“The library is my Google”

A lesson in team-building and critical thinking

Are you the head of a library? Have you been trained in leadership? I studied for almost nine years, but there was no information on this subject – neither at the Biological Sciences Faculty or at the library school. All of a sudden I was Head of a faculty library with a staff of 12 people. Nobody told me how to motivate them, how to inspire them, how to convince them that I knew everything and that they should follow me without question. I tried to convince them using my knowledge, but nobody completely bought that. To my big surprise they did not blindly follow the ideas of this newbie, but were rather critical towards them – you cannot imagine my frustration! And that happened to almost all my ideas – even the most promising ones. So my way of becoming a leader was a stony path of trial and error and learning by doing. Yes, this takes years of experience and I am still learning. A bit more insight and training in leadership and team-building at the beginning would have been highly beneficial for both me and my staff. One thing is clear, I learnt that satisfied, thoughtful employees are crucial for providing high quality services, especially in this fast changing information environment and this is where good leadership is essential. As part of this journey, I decided to get some professional support to overhaul our services using a team approach. We were pleased to secure the expertise of an experienced knowledge and project manager for leading European academic libraries from Proud2Know (1) to lead the workshop. The staff of the Branch Library of Medicine, Munster (2) spent an entire day working intensively on ways and means to improve current library services, particularly focussing on how to better understand and meet the information needs of the over 1,200 faculty researchers and physicians.

The team as a strong unit

The workshop began with a team-building exercise, consisting of a game which identified staff strengths. This served to help empower each participant to engage in the process of change during the workshop. Two other measures were set in place to support that goal: first, all library staff members took part in the workshop to ensure that everyone could provide input, and second, the head of the library was generally banned from talking, apart from acting as a recorder of the events.

Learning from experience

The team began by working out what a typical working day of selected medical faculty looks like and where, over that day, the library currently offers its services. As preparation, the library had interviewed several researchers such as a pathologist and an orthodontist about their typical working day and presented the results to the group.

Strengths and weaknesses

Library staff then explored the current complete service offer, highlighting the library’s strengths and weaknesses based both on evidence from systematic evaluations and anecdotal feedback. For this purpose, each staff member wrote down the services he/she was involved in. All services were then mapped to a Venn diagram’s overlapping circles of 1) what was important to the researcher, 2) what the Library was good at and 3) what services were unique. It turned out, after some discussion, that most services were regarded both as important and good. Services which were important but not good were marked for improvement, such as the structure and content of the homepage. The accuracy and speed of the services were mentioned too. Literature searches were regarded as good but not important, because almost all researchers are performing these by themselves. Two services were regarded as unique: a fast document delivery service called RAPIDOC, and iPad lending.

The researcher’s viewpoint

A role-playing exercise closed the session on the current status of library services, with staff putting themselves in the researcher’s shoes to observe how they communicated, perceived and interacted with the current library services. Results from this session showed that researchers are unaware of some services such as E-Books, article delivery, and IT support. These were joined with other findings of the day as a basis for future improvement plans for the library. Pragmatic solutions to the questions raised came from all levels of the organization, which will help by feeding into plans for improvement. For example, better marketing, alerting services, lunch and learn sessions, and a library appliance for smartphones.

The library is my Google

Before future planning began, the team had a brainstorm session to develop a slogan to reflect what the library would like to be known as by its researchers in the future. Some of the statements thrown up were: “The Library is my personal literature adviser”, “The Library is absolutely indispensable” and “The Library is my Google”. A very positive outcome was the enthusiasm of the staff. Almost all regarded their job as highly valuable and the library as a real treasure for the faculty.

Onto the next level

The rest of the day was dedicated to building on the lessons learnt on the status quo of current research support services. Questions were raised such as What are our limits for satisfying the never ending demands of the researcher? As we have been educated as librarians not as physicians, can we provide medical information? Before discussing brand new services, and based on the earlier Venn diagram results, staff then voted for an existing service that could be terminated or at least reconsidered to make room for new services. Not surprisingly, almost everyone hesitated to cut services, especially the ones they provide themselves. New services mentioned ranged from a mobile lending unit, a wellness space with no access to phone lines and the internet, and subject specific alerting services.

Conclusion

To summarize, it was very beneficial for the library team to have the space and opportunity to share their opinions on how to improve library services without the librarian dominating the discussion. By the end of the day we were impressed by the amount of knowledge we held collectively and how much we had learnt about the researcher’s viewpoint. I believe the staff is now very much more motivated and excited about what is ahead and keen to take the library a step forward in future. As one staff member put it: Today brought new energy into the library. Let’s continue with it. We have since installed some internal task forces to take plans forward. We also plan to have such workshops on a regular basis. Fortunately, the Faculty is proud of the library and supports us on our journey ahead.

Reference

  1. www.proud2know.eu
  2. www.zbmed.ms

This article was published in the September issue 2012 of the JEAHIL.

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