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.
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.