Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Student Views - running the Library Questionnaire

During two weeks at the end of November I ran the first of a new, annual Library Questionnaire with our students. At the moment our students don't really engage with the Library beyond using it as a study space. Few resources are borrowed, very few information enquiries are made and there is little course integration, for example through resource lists or inductions. The purpose of my questionnaire, therefore, was to gauge awareness, gain opinion and collate data that I could use with teaching staff and College management to help drive forward improvements. I also included a couple of questions supplied by COLRIC (Council for Learning Resources in Colleges) so that I can benchmark myself against other institutions.

My experience of questionnaire planning, delivery and analysis with the LRC team in my previous post had prepared me well for going it alone. So what had I learnt?
  • Each question must have relevance. It might be you want to find out something specific you can't get from your other statistic gathering. It might be you need to obtain some evidence to include in a review or proposal. Or you might want to use it to help raise awareness of a resource/service which then provides year-on-year data demonstrating your promotional success (or lack of!). Either way, if you cannot specify exactly how you will use the results then it is not a relevant or useful question.
  • Don't ask about something you can't change. If you know that there is no
    budget/space for new computers in the immediate future, for example, don't ask students whether they think there are enough. Instead, ask them whether they can always access one and then you can look at introducing or changing booking allowances. What's the point of asking if you can't do anything about it?
  • Encourage negative comments. It's great to know if you're doing things well but in order to make effective improvements you need to find out what your students aren't happy with. When applying an agreement scale to a question, for example, start with Strongly Disagree. That way students have to think about whether there is anything they're not happy about before they reach the options to agree.
  • Encourage details and give provision for follow-up. If you ask whether students want new resources it's not very helpful if you get an anonymous response asking for "more resources for biology". (Particularly if you have biology courses at several different levels.) Unfortunately, I was unable to go through my questionnaire with students as they completed it, encouraging further details, and so left myself open to ambiguous responses like this. It is therefore important to ask for more information about the student themselves (aside from any institutional equal opportunities monitoring), e.g. which course they are studying and what year they are in. This then allows you to follow up with subject tutors to find out about topics and resource requirements in that area.
  • Analyse your respondent demographic. As well as identifying trends across the questions as a whole it is also interesting to analyse your responses at a deeper level, looking at who your students are and how they responded to other questions. For example, are there response groupings, i.e. several responses of the same type coming from the same year group or course? This could then help you identify priorities in resource provision or promotion without the need being specifically requested in other parts of the questionnaire.
I have completed my first phase of analysis, identified the 'headline' results and drawn up an action plan. Despite planning well I did encounter some issues.

I had to leave students to their own devices to complete the questionnaire. The Library is
a silent study environment so I couldn't go through the questions with students. There are two other study areas in the College and I regularly replenished questionnaires there to increase responses. However, because I am a team of one, I was unable to spend a lot of time in these areas talking to students. The benefit of this is that students feel they can be more honest. However, this means that in future years I won't be able to guarantee a certain number of responses. Furthermore, I found that not all questionnaires were completed the whole way through and some respondents didn't take it very seriously. (I feel confident that the requests for me to change the Library into a spaceship, install a wood burner and swimming pool and introduce a trolley service I can safely ignore!)

To encourage responses I also created an online version using Survey Monkey and this raised issues of its own. Firstly, due to the limitations governing the number of questions you can have in the free part of Survey Monkey, some questions had to be arranged slightly differently and this may have affected the responses. More worryingly, despite setting the majority of questions as requiring an answer there were still several instances of questions being skipped. In spite of these issues I received 208 questionnaires back (121 paper and 87 online) - almost half of our student population - and so received enough full responses to make the results meaningful.

Having developed an action plan the final stage is to let your students know what you are doing. You asked them for their opinions so it is only right that you tell them what their contributions have resulted in. Inspired by my previous College's method I put together a 'You Said, We Did' announcement. I posted this on our website and social media and emailed a copy to all students. To encourage engagement it is important that your users know their input is valued.

For next year's questionnaire I will:
  • Sort out the issue with Survey Monkey.
  • Try and reduce the number of questions (this year I am implementing several new services which I wanted to gauge interest in. The number of questions - 16 - may also have been why some students failed to complete the questionnaire).
  • Possibly spend some time with students in the other study areas to go through the questionnaire with them and develop conversations.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Period of Change

I have been out of social media in a professional context for a while. My last Tweet and blog post were both in July 2014! There have been a couple of reasons for this. During the first year we saw significant changes with regards to staffing in the LRC team which meant that I just didn't have the time to monitor my Twitter feed or compile new blog posts. Then, in the summer of 2015, I got a new job in a Sixth Form College and my husband and I relocated from Surrey to Norfolk! There were a number of reasons for the move but it's one I have no regrets about. Part of the reason it has taken another six months for me to get back into social media is that I am responsible for the College's Twitter presence. In my head that meant I - MUST - HAVE - THE - COLLEGE - TWITTER - ACCOUNT - OPEN - ALL - THE - TIME! I've now come to the realisation that, actually, I can alternate between the two during the day - what a revelation!

So, let me tell you about my new job. I am the Educational Resource Manager / Communications Officer at Dereham Sixth Form College in Norfolk. We are a small College - our current cohort is just over 430 students across Years 12 and 13 - and offer a number of A Levels, Applied A Levels and few BTECs including the BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport through DESA - the Dereham Education and Soccer Academy. We also offer the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). I started just before the students returned in September and so have now completed my first term ... ... and I'm loving it!

As you'll see from my job title my role is divided into two areas. As Educational Resource Manager (still really excited about having the word Manager in my job title!) I am responsible for running the Library and its services. I am a team of one and so I man the enquiry desk for the majority of the day but also have the freedom to run and manage the service as I want. I am the first qualified librarian that the College has had in a long while and so there are many things I have been developing and implementing already (more on that later). As Communications Officer I oversee and maintain all publicity and communications from the College through parent emails, our website and its news area, Twitter and Facebook, the College newsletter and media relations. That sounds like a lot to try and be dealing with but, when your Library is a silent study space and your students are impeccably well-behaved (compared to previous experiences) my days are filled and stress-free.
My Library

There have, of course, been some changes it's taken a little while to get used to. In my old post I was part of a team of LRC staff comprising qualified librarians, graduate trainees and part-time assistants. Here, as I mentioned, I am a team of one. Dereham Sixth Form College is run with a small team of fixed, College-based staff, then further teachers come over from our two main feeder High Schools (which also jointly manage the Sixth Form) to assist with the teaching. Despite spending a lot of my day without much contact with other staff, I have never felt alienated from our core College team. They are all very friendly and have made me feel extremely welcome.

The other main change I'm dealing with is a change in organisation identity. Kingston College is an FE and HE College and so is run independently. Dereham Sixth Form College is run and managed by the two High Schools in Dereham, along with the management staff from the core College team. This means that we are not independent and we are not an FE College. I have a significantly smaller budget and therefore cannot afford the number of resources that A Level students at a larger FE College can access. In some cases, we are not entitled to access certain resources, such as the free Ebooks for FE collection through JISC, for example. The move has really highlighted to me the continuing difference in resource provision, and therefore levels of service, that an A Level student can receive depending on where they choose to study.

During my first term I have been getting to know the College systems and processes, the students, and the resources in the Library. I have also been implementing a number of changes and new developments:

  • The book stock is grouped by subject but has no classification system. I have begun a long-term project to classify the book stock with the Dewey Decimal System in conjunction with liaising with relevant teachers to complete an effective weed of each subject area.
  • I have inherited an old, no-longer-supported version of the Library Management System Eclipse. This has developed a number of bugs and is far more suited to a school library's collection than a Sixth Form. Furthermore, the online catalogue interface decided to give up long ago! I have put forward a business case to change our LMS to Heritage (which I used in my last post and IT have previously had experience of) and the College Director has given the go ahead.
  • Before Christmas I ran the first of a new, annual Library Questionnaire. My experience of helping to run a yearly questionnaire at Kingston fully prepared me so that I felt confident in the types of questions I wanted to ask, how to manage the questionnaire and how to deal with the responses and develop an action plan for responding to the feedback.
  • I am in the process of trying to get teachers on board so that I can develop and deliver a set of research skills inductions focusing on using our Online Resources, developing research skills and finding high quality resources and referencing. Furthermore, I am about to offer bookable one-to-one sessions for students on research skills and referencing.
  • Due to the timing of my start date the College Director was kind and didn't involve me with the new student induction programme. However, I am now in a position where I can develop an effective welcome induction to the Library along with some new Library cards (these were disbanded when Eclipse stopped reading the barcodes but, since the College does not issue ID cards to students, I want to re-introduce them to help me learn names quicker rather than having to ask all the time!)
  • I have significantly developed our Twitter account and our relations with the local press. This term I also created the first issue of our new College newsletter, The Sixth Former.
  • IT Support and I are combining my design skills and their coding skills to create a brand new, in-house College website. As part of my interview for this role I was asked to be prepared for a discussion on how I would develop and update the website so I already wanted to make changes in terms of re-defining our audience, re-organising content and improving accessibility. Now, we're getting to build one completely from scratch which is very exciting (rather than being limited to the format of our current site without incurring large re-design costs from our hosting company).

In addition, I have found myself working in a number of new areas. The College offers a range of enrichment activities and the Director suggested I take on some student library volunteers and be involved in running a book club. I now have one regular volunteer who comes to me once a week and is currently helping me overhaul the careers collection. I want to make her experience valuable so I'm making sure that each task I give her, whether it be collection management or cataloguing new journals, outlines clear, transferable skills that she can develop for the future. I've never been involved in a book club before - I found that analysing texts during my English Literature A Level put me off doing the same when reading for pleasure! We chose a couple of books to read between the group over the Christmas break (I've read The hundred year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson) and we have out first meeting this week. I'm leading the discussion of this book with the Director leading the discussion of the other title (Seeing stars by Simon Armitage). It will be interesting to see how I do! In my Communications Officer role I have found myself contacting a local business asking for support to raise sponsorship money for our Half Marathon Team, getting in touch with an exhibition space about the possibility of exhibiting A Level artwork and regularly working as a press officer at our events.

I have also found myself dressing up as a witch for Halloween, in spots and stripes for Children in Need and in a Christmas jumper for Text Santa!
 The change in post for me has meant a number of adjustments - a change in work duties and focus; a decrease in salary; an increase in accountability and responsibilities; a decrease in stress. All have been changes for the better, however, and I feel that I have seamlessly fitted into my role and College life. As one colleague said, "It feels as if you've been here for years!" All in all my first term has been full, varied and great fun!