Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Looking back...

Thing 5 and the chance to reflect on what I've learnt so far. It's also another much needed breather after the exertions of the last few days!

On the 7.35am Amtrak train from Michigan into Chicago yesterday, I was thinking about sleep mainly but also had some time to contemplate what I've taken away from my time in Grand Rapids! I started to make a list of some of the things which GVSU's Library Service offers which differ from what we do back at Kingston University:

1. Peer-to-peer learning: Encouraging student engagement was a key theme emanating from the discussions I had with staff and students at GVSU. This involves taking a very much hands-off approach to management of the learning environment; leaving students and the student workers staffing the helpdesks to it to a large extent (and within reasonable limits) so that they get a sense of ownership. It has been a very deliberate development which stems from research which library staff have conducted into the ways in which students learn. Student engagement will be stressed even further when the Mary Idema Pew building opens next year, with students strongly encouraged to use the building how they see fit. Students will also be on hand to offer research support and to help with offer academic skills training to other students in the Knowledge Market area which is regarded as "the heartbeat" of the new building. The LRCs do have involvement in peer-to-peer learning at Kingston University too but not nearly to the extent than is starting to happen at GVSU.

2. Patron Driven Acquisitions (PDA): A large proportion of e-books made available to GVSU patrons through the Summon library catalogue will never be used. The library pays a lease for those items which are used, with a proportion of each item’s cost incurred when the item is downloaded. If the item is used over a certain number of times then it will be purchased. The overall higher cost for each item purchased (the cost of leasing these items a number of times on top of the purchase cost) is negated by the fact that each item purchased will definitely have some use value. (This is something which is currently being piloted on a smaller scale at KU but has not been engrained into procedures in the same way as at GVSU). In document delivery terms, there are set parameters whereby if a requested book has been published recently enough and is not too expensive then it will be purchased by the library. I noted with interest that other libraries in the Michigan area and elsewhere in the States are now offering a Print on Demand service, similar to one I saw in a local independent bookstore in the downtown area:

A Print on Demand machine at Schuler's Books
3. Virtual chat and text messaging services: GVSU has had many years of experience with Virtual Chat services, beginning in the late 1990s with Question Point (through OCLC) being used to field chat enquires received from various providers (AOL, Yahoo, ICQ and so on). Meebo was eventually chosen as the preferred service as the number of enquiries received from other services declined. This is now embedded in the ‘Contact Us’ option on the GVSU Libraries website but is still only really used for the more straightforward enquiries. Staff at GVSU spoke with me about other ways in which it might be feasible to try to use chat for more in depth enquiries in future and to get feedback on these enquiries. Many retail companies in the States are apparently now very good at providing online assistance through chat. An 'Ask a Librarian' web chat service is something which we are looking to implement at Kingston in the near future.

4. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS): I was interested to hear how these can save millions in building costs because of the reduction in shelving space required. The Steelcase Library, for example would have had to be three storey’s higher to accommodate all the items stored in its ASRS at the Pew Campus! As only the 3rd library to have installed an ASRS in the States and the very 1st to use it for a circulating collection, GVSU remain experts in this new technology and have had a lot to teach other libraries, including the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library which I will look forward to visiting on Friday.

5. Evidence-Based Practice: I attended a Summer School event in Stuttgart back in 2008 on the theoretical side of EBP in libraries but have not seen it used in reality until I came to GVSU. Observational studies on how students use the building or go about searching for research materials using the catalogue are common practise. These resulted in the use of a single search box, for instance and were key in feeding into the design of the Mary Idema Pew Library. Reference (or Subject) Librarians will also track all of their enquiries via a free piece of software called LibStats. This gives them key data on what areas they should focus upon and also builds up a useful database which they and other librarians can call upon to answer future questions.

Above all, looking back I have been extremely lucky to have been able to participate this staff exchange and am especially grateful to the staff over in Michigan for their amazing hospitality. They really took the time out to make me feel welcome and to help me with my research project. Many staff expressed an interest in conducting a visit to Kingston University during the Meet & Greet the other day and I would certainly look forward to welcoming them to the UK.

Saturday I was entrusted with piloting a motorboat (would you believe?!) which I drive out onto Lake Michigan for a picnic - just one of many fun excursions which GVSU’s library staff have treated me to over here.  Later I headed downtown to see the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS(!!) in what was frontman Anthony Kiedus’s homecoming gig! And pretty awesome it was too. Sunday was a more sedate affair, with a trip down to Tabor Hill Winery near Kalamazoo:

Give it away now! The Chili Peppers at Grand Rapids

Even the chocolates are works of art in Michigan! (Pictured at Tabor Hill Winery)

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