Thursday, 9 December 2010

25 Research Things

A while back I noticed that a 25 Things programme has been developed in Huddersfield, this time geared towards researchers rather than librarians.  What a great idea for user ed!  Unfortunately there only seems to be a small number participating in it.

I suspect the programme works better with library staff for two main reasons: there is a sense of community and support between librarians across the university and we're in CPD mode rather than major research project mode.  It's very interesting to see what researchers make of the things that we consider for work purposes - I'll follow it closely and see how it goes!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A tangent from a brown bag discussion

Last Wednesday I attended another brown bag lunch in Cambridge, inspired by the British Library debate on whether the physical library is redundant.  Katie has already posted an excellent summary of our discussion so I won't repeat any of that, although I did find the point that only three of the 150 most used books in the Economics library are even available electronically very interesting.  A few related items popped into my RSS reader just after the discussion:
  • Ed Chamberlain reported on the FutureBook conference, including stats that show that even most publishers don't believe that ebooks will make up the majority of sales in the market in the near future
  • Libby Tilley shared a comment from one of our academics on the value of holding classes in the IT Suite within our library, rather than elsewhere in the faculty
  • Louisa Brown's research on the use of ebooks in the Education Faculty Library here in Cambridge showed that their students still prefer the printed book - they use ebooks when "forced" to because they are unable to make it to the physical library
  • Disturbingly, an academic opened a University Science and Technology Librarians Group conference in Oxford by claiming that library funding should go straight to researchers (so each researcher would have to purchase the articles they need, no sharing of resources and good luck to the poor unfunded undergrads?!?)
Instead of repeating what others have said (no, I don't think the physical library is redundant, and besides, there's more to a library than a building with books in it!), I'd like to follow one of the tangents that cropped up during the discussion.

A parallel was drawn between the fate of record companies because of easy availability of music online and the difficulties of digital rights management, and that of publishers who are trying to work out how best to monitor the use of their ebooks and ejournals.  Although this is undoubtably a headache for the publishers, is it really as much of a problem for the researchers?  How many of them make anything from academic publishing in the first place? Perhaps they could follow the example of musicians, who have been able to take more control of the distribution and promotion of their own music by releasing only part of a track, or an individual track from an album.  It is already clear that articles that are freely available online are more likely to be cited.   I know of one person that posts draft or  pre-publication versions of his own articles to a blog (when possible) in a conscious attempt to raise the profile of their work, as well as submitting work to his institutional repository and to open access journals. The main difficulty is having some sort of quality control, but there are various ways to do that and besides, isn't that why critical appraisal is so essential?

Thinking about all of this brought me back to a post by Anne Collins on the Librarian of the Future.  In it she suggested that in addition to the teaching, marketing and management roles, we could support our researchers by providing "copyright advice, help with getting published, help with citations, help with indexing terminology, open access advice".  This kind of added support chimes strongly with the tailored boutique library service idea that is gaining momentum at the moment thanks to Libby and Andy.*  The Contemporary Music Centre provides some similar services to their composers, but I was wondering if anyone knows of other libraries that provide this kind of support already? Or are there other services that academic libraries are providing that might not be considered standard?

* Someone needs to put up a post about the boutique library idea so I have something to link to!  Or maybe you could point me towards an existing one...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Costs vs. Benefits: Texting students

Last week, representatives of a number of different libraries got together to discuss the JANET text messaging service - how we've found it, problems we've encountered, resolutions to the problem etc.  Thanks again to everyone who came along or followed remotely, and especially to Sarah for reporting live via the chat functionality in the Cambridge_Librarians Camtools site and to Emma, who has pulled together the information about what the different libraries do and added it to the Cambridge_Librarians wiki

For anyone who can't access this, the main uses to which libraries here have put the service are:
  • Notifying students that books they have requested are now available
  • Reminding students to return overdue books
  • Organising emergency invigilation if evening staff can't come in at short notice (I'm stealing that one Hélène!)
  • Alerting all library users to unexpected closures - especially useful for library members from other faculties!
  • Letting people know that we've found their lost property (if an owner is identifiable)
  • Helping faculty out by sending messages to students.
  • In the Education Faculty Library, they have found that very overdue books are being returned more quickly when a text has been sent.
  • Books on the "hold" shelf tend to be borrowed or returned to circulation more quickly (students will often text to say they don't need the book any more.)
  • The message reaches the students far more quickly than an email would, especially in subject areas where students tend to check their email less frequently.
  • The students are less likely to ignore a text than yet another message in their already crowded email inboxes.
Problems to be aware of:
  • Now that several libraries are using the service, we need to identify ourselves in the message!  (Students may be members of multiple libraries and may not know which one is contacting them.)
  • The default is set to send messages from JANETtxt rather than from the phone number we were given (which means that the student can't reply to the message, defeating the point of having the two-way service).
  • Identify yourself!
  • Set up templates to reduce staff time
  • Keep an eye on the character count to avoid the message running into two texts
  • Check what your group limits are - we use the group function to set up year groups, but there is a default limit to the number of people you can have in a group (contact PageOne to change this if needed)
  • Import patron name and email address from a spreadsheet, so that when the first years arrive in October you just need to add their phone numbers
  • Add the patron barcode number to the name field so you know you're sending the message to the correct person (thanks Simon!)
We were joined at the meeting by a number of people who have not yet used the service but are considering it.  I think the most interesting discussion arose from the question "Why pay for text when you can email?"  I think we came to the conclusion that it depends very much on your library - some faculties use Camtools very heavily which means that student inboxes are full of (often irrelevant) update messages, which in turn means that the students just don't check or see the messages they actually need.  Others find that sending an email immediately rather than waiting for the automated message through Voyager works just as quickly as sending a text.

We've only been using the service for one term, and my experience has been that we often catch people while they're still in the library, saving them an extra trip to collect their book/lost property/whatever it is we want to let them know about!

So why pay? A lot of the things we do cost either in time or other resources without necessarily having any resulting income.  As with everything else, we need to consider the cost in relation to how much it helps our students and what value it brings (e.g. in returning books more quickly to the shelves / providing the personal touch that we aim for in this library).  I think it would be interesting to find out from students in our next survey whether they like the text service and whether they would prefer to receive emails as they have in the past.