'Just do it yourself!'
I have no doubt that most people are doing the best that they can, wherever they're working, whether that's a small college or department library or the UL. But the thing is that 'the best that you can' is not a fixed amount. With a supportive environment a person or organisation will feel much more confident, and will be able to achieve much more than if they feel as though they are struggling along on their own, or against the tide. 'Support' can mean the provision of courses, or it can be softer: the provision of an environment in which new ideas are actively welcomed, and people have the time and freedom to try out new ideas. From what I've read across Cam23 posts, it sounds like the Judge Business School Library is a great place to work. People have reported how they've been able to try out new Web 2.0 ideas for improving the library service, and they've clearly had both the time and support necessary to do this. In an unsupportive or isolated environment, trying out the same new ideas might not actually be intrinsically any more difficult, but being, or feeling, isolated, especially in combination with the general malaise of too much work and not enough time, creates a sense of inertia which makes it hard to pursue professional development work or to take risks on new ideas.
|'Communication' by elycefeliz on Flickr|
The debate chez Andy has recognised that the sense of aggrievement is in many respects borne out of poor communication and ingrained perceptions of hierarchy and privilege across the Cambridge library system. Communication has been an ongoing theme across Cam23 - there are, I think, more than a few people who feel that it could be improved (and I'm certainly one of them). Of course, it's not entirely clear how this can best be achieved, although a good first step would be to acknowledge that however hard people feel that they're trying to communicate, if some in the libraries feel like messages aren't getting through then there's probably still a problem. This needn't be taken as an accusation against anyone; when people feel like they're running just to stay still, and are implementing fixes and features in a hurry in response to urgent demands, it's surely very difficult to stand back and take a clear view of the overall situation.
Poor communication, whether about particular issues such as service developments*, or more generally a sense of just not knowing what's going on, of course contributes to a sense of isolation and disconnection particularly for those who work in small libraries, are lower-down the library hierarchy, and/or are new: all groups of people who will have smaller available networks of other library staff from whom to learn what's what. Cam23 has been great for making connections, but it shouldn't take a CPD programme like this for people suddenly to feel like they're connected.
At this point, I'm sure that you might be thinking that there are already lots of ways for Cambridge library staff to get in touch with each other, and that adding some other way is only going to make matters more confusing. You're right - there are already the Cambridge College Libraries Forum (which has, for example, monthly networking lunches), the brown-bag discussion lunches (not sure who's in charge of organising those), the ucam-lib-discuss email list, CamTools groups for Cambridge_Librarians and the CCLF, and the annual conference. When we look outside the University there's also the Cambridge Library Group, the CILIP East of England branch, the CILIP Career Development Group East of England division, and probably much more that I've not heard of.
So why am I complaining? Well, for one, it's hard to find out about these - I've been in Cambridge libraries for 4 years now, and I only found out about ucam-lib-discuss in June (thanks Aidan!). And neither the email list, nor the nice Web 2.0 groups available (such as the CamTools sites mentioned above), nor CILIP East of England seem to be a hub of activity (this may only be an impression given by their web presences, of course). The perception that there's not much going on causes people not to bother to using them - a vicious cycle indeed.
There's now talk over at Andy's post that a wiki, or, even better, a concerted effort to use, improve, and market the Cambridge_Librarians CamTools group might be a way to improve matters. I really hope that this does happen; it will need a critical mass of users and use for CamToos to become a regular port of call for library staff, but I think that this is something that could be achieved. If we manage that, then we'll only have to worry about Libby's very good point that communication isn't just telling people things, it's allowing for the different ways in which people will understand them. Food for a different post there, I think.
ETA: Andy has posted about this on the main Cam23 blog, and has set up a Doodle poll to try and organise an open meeting to discuss this further.
Further ETA: The meeting happened, and a wiki detailing communication channels has been compiled on the Cambridge_Librarians CamTools group. Membership of the group is open to anyone working in any Cambridge Library.
*which, until the advent of the Service Developments blog, were announced only via an email list serving only senior staff who are supposed, but often do not, the forward the messages to their junior staff.