#LibDay8 – Tuesday

My alarm goes off at 6:30am on Tuesdays, and for that I curse them! But despite that, they normally turn out to be good days for getting things done as I’m not scheduled to supervise and I don’t have many desks. I start at 8am so that I can do the banking. We take quite a lot of money in the LRCs; fines of course, but also printing credit, photocopying credit* and we sell stationary, binding materials and ID cards. We also handle money for Faculties who fine students for late equipment returns; they don’t have tills themselves so they have to send them to us to pay the fines! That adds up to quite a lot of money, so we have to bank it twice a week. I’m in charge of the money at this site, mores the pity, so I do one banking shift a week and delegate the other. Thankfully I’ve got it down to a fine art now, so I can get it done in about 90 minutes but it can take up to two and a half hours if somethings gone wrong…

After that (and a tea break) it was time to settle down at my desk for the first time this week! Here is a view of my desk from this morning:

My desk Lots of papers amd post it notes to get through! I quickly dealt with a replacement copy of a book that we’d invoiced, sent off a payment discrepancy form for the banking and emailed some instructions to a colleague. I then finished off the training schedule for my LRC Assistant who’s returning from maternity leave tomorrow (yes, I was going to do this last night but it’s difficult to motivate oneself after 7pm!) which involved doing some timetable juggling so that the right people are available at the right time. Then I spent some time on my invoicing project, speaking to staff in the Systems team about the minutae of how the system works and trying to arrange training for Library Assistants next week.

Helpdesk from 12 – 1pm, where it seems like all I did was swipe a million cards for the UK Border Agency checks which students can now do in the LRCs. Lunch after that, then back to my desk to crack on with invoicing, this time updating the procedures manual. Oh how I wish it was as simple as Find: Talis, Replace with: Aleph but sadly I had to make far more changes and discovered more problems that I need to consider.

To do listOnce I’d had enough of that, I decided it was time to update my To Do list, which I normally do once a fortnight or so as so many of the things I need to do are usually quite lengthy or depend on other people. Writing it out reminded me that I needed to get our Bank Holiday staffing sorted soon; we open two of our four LRCs on the spring Bank Holidays for which I coordinate the staffing. I quickly drafted an intranet announcement asking for volunteers then sent this to HR and the Customer Services manager for checking. Then it was Intertilling time; this is the process by which we make sure there’s enough change in the right places (till, change machine) and that all the machines have been emptied, we do it daily and we each have one slot a week. Today wasn’t mine but I’m training up a new member of staff, so I went with her to check that she knew what she was doing.

Back to my desk and the Announcement has been approved and published; suddenly I am inundated with emails which makes me feel terribly popular, but sadly they’re all just people asking for Bank Holiday hours. They get double pay or double time, so I’m everyones best friend in the Spring! Replying to these takes me up to 4pm at which point I call it a day and head home to do my jog.

So that was Tuesday, a much more productive day than Monday!

*Yes, we are completely antiquated and still have separate printing and photocopying systems, a fact often bemoaned by students. Fingers crossed we join the 21st century next year though!

#LibDay8 – Monday

I thought I knew exactly what Monday was going to involve; wander in at 2pm, do some intertilling, lead the team briefing, catch up on some emails then do the late night until 9pm. Easy, and a nice introduction to my week. But life in Customer Services is never easy, mores the pity. Instead, the member of staff who was supposed to be supervising all day rang in sick, so I found myself flung straight out to supervise upon arrival.

Let me tell you a little bit about how supervising works at my library. The role of Supervisor is basically that of Duty Manager and is usually filled between 8 and 5:30 by a Customer Services senior*. Each day is split into two shifts and we each do 2 or 3 shifts a week, so it takes up a lot of our time.

This is our Seat Of Power:

Sortation RoomWe call it the Sortation Room. I know, don’t even, I wasn’t here when they started calling it that and I don’t know why Sorting Room wouldn’t do, but there you have it; the Sortation Room. So called because it contains our Sorting Machine, that big grey monstrosity at the back. This room is behind the Helpdesk and next door to the Staff Office, so it’s perfectly placed to run the whole building. Because that’s what we’re doing when we’re supervising, essentially, we are responsible for managing the building. So we’re not only dealing with difficult enquiries and students referred to us by the Helpdesk, we’re also making sure the building is a safe and appropriate environment for students to work in, which means a lot of patrolling and a lot of dealing with Facilities Management.

It was a busy afternoon, allow me to bullet point some of the issues I dealt with between 2pm and 5pm**:

  • spent 15 minutes explaining to a student exactly how he’d run up a £54 fine, but then waived half of it when the book was later found on the shelf at another site
  • counted up the change machine float because someone put a £5 note in but got no coins in return.
  • talked to someone about filming an interview in the LRC and what would be an appropriate location***
  • fixed the Returns Unit when it started playing up
  • Radio’d Security to get them to unlock one of the plant rooms so some engineers could work on the boiler
  • Fetched some books for a partially sighted student
  • Answered a query about software availability on the Macs at a different campus
  • Fixed a printer which was defaulting to the wrong tray
  • Explained to a member of staff that he wouldn’t be able to use staff printing facilities at 2am as all the staff offices were locked at that point and our overnight facilities are provided for students
  • United two people with their lost property
  • Explained to someone that the reason her photocopying had jammed was because she had used the feeder tray, despite the dozen notices explaining that the feeder tray isn’t working and one of them being TAPED OVER the feeder tray, which she had moved. !headdesk!
  • Printed off a dozen ID cards
  • Restocked the Helpdesk and Reception with forms and stationary****
  • Gave impromptu Aleph training to Helpdesk staff, even though they should know these things by now

And that’s actually a pretty nice day; there were no arguments, no tears, nothing caught fire, nobody collapsed or got stuck in the lift and there were no fights. Those are the things you dread when you Supervise and if you get a shift without them you’re grateful, even if you are on your feet 3 hours which I pretty much was today.

My day is not yet over, I’m here till 9pm but I’m not supervising anymore and I’m currently taking it easy at Reception. I’ll do the Helpdesk from 6:30 to 9:00 and I’ll be sure to add an addendum to this if anything interesting happens, but I’m mainly planning on writing up my training plan for the Library Assistant who’s returning from maternity leave on Wednesday and emailing the systems team about the invoicing procedure.

So, that was Monday!

*Due to lack of CS seniors this morning, subject staff had to cover until I got there, which some of them were Displeased with.

**I took notes! I’m taking this seriously, you see :p

***”No, that spot probably won’t work, because not only is it right in front of our self service machines, it’s also right in front of the door to the stairs…”

****why am I the only person who does this? Gah!

Library Day in the Life Project – #libday8

This week I will be taking part in the Library Day in the Life Project here on the blog (and also a little bit over on Twitter, where I am @funktious) Those taking part in the project use their blogs, twitter accounts and even YouTube and Flickr to share a typical week of their working life. It’s a really fun way to show people what your job actually entails, as well as providing a way for those interested in a career in Librarianship to find out about different sectors.

So to get started, let me tell you a little bit about myself and my role. I’m a twenty something (oh alright, very nearly thirty) woman living in south west London and working in a University library. I’m qualified, having graduated from library school in 2007. I’m an Information Advisor (which is basically a Senior Library Assistant) in the Customer Services department, so I’m there to keep the service running smoothly, make sure the students are happy and work on projects to improve the service in the long term. I also line manage five library assistants.

I’ll be writing one post a day describing what I’ve been up to, and most likely having a rant at the same time. I’m also determined to take some photos to liven up the blog a little bit! It should be an interesting week; it’s the first week of the semester so we’ll be inundated with students, I’ve also got a massive invoicing project on the go and one of my library assistants is returning from maternity leave.

I said earlier that the Library Day in the Life project is a great way to find out more about other library sectors, so in that spirit I have listed below some blogs belonging to other people taking part who work in completely different sectors, I’ll be interested to read about their weeks. I’ll add any more that I discover on the hashtag (#libday8 on twitter) and I’ll try to add links to twitter feeds later when I’m not on the iPad.

Organising Chaos (Law Librarian)
Big Friendly Librarian (School Library Manager)
Theatregrad (Media Librarian)
Joeyanne Libraryanne (Researcher)
Life in the Library Lane (NHS Library Manager)

Ker-ching!

Universities collected £50m in library fines, figures show (Guardian)

An FOI request from the Press Association has resulted in Universities revealing how much money they make from fining students for overdue books. The article itself is a fairly typical stats fest with no real argument to make, but there’s some interesting points in there that are worth exploring.

First of all, £50m is obviously quite an impressive figure, but virtually every librarian would tell you that it’s income we’d quite happily live without, as we’d prefer it if the books just came back on time!

Dealing with overdue books takes up a surprising amount of time. Yes, the LMS (Library Management System)  is set up to deal with them automatically, but that all has to be set up and constantly monitored as opening hours change and bank holidays move every year. Different collections and patron types might have different loan / fine criteria which have to be programmed and monitored also. We’re probably not the only institution that sends out overdue reminders by email; that’s another system that has to be watched as my God, doesn’t everyone throw a fit if they don’t get their reminders.* When fines are paid, the money has to be banked and that’s two and a half hours of my life every week that I’m not getting back.** And what happens if students still don’t return their books? Some sort of invoicing procedure has to be put in place and as I’m currently implementing a new one for my library, please believe me when I tell you this takes up a lot of time. As does producing the invoice requests, pricing up the books, sending them to Finance to be raised…***

Then, inevitably, there’s the sheer amount of staff time spent arguing with students about their overdue books. “But Miss, I live like, well far away and I couldn’t get here in time!” (this usually means they live the next town over.) “The books are really heavy!” (you managed to take them out though, didn’t you?) “You didn’t send me a reminder” (sorry about that, but these things happen and you still had the book! It’s your responsibility to stay on top of these things!) “I couldn’t come in because of the rain Miss!” (yes, I really have heard this one. Needless to say it wasn’t the Flood, and staff made it in from further away.) I spend at least 10 hours of my working week acting as Library Supervisor, which basically means Duty Manager, therefore I’m the person that has to deal with stroppy students at the desk, so I’m the person who has to listen to the whinging, the crying and often, the shouting. So I would much, much rather that students just returned their books on time and never paid a single library fine.

But we have to accept the fact that no, students are not going to return their books on time. It’s simply not their highest priority, much as we would like it to be. And if they have a deadline approaching and the book is key to their argument (or, in most cases, they hope the book is key but they haven’t actually got round to reading it yet) then they’re definitely not going to return it. We try to make it as easy as possible for students to renew their books and I’m sure most other libraries do the same, but there will still always be students who don’t bother. There therefore has to be a penalty, in order to make the system fair for all those students who do manage their due dates properly.

This penalty can take a form other than fines; the article mentions the University of Westminster which doesn’t charge fines, but instead blocks students from using their library accounts for the same amount of time as their books were overdue. This sounds like an interesting model, but I worry that it wouldn’t be much of a disincentive to students who know they don’t have any more coursework to hand in for a while, so they can afford to keep their books out and have their accounts blocked for a while afterwards as they won’t be studying then anyway.**** Most libraries choose to charge fines, the scale of which varies. I was very interested to read that Imperial College London collected the lowest amount of fines over the years surveyed, which is most likely related to the fact also revealed in the article, that they block students accounts when they have £4 of fines. We do something similar, but with a much higher level of £15. In practise, this means that the majority of students using our library currently have fines of around £14.95, as they will pay off just enough to get their accounts unblocked rather than the whole amount. This is definitely something I’ll be adding to the agenda for our end of year review as although the student body will no doubt believe a lower limit to be unfair, it would probably be fairer to them in the long run as it would be much easier to pay off and help keep their fines down.

Finally, I have two criticisms of the article itself. The first is that it does not appear to make the distinction between fines for overdue material and replacement costs and charges for lost material. This is evident where the author talks about fines charged by Edinburgh Napier University, which includes a quote about replacement costs. I would therefore be suspicious of the accuracy of the figures quoted as if in some instances they include charges for lost material, that will skew the conclusions entirely.

And secondly, nowhere in the article does the author explain where the funds raised by fining for overdue books actually go. I hope it was part of the original FOI and just hasn’t made it into the article, as otherwise it would be very poor research. Rest assured, any impoverished student reading this, your fines go to noble causes. In the case of my institution, all fines income is funnelled into the book fund and any payment for lost items is used to either replace the lost item, or goes back into the general book fund also. I believe the same is true of many other institutions; ask, they should be able to tell you. We are not punishing you for your loans going overdue then using your fines to pay for the tea fund, our own wages or even our regular jaunts to the local pub. Any funds raised are used to further improve the collection for your benefit.

But still, why not just bring your books back on time, eh? Or renew them? We’d all be everso grateful!

(I’m planning a future post on alternatives to fines, if you have any bright ideas please leave them in the comments so I can steal them we can all discuss them!)

*Our “courtesy emails” are currently being run by one PC in the systems office. When the person who uses that PC goes on annual leave, the PC sometimes crashes and it might not be noticed for a day or two. I wish students (and staff, for that matter) could understand that we don’t have some sort of NASA style system; if the PC crashes the email won’t send, and PCs crash a lot.

**okay, I’m exaggerating, the banking would probably still take that long anyway as our cash also comes from printing and photocopying credit, stationary sales and equipment fines from Faculty’s that don’t have tills. Cash from fine payments is actually one of the smallest totals. But it still takes time, dammit!

***inevitably, students normally manage to return their extremely overdue books at the exact point at which we’ve done all the work pricing up their books and sending the invoice request to finance, but the invoice hasn’t actually been raised yet. This is vexing.

****unless this includes their IT accounts as well, that would definitely make them pay up. If we had the power to suspend IT accounts we’d have them eating out of our hands!

“Why isn’t it online Miss?”

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry I’ve been quiet for so long, but that’s because I spent most of early December raising invoices for students who hadn’t returned their books, then most of late December arguing with those students about not returning their books. It was a great month.

But I’m back and as I’m #latenightlibrarian* tonight, I’m going to treat you to a rant about ebooks. Stupid, sodding ebooks.

So late last year I dealt with a student who was unhappily returning his book because someone else had reserved it. I was putting a reservation on it for him in return when he complained “why isn’t it online Miss?” I suppressed the eye roll and attempted to explain that a. not everything is online and b. even if it is, sometimes we can’t afford it or make an informed choice not to buy it. To which he responded “yeah, but my brother right, he’s at another university and all of his textbooks are online Miss, all of them. And if they’re not he just asks and they’re put online. So why aren’t ours?” Again, I tried to explain to him the intricacies of ebooks that I, being a qualified librarian, should reasonably be expected to know more about than his brother, but sadly the student stropped off, probably thinking that we were the meanest library in the world. I then checked with his subject librarian. The book? NOT AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK!

This week is the first week of term, although exams don’t start until next week so the Library is mostly full of very dedicated students getting on with their revision, punctuated with the odd visit from panicking students who haven’t visited the Library all year. The book they are most concerned about is an Operations Management book that was written by one of their lecturers and which is the basis of an exam they have next week. And which, of course, they were told to buy. We have 19 copies of this and a further 2 copies in short loan. There are currently *checks* 18 reservations on this book which – if everyone were to respect the due date of their loans – would mean that all those students would get a copy in just over a week, but that’s obviously ridiculous. One, for example, was due back on December 5th. They can book the short loan copies, but no ones returning those on time either. So naturally, every other student coming to the desk is asking about this book and every other one of them is whinging about it not being available online. Being a good customer services librarian, I toddled off and checked to see if it was available as an ebook. It is. FOR £735.00!

Okay, my rant is not really about ebooks but about student’s perceptions of them and the annoyingly widespread idea that everything is available online. Librarians spend a large amount of their lives trying to fight this misconception although we don’t appear to be close to winning yet** One of my favourite projects is the That’s Not Online! tumblr, which aims to draw attention to the vast amount of information that is not available in electronic format. Is it fair to expect 18 year olds to be aware of this great issue of contention? Probably not, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that they listen to librarians when we explain that not everything is online and try to remember that in the future.

The real kicker, anyway, is one that @deadlylibrarian pointed out when I was ranting about this on twitter; even when we do have the ebook and you point this out triumphantly to the desperate student at the Helpdesk, they usually just frown and say “but I don’t want to use the ebook…” So I take it back, ebooks are clearly the problem because they are EVIL and never there when they’re needed and always there when they’re not wanted.

I have 150 minutes left before I go home and if one more person asks me about that Operations Management book I might explode. Wish me luck.


*You are all on twitter, right? I’m reasonably sure that the only people who read this are the people who follow me on twitter, but on the off-chance I’ve caught someone else with my witty and erudite prose, come and join us on twitter and learn the beauty of the hashtag.

**If you’re interested in fighting a losing battle, head to the Guardian and look for any articles about ebooks, publishing, libraries, the future of the book etc then go to the comments and try arguing with everyone who posts something along the lines of “I don’t need books, I’ve got a kindle and everythings online anyway lol.” You’ll give up after two articles for the sake of your own mental health. Bonus points if you can argue with anyone who starts talking about Google Books and / or JSTOR making books / journals obsolete without wanting to claw your own eyes out.