UCL News


Seven questions with UCL Library Services self-service project team

1 March 2017

This week, meet Breege Whiten, Rob Pickney and Sue Adams members of the UCL Library Services self-service project team.

7 questions with UCL Library Services self-service project team Breege is a Librarian at the UCL Language & Speech Science Library, while Sue is a Reader Services Librarian at the Royal Free Hospital Medical Library and Rob is a Service Operations Manager. The trio have been working on a three-year project to install self-service facilities across all UCL libraries so that you can now borrow and return materials at any time of day or night, whenever the building is open.

Tell us more about the UCL Library Services self-service project:

Rob : The goal of introducing self-service machines was to enhance our customer service, enabling:

  • a 24-hour service
  • reduced queues at help points
  • more time for staff to answer queries and provide support
  • faster re-shelving of returned books
  • better stock control to identify lost or out of place reading materials

The self-service machines read data stored electronically on Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) tags, which meant all resources in the library needed to be tagged.

Libraries were grouped into three project tranches and we kept a full service running throughout, with as much of the work as possible done during the quieter summer months. At the larger libraries the introduction of self-service machines was also a catalyst to completely redesign issue desk areas to improve efficiency.

What makes it so important (and interesting)?  

Rob: The move towards 24-hour opening at three of our largest libraries plus extended opening hours elsewhere made the introduction of self-service the natural next step in enhancing the experience of our facilities.

Breege: Installing self-service has been integral to how we develop our customer service and has given us the freedom to move out from behind issue desks to where we're actually needed in our libraries and collections.

Sue: RFID tagging is really interesting because it has so much future potential - one academic organisation has already developed a phone app allowing students to issue books via their smart phone.

What has been a personal highlight so far?

Rob: The number of positive comments, particularly around the automatic book sorter in the Main Library where a glass wall allows you to see the workings of the various conveyor belts. The machine partially sorts returned material into various collection bins and this is helping us to get the books back on the shelves faster.

Sue: Feedback has been very positive. Students I've spoken to have been impressed that a stack of books can be issued simultaneously rather than having to to scan each book barcode individually!

Breege: The enthusiasm of library staff in embracing new technologies and changing their job roles so that we can provide a more efficient service. Also getting great feedback from students after using the self-service machines.

Explain some of the challenges involved in working on this project

Rob: There were 342,000 items to tag in the Main Library alone. One of our initial challenges was how we managed the transition of our stock from the old barcodes and tattle-based tags already in place to RFID tags and keep the service running efficiently.

Sue: For this project to work efficiently communication with students, colleagues and equipment suppliers was paramount. Timing was also important. We were aware that stock processing and equipment delivery and installation would coincide with one of our busiest student exam periods so we worked hard to stick to our planned schedule. Position and design of equipment was important - wheelchair accessibility was an essential requirement for all sites. I actually fractured my toe while taking delivery of some of the equipment so the project really did involve a personal challenge for me!

Breege: The scale has been challenging, not only physically installing self-service in 17 different libraries, but also dealing with service changes, and changes in job roles for multiple customer facing teams. This work has taken place on top of the usual work load for the teams, and the library staff have coped admirably, especially as a number of the projects overran and didn't go live until very near to the start of term - our busiest time of the year.

What advice would you give to a student hoping to pursue a career in Librarianship?

Breege: Get some work experience or shadowing in different libraries to see which branch of the profession you want to base your career in (Academic, Public, Law etc). Talk to librarians to find out exactly what we do - it might surprise you!

Sue: Librarianship is traditionally associated with a love of books but today's librarian needs an equal love of technology. Excellent IT skills are essential. Of course I would promote medical librarianship as a rewarding career choice - I have a science background but you don't need one to enter into this field.

Rob: Although traditional library qualifications remain the most obvious route into a career in this profession, great interpersonal and IT skills are equally prized in a field that is rapidly changing. Explore the diverse number of different roles within the library to see what skill set would be most useful in the type of roles that interest you.

Any idea what's next after the project finishes?

Breege: UCL Library Services is working towards achieving the Customer Service Excellence accreditation, and we'll be focussing on how we work with students to shape our service.

Rob: We are working in collaboration with UCL Information Services Division on testing occupancy sensing software so that in the future we can make the best possible use of existing study spaces across libraries.

Sue: Here at the Royal Free we are looking into extending the opening hours of our e-learning zone during weekday evenings and Saturdays. This will mean more available work spaces for students.

Describe your perfect evening (or weekend) after a long week

Breege: Contrary to popular belief about librarians - it's not reading a book! My perfect evening involves going to see bands, and going to the Southbank - especially the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall.

Rob: A visit to the cinema followed by a discussion on the merits of the film over a pizza. Next day, a walk in the country on a cold, crisp morning with the encouragement of a pub lunch at journey's end…..bliss!

Sue: I enjoy going to the theatre and to events - I'm off to see indoor tennis at the O2 arena this evening!


What do you think of our service? We'd love to hear things we've done well and areas you'd like us to improve. Email library@ucl.ac.uk

Read more about current UCL Library Services projects