It’s that time again

We have hit exam time on campus, which is an ideal time to review what worked well in the last exam period and what we are doing for this one.

During the last exam period we provided the following activities

  • jigsaw puzzle
  • sudoku puzzles
  • crossword puzzles
  • colouring-in
  • knitting/crochet
  • fruit from the Guild of Students
  • Sweets in jars

For the Jan exams  colouring-in, fruit & sweets were well received but none of the other activities really took off and we received very little feedback about the activities.

We also ran into problems of belongings being left in the library, food and rubbish left on desks and a little seat hogging. None of this was major as we still had enough seats for the students studying, but it was something to think about ahead of the next exam period.

Additionally the campus was able to extend opening hours at the weekend in the Jan exams and at a Student Library Partnership meeting this was highlighted as the most important thing we could provide in the coming months.

In the intervening months, the jigsaw was suddenly opened and at breaks between lectures, small groups of students could be seen playing with the jigsaw. Just before the exams it was finished,  and there was demand to provide a new one.

So how did we approach this exam period?

All of the exam activities are under a heading of Take a Break, combining the activities that worked well, the new interest in jigsaws and wanting the manage the space better for all students.



  • 2 new jigsaws have been purchased and a 3D puzzle of a London bus.
  • Fortune tellers – print outs to make their own little origami fortune tellers
  • Knitting
  • Colouring-in
  • Sudoku puzzles

Food and Drink

Sweets have been purchased for the sweetie jars and we are waiting to hear from the Guild if they will be providing fruit, although this is likely to be in the main University exam period which starts later than our campus. On a good week (when I have time in the morning) there is also cake in the library.

Taking the lead from our main campus in Liverpool we are giving away Golden Tickets. These tickets are a voucher for one free regular hot drink at the campus cafe and we have 50 vouchers over the 5 week exam period. There are tickets that are hidden in the library and some tickets will be given out in response the tweets and WeChat messages.

golden ticket

The main campus have extended the Golden Ticket giveaway for this exam period and I’m looking forward to finding out how their new golden tickets are received.

Extended opening

Extended opening at the weekends is back and for the whole 5 weeks of the exam period which is great for the students and hopefully the numbers of students here at the weekend and the positive feedback will demonstrate that this is well received by the students.


Inspired by University of Sheffield library we are trialling a Take a Break Pass.Take a Break Pass

The students can ask for the pass to put on their study space giving them 45 minutes to have a break. This is especially useful as the students are using study spaces that can be booked by staff and students, so helps us manage bookings, provide the students with the study space they prefer and make sure that they take breaks.

Have we got it right?

Well it is still early days, but one week into the exam period and we’ve had an additional two jigsaws finished with requests for more and requests for more sudoku puzzles. The fortune tellers just went out on Friday and I came back on Monday to little piles of fortune tellers scattered in the social space. I’m not sure there is the same enthusiasm for colouring-in, but there is the odd knitter taking a break. It’s a complete change around from the first exam period.

Take up of Golden Tickets was initially slow as the students didn’t realise what they were for, but there is huge enthusiasm for them now, new tickets get snapped up pretty quick. The best take up has been from the tickets we hide them in the library, rather than students interacting with us on social media, but we are using both methods to make sure a cross-section of students can get one of these vouchers.

The students have also been writing their ideas on the feedback wall, perhaps not surprisingly these revolve around hot water and food. This isn’t something we can provide in our library space, but perhaps it is something that could be provided at the campus in other areas, so we have passed this onto the campus team.

Additionally,  it seems that more libraries are providing activities for students in this exam period so there is plenty of inspiration at the moment. I’m very taken with the idea of a chess board as inspired by @UCLSSEESLibrary and I do wonder about lego or other model making toys which might have a bit of the jigsaw appeal but can be reused more than the jigsaws can.

So, what exam activities are taking place at your library?


Lego in HE

I recently attended a Lego in HE workshop ran by Dr Alison James and Chrissi Nerantzi. It was based on the workshops that Alison and Chrissie had run in the HE environment. Both Chrissie and Alison were clear that it doesn’t exactly follow Lego Serious Play, but there are similarities between them. The general premise is that lego is a tool to visually express thoughts and complex ideas, with individuals build models to represent their ideas.

Recommended reading is and Alison’s report on the HEA website

The workshops that Alison and Chrissi have ran have a series of activities, each posing a question and involving the steps of building, sharing, and reflecting, with reflection leading to action.  The idea of the workshops is that people have space and creativity to explore and that they enable everyone to have a voice. It is based on constructivist approach where people learn best when they are making/creating. I saw huge similarities between this approach and Ketso workshops I’ve taken part in.

Alison and Chrissie reported that these workshops were particularly effective with international students as the focus is on the model not themselves, although they acknowledged that generally accepted thinking on teaching international students is to move away from metaphor and symbolism.

They have ran Lego workshops to look at student engagement, in development sessions to get staff to reflect on their roles and their learning, on team modelling, doctoral inductions, module evaluation and mapping out learning journeys. In the case of doctoral inductions it was used to explore how new PhD students felt about their research. In the group I was in some of the attendees had used lego in teaching, their example was using lego to demonstrate building a product and taking it to market, it was interesting to hear their experience of teaching with lego and it would have been interesting to hear of more teaching examples during the day.

One activity early on was to look at an unusual Lego brick and try and describe it. This is it.

The brick was passed around the group and each person had to say what they thought it was.

It’s actually the base of a ladybird from a duplo set. In the workshop setting this was demonstrating how people might interpret things differently and why we shouldn’t interpret other people’s models. I could see this working well as an activity to demonstrate finding keywords and synonyms when searching. I’m looking forward to trying it out in our next training session.

Some of the activities we undertook on the day were:-

  • To build a model of an animal with four legs and a face.
  • To add something to the animal that represented ourselves
  • To work as a team to build the longest bridge we could
  • To build a model of what we wanted to get from the day
  • To then work as a team to build our own representation of HE
  • To bring out models together as a team to HE
  • To then build an ideal model of HE as a team
  • To build an individual model of an idea for how to use Lego back in your workplace.

The idea through the workshops is that you build up participants metaphorical ease through activities, starting with simple ideas and models and then let the ideas that the models express become more complex.

For most individual activities we were given 2 mins to build and group activities 10 mins to build. They recommend that sessions cannot be less than 90 mins and ideally longer.

At the end of the day, they also brought in playdoh so we could discuss the difference of working with playdoh compared to Lego. The general consensus was lego was better, but there were a few attendees who preferred playdoh due to it’s flexibility.

All through the day it was interesting to see the participants continually play with the Lego throughout the day, even during discussion and Q&A times.

A trip to Cambridge

A while ago (erm nearly a year now – I am a terrible blogger) I visited some of the libraries at the University of Cambridge. Much thanks go to Niamh Tumelty who made it all happen and arranged visits to a great selection of libraries. Thanks also go to Pat Aske at Pembroke, Jodie Walker at Peterhouse, Meg Westbury for an interesting discussion at lunch, Sonya Adams at Selwyn College, Rose Giles at the UL and Emma Etteridge for making sure I didn’t get lost between English and the main University Library.

I wanted to visit the libraries in Cambridge because I could see the similarities between our satellite campus library and the College and Departmental Libraries of Cambridge.

The over-riding message I took back from the day is how much all the library staff I met go above and beyond to make the libraries meet and exceed the needs of their students. There were so many good ideas to take away from these innovative librarians to take back to our campus library.

Some practical points I took away for implementing at our campus were:-

  • Opening the library open for longer and staffing it with postgrads – a potentially useful idea as our campus develops.
  • Books on student welfare & literature – basically going beyond the required texts and having material to support the whole student. Also possibility of ad hoc novel collection, not purchased by the library. We’ve gone some way to providing this in London, from having books on careers to buying books to help with IT basics. We haven’t developed a fiction collection yet, but there are still a few months left of this academic year and we have set up a book club this year.
  • Display cases throughout the library and the College to display objects and treasures from the library. At the time we were investigating how we could display Special Collections from Liverpool at the London campus and came away with several ideas to do this, as well as the potential idea of displaying student work.
  • A mixture of seating throughout the libraries from study carrels, group desk, sofa’s and beanbags. This did lead to the purchase of two beanbags at our campus which are often used by students and created an extra seating area in the library. We also rearranged the sofa’s in the social space which has increased their use.
  • Involving students in events e.g. Students create xmas tree out of books, craft club, treasure trail for museums at night, dark rooms and bookbinding activities, escape room type event, alumni weekend, library valentines, what do you love about the library, students giving book reviews.
  • Advice for new students from older students displayed in the library. Am very tempted to see if we can get our current cohort to do this for the next year’s students.
  • Activities such as colouring, jigsaws, lego for exam time. We set up colouring quite early on and this is used quite regularly, we’ve started to collect some jigsaws and board games for the library which we hope the students will like.
  • Cambridge Penumbra which is a shadowing scheme for the staff at Cambridge University and College libraries, which could be something to explore between the satellite campuses.
  • The University Library had camera and software for creating ID cards, would love to have this at our campus
  • Loved seeing the plans for the library up and displayed in staff areas – I’d seen an example of this in my previous workplace and there was another example of this at the UL. I think being able to see what the goals are for the year (and when you’ve ticked things off) is really good to make sure you don’t forget them in the day to day. Being reminded of this is giving me ideas for our office noticeboard.
  • The staff often tweet about useful tools and this is another good idea for our twitter account.

Below are a few pictures I took on the day

I’ll be catching up on writing about a the other visits I made last year, but this has made me realise that nearly a year is up since I visited another library. It’s definitely time to start thinking about visits again, if only to visit Niamh’s newly refurbished Department of Engineering library, which looks great in the photo’s. As well as finding new libraries to visit, visitors are always welcome at our campus library.


A timely reminder

This week I found myself back in the role of a learner, and in an uncomfortable position of a learner struggling to grasp even basic concepts. I was learning a new craft, or more correctly struggling to learn a new craft (the experience is posted here, if you want a read).

There is a particular section

“Three hours later and I’m questioning if I really like weaving at all. I am overwhelmed by alien terminology, a lack of knowledge of what each process achieves. Forums are a no-go area, full of language beyond my understanding and pictures of beautifully woven objects. I feel an outsider and I can only join when I pass an initiation test and make some beautifully woven fabric.”

And this was when I realised I was in a real life example of Lave and Wenger’s community of practice. Or rather outside of the Community of Practice trying to find a way in, but there were a lot of obstacles in the way.

A real life example of learning that has served as a timely teaching reminder. Not everyone comes with the same background knowledge and understanding, not everyone can pick up ideas quickly, nor does everyone pick up ideas at the same pace. Sometimes what appears simple to some is incomprehensible to others. We all have our smooth flat journeys and we all have our steep mountains to climb.

What I can do as a teacher is acknowledge and respond to an individual’s background knowledge and understanding, think about that alien terminology (and in libraryland it abounds) and what I can do to translate it, develop teaching that allows for individuals pace of learning, remember that there is more than one way to learn and definitely don’t expect a masterpiece on the first try.

This isn’t to say that I don’t approach teaching with this mindset anyway, but there is nothing like feeling unhappy, out of your comfort zone and clueless to remind you that maybe sometimes this is how your students feel. With a lot of teaching ahead in the next few months, I’ll be updating these sessions with those feelings in mind.


Library activities during exam time

Last year in our library we looked at “take a break” activities we could provide for the students during exam time. We went small scale as we weren’t sure how well these will be received, so chose activities that were free and easy to set up. In the summer 2015 exam period we went with colouring in and knitting/crochet, using free colouring in pages and some pens, pencils and knitting supplies from home (don’t think the children have noticed a few pens and pencils have gone). We used our social seating area for the activities and advertised with posters on the tables and noticeboards as well as flyers in the study areas.


These activities were well received by our students, with the take up of colouring-in the best received and we have continued to provide both activities throughout the year due to it’s popularity.

With our next exam period approaching I thought I should look again at our exam offering and had a bit of a scout around what other libraries provide during exam time. I did find this useful summary by Leila June Rod-Welch from a presentation at Brick & Click Libraries: An Academic Library Conference (14th, Maryville, Missouri, November 7, 2014) which summarises a review of library websites for destress activities over exam periods.

As well as this I sent a quick tweet out, which  resulted in some great suggestions from the twittersphere. So thanks to the following for their
great suggestions @schomj @cjclib @samanthahalf @schopflin @CaliSpina @bethanar @niamhpage @jwebbery @NickyAdkins @tinamreynolds

Suggestions include

  • knitting and crochet (as I missed it off the original tweet)
  • crosswords
  • bubblewrap
  • exercise room
  • loom bands
  • massage therapy
  • therapy dogs/petting zoo
  • nail art
  • origami
  • magnets
  • mindfulness tips
  • lego

The suggestions from twitter were great, some require a bit more organisation and collaboration with our student team before we can go ahead, but it’s a great list to make plans for the June exam period. For the Jan exam period we are increasing our activities to include a jigsaw puzzle, sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, as well as colouring-in, knitting/crochet. We may also be able to provide origami and magnets if I can find the right supplies at home.  We are lucky again that all of this we can do without incurring a cost. We are also going to be the place students can pick up fruit which is provided by our Guild of Students. We’ve redone our posters and flyers to show that specific areas of the library can be used to relax during the exam period and are using the same branding to create two new sets of flyers, one for indicating which activitiy they prefer and one for commenting on other activities they would like us to include. These flyers will also help inform what we should provide of the June exam period.

And below are handy links for some of the activities we provide in case you want to do the same are your library.

I hope this provides some useful ideas for other library looking to provide activities during the exam period. If you have any further suggestions of possible activities? Either something you’ve thought of or something you’ve tried that was well received, please let me know in the comments or via twitter

2015 in review

So 2015 brought in some changes on the workfront. Librarycow has moved to a new pasture and is now working at the University of Liverpool in London Library. This is a satellite campus that opened in it’s current building in Sept 2014, having spent the first year at the University of Law. The current campus now been open a year and we have meeted and greeted our second intake in the library, although the third year for the campus itself. The role, which is shared with a colleague, is as librarian for the campus. Working at a brand new campus and brand new library makes quite a change from working for established and historic universities I’ve worked at prior to this, so I thought I’d review some of the similarities and differences.

The Building blocks

In previous roles collection development was heavily weighted towards weeding a collection that had been built up over hundreds of years, whereas in this role we need to build a postgraduate level collection and do it rapidly. We have gone from a library without bookshelves at the very beginning, to all our shelves now being full. We have reading lists  set up for every subject, so we have all the required readings in the library. The next step is to look at collection development techniques for building a collection, rather than weeding a collection. For me, it’s a lot of fun to use the same tools and methods (e.g. citation analysis, collection usage) build a collection rather than look at ways to reduce a collection.

Variety is the spice of life
In this role no two days are the same, from dealing with printer jams, eduroam failures #dammitjanet, developing and delivering academic skills sessions, dealing with a flood in the library, helping find information for dissertations which range in topics from corporate social responsibility to public health in African communities, making circulation systems work……..

Everyday brings something new, which I’ve had in previous liaison roles and one of the reasons I like working in this area. I guess for me the change has been the range of enquiries and building up expertise in areas I previously only had a little knowledge in. We have great colleagues in Liverpool to call on, but for the campus we are all the various library services rolled into one. We are Customer Services, Acquisitions, Academic Liaison, Cataloguers etc etc, every one of these roles falls into our remit, which for me this is a great learning experience and is also part of the reason I went for the role. As a new library we also have the opportunity to define how and what we support at the campus, even exploring areas of support outside the traditional library role, adding even more variety to our role. I don’t think we are doing anything completely revolutionary, but it’s great to look at new area’s of support

The “On Call” librarian

The role is effectively “on call” all day, we have an open door to our little office in the library as we want to be as approachable as possible. This has really worked and we have students and staff popping in all through the day whether they have an in depth dissertation enquiry, want to suggest new items for course readings or even simply want to say hello. The new challenge is staying focussed despite interruptions (an area I’ve generally struggled with anyway). I’m learning to work out the ebb and flow of the whole week, and to plan work a little more in advance so can adjust what happens on each day (I’m learning a lot about to do list and productivity software and what works for me). Things like knowing teaching days, coursework deadlines, exam times and events on campus is really useful for this. Switching off distractions and dealing with one task at a time is another. It’s far easier to pick up one task after an interruption than 2 or 3, although less distractions is problematic when you are also meant to be manning social media accounts. It’s still hard, especially for those tasks that require a bit more concentration and thought, but it’s starting to feel more manageable.

Balancing act

We have to balance the role the library plays at the main campus with providing a library service at a different campus in a different city. What would work for one campus may not work as well at the other campus. One way we approach this is to find out as much as we can from our students to make sure we develop our service with them in mind. We’ve found out about the teaching on campus (see above for finding out timetables, deadlines etc), so we know our students won’t be on campus unless there is teaching and teaching often takes up a whole day. We work closely with student support team, so we know we have a much higher ratio of overseas students compared to the main campus, and our students live further away from campus (why does every journey across London take at least an hour).  Another way we approach this is to gather feedback whenever we can, from the traditional ways by attending all the Staff student committees, to using other means such as our feedback wall. We also try and gain feedback not just for services that we already provide but also for services we want to develop.

It’s good to talk

This aspect I really love at our new campus and makes this role very rewarding. We are really closely linked with all the staff on campus, the student support team are our informal team, they are the colleagues we have team meetings with as well as more informal gatherings. The library is on the same floor as the academic offices so as well as more formal academic liaison meetings we often see them informally –  on their way to lectures, making a coffee, even at the copier. We also try and hold various events in the library, from the expected library training to setting up a craft club, and creating spaces to destress during exam time. All of which helps us support the campus the best way we can and makes the library is an integral part of the campus community.


I really like and am inspired by this quote from R. David Lankes “Bad libraries build collections; good libraries build services; great libraries build communities.” and this is what I hope we are building at our campus.






I was very lucky to attend DARTS 4 (Discover Academic Research Training and Support) earlier in June. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Dartington Hall, the event was packed full with lots of interesting workshops for library staff supporting research.


Dartington Hall (yes it really was that sunny)

Dartington Hall (yes it really was that sunny)


You can see slides from the event at as well as a  storify of the event at:

The event kicked off with Miggie Pickton from the University of Northampton talking about being a practitioner researcher. She started by talking about impact and the move to show economic and societal impact beyond academic impact in the HEI research environment. By considering why we research (Build own and inst reputation, benefit to service, benefit to career), plus the aims of practitioner research (focus on problem or need, pragmatic, investigative, inform practice, audience is colleagues) we could see why impact was important for practitioner researchers like ourselves (e.g.Funders (& employer) demand it, justify use of resource, demo value for money, attract potential partners), and Miggie encouraged us to think about Impact at every stage by considering a)what difference do we want to make and to whom, b) how do we ensure stakeholders benefit and c)how will we measure impact. Through examples and making us think about our own possible research project Miggie demonstrated that in our day job we are all practitioner researchers in some way and this served to highlight the research we carry out and how we implement it. In her slides is an example of a Reading List project which I think demonstrates really well how we are all practitioner researchers. I came away feeling enthused and already developing a few project plans that could be beneficial to the research support our Library Service provides.

Next to speak was Jenni Crossley from University of West England who’s talk was entitled Research Data Management, where are we now. Her talk looked at the current RDM and how it has changed since the publication of the RLUK report “Reskilling for Research”. The original report identified key skills that librarians would need to have to navigate RDM. Jenni had devised questions around these skills areas and you can see the trends in answers from the initial period, 15 months later and where we would like to be in Jan 2016. While s snapshot of the work going on, it does show trends that we are developing those key skills and the support we can provide researchers. Key areas for providing support for RDM were:- ensuring we have adequate staffing; engagement with the University from the Senior management team to the individual researchers; the need for policy from licenses to deposit agreements. During the talk, Jenni also gathered answers on the skills questions from the DARTS audience and it was interesting to see the difference between the DARTS attendees and workshop attendees which demonstrated to me that we still have some way to go to make sure our  staff from across the Library Service (not just those at the RDM coalface) are adequately skilled to support researchers in this new area.

To end the day we had a talk from Leigh Garret from the University for the Creative Arts about the challenges of Research Data Management in the Visual Arts. His talk outlined the work that had already taken place around research data management and visual arts and included great pointers for what we need to consider when setting up a service around research data. Not only was his talk informative his quote ” what is research data? Oh you mean stuff” really brought home how to address research data management in the arts but inspiring after all me notes from this session were “READ THESES SLIDES” but also Leigh set us a couple of challenges in the workshop of looking at research outputs for the Visual Arts  so we could appreciate the range and variety of research data behind these. One of the tasks was to consider Easy chair by Ernest Race, 1953. Not only did these challenges reveal the variety of data that may need managing, but the entire room was filled with budding chair manufacturers.

A thought provoking afternoon was followed by an amazing conference dinner.


Yummy lemon tart for pudding

Yummy lemon tart for pudding


The following day started with an inspiring talk was delivered by Sheila Corral. Her talk highlighted the challenges facing libraries to provide high level support to researchers when the relationship between libraries and researchers is becoming more distant. She identified several  research support trends including bibliometrics, digital humanities, e-research, lifecycle models, one-stop shop, scholarly communication, and space as service. I really appreciated the research which Sheila had collated into one presentation and has saved me many hours of work tracking this down as I consider our own research support services. I would encourage you to look at Sheila’s slides which feature lots of examples of good practice  for research support services and space for researchers within libraries. (and not only because it featured our very own Research Support pages which Sheila commended for the researcher viewpoint).

This was followed by a talk by Yvonne Budden talking about “Open Access at the Coal Face”. Her talk was about what University of Warwick have done to meet the open Access challenge, including switching off IP access to journals to highlight that the library pays for these and incentives for depositing in the repository.  This talk gave me loads of ideas for open access advocacy that we can easily put in place.

This was followed by an update by Neil Jacobs from Jisc on the work they are doing around Open Access and Scholarly Communications. Luckily Neil has saved me the job of writing this with the creation of a new Scholarly Comms blog . The recent posts neatly bring together all the work that Jisc are working on around Scholarly Communications and I would definitely recommend following that blog to keep up to date with all the projects Jisc are coordinating in this area.

In the afternoon we were tasked with a challenge. During the previous day we were all given the opportunity to submit the challenges we face as research support librarians. In this sessions we were split into groups to find solutions to those problems. This session was refreshing as you realise that some of the challenges you were facing were also being faced by others, but also the groups came up with some really interesting and fresh ideas. The challenges and their solutions are one of the slideshows in the slideshare link above.

Finally Katie Fraser and Nathan Rush talked about their project which looked at how to improve communication with research students at De Monfort particularly around library training.  Results from their project showed that research students needed to be acknowledged as researchers,  a sense of community, to understand the relevance of library training, Importantly it also demonstrated that timing was everything  “Information is only useful at exactly the time we need it” Pettersson 2002. The project created a timeline with crisis points for research postgrads where the library could intervene and reduce the crisis.


Overall the event was inspiring and I left full of enthusiasm for the work we do to support research. Most beneficial was meeting with librarians in similar roles and the time to discuss current thorny issues as well as compare practice, especially as research support librarians are generally sole practitioners orin small teams. I came away with lots of ideas not only for how we can support researchers at my own institution, but also support research librarians – more on that soon.

And if you want to see more photo’s from Dartington head over to Millie Moo’s Musings