Tag Archives: library

Can I book a PC please?

old books

When I managed libraries in FE you often had to field calls from suppliers of PC booking systems. They were always surprised, when I not only said we weren’t interested in their product, but I didn’t see the point and how they improved teaching, learning and assessment.

I know for many libraries I realise that a booking system for the PCs is seen as a vital piece of software, alongside the Library Management System.

However have you ever asked yourself why you have one, and what would happen if you turned it off?

iMacs in the library

We removed the PC booking systems, as no one could come up with a good business case for them.

Reasons given included to restrict the amount of time a student could use a PC for… never quite understood that one. Yes students should take breaks when using a PC, but is this down to software or better done through education and understanding?

Another issue with time restraints, is that it implies, if you have a one hour limit, that learning takes place in one hour chunks and only one hour chunks! That doesn’t happen!

Other reasons, is that there isn’t enough PCs in the library to meet the demand, so yes a booking system will help constrain demand, but isn’t the issue then to get more PCs, rather than a PC booking system?

PC utilisation data across the whole college, will probably show that there are unused PCs in classrooms, one question to ask is how can they be used more effectively?

I do understand, coming from an economics background that with limited resources and unlimited wants, you can have shortages. The question is do you go down the planned economy route or go for a more laissez faire approach.

The planned approach does cost money in terms of software, hardware, support as well as operational staffing costs. The laissez faire approach means allowing the learners to make decisions about when and how they use the PCs.

One feature of one of these systems said

Whether you use predefined or open text messages, there is no need to physically approach users.

…and this is a good idea, because you wouldn’t want to talk to the learners would you, enabling you to build a working relationship with them, so that they know who is who and whom to go to when needing help.

The sales pitch goes onto say…

“Possible confrontations are avoided, cultivating a more studious environment.

Well we wouldn’t want staff to talk to the learners would we, why would we want that?

From my experience, the opposite is what happens. The staff become more distant from the learners, the library staff see their role is about managing resources and not about supporting learners… resulting a more confrontational environment when it comes to anti-social behaviour, as the learners don’t have a working relationship with the staff and don’t respect the staff or the environment.

We need staff to talk to the learners, we need to build relationships through effective communication, it enables learners to understand that the library staff are a key part of the library and can be a wealth of guidance, knowledge and information that will support the learners in their learning and supporting them in their assessments

We had one complaint from a student who liked to book a PC, so it was booked and reserved, so they could then go and have breakfast… leaving the PC booked, but not being used.

Usage patterns after removing the booking system, demonstrated increased use and higher utilisation.

What we also found with booking systems was that students would book a PC at say 10am. The previous booking would leave at say 9:50am, another learner would find the PC, but knowing it would only be available for 10 minutes doesn’t use it, the learner who booked the PC, then fails to turn up at 10am, we wait 10 minutes before freeing up the PC. This means PCs were “unavailable” as they had been booked, but weren’t been used.

We also found that learners wanted to book PCs so they could sit with their friends and be social, not having a booking system did mean that they could all use a PC, but not necessarily together. This resulted in less behavioural issues in the library.

If someone was desperate and wanted to book a PC for a specific time, then no problem, we did this manually. In other words booking was the exception rather than the rule. The learners could even manage such a system themselves.

As Ofsted noted when they inspected the college:

Outside lessons, many learners make constructive use of the college’s libraries and resources.

No mention of booking systems, or issues with PC access. I should also note that at least one of the inspectors sat in the library alongside learners when working rather than sit in the base room we had provided.

So here’s an idea, why not turn off your booking system for a week, just as a trial and see what happens. Confusion, possibly, chaos, probably not. Another option is, if that idea is too radical, why not have some bookable PCs, but allow others to be fully open access and record utilisation patterns.

I understand that for some library staff they see the PC booking system as a critical component of how they manage resources, from my experience, and especially in times of reduced funding, they are probably one thing that can be removed and the funding used for staff or learning resources, with minimal negative impact and potentially a more positive environment in the library itself.

Visitors and Residents: Useful Social Media in Libraries

Old Book Shop

Ned Potter has published an interesting slidedeck on the relevance of Dave White’s work on Visitors and Residents on social media in libraries.

He describes the many different ways in which libraries can engage with users and visitors using a range of social media tools. One of the challenges when using social media in libraries is to focus on using it as a broadcast mechanism and not thinking about how to engage and interact with users.

There are lots of existing and new tools out there that can be used to promote, engage, collaborate and inform.

He does make the usual assumption of seeing the concept as separating visitors from residents into two distinct groups, when as Dave White makes clear in his video is much more of a continuum. When it comes to social networks people can be both visitors and residents depending on the context and what they need or are doing. You can be a visitor to Facebook, but you can also be a resident in Facebook. Resident in a personal capacity interacting with friends and family, and a visitor in a professional capacity, going to Facebook pages as and when required.

I made the same assumption myself when I blogged about Visitors and Residents back in 2008.

Dave’s recent video on Visitors and Residents and the mapping exercise shows much more clearly how the concept can be used to describe how an individual interacts with social media, and additionally the continuum between professional and personal.

Understanding how both the concept of Visitors and Residents and  social media can be used to increase usage and engagement with users of the library is really useful, and Ned’s slidedeck and accompanying blog post gives you lots to think about.

One suggestion that I found helps, is if the entire team engage in using social media and that the tools are also used for internal purposes. This helps build familiarity with the tools, but also helping to understand what sorts of activities on social media work and what may not. One of the questions you will need to ask is how are you going to increase the social media capability (media literacy) of your team?

Image source: The Shop of Books.

 

Library Signage

No Swimming in the Library

As today is today I am reminded of something I did five years ago, when we added a range of new signage to the library.

What was interesting was that it didn’t work, no one noticed the new signs or paid them any attention,.

Though it should be said we never had a problem with swimming in the library again.

Libraries in the Internet Age

Commoncraft have released a nice video on how libraries have changed in this age of the internet.

We want them to succeed and we made this video to help the public understand how libraries have changed in the Internet Age.

There is more to research then just using Google.

It’s not just about the rules…

Cassoulet

At lunchtime today I was at my desk eating a very nice bold cassoulet soup from EAT reading e-mails from the various mailing lists I subscribe to. There was an interesting discussion on one of the lists about how different colleges deal with food and drink in their libraries.

I know from experience and walking around that most staff eat their lunches in their workrooms. I also know when writing or working that I quite like having a cup of coffee or a cake (or two). What this tells us is that most people may want to at some point eat or drink while they work and write. It is not too difficult to understand why learners may want to eat and drink as they study. Of course you may not always be able to accommodate eating and drinking; not everyone likes the smell of food, there is the issue of rubbish and there may be an overarching policy that says no food or drink in learning areas. So it may not be that easy to allow food and drink and that rule has to be in place.

Even if there are rules, these are often ignored so as a result the library staff are spending too much time “policing” the library rather than helping learners. Another strategy is to attempt to change behaviour by putting up signs, but experience says that doesn’t work.

One way that I have been looking at this problem, is by asking why is it a problem in the first place. Rather than ask how to stop students eating and drinking in the library, ask why are they eating and drinking in the first place?

Most colleges are providing some kind of area for eating (where do they buy the food from), why aren’t they staying in those areas to eat or drink, what’s making them move from those areas to the library.

On one campus of my current college, the eating establishments only provide food in takeaway containers, partly I guess to save on washing up and partly I guess to encourage students not to stay (as the spaces are quite small). So guess where the learners go when it is cold (as it is today) a nice warm place, the library. On another campus they use proper “china” and the library doesn’t have the same issue with food and drink. Sometimes the issue is outside the control of the Library and a more holistic approach needs to be thought through.

Conversely why aren’t they using the eating spaces for learning, why do they feel they need to move from the canteen to the library? Why not turn the canteens into libraries? Make them environments for learning.

When I was at my last College our (final) policy was to allow bottled drinks only. We had NO signs about food or drink and to be honest it wasn’t really a problem. I remember when we merged with another college, their library was full of “no food” signs and the library was full of half-eaten food. By changing the culture and the respect that the learners had for the environment, the food issue became a non-issue. The main way it became a non-issue was the respect the students had for the space and the staff. Build relationships with the learners and most issues such as rubbish disappear. I also ensured that the team went around and picked up any rubbish, regardless of the fact that there were bins about. The key was ensuring the environment was tidy and nice, not about getting the students to throw away their rubbish. If the learners see a nice environment they generally like to keep it that way.

Of course there will always be exceptions, but I see food and drink in libraries is more about external factors and respect than just what happens in the library and signs.