Monday, 24 December 2012

Squaring the Circle (#squaring12)

Last week I attended a one-day conference in Birmingham City University, entiteld Squaring the Circle: Increasing demand, decreasing budget.  This was probably the most useful conference I've attended in the last year, because the topics were all relevant (to some extent) to my day-to-day job, but not ones that I have already researched. Damyanti has already blogged her thoughts on it so do go read those too.

The first two talks were actually in areas that I don't have much to do with at the moment, but it's possible I would have in future.  KnowledgeBase+ appears to be extremely useful to anyone dealing with eresource licensing issues, combining information about historic agreements with current advice from the KnowledgeBase+ team to ensure that universities have the information they need to get the best deal possible, while the Journal Usage Statistics Portal (JUSP) aggregates usage statistics to help to inform decisions on which ejournals to subscribe to in the first place.

JUSP infographic

I had heard Paul Stainthorp talking about Phase I of the Library Impact Data Project before, so it was really interesting to hear Graham Stone giving an update on what happened in Phase II.  The results in this more focussed study still appear to support the idea that library use has an impact on grades attained, but goes into further demographic detail on the results from one university (Huddersfield), issues of retention and more.  The possibility of developing this sort of data analysis as a service to other universities was mentioned - it sounds extremely useful but I suspect they'd have fun trying to get the stats they need from our 100+ libraries in Cambridge! Graham's presentation is on the Huddersfield institutional repository, along with the methodology and lots of other interesting-sounding articles, must investigate further later...

The presentation I found most useful and relevant of the lot was Martin Fautley's one, which gave the academic's perspective on how the library could/should be involved in Faculty research.  There was an element of preaching to the converted - yes, as information professionals we have considered the difference between information and knowledge, at length - but also an interesting and useful insight into what we could be doing.  Some are already happening in the English Faculty Library (consideration of what makes a quality library, involvement in the REF, ensuring that we are spending time on the things that are most relevant to our users),  some we are taking steps towards (be more involved in promoting Faculty research) and some we do informally but not in the structured way described (booking all research students in for a one-to-one session with a Librarian - useful for library to know what research is taking place and for the student to get a better idea of the resources available in their subject area and training/support available through the library). One idea that we haven't explicitly used yet (but probably will now) was that of explaining the research process to undergraduate students. Why do it? What are they aiming to do in their dissertations? How is that similar to/different from what academics do when writing a research article? How can students start to position themselves in the field when they're not yet familiar with the key names and concepts? This last point rang very true for me - as mentioned previously I felt I was just reaching a sensible level of knowledge to start from when I had to start writing up my dissertation.

The last two talks related to ebooks.  Jill Taylor-Roe shared Newcastle's experience of introducting patron-driven acquisition of ebooks, and the impact this appears to have had on responses to student satisfaction with library services.  Ebook purchases are triggered when the same item is requested by three different users - Newcastle specifically sought a provider that could give this level of data so they could tell which subject groups were availing of the service.  There were some problems, such as the ebook being listed above physical copies that were actually available in the library due to richer metadata available from the ebook vendor. Their solution - to suppress the 505 field.  I'm curious as to what cataloguing colleagues would think of reducing the information available in the catalogue - or maybe they just excluded the 505 from the search process? 

Jenny Rowley finished by presenting some research on ebook promotion.  I thought it unfortunate that it was based on research from a few years ago and would love to know how much has changed since this initial research, but it's always interesting to see what techniques other libraries use to promote ebooks.  This sparked some discussion, with several people arguing that we should be focussing on discovery tools rather than on specific formats.  I don't disagree that we need to promote and teach discovery tools, but would argue that no matter what we do some individuals will have a preference for walking into a library and browsing the shelves.  I think we need to both promote formats and make sure the students have the skills they need to search for the materials in whatever formats are available.  I don't see how these two things can be mutually exclusive.  Besides, I can't say I found LibrarySearch+ particularly helpful in my own research - far too many results with not the most effective options to refine by. Think I'll personally be hanging onto those subject databases, with Web of Knowledge for the broader context searching.

I was very impressed with the overall organisation of the event too, maps, directions and wifi instructions (!) sent a week in advance, lots of extra library staff about at registration and any time we had to move room so there was no fear of getting lost (extremely welcoming and easy to chat to), talks organised so that they flowed really well from one to the next.  Just generally smoothly run and they seemed to have thought of everything, so a huge thank you to the staff of Birmingham City University for hosting us!

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