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Found inspiration for the future university library

Gry and Mari from LSB in the Netherlands

Found inspiration for the future university library

Two librarians from the Learning Centre and Library (LSB) went to the Netherlands to find inspiration for LSB’s role as a university library in the future. They sought answers to questions such as: How are other university libraries organised? How do they work? And how do they organise the libraries?

The transition from a university college to a university means, among other things, that organisational entities such as LSB, which is a part of OsloMet’s  scientific infrastructure, have to change. It will go from being a university college library to becoming a university library. But what does this entail?

In order to expand our horizons, we applied for an Erasmus+ grant and went to Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands in search of answers. Our application was approved, and we set off in September 2016. Since we were in the swing of things, we combined the Erasmus trip with a study trip, so that we did not just visit one place, but established a basis for comparison by also visiting the university libraries in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Choice of destination

We decided to visit Radboud University because it is comparable in size to OsloMet. English is used extensively in the Netherlands, both orally and in writing, so this destination presented no language challenges. The university library in Radboud greeted us with a busy schedule for our stay, which turned out to answer all our questions, and more. We had meetings with the management and with experts in different fields and were given guided tours of different types of libraries – from fully digital to more traditional libraries.

Preparation

We had done some preparation before the trip by studying websites, annual reports and strategies. However, we were not prepared for the huge volume of relevant information that we received from the staff at the university library. We had planned to spend the evenings exploring the city, but, unfortunately, we did not do much of that as our evenings were spent processing the information we had received during the day, to ensure that we did not forget anything.

Useful experience

When we went to the Netherlands, LSB had just started preparing for the forthcoming reorganisation. The objective of this process is, among other things, to rationalise some of our tasks to free resources for other and new tasks. Our experience from the Netherlands enabled us to provide concrete input to this reorganisation process. Some of the experience we gained is listed below:

Organisation

The university library at Radboud had just been through a major reorganisation itself. The university’s management gave us an account of the reorganisation process and the results of this work. It was particularly useful to learn about their organisation of ‘back office’ and ‘front office’ functions. This entails functions being organised according to whether staff work on common services such as cataloguing, digitalisation and procurements (back office) or more outward-looking work such as user services, i.e. desk duty, teaching support and research support etc. (front office). Centralised common services were particularly emphasised as a means of rationalising work. This is also something LSB will be adopting in the new plans for its reorganisation.

The university library in Radboud also maintained close contact with the different faculties through regular meetings with the faculty management, but also through small teams of librarians being appointed to work closely with the different faculties. These teams were led by faculty librarians who were all in close contact with the staff and often physically present at the faculty. We librarians also call this function ‘embedded librarianship’. The faculty librarians devised a strategy for the librarian teams’ work that took into account the faculties’ goals and strategies, as well as those of the library.

Other tasks

In addition to receiving useful information about the subjects we had noted an interest in prior to the visit, we were also introduced to tasks that we do not work much on (yet). This included e.g. Research Data Management, which, roughly speaking, concerns the organisation and storage of research data. They have worked a lot on this field in the Netherlands, and it was therefore incredibly interesting to hear about their experience. They also gave us a lot of good advice about what form this work should take.

Their approach to teaching information literacy skills differs somewhat from ours. For example, teaching videos were used for all teaching of bachelor’s students. Standardised teaching material was prepared so that the teachers at the faculties could incorporate this into their own teaching. This enabled the library’s teaching of information literary skills to be incorporated into the academic teachers’ tuition. The teachers themselves provide input in relation to the skills they believe their students need in connection with academic work and writing papers. This was inspirational with respect to our work on the rationalisation and development of the library’s services.

Physical premises

Then there’s the physical premises. It was clear at the three universities we visited that the libraries are prioritised institutions within the institutions. They have lovely spacious newly refurbished premises with a variety of seating arrangements and flexible furnishings. They also all have a large, centrally located main library.

Like us, they had also received feedback about a lack of coffee facilities and too few power sockets at the library. They had addressed these issues, and the result could clearly be seen around the libraries. Coffee dispensers and cafés were well integrated in the library premises and there were abundant sockets hanging from the ceiling, built into desks and on the walls. Another of the students’ comments was that there were too few stationary computers. The library had therefore created 100 new computer workstations at the main library, which were much used! 

Our experience of the Erasmus+ exchange

We highly recommend going on a study trip. It gave us a great opportunity to study other libraries, and we came home with lots of information and inspiration for our own work. After four full and intensive days, we have gained a lot of good experience that has been very useful to the change process now underway at LSB. We have also established new contacts and have extended our network (we have already exchanged Christmas cards!).

Getting the opportunity to practise our somewhat rusty English was an added bonus. We also discovered that the Dutch are incredibly hospitable and friendly, and that the Netherlands is a country we definitely would like to visit again. All in all: very inspirational!

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