Student Engagement, it’s thing. It’s a thing that most academic libraries know is important and it’s a thing they know they should be doing something about. One of the main problems is that a lot of them don’t really understand what student engagement means, or they don’t understand what it means for them in the context of their institution. This was certainly the case for the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull.
I came out of a two and a half year secondment managing frontline services during the redevelopment of the library building (never again). Inevitably, along with departmental priorities the post I left had changed during that time. I was given the new title of Student Engagement Manager, there was only me. I was told to go and do student engagement. Great! It was right up my street, but like everyone else, I wasn’t sure what that meant.
Student Engagement can be very broad, let’s face it, we are all there to deliver services that we hope students will engage with so it could be anything. It could be anything from attending staff/student committees and working with the Students Union to managing and developing the website and digital signage in the library building. What happened was that I ended up with a lot to do, it was very varied but soon started to overflow, I was unable to do anything in detail and wasn’t able to put a focus on anything. I fed this back to the senior management team who kept making statements like ‘The web site is mission critical’ to which I always replied, yes it is, but we need commit resource in that area if we are serious about it.
We were lucky enough to go through a complete departmental restructure, in which the senior management team acknowledged two things. First that they wanted to commit more resource to student engagement so my one man team became three. @mike_ewen our Online Coordinator and @johnasteph12 our Digital Library Services Officer. They also acknowledged that they weren’t clear on what student engagement meant for us and the team were to build on and explore it’s meaning in the context of our library. At some point in the future, the team would be given a clear remit by the SMT. This didn’t sit well with me, I wanted my team to work with the department and other areas of the University to define our role and inform the SMT. Over the course of six months, we produced a team vision and remit which was sent to SMT to be singed off. This did two things, it allowed us to be clear on our responsibilities and allowed others in the department to be clear on why were we there and how we could help them achieve their goals. We were no longer the three guys who just did stuff.
I want to take you through the remit briefly here today.
Strategic lead and engagement activity (My lead area) – This one was easy, it came directly out of my job description. One thing I made very clear from the start though, was that whist I could provide a lead and help to focus student engagement activity, student engagement wasn’t my responsibility. Student engagement is the joint responsibility of every team in the library. Working with team leaders and manages, I have developed a rolling student engagement plan, where teams take ownership and have responsibility to deliver on a number of elements within that plan.
Understanding Behaviour (My lead area) – Ethnography, User centred design, or UX as the academic library world has adopted. This is about delving deeper, using qualitative data to really understanding how our users interact with our services, how our services impact them and how they impact our services. The importance of this work has been brought to the forefront by people like @andytraining ,@matjborg, @ned_potter, @donnalanclos, @aasher, @librarygirlknit, @karinenrose, @shelley_gee, @weelibrarian, @pennyb, @preater, @Ingyplingy, and the whole @UXLibs community.
Online presence (Mike’s lead area) – We provide management and governance across all of our online platforms. This includes the core library website, library content in the VLE, Social Media and front end interfaces to our systems like the library catalogue. Having a real focus in this area has made a tremendous difference.
Library systems (John’s lead area) – This is perhaps a controversial one because there are arguments for systems being structurally elsewhere. However, all of our systems are there to ultimately engage students in some way. The UX work that we undertake both digitally and physically has particular relevance to our systems. Having John closely involved in all of our student engagement activity is invaluable on many levels.
Digital literacy and technical support for library staff (Joint responsibility) – Libraries are changing, they have changed dramatically over the years. If we can provide digital literacy and technical support to our staff to support them though these changes they are able to help and relate to our library users more effectively. This has been particularly relevant in respect to our frontline staff who have seen a large increase in technology use in the building.
Marketing and Media (My lead area) – We provide advice to all library teams in relation to digital media, print design and production. We work in three ways, often we will just produce the material, but we also support others to produce the material themselves, or in some cases we outsource the production. My team will make the decision as to which is most appropriate in a given situation. We also work alongside the University Marketing department to ensure we compliment material being produced centrally.
So what have we achieved over the past year?
Working alongside both the Customer Services and Skills Team we have implemented a student volunteer programme. This has been extremely successful, with around 60 volunteers last year gaining valuable experience of working alongside our frontline team and also working with our skills team to deliver workshops. Further information can be found on our website .
We have just started recruitment for this academic year with 75 registered students.
We have developed a programme of UX research activity which after training frontline staff started to embed this in our service improvement processes. Last year we undertook Student journey mapping, Cognitive mapping, student interview and love/break up letters which provided us with some valuable insights into user behaviour allowing us to make service developments based that behaviour. I presented our experiences at the UXLibs conference in June 2016. We have a programme of activity planned for the coming which we hope will provide further valuable insights.
In the BJL we have 13 digital signs and a media wall. We have developed a digital signage strategy for the building, which in short is, less is more. We were inundated with other areas of the University asking to get slides on our screens. Of course we could display then, but in all honesty who would actually see them if they were just part of a slide show? Our digital signage content is informed by the UX work we undertake, using specific screens for a specific purposes allowing us to target audiences and keeping slide shows to a minimum ensuring content is not hidden.
We are trying to develop more interactive content for our media wall bringing real time data from our systems into the physical environment. An example of this is a tree that grows based on the people going through our entry gates. We are planning more work in this area over the coming year.
We have built our library in MineCraft, or rather worked with people to get it built. You can connect to the server uoh.nitrous.it and walk freely around all seven floors of the building. This is an experiment and something a little different aimed initially at induction but with many other possibilities. This is the first stage, we would like to add more interactivity, giving users the opportunity to interact with library staff and with our services in the digital world, just as they would in the physical world. Too access the MineCraft library, you need to be running MineCraft on a PC, not a console or mobile device. In the future I would like the use this digital version of the library to add another layer to our UX work, I am considering options for the best way to use it.
We have been able to give a much sharper focus to social media and developing our digital voice. Our primary platform focuses are twitter, facebook and Instagram. Twitter is by far our most successful channel with very little engagement on facebook. Mike is leading a University community group to help all department work together and learn from each other which has been very positive up to now.
We have migrated the skills content from our website into the University VLE. This is to enable academics to use the content in their courses alongside course content where it is most valuable. This was done in time for the start of this academic year and feedback has been positive so far. We will continue working on this content with other areas of the university over the coming year.
We have upgraded our LMS from Millennium to Sierra which has enabled us to explore some of the new APIs and functionally available. We have a focus over the coming year to embed library content in other systems, particularly the university mobile app, delivering library content at the point of need to our users.
So where to next? We want to collaborate further with other areas of our institution, ensuring we are all working together the same goals and not duplicating work. We want to build relationships with other institutions working together on joint projects where appropriate. We want to look at how we measure the impact of the work we are undertaking. This is something that I do find difficult, if not impossible. If anyone can wave a magic wand and tell me how to do that, please come of find me later!