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.

 

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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.