It’s all about the conversation…and when to stop

This week has been a ‘noisy’ week – a week filled with meetings, conversations and discussions.  Mostly valuable and worthwhile, some even enjoyable in a work context, but nevertheless a lot of interactions.
Team meetings with teams, catch up meetings with Supervisors, catch up meetings with line managers, Resources and Facilities meetings, project meetings about refurbishments.
Meetings about communications.
Ad hoc discussions about library systems, about IT helpdesk systems, about repairs to ceilings, about training .
PDR meetings – discussing how staff feel about their progress and development – what they would like to do in the future, about what works and doesn’t work.
Conversations with students.
External events at other universities with discussions about new systems and what we need to develop in the future to provide excellent customer service for our students.
The conversations in passing with staff in my team or other teams, conversations as staff drop by my office and its open door.
Telephone calls and conversations.  Email conversations.  Social media conversations.
And then finally today, a day without planned meetings and quietly closing my office door and stopping to think what needs doing…and settling down to do it.
It’s easy to say that it’s important to manage your time and your calendar, and to plan effectively and have a task list and be productive and stop doing some things and prioritise.  But in reality, unless we are at the top of the management structure in our organisation, our calendars seem to have a life of their own.  Also as we all have to work in a more flexible and reactive way, it’s important to shuffle things around and fit in when we can.
For me in my role, I have quite a wide and varied remit.  I’m involved in joint initiatives and projects and liaising with different teams.  My team is responsible for front line, first line services and dealing with customers and their enquiries.  It is why I like my job.
But it is important to find some time to concentrate and I have to make a conscious effort to do this because I’m efficient at multi-tasking (if there is such a thing) and rapid task changing and skimming across the surface of what needs doing.  I’m solution driven so my default way of working is to look at a situation and find the quickest, most straightforward way of resolving it.  But is this the most productive and efficient way – or the best way for me as far as my thinking and reflecting is concerned?  Probably not…so it is work in progress to find more of those quiet Fridays to change the way I work and take a step back from the conversations.




Week by week – Semester 1, LMP, IT Help, loans and reservations…

The day by day weekly summary has become, temporarily, a week by week monthly summary as time to reflect during the first few weeks of semester is scarce.
Added to the usual frenetic activity has been continuing work on the process of procuring a new Library Management Platform (LMP).  During September there was scoring and evaluating of tenders and then recently there have been demonstrations by suppliers which again need scoring and consensus scoring. It has been a lot of work with working groups, internal and external groups and meetings and a lot of concentration. But it has been very interesting especially the involvement with other institutions and universities as part of SCURL to create a framework for using in the future. The process around tendering has been interesting too and it is good experience.
Anyhow, back to the beginning of Semester which went well.  We had the usual situation when some changes and improvements especially to do with the building were only ready at the last minute but everything was ready.  We had a stock relegation programme in place over the summer which involved clearing a lot of unused paper journals and this has created extra study spaces.  We’ve also gained another room for silent study so increased our study space by approx 70 seats.
Our new Principal visited the library on Monday 7th September along with other invited staff and everything went according to plan – a successful afternoon and it was a great opportunity to show off all the good work and the good service we provide.
Semester began on 14th September and we were busy with enquiries right from the start.  We get a lot of IT related enquiries in the first couple of weeks mainly about passwords, WiFi and email. Basically students want to get set up to access the university system as quickly as possible preferably on numerous devices.  All the information is online but many still prefer to come to the library IT help desk for face to face help, advice and assistance so it is good that we provide online self help, telephone, email and personal help.
Library related changes have involved the short term loans (3hr loans) and reserved books.  There has been a major change with these in that they used to be kept behind the Service Desk and issued by staff but we now have them on open shelving near the self issue kiosks and students can access them themselves at anytime 24/7.  We are monitoring the situation as we go along but we haven’t had any major problems so far (despite concerns by some staff).  The system is not perfect but can be modified if need be once we have reviewed it at the end of the semester.  I’m confident that it is going to work…
24/7 opening of the library started at the beginning of semester and will continue up until 18th December. It is now established that we are open 24/7 for all of semester time and revert to 9-5 during holidays.
Other things:
Lapsafe lockers for students to charge their laptops
New rota for Service Desk staff in order to get a better insight into use of staff resource
Room booking software for study rooms still going well and can be accessed from OPAC machines so easier for students to use.
Change Advisory Board is still proving useful for keeping up to date with communicating changes.
We had a good visit from Edinburgh City Libraries showcasing their ebooks, emagazines etc. and lots of students signed up so that was interesting and a great collaboration.
Social media updates continuing and I’ve been doing stuff for ELISA and CSGUK but that’s another story.

Using google forms for feedback

Using google forms is proving to be a quick and easy way of getting feedback from students who use our Edinburgh campus library.  We have already been using them for recording quick, easily resolvable enquiries at the library service desk so decided to try them out last year for feedback.

The feedback that we wanted to capture was about the purpose of visits to the library and consisted of three questions

What is the purpose of your visit to the library today?
How long do you intend to stay in the library today?
If more facilities could be added to the library, which 3 are the most important?
There were a selection of options to choose from for questions 1 and 3.
The questions were printed out and handed to students to fill in at the library service desk.
We had 513 responses and the feedback helped to inform developments in the library last summer including the  installation of new group study spaces that have proven very popular with students.
Although the forms were printed out the responses were entered by staff into the google form online and this made it very easy to collate the responses and produce a summary.
This year, at the same time of year, we produced an updated form to collect feedback based again on the purpose of visits to the library. The questions were similar in that question 1 and 2 were the same and question 3 was ‘If more study spaces could be added to the library for next semester, which 3 are the most important’?
Respondents could select more than one response.
Copies of the form were printed out and distributed at the Library service desk as before. Also in order to promote the form, a link to it was posted on the Information Services Facebook page and twitter feed.  This resulted in quite a few online responses – of the total 373 responses, 291 paper and 82 electronic.
The responses were input into the google form which automatically populates a spreadsheet of results. The other useful feature of a google form is that it automatically produces a summary of results in an easy to read format.
The results show a preference for individual study spaces which is a reflection of the time of year leading up to revision but also reflects the room usage figures that we collect.
Preferences for future developments show a demand for individual study spaces  and in fact more study spaces of all kinds. Students selected more than one type of study space that they would like to see in the future.
purposepie morestudyfeedback

Semester 2 More than half way…

Semester 2  – Week 10 or, in more general terms, Mid March or ‘2 months done 2 months to go’ 🙂
Semesters as opposed to terms mean that it feels like a long haul between January and end of May – and it is a long time to keep going for 19 weeks.  But then the summer.  However, before anyone mentions that it is quiet in libraries and universities over the summer, it isn’t – it is just a different rhythm and a different focus.
So, back to week 10.  We’re increasingly busy in the library building – we seem to have become the ‘destination of choice’ on campus and consistently have an occupancy of over 550 from 12 noon until late afternoon.  If we count every single study space we possibly have, we have just 613 so there is a high demand for spaces.  The noise levels have also been creeping up and our main floor which has the Service Desk , group spaces, study pods, individual study spaces, social learning seats and a cafe, has become a noisy hub of activity.  We will continue like this until after Easter and then will re-introduce the ‘Making the Most of the Space’ initiative when we monitor the library learning space. The aims of the monitoring are to reduce noise levels in the library and also reduce the practice of students reserving spaces by leaving unattended items.
Our online booking system for individual and group study rooms is still in place and going well. Students have embraced the opportunity to book the rooms online in advance and the prime slots fill up quickly.  We have a few improvements that we can make to the procedure and also we need to monitor how students are using the system – with the group rooms there is potential to book for more than the maximum 3 hours and we are relying on students being fair.
Collecting and collating statistics is ongoing.  We are now in a situation where we are collecting most of the data that we need and can present it to those who need it.  But we need to make it much more relevant and timely (more time needed to be timely….)
From a staffing point of view we have been busy with PDRs (Appraisals) and hopefully these are complete now.  I have spent sometime looking at the objectives to make sure that staff in the Customer Services Team feel that the objectives are relevant to them.  I need to map them to the action plan more effectively in order for staff to be clearer how they can work towards their objectives in a practical way.

Up-skilling and cross-skilling – staff training

Up-skilling and cross-skilling 
The strategic aim is something along the lines of ensuring that all of the customer services team are cross skilled, can be co-located and record all issues and enquiries. Therefore the overarching plan is that all of the library assistants (daytime, weekend, evening), information assistants and IT Helpdesk staff would be able to work anywhere on the integrated service desk. A member of the Customer Services Team would be able to provide a front line, first line service wherever and whenever they are based.
So, how is this going to work in practice and how are we going to get there. In the Customer Services Team there are approximately 35 staff who were, in the past, either Library or IT staff apart from the information Assistants. The Information Assistants posts were new last September and to some extent bridge the gap but at a lower level. Many of the staff are skilled and have in-depth experience. The important thing, from my point of view, is that we don’t lose that knowledge but that we keep it, ensure it is relevant, develop it and add to it. As the saying goes- we don’t want to lose specialisms, but want to add generalisms.
All of this is fairly standard for university libraries especially in those integrated and converged with IT services.  Much of the change is driven by the demands and needs of the users. Students and staff, in general, want one place to go for help. If they visit the library, physically or virtually, they want assistance in accessing resources online and on the shelves.  They want to be able to access information on their own devices as well as the institution owned machines, they want to connect to systems and to wifi 24/7.
In general library assistants do want to increase their knowledge of IT systems and the distinction is sometimes a false one. When you work on a service desk on a library, you are using IT the majority of the time so it is a matter of formalising some of this, filling in the gaps and often increasing confidence. One difference is that IT staff work along the lines of giving something a go and if it doesn’t work, try something else – technology is like that, trial and error or finding an alternative means of getting what you want done. In the past library systems were exact, if you do A you get B, a specified method of doing something.
Some of the training happens naturally between staff – if you have an integrated service desk with library and IT staff based there, then you share skills and pick up bits and pieces as you go along. This is useful but not enough as it doesn’t ensure that everyone has the same skills base. Also it is dependent on a particular issue cropping up and being solved so that the incident can be shared.
Documentation, help sheets, guides, staff manuals are essential – you need somewhere to refer to when you are asked an enquiry or have to solve an issue. It is also important to have consistency so that everyone is providing the same service.
Structured training sessions are important and we are running a series of these over the summer. They include a session delivered by Subject Librarians which focuses on  Enquiries, the Website, Books and Journals, Discovery and Copyright – the latest developments in each of these areas. This session is repeated four times between June and September.
 There are three other sessions:
1. Printing / MFDs, Wifi-Eduroam, Word, Outlook, Google form / statistics
2. ‘Getting Started’ webpages, Vision (Blackboard), SharePoint, Kayako (ITHelpdesk system)
3. Service Desk changes, Staff manual and procedures, Voyager, Printing /MFDs
These sessions are delivered by the Helpdesk co-ordinator, the Service Desk supervisor or me.  At the end of each session we have a Customer Services team update.
We hold the sessions at different times and encourage semester only staff to attend (they get paid to do so). The sessions include practical elements so staff get experience of different systems and programmes. There are copies of the presentations or notes from the sessions available for those that can’t attend and these reflect the information on the staff and service manual.

So far, so good. The sessions have been well attended and have meant we have a baseline of what should be common knowledge. If everyone knows what is covered in these sessions then we can build on that. Library staff and IT staff need to share each others skills base. We weren’t starting from staff without knowledge or skills but it was difficult to know who knew what and how this could be quantified. We can add to the programme as new developments happen and build a cross-skilled, technology enhanced, knowledge base to provide an effective customer service.

Making The Most of the Space

The University Library at Heriot-Watt is very well used throughout the year and this semester the footfall and occupancy has increased.  Although there are study spaces on all four floors of the library, we have reached the situation where it is often at capacity.  It is a good position to be in i.e. students using the space and resources but it is not so good when students can’t find space to work.
So we have a campaign to ‘Make the Most of the Space’.
This involves two main strands – firstly, changing the floor zones and noise levels and secondly, monitoring the study spaces for unoccupied spaces with unattended items.  Neither of these are easy to manage but it is essential to do so otherwise we are not optimising the resource that we have.

So the second one first.  Monitoring the study spaces.  We have that very common issue in university libraries when students want to reserve a study space by leaving items on a particular desk then going off to a lecture or for a meal and then returning to the space.  In an ideal world this would be reasonable as it would be convenient to have a ‘spot’ where you could leave your papers and books and then come and go.  But it is not fair when there are a limited number of spaces and we have had quite a few students complaining that they can’t find a space to study.
So we introduced a system whereby we check around the library and make a note of any spaces that have belongings but are unattended, then 20 minutes later, on the second tour round a yellow slip is placed on the table explaining that the study spaces are in high demand and that belongings must be removed in order to enable other students to use the space.  The yellow slip is timed and states that in an hour the belongings will be taken to the service desk for safe keeping.  

After at least an hour, the yellow slipped desks are revisited and a red slip placed on the desk.  It states the time that the table has not been in use i.e. from the first tour to the red slip time which will be at least 1 hour 20 minutes although probably more in practice.  Two members of staff remove the belongings into a marked crate. A slip is filled in detailing all the items that are removed. The crate is marked with the time the items were removed and taken to the Service desk and stored in a secure place.  When students come to collect their items, they sign a receipt for the items.
As you can see there is a lot of time and effort involved in the whole process.  We have been doing this for 2 weeks and we have this week to go.  The process happens 3 times a day – once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening.  We have quite a large team and so it is split between everyone so that people rarely have to do it more than once a week.  
The good thing is that it has been successful – we have addressed the concerns by some students that they can’t find a space to study.  We have been in the situation where we have cleared a desk and a student has been hovering waiting to use it.  We have not had any complaints from students who have had their items removed – they have all been perfectly reasonable and accepting of the situation.  It has acted as a deterrent which is difficult but I think most people think it is fair and realise that if they are going to go for more than 1.5 hours then they can’t reserve the space.  
It is time consuming, sit’s not a particularly popular task and it is possible to see it as being a typical ‘library checking up and telling off’ thing but it is possible and important to be positive about it. When I have been doing the monitoring I have noticed that it is possible to ask students if they know who is sitting on the next place and if they’ve been away for long etc. It’s not a perfect system and students do realise that we only monitor at certain intervals but that is ok –  we are not doing it to try to catch people out. In an ideal world it would be self policing but in reality it isn’t, so we are helping to maintain and manage the space the best we can on behalf of the students.  
(We did liaise with the Student Union and also with Security before implementing the campaign. There is also an aspect of raising awareness of leaving unattended items and the security risk involved in doing so).  

IT Helpdesk Customer Services Team

The IT Helpdesk is part of the Customer Services Team in Information Services. So far I have spent quite a bit of my time working on matters to do with the Library Service Desk and the Information Assistants, I now need to concentrate on the IT Helpdesk. The IT Helpdesk is physically located in two different buildings – the IT building and the Library building.  In the IT / Information Services building two staff work full time on the IT Helpdesk and they process telephone and email issues/tickets.  In the Library we have a  IT Helpdesk which deals with enquiries from students as personal visits / face2face.  This is staffed by one person plus the Information Assistants and is situated at one end of the Library service desk.
The challenges are how to manage the two parts of the IT Helpdesk as one service and also how to manage and integrate the IT Helpdesk with the Library Service Desk to make one Customer Service facility and one Customer Service Team.  To add another factor, the switchboard part of the university telephony service is also going to be incorporated into the Customer Services Team and one of the telephonists is going to work on the IT Helpdesk.
There are three areas that I’m working on – firstly to look at ways of working together as one team and and consider how the skills, knowledge and experience can be shared.  Secondly looking at the processes and procedures and how we can document them so we know what we are doing and have a consistent approach. Thirdly how we can record accurately the activity at the different points into one system.
This is against a backdrop of a variety of people with varying levels of experience and expertise.
Today we had a meeting to discuss how we are going to standardize some of our procedures and document them effectively.  Also how we are going to provide training for those within the team and new members of the team as they come on-board.
It’s a start and we have had a few discussions to get to here.  I don’t want to lose sight, myself, of the bigger picture – that this is a Customer Services Team that has a broad remit and the potential for exciting developments.