Wanted: Library Womble

I promised you in my last post that I was due a rant about this so here goes! First I have prepared for you a slideshow of evidence.* Feast your eyes on this:

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WHEN DID THIS BECOME OKAY?!?! When did people start to think this was acceptable behaviour?! It’s RUBBISH, it goes in a BIN!

Generally I quite like our students, they’re fairly pleasant if annoyingly loud on occasion. But this behaviour drives me absolutely batty. It’s just so incredibly ignorant. The photos are the tip of the iceberg really, I’ve had much worse. Half eaten paninis stuffed behind computers or left on radiators. 20 half empty cans of Red Bull. Orange peel all over the floor. And on one memorable occasion I found half a pint of milk and a half empty bag of grated cheese in a seminar room, in which the occupants had had the wall mounted heater on full blast…

It’s the sheer ignorance of it that gets to me, the complete rudeness. The oblivious assumption that someone else is going to pick it all up. They are at most 10 metres away from a bin, wherever they are sat, but it might as well be 100 metres for all they use them. In fact, we could probably have an individual bin at each desk and they still wouldn’t bother.

Now ok, we’re not making things easy on ourselves by allowing them to bring food into the LRC but in general, the issue of food in libraries does not bother me, certainly not in our library. We don’t have a research collection, our books are easily replaceable and most are loanable, so are going to be used while students are eating at home anyway. So I don’t really care if they bring food in, I just really, really wish they’d throw their rubbish away after them!

We’ve tried; if we see people walking away from rubbish laden tables we ask them to clear it up. We have some fearsome cleaners who identify frequent offenders and embarrass them into better behaviour. But it doesn’t make a huge difference as we usually only find it after they’ve left.

I’ve suggested having a week where we don’t clear tables, just to show them what sort of pig sty they make for themselves, but of course we can’t do that because of the “student experience.” Most people seem resigned to the problem, maybe I’ll end up that way too, but for the moment it still sends me into a blinding rage whenever I walk around the LRC. And because it’s Friday, I thought I would share the rage with you, dear Reader. I hope you feel my pain.

Any suggestions for teaching ADULTS to use BINS gratefully received in comments. If you don’t have a suggestion, at least tell me I’m not alone in my anger?

*taking photos of rubbish; that didn’t make me look weird AT ALL!


In which I rant about 24 Hour Opening…

Yesterday morning I had to deal with a student who was very unhappy that his 1 litre carton of fruit juice had been thrown away by one of the cleaners. He was upset because it was expensive and untouched and he’d “only left it for a minute” while he went to clean his teeth in the toilets.  Now, the cleaner was not in the wrong here because she had no idea how long the juice had been there when she found it and our library is routinely awash with litter in the mornings during exam season*, so she did the right thing. The reason this incident stuck with me is a. the teeth cleaning part and b. the fact that the reason he was so annoyed was obviously that he was knackered. Welcome to exam season and 24 hour opening, the silly season starts here!

Although, to be fair, our 24 hour opening runs from October to June and breaks only at Christmas and Easter but it’s still generally quite quiet outside of exam periods. We’re open 24 hours from Sunday to Thursday, so we’re not open Friday and Saturday nights, thank goodness. And if I had my way we wouldn’t do it at all, because I really don’t think it encourages a healthy lifestyle, good revision, or sensible studying.

Take my guy yesterday morning, I know him quite well and it’s entirely likely that he hasn’t really left the Library since Sunday, unless he’s had to take an exam. He’s got his toothbrush in his bag, for goodness sake, this is a man who is not planning on going home anytime soon. And there’s lots more like him. Last year at our other library that has 24 hour opening, caretakers found toiletries bags hidden behind the ceiling panels in the toilets. I firmly believe that if we were to open over Friday and Saturday nights, as students pressure us to do every year, we would have a small minority of students who would try to get by without renting student accommodation and would simply split their time between the Library and their friends sofas. It sounds ridiculous, but these were among the concerns that SOAS had when they abandoned 24 hour opening after trialling it for a few years (with the full support of their Student Union, I might add). I’ve also heard rumours of such shenanigans in one of the UEL libraries.

It isn’t healthy for students to spend half of their week living in the library, but that is the unavoidable consequence of providing 24 hour opening. Today’s students are under a vast amount of pressure, most have to work while they study, all of them want to get a good degree and most are well aware that they’re going to be flung into the midst of a recession once they graduate. I can completely understand why students are therefore demanding that library facilities be available 24/7 as they have to find ways of making study fit into their lives. We’re under a great deal of pressure to provide students with what they want, especially in this era of rising fees and the sodding NSS. But we can’t be all things to all people and there are serious practicalities involved here. We can’t provide showers, I doubt there are many libraries that can. We can’t provide comfortable places to sleep and in fact, our regulations state that students can’t sleep in the Library and staff will wake up any students they find sleeping in case they have fallen ill**. I know this isn’t true of all libraries and I’ve even heard of some that will give out blankets to students studying overnight (Exeter, anyone?) but still, having a two-hour kip with your head resting on your keyboard is not exactly good exam preparation, is it? We can’t provide a decent breakfast, unless your idea of a decent breakfast is a day old sandwich from the vending machine (and even then, we’re in the minority of libraries that allow students to bring food in or buy it in the library, there’s plenty of libraries that don’t) and there’s no guarantee that there’s anywhere else on campus that can either, or that students can afford it.***

I remember when I was doing my A levels that there was a lot of emphasis placed on sensible preparation for exams; not cramming, taking breaks, having a good night’s sleep the night before. We don’t seem to talk about this anymore once students reach University level, but I would argue that they need it just as much if not more as many are now away from the support of their families. Surely we should be saying somehow, somewhere that spending the 48 hours prior to your exam cramming in the Library, leaving only briefly to have a smoke, is not necessarily going to do you any good in the actual exam?

That’s if they’re even cramming at all anyway; reports from the Night Team suggest that these some of these students spend quite a lot of time streaming films on the PCs or hanging out in the café with their mates. It’s as if they’re under the impression that merely being in the Library will help them absorb knowledge, presumably by some sort of osmosis. Allowing them to remain in the Library for days at a time lets this type of student develop a false sense of study; it’s alright for them to catch up with Eastenders now because they’re already in the Library and they’ll do some revision afterwards, right? Then; it’s alright for them to spend an hour chatting to their mates because they’re in the Library and they’ll do their group presentation afterwards, yeah? Before they know it, 24 hours as gone by and they’ve not managed to do much at all. These are also the students that we see descending on the Library the night before their coursework deadline en masse; they’ve put everything off till the last-minute but it’s alright, the Library’s open and they can just spend the entire night hammering out 2500 words before morning. Oddly enough, they always seem surprised when the rest of their classmates have the same idea and the printers crash under the strain…

So what would I prefer? I don’t really know, I haven’t been in the sector long enough to really know the best way to proceed. It seems to me that having opening hours of 8am to midnight (and running a staffed service, not using Security, during those opening hours it at all possible) would provide a service that catered to as many students as possible, but would also encourage them to plan their work and revision better. I know that closing at midnight wouldn’t necessarily make students go home and go to bed before their exams, but at least it wouldn’t feel quite so much like our responsibility if they didn’t.

If anyone knows of a University that’s doing something different or interesting with their opening hours, please let me know in the comments. Also feel free to have a rant about how annoying exam season is at your institution; I’ll be sure to commiserate with you!

*rant to come, believe me!

** This has led to some “entertaining” incidents of students barricading themselves in rooms to have a nap, bless.

***don’t get me started on the ridiculous prices charged for food on university campuses.

“Thank You Jesus!”

It’s semester two and deadlines are looming. The building is full of stressed students and things are going wrong, things which it is my job to fix. Printers jamming or print queues freezing, confusing binding machines, corrupted USB sticks and lost essays. It’s not so long ago that I was trying to hand in coursework or prepare for exams, so I have lots of empathy for our student body and always go out of my way to help. I have sat with my head inside a printer for 15 minutes, pulling out paper jams* until the blasted things starts printing again. I have stood by the binding machine and helped student after student bind their work**. I have printed off work on my own PC when a usb stick won’t open on a student PC. I have sat with countless mature students and helped them re-organise their slides in Powerpoint, or taught them how to insert page numbers in Word.

And I don’t mind doing any of this; I enjoy helping, it’s what I’m here to do. But I do get annoyed when after running around like a maniac and solving a problem for someone, I am met with nothing but a “THANK YOU JESUS!” Erm, excuse me, it wasn’t Jesus that unjammed that printer, it was me! It wasn’t Jesus that rescued your presentation from the recycle bin, it was me! And it certainly wasn’t Jesus who has sat with you for 15 minutes trying to work out why your printing wasn’t showing up at the print release station, only to then discover that you’d just sat down at an already logged on but abandoned PC and were merrily using someone else’s account, because I sincerely doubt he’d have the patience! I am standing in front of you having saved your arse and what do I get? “THANK YOU JESUS!” And in my experience, that exclamation is rarely followed up by a personal thank you to me as well. I don’t really mind when it’s the Library that’s messed up, or when it’s Library equipment that has gone wrong, but when I’ve gone out of my way to help solve a problem that was the student’s fault in the first place and Jesus is thanked instead of me, then I do get a bit hacked off, to be honest.

Plus, it may have been a while since I’ve been to church but I was raised methodist and I rather understood that the whole point of being a Christian was that you lived a good and moral life on earth in order to ensure that you went to heaven. I’m not sure that any part of the deal was that Jesus would personally intervene in every Christians life any time they were having a bad day and would happily use his power to unjam printers and rescue corrupted files. I’m reasonably sure there would have been some mention of that in the Bible at some point.***

I’d like to conclude this post with some sort of constructive point or suggestion, but I don’t actually have one. So I shall file this in the ‘Rant’ category and leave you with the knowledge that should you ever see me tweeting in ALL CAPS with too many exclamation points in April or May, it is likely to be for this reason and you should probably send me cake.

*And usually burning my fingers on the fuser as well, because it’s quicker for me to burn myself than it is to remove the whole fuser unit and carry it over to IT and ask them for their tweezers; SEE HOW I CARE?!?!?!
**It can be difficult to maintain the distinction between ‘showing them’ and ‘doing it for them’, if you get distracted you can find yourself with a pile of dissertations and no students…

***”And lo, the clouds parted and a light shone down and a voice was heard to say “Look, have you tried turning it off and on again?””

“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.

The sodding Student Experience

There was an interesting article in the Times Higher Education yesterday entitled ‘To spoon feed is not to nuture’ which examines research into learning behaviours undertaken at the University of Cumbria. Peter Ovens, Senior Research Fellow, suggests that many of today’s students are “puzzled” by the idea of independent learning, as a result of being spoon fed through their GCSEs and A Levels by teachers who have been forced to focus on targets and league tables. Dr Ovens further warns that current reforms that focus on improving the “student experience” could lead to even greater spoon feeding of students, which is not in their best interest, nor that of their Universities.

This is an issue that I’m very interested in, as I currently work at an Institution that is trying hard to improve it’s National Student Survey results which means that I hear the phrase “the student experience” roughly once a day. I’m also familiar, as I’m sure a lot of my fellow librarians are, with the irritation that is the Spoon Fed Student. You know the ones; they stand in a queue to ask how to get to the first floor, despite the large signs pointing to the stairs. They come to the Help Desk to tell you that the PC attached to the scanner is not turned on, to which the only response is “well why don’t you turn it on then?” They try and persuade you to look up every book on their reading list on the catalogue for them, then get all teary when you tell them you’ll show them how to do the first one and thats it. Then they ask for help finding them all on the shelf, even once you’ve explained DDC to them and shown them the stacks. They complain that no one ever sat down with them personally to go over all the Library rules and regulations in detail, so how can they be expected to comply with them? In short, they make you want to tear your hair out. And there seem to be more and more of them every year.

Now I’m not really qualified to suggest a solution for this state of affairs, but I certainly agree with Dr Ovens that more spoon feeding of students will not help and this is why I really dislike the focus on the sodding Student Experience. Everyone is so concerned that final year students will rate them badly on the NSS that they go out of their way to keep them happy; reading coursework before it’s handed in to advise on structure, being lenient about having student ID on campus, waiving deserved fines if someone kicks up enough of a fuss, giving direct links from Blackboard to e-journal articles that are required reading* etc etc ad nauseum. None of this helps the student in the long run, it just leaves them thinking that there will always be a way out of any difficult situation they find themselves in, they don’t really need to make much effort and if they complain enough their problem will go away. That is no preparation for the real world and is bound to have an effect on employability rates, which is not ideal when we’re releasing graduates into a recession.

I understand that students who are spoon fed through their school years are going to expect the same at University and this situation is unlikely to change unless schools and colleges change it themselves. I also think that it is unfair to expect 18 year olds to work in a way that they have never worked before, and to succeed at it straight away. Nevertheless, instead of giving into these expectations throughout their University career, maybe we should explain the realities of higher education in induction week and give them the first year to get used to it, with some assistance, and then let them sink or swim? After all, the current situation doesn’t seem to be working very well for any of us, and I would quite like to retire with normal blood pressure levels and a full head of hair!

* Unpopular opinion: I don’t even like putting Reading Lists on the catalogue. When I were a student (and this were all fields!)  we got one printed copy of the Reading List and had to look up everything on it ourselves and it didn’t do us any harm!!!

The USB Commandments

60 USB sticks in lost property

The 60 odd USB sticks currently in lost property. Bear in mind we only keep them for 30 days.

After spending half an hour of my day sorting out the box* full of USB sticks in lost property, I was inspired to write…

The USB Commandments

Thou shalt always place a file with your name, email address or ID number on thine USB stick

Thou shalt always leave a CV upon thine USB stick as apart from giving us a contact name, it also gives us great opportunity for merriment**

If thou insist on using the free usb stick that thy Faculty hands out upon enrolment, thou shalt ensure that thou personalises it in some way, so that the Blessed Library staff do not have to check 20 identical sticks to find out which one is yours

In fact, all USB stick owners shalt attach a ruddy great novelty keyring to thy stick upon pain of dismemberment

Thou shall not attempt to get a free USB stick by pointing to a random stick in the Lost Property box and claiming it is thine.

If thou are stupid enough to leave your USB stick in a PC, thou shalt not cast glares and accusations upon the blessed Library staff if thine stick is not handed in. It is not the Blessed Library staff’s fault that thou art a moron.

Thou shall not cry upon the Blessed Library staff’s shoulder and proclaim that the USB stick holds the only copy of your dissertation. Thine foolishness is thine own fault and thou art getting our shoulder wet.

If thou art daft enough to leave your USB stick in a PC, thou shalt not insist upon finding a distribution list for all students so that thou canst email the entire student body and demand your usb stick back. Well, thou canst go ahead if thou insists, but thou shall probably not like being accused by IT of being a spambot.

If thou call to report that you have left thine USB stick in a PC, thou must be able to say exactly which PC thou hast left it in. If thou sayest “it was somewhere on the 1st floor” the Blessed Library staff will hang up on thee.

If the Blessed Library staff email thou to say thine USB stick has been found, thou shalt collect it in a timely manner, and not saunter in after 4 months then get shirty when said USB stick has been thrown away.

*Actually it’s two boxes now. And I chucked out 10 from early October. *weeps*
**”in my spare time I enjoy reading Business and Management textbooks.” Of course you do, sunshine…

Friday Five

Five*… most irritating responses when you politely remind students that they’re in a silent area (and the replies I wish I could give):

5. “You didn’t say anything to them!” (while pointing to students at the other side of the room which I haven’t got to yet)

(Because I haven’t been over there yet, sweetheart, but rest assured I will say the same thing to them as I did to you. I will then come back and tell you off again if you even think about continuing your conversation, and then I’ll stand over you for the next 10 minutes, just to thoroughly cramp your style. Deal with it.)

4. “Yeah, just a second.”

(Don’t you ‘just a second’ me young man! Stop talking to your irritating little friend about the best way to ‘share references’ which we both know really means ‘cheat’ and do some work of your own! In silence!)

3. “We were just leaving.”

(But your intention to leave does not negate the fact that this is a silent area, nor does it mean that your incessant whispering can’t be heard at the other end of the room. Your discussion about whether or not to go shopping can wait until you’ve left the room and the door closes behind you!)

2. “I wasn’t talking…”

(Oh, so I’m just imagining it am I? I didn’t actually hear you talking from 10 feet away, and I also imagined seeing you sitting together at a PC when this is supposed to be an individual study area? Well I should go to a psychiatrist then, but in the meantime, how about you humour me by moving to the Quiet Study floor? Because you wouldn’t want to push me over the edge, would you, not when I’m obviously barking…)

1. “But you’re talking Miss!”

(*explodes in fit of rage and bludgeons students to death with Silent Study Zone signs*)

Got any more irritating ones to share? Leave them in the comments!

This is just an idea I had to make sure that I always post something every Friday that will hopefully be amusing and will allow me to get stuff off my chest. I’ve got a long list to get through, hopefully it will be fun!