to ask experts our fiddly questions, and had the opportunity to look at different example portfolios. I also felt reassured that there were lots of other people in the same boat as I was, and I came away from the session feeling more confident about the process as a whole. I wouldn’t say the event was essential, but it was helpful.

Step 2: PKSB 

I then went away and worked on my PKSB. I was really anxious about this – it’s a horrible document that’s just far too long, with confusing terminology and lots of the points overlap anyway! Luckily I was reassured by the fact that at the chartership event, it was clarified that we only really needed to focus on 6-10 points, and that it was ok to be totally clueless about areas outside our own experience. The Excel spreadsheet version of the PKSB is infinitely more useful and manageable to use than the unwieldy PDF.

Step 3: Mentor

I found it difficult to locate a mentor outside my sector that was close to me geographically, so I decided to widen the net a little and found the lovely and helpful Alison Millis, who is based in Tunbridge Wells – about 2.5 hours away! We got in touch via email and I did visit her once, but beyond that all our communication was done via email. I found the online portfolio system really lends itself to distance mentoring as Alison was able to track changes in my portfolio and offer her comments without too much hassle. Alison helped me to put together an action plan for my chartership and was very responsive and helpful throughout.

Step 4: Professional Development activities (and gathering evidence along the way)

I am quite lucky in that my (soon to be former) workplace is excellent at providing training and CPD opportunities. Senior management gave us 2 hours a month dedicated to chartership discussions, as well as our own training budget. What I found especially useful was the opportunity to participate in the University of Reading’s FLAIR teaching scheme for new academics, which has meant that I am now an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and feel like less of a fraud when delivering teaching and training! I didn’t really have to do a whole lot specifically for chartership – lots of the activities that I used for evidence just came from all the things that I did as part of my job.

Step 5: Putting it all together

I started writing my evaluative statement almost from the very beginning – a really useful piece of advice given to me by Alison. Having the structure outlined, organised according to the evaluative criteria and the PKSB skills I wanted to evidence, was really useful in helping me keep focused in my writing. Also, I am lucky to have had practice with reflective writing during my MA course at Sheffield – thank you Barbara! The VLE is very clunky and not the nicest to use, but I was able to figure my way around it reasonably easily, doing most of my writing in Word and copying things over to the VLE when I’d finished. I didn’t personally need any help but I’ve seen from various forum notifications that the CILIP team are very responsive and helpful, if you do encounter problems.

Anyway, it’s in the hands of the assessors now… fingers crossed!

Lovely wildflowers at the Horniman Museum

Lovely wildflowers at the Horniman Museum

Social media for teaching and learning

Earlier this week I attended a University of Reading workshop on using social media for teaching and learning. A storify summary of the day is available here.

I thought the day was very useful overall, although there were lots of things discussed (such as Padlet and Quizizz) that I would consider more ‘online tools’ than social media, really. There were lots of examples of good practice, but some of the key points that I took away were:

  • Privacy is a real issue of concern for many academics and students. Facebook offers a greater degree of ‘distance’ than Twitter (you don’t have to be ‘friends’ to be in the same group and communicate, groups can be kept private). Some academics were also concerned about potential problems arising from more informal modes of communication with their students and were worried that they might get in trouble with the university for not following established protocols. I suppose the key here is for the university to publish clearer guidelines on acceptable social media use for professional and educational purposes.
  • Cultural differences affect social media choices! Facebook isn’t big with Chinese students, for example. So this is important to bear in mind when selecting the right platform to use with your students
  • It’s better to back web-based tools rather than programs which need to be downloaded (often university machines are locked down and any new programs and updates need IT departments to get involved).
  • Lack of confidence amongst academics is a key barrier as well. I think there is such an opportunity here for us to get involved, as there is a clear demand for more training and expertise sharing! I know many librarians already run social media workshops for staff and students (Judge Business School Library, for example), and as professionals experienced in providing training on new technologies and ways of managing and navigating information, we already have many of the necessary skills.
London skyline

London looking lovely on a summer’s evening

I would like to incorporate social media into my own teaching practices but I’m not sure how well this would work, particularly given the way in which I often only see students for one or two isolated sessions throughout their academic careers, rather than having a sustained relationship with them over time. The web tools, however, are easier to apply in the sessions that I teach, and I will definitely try them out in some of the induction sessions I’m running in October!

Overall the day was a brilliant learning experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing ideas and opportunities with academics from across the university, finding out what works, and what doesn’t.

Preparing for my first conference paper

In January, I submitted my MA dissertation abstract to the i3 conference. I didn’t really expect much to come from it, but I thought it might be an interesting experience, and it was something to do with my dissertation, anyway. It took ages for them to reply, so I forgot all about it. Then, in March, I received an email telling me that I’d been accepted to present! I was very excited and jumped around the office for a bit, but then I didn’t hear anything for months and I almost forgot all about it again, getting caught up instead with chartership and work-related activities.

The conference programme was recently finalised, and it was a bit of a surprise to see my name there in black and white. I’ve now booked my accommodation and travel and registered for the conference, so it looks like it’s finally official. It seems like a bit of a shock, from my initial stab in the dark! My topic is ‘Representations of privacy in the context of care.data: conflicts of interest between government, newspaper and public discourses’.

Beautiful evening sky in Reading

Beautiful evening sky in Reading

Although I am comfortable with presenting to fellow librarians and students, I can’t help but feel that a conference paper is going to be a different kettle of fish altogether. I feel out of my depth – I’m not an expert in privacy studies, or in information behaviour, or social media interactions! What questions will they ask? Do I know my material well enough? I’m just a puny little MA student amongst the research postgraduates and established academics…

Luckily, the two anonymous reviewers of my abstract have provided some useful and constructive feedback, which I will apply to my presentation. I have also been looking up tips on presenting at conferences; there are lots of reassuring blog posts written by early career academics and professionals. I also have to do lots of reading to catch up on the way in which the field has evolved since I wrote my dissertation – July 2014 seems like a lifetime ago now! Time to get busy – I’m away for two weeks in June, so have to do most of the preparation in what’s left of this month…

CPD25 event: Introduction to Marketing within Academic Libraries

The Weiner Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide is a fascinating place – such a treasure trove of unique material, although both physically and emotionally daunting, I think. Anyway, that’s where the CPD25 event I attended last week was held, in a room that was definitely too small to accommodate the number of participants attending!

The session was two hours long and there was a lot of material covered during this time. Samantha Halford, who facilitated the session, has put together a helpful storify outlining the key points we discussed.

We began with an icebreaker activity in which we were asked to match celebrities to the brands/products that they endorsed. There were some really obscure ones there, which sort of undermined the point that ‘we subconsciously absorb marketing information all the time’ because clearly in these cases… we hadn’t! It was fun, however, and it’s certainly a useful activity to bear in mind if ever I run a session on marketing…

We then ran through a quick overview of what marketing actually is (building relationships with users), and what it isn’t (just promotion, advertising, or branding). I feel like I already have a good grounding in this area thanks to a session on this topic during my MA in Librarianship at Sheffield. However, it was good to go over the basics; remembering to focus on the reasons why you are running a particular marketing activity was my main takeaway point from this first half of the session. Ned Potter’s book was also plugged during the session; I’ve found it a really useful and accessible introduction to library marketing and would highly recommend it for anyone interested in this topic.

Mam Tor, in Yorkshire

Mam Tor, in Yorkshire

There was then an interesting group activity in which we discussed the different ways in which we would target different user groups within our libraries. This has been echoed somewhat with a session I’ve just had today at my EDMAP1 teaching day, on how ‘minorities’ are now the ‘majority’ of our users, and how we need to think about the ways in which we communicate with and cater to the unique needs of our heterogeneous user base.

The most useful part of the session was, for me, Jacqui Gaul’s top 7 tips for marketing in academic libraries. These were really practical:

  1. work with a marketing department if you have one
  2. create a visual identity for your service
  3. use a planner to map out your activities throughout the year
  4. always remember what the purpose is underlying your marketing initiatives and keep this at the forefront at all times – don’t just do something because it seems like a good idea!
  5. highlight benefits, not features
  6. think like a user
  7. use ‘AIDCA’ to underpin your messages

Looking at my own current practice at my organisation I can see that there is plenty that we can do to improve the ways in which we build relationships with our users. To some extent I do feel limited because I am in a junior role within my organisation with few opportunities to really make any decisions; however, I still think within my own departments I certainly will be able to put some of the tips explored into practice.

I think that over the next few months, I will use these marketing tips to try and improve my relationship with the MLES department, which as I mentioned awhile ago is one of those that I have had little engagement with (in terms of with the student body; the staff are great!). I will particularly work on the planner idea, trying to match my communications with students so that they are timely and in sync with what’s going on in their academic lives. I will also try to improve the email communications that I send out to them by highlighting benefits and using AIDCA, while putting on a ‘user’ hat to ensure that any confusing terminology or presumed knowledge is left out.

Here’s hoping this will help increase the number of enquiries/interactions I have with students – one of the few KPIs that I have at my disposal!