Yesterday I went to the University Medical Library on a visit hosted by Isla Kuhn, Reader Services Librarian and Anne Collins, Deputy Librarian. I visited along with a school librarian from Bedfordshire whom I met at the Cambridge cilipfuture conversation in June, and who came to St John's College Library afterwards with few from the Medical Library who missed the St John's tour last month. I could write quite the (dry) essay full of facts and figures gleaned during the tour, but instead I've just written up what particularly struck me, and have attempted to reflect a little on it.
The Medical Library is located in the Clinical School building at Addenbrookes Hospital. Its readers include undergraduate and postgradaute medical students of the University, other members of the University, the staff of Addenbrookes and the MRC in Cambridge, and also NHS staff from across the East of England. It has about 7,000 active users. All borrowing users have the same allowance - 5 books for 4 weeks - and everyone with a library card has access to the extensive electronic resources provided.
The library is clearly focussed on meeting and anticipating the needs of its users. This was clear from the determined and positive attitude to a recent refurbishment requiring a reduction in hard-copy journal holdings and the benefits that it would bring, and in the commitment to user education.
The library is currently most of the way through a refurbishment and redevelopment, involving the re-shaping of the entrance area, the creation of new IT areas, the reduction of holdings of paper journal backruns, and the creation of more group working space. I was surprised to learn that the library is creating new computer rooms, as the trend at St John's appears to be away from the use of computer rooms towards the use of computers (either library-provided or personal laptops) at study desks throughout the library. This difference arises because the Clinical School requested that the Library create a new IT study room to enable them to use more computer-based modules and exams.
The Librarian, Peter Morgan, presented a paper about the journal de-selection project at the 10th International Conference on Medical Librarianship in 2009. His paper and slides are available online, so I don't need to summarise the project here. I was interested to learn from Isla about a couple of features of this project: its place in the wider UK Research Reserve initiative (something I hadn't previously heard of) and the use of online surveying to obtain opinions from library users.
Isla provides user education sessions throughout the year, and will talk to individuals (from her help desk in the library entrance area) and groups (in the IT seminar room) about searching, databases, and referencing "for as long as they will listen". I got the impression that she will try and sort-out any library problem that people come to her with, whether it's something she knows a lot or a little about. I'm sure that this can-do attitude encouages users to view the library staff as a help in finding what they want.
In common with many libraries, the medical library has multiple 'masters'. In its case, theses are as one of the Dependent Libraries of Cambridge University Library, as a departmental library for School of Clinical Medicine, and as an NHS library. My impression was that the material required by users from these groups would be broadly similar, but that membership of several different master organisations can bring some difficulties in terms of restrictions on participation in some co-operative schemes, for example.
St John's College Library has fewer masters but still has several functions to the various user-groups it serves. Undergraduates require core texts and past exam papers, undergrads and postgraduates look for somewhere to study, general interest books, audio-vidual materials (for pleasure or study), photocopying and IT facilities, and research advice. The Fellows of College appear particularly to use the reference books, paper journals and newspapers, as well and the knowledge of library staff on all manner of issues. Researchers from across the University and beyond use the resources of the special collections, and researchers, family historians and many others consult the Biographical Librarian.
In previous employment I discovered the world of libraries in the Church of England and other Christian demoninations. Within the C of E, diocesan libraries, for example, seem to also to feel the pull of multiple organisational or user-group allegiances, both local and regional, both from the diocese but also from other affiliated instituions. Whether or not its obvious on the surface, most library services have to balance the needs of competing user groups and governing bodies, and it's necessary to recognise this and to create clear guidelines and plans for the service in order to manage such conflict effectively.
What I will apply at work
In the staff area I saw a small bookshelf with copies of professional interest journals (including Update, Gazette and several others) in boxes so that staff can browse through them over coffee. I'm not sure how heavily-used these are, but it seems like a very good idea to me. I find it hard to get round to read Update at home, but if it were on or near the coffee table at work, I would probably pick it up and discuss some of the articles with colleagues (we certainly do discuss any reading material - such as the Unviersity newsletter or Grazia - that turns up). We receive some magazines at work as part of institutional body membership, and I'll see if it's possible to leave these somewhere more visible and accessible.
...a big thank you to Isla and Anne for showing us round. If I've got anything round here please correct me in the comments.