FRBR for the Terrified

On Monday, some colleagues and I attended the FRBR  for the Terrified workshop at the University of Kent, Canterbury. It was facilitated by Robin Armstrong Viner, Head of Collection Management at the University of Kent.

Although I’ve been reading a fair bit about RDA (Resources Description and Access) (which is based on FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) principles) over the last couple of years, I haven’t had any training in RDA-related things since we touched on it in the Music Cataloguing for Beginners course I attended in 2011. It was good to have the opportunity to learn about FRBR itself, something with which I wasn’t very familiar at all. I was slightly daunted by it before the session, but, while I still need to make all the information stay in my brain somehow, I feel that I understand it much better now!

The workshop was mainly a PowerPoint presentation, to which I added copious notes, as fast as I could write them down (as is my wont), but we also had a couple of practical exercises to do. I think these were the most helpful parts of the workshop, as we had to really think about and apply the FRBR principles in ‘real life’. I particularly enjoyed the Harry Potter-related task, when we had to arrange cards representing a variety of Harry Potter-related items to their correct part of the “Bibliographic Relationships” table (p. 4 of the PDF).

It was all a good reminder of why I enjoy cataloguing so much. I love the way it makes you think differently about what might be considered normal everyday objects; what they really are, where they’ve come from, their relationships to other things. Learning about FRBR, I found I was having to switch on my ‘cataloguing brain’, which was great!

I don’t know when I will have the opportunity to practically apply what I’ve learned, as it is unlikely that my workplace will be implementing RDA anytime soon; but I was glad to have the opportunity to do some professional development and at least gain some theoretical grounding in these important changes to cataloguing practice.

Thank you to the lovely people at the University of Kent for a most interesting afternoon…not to mention some tasty cake!


We were given a very useful list of bibliographic references. I won’t include them all, but here are a few links to FRBR and RDA-related readings and resources available online:

I apologise for all the acronyms in this post!


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.

Creating a customer focused environment in the academic sector

I went on a CILIP training course last week, the title of which is above. The main objectives of the course were as follows:

  • To understand what outstanding customer service is and why it is important
  • To understand and predict customer needs
  • To create a plan to involve customers
  • To learn how to communicate effectively with different types of customers (including more challenging ones)
  • To learn how to measure customer satisfaction using different methods
  • To learn the methodology of writing and conducting questionnaires
  • To have an action plan to take away and implement

We began by thinking about what a customer focused environment is, and why it is important. I found the reasons why it’s important quite interesting: of course it is a “defensive necessity” – to keep customers and win new ones, but it is also a motivator for staff. As the course notes quote “If you know you are adding value you feel valued yourself”. I think this is an important point, and one that is quite relevant to what is going on in the library I work in at the moment. Library staff are trying their best to provide good customer service but aren’t able to do so due to circumstances outside of their control. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but this is making me feel useless, bad at my job and undervalued.

We thought about and discussed good and bad experiences of customer services. On our table, Argos was held up as an appalling example of customer service and Amazon are very good, apparently.

We went on to assess how customer focused we feel our organisations are at the moment, using the six basic customer needs as our criteria. These are:

  • Friendliness
  • Understanding and empathy
  • Fairness
  • Control (as in whether the customer feels they have some degree of control over what happens to them)
  • Options and alternatives
  • Information

I think the library is good at some of these but quite bad at others! Again, part of the reason we’re (front line/Reader Services) bad at providing some of these things is due to reasons outside of our control. We had to give ourselves marks out of ten for each criteria. I had the thought that the scores would differ if you looked at what people (especially library managers) think we’re good at and then looked at the reality of what happens on a day to day basis.

Coffee time, then we thought about one particular group of customers, or a particular customer, that we might come into contact with and tried to put ourselves in their shoes to think about what they might want or need from the library. I decided to try and think about what it might be like to be a Sports Science student. It was quite difficult! In the end, I thought that the main thing would be that the student would need to realise that the library is relevant to him (sorry, I was being stereotypical) and so the library would need to find ways of making itself relevant, accessible and unpatronising.

We then thought as a group about a different group of potential customers and what we thought they would most need their “service providers to be and give”. Our table thought about academics and decided that the top six things that academics might want were for us to be accurate, flexible, knowledgeable, professional timely and well-stocked (in no particular order). I know this latter is rather ironic in light of the stock management policy, but perhaps we’d better not go there. We then thought about how well these customer needs are currently being fulfilled and what services we could provide to fulfill these needs. We didn’t really get very far with our thoughts, although it occurred to me that it’s important not to pander to the ‘needs’ of one group of customers if that could result in a detrimental effect on another group.

Then it was lunch time, after which we looked at different models of communication style and how we could use these to improve our communication with different types of customers. Apparently, I have an analytical communication style – I am less assertive and less responsive. Responsiveness “relates to how much or how little you show your own emotions or demonstrate awareness of the feelings of others”. The other styles are:

  • Driver (more assertive, less responsive)
  • Amiable (less assertive, more responsive)
  • Expressive (more assertive, more responsive)

The purpose of this was to think about ways in which we could adapt our communication style when dealing with customers we might find difficult to deal with. I thought of some things I could do, but these things are always easier said than done.

More coffee, and then we moved on to looking at ways of measuring customer satisfaction. We briefly examined different types of surveying (random customer survey, staff attitude survey, target customer or customer type survey, focus groups, face-to-face interviews, mystery shopping) and then learned about how to create an effective survey. The most important thing to remember when creating a survey is that you need to define your research objectives. This is more complicated than it might first appear, when you start thinking about it.

The last thing we did was to create an “action plan” to take back to our workplaces. I found this quite difficult, mainly because I don’t think I have the power to change very much in the library. If I did, I would want to try and look at how we can give more equity of service to students and staff, a lot of whom are not based on campus. Also relating to equity of service, one question that arose at the beginning of the day and never really got answered was ‘how do you deal with individual needs and still follow library policies and procedures?’ Needless to say, I didn’t create much of an action plan. That’s the problem with all courses, I find. They’re very interesting and potentially useful, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever implemented anything I’ve learnt on a course into my day-to-day work, unless I’ve done it subconsciously. I shouldn’t have said that, should I?

P.S. I’m sorry if anyone doesn’t like using the word “customers” when referring to library users. I don’t really like it either, but it was the word that was (unsurprisingly) used in the training. I came back to work and used to word “customers” about three times in one email. Aggh!