First off: apologies. I have neglected this here blog for far too long, and as such, this is a long overdue reflection on my first year in post at the University of Bath as Information Librarian (E-Resources). I did start it in November 2014, but I was somewhat burning out having over-stretched myself in most areas of my life, as per usual. As such, having spoke to my Chartership mentor, I decided to take a little break from the documentary side of my CPD having exhausted myself on its practice. I’ve now got schedule of several posts to make documenting some of my developments and reflecting upon it all.
I coasted in to the Christmas break on fumes, recharged my batteries on tofurkey and stout, and entered 2015 with all of the administration of the annual renewals to focus on. Joy! Luckily, KB+ has been a huge help in assisting me in this task- but I’m getting a head of myself and talking about the now, rather than reflecting on the year (and a bit) that I’ve been in post. That sort of postmodern narrative isn’t likely to help me reflect with any clarity, and that just won’t do. Let me take it back to the start.
Having previously worked in user-facing roles as substantive part of my previous library experience throughout several HE institutions, the move to a background role has been quite interesting. The communications skills that I developed, working as a subject librarian where I designed and led teaching/training sessions and as an assistant, handling enquiries about resources and operational issues have certainly been of huge value.
I have always thought that liaison and communications were a fundamental part of librarianship. Whether it is liaising with students, academics, colleagues, institutional managers, other institutions and organisations, publishers, vendors (etc, etc…) It is something we are expected to do. A lot. This is, of course, not unique to the profession but the sheer diversity and wide ranging nuances of hierarchical registers that one can benefit from at least being aware of are a significant aspect of contemporary librarianship, inside and outside of the academy.
Fortunately, I have always worked in robust and strong teams (with a number of identifiable individuals aside, as is inevitable when working in large institutions), and my move to Bath has proved no difference in this regard. However, very different service and organisational structures and a shift in the emphasis on demands has been notable.
Although I have a reasonable volume of experience of academic library work, allowing me to feel confident in my subject knowledge base and with a healthy volume of teaching experience under my belt to boot, I also felt pedagogically aware and competent. All of which had enabled me to apply some innovative aspects to information literacy sessions.
However, it had been five years since I had last administered an OpenURL link resolver, and even that was only very lightly and on an ad hoc basis (not to mention that it was on a previous incarnation of the software that was locally installed rather than cloud-based.) So, faced with the responsibility of administering and managing all of the University’s e-resources that are accessible via SFX (with the exception of ebooks, which are managed by the acquisitions team, and largely via MARC records with SFX providing links to indexed content in external databases,) I was rather glumly staring at a pretty steep learning curve.
The language and vocabulary of the software is enough to make it all very difficult to comprehend. Between targets, objects, portfolios, parse parameters, sources and clickthroughs, it is easy to tie yourself up in jargon, and that’s without getting lost in fields of context-devoid datasets which offer great possibilities, but that have largely been superseded by initiative such as COUNTER, thankfully…
It has to be said that the design of the software has been improved immensely since I last used it. It seemed far more intuitive, although lacked the contemporaneous feel of lots of software I’ve used since, such as some of the ProQuest/Serials Soultions products. Couple this improved interface with the excellent and thorough training I received from my predecessor, Lizz Jennings, and the support I had available from our Systems Librarian, Laurence Lockton, and it seems to have gone okay thus far.
The overriding peripheral knowledge and skills I have had to build up and develop to use the more advanced, time-saving automation functionality, features such as the dataloader, which requires spreadsheet formatted in specific ways, has perhaps provided the greatest pool of new skills for me. Having always tended to shy away from using advanced spreadsheet functionality, I now use such functions on a daily basis to help me rationalise targets and manage the link resolver in a more efficient way. Whilst some of these skills may be very basic, they have certainly added a new dimension to my administrative processes and continue to challenge my notions of automated working and faith in the accuracy of given data.
Some of the simple aspects of administration can appear particularly daunting when it comes to administering e-resources. EZProxy, for example, with its lack of GUI, can be a tool that intimidates. Once the basic html formatting becomes familiar it is very easy to administer changes and update. (My very brief foray into html in the late 90s has finally become useful!)
I’m a long way from confident in html, let alone any kind of quasi-expert, but I have enough of a grasp to be able implement basic changes on EZProxy, but also on the occasional resources that are authenticated by username and password (i.e. not IP authentication.) Thankfully, there are only a few of these resources, but they do require me to hack existing html that forms the consistent base of a page and modify the text in notepad.
On the other side of the technological skills fence has been learning and nurturing our use of tools such as KB+ and JUSP. I now sit as a member on the JUSP Community Advisory Group, which gives me the opportunity to directly engage with the excellent JUSP team to shape the service in a way the optimises the local and community wide needs. I am very happy to be a part of this team and support a brilliant initiative. JUSP saves me so much time and effort in curation of usage statistics from the large packages and publishers. Given the existing systems in place, without it, providing requested evidence to assist budget holders, SMT and SCONUL could become overwhelming tasks.
As a service, we are still relatively new to implementing KB+ as we have existing, albeit far more manual systems and protocols that cover our entire collection rather than the JISC-supported services. However, I am very excited and supportive of the project. As a community service, just like JUSP, it has the flexibility that vendors cannot provide as they cannot customise their tools to institutional needs. Although some of the develops may, to me, seem a little excessive (I see great potential in the cost-data elements that are currently being discussed for KB+, but would having such data outside of the LMS be desirable?) the project offers so much value to the community. Functionality around the ONIX-PL licences is something that is certainly set to set to save time rather than manual encoding practice that we currently have in the form of a wiki, and, moreover, the work in creating authoritative title lists is worth a medal in its own right!
Indeed, these lists have made administering packages relatively simple. By exporting the relevant publishers targets from SFX and comparing them to the title lists provided by KB+, I can easily ensure that our electronic holdings are accurate and up to date in a largely automatic way. When handling thousands of titles from a given publisher, this is incredibly time saving and adds greater reliability to the data.
This time saving has been incredibly useful. Planning my time in my first year in post has been quite challenging. Without the necessary experience of the annual cycle for e-resources at Bath, I have been largely led through the cycle by my line manager, Steve Alston. Without this, the opportunity to get lost and drown at times of high demand would have been only too great.
The periodicals renewals exercise is quite a demanding aspect for the periodicals and e-resources team. As our budget is not top sliced, subject and faculty librarians have autonomy over their budgets. This is a very different arrangement to other institutions that I have worked in. Whilst it can mean more work for Technical Services, it gives the service the malleability to response to local needs at both research and teaching levels. In the current climate for Higher Education in the UK, I think this is very useful.
It does, however, mean that their are lots of individual subscriptions to manage across the service. Some print, some electronic, some both. Some through agents, others direct. Some splitting payments across financial years. All of these variables can lead to administrative problems. There was a lot to learn and get used to here in terms of placing orders, managing expectations regarding availability and administering budgets to support the subject and faculty librarians budgetary management.So it would be typical that one of our suppliers would collapse this year!
With Swets, rather tragically going into administration, there were a number of extraneous circumstances this year. Thanks to my line manager’s robust planning and allocation, the service has not been fiscally penalised by the wider commercial issues in the sector. That said, we have had to make commercially-astute decisions to manage the fallout efficiently and sustainably.
At the time this happened, I was undertaking my first assignment for the the ILM Level 3 course that I am studying as a result of my line management of the periodicals team. This gave me the opportunity to test some of the theoretical ideas I was learning them and model them on a concrete reality in my strategic and operational planning. As such, my Solving problems and making decisions assignment was based on identifying the nature of the problem, analysing it to comprehensively understand it and its efficacy, developing strategies to resolve it and analysing these to understand their relative effectiveness before actually implementing it. These skills and tools proved fruitful for me and have given my some strong experience- although hopefully I won’t have to experience a large agent ceasing business in the near future.
Again, this experience also gave me an opportunity to develop my communications skills. I was liaising with members outside of my usual communication flows as a result of the magnitude, breadth and depth of the issue. Occurring at the time that it did, when decisions regarding renewals of titles and packages were being finalised, myself and my line manager delivered a detailed presentation on evidence based decision making for value optimisation. Although much of the content was discussing the relative merits and issues with ‘objective’ data such as COUNTER-compliant usage, there was a clear link to the commercial elements of the library’s business functions and the extent to which we are exposed to issues in the informational and scholarly communications markets.
I enjoyed the opportunity to present in front of peers and colleagues from other teams. Whilst it might be disingenuous to say that I miss presenting in the context of teaching, I do miss the challenge of communicating with stakeholders in that forum. This provided a great opportunity for me to do this based on the volume of new skills and and knowledge that I had learned since being in post. A worthy exercise, indeed. This is particularly true as my digital literacy has been so diversified by my experience in this past year. The development of my own technical knowledge now enables me to far more effectively communicate to users (as researchers, students and colleagues) with a greater depth of knowledge and confidence, be this responding to a query regarding the accessibility of an e-resource or explicating complex issues surrounding metrical issues for resource value.
With the sector moving more towards software as a service or next generation library management systems, I am also involved in the service’s analysis of the available options. This is interesting, and I have been making extensive use of my varied networks of information professionals to build informed opinions. Indeed, a recent conversation with the Radical Librarians Collective critically discussed the ideologies of library technologies and their importation into library work from other areas, and how this might inform decision making processes for library services.
My thoughts on some aspects of this have been documented by my readings on the politics of technology, but in the specific framing, it is quite challenging to consider the viability of a theoretical preference with the demands of an existing community of users. It was very interesting to hear Simon Barron, a librarian and systems developer at SOAS as he is developing Kuali OLE for implementation. This open source and community oriented approach allows such site-specific tailoring, but of course has resource demands that may considered unsustainable by some senior figures, depending on the financial security at a given institution.
Indeed, my continuing work with and through RLC is has provided me with an excellent forum to develop my knowledge of copyright, intellectual property, licensing, evaluative research and advocacy. Perhaps the most obvious example of this from within the last year is my co-authoring of a peer-reviewed journal article, which has been accepted by the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communications. Working with two esteemed peers from divergent careers (in academia and large corstortial negotiators) , Lauren Smith and Stuart Lawson was incredibly rewarding and I learnt a lot through the process.
Intellectually, I had to learn a lot from fields such as economics in order to critique practices with library and information that contribute towards a neoliberal service. However, the process in and of itself was interesting and has given me a far greater knowledge of the intricacies of scholarly publishing. The article was published as open access (indeed, I have committed to making all my writings openly accessible), but we were first not even allowed to submit to an OA title that would not provide us with a more open licence than CC-BY-NC.
Whilst we all sympathised with the desire not to make open work commerically available, there have been issues with the legally variable distinction of ‘commercial’. As such, we wanted to ensure that the work could be used by, for example, teachers in areas of jurisdiction that define can define education as a commercial endeavour. (I have also since published a book review as CC0, but I will discuss this in the following blog post- one that will be online imminently, I promise!) This direct experience of licencing has absolutely improved my professional knowledge and understanding the implications for licencing scholarly outputs.
And so that was a potted reflection on some aspects of my first year in post at Bath. I completed my probation and was very kindly awarded the Recognising Excellence award at the end of 2014, so I guess it can’t have gone too badly after all. Phew!
There was also the small matter of releasing nearly 30 audio recordings last year, which contributed to my micro-label/autoarchive (all content is provided electronic by CC-licencing, incidentally…) being honoured by Radio Free Midwich with the award for 2014 Label of the Year, but I have tried to keep it to some of the work stuff on this post. This is very much a selection of aspects of praxis and is not intended to be representative of my ‘normal’ work. However, I’ll picking up on further aspects and projects from outside my role next time, including my engagement in a project by a Singapore-based academic that wants to provide Higher Education in refugee camps, a possible trip with the Librarians and Archivists with Palestine to… Palestine and the small matter of a scholarly journal that the Radical Librarians Collective have produced.