A network for new and aspiring library professionals


Last Wednesday I attended my first NoWAL conference, which sought to reaffirm the positive role of the modern academic library and the extent to which digital services have impacted upon their core business and the clients they serve with a particular focus on audience engagement, digital library/media and digital support, learning spaces and research support/open access/future. I really enjoyed the conference and found that the common thread (amongst the sessions I attended) was that engagement with our users to find out what they want (UX) is essential.

Keynote speaker: Jo Norry, Director of Libraries and Learning Innovation at Leeds Beckett “Embedded and visible: balancing the university library in the digital age”

Jo began her session by informing us that successful academic libraries need to be integrated and embedded. We were told that others may see libraries as expensive, easy to manage, space hungry etc. therefore we need to advocate our services and what we offer. Technological, economic and political changes have affected academic libraries and changed the way users/stakeholders work and think. The fate of public libraries has not helped the perception of librarians e.g. they are not needed and the work can be carried out by volunteers.

Leeds Beckett have transformed the library from a geographic place to a platform to become more visible, offering a converged service with IT (IT are based in the library). Jo opined the key to being online is to be where are students are, which is mostly on the virtual learning environment (VLE). However, if you do not have a VLE it is important to engage/network with learning technologists/instructional designers to see what can be established.

Evernote Snapshot 20150715 102350Leeds Beckett have aligned their study skills programme to focus on the employability agenda. The usage of their online chat has increased, as a consequence good customer service is seen as a value of the library. Jo explained that lots of services/software have been developed which interrupt the library’s role in scholarly communication – so what can we do?

  • Claim research workflows territory e.g open access, bibliometrics, RDM, research bids etc.
  • Use social media to promote research visibilities services e.g. Repositories, CRIS etc.

Jo informed us that teaching qualifications are needed for staff for recognition and parity – look at higher education academy fellowships, teacher fellow networks, national teaching fellows, teaching excellence framework (TEF). In terms of thinking about what value we deliver – the TEF will be the next focus.

Visibility is important for libraries so we need to make sure we attend committee meetings (this is also good to find out what the driving force is in different departments), working groups and projects, conferences and events, quality assurance and enhancement and access agreements. It is important to ensure that all key university meetings have library input!

Breakout session 1: Jennie Blake – University of Manchester “Living in the cloud with our feet on the ground: connecting the physical environment to digital services”

Jennie began by informing us that My Learning Essentials (MLE) is open source so material is available to share. She posed the question: How do you make yourself unique without standing apart from the institution? Jennie explained that open-plan workspaces allows for visibility and flexibility in terms of space and content (mixing modules/work to put together their own program). This requires more engagement on behalf of the student with changes made on reflection of feedback:

  • movement of chairs/tables – if they keep being moved then their position will be reviewed
  • attendance of courses – the numbers of sessions will be increased if they are in high demand
  • verbal feedback – changes made on the basis of this feedback

Physical connections are made using art work featured in MLE e.g. the punk head is featured in the learning commons. Resources are embedded in blackboard and elsewhere; which means that it’s available if there are any IT issues with blackboard, this helps student to understand holistically what the library is providing: access and help.

Students employed on a casual basis (up to 20 this year- not full time) help articulate (to staff and students) what it means to go to the library. They unpick students’ misconception that the library is just the main library and not site libraries, learning commons and e-resources. They are physically bridging the gap between students and site libraries. Furthermore, they help the library articulate what it does and decisions are made based on what they tell us, which helps facilitate the message that the “library listens”.

Evernote Snapshot 20150715 114300Break out session 2: Jody McCurk – University of Manchester “Empowering learners with digital support”

Jody, who works in the in-house e-learning team spoke to us about MLE, the library’s award-winning skills programme. The programme is a combination of face to face sessions, workshops and drop ins. Jody opined that awareness is key as it is an open programme. MLE has two strands: an open programme and a curricular link programme. The key to MLE’s success is that support is available when it is needed by students; it is a flexible model which is student-driven e.g. the driver for new resources comes from what is most successful in the face to face sessions.

The training provided is mapped to the student life cycle taking into account exams and essay deadlines thus tailoring the service to meet the students’ needs. The most popular resource offered is “Start to finish essay writing” which has all of the information available in the same place. The team try to address all comments and take feedback on board to improve the resources. In terms of user engagement over half of the users have said they will complete another resource and more have said they would attend another workshop; thus demonstrating the popularity of the programme.

Keynote speaker: Rosie Jones, Liverpool John Moores University “Breaking with tradition – encouraging innovative space design” 

Rosie’s talk covered the trends in space design based on student observations and discussions with other faculties who work with us. Rosie’s talk was thought-provoking as she posed questions to the audience, which included:

  • Why are we still producing traditional spaces and not doing more to enhance students learning?
  • Are the changes being made enough? (in terms of what is being offered)

All of these new learning spaces are learning from best practice, which is beneficial as we are a sector who are prepared to share. However, although we are evolving the evolution is quite slow i.e. are they changing enough in terms of what they offer? In terms of planning for new spaces we no longer do it from a blank canvas but instead look at places that already exist, therefore we do need to think about how influenced; this explains why the evolution is slow as spaces are more inspired from others than being completely innovative.

Investment seems to focus on traditional and social spaces (mostly owned by libraries), whereas liminal spaces tend to have very little budget assigned to them. We need to change our mind on these spaces as they feed in well to learning spaces.

Evernote Snapshot 20150715 134408So what is needed from learning spaces? Rosie compared a presentation she made in 2011 on the topic to the one made for this conference and essentially not much has changed.

  • One stop shop- students should not have to understand how the university is structured in order to use its services. In terms of seamless provision, do we have technology and infrastructure to allow this? Do our students feel that it is a seamless provision?
  • Flexible learning spaces- the ability to flex (for both staff and students) needs include storage, manpower, funding
  • Technology at their fingertips- we are still trying to solve the enabling of infrastructure and what happens three years down the line when technology has changed and funding has dried up?
  • Comfortable environment or ownership/community – should be user driven (UX), responsive (this can be an area we fall down in due to lack of funding/resources etc.), collaborative.

Rosie spoke about FaulknerBrown Architects (who recently presented at the SCONUL conference) who want us to learn from other sectors e.g. designing things around activities and processes rather than numbers and also learning from new public library spaces and how they involve different users in their spaces. Rosie told us about a local design team Space Invaders who talk about the importance of liminal spaces and how to create a better atmosphere in these spaces. magneticNorth, digital design experts, also echoed the frustrations of Space Invaders in that the pace of change is slow plus the fact that our procedures and policies prevents them working with us. Thus, the ultimate barrier is the design process.

Breakout session 3: Satish Patel – The University of Salford “Student engagement and co-creation of learning spaces – it’s all about the pizza”

Satish spoke about two projects which had been carried out at his institution – both projects were based around moving and closing site libraries; the 1st was a bit of a disaster, however the 2nd was informed by mistakes made previously so is going well.

The 1st project involved relocating book stock from a library which was to be closed, creating a learning cluster in place of the closed site library and refurbing the main library. When the library told students about the closure of the site library they sold the benefits and didn’t inform them of the drivers behind it – cost saving. This was because the plan to close the site library was part of staff consolidation so was kept secret. However, the library missed the point that the users wanted their site library for accessibility. As such a student petition was launched in opposition to the site library closure which led to senior management responding saying that engagement was needed with students to reinforce benefits (again they were not allowed to say it was a cost saving initiative). This engagement involved listening events (with non-negotiable elements – we are closing however you can choose the design of the new space), an online survey and floor walking by student reps.  Students didn’t want to think about redesign as they were happy with what they had and this was reflected in NSS scores. Satish opined that lack of communication with users was at the heart of the problem. Students are savvy and financially aware so they should have been upfront from the beginning and explained that the cost saving was needed for new buildings.

The 2nd project involved incorporating the arts and media library into the main campus and developing a roadmap for space and service development. A library guru (Les Watson) and a design team (FUSE studios) were appointed. Les held 54 meetings to embed the notion for change and discussed development projects including movement of staff, open plan offices, stock decisions, learning clusters etc. Les created a theme ‘Library in the park’ (due to its location) which was carried forward by FUSE who created sketches and mood boards used in focus groups with users. Many students were involved with the focus groups held at lunchtime and all were given pizza and chips (the true way to a student’s heart). Stakeholder consultation involved qualitative and quantitative data, which generated a rich picture of staff and student requirements – the opposite of the 1st project.

Evernote Snapshot 20150715 144734Breakout session 4: Teach meets and workshops

For the last part of the day I delivered a talk as part of a teach meet (my first one) focusing on data and how it influences the Library’s decision-making processes. As such, I don’t have any notes on any other the other sessions but have attached part of my crib sheet so feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this.

Evernote Camera Roll 20150716 091031Helen


One comment on “#NoWAL2015

  1. Pingback: NoWAL Conference 2015 | timjpleonard

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This entry was posted on July 16, 2015 by in National/International events & conferences and tagged , , , , , .

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