The real C-word is Community

The old ‘customer’ debate reared it’s head again recently, with an article in Library Journal asking why academic librarians have such a problem with the word.

I tweeted about it, rather flippantly:

… but then I decided what I should have done is write an actual rebuttal, a little less facetiously phrased, in Library Journal itself. Then maybe some of the people swayed by Steven Bell’s pro-customer stance might be re-swayed by my arguments against it.

I recently used all these arguments to change something at my place of work. I have a new part to my role, to co-lead the Customer Engagement programme at the Library and I argued, with some support from a couple of colleagues, that this programme should in fact be called Community Engagement instead. To my delight this worked and I am now the co-lead for the Community Engagement Programme. I was grateful that the relevant people were flexible enough to listen and make the change, and it reminded me that making even relatively small headway on important issues is always worth trying to do.

Anyway, I used to write a column for LJ so I looked up their staff list to see whether anyone I dealt with back then was still there, and one person was, so I pitched the article and got asked to write 800 words - which I did and which, I just remembered two months later, Library Journal have not published. I sent a chaser a while back and a reply was promised but I’ve not heard anything either way…

But still want it out there in the world. I believe very strongly in the arguments against using the word ‘customer’ so: here is what I wrote.


I’ve been in librarianship for 13 years now and there’s never not been a time when we’ve been debating how to refer to the people who user our libraries. I hate getting bogged down in semantics, when there are so many more urgent problems to address than sobriquets. But this particular hill is worth dying on, because language matters so much. It shapes not just the way we see people, but the way they see themselves.

 In his July column Steven Bell asks us why academic librarians have such a problem with referring to its faculty and students as ‘customers’. I don’t buy his arguments that this stems from some sort of elitism, but I certainly used to share the view that customer is the right word to use. It was forward-thinking, I thought. It reflected our commitment to customer service, I thought. I was struck by Helene Blowers’ argument, 11 years ago now, that patrons support institutions whereas institutions support customers, which is the way round it should be in libraries. And I thought the warnings from the anti-customer brigade, that this was the thin end of the wedge of the monetisation of HE, were over the top.

Well, I was wrong.

There are more reasons not to call our users ‘customers’ than can I can fit into 800 words so let me start with what I think is the most important one. When we call people customers, they see themselves as customers – and if I’m your library’s customer I need your library to work for me. For me specifically. I want you to meet all of my requirements even if this creates inequalities with my peers because I, the customer, am right.

This is instantly at odds with the ethos we try and create in academic libraries, which is one of community. While a customer needs the library to work for them, an academic community of library users needs it to work for everyone. Indeed, they need to actively contribute to that process of successfully sharing community space, using community resources, and working towards community ideals. That alone is a good enough reason not to call our users customers.

Then there’s the fact that they don’t like it. Our students and faculty don’t want to be reduced to a transaction to be completed, and it’s important to note we can nevertheless be extremely attentive to their needs and offer an extremely high level of service. The ‘strong, customer-focused service model’ Steven calls for is still possible without actually casting our users as customers with the consumerist mind-set this implies.

The language we use helps frame Higher Education, and it is increasingly economic. The Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, no less, referred to this recently, saying: “Reducing students to mere consumers makes sense only if the value of universities is simply economic. That would be a fundamental error.” University is about so much more than the degree you get at the end of it, and yet with the marketization of HE more and more students see themselves as buying a product: it becomes all about the outcome at the expense of the experience. If we are to resist being swamped by consumerist ideology in our Universities, if we are to do our best to stop information becoming completely commodified (and much brighter minds than mine have written about this), then the language we use needs to be chosen carefully.

The obvious question at this point, then, is: so what DO we call the people using our libraries, then? Patrons, Members and Users all have their flaws as terms – personally I favour the latter, but it’s not ideal. The trouble is, there is no ideal term; I’ve heard ‘there’s no perfect word so why not just choose customer’ advanced as an argument, and I strongly disagree with this. Just because we can’t find the ideal solution, doesn’t mean we should sleep-walk towards the worst one. Recent political events in the US and the UK should have taught us that if nothing else.

The word ‘customer’ in higher education is insidious. The users themselves don’t like it. It helps frame education as a purely transactional experience. And it celebrates the cult of the individual: “Prioritising people’s individual demands risks intensifying inequalities in access to services, and in generating collectively undesirable outcomes,” as Catherine Needham puts it.

 So please can we ditch ‘customer’? The real C-word should Community; let’s focus on that.

Brand and branding in the academic library

I have an uneasy relationship with the concept of ‘brand’ in the library context. On the one hand, I think it’s often misunderstood. I think it’s the kind of thing on which marketing consultants from outside the industry put far too much emphasis - on the list of things to fix about library marketing, I bet our users wouldn’t put ‘brand’ that high up… On the other hand, in the academic sector that I work in, most traditional marketing goals are already being fulfilled fairly successfully: academic libraries are often full, well-used, and well-regarded. So that allows us some time to consider some bigger questions - for example, what is our brand and what would we LIKE it to be?

Before we go any further let’s sort the definitions: ‘brand’ is not colours or logos or slogans.

Your brand is the perception of your library, your services and your collections in people’s minds. It’s how people think and feel about who you are as an organisation, and what you do.

Branding, on the other hand, is the process of trying to influence people’s perceptions of the organisation, and the way they regard your brand.

At my place of work I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as I’m attempting to sketch out some marketing principles for my library. Before I can create a strategy for what we want to say and how we want to say it, we first have to understand what we want to BE and whether that involves changing from how we are now, or not. It’s easy to get side-tracked into an existential crisis.

I also want to know how both students and staff at the institution view the Library. We know how they rate certain services, and our UX work tells us a lot about how they use our facilities. But as to how they would describe the library, how they perceive us, what they would say our brand is - I don’t know, and I’ll like to ask, but I’m not sure exactly how to go about it. (Any ideas for this gratefully received.)


Slides from #dffu2018 on Branding the Academic Library

I was honoured to give a keynote on this theme in Billund, Denmark, towards the end of last year. We discussed what brand was, what community was, and marketing strategy. The slides from the talk are below:

The UX Project mentioned in the slides above, Understanding Academics, is written up by my bosses Vanya Gallimore and Michelle Blake, here.

The trip to Denmark was an absolute pleasure, especially because we got to stay in the LegoLand hotel…

Thank you again to the Danish Research and Academic Libraries group for inviting me to speak, and to Christian Lauresen for his insight into Danish libaries, as well as to Jan Holmquist for his translation skills!

How do you truly embed UX at an institutional level?

At the glorious UXLibs IV Conference (more on which below), Michelle Blake and I presented on embedding UX at York. By this we mean, attempting to move the ethnography and design ideas / techniques / methods which sit under the User Experience in Libraries umbrella, from novel and niche to mainstream and, if you'll forgive the management-speak, Business As Usual. Part of the culture. 

We're not all the way there yet and don't profess to have completely nailed it, but it is something we've consciously tried to achieve in the Library and we're having come success with it. Some of what we've done is outlined briefly in the presentation below, to which I've added an explanatory sentence to most slides so they make more sense without us talking over the top of it.

I'd reccomend this post from Shelley Gullikson which nicely summarises several talks and sessions from UXLibs IV, and Andy Priestner's 50 Photos post gives a nice flavour of the conference as a whole.

Padlet and Flipped Learning in Information Skills Training (by Emma Shaw)

Emma Shaw is the Library Manager and Liaison Librarian (Medicine) at Imperial College London. I while ago I saw her tweeting about the use of Padlet in her teaching sessions - students were using it in groups to come up with search strategies for healthcare-related databases. I like Padlet anyway, but I loved this use of it - so immediately beneficial, practical, and indeed stealable! So I asked Emma to write a guest post about the whole process, and she kindly agreed. Here's an example of the use of padlet she examines below.


I’m a Liaison Librarian at Imperial College London supporting medicine, along with another 4 Liaisons. Amongst a heavy timetable of information skills training for undergraduates and postgraduates, we have for several years been running a couple of Library skills workshops which are embedded in the MBBS Medicine course timetable for the 1st year medical students. We were using the traditional presentation slides telling them about the Library and how to access it, along with a hands on database searching component using the PubMed database. The database searching was taught in the form of a paper based tutorial handout. The students would sit in the computer lab and work through it for 20 minutes whilst also having the opportunity to ask questions. More recently I would go away and wonder whether they would really apply what we were teaching, in the format we were using. I asked myself if it was really meaningful for them, particularly as it was all new to them and we were teaching them how to look up research on a database, when they hadn’t even started using journal articles yet.

The other reason it got me thinking was, Information literacy is not an obvious skill that screams out ‘you need me in your life’ so you therefore need to convey it to the students in a way that makes them realise that they do. Especially when they have other priorities and a timetable jam packed with medical training. I’ve learned and observed over the years of teaching information skills that, in order for them to understand its direct use, to see its value and engage, they need to see it in context. When I say in context, I mean actually directly relating what they are learning in front of them, to a specific area in their coursework or even clinical practice. Rather than just telling them this is stuff they need to know now and in the future. This led me to question if, our presentation slides and paper tutorial were engaging and putting it in context enough. Could there be a better way of delivering the content so they engage with us, and see its direct value?

Feedback from the students about how we could develop the session included comments like:

“Maybe have an example of an assignment similar to what we would have this year and show how we might use online resources for researching that assignment.”

 

“Interactively doing it together with the students instead of following instructions on a page.”

This made it apparent that we were right to question this, and that it was a good time to reconsider the delivery of our training. We could see why PowerPoint slides were just not cutting it anymore, they needed interaction and context to stay engaged. On top of this, in the MBBS Medicine course, they were already being presented with e-learning modules, and using different teaching methods and technology. I could then see that very shortly our presentation slides and paper based database tutorial was not going to be enough anymore, and that our sessions were in danger of becoming irrelevant. We needed a fresh and new approach.

I had various sources of inspiration for revamping the workshops. We just so happened to have a visit from Caroline Pang, Director of the Medical Library at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Singapore. One of Imperial College London’s partners. She demonstrated what library training they offered for Medical students. This consisted of initial training on the Library and database searching. They were then given a clinical question from the course tutors, and had to work together in groups to form the best search strategy to answer it. She had a whole day dedicated to this project as well as the presence of the tutors. This looked like a really good approach, not only was it more engaging by getting the students to actively search for a given question, but it was also relevant to the course content so they could directly see its value. If we wanted to do something similar however, the problem we faced was we only had 1.5 hours for each session!

It was then one day at a meeting with tutors from the MBBS Medicine course that, the idea of Flipped learning was presented to me. I won’t go in to too much detail about it as you can find a very good definition here by Professor Dilip Barad (Ph.D.). It’s essentially where work is given to the students to be done before the session e.g. a video lecture, or tutorial to work through. The session is then dedicated to applying the knowledge they have learnt from the pre-sessional work, through activities and group work and allowing them to ask questions. In this way it becomes student centred learning as opposed to trainer centred.

To be honest the flipped learning approach initially filled me with dread! There was the worry of giving them pre-sessional work to do with the risk of them not doing it.  It also seemed like a lot of work and preparation, as well as the fear of having to get the students in to groups and managing them. Also having many other duties aside from training, it’s very easy to just slip in to the habit of repeating the same old slides each year. It’s easy, it’s safe. However, if it would improve engagement it was worth a try, and I thought this would be an excellent model for our teaching. It would allow us to save some time in the session by getting the students to do the straight forward PubMed tutorial before the session. This would then allow us to try out the database searching exercise in groups, which we didn’t think we would have time for. We could dedicate time in the session to getting them to do real searches on PubMed, using related topics in up and coming assessments, with the trainers feeding back to the groups as they did the searches. This would allow for more engagement and they would directly see the use of searching a database, by pulling up relevant articles that could be of use for their assessments.

The final plan for the session consisted of an online PubMed database tutorial created using Articulate software. This was essentially a series of online slides taking the students step by step through using PubMed, which we hosted on the Blackboard platform. We emailed the students a week in advance via the Medical School to ask them to do the online tutorial before the session. To encourage them to do it, we mentioned that it would be for a group exercise in the session. We then sent a reminder a couple of days before the session for good measure. Some good advice I got from an e-learning technologist was to give them an approximate time of how long the tutorial would take, so they could plan it around their schedules. We aimed for 30 minutes which we thought they would see as achievable.

For the session, we refined our slides on the Library induction section. We then did a brief summary of what they should have learnt from the PubMed tutorial and gave an opportunity for questions. There was some debate on what to do if the students didn’t do the tutorial before the session. Should we include a more detailed summary in case, or would we run the risk of disengaging the students because of the duplication of information? We decided to go with a very brief summary just confirming points from the tutorial. We would then play it by ear and adapt the session if necessary. We then presented them with a search question related to a future assessment and arranged the students in to small groups and asked them to come up with a search strategy for that question. To provide the students with more feedback in the session and to give it a competitive edge (another bit of advice from a tutor that they liked competition!), we added some blended learning in to the mix. We used an online tool known as Padlet for the groups to add their search strategy to, for which we could then feedback to all the students how they all got on with the task. An example from one session is below.

An example of a Padlet board, used by the students to detail search strategies

An example of a Padlet board, used by the students to detail search strategies

The first sessions we ran in 2016 went very well and we had over 80% of the 320 students do the pre-session tutorial. As it was successful we ran it again last year in 2017 and over 90% of the students did the pre-session tutorial. The group exercises went well, and we could really see the students engaging with the task and coming up with good search strategies.

The feedback was mainly positive and gave the impression that our new teaching method was working. The following comments were from 2016:

“Clear explanations; the delivery was concise. The activities helped us put the skills into practice.”

“It's really nice to practice searching in class and in group and it really helps when comparing different searching methods within groups.”

Some Feedback from 2017:

Expanded on the pre reading material and explained things more clearly and gave sufficient exercises to ensure I actually understood the methods of searching databases”

“Learnt new and useful techniques for searching up articles. The session was interactive and fun. Everything was explained well and thoroughly.”

In terms of negative comments, in 2016 we had a few to do with some of the session’s content repeating parts of the pre-session tutorial. As these were our first sessions, we hadn’t yet got the balance right in terms of summarising the tutorial, so we then adapted this for the sessions in 2017 to avoid this. For the 2017 sessions, a few comments said it was a bit rushed, and they wanted more searching examples. They also struggled with some of the concepts like Subject Heading searching, and found it too advanced. This could potentially be because some of the students did not do the tutorial beforehand, but I think we perhaps also need to consider more about those students who learn at different speeds. This is a challenge when teaching 45+ students per session and with the time constraint. However, this is something to bear in mind for the next sessions, and to perhaps offer opportunities for optional follow up training on a 1-2-1 basis for those who require it.

Overall it’s been a real success. Not only do I put this down to the hard work by the Liaison team but, also down to the fact we had really good support from the tutors from the Medical School who always ensure to make it clear to students that information literacy is a crucial part of the curriculum. For anyone wanting to try Flipped learning, I would therefore always recommend getting the faculty on board. Despite all the preparation work, we also enjoyed delivering the session. It was a really good experience actually going around the room and engaging with the students and giving feedback, instead of mainly stood in front of PowerPoint slides and answering questions.

For anyone interested in looking at the session content, such as the online PubMed tutorial please feel free to get in touch.

Using screencapture software to make next-level PowerPoint presentations

I normally record talks I give at conferences, using my phone in my jacket pocket. I have a strict 'no critiquing myself during the talk itself' rule, so the recording allows me to listen back afterwards and pick up on things that I'd want to do differently next time, or things that worked well etc.

In the past I've also put a video up on YouTube, using Camtasia to record me moving the slides along with the audio of my talk at the LIASA conference in Cape Town. I don't think this worked that well because there was simply too many long periods where nothing changed on the screen - in real life that was fine because the audience looks at the speaker, but in a video - a visual medium after all - it just feels a little inert and uninteresting.

So for a recent talk I decided to try and make a version of the slides that would work as a proper video. I spoke at the CILIP PPRG Conference in January (more on that in a previous post) about our UoYTips marketing campaign - York won a Bronze Marketing Award which I was picking up at the event. I delivered the slides and recorded the talk in the usual way, but then set about creating a new version of the slides that had much more going on visually. The actual slides are here, if you're interested, and here is how they evolved for the video I came up with:

Now I've done this, I'm wondering why I can't just do more visually exciting slides anyway? This doesn't have to be just for YouTube. I've always wanted to use video in presentations more, and it's surprisingly easy to do as it turns out.

The tools

To make the video above I used three bits of software. PowerPoint, obviously, for the slides. Audacity to edit and play the audio (this is free). And Screencastomatic for both the screen-capture videos within the slides, and the overall screen-capture of slides plus audio you can view above. Screencastomatic is a great tool, which I found much easier to use than Camtasia. It's quick and intuitive. It can be used for free, but in order to record videos of more than 15 minutes, and record PC audio, you need the pro subscription - this costs 12 quid year which is pretty great value, I reckon.

Here's what the Screencast-o-matic interface looks like:

too.PNG

It's very easy to redraw the box around the exact part of the screen (or all the screen) that you want to record. You can pause and restart. You can also record PC audio as you go, or narrate into a mic. As you can see it gives you the option of recording from webcam at the same time if you wish, which happens in a smallish box at the top right of the screen.

It's really easy to use.

The techniques

In the video above there are a number of techniques (perhaps that's too grand a word!) employed to suit different types of information.

  • Actual video recorded on my phone. (This happens about 25 seconds in.) I recorded a video in the usual way, emailed it to myself, and went to Insert Video in PPT. You can make it full screen, or you can overlay the branding / visual identity from your PPT over the top. I think this is crucial to how easy this is to do - the video can effectively be the background of the slide, just like an image can. You then overlay it with text, shapes, images etc as normal.
  • Screencasting Google Earth. I really like this one, which happens here. How to have something dynamic on screen while I talk about the University of York? Type it into Google Earth then press record on the screencasting software, and return on Google Earth. It zooms all the way in and then, delightfully, spins round the building you've chosen for a bit. I'm going to use this in library induction sessions in the future, for sure.
  • Using gifs. There's a couple of examples of this, but here's the most interesting one. It starts off as a regular full-screen image, and then I used animation to first of all drop the text on top of the image at the appropriate time, and secondly to trigger the gif video beginning (having downloaded the gif from a gif site, and saved it as a video).
  • Regular PowerPoint animations and transitions. There's a few moments where things are added onto the screen one-by-one as I mention them, and there's this very long fade transition between two slides
  • Videos of websites instead of screengrabs of websites. There's an example here, and another example here. In the talk I just showed a screenshot of the thing I was talking about, but here it's a 15 second video of the site being used, which is much more interesting. I'm definitely going to reuse this technique.

The drawbacks

Really the only two drawbacks are that it takes time, and it takes space.

Of course, recording a clip on a website in use takes more time than just a screenshot, but it becomes surprisingly quick. Perhaps a minute to set-up, record and save / export 20 seconds' worth of screen-capture, so not too bad at all.

In terms of space - the videos are MP4 files and pleasingly small. Most brief captures were under 1 meg. The 22 second-long Google Earth zoom right at the start of the video was 12 meg. The overall final file - a 20 minute video capturing the whole thing, was 99MB. Video files are so huge, I think this is pretty reasonable.

So, I'd recommend giving this a try. And if you create a presentation with video and upload it anywhere (or you've already done this in the past) leave me a link in the comments...