Monday, 14 January 2013

Celebrating National Libraries Day in the specialist library sector

As part of National Libraries Day 2013, I wanted to do something to promote and celebrate library and information resources available both within my sector and geographical location. I work in a government library, based in the south west. We're not open to the public. We're a digital library, focused on sharing knowledge rather than lending books and I'm one of dwindling number left in the team that describes myself as a 'librarian'

Many of the ideas I have might be very specific to my users and could easily be filed under general 'promotional ideas' but I thought I'd share them and attempt to generate some more suggestions and enthusiasm among other specialist libraries.

Increase my profile

I've already put myself forward for our weekly intranet highlight which allows readers to 'meet a colleague'. I've used the space to talk about my work within the organisation, and about my belief in public libraries being a core part of rebuilding communities and responding to support citizens in the current economic climate, the digital divide and the celebration of libraries at part of National Libraries Day. Obviously, I've also popped in a sneaky plug for Voices for the Library

Handily, one of the statutory questions is 'what's your favourite source of information'. I normally sigh reading this on a Monday morning. It's usually filled with the unimaginative 'I find everything I need on Google'. The writer normally gets an email from my introducing myself, a link to a specific resource in our collection I think they might find useful in their role and an invite to our series of 'Essential Search Skills' workshops. So you can guess as to how I answered this question - it's a great way to raise the profile of our resource to a large audience.

Write a blog post

No not this one. I recently took a deep breath and launched an internal-facing blog focusing on information and knowledge skills in the modern workplace. It's my sneaky way of introducing information literacy to the masses (I use the word 'masses' loosely. The highest number of visitors for one blog post in a day is around 80). I'm encouraging creative use of our resources, sharing ideas about learning and development and challenging perceptions about what I do in my role. It initially felt like a brave thing to do. Not many people in my organisation blog, and those that do are usually higher up the chain of command than I am. But I've found it's been a great way to reach out to colleagues who don't normally use my service, generate publicity for resources and encourage discussion about the use of information resources. It's only been going a few months, but it's generated lots of positive comments. I now feel that I'm in a place where it's appropriate for me to discuss 'libraries' generally. So I'm planning a blog post on National Libraries Day, discussing different kinds of libraries and why we're still relevant in an environment where many people are still listing 'Google' or 'Wikipedia' as their favourite resource, and talking about the role of librarians using our 'Free Library Voices' project. (If you're interested, you can find our more by following @VoicesLibrary on Twitter)

Create a directory of local libraries

It's easy to find public libraries. It's not so easy to find corporate, workplace, specialist library and information services. Around about 8 years ago, I created a local directory of library and information services - taking a very broad view of what a 'library and information service' was. I sent every organisation that responded to my request for details about their service a copy of the directory and got some great feedback. I think it's time the directory was updated and published again. It's a way of creating a local network of services who can work together and rely on each for support. It could also be used to raise awareness among my own service users of local specialist collections and the wider role of libraries. The library opposite my office has a specialist print and electronic business collection. I doubt many people in my office know about it.

Legal information resources quiz

There are some weird and wonderful pieces of legislation still on the statute books. (Don't put a stamp with the Queens head on the envelope upside down, or you could be accused of treason!) I'd like to use these as a focus for a quiz to encourage our users to explore the legal information resources - and introduce a few new searching skills whilst I'm at it.

Job shadow

I'm going to offer myself as a 'training and development opportunity' for the day, and invite my colleagues to shadow me. Working in a mostly electronic environment, I'll need to be creative about how I involve others in my work. But there's lots for them to do from assessing individual items in our print collection for digitisation,  preparing to set up our 'live meetings' where we demonstrate information literacy skills or answering simple company information enquiries. It could improve their awareness of the breadth of our work as well as the range of resources and services that we offer. I could also take this further with a 'job swap'. It would help me to develop a greater understanding of the needs of service users. I always fancied donning a pair of wellies and getting out from behind the desk and into the field.

Increase visibility locally

Most of the users access our services from a distant and we rarely meet them in person. In a large open-plan office where no-one owns their own desk, we don't have a physical presence in the office. Hotel-desks means that I can be sat next to someone new every day. They won't be part of my team. They probably won't know me, what I do or how I can help them with their own objectives. The advantages of constantly moving around mean that I can network around the building, introduce myself to colleagues sat around me and strike up conversations about my work. I can choose to sit next to colleagues who I think might benefit from knowing who I am. But I could be more visible. Perhaps I need to be creative about temporarily decorating my desk? Popping a big arrow above it with 'Librarian sitting here' along with flashy lights and disco music? I once took to wearing a branded 'hands on training' t-shirt so that I  was visible walking around the office. Luckily the environment I work in happily accommodates those that arrive to work on a bike in Lycra shorts, hippy environmentalists walking round in chunky sandals and wind-dried hair alongside the suited-and-booted. Perhaps there is a snazzy 'National Libraries Day' t-shirt I could wear to complement my 'Librarians - The Original Search Engine' mug?

Lunch and learn

Our office has recently acquired a rather whizzy white board, linked to Internet with touch-screen capabilities. If it sounds like I'm looking for an excuse to go and play with it, you'd be right! But the new technology is also interesting people, and I'd like to hook that up to something useful. Working in a networked office means that this sort of presentation isn't just limited to those who work in the vicinity - we have the ability to link up via video / audio conferencing with other offices. 'Lunch and learn' sessions are quite a popular format, enabling bite-sized learning and are usually well attended. I dislike the idea that colleagues need to be bribed with jaffa cakes to come along, or that learning is something that can be squeezed in to a lunch hour, but it offers an option to those that might not make it if it were scheduled during core hours.

Team collaboration

It's time to hook up with other teams. We work closely with other departments, including 'Research & Innovation', 'Facilities' and 'Legal' and 'Information Security' teams. Collaborating with other teams on cross-promotional activities helps to embed us in to the organisation and encourage the idea that we are a core service, rather than an add-on.

Hire a librarian

We have a team of 'pool workers' who respond to local needs by offering their skills to projects that need more resources. Working flexibly, they work in a variety of teams and cross-cutting projects. Using this as a model, I could offer myself as a member of a 'rapid response project team' for the week. Again, it allows me to increase awareness of the skills and knowledge we have within our own team, as well as providing me with a broader perspective of the activities elsewhere in my organisation.

Dress like a librarian - donate to library charity / development

This one might be a bit controversial! And perhaps work better in an academic library? But rather than coming to work in jeans, or spotty pyjama trousers for the day, could we encourage our users to come to work 'dressed as a librarian'? Using it as a humorous platform to acknowledge the stereotypes, I want to get people talking about librarians and what they do. I'm not entirely sure it would work in my office. I don't think I'm brave enough to try it this year, but maybe someone else will be?

Libraries on tour

We serve a workforce of around 12000 people, spread throughout England and Wales. Whilst we have no physical collection to promote, we can travel to other offices, provide a 'drop-in' session, face-to-face training or invite ourselves to local team meetings to showcase examples of our work.

Favourite resources wall / cool wall

An easy idea to implement. Create a display with the ability for users to provide feedback and comments on the things they love about the service, how they use it and what positive impacts the service has on being able to complete their work.

Launch group on Yammer

In the last few weeks, my organisation has finally embraced social media and allowed us out to play. Previously, resources like Delicious, Facebook and Twitter were blocked. We now have access to tools like Yammer. I'd like to launch a group focused on sharing tips and tricks for keeping up to date with the range of data, information and knowledge skills required in the workplace.

It's a whole week of activities, and there is so much we can do to promote our specialist digital collections, promote online learning resources we've created like our 'Netvibes' platform for pointing to information literacy resources for the workplace. My goal now is to persuade the team that the rewards of this will be worth the effort - and to monitor the impact it has so we have the ammunition to do it all again soon.

I think libraries of all kinds are worth celebrating, and National Libraries Day gives us a great platform to do that.

How is your specialist library responding to National Libraries Day? Are you collaborating with other similar libraries? How would some of these ideas work in your library / information service?

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