#candocafe – the first “Can Do Cafe” for NHS librarians

April 7, 2017

On Monday 27th March, 20 NHS librarians of the East of England enjoyed the very first, anywhere, Can Do Cafe. In the reasonable expectation that you don’t know what one of these is, the essence of the event was :

“All staff are welcome to attend, but you must be prepared to come along and get actively involved,
take away an action and do it.”

It’s so easy for us to get into a rut of “this is rubbish, why doesn’t someone do something about it” – it’s not possible for all of us to solve all the worlds ills, but there are some things that are within our grasp, regardless of what grade we’re working on. So the point of the cafe was to be an opportunity to think about the things in our working life that we could improve, and to get inspiration from colleagues by hearing about how they approach the same situation. And then get on and take some action, however small!

The day consisted of:

  • A Knowledge Café
  • A mini TeachMeet
  • An #EoELibrarians #CanDoCafe discussion which will be tweeted live.

There was plenty of tweeting with #candocafe on the day, of of which (not just the discussion) are storified here.

Knowledge Cafe – we talked about library inductions

I’ve never been to one of these before (more information about them if you’re in the same boat), and to a certain extent I have to say the lack of formal outcomes/actions was a little difficult, but the point was to learn, and get something for me and my library. We chatted in small groups for c.15 mins and then mixed up the groups and chatted again. We did feed back round the whole group at the end, but this was optional. I certainly learned some good suggestions for library inductions, sorry if they’re obvious to you, eg:

  • introduce the library service at a staff induction, and then wait a few weeks, and introduce yourself again. Corporate inductions are notoriously information heavy, plus staff will take a little while just to settle in, so give them a chance to find their feet, and remind them of the services we can offer
  • better tailoring of OpenATHENS registration emails – I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, so this is a definite action
  • some of the things that other people noted were captured on post-its:


Touted as a mini-teachmeet, actually it was pretty much full size, with 7 speakers. Topics ranged from #amilliondecisions, supporting systematic reviews, preparing an elevator pitch and coaching/mentoring skills training. So much was packed in to each presentation I can’t capture them here, but it reminded me what a good forum TeachMeets.

There was so much discussion after each presenter that it became clear that we’ll need to re-think the time allocations for each part of the next Can Do Cafe (happening Wed 7th June, btw), and we’ve already had a good debrief about how to make the next cafes even better.

The whole Can Do Cafe came out of just such a conversation between Leanne Kendrick, Deborah LepleyLaura Wilkes  NHS librarians in Kings Lynn, Chelmsford, and Bury St Edmonds respectively, and me. So to a large extent, by having an knowledge cafe via conference call, the 4 of us came up with an idea of a way to fill what we saw as a gap. The perfect example of trying to take control, and make a change ourselves, rather than relying on anyone else to fix it for us.

We realised we can do something about it, and so we did it!


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

March 29, 2017

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.

23 Things is 10 years old – here’s a few ways it’s helped me

March 17, 2017

Realising that Helen Blower‘s ground breaking 23 things programme is 10 years old is quite a shock. It was inspired by Stephen Abram’s article about 43 things, but 23 seems to have become the perfect number.

I thought about the ways it had helped me…not quite 23 ways, but enough. More than enough….

  1. Helped me help my staff cheaply, engagingly and imaginatively. Way back in 2010 I adapted the programme into 23 Things @ CamMedLib + FollowThat….
  2. Taken me to present at conference. I had a fabulous time at the EAHIL 2011 conference in Istanbul on the back of a keynote presentation I gave about the Medical Library programme
  3. Has been translated, adapted and rethought repeatedly to focus on different skills and different user groups – so I benefit, and other groups can
    1. CPD 23
    2. 23 Research things
    3. infinite others…..some of which I’ve participated in, some of which I’ve “encouraged” my colleagues to participate in
  4. Helped me spawn a different type of cheap, engaging and imaginative CPD opportunity: libteachmeet, which was translated from a forum for teachers, and has been adapted and rethought repeatedly for and by librarians – see the wiki, the original blog, and the chapter about it , oh, and another presentation at the Istanbul conference
  5. Encouraged me to learn from others as much as learning from the “teacher” – it’s the reading of other participants blogs that teaches you as much as following the steps of the task for the “Thing”.

so thank you very much Helen – it’s such a great idea.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

insight – Clinical Research Nurse Symposium #cbrsymp16

December 2, 2016


I had the pleasure of attending the first Clinical Research Nurse Symposium organsied by the Cambridge BioResource.  http://www.profbriefings.co.uk/cbrsymposium2016/ 

It was a great opportunity to hear what are the important issues for research nurses, and to get an insight into the amazing work they do.

I’m made a story of the tweets from the event (other people’s tweets will have much more insight than mine, I know) https://storify.com/ilk21/cbrsymp16, but here’s a few take-homes that have stuck in my mind.

personalisation of medicine

It’s an amazing thing to realise that Cambridge patients have given researchers the data to prove that there are not 4 different types of breast cancer, but 10 owing to genomic distinctions. One size/shape of treatment does not fit all. This personalisation of treatment is an amzaing breakthrough. But unless you personalise the treatment through taking time with the patient who’s just received the diagnosis, who’s about to undergo the treatment, and whose family members have perhaps died from what they see as the same disease, you’re not really caring as well as you could. Unless you personalise the opportunity for healthy volunteers to contribute to the research you’re not going to have a massive dataset to work with.

It’s often the research nurses who take the time to connect with the patients and volunteers.

(ps it took me so long to “get” this image – d’oh!)

enjoy them while you’ve got them

Nurses will be in very short supply in the coming years – 12% intake in the coming year but 20% loss as experienced nurses retire or leave the profession.

How can we ensure that all nurses are engaged in research, so that every nurse is a research nurse, with the potential for every patient (every citizen) as a research participant?

help them/us understand

Research literacy of patients and volunteers is really important for recruitment and retention – there’s lots of expert patients (particularly in Cambridge!), so why not lots of research expertise? Better understanding will help engagement and retention of research recruits. This starts with the quality of patient information which is designed by research groups, and is used to ensure informed consent, but can stretch beyond that too.

translation and communication of results

Do the patients involved in the research the courtesy of presenting the results of the research that their cells/bodies/minds have contributed to, in a way that they can understand. I don’t mean dumbing it down (see above) but in a way that is meaningful to them. Do this and  you might get them to engage in research in the future.

are you a linchpin


Linchpins make the work happen, efficiently and safely. Who are the linchpins in your organisation? (psst – it might be you!) How can they be rewarded? Can you learn how to become one?

It’s taken me so long to write up my thoughts after this conference – but the jist of it was done in 20 minutes over coffee just after I’d left building.

It was great to get an insight into the world of research nurses – impressed, doesn’t even begin to cover it!


#uhmlg16 summer conference – TEF and LA

June 30, 2016

Oh my, #uhmlg16 is a gift that keeps on giving.

As well as all the opportunities to catch up with colleagues from around the country there were first class speakers (as usual!)

Murray Hope works for HEA, and he spoke about the forthcoming Teaching Excellence Framework. Quality assessment should be seen by institutions as an opportunity to reflect on what went badly as well as to showcase what went well. To simply sweep less successful outcomes under the carpet is missing the point, and might lead to a lack of innovation just in case it doesn’t work. It’s the same with only using metrics to measure success – they miss some of the nuance. So too much reliance on the National Student Survey is easy, but not enough.

A very brief overview suggests that in the first year TEF will be effectively a rubber stamping exercise to ensure institutions demonstrate they have processes in place.  Year 2 will require the whole institution to take part, but here’s the interesting part… Year 3 will be a pilot year for subject submissions as well as institution wide, and Year 4 will be a subject only badge.

The real opportunities are for subjects to shine in their own right, and there’s even more opportunity when specialisation increases. For example, there’ll be recognition for excellence in delivering courses by distance learning. Obviously the OU will be gunning for this, because it allows other aspects of the institution to be recognised. (could this be an opportunity for librarians and their services to be given recognition?)

We don’t know yet just how granular this process will be (eg delivery of ancient history teaching in a university might be a very different experience from the history teaching), but it’s going to become increasingly important that any teaching delivered and supported by librarians would be well supported by a formal qualification (the like of which HEA can provide).

The next session was from Sheila MacNeil of Glasgow Caledonian University on Learning Analytics – a brave new world or back to the future?  Her slides are here:

There was so much to take away from Sheila’s excellent talk – hugely engaging speaker. But ideas like the fact that learning analytics use trances that learners leave behind to help us improve their learning – what a fascinating idea.

She reminds us that people and process are much more important than the product or the platform, but most fascinating was the prospect of trying to accommodate and monitor the social learning that goes on and can have as much benefit for the student as the formal learning. [this makes measuring the impact of our contribution in the way that Alison Brettle was encouraging us to do yesterday all the harder, surely….sigh!]

The problem with analytics so much of the time is that, in true Voltaire fashion, that just because you can measure things doesn’t make them the most valuable, and sometimes the most valuable are things that are difficult to measure. And at the end of the day you can measure all you like, but if you don’t change your behaviour, then what was the point. And sometimes it’s ok to be good enough…. (dangerous thoughts!)

But then we got on to the idea of data literacy – ooh this was so interesting. To what extent are we all just handing over data about ourselves to whoever will give us a free online service or app or fancy new device (like a fitbit which I don’t own!). I wonder how much data literacy varies across generations, and how concerned or aware people are of what they’re giving away. This isn’t new – how long have supermarkets been handing out loyalty cards, and then using our purchasing habits to tempt us into spending more? And now things are only getting more complex and sophisticated (sorry it’s a link to a video on a Daily Mail page – how did this happen??).

Sheila also showed us DELICATE – a checklist for trusted learning analytics. and a JISC where they map the landscape of learning analytics and a gorgeous visual: data warehouse tube map.

Sheila left us with the reminder that analytics will increasingly be part of the core business of universities, but with the reminder that they should be used with students, rather than to students.

#uhmlg16 summer conference – learning teaching excellence from each other

June 30, 2016

So the 2 #uhmlg16 days in Glasgow gave so much pause for thought….



We heard from Iain Baird about the value of the qualification which allowed him to become a “teacher librarian”,  though he still professes he’s a librarian who teaches. A key part of the process was that he questioned what he did in the classroom on a more formal/consistent basis. He also started to use the language of a teacher – constructive alignment became part and parcel of his interactions with tutors and course organisers – to ensure that the end goal for the student is achieved. This has resulted in him going into a class not thinking “what do I want to teach“,  but rather “what do I want students to learn and what do students want to learn“.

Iain also reminded us of the difference between surface and deep learning – “how is not enough, students need to understand why and then they’ll change behaviour.

We had a great demonstration of research in practice from Delyth Morris, telling us about her systematic review of IL programmes for taught students in higher education (soon to be published). It was reviewing the literature on student perceptions of online versus face-2-face information literacy skills sessions. Two previous SRs has been done but they were 10 years old, so high time to consider the newer literature. Delyth highlighted a checklist for critical appraisal of articles on educational interventions that she used in her appraisal of the literature, which was a new one for me.

What became apparent was that there was a gap in the search around blended learning and also flipped classroom. She also considered that there was a future role for mapping how students find the information by themselves, and then to ask them what would have been a useful intervention from librarians (this sounds all a bit #UXlibs to me).

Her work also involved doing an RCT with the Cardiff students testing an online library induction vs a face-2-face one. Great stuff!

The final contribution from fellow #uhmlg-ers was from Angela Young of UCL, with a very modern (for us!) contribution with a video of her flipped classrooms.

“The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.” educause.edu

The great thing was that the technology allowed the pre-class online learning allowed for students to test themselves, and if they get the question/task right they continue onto  the next stage of the module, but if they get it wrong there’s some additional slides to support and correct the learning.

Angela’s face-2-face sessions were highly interactive, using polleverywhere to ensure that there was as much engagement as possible, and the session went at the correct pace because learning was tested at every stage.

I’m going to try to find a link to her film – it was great.


#uhmlg16 – great summer conference: teaching excellence

June 30, 2016

I’ve just had a great couple of days at the UHMLG Summer conference in Glasgow. The theme was teaching excellence, which was just up my street. All the tweets are available on a Storify, but I thought I’d put down a few thoughts.

As well as taking place inn a venue with fantastic wall paper….

there were great speakers, and plenty of food for thought. Here’s some of the good stuff:

First off Alison Brettle talked about “Demonstrating the value of health and academic library information and knowledge workers“.

She recognised that impact  – the difference or change resulting from contact with the library service – was sometimes intangible, and hard to demonstrate was specifically the result of library input. For example yes, we may provide information to answer a clinical question, but this will not be the only input that might be responsible for an improvement in outcome for the patient. She also raised the fact that in terms of demonstrating outcome, quantitative measures were most commonly used, but qualitative measures were often more meaningful.

She cited lots of papers that she extracted data from as part of her scoping review around the value of LKS workers (interesting aside, were her comments about the difference between a scoping review (chart data, rather than appraise the data)).

It was interesting what a low value user satisfaction surveys have – really, it’s no use to us to know that library users like the service we provide. We need to be able to show what difference we make to the outcomes that matter to our stakeholders.

Interesting and frustrating outcome of Alison’s work seemed to be the variety of ways by which impact was reported – with so much variation it’s not possible to make any reasonable comparisons. So just as reporting of RCTs or systematic reviews needs consistency to be able to compare, so we as library professionals should be working to make it as easy as possible to show that one service makes as much impact as another by using the same reporting methods or the same core outcomes.

The need for us to consider return on investment was also emphasized. I think this will be a recurring theme as we are required to become more business like. Public libraries have been considering value for money for some time, and I wonder why academic libraries have been relatively slow to pick it up. There are some pioneers: “The economic and environmental value of the Syracuse University library show an ROI of $4.49 returned to the university for every $1.00 spent each year.” and also a study which suggests that [australian] hospitals, government departments, associations and other organisations involved in healthcare gain a $9 return for every dollar they invest in health libraries.

What return on investment is NOT is a user satisfaction survey, as mentioned above. We need to ensure that we talk in terms of what stakeholders value, and use the terminology that they will understand. How many times do librarians stand accused of too much librarian jargon? If we don’t adapt our language and presentation then the message will be lost.

Now it’s true, that impact of librarianship on the outcome that will impress our stakeholders is sometimes hard to disentangle from other influences (an increase in the number of first class degrees might be influenced by access to library resources but we will never be solely responsible for this as an outcome), so presenting qualitative “stories” of the impact can be powerful evidence.

Knowledge for Healthcare does have some lovely impact studies (eg  7.A.5 Case study: point of need information for clinicians using examples from the marvelous @UHCW_CEBIS). (unsurprisingly Alison was involved in the task & finish group developing the Value and Impact Toolkit).cebis k4h

We need more evidence like this in primary care as well as acute trusts, and we definitely need more like it in academic libraries (hence the link to the work done in Syracuse University Library)

Essentially, as supporters of evidence based medicine, and advocates of evidence based librarianship, we should demonstrate best practice in researching our impact:

  • question our practice,
  • gather/create evidence/
  • use evidence wisely,
  • share to help others

(and if you do it well you might win the “researcher in practice” award sponsored by EBLIP and being launched at the CILIP conference – £500 could be yours!)

Some useful reading will include


It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

June 12, 2016

– or why there’s no point doing a systematic review if you don’t report it properly.

So this is going to be a little bit of rant, plus a bit of pleading, and a call to arms.

  • What’s the point of doing any form of research if you report it so inadequately that people are almost morally obliged to ignore it?
  • Or if you are so selective in your reporting that it gives a completely wrong impression of the results?
  • The question of not reporting it at all (non-publication of PhDs, for example) is  for another day.

There have been plenty of examples where poor reporting of randomised controlled trials has resulted in a false understanding of the efficacy of a treatment. Think Tamiflu or Reboxetine. Both of these, and plenty more like them are the reason behind AllTrials, (and all power to it.)

But what about the quality of reporting of systematic reviews? “Poor reporting of systematic reviews diminishes their value to clinicians, policy makers, and other users.” The methodology of these needs to be as clearly and comprehensively reported as clinical trials. Let me tell you a story…

A group of librarians from Spain, France and Switzerland met at an EAHIL conference, and decided to do a little research around Evaluating the information retrieval quality and methodological accuracy of Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis on congenital malformations (2004-2014)

This work was presented by Alicia Fátima Gómez @fagomsan on behalf of the group ( ).

The topic of the papers was, I think, just a way of keeping the workload manageable (analysing 162 papers is enough of a workload on top of your day job), and so too was the range of years covered, but the point of it was to see if any of the SRs or MAs actually conformed to the reporting guidelines that are available, and was a contribution by a librarian to the whole process visible.

It produced some very interesting (depressing?) results. Here’s just a few of them…..

  • 80% of paper did NOT mention PICO
  • 68% of the searches were NOT fully described & transparent (absolutely essential for any reproduction of the work in the future)
  • 66% did NOT use controlled vocabulary (MeSH, etc)
  • 48% did NOT explicitly use synonyms (put this together with the previous point, and I don’t actually think it equates to a literature search, far less a systematic review!)
  • 49% did NOT recognise any risk of bias in their work (eg language limitations)
  • most studies only used one database – a significant source of bias, and a virtual guarantee that relevant papers will be missed.
  • less than 10% of papers mentioned a contribution by a librarian

This is a relatively small study but alarm bells are clanging like crazy.

The last point is particularly galling when you consider the work by Reflethsen et al “Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews”

Problems remain with SR search quality and reporting. SRs with librarian or information specialist co-authors are correlated with significantly higher quality reported search strategies. To minimize bias in SRs, authors and editors could encourage librarian engagement in SRs including authorship as a potential way to help improve documentation of the search strategy.

We can help researchers publish better work!!

There are some tremendous reporting guidelines for all sorts of research (they’re pulled together in one place by EquatorNetwork (and all power to them!))  and plenty of specific advice around reporting of systematic reviews:

and yet there’s appears to be very little use made of these guidelines by editorial boards and peer reviewers when assessing the work that is submitted for publication.

So, all of this was why on Friday, after a hard few days on conferencing at EAHIL 2016, and with the aid of @tomroper, I asked that EAHIL act. The full text is available here. The motion was carried, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do to improve the situation.

PS – also delighted to see:

what makes a good conference, what makes a good conference attendee? Part 2

June 10, 2016

So, if you don’t enjoy a conference, is it you or it?

The first professional library conference I attended was ICML in London in 1998, and it was sooo enormous, I didn’t know how to take it all in. I was very new to the profession, so couldn’t really judge the relevance of what I was hearing, and didn’t know anyone (except that I got to know my future colleagues at Leicester – so I did learn the value of a good social event, except I didn’t learn that lesson so well as it turns out…….)

I remember being such a scardey cat that I hid in my room rather than attend the conference dinner of the first LILAC that I attended when I didn’t know anyone. I must have been insane – LILAC are so friendly, and any conference dinner – despite the prospect of dancing librarians – is a must.

Scaredy Cats

But I have also got so many good ideas, have met so many lovely people, have developed such strong relationships and connections with colleagues from across Europe that I can only conclude that I have become a better attendee.

so that’s got me to thinking……

what makes a good conference attendee?

  • being a little open, and a little (a lot?) brave
    the point of conferences is that everyone in the room has at least one thing in common. And the other thing they have in common is that they’re (probably) very nice. So go on, be a little brave and say hello.
  • try to see the woods for the trees
    ok, so maybe the project or service that you’re hearing about can’t be transferred exactly to your situation, but some aspect of it might be. So being able to spot what you can translate, what flavour you can bring back home is a huge advantage. Not all sessions will change your entire library, but sometimes they can change you
  • contribute
    Giving back, by presenting a poster, oral presentation, workshop is really important.

    • It can justify your attendance (particularly in times of financial constraint)
    • it can be a way of developing and improving your presentation delivery – mostly the audience will be kind.
    • workshops to peers can be a really good way of experimenting before you extend it to others – again, your peers want you to do well, and will be kind (mostly!)
    • we’re an evidence based profession, so important to act like the people we’re supporting – doing research, presenting, publishing
  • share
    • share by tweeting at the time, or blogging afterwards
      • it helps those who can’t attend,
      • helps those who are there but in a parallel session,
      • it can help the understanding of those present in the same session (as was the experience of a colleague, there should be a fuller explanation in a blog I hope to read soon….)
      • and can raise your profile too (hopefully in a good way…)
    • sharing is particularly important if you are in a leadership position, and your absence brings no discernible benefit. Your team can survive without you, but it will always help reduce negativity if they know what you got out of the attendance, what the service gets out of your absence.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – what would you add?

A lot of it is aspirational – I am a better conference attendee, but by no means an ideal or expert conference attendee.

Clearly I need more practice….. 🙂



what makes a good conference, what makes a good conference attendee? Part 1

June 9, 2016

As I’ve got older I’ve become a much better conference attendee. It’s taken quite a long time, and given how expensive it is to attend, and how many I’ve had the privilege of attending, I’m pretty sheepish that fact. But there it is.

But after enjoying the hospitality and stimulation of EAHIL 2016 this week, I got to thinking…..

what makes a good conference?

what makes a good conference attendee?

This is by no means a “how to do it” for conference organisers, and not in any way a reflection on the Seville event, but here goes…

what makes a good conference?

  • The Bag
    Now I know how trivial this makes me sound, but really, when you’re still using the bag that you got at a conference in 2008, you’re either super frugal (I’m not) or had conference organisers who really nailed it.
    (sorry @mafrodo)
  • Strong interactive component
    Now this just comes down to me being an activist, so no apologies there…..
  • strong theme that is adhered to
    Sometimes it’s surprising what sessions are included in a conference that you think has a very clear theme. Note to those wanting to submit – please don’t shoehorn your session in even if the theme doesn’t fit – the audience will be disappointed, and that doesn’t reflect accurately on your (probably very interesting) session.
    Note to organisers – don’t accept speakers who’ve not read your brief. Keep the theme!
  • Enough time to talk
    it’s all about the networking, really, and the opportunity to talk more with the speakers you’d not heard of/from before, and the people that you know well but don’t see that often.
    it’s all about the networking, and if there’s not enough scheduled time, then some might just bunk off, which is a shame.
  • Venue and Location
    Now obviously there’s a cost to attending any conference: time, travel, accommodation, burden on colleagues left behind, opportunity costs etc.
    But having a venue that’s really fit for purpose makes all the difference (good wifi is an obvious and absolute must), and having a good destination helps (she says from a lovely hotel in Seville…. ahem!)
  • Serendipity
    such a hard one – it’s the people you didn’t expect to meet, or the session that you go to just to see the one after it, but turns out to be better than the one you’d originally intended to hear… Yeah, organisers, if you can bottle that, I applaud you!
  • Connections
    ways to make it easier to spot the people you want to speak to, when you only know them by name not face; the connections you have when you only really know someone by Twitter name, and maybe not face. Any ways it’s possible to make it easier to make those connections the better.

and 2 last points….

  • what makes a good conference is the organising team behind it – people who are doing this on top of their day job. They’re doing it with generosity of spirit because they want us to be stimulated and entertained. The time they devote, and the other things they sacrifice to achieve a good event (which might include family time sacrificed, particularly during the event itself). To these people we all owe a huge debt of gratitude – it’s not always their fault if things go wrong, but it’s certainly because of them that things will go well.
  • the conference attendee…. more on this later….