Monday, January 28, 2013

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore 2013

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I don't have many traditions for this blog which is now 4 years old, but one of them seems that every Jan, I will post a rough sketch of my work day for a week as part of the Library day in a life meme. Here are past editions.

Sadly this meme/project has ended but for the sake of tradition I will continue. I always fancied this  was sometimes useful for future librarians thinking of becoming academic librarians in Singapore.

14 Jan 2013

Today's the first day of term, with all the work it implies. I've scheduled some of the events and promotions to be tweeted, posted out on Facebook in advance last week, but just thought of adding something to all FourSquare venues that are claimed, so when people check-in they will see our news popup.

This term is also special, because we just launched our new discovery service in Dec 2012 as the default search, and many returning students and staff were finally discovering it (we of course had plenty of announcements and a length test period of almost 6 months on secondary tabs but there are still many who have not used it).

As per my normal practice, I spend the first 10-20 minutes each day looking at search queries made in our FAQ system/LibAnswers , looking at google analytics to see which pages are most popular in various systems like our guides, faq, portal etc (particularly important this period so we can react quickly to developing situations) or to see the response to our marketing via email of certain pages such as our Summon guides etc .

Also for the past 6 months, I added an additional routine of trying out sample queries done by our users on our new discovery system to ensure nothing strange is happening. 

I must admit, I have become almost addicted to duplicating search queries captured in our logs because you learn so much including
  • quirks about the system's relevancy ranking (I could write tons on this now)
  • user behavior in terms of search queries entered, refinements used
Just two examples, back in Sept 2012, I discovered users like to do search queries of the format  + which surprisingly fails often enough compared to straight out title as the former tends to result in book reviews (which we filter out by default but some are classified as journal articles) or journal articles/book commenting on the work. 

This issue seems to confound people working in the humanities, as we started to receive feedback on this very issue starting December, but it was nice that we were prepared to answer this and a suggested work-around.

The other issue I noticed looking at the logs is that searches of the nature  + (e.g family relationship singapore) which are naturally popular is that often it doesn't give very relevant results, inevitably the same books such as Encyclopedia of Singapore, a book on Jews in Singapore etc and a certain journal article always appears regards of the topic.

Trying to filter by subject terms to Singapore seldom improves the results, my own technique which I worked out which seems to work more often than not is to used advanced search to forced Singapore into the title field tends to give more relevant results though why that works I am unsure.

But I digress, much of the morning was spent preparing & organising for the sessions I was going to give on the new discovery system both this week and next, including a "live" online session held via webex next week.

Part of the preparation involves generating a list of people who signed up for the session tomorrow, and scanned the list to see who was probably coming (so I can customize the session slightly) and as expected a large number were new students and staff who just joined us this semester which poses challenges of its own.

The other major thing I was working on this week besides launch of our discovery system was the rollout of our openurl resolver to work with PubMed. Was co-ordinating it with staff from medical library, fixing typos in FAQs, changing URLs for PubMed from our guides, catalogue, portal, so that all was in readiness for the mass email to be sent out to the medical faculty.

Coincidentally, we also put in a couple of changes to simplify our openurl/360 link search page to make it cleaner and more user friendly (thanks to an idea I brought home from a discussion at Internet Librarian International last year) over the weekend and it came into effect today!

Users normally wouldn't see it much because we have "one-click" turned on which bypasses the page, but with many free medical resources, PubMed users will probably see the page more. I suggested yet another minor spacing change to make the sentence lineup (librarians are detailed oriented!)

Sent an email about a matter related to mobile services.

Spent most of the day monitoring chats to see if users were having difficulties with the new discovery system or other library services.

15 Jan 2013

Recommended to my resource team leader to turn on a couple of essential economics resources that we have subscriptions to and are indexed in Summon, but were not yet turned on.

Our first presentation on the discovery service! I admit to be nervous. The main problem with such sessions is that they are designed for people who have experience with our past systems and want to know what the difference is with our new discovery service.

But inevitably, it draws a large number of new students and staff who just joined NUS, regardless of our best efforts. Which has 3 issues
  • They will have little context to compare
  • Most will expect a basic library orientation type session (which we do hold but on different dates) and feel unsatisfied with a sessions that obviously isn't meant for that 
  • Mixed audiences where power-users attend and people with no experience whatsoever

Of course, we do learn from the past (I had a similar issue in 2011), so this time around, I was prepared to offer a optional library orientation system after this session and which was eventually taken up. 

All the preparation seemed to help and the presentation was surprisingly well received with a couple of faculty and teaching staff coming up to me and saying "Good Job" as I guess I did cover enough of the theoretical and conceptual aspects of the system that interested them.

Many less experienced users also seemed to like the way I worked through a problem, showing cases where Summon shows less than ideal ranking results and showing why it was important to use various search techniques from the humble "quotes" for phrase searching to subject term filtering.

I also took the time to point out the weakness with Summon , though one wonders how much that sunk in with the less experienced users who have never used a traditional database, but I digress again.

After the session, I had to deal with some other library issues brought up by new students and staff at the session not relating to Summon. While looking at feedback from that session, also received an email nominating me to present Summon at a important meeting.

At the end of the day received a pleasant surprise where I got an email and was asked back to give another training sessions for one of the departments I am a liaison of. I just gave them a session last week and in 3 years of doing this they never once asked me for a second session. Of course this was the first time, I did a session with Summon, not sure if that had an effect.

Also received an email from a colleague asking advice about some social media tool.

16 Jan 2013

Handled a email from a user who wanted to attend our online web-ex session on Summon next week but had a technical issue while doing pre-testing to test her PC for compatibility.

Monitored a possible issue with DRM ebooks.

Received notice that it was all systems go for our Pubmed link changes! Medical library staff informed the Medical faculty to send a mass email about the PubMed + OpenURL integration.

Finally! I am feeling pleased because this is something we worked very long and hard to get working. Next to implementing Summon itself, this was one of the most technically challenging things I have done and probably of some impact, given that medical users are very heavy users of Eresources.

Spotted a new issue of  "Springy News" - SpringShare's newsletter, the main thing that caught my eye was the instructions on how to create a rotating box of boxes. Seems perfect for us, as we are currently potentially marketing 3 big piece of news
  • Summon launch
  • Google Scholar + openurl launch
  • PubMed + openurl launch
So I created a rotating box of these 3 news and put it into our main libguide page and other spots that Google analytics was drawing the most views.

More discussion on mobile services via email.

The other major thing I was doing was looking through our online feedback of both chat and Summon itself. Negative feedback is to be expected of course, but because most of them left their emails, I could and did email them back when necessary to ask more about the issues they were having so I could understand and ask whether I could help.

Received a flattering email to take part in a survey/focus group on innovation but ultimately declined.

17 Jan 2013

Started the ball rolling with a initiative proposed by the business library to do in 2013, to place our libraryh3lp chat widgets in Ebscohost platform databases. As long time readers of my blog will know, I am a big fan of our chat reference service and have slowly built it up since 2010. In fact by some coincidence, I mentioned expansion of chat in both 2011 and 2012's version of day in the life of librarian. 

We already have it on our main page, FAQ, Guides, Mobile, Facebook, Courseware page etc (shades of  12 User points of need - where to place your services online) and so adding it to databases or even Summon itself would be the final step in making our chat accessible on almost all our pages, but we do need to iron out a few issues before making this step.

Had lunch and then attended a meeting on the library survey we will be launching later this year. The last time we did such a large scale survey was in 2010, so I am itching to run the survey this year and compare the results.

Since 2010, we have among other things, revamped our Website together with implementation of LibGuides, LibAnswers, Libraryh3lp (chat), launched social media, started conducting classes using webex (web-conferencing), launched our link resolver to work with Google, PubMed and of course the new discovery service Summon.

The question of course is, did this really make a difference? Or did it as I suspect make them happy for a while, before they settled back to their user level of happiness, the so called set point theory of happiness?

Not to mention, by now only the most senior students will remember how things were in 2010!

Ended the day, writing two very long reports. The first was a quarterly report about activities that were under my charge including FAQ, Chat, Social Media and Mobile teams.

In Dec, we had also began to sent links to online feedback surveys upon completion of chat and email transactions and I did an analysis of the data. Did most users bother to complete the short online survey or would they just ignore the link? If they did do the survey, were they generally happy?

All I will say is with regards to chat transactions, they generally *did* do the survey and the responses were extremely positive, particularly in the non-mandatory "other comments" field. 

I had a inkling this would happen, but did not expect the degree this would happen. 
I must say the only other library service or tool I have seen that elicited such a positive response here is the hugely popular proxy bookmarklet.

A common thread seemed to be they were extremely impressed by the speed and efficiency of our response and some recommended that this service should be marketed more.

Looking at our stats, I am not surprised users are impressed by our speed, on a typical day 80% of our chats get a initial response within 10 seconds. This rises to 90% within 30 seconds. That's actually way above our targets.

From my understanding this is a very good result, achievable only because we invest in staffing chat reference separately from front line desk duties and staff have been instructed over and over again of the importance of a quick initial response (either a quick "hi" or a canned shortcut line before actually answering), because that is the first impression the user usually remembers.

Not bad for a chat service that just came into existence as a pilot in Aug 2010 but now draws from a pool of about 50 staff (mostly librarians plus a few support staff).

Got a interesting professional opportunity, not sure yet if I will accept it. 

18 Jan 2013

This is the semester, where students start to work on their Honours year thesis, and I received 2 requests for help from users this week. Unfortunately, I can't meet with them this week as requested because I have yet another Summon training/briefing/marketing sessions, so I just pointed them to guides and blog posts I wrote recently on how to do a literature review. 

Compared to the session I did earlier this week which was in the library, this one's done outside our library at the relatively new University Town.

I think I did even better than the first time around. Knowing what not to say, is probably more important than knowing what to say during such sessions.

In any case, students were very appreciative, one told me that Summon is awesome, that finally she feels she knows how to search for academic material. One written feedback said, the person would no longer google!

Truth be told, I think and many have said it before me, Summon truly fits the mental model of students, and they walk away from such sessions feeling confident they can find what they need. I have sessions that used to be so challenging that I dreaded doing them every year, become a breeze because of Summon.

Still, how much of it is an illusion (I would argue it is largely one and finding appropriate academic material to cite even with Summon is a lot harder than first impression might seem to users), but that's a topic for another blog post.

Ended the week on a high note, where I received an email from a user .

He left some feedback on our form on Summon on how he generally used Google Scholar, so I took the opportunity to inform him about our new Google Scholar intregration with our openurl resolver, in case he wasn't aware.

He was impressed we took the time to respond, though to be fair often we can't respond even if we wanted to, because users don't generally leave their contact when leaving feedback. 


So that's it. Another year, another post. Hope you found it useful.

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