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?



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.





That was then, this is now

So my last blog post was a long time ago and in that I wanted to make sure that I caught the 6.15 home, stay involved with professional groups and visit other institutions. Well a change of role  and institution has meant that I haven’t really managed to do those, although I’m glad to say I’m still involved with USTLG and newly involved with JIBS and I still hope to visit some more institutions to find out how they support researchers.

The new role has so far been very interesting, with a change of focus away from teaching to looking at all areas of research support, including open access, tools for digital researcher’s, reference management, and citations and bibliometrics.

With this comes a new focus for the blog, so I’ll be adding a few blog posts about relevant meetings and reports to help keep me on top of events and initiatives. I hope these maybe useful  to others as well. Would love to hear from you if you know of any more.



New blog

Well here is blog number 2 (or 4 if you include blogs I contribute to at work). Inspired by Gareth Johnson at a meeting of the USTLG today. He mentioned using blogs for reflective practice and I thought this could be very useful to me.

I have been to many useful meetings and training sessions since starting in my role as subject librarian. These have often inspired new work practices, or given me new ideas to improve what I do. I take notes at all of these sessions. If I don’t use them straight away they are then sadly stuffed in a drawer never to be seen or made sense of again.

By writing a blog post about the meetings or training sessions I get the following benefits.

a) A record of training and meetings I have attended. That record will be in one place and hopefully won’t be lost or misplaced. This has the added benefit of being useful for staff reviews as well.

b) A coherent write up of the event. This has two benefits, 1) it is something that I can easily go back to and refer to my notes and thoughts of the day. 2) If relevant, I would have a write up that I could put forward to the internal library newsletter, benefitting other staff in the library.

c) A place to reflect on those meetings and what ideas they give me to use in my job. Unfortunately this is something I probably don’t do often enough after a training session or meeting. I try and put new ideas into action as soon as possible, but sometimes this doesn’t happen. Unfortunately this means that sometimes they can be forgotten .

d) A chance to communicate that meeting with a wider audience and have the ability to have further conversations after the meeting or training sessions.

So here it is a blog that probably won’t have too many posts, but one where I will be able to reflect on various training and meetings I attend. Most of it will probably relate to my work as a subject librarian. Hopefully those who read this will find it interesting and informative as well and can contribute to the posts I put up.