On Saturday, I went down to London to attend HASlibcamp, an unconference for health and science libraries hosted at City University London. Attendees came from a variety of libraries, ranging from academic and NHS libraries to charity and public libraries, which meant that we were able to benefit from hearing about a broad range of experiences and perspectives. After an initial welcome (and the first coffee of the day), participants pitched their ideas for sessions to other attendees before finalising the day’s schedule of sessions. Everyone was so enthusiastic that we ended up with four timeslots with four parallel sessions each – making it very difficult for me to choose which session to attend!
I settled on starting the day with a session on medical and healthcare apps. I am quite keen to establish regular app swap events in my own library, in which attendees (who could be students, researchers, or NHS staff at various stages of their careers) bring in useful, innovative or interesting apps to share with the group. At present, we hold a session for first-year clinical students on useful medical apps and websites, but this is rather top-down, introducing the students to a limited number of resources as they begin this new stage of their studies, and we do not hold any follow-up events. Librarians who do host app swaps all said they were a brilliant way to connect with their users, increase their own understanding, and encourage use of their libraries. Some students at app swaps were even creating their own apps and demonstrating them at the sessions.
We discussed issues of quality control – all the librarians who hosted app swaps did not screen the apps discussed within, nor set any limits on what types of apps could be demonstrated. Some suggested that we need to create an equivalent to the CASP checklists for evaluating apps – if anyone knows if such a thing exists, please do let me know! We also thought it would be sensible to reach out to established user networks, such as the @WeNurses Twitter account and followers, to learn from them which apps and resources they find most useful.
The second parallel session I attended was on diversity – both of library collections, and of the identities and experiences of library staff maintaining such collections. Diversity (of gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, gender identity and expression, ability, and class) is important in being able to provide library services which are empathetic to the needs of users from a broad range of backgrounds. Those who are of the ‘majority’ owe it to their users to educate themselves about the diverse range of experiences of their users. We also need to collaborate with our students and other library users, as they have a wealth of experience and may be able to help, for example in pointing out non-traditional resources that are more current than established academic publications. One attendee from Birkbeck mentioned that that library employed a disability librarian (or rather shared this post across several members of staff), which had helped to make library staff more careful in considering issues of accessibility of library resources. We discussed initiatives such as the Athena Swan Award, which can sometimes give greater institutional momentum at the level of senior management in terms of supporting and encouraging diversity.
After lunch, I attended a really inspiring session on creating online treasure hunts as part of library inductions. Users tend to attend inductions during the first weeks on a course of study or in a new post, a time when they are bombarded with information and may struggle to retain what they’ve been told about library resources and services. Making the induction more interactive – such as a treasure hunt-style quiz in which users answer various questions which necessitate using different library resources – is a good way to give users a chance to get hands-on experience of things like library catalogues, relevant websites, databases, and e-journals. I can see that it would be a real confidence boost, making users feel more comfortable searching for information or asking for help from library staff when necessary.
Attendees at this session were able to design their own quizzes, which forced us to think what kind of information we would want users to take in concerning, for example, a library catalogue (how to search for a book, where it was on the shelf, how many copies a library held, and so on) and what type of question (true or false, multiple choice, click and drag, and so on) would best convey that information.
This led on naturally to the final parallel session, which was a follow-up discussion of the problems and benefits of using online quizzes in this manner. We discussed potential problems in terms of software compatibility (did the quiz software work on all operating systems?) and accessibility (portions of the example quiz were videos without subtitles, which deaf users would struggle with), and limitations of library spaces and equipment. For example, my library’s training room only holds ten people, meaning such an induction couldn’t be done on a larger scale unless users brought their own devices – which may then cause issues of compatibility. However, I thought the overall point of making inductions more interactive was very worthwhile, and something I will attempt to work on alongside colleagues who run inductions and do other kinds of teaching.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending HASlibcamp, and learnt a lot from my fellow attendees. Due to the nature of the event, I was only able to attend a quarter of all panels, and my write-up reflects that. You can check out the #haslibcamp hashtag to read about other people’s impressions of the day, and I’m sure other write-ups will also be linked there as they appear. I strongly encourage other health and science librarians and library assistants to attend HASlibcamp, should it run again in the future.