We need to talk: using structured time to facilitate unstructured chat

Have you ever wished you had more opportunities to chat informally with your colleagues, to get to know them and learn from each other in a relaxed atmosphere, with no agenda, minutes, or actions?

Here’s a solution: use structured time to facilitate unstructured chat.

In many workplaces, employees are scattered between offices, buildings, and campuses. Mechanisms exist to bring us together for formal meetings, but we rely on fleeting moments to build relationships, chat about problems, and share helpful tips.

People are often full of goodwill about chatting over coffee or welcoming unscheduled drop-ins, but these Want-Tos are often squeezed out by our Have-Tos, and they fall down in our list of priorities.

Enter: a series of monthly get-togethers to help us make time to chat, and seed crystals of collaboration and support.  At Sunderland University Library, we did this for the first time in 2013-14, and named the series Professional Practice Forum (PPF).

Crucially, these sessions are put into diaries just like formal meetings, and each one has a theme in order to provide focus, and help attendees to justify their time there.

To help attendance across a range of working patterns, PPF sessions are scattered across different times of day, and different days of the week. For each month, a facilitator is appointed, and they are responsible for choosing the theme, how it will be approached, and organising the venue.

Our themes this year have included blogging, information skills teaching, hobnobbing with students (“the biscuit one”), dissertation support, technology and distance learners, TeachMeet, and student support for maths and study skills.

The theme provides a core topic for discussion and exchange of ideas, and our conversation will often veer off in other directions.

Here is some feedback from this year’s participants:

  • Useful networking opportunity especially working with [colleagues] I wouldn’t normally see/talk to. 1 hour a month when I take the time to think specifically about my professional development. Wouldn’t do this otherwise.  Intro to TeachMeet idea made attending one less scary.
  • I found the practice sharing aspect to the forum particularly useful and it gave everyone an opportunity to contribute and share their practice with colleagues.  Thanks everyone!
  • The sessions I attended were not only interesting but a good opportunity to discuss practices with colleagues – we don’t really get to do in other areas e.g. team meetings.
  • Useful opportunity both to share ideas and practices but also picked up some new information which I didn’t previously know about.
  • A really valuable forum for liaison discussion and sharing ideas/best practice. I really enjoyed the sessions and have used material either developed/created from ideas discussed here or shared from others in my liaison and skills sessions. Looking forward to seeing what’s on the agenda for next year!

So, if you and you colleagues sometimes feel that you could benefit from some less formal interactions alongside your official meetings, try this format of structuring the opportunity to meet, then letting the conversation flow.

#ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

1 Designing society through thinking

University of Helsinki welcomes administrative staff from Erasmus partner universities to network, benchmark and share their expertise with colleagues around Europe. International Staff Exchange Weeks [ISEW] provide a unique opportunity to update your professional skills and revise your routines.

2 ISEW welcome

Photo credit Veera Ristikartano

I applied to the ISEW Library programme and was among 15 people chosen to visit the University of Helsinki from 2-6 June 2014.  I had been looking forward to it for months, and it truly was an amazing week.

3 The ISEW crew

#ISEWLib2014 participants (and 3 of our Finnish hosts); photo credit Veera Ristikartano

The 2014 participants were: Lorena (Spain), Renata (Poland), Ursula (Eire), Katarina (Sweden), Maria (Greece), Mantas (Lithuania), Monica (Norway),  Sandrine (France), Katrin (Germany), Massimo (Italy), Jordi (Spain), Tine (Belgium), Sigridur (Iceland), me (England), Fiona (Scotland).

Here is a roundup of my highlights from this week:

And some fun things:

I looooved that my name has been spelled “Wilkinsson” on the #ISEWLib2014 programme – feeling more Nordic by the minute.

Kalevala for children; in Savon; in Swedish; in Finnish

Kalevala for children; in Savon; in Swedish; in Finnish

After the sauna on Wednesday evening…

Did you hear that, England? I just got nekkid with colleagues for the cause of international co-operation. You're welcome. At the library staff party, where we were all give leis to wear, and there were games and exuberant dancing

54 Antti Veera Laura

Antti, Veera, me – photo credit Veera

Finnish has a reputation for being difficult to learn but perhaps it’s not so hard after all…

55 Kuusi palaa
A huge THANK YOU to the library staff from the University of Helsinki who put together an excellent programme and made us feel so welcome it was hard indeed to go home at the end of the week.

#ISEWLib2014 Libraries at the University of Helsinki

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

4 Colour coded zones

Colour-coded learning spaces

At start of last academic year, all new students at the medical campus were given a tablet computer each. But we still can’t assume that all students at have their own IT equipment.

51 Name badge

Staff badges – staff choose for themselves which language flags to display

Post-graduates and “lost-graduates” – people who have finished their course but not sure what to do next! These are found in or near libraries all over the world, and now I know a name for them :)

5 Donate a textbook

Donate a textbook – but with money, not out-of-date editions!

Idea from Columbia Uni, NY: employ ‘newly-minted’ PhD graduates on library teams to provide recent user experience (UX) input

7 Kitchen

Little kitchen for students. Can heat own food (or baby food) in microwave

Mobile storage units which students can rent for a few euros. Side is open - secure once locked away

Mobile storage units which students can rent for a few euros. Side is open – secure once locked away

Service design project @HULib objectives and scope. Goal was not just to have a beautiful and functional new building, but also to offer world-class services.

25 Antti objectives and scopeIt was important for @HULib to be seen as one university library service, and harmonise service and branding across campuses.

26 Antti user studyFour different user types emerged from customer profiling: lingerer, visitor, investigator, patron.  These users types describe behaviour rather than individuals.

Achieved change in service culture: strategy and service promise; user-centred & participatory design processes/methods/tools.  Across the group, we recognised that it is difficult to strike a balance between catering for younger students, and keeping older patrons and academics happy.

Having lots of different types of seats caters for different user needs, and makes them easier to replace.

27 If there are no books at all

“If there are no books at all, students don’t think about it as a library space”

28 ISEW participants

Love these little glasses of flowers to bring some of the Finnish summer indoors! Photo credit Veera Ristikartano

From Antti Virrankoski‘s presentation on the learning centre project at Kumpula Campus. Library space usage, according to exit poll (2011):

32 Library space use exit poll

Library space usage, according to exit poll

Requirements for the new learning spaces: individual , group and teachings spaces; comfort, accessibility:

33 Conclusions learning space

‘Count the traffic’ customer behaviour profiling method by Tord Høivik.  After the redevelopment at Kumpula, there will be more seats, more computers, more flexible working spaces; and better accessibility, comfort, and infrastructure.

See also: Learning spaces at the University of Warwick Library

#ISEWLib2014 Minerva Plaza learning environment

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

Mikko Halonen introduced us to the Minerva Plaza building, which is like a tech petting zoo!

9 Minerva PlazaThe big presentation room is called the Owl’s Nest, and it’s surrounded by smaller rooms with their own technology equipment.

10 Time lapse video

Time-lapse video showing how flexible the Owl’s Nest learning space can be!

Some academics don’t like the glass walls of the Owl’s Nest – everyone can see what you’re doing; and some are tech refusers.

No point having devices if you have no idea how to use them to teach – showing academics how is key part of Minerva Plaza.

Kirsti Lonka has written about Minerva Plaza and its use – see this presentation from slide 19  and my own notes from her talk on engaging learning environments at the IFLA satellite conference on information literacy.

We tried out Flinga (live shared desktop) by NordTouch:

11 Flinga

Flinga

Flinga has been valuable in encouraging discussion and engagement in conferences, as well as with students.  It lets people type rather than talk.  Non-native speakers of English in our group said they felt more comfortable with this.  Conclusion: Flinga is a great tool to use in presentations or during courses. It combines discussing, learning and interaction!

#ISEWLib2014 Digital Library Services in Finland

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

Leena Saarinen‘s presentation on Digital Library Services – Finnish structures and interfaces

National Library of FinlandFinna is the single search interface for the collections of many Finnish libraries, museums & archives.  Go and search Finna (e.g. Moomin, pulla, Sibelius, Tove Jansson, anything!) and look how many results there are :)

National Historical Newspaper and Journal Library

Finto – Finnish thesaurus and ontology service

Mentioned in session: reCAPTCHA system, which protects websites from bots and helps digitize the text of books - here’s an example:

46 reCAPTCHA

And a warning!

47 Google owns you

 

#ISEWLib2014 Collection management and e-resources

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

Top tip: use reference lists from dissertations to help inform decisions on which are the most important journals.

Are students satisfied with ebook-only?  Some replies I received on Twitter:

  • daveyp @laurajwilkinson I’d say the stats we’ve got show the answer is increasingly “yes”, despite DRM & iffy vendor platforms
  • MT @daveyp We’ve not crunched stats properly, but seems age is a factor with younger students more likely to have higher usage
  • MT @daveyp average number of ebook platform logins per student per year is growing an at exponential rate for us at the moment
  • .@daveyp That’s what we do [buy e where available, and fewer print copies]. Students say they prefer print, but data suggests they use e if no print alternative
  • MT @ostephens when asked, students still want print but are pragmatic & pref[erence] depends on task, location etc
  • MT @daveyp given increase in [ebook] usage, I think libs should be pushing pub[lisher]s harder for a better user experience

Idea of restricting ebook access to subject groups of students to reduce costs, but higher risk of breach of licence (if the “wrong” students gain access), and reduced opportunity for interdisciplinary work if readers can’t access texts outside their field.

Helsinki Uni Library’s online acquisition proposal form for students & academics to make recommendations.  They also use patron-driven acquisition (PDA) and evidence-based selection (EBS).

We discussed the legal/logistical issues around selling deselected books to students.  I liked the idea of using the money raised to buy plants for the library!

39 Library is the smartphone

“Library is the smartphone, smartphone is the library”

Terkko Navigator – an excellent site.  It’s a single search interface with all the usual info sources, plus library and academic staff profiles, and RSS feeds.  Please will a funding body give @Terkko money to make the system open source so we can all use it?  The journal and database functionality is powered by SFX and MetaLib, the rest is built in-house.  Various journal metrics are displayed alongside journal titles.

Eevaliisa Colb’s presentation on Digital Libraries Now.

The library has a duty to serve the university community and the public community.  Machines are users too! [think libre open access and machine indexing]

Aalto chair – a tool for strategic IT planning:

59 Aalto chair 2

Seat = our service offer; legs = customer-centredness, cooperation, ‘more with less’

‘More with less’: In IT, anything is possible; but we must prioritise – we can’t do everything for everyone.

KITT – Finnish research library statistics database

45 KITT - Finnish research library statistics databaseLayers of authentication for Helsinki Uni e-resources: Shibboleth-type single sign-on is widely used (Haka is the Finnish uni federation), and IP address access too.  As in the UK, there is a mismatch between the potential granularity of SSO and the reality of ‘authorised user’ clauses in most e-resources licences.

“IT should be the servant of library services, not the master”

Importance of informal contact and regular communication between library & IT in working well together.  It was reassuring to learn that many of our e-resources issues are common to all our countries.  For example, licence compliance; especially when tech or Uni business model exceeds imagination of the licence.

#ISEWLib2014 Finnish Parliament Library

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

48 Helsingin Sanomat

Newspapers at the Library of Parliament

49 Parliament Lib desks

Parliamentary Library reading room. Original desks + sockets underneath + WIFi

The Library of Parliament welcomes a wide range of visitors, and provides walk-in user access to a range of e-resources.  Note the absence of some of the big-name legal databases – this is because they don’t have much/any Finnish content, so they are not relevant.

50 Law trolley

Special book trolley for heavy Law volumes