IAML (UK & Irl) conference 2016 – part 1

Last month I attended what I can barely believe was my FIFTH music library conference with IAML (UK & Irl)! A short trip across the Pennines in Manchester this year, I had a great time and seem to get more jobs to do every year with my Music Libraries Trust hat on and this year I also led a ‘quick-fire’ session on professional networking. To keep the post from getting too unwieldy, I’ve split it into two. This one is on the excellent marketing session titled ‘Effective Library Marketing and Methods of Demonstrating Value.’

Neil MacInnes (Manchester Libraries) gave a talk on the marketing strategy of Manchester’s library service. We all know about their capital investment programme having seen the beautiful Manchester Central Library, but Neil said they are still actively trying to improve the service and promote what he termed their ‘universal offer.’ He made the crucial point that even though public libraries are a statutory service, it is still a ‘service of choice’ and so needs promoting to and uptake by the community.


Pretty! Image credit: ‘Branding’ by EdgeThreeSixty TM http://www.edgethreesixty.co.uk Flickr CC license.

Neil shared their six step marketing plan: 1) Brand – for a large public library system with many branches like Manchester, consistency was key. 2) Signage – with the introduction of self service, it became even more important to have clear, concise instructional signage. Neil also emphasised having positive messages rather than loads of signs with all the things you’re not allowed to do. 3) Customer segmentation and targeting (here’s where it got a bit jargon heavy!) – they researched community trigger points, i.e. what triggers people to start using the library in Manchester, for example starting studies or having children. They also plotted heat maps of who lives where and how various age groups are concentrated around the city. All of this information then helped to inform library services. 4) Promotion, programmes and channels – this aspect of the marketing plan included running events, collaboration with local partners and wider city-wide events (e.g. Manchester Jazz Festival), and promoting the library via social media. 5) Online presence and customer journey – this involved revamping their website along usability/user experience lines, basically making it easier to do things online. 6) Review of experience, feedback and data – probably everyone does a bit of this, whether a user survey or informal chat at the counter to get feedback. Neil mentioned a survey project where they got teens to survey their peers in the library, which seemed to be an effective approach. My final impression was that even though this was quite an elaborate, multi-pronged and formal marketing plan for a very large, urban library system, there were points in each step that any library could take on board.


Next Penny Hicks (University of Manchester Library) shared on the topic of marketing campaigns that work and aren’t scary! She gave a bit of a marketing crash course and said marketing in a library context is about connecting with customers: finding out and supplying what they need, when they need it and supporting their work in a relevant, timely manner with appropriate training. Their marketing methodology follows this step by step process: robust research, identifying areas to change/innovate, remaining grounded in an understanding of the offer, identifying what success would look like, implementation, and evaluation. Simple, right??

She went on to give an example form Manchester University that helped flesh this out. They decided to ‘measure changes in perception’, and if I remember correctly, this is to do with figuring out if there is a gap in what library staff think students think about the library, and what students actually think about the library and whether this has changed since the last time they looked at this area. So they proceeded to do some customer journey mapping, and actually followed students around the library with a video camera as the student attempted to complete a task, such as finding a book. It turns out this simple task was far from easy, requiring much wandering around and repeatedly going back to ask directions from staff. The research prompted a painful realisation that the library needed to get back to the ‘core business,’ i.e. back to the basics of providing information that is accessible and well organised. The research resulted in changes to for example signage and more visible library staff wearing T-shirts that said “Ask me.”

Finally there was a Q&A with the panel. Neil responded to a question about promoting library services and said they’d done a campaign called ‘Meet the neighbours’, basically getting staff out of the library into the community. This was done through pop-up libraries on the high street and in businesses.

Another question about getting user feedback and survey fatigue prompted the panel to talk about strategies such as student ambassadors who can both give feedback and recruit their peers. Timing of a survey is important, e.g. don’t clash with the NSS. Penny mentioned the valuable qualitative feedback they’ve gotten from researcher groups.

So that’s your crash course in library marketing! Part 2 of the conference coming soon.

Library School – Dissertation update

I thought doing an update about my dissertation might be timely since I’m approximately half-way through now. My title is “The Hybrid Music Conservatoire Library: A Mixed Methods Study of Leeds College of Music Library Users’ Format Preferences.” My aim is to investigate students’ resource format preferences at our library with the main outcome being making recommendations about any changes needed in what resources we buy/subscribe to (i.e. our collection development policy). Essentially I’m looking at what people say they want and what they actually use in terms of resource formats. This is why it’s a mixed methods approach since I’m combining qualitative (the former) and quantitative (the latter) methods.

I have just finished my fieldwork and am now into data analysis…a statement I never envisaged myself ever writing! This whole process of social science research has been completely new to me and I’ve found it a pretty steep learning curve. My other Masters dissertation was solely historical (and what I now know is termed) “desk” research. I read loads and did some original research using primary sources, but it was essentially a solo job of me working with my laptop and the sources. This time around though, I’m doing fieldwork with all that entails – getting permissions and consent, ethical considerations and checks, working with other people, relying on other people and external pressures/risks. It’s definitely been a challenge but I think it will stand me in good stead for the future since this type of research is being undertaken more and more by librarians today.

Data analysis is also a completely new skill and it hasn’t helped that there aren’t many examples in the literature of similar studies I can draw from – though that is also a good thing since my research is apparently fairly original!  I’m using Excel for the quantitative data and have yet to look at the qualitative but I think Survey Monkey does a lot of analysis for you. My main hang up is comparing print loans to online usage, a problem for which I don’t think there is a satisfactory solution since different things are counted. For example does one print book loan equal one e-book page view, or 10 e-book page views, or 1 session/log-in? How many online audio track plays equals 1 CD loan? I feel it’s an apples to oranges problem, so I’m planning to just broadly compare them.

Here are a few reflections on my dissertation process from this mid-way point:

  • Utilise your support structures. The main thing I’m learning is asking for help and support when I need it. Rather than stressing out because I feel out of my depth, I’m trying instead to get in touch with my supervisor or a colleague for advice. Seems like a no brainer, but I did have to be told to do this at one point – remember my independent working style mentioned earlier!
  • Planning is essential. We had to include a research plan/timetable as part of the research proposal. I did mine as a Gantt chart and it has proved really helpful both in terms of making sure everything gets done on time and also giving me peace of mind to know I haven’t forgotten something and that I’m really making progress. Planning has also been key to managing the project when I’ve been relying on other people for go ahead or decisions to be  made. The survey element of my research ended up being very problematic and I eventually developed two different options because external circumstances meant I wouldn’t know until the last minute which one would go ahead.
  • Spend time on your research aims and objectives at the beginning, and then revisit them regularly. This was advice they gave at the study school and it has been so right. I revised and fine-tuned my aims and objectives a lot at the beginning and now I have been going back to look at them regularly when I think “What am I doing again?” or “Why I am doing xyz?”. They’ve been a helpful touchstone for remembering the big goals and how I set out to achieve them when I get lost in the nitty gritty of fieldwork. I have yet to post them up somewhere visible, which was also recommended – if only I had a home office!

What was your dissertation/research experience like? Please share in the comments!

Library School – Cataloguing and Classification

I took this module last autumn, one of the last two of the PG Dip. For my general post about the course, go here.

This module was highly practical as you might imagine and I found it very difficult. Cataloguing and classification are generally considered core skills for information professionals, although their relevancy has been hotly debated (see references).

Cataloguing is the practice of recording standardized information about an item so that it can be searchable and findable. The field has recently undergone a big change with the introduction of a new international cataloguing standard, Resource, Description and Access, or RDA. Classification is the logical system for organising knowledge. A famous example of a classification scheme is the Dewey Decimal System. In short, cataloguing describes the items in a collection, while classification is concerned with the physical arrangement of the items.


Remember these?  Photo credit: Card catalogue by Book Finch (Flickr CC-BY 2.0).

So this module was some history and theory, but mainly was very task focused on actually cataloguing and classifying stuff. Cataloguing felt very much, for me at least, like referencing on steroids. I had to get to grips with MARC fields (coding that makes a catalogue record machine readable) but otherwise it made sense. I do feel that lots of catalogers doing unique cataloguing of the same objects in libraries all over the world is duplicated effort and a bit obsolete when collaboration is made so easy by the internet. The solution ‘cooperative cataloguing’ is becoming more widespread.

Learning about RDA was brilliant if a bit brain teasing at times (what’s the difference between expressions and manifestations again??). RDA was intended to move cataloguing into the digital world, where print formats are not dominant. It’s supposed to be a flexible framework that can cover all the new media and objects that we have now and the ones yet to be invented. One half of the module assessment was an essay with the set title ‘Resource Description and Access: Evolution, revolution or dead end?’ My opinion ended up mid-way between the first two and it was interesting to read around the subject because a lot of people have gotten up in arms about it – passionate commentators are always more riveting don’t you think? Though I still get confused with the relevant technical aspects like the semantic web and linked data, I came to the conclusion that generally RDA is a positive step forward.

Classifying was fun (everything in it’s place!) until it came to the other half of the module assessment which was a workbook of made-up titles to classify (and also cataloguing tasks). I was in a constant state of wondering whether what I thought was the correct classmark for “Pan-African nationalism” was actually what the tutor thought was the correct classmark. Classification really is an art more than a science. Different people can come up with different classmarks for the same item AND justify their reasoning.

So Cat and Class, the Marmite of librarianship – done!


Boydston, J.M.K. & Leysen, J.M. (2014) ‘ARL Cataloger Librarian Roles and Responsibilities Now and In the Future,’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 52(2), pp.229–250.

Cerbo, M.A. (2011) ‘Is There a Future for Library Catalogers?’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 49(4), pp.323–327.

Park, J.-r., Lu, C. and Marion, L. (2009) ‘Cataloging professionals in the digital environment: A content analysis of job descriptions,’ Journal for the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 60 (4), pp. 844–857. doi: 10.1002/asi.21007