UCISA SSG Conference 2017 #ussc17

The UCISA SSG conference was held in Bristol last week 5th, 6th and 7th July.  I attended the first two days and found it interesting and informative. It is always an excellent conference and manages to be both inspirational and useful which is no mean feat for an education or an IT conference.  It is the people that make it a success and the theme of the conference was ‘It’s not about technology, it’s about people…’

I like the UCISA SSG conference as there is a good mixture of sessions in the main hall for everyone as well as some break out sessions.
The sessions that I attended are listed below in the table and the link to the programme with copies of the presentations is here

I didn’t take a lot of notes but did tweet – here is the Storify of some of the interesting tweets from the conference

My main takeaways from the Conference were:

  • Learning is about people, getting together to think – technology can support and augment this learning
  • Technology has got to be useful and easy to use – Unified Theory of Acceptance and use of Technology
  • Incorporate systems such as attendance monitoring into apps that students want e.g. online timetable
  • Successful IT work behind the scenes keeps systems working invisibly – how do you measure success?
  • Students do have laptops but don’t bring to Uni so want to borrow Uni laptops
  • Not all students are the same – different cohorts, different individuals, different requirements and expectations
  • Learning spaces are important – the set up and usage needs to be optimum for lecturers and students
  • Students want face to face IT support…available all the time…and near by….and online support
  • Values are important – shared values and the sharing of values – they create a culture
  • It is, all about the people and about supporting people with technology

There was an illustrator at the conference who brilliantly captured some key moments
ucisa illustr

The Bristol badge bash! (how gamification will work)
Gareth Edwards, Head of IT, Engineering Science, University of Oxford
Drew Cook, UCISA Executive Vice Chair, Lincoln University
Reimagining traditional higher education in the digital age
Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning, University of Leeds
Unhappy is the land that needs a hero 
Stuart Rance, Service Management and Security Management Consultant, Trainer and Author, OptimalServiceManagement Ltd
Partner showcase- Laptop loans – an incredible journey from mediation to automation
Wayne Winterbottom, IT Support Manager for Computing and Library Services, University of Huddersfield
SSG Room 101
Kerry Pinny, Academic Technologist, University of Warwick
Francesca Spencer, IT Services Project Manager, Leeds Beckett University
Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services, Leeds Beckett University
Partner showcase – Enable your HIED institution to transform services and cut down costs
James Norman, UK Public Sector CIO, Dell EMC
Setting the standard – how a standard interface for your teaching rooms can make people happy
Graeme Hughes, Head of Faculty IT, Lancaster University
Panel session
Chaired by James Woodward, Client Services Manager, Manchester Metropolitan University
Sebastian Barnes, Leeds Beckett University
Sara Henderson, University of Sheffield
Adam Kearns, University of Bath
James Smith, Director of IT Services, Birkbeck, University of London
If Disney ran your university. A fun and informative exploration of some of the things
that you would do differently

Susanne Clarke, Bournemouth University and Tammi Sinha, University of Winchester
HELP! Observations from meddling with Student Support
James Smith, Director of IT Services, Birkbeck, University of London
Adding Value with Values 
Alistair Reid-Pearson, IT Manager, University of Huddersfield


Past, present and future…

The end of another Semester and we made it through with some success.
I always expect to feel really upbeat and giddily happy at the end of the semester / academic year whereas actually it is a mixture of relief and satisfaction for all we’ve achieved and the service we’ve provided and the students that we have helped and supported.
As we all know the days of the summer break in libraries / universities is very different to what it was and we start almost immediately thinking about what we need to plan for next September.

We started the year with the opening of the Learning Commons which has been a great success.  It has been popular with students and it has enabled us to showcase an example of the learning environment and service that we offer.


And now we are planning for our major refurbishment of the Library building.
Transforming Your Library
Transforming Your library

The enabling works have started and we have library books, journals and other stock are being relocated either offsite or to other floors of the building.  The Ground Floor of the library is closed and access to resources is by request at the Service Desk.
There has been a lot of work done this year regarding library collection management including weeding and rationalising of stock.

Our new Library Management System went live last June and the project was finished by the end of September.  We now have a Library Management Platform working group which took over from the Project Board where we discuss progress and developments to the system.  We’re also looking at what self-service circulation facility we could provide at our Orkney campus.

There have been quite a lot of changes to our IT helpdesk over the last year including a change to staffing and this will continue over the next few months.  This has given us a chance to make some changes to the operational procedures and also to look at short term and long term developments.  We have started to review our IT Helpdesk system and we hope to update this in the coming year.
Changes in staffing have also meant a change to the Service Desk Supervisors roles and much more integrated working between the IT Helpdesk and Library Service Desk – it is definitely a Service Desk now that can answer any sort of enquiry or issue.  We are continuing to work on staff training and upskilling to make sure that staff are confident to provide the help and support for students that is needed.

Communications have been a big part of the year with our blog posts and social media accounts being used on a daily basis to inform and promote a wide variety of topics.


Staffing, VR, Study spaces, refurbishment… #change

Our team was restructured last year in the first part of 2016.  It was successful and the structure of the team is much more coherent now and will enable us to deliver the service more effectively.  We had some vacant posts and some of these were filled.  But as everyone knows, who has been through this process, it is very time consuming.
So by the middle of this semester we were more or less settled and then…the University announced a Voluntary Redundancy Scheme…and so, on we go with that.  It is due to finish at the end of April.  It is a really good deal for those members of staff that can take it and obviously it is important for the University to be in a secure financial position and make savings where necessary.
It will undoubtedly mean more changes but I think that things change anyhow and it’s important to make the best of the good times and be resilient for the changing times.  The other change that is happening is that our Director of Information Services is retiring and there will be a recruitment process to find a replacement.  This is a real shame as he has been great and has been vital to the success of our integrated Library and IT departments as Information Services.

We are at the beginning of a library building refurbishment project that will see the library transformed through out.  The enabling work is starting soon with planning to move stock and plans for furniture moves and optimising study space.  The refurbishment will mean major changes to the learning environment for students and also for staff – we will be moving to open plan working areas.  We have been doing some process improvement exercises to look at how we will be able to do things more effectively in the future.



December update

December update – we’re nearly there at the end of semester.
Last day of exams is 16th December so that is the final day for students.
Then we have a week of ‘normal’ working up until Friday 23rd December.

So, things that have been happening:

Monitoring of the study spaces

Managing the Learning Commons

Staffing – new posts for Customer Services Assistant and Customer Services Supervisor

IT Helpdesk documentation and procedures updated

ELISA visits and ACLIP programme

CSE networking

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.

Changes and developments to the library space HWU

During the summer we are having changes made to the library space to increase the number of group study spaces available for students.  The current group study room has been extended by knocking a wall through into a meeting room.  The whole room is being revamped with new ceiling and floor, repainted walls and new furniture and fittings.  There will be five group study tables with six seats with integrated plasma screens.  There will also be two six seater study booths with plasma screens.
In order to make space for the group study tables and booths we are replacing the Service Desk.  The old desk had been in place since the 70s and although acceptable and functional, had a large footprint.  We are getting a new Service Desk and it is going to be located nearer the entrance and stairs to provide good visibility.  
So far the building work is going well and we are on schedule I think – next week should see the arrival of the new furniture so I’m looking forward to seeing the new Service Desk. Then will be the challenge of becoming operational from the new desk and we have already been discussing in our team how workflows and processes are going to work.
The other improvement that is being made is to the individual study rooms – the flooring has been replaced and they are currently being painted  It is definitely an improvement and the rooms are in high demand.

More information is available on our Information Services blog which I’ve been posting updates to

HWU IS library improvements July
HWU IS library improvements August

Selecting a seat in a library…

In the corridor, next to the rear entrance to the library at Heriot-Watt Uni, is a birds nest, a swallows nest.  The corridor is open at one end and leads out into the gardens.  The swallows come here each year to nest in the same place on top of a narrow sign next to fire alarm which rings loudly at least once a week when tested.  Students and staff pass by to come into the library although it’s not the main entrance.

A couple of metres away from this seemingly cramped and noisy corner are acres of beautiful trees and places to nest which would be relatively quiet and undisturbed.  Yet the swallows choose the corridor and successfully have chicks which thrive and fly away.

This made me wonder if there were any comparisons with the sort of spaces that are chosen by students to study.  I’m not suggesting that they should perch in inhospitable places but there is an element of self selecting and it’s not always possible to predict which spots suit which students.
We have recently done a quick survey asking students what spaces they want in the library and the demand was equal for group study space and individual space, equal for silent space and for discussion space.  Also interestingly, the same students wanted each of these kinds of spaces at different times.  
The library here is very busy and is vibrant and dynamic (in other words it does get noisy).  We don’t really have enough space yet students find the space that they need and continue to study in the library.  The silent floors are usually silent and we get very few complaints or comments about noise levels on these floors.  The entrance floor is noisy yet some students choose to work in that environment doing individual work and carry on quite happily.  The top floor which has PCs, printers, study spaces and books and journals is an eclectic mix that ebbs and flows through the semester. 
We do monitor the learning space to ensure that students adhere to the noise zone requirements and eat food and drink in the appropriate places. We do monitor the study tables and remind students not to leave items unattended and not to reserve seats (empty nests?). But we try to be flexible and respond to the needs and demands of students. 
The challenge is to provide a variety of study spaces and learning spaces so that students have a choice and can find a place that suits their needs when they need it. 

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).