Sunday, 16 February 2014

Safari :An exhibition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat, especially in East Africa.

Being a good librarian I'd be amiss if I didn't start a post like this with a good old fashioned Dictionary definition. However, it was the famous Bear Hunt book that really came to mind when the idea of a Library Safari was broached, swiftly followed by the line  "Lions and Tigers and Bears..."

The name meant I'd heard it all by the time the day of the CILIP SW Library Safaris came round. Whether we were taking nets? If the library could expect a new Zebra print rug afterwards? Did I have a good pair of binoculars? 

But the fact is that these Safaris, an opportunity to  find out how libraries work and about the teams and people that work in and run them, were inspired. With five running across the region the attendees were given an unrivaled insight to what it means to work in information and library environments. 

On paper the Bath Safari was fairly traditional. More so than some of the other safaris.  Two HE libraries, a FE college and Bath Central. Academic and public, maybe the most obvious of the many information roles available. Certainly the roles that I was most familiar with when I first considered librarianship. After all, how many of us have been influenced by positive experiences in public libraries as children before recognising the value of academic libraries to our studies as young adults. 

Because the visits were so traditional I wanted to make sure my presentation (due to be delivered at the start of the day)  covered a wide range of routes into the profession.  If you are interested in this, a slightly edited version, (minus a slide with career history from my team) can be found on this Prezi :

In reality the Bath Safari turned out to be far from traditional. Starting at the heritage site of Bath Spa University the tourists got to visit what I consider to be one of the greenest and most creative of university campuses. It is also, in contrast to the site at the University of Bath, one of the smallest universities in the country.  This meant that the participants saw how, despite operating on a much smaller scale, the library provides 24/7 access to IT and study resources for students. With the safari coinciding with a CLA visit it was also a chance to broach the subject of ethical and legal use of information within the profession, something that for the newcomer can often be a minefield

At the opposite end of the spectrum the safari next made the trip over to larger University of BAth where STEM research is paramount and the explorers met with individuals in both non traditional and traditional roles. This included the team working on a project that will ensure  research data is safeguarded and preserved for our future researches and students. Also, they gave us Licorice Allsorts, demonstrating that all good meetings should involve cake or sweets of some sorts. 

From University of Bath we travelled to Bath Central Library, a city centre location that I had used personally while completing my Chartership portfolio. Highlights here included items such as a human skin bound copy of Machiavelli's The Prince as well as the extensive Juvenile collection in the stacks. Much of this collection, while not particularly rare or valuable, represents an insight into the book both as an object of desire and as a piece of literature, reflecting past social norms. More importantly the safari participants were introduced to the range of services offered by public libraries, including story time, children's services, archives, volunteering, audio books, book clubs and access to free wifi and computers. It was also here that, for the second time during the day, they were shown that the most obvious route into the profession, that is the post graduate qualification, isn't the only option available.  

Leaving Central Library we made a dash across a very soggy Bath (pun intended) to City of Bath College to meet with Naomi Elliot, Head of Library and Learning Resources, our final stop of the day. Here we all had our eyes opened to the range of services offered by an FE library including literacy support, in the form of the Six Book Challenge, learner support, through the provision of a  traditional library service, (books, magazines, IT, enquiry services) and technical support, including a IT support desk provided by students training in IT. We also had a demonstration of their online streaming system that includes the recording and storage of student performances and presentations.

As coordinator of the Bath Safari the only awkward part of the day was at the beginning. That period when people are arriving, drinking tea and coffee, and generally NOT TALKING AT ALL. It's so rare for me to go to an event nowadays, even as a relative new comer to the south, that I'd forgotten how difficult these situations can be. As such if I was involved in this  event again I would certainly find some way to break the ice at the initial meet up, possibly by the option to create name badges, such as is often used at Library Camps, or, conversely by a more structured meet and greet that would take us straight into the formal part of the day. 

With hindsight I would also factor in a break in the afternoon. I should have realised that anyone aspiring to work in the information and library sector would need regular access to tea. As a consequence by the time we reached City of Bath College everyone was desperate for a sit down and ready for a brew from the college cafe. Luckily this was something we were able to accommodate due to the fortunate timing of buses earlier in the day. I would have hated to impact on Naomi's enthusiastic tour due to the lack of tea!

I've yet to receive comprehensive feedback from the overall event coordinator. However for me, all the work and effort that had gone into the day was made worth while by a comment made as we left City of Bath College. It is this comment that I will leave you with, in the hope you will either be inspired to run your own Safari, or consider a career as an information and library professional.....  

"I am so excited about becoming a librarian now"

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Online chat in Libraries - the Practicalities

In the last post I wrote I'd got up to the point where we'd purchased our chosen chat service and had the web development team scratching their heads over how best to get it into the CMS. 

My role at this point was to work out how we going to get from a working system to a fully functioning service. The problems I had to solve can be summed up fairly succinctly by the 5 W's 
  • Why we were introducing the service?
  • What would be it's purpose?
  • Where would the service be provided?
  • When would we would provide the service?
  • Who would staff the service?
I should add that for the sake of simplicity I'm going to talk about this process in a linear, singular manner. The reality was actually that this process started months ago, back when we were talking to other services about chat. It has been the subject of much discussion, project reports and team work between myself, the E-Resources Librarian, and the wider Librarian team.  We knew from the beginning that the chat service needed to be owned by the service, rather than individuals and as such decisions were discussed at Librarian Forums with ultimate decisions being made by LMT. The wider teams were kept informed and involved through the trails and other communication throughout. 

The why and what had been answered months previously. We were introducing chat to improve customer services, it's purpose was to provide an additional communication channel through which our users could contact us. This was vital for me. We weren't replacing anything with chat, not would we ever force anyone to communicate with us in this way. Chat was simply going to be another option, a way for students to contact us at time and place of need.

Where we were providing the service was really done to the web team. We knew where we wanted it - we'd been told to make it as high profile as possible. However  the logistics of embedding the chat widget into the University CMS without it standing out like a sore thumb was tricky. In the end we launched with chat visible on the side bar of our Discovery service and on our 'Contact Us' page. We've had to wait for the customised web button for the library home page but that is in the pipeline.  

By far the most difficult decision was deciding who would staff the service. Talking to other services had shown that staffing levels varied with some using front library assistants, others only using librarians and several variations including mixed staffing levels depending on level and interest from staff. 
Based on our current enquiry handling we made the decision to start the service staffed only by our librarian team. The knowledge (although not the skills) to troubleshoot problems with our eresources just didn't exist consistently across the Library Assistant team. Training and development was needed to address this, not just for chat but as a service development need. However with the launch of chat already delayed once and our second deadline approaching, the time to put this in place just wasn't available. Nor did we have time to create the knowledge base and example answers that would ensure consistency across the service, regardless of who was staffing it. So we opened our chat staffed only by our qualified team, understanding that this needed to be reviewed. 

The when, or the opening hours was the next big decision and was largely influenced by resourcing. We had already decided that we didn't want to go down the route of consortium cover, such as is available through QuestionPoint.  We would staff the service ourselves. However as a relatively small service (actually, for a university, a very small service) staffing was a key concern. In fact it hadn't gone unnoticed by myself that the additional workload seemed to be a primary concern. We needed to find a balance between sufficient chat hours to create impact and not over reaching the Librarian team. Through examining our busy periods and looking at what others provided we decided on  core hours of 10am - 2pm and a further evening service between 5pm-7pm when a librarian was available. It was agreed that whenever possible we would log into chat outside these hours and that, most importantly, chat would be treated like any other opening times in that it must be available as advertised. 

So we launched, back at the beginning of January. Since then we have been working out the Hs that normally accompanies the 5 W's. This was h
ow we would monitor the service and ensure quality and consistency? And how we would use this information to take the service forward and ensure that it is both used and sustainable. That will be my last post on the the chat service, but one that will have to wait a month or two when we are in a better to make decisions.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Online Chat in Libraries - Making a Decision!

Scarily I've now been in my new post for nearly ten months  and having passed my probationary period Bath is going to be home, at least for the foreseeable future. 

In this time I've taken on many jobs, some new, some a development of previous tasks, some downright mundane. I've learnt a lot, about managment and running buildings and about the huge machine that is the HE environment. What I haven't enjoyed so much is the lack of opportunity to use the knowledge I value as a librarian, namely the skills I have developed in the areas of digital services, teaching and training.

A rare exception to this was provided in the form of a project to introduce an online chat service that would become part of the now published new look website. Originally initiated  a year or so previously the project had fallen by the way side. This was partly due to the withdrawal of the Meebo solution, at the time the preferred option, and partly beccause of some signifcant staffing changes that stretched the service for a while. This past year our E-Resources Librarian and myself picked up on the work already carried out and have since managed to get a Chat service live.

Currently under going a soft launch we have chat widgets available on both our website and embedded in the Discovery tool.  The service is staffed weekdays 10am-2pm and at the moment resourced by our librarian team.  Much of the technical work to get the service live was under taken by our E-Resources Librarian and a willing university web team.  Although it is possible to use chat services 'straight out of the box' a bit of web development knowledge is vital to make the most of the service.  My role, since the exploratory stage of the project, has been more logistical, devising the rotas, setting up users on the system and ensuring a knowledge bank was in place prior to the launch. 

This exploratory period has been considerable and looking back could certainly been undertaken in less time if other projects hadn't been concurrently underway. We progressed  over a period of months, rather than weeks, and looking back I consider that we spent more time on this stage than we maybe should have. 

Stage 1. Initial Investigation. This included a basic literature search and a web search for availble products. The results were listed against a grid of criteria including
  • Website integration through customisable widgets
  • Additional integration (eg SMS, twitter, Facebook)
  • Chat transfer
  • Transcript logging
  • Monitoring and statistics
  • Desktop sharing and file transfer
  • Out of hours reciprocal cover (or paid)
  • Cost
The available products we found included: 

  • Question Point (OCLC)
  • Libraryh3lp
  • Libchat/LibAnswers (Springshare)
  • VRLplus/Refchatter
  • Zoho Chat (free)
  • LivePerson
Other services which we've since become aware of are include:
  • Live Chat from Comm100
  • Zopim
  • Zoho Livedesk, a more sophisticated, paid for option of Zoho Chat. 
Stage 2. Shortlisting and Feedback. 
For us this meant identifying which of the services could meet our needs and talking to people who were already using them. It was esepcially helpful to use the chat services themselves, in order to see the customer experience. I did a lot of this work myself and at the same time took the opportunity to investigate  how other universities staffed and promoted their services, what adjustments they had made since launching it. Thanks to everyone who helped with this stage! 

At this point we also refined our criteria, identifying those that would be essential rather than desirable, leaving us with the list below. 
  • Customisable widgets, both fixed and pop up
  • Chat transfer
  • Transcript logging
  • Monitoring and statistics
  • File transfer
  • Cost
Stage 3.  Trialling and Testing
Based on the data we had collected we decided on two systems to trial and test. After a few problems getting the java script to behave we managed to get both the trials up and functioning and involved the wider team by asking them to feedback on what they thought of the usability and appearance. The E-Resources Librarian and myself also tested the systems although if I'm honest it was difficult to get a real sense of how the admin systems would behave in a live scenario with multiple users. With hindsight it might have been more beneficial to go and view the shortlisted systems in a live environment.

We trialled LibChat (with Libanswers) and Libraryh3lp, eventually deciding to opt for Libraryh3lp. This decision was partly based on the simplicity of it's admin systems, the availability of the criteria we had previously determined and ultimately it's cost. Although it's statistics and widget modules were more basic than the LibChat option the relatively low cost of Libraryh3lp allowed us to purchase it with little risk.  Take up of the chat service is still an unknown but the nature of the system allows us to upgrade to a more sophisticated system should we need to in the future. 

It's at this point that I'll be moving onto the logistics of setting up a chat service within a relatively small library service, the non technical decisions that needed to be made and the problems we faced in providing the service. I'll be discussing in my next post and hopefully finishing with a post reviewing the soft launch in a few months. Happy reading!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Crafting 2013

This blog has been rather neglected in the last six months. In fact it has been very neglected. I can't say much in my defence, except, you know, life. Which given where I was last year is rather nice really. 

I do have a nice serious work related post in the making, which I hope I will be able to post over Christmas. However, being in the festive mood and having for the first time done some serious crafting for Christmas I thought I would share the fruits of my labour. 

Preparation started back in the Autumn when I was out gathering Sloes. I've never lived anywhere where sloes were in plentiful supply so the idea of making Sloe Gin was too tempting to put aside. With the gift of an unwanted bottle of whiskey I also made sloe whiskey, with both types having just been decanted and bottled up into medicine style Doric bottles.

At a similar time I also gathered blackberries and was given a plentiful supply of quinces and apples which enabled me to have a go at jelly and jam making for the first time. Armed with only basic equipment I have managed to make a number of mainly successful batches including a lovely blackberry jam I am currently enjoying and some quince, apple and sage jelly which goes beautifully with pork. I would say, after tasting both types, although membrillo may be tempting should you manage to get hold of some quinces I much prefer the clear, rose like quince jelly I made this year. 

Additions of some hand printed labels and some purpose bought jars and bottles and the jellies, jams and gin will hopefully make some well received presents. 

I also hand printed many of my Christmas cards this year, going for a postcard like card rather than a traditional folded ones. I especially liked my turkey/robin stamp. 

Through twitter I had got involved in a Christmas craft swap, which saw me calling on my book bi dining skills. My first task was to make 6 mini books in different colours as tree decorations. I wanted to ensure they were true miniature books, hand stitching the pages just as I would a bigger notebook. I printed the cover with four letter Christmassy words and I was very pleased with the result. The one below was a prototype, in the end I didn't silver the edges of the ones I swapped. 

My other swap was a more standard notebook during which I used a technique of using a double layer of boards for the covers to create a recess into which material or ribbon can be inserted. On this one I inserted a strip of printed cotton I had made a few months earlier. This technique does make for a much thicker cover which it means it works best when the notebook is fairly bulky itself. 

My second to last bit of crafting was for one of those life things that has rather distracted me over the last few months, the boy. Although I've bought him a normal present I wanted to make him something as well. Always difficult crafting for a man, the boy is even more difficult than normal. However I settled in the idea of a diary, using one I had purchase and removed from its original binding. Using the double board method again, this time with some leather I had purchased from Dents factory shop, I think the result is fairly satisfying. Whether he will use it is a different matter, although if he does I hope it will be robust enough to survive the outdoors over the coming year. 

Finally I had a go at some felt decorations. Not totally successful, although more fun than a lot of my other work. I may end up using these as gift tags for the kids presents as I'm not sure anyone would really want them on their tree. I quite like the cheeky gingerbread man though, even if he does need a scarf to keep him warm. 

If your interested these are the recipes / methods I used for my edible crafting. I don't have a sugar thermometer so I used the method of testing the jam on cold plates from the freezer to see if it wrinkles. This worked fine for me although I'm sure a proper jam thermometer would be more reliable.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The End of a Chapter

It's been a few weeks since I finished my book binding course but between conferences and holidays I've not chance to write my intended final blog post on the subject. 

I think I enjoyed the final weeks of the course the most because it was an opportunity to learn what I would call craft based bindings - non traditional bindings often used for artists books. While the majority of the class where attempting to rebind and repair antique books a couple of us got to learn about coptic and secret binding as well as a complicated and as I discovered, hard to duplicate, technique that results in a woven effect that uses the cover itself as the tapes for the signatures. 

Both the coptic and the woven cover leaves the stitching exposed so it's a nice technique to use if you want to use coloured thread and in the case of coptic, if you want to vary the number of horizontal 'stitch lines' across the spine. 

As with most binding, although the coptic looks like it is sewn across all the signatures at once, the sewing actually goes up and down the signatures, linking into the previous ones in order to form the herringbone type stitch across the spine. It is important to remember to start from the inside of the first signature and to sew the first signature directly to the prepared boards, which should have been skewered before starting. 

The woven cover is more complicated and is best done with thin card, thicker textured paper or leather. As I found it is also best if you have two contrasting colours. 

The template needs to be three times the size of your signatures, plus the width of your spine, plus any overlap you want round the edge. As a rough idea the two outer thirds will make up the bulk of your covers while the middle third will form the spine and the strips which will be woven through the other two thirds.  The template should be attached to your cover material and cut out with a knife. The signatures are then sewn using straight binding and one of the sets of strips as the binding tapes before the second side is woven in and if necessary glued and trimmed at the edges. The nice thing about this type of cover is that you can vary the weaving to create different patterns or effects depending on the number and size of the strips you create. For example you could create a template that would allow only a couple of squares of the strips to show through. 

The final type of binding we did was secret Belgium binding, a technique that disguises how the signatures are attached to the cover. As with coptic you must prepare your boards first, covering them on both sides. As with traditional binding you also create a spine piece and this is covered separately. The front and back pieces of the spine need to be pierced and then sewn together starting from the inside and done in such a way that the spine piece is woven between the stitches. It is important for the next stage that you have an even number of holes arranged in paris. Essentially you go back and forth across the spine trapping it between the thread. 

Once your cover is complete you can stitch in the signatures, using the pairs of thread on the inside of the spine as your tapes. This becomes progressively more difficult as there will be less and less give in the threads. It helps to keep the signatures as near vertical as possible and to artificially press them down while you are stitching. The finished book will be fairly loose but makes a nice artists book, the technique goes particularly well with torn rather than trimmed edges. 

Unfortunately due to hockey commitments I won't be returning to Bath College for another term although I would very much like to as I still have techniques to perfect and ideas to try out. I would recommend the course to anyone interested in bookbinding, it was enjoyable, taught well  and I thought good value for money. I'm hoping it will be running next summer when hockey has finished and I can return for another term. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Biking Sussex Summer 2013

So I've been back in Bath a week now and I thought I better get round to posting about the bike trip while it is still a pleasant memory, rather than a distant one. So today I totted up my milage, plotted the routes on Map My Run and generally brought the trip to a close. 

During the trip I used the hashtag #jennysbiking so I could easily identify the trip on my timeline. I had such a good time and I'm so proud of covering the distances I did. I'm already thinking of covering more of the South Coast route next year. 

3/7/2013: Day 1: Camber, Lydd and Romney Marsh, briefly passing into Kent for a cream tea in Appldore. 72.5km, 49m climb.

4/7/2013: Day 2: Rye, Hastings, Bexhill, Norman's Bay and Eastbourne. 50.5km, 231m climb

5/7/2013: Day 3: Brighton, Newhaven, Seaford, a foggy Seven Sisters, Alfriston, Southease. 46.6km, 346m climb.

6/7/2013: Day 4: Southease to Worthing, via South Downs Way and South Downs Link. 49.3km, 522m climb.

7/7/2013: Day 5: Worthing to Brighton and then a complicated route to Bath thanks to a cancelled train. 16.3km, 26m clim.

Finally here is a picture of one of my favorite views from the trip, Devil's Dyke looking north from The South Downs Way. It sums up some of the lovely countryside in this area and the wonderful weather I enjoyed all week. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Blogged: Day 2 Interlend 2013

So I'm not going to dwell on the conference dinner. We ate, we drank, we put the world to rights. Pretty much  like any other library conference you've ever been to. It was good fun with good company, even if I have a sneaking suspicion I may have agreed to let OCLC ring me about Questionpoint. (Only joking Viv!) 

Day 2 started with a tour of Cardiff Central Library, an relatively new building in the heart of the city amongst the shopping center and bars. It's bright design, clear signage and mixed use of space was impressive with the white grand piano especially getting a lot of attention from the group. But for me it was the use of the mezzanine for the children's library that made me realise that this was more than your average library, this was a purpose designed space, created by people who understood how a library works and is used. Tucked away to provide not only a sense of security for parents but also a barrier to the inevitable noise the space is more playground than library. From the curtained story area to the convenient baby change facilities this space is everything a children's library should be, complete with dedicated, enthusiastic staff. Anyone needing a lesson in why paid staff are so important to the success of a service you only have to visit Cardiff Children's library to see a visible representation of the value they add. 

We returned to the conference centre for our first speaker of the day, Graham Cornish, who took us back to basics, asking the question, why we do what we do? It was a timely reminder  as to how far document supply has come since the days when everything had to be delivered physically and even a photocopier was a pipe dream. It was also a reminder as to how libraries had changed,  moving away from "a just in case" policy to a supply on demand ethos. Arising partly through need, most libraries do not have either the resources or space to buy everything nowadays, we are now in a world that supports the idea of "anything, to anyone, anywhere and at any time. In line with this libraries are becoming about access rather than acquisition and as it is exactly this that inter lending and document supply supports. 

Next I had elected to attend Dawn Downes look at Paper vs Processing, a presentation that had arisen from the results of a document supply survey taken across UK libraries the previous year. It had been undertaken as a benchmarking exercise as Dawn attempted to move away from a  admin heavy, paper based solution to a more system based process. Although Dawn had no quick fix answers  what the survey did show is that inter lending continues to be a very process heavy service that even the dedicated ILL systems can't seem to streamline. Even where the paper admin has been removed most organisations are left juggling data between spreadsheets, online forms, LMS's and multiple systems. For me it also highlighted the difference between a large and small institution, not only in regards to scale of the service and the size of the teams involved, but also in terms of the way items are procured with larger organisations much more likely to be operating a 'Net' service. Although this maybe a generalisation a quick poll indicated that larger organisations were also  more likely to be using the BL as a last resort, borrowing from established, normally cheaper,  networks such as Unity or SWIRLS first, where about smaller institutions would often use the BL as a first resort in order to reduce checking times. 

After lunch (and cake) the penultimate talk was from Mark Kluzek who discussed the impact of ebooks and ejournals on ILL and Document Supply. As always when entering the world of eresources, publishers and licenses soon made an appearance and reference was made to yesterday's keynote on the changing face of copyright law. 

In the case of ejournals Mark has found that many licenses permit document supply and are very specific in what is and isn't allowed. So in short you are on fairly safe ground as long as you read the small print! For example a license might specify whether an article needs to be printed off in hard copy or whether an electronic copy is permissible. He also touched on the recent changes to copyright law that will see exceptions, such as fair dealings, overrule at least UK license agreements, making DSS for e-articles a much easier mine field to negotiate. 

However ebooks continue to be a very different matter with most licenses currently out right banning lending. Even should licences, or the law,  allow the process, there is no means to carry out the loan.  Short of physically printing off the chapters there is no physical way of lending a book in it's electronic form, existing as they do  on publisher or aggregator  platforms who have no wish to enable such transactions. 

In some ways I found this talk disappointing. PDA and associated rentals from publishers or aggregators  have the capcity to impact greatly on ILL, or at least I believe so. It is something I have heard discussed at length at ebook conferences over the last year yet here it was hardly touched upon. I'll admit it is a step away from traditional ILL but  I was left disappointed that this subjected wasn't more fully explored. 

I couldn't help but feel that more work needs to be done to bring the areas of procurement and ILL together  to address the problem jointly. I was especially disappointed that the group talked about the idea of renting books from each other in order to secure an income for the publishers, an idea that ignores the current rental opportunities already offered by many ebook publishers and shows a lack of understanding as to where ebook supply is heading.  The reality is that ebook models increasingly bypass the traditional means of discovery, such as a bookstore or library, and allow the publishers to market their books direct to individuals through their own platforms. We cannot be blind to this, either in procurement or ILL and we certainly cannot continue to model digital lending after the traditional physical lending systems we have in place. 

Finally for the day we have David Ball and 'Open Access - A Disruptive Technology. If I'm totally honest OA isn't really my thing and although I appreciated the slant David took, looking at the idea that OA has developed as a 'good enough' technology, I failed to really engage with this presentation. Luckily for anyone interested his entire presentation is going to be available on the FIL website sometime in the future and I will post a link to this and the other presentations once they are up. In the mean time here is a link to a Storify of the second day :

Interlend has been a bit of an eye opener for me, not just because I have learnt so much but because I have realised that the problems I am facing are by no means unique. It is too easy in the day to day process of running a service to forget that there are hundreds of similar services to your own, all facing the same problems. If nothing else Interlend 2013 has put my mind at ease that I actually know more about ILL than I think and that I have the means, and network, to make progress if only I can give the subject some time.