Barriers in landscapes of the mind: Cambridge Libraries Conference 2019

The annual Cambridge Libraries Conference, held in January every year, is always a wonderful way to ease back into work after the Christmas break. This year, although I was sadly only able to be there for the first half of the day, the conference was particularly intellectually engaging — a great way to kickstart my brain for a new year of teaching, research support, outreach, reader support, and, above all, learning.

As always in my conference write-ups, I will not attempt to provide a blow-by-blow description of events as they unfolded, but rather pull out what I feel were the main themes of the day and how they relate to my own work and workplace. For a live recap of the day as a whole, I recommend the #camlibs19 hashtag on Twitter.

For me, although the conference’s theme was ‘exploring and collaborating’, the common thread was an emphasis on what I think of as hidden landscapes of the mind: shaped by language and (choice of) terminology, people’s experiences and identities, and our everyday interactions with physical and digital spaces and the people and resources therein. And, above all, that there can be barriers within these landscapes of the mind, thrown up unintentionally (or with the best possible intentions) or deliberately.

image _blogpost_cambridge libraries conference 2019

You might be wondering at this point what all this has to do with libraries. These barriers come into play in numerous different ways. They may appear, for instance, if library professionals are careless in use of terminoogy — words which we think of as commonplace and easily comprehensible, such as ‘library catalogue’ or ‘interlibrary loan’ may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by library users, leading to a lack of engagement with vital resources and services, or making users feel excluded or anxious about using the library. This was a point raised by Dr Philippa Sheail, of the University of Edinburgh, in her keynote address entitled ‘What Makes a Library?’ Likewise, the maze of digital architecture through which users of academic libraries must navigate to access eresources — particularly when off-campus — is opaque, confusing, and for many, downright incomprehensible, making it another barrier between users and vital services. This has certainly been my experience when trying to explain to users how to access electronic resources remotely, particularly when they have navigated to journal websites via Google rather than the library discovery system. Dr Sheail’s talk similarly drew attention to the interaction between library users’ mental landscapes and the physical library environments, highlighting the deeply psychological and emotional reasons people might have for moving through and using library spaces in the ways that they do. She also stressed that we as academic librarians need to shed some assumptions about how familiar student users might be with libraries when they first enter university: for many, their university library will be the first time they’ve encountered a library, and we need to take care and empathy with how we handle this.

We moved from barriers within library spaces (digital and physical) to barriers in the profession as a whole in the first (and sadly only) parallel session I was able to attend, a fantastic talk on diversity in the library sector by Jennifer Bayjoo, of Leeds Beckett University and DILON. Bayjoo brought home not only the shocking whiteness of librarianship as a profession (nearly 97% of library/information professionals in the UK identify as white), but the terrible strain this puts on the few non-white library professionals — the isolation, unchallenged (or excused away) microaggressions, the feeling of having to constantly speak up alone against racism both individual and institutional, and so on. The barriers of the mind in question here are not the (very real) barriers facing non-white library professionals, but rather shared perceptions of the (white) profession as a whole of libraries being ‘neutral’, ‘nice’, ‘safe’, ‘friendly’ spaces, and library/information services as a heroic profession bringing knowledge to all who need it in a friendly and caring manner. These shared perceptions can make us feel warm and fuzzy, but they are not conducive to either listening to our non-white colleagues (Bayjoo noted that challenging the ‘niceness’ of the library can lead to people being perceived as constantly, unjustifiably angry or disruptive) or enacting genuine, meaningful change. We as white library professionals need to commit to truly listening to colleagues such as Bayjoo when they make themselves vulnerable by talking about these issues, and to come up with concrete ways to address their concerns. Lip service to a ‘commitment to diversity’ is not enough. My fear, as always when attending talks, workshops and similar events on diversity (whether that be on axes of race, sexuality, gender identity, disability, class, or any combination thereof) is that the attendees are generally people who recognise that there is a problem and want to confirm that there are ways in which they can use their privilege to address it. Largely absent from such events are those who truly need to hear their message: that there is a genuine crisis when it comes to racial diversity within librarianship, that this is doing serious and exhausting damage to people outside the white majority, and that white library professionals have a responsibility to take on the work necessary to address it. Otherwise those barriers in the profession’s mental landscape — the warm and cuddly self-perception — will remain.

It seems, therefore, that mental landscapes — and the barriers and roadblocks within them — will figure largely in my professional life, how I engage with my work and my wider profession this year and beyond. I’m grateful to the two speakers for sparking this focus and understanding.

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2018 in review

My last group training session (teaching fifteen medical students how to do a systematic review, and letting them loose on a variety of medical and scientific databases to try out their searching skills) for the year was a week ago, and my last one-to-one teaching (facilitating a research nurse’s critical appraisal of a published article) happened yesterday. The stream of users returning books before heading off on holiday has slowed to a trickle, and all that’s left are a few hardy souls studying quietly, so it’s time to pause and reflect on the year that was.


2018 was a year of a lot of professional achievements for me, and I feel privileged that I work in an environment were professional development is so supported, giving me the time and other help I needed to attend conferences, workshops, meetings for collaborative projects, and so on. This year, on top of my day-to-day teaching, training, and reader services work, I have:

  • Presented a lightning talk at the annual Cambridge Libraries Conference, and had another abstract accepted to present at next year’s conference in January. This lightning talk will be presented jointly with a colleague.
  • Presented at EAHIL – my first international library conference. My EAHIL presentation was a workshop led by me and two other colleagues.
  • Helped develop two new courses (on top of the ten existing courses) to teach in the library.
  • Taught collaboratively with other STEM librarians at the University.
  • Done a collaborative outreach/education project with colleagues from two other library sectors, working with library users I don’t normally deal with on a day-to-day basis.
  • Submitted my CILIP chartership portfolio and become a chartered member of CILIP.
  • Contributed to two major cross-University library projects: the Futurelib ‘Student Learning Journey’ project (which looked at the learning experience of undergraduate and taught postgraduate students at the University), and CILN, the Cambridge Information Literacy Network. The Futurelib project has wrapped up and published the resulting report; CILN’s first-year outputs are mostly complete, but that project remains ongoing and I will be a part of it in 2019 as well.
  • Got accepted onto and begun studying for the University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education course. It had long been a desire of mine to obtain a formal qualification in teaching, and this course had a reputation for being very competitive and difficult to get into. I believe I am only the equal-second (there’s another librarian on the current course) librarian ever to be accepted on the course; all other students are academic staff.
  • And, as a final piece of good news to end the year, I found out yesterday that TWO of my abstracts were accepted at LILAC — one for a solo presentation, the other for a presentation with a colleague. It will be my first time presenting at a conference focused on information literacy, and only my second time presenting at a non-Cambridge library conference.

So, all in all, it’s been a pretty good year professionally. Let’s hope 2019 brings more of the same, plus some new challenges!

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Midlands and East NHS Libraries Event

Yesterday I headed up to Leicester to attend a day conference for NHS librarians working in the Midlands and East of England region. Leadership, technology, and leadership through technology were definitely the themes of the day, and it was interesting to see what colleagues in other Trusts were doing in these areas. In addition to these more big picture concerns, I picked up a couple of useful tips that will be useful on a day-to-day basis in my own work, which is always a sign of a worthwhile conference!

As always, I will not provide a blow-by-blow recap of the event, but rather pull out a few key themes that I found most relevant.

The future of the profession — and the opportunities and challenges thereof — was a subject that haunted many of the presentations. There was a lot of talk of the impending arrival of automation (‘are you prepared for when the robots take you job?’ was a question asked by many of the keynote speakers), and the challenge of trying to do less with more, lighting the way as a profession through the fog of fake news, and the impending retirement of many information professionals. Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, made a point which I’d not previously seen raised in contexts like the conference, namely that more people are entering the profession as a second career, rather than the ‘traditional’ route of traineeship, library school, and then a first ‘professional’ librarianship job. That certainly describes me, my husband, and many other colleagues, and my remark to this effect sparked a little discussion on Twitter as to whether we’re not actually facing a crisis of retiring senior library/information professionals, but rather not recognising that there is a huge cohort of information professionals in the field, but who are struggling to be recognised professionally due to lack of ‘traditional’ librarianship qualifications.

Amanda Parker of University Hospitals of Derby and Burton highlighted changes to leadership style in that Trust — mainly an emphasis on a more collaborative and reflective leadership style — which I feel, were they to be implemented more widely, point the way forward to a bright future. In essence, the collaborative leadership style she outlined involves empathy, with no assumptions that the response to a colleague or employee’s problem will be a one size fits all solution. Instead, staff should try to be aware of what colleagues are experiencing, and respond appropriately, with their actions underpinned by reflection and understanding of that individual colleague’s personality and needs.

As always, when there are lots of librarians gathered together, there was lots of enthusiasm for the possibilities offered by technology. Several speakers stressed the need for NHS librarians to take responsibility for their own professional development and continue to keep their knowledge and skills up to date with relevant digital tools, apps and so on. The idea is not just to learn how to use these tools and teach users, but approach them critically, appraising them for reliability, usefulness, and appropriateness to users’ needs. I feel this is an incredibly worthy aim, but saw one possible barrier:

One of the persistent problems in our profession is visibility, and lots of discussion at conferences is taken up with suggestions for solutions to tackle this problem. I don’t have any answers (and I think in many cases solutions are going to be highly context specific), but I did agree with Sue Lacey-Bryant of Health Education England, who advised librarians to get beyond the mere statistics and provide impact case studies: real-world examples of people whose lives and work were changed by their use of library services.

Certainly two of my favourites of the many wonderful posters took the approach advocated by Sue:

And the need to make my case using real-world examples rather than abstract description was brought home for me in one of the parallel sessions, in which Ian Rennie of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust talked about online tools to facilitate collaborative work. I have had a frustrating experience trying to get colleagues on a collaborative project using Trello (rather than email and face-to-face conversations and the resulting problems with version control), and have possibly be guilty of similar things myself when not making use of a project leader’s preferred platforms in other collaborative work, and asked Ian for tips in getting reluctant users to move to different online platforms. Ian’s advice was to use real-world examples of those platforms’ benefits: show colleagues what it looks like to see someone using them, and how this helped, saved time, and so on, rather than just asking them to move somewhere they are uncomfortable and expecting them to adapt.

Image - Blog - Sunrise

I left the event with the impression that we as a profession face many challenges — some of which are beyond our ability to control — but that collaboration, adaptability, and communication would stand us in good stead to greet whatever lies beyond the horizon.

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Forging connections: EAHIL 2018

This year’s European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL) conference started as it meant to go on: with great style and artistry.

The conference was held in Cardiff, and its theme was Inspiring, Involving, Informing. It was certainly all those things for me: I came away with lots of new ideas, learnt a lot from my colleagues from all over Europe (and further afield), and got involved myself, delivering my first ever library conference workshop! It was a great experience, and quite impossible to sum up in full in a single blog post, so as always when writing these kinds of recaps, I will attempt to distill a few key themes which I felt were common throughout the conference as a whole. I have highlighted changes in practice that I plan to make as a result of what I learnt from this multisector conference in bold.

Image_EAHIL 2018_Weaving

My first main takeaway was that we as information professionals should not be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, and that we should be reflective and adaptable, especially in the face of evidence from our library users. This theme came through most strongly in a presentation by Jane Falconer, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, on the quality and reporting in published systematic reviews. Her presentation elicited a few groans from the audience of information professionals, who reacted in horror to some of the badly-reported database search strategies in published systematic reviews. Jane’s solution to this persistent problem was a shift in emphasis in terminology (a familiar concern in library circles, where there is ongoing discussion on the value of persisting in using librarianish terminology when it confuses users) – in this case, stop calling it a ‘literature search’ and start calling it ‘data collection’. At present, the suspicion is that researchers seeking to conduct a systematic review do not perceive the database searching stage as a scientific process – because this stage of the systematic review is frequently performed by a librarian (a non-scientist, from the researcher’s perspective), it’s seen as something that has to be done before the ‘real’ science can take place. If it’s not viewed as part of the scientific process, it’s not reported in a way that can be replicated – in other words, it’s not reported in a scientifically rigorous way. The solution: change the way we talk about literature searching, and call it ‘data collection’ in order to emphasise its fundamental role in the scientific method.

Another suggestion was to provide researchers with a PRISMA flowchart with the first section filled in with database names and numbers of results found, as a gentle way to encourage them to continue to fill in the flowchart as they work their way through the screening process during their systematic review. Systematic reviews are hard work and very time-consuming, so anything we can do to encourage good practice and make this easier for researchers should be encouraged. We need to stand up for our professional skills and expertise and emphasise the scientific methodology these skills follow in systematic reviews, or else the poor reporting Jane outlined will continue.

A presentation by Bob Gann of NHS Digital, England, on encouraging digital health literacy brought home to me the need to free myself from preconceptions about what users need and want, and to involve them, if at all possible, in every stage of the design of services. Bob was involved in codesigning digital health resources for members of the public, and this offered many opportunities to challenge conventional thinking about how particular user groups (e.g. elderly people, young people, homeless people) engaged with online resources. I was really interested to hear this talk, as Bob works for a different sector (in this case, health information services for the general public – almost like working for a public library, but with a health specialism) and thus engages with a completely different user group to those with whom I work (students, researchers, and healthcare professionals). What I took away from his presentation was that codesign is a great opportunity to overturn conventional wisdom: older people are often very technologically literature and comfortable using platforms such as Facebook and Skype for healthcare (as they already use these platforms socially and see no conflict in using them for other purposes), whereas young people, while very comfortable online, may resist using spaces they perceive as fun, social platforms for other purposes. While my own role does not involve working with the general public, this was useful information — obviously I teach a lot of medical students, who are mainly young people, and I will bear in mind the aversion noted to repurposing social media platforms for other activities when developing online outreach and learning materials and involve representative groups of users in designing services and resources wherever practical.

The second major theme of the conference was the fact that learning can come from anywhere, and we as librarians should keep our minds and eyes open and learn at every opportunity, no matter how unorthodox or unexpected. For example, it would never have occurred to me to bring together arts/humanities and the sciences in such a comprehensive way as that developed by Tiina Heino and Katri Larmo of Helsinki University Library as a project called Lux Humana.

Likewise, I never would have expected a hands-on workshop about learning from professional failure (delivered by Tom Roper of Brighton and Sussex NHS Library and Knowledge Service and Elinor Harriss of Bodleian Health Care Libraries) to be the place where I discovered a new form of polling software, Mentimeter. I will certainly be investigating Mentimeter further and possibly using it where appropriate in my own training delivery.

The workshop I delivered was on coping with change and planning for the future. I delivered it alongside Eleanor Barker and Jo Milton, two colleagues from my library. The workshop was very hands-on, as we were keen to let participants bring their own experiences and ideas to the table without much prompting and direction from us, and involved planning changed delivery of services, communicating those changes to users and measuring their impact, and managing staff throughout those changes, in the face of a large change to the library (for example a loss of space or budget, a reduced number of staff, or the like). The session went very well, and it was particularly great to hear from people working in so many different countries and sectors: we had attendees from hospital libraries, higher education libraries, research institutions, and the US National Library of Medicine.

As well as learning from this diverse range of experiences, I also took the opportunity to reflect on the experience of delivering a workshop at a large international professional conference, and to see what I would do differently the next time this opportunity arose. Two changes I would definitely make next time are to allow more time for feedback and discussion, and to provide scenarios for each small group, rather than expecting them to come up with hypothetical situations of change on their own. We did allow half an hour of small-group discussion, and twenty-five minutes of feedback and questions, but I think the latter in particular could have done with more time. Likewise a lot of time was wasted in the small-group discussions while groups came up with scenarios for their library changes, leaving them less time to plan solutions to those changes. Next time I deliver a workshop of this nature, I will pay more attention to whether my planned structure will allow sufficient time for comprehensive group discussion, and incorporate enough time for this into the workshop running order.

I thus left Cardiff engaged, involved, and inspired. Opportunities such as this to learn from — and teach — my community of professional peers are incredibly valuable, and I highly recommend taking advantage of them if you are able. In particular, take the plunge and submit your own abstract for a presentation, poster or workshop. We know more than we think, and if EAHIL 2018 has taught me anything, learning can come from the most unexpected people, and everyone has a lot to offer the library and information community in terms of knowledge, experience, and expertise.

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CILN Forum

Cambridge libraries have had information literacy on the agenda for a while now, and I’ve been part of the groups working on this area for some time. Last year, I was part of a small teaching and learning task and finish group, working on making preliminary recommendations to the University regarding information literacy policy and guidance. This preliminary work fed into a much larger network of Cambridge library staff — of which I am also a part — called CILN (Cambridge Information Literacy Network). CILN has been working hard on all things information literacy: mapping key dates for students across subjects and years, mapping competencies and training provision, and much more. CILN has also been hard at work planning an information literacy forum, with speakers invited from other universities, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

As always with my conference/workshop write-ups, I am not going to attempt to provide a word-for-word paraphrase of every single thing that was said at the CILN Forum. Rather, I will pull out a few key themes which I felt were the main takeaways from the event. (However, if you want a live summary of events as they unfolded, the conference hashtag on Twitter might be worth checking out.)

The main theme of the forum for me was terminology. Almost every speaker mentioned a degree of discomfort with the term ‘information literacy’, stressed the need for a clear definition, and noted that it was important to translate terms into language that reflected the activities and priorities of the intended audience. For example, Susan Halfpenny, of the University of York, explained that her library’s information literacy framework deliberately mapped to learning outcomes and assessment criteria of university courses, so that the framework (and the training and other support her library provided) was contextualised within courses and academics, students and university administrators could see how it connected with their own goals. Likewise, Alison Little of the University of Sheffield noted that her framework was embedded within a wider university teaching and learning strategy.

I was particularly impressed with the choices in terminology used by library staff at Brunel University London, as outlined by Sam Piker and Shazia Arif, which to my mind reflected the actual learning activities undertaken by students. (You can see the names of some of the library courses offered at Brunel here.)

What we should be aiming for in creating information literacy frameworks (and planning training and other services to support it) is a clear use of terminology that is understandable to its audience (whether that be university administration, academics, or students). We want colleagues and library users to understand what we do, and make use of services that they themselves need, and we need to use language that will help in these aims.

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The other main theme of the forum was something I come back to again and again: institutional support. Where did information literacy support fit within overall teaching and learning undertaken by students at any given university? Was it integrated into academic coursework, or was it treated as an optional extra and positioned as a wholly library-led endeavour? Lorna Dodd of Maynooth University stressed that the information literacy framework at Maynooth was contextualised within the curriculum aims and graduate attributes of the university, tacitly acknowledging that the library does not take sole responsibility for information literacy. Rather, it is embedded within curricula, and indeed much information literacy teaching, while being held in library teaching spaces, is not delivered by library staff. The result was a redesigned array of services that was much more integrated into students’ coursework, and a better reflection of what they and their lecturers actually needed.

How and where information literacy support is positioned means virtual positioning as well. It’s essential the information about support and services is located in online spaces where students can find it easily. We cannot rely on them finding LibGuides buried in the depths of a library website — or even finding the library website itself. Where do students go to find information or support to help with their studies? They are more likely to look in places like their VLE, or perhaps a tab marked ‘current students’ on the homepage of their university’s website. Information literacy support (whatever terminology is used to describe it) needs to be prominently linked in these kinds of locations, and indeed many speakers at the forum noted that they had battled to get such content embedded in exactly these places. When library support for information literacy is not only face-to-face teaching, the possibilities for positioning it within curricula and in online spaces where students are likely to access it are even greater; staff at Sheffield designed their information literacy teaching explicitly with that in mind.

The CILN team is clearly intending to proceed having taken on board the experiences of peers at other institutions, and I very much hope that the strong recommendations regarding terminology and positioning of information literacy content and support are followed at Cambridge. For my part, what I learnt at the CILN Forum will inform several changes regarding my teaching that I’ve been contemplating for a while: overhauling the naming of courses I offer (based on user feedback if possible), and working more actively to forge connections with course coordinators and other academic staff in order to ensure my training is meeting the needs of students, and is well integrated into the rest of the teaching they receive throughout their courses.

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USTLG recap: part 2

This is the second of my posts recapping my time in Huddersfield for the USTLG May meeting. The previous post covered my impressions and main takeaways from the meeting itself, and can be found here. This second post will focus on the library tour, conducted by Alison McNab, Academic Librarian (Research Support) at the University of Huddersfield.

Three main features of the library at Huddersfield jumped out at me. The first was the striking, professional, well-designed use of posters, signage and other graphics both as a way to indicate how different spaces in the library should be used, and as a way to communicate with users. For example, there was a poster in which feedback (and responses to that feedback) had been gathered:

Image_Huddersfield_Feedback Poster

Likewise, another poster reminded users that they would need to return all their books before they would be allowed to graduate:

Image_Huddersfield_Return Books Poster

Huddersfield makes use of student helpers in the library; these individuals were easily identifiable by their distinctive green t shirts, and banners in the library made sure users would recognise the student helpers and know what sort of help they’d be able to provide:

Image_Huddersfield_Student Helper

Signage has long been a problem in our library. Although we have clearly defined zones, each with different levels of permissible noise, the signs indicating this are not clear enough (arrows on signs sometimes point in ambiguous directions), and we often get anxious users coming up to the enquiry desk and asking if, and where, they’re allowed to talk. I feel our signage could be improved, and I feel we need to significantly lift our game when it comes to poster design – the aim should be to create something as professional looking and eye-catching as those at Huddersfield. The library team there is fortunate to be a combined library and IT service, and have one member of staff on the IT team who is a professional graphic designer, but even without that level of staff expertise at my library, there is room for improvement.

The second striking feature of the library at Huddersfield was the level of communication and outreach evident throughout the entire library space. All posters had prominent references to the library’s social media accounts, in order to promote them and make sure users were aware that the library was on those platforms.

Image_Huddersfield_Social Media

They also had innovative ways to encourage conversation and engagement with the services, such as a competition to design the new library tote bag – the shortlisted designs were displayed, and users could vote with a token dropped into their preferred design’s slot. All the designs were made by students at the university. Apparently the competition is very heated, with social media campaigns in favour of certain designs. All this serves to encourage a sense of ownership of, and engagement with, library services.


I would very much like to encourage similar activities and events in my own library, but will need to think further as to what they might be. We do not at present have library merchandise like tote bags, but there are other aspects of the physical space and services that could be opened up to similar types of competitions. In any case, more opportunities to engage with the library services in lighthearted ways should be encouraged.

The third feature of the library that impressed me was the fact that basic library services (issuing and returning of books, providing entry-level information about searching for information or using the library) was essentially automated or comprehensively covered in extensive, well-designed leaflets prominently displayed.


Image_Huddersfield_Self Issue Machines

Automating these basic services meant that frontline staff were freed up to handle more complex enquiries and provide more in depth support to library users. This encourages, rather than discourages, engagement with library services, meaning that library staff have the time to deal with complex problems at the point of need, rather than having to limit frontline services to the issuing and returning of books, and simple questions about the location of physical and electronic resources. While self-issue machines are unfortunately not a possibility for me in the immediate future, a more comprehensive collection of leaflets is definitely achievable, so this is something that I aim to work on as soon as possible.

I’m grateful to the Huddersfield Library staff for opening their library up to me. The library tour highlighted weaknesses in the design and services of my own library, and possible skills of mine that could do with improvement, as well as opportunities for outreach and engagement with my library’s users. I’ll certainly be looking to improve my design skills at the first available opportunity!

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USTLG recap: part 1

Yesterday I got up at 4am in order to make the long trek north to Huddersfield, where the University Sciences and Technology Libraries Group (USTLG) was holding a meeting on the theme of innovative outreach and engagement projects. The full programme can be found here, and all presentations will eventually be posted on the USTLG website, so keep an eye out for those if you weren’t able to attend the meeting.

I’m going to write up my impressions in two posts. The first will cover what I consider to be the main takeaways from the presentations, and the second will cover my reflections on the Huddersfield University Library, of which attendees were given a tour.


There were a lot of fantastic presentations given at the event, and I’m keen to steal (borrow?) as many ideas as possible in my own library, because I can see their potential. Projects ranged from UX exercises gathering feedback from users to innovative use of social media, and from pop-up libraries to board games. One of the first common themes to emerge was the need for any changes to library design, services or resources to be evidence based and informed by principles of reflection. In other words, don’t just give users what you think they want or need, and don’t be so resistant to change that you refuse to adapt any new services. This evidence can be gathered in many ways. Laura Woods, of Huddersfield University, outlined two major projects in which UX techniques (cognitive mapping, and love/breakup letters, plus lengthy follow up interviews) were used not only to gather feedback, but also served as outreach opportunities.

Other forms of evidence gathering can be used. If what you want to know is how much traction your use of social media is getting, simply the level of engagement (retweets, likes, shares, comments and so on) may be informative enough, as is the case for Zelda Chatten and Clair Sharpe, representing the social media team at Liverpool University Library. They run an enormously successful Twitter account, as well as accounts on other platforms. In other cases, such as that of Emma Turner and Georgina Parsons of Cranfield University, who developed a board game to teach about research impact, extensive user testing may be necessary, with tweaks to the resource as a result.

Karen Goodwin and Jo Picton, who work at the University of Kent, understood well the need to adapt services that weren’t working. Their pop-up library outreach work wasn’t gaining the traction they expected among science students at Kent, so they made some changes in the locations and timings of the pop-up, and got greater involvement from faculty and administration. The project ultimately became a great success.

But it was Wendy Mears and Jude Bennett of the Open University who took evidence gathering to new heights. The level of engagement with their users, and their willingness to change or even scrap proposed shifts in services and resources in the face of evidence from users is something to which we should all aspire. Their work is underpinned by regular feedback from a representative library panel, user testing of resources such as changes to the library search interface before they are implemented, and a student shadowing scheme in which OU students shadow members of library staff to gain a greater understanding of their work.

The second common theme of the day was the need for visibility. We need as libraries to be visible in spaces where users expect to find us – we cannot rely on them to know about our services by coming to us, so we have to go where they are. Different libraries had different ways of coping with this. The Open University, as a distance learning institution, needs to present the help its library provides as clearly and engagingly as possible.

And never underestimate the power of a big flashing link to the library on students’ VLE landing page:

Liverpool had an innovative solution to the problem of making students aware of the existence of its social media accounts:

This also had the effect of highlighting library responsiveness to problems and complaints.

The final big common theme of the day was one I’ve talked about a lot in the past: the need for academic libraries to be supported and promoted by lecturers and other academic staff. In addition, students get a lot of advice from their peers, and trust the word of peers and academic staff much more than they’re likely to engage with library staff themselves, so we need to find ways for these users to advocate about library services and raise awareness of the support libraries can offer. If, for example, an engineering student thinks that libraries are just physical books, they’re unlikely to be swayed by, or even notice, a librarian talking about database searching, support for dissertations, or spaces for collaborative group work. But such a student will take notice when their lecturers, peers, or alumni from their course talk about such things. Laura Woods and the team at Huddersfield noticed this, and worked with computing alumni to provide testimonials about the library to be disseminated among first- and second-year students to increase awareness of library services, while Karen Goodwin and Jo Picton at Kent built up relationships with administrators and academics in STEM faculties to gain promotional support for their pop-up library. Wendy Mears and Jude Bennett at Open used student video testimonials to increase the visibility of their library.

I’m still mulling over everything I learnt at the USTLG meeting, but my early thoughts about areas in which my own practice in outreach and engagement need to improve are as follows:

  • I (or other colleagues at my library) have built up good relationships with several academics, administrators, and key NHS staff, but this has been done in a rather haphazard way. It would be good to be a bit more deliberate about this.
  • We need to significantly lift our game in the area of graphics, design, posters, and leaflets as a form of communication, as these are in many ways the professional ‘face’ of the library and can be a really effective way of conveying information. Sadly, at present we are not as lucky as Huddersfield, which has a graphic designer on staff!
  • Plasma screens are a really good way to increase the visibility of library services and make users aware of social media accounts, and library responses to feedback. While we currently lack a plasma screen, we do have a communication whiteboard, and I should make better use of it for ‘you said, we did’ types of information.
  • It’s no good having a brilliant, informative library website if students aren’t aware that it exists. Visibility is key: get that website linked on their VLE!

I’ll keep you posted as to the progress in these changes. If you’d like more recaps of the meeting yesterday, the #ustlg hashtag contains everyone’s livetweets from the event.

Posted in academic libraries, CILIP, CILIP chartership evidence, library services, resources, teaching and training | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments