By Annabel ColesAfter months of planning, preparation and final presentation run-throughs, I stood at the front of Seminar Room 3 within the State Library of Victoria, looking across the tables carefully decorated with our OUP goody bags and name placards. It was 8:30 in the morning and I was ready to meet my first librarians from “Down Under”. Back in the office in the United Kingdom, a colleague and I had planned the two meetings (one in the morning for academic librarians, one in the afternoon with state, public, and school librarians) with military precision. The refreshments, the sessions, the materials, the presentations, the timings, even our entertainment at lunch (a local author was coming in to give a lively talk on his book) was planned to a tee. But what you can never plan when dealing with people, and perhaps especially passionate librarians, is how they will respond to those plans…
I was nervous. My colleagues were more relaxed, being based in Australia, they were more familiar with the subtle culture differences; they knew the drill. I, on the other hand, needed to fit in, be approachable, and most importantly I needed to ensure I listened and absorbed everything they had to say so I could fully represent them and their needs back in Oxford, on the other side of the world.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. the librarians started arriving, one by one, picking up their coffees and muffins, huddling in small groups, and started chatting. I needn’t have worried.
The important thing about these events (which we are labelling our “Library Advisory Councils”) is giving the librarians an opportunity to talk with their peers on issues that matter to most to them, and we, as publishers, have the privileged to be part of those conversations. I learnt early in the sessions that they rarely get the chance to discuss issues that they want to discuss. In their usual meetings they are presented with a specific theme and asked to represent only on that area.
Ahead of the meetings it was really important that we asked what they wanted to discuss, and then we would make that a big part of the day. Of course we also have things we want to update them on — as our “Advisors” it’s important that we are able to give them information on our strategies and plans for the future — but this was never intended to be a sales pitch. We want to give them the stage and sit alongside them in the discussions, rather than it being an “us and them” debate.
For me, this was my first time on antipodean soil, surrounded by librarians who were having good and bad experiences with publishers, and this is my opportunity to do something about it. I felt lucky to sit amongst them and openly eavesdrop (whilst furiously taking notes).
It would be naïve to think that a meeting like this could solve all the problems discussed. Some of the topics discussed were huge hitters that have been discussed and debated in various forms at library conferences around the world over the last few years. It was acknowledged that these issues are larger and more complex than we could possibly hope to remedy within a day. But, as the group were together, the very act of them venting and sharing their experiences enabled them to strengthen their own network and not feel so isolated. It also gave me first-hand experience of their thoughts and feelings on the topic, so that I can now better represent their views when I’m back in Oxford.
Once we got past those larger issues, it was now time to buckle down to get some actionable takeaways: what could we actually impact on a short term basis?
The majority of the actions that I brought away from the sessions were based around workflows: how can publishers work with librarians to make their jobs easier; cut out complexities within processes; and just generally make things simpler. The renewals process is complex and long-winded: what can we do to streamline and simplify the process? We supply our meta-data to discovery service tools but it’s getting stuck with that intermediary for months before finally getting added to their system: so how can we influence our partnerships to move things through more quickly?
Much discussion was had around business models (and we have a Future Business Models group at OUP), including Patron Driven Acquisition and Evidence Based Acquisition. Librarians had both positive and negative experiences and expectations around the impact of those on budgeting and workflows. Again, this was all gold dust to take back to Head Office and sprinkle liberally into the agenda!
So, after brainstorms, lively debate and summarising in groups, I came away with an armful of flipchart paper, covered in ideas, straight from the people who really matter. As the librarians left at the end of the sessions, they were exchanging contact details, thanking us for the day and the opportunity to be involved, and promising to pop by to say hello to us the following week at VALA (a library conference being held in the city).
In addition to the fantastic feedback, I have also made some real connections with those librarians on the other side of the world to me — librarians with diverse workflows, audiences, and requirements of publishers. But now, with their voices and opinions still ringing in my ears, my intention is to carry their specific ideas and challenges, the 17000 kilometres across ocean and continents back to the working groups and strategy-makers in Oxford. There, librarian voices from all around the world, whose ideas are communicated through other Library Advisory Councils, will be heard.
Annabel Coles is the Senior Marketing Manager in the Institutional Marketing team at Oxford University Press, promoting our online products and journals to institutions across Europe and Australia and New Zealand. She has held various sales and marketing roles within OUP for nine years.
Regional “Library Advisory Councils” are held within various territories across the world to facilitate conversations with our customers (librarians) on issues that are of mutual interest to ensure that we are feeding back appropriate information and intelligence directly from our markets to our product and platform development, business model and publishing strategies across the business. This provides an opportunity to listen to our customers on their turf, alongside their peers and in their local language and specifically to speak on issues relevant to them in their part of the world. We hope that this will ensure we are bringing the customer voice back into the heart of the products and services we develop within the Global Academic Business. For more, see the OUP Librarian Resource Center.
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Image credits: (1) Photograph of Steacie Science and Engineering Library at York University by Raysonho@Open Grid Scheduler. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2-4) ANZ LAC images courtesy of Annabel Coles. Do not reproduce without permission.