Monthly Archives: March 2013

First team-teaching session

I’m aware I haven’t updated the blog for a couple of weeks – I was struck down by a horrible flu and then went on a couple of weekend trips, and then Masterchef started, which all conspired to eat into precious blog-writing time. However, not much has happened in library life, so it’s not like anyone’s missed out on much.

The main thing that has happened is that I finally got to help teach an induction and infoskills session, trying out my presentation skills from our training back in December. I did the first part of the session on my own, which involved explaining the admin sort of stuff to the students, including usernames and passwords, printing and photocopying, and other thrilling IT-related things. I think I did quite well at this, although it’s quite hard to judge this when you’ve got a sea of blank faces staring at you. I said everything I wanted to say, and was able to answer the questions that were asked as well, so as far as that goes I’m happy with my performance. The only thing that I was unsure about was whether I was pitching the information at the right level. The thing about teaching, presenting and lecturing is that it’s not at all the same as having a conversation with someone; when you’re having a one-to-one conversation with another person, you’re getting simultaneous feedback – that’s all the nodding, “mm-hmm”, “yeah”, “right” sort of stuff that they’re doing while you’re talking. This helps you judge whether they’re understanding what you’re saying, and whether they’re still interested in hearing it or not. When you’re teaching or presenting to a roomful of people, it’s more than likely they’ll just sit still and listen without offering any of this feedback, which is part of why presenting can feel so disconcerting and scary. I found it really difficult to know whether I was going too fast or too slow and if I was explaining things in enough (or too much) detail. It’s something I think you just have to get used to, as there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It was marginally useful to stop and ask “is that ok?” “are you ready to move on?” and other similar questions, but these were often met with silence anyway! I think the most useful thing we do here is to get students to fill in evaluation forms, so you do get feedback, albeit a little delayed.

For the rest of the session I was involved in the hands-on demonstrations, showing people how to use the catalogue, ebooks and databases. This is something I enjoy doing as I think it’s something I’m quite good at – I like explaining things and helping people to understand them, and it’s more instantly satisfying than giving a talk or presentation!

All in all, as a first taste of teaching and presenting to real live students, I think it went really well, and I’m definitely not put off by the experience. I’m itching to do some more, but opportunities are more limited at this end of the year. Fingers crossed…

 

Apart from the teaching, not a whole lot has happened recently at the library. We’ve just been plodding along! We had our busiest week last week, with over 1000 assignments due in, which meant students queueing up to use staplers, printers and laptops. It was only a tiny bit stressful in the end, as most of them were fairly well-prepared and hadn’t left everything until the very last minute. Of course, you always get one or two exceptions… This week is the start of the three-week Easter break for the majority of students (some run on a different calendar), so we’re getting about 30% of the visitors we had last week, and life on the issue counter is a bit more sedate. I’ve been working on a spreadsheet detailing our journals holdings (print and e-) and that’s been keeping me occupied for the last few weeks! The end is in sight, though, and I’m hoping I can get it finished before the long weekend, so I can start looking at some of the other stuff I want to do (more spreadsheets, mostly) next week. That’s about it for now, though – nothing super-exciting. I’m just looking forward to the Easter weekend – I really need the rest!

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What I learned this week: QR Codes

This week I learned about QR codes, thanks to a mini-session by one of our site librarians after I missed the Digital Library Services Roadshow, where library staff were introduced to Open Access, QR codes and statistics (not sure what kind of statistics). I already knew a little bit about QR codes, because they’ve been around for a few years now, but what was interesting about this session was the ways in which libraries can use them.

First of all, the basics: What is a QR code? QR codes are “Quick Response” codes. They’re called that because they’re very quickly readable by digital scanners, such as the camera in a smartphone. They’re a sort of square barcode, essentially. You can encode a lot more data in a QR code than in a standard barcode, though, and that’s what makes them so useful.

QR codes allow you to get your video, URL, text, PDF or whatever else onto someone’s smartphone or tablet in a matter or seconds. They’re therefore a pretty handy way of getting help and information to people at the point of need – and that’s where they tie in with libraries. We can use them to hook people up with the information they need, without them having to go and find someone to talk to, which could be tricky in a large or busy library. At our library we’re using QR codes in a variety of ways – if you’re unsure of how to use the catalogue, there’s a QR code with a link to our podcast to show you how. If you’re not sure how self-service machines work, we’ve got a QR code for a video on that too. We’ve put one on the floorplan of the library, which links you to the website listing our opening times. We’ve got codes that link to our Facebook and Twitter pages, too.

There are tons of other uses for QR codes in libraries – apparently some libraries even use them in a noise-reporting system: if you’re in a room that’s too noisy, just scan the code and it’ll generate an email to the staff detailing your location, and they can come and deal with it. I found a webpage that lists some of the uses libraries have found for QR codes – check it out: http://www.libsuccess.org/QR_Codes I like the idea of using them for (self-)guided tours.

There are of course rules to using QR codes in libraries – the first is that obviously not everyone has the necessary equipment to use QR codes, and so in order to cater for them as well it’s a good idea to provide alternative ways of accessing the information they’re providing. Our catalogue help posters say something like “scan this code or visit YouTube and type in ‘xxxxx’”, which not only gives you a second method of getting to the video, but also provides transparency, making the poster more trustworthy than if it just displayed a QR code with no further information.

The other main rule is – as with a lot of things – less is more! This is to combat information overload. In the same way that most students seem to ignore the hundreds of posters cluttering up our walls, if you put a QR code on everything then people will stop noticing them. Therefore, at our library there is a dedicated inter-site team who decide what gets a QR code and what doesn’t, to maximise the impact of our messages.

An interesting point raised during our mini-session was whether you can actually tell whether QR codes are being used or not – and you can, sort of. If you’re willing to pay (and the prices are quite steep), you can use the analytics provided by QR-generating websites to track usage statistics. If you’d rather not, then you can make use of some free services, for example if you’re using your code to link to a YouTube video then you can use their analytics to see how many views came from a mobile device.

If you want to have a go at creating your own QR codes, there are loads of websites that will do it for you, for example qrstuff.com. The Android app I use to scan codes, QR Droid, also creates them for you on your phone, and has options that include creating codes for a geolocation, a PayPal payment or your business card! While looking around the internet for bits and pieces about QR codes, I came across some interesting stuff about their commercial uses in big marketing campaigns. For example,did you know you can get custom-made QR codes that incorporate logos or pictures? Maybe you did, but did you know you can also get chocolate QR codes? I’m imagining using these at a conference or fair as a marketing tool, although there’d have to be an allergy-free alternative too. Finally, here’s an article about some of the creative ways QR codes were used in advertising last year.

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February Training Session (finally)

A couple of weeks ago now I attended another training session – this time it was the annual staff updating session. This was a chance for library staff to learn about some of the recent developments that have gone on in the library, which is quite interesting for us at the “satellite” sites who don’t always get all the news filtered through from the main library. It was advertised as a hands-on session where we’d learn about new technologies, and the topics covered were going to be quite varied. In reality, there were maybe a few too many topics, as we did not manage to get through everything, but some of what we did hear about was quite interesting.

We started off with an overview of the developments at the main library, which has recently undergone a refurbishment on the ground floor, and will be undergoing more work to make it ready for extra stock to be moved in during the summer. The facts and figures were interesting – it costs a lot to refurbish a library, and there’s still a lot to be done on a fairly small budget before the other libraries start to move their stock in during the next 18 months.

We looked at the recent developments with the catalogue – we now have a lovely mobile version with all the functionality of the normal one, and there are neat little shortcuts you can use while searching that I didn’t know about, such as writing “Location:Gaskell” in front of your search terms to limit your results.

We then heard about the Customer Service Excellence award, which we are the only department of the university to hold, and had a short quiz on service level targets, which was interesting as some of them were not quite what we expected – although perhaps that’s down to our relative lack of experience.

The next topic was plagiarism and referencing, which started off with a short quiz on Harvard referencing, which I did quite well on despite never actually having used it before (I used another referencing system during my degree and it’s subtly different to Harvard). We also looked at the punishments for plagiarism offences, which again were quite surprising – who knew you could commit multiple plagiarism offences and still be allowed to stay on your course?!

We also looked a bit at podcasting/instructional videos; this is something that is a large part of my job, so I was quite interested by this section. We heard about the MMU Libraries YouTube page, which is being promoted more and more in an effort to raise awareness of the help and guidance we provide (and to increase the pageviews, which are quite low at the moment). We discussed the pros and cons of podcasts – pro: bitesize chunks of information, con: no opportunity for Q&A, etc – and also had a look at podcasts and videos produced by other libraries, to see what’s going on. Some of these were really good, such as this one or this one, but some of them made people cringe, such as the Librarians Do Gaga video. It’s interesting to see the range of styles and production values across library videos – some of them are really slick, while others… not so much. I like to think that ours at MMU are comfortably mid-range.

We then heard a little about informal learning, which is learning that doesn’t take place in formal settings such as classrooms. This was quite interesting to me, as I am often teaching myself new things in my spare time, exploring subjects and falling down Wikipedia holes. It was suggested that things like podcasts can help with informal learning, but the main point of this section was social learning, and how interacting in social media can be valuable in learning. We looked at some websites which analyse information on Twitter and other social media sites, and discussed whether we would actually use these. The websites I liked the look of were Topsy and SocialMention, both of which do real-time searches and provide various ways to analyse the results you get. I think I would mainly use websites like these for personal interest, like “how many people are watching Great British Bake Off right now?”, but can see value in them for people like journalists, who can use them to gauge reactions to major events. I’m not sure I could see myself using them for academic research, as I’m not sure they’d work as well for that sort of thing. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong if you’ve got evidence to the contrary though!

Disappointingly, we did not have time to talk about Open Access, which I understand is a big talking point at the moment for academic libraries. I don’t know very much about it at all, so I’m sad that I missed out on a chance to hear about what it is and how it affects us at the university. Hopefully during the rest of my year here, and my MA course, I can get to grips with it.

All in all, this was quite a mixed session, as I was already familiar with some of the topics, and the things I would have liked to know more about were passed over quite quickly or missed completely.  But I picked up some good tips and tricks as well as some inspiration for my podcasts, so it was useful in parts!

Our next session is on social media in libraries, which should be good, and it’s a NoWAL session, so there are networking opportunities to be had too. Stay tuned for a write-up of that!

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Well begun is half done

 

I’m officially halfway through my traineeship now – week 26 is over and done with. I thought I’d have a look back at some of the things I was most nervous about at the beginning, and see how things have changed now. I went through my first few blog posts and found loads of places where I said “I’m scared of X” or “I don’t really like Y”. Here are a few things that terrified me six months ago:

–          Having a job. As I’ve mentioned a few times, this is my first ever 9-5 real-world job, and so I was really nervous about what it actually would be like, and whether I’d fit in and actually like it. Luckily my fears about this were unfounded, as everyone’s really friendly and the work is (mostly) interesting and enjoyable (giant spreadsheets excluded).

–          Being the “new girl”. I’ve never liked being the centre of attention, so being the new person who everyone’s watching, and who’s being a bit of a nuisance because she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, made me feel a bit uncomfortable at first. But again, as I got to know people and learned more, I felt less like a sore thumb and more like part of the team. When I started being able to do projects such as digitisation on my own, it helped me feel less like I was getting under people’s feet, which really helped.

–          Doing something wrong. I think this is a pretty normal fear, to be honest! I was deathly afraid of doing something so terribly wrong that I’d get fired on the spot – but even though I did make mistakes, they were easily fixable, and the world didn’t end. After I broke the photocopier by accidentally pulling its lid off, I think this fear was well and truly vanquished. Of course I still don’t want to make mistakes, but I’m able to acknowledge now that everyone will do so now and then, and I’m not so scared of the consequences any more.

–          Answering the phone. I am quite shy in social situations, which has meant in the past that I didn’t want to go to places like the bank or the post office, or generally put myself in situations where I’d have to talk to people I didn’t know. I’m slowly getting better at this, although I still have to rehearse conversations in my head before going to the bank. For the first few weeks here I was, understandably, quite wary of the phone – I knew I would be unable to help whoever was on the other end of it, so I tended to just run away from it instead. But these days I can answer the phone to pretty much anyone and know that I can deal with most queries unless they’re really unusual, which has helped me feel a lot more confident in myself in terms of social skills.

–          Dealing with customers. This is another “social skills” thing that I feel a lot better about these days. I’ve always been able to talk to people and explain things to them, but since working here and interacting with students and staff with all sorts of queries and complaints, I feel a lot more secure in how I deal with various situations. The training we had back before Christmas on dealing with difficult customers certainly helped as well, as I’ve had quite a few times where I’ve had to tell people about large fines or other problems. Obviously, for librarianship, customer service skills can be really important, so I’m really glad I’ve had so many opportunities to get better at this during the year.

–          Podcasting. This is something I’d never done before, but seeing as making a podcast involves a PowerPoint presentation and a spoken explanation of how to use something, it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d imagined, and I’m now on to my third one.

I’ve definitely come a long way since the early days of my traineeship, but there’s a lot of stuff I still want to try out and become braver about. Next week is my first joint teaching session, which I’m looking forward to (and a bit nervous about). Hopefully I’ll have other opportunities to do this later on in the year, because even though I’m apprehensive, I think I’ll enjoy it.

I also want to attend some events on librarianship, so I’m starting off with Manchester NLPN’s Spring Event in April. After that I may even get brave enough to attend an unconference or Library Camp!

I want to get more involved in projects where I can test my skills and learn new things, for example the overhaul of our digitisation records, which I did before Christmas. Hopefully as we progress through this year and more preparations are made for the move in 2014, there’ll be opportunities for me to take on some responsibilities for things like this.

Finally, I want to do more networking. Generally, being a shy person has meant that I’ve shied away (geddit?) from interacting with people, either face-to-face or on social media, but I’m gradually getting more involved in online chats about library-related things. I’m a regular lurker on #uklibchat discussions on Twitter, but one day soon I might actually bite the bullet and join in – what’s the worst that can happen? I think attending events will also help with networking, as we don’t get many opportunities in our traineeship to meet people from outside MMU, and it’ll be interesting to meet people from other types of libraries at the MNLPN event in April.

The first six months of this job have flown by, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the warmer, sunnier half of my traineeship will bring. Here’s to the future!

 

(featured header image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewestrum/4590703575/)

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