Personalising library services in higher education

In 2010 Andy Priestner and Elizabeth Tilley (both librarians at the University of Cambridge) published an article entitled ‘Boutique Libraries at your Service’ in Library & Information Update. Its publication was followed by, in turn, a symposium and now this book, Personalising library services in higher education, edited by Priestner and Tilley.

The contributions are very diverse – in length, scope, topic, and manner of treatment. They range from, for example, a three-page narrative-reflective account by Margaret Westbury of how she approached the task of providing library services to students on an online doctoral programme to David Streatfield’s much more extensive (24 page), more generalising, essay on evaluation.

I tended to find the narrative-reflective chapters more interesting. As an abstract concept, personalisation is difficult to argue against – but how do you do it? Take, for example, the library I use most – the university library in Cambridge (a building I discussed in a post earlier this summer): there it stands, a huge, robust, monument in brick (for an image, see here) – it certainly doesn’t look very personalisable.

The narrative-reflective accounts (perhaps I should call them ‘personalised accounts’) provide insights into how to set about this kind of challenge. My favorite is ‘Research postcards at the London School of Economics’ by Michelle Blake and Nicola Wright. When I give ‘how to get published’ courses for early career researchers, I routinely suggest that participants make use of information specialists in their libraries: I usually find that only a minority have done so of their own accord. Blake and Wright’s chapter describes a simple mechanism for establishing contact with such researchers and beginning to provide them with a personalised service.

Overall, the books engages with many central themes in librarianship. They include technology, teaching, research, cost, impact, and the nature of the library space itself.

The final chapter, ‘Implementing and managing boutique’ – written by the two editors – pulls the book together and provides a useful overview. Though the chapter comes at the end, it might in fact help be most helpful to read this chapter early on.

The book is published on Ashgate’s expanding ‘Information and cultural management’ list, the publisher of which is Dymphna Evans.


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