Collecting, but not for a collection

It’s been just over a month since I started my new job and became a first-time library manager. It’s gone very well, and I think I made the right decision to take this opportunity. In my first few weeks on the job I’ve done some collecting, which fits nicely with the August GLAM Blog Club topic of “collect”. Yes, I have ordered some books for the library’s collection, but the collecting I want to talk about in this post is less visible and not as material as that.

I’ve spent some time collecting my thoughts about my new role. This started not long after I accepted the offer to take up the job, as there was a gap of several weeks between leaving my previous job and starting the new one. It certainly increased in pace after I walked through the door on my first day. My new notebook (which I’d received as a farewell gift from my previous colleagues) quickly filled up with my questions, thoughts, and things to do. As time has moved on I’ve been adding to the notebook less frequently. The content has changed, too; there are fewer questions for other people, and more notes and questions for myself.

I’m trying to collect all my thoughts about the library’s services and resources so that I can try and get a feel for what the library does which works and what doesn’t. I prefer to have a plan and think things through before launching something new or making a big decision (I guess it’s the T (for Thinking) in my Myers-Briggs ISTJ personality type coming out). I don’t want to fall into either of the traps identified by Steven Bell in his Library Journal piece last year of over-promising and under-delivering, or trying to make my mark by launching something new and shiny too soon. I’ve got some ideas for potential new services that the library could offer, as well as some things that perhaps we could stop doing or change the way we do them. I get the feeling that others within the organisation would be happy to see some new ideas coming out of the library, so I don’t want to let them (or the library) down by not having thought things through.

Part of the process of evaluating what the library currently offers involves collecting evidence. I have always had an interest in evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP), and I’m looking forward to putting it to good use. EBLIP arose out of the evidence-based medicine movement of the late 1990’s, and was initially embraced by medical librarians. It has since become more widespread within the LIS profession, however, and has been formally defined for about 15 years. An early definition was proposed by Andrew Booth in 2002:

Evidence based librarianship (EBL) is an approach to information science that promotes the collection, interpretation, and integration of valid, important and applicable user reported, librarian observed, and research derived evidence. The best available evidence moderated by user needs and preferences is applied to improve the quality of professional judgments.

Further refinement of the definition by Jonathan Eldredge recognised that the evidence could be either qualitative or quantitative, but should be always be as rigorous as possible. A third definition from Ellen Crumley and Denise Koufogiannakis includes the importance of librarians carrying out high quality research in order to add to the evidence base.

So what sort of evidence have I been collecting, and what do I plan to collect? I’m currently drafting a survey which will be sent out to all staff in the organisation and will focus on these three things:

  • Whether staff are aware that the library is available to them
  • Which library services and resources are important to the staff
  • How satisfied the staff are with the library’s services and resources

From the results of the survey I should get a good idea of where the library needs to focus its efforts in order to deliver a useful service to its patrons. To get some more personal responses I will be meeting with managers across the organisation to get their views on how the library can best support their staff (a variation on the Management By Walking Around technique). I’ll also be asking the other librarian (who has worked here for many years) what their thoughts are on how well the library is meeting our patrons needs and if there are any new services we could introduce.

Although the main focus of libraries is usually on collecting items for their collection, I think that it’s important that the collection of evidence is also a part of their practice. It can provide a way for the library to ensure that it is relevant to its users, and may even help to provide justification for the existence of the library. I’d encourage you to have a look at the EBLIP journal, which has been around for over ten years, to see some examples of how EBLIP has been used to evaluate and improve library services in a range of settings.


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About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

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