At the heart of the university

Dominic Broadhurst at University of Manchester Library discusses the latest trends in higher education libraries

Dominic Broadhurst is Academic Engagement Manager at University of Manchester Library. He spoke to Managing Editor Hannah Oakman about the latest trends in libraries and e-texts 

What are the key trends in library development/ e-texts and what challenges/opportunities do they present?

For many years, one of the biggest areas of student feedback is that we don’t stock sufficient copies of what we label ‘core texts’. Students come to the library and find all copies are already on loan, as we literally have hundreds of students after the same book.  For space and financial reasons, it never made sense to purchase too many multiple copies of print books, but technological advances have opened up a number of new opportunities for libraries. 

At the University of Manchester (UoM) library we have a big e-texts project called Books Right Here Right Now.  This involves running a series of e-book pilots with certain student cohorts, where we have been providing each individual student with their own copy of an e-text.  A number of UK HE libraries are now looking at this model and there are opportunities for both publishers and libraries to develop a sustainable model for the future. 

As a library we are looking to influence positively in three main areas: increasing student satisfaction levels; achieving greater economies of scale and value for our institutions; and, most importantly, directly supporting the learning and pedagogy at our universities through the provision of these e-textbook initiatives.

A further thread underpinning this is the issue of student fees and students either not able or not wanting to fund what they see as additional costs. Of course, this is not just related to textbooks, but is an important dynamic we need to acknowledge and is part of a growing set of student led expectations.  These expectations whilst sometimes challenging, also provide the impetus for us to look for new solutions as evidenced by the Books Right Here Right Now project.

How can libraries remain useful and relevant to today’s tech savvy students?

The obvious answer is by providing them with the services they want now and in the near future.  Of course this sounds very easy in practice, but how a) do you always understand what they want and b) monitor and regularly adapt your offer. The crucial way to do this is by listening and learning to our students rather than always trying to second guess them. At the UoM library we spend a lot of time not only listening to our students, but also closely analysing their views and opinions before developing and shaping new innovative services that meet their needs.  We undertake this research in an increasingly systematic and professional way both looking at latest results, and year-on-year trends. At Manchester, we run a continuous Knowing Your Customer project which provides us with the intelligence we want and need to enable us to remain both essential and relevant for our students.

What else do library spaces offer students apart from access to resources?

We are always looking to offer our students innovative services which fit into the student lifecycle. One of the big initiatives we are currently working on at the UoM Library is our Exam Extra programme, which aims to provide our students with tailored support at this critical and important time. This includes daily revision support workshops, extra study space provision including a ‘Find a Space’ service plus an expanded range of support and help services.  We also understand that exams are a really stressful time for our students so in conjunction with University Sport colleagues we have introduced a range of wellbeing activities at exam time providing Tai Chi, Bowen Therapy, Yoga and meditation sessions both within library buildings and elsewhere on campus.

With the majority of libraries now 24/7, the need for staff with tech skills is higher than ever: how is this affecting staff recruitment and training?

24/7 opening alone is not necessarily having that big an impact upon recruitment and the skillset we need from new employees.  This is just a continuation of requiring staff with good interpersonal skills and a positive, customer-focused attitude. What is having a bigger impact is how libraries are increasingly positioning themselves at the heart of the University, especially in relation to supporting teaching and research.  What we are now seeing is that we increasingly need people with skills that were once not deemed as part of the traditional librarian skillset.  In respect to teaching these are skills in curriculum deign and delivery, teaching large groups and applying the latest e-learning techniques.  With respect to research, libraries are increasingly supplying expertise and services to support Open Access, Research Data Management and Citation Analysis.  Colleagues are specialising in these areas so that we can provide the requisite level of support required by our institutions. In addition, skills are increasingly transferable so that librarians are now also able to find both career and development opportunities in other areas of higher education.

How can academics and students work best together in the future and what is the library staff role in this relationship?

It’s fair to say that, even in research-intensive universities such as Manchester, the needs and aspirations of our students have really been equally top of our agenda in recent years and will continue to do so. The vast majority of our academic colleagues care passionately about our students and try to do everything in their power to influence positive outcomes. They want to ensure that they become critical independent students whose time at Manchester is both rewarding and successful. The library has a key role to play in brokering this relationship both on a level for providing high quality study spaces and access to an incredible range of library resources.  However it goes much deeper than this through our unique ‘location’ as a trusted intermediary space where we can both meet and ideally exceed the expectations of our students but also critically support our academics through facilitating student focused support services that ultimately benefit all concerned.

Are there further developments in the pipeline in this area at the University of Manchester?

Through our regular dialogue with student groups, university service leads and academic colleagues we are constantly looking to increase the level of provision and value we offer through initiatives such as our My Learning Essentials programme. We will be rolling our further developments in the coming academic year.