Monthly Archives: November 2012

[throws book across counter in anger]

This is sort of a follow-on post from the previous one, as it concerns the afternoon of the same training day.

We started off by looking at Library policies and procedures using case studies. This was mainly interesting in a sort of gossipy way, as the case studies actually happened and the quotes were real. We split into small groups and were given six case studies to look at and decide what we would do in each scenario. They started off quite tame – a customer wants to take her child upstairs even though that’s not allowed – and built up to the one where a customer threw a book at a librarian because they’d only be able to take it out for a week. I mean, I knew dissertation time gets stressful, but throwing books?!

The upshot of the session is that there’s a policy for everything. We discussed ways of diffusing situations – if there’s a noisy person in a group room, speak to their group as a whole, rather than singling them out; suggest alternatives including e-books and journal searches when there are no copies left of a certain book; quote policies to students to back up what you’re saying. Perhaps these aren’t the most ground-breaking ideas, but they’re definitely good things to keep in mind.

One situation in particular caused some hot debate – a student caused a significant amount of damage to a number of books, and then got upset that even though they had paid for the damage, they could not then take the books home and keep them. Some staff were in favour of the student keeping the books – after all they can’t go back into circulation – and some staff were against it – they’ve paid for the damage, not the book, and if you let people “buy” the books it sends the message that they can do what they want to the book stock. The rules and regulations of the Library state that damaged items remain the property of the Library both before and after payment, and I think I would come down in favour of this – if we let people ruin the books and then buy them, we’d soon have no books left. It was interesting to see something that divides library staff so much being debated, and made me think about how difficult it must be to draw up policies and regulations, knowing that some of them will be quite controversial.

After this session we had two talks about alternative library careers. The first was from Bethan Ruddock, who is @bethanar on Twitter, and who was a GT at MMU herself. She was kind enough to share her slideshow on her blog, and it’s here if you’d like to see it yourself. She’s collected together paragraphs from various librarians and information professionals about what their jobs are all about, and it was really interesting to see the variety in job titles and responsibilities. Obviously certain aspects of library/information jobs are similar (they all involve working with information, duh), but the location, clients and day-to-day tasks can be wildly different. I think I’m still fairly set on getting into academic librarianship, but at least I now know that my future job title might be Knowledge Manager or Learning Resources Instructor, instead of Librarian. Bethan also raised some good points about job hunting, such as the importance of making sure you look good on Google – do your drunk Facebook photos come up first, or your LinkedIn profile, blog or Twitter account?

The other talk was from Nicola Siminson, who is the NoWAL Operations Officer. She spoke to us about her career path so far, which has been quite varied – she’s worked in lots of different types of organizations, and it was interesting to hear about the skills she gained from the different posts. Both Nicola’s and Bethan’s talks emphasised the importance of being willing to take certain risks with your career, and going for jobs that might not be the logical next step. Networking also seems to be a huge thing for librarians, and librarianship definitely seems to be a “who you know” profession. This would be great for us as trainees if anyone ever came to the networking drinks that are set up for us! At least we have each other…


Well, I’ve finally written up this training day, just in time for the next one. In mid-December we will be learning presentation skills and I can’t wait – I really like this sort of thing, so I’m feeling optimistic about it. Especially if I get to learn how to make a Prezi!

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Dealing with people: November Training Session

**Mammoth Blog Post Alert**

A couple of weeks ago we went to the next instalment of the Graduate Trainee Training Programme: Understanding Customer Communication. On the original training calendar this was called “Dealing with Difficult Customers”, which is slightly different in tone, but I was excited for whatever it ended up being, as customer interaction is a huge part of the job and I’m grateful for any tips I get!

We had been given some homework to do beforehand, which was to think of some difficult situations in the library that are challenging to deal with, and to fill in a questionnaire. I’ll talk a bit more about the questionnaire later, but we dealt with the first part of the homework first.

Our first task was to chat in pairs about how we felt about difficult situations. To help with this, we were given some cards with photos on. The photos ranged from a lion in mid-stride, a man looking at a glacier, a traffic jam and a spider web. I ended up choosing the man and the glacier, as I often feel that I don’t know where to start with people’s queries. I also mentioned that I would like to feel like the photo of an orchestra conductor – in control!

We then grouped up for discussion of different things – one group discussed sources of customer frustration, one group talked about helpful skills and behaviour when dealing with frustrated customers, and we thought about the most challenging behaviour displayed by frustrated customers. The first group came up with things like jargon, fines, lack of resources, IT problems and other people. We then looked at data collected by one of the librarians about what generates the most Library feedback. It was interesting to see that Library staff was the thing that comes up most frequently in feedback – thankfully it is overwhelmingly positive feedback! The second most talked-about topic in customer feedback is other users. This, unsurprisingly, is overwhelmingly negative – after all, you’re not going to fill in a comment card saying “the person sitting next to me is very quiet and well-behaved”, are you?! Other big topics included opening hours, temperature and stock levels – all mostly negative as well. It was interesting to hear from staff at other sites about what they thought would be the most complained-about things – staff from All Saints talked about their entry barriers, while staff from sites focused more on opening hours. I know that Gaskell has a big problem with the temperature, as we are based in an old building with single-glazed windows, but obviously this won’t be a problem in the shiny new All Saints library!

The seond group shared some of their ideas about helpful behaviour when dealing with difficult situations, and it was much as you’d expect – empathy, listening, open body language, remaining calm, that sort of thing. A good point raised was that it is much easier to be assertive when you’re confident in what you’re saying – so being informed and up-to-date on Library policies and procedures is a good idea.

We then shared some of the challenging behaviour we’d experienced from customers, which was stuff like not listening, being misinformed, and being impatient (I hate this!). An interesting thing to think about arose from this: Would this have frustrated you if it was the first customer of the day? I think the answer would be “no” more often than not, highlighting the importance of stopping for a second and collecting yourself before starting to deal with a customer.

We then looked at body language and non-verbal communication. Body language and tone of voice together make up 93% of your message, according to Albert Mehrabian. This is why it’s especially important to match how you’re acting to what you’re saying when dealing with customers – the listener can tell when you’re not sincere. To illustrate just how much we can tell from non-verbal signals, we looked at famous pictures of politicians, including this one of Bill Clinton showing just what he thinks of what Bob Dole’s saying in 1996:

Some interesting snippets of information for you from this: mirroring the other person’s behaviour makes them think you’ve got a good rapport; anxiety and stress send adrenaline to your arms and legs, making you fidget, and making nervous public speakers look so uncomfortable on stage; “pace and lead” is a good technique for modulating someone’s behaviour (e.g. matching someone’s volume before becoming quieter and calming them down). It’s important to deal with the emotion before the issue, otherwise you won’t get anywhere.

We then moved on to the really fascinating part of the session, which was all about Transactional Analysis. This is the Freudian idea that everyone has different states of being, which are all useful at different times. The trick is to recognise what state someone is in and to respond effectively. The three ego states are:

Parent – either Nurturing Parent (“well done”!) or Critical Parent (“don’t do that!”), dealing with manners and rules.

Adult – this is when you’re rational and assertive.

Child – either Free Child (“This is fun!”) or Adaptive Child (“I can’t do it!”), dealing with feelings. The Adaptive Child can be whiny and manipulative.

There’s no such thing as good or bad when it comes to ego states, but we all have a tendency to default to a certain one, and the challenge is to decide whether it’s the most useful one for the situation you’re in. This is where the questionnaire we did for homework came in: it had 61 statements which you had to put a + or – next to, depending on whether you agreed or disagreed with them. The statements were things like “I love fast driving”, “There is too much sex and violence on TV these days”, “Generally, I manage to keep a calm appearance when I am feeling very upset”. We got a point for each +, which went into the relevant Parent, Adult or Child column. When you add up your scores and plot them on a graph, you find out which ego state is your default. I am mostly a Child, which is not much of a surprise as I can be very impulsive (and have been known to be whiny on occasions). If you’re also a Child, this means you let emotions dominate your decisions; Adults let rationality guide them, and Parents are influenced most strongly by morals. You can teach yourself to change states, which I found quite interesting.

We watched a clip from the Apprentice, which you can watch here (the first scene and then from 2:30), illustrating times when being a Child or a Parent is not particularly useful, Philip. We also discussed how certain ego states are looking for certain responses; if someone says something like “I’m rubbish at doing presentations” (Adaptive Child state), they’re looking for a Nurturing Parent response – “don’t worry, I’ll help you”. Similarly, something you often see in customer situations is the customer saying something in their Critical Parent state (“the services here are rubbish!”), seeking a Child response (“oh no, I’m really sorry”). Although you might think that the best state for customer interactions is always Adult, this isn’t what the customer might be expecting, and it’s often better to adopt a circular approach: Act as they’re expecting first of all, then lead them round towards an Adult-Adult interaction. For example, the Parent statement “the services here are rubbish!” can be responded to with a Child statement, “I’m really sorry”, followed by a Parent statement, “I’m sure we can find a way of making this better”, finished up with an Adult question – “what would you like me to do?”. This hopefully provokes an Adult, rational answer. Another good tactic is to make the other person work hard, especially if they’re in Adaptive Child state – ask them questions such as “what have you tried already?” or “what do you think should happen now?”. This forces them to stop playing the “game” they’re playing with you.

After looking a little bit at these different roles, it’s really interesting to watch people interacting and to work out what states they’re in. The session was really thought-provoking and will definitely come in useful when situations arise in the library. Hopefully following this course I’ll feel a lot more in control and able to deal with difficult customers! I’ve also been reading a good book about Transactional Analysis, called Counselling for Toads by Robert de Board. I’d definitely recommend it if you want to look at this theory in more detail (and explained a bit better than I’ve managed!).


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Looking to the Future

On Wednesday I went to the University of Sheffield’s Postgraduate Open Day to see the place I’d applied to and get a feel for the course. Of course, as with all open days I’ve ever been to, the weather was atrocious, but I think this can be a good thing – after all, if you like the place when it’s grey and miserable, you’ll definitely like it when it’s sunny and warm. I’d never been to Sheffield before but I liked what little I saw of it.

My first stop was to the main exhibition, where they had stands from all sorts of University services. I picked up a ton of leaflets and three pens, so it was quite a success. There was also supposed to be a welcome talk, but I couldn’t find that. No matter though, as I was straight off to the Information Commons for a tour. The IC is Sheffield’s main library, and it’s very shiny and exciting. It’s quite similar to the All Saints library here at MMU, what with its 24-hour opening and self-service issue, returns and reservations. However, there are some parts of it that are quite exciting and different, including the “flexispace” where all the furniture is on wheels so you can design your own group study space, and the private study rooms with whiteboard walls. I can see why they were top of the table for university libraries in 2011.

Sheffield University Information Commons

Afterwards, I wandered down towards my next appointment, stopping off at a University café for some beef goulash which was very tasty and affordable. Another point to Sheffield! I then attended a talk which was not really what was advertised (or maybe I just got the wrong end of the stick) – it was sort of a “why should you do postgraduate taught study” session aimed at people who hadn’t made up their minds yet, rather than a session for people who knew what they were doing and wanted some more specific information. The speaker, an Economics lecturer, was engaging though, so it was still a fairly interesting half-hour, even if I didn’t learn anything new (perhaps this just means I’ve done good research already though!).

I then looked around another of Sheffield’s libraries, the St George’s Library, which the librarians at the main exhibition had said was the subject library for library and information students. I don’t think it is any more, but it was still interesting to get a look at a different library. This one was a lot smaller, and felt more like Elizabeth Gaskell Library. It was nice, although not nearly as shiny and exciting as the Information Commons!

After this, it was time to go to the Information School for a meeting with a senior lecturer. I was instantly impressed with the iSchool because they’d laid on Party Rings for us – that’s the best biscuit I’ve ever been given by a university. These are the things that matter. There were two other people there who were looking at the MA Librarianship, although I didn’t chat much with them as we were met by Sheila Webber, the senior lecturer, quite quickly. She took us to her office and gave us an overview of the course and the different modules, and the sorts of opportunities we would get. There’s something called Essential Computing Skills which sounds like it’ll be great on my CV, as well as some really interesting modules to choose from in the second semester. There was also a handy part of her presentation which set out what they were looking for from potential students – most useful what with the interview I was going to the next day!

After visiting the iSchool and being thoroughly impressed with it and the course, I left, to go and prepare myself for the interview the next day. I applied to the course at Sheffield a couple of weeks ago and got an invite to an interview with them about three days later – not bad going at all. I had a bit of a look on Google to see if anyone had written about their Sheffield interview experience, and lo and behold, a few people had, because if there is any group of people that likes to write about things and post it on the internet, it’s librarians. Librarians have got self-reflection down to a T, and it’s really useful for times like this. Everyone seemed to say that the interview was quite relaxed and informal, so I wasn’t too nervous going in, although I had to stop myself from getting too complacent – I still had to prove my worth!

The interview was with Sheila Webber, who I’d met (and questioned rather a lot) the day before, so I was instantly at ease. We talked about why I wanted to come to Sheffield, and why I wanted to study on the course. These were questions I was prepared for, so that was ok. Then we got on to the future of librarianship and I’d handily been following some stuff on Twitter the night before about how Croydon Council has put the library service out to tender, so I could speak a bit about my thoughts on the financial situation, and the public (and political) opinions on what libraries are for and how they should be run. It was all very easy and comfortable, and I asked some questions about some of the modules and dissertations, and then Sheila said “well, we’ll definitely be offering you a place” and I was so happy I sort of got stuck and said thank you about 50 times. And then after I left and went to get the tram back to the train station, this happened:

So that was good.

Anyway, I’m going to Sheffield! As long as I can get some money together to pay for it, of course.  I’m going to send off the AHRC funding application this week and keep all my fingers crossed that they’ll like me enough to give me lots of money. Back up plans at the ready!




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Linguistic Experience Project

I wrote a little thing for the Linguistic Experience Project, which is “a collection of work, voluntary and graduate experiences related to Linguistics”. It’s shaping up to be a really great collection of different jobs and placements that linguistics students have undertaken and I’m really excited to see how it grows. Go and check it out!

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Busy, busy

So, we’re now into Week Ten (!) of my graduate traineeship. It’s flying by! I’m almost exactly a fifth of the way through now. I can tell that I’ve learned a lot,  not only because I’m a lot more confident answering queries and working on the issue desk, but also because I wrote the world’s longest personal statement for my MA application to Sheffield (which is all done and dusted now, hooray!). I had tons of examples of attention to detail and good research skills, not to mention communication skills. Hopefully everything I’ve put down (plus the fact that I’m doing a GT-ship) will persuade them to let me study there next year.

Last week was reading week, which meant that all the students went on holiday or slept or whatever else students do on reading week (I wouldn’t know, I never had a proper one) and so the library was very quiet all week. I also finished (finally) the digitisation renewals, which meant that I had nothing on my to-do list all week either. All in all, it was quite a dull week, but I got a lot of straightening and shelving done. Things picked up towards the end of the week, as my colleague Mark has enlisted me to help demonstrate the digitisation process to the Senior Library Assistants, and we spent a good few hours showing them how to use the website to enter all the information and upload the PDFs. Although I am looking forward to being able to share the workload when it gets heavy, it did feel a bit silly telling three other people how to do it when I’d just run out of things to do myself. Luckily, on Friday afternoon a lecturer sent through some emails requesting some changes to her reading lists, which means I now have 15 new digitisations to process. Lucky me! I’ve also been tasked with writing a manual giving step-by-step instructions for the whole digitisation process, and next week I’ll be sorting out the paper copies of the digitised articles. I’ve also identified some other areas of our digitisation records that could do with a tidy-up, so I’ll be nicely busy for the next few weeks, hopefully.

Last week, after a month of working on it (on and off), I managed to record a version of my podcast that I was happy with, and which was almost under 3 minutes. I would have got it done a lot sooner if I hadn’t lost my voice! It’ll be uploaded to the library website soon, so I can share it with you and you can all hear my voice telling you how to use a database. I’ve got a new podcast to work on soon, but I haven’t been told much about it yet. Hopefully it’ll be about a database that’s a bit more conventional than, and it won’t take me ages to do all the screenshots.

A couple of weeks ago we went to an induction meeting for new university staff, which was quite good, especially the talk about the history of the university. We found out that the logo is made up of six spades representing “hard toil and entrenchment” which is… nice? Here’s a link to it so you can see for yourself. It was interesting to hear about the university’s admissions process and how student numbers have been affected by recent government changes, just for a bit of “inside information” about how it all works and the challenges faced by the administration. I still feel like a student sometimes, so to hear about what goes on behind the scenes is fascinating.

Next week I’ve got a training session entitled “Dealing with Difficult Customers” which sounds like it’s going to be really helpful, as we’ll be looking at case studies from the library and learning about policies and procedures. I sort of wish this had been our first training session, though, as we’ve had a few people in the last two months that have been difficult to deal with! It’ll be good to get some reassurance that I know what I’m doing (vaguely) when I’m on the issue desk. We’ll also be meeting some librarians from other organisations to hear about their work, which will be interesting as I don’t really know a whole lot about opportunities for librarians other than academic or public libraries.
I’m also attending a few infoskills sessions this week, which I’m looking forward to, as you get an insight into what’s going on in people’s minds as they ask all sorts of questions! It’s also good to see the different types of sessions that the library offers, be it a library induction or an in-depth look at a particular database. Plus, it’s always good to get a bit more experience!
I’m off to Chorlton tonight to hopefully catch some fireworks (not literally) which will be nice. So far this week I’ve only seen fireworks out of the corner of my eye, or from very far away, so I’m hoping I can actually get a good view tonight for once. It’s going to be absolutely freezing though!

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