Research support and the boutique model

Snowdrops in Dorset: February 2011If you had asked me a few months ago what boutique libraries were I would have looked at you blankly. It wasn’t a term I was familiar with, although I know what boutique hotels are, and of course fashion boutiques! However last week I was presenting at a seminar organised by Andy Priestner and Libby Tilley based around this model of ’boutique’ or ‘personalised’ library services. I have to confess that Homerton College Cambridge was a rather nice venue for the symposium, which was organised as a way of kick starting our thinking about a book by the same title, which is to be published by Ashgate Publishing. I’ve rashly agreed to write a chapter on research support, so preparing for last week’s event did actually start my thinking about my chapter.

Firstly, I have to say I really like the boutique model as a way of thinking about the more specialised services that are offered by my team at LSE. While we know we are running a mainstream (and now critical) service in the shape of Moodle, I feel this is our bread and butter, vanilla service, we offer. However, the services that really interest me are the specialist advice and support we provide to LSE teachers and admin staff and increasingly to researchers to help them be more effective in their use of technology. This is partly my thinking behind the digital literacy programme which is run each term. The classes are a way of highlighting the types of support we can provide to help staff. So often what happens is after attending a training session a member of staff will book an appointment to get more specialist one to one advice. This has happened a number of times recently, and I’ve done some work for two DfID funded projects at LSE to advise the researchers on topics related to information and digital literacy.

One of the ideas I mentioned in my talk was the importance of understanding what researchers need and what they struggle with – and also not to think of them as a homogenous group – because they are not. We have PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, senior professors, but even undergraduate students who when doing their dissertation are researchers. I’ve found that surveys only go so far in telling you what people really need. You need to collect qualitative evidence by talking to researchers. Doing some research yourself is a great way to put yourself into the shoes of a researcher. But I’ve met several researchers at LSE recently through attending a course on writing skills. The discussion during the lunch break was really enlightening when they talked about the pressure to publish and the need to understand which journals they should be publishing in for the REF.

I enjoyed the day, I particularly liked the fact we were encouraged to make our presentations interactive and I had some great discussions during the day. LSE colleagues Nicola Wright and Michelle Blake presented a case study on how research postcards were developed by the Library as a way of engaging with PhD students. I particularly liked Chris Powis’ workshop on library space, where he talked about some research he’s done at Northampton on why students choose particular locations to study. The emotional attachment to libraries that he found is really interesting and suggests that there is something about the way a library looks that resonates with people. I recalled my visit to New Jersey in September 2009 when I was struck by the traditional look of the libraries I visited. How furniture was high quality and comfy and this seemed to create a certain atmosphere of scholarly, quiet behaviour. There was a lot to think about during the day and it was also a good chance to meet some of my soon to be colleagues at the various colleges of Cambridge, which will soon be much more familiar to me!
My presentation should be on the Symposium page soon, as are most of the other presentations from the day.

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