Tag Archives: library

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.

So do signs work?

Do signs work?

So do signs work? Well yes they do, but often they don’t.

A simple question, what signs work and what ones don’t? On my way to work I often encounter advertising billboards extolling the benefits of cars, soft drinks and others that to be honest I don’t recall. Can you remember all the billboards you saw this morning? Are you the type of person who buys everything you see advertised? No, of course not, advertising is about influence and persuasion, but not enforcement.

Enforcement is different, if you look at speeding enforcement and how speed limits are done, the red circle indicates that the sign needs to be “obeyed”. Ask yourself have you ever exceeded the speed limit, either through a lapse of concentration or because you were in a “hurry”? Or have you ever seen others exceeding the speed limit ignoring the signs.

As a bit of a generalisation, people who read signs prohibiting a kind of behaviour are generally those people who don’t need to read them…

This sign is from a shelter on the promenade in Weston-super-Mare, not sure of the age, but if I was to guess I would say from the 1950s.

This sign is from a shelter on the promenade in Weston-super-Mare, not sure of the age, but if I was to guess I would say from the 1950s.

I would ask the question, did this sign stop people spitting? It’s not just the assumption that the sign would stop people spitting, but there’s the language and what you can’t see from the photograph is that it was ten feet up, as a result not at eye level. If you think logically about it, if you want to stop people spitting to the ground, why not put the sign on the ground, though I doubt that would work either.

One of the problems with signs that prohibit behaviour is that where do you stop and when do you stop putting up signs. I recall when I asked a learner to stop eating in the library, he asked where was the sign prohibiting food and drink in the library? Now you may think he had a fair point, how would he know what the rules are if they are not displayed?

There are two key issues here, there wasn’t a sign saying “No Cycling” however I think most people that having learners cycling around the library isn’t conducive to others studying in the library. Yes that is a bit of a silly example, no one would cycle in the library, but the key question when you prohibit behaviours where do you draw the line. No drawing or highlighting in the books please. Please do not put chewing gum on the underside of the tables and desks. Should there be a sign saying “No Fighting” as you don’t want learners fighting in the library. Well would such a sign work anyhow?

The issue with having prohibition signs, is where do you draw the line, and where do you stop. You start to have a large number of signs, with an end result of lots of visual clutter and little impact on the behaviour, which you were trying to change in the first place. The problem is exacerbated when you allow different kinds of behaviour in different areas of the library and the only thing demarcating those areas are signs. Suddenly the library becomes a plethora of signage, which has little impact on behaviour, but can have an impact on learning. Visual clutter has a very negative impact on learning, it creates distraction and has a compounded impact on those with visual disorders.

The second key issue was that the learner who was complaining about the sign, had in fact signed a student code of conduct in which it was quite clear that eating or drinking in classrooms and libraries was now allowed. The learner probably either had forgotten, or not taken notice of what they were signing. Ask yourself how many times have you read an EULA for a web service or a piece of software. Even if you do, how much do you remember?

Relying on signage to change behaviour, is a flawed premise. So the important question is how do you change behaviours if you don’t use signs? Well that’s going to be another blog post.

Would you like fries with that?

I spoke at the UKSG e-Resources for FE event in London today.

Research from the University of Huddersfield shows that the number of visits to the library has an insignificant impact on learner achievement. However in the same study it was shown that students who took out more books, or used more e-resources achieved higher grades.

How can a library service engage learners who visit the library to utilise more of the resources available to them?

What strategies can be used to increase the use of e-resources and the lending of books?

Can we learn from major retailers, high street chains and other companies and implement their ideas into the library?

James Clay from Gloucestershire College discusses the strategies they have been using to increase the use of books and learning resources by learners.

Turn off that mobile

This is the presentation I gave in July at the event, CILIP’s Mobile Technology Executive Briefing.

Is there a role for mobile devices in the modern library? What are the issues, challenges and opportunities of using mobile devices to support learning and resource discovery in the library? From communication, collaboration, storage, notes, books, journals and more, mobile technologies are changing the way in which users can and are using libraries.

Everything is out…

Old Books

When I visit my local library and look for a specific book, I might be lucky and it’s on the shelf, if I am less lucky it’s not at my local library, but is available from another library. If I am unlucky then someone else has borrowed it and though I can out in a reservation, I have to wait until it is returned.

This is one of the disadvantages of having just a single copy of a printed book. Of course one of the advantages of the digital ebook is that it would be possible to make and lend it to as many people who wanted it… or so you would have thought.

My local library service, LibrariesWest have recently launched an ebook lending library. It uses Adobe Digital Editions so works fine with the Bluefire Reader app on the iPad, so no need to worry about having a proprietary ebook reader.

However I was a little taken aback when I looked at the range of books available to find that most of them were out on loan!

All out on loan

I couldn’t actually download a digital version of the book I wanted as it was on loan to somebody else. Now the reality isn’t that the digital file is on someone else’s computer and not available, no of course this is a DRM limitation placed on the library service by the publishers.

The publishers have taken the traditional business model they have used with libraries before with printed books and applied it to digital ebooks.

So if someone “borrows” an ebook, then it is not available to anyone else. This isn’t a technical restriction, it’s a business choice.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the business model only allows the books to be borrowed for a certain number of times before it “wears out”.

I am sure that LibrariesWest could spend a lot more money and have ebooks that can be borrowed by multiple users all at the same time.

What this does tell us, is that we are still at the start of the ebook lending model and at this stage publishers are trying to duplicate a traditional business model in the online world. As with a lot of other traditional business models, this will change at some point in the future.