Journal Clubbing – Understanding Academics: a UX ethnographic research project at the University of York

Summer edition of my team journal club this time we read

Blake, M. and V. Gallimore (2018). “Understanding academics: a UX ethnographic research project at the University of York.” New Review of Academic Librarianship: 1-25.

I picked this article as I was interested both in the methods used and the potential findings.  I lead on UX work and Uni of York consistently do interesting things in the liaison and engagement sphere so this was an easy one to select.

Overall it left us wanting more.  The methodology section was very light and did not address a number of questions that would have been useful to support the article.  There is no detail of the recruitment strategy or of the semi structured interview schedule for example.  We wanted to know more about the cognitive maps and it would have been great to see a bit of these. While we know that new contacts were made we do not know to what extent the data were gathered from already friendly faces.  They would at least have been sufficiently well disposed towards the library to engage in an extended interview exercise.

The description of academic lives was felt interesting but not surprising. We did wonder if there was a nervousness in writing something that would be published and visible to the interviewees given the emphasis on relationship building.  Generally we wanted to push further into the questions.  A colleague had recently attended a “secret life of an academic” talk where a number of important topics were discussed that have not surfaced in the article at all.  We wondered about the absence of research data management from a library perspective.

Finally we wanted to know more about the changes that had resulted.  This was clearly a major undertaking and the need to see impact from this was felt imperative.  The section on how the data was used to generate user requirement for a change of Reading List software would have been brilliant to read – how did they do this? what difference did it make versus what was known already? etc.

Having said all this – it was a good article for our journal club prompting lots of discussion.  We had useful thoughts on what we might want to know from academics and how we might ask them.  And colleagues at York definitely have expertise and experience we would value!

 

 

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On reading – Frugal Innovation

When I started in libraries a couple of years ago (ahem) I thought we were pretty stretched budget wise.  It turns out I started in a period of relative plenty for NHS libraries with a relative flood of cash coming into the system.  Despite that we were always trying to see how to make the money go further while dealing with the expanding possibilities from all things tech.

And here we are now – pressure on the money we have, not a lot of money in prospect, ever growing demands and possibilities.  So what to do?

I saw a positive review of “Frugal Innovation – how to do better with less” (2016) Radjou, N. & Prabhu, J. so thought it might be worth a read (you can check out the brief version and watch the TED Talk if you like).

The book is heavily based in the corporate world but is useful for all that.  There are a wealth of case studies included which help illustrate successes (but not much talk of failures that I recall).  The authors identify six principles for frugal innovation that I will consider in a library context.

Principle 1 – engage and iterate

I think there is a lot of potential for libraries here.  A big part is how we can become more agile.  Smaller NHS libraries have a real advantage here. A small team working in a manageable sized organisation can rapidly take an idea from light bulb moment to launch (provided it doesn’t cost too much money!).  I loved working like this and always enjoy seeing people doing things like this in the Sally Hernando awards.  My experience is that this kind of agility is definitely harder to drive in the much larger services found in a university environment.

We are increasingly active in seeking (and gaining) engagement with the users of our services. This can only be to the benefit of the service.  We are not our users and the more we can understand their motivations, needs and world the stronger the chance of us innovating towards them.  UX work is making great progress with understanding the library in the life of the user.

Principle 2 – flex your assets

A lot of the examples in this chapter are from manufacturing.  Sharing resources is a path libraries have long pursued and there may be yet more mileage to go.  We could consider also how we can improve our supply chain. Big academic services still buy a lot of stuff so there must be potential to work better with suppliers to direct this.

In many cases libraries have a significant amount of prime space and there have been some good initiatives aimed at bringing related activities into that space to drive better uptake of evidence resources and services.  How might we package our services differently to bring them closer to the people who need them?

Principle 3 – develop sustainable solutions

Improving our sustainability can have positive impacts.  For manufacturers they can turn waste products into other products or find others who need to buy them.  There are markets for our used books (though most things are only fit for pulp when we have finished with them).  Encouraging reduced use of plastic can have an impact on our waste bills.  Sustainability is also a big driver for many of our staff and can create real engagement around thinking about how we might encourage reduced use of paper for example.

Principle 4 – shape customer behaviour

There are some interesting ideas here about gamification and visualisation.  These cna be used to encourage positive behaviours.  Currently peoples data is quite locked up in our systems – could we provide ways for people to understand the pattern of research they carried out with our tools?  Another area where we might find interesting lessons is around the use of social pressure.  With pressure on study space at peak times we might explore ways to encourage good citizenship.

Principle 5 – co create value with prosumers

This should be a great one for libraries as once you strip away the awful prosumers term you are talking about building relationships with engaged library users to create champions.  NICE Evidence champions have been an effective means to support peer to peer teaching and building expertise in the user base has the potential to greatly extend our reach.  Perhaps there is the scope to bring more people into our teams in loose ways?  Can we power up the PDNs or rope in the pharmacists?

Principle 6 – make innovative friends

We could all do with more friends.  It would be great to see a more systematic approach to using the good stuff in the Sally Hernando Awards.  We should also look at working our way into the Academy of Fab Stuff (I know some are already there) as this will put us in touch with people who are moving things forward and looking to improve.  Working through networks is the norm for NHS libraries in particular and I would argue that this is the base for hyper collaboration options.  It would be good to see us getting more interesting people involved with improving library interfaces.

All in all this was an interesting book.  The business orientation is a bit of a barrier but the ideas shine through.  Time to do more with less again!

 

 

 

On reading – Libraries and Key Performance Indicators (2017) Appleton

One of the fun things I did last year was contribute a case study based on my work with the KfH Metrics Task and Finish Group to the book “Libraries and key performance indicators: a framework for practitioners” by Leo Appleton.

Cover of book

I was really pleased to have the opportunity to share our work in this way and to get my name in print!

Prompted by reading a review of the book (in the December issue of the HLG Newsletter) and by an upcoming workshop I am preparing for health librarians in the North I thought I would have a read myself.

It is a compact book at 150 or so pages including references.  I think brevity has a lot to recommend it in a practical text and this could be dipped into or read completely fairly quickly.  It covers a lot of ground in a short time including a useful review of past efforts at performance management in library services and the influence of current trends around user experience approaches.  There are a number of examples from different library sectors which is useful for widening the perspective.

There were areas where I would differ – for example around the amount of confidence that can be placed in the various statistical return series.  Changes are coming to the long standing NHS statistics return reflecting careful consideration of how useful a number of these measures are in practice – particularly given likely variation in collection.

The chapters on methods provide good overviews with references to follow up. The librarian tendency to count anything that moves has been exacerbated by the opportunities offered by digital resources to do this and the book is good on tempering this enthusiasm.  I would perhaps have liked more on how to manage a regular flow of qualitative data in such a way as to support KPIs.  A contribution to a bundle of performance indicators across a single KPI perhaps?

Terminology is a bit of a muddle and I found myself confused at times about what was being referred to.  A definition of a KPI is provided but merits clearer flagging.  While there were a lot of excellent warnings about potential pitfalls and dead ends I wonder if more could be done to highlight the positive ways forward?  The various case studies were useful in providing some idea of how people have been able to advance with this work.

It was a relief to read my case study in context and I think it makes a useful contribution to the book. The principles advanced in the NHS Metrics work are widely applicable and certainly supported by the wider research presented in the book.

Having declared my bias up front – I think this is a useful book and I hope people will read it!

Journal Clubbing – Subject vs functional

A new round of our team journal club.  This time some reading looking at different models for delivering liaison in academic libraries.

Subject vs. functional: Should subject librarians be replaced by functional specialists in academic libraries?

Catherine Hoodless, Stephen Pinfield


Journal of Librarianship and Information Science

First Published June 15, 2016
This was a good paper for prompting discussion in our group.  Locally we are operating in a functional model so it is helpful to have a picture of practice and motivation elsewhere.
The researchers carried out semi-structured interviews with 11 senior library managers in the UK.  Opinion was divided amongst them as to which was the right path to take. Unsurprisingly their view tended to reflect whether they had undertaken a shift to a functional model or not.
The drivers for change felt familiar and prompted discussion of how important consistency was.  Subject librarians are like clinical librarians in that they are an expensive resource in limited supply with the potential to create big variations in level of service provision according to degree of involvement.  Strategic targeting of this resource is always going to be required.  The significant growth in HE over recent years is a big pressure on what sort of service can be offered to all.
The article shows evidence of how the models tend to get fudged with a continuum of activity.  Setting boundaries is a challenge in an emerging model. Role holders are generally getting to grips with a revised role rather than coming in to it fresh which must also have an impact.
As ever I found myself wanting to read more research on the effectiveness and impact of the different models.

Beyond authority – beyond late

Where is the time going?  Without the discipline of the CILIP Update backlog and with other competing priorities this blog has been something of a ghost town.

The academic year is also fast approaching it’s end and there are a number of tasks still to complete for the PDR.

One of those was to consider the book Beyond Authority: leadership in a changing world (2007) Julia Middleton.

I had picked this out as addressing a particular challenge for me in my leadership role in that I currently operate with no direct reports.  For my service to improve I need to affect change but this has to happen by working through partners, with limited funds and with people who I do not have particular authority over.

The book itself considers how leaders can operate beyond the traditional forms of authority granted by position or control of funds.  It considers how circles of authority relate to your place in your wider organisation and society in general.  When we move into the outer circles we need to lead beyond authority.  My role places me frequently in this position. Indeed I can feel like I am outside my circle much of the time while working to deliver a service for one sector from within another and as the employee of an external organisation with those I frequently work with most closely.

Key sources of power when operating in the outer circle are identified as communication / networks followed by personality and ideas.  It has certainly been my experience that good ideas will win people over but that you need to get a lot of people on board for them then to advance.

The book explores different roles for those leading beyond authority.  I am attempting to be a transformer in driving change and the book is useful in highlighting the potential to be used as a useful idiot or expert idiot.

The bulk of the book considers what is required to lead beyond authority.  I was generally encouraged by these. Elements around the right approach fitting my perception of my character.  People are key and it is important for me to build my networks but also to get outside my professional bubble.  The right methods section was where I have most work to do – this is about the long game but particularly about building strategic coalitions.  To do this a clear strategic message is vital.  Having been introduced to Strategy on a page as part of my NHS Leadership programme it seems a good place to start.

All in all a worthwhile read – I suspect that even those who feel they operate firmly within their own organisation and with the ability to direct a team to achieve their strategic goals would benefit from considering how they might reach out and work effectively beyond the library bubble.

On reading – an end to the Update updates?

I read quite a lot. I suspect this is not an unusual statement for people working in library and information roles.  Keeping up with the constant flood of things I want to read, happen to read and feel I should read is a challenge.  This blog has recorded the evidence of me working through one of my back logs and I have been tackling slightly smaller piles of a whole raft of other regular publications.  Generally things are starting to look okay with me reading about stuff that actually happened recently.  I haven’t really got back up on my blog reading – perhaps a next project.

Anyway – one conclusion from all the Update updates is that while I value some of the things I read I suspect that my ramblings are of less value (even to me).  Accordingly future Update updates will be perhaps be about a single item that particularly strikes the imagination.

I was pleased in the Dec 2016 / Jan 2017 issue to see a snippet about the publication of the Principles for Metrics report that was produced by a task and finish group I chaired for the Knowledge for Healthcare programme.  Work continues on creating ways to engage people and build their understanding of metrics (see previous posts on this). A new version of the quality metrics template is under development to help with this.

On a personal note I was glad to read an appreciation of Julian Lendon who died last year.  I never knew him but the Solihull Central Library he oversaw the planning and building of was a formative place for me.  This video preview for a talk there on Beatrice Cadbury gave me a chance for a little look around and is a nice example of how libraries make a difference.

Update November 2016 (and March 2015) and the end of the road

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It has been a long old struggle but this post covers the current issue of Update and the last of my backlog. The plan is not to let it get out of hand – there is no doubt that a current issue of Update is more interesting than one a year plus old.  While not always the most thrilling of publications I have continued to find the odd thing I have not heard about elsewhere and some really helpful brief articles on a wide variety of topics.

The October issue has a timely article on privacy and the Library user. My catch up reading meant I read another article by the same author (Paul Pedley) only the other day.  There is a handy list of potential paths to take to work with users around privacy issues.

I have already spoken to colleagues about the article by Wendy Morris on the Big Read at Kingston University. We are currently engaged on a mass reading project and there are valuable ideas here on how to build on the possibilities this offers.

South London colleague Sian Aynsley updates on the KfH Learning Zone. I heard a verbal update on this at #NHSHE2016 so this is more a reconfirmation of details of this helpful resource.

Finally in this issue I enjoyed reading about the experience of Sue Willis on the Libraries Taskforce. It is fascinating to have a glimpse at this task of influencing within government. The importance of adjusting communication styles to suit audience was an obvious take away.

And finally – May 2015!

I had already seen the Design Thinking for Libraries toolkit but this is well worth a look if you are interested in user experience and design thinking. There is a free book with all sorts of tips and ideas on how to learn more about users. I will probably read this again ahead of a project I am managing to use external consultants to help with this at work.

Finally there is an article explaining obligatory revalidation – sadly it didn’t make the case strongly enough to get it past the members!