Simon Bains, Head of Research Services and Deputy Librarian at the University of Manchester Library, reflects on how the restructure of their academic support staff, to better meet the changing needs of research and researchers, has positively impacted on the library, its services and organisational processes.
In July 2012, The University of Manchester Library completed a review of its subject librarian teams, and moved them to an entirely new structure.
Helen Dobson and Scott Taylor from the Library’s Research Support team gave a Pecha Kucha presentation at the 2012 RLUK Conference on the restructure.
I have spoken about the restructure itself formally and informally on a number of occasions, so want to take this opportunity to reflect on where we are now, as we approach two years since we made the change.
From my perspective, the change has been enormously successful. Our ability to build new services, introduce significant improvements to existing services and respond to the changing environment around us has been exemplary. Shifting our focus from discipline areas to strategic objectives has allowed us to focus our efforts and expertise on a number of key areas which relate directly to University strategies and have value across all of our faculties.
We are all well aware of the recent substantial changes in the scholarly communications landscape. It was more by luck than judgement that Manchester’s restructure happened just before Finch was published, but it meant that we had an obvious team in which to place responsibility for our response. The resulting service, whilst clearly still developing, has been extremely well received across the University at all levels.
A new post emerged out of the restructuring process, and this service area has gone from strength to strength. Demand for both training and consultancy has come from all faculties, and specific requests have been handled for our VC, Deputy VC and two of our Deans. One of Manchester’s KPIs for research has recently been reassessed and modified, based entirely on Library analysis. We have now added another temporary post to cope with this demand in the short term. Longer term, it is clear that this is a growing service which we will need to resource accordingly.
Manchester benefited from Jisc funding to develop services in this area, but the challenge of transitioning project work into service has been made far easier by creating a Research Services team as the logical home for RDM support. This area, as with many others, intersects with other parts of the Library and University, but we now have two dedicated RDM staff providing support and service development from Research Services, particularly relating to the creation of data management plans, now so important in the research grant application process.
Teaching and Learning
We secured funding in 2012 for a learning technologist and for a Learning Development Officer, partly due to the restructuring and partly related to service development for the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons. These posts, and the creation of a dedicated Teaching & Learning team, have enabled us to be much more ambitious about our offer in this area. We are now running, for the second time, a credit bearing course as part of the University College for Interdisciplinary Learning.
We have launched a new student-facing skills programme, and we are embarking on an ambitious reading lists project.
Marketing and engagement
We concluded during the restructuring process that we could only make our new functional areas successful if we ensured we were fully connected to all of our schools, understood their needs and then communicated effectively with them about our new services. We appointed a new senior post (Head of Strategic Marketing) to direct our Marketing and Academic Engagement teams, and this has helped us to shape the roles of staff who have made a more subtle shift, from Faculty Team Librarian to Academic Engagement Librarian. Our Strategic Marketing staff are now leading on market research projects to inform future service development, and we are already seeing how a professional approach to this which goes beyond the usual user surveys is providing a much richer insight into customer experience and needs.
Despite this sense of success, it would be wrong to say that we have achieved perfection. It was gratifying to see how many potential issues disappeared very quickly, and the concerns amongst some subject areas have not materialised. However, I would certainly acknowledge that this isn’t true across the board. Compromises were necessary in some areas, e.g. support for non-Roman languages, which mean some of our staff are challenged with being both a ‘new style’ academic engagement librarian, and an ‘old style’ faculty team librarian, simultaneously. The change in some part of the Library service (e.g. the Business School libraries) was more significant than in others, and we are still dealing with some of the repercussions.
A particular concern is that the lack of traditional subject librarians has exposed questions about collection development and ownership of library content budget. However, while we now cannot rely on library staff with subject responsibilities to ensure they spend up appropriate allocations of this budget, we do not see a return to the previous model as the solution. Indeed, it wasn’t a solution in the first place, in the sense that our ability to develop our collections was always very uneven. Instead, we are now looking into new ways to understand our collection strengths, and potential techniques to automate our purchasing decisions.
As Spring finally arrives in Manchester, and our award winning Learning Commons looks so impressive bathed in sunshine, the future at the University of Manchester Library seems very bright indeed. Of course, this is certainly not solely the product of our 2012 restructure. We have very skilled and professional staff working across the Library, and there is a real spirit of innovation and strategic thinking in all areas, but it is clear that repositioning this important part of what an academic library does has played a significant part in our recent achievements.
Top image courtesy of the University of Manchester Library