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“New Directions in Customer Services”, CSGUK Conference, 2019

By Rachel L Nelligan, on 6 February 2020

For those of you who have not come across CSGUK, they are a national group of library staff supporting colleagues in Library Customer Services. They have two task groups who produce work and events throughout the year, and an annual conference, of which this was their 7th.

The conference travels around the country and this year was held at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, a great location in the centre of Cardiff. The conference kicked off with a keynote from Chris Powis, Head of Library and Learning at the University of Northampton. They have completely rebuilt their campus nearer the city centre; a utopian space where ALL staff (academics, library and professional services) share the building with students. No one has their own desks, there are no lecture theatres, just “white boxes” where “active blended learning” takes place. Building stakeholders work together to support students and manage spaces. Chris admits they “went off a cliff edge” removing all their fixed PCs, but every new student is given a laptop when they enrol. The book stock has been reduced by 43% but books are now everywhere and are more appealing and accessible for browsing. One of the key takeaways for us was that when you’re changing services is not to ask people what they want because a) they don’t really know and b) they will just say “yes” they do want more lecture theatres, more books etc. The key is to ask “how do you want this room to work?”

Hannah Roberts from the House of Commons Library spoke about their research to influence behavioural changes, and stressed the importance of understanding not just how people use your spaces, but why. David Turpie from the Open University talked about their enquiries management system which is used across the institution and how they use it to manage and improve their services – redirecting staff workloads at quiet/peak times, and increasing training for staff on referencing when the number of referencing enquiries increased. Sarah Cull from the Royal College of Nursing spoke about carrying out Peer Observations – where staff observe each other and give feedback to improve their customer service skills and confidence. This is something we thought could work well with our teams at UCL so we’re arranging to follow this up with Sarah at the RCN in the near future.

After the morning’s sessions we had table discussions on artificial intelligence in libraries – could chatbots work in the library? We agreed there are definite advantages where student expect to use these kinds of service and we could see a more interactive “FAQ” working well for basic questions like “what are the library opening hours”, but were concerned it could add a further level of frustration to the user experience if not used well or if there was an over reliance on it.

The main afternoon sessions were dedicated to supporting student wellbeing. Jenny Foster from Edge Hill University described their joint service model where student services, learning services and careers operate from a single desk, and staff are trained in providing wellbeing support and referrals. We were really impressed with how they have created easy access to a wide range of services from any point at which students interact with the university. Sally Bridge from Queen’s University, Belfast showed us a brilliant video made by students from the university’s Autism Spectrum Disorder group, and how the library has adapted services to support the different ways in which they like to learn. The video is part of the familiarisation programme, encouraging students with ASD to apply to university and supporting them through their studies. Laura Waller from the University of Warwick then spoke about how the CSGUK conference in 2016 on providing accessible and inclusive services had inspired her to create a sensory room in the library, improving an existing accessible study room, then moving on to create a couple of sensory rooms for students referred from the university’s disability service. She has since rolled out a programme of “Sensory Refresh” events in collaboration with other university staff, both in the library and going out to departments, encouraging all students to take time out from study. This section ended with another table discussion on ways in which we could collaborate in our own institutions to support student wellbeing. Finally, the conference ended with Leo Appleton and Nuala McLaren speaking about their work within the new Student Experience Directorate at Goldsmiths, where they have achieved the Customer Service Excellence accreditation, alongside the Leadership and Management accreditation. There were nods around the room as Nuala explained how “library staff just get customer service” in a way that other staff across the university sometimes don’t, and that’s enabled the library to lead the way in the whole Directorate getting the accreditations. We were impressed that the Directorate had presented 30-40 minute “Day in the life of…” – repeated 10 times so that all staff across the university had a better understanding of what their colleagues in other services are doing.

For more information about the work of CSGUK and to see the conference presentations  have a look at their website.

Rachel Nelligan and Breege Whiten

One Response to ““New Directions in Customer Services”, CSGUK Conference, 2019”

  • 1
    Scarlett Parker wrote on 6 February 2020:

    Thanks for the report. Some interesting insights. But…

    The best thing about my job, other than the wonderful team I work with, is the fact I have my own desk. It helps my productivity, my physical (and mental) health, and my sense of being valued by my employer.

    Maybe that’s just me.

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