The Business Librarians Association (BLA) conference is one of the highlights of my year at work. I’ve been to three so far and they get better year after year. This year’s conference was held in Sheffield from the 13-15 July. The theme was “Making an impact: demonstrating value”.
As a member of the BLA committee my conference starts a day earlier than most delegates with a final committee meeting at the venue. At this meeting we run through the programme for the next few days and divide up the remaining jobs. The final task is to make up the delegates packs. We’ve got this down to a fine art now as you can see from the production line in this photo.
One of the jobs I had at the conference was to tweet from the BLAlibNews account. It was the first time that I’ve live tweeted from a conference and also used this as my sole form of notetaking – yes, that means there are no visual notes to show you. I have however created an archive of all of the tweets from the conference (on the #BLAlib tag).
Rather than trawl through all of the tweets and reflect on every session in this post I’m just going to pull out my highlights. All of the presentations will eventually be uploaded to the BLA SlideShare account.
A is for Advocacy… (Keynote by Antony Brewerton)
Ant’s ABC for libraries is advocacy, branding and communicating your worth. Here are the key points of each:
Librarians have always had an image problem and we need advocates. Students can be our most effective advocates – lots of universities are using students to create videos about library services to promote them to Freshers.
Antony expanded Jerome McCarthy’s 4Ps of the Marketing Mix to 7:
- Physical evidence
He showed us examples of marketing campaigns from Oxford Brookes (where cakes featured heavily) and Warwick. At Warwick the main library has a brand and each of the different facilities (Learning, Teaching and BioMed Grids, Wolfson Research Exchange and MRC) have their own sub-brand.
Communicating your worth
It is difficult to attract new users so we need to work on building relationships with existing users. When it comes to this we need to think about selling the benefits and outcomes rather than the tools. This is something which I try to remember whenever I am teaching.
The panel discussion this year took a different format from previous years. Chair Emma Thompson channelled David Dimbleby to host Question Time. The panel consisted of the four speakers from earlier in the day, Heather Thrift, Antony Brewerton, Clive MacDonald and Steve Giannoni. The questions had been previously submitted by members of the audience:
- What is the role of the library in the employability agenda?
SG: supplies need to be aware of the changing roles of libraries so they can support us better in achieving that
CM: we need to focus on practical solutions; placements and projects
AB: libraries need to get information skills of all kinds (including employability) embedded into modules and work with other central university services to provide them
HT: we need to reinvent traditional tools and show that library resources can be used to break in to future job markets
- Do libraries need to embrace social media?
CM: students value face-to-face interactions most but they will expect us to know and use technology.
AB: we need to get students promoting the library using social media e.g. writing posts on library blogs
ET: we also need to monitor what is said about our libraries and respond
- Are students primarily learners or customers?
HT: We have customer services divisions in our libraries; we are therefore sending a message to our users about how we view them.
AB: This has been an issue for the past 10-15 years and it’s far me complex than this or that.
SG: it’s irrelevant what we think, it’s about student perceptions and how we manage them
CM: they are learners but they need and want the best elements of customer services from library staff
Huddersfield University Library Impact Project workshop
This session consisted of two parts. The first a presentation introducing the project delivered by Graham Stone (sadly Dave Pattern had to stay in Huddersfield to resolve a problem at work).
The project’s hypothesis is that there is a statistically proven correlation between student library usage and attainment. The data used to measure this was circulation transactions, e-resource usage and library entry statistics.
As the project nears its end the team are nearly in a position where they can prove the hypothesis.
Further research will look at whether usage of reading list items raises attainment and whether a VLE makes a difference
To find out more you can read the project blog and the slides from the presentation.
The second part of the session was a discussion workshop. We were split into groups and presented with one of four questions to discuss. After 15 minutes we came back together for each group to present their answers.
1. If we assume a link between library usage and attainment, what does good practice look like?
- responding to feedback
- analysis of surveys, including NSS
- Bloomberg/Reuters certification
- testimonials and publication of positive feedback
- access to materials and provision of learning space
- promotion of services
2. Can we actually demonstrate that the library adds value?
- ask high achieving students what they are doing; are they using the library or not
- can’t assume that non-usage means students are doing something wrong; perhaps course does not demand it
- is reading beyond the reading list making a difference to grades?
- application and interpretation of information, not just use
- are higher achievers better at choosing resources? Yes; evaluation is key
3. If students are not using the library or the resources, what can we do to change their behaviour? How could gender, culture and socio-economic background affect library usage and how could this be addressed?
- librarians and information skills need to be embedded and relevant
- resources need to be simplified
- cultural issues; one right answer or unrealistic expectations of help available
- student ambassadors/champions
- promotion/marketing of resources
- content AND functionality are key
4. If the hypothesis is proved to be correct, does cutting library budgets mean that attainment will fall?
- use usage statistics to identify which resources to cut
- move to eBooks over multiple print copies
- point of need training and making the most of what you’ve got
- year on year cuts will of course have an impact
- evidence is crucial; can we show resource use is linked to student performance
- to measure value of subject librarians test information literacy before and after information skills training
Analysing Service Quality Among Postgraduate Chinese Students (Keynote by Bradley Barnes)
In the future there will be greater competition for Chinese students from outside the UK. In addition to the expansion of China’s Higher Education market there are external issues which may mean Chinese students are less likely to apply to UK universities: Visa processing, reduced economic growth in China and the fear of no job on return home.
Bradley Barnes, Professor of International Management & Marketing at the University of Sheffield, has carried out a survey of Chinese students in order to analyse service quality. The survey was based on SERVQUAL and split into sections: responsiveness, assurance, empathy, tangibles and reliability. The results showed that the subject university was underperforming in all areas – the issue therefore is understanding and managing expectations.
Concerns about the expectations of Chinese students are that they, and so the answers given in the survey, are skewed by cultural factors. A major contributing factor is that the students have little knowledge or experience of the UK. Barnes sees a simple solution to this, we need to educate Chinese students before they arrive so they are more aware of cultural differences.