Making Every Seat Count; dealing with desk reserving in an academic library

At the QQML Conference in 2017 I presented a paper describing an innovation put in place at the University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library to counter the student practice of reserving library seats by depositing their coats and bags at or on a desk or study chair, before exiting the library to participate in other activities.  This paper describes the impact and effectiveness of an intervention put in place to alleviate the Every Seat Counts 2017space constraints caused by the practice. The data from focus groups and surveys provided an understanding of the problem before and after the intervention.

Michelle Breen talk at QQML 2017 Making every seat count

The desk clearing initiative described in this study was successful in reducing the practice of seat reserving and thus increasing the availability of seats for use.  This research gives library managers practical advice about how to tackle the problem of seat reserving in libraries.

If you would like to know more about how it works please leave a comment below or email me,


When you don’t have time to read

Who among us could honestly say they’ve got loads and loads of time on their hands at the moment? When I think about the conditions I personally need in order to be able to ‘reaaudiobookd’ I think about a quiet, comfortable space, free from human or technological distraction. Where I’d find places like that right now with 2 young children is just a mystery to me.

What I have, and cherish, every day is a 48km commute to work. It’s in a private car as the public transport simply doesn’t support the route in any sort of efficient way. Up to last month I’d listen to the radio or make a call on the phone . . . Bluetoothed of course. But since I discovered Audible I have been able to start ‘reading’ again.

It started after a Ryan Tubridy book recommendation for the JD Vance book Hillbilly Elegy. Following Ryan’s tip off, I went to Amazon to download the book and discovered an audio version. I signed up for Audible’s trial and have now become a monthly subscriber. I have found a way to keep up with my reading, and another great way to pass some time on the commute to and from work.

If you’re wondering how you can get more books ‘read’ then maybe it’s worth checking out Audible, even if it’s just the trial.

Getting your creative juices flowing

A good poster is certainly a thing of beauty, and something that catches our eye and our imagination when information is presented clearly in a visual way. Academic and research conferences usually have a poster strand built in and it is a powerful way to engage non-presenters in the conference’s theme. This year’s CONUL conference has a broad theme of ‘Inspiring and Supporting Research’ which allows a wide range of relevant topics to be submitted.

Inspired by the fantastic Laura Connaughton’s talk at the WRSLAI Winter Networking event in December, I will lead a band of merry poster makers on a posters journey in the coming months. Having to get down to brass tacks with novice poster makers has made me consider all the skills that are now required of our library workforce.

Selecting a suitable project that fits with the conference theme forces us to be critically reflective of our everyday work. Setting work deadlines to one side for an afternoon is a liberating way to tackle what will hopefully be a creative and enjoyable experience for us all. Thinking about representative images, deciding on layout, font, title and all of the other elements that make a successful poster are only the first steps. The analog bits. Of course the poster will be created digitally, albeit for a printed final product and this will be another learning opportunity for us as we choose a suitable infographic software and source copyright free but high resolution images.

We want to have an impact with the audience at CONUL, emulating last year’s posters. Perhaps we are setting ourselves an ambitious target but we’re hoping to have a lot of fun along the way.

Reddit, liked it.

In December I contributed to a 12 Apps programme at the University of Limerick. The University’s Ed Tech team coordinated this and tapped in to their strong UL network of tech tools advocates. I initially selected Basecamp as the app I would write about but midway through the course the tool became a paid one so I decided I would change to the very useful Reddit.  reddit

Reddit is a social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion app (and website).

 What can Reddit do?

Reddit’s registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links. Registered users can then vote submissions up or down to organize the posts and determine their position on the site’s pages. The submissions with the most positive votes appear on the front page or the top of a category.

Content entries are organized by areas of interest called “subreddits”. The subreddit topics include information on many of the subjects we teach at the University of Limerick.

As part of the course we had to give people a task to do,  here is what I asked people to do, to get you started.

  1. Open Reddit and search for World War 1.
  2. Choose a subreddit that you want to view information about e.g.
  3. Then search within that subreddit for Ireland.
  4. You will see an entry about UL’s World War 1 project ‘Long way to Tipperary’.
  5. Perform a new search about any topic you are researching to identify online experts.

How to visualise all that data we gather

A few months ago I had an interesting conversation with a work colleague about data visualisation. He had used data visualisation when preparing his thesis and had lots of good things to say about the ways he had been able to present otherwise difficult to comprehend findings. Around that same time I had been wondering about ways to better present management data for our library’s planning and review sessions.

Libraries collect a lot of data, from a wide range of sources. To identify trends in these data they are scrutinised in great detail but having a visual of what the data is saying would take some of the pain out of that process.

I spoke to my IT colleagues about what they felt might be a good solution in our existing tool kit and one of them was able to demo PerformancePoint Services in Sharepoint. I provided the excel files that stored the data and he was able to render these in to a dashboard and this met my needs in an introductory way. Anyone that has ever used SharePoint however will recognise however that it is less than intuitive when it comes to tasks therefore I was still keen to find out more. I went back to my colleague who had used the data visualisation tool called Tableau and decided in parallel to look at some samples of it in action.

Cornell University uses Tableau to present university information that you can manipulate yourself in a visual way Harvard’s Law Library Explorer  uses Tableau also to present information about their collections

There are probably many more examples of tableau in action but these are the ones I found that are trying to do something similar to me. If you know of other examples I’d be interested in seeing them.

I installed Tableau public (free) and played around with it and am still curious about the level of systems involvement in getting the data of each of our major library vendors in to Tableau, and also, what people’s experience is of the single user licence ($1,999 per annum)  – is 1 licence dequate for a library, does one person basically present the data and others then view it and interact with it?

While I experimented with Tableau another tool appeared on my radar, Power BI from Microsoft. This product is currently being explored at my institution so it’s too early to say if it will be the corporate solution but I will be keeping an eye on it too. Power BI Desktop allows you to visually explore your data through a free-form drag-and-drop canvas; that sounds like Tableau so I guess a lot of it will come down to user experience, and pricing of course.

When it comes to data visualisation, the big message seems to be ‘Less is More’.  In my view, having the set of metrics we KNOW we WANT TO zoom in on frequently is the very first part of the puzzle to get right. With some exceptions Tableau or Power BI should be able to do the rest.

Storytelling, an art form you need to see

For the 5th cosneemstorynsecutive year, the small village of Sneem in South Kerry (Ireland) hosts an international storytelling festival in November. Storytelling is not just a made-up idea, not just a clever off-season touristic draw, storytelling has real meaning in this South Kerry parish.

Although not everyone considered it in any depth at the time, the local children at St. Michael’s National School in the village were lucky to have had the festival’s founder, Batt Burns, as their teacher in the 70’s/80’s and 90’s. You couldn’t fail to be mesmerised by the stories Batt sometimes rehearsed on us for part of his own stage shows in far flung irish and folklore communities in America. Batt would cite Eamon Kelly as a major inspiration for his delivery in seanchaí style of these Irish tales.

The weekend programme is jam packed for newcomers and seasoned storytelling enthusiasts. Household names like Jon Kenny, Mary McEvoy, Alice Taylor & Seán Ó Sé (the Poc ar Buile) feature in this year’s programme. With daytime events, guided storytelling walks, llectures and workshops, story swaps, performances for and by children, a performance of John B Keane’s The Matchmaker and a local drama soc’s production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer there is a lot to see and hear over the 3 days. Check out the programme and make your plans and reservations now for a weekend guaranteed to shorten the winter! In addition to the accommodation listed on the site, I can highly recommend Ardmore Lodge (5 miles from the village) as superb family accommodation for the weekend. 

A first timer’s reflections on becoming a published author

Academic librarians are surrounded by research, it is part of the fabric of our organisations, and topics on which to conduct research abound. So although publishing is not at the moment our ‘bread and butter’ more and more academic librarians in Ireland are becoming published authors. Terry O’Brien’s recent article discusses the research output of his librarian colleagues in Irish higher ed in a recent New Review of Academic Librarianship article.

publishedAt the University of Limerick, research is central to the institution’s mission. All staff can participate in research avtivities in a supportive environment where your findings can enhance the university’s research output and profile, no matter what the topic.

The idea for our research came from analysis of many years of LibQual data; the objective of the study was to measure the impact on library users of noise management interventions implemented at the Glucksman Library (UL) from 2007 to 2014 through retrospective analysis of LibQUAL+® survey data.
The full article is here (Open Access repository at the University of Limerick). 

I had delivered several conference papers, many presentations and written for blogs and industry magazines but writing for a peer reviewed publication was a new challenge for me. Believing that I had something valuable to contribute to the literature was the first mindshift that I had to grapple with.  The literature review and the collection and analysis of the data was made easier by having a clear research question and by being an experienced liaison librarian who had guided many students through the same process. Having a mentor and experienced co-author in Ciara McCaffrey eased my passage in to publishing; together we teased out a topic dear to many librarian’s hearts; the intractable ‘noise’ problem.

Choosing to pursue writing as part of an already busy job is a very personal decision. Devoting evenings and weekends to searching, reading, underlining, writing, re-writing, re-reading and always questioning the validity of your work is a significant undertaking.


Nervously submitting the work to a prominent journal felt, ironically, like a release, a stage in the work completed. Having your work scrutinised by peers brings a degree of fear; journal editors in this case were extremely human, 100% honest and always encouraging with their suggestions. With the feedback taken on board, the article improved, felt polished and felt like something we could be proud of. Finally seeing it in print this month brought a pride, the sort of pride that you feel at graduation, or at other significant life events for which you have worked hard.

So if you have yet to go down the road of writing for peer reviewed journals I can definitely recommend it as a learning experience, and a rewarding thing to do. Putting a new publication, a ‘real’ one now, on your LinkedIn, ResearchGate or ORCID profile isn’t something you get to do very often when you’re not a full time researcher, but it feels nice to do it.

As we benefited from the work of those we reference in the paper, we now have a duty to share and promote the research so that the next author can learn from what we did, and improve on it. To this end we are becoming keen students of scholarly communication, research impact on social media and finding new ways to communicate our research, all topics that will be discussed at a librarian’s seminar in Maynooth University this week.

With one peer reviewed publication ‘in the bag’ I suspect that I may have caught the bug and if my co-author will have me, I would go after the thrill of getting published again.

Basecamp a good option for working collaboratively

As librarians we are aware of the challenges of RDM (Research Data Management) and we know that managing research data is an integral part of the research process. The how and where of sharing data associated with research so that the correct versions are in use by all parties and that the data is accessible after the project has presented a dilemma for researchers. In typical librarian experimental mode but in a live piece of research that we were conducting,  we planted ourselves firmly in to the shoes of our research brethern.

Our challenge was, where would we share our drafts, our data gathered from surveys, associated charts, all our files associated with the project. I  didn’t want to use our office based systems i.e. Outlook or SharePoint as we wanted to be able to update things on the fly from multiple devices, and use a cloud-based solution.

In the summer I began the search for a good (free and easy to use) tool that a small group could use to collaborate on a piece of research. I tested and quickly eliminated tools over a 4 week period; some were too ‘big’ a solution, others just did not have the features we needed, i.e. the ability to use on multiple devices without paying a subscription.

The shortlist that I tested included OneNote, Wiggio, Evernote, Slack and Basecamp. Each had its strengths, but basecampBasecamp (V3) was the eventual winner. Due to its pricing beyond 2 devices, Evernote despite being a personal favourite, lost out. I found Slack too feature-rich for what we needed.

Despite all the new terminology we’ve had to ‘onboard’ while getting to grips with Basecamp, our three person research group at the Glucksman Library in UL has been using Basecamp on mobile and desktop to share files, ideas, to do lists, meeting agendas and all project updates.We are learning to live with the alerts, we arrived at a commun understanding of what a campfire is for, and are learning how to replace old versions with new. It’s all a learning curve for us. The archiving of the files afterwards will be a follow up activity I will report on but for now we are pleased with the simplicity of Basecamp for collaborating on a piece of research and I can recommend it to colleagues who need to work on files with colleagues scattered around the country/globe.


Is Snapchat worth it for academic libraries?

The library I work at further enhanced its social presence this September by launching a Snapchat account. I manage digital communications and online engagement at the University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library so the responsibility for this is mine. . . . a slightly uncomfortable position to be in when you are outside the key demographic that uses Snapchat.

So our target audience for daily comms at the Glucksman Library is our undergraduate population. To date we have used Facebook and Twitter, and most recently Instagram, in addition to emails and digital notices to get messages directly to these groups.

It is important that our library services reach people, in this case young people, where they already are. With Snapchat being the most popular network for 16-24 year olds, we felt it was time to explore this as a comms option.

So what do academic librarians do when they want to start offering a new service?

  1. Look around to see what other libraries do
  2. Worry about how much analytics and data there will be to defend/justify use of the service/tool

So when I looked around to see what other libraries were on Snapchat I found Paige Alfonzo’s list of libraries on Snapchat. Thanks Paige and all the other amazing librarians around the world that grab on to the latest in tech and comms and share it with the rest of us!

Glucksman Library UL Snapcode
With Snapchat, some could argue that time spent creating content is time wasted as the content is very temporary, it disappears after 24 hours – unless someone wants to screenshot the image that you’ve posted. But if you are having an impact, and people are actually seeing your messages, it has to be worth 10 – 20 minutes of your day. So where’s the impact, the data, the performance indicators? I haven’t been able to get any yet apart from who has viewed the snaps and how many people have added he library to their network but I will keep looking.

So the library will use Snapchat to give students a behind-the-scenes look at what we do, introduce some key library faces, announce events, notify people of the things we used to just put on Facebook and hope people saw. Snapchat will allow us to be creative and have more fun than we can on other platforms. Snapchat will exhibit the library as a welcoming persona that students will engage with, either in person or online.

Students who work in the library are currently populating the Snapchat account but they have brought Yours Truly along with them in their establishment of the account. I can now confidently run the Snapchat account but this early input was invaluable. 

If you are not using Snapchat or not familiar with it at all the terminology is a minefield; snaps, snapcodes, snapstreaks and emojis are not in the vernacular of the under 24s. But compared to all the other hard stuff you’ve learned how to do, this one is easy enough.

Snapchat is an informal, impermanent comms channel but one that is used by the college population so if you are not already on it, I’d be having a chat with your most trusted under 25 friend and learning the how tos.

Snapchat won’t replace our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts but we need to be aware that students use (probably in this order) the following social networks:

  1. Snapchat
  2. Instagram
  3. Facebook

Because our Snapchat is relatively new, we will initially use our Facebook to send people to our Snapchat and then ask fans from there to add us on Snapchat. We  will also display the snapcode at prominent locations and change our Facebook and Twitter profile images to incorporate the snap code for a few weeks.

Being aware of how Snapchat works and how people are using it is important for your overall social media and digital outreach strategy. You’ve read to the bottom of this article so you are already informed about Snapchat in academic libraries – so why not give it a go yourself?