Saturday 22 November 2014

SCONUL Winter Conference 2014 #sconul2014

On Friday November 21st I attended the SCONUL Winter Conference 2014 which was held at the Royal College of Physicians, St Andrews Place, London.
It is the first time I have attended the SCONUL conference and it proved to be an interesting and informative day.
The conference was entitled 'The Visible Library: Demonstrating our Value' and the aim, according to the conference programme, was to  address the need 'to define and articulate the value of the library to both internal and external stakeholders'.  The outputs from the discussions on the day will form a basis for a SCONUL advocacy toolkit.

The introduction and welcome was given by Liz Jolly, Chair of SCONUL and Director, Library & Information Services at Teesside University.

The keynote was given by Graham Henderson, Vice Chancellor of Teesside University
'Opportunities & Challenges for the Modern Academic Library: A VC's perspective.

It was a very interesting presentation and useful to hear a view about the purpose of academic libraries from a different perspective, from the perspective.  He talked about Teesside University and it's role as the 'Opportunity University', the 'can-do' university driving enterprise.
He explained that the library needs to be a hub of the university and a place for all students to get work done.  It should be a triage point for all.  
So, what are the challenges:
1. To respond to the increasingly diverse support needs of a wide spectrum of users within a finite resource envelope (All users - UG, PG, graduate employability, non confident)
2. Copyright - equivalence for partner locations
3. Access to research
4. Balancing the cost of resources to support teaching and research without burden on teaching funding
5. Embracing social media as an asset not threat
6. Access to sufficient finance and resources to provide staff, space and resources (fewer books on shelves does not mean less resource but more)
There is a need to get more people to understand the changing role of academic librarians - therefore express in employability , research impact, retention.  Update the perceptions about libraries - they are about innovation in L&T and not just content.  He used the phrase 'responsive repositioning'.
It is important to nurture the fact that the library is more than just 'another support department' -it has a critical role in academic processes.  I think this is an important point to note and a key message that needs to be communicated in a positive way.

The next session was crowd sourcing narratives - this was discussions in groups about the perceptions of Finance Directors, VCs, Academics of Librarians / Libraries.
I was in the Finance Directors group.  
The positive perceptions included:
Play according to the rules, evidence based, operational efficiency, good project management, corporate players, the library as student space, solution focused and pragmatic, strategic enablers.  
The negative perceptions included:
Do well in NSS so don't need to invest, cost too much and rising (content, space, procurement practices) the view that 'everything is free on internet', different systems used for library as for finance.
Each of the tables in the group came up with much the same answers which is reassuring in one way but in another it means that there are common problems that haven't been solved (if it is possible to do so?).
It was agreed that the perception is that libraries are good for engaging on open access.  Also an agreement that there is a need to put forward a business case in the right way, to align it to institutional strategies (not too parochial and don't be too precious about library).  Finance Directors want resilience and financial robustness and a good business case.
This was a recurring theme throughout the day - the need to put forward the case for libraries in a language that can be understood by those you are communicating with, use their language and present the case in the terms that others understand and can align with their priorities.
After lunch there was a reflections session which brought together the ideas from the crowd sourcing sessions.  The SCONUL Chair and Strategy Group Chairs summarised the narratives and explained how these linked with the work that the groups were currently undertaking and future plans.

The positive perceptions were that libraries are an important part of the University's brand and are valued as provide access to resources.  

The other points I picked up from this feedback and reflections session (and these are from my notes so not comprehensive)
Demonstrating our value - libraries are inspirational spaces from social to silent (I liked this)
Libraries have a good understanding of student behaviour 
But how do we make something visible when there is nothing wrong?

Reputational challenges
1.Cost of content 2. Copyright and licensing 3. Open access
SCONUL are having a content forum - ways to advocate the cost of content.  
Working with jisc collections etc. will produce a RDM briefing

User experience - concentrating on:
1. Graduate attributes 2. Supporting researchers 3. Supporting learning and teaching 4. Organisational skills and professionalism 5. Library space - is there a need for them these spaces to be anything other library spaces?

Shared services
1. Collaboration v competition between institutions. Need to give examples of shared services successes

Performance and quality
1. Data used appropriately for hard advocacy 2. SCONUL stats widely recognised - data is useful - how do we use that evidence base to build reputation 3. Use evidence for advocacy and to create strong business cases 4. Toolkit to help present business case 5. Link to jisc co-design

The next three sessions were based on case studies.
Margaret Weaver Head of LiSS University of Cumbria 
'Leading for Value Added'
She explained that they had had feedback from staff that they wanted better communication so they planned and facilitated a strategic conversation between the library and the University leadership.  They prepared by producing a poster presentation to show what their team offered to university and it had to be data rich. They aimed to show their value, their corporate value as a service and to show how they deliver innovation in practice. They produced infographic style posters with performance data including research support, graduate employability, academic support, learning resources, personal development and recruitment and conversion.  
This was interesting as it was from a wider perspective i.e. as Student Services and Library and therefore may be easier to present more comprehensive evidence of the student experience.  Also the use of infographics to present data and information - sometimes you have to use different formats to present a case and a visual representation is effective.  We used infographics when I was at Middlesbrough College to demonstrate data and trends and found it engaging for students and staff. 

The next presentation was given by Andy Priestner, Information and Library Services Manager, Judge Business School, Cambridge.
He talked about using 'Ethnography for Impact: new ways of exploring user experience in libraries'.
They decided to use ethnography in addition to surveys as surveys often have closed or leading questions and are self reporting - does this give an accurate picture of what students are doing in the library?
He explained about three ethnographic techniques that they have tried:
1. Behavioural mapping - map routes through library space, where students went, what they did.
Heat map. Desire lines. 
Most traffic going straight through - use ground floor in order to walk straight up to first floor
Users are quieter the fuller the space
 2. Show me round. Students guide us around the space.  This showed that some users are failing to access key services.  Workspaces - more desks and desk spaces.  2 tribes - upstairs and downstairs with different needs. Kiosk terminals - not popular
 3. Cognitive mapping
Students use different libraries for different purposes. Most people are regularly on the mover and use variety of research environments. Library services are complex so need to use ethnography

There is a link here to his presentation on Slideshare

And a link to the #UKAnthrolib blog

The next presentation was by Lorraine Beard, Head of Digital Technologies and Services, University of Manchester.  She talked about the Eureka student innovation challenge. 
Some of the projects that have come out of the partnership with students are a facility to reserve study spaces and click and collect book reservations.  
The things that were found difficult were: 
PC desk availability
Finding a book
Sharing reviews
Student well being. Sleep zones (yes, sleep zones in the library...)
The quick wins they have introduced 
Textbook rescue
Living plant project
Book trolleys
Ear plugs
Umbrella stands
There were some really interesting ideas and it was very much student experience focused.  It shows how difficult and different it is to see it from a student perspective when you are providing the service...

The final presentation was by Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind
It was interesting to hear about how a charity such as Mind promotes itself and it's cause and raises public awareness.  He said that it is important to concentrate and advocate the difference you're making to people you are working with. In the case of Mind they were promoting it as much more important than just as a subset of NHS health. Should this be how we think of libraries - more important than just being a subset of the university?  There were some useful points about changing peoples perceptions and using the passions of those involved to create engagement and secure funding.

The main takeaways from the event for me were:
1. You have to use the 'correct' language for the situation and the audience
2. Presenting a business case is vital - it has to be robust and aligned to the institutional strategies
3. Academic libraries do lots of good things, they are valued - it's not that they need to do anything different to the ways they are developing already - just need to engage and inform other people
4. Economy, effectiveness and efficiency are the important factors
5. Use the student experience - map developments and outcomes to it - e.g. "the library does 'x' and this leads to increased recruitment and retention"
6. Collect feedback - map behaviours - use data 

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