Thursday, 10 January 2013

Making an impact: the libraries@cambridge 2013 conference

 The 2013 libraries@cambridge conference certainly made an impact on me. I left the day feeling refreshed, revitalised, rejuvenated and anything but rested! Three themes really stood out for me throughout the day: measuring our impact, evaluating what we do and why we do it, and the ever growing need to manage our student and academic partnerships. There has been a lot of debate as to whether students are customers; personally I think that whilst they’re not customers in the commercial sense, they deserve the same if not higher standards of excellent customer care. Partners was a term suggested throughout the day and I admit that I like this idea. We should start to see students as partners in their own learning and adacemics as partners with library professionals to provide strong services that underpin the organisation’s mission. We need to bridge that link between libraries and academics and students; perhaps by seeing us all as partners and by emphasising the benefits of such an approach to each party from their point of view, we can start this process.

Liz Jolly gave a really thought provoking keynote address on the topic of measuring the impact that we as a library service make in terms of the mission and values of our organisation. We librarians are good at collectiong statistical data but how often is what we collect really forming an evidence base? What does footfall really tell us about what goes on with library resources once our users are in the building? 


We need to colect data that is relevant to our organisational mission. We need to show how library services and resources directly affect student performance and development.
Which led us quite nicely onto Dave Pattern and Graham Stone’s presentation on the JISC funded Library Impact Data Project. This project sets out to directly show correlation between use of library resources and degree classification. The slight problem that I had was that, despite the impressive statistical data, the missing link is always that we cannot know exactly how students use our resources. A book loaned doesn’t always equal a book read. Perhaps the person looking at an ebook for an hour really is reading it. Maybe they fell asleep. We’ll never know! It is a really valuable project nevertheless because even if we have some data showing a trend towards more library use equalling better degree, it gives us a certain level of concrete proof of our impact to take forward to our stakeholders, i.e. our non-librarian managers. We can prove that we make an impact and that our resources matter. However, it would be good to have impact measurement data of librarians as well as library resources; the information skills training that we give does directly feed into the learning process.

Evaulation came again to the forefront of my mind during the breakout session. We were asked to divide into teams and run a shop. The point was quite evident from the start, that there were far too many processes and we needed to evaluate our workflows to ensure the most effective practices were being carried out, but the added role play element gave particpants a freedom to make decisions and speak out. I think evaluation is really important. However, evaluation does not have to mean change. If we evaluate something and consider it the most useful and efficient way, then it should indeed remain.

After a lovely lunch, I was lucky enough to be asked to be on the panel for a talk given by Start Hunt on the future of cataloguing. There is an ever growing mass of things to catalogue in so many different formats and a lot of the data being pulled into library discovery platforms is not traditional controlled data. Because of these reasons, libararians need to accept that the data they provide on catalogues is increasingly not under local control. The issue of workflow evaluation came up again as Stuart discussed the extent to which we should check our records. Comments from the panel ranged from a discussion of the Cambridge Digital Library to concerns over quality and usefulness of data to the need for faculties to have competent cataloguers with sound judgement as records are not always available for downloading. Certainly for foreign languages and films, I catalogue from scratch a lot of the time (and if the records were there, I’d use them!)

We finished off the day with an inspired pecha kucha session. I’d never heard of this means of presenting before so I was interested to see how it worked. It was great to have the opportunity to hear about five diverse things that are all going on right now across our libraries, ranging from environmental concerns and induction teaching to timeline projects, cpd collaborations and pastoral care in Cambridge College libraries. All in all, #lac13 was a great and inspiring day. The main thing that stood out for me was measuring impact and showing how crucial our libraries and librarians are by tying our work closely with the mission and values of the University. And catching up with all the other #camlibs was, as ever, a pleasure!

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