#uhmlg17 spring forum. Tooling up: knowledge, skills & competencies

Another year, another stimulating UHMLG Spring Forum – great speakers in a lovely venue at the RSM, with the added fun of it being Red Nose Day. I particularly liked the UHMLG treasurer’s commitment to the cause:

We were able to raise over £200, which was a tremendous achievement.

The opportunity to catch up with colleagues, and to meet with vendors and suppliers is always appreciated, so I thought I’d gather my thoughts of the day. The slides will be up on the UHMLG blog, and the tweets (#uhmlg17) has been storified, but here’s what I took from the day.

Alison Brettle

Alison is always an interesting speaker, so it was great to hear her talk about the impact of librarians.

So often our evaluation questionnaires after the training sessions we deliver focus too much on enjoyment. To be frank, whether a participant enjoyed it or not is irrelevant. What’s important is the connection between what contribution you made to the outcomes that matter. Yes you as a librarian are an input, and you do activities. These activities have an output, and too often it’s this that is measured. What is actually more important is the outcome. The “so what”. “So what’s” can happen in the short, medium or long term, but we need to be able to show our contribution to these outcomes, because it’s these that are the things that matter to our key stakeholders.


Impact – it’s not just about measuring things, counting. This just shows you can count. What different do you make – “impact is about the serious business of demonstrating the difference that libraries can make”. There’s always the downside that we can demonstrate what contribution we make, rather than a direct cause and effect, but it’s a start.

It’s by showing our contribution to the outcomes that matter that allow Alison to create diagrams like this:

for health librarians, and for academic librarians:


There’s a significant need for all of us to ask the same questions – these can be part of a bigger set of evaluation questions, but if we’re not asking the same questions, we can’t compare results. Alison and her colleagues in the Task & Finish Group have worked hard to devise 4 simple questions – there’re in the Value & Impact Toolkit, and we’d be well advised to use them.

Return on investment is a seriously convincing argument when presented to stakeholders, and one which has been made in Australia and the US. It would be great if someone in the UK did more work towards answering this question.

Anne Gray

Becoming business critical was the rally call from Anneher slides are available. She’s been embedded and business critical in the evolving beast that was the PCG and is now the Commissioning Support Unit. Since the NHS is a business, help the decision makers, just as much as the practitioners. In the Department of Health mandate for NHS England 2017 they list research, innovation and growth as key factors. If librarians can’t demonstrate their contribution to all three, we’ve come to a sorry pass. But it’s how we communicate and demonstrate this that’s important. Are we doing it in a way that convinces them, or just convinces us?

In her role Anne’s had to learn a different language – business reports, bullet points, summaries – if it’s not quick and easy to read, the time-poor managers will never be able to incorporate it into their work. (It makes me all the more envious of my colleagues who are attending her “synthesising and summarising” workshop.) Perhaps the need for pragmatism is key – evidence needs to be “good enough”, so the whole idea of an evidence hierarchy is turned on its head.

I’m regularly reminded how weak I feel my skills inn searching the grey literature are, and Anne gave a timely pointer towards Kieran Lamb’sNorth Grey Literature Collection” (note to self – ask the fantastic team behind the EAHIL CPD group if they have a session planned around grey literature, but I realise that significant aspects of it are country specific.) Anne presented a great slide with all the different sources of grey literature she uses:

https://twitter.com/ilk21/status/845282508132564996/photo/1 (N.B. I took the photo before Google appeared on the screen, for anyone surprised at it’s absence!)

Perhaps the biggest skill that Anne can’t teach you is how to find the key people in the organisation. I wonder how we test for networking skills at interview, or teach it after appointment.

Kate Kelly

While CILIP is beavering away with the PKSB, and David talked about how K4H contributed to making a Healthcare PKSB, the MLA has also been working on core competencies.

The MLA asked key questions around what is the practice of health information professionals?, what is our common skill set? what are the assumed skills of someone who calls themselves a health information professional? This survey was sent to “leaders of the profession” in the US, and thanks to Kate’s involvement, to members of EAHIL and UHMLG too. The aim was to establish and define the knowledge, skills and abilities that can be observed, measured, taught, but interestingly they don’t extend to cover personal attributes or ethics – and sometimes these are what makes the difference between competent and brilliant colleagues.

There’s 6 key areas (locates ; curates; educates ; manages ; evaluates ; promotes), and Kate drilled down on a couple of these, and talked about the differences between basic and expert levels.

She also shared the competencies from 2007 and compared them with the 2017 version. What was once a specialised skill (eg in relation to technology) has now become a standard expectation, so tech just doesn’t appear in the 2017 list.


There was an interesting emphasis on the need for librarians to be able to apply evidence to their own practice.

check out the MLA site on 9th May when the competencies will become available (open to all), and 16th May when the self-assessment tool comes online (MLA members only)

Gerhard Bissels

We had a fascinating insight into a life in parts of Europe as a medical librarian. Gerhard works in Bern, but is German. He pointed out that the number of English-speaking librarians (in UK, US, Australia) was significantly bigger than the number of German-speaking librarians, and with that difference, and therefore the pool of colleagues from whom to learn or collaborate.

He talked about the balance of unqualified apprentice staff to qualified staff, and how that meant that certain tasks and skills were getting lost (particularly teaching and searching skills – this to the extent that an Embase subscription is a rarity in Germany). Even the availability of a postgraduate qualification in librarianship was lacking in some countries, or only newly available in others.

So to the meat of the presentation – the results of a survey of European librarians on further/postgraduate education. The survey was developed by a working group consisting of Gerhard, Rudolf Mumenthaler and UHMLG’s very own Betsy Anagnostelis. This is published in full in Journal of EAHIL (page 4), and the background data is also made freely available.

Really, it quickly became clear that however much we might moan, UK health librarians don’t know how lucky they are.

David Stewart

David talked about the Healthcare PKSB and, of course, Knowledge for Healthcare.

He alluded to the ongoing work that will transform LQAF into an evaluation framework which will be closely linked to K4H, and illustrated the 6 differences. The result should be increased partnership working, and confidence, capability and capacity in LKS.

There needs to be some baseline work carried out (eg asking how much time currently is spent on outreach/clinical librarian work, so that any change/increase can be measured). We can’t grow numbers of staff in specific roles, or the amount of time on specific tasks if we don’t know the baseline. David also reinforced the guiding principles and values of K4H (p17, as if you didn’t know!)

On the last guiding principle, there was talk of the “healthification” of CILIP’s PKSB into the PKSB for Health. There was also a reminder that we could point our managers towards this tool, since if they don’t really understand what we do, then how can we be effectively appraised? The Learning Zone was sign posted, as was the Talent Management Toolkit.


Always a stimulating day, and a great opportunity to meet with colleagues. Thanks UHMLG.


One Response to #uhmlg17 spring forum. Tooling up: knowledge, skills & competencies

  1. […] Last Friday Jo and I attended the UHMLG Spring Forum. I’ve blogged about it here: https://ilk21.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/uhmlg17-spring-forum-tooling-up-knowledge-skills-competencies… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: