Lean and Mean Library Machine: Strategies for managing an increased workload Emma Cragg, Academic Support Librarian for Business & Management Twitter: @ekcraggBlog: www.digitalist.info We have heard about applying lean at a service level – I am going to provide a more personal perspective and talk about what strategies we can implement as individuals to manage an increasing workload.
First I’m going to provide you with some context by looking at how the academic support service for business and management at the University of Warwick has changed over the past 10 years and what the main aspects of my job as an Academic Support Librarian are. Then I will identify some obstacles that I encounter in my work and present some tools and solutions that I use to overcome them.
Let’s start by building a picture of the department I support. Here we have a comparison of the numbers of staff and students on different programmes at WBS from 2000 and 2010. As you can see in the centre, the MBA student numbers have remained constant. This is largely due to the fact that the MBA programmeis the core activity of the business school. Areas of growth are in the undergraduate and specialist masters programmes which have both roughly doubled over the past 10 years.
As well as thinking about the number of students it is important to consider their method of study – this impacts greatly on the service provided by the library. With the exception of undergraduates students at WBS can opt to study in any one of these three ways. In 2010 nearly 40% of students at WBS are on distance learning programmes. These are primarily MBA students.
Keeping those numbers in mind now let’s look at how the library service in the area of business and management has changed over this period. In 2000 the service was provided through the separate Corporate Information Library – now we are integrated into the main University Library. At the time in the CIL there were 5 library staff or 4 FTEs providing support for business, management andeconomics. There are now 3 of us or 2 FTEs. I am the only person working in this area full time. My two colleagues divide their time between multiple departments. The CIL had an extensive collection of print market research and annual reports. Many of the databases were accessible on CD-ROM within the library and were slowly moving online and becoming available remotely. Journals were still primarily taken in print but e-journals packages such as Business Source Premier were beginning to be explored.By contrast this year our focus is on electronic resources – we no longer take market research reports in print and have stopped collecting annual reports. We are expanding our e-books collection and moving towards e-only subs for our journals. In 2000 training was largely provided face-to-face. Now, given the makeup of the student population we are taking a blended approach to training and increasing the support materials we have available online.
Now that we’ve looked at the service as a whole I’d like to spend a couple of minutes on the main aspects of my job as an Academic Support Librarian. This should build up a picture of my workload. Liaison – building relationships with staff and students in the department. This is done through SSLCs, programme meetings with teaching staff + programme managers, training sessions, meetings with individual academics and studentsEnquiries – I receive many enquiries on a daily basis. They can be simple or complex. They can come by email, phone call or in person. Enquiry handling is possibly the most difficult aspect of the job to manage because you cannot plan for it.Access to e-resources and guidance using them – this is perhaps a bigger element for me than it is for other departments simply because of the number of distance learning students I deal with; it is doubly complicated by the fact that the business school use a separate system of usernames and passwords than the rest of the University. Training – training is provided throughout the year, starting with induction and culminating in dissertation workshops. We also have an information skills tutorial online which I am in the process of developing further and rolling out to other departments.Communication of library news – this is done in a variety of ways, through the business school’sintranet, library blogs and SSLCs.Collection development – although the transactional elements of this, such as reading list processing and ordering are no longer part of the role of the ASL we still play a large role in collection development; providing buying guidelines for reading list items, selecting items for stock, processing donations...
A couple of colleagues have asked me recently how I manage to support one of the largest departments in the University and still leave on time at the end of the day. The answer is simple – organization. In the next few slides I’m going to introduce a couple of areas of my work which have the potential to cascade out of control if I don’t keep my eye on the ball and share with your my solutions to the problems.
I read a blog post recentlyby David Lee King called ‘Dealing with Email’. In this he asks the question: is email you ‘real work’ or is it something you deal with so you can get on with your real work? I commented to say that for me it is part of my real work because I receive so many enquiries by email but that it is something which I find can overwhelm me if I don’t keep on top of it.So how do I stop this from happening?I work towards inbox zero – it’s not something I can achieve on a daily basis butmy goal is to clear my inbox before I leave on a Friday afternoon.To achieve this I use three simple steps: first I apply the 5 minute rule – if a job can be done in 5 minutes or less do it. Then it’s out of the way and you can move on to something else. next and this is an important one, don’t use your inbox as a to-do list – I use the Outlook task list because this allows you to convert emails easily into tasks, set priorities and due dates.And finally set yourself up a simple file structure and as soon as you’ve replied to an email or added it to your task list file it or delete it.
I spend a lot of my time answering the same enquiries from different people, especially when there’s an assignment due. One method I use to prevent this becoming overly time consuming is to post the answers on the Business and Economics Information Solutions blog that I manage. Here are two examples that I have posted recently. This helps in two ways; it saves me time so that rather than writing lengthy emails in response I can provide a link to the blog. Students can also go directly to the blog to see if there’s an answer to their question before they contact me thus cutting down the number of enquiries I receive.
I often find that it’s at times when I need to just get my head down and do something that I get interrupted the most; from phone calls, emails or by myself finding easier or more interesting jobs to do. I’ve recently learnt one very effective way to get around this – I use my calendar to its full potential. I don’t just schedule in meetings and events but block out time to work on specific things. This becomes even more effective if you share your calendar with your colleagues.
When I find that this isn’t sufficient to allow me to get on with something I put the do not disturb sign up. It took me a long while to feel comfortable about doing this but I realise now that the world won’t end if I can’t be reached for an hour or two. I turn my voicemail on, close Outlook and occasionally will move away from my desk and work somewhere else in the library.It’s amazing how productive this quiet time can be.
One final piece of advice I will leave you with is to make sure that you take your breaks. I doubt any of us are lucky enough to get views like this on a lunchtime walk but I find getting some fresh air and having time to clear my mind is essential for a productive day.
Lean and Mean Library Machine
Lean and Mean Library Machine<br />Strategies for managing an increased workload<br />Emma Cragg<br />Twitter: @ekcragg<br />Blog: www.digitalist.info <br />
Credits<br />Icons from www.iconfinder.com<br />Photos from Flickr users: <br />mahdi, auntie, bottled_void, teddy-rised,<br />theolaphoto, kenleewrites, dominic, ciordia, fixedgear, <br />wwarby, quinnanya, lisanolan<br />Thanks to @laurajwilkinson for teaching me the 5 minute <br />rule and how to use Outlook to its full potential<br />