How far does a librarian stretch? Supporting students and their wellbeing by @lemurph

Please welcome Helen Murphy (@lemurph), Assistant Librarian at the English Faculty Library, University of
Cambridge. In the run up to our upcoming #uklibchat on Classifying the librarian on Tuesday 6 May. We asked her to talk about her experiences in her role that perhaps stretch the normal role of a librarian and the limits of how we interact with our customers in a professional manner.

If you want to catch up with more of Helen’s writing, she has a blog called Library Wanderer

Ask a hundred librarians to write a list of ‘librarian rites of passage’ and I bet you a quid at least half would include that conversation. You know the one. Someone finds out what you do, makes a hilarious crack you’ve never ever heard before about shushing, which you dutifully reject and then, on occasion, this happens:

“So what do you actually do?”

It’s a grand question. They should ask it in interviews. It’s the sort of question that leaves me stumped. Not because I haven’t got a clue what I do (although admittedly I often don’t have a clue what I’m doing) but because, in my almost-six-years in academic libraries at the University of Cambridge, I’ve been a teacher, a bookstamper, a shopper, a salesperson, a marketer, a photocopier operator and a mum. These are the lyrics Meredith Brooks rejected, you know. It’s the last one, a mum (or big sister, please, before I have a mid-life crisis), which will be my focus here.

I’ve been asked questions on council tax, credit card bills, and what to wear to interviews, whether I think it’s okay to go to a Beyoncé concert the day before an exam, where to get laptops fixed, bikes fixed, and how many calories there are in a doughnut. Library users have shown me revision timetables, moaned about supervisors, and on one occasion checked my opinion on their Valentine’s card. There’s nothing even remotely like this in any job description I’ve ever had. I’m aware that the relatively small, and relatively contained, potential user bases in the libraries I’ve worked in have contributed to it. But I can name three separate occasions in which a student has said “Thanks Mum” to me, resulting in his extreme mortification (it’s always ‘his’) and my resolution to spend more on moisturiser. So intentional or not (not), and like it or not (yep… ish), it’s been part of my role.

To an extent it’s an non-deliberate by-product of something done consciously and intentionally. A few months back there was a #uklibchat discussion in which that young Andy Priestner wrote about ethnography and stressed the importance of getting to know our users (see also, summary of November 2013 chat on putting the user first). At the English Faculty Library, where I’m Assistant Librarian, our principal tactic to achieve this is simple: we talk to them, in teaching sessions, focus groups, Tea@3 (more about that in a sec), and across the issue desk. But it strikes me that if we’re doing more than paying basic lip service to the idea of getting to know our users, if we have conversations with them which are meaningful and authentic, then in getting to know them they get to know us too. As they become familiar to us, so do we to them.

Partly, too, it’s the context. Earlier I mentioned Tea@3, . In a nutshell, it’s the glorious triumvirate of tea, cake and a natter (more information on Tea@3 in this blog post by Libby Tilley, Faculty Librarian at EFL). There’s regularly a box of chocs or biccies at the issue desk, free to a hungry student (not staff, obviously, because we wouldn’t ever do such a thing. Obviously.) In my previous job I’d give out biscuits and juice to revising students. It’s not that Cambridge libraries have an unspoken shared goal to fatten up the students a bit, honest, nor do we have shares in McVities, as far as I’m aware. A bit of free food, though, and a gentle suggestion of a break from work, could be classed as fairly ‘pastoral’ things to do. And what it does, in one sense, is show our library users that not only do we care very much that they’ve got the right resources and environment to achieve plenty academically, but that we give more than two hoots–at least six or seven–about their well-being too.

Is it a bad thing? Nope. The benefits of engendering great relationships with users far, far outweigh the very limited, U-rated peril of any slight blurring of roles. Frankly, my dear, I couldn’t give a Clark Gable impression if a student asks me when Mother’s Day is, or how long it’ll take to get to Stansted. If I’m trusted on stuff like resources and borrowing, then why wouldn’t they ask me about the other random bits and bobs they need to know? Fair enough, they could ask Professor Internet, but then they’re probably smart enough to be aware of that themselves. The key thing to remember is that it goes the other way too. If they remember that I could answer their question about whether Rymans sell fountain pens, they might come to me with genuine library-related queries too, and then everyone wins, right? If we’re going to start over-thinking our interactions with library users to the extent that we only answer strictly library-related questions then we might as well keep the bathwater and throw out the baby.

Of course we should Be Professional in all our dealings with library users. It’s just that, in my opinion, this isn’t necessarily the same as Be Serious, and therefore doesn’t preclude conversations about Michael Fassbender. And of course we should try to keep things in the library realm, at least in theory. Remember you’re a librarian, as the Wombles almost certainly didn’t intend to sing. The truth is that the very very vast majority of interactions would never go beyond that anyway.

So I don’t think appropriateness is the issue at all. Where the real fun lies, and by ‘fun’ I mean something other than fun, it’s whether we as academic librarians have a sort of duty of care to our users that isn’t necessarily enshrined in our job descriptions. Here I mean an ethical one, predominantly, rather than a legal one.

Mental health and student life have been in the news a bit lately. The bulk of library users I’ve encountered have been Cambridge undergrads – excuse me a whole bunch of generalisations, but they’re under huge pressure, stressed, busy, time-poor, and still fairly young. Some will be thriving, some managing perfectly well, and some will not. As librarians with the privilege (and it is one) of being familiar, and seeing some students regularly, we might be in a position to be directly approached about problems, or to suspect something may be wrong. In my old job, for example, I’d notice students who seemed to be skipping meals to revise, students in tears, students visibly panicking. It didn’t happen every day, but regularly enough during the exam period. Across the university there are plenty of support services for students, whatever their situations or concerns. There are plenty of people, at least in theory, watching out for students’ well-being.

Should academic librarians be among them? Do we have a duty (again, primarily an ethical one) to be aware of these services and help students access them? Is it our duty only when we’re directly approached or when we have concerns about the well-being of certain students? If we do, is it because we’re librarians, or just because we’re human beings? How, if ever, should we intervene? And should there be a library policy about this? In schools, for example, there are safeguarding procedures which are standardised and compulsory and apply to all employees. Or, in fact, is it simply none of our business?

I’m not sure about this one. My instinct is that we should be watching out for users’ well-being, and that we ought to intervene (indirectly, and only with good reason), and that common sense is probably sufficient to guide what we do and how we act. Fingers crossed, it won’t come up too often. In any case, for now, I’ll keep answering the questions and handing out the biscuits and see what happens.

#uklibchat summary, on reading – 1st April 2014

A summary of our April chat on reading can be found below.  A full archive of the chat can be found at

1. How much of your job is about encouraging reading?

  • Many librarians, particularly those in higher education, said that they don’t tend to promote reading much in their job although some had small “leisure” collections for students
  • Those working in other environments e.g. school libraries did a lot more reader development work
  • The question of what “reading” meant in this context was discussed: did it apply to reading on websites for example?
  • @jamesatkinson81 said “I don’t really feel I encourage reading, more facilitate it”

2. Do you have any suggestions for how to reach groups who don’t read much?

Suggestions made by several users included:

  • More accessible books such as graphic novels, manga, quick reads, non-fiction, film/TV tie-ins were highlighted by many contributors
  • Using “non-book” things to entice users into the library such as board games, DVD vouchers and computers was mentioned.
  • Using technology such as tablets and e-book readers were suggested
  • The social side of reading was highlighted e.g. working with friends of non-readers, book clubs and discussions
  • Don’t judge people’s reading – don’t be snobby or make a big deal if someone reads a “classic”

Individuals suggested the following ideas:

  • @LibraryMargaret suggested normalising reading – carrying a book around with you all the time
  • Take books off the shelves  – put them on tables, pick them up yourselves when talking about them and don’t be ‘precious’ with them @LibraryMargaret
  • It would be good if the kind people who develop games for Facebook would introduce cutscenes requiring reading. @oneofthee
  • Make people feel special – they have been personally selected to read book/article. Present as CPD opportunity @sarahcchilds
  • Get a decent collection of Entry1-3 books that aren’t patronising and don’t have kids as their main characters@LibraryMargaret
  • In an ideal world, I’d like to offer more 1-to-1 sessions to encourage reluctant readers. @oneofthee
  • Tried to make our catalogue more interesting to look at e.g. include book jackets and more interactive to help locate stock @jackoliver40
  • Some put off by thick books with small text, large print books tend to be thick by default! This is where Kindles rock @libraryMargaret
  • Last year gave out World Book Night books at local Family Centres, this year pop up library at Exeter Central Station. @SooLib
  • Beware of overwhelming choice @oneofthee
  • Use displays says @helenmonagle

3. Do you think being a librarian has affected your personal reading habits?

  • There was some debate as to whether social media decreased the time you had to devote to reading, or whether it acted as  a powerful tool for reading recommendations
  • Some people said they read more often and more widely due to a need to be aware of a broad range of books and increased access to a wide variety of titles
  • Others said they were basically unaffected as they had always read a lot
  • Finally, some people said that the amount of reading and researching they did in their job meant they weren’t as keen to read in their spare time

4. Best reply/response to a student declaring “I don’t do reading”

  • Finding out other interests in order to help choose suitable books for them
  • Point out that they do read (magazines, websites etc.) … even if it is just the back of the cornflakes packet!
  • Some people may not be able to read – so tell them they can do it and you will help
  • Find incentives and suggest how reading may benefit them

5. Has the growth of ebooks changed reading habits?

  • Definitely (in HE). Our print loans are in a steady year-on-year decline but ebook usage is growing quickly @daveyp
  • My dissertation survey found most students preferred print books. Cited tiredness after looking at screen all day as 1 reason @Libmichelle
    • That’s definitely changing. Each new intake of students are increasingly choosing ebooks over print @daveyp
  • It’s made people bolder about the choices. Erotic fiction more widely available and promoted for example. If you want to read something privately, you are more able to do so. Also, carrying more ebooks possible, able to use outside building opening hours . @greebstreebling
  • Some people such as @agentk23, said that e-books had converted non-readers
  • Several people commented on their own personal use of e-books and how useful they found them

6. Should libraries do more to encourage ebook lending/reading?

The difficulties that people had experienced both as professionals and personally in reading e-books from libraries were discussed. It was felt that publishers needed to provide better platforms making e-reading easier and more pleasurable; and they also should make more e-books available via public libraries. Issues with e-book formats for disabled users was highlighted.

There was also a feeling however that librarians could do more – some reported an apathy around promoting and assisting with e-books in some library services. @eileenfiddle said she had been pushing e-books to Apple and Waterstones representatives who weren’t necessarily aware of the huge market available to them if they provided e-books for libraries. @pennyb said: “Publishers may be a pain but how often do librarians outside of [certain] roles challenge academic publishers on e-books?”

@libmichelle tweeted a link to a talk at last year’s UKSG conference from a student where he spoke about what he’d like to see in his academic ebooks

7. Ebook readers: Good or bad? Will they lead to the demise of libraries?

Unsurprisingly, the librarians taking part in the chat did not feel that e-book readers would lead to the demise of libraries! The fact that access to e-books is not universal, that libraries are also social spaces were pointed out. @JaimeeUK said that e-books helped us expand offering and user-base, so were a good thing.

On a less positive note, @pattersonty67 felt that US libraries were much better at providing e-books than UK libraries.

8. Have you read a book recently that you would really recommend? 140 char review!

  • Trust Me by Lesley Pearce: Very moving fictional history account of the lost children sent to Australia @samanthaclare
  • Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Innovative Science Fiction Graphic Novel, compelling characters and fairytale dream-like feel (though NSFW) @poetryghost
  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell: Read this and learn how to play the big guy/team/system and win @oneofthee
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: fantastic book, thought-provoking, achingly beautiful story, very sad but poignant. Interesting tone and POV @jaimeeUK
  • Alex by Pierre Lemaitre: really gruesome with amazing twists. Just as you think you know what’s going on – wham! A twist! @Merrysimclaire
  • Wonder by R J Palachio is a beautiful story. Been referred to as “a book that has made grown men weep” @eileenfiddle
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers: Lots of interesting issues raised that library folk may be interested in! @libmichelle
  • Heroic by Phil Earle: Superb characterisation, gritty, gripping, thought-provoking, based on S E Hinton’s The Outsiders. @CorBlastMe
  • Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger: steampunk that is light but fun with great characters mystery and tea @poetryghost
  • How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran: a hilariously marvellous book full of anecdotes of the pleasures and pains of being a woman! @Helenmonagle
  • Grimm books by Adam Gidwitz: Tales with guts and gore. Great storytelling – kids love them @Shazzybroon
  • Pluto by Naoki Urasawa. A robot detective investigates a series of human and robot murders. Hhis life is also on the line @agentk23
  • Tony Benn Diaries 2001-2007: Passionate, political, polemical, personal, prescient on financial crisis. Interesting & easy-to-read @sarahcchilds
  • Any books by Frances Hardinge, Young adult fantasy brilliance. (“There’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go” – e. e. cummings) @BethanyWitham
  • Teesside Steal by John Nicholson. Has good storyline, mystery and drama and is by a local author so I can relate to landmarks @jackoliver40
  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch: Sensible, logical, police-magic, beautiful architecture, diversity and delight. @BethanyWitham
  • Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is a delight @BethanyWitham

9. Do you think reading for pleasure should be promoted in academic libraries? Why/why not?

Participants from academic and health libraries agreed that reading for pleasure should be promoted as it gave users a break from academic or professional reading and highlighted that reading was not just something you did because it’s compulsory, However, some attempts at promoting fiction in academic libraries had not been successful. The matter of how much priority should be afforded to promoting reading for pleasure in this environment. As @agentk23 said: “I am pro the idea.. but it’s low on my agenda.”

The idea of academic and public libraries working in collaboration was also raised.

10. Does it matter what people are reading? Or is just reading anything enough?

Opinions were mixed in response to this question. On the one hand, participants were wary of judging users on their reading. At the same time, the need to encourage widely and critically was viewed as important.

#uklibchat Summary – Digital Libraries – 6 March 2014

On 6 March 2014, we talked about digital libraries in their many forms – what exactly they are, what challenges and opportunities they offer our profession, and how library customers use them.

The full archive of tweets from this chat is available here.

Here’s a summary of the discussion:

Q1: What do you think a digital library is?

This is quite a tough question. Some thoughts were:

  • @LAICDGroup: A digital library is any library that offers access to its resources in digital form, online.
  • @archinva: a digital library is an organized collection of materials made available in digital format, I think
  • @LibrarySherpa: IMO, a contained and managed collection of resources and/or data which can only be accessed via computer or device.

@SimonXIX’s feature blog for this chat argued that Netflix and Itunes were basically digital libraries, but weren’t considered as such in LIS for cultural and legal reasons. This sparked debate about whether digital libraries by definition had to be maintained by a library organisation, and whether they had to be not for profit (at least at the point of use). Both of these criteria are problematic. Organisations like law firms and engineering companies routinely maintain digital libraries, and there are private subscription libraries like The London Library which are generally considered to be libraries.

Some contributors thought that what distinguished digital libraries from online platforms like Netflix or Youtube was that their purpose was the dissemination of knowledge, not profit. Others thought that Netflix was an example of a subscription library (like The London Library) but with poor cataloguing standards. Most people agreed that digital libraries had to be organised and curated:

  • @preater: It does imply some sort of organization / metadata / structure, as ‘online data’ != library.

Q2: What kind of digital libraries do you work with in your job?

Many participants working in higher education libraries worked with e-journal platforms, e-book repositories and databases. This is all remotely hosted digital content which library staff make accessible to local users. Examples of more local digital content in higher education were research repositories and locally digitised content.

Those working in public and school libraries worked with e-books, e-magazines, and online reference collections. @butterfly1981′s special digital library collection is made up of PDF documents useful for people working in construction – British Standards, legislation, etc. Some special libraries had more of a mix of types of content, from video and interactive e-learning modules to described and curated web content.

Participants from a variety of sectors, including academic and special libraries, are seeing a transition from print to digital collections:

  • @petewilliams68: Q2. At UEL we’re now buying e-books *instead of* print ones in many areas … we’re mainly e-journal now but becoming mainly e-book too will be a big change 

Q3: What problems do users have with digital libraries in your experience?

The most common problems cited were subscription/authentication issues, search issues, link resolvers not working properly, and technical/device compatibility problems. Digital libraries of various forms often require more search savvy and are less tolerant of errors than Google and popular websites like Youtube.

  • @archinva: my experience as user is of overwhelming websites, unattractive design and confusing organization of content
  • @SaintEvelin: Basic prob of IT skills; full-text search habits v record searching; multiple platform horror; finding the blummin’ things.
  • @jacapo47: Another infolit issue: students being told by tutors they can’t use anything from the internet so disregard e-books and e-journal

People not knowing that the digital collections exist was also still a major issue across sectors.

Some possible solutions to these common problems:

  • @chriskeene: Q3 solution: make sites more indexable/SEO friendly for google.
  • @preater: as libraries – make our own digital content much more easily findable, searchable, and indexable.
  • @SaintEvelin: the great green repository in the sky?? But diff databases do diff things. Hard to pull together in a non-lossy way
  • @jacapo47: I used old useless DVD cases to showcase e-books so each DVD case represents an e-book but is physically on the shelf…
  • @archinva: social media advertising, if not already in use, and posters inside the physical library?
  • @WillBeharrell: Probably unpopular, but RDA v. flexible in describing non-book materials in 3XX fields (which can then be displayed to users).

Q4: What similarities/differences are there between digital and non-digital libraries?

One of the main differences cited was the possibility of using digital libraries anytime, anywhere, as opposed to having to visit a physical library to access print or other physical resources. Digital libraries can be more flexible, easier to update and change. In some cases, the full text resource can act as its own catalogue record. Digital libraries also mean that librarians are less visible to users.

  • @LAICDGroup: similar remit of making information more easily available, although journal subscriptions militate against that.
  • @SaintEvelin: Publishers would love digital libraries to be same as non-digital (or even more restricted).
  • @InformationOwl: Digital libraries have potential to provide more interesting user stats. And stats are fun.

Q5: Do you think digital libraries need different cataloguing rules?

  • @chriskeene: I think we need more flexible, id based, rules for all content. print/MARC approach laughably not fit for purpose
  • @WillBeharrell: RDA already offers considerable flexibility…
  • @butterfly1981: Maybe to accommodate metadata variations as a DL can be made up of items of many formats eg images, videos, sound files
  • @SaintEvelin: So much stuff and so many new possibilities for cataloguing it. Def need for new rules, but tech moves quicker than metadata.
  • @RosieHLib: RDA is more flexible, whatever the standard we need to remember how important interoperability is in digital discovery context
  • @preater: short answer is metadata appropriate to content, and importantly sensible & easily digestible interchange formats.
  • @SaintEvelin: Full-text adds complication/liberation. Becomes its own meta-data (cf. Google). Image/sound identification processes make awe!

Q6: Is there in fact scope for librarians to ‘curate’ large born digital collections, aiding user navigation?

Participants thought there was some scope for this but were unsure. Some people had experience of ‘curating the web’ in their work – curating weblinks or Youtube videos on a particular topic and making them available to their users. This was challenging, and there were major issues with broken links and the constantly shifting nature of web content. However, on balance those who had done it thought it was worthwhile. The lack of permanence of web content wasn’t reason enough to exclude it from our collections – actually print materials can go out of date just as quickly, but we may not notice it.

  • @spoontragedy: Cataloguing/curating web based content is like cataloguing an eel, it’s slippery and sometimes it wriggles away #sillymetaphor
  • @archinva: sometimes it disappears and sometimes you find yourself with three identical eels

Q7: How do you deal with user frustration that not everything is available digitally?

Interestingly, there were many comments was more common for users to be frustrated that everything was online and they wanted it in print. These comments came from those working in public, further education and academic libraries. Certain types of book were particularly in demand in print format, like core textbooks and test preparation materials in careers libraries. Many people prefer to read large amounts of text in print format. Some also have the attitude that material in print is always more authoritative.

Ways of dealing with frustration that not everything was available electronically were to signpost users to inter library loan and other possible services – other local universities, national libraries, business libraries and more. Understanding the range of options in your area is important here.

  • @octavosaurus: It’s difficult to convey the time/cost factor in digitisation of content to users.
  • @RosieHLib: yes & generally the ‘everything online is free’ attitude without a thought about the cost of creating things online

There was a discussion about whether the attitude that ‘everything online is free’ would change over time:

  • @archinva: it’ll probably change increasingly to “you can subscribe to everything online”
  • @SaintEvelin: The old web anarchist in me hopes not. P’haps that’s the very niche public libraries can seek to fill (at a tax cost)?
  • @SaintEvelin: An idea of increasing “enclosure” of what’s been in the common for n years is a worry (even if it was all nicked!)

Q8: Would you be in favour of a national digital library? Is this feasible?

Participants thought this was an inspiring idea but challenging in terms of cost, copyright issues and coordination. Public libraries in Northern Ireland do now have a joint digital library since they have become one library authority. Maybe a national public digital library as a collaboration between UK library authorities is a possibility.

  • @chriskeene: Think national lib an interesting idea, digilib has so much infrastructure to do well that scale can really help.
  • @SaintEvelin: Today we have it. It’s Spotify. Tho it’s commercial, not state run. No appetite for state-run since ’70s…
  •  @ShirleyBurnham: Once it’s up and running, they can close all our physical libraries and tell us to get stuffed. Bright idea?

#uklibchat Summary – New Year’s Resolutions 7 Jan 2014

This is what people said at the start of the year. I wonder how well people have been doing so far with the New Years Resolutions that they mentioned?

I’ve put together the direct answers to the questions asked. For the an archive of the actual tweets during the session please click here

Q1, What was your biggest achievement in 2013?

Quite a few people mentioned getting a  a professional job or a permanent job as their biggest achievement in 2013; for others it was starting an MA or finishing their degree.

Other notable mentions:
@Karenmca: Biggest achievement was publishing an @ashgatemusic book! 3 reviewers so far and seem to like it.
@pennyb: Winning an @slaeurope ECCA – I don’t seek external validation too often, but that really changed how I see myself. #uklibchat
@LottieMSmith: obtaining a bursary to go to IFLA WLIC and experiencing my 1st global conference #uklibchat
@poetryghost: I’m also really pleased we got 6 young people through Bronze @ArtsAwardVoice last year
@DonnaLanclos: received an internal grant to do research
@catmacisaac: finding my feet with new responsibilities for HR issues, budget & social media.
@kosjanka:Q1 I’m rather fond of what happened with @voiceslibrary idea, and watched how it grew and supported folk over the year.

Q2. If you made a resolution last year how successful were you?

Not many people who attended the chat had made any, here are some of the responses:

@libchris: semi successul – got as far as gettting mentor! Applied for more jobs, but overcoming interview nerves still defeats me :( #uklibchat
@SaintEvelin: Not v successful, but playing the New Job Excuse card ;-)
@Kosjanka: My resolution last year was to complete Aclip. I failed, totally. But I did gain a new mentor, which I hope will help.

So a mixed bag.

Q3. Do you have any professional new year’s resolutions for yourself?

@Jaimeeuk: #uklibchat I don’t want to call it a New Years Resolution but just an aim to complete #chartership by Nov 2014 (before new rules apply!)
@Karenmca: To continue forging ahead with social media ( + @whittakerlib, but try to draw better line btn work/home
@BookishKirsten: More of an aim, but hoping to get enough work submitted to go to both #aberils study skills and complete diploma. And get web editing experience/training. Seems like a useful skill to acquire!
@library_lizzie: I have lots of things I want to do in 2014 – one of them is to know my limits and not try to take on too much. Personal resolutions: participate in at least 1/2 uklibchats, get dissertation published & be more active on MmIT committee
@AgentK23: Get chartered, and this time there’s a deadline so it is more likely to happen. Plus watch TEDtalks and make infographics #uklibchat
@DonnaLanclos: hard to have a new resolve, still working on goals from last year.
@catmacisaac: I’ll be on maternity leave this year so aim is to keep up to speed with trends/issues while I’m away from work.
@SaintEvelin: It’s a rollover: Write more; get involved; be more assertive; generally get stuck in. Need to stop being so quiet and bumbling
@payne_clare: try to live up to the values of the nhs constitution in my work and behaviour
@avenannenverden: If I have any resolutions for 2014, it would be to actually understand everything about the budget and such.
@Kosjanka: I don’t really do resolutions. I constantly re-evaluate what I do and how best to work in the environment I’m in.

Q4. Do you have any new year’s resolutions for your institution?

@JaimeeUK: I’d like to see more use of Twitter on an enquiries basis, or introduction of Librarian Chat sessions. Instant internet reply
@SaintEvelin:Be good. Don’t stray from being a great acad library disseminating knowledge & delivering what people want/need. Get a porch.
@LibraryMargaret: I’d like to see more using technologies in enquiries, doing more IL work with students and generally getting away from desk .
@BeccyPert: Maybe hire an interior decorator… our building is pretty uninspiring :(
@BookishKirsten: Carry out annual user survey, and hopefully improve service based on that.
@avenannenverden: We have lots going on at our library, and I hope we’ll manage to land more project money for events.
@Karenmca: I’d like to find a way of using @whittakerlib library to inspire even more creativity @RCStweets
@Kosjanka: I do want to see my organisation finally release it’s data and information on the world, and make our catalogue OA.
@poetryghost: I’d like to see more communication and decisive management in the lead up to a new library (in 2015)

Q5. How do you move forward from ‘failed’ resolutions?

There were a few good tips for this. Reassess the resolutions and carry on the ones that worth keeping, think about why things went wrong and learn from mistakes, but there’s no need to wring your hands over them. Try to be realistic with future resolutions.

Q6. What is the next big thing for libraries?

Some of the responses were:

  • gamification
  • OA and HE funding
  • move towards websites and learning tool being mobile device friendly
  • augmented reality
  • RDM (Research Data Management) and Improved CRIS  (Current Research Information System)
  • someone mentioned the 14 predictions Phil Bradley had made.
  • the continued war on local services – perhaps leading to a breaking point and massive radical action from the public to defend their libraries
  • library as a meeting place, and a space for events and for debates
  • the dream of ending paper-based copyright declaration forms
  • more widespread stocking of e-books in public libraries

Q7. Do you have any suggestions for #uklibchat topics for 2014? (Including past chats you would like to see repeated)

  • More generic LIS topics
  • Library services to alumni ..barriers, good practice, hints and tips
  • Services to distance learners
  • Research Data Management
  • Making activities in the Library on a small budget
  • Negotiating with vendors/ purchasing strategies
  • Getting the most out of our diminishing budgets
  • library wars RPG session

Your newest team member!

Hi everyone,

My name is Gaby and I’m the fresh out of the box new member of the #uklibchat team (@GabyK_lib). I currently work in a public library in the south east. My title is no longer librarian but I still get to do great projects in my library for all ages from the summer reading challenge, to the home library service. Prior to that I used to be Children’s Librarian responsible for Teens at the same location.

I discovered #uklibchat a while back and have really appreciated the ninja way it has got me involved in PD in my own time, a thing I thought I’d never do. I also love that it helps me learn about other librarians, their work and make new friends.

I’m going to be your friendly neighbourhood librarian in charge of May’s chat on the topic of “Classifying the Librarian” which will be about all the ways we go about supporting our customers needs. Librarians can be teachers, advisers, information sources, researchers, events managers, web designers, data analysts, marketeers, child minders, social workers. But really, how far does a librarian stretch? And how far should we push the boundaries of what a librarian is?

Why not come and join in with the chat on Tuesday 6 May?

Changes to website

You may have noticed that there are a few changes to the website.

We’ve removed the calendar page at the top, as we’ve not had the time to keep that up to date. To compensate, we’ve added a  ‘subscribe’ widget to our sidebar, and you’ll get an e-mail sent to you every time we post an agenda or a feature on here.

We’ve also removed the comments page, as it was not used much. You are always welcome to contact us via our e-mail address uklibchat[@] or to send a tweet to our Twitter account.

We’ve also added a bit more blurb to our  ‘About #uklibchat‘ page, and as we mentioned in a previous post, we’ve added a handy page with links to feature articles that have been written for  #uklibchat.

image from pixabay

Feature #12 – Reading

Our guest post this month is by Mobeena Khan, Stock and Reader Development Librarian at Hertfordshire Libraries. This post is her own views, and does not necessarily represent the views of her employer. If you would like to join this month’s #uklibchat on reading, the agenda is available here:

Reading. When the lovely folk over at #uklibchat asked me to write this blogpost for them, I was so insanely flattered to even be asked that I said yes pretty much right away. Rookie mistake. Because reading? How on earth do I encapsulate reading and what I think and feel about reading in 1000 words. It cannot be done. It just can’t . There’s too much to get excited and passionate and angry and confused about. So, I’ve tried to distil it into reading and libraries and even more so into reading for pleasure.


As most of you know, I’m a public librarian and always have been. We can be quick sometimes, as a profession, to skip over the book part of what we offer. Being under threat, as most public libraries are, we can be incredibly quick to say “We’re not just a building with books, you know!” – and we are indeed, so much more than that. We have free access to computers and the internet, we have services for babies and children and teenagers. We have reading groups and author events and services for housebound users and users whose first language isn’t English. We stretch and stretch and stretch and sometimes, I feel we forget about the books. The books and their magic are part of what draws people in. It’s still the thing that people associate a library with, any library, public, academic, whatever. Sometimes, we forget about the books.

child reading image from pixabay
My job title officially, is “Stock and Reader Development Librarian”. I work across fourteen libraries and when I am asked what I do, I say, only half joking, “My job is about getting things onto library shelves and getting people to look at them”. Reading is a big part of who I am, personally and professionally. It always has been. I joined my local library when I was about seven or eight after a class visit there. I rapidly became one of those children who visited the library every week, on a Saturday and took out the maximum number of books I was allowed to take out and started reading one of them on the way home. It’s probably a miracle I am alive today. I’ve no idea how I crossed all those roads. Reading was and is, easy for me. It’s a refuge. Picking up an old book or the new installment of a series is like being with old friends again; as if no time has passed at all. I am incredibly lucky to have a job that makes sure I try and pass that on to other people.

Because, just as I know I am lucky, I know equally, other people are not. Other people find reading hard. Whether that’s because of low literacy levels, English not being their first language, dyslexia or just not being a reader, reading, this beautiful, every day, vital, necessary thing can be really hard for people. Reading for pleasure is something a lot of people don’t understand and cannot access.

One of the many ways we tackle this in my library service is with a project I help run called “The Book Doctor”. We saw the idea being used initially in another authority and expanded it to use in one of our main urban libraries. The idea behind the project was to offer a bespoke service to our users, away from the pressures of the enquiry desk, whereby members of staff could offer an in depth, one on one service to users who were stuck with their reading. We, as staff members would take the time to talk to users about what they have read and what they were looking for. Users would be able to come to a drop in session where they could talk to a member of staff and get ideas and help to tackle whatever the reading problem was – whether that was that the reader had finished a great series and wanted another one, whether they were looking for a specific genre or books set in a specific period or something completely different. We wanted to empower our readers and users to continue or start to gain pleasure in their reading.

smurf reading image from pixabay

My fellow stock and reader development librarians and I devised a training programme that consisted of training regarding print resources, electronic resources and a list of book prizes that we thought would help in answering questions and helping to widen stock knowledge. About six library assistants were picked to participate in the project and for the first eight of the monthly, hour long sessions, they were buddied up with me or my colleagues. We had posters designed and had the sessions advertised on our social media streams and we helped further identify ourselves as a distinct operation by wearing white lab coats. We have “prescription pads” which we use to write down recommendations for our users and anyone who uses the service gets a free request. The sessions have been running since April 2013 and we are now looking to expand the service to other libraries in the county.

This is just one way that we’ve tried to help our users get more out of the library service. We utilised staff skills and expertise to help enable people to get more out of reading, to find other ways into it, other ways through it. I’ve barely touched on some of the other issues around reading such as helping people with learning difficulties or dyslexia access the library, encouraging children to read and fostering a lifelong love of reading through libraries and there are probably a whole host of others that haven’t even occurred to me. But as library staff, we should continue to embrace reading. We should keep promoting it in every form to everyone who walks in through the door. Whether they read themselves or listen to a talking book or have books read to them, reading is a vital part of who we are as people. It strikes right down into the core of who a person is. The right book at the right time can change your life. We should never forget that.



Agenda – #uklibchat on Reading, Tuesday 1st April 2014

It’s no joke – we will be running a #uklibchat on the topic of reading on 1st April. Despite the fact this is a topic that is highly connected to libraries and librarians in the popular imagination, it’s taken us nearly three years to have a chat devoted to it.

Reading can sometimes be defined in narrow terms as just being about reading fiction for leisure but we’re interested in exploring this topic from as many angles as possible – whether it’s e-reading, academic reading, professional reading, the science of reading, the future of reading…the possibilities are endless! However, it’s you guys that shape our agenda, which you can contribute to here.

The chat will be held at 6.30-8.30pm UK time on Tuesday 1st April 2014. Watch this space for a guest blog post, coming very soon!

EDIT: You can now read Mobeena’s post here.


6 March 2014 Agenda: Digital Libraries

The next #uklibchat is on a Thursday, 6 March 6.30-8.30pm GMT. We’ll be talking about digital libraries, focusing on born digital content like e-books, e-journals, audiovisual and web content.

The agenda is now available here.

To get you thinking, read our feature article by @SimonXIX: ‘What do we talk about when we talk about digital libraries‘?

If you’ve not joined #uklibchat before here’s our guide to joining in.

Feature #11 What do we talk about when we talk about digital libraries?

Modern information work is dominated by the digital. All libraries work with the masses of digital information that computer technology has made possible. ‘Digital libraries’ – the assigned topic of this blog post – is too big a topic to be covered adequately in a 750-1000 word blog post and so, rather than covering all of the issues involved in digital libraries and digital librarianship, the focus of this post is the definition of ‘digital library’. The aim is to be ‘thought-provoking’ rather than ‘comprehensive’. Caveats and excuses in place, let’s begin…

The term ‘digital library’ was once defined as “a focused collection of digital objects, including text, video, and audio, along with methods for access and retrieval, and for selection, organization, and maintenance of the collection.” (Witten, et al., 2010, p. 7) This definition – representative of other available definitions of ‘digital library’ – is so broad as to be meaningless. In philosophical parlance, the definition is necessary but not sufficient. Specifically, the use of the term ‘digital objects’ makes this definition applicable to too many things that intuitively we would not want to categorise as digital libraries: text strings encoded in HTML are digital objects and therefore a focused collection of those – a website – is a digital library; digital images are digital objects and therefore any mobile device with a camera contains a digital library; library OPACs and discovery platforms are digital libraries; each Amazon Kindle is a digital library; Wikipedia is a digital library.Digital Library

Due in part to the ever-changing, ephemeral, and ethereal nature of digital information, any rigorous definition of ‘digital library’ will be insufficient. Digital libraries take too many disparate forms for any one definition to be meaningful. Accordingly, a list of real examples and extrapolation of their shared characteristics may be the best ‘definition’ possible. And so:

A stab at a non-exhaustive list of things that one might call a ‘digital library’ in a LIS work environment:

  • Collections of digitised content. Including but not limited to:

◦       Archive collections

  • The British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership’s India Office Records component

◦       Manuscript collections

◦       Image content

◦       Audio content

◦       Video content

  • Born-digital collections. Including but not limited to:

◦       Institutional repositories

◦       Publisher sites for aggregated electronic content

◦       Commercial ebook vendor platforms

Bonus list of things that are pretty much digital libraries but aren’t considered as such in LIS for cultural and/or legal reasons:

  • Streaming services for digital content
  • Torrent sites (particularly those for ebooks)
    • The Pirate Bay
    • Etc.

Even if we were to be stricter and restrict the term ‘digital library’ to only those collections which contain books (a term which would itself require definition), then we still have a mass of diverse platforms offering a range of digital objects. Most people in a LIS environment will be working with one or more of these digital libraries and so understanding and appreciation of them and the issues raised in working with them is essential for modern LIS workers.

However, note how many of the platforms in the above list are out of the control of libraries or librarians. Publication databases are created by publishers and commercial entities; repositories are created by academics; websites and social networks are created by software developers and programmers. Digital libraries are, by and large, not managed by librarians. If librarians are not involved in the creation or curation of digital libraries, then in what sense are they ‘libraries’ at all?

Digital libraries provide a good example of the changing role of library and information workers in a culture of digital content. Since we do not manage these platforms, we instead become experts on them: guides through the steppes of digital information. The major issue with this is that while LIS workers are aware of how much they know about digital library platforms, their users are not necessarily aware of that. Why would they associate JSTOR, a shiny commercial platform, with the staff behind the big desk on the other side of the library? How would they know to ask a librarian about digital copyright or FOI requests or off-campus authentication or ebook file formats or etc.?

Golf Sale

Even this new role is becoming reduced. User-focused design for digital platforms aims to make the experience easy for the user: to ensure that users can intuitively navigate a interface without asking anyone for help. Folksonomies and collaborative systems of organisation make top-down hierarchical organisation systems appear at best antiquated and at worst obfuscatory. Between these two strands of development for digital content, what role is there for information professionals? Libraries are left to point towards digital information – towards those who truly provide digital collections – like a person forlornly holding a sign pointing to a golf sale. We all know they could just be replaced by a signpost.

In a digital context, the word ‘library’ is as outmoded as the word ‘object’. Digital information is a paradigm shift and we are still in the process of modifying our language to accommodate it. Just as the digital things that we call ‘objects’ do not share the same properties as the physical things we call ‘objects’, digital libraries are unlike physical libraries. They are not contained. They are (often) not organised with any strict or logical system. They are (often) commercial for-profit enterprises. They (often) have restrictions on their use. They are not managed by librarians. Digital libraries are not libraries: they are information.

by Simon BarronSimon Barron



Witten, I., Bainbridge, D., & Nichols, D., 2010. How to build a digital library. Second Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.

‘screenshot3’ from Flickr user: Cambridge University. CC BY-NC 2.0.

‘Golf Sale man #2’ from Flickr user: Richard Cocks. CC BY 2.0.


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