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.
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.