19 Aug 2019

Health and Happiness: Wellbeing in Academic Libraries

Highly Commended post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019. 
This post is by Emma Devlin, Queens University Belfast Library 

The McClay Library (Queen’s University Belfast, or QUB) is a busy place. The library’s average footfall works out at 10,000 a day, and our users are diverse – Queen’s is the 25th most international university in the world. Our readers, then, come from all walks of life, from all over the world. To cover the teaching and research needs of such a diverse group, the Library’s holdings include over 1.2 million titles.

Nevertheless, there is still room in the library to cover the broader aspects of university life. In November 2018, the McClay Library was granted funding from the Queen’s University Belfast Annual Fund to establish a Student Wellbeing Collection, which was officially launched in April 2019. This is a collection featuring materials chosen especially for their emphasis on health and happiness. The subjects covered by the collection span Diet and Eating to Sex and Sexuality, with a wide range of titles focused on mental health.

Our poster for the new Student Wellbeing Collection
As the extent to which poor mental health affects students becomes clear, the question of what services can be offered by higher education institutions has become increasingly important:

Around three-quarters of adults with a mental illness first experience symptoms before the age of 25. With widening access to higher education the student population is more closely reflecting the UK’s wider socioeconomic and demographic make-up, and a growing proportion of students would appear to be affected by mental illness…Universities should make the issue a strategic priority and adopt a ‘whole-university’ approach based on prevention and promotion, early intervention and low- level support, responding to risk and crisis management, and referral into specialist care. (Aronin & Smith, 2016)

QUB already has a robust Wellbeing Service, which offers students counselling sessions, the opportunity to speak to advisors, and emergency support. The library’s new collection acts as a compliment to this service. The non-academic focus of the collection – while the books cover topics relevant to student life, none of them are explicitly written for students – provides a dedicated and discrete space for students who may be reluctant to engage with the wider services on offer.

The Student Wellbeing Collection at Queen’s University Belfast (Photo: Emma Devlin)
 Similar collections have already been established in other academic institutions, some of which are part of the Reading Well programme, which “promotes the benefits of reading for health and wellbeing.” While QUB is unaffiliated with this programme, it is evidence of a growing trend among academic libraries to support this aspect of the student community. A comprehensive wellbeing service, such as that offered by Queen’s University Belfast, is only enhanced by offering a similar service.

In creating this collection, the Library goes beyond its function as a service offering material for academic use, and enhances the community feeling at the university. That is, a sense that we are there for students’ wellbeing as well as academically. We have always emphasised our approachability to students, and now that has been backed up by a concrete action. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and homesickness are common to new, and even postgraduate, students. I would hope that our collection can help to relieve those feelings, and establish a bridge between those students and the university community. I think this sentiment is best summed up by a quote from Small Pleasures (2016), a book which features in the new QUB Wellbeing Collection:

We’re haunted by the worry that no reasonable person could feel anything but derision or contempt for our problems. We fear to share them with our friends because we anticipate bewildered rejection. The book that understands is like an ideal parent or friend who makes it acceptable to suffer in the way we do. Our weirder sorrows – or enjoyments – are recast as valid parts of human experience, which can be met with sympathy and kindness. (p. 141).


Aronin, Scott & Matthew Smith, “One in four students suffer from mental health problems” YouGov (19 August 2016) Available at: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2016/08/09/quarter-britains-students-are-afflicted-mental-hea (Accessed: 18/4/2019)

chriskirklees “Not quite finished that book?”, Kirklees together (19 December 2018) Available at: https://kirkleestogether.co.uk/2018/12/19/not-quite-finished-that-book-our-libraries-are-stopping-fines-for-late-returns/ (Accessed: 18/4/2019).

The School of Life, “A Book that Understands You”, Small Pleasures: The School of Life, 2016

15 Aug 2019

CONUL Training & Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019

The winner is …

The 2019 CONUL Training & Development Library Assistant Award required entrants to submit a blog post on any library related topic.  Entrants could opt to blog about any aspect of their current work for example training activities they undertook; a development in their own library or an item in their library’s collection. The prize winners and other highly commended entries will be published shortly on Libfocus.

Award winners 2019:

1st Prize:Dabbling with the demonic:  Creating embedded learning experiences in the library by Emma Doran, Maynooth University.

2nd Prize:
The challenge of student engagement: a sloth’s perspective by Susan Murphy, TU Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus.

3rd Prize:
A fantastic photographic find: Countess de Markievicz by Saoirse Reynolds, NLI.

4th Place:
On the Road: Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Travelling Exhibition by Louise Walsworth-Bell, Maynooth University

Highly Commended Entries:

“Doing the Needful” -Language and cultural challenges in work at the Irish Social Science Data Archive by Ali Cox, UCD.

Emergency Response: Learning from Disaster by Sarah Graham, Maynooth University.

Health and Happiness: Wellbeing in Academic Libraries by Emma Devlin, Queens University Belfast.

About CONUL Training & Development
CONUL Training & Development seeks to provide co-operative training and staff development opportunities, which are in support of CONUL’s strategic objectives. These opportunities are identified by staff in member libraries, the CONUL Board and CONUL Sub-Committees & Groups.

5 Jul 2019

Accessibility and libraries.

Guest post by Elaine Chapman. Elaine is a library assistant working with the TU Dublin Library Service - City Campus. She is interested in the areas of accessibility for all and universal design. 

Following a recent presentation at the LAI/ CILIP annual conference, I was asked if I could write something for the Libfocus blog- yay! The theme that I had said I would run with here is accessibility, but I might have ‘diversified’ it a little bit! To me at least, improving accessibility and increasing diversity in our workforce go hand in hand.

At the conference I co-presented with my colleague, Sarah Anne Kennedy, the College Librarian for the College of Business, TU Dublin Library Services-City Campus. We presented a talk called “Nothing About Us Without Us- The benefits of hiring staff with a disability in libraries”.

The theme for the conference this year was Inclusive Libraries, and as an autistic member of library staff, I wanted to explore what it is that disabled people can do for libraries.

I would like to think that, these days, we all recognise that diversity is important. It’s how we grow as a society. However, many interpret that to just mean diversity of ethnicity. While that is hugely important, diversity of mind and of ability are also as important. When we say we want to embrace diversity, we should mean the full range of it, not just one specific aspect of it. Intersectionality is an increasing area of study, which examines how disadvantages caused by disability, race, sexuality, poverty, age, and gender are often not separate, but interwoven. That is to say that someone who is black, transgender and disabled is often more disadvantaged by society than someone who is white and cis gendered but still disabled. It’s only by employing staff across the range of diversity that we can come to understand the level and range of access barriers that many face when trying to access our services.

If we want to find ways to make our services more accessible, then areas of studies like this, and contacting community groups, are things that we need to be looking at, especially if we do not have staff who are from different minorities. If we don’t know what the issues are, we cannot fix them. For example, a poor student with a child, or a student who is a single parent may struggle to be able to access our services in academic libraries as they can’t find someone to mind the child. We don’t know of this unless we are in communication with them or their community. Queens University are a good example of a library that have come up with a solution to that, in that they have added a small children’s collection and allow parents to bring their children into study rooms. When people think of accessibility, they often just think of it in terms of disabled people. Accessibility is not, and should never be, just about improving our services and buildings for people with disabilities. It needs to take into account the needs of every single potential user. Can’t get in as academic libraries do not welcome children? The library is too hard on your senses? It has no place to rest or lay down if needed? Is too far away? Or you can’t access its online resources? These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of accessibility issues. Just as embracing diversity should mean embracing the full range of diversity, tackling accessibility should mean tackling all issues that prevent accessibility, no matter who it is that they impact.

I feel that, as a profession, there is a lot more that we can do to increase our accessibility. We can look at our job advertisements- do people really need ‘excellent’ communications skills for all library roles? Do all library assistants have to be able to shelve? Have your staff had training in how to work with disabled people? Is your building fully accessible? Have you ever performed a sensory or physical audit of the building to determine access barriers? I know that we cannot necessarily control all of these issues, but there are many that we can. And those that we can’t currently control? We fight for that to change.

In terms of accessibility, one recent example of my own relates to this years LAI/ CILIP joint conference. The combined exhibition and break room was a bit hellish for me at lunch/ break times! It was full of people going every different direction, extremely noisy, warm and quite bright, with no seats. I feel like having a designated Quiet Space in the conference area would have been of such benefit to people- these are not just for autistic people! On the first day I had to take a break from the ‘break room’ and go out to the gardens to get access to a quiet area, but due to preparing for my own talk on the second day, I did not get time to do this, hence the reason why having a Quiet Space as part of the conference area is preferable! Also, we are famously a profession of introverts, so giving everyone a space where they can quietly retreat or prepare for the next set of talks would be great! Ideally with dim lighting too. In addition, I feel like the exhibition area could have done with some seats for the lunch and break times. It was really difficult to find somewhere to stand and eat where you weren’t getting in people’s way, as well as just standing in a warm crowded room. Perhaps these can be things to think of for future events?

As was said in my presentation, we are an information profession, and the ability to meet changing information needs is something we have to continue to do. Recruiting disabled, black and minority ethnic staff better enables us to do this, as they can highlight communication issues that we were not aware of, and provide us with information that we were not aware of too. I feel that engaging such staff helps in our core responsibilities of making libraries help to promote equity, accessibility, and engagement in both the social and learning spheres. They can highlight changes that we need to make and barriers that we need to take down. This all depends on us being open and supporting enough to them to allow them to feel like they can safely speak up though.

In relation to working with disabled staff, training can allow for a better understanding of the struggles that disabled staff can face in some areas of work. Disability awareness training allows managers to better support their own staff and enables all staff to reach their full potential. Understanding potential limitations, whether it is knowledge and attitudes of other staff, or limitations from the disabilities themselves is key. Working towards this understanding is something that has been proven to be worthwhile as research shows that it gives us access to a larger talent pool, aids with retention of all staff, increases staff morale, and improves your image in the community.  In Ireland, disabled people make up 13% of the working age population, yet the public service quota, which is supposed to promote employment equality, is just 3%. I think employment is a service, and services should not be measured by quotas. I also think that there is an idea that employing a disabled person may place more burden on other staff, managers, and finances, when in fact most of this is not true. The training mentioned above helps to tackle how the needs of managers and other staff can be merged with the needs of disabled workers and there are grants available to cover many adjustments that are needed to make workplaces accessible.

In addition to this, the quota system is one that can be used against disabled people to some extent. I have been told by people working in HR in a part of the public sector to not say that I am disabled when applying for jobs with them, as if the quota is already filled they will not hire me. In addition to this, I have been advised by job coaches that they would “hesitate to tell a potential employer they are disabled”, ie don’t disclose your disability. I have likewise heard of black and Asian people in Ireland being told to “whiten” their names. Why? Employers pick the cream of the crop. What they don’t realise is that minorities can be the cream of the crop.

If you want to attract the cream of the crop, it has to be made clear what type of employer you are. If you are an equal opportunities employer, don’t hide that towards the end of the job advertisement- put it front and centre. Shout it from the rooftop! Include positive action statements in your candidate briefs. To give an example of one potential solution, TU Dublin have created a new employment slogan, “Recruiting difference; Reflecting diversity”, and it features on the first page of all job advertisements. It is one of the first things that people applying to us will see when they open the advertisement.

Diversifying our staff and improving our services should always be an aim. We should never settle and think that we have reached that goal, because then we become complacent. Employing disabled staff is just a cog in the wheel that is driving libraries towards the future, and that wheel should never stop.

26 Jun 2019

Review of Erasmus Staff Week 2019 in Bremen

By Kathryn Briggs, GMIT. 

The fifth Bremen Staff Week took place from May 6th to May 10th 2019. The Bremen universities jointly organised the Erasmus Staff Week focusing on experiences and challenges related to gender equality in academia with a distinct emphasis on women in STEM fields. In addition, the programme included a special stream for librarians on the topic “Future developments in libraries”. Both, the hosts and participants presented and shared best practice examples, ideas, and concepts, which were analysed and discussed in interactive workshops. The workshops took place on the individual campuses of the host universities in Bremen and Bremerhaven.

My colleague, Deirdre Geoghegan and I were very fortunate to be awarded a grant to visit Bremen as part of the Erasmus Mobility Programme. The Erasmus program supports further education and training by allowing staff of higher education institutions to acquire knowledge or know-how from experiences and good practices abroad as well as practical skills relevant for their current job and their professional development along with building cooperation between higher education institutions.

The Staff Week was such a rewarding professional experience as it provided an opportunity to gain knowledge of library practices from other countries, discussing and sharing ideas not only with the hosts but with fellow participants. It also allowed for many cultural and social activities which are enjoyable when visiting another country, from tours to scavenger hunts, dinners to an after-work party. The library stream included 12 participants (excluding the hosts) from Spain, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and the Ukraine.
Photos by author
Day 1 began at The House of Science (Haus der Wissenschaft) with mainstream and library stream participants joining together. The day included a keynote and welcome address along with a very interesting and informative panel discussion on “Breaking the ceiling: women in higher education”. The afternoon involved a scavenger hunt around the fabulous sights and landmarks of Bremen including the Town Hall, the Town Musicians and the Schnoor Quarter. The day concluded with a delicious dinner with the hosts at Beck’s restaurant, with prizes for the winners of the scavenger hunt and local chocolate for everyone else!
Photos by author
Day 2 of the library stream took us to the University of Bremen (Universität Bremen) where, after a very warm welcome and presentation on the Bremen State and University Library from the deputy chief library and head of user services, Claudia Bodem, all participants presented a poster on their country, city and library. Deirdre and I had no problem presenting and promoting Galway, Ireland and GMIT. After the poster presentations Claudia gave us an extensive tour of the library including the vast and very impressive storage areas. After the tour the committee organised individual meetings with affiliated library staff to discuss and exchange ideas regarding our position and interests; I met with Noemi Betancort in Digital Services/Research Data Management where we disused our library systems, discovery service, webpages and other practises.

The day continued with a presentation of rare books by Dr. Jan Ulrich Büttner, the collection at SuUB Bremen holds unique and valuable books dating back to 1660. The day concluded with an ‘After Work Party’ hosted by the very welcoming library staff, who went above and beyond preparing a vast selection of savoury and sweet traditional foods and choice of wines. The evening focused on networking and collaborating, we talked about changes in libraries and how we conduct our daily work. The hosts had organised games and quizzes based on the workings of their libraries; a wonderful end to an impressive day.
Photos by author
Day 3 took all participants on an organised bus tour to Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences (Hochschule Bremerhaven) The day commenced with an official welcome and presentation of the University by Prof. Dr. Gerhard Feldmeier, before the library stream took part in an interactive workshop on new directions in collection management followed by a tour of the branch library. This was a great opportunity to gain knowledge of practices from colleagues in the partner library and to discuss and share ideas on future developments of libraries, which was the topic of the library stream for the staff week. After lunch participants had the option of visiting the German Emigration Center or the Klimahaus Bremerhaven 8° Ost. I elected to visit the German Emigration Center which is Europe's largest museum about emigration. The interactive center showcases the history of German immigration in a stimulating and enlightening way. Other participants who visited the Klimahaus enjoyed discovering climate systems and climate change in the interactive museum. The day concluded with some free time to explore the port city of Bremerhaven.

I genuinely enjoyed and was enthused by the staff week. It was unfortunate that I could not engage in the full five days due to prior obligations. However, the experience is certainly one I will remember for a long time and I believe it will enrich my work. The participants on the library steam were a mixture of library staff, from directors to administrators, from several European countries and it was a pleasure to meet them all. I would highly recommend the Erasmus staff week for both personal and career development.  I have made new contacts to collaborate with and share ideas and now understand practices and procedures in German academic libraries. It was also interesting joining the mainstream participants; it was great to see people from different fields mixing and sharing ideas. I recommend that everyone explore the Erasmus staff mobility opportunities available to them.

With thanks to Erasmus+ for the opportunity to engage in the Bremen staff week by funding co-operations between higher education institutions across Europe. Special thanks to the organizing committee for such a great staff week, especially Kirsten Bergert and Manfred Nölte, organisers of the library stream. Everything was well-organized, informative and enjoyable, and it was a pleasure to be in such good company. Also, thanks to the International Office and Antje-Kathrine Nantcho at Hochschule Bremen.

Danke Bremen!
Posted on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Categories:

22 May 2019

Your Local Library: A space for Everyone (Library Services for homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers)

Libraries are for Everyone. (New York Public Libraries)
Guest post by Sheila Kelly. Sheila is a Divisional Librarian working in Dublin City Libraries. Through her work in branch libraries across the city,  she has developed a strong  professional commitment to equality and inclusion, and evidenced the impact of public libraries on marginalised and disadvantaged groups

Homelessness Services Background
The Dublin Homeless Region Executive, the authority responsible for housing in the Dublin region, provided me with contacts for hostels, hubs and hotels. These were mainly Development Managers who work for homeless charities such as Focus Ireland, Respond, Peter Mc Verry Trust, Dublin Simon, Depaul and the Salvation Army. I had the opportunity to visit some hubs and set in place a framework to ensure that homeless people had access to our library services. I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences.

People living in homeless accommodation are not a homogeneous group… homeless people are families and children.
Women’s homelessness and family homelessness is a new and devastating phenomenon. Children are being born into homeless accommodation; small and older children share rooms; young people have no study space and parents have no privacy. Parents must be in constant charge of their children and no visitors are allowed.

Many people, particularly fathers go to work from homeless accommodation.  During my visits and discussions, I came to realise that some accommodations had changes in service or development managers and were managed by a hotel manager solely. While this ensured adequate meals and good hygiene, these are far from what we would call ‘home’.

These are heart breaking scenarios and we had to set our parameters and focus on what is our remit – that is to provide a library service to everyone equally.

Thoughts on equity in library service provision 
Initially I identified hostels and hubs and linked them to local branch libraries. People living in the hubs were offered a block loan; advised of contact persons in the local library; library tours were arranged for Development Managers, individuals and families.  Focus Ireland’s Family Homeless Action Team Leaders were briefed on library services available for people accessing emergency accommodation.

And then I thought “that’s that..sorted” … until, through my visits and discussions I came to understand that hidden barriers existed for homeless people. We automatically assume educational and cultural barriers to library usage, but increasingly for homeless people the barriers are circumstantial and problems of loneliness, isolation and de-skilling prevail.

With the greatest respect for people’s privacy and confidentiality I learned that individuals living in homeless accommodations may lose life (home-making) skills- meals are arranged, rooms cleaned, financial and independent decision making opportunities are eradicated. However, individuals are expected to source suitable accommodation for themselves and their families.

In public libraries we say everyone is equally entitled to a free library service. We need to progress this to include the notion of equity- a notion involving fairness and impartiality. In an “equal” system everyone is given the same library service; in an “equitable” library service people are given the service based on the eradication of existing barriers and supporting individual’s needs.

Library Service: Our Aims and Focus
Our aim in Dublin City Libraries was to offer individuals and families living in supported temporary accommodation the opportunity to use our library services in the same way that everyone else does. Our focus was not that homelessness made people ‘different’- our philosophy is that homelessness makes no difference in our branch libraries. We sought to provide a robust, sustainable and easily resourced framework that would accommodate transient families, staff, and changes in homeless services provision.

In terms of equity in library service provision it became glaringly obvious that our membership rules, requiring proof of home address, were a distinct barrier for homeless people. We introduced easy membership, accepting different forms of proof e.g. letters form the Dublin Homeless Region Executive, Homeless Charities Development Managers, Hostel, Hotel or Hub managers etc.

Targeting Services
Hubs, hostels and hotels vary and some specific interventions were put in place. A library Open Day is planned for immigrant families who want to integrate in their community, kinder boxes were provided to two hubs, and we plan to lend tablets (particularly for library eResources) in the future. We offer one storytelling session to introduce the library if this can be made available in the hub.
We have collaborated with one local area partnership to deliver a specific Storytime project to encourage and help parents read to their children. This will take place in a hotel where families are particularly isolated.

We targeted two Integration centres- one already has links with the local library. The second one required a greater intervention. We designed and printed a leaflet inviting residents to join the library which included a map of how to walk to the library. These leaflets were placed under bedroom doors.

Hostels can be difficult to manage and reach as individuals may be isolated or have mental health difficulties. One hostel is successfully linked to one library and residents have joined up independently.  Management of hubs can be sporadic and dependent on the homeless charities involved. Various charities operate in diverse ways and even when Development Managers are assigned there is a quick turnover in staff.

We have to understand that hubs are not group homes- every bedroom door is a family’s front door. Privacy and respect are paramount so any performance indicators can only be anecdotal. We have clear anecdotal evidence from our branches that the numbers of homeless people using the service has increased noticeably.

Location is also problematic depending on hub and library locations and access to public transport.

It is a privilege to work on this project which I believe reflects the heartbeat of the profession of public librarianship. It allows us reach those who need us most- the newly arrived immigrant, the young teenager studying for Leaving Cert on a hotel bedroom floor, or the newly registered homeless father. There are serious complexities involved in reaching people in homeless accommodation and as always the development of good communication channels is paramount. We need to stop talking to ourselves! We need to promote our libraries using clear informal language. We need to simply say “you are welcome here” and loose the information overload. Once those (so) marginalised people come through our library doors we can be confident they will get the best service, the best welcome, the best sense of belonging as we vitalise our professional conduct, activate our public service equality ethos and reach those who need us most. To that end I would like to thank the wonderful Dublin City Libraries staff I work with, for their enthusiasm, professional commitment and excellence in service delivery. I am reminded of Maya Angelou who said:

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”

A bit like our libraries then….