Monday 14 January 2013

Libraries@Cambridge Conference 2013

The theme of this years conference was 'Making an Impact', something which I have been interested in since conducting research into impact for my MSc dissertation. I should add for anyone who read my blog on last years conference that this post will not be as controversial! I'm just going to focus on a few of the points that I found really relevant in the keynote sessions. For a full report of the day, see the official conference blog which has a report on each session.

Liz Jolly gave the first of the two keynote sessions. One of the points that she highlighted was that although as a sector we are good at measuring things, we need to make sure that we are doing this for the right reasons. This is something that I've come across a lot in my own research. Libraries tend to have all manner of usage statistics but do we actually use them effectively or do we just compile them for the sake of it? Liz talked about the importance of effective benchmarking and setting our measurements in context. This last point is particularly important as we should be measuring how we align our work with the goals of our institutions if we want to prove our worth.

This is something that I've often thought about with cataloguing. I know that to some we are a dying species but I think that a strong cataloguing department is essential to the smooth running of a library. The main problem is how to get this message across. There is lots of talk at the moment about how important the student experience is and I think that cataloguers need to make the point that even if we are in the back office, what we do is actually a very important user service. Without proper cataloguing our users will have trouble finding the resources that they need - isn't this one of the most important parts of serving library users?
Liz also talked about the importance of advocating what we do to our colleagues and users. She stressed that we need to make it clear that professional bodies such as CILIP are learning organisations and we are using membership to develop ourselves, hopefully leading to better service. This is something that was mentioned at the recent CILIP CIG conference where presentations highlighted the importance of getting involved with the library outside your own department. Liz talked about going to where our colleagues are and learning to speak their language, something which I think is important. We need to stop seeing our departments as isolated units and learn to work together and promoting ourselves to our colleagues is one way of doing this.

The second keynote presentation was given by Dave Patten and Graham Stone who talked about the Library Impact Data Project. The project is attempting to establish a link between library use and final degree level - something which is really interesting to a lot of librarians! Phase two of the project is more focused, looking at off campus resource usage, hours spent logged in and overnight use amongst other things. The results so far are really interesting, for example showing that mature students (anyone over 21!!) tend to use resources more than their younger counterparts. Dave and Graham have also broken down usage by ethnicity and country leading to some surprising results which need further investigation. The presenters made the point that even if some of the results that they are producing seem to be common sense, having actual evidence of the impact of the library should not be underestimated. Demonstrating the value for money that the library can bring to the student experience is vitally important - especially in the light of the current financial climate. This is an issue that I have seen raised many times in the course of my research on impact and I'm glad to see that someone has taken this further and is producing some quantifiable evidence.

Even though the issue of impact has been raised in the profession many times before I don't think that being reminded of it is a bad thing. It's important that we don't become complacent and continue to find new and innovative ways of demonstrating the difference that we make to our users and colleagues, whichever part of the library that we work in.

The conference was as usual really though provoking and provided the opportunity to meet up with colleagues who may work in the same city but don't always have time to get together. Roll on libraries @ Cambridge 2014!

photo credit: Vermin Inc via photopin cc

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