Friends Toasting at a Party

I thought I’d continue the tradition I started last year and end 2009 by posting a reflective blog post about the year.

It’s been a year full of ups and downs, mainly ups thankfully – although at times it’s been difficult to focus on the positives, I’ve learnt a lot this year about myself.

This time last year I had recently started my first professional librarian job, and one year in I’m really enjoying it – it was definitely worth all the hard work completing my Diploma. I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects such as improving the way we manage inductions, sharing information about our information literacy provision via an online shared calendar, communicating with our users via online technologies such as social media, and an evaluation of a collection leading to a lot of weeding and rearrangement of one of our rooms. It’s a part time position which has also given me the opportunity to also develop other areas.

I’ve learnt a lot more about marketing thanks to my work with my boyfriend at Cookies and Java, and this has given me inspiration for my MSc Dissertation. I had hoped I’d complete it this year to be honest, but life took over and my new target is the end of next year (this may also be too ambitious, we’ll see!).

I’ve also been able to spend time focusing my efforts on researching areas which really interest me, and I’ve done a heck of a lot of professional reading this year – books, journal articles, conference papers and blog posts. I’ve also attended conferences (highlights include the CoFHE Conference, New Professionals Conference, The Library Show and Middlemash – which I still need to write up!), training events, and participated in a number of other events online.

One major achievement for me this year is that I have spoken at two events, the New Professionals Conference and the CILIP Graduate Open Day. I was incredibly nervous but must have enjoyed it since I’ve volunteered myself for more! I’m really glad I decided to give it a go and am particularly thankful to my boss who encouraged me to go for it, and to role models such as Meredith Farkas for their inspiration and advice to push yourself that little bit further.

I’ve authored and coauthored more journal articles and it’s been really exciting to see my name in print. I’ve also continued to write posts for this blog, and really enjoy sharing my ideas and particularly getting comments back from readers. As I touched on last year, blogging has become integrated into my routine and is a really useful avenue for reflection or sharing ideas; it’s something I have also encouraged others to do this year.

My professional network has grown so much in 2009, particularly with other UK librarians and new professionals, and I think this is a massive highlight of 2009. The growth of popularity of Twitter has contributed enormously to this, and there are a number of new UK librarian bloggers too. I’ve also been able to meet a number of these people face to face this year which has been great (I was particularly starstruck when I met Phil Bradley at the Library Show), and I hope to meet more in 2010.

Being more connected with the librarian network in the UK has made me excited about what the future might bring for the profession, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to be a part of that change. The New Professionals Conference was a really positive event – there was so much enthusiasm and energy and it was great to meet other new professionals. Many of these, including myself, are now becoming more active in the future of the profession by becoming CILIP activists or even just making sure their voice is heard – the CILIP 2.0 event earlier in the year showed just how much people evidently have to say. CILIP’s Big Conversation in 2010 will hopefully bring some exciting ideas (although I share other’s worries that the initial invitation seems elitist).

I’m looking forward to the challenges of 2010 – for me personally that will include my MSc Dissertation, marketing responsibility for CILIP West Midlands, speaking at the CoFHE/UC&R conference, and possibly starting my Chartership. There will also be new challenges within my job role due to a restructure, and within the library profession as a whole with the changes in society, the economy and education. All I can say is bring it on, here’s to 2010! Happy New Year everyone 🙂

Due to the nature of my career history so far (numerous temporary contracts and moving campuses), I have changed jobs a lot in the last few years. In just over four years at my current place of work I’ve had five interviews, five different jobs (four in the same job role but different locations and contracts), and worked at three different campuses. I’m now in my first professional post which I started just over a year ago.

I’ve become pretty accustomed to moving around and having different jobs, so having a permanent librarian job is a bit of a novelty. However, it’s got past that twelve month period now and although a lot of the time I still feel like the new girl (I hadn’t worked at this campus before and many of the staff have worked here for a long time), part of me is wondering where I’m supposed to go next. I guess it’s because I’m so used to changing jobs, and also because by nature I’m very reflective (need to get myself registered for Chartership really to make the most of it!). I think it’s also maybe because I’m at the beginning of my career so am still very keen and enthusiastic!

Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy my job and there’s a lot I want to learn and improve upon, but there’s a side of me that’s ready for a new challenge. I have my dissertation which I hope to begin soon (I sent my proposal off recently – see my recent blog post) and as mentioned I’m hoping to start my Chartership also, and I’ve just become part of the CILIP West Midlands committee – I guess those things should challenge me!

I think I’ve just come to realise that my work side is very different to my personal side where I’m pretty averse to change, maybe they balance each other out?! I suppose it’s a good thing for me that we will be going through a restructure soon, hopefully it will bring with it new challenges.

The words big deal written on a sheet of paper

The time has finally come – I just can’t put it off any more! I’ve been taking a break from studying whilst I settle into my new job, but I can’t really use that excuse anymore as I’ve been in this job for over a year now.

I’ve been researching ideas for my dissertation for a while now, and have been spending a lot of time reading, researching and thinking – now it’s time to do some real work. I’ve been talking to lots of people about my ideas; I must mention special thanks to Sarah Oxford from University of Worcester who I visited in the summer (for a totally different reason!) and really inspired me to start properly thinking about my dissertation and continue research in a similar area to her own.

I have finally narrowed down my topic to marketing in HE libraries in the UK, although I’m still refining the methodology. Having worked on a part-time basis with my boyfriend and his marketing business, I am interested in the strategic marketing side of things, as I feel libraries should probably be doing more of this. I’d like to find out what, if any, market research UK academic libraries are currently involved in, if they have a marketing strategy, and who holds responsibility for the direction of the marketing.

I’m also interested in innovative marketing methods, and hope to do a case study approach for a few of these. I would like to know more about how academic libraries in the UK are currently using social media, so one of these may be good as a case study (e.g. a successful library blog/Facebook/Twitter account) but from a marketing point of view rather than a technical point of view.

I submitted a dissertation proposal earlier this month but haven’t heard anything back yet. The working title is “Marketing UK Higher Education libraries: a current perspective”. I imagine there will be some alterations and suggestions for improvement, but I hope the research area is agreed in principle and that I can be assigned a dissertation supervisor soon. I have to be honest, I have found distance learning difficult – it’s great to be able to work at your own pace and when I was really keen to work through the Diploma everything was fine, but it’s been isolating at times, especially when home life or work life takes over and you lose motivation for studying. I went to the research study school to prepare for the dissertation in September 2008, which seems like a lifetime away now.

Hopefully I’ll be able to start work on my dissertation properly next year, and if you work in a UK academic library (and particularly if you have responsibility for marketing!) I may well be in touch begging for help!

This may well be my last blog post before Christmas – if so, Seasons Greetings to all readers and I hope you enjoy the festivities whatever you get up to. 🙂

Students at tables in library work space, woman smiling, portrait

I was pleased to be able to attend CoFHE Mid-West/UC&R’s recent event “Tell us what you want (what you really, really want…): Library surveys and promotion on a shoestring”. The morning session looked at ways of getting user feedback through surveys and focus groups, and the afternoon focused on marketing initiatives to promote academic library services. Despite an interesting journey (Kassam Stadium is very hidden and not easy to find from the bus service out of Oxford), I managed to find my way there having found other delegates on the same bus!

Following tea, coffee and biscuits (and allowing time for presentations to be converted to the correct Word format!), the day began with a presentation from Anne Rowlands and Stephen Cullimore from Barnet College. They shared their experiences of using surveys and shared some good practice about the structure of a questionnaire, when and how to do it, and the types of questions to ask (e.g. open, closed, free text). At Barnet College they were interested in getting user feedback about their Learning Centres and devised a short 4 question survey which automatically loaded when users logged onto a PC (once for each user). Using this method they gathered 2600 responses; a higher response rate that the general student satisfaction survey at the college. Some of the data may shape the future of the service, although Anne stressed the importance of using a trial period (e.g. if students request longer opening hours) to assess and evaluate whether the change is feasible and if real use reflects the views expressed in the survey. Anne and Stephen hope to further their work to ensure they reach a wider audience (their current feedback was only from those who used the PCs in the Learning Centre in a certain period of time which could have skewed their results). They also hope to use the data to feed into “You say, we say” displays to demonstrate the importance of user feedback.

The next presentation was about focus groups, by Jan Haines from Oxford Brookes University. Jan’s talk was particularly interesting for me as I’m interested in learning more about how focus groups can be used and how to run them. She discussed the advantages of a focus group – qualitative, subjective feedback where the group can build on other’s ideas and are often more willing to talk than in an individual interview. Jan recommended using focus groups when you require in-depth information on a particular area, and using a group who share something in common. She went on to share some advice on the who, what, where, and when of planning and focus group as well as some advice on publicity and promotion, what to do on the day (before, during and after), and how to analyse the data and provide feedback to users (both those involved in the focus groups and those the decisions may impact upon). Unfortunately, despite all this research and forethought, Oxford Brookes still struggled to get participants for their focus group, highlighting how difficult this methodology can be (this issue was also raised recently at Middlemash, where Owen Stephens and others shared their experiences of lack of interested participants and no shows in their own focus groups). Jan’s presentation was really interesting and certainly gave me a lot to think about in practical terms of using focus groups.

We broke for lunch at this point – excellent variety although sadly a lack of labels (people are always interested in a food report so wouldn’t want to miss out that important point!). The afternoon session was handed over to Terry Kendrick, who was previously a librarian and now combines consultancy work with employment as a lecturer in marketing. His credentials certainly made him appropriate for a marketing event about libraries, and he didn’t disappoint.

Terry began with some basic principles of marketing, and a particularly eye-opening task. He asked us to think about the last time we studied for a course and asked it to think about the main reasons for doing it. He separated us into two groups; those who were passionate about the subject and just wanted to learn more, and those who were interested in the subject but mainly did it to get a qualification. Needless to say, the majority of the room (including myself) moved to the latter group. Terry then pointed out that if libraries market themselves by talking about all their “stuff”, our message will only interest the small minority that are incredibly passionate and always want to know more. If we want to reach the other group, we need to tailor our messages for their needs – being able to save time for example, or improve grades. This message really stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since – as both an undergraduate and postgraduate student, I didn’t use the library that much. I use electronic resources, and as an undergraduate I spent a lot of time in the library to use the PCs (in the days before internet access in halls of residence!), but I didn’t take advantage of many of the library services that were no doubt available to me. I’m now analysing our marketing far more – how would I market to someone like myself?

The afternoon was packed full of lots of activities and sharing ideas for marketing initiatives, with a particular focus on word of mouth marketing. Terry stressed the power a good testimonial can have in terms of marketing, particularly if the message is from someone that users see as having similar needs to themselves. We need to give our users a reason to talk about the library and build active communication channels to enable these interactions. One such example of these is the frequently seen “Share this with a friend” type features on the web (for example, I use ShareThis on my blog – but can you do this on your library website and online catalogue?).

Another key message I took from the afternoon was the importance of how we contact users, with what message, and when. This is something I am particularly interested in – I support the work of my boyfriend’s marketing business two days a week, and it leads to some interesting conversations. I come from a more service-based environment, mainly B2C (business to consumer), whereas my boyfriend mainly works in the B2B (business to business) market, primarily supporting products rather than services. One of the things we agree on (yes, despite these differences a lot of our ideas about marketing are fundamentally the same!) with regards to marketing is the growing importance of relationship marketing. Terry emphasised elements of this by pointing out that if the library sends mass emails, people may well see this as an intrusion, and if it is not relevant to them at that particular moment (highly likely!), they will begin to think of the library brand as one which is an irritant to them and not very helpful. Over time, this can have a massive effect on the brand perception of the library, and we therefore need to think very carefully about the messages we convey, how, and when. In particular, we need to make sure they are relevant and timely.

As you can probably tell, I got a lot out of the training event and would thoroughly recommend going to one of Terry’s sessions if you get the opportunity. A lot of the areas covered have stayed with me and made me think critically about our own marketing efforts. The morning sessions were also very interesting, particularly as they each focussed on a certain technique common to library marketing research. I also met some fantastic people – the table I sat on had some fascinating conversations, both from an FE and a HE perspective, and it was really interesting to share our thoughts and experiences and discuss new ideas to improve marketing within our institutions. Many thanks to CoFHE Mid West/UC&R for organising such an enjoyable event! 🙂