Paper in typewriter listing Blog

I’ve recently co-authored an article with Christine Rooney-Browne for Refer, the journal of the Information Services group of CILIP, which has now been published in the Autumn 2009 issue. Refer offer some of the material from their journal online at REFERplus, and our article is available in pdf format, please feel free to read and let myself or Christine know what you think.

The article, “Blogging: an opportunity to communicate, participate and collaborate on a global scale”, is written primarily for reference librarians, although the majority of the material is general in nature. It was an interesting article to write; much of the material we already knew through our research interests and the fact that we both already blog ourselves, but it was interesting to research further into blogging and particularly some of the blogs written by, or for, reference librarians. We found blogs used internally for teams of reference librarians to assist each other in their work on the reference desk, reference blogs written about library services for the general public, and I also mentioned a personal favourite of mine, Swiss Army Librarian, which features a “Reference Question of the Week” – I always enjoy reading the enquiries he has had and how he answered them.

The process of co-writing the article was a new thing for me – we used e-mail and a wiki to communicate, and bought it all together towards the end in a Word document. I’ve also been trying out Google Wave recently though (feel free to get in touch if you’d like to add me as a contact), and I imagine something like Wave would make it even easier in the future to collaborate in such ways. It was good to bring our different knowledge and interests together in the article and I’m really quite pleased with the result. Many thanks to Christine, whom it was a pleasure to work with. 🙂

colette shopping bag by Karl Hab, on Flickr

I’ve just finished reading Paco Underhill’s book Why we buy: the science of shopping, which was recommended during Rachel Van Riel’s talk at the CoFHE conference earlier this year. It’s a fascinating book for anyone interested in marketing, retail or human behaviour. The version I read was the 2000 edition so there have obviously been more developments in the way we shop since then (in one chapter he talks about the futuristic way we may scan our own shopping in at the supermarket!), but a lot of the principles discussed I imagine remain. This is of particular importance now that we are experiencing the “consumer generation”

The main points I took from the book include the following (many of which are common sense but rarely considered):

  • The transition zone – first few metres of a store require people to adjust to the lighting, temperature and other environmental factors and we therefore do not tend to notice much in this area
  • Product placement is crucial – the area of the store it is located in, the adjacencies (e.g. Charcoal near BBQs), and the way it is displayed on the shelf (also the shelf level bearing in mind potential consumers – lower for children, not too high or too low for elderly)
  • Flow of traffic can affect sales – queues may restrict browsing if there is little room, as may high traffic areas or smaller areas (due to a problem Underhill describes as “butt brushing” – being knocked into from behind, which is especially off putting for females)
  • People will buy more if they can carry it around the store more easily and especially if their hands are free to rummage and touch
  • People are more likely to buy something once they have touched it
  • Correct placement of signs is extremely difficult – need to think about where people are likely to look, not just where there is space
  • Sales aren’t the only record of how successful the store is (how many people browse but do not buy? How many begin queueing but give up after waiting? How many people are in different areas at a specific time? How easy is it to navigate? etc etc…)

It got me thinking about how some of these principles could be applied to libraries, and I can certainly see why Rachel recommended the book and where some of her research in libraries stems from.

I thought I’d share some of my initial thoughts on how the browsing experience could be improved in libraries:

    1. Books facing out on shelves – preventing what Rachel referred to as “browser’s neck” (bending to read the spines). Outward facing books can grab people’s attention but can also help if someone is looking for a particular book; I frequently get students who are looking for “the green book on study skills, I’ll know it when I see it” and it’s a lot easier to find covers rather than spines.
    2. Book displays – can be a useful way of increasing borrowing as you encourage people to touch the books, however also need to be aware that displays should not be perfectly neat as people could assume it is just for show and not to be touched or borrowed. Underhill recommended in some stores that employees purposely mess up some displays and found that their sales increased.
    3. Bestseller lists – Underhill recommends large freestanding bestseller lists for bookstores and video stores; these could be used to good effect for book lists, particularly in public libraries (e.g. Richard and Judy lists), but how about lists of the most commonly borrowed books, recently received books or books on a particular topical issue?
    4. Utilising queues with impulse borrowing/buying and information – queues are one place where Underhill recommends using information leaflets and boards for two reasons – to take advantage of everyone looking in a certain direction for an amount of time, and aso to help reduce customer perception of waiting time (anything over 2mins and customers will feel like it was a lot longer and can lead to dissatisfaction of service). How about some impulse bookmarks, bags, leaflets, marketing materials or stationary too? It’s certainly made me think about the other areas people may be waiting – for example utilising space outside study skills advisor rooms so that people have something to read whilst waiting (and we have a way of getting our messages across!).
    5. Ensuring there are enough chairs around the building – generally I don’t think libraries are too bad at this but I have seen examples where all the seating is in one area and the shelves in another; there really should be somewhere to sit near the books so that people can examine them more clearly if necessary.
    6. Giving people something to store their books in – this is something I’d particularly like to do as I know it’s a common issue for our students. Wouldn’t it be great if on the edge of the shelves (not at the entrance as people don’t tend to know if they’ll need one until they’ve examined the stock) there were a collection of reusable bags, like supermarket bags for life, that people could use to carry their books around the library (thus enabling them to carry more) and then offer them the option of purchasing when they borrow the books. I know I’d appreciate something like that and am sure I’d buy one that I could then reuse. I’ve seen some of our students bring reusable bags from public libraries and I think we’re really missing a trick by not having our own. This could increase revenue, make life easier for our users, and also market the service if people use them around campus.

These are some of the initial thoughts I had; I really enjoyed the book and would certainly recommend it – it’s given me a lot of food for thought! Are there any other things libraries can learn from retail, or any you have already seen evidence of? Please share in the comments, I think there is scope for really improving libraries by following the success of the retail environment. 🙂

Last Friday was CILIP’s Graduate Open Day where I spoke about Realising your potential: marketing yourself using online tools.

Emma Illingsworth and Ned Potter have written posts about the day, but I thought I’d add my own views too.There seemed to be a lot of people there; I spoke to Kathy Ennis and Lindsay Rees-Jones (nice to put a face to the name!) who were really pleased with the number of people at the event. It was great to catch up with Emma, Ned and Chris Rhodes who were also speaking – all of whom I met earlier at the New Professionals Conference. There were a wide range of students and graduates there – some who were only really beginning to consider librarianship as a career option, others who had finished their librarianship degree and were now looking for work.

The day was very relaxed, and gave the opportunity for the delegates to do what they needed to do – whether it was just to find out more information about librarianship, come along to some of the talks, or whether they needed tailored 1:1 careers or CV advice. The speed networking sessions seemed very popular and the buzz from the room was incredible! There were a number of “networkers” from various different fields of librarianship/information profession and the “networkees” moved around and spent 3 minutes chatting to each one. It’s a great idea and hopefully they will have got a lot out of the session about the variety of different jobs you can go into within the information profession.

I did a very similar talk to the one at the New Professionals Conference earlier in this year (see below for presentation), although expanded a little bit more on some of the areas as I had more time allocated.

I also tried to use Twitter in the first talk by posting a message before the session asking people to say hi and include the tag #grad09, and then checking it at the end to see who was around. Unfortunately only one person replied in time, but it still showed that there are librarians out there using Twitter. In hindsight, I would have liked to make my sessions more interactive, but I had expected larger numbers – I was expecting maybe 50 in each group, but in reality both groups had around 20-25, a much more manageable number for interactive tasks. One of my talks sparked an interesting discussion about privacy issues on social networking, where the general consensus was that it is the role of educators (including librarians) to discuss these issues when advocating the use of them. This has also been touched on recently in the UK press regarding the controversial decision to include social networking in the primary curriculum. Personally, I think it’s more important to teach the principles of the communication tools and how to use (and not to use) them rather than the tools themselves, but that’s a whole other blog post.

In between my sessions I had a look round CILIP HQ as it was my first visit, and was pleased to find the Information Centre – which is open to all CILIP members Mon-Fri 9-5 (sadly not at weekends or evenings due to the position of the centre). Even more exciting was seeing my name in print in a copy of the latest issue of the Program journal in there, and also a mention in the latest issue of Impact, the Career Development Group journal. Hopefully, my articles in Open Access and Refer (will post about this when it is published) will also join them soon. 🙂

I had a quick nosy at the materials in there which may be useful for researching my MSc dissertation, but they didn’t have some of the books I’m looking for – the CILIPInfo team have since been in touch asking for suggestions of new additions to stock though, great service! It’s a good information centre for information professionals; latest copies of LIS journals (including the local branch and CILIP group journals), a collection of books and reports, a reference section, as well as PCs with database access, and of course a photocopier. For anyone living in or near London it’s a great resource, and worth a visit by anyone else if they’re visiting CILIP at any point. I also discovered that CILIP members are now entitled to two free careers advice sessions per year with qualified careers professionals, and these can be taken at a distance by phone or email.

Whilst I had the opportunity, I also had a chat with Michael Martin about qualifications as I’m interested in chartering and wanted to find out more. It certainly seems like a good thing for me to do, I just need to decide whether to tackle it at the same time as my dissertation or not. Part of me is inclined to do it now as I’m at the beginning of my professional career and will probably find it of most use. I’m also already doing a lot of the activities that I could do for my chartership, and am already reflecting by blogging. Having said that, I’ve already put off my dissertation for almost a year and don’t really want it to drag too much (as it’s a flexible course I have until September 2011 to complete the MSc). I’m still at the early research stage of my dissertation but will be posting some thoughts soon and would really appreciate advice!

All in all it was a great event – both as a speaker talking to potential future information professionals, and as an excuse to visit CILIP HQ and find out more about the organisation.

In my last post, I mentioned that I would be writing a post about how I got into librarianship, following a meme going round. Ned Potter has now set up a Library Routes wiki to record all these posts, in a similar way to the Day in the Life wiki. It’s really interesting reading everyone’s posts and I also think it could be very useful for anyone considering entering the profession to see how others got there. Here’s my story anyway…

I always wanted to be a primary school teacher – from as far back as I can remember that’s what I wanted to do. Throughout my time at school, the curriculum changed with more and more emphasis on performance in tests/exams and less importance on the child’s learning experience as a whole. The amount of planning and standards to adhere to also seem to restrict creativity in teaching and I just didn’t think it was for me.

I’m a qualified gymnastics coach (I used to compete in Sports Acrobatics until I left University) and had been coaching through my teenage years; I loved coaching but found it difficult to turn off afterwards, particularly when there were kids I was coaching who had problems at home. This confirmed teaching wasn’t right for me – I admire those who teach but for me I don’t think I’m mentally strong enough.

I finished my A-levels and because I wasn’t 100% sure about teaching I decided to do a regular degree and then I could always do a PGCE if teaching was the route I wanted to take. I really enjoyed the theory side of my PE A-level, so decided to apply for courses in Sports Science. I was also contemplating doing Maths (yes, I’m one of those weirdos who loves Maths), and I did consider a joint degree but in the end settled on doing Sports Science at University of Wales, Bangor. I loved my degree, and focused on Sports Psychology which fascinates me (I also did Psychology at A level and am really interested in studying people). I got a first in my degree (yay me!), then wondered what on earth to do next. I’d definitely ruled out teaching for the time being, and I didn’t fancy being a sports psychologist (although was tempted by an MSc/PhD route to lecturing).

However, we then moved to Wolverhampton (due to job prospects for my boyfriend), so I started looking for a job. I’d begun to try to look into librarianship (not really sure why, think it was suggested to me on an online test, and the idea of staying within education in some way appealed to me). I struggled to find any information in my careers library at Bangor or on the net (plenty of American information, not much in the UK), so I went to a jobcentre in Wolverhampton where I was told that they wouldn’t help me find a job because I lived with my boyfriend rather than my parents.

Feeling a bit deflated, I decided to get some voluntary library experience and a local friend came with me to the libraries she knew. I asked at the University and was told they don’t take people for voluntary experience, then tried the public library where I spent a day being told about the dodgy visitors to the library, scary experiences in the evening, and that there weren’t any jobs and I’d just have to wait until someone retired. It was all looking a bit bleak but a library assistant job came up in two of my local libraries, and my friend managed to get some work experience for me in the local high school too. I absolutely loved working in the school library, and the librarian there is fabulous – I still keep in touch when I can.

I was successful in one of the library assistant jobs, and was waiting for a CRB check to start working every Sunday for 3 hours – a whole £50/month! I spent a few weeks at the school in the meantime and then0 a graduate traineeship came up at the University library. The school librarian I was with used to work at the University too so she gave me an inytroduction to what it was like and I decided to go for it. I waited ages after I’d sent in my application and thought I hadn’t got an interview – but then on the last day I got a letter inviting me to interview. The interview was pretty intense – I had to do a presentation followed by a panel interview, and I have to admit I didn’t have a clue about some of it – I was asked about journal database providers and the librarian situation in Bangor (as an undergrad I don’t even know if we had a librarian and I did use Sports Discus but had no idea what platform it was on!). I didn’t think I stood much of a chance but got a call that evening to say that they hadn’t made a decision yet but that I was in the shortlist. The following morning I got the call to say I’d got the job and could I start the following week!

The job was a one year contract, and since then I’ve shifted campuses and worked different contracts, usually for a year each time, whilst I studied for my Information and Library Studies course via distance learning (Aberystwyth). I worked at the public library on Sundays for just over a year, but gave that up when I started my course. Last year I finished the Diploma section of my course, and shortly after I applied for a Resources Librarian post at yet another campus. I got the job, and am now almost a year into my first professional librarian post. I still need to complete my dissertation to get the MSc, but I am really loving librarianship – it’s the perfect career for someone like me who enjoys a variety (with the exception of Art and History I loved all school subjects), likes flexibility and different job tasks, and wants to help people. It really is the best combination for me – I still get to teach but I get to do so much more too! 🙂

If you’re working in the information profession, it would be great to hear your story – you can write a blog post if you have a blog and link to it from the Library Routes wiki, or if you don’t have a blog you can write a page on the wiki (there are instructions on the home page). Looking forward to hearing other’s stories! 🙂