Sunday, September 21, 2014

Changing Business Practices in Libraries

When you tell people that you are training to be a Teacher Librarian the first thing that they mention is the books. Books and then coffee. 

Peoples "idea" of what a library was and what it has become is very different. To many the sole purpose of a library is to conserve and organise collections. The key focus was to meet the needs of people who held a Library Card, or a borrower. 

University of NSW, archival stacks

In the era of MBA's and Venture capitalists, we now talk about the "client". It is not unusual for a "client" of a library not to borrow any resources, but to use them onsite or online. Libraries have started discarding the draconian overdue late slip in favour of focusing on those people who do use the library resources.

This change in focus comes as Library funding is dramatically changing from a system that was "given" or relied upon, to one which takes into consideration Key Performance Indicators which are supported by checks and measures normally reserved for more traditional businesses.

Defining the Client

Clearly defining the client seems to be an important factor in the perceived success of a modern 21st Century library. My memories of doing undergrad History at the University of Melbourne brings back sensory memories of the old books that I needed to reference to complete my essay's on the French Revolution. Visiting the University of NSW Library was a cultural shock.  Their client wasn't the confused undergrad needing lessons on research, but the post-grad doing research. I heard about the fact that the USW was part of the Group of Eight universities Australia wide, who have a very different focus to a TAFE environment. The UNSW Library had a different client focus to what I thought. Their foyer, rather than serene and calming was a hustle and bustle akin to the Genius Bar in an Apple store. Most of their traditional information literacy services have been abandoned and replaced with servicing the post-grad and teaching staff. Their focus is laser sharp on supporting the greater goals of the organisation, rather that the humble library.

For ABC Sound and Reference Library in Ultimo, Sydney their focus was the Producers and Reporters for the ABC. Again, another example of a library focused the goals of the greater business. Activities that would normally be just nice for a library to engage in are removed from the environment if it doesn't make an impact on the bottom line.

For the library romantics out there, it sounds like blasphemy.

One of the two schools that I visited on my Sydney Study Visit was Santa Sabina College. Again, removing the romanic ideal that a school library is all about books and warmth, their focus was on the bottom line; student achievement results. Whilst, the library provided space for books and warmth, their driver and reason for being was to support teaching and learning at the college, they defined their client as the teachers not the students. Through the teachers, they improve the learning environment.

Defining clearly the core client clarifies the role of the library and librarians within the organisation and provides a driver for decisions to be made and processes to be improved. In this day and age, Libraries can’t be all things to all people, we only have limited time and resources.



Defining the Vision and Mission of a Library

After defining your client or stakeholders, a mission and vision should support what you intend to do directly. A small library focusing on Genealogical resources would have a different vision and mission than one of the "Group of Eight".

Due to recent budget cuts, the TAFE sector is in turmoil. TAFE NSW Library is one such organisation going through vast changes due to a changing funding model pushed by the Group of Eight Universities that derive the majority of their funding through research means. 

Rather than the Library leading the change with innovative services, organisational changes are being driven externally by legislation and when talking with the librarians you can hear the nervous distrust in their voices as they talk about an institution which is slowly being eroded. 

Having previously read about UNSW throwing their books out, it was with great interest that I listened to the presentation by Janet Fletcher about the role of the main Library on campus. Similar to the State Library of NSW, the change of focus has resulted in a business-focused department that places the key research needs of the University first rather than information literacy needs of the undergraduate student.  They have analysed their clientele and decided that their time is best spent assisting the University to access funding for research rather than teaching researching skills to students who should probably already know how to research if they have gained a position at one of the Group of Eight Universities.

The mission and objectives of TAFE NSW is so different. Their clients having English as a second language and students studying a technical or hands-on study, their business model can't be driven by the same factors. It is hard to create a Key Performance Indicator for the overseas students in your client group and whether their english has improved. 

Out of all of the Library models that I studied on my Sydney Visit, the TAFE NSW Library felt more like what I experienced in the 80's and 90's rather than what would be regarded as a 21st Century Library. Does this library model make their library any more or less relevant?  Should we be funding all tertiary libraries under the same rules if their clients are dramatically different?

It will be interesting to see what happens to TAFE NSW, as their funding model changes to a voucher based system, rather than an enrolment system.

Changing Business Processes

One of the more profound concepts that I was exposed to when I did my Library Study Visit was the widespread use of outsourcing(another article). But surely the librarians need to know the collection? Cost/Benefit analysis says "no".  At my school Library most of the resources are processed and shelved in-house, everyone including the Teacher Librarians shelve, do book returns and tidy the library. At University of NSW, their processing and returning of resources to shelves is outsourced. The books arrive barcoded, stamped and ready to be shelved by the "casual shelvers" that come in a few times a day to do this task. Therefore freeing up the staff to focus on the core business of the Library. This of course has a knock on effect on employment within a library. When searching for my Library Placement, I spoke to a lot of Librarians who communicated that the changing business practices in this area make it hard to accommodate the new library or information services students coming through. Businesses will outsource tasks and then no-longer employ qualified librarians, but Library Technicians or Assistants.

A stark contrast to a School Library where the expectation that all staff involve themselves in these tasks so that they "get to know" the collection. But is that hour of shelving and sorting each day better spent on activities that directly service the key stakeholders and meet organisational goals? It was an interesting topic to unpack with the other Teacher Librarians!

Is it right to engaging the use of professionals for tasks that were not related to their key measurable objectives? The University of NSW use copy cataloguing, students for shelving and automatic purchasing and processing of resources to free up full time staff to concentrate on their core business. Unfortunately smaller libraries such as the Society for Australian Genealogists are not in a position to engage in a lot of outsourcing due to funding constraints. 

What do you think about changing business practices in Libraries? Good, bad? Or taking things a bit too far?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Does using a pen and paper make me less of a technology leader?

A few people have pointed and made reference to the following article:
Why I just asked my students to put their laptops away


I wanted to take the time to comment as this topic has been weighing heavily on my mind as a result of both teaching students with learning challenges and the emerging realisation that my own child will find most of his life intellectually challenging.

Firstly, I started teaching some 20 years ago, right on the cusp of the 1:1 Laptop movement in Australian Schools. I was fortunate enough to work at Methodist Ladies College for a few years and there I met several pioneers of 1:1 computing including Dr Gary Stager.

Secondly, I love technology! I am fortunate enough to live in an age were technology permeates every square inch of my life. I can leverage it for good (and evil) and the educational benefits are enormous.

So some of what the article talks about resinates with me personally. On my recent CSU Study Tour to Sydney I only took my notebook a pen into each observation. I knew that if I had my laptop and/or iPad with me, I would go off on excited little tangents and perhaps miss the real message that the presenters were trying to make. The tactile notes allowed me to focus my thoughts and add to them, highlight them, post note them without the risk of skipping out onto the internet to check something.

Does this make me any less of a learner or technology leader?

At a recent conference, two of my colleagues attended. One had a tablet device in front of them the other a notebook and pen. The traditional notebook person commented that the tablet user spend their time surfing the internet and they perceived them as not paying attention. The iPad user commented that the traditional notebook user didn't even have an iPad to check things on or participate and perceived them as being not interested in what was being spoken about.

Who is right? 

Are students mature enough to say "I can't focus with my device in front of me, give me pen and paper?" or is this an outdated view of learning in a 21st Century? Are we skilling our students with the skills to make these decisions? Should we be?

There is increasing research appearing about how students can find it hard to focus in a multimedia environment. For example, reading on a single focus device is likely to result in a greater quality of recall.

There doesn't seem to be many long term studies being done in this area, but as educators what we are doing in our classrooms should be continually evaluated. So that we are meeting our learning goals. We shouldn't have to wait until the Naplan results are released to realise that our students can't concentrate within a paper based environment.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Parked Links

via Flickr

I am parking a few links here so that I can follow them up later. I find this a good habit rather than bookmarking them and forgetting them ....

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ken Roberts - The Future of Libraries

I really enjoyed Ken Roberts talk on The Future of Libraries.



A few notes from this series of youtube videos:
  • It is important to establishing where libraries are currently, and where they want to be in 5 years time. Trends, in order to instigate change, need to be embedded in within the fabric of the organisation in order to be sustainable. (check out this article on a Model for Sustainable Organisational change).
  • Looking at the reality of eBooks, he realistically talks about the push and pull of the industry.
  • In the 1930s libraries are used for discovery, searching and entertainment. Ken argues that the ratio has changed but the main three drivers are still the same.
  • Libraries are evolving from being a destination of consumption to a destination of creativity. Students want to "hang out", "mess around" and "geek out".
  • Part 5 deals with collaborative spaces with the discussion on the role of the librarian and how it is changing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Future of Libraries: 7 Questions Librarians Need to Answer

My earliest memory of a Library involves a calm space where I could go to quietly read, reflect or study.

But in the last few years, the idea of the Library as a quiet reflective space has been dirtied by educators claiming that this makes the Library old fashioned and outdated. They want the Library/Information Commons/Information Resource Centre to be dynamic, loud, colourful. It should be a happening place that sparks interest and encourages questioning. But once you have that question, what do you do?

The Pew Research "Future of Libraries" presentation makes some interesting statements.
  • The need for quiet or thinking spaces in Libraries.
  • Libraries as maker spaces; not just cognitive maker spaces, but physical maker spaces.
  • A greater emphasis on teaching and reinforcing inquiry research skills.
  • Teaching students to work through the info-glut to find out what they need for their learning.
  • Slide 34 has an interesting breakdown on how spaces are used in a Library.
  • The idea of a technology "petting zoo" or genius bar where students can try out new technologies or gadgets to add to their learning experience.
Looking back over history, the Library has evolved many many times to meet the needs of the community. But in order to do so, we need to understand out clientele.

Further Reading:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Relationship between science fiction and user interfaces

A fascinating presentation (15 minutes) on the relationship between science fiction and user interfaces by Chris Noessel.
When I started to use computers, there was no mouse and everything was keyboard controlled. The Control Key was the most important one on the keyboard. Our user interfaces have evolved so intuitively at the moment that a 3 year old can use it! We connect user interfaces with operating systems; Windows, MacOX.
The history of operating systems is interesting, with the first graphical user interface being the Macintosh operating system that Apple released in 1984.
The start of the presentation shows the natural use of data visualisation tools to make decisions; word/tag cloudcharts.
How many of the sci-fi movies have you seen that he identifies?
http://youtu.be/-SRmmwK-CLs 

Let us make a few observations about this blog post for a minute ....
This blog post
  • asks questions (encourages feedback) from the reader
  • Links to other web sites that will add depth to the topic that is being discussed
  • Has an image or an embedded video to engage the reader in the topic that is being discussed.
What this blog post (SchoL) does not have is:
  • Meta tags
  • Prompts to connect the user to other posts in your blog using algorithms which call up posts that are similar.
  • Encourages the users to connect via social media (Twitter, Pinterest)
If you have found this blog entry useful, please comment below!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

21st Century School Library Staffing Model

At my school, and I am sure around the world, there is much discussion about how the traditional library might transform itself into a "learning commons"or "resource centre". But what about the staffing model? You can't just plonk the old staff with old habits into a new area and expect them to be progressive!

Isn't the Vennesla Library and Culture House gorgeous!
 via

It was with this conundrum in mind that I came across an interesting article by David Weinberger about using the "Library" (commons/resource centre/hub) as a platform for incubating knowledge, ideas and passions.

The thing that struck me about this article was the inference that the space should be about engaging rather than disengaging students from the collection. Often resource spaces are organised in such a way to protect the collection. Special collections behind lock and key, restricted material behind the circulation desk.

The model of engaging students and giving them multiple avenues to access librarians or knowledge professionals, should clearly influence the staffing model.

For example:

  • Front of house Teacher Librarians (Knowledge Engineers) might be required at the circulation desk (or "genius bar" as Weinburger states) to answer questions. Most students will be able to "self check out", so they shouldn't be standing processing borrowings and returns. RFID technology will free up the TL to focus on building the capacity of the students to engage with the space.
  • There might also be Knowledge Engineers working in the back rooms processing resources, but perhaps they are available to answer "online" queries from students that might come in from around the campus. These specialists might not have the effervescence that the front of house librarians might have, but still their skill set is valuable.
  • With the acknowledgement that some of the work of a Teacher Librarian can be done remotely, the flexibility of the "work at home" arrangement becomes possible. 
Weinburger also talks about the Library as a social network:

"An online public access catalog (OPAC) for end-user search and navigation. Various ways of communicating with librarians and users by posting questions, chatting online, phoning, going to the physical library’s “genius bar,” etc. The ability of a computer program to pose a query through an open, well-documented Application Programming Interface (API) to find items based on subject classification, standard metadata (subject, author, year, etc.), popularity or other usage indicators, etc. This will spur the development of innovative applications. Clustering of works by semantic relationships, by recommendations (“people who like this…”), etc."

At the moment the Library structure focuses on reacting to the clients, the users; the students and staff. This concept of the Library as a social network or platform, allows clients/students to define how they want to interact with their Library. Allowing them to get in contact with like minds, share knowledge and use the resources that the library has on hand. But both the virtual and physical infrastructure needs to be flexible and organic enough to allow this to happen. Rather than decide for the users how they might interact with the library, the new library might provide information in a variety of forms and then perhaps use metrics to decide which one to concentrate on. Allowing the users to vote with their clicks or feet and then responding to it.

"A library platform should be measured less on the circulation of its works than in the circulation of the ideas and passions these works spark"

I hope that you have found this article of interest.