Each year, the European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL) holds a conference, where librarians, educators, healthcare workers and researchers come from all over the world for talks, workshops, and posters on all aspects of medical librarianship. This year the conference was in Dublin, and I was able to attend for the first time.
I attended from the Wednesday onward (so unfortunately missed out on the first two days of continuing education courses), and made it a priority to go to as many sessions on teaching, education and training as possible. I also attended workshops on teaching search methods for evidence-based practice, developing a research data management programme, and teaching colleagues how to lead and conduct systematic reviews. While it is impossible to distill everything I learnt from this conference into a single blog post, between these parallel sessions, workshops, and the plenary papers, three key themes emerged, all of which have significant implications for my own practice. It’s worth looking at those themes in a little more detail.
The first such theme — and something that had not really occurred to me before — is the fact that librarians need to be very careful in our use of statistics when trying to demonstrate the impact of the library. Numbers alone (e.g. circulation of books, number of attendees at training courses or one-to-one literature search sessions, or number of registration forms handed out at external induction events) paint an incomplete picture of the role of the library in users’ work, study or research. We need to ask questions that go beyond the numbers.
This ties in with discussions that have been ongoing in my library about changing the kinds of evaluative questions we send to users after they attend training sessions. In the weeks immediately prior to the EAHIL conference, I, along with colleagues, had been reworking our evaluation forms to bring them more in line with those used in the NHS Knowledge for Healthcare Impact Toolkit. Attending EAHIL and hearing other health librarians talk about the importance of more targeted surveying that goes beyond mere numbers thus reinforced the appropriateness of this decision. I will be expediting the production of my library’s new evaluation form, and hope to be using it for all training delivered from late June onward.
The second core theme of the conference was the importance of user-centred design in all aspects of a library: layout, furniture and equipment, use of particular spaces, resources (both electronic and physical), and types of training and support on offer. It’s no good having a state-of-the-art library with expensive furniture, or a beautifully revamped library website if the furniture is uncomfortable or not suited to the kinds of work users want to use it for, or the website is incompatible with mobile devices (which a majority of people in the world now use to access online content), for example. This is obviously connected with the first theme — we can only figure out how users are using our libraries (or how they would like to use them) if we ask the right questions.
Asking questions need not only come in the form of surveys, evaluation forms and the like. Colleagues at my library have already done extensive work in consulting users about their use of library space and preferences regarding furniture, using a variety of user experience (UX) techniques. This UX work fed into choices the library made regarding furniture and the layout of the library following a renovation last year. I would like to build on this to extend consultation of users to issues beyond space and equipment, focusing on my own areas of responsibility: training and teaching. The redesigned evaluation forms are obviously a good first step, but it may also be necessary to go into more depth, with semi-structured interview and the like. Given my colleagues’ UX project, I’m well placed to draw on their experience and expertise if I were to pursue a similar project in relation to the library’s teaching and training provision.
The final major theme of the conference — and one that was common to talks from librarians from New Zealand to Kenya, from Finland to Romania — was the absolutely crucial nature of faculty/institutional support when it came to uptake of library-led information literacy training. I attended many parallel sessions presented by librarians talking about their experience getting information literacy programmes off the ground (mainly in university libraries or teaching hospitals), and all were emphatic that only way to increase attendance and ensure that students understood about librarians’ skills and expertise in information literacy was through support at faculty or institutional level. Some mentioned that uptake increased significantly (from 38% to 98%) once library-led training was made a compulsory part of students’ courses. Conversely, uptake was lower in library-led courses where faculty support was missing, or where academic staff seemed unaware that information literacy training was an area of library staff expertise. Unfortunately, sometimes this lack of institutional support is hard to combat:
Understandably, many attendees at the education-track parallel sessions were keen to learn from the presenters how they had gained this rather elusive institutional support.
The presenters on this topic gave varied answers. Some had been fortunate enough to have been asked by faculty to develop and deliver information literacy training, and given all the support they needed without having to ask for it. Others were still struggling to advocate for the role of the library in this area. Still others felt that providing demonstrable evidence of the impact of library-led training on students’ studies (or researchers’ research, or patient care) was the best way to promote the value of this service. This reinforces, again, the need to gather meaningful data to provide concrete evidence of the library’s impact.
My own experience of obtaining institutional support has been rather mixed. There are certain user groups whose administrators or course coordinators are staunch advocates of the library, and regularly organise training and inductions for their new staff and students. Others, who may not be aware of the support the library can offer, are less likely to point their students in the library’s direction. I feel the best way to make concrete changes in this area is a twofold approach: more targeted and focused outreach to all user groups (and gathering data to determine how effective this outreach has been), and extensive evaluation of the impact of current training provision on those who use it already. The latter will hopefully provide measurable, concrete evidence of the importance of library-led training, as well as indicating aspects of training that need to be changed, scrapped, or built on to better reflect user needs. As mentioned above, I am already in the process of improving the library’s analysis and evaluation of training provision. Those of us responsible for marketing and outreach are also in the early stages of developing tools to measure the impact of our marketing activities.
EAHIL 2017 thus left me with lots to chew on, as well as the knowledge that colleagues all around the world were dealing with similar problems and concerns. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to learn from colleagues in libraries from my sector, particularly those outside the UK. Best of all, the conference has confirmed that several recent changes in practice (and current projects to facilitate these changes) implemented in my library are wholly appropriate and necessary. Let’s hope next year’s conference in Cardiff proves as thought-provoking and useful!
Those who were not able to attend EAHIL 2017 may want to look into the #eahil2017 hashtag, where attendees were livetweeting their impressions of the conference.