How I became a Pixabay convert

I can’t remember where I first heard about Pixabay, a free repository of downloadable, CC0 images, but what I do remember is that its utility was not immediately apparent to me. I am not a picture person: I like words, and reading, and writing, and that extends to my preferences for the presentation of information online. And so when I first heard about Pixabay, I filed it away in a compartment of my brain labelled ‘interesting, but not very useful for me’ and promptly forgot all about it. It was a change in the way Twitter displayed links (so that a preview image was embedded in the tweet) that made me realise I was going to have to get a lot more comfortable with pictures: a tweet linking a webpage with no images just looked ugly. See, for example, this old tweet of mine:

It was then that I remembered Pixabay. In January 2017, I made a conscious decision to include an image in every blog post I wrote, both on this personal blog, and also on my library’s newsfeed (if you click on individual news items, you will see the images), for which I share responsibility for creating content. Some of these images are photos taken around the library, but a large majority are the work of others, uploaded to Pixabay and free to use anywhere, without attribution.

Image_blogpost_camera pixabay

I’m very grateful to these generous Pixabay photographers. Their work is generally of much higher quality than my own hasty attempts taken on the library iPad, and they also give me access to a much wider range of subject matter than I would be able to find in my day-to-day work in the library, where I’m not likely to encounter majestic mountains, sunset beaches, or romantic candlelit reading nooks! And now my tweets look like this:

or this:

or this:

I think we can all agree that this is a vast improvement! And using Pixabay has had other, more far-reaching effects on how I communicate and conceptualise my own online communication. Precisely because I now don’t consider blog posts or news feed items of my own to be publishable until they have an image included, I’ve started paying more attention to the visual (rather than purely verbal) aspects of online communication. I’ve started caring about what my online communication looks like as well as what it says, and come to understand that the visual components are also communicating something. This personal requirement of mine to include images has also forced me to be more creative when creating online content: what image should I be using to represent ‘synthesising and summarising’, for example? How do I visually convey that I learnt a lot at a conference? What image should I use to stand in for the concept of critical appraisal? You’ll be better judges than I as to whether the images I chose successfully represented the concepts they were supposed to convey.

For those of you who have blogs, or who contribute to newsfeeds or websites, or who use Twitter (and post a lot of links), I would strongly recommend making use of resources like Pixabay, and making your online content more image-heavy if you do not already do so. If nothing else, it makes you a bit more mindful of how you communicate, what you’re trying to communicate, and what that communication will look like across a variety of platforms. And it will add instant colour to your Twitter feed! That alone was enough to make this word-focused blogger a convert to the power of images!

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I’ve spent the past two months on secondment at the university’s Office of Scholarly Communication, working two days a week as a repository assistant, uploading research outputs of researchers at the University of Cambridge to the university’s repository, Apollo. This involved editing the metadata of the uploaded articles, conference papers and other outputs, and ensuring that the uploaded files both fulfilled funder requirements for open access and complied with the copyright agreements the researchers had signed with their respective publishers. By a lucky coincidence, my secondment coincided with the announcement that Stephen Hawking had made his PhD thesis available on the repository, an announcement that subsequently caused the repository to crash for several days. So not only did I get to learn some valuable new skills, I also got to be in the room where it happened during a significant moment in the history of open access research at Cambridge.

Image_Open Access_Blog

So, what did I learn during my secondment? Quite a lot about the common misunderstandings and problems researchers have regarding open access. These tend to fall into one of two categories:

  • the researcher believes ‘open access’ means that the author-accepted version of a manuscript is uploaded to an institutional repository (while this can be the case in many instances, frequently this is not enough to fulfill funder requirements – for example, the funder may require that the article be published with immediate open access and a CC-BY license)
  • the researcher believes that ‘open access’ means ‘I am able to access it for free’, so submits a published (but not open access) version of the article to the repository, thinking that because they can access it for free using an institutional login, it is ‘open access’

These two problems suggest to me that although the OSC, library staff and others are doing a significant amount of education and advocacy around open access, there is still much work to be done in order to improve researchers’ understanding. It has been my experience since undertaking the secondment that the researchers whose submissions to the repository are consistently compliant with both funders’ and publishers’ requirements tend to come from individual departments where administrators are particularly well-informed on open access, or where there is a culture of open access publishing and researchers have taken the time to educate themselves (either through OSC-led training or self-directed learning). This was particularly illuminating to me.

As well as learning about common misunderstandings and pitfalls relating to open access, the secondment has enabled me to learn how to use specific open access tools and platforms: Zendesk, Symplectic Elements (which I was already using to list my own research outputs), and Apollo.

My increased awareness of the common problems researchers appear to have with understanding open access and funder requirements have led me to make several changes in the teaching work I do in my regular role. I teach a course on (among other things) writing for publication. While this course already contains information about ensuring authors select a level of open access compliant with their funder’s requirements, I am going to emphasise this aspect of the course to a much greater extent, and I am going to expand on it to ensure fewer misunderstandings about the nature of open access. I am also going to put more information about open access on my library’s website, and will of course use the new knowledge gained from my time spent on secondment during any ad hoc queries I field about open access, writing for publication, or applying for grants.

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Text and Data Mining Symposium

I spent yesterday at a one-day text and data mining (TDM) symposium in Cambridge. The event brought together researchers, librarians and publishers to discuss the challenges, triumphs and future of TDM in the UK and wider research landscape. The contexts in which presenters were using TDM ranged from systematic literature reviews in medicine to digital humanities and palaeography, from chemistry to libraries. The full programme can be found here.

Image_TDM data_Blog

I want to focus on my two main takeaways from the symposium.

Firstly, the use for TDM most immediately relevant to me is its application in systematic reviews. Researchers are already using TDM at every stage of the systematic review process, particularly during the searching and screening stages, and presenters at the symposium such as Alison O’Mara-Eves and John McNaught were enthusiastic about the vast savings in time and money that could be made were TDM to become a standard part of every systematic review conducted. In order to rigorously test the effectiveness of TDM in systematic reviews, both presenters (along with Makoto Miwa and Sophie Ananiadou) produced their own systematic review, in which they noted, among other things, that while TDM saved an enormous amount of time and money, the trade-off was a loss of around 5 per cent of references that would have been picked up using ‘traditional’ systematic review searching methods. That is, TDM software is only as good as the terms that are put into it, and the human being ‘training’ the software to find relevant data.

Many TDM tools allow for some level of human involvement.

The second theme of the symposium of most immediate relevance was that librarians need to get involved in TDM in whatever way we can — while retaining a level of critical skepticism about its value (sure, it might save time, but can we really afford to lose those crucial 5 per cent of papers that would have been found using traditional searching methods?). As Georgina Cronin pointed out, librarians may not have the expert technical skills (such as writing TDM code) to be able to carry out every aspect of TDM, but we can facilitate its use. There is a role for librarians to play at every point in the TDM workflow.

Librarians should also remember that we have particular skills and expertise that can be of use with TDM in less obvious ways: we are good at finding information, communicating that information to others, and bringing people together — so why not use those skills in support of text and data miners working in our institutions?

So far I’m still chewing over everything I learnt at the symposium, but I suspect it will spark a few changes at my library. I’ve been having ongoing conversations (and debates) with colleagues about the applicability and validity of using TDM in systematic reviews in particular, and we have yet to come to a conclusion. I am also in the process of figuring out how to fit the University’s new TDM LibGuide into my own library’s existing research support resources and training — expect to see it somewhere on our website and other training materials soon! While I’m still in the process of coming to my own conclusions about TDM and its role in my profession, I am certain that librarians need to be in the room when discussions about TDM are taking place, and that we need to keep abreast of new resources and developments in the field. If not, we run the risk of consensus on this issue being formed without us — and surely it’s better to be part of the conversation?

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Report on EAHIL 2017

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.

Image_Lighthouse_EAHIL 2017_blog

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.

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Making NHS Libraries and Knowledge Service business critical workshop

About a month ago, I attended a session for NHS librarians on synthesising and summarising information. You can read about my impressions of that event here. Today I attended the follow up, a session led by Anne Gray, Knowledge Officer at Arden and GEM CSU. Whereas the previous session focused on finding good quality evidence and information for clinicians (and summarising this information in a way that made it readable, accessible and clear to those requesting it), this session focused on using the same skills, but on behalf of a different user group: NHS management.

Screenshot_SynthesisingSummarising2_mountain climber

Anne began by giving us some background to this group of users and their needs, and highlighting several key characteristics (and the challenges this would present to librarians). This user group is:

  • Time poor, and unable to spend a lot of time learning information searching techniques or finding their way around multiple platforms
  • Sees evidence as important, but tend to be a bit ad hoc about using it
  • Wants information that strikes a balance between standardised, ‘global’ evidence and local material
  • May perceive library services as being geared towards clinical and research support, and thus may not see the library as a natural place to go when seeking expert support in finding information

These are some of the main challenges in finding information for this user group. Anne also mentioned that library staff can sometimes lack confidence in finding their way around the sort of material that this user group needs, material that is normally termed ‘grey literature’. To support library staff in finding this information, she has compiled a wiki hosting useful tools and resources specific to this type of literature, which can be found here. During the session, we had a chance to try out these resources (many of which were new to me) when searching for evidence on individual management-related topics, and I found them to be excellent sources.

After some time spent playing around with these resources, we moved on to creating a summary of the evidence we had found for our hypothetical management topics. Anne stressed that the manner in which this information was presented was critical in terms of both its eventual implementation, and as a demonstration of the value of library services and library staff expertise. Although Anne explained that reports, summaries or other presentations of this material to management could vary in terms of presentation style based on users’ preference and needs, there were some common elements, based on her own experiences, that were crucial. These were:

  • An easily readable format
  • An executive summary and/or bullet points, with key findings, should be at the beginning of the document, with detailed analysis and lists of sources to follow
  • Purposes and outcomes of the findings should be clear, and easy to find in the document
  • Links to references must work: don’t rely on downloads from databases to contain working links, and instead check each link yourself
  • References can be organised according to type (e.g. all national guidelines grouped together, all government reports grouped together, all case studies grouped together and so on)
  • Don’t lose sense of locality: place all findings in their local context, and make sure this relates back to the context of your own Trust and the topic of the report you are compiling

This is all fairly straightforward, although it would involve a lot of work by the librarians involved. The important things to keep in mind are the needs of this user group (particularly the demands on their time), the need for library staff to be present at moments where key decisions are being discussed and made (e.g. Trust board meetings), and the importance of presenting information in a manner and style in which it is most useful.

There was also some discussion at the end of the day about ways to support library staff in their provision of this kind of service. Ideas mentioned included a shared alerts/current awareness bulletin system, shared, editable websites or intranet sites where librarians from different Trusts could share knowledge and resources, training at annual, biannual or quarterly workshops, and things that librarians are already doing, such as requesting and sharing information via subject specific mailing lists.

This workshop offered me insight into the perspectives and needs of a user group with whom I don’t ordinarily have much contact. It also gave me a clearer understanding of the management structure of individual NHS Trusts (and who is involved in the decision making process), as well as hands-on experience of conducting searches on topics and using platforms that were far outside my comfort zone. It also gave me ideas about how to promote library services to a new user group, and reinforced the need (in all library sectors) to provide tailored, targeted support for individual users or user groups, even if the, even if the skills being utilised or taught are actually quite universal.

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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning Teaching Forum 2017

Last year, the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning hosted its inaugural Teaching Forum, a one-day conference bringing together all Cambridge staff with responsibility for, or interest in, teaching provision at the University. You can read my write-up of last year’s Forum here. This year the Forum was back, and better than ever — and I was, once again, able to attend.

I went into the conference with two main goals:

  • To find out more about teaching styles and/or course content on offer in other faculties or departments of the University; and
  • To use what I learned at the Forum to spark reflection on my own current teaching provision and the content and style of courses on offer at my library, and, if necessary, make changes based on practices I heard about at the conference.
  • These goals were amply served by proceedings at the event.


    After an initial welcome by Professor Graham Virgo, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, who updated attendees on the current political landscape for higher education (including the upcoming Teaching Excellence Framework and the work Cambridge has been doing in relation to that), we split into two groups to hear the first of a series of parallel sessions.

    I opted to hear Dr Sonia Ilie talk about a Hefce-funded research project she has been conducting around issues of learning gain. Her talk focused on the student perspective on learning gain, and was the result of a series of qualitative interviews with thirty-four students from four different subject areas (English, Chemistry, Business, and Medicine). Although Sonia stressed that the small sample size meant that her findings were not yet generalisable, some interesting (and surprising) themes had emerged from her research.

    As seen from the above image, a hierarchy of competencies — skills learned at university and deemed important by the students interviewed — emerged, but Sonia cautioned that these responses may have been prompted by conversations the students had had with educators and skills those educators had emphasised as important. The English and Business students talked a lot about ‘transferable skills’ — which again may have reflected the influence of rhetoric from lecturers or careers advisords — while the Chemistry and Medicine students talked a lot more about subject-specific practical skills.

    Another interesting theme to emerge — and one which reflects my own experiences in trying to teach research skills (finding information, referencing, academic writing and so on) — was that students preferred all skills teaching to be targeted, individual, and subject-specific. That is, it wasn’t enough to teach them about, say, communication skills: it had to be communication skills with examples and material drawn from their own subject area.

    My second parallel session was delivered by Ant Bagshaw, and provided a comprehensive summary of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This was a frank look at the strengths and weaknesses of the TEF. The weaknesses as Ant saw them were concerns that the metrics chosen to measure teaching excellence were not chosen by the higher education sector, and in many cases were heavily influenced by social capital and physical location (that is, things like ’employability’ have a strong correlation with social capital and geography, meaning that the university attended is not the only factor influencing a graduate’s employability). He also had concern that giving a ranking to an institution as a whole could have the effect of flattening differences in quality within that institution. However, he also saw positives in the fact that the metrics being used were not set by the sector, as it meant that the exercise was less susceptible to influence by the sector’s expectations.

    One thing of which I had not been aware was that taught postgraduate students were almost entirely ignored in the TEF, which Ant saw as a massive problem. This group of students is increasing in number, and there’s a tendency for them to fall through the cracks, as the emphasis on measuring outcomes is to focus on those of undergraduates and research postgraduate students. Clearly we as educators need to do more to ensure that the learning experience for this group of students is positive.

    After a break for lunch, I returned to the next parallel session, Karen Ottewell of the University’s Language Centre, on helping international postgraduate students write. This session was a complete revelation. Karen pointed out, firstly, that university students, whether local or international, undergraduate or postgraduate, rarely get any direct writing teaching — it’s almost as if they are expected to learn to write in an academic context magically, through trial and error. She also noted that Cambridge’s standards for PhD theses are rather fuzzily defined, and don’t necessarily take a student’s cultural context (and cultural understanding of the purpose of academic/persuasive writing) into account.

    She also pointed out that nobody — not even native English speakers — learns how to write academically from birth.

    She then walked the audience through cultural differences in rhetorical paradigms.

    The crucial cultural difference was, Karen explained, one between a ‘writer responsible’ rhetorical paradigm (i.e. that the onus is on writers to make themselves understood) and a ‘reader responsible’ paradigm (where it is the responsibility of the reader to understand a piece of writing). Academic English is of the former type, whereas most international students come from very different rhetorical traditions. Thus, most of Karen’s work at the Language Centre involves helping her students reframe their understanding of rhetorical paradigms, rather than improve their understanding of the English language. This was an absolute lightbulb moment for me, and Karen’s session was, in many ways, the highlight of the conference. I’ll certainly be pointing people towards the support she can offer!

    The final parallel session was led by Ange Fitzpatrick of the Judge Business School Library, and focused on ‘Bloomberg Breakfasts’, a training initiative she and her team put together to help their students come to grips with Bloomberg terminals and software, a crucial resource for anyone studying financial trading data. I’m always keen to hear how fellow librarians cope with training-related constraints. In Ange’s case, this meant constraints in terms of time and equipment (they only have four terminals, and both they and their students have limited time to deliver or attend training), as well as staff confidence with the resource (none of the library team at the Judge come from a business or finance background). They had to develop training that made complex and abstract data meaningful and comprehensible.

    To get around all these constraints, Bloomberg Breakfasts were born.

    The course has proved to be a roaring success.

    And it’s been a marvellous outreach opportunity for the library, making the students familiar with the library as a welcoming space, and with the library staff as people with the expertise required to answer any questions.

    The conference concluded with a plenary panel involving all speakers, where they answered questions from attendees about challenges and opportunities surrounding teaching in both Cambridge, and within higher education more generally. There was some pessimism, but also optimism for new opportunities. It was particularly good to hear that all involved believed that too much weight is currently placed on research, and that the role of teaching needs to be recognised more when considering educators for promotion.

    The day concluded with a chat over coffee, which provided an opportunity to look at the posters on display. I made sure to grab a photo of the two library ones!

    If you missed out on this year’s Forum, I would encourage you to check out the conference hashtag (as usual, most people livetweeting seemed to be librarians). And, if as looks likely, the conference runs again in the future, I strongly encourage any University staff with responsibility for, or interest in, teaching to attend if they can. It’s an interesting, engaging and thought-provoking conference, and both times I’ve attended I’ve learnt something new.

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    Moore March Munches

    Over the past two weeks, Georgina Cronin of the Moore Library has been running a series of lunchtime sessions aimed at researchers. Dubbed ‘March Munches’, these have covered everything from data sharing to social media and online presence. This was training in bite-sized sessions — half an hour’s presentation, bookended with free lunch at the beginning and time for questions at the end. I’m always interested in seeing what colleagues in other libraries are doing with regard to training in order to see if I can learn new tricks about how best to present different kinds of information to my students, so I went along to one such session. This covered ‘Selfish Reasons to Work Reproducibly’, and while I was interested in the content, I was particularly keen to see how the format worked, especially given Georgina would only have a short amount of time to cover such a complex topic.


    The session was well attended — although it took place in a fairly large room, pretty much every table was full, with hungry grad students no doubt lured in by the prospect of free food (as well as the chance to learn). Given she only had half an hour, Georgina opted, wisely, to deliver the content lecture-style with slides, rather than in a more interactive, hands-on manner. She made good use of high profile examples where researchers hadn’t worked reproducibly, and had later been found out, and the damage this had done to their careers.

    This is a technique I often make use of in my own teaching, as I find personal stories (whether of high-profile researchers caught fabricating data, or of my own experiences as a PhD student and things I would have done differently in hindsight) can make more of an impact and ensure that information is retained. People will often forget the contents of a contextless set of instructions, but they will remember a story or anecdote. It was helpful, therefore, to see that other library staff with responsibility for teaching make use of this technique, and confirmed that this aspect of my teaching is something that I should continue to implement.

    Brief, lunchtime sessions are a format of teaching that we’ve been trying to institute in my library, with rather mixed results, so it was helpful for me to see that it is possible to deliver teaching in a similar library in this format — and I doubt that the prospect of some free sandwiches was the only reason for this event’s popularity at the Moore. Attending this session at the Moore has prompted me to rethink my own library’s attempt at lunchtime teaching to see if a slight tweaking of the content, promotion and format might make it work better. I’ll try to update here about this, so watch this space!

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