Monday, 30 November 2015

It's a mystery

Jackie Knowles explains the value of strangers in our midst.

In Spring 2015, the Library gathered some additional feedback about our Help Desk and staff customer service skills when we were subject to two mystery visits.

Photo by John Houlihan
Mystery visiting is when a 'fake' customer is employed to visit your premises, use your range of services, and ask questions at your customer contact points, usually using a defined scenario. The mystery visitor then provides you with structured feedback and comment about their experience; it is equivalent to a mystery shopping experience in the retail sector. The best mystery visiting results come when the scenario is as close as possible to a genuine enquiry that your service regularly receives so that the mystery visitor can remain incognito and not be spotted by the staff being assessed.

Our mystery visits were arranged through a collaborative project organised by the White Rose Libraries Customer Services Group. Working with colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds we developed a model for a three way exchange visit and a comparative methodology for assessment, all based around simulating a real customer scenario. Putting it simply, we employed a York student to go and mystery visit the Sheffield and Leeds libraries and report on their experience, and those institutions did the same sending two anonymous visitors our way.

The scenario we chose for our mystery visit was a postgraduate visiting another university in the region, registering for the Sconul Access scheme and then using the library to study. Our methodology looked at the visitor experience across several dimensions including email and telephone responses to queries, an assessment of the physical premises at each library, as well as specific feedback on interactions with staff at the help desk.

When the results came in we were really pleased with what we were able to find out. We had lots of positive comments affirming that our customer service skills remain a strength, but we were also able to draw out quite a few areas where we identified we could do even better. The way the project was structured meant that we had been able to closely question the mystery visitors and drill into the nuances of their visit; this added a considerable level of detail to the overall picture which we just don't get from reading your comment cards and survey responses. The extra dimension of being able to ask our visitors to directly compare experiences across the three institutions was a real bonus too.

As with all our feedback, we've shared our results widely among our front line staff and managers in the Library. We've also been able to carry out group coaching sessions with the Help Desk team to draw out the lessons learned and discuss specific changes or training we can plan on the back of the the findings.

Finally, we plan to repeat the mystery visiting programme again in the coming year, again using the White Rose collaborative model, and we are looking forward to further deepening our understanding of the customer experience and comparing notes with our colleagues across the region.

If you'd like to find out more please do not hesitate to contact me (

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Academic Liaison Team would like to save you time…

Ned Potter explains how Academic Liaison Librarians can help you to find the resources you need.

There was some interesting work done at the University of Huddersfield a couple of years ago, which showed that students who used the library the most got the best degrees. I'll leave it up to you to speculate whether this was because those types of students were always going to do well anyway, or because the library helped them improve their grades - but certainly with a lot of the work we do across Information Services we aim to help you get better marks.

In the Academic Liaison Team we serve a few roles. For the students, we want to help you up your grade, or just save you some time (both would be ideal, but let's not get ahead of ourselves). For the staff, we try and be a conduit for information between the department and Information Services, and to keep up an ongoing dialogue around making what we do as relevant as possible to everyone. It's not always easy to understand exactly what Academic Liaison does, so we made a video to try and explain it. If you can spare 1 minute 25 seconds, have a look:

As it says at the end of the video, the Subject Guides homepage has more information. We'll write a blog post about those in more detail soon, but the short version is this: each Department has an Academic Liaison Librarian, often known as an ALL for short, and each ALL prepares a Subject Guide for their Department, detailing the most pertinent and useful information about what we have to help you study. We spend millions of pounds each year on electronic resources so that they're free to you at the point of access, and finding them via our Subject Guides (or YorSearch) ensures you get everything you're entitled to. This is good quality academic information, which Google either can't find at all, or can only find when you're on campus (and even that's because we've already got you through the paywall).

If I'm the Academic Liaison Librarian for your Department, you'll have seen me as part of your Induction, giving a brief talk to outline how the library works and what its benefits are to you. I'll probably have taught at least one workshop on your degree, about finding and accessing information, among other related topics. I may turn up in your Department a few times each term, either to run drop-in sessions or to attend Departmental meetings like Board of Studies. And I may have seen some of you for one-to-one research consultations, where we went into more detail about how to find and evaluate sources for your assignments. You can always email your ALL, either via the addresses on each Subject Guide, or just email and they'll pass your query on to the relevant one of us. We're happy to hear from you, and can schedule an appointment if need be or just talk things over via phone or email.

Our aim is to point you in the right direction to find materials you can cite with confidence – the kinds of things which will get you better grades. We want to help broaden your search if you're not finding enough, or focus it in if you’re bringing back Too Much Information, and help you evaluate what you find. We can show you what to look for in terms of credibility and authority when using sources you've found via Google, or give you alternatives if you'd rather steer clear of search engines. We hope we can save you a bit of time searching, so you can spend more time finding. We can also assist in choosing IT tools for your academic study, and help you organise your references.
If Academic Liaison can make things easier, or quicker, or better, or more comprehensive, we will. So start by visiting the Subject Guide for your Department, and get in touch with us any time you'd like our help.