Here we come a-roving…

…among the pods so green. No, I am getting confused.* But we have now started roving in earnest. It has been a varied experience for most of us, so far. It being the beginning of the academic year, there are lots of people around who don’t know who to find things, or look on the catalogue, or how to borrow books, or return them, etc., so we have had a fair number of queries. However, there have been times when it hasn’t been particularly busy out on the floors, and then an hour out there without anything much to do apart from to try to look friendly can be rather dull.

I must say, though, that I’m enjoying the roving so far. It’s nice to have positive experiences of dealing with library users; times when you can see that you have actually helped someone learn something, or find something, or just feel better about using the library.

It is odd, but having a pod to stand by, a folder of helpsheets (kept in the cupboard in the pod) and a mobile phone helps me to feel more secure when I’m out on the floor. I don’t feel as if I’m just randomly wandering around; or just wandering around to keep an eye on people and dish out the occasional librarian stare, like I used to when we tried roving before. We have signs to tell people when we’ll be available and what to do if they need help when we’re not there, and a phone on the pod so people can also phone through to the office if they need assistance. We have nice green badges to wear. I like green. It all feels quite positive, which is obviously a good thing.

I’m hoping that library users are also seeing the roving librarians as  positive things. I do worry that sometimes I become a bit like a prowling tiger looking for people to help, and following likely suspects around the floor to make sure they’re OK. I will have to be careful not to become annoying, but on balance I think that trying too much to be helpful is probably better than not trying hard enough.

At the moment we only have enough members of staff to have them roving around the floors for part of the day, but it is better than it was before, and hopefully, once vacancies are filled,we can increase the number of hours in which we’re roving. I think the danger may be that we will never be out there enough to satisfy everyone, but there is only so much we can do with a limited number of people – not to mention all the work some people have to do in the office. At the moment, I think the office-based work will probably be what has to give, but it can only be put aside for a certain amount of time before the situation becomes untenable. So, we await the future with interest and a certain amount of trepidation.

*With this song.

A-roving we will go

Mill no. 4. Roving department, by Folsom, A. H...

A different kind of roving: Mill no. 4. Roving department, by Folsom, A. H. (Augustine H.) 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, the some of the library staff in the Shiny Not-so-new Learning Centre had some training in roving – Roving for Service Excellence, no less. The training was delivered by Jigsaw@work®. We’ve actually been carrying out ‘roving, or roaming, or floorwalking, or whatever you like to call it, for a number of years now, on and off, but never with very much success overall. We work in a very large building, and, with the best will in the world, we don’t have enough staff to have library people roving at all times of the day, so students have been known to complain that they can’t find help when they need it. This is obviously not good, so we are looking again at how we rove, and also getting a ‘pod’ for each floor, where we can help students on the floors so library users don’t have to go all the way downstairs to the only point that is currently manned at all times during office hours.

It’s not completely certain how things are going to work out with the pods at the moment – questions such as ‘will we have access to the library management system?’, or even ‘will there be a PC on the pod?’, have not yet been answered. Hopefully there will at least be a phone there so we/library users can call the office or the helpdesk for help if necessary. We shall see.

Anyway, back to the roving. I have to say that the course exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t entirely sure what there was to say about roving that wasn’t obvious, but it turned out that there was quite a lot.

First of all we talked about the role of a ‘rover’, their purpose and why there is a need for them. This generated some interesting discussion about the visibility (or lack of) of library staff, particularly in a large building such as the one we work in, the problems library users face when trying to use the library and its resources, and so on. But, really, the point of roving can (arguably) be summarised as ‘taking the service to the customers’.  Also, we can use roving to promote and raise awareness of services, and help library users to make full use of the services we offer. So, roving seems like a pretty good idea so far.

A key point that came out of the whole day was that we have to see roving as the primary way of delivering our service(s) – not just an add-on, which is how it tends to be seen at the moment. People from teams other than the one team who currently rove attended the course, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they are more involved in roving next term, particularly in light of the above point.

We went on to list the benefits of roving in the library – for library users and for library staff. We listed such things as:

  • library users feel more confident, happier and become more self-sufficient
  • library users make better use of the library and its resources – get more out of the service
  • roving helps form better relationships between library users and library staff
  • roving helps library staff to better understand the needs of library users, and also how their ‘office’ job fits in to the wider work of the library
  • roving helps improve staff knowledge – if they don’t know the answer to a question they should find out the answer
  • roving relieves pressure on staffed points at busy times
  • library users’ experience of the library improves, they improve their knowledge and therefore will hopefully do better in their studies

Next, we looked at what we thought were the key skills and traits that are most useful for library staff doing roving. Sadly, I seem to have left my notes for this part at work. However, I think the list included such things as knowledge, friendliness, empathy, organisation, confidence, etc. Following that activity, we had to list what we thought might be some common barriers to roving. These range from a lack of confidence on the part of staff, to a perception that we have too many other things to do, to insufficient staffing, and a lack of support from managers.

Unsurprisingly, the discussion about possible barriers to roving  and ways in which we could break them down went on for quite a while. Unfortunately, a lot of us feel overloaded with office-based work at various times of the year (and all the time in some cases), and it’s then that roving can feel like something that gets in the way of other things we feel should take priority. The trainer’s argument was that roving is always a priority because it’s the  primary way in which we deliver our services to library users, so we should do it however busy we may be with office-based work. This is true – roving is important, and we need to see it as such and give it the time and effort necessary to do it properly. However, as we argued on the day, we also need the support of our line managers in terms of realising that we’re just not going to be able to do our other work at the same speed as we would previously have done. This may mean altering deadlines or being more understanding about why we haven’t been able to get things done. [It may also mean we have to manage our time better, I realise that.] Unfortunately, I don’t think this was really understood by the trainer – she thought we were talking about support for roving, which of course we need, but we also need support for our ‘back room’ work in the ways described above.

It’s difficult to find a balance. One way would be to allow more cross-team working, so that those going through busy times could be more practically supported by those who are going through a quiet patch. Each team within Library Services goes through peaks and troughs in terms of workloads, but at the moment we can’t help each other out efficiently and make the best use of staff time according to the situation because we don’t all have access to the necessary parts of the library management system. It can be quite frustrating at times, both for those who need help and for those who want to help!

The next part of the day took a new turn. Instead of focusing on roving as such, we talked more about people’s personalities and the ways in which these can affect our attitudes and approach to roving, and how different ‘types’ of people prefer to be approached (or not!) by roving library staff. We did a short test, which involved making a jigsaw and then found out what ‘type’ of person we are. One can, according to this particular form of self-assessment, have a red, yellow, green or blue personality type. [The test was like a much simpler version of the Myers-Briggs test.]

It was an interesting exercise, and the importance of different people’s personalities was not really something I’d previously thought about in connection with roving – at least not consciously – particularly in terms of library users and how they might prefer to be approached. We looked at each type of personality and how they might present themselves in the library, how they might act when needing or asking for help, and what the best way to approach them might be. For example, ‘red’ type people may not like to be approached at all, because they prefer to get on and do things themselves and not ‘waste time’ (in their perception) asking for help. On the other hand, ‘green’ people might be too shy to ask for help even when they need it. We also  talked about body language in relation to approaching and helping library users, for example how we can try to read it to assess when someone may need help or when they’re perfectly happy on their own.

It was all a lot more complicated than I expected it to be, but also a lot more interesting. As with all training, I just hope we can use it in practice and become more effective rovers.