Sunday, September 16, 2012

Teacher librarian or project manager?

It's been a long time between blogs. I have a good excuse, as for the past two months I have been working non-stop on getting my school's new library completed and up and running. We have gone from this:
to this:
and finally, to this:
It is still not completely ready, but we are open for business and the children are very excited about their new library.
It has been a year of planning, meetings, research, discussions, ordering, workshops, etc. and definitely worth the experience, with the last 2 - 3 months being especially demanding. At times I felt like I was a project manager as I had to keep a very close eye on what the contractors were doing and consulting the plans on a daily basis.
I have learnt so much from an undertaking of this kind. Probably my biggest learning experience is that I should have been more attentive to detail (as in where power points were placed) as I have ended up with power and data points on the floor of the main thoroughfare that were intended to be hidden in the tree. There are many more examples of requests that were misunderstood and I will blog about these soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reflection on Study Visits

Being able to visit three university libraries was helpful in reinforcing certain concepts and to compare the services they offer their students. I discovered that all of them are moving away from printed materials and embracing digital resourcing wherever possible.

One area I have given thought to improving is the services we offer our school community. Of course there are some services which we would never be able to provide (i.e. supplying books to nursing homes), but I believe that we can think outside the box and come up with some good ideas. One idea that I have already had is that after school we have a number of children who have to wait for their after school activities to begin. Although I don’t want the library to be seen as a babysitting service, I believe that we can offer productive activities to constructively occupy the students.

Another new initiative I have already put in place since completing my visits is to have different members of my team accompany me to classrooms when I am teaching information literacy lessons. I explained to them that it would be good for them to know what I am teaching the students so that when the children come to the library for assistance with research projects, the librarians and library assistants know the kinds of skills and strategies the children have been developing. 

Stealing an idea from the ISKL librarian, I intend to establish regular reading sessions with my staff where we sit together to read and discuss quality literature. There is always a high demand for picture books from our teachers, so it would help the librarians to recommend texts if they were more familiar with our collection.

A common theme found in all the libraries I visited is that librarians and library workers are mindful of the needs of their customers. Libraries need to be everywhere, not just within the brick walls of the facility. Libraries and librarians need to reach their clients using a variety of strategies – waiting for patrons to walk through the door is not what libraries should be about. I have learned that libraries come in all shapes and sizes. To be the best that it can be, to be an evolving, relevant facility, a library needs to listen to the needs of its community.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Study Visit 6 - University of Southern Queensland

My final study visit was to the library at the University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba campus. The library is large and spacious, spreading across a number of levels. There was an assortment of study areas: large computer area, carrels, relaxing bean bag area, discussion rooms, casual seating areas and even an internal coffee shop and snack bar. I thought the mini bean bags to rest iPads on were especially cute and hope to buy some for my library.

I was envious upon hearing that this library operates on a single line budget each year, providing the head librarians the luxury of deciding how they spend their allocation. My budget allocation each year is divided into capital and expenses and every year I run out of capital but have thousands left over in my expenses budget. It would be so much more convenient if I could convert the excess expenses budget over to capital.
 The librarians informed me that every two years, university students across Australia are asked to complete an InSync survey about their satisfaction with the services provided by their library. With much pride, the librarians boasted that this library has come out first in Australia in the last two surveys. This has inspired me to add a survey in Moodle to my ‘to do’ list to find out what our school community thinks about our primary library.

Every so often librarians from the region get together for ‘stirring the pot’ sessions whereby they throw out a radical idea for discussion. At their next gathering, they intend to discuss the ramifications of moving away from a library management system. When they saw my mouth drop, the librarians explained that they don’t necessarily intend to do this, but that discussing something so ‘out of the box’ sparks really good discussion and often leads to other ideas being discussed and developed. I understand the merit of this and have already mentioned it to my team as a possibility of something we can also do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Study Visit 5 - Toowoomba City Library

This has been my favourite study visit so far. During the visit, I was introduced to a number of friendly staff members who each told me about their role in the library, ranging from cataloguing to offering special thematic activities to disabled people. 'From cradle to grave' is their policy, so their aim is to increase their membership so that they are reaching every member of the Toowoomba regional community.  They currently run at about 25% membership, but are aiming to reach 100% of the community in the coming year. Dreaming large!

Accessibility for the whole community is a priority for this library. Everyone is made to feel welcome, even the regular homeless people who pop in during the cold weather. The range of free services the library provides to the community is very impressive.  For example, they send books out to nursing homes on a monthly rotation, post resources to home-bound individuals, offer English lessons to immigrants and refugees, teach Internet classes and run storytime sessions for preschoolers and home-schooled children. The list goes on.

They believe that it's not all about the books - it's more about enhancing the community's well-being. If I could get a job in a library like this, which seriously tries to make links with the community, I would be one very happy camper. It makes my primary school library look very one-dimensional in its private school setting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Study Visit 4 – Taylor’s University

This attractive library is part of a modern campus for a private university catering to approximately 15,000 pre-university, undergrad and postgrad students. 

Upon entering the library, there was a definite buzz in the air. Obviously the library is a popular place for students to meet - and in one student’s case, sleep! Housed on four floors, there was a variety of seating areas and there were plenty of meeting rooms for collaborative learning. Good use was being made of the various seating areas; in fact, there were students everywhere I looked. In the last annual survey the students complained that there aren’t enough quiet seating areas, so extensions to the library will take place in the near future to address this need. They are trying to create their own style of a learning commons.

A couple of things really impressed me during this visit. The first is a request from the head librarian to the company which provides their Library Management System (LMS). She observed that most students are using smartphones and have expressed a desire to have flexible able to access the LMS, so the librarian requested that they develop a smartphone app. Very forward thinking! 

I was also really impressed by the eRepository that they are developing to capture the heritage of Taylor’s Education Group. The eRepository will include past exam papers, dissertations, lecturer profiles, etc. The librarian admitted that they are struggling with copyright and have a lot of work ahead of them in developing this eRepository.
This study visit opened my eyes to the range of services university students require and how libraries are challenged to meet these needs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Study Visit 3 - University of Malaya

Underwhelming is the best adjective I can think of to describe my study visit to the library at the University of Malaya (UM). If I were one of the students at UM, I would zip into the library, find what I needed, and then be out the door as fast as possible. Both the interior and exterior of the library are tired. The décor is dull and unattractive and there was a lack of atmosphere. No comfortable seating is provided for the students, giving the impression that visits to the library are for studying in a traditional sense. Areas specially designed for, or allocated to, collaborative work were not evident.
I found the library to be old-fashioned, boring and totally uninspiring. This surprised me as UM is a huge university with a student population of approximately 27,000 Malaysian and international students. On a positive note, the library uses a substantial portion of its budget to subscribe to a large number of online databases and journals, so students have the flexibility of being able to access material as needed. The visit made me appreciate the organisation I work in as it is very learner-centred, encouraging teachers to be forward-thinking about the needs of current and future learners.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Study Visit 2 - Bank Negara Knowledge Management Centre

Upon arriving at Bank Negara’s Knowledge Management Centre (KMC), I was quite impressed with this spacious and sophisticated building which is less than one year old. Its design is influenced by the shape of the cowrie shell, as cowries were the first currency used in Malaya – a lovely way to bridge old with new.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect to see or learn during my visit to this KMC as I wasn’t sure what the purpose of this agency was. Why would a bank need a library? However, after talking to the head librarian, my understanding of the purpose and function it plays in the banking world was much clearer. Services and resources are provided for lecturers, PhD students and anyone interested in the field of banking. The public is also welcome to use the facility. 

Creative ways of offering in-house professional development are utilised at the KMC. They have monthly knowledge sharing sessions where they discuss feedback from users to highlight ways they can improve their services. They also spend time sharing simple articles in order to improve their command of English. This is a strategy that I feel would work well with my team and I hope to incorporate it into our training sessions (which definitely need to take place on a more regular basis).
Nowadays many libraries are finding ways to reach out to their patrons and offer flexible services, but this is not the case with Bank Negara’s KMC. Because they have created an attractive and inviting facility which they want patrons to come in and use, they do not provide any remote services; users can not even check the catalogue off-site. This surprised me, as it doesn’t fit with the ethos most libraries are trying to create. Other libraries that I am familiar with, including my own, are offering flexible access to the catalogue, eBooks, digital resources and online databases. This has certainly given me something to ponder.