Posts Tagged 'library services'



Speed Dating with Faculty

Amid the troubling news out of Harvard last week, it seems like a good time to share a small success story:

Last week, I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation to the faculty who are part of Stanford’s Faculty College project. The Faculty College project provides “groups of faculty the space, time and resources to create new team-taught courses, to make a major change in a department’s curriculum or to establish new cross-disciplinary teaching endeavors.” The 25 or so faculty involved meet once a quarter this year, and will start their teaching next year. Their meetings are jam-packed with presentations and discussions, so I was actually pretty pleased to finagle 5 minutes on the agenda to talk about the way the Stanford Libraries could support their projects.

After making an off-hand comment to a colleague that the 5 minute limit felt a bit like speed-dating, I decided to go with that metaphor in my actual presentation. I created a handout highlighting relevant subject librarians and other services (PDF), but decided to skip the PowerPoint since just setting up could eat up most of my 5 minutes.
I started out by telling the faculty group that 5 minutes felt like speed dating, but that I was OK with that. After all, my goal was to convince them to “date the libraries”. The two main reasons they should date us are that “We have lots of common interests”, and “We complete you”. I explained both of those briefly, and concluded with “So I hope you’ll call us”.
I finished with 40 seconds to spare, enough time for someone to ask if the librarians listed on the handout knew they might be contacted or if it would be a “blind date”?
I usually think it is way harder to give a short presentation than a long one, but in this case I think it went very well. I gave them a metaphor that will hopefully Stick, and I also made it clear that I/we really respect their time. If anything, I think some of the faculty wish I had taken up more time, which is always better than the opposite. As Walt Disney (or maybe P.T. Barnum) supposedly said, “always leave them wanting more.”

A concierge by any other name

In November, we kicked off our plan to introduce a Concierge Model for library services here at Stanford Libraries (SULAIR). The general idea is to emphasize “concierge-like” service to scholars, focusing on serving as a single point of contact for the full range of needs a scholar might have. The bulk of our work will be on equipping and empowering our staff to provide that kind of service — which will require a series of cross-training activities. For example, we want the Subject Specialist for Economics to be knowledgeable enough about the range of services we offer that they can be the “concierge” for a faculty project involving numeric data, digitization of government documents, maps, GIS applications, and maybe some visualization software. SULAIR provides all of those services, but spread across many parts of the organization. In our new service model, the faculty member gets access to all those services and resources through the single point of contact instead of having to figure out where each of those services lives in our 400+ person organization.

The kick-off of our new “Concierge” model included a formal presentation, discussion, and interactive use-cases at our annual managers’ retreat; a shorter presentation at our quarterly All Staff meeting; and a follow-up at our monthly managers’ meeting. The best part of all of these presentations and discussions has been learning that librarians and other staff really, really, really dislike the Concierge metaphor.

I have never been so happy to have gotten something wrong. The fact that the term Concierge struck such a nerve with folks has resulted in tons of feedback and engagement, and spurred a spirited and collaborative attempt to come up with a better metaphor. The primary objection to the term Concierge is that it implies a much more subservient relationship to the client/guest/scholar than the kind of collaborative and collegial relationships that we foster within our community.

Some of the alternate labels staff have suggested for our Single-Point-of-Contact model of library services are:

  • Ambassador
  • Sherpa
  • Docent
  • (River) Guide
  • Steward
  • Advocate
  • Champion
  • Ally
  • Match-Maker

In my opinion, each of these suggestions works best if you add Information before the label — i.e. Information Ambassador, Information Sherpa, etc. Which led to someone (my boss, I think) suggesting “Informationist” as the right label. I’m skeptical that we would get buy-in from scholars for a completely new term that sounds very library jargony. And, of course, more than one person has wondered why we can’t simply use the term “librarian”? My answer to that is that very few students, and perhaps even fewer faculty, think of a “librarian” as someone who can help them with statistical analysis, data visualization, multi-media production or any of the other not-typical-library-services we provide in support of research and teaching. And the whole “Concierge” plan is intended in part to address our image and marketing challenge.

At this point, we haven’t settled on the right term, but the debate over labels has helped us to distill some of the key elements of a good “Concierge/Ambassador/Information Sherpa/Whatever”:

  1. They are active and pro-active in identifying a full range of Library resources and services that would support a scholar’s research and teaching needs.
  2. They have expertise and “insider knowledge” of our organization and of our business — from trends in scholarly communication, to internal and external digitization efforts, to developments in e-book publishing, etc.
  3. They work collaboratively with scholars, contributing their particular expertise to a project as a colleague.
  4. They provide seamless and efficient access to the very broad array of services and resources offered by the libraries.
  5. When acting as the “Champion” for a particular project, they assume responsibility and leadership for the project.

Now if we can just figure out what to call them (us) …

Concierge Model for Librarians

At our annual leadership retreat yesterday (~50 department/unit managers), we kicked off our Concierge Model plan. I gave a Concierge for Librarians Presentation (w/ gratuitous cute doggie photo) to set the context.

Our Concierge concept has much in common with Corey Seeman’s Hospitality focus at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Business Administration Library, and I very much benefitted from his presentation and our conversations in Charleston (Yay for conferences and networking!).
In a nutshell, our Conciege approach consists of:

  • An explicit focus on exceptional customer service
  • A committment to providing a single point of contact (a “champion”) for scholars whose needs span several parts of the organization
  • A committment to providing a series of ongoing training events for our own staff to make sure we all stay informed of what services and resources are provided throughout our big, complex organization

After introducing the idea, we then asked folks (in groups) to do some improv skits of good and bad public service interactions. This turned out to be a great warm-up activity that allowed us to pull out some themes about what constitutes “exceptional customer service.”
After lunch, we had groups work on some Concierge Use Cases (PDF) and present them. Each group represented a cross-section of the organization, which meant that some Concierge cross-training began happening just in the small group discussions as staff had different levels of knowledge about services and resources related to their use case example. The discussion of the Use Cases really highlighted the value of the Concierge model and the need for staff training. A big challenge for us will be the growing list of topics folks added to the training agenda. Although, whenever staff are asking for more meetings, I figure we must have tapped into a real need.
I’ll certainly be sharing more as we implement, so stay tuned and wish us luck.

Visiting with the Emory Libraries

I had a great visit with folks at Woodruff Library at Emory University on Monday. They have some very cool things going on at Emory–from processing and providing access to the Salman Rushdie born-digital archives, to a new combined services desk, to planning for a Digital Scholarship Commons. I was also intrigued by the “grass-roots” Digital Library Initiatives group–staff from across the library who meet regularly to keep up to date on digital library topics (at Emory) and beyond. The group produces White Papers for the rest of the library staff on emerging digital library topics–short summaries, with suggested readings. The group is a volunteer, open-membership group, not an official working group of the library. I might have to steal this idea for our staff!

They also have a very active and well-attended weekly Info Forum program of talks for staff, for library project updates and other hot topics. The program is run by the HR department, but apparently library staff are not shy about suggesting topics and/or volunteering to present.

In exchange for the folks at Emory generously spending the day chatting with me, I gave a presentation for their staff on things we are doing here at Stanford: Public Services at Stanford: Good times, bad times (with apologies to Led Zepelin)*. Although I spent much of the presentation bragging about cool stuff we are doing (especially SearchWorks), I made sure to leave time to talk honestly about our challenges. I am very glad I did, because it set the stage for some really fruitful conversations throughout the day about some of the common issues facing large academic libraries.

* I link to the presentation on Google Docs, because it really makes no sense unless you can see the Notes View, and SlideShare doesn’t seem to accommodate that very well.

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Who should do reference?

The first topic of discussion at the ALA Heads of Public Services Discussion Group at the Midwinter conference was: “how many of you have eliminated librarians . . . at the reference desk?” While no one admitted to completely eliminating librarians at the reference desk, there is a definite trend towards using paraprofessionals and/or students to handle front-line reference. Lots of folks talked about this as a resource decision, in the sense that with tighter budgets and leaner staffs, we need to free up librarians (and their salaries) for “higher level” work. No one actually said that we shouldn’t be wasting librarians’ time sitting behind a desk and telling kids where the bathroom is; but that felt like the unspoken sentiment of many in the room.

Later, at dinner with Frye friends, we talked about our experiences with subject librarians who are intimidated at the thought of doing general reference. We all had examples of librarians who are uncomfortable on the reference desk because they think they are not qualified to answer questions outside their areas of expertise.
So which is it? Is reference so easy that we shouldn’t be wasting librarian time on it; or is it so hard that we even our subject librarians don’t feel qualified?
Of course, if our own subject specialists lack confidence in helping students with unfamiliar areas, that may say more about our own organizations than about reference. It seems to me that a subject librarian ought to be able to navigate a decently organized library website well enough to help most patrons find the resources they need in any subject area. If our own librarians are too intimidated to venture outside their area of expertise, imagine how daunting the task must feel for our patrons.

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New year, new job

I’m very excited to be starting the new year in a new job. I accepted a promotion to Assistant University Librarian for Public Services for the Stanford University Libraries. In the words of my boss, University Librarian, Michael Keller, “This is a new position that reflects changes in the practices of libraries in the digital age that are associated with growing emphasis on the services that students and researchers need to negotiate the hybrid library environment.”

Personally, I am anxious to confront the challenges and opportunities of the new position. I’m also particularly pleased that the creation of this position, and the elevation of public services to an AUL-level position at a major research library, signals a renewed emphasis on services. I’ve said before that services are a key element of the future of libraries. Time to make that real.

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Support for Research: An Academic Library Manifesto

Support for the Research Process: An Academic Library Manifesto has just been published. This brief call to action document represents the collaborative work of the RLG Research Information Management Roadmap Working Group.
The goal of the document is to set forth a “top 10” list of action items for Academic Libraries to focus on in the face of a rapidly changing scholarly research landscape.
Much of what is currently written about the future of libraries focuses on how to save libraries, or on whether we even still need libraries. In this document, we tried instead to focus on what academic libraries can and should do to ensure that “current and future researchers will have the support they need to navigate and exploit the full potential of evolving digital scholarship.”
One potential follow-up to this document would be for members of the academic library community to take each of the action items and develop examples, use cases, and best practices:

1. Commit to continual study of the ever-changing work patterns and needs of researchers; with particular attention to disciplinary and generational differences in adoption of new modes of research and publication.
2. Design flexible new services around those parts of the research process that cause researchers the most frustration and difficulty.
3. Embed library content, services, and staff within researchers’ regular workflows; integrating with services others provide (whether on campus, at other universities, or by commercial entities) where such integration serves the needs of the researcher.
4. Embrace the role of expert information navigators and redefine reference as research consultation instead of fact-finding.
5. Reassess all library job descriptions and qualifications to ensure that training and hiring encompass the skills, education, and experience needed to support new modes of research.
6. Recognize that discovery of content will happen outside of libraries—but that libraries are uniquely suited to providing the organization and metadata that make content discoverable.
7. Embrace opportunities to focus on unique, core services and resources; while seeking collaborative partnerships to streamline common services and resources.
8. Find ways to demonstrate to senior university administrators, accreditors, and auditors the value of library services and resources to scholarship; while providing services that may seem invisible and seamless to researchers.
9. Engage researchers in the identification of primary research data sets that merit long-term preservation and access.
10. Offer alternative scholarly publishing and dissemination platforms that are integrated with appropriate repositories and preservation services.

As Ricky Erway at hangingtogether says:

You don’t need to nail it to your library’s door, but you might want to think about how many of these things you currently do, how many you could do, and what you could stop doing (or streamline) so that you can better support your institution’s research mission.

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A manifesto for academic libraries

In an effort to get in on some of their Collaborative Rabble Rousing, I volunteered to chair an RLG Working Group that is writing a manifesto for academic libraries, addressing the need for change to better support changing research and publishing practices.

Once Dan Greenstein’s remarks about the the university library of the future started attracting attention, we decided to offer a preview of our work at hangingtogether, the RLG Programs blog.

Please head on over there and let us know what you think.

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Best. Use. Case. Ever.

If you want a vision of what the library of the future could/should be all about, read the scenario presented on pages 2-3 of the Open Library Environment Project Final Report (Draft) PDF. Seriously, read it right now.

I am still working my way through the other 98 pages of the report, but that use case has me drooling.
Some snippets:

The researcher uses her preferred library access tool (several options are supported by OLE) to perform an initial search. She finds a variety of resources in electronic and print form, which the search tool presents to her (using metadata provided by OLE) in a faceted browser. She selects the items of particular interest and adds them to her research resource portfolio for easier referral. To her, the process appears seamless and effortless, but behind the scenes, the library access tool works with OLE to obtain full-text copies of the resources (some from campus collections; some from interlibrary loan; some from Hathi Trust; some from outside subscription providers), license them if necessary, and route them for her use.

Other behind-the-scenes functions involve billing her research account for resources/services that require payment, processing ILB requests where needed (and notifying her of ETD), and sending print-on-demand items to her printer.

But wait — there’s more:

In the middle of her analysis, she realizes that some of the information would be useful in an undergraduate course she is teaching. Without leaving her work, she routes those resources to the campus Learning Management System with a couple of mouse-clicks and a quick cover note to explain to the students what has been added.
Moving toward a draft document, she transfers materials into a word processor. Thanks to OLE, each arrives will full bibliographic metadata attached and ready to auto-format (via tools such as Zotero) into a form suitable for the academic journal she is targeting. When she is ready to share, she stores a copy of the draft in her institutional repository (via an OLE-aware interface) and sends a link to her various academic (social) networking venues, to invite public comment.

If libraries really could create the research support environment described in the use case, I just might be tempted to go back into research … except that helping build and implement that kind of environment sounds pretty fun too!

I don’t know if OLE will really be able to fully deliver on this scenario, but I love that the OLE Project Team has given us all a concrete vision to work towards. Bravo OLE!

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