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Cracks in the Library: how are we managing?

By Benjamin G M Meunier, on 27 October 2016

The Staff Survey conducted last year showed that only 27% of staff would be “comfortable to speak up and question the way things are done at UCL”. Following the publication of The Director’s View on the LibNet blog, an anonymous comment was received which highlighted two areas of concern. It is not possible to publish the full comment, which falls far short of standards in UCL Dignity at Work’s statement to ensure that “all employees are entitled to be treated with dignity, respect and courtesy”.

However, I would like to engage with the substantive concerns raised, in order to encourage transparent communication between Library staff and managers.


–  Why is the Director absent from “the office” during term-time on Open Access assignments?

Why is Open Access important for UCL?

  • Publishers of academic journals have been increasing their costs year-on-year in an unsustainable fashion, with key publishers having a virtual monopoly in their subject areas. The lack of competition has led to libraries spending huge sums from the university’s budgets to maintain access to core resources. The UK HE sector spends around £100 million a year on e-resources alone.
  • E-resources are the second highest cost in the Library budget
  • In the spirit of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian ideal to provide “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” and UCL’s founding mission to open up education to those who had been excluded from it, UCL Library Services is leading the way in ensuring that our world-leading research is made freely and publically available around the world.


What is the impact of the Director’s work?

Dr Paul Ayris has been actively engaged in the Open Access movement since the early days of Open Access, articulating the benefits to researchers from a user experience perspective (as in this article from 2005) and the benefits to academic libraries from re-shaping the business model for scholarly communications.

The work which Paul undertakes on behalf of UCL with Jisc, the EU and other partners to promote Open Access is changing the way the market for e-resources works. These changes are strengthening the hand of universities in negotiations with publishers and helping UCL to take control of its expenditure on e-resources. This is done by offsetting Open Access costs against the cost of subscriptions. The combined value of offset agreements to the Higher Education sector in 2015 has already been estimated at £2.5m. This is an important step on the road to transitioning to new business models, where subscriptions disappear in favour of a payment to cover ALL electronic services received from publishers, including Open Access.

Publishers have regularly been increasing their prices above inflation. Open Access changes the paradigm and initiatives like UCL Press are challenging the business model for traditional publishers, which in the long-term will improve the financial sustainability of libraries. Publishers tell us that they will only respond to such challenges where there is global agreement on the need for change. This is why international partnerships and collaborations are so important in effecting a smooth transition to new business models.

It is expected that senior officers of UCL should participate in international initiatives, and UCL SMT members are encouraged to promote UCL’s reputation overseas. In Paul’s absence from UCL, responsibility for operational matters is held by the Assistant Directors, myself and Martin Moyle.


– “cracks are propagating at key libraries – buildings, systems, staff”: senior managers in Library Services should be held to account by the Director 

The first term of the new academic year is now well underway, and libraries are busier than ever. It is true that it is a challenging start to the year. Cracks (physical and metaphorical) may have appeared in some libraries. Even worse than cracks, fire blighted Chandler House on the 14th September forcing us to close the LASS Library for four days. It is a stark reminder of how important health and safety is, but also of how unexpected events can impact on our services. But the response by Library Services staff at LASS is also significant: services were restored as swiftly as possible, and the Site Librarian ensured that communication with users was clear and effective, keeping complaints to a minimum. The Library SMT recognises that it is thanks to the work of staff across all our sites and teams that we are held in high regard by users and senior officers of UCL and I would like convey thanks to you for your hard work. As noted above, we welcome your suggestions and feedback on the services we are providing, by sharing these with your line manager. We will shortly be circulating documents to all sites on Customer Service Excellence, to help raise awareness for users of our new Service Charter. Below is an update on the state of the Library. We will continue to update on progress via the blog and our newsletters.

UCL Main Library features in a new comic book series, Surgeon X. What is the diagnostic?

The UCL Main Library features in a new comic book series, Surgeon X. What is the diagnosis?


Highs: UCL Library Services staff have sustained excellent services through a period of unprecedented change within the Library over the past 12 to 18 months.

Lows: Following the restructure, we understand that colleagues are still settling into new roles, and areas of responsibility continue to be crystallised in the new organisational structure. This is challenging, and it is acknowledged that change takes time. Also, the new structure has required recruitment to over 70 vacant posts.

What we’re doing: The recruitment drive carried out by the Library Personnel Team will be complete by the end of December 2016, and ensure that our staffing levels return to a stable level.

The Library SMT has agreed an action plan in response to the feedback from the Staff Survey in 2015, which Paul presented at the Staff Conference. Some of these actions have been completed, for instance with the launch of a programme of training for managers in Library Services.



Highs: The Library Buildings Team and colleagues across sites have successfully delivered a number of major projects, including phase 1 of the Learning Laboratory (Science Library), refurbishment of the Newsam Library and Archives’ reception and Level 3 and the new Special Collections reading room in the South Junction, which is due to open in the coming days.

The New Student Centre has broken ground, and the foundations for the building are being laid now. When it opens in early 2019, the Student Centre will provide 1,000 additional learning spaces for UCL students as well as a central Student & Registry Services help point. The building will be managed by Library Services and will reflect UCL’s commitment to offer an outstanding student experience, founded on excellence in teaching and research.

Low: We are also aware that some estates projects planned for summer 2016 were not completed as planned, due to resourcing issues in other departments. The knock-on impact has been that a number of projects are continuing into term-time, which requires a significant amount of coordination work by Library staff to minimise impact on users.

The challenges associated with estates and facilities management have been discussed at Library SMT meetings. There are short-term challenges to create additional study spaces, which the Library Buildings Team are working on with Estates, and over a hundred additional learning spaces will open in 2016-17.



Systems issues have also been raised at SMT, including challenges with Explore at the start of term and remedial action which is underway with the suppliers. Other IT systems provided by ISD (such as Desktop@UCL) are being improved as part of UCL’s £14M per annum investment in systems described in the Digital Masterplan http://www.ucl.ac.uk/2034/review/excellent-systems/digital-masterplan.


How are we managing?

UCL Library Services continues to perform strongly, in spite of the challenges described above. As mentioned at the start of this section, UCL Library Services staff demonstrate great resilience and commitment in maintaining services, and we continue to receive positive feedback from users on the service they receive. For instance, the UCLU Education & Campaigns Sabbatical Officer described the Library as a department which “cares about students”. That view is absolutely reflective of the attitude of Library staff, and the foundation on which the work towards Customer Service Excellence accreditation is based. Customer service training has started and will continue in the coming weeks for the Library Leadership Team and the Main and Science teams. This is the beginning of a programme of training for staff across Library Services. I would emphasise that there is already excellent practice in Library Services – a claim supported by National Student Survey scores which, in some sites, reach a lofty 100% satisfaction with the Library. The exercise of seeking CSE accreditation provides us with a framework to share and extend best practice across Library Services, and to ensure consistency across the service.

Furthermore, to illustrate the performance of the Library in supporting UCL’s ambitions to transform how knowledge is created and shared, UCL Press is highlighted in UCL 2034’s interim review, as an example for “Delivering global impact” http://www.ucl.ac.uk/2034/review/global-impact/why-we-post

In terms of governance, it is the case that senior managers are accountable for their areas of responsibility. SMT is the forum where senior managers are accountable for operational matters, reporting to the Director as Chair, and each Key Performance Area leader also reports on progress at the Leadership Team, where progress is monitored against each KPA action in the Library Strategy.

Approved minutes for both committees are available for all Library Services staff to read at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/libnet/committees/smt and https://www.ucl.ac.uk/libnet/committees/leadership

11 Responses to “Cracks in the Library: how are we managing?”

  • 1
    ucylrlu wrote on 27 October 2016:

    Hi Ben, I’m sure this wasn’t your intention, but I think saying that “Other IT systems provided by ISD (such as Desktop@UCL) are being improved as part of UCL’s £14M per annum investment in systems described in the Digital Masterplan ” is slightly misleading. The problem that a lot of us face with our IT equipment isn’t so much to do with D@U but the fact that our IT equipment is second-hand, ex-cluster, out-of-warranty stuff that ISD didn’t want. When I got ISD out to look at my terminal they said the problem with it being, in their words, intolerably slow was entirely to do with this and that purchasing of IT equipment was entirely the department’’s responsibility. No ISD investment in Desktop@Ucl is going to make a PC from 2011 work at a speed that is acceptable in 2016. Please could you let us know what the plans are for rolling out up-to-date IT equipment to all staff?

  • 2
    Benjamin Meunier wrote on 27 October 2016:

    Hi Robbie, Thanks for your comment, which I’ve passed on to Margaret Stone as Head of Digital Libraries. Margaret will be in touch regarding IT equipment for staff.

  • 3
    Robbie Lumsden wrote on 27 October 2016:

    Thanks, Ben.

  • 4
    Simon J Wigley wrote on 27 October 2016:

    Hi Ben,

    In full cognisance of the dignity at work statement, could I suggest that this blog contribution does not really have the character of transparent communication. It has the character of handling communicators transparently. There is a big difference; one concedes problems and makes a genuine commitment to engage, meet half-way, and otherwise create a receptive space where employees feel that their speech does and means something: the other is rumour control, where contributions are noted, then become talking points on which management then attempts to put the best gloss. Spin, is the old term.

    I have no idea what the Director’s schedule is, nor even what the issue is, for example, being in Qatar as I am: but whoever the anonymous contributor was, I certainly feel that their supposed ignorance has been made an example of by management, rather than them being informed in the spirit of collaborative working. In short, if the contribution was meant to assure us that we can be “comfortable to speak up and question the way things are done at UCL”, I think it would have had the opposite effect: because one is only comfortable speaking up and questioning when a question is treated as such, rather than as an attack from below to be repulsed from on high. In particular, your characterisation of the query as offensive and thus probably unworthy of an answer, but that you are going to do so in good grace, was unnecessary (why mention it?) and served the purpose of demeaning the enquirer, who may well have felt ‘uncomfortable’ with their ability to say anything until compelled to write down how they felt in a red haze. Can an anonymous contributor, who themselves have contravened the Dignity at Work statement, not also be offended against under the same statement? They know who they are, after all, and others may be aware of who they are from conversation.

    I’m out in Qatar. I thus feel uncomfortable contributing to most things for many reasons. I now feel even less comfortable after reading the above. It seems that an anonymous staff member has been pilloried in effigy, then fed the warm milk of management’s beneficent reply – pour encourager les autres.


    Simon Wigley

  • 5
    Benjamin Meunier wrote on 27 October 2016:

    Hi Simon,

    I hope that colleagues will feel that their voice is being heard and that we are taking action in areas where concerns are raised. I believe my post concedes problems and invites engagement, and am sorry that you feel otherwise.

    To be clear, the issues I draw from the comment are paraphrased. There was no specific question in the comment and the intention of my reference to Dignity at Work was to draw attention to the fact that all staff are entitled to work in a respectful environment. Questions and comments are welcome, but must display UCL’s value of mutual respect. As noted in the UCL Core Behaviours Framework, it is not acceptable to denigrate UCL, its staff or its achievements.

    I want all Library Services staff to feel empowered to “speak up and question the way things are done at UCL” in a constructive manner. The motivation for posting my blog was not to repulse any attacks, indeed it would have been more expedient to ignore an anonymous complaint. However, I want us to challenge ourselves to become better and as I described in the body of the text above, these issues deserve to be addressed openly.

  • 6
    Robbie Lumsden wrote on 27 October 2016:

    Hi Ben,

    I have to say agree with a lot of what Simon said there: this felt to me like an attempt to shut down debate rather than to encourage it. I also think we need some guidance as to what an appropriate way to make criticism of service related to senior managers while abiding by the dignity at work policy you outlined.

    For instance, if someone were to say that Senior Manager X has a very (negative characteristic) management style and this has this negative outcome on the service: would that be against dignity at work? According to your definition I would say it was. And if discussing how a manager manages directly is out of bounds, how should one then deal with the negative outcome you perceive it to cause?

    It just doesn’t seem workable. To give another example: the staff survey revealed that only a 21% satisfaction rating for the trustworthiness of communication of senior managers. Yet, if I were to say that most staff members don’t trust what senior managers tell them, would that be me denigrating UCL staff members and breaching dignity at work, even though it’s demonstrably true?

    Senior Managers have a large effect on the way that any organisation runs and being able to discuss what those effects might be is necessary for any well-run organisation. I would appreciate if we could have some clear guidelines how this can be done in future.

  • 7
    Benjamin Meunier wrote on 28 October 2016:

    Hi Robbie,
    Thanks: how to deal with concerns around managers’ behaviour, particularly senior managers, is a good question. I would reiterate that any concerns should be discussed directly with one’s line manager, in the first instance, and then that feedback can be passed on as appropriate through the organisation. I would also suggest exploring the training resources which relate to influencing senior staff available from the UCL Development Toolkit at: https://member.goodpractice.net/ucl-desk-top-learning/Search.gp?q=managing+upwards&page=0.

  • 8
    Robbie Lumsden wrote on 28 October 2016:

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for this. While I appreciate that raising things with you line manager and it being passed on as appropriate would seem reasonable – since the restructure there is now a high number of links in the chain between me and SMT. For instance, between my role as a Deputy at LASS (itself a management role) and the Director of Library Services, there is the LASS Librarian then the Library Sites Manager then the Head of Site Library Services then the Associate Director: Support Services. Given your commitment for staff to feel like their voices are being heard, an elaborate hierarchy like this can make passing feedback up the ladder feel incredibly difficult.

  • 9
    Benjamin Meunier wrote on 28 October 2016:

    Hi Robbie,

    Yes, if you feel that your feedback would be best directed to senior colleagues other than your line manager, you can contact us directly. We are committed as a Senior Management Team to ensuring that colleagues’ voices are being heard. We welcome any staff who wish to share concerns, ideas or constructive feedback directly. We will discuss at SMT how to best enable this and I will report to Library Services staff on this in the near future.

    Meanwhile, colleagues can call into my office in the Main Library (room 221) or Martin’s in the Science Library, when we are not in meetings. Alternatively, for staff who cannot easily meet in person, feel free to phone us or arrange an appointment.

  • 10
    Spiros Philippas wrote on 3 November 2016:

    Hello Ben. I second both Robbie’s and Simon’s comments. That 27% is indeed a striking figure and I wonder how this figure compares with that for the UCL Library Services (if there are statistics for that)?Here are some of my suggestions:

    – Can we have an annual library staff survey which will cover all aspects of our work in the library across different departments and also how strategic senior management decisions impact on our work? That can be an effective way for colleagues to provide feedback and hopefully will eliminate the need for people to put through their comments anonymously.
    – I remember in the early UCL Library Services Staff Conferences, there would be a panel with colleagues from the senior management who would answer our colleagues’ questions. Would it be possible to have this as a regular future in the forthcoming staff conferences?

    I would welcome your thoughts. Thanks, Spiros

  • 11
    Benjamin Meunier wrote on 3 November 2016:

    Hello Spiros,

    Thanks for your comments. I have just uploaded, in a separate blog post, the full scores from the Library Staff Survey on LibNet, which includes some comparative information with other Professional Services Divisions and with UCL-wide scores. The survey covers many aspects of working at UCL, and it is conducted on a biennial basis, allowing some time to analyse results and take action before the next survey is conducted.

    Thank you also for your comment on the previous Q&A sessions from early Library Staff Conferences. I note that you would like to see this type of panel regularly in the future, and it will be a discussion item for SMT next month.

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