27 May 2014

HSLG Annual Conference 2014: Synergy: skills, standards and collaboration among health librarians (Day Two)

Guest post by Caroline Rowan, Assistant Librarian, UL

Day one of the conference is reviewed in this post

Day 2 of the HSLG conference started with the AGM and this was followed by the first speaker, Anne Madden, St Vincent’s Hospital presenting on Ranganathan’s rules, their importance today and their relationship to the core competencies for health librarians.  She argued that there are lots of librarians who have stepped outside the traditional roles, by e.g. attending grand rounds etc and noted that there is a history of librarians re-inventing themselves and what they do.  Anne highlighted a very simple way of measuring and proving the financial value of your library:

a) Number of articles requested                                                                               
b) Total cost of full price
c) Total cost through library services 
Savings = b-c

This could also be done on a departmental basis to demonstrate value to each individual unit. 

Next speaker up was Diarmuid Stokes from UCD who took us through a quick interactive demonstration of bibliographic reference management tools EndNote and Zotero. Diarmuid found that involvement on Zotero groups has helped raise his profile with researchers as it offers the opportunity to connect with academics who might not otherwise be aware of his existence.  He gave some useful tips on adding and deleting citations on EndNote and the importance of using the Edit Citation tool.  He also pointed out that if you are sending material to a publisher, you need to remove the EndNote coding from it before you send it as it interferes with the desktop publishing software.
Laura Rooney Ferris from the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) spoke about her journey from a traditional library role to becoming an embedded librarian and her focus on breaking the mental association between the library and books.  Within IHF she did this by highlighting that the library was a multi-channel service involved in:

  •  Harvesting and receipt of information
  • Analysing and processing of information
  • Distributing and disseminating information
One of the most useful things I took from Laura’s talk was that she waits until all of the other departments have done their strategic plan for the year and then has a meeting with the senior management team to discuss what she can do to support key projects. With this information she then structures her own plan. This allows her to highlight areas for collaborative work and also allows her to specify what she will and won’t get involved with allowing her to manage expectations and deliverables.  

The last speaker of the day was Maedhbh Murphy, Archivist at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) who started her presentation with a clip of Penny Dreadful to illustrate that the medical instruments used in the trailer were those from the RCSI Heritage Collections. The RCSI Heritage collections encompass organic items (a baby orang-utan), historical records, photographs, patient casebooks, medical instruments, books, CDs, USB sticks and cassette recordings and consequently offers not only the opportunity to support students, researchers and academics but also to film companies, media etc (centenary celebrations). Maedhbh works closely with the librarians in the Mercer Library and finds the collaboration to be significantly beneficial for researchers and academics.  

There were some really fascinating and insightful presentations at the conference and I have only touched on them here. Keep an eye on www.hslg.ie for the slides so you can have a fuller picture. In the meantime, for anyone considering a career in health science libraries, whether you are a student, a recent graduate, or looking to change the library sector you work in, I would very much recommend attending a HSLG conference. It’s invaluable.

26 May 2014

HSLG Annual Conference 2014: Synergy: skills, standards and collaboration among health librarians

Guest Post by Caroline Rowan, Assistant Librarian, UL.

Last year I attended the Health Sciences Library Group conference as an MLIS student still trying to figure out what type of librarian I wanted to be. This year, I’m still figuring that out but, having worked in a medical library and now working in an academic library, I’m feeling a lot more clued in to the options which are out there. This year’s conference (on 22&23 May) was also my first time presenting at a library conference.

Brian Galvin, Chairperson of the HSLG, opened the conference noting that it has been a difficult 5 or 6 years for health librarians. He went on to say that the implementation of SHELLI will provide us all with challenges and that the success of the HSLG over the last has been due to the dedication and hard work of its committees, working groups and active members. He then announced that in 2017, the HSLG will be hosting the International Congress of Medical Librarians in 2017, so that’s an event we should all be putting in our diaries now!

The Speakers

The first speaker up was Eli Harriss from the Bodleian Health Care Libraries, who talked to us about the outreach programme which she and her team operate in Oxford. Outreach is an essential part of the Oxford library services, in particular because the physical library is located (a small distance) away from the hospital so it can be hard to generate library awareness in the healthcare staff. Outreach includes attendance on ward rounds, at case meetings, running a Transplant, Renal and Urology blog and the Oxford Radiation Oncology blog, searching clinical trials, emails to new doctors to introduce the library and its services, the library website, posters, email alerts for new resources and many other items.

Next up was Dr. Kathleen MacLellan, Director of Clinical Effectiveness with the Department of Health. Her presentation was on the National Clinical Effectiveness Committee (NCEC) whose mission is to provide a framework for the quality assurance and endorsement of national clinical guidelines and audit which can then be endorsed by the Minister for Health. She opened her presentation by saying “We love librarians. We see you as key and critical to our clinical effectiveness agenda” which generated requests for support for librarians later in the session.

The development of national clinical guidelines is intended to improve safety and quality across healthcare services in Ireland by reducing variability and improving the quality of patient care decisions. Kathleen was keen to stress that the focus is on doing it right and not necessarily copying from other previously used guidelines. Consequently it can take up to 2 years to develop robust guidelines. Kathleen acknowledged that the provision of evidence (in the form of research studies) to support the development of clinical guidelines has been instrumental in the confidence which consultants have in the guidelines which are being developed. She noted that there would be new contract jobs advertised over the coming days, so all job-hunting librarians should keep any eye out for those!

After the coffee break, Anne Murphy and Jean McMahon from Tallaght Hospital and Niamh Lucey from St. Vincent’s Hospital updated us on SHELLI, noting that the recommendation relating to librarians promoting their services was fully addressed and that the focus now is on the evidence recommendations (Read the full SHELLI report here). The tasks now ahead include:

  • Developing a toolkit for collecting evidence of the value of health libraries 
  • Developing a system to analyse and interpret this data to extract meaning on a national scale.
  • Encouraging, supporting and empowering health librarians to review their effectiveness. 
  • Creating a working group to promote the use of the toolkit and offer training, mentorship and other methods of support. 
  • Creating a database of case studies of successful projects which demonstrates how information professionals have made a positive impact on their organisations.
Bennery Rickard, a Regional Librarian with the Health Service Executive (HSE) was the first speaker after lunch, talking to us about work planning not just for our individual selves, but as a collaborative tool. Bennery highlighted that planning enhances collaboration because planning is about motivating people to get things done.

Other benefits of work planning include that it:

  • Defines the work and provides a framework 
  • Clarifies what is expected of you, how you are expected to complete it and by when 
  • Provides a basis to discuss progress and barriers 
  • Facilitates shared problem solving 
  • Aids governance and decision making 
  • Provides the opportunity to give and receive feedback 
  • Aids record-keeping (particularly important when trying to provide evidence of what you have done during a particular time period).
Then it was my turn. I was presenting with my colleague Aislinn Conway, on a feedback survey which I had created and implemented in November 2013 (in University Hospital Limerick) as well as the responses to it, including the quality improvement programme currently being run by Aislinn. The 492 survey responses I received detailed problems ranging from a lack of awareness of the library’s existence, to misconceptions around who could use it, to a lack of use of the library’s online resources. In response I developed a back-to-basics newsletter which highlighted the library’s existence, provided hyperlinks to key resources and provided explicit instruction on registering for Athens access. I also developed a Frequently Asked Questions factsheet for incoming HSE Mid-West staff inductions. In addition, I negotiated sponsorship from Elsevier for a new feedback survey on the latest resource purchased for the library (Elsevier’s ClinicalKey). Lastly, I drafted a report on the feedback survey for the Library Management Group which I also furnished to Aislinn who was the incoming librarian for the library. Aislinn then spoke about the transitional state of the library, her quality improvement programme and the SQUIRE guidelines which she is using to drive it. She also spoke about the experiential ClinicalKey survey we had created in April 2014 and its results. She then detailed the training plan which she has developed in response to the November 2013 survey. The training plan starts with basic library skills and progresses through systematic reviews to evidence-informed practice sessions which are something Aislinn has extensive experience with.

We had a quick break and then the lightning presentations began, with Joanne Callinan as the first speaker. Joanne spoke about the need for a checklist for literacy friendly healthcare settings, noting that literacy affects every aspect of daily living – listening, speaking, reading, writing and numeracy. According to the National Adult Literacy Agency, 25% of the Irish population experience difficulty with everyday reading material e.g. following instructions on everyday medicine. This is something which needs to be particularly recognised with health information as different settings required a different set of literacy skills. Health information can be difficult to comprehend and difficult to access and use at the best of time, but in addition, emotions can impact ability to understand. Therefore patient information leaflets, signage etc all need to be written in a manner which facilitates maximum understanding.

Niamh Lucey was next up talking about her personal experience of two massive open online courses which she had completed. The first was in Health Technology Assessment via ScHARR, University of Sheffield. It was very intensive and useful but took up a lot of time. The course recommended 3-4 hours a week, but Niamh felt it required quite a lot more to support the learning. The second course she completed was Foundations of Psychology. Hosted by Open2Study, it consisted of a series of YouTube videos and then multiple choice questions. Niamh noted that the benefits of MOOCs include learning at your own pace and at your own convenience, but she emphasised that you must be very interested in the subject and make time for it!

Sarah Kennedy, Royal College of Physicians in Ireland and Kate McCarthy, Digital Repository of Ireland spoke about their capstone project which was on General Practitioners’ Information Seeking Behaviour: An Irish Perspective. Their results showed, amongst other things, that 65% of respondents never used a library! Sarah and Kate proposed an information literacy sales strategy which included highlighting the benefit of librarians in:

  • Saving GPs time
  • Providing instruction on the best types of technology to quickly access information 
  • Identifying scenarios for using libraries and library resources to support GPs in their daily work.
 They hope to publish a paper on their project so keep an eye out for this.

Day Two of the Conference will be reviewed in a forthcoming post.

20 May 2014

What have Reading Lists ever done for us?

Guest post by Gary Brewerton, Middleware & Library Systems Team Manager at Loughborough University

While preparing my talk for the upcoming annual seminar of Dublin Business School Library, I found myself thinking about the benefits that reading lists can bring to an institution.

For a student, reading lists are an invaluable support in their studies. Reading lists can suggest alternative explanations for difficult to understand concepts. They can provide more examples than can be fitted into a lecture and reference additional information sources for both those struggling to understand the subject and those seeking to go beyond the bounds of the taught course, in their aim of getting a first! A well cited reading list can also be a time saver to students when searching for materials. This is especially true for an online reading list which can link through to the student’s local library holdings to easily check for availability.

Oh yeah, they support students. That’s true.

Reading lists are also important for libraries, as they can be used to identify gaps in their collections and make the most effective use of their budgets. Reading lists can help to ascertain when additional copies of particular texts are required and equally as important, indicate when material is no longer required (perhaps by withdrawing it to make room for material in higher demand). Access to reading list also makes it easier for library staff to best advise students on their reading and gain awareness of newer editions of recommended works.

Well yes obviously they support libraries… libraries go without saying. But apart from students and libraries…

Book shops and suppliers! Even with the move to online acquisition and electronic formats they can greatly benefit from the information on reading lists to determine both current and future student demand.

All right… all right… but apart from supporting students, libraries, book shops what have they done for us?

They can help academics. Good reading lists, that support students, mean that less one-to-one time is taken up going over lectures and tutorials and can be more constructively used in directing and motivating them. A well maintained reading list can also keep the library, bookshop, head of department and senior management off your back. They also come in very handy for any course accreditations that occur as they demonstrate a clear partnership between academic and librarian in support of students. And finally a reading list may be an invaluable resource for an academic when they have to take over another academic’s teaching.

What!? Oh … shut up!

16 May 2014

Digital Curation #1

This is the first one in a series of posts reflecting on the current UCL course on digital curation. It runs for eight weeks and offers an interactive introduction to the ideas and activities around digital curation. I will also share some resources dug up by the course organiser, participants and myself as I go along.

To start with, it is sensible to ask yourself what digital curation means. Even though the concept is relatively new it finds application in practically all contexts where the terms ‘digital library’ and 'digital stuff' pop up.

William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition hits the nail on the head with his higher order ideas in reflection of digital curation as a complex activity (check this video at 0.42 and 3.10). Importantly, he also considers the consequences if this activity is not conducted effectively (see video at 3.10).

So what then is digital curation? There are many and varied perceptions out there. A singular and all-encompassing definition does not exist. The DDC for example defines digital curation as ‘maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle’. It’s well worth your while to check out their circular curation lifecycle model (located here). It neatly describes the core ingredients of what is, essentially, a complex and multi-layered process with the devil being hidden in the detail.

The what-does-digital-curation-mean-to-me discussion on one of the course forums offers some interesting takes on the subject. More questions are raised as opposed to definitive answers provided. Personal and institutional contexts offer interesting insights here. Below is a selection of ideas that caught my eye.
  • Curating records is linked closely to the process of appraising records following specific criteria (provenance, content, condition, potential use etc.) 
  • Digital curation is an essentially collaborative process
  • The digital curator supports machines to provide technical interpretation
  • DC are technical and interpretive actions including storage, access, interpretation, and/or dissemination of digital content within organised units of information
  • To digitise or not to digitise, that is the question!
  • I’d be more interested in knowing who is behind the interpretation (institution/group/individual etc.)
A recent and most interesting LoC blog post raises the point that the popular treatment of the term ‘curation’ has, literally, gone nuts.

My take on this mix is that the key challenges in digital curation rest not so much on the technical plane. The technical aspect is of course important but can be carefully considered from the outset and monitored once the lifecycle process kicks in. Instead, the selection/appraisal process of source materials is what hugely complicates the process. What is, indeed, ‘worthy’ of selection for lifecycle treatment, and consequently open for continuous, public (democratic) consumption in the first place? In that sense, I’m in line with Hirji’s take on the quandary of digital curation: the role of the professional curator making the ultimate judgement as to what is worth keeping and preserving is a very powerful one indeed.

Some follow-up resources:
Timeline: Digital Technology and Preservation (forms part of the Digital Preservation Management: Implementing Short-Term Strategies for Long-Term Solutions, online tutorial developed for the Digital Preservation Management workshop, developed and maintained by Cornell University Library, 2003-2006; extended and maintained by ICPSR, 2007-2012; and now extended and maintained by MIT Libraries, 2012-on)
Digital Curation (The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of development and recent focus on digital curation and ties it to larger cyberinfrastructure initiatives.)

12 May 2014

Understanding and Managing Rare Books (University of Dundee) Course Report

In this guest post, Audrey Kinch from NUIM Library reflects on some of the positives and challenges of completing an online CPD course by distance-learning through the University of Dundee.

Guest post by Audrey Kinch (@Auds_Kinch), Special Collections, NUI Maynooth Library

I have been working as a Library Assistant at the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) for six years. Initially I was part of the desk team. I completed the NUI Maynooth ‘Return to Learning’ Fetac level 5 certificate course in 2012. The ‘Return to Learning’ course is a foundation course offered by the NUI Maynooth Adult Education department for people considering returning to learning, who have not studied in a formal way for a number of years. Topics covered included motivation and goals, reading skills, note taking and writing skills. The skills I developed on the ‘Return to Learning’ course gave me the confidence to consider doing further study and to think about how I would like my library career to develop.

In 2012 I took up the post of Library Assistant, the Russell Library and Special Collections. This was a very new and exciting area for me and I was keen to learn as much as possible about rare books. I attended a few short courses but a year into the job, I felt I would benefit from a more in-depth course. This report tells about the certificate course in rare books which I completed online over one semester from the University of Dundee in 2013/2014. I applied to the Centre for Archives and Information Studies (CAIS), University of Dundee for the online ‘Understanding and Managing Rare Books’ course in May 2013. I commenced the course on the 16th of September. The following report provides an overview of my experience.

The Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS):
CAIS is part of the School of Humanities at the University of Dundee. The centre offers short Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses and Masters and PhD programmes in Archives, Records Management, Information Rights and Digital Preservation. The courses are accredited by the Archives and Records Association in the UK and Ireland.

Single Courses for Continuing Professional Development (CPD):
CAIS provides distance-learning programmes and courses for information professionals and local historians. While many of the courses are at postgraduate level, some individual modules are available at non-graduate level as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses. These CPD courses deliver core skills and theories in particular areas and are available as online part-time courses. The module I undertook was “Understanding and Managing Rare Books” There was no requirement to travel to Dundee for the module.

Understanding and Managing Rare Books
This is a 15-week, single module of a postgraduate programme, which open to non-graduates. The module is written by librarians and is aimed at librarians, library assistants, archivists, museum curators, volunteers and other information professionals.

The module has four parts:
1. What is a Rare Book?
2. Cataloguing and Provenance
3. Collections Management
4. Access and Promotion

Items covered include the history of rare books, book production in the hand-press era, book bindings, cataloguing, bibliographical descriptions, managing collections, providing customer service, developing access and promotional policies. Students are provided with a reading list and also a study pack of chapters from selected books.

Expected Outcomes for Participants:
Upon completing the module students should:
  • be familiar with the definitions and issues surrounding rare books and their management
  • understand and be able to prepare detailed bibliographical descriptions of printed books
  • develop a knowledge of access issues, surrogates and remote access, awareness and exploitation of collections, exhibitions and displays and web presentation issues
  • understand and implement measures relating to collection management and collection development
My Continuing Professional Development Course Experience:
The NUI Maynooth Library supported my application to attend the course. The recommended study time for the course was 15 hours per week and some weeks required more study time to facilitate core reading and submission dates for tasks. I was allowed three hours per week study time during working hours, for the duration of the course (15 weeks). We had some of the recommended readings for the module in the Library and that was helpful. I found the course challenging, stimulating and informative. It provided me with formal training and knowledge in the area of rare books and early printed materials. The course also assisted me on a practical level as part of my role is delivering tours to groups in the Russell Library and this will aid me to deliver a more informed service to students and researchers. I also found that having already done the NUI Maynooth “Return to Learning” Course was very useful as a precursor to doing this course.

Course materials included a reading list and study pack. I was also able to contribute to an online discussion forum and submit tasks online to the tutor. I received ongoing support from the tutor and also received lots of documentation which I found very helpful for example guidance on how to write a report and how to write an essay and I also received a checklist for assignments and useful study tips. Four other library assistants and librarians from Ireland and the U.K. undertook the module with me.

Throughout the course we were required to submit seven assessed tasks on a bi-weekly basis. Some of the tasks were completed as individual assignments and others were submitted to the online discussion board. The tasks included an essay on the subject of the history of print, the design of a reading room leaflet with guidelines for readers, to describe bibliographical and hand bindings descriptions and to generate a theme with three sub-themes for an exhibition, choose relevant exhibits with design panels and labels. At the end of the course, I had to submit two final assignments. The first was an 1,800 word report on the key issues involved in managing a collection of 5,000 Seventeenth and Eighteenth century books and the second a 2,500 word essay entitled “Discuss if rare book librarians are required to have an understanding of the history of books as material objects including the processes by which they are created to carry out their duties effectively.” On completion of the course, I received a certificate from CAIS. If I were to pursue a Masters Degree from Dundee University in the future, the credits from this module would count towards the degree. The course results and certificate of completion were posted to me approximately eight weeks after completing the course.

‘Understanding and Managing Rare Books’ is a course of direct relevance for those working in Special Collections and particularly for anyone working with early printed books. I enjoyed the experience of distance learning. It gave me the flexibility of studying in different locations and to manage my study time. I followed the course material online and I also printed a PDF copy of each module. For the majority of the course, I applied the recommended 15 hours study time per week and if an unexpected situation arose, I made up the time over the following week. We were also encouraged to advise our tutors in advance if we had challenges meeting task deadlines or if we had any queries at all. I stayed in contact with my tutors during the course, in my experience they were always receptive to questions and constantly supportive throughout the module.

Special Collections Librarian Barbara McCormack thought this course was a wonderful opportunity: “The ‘Understanding and Managing Rare Books’ course at the University of Dundee is a fantastic introduction to rare book librarianship. It provides an excellent overview of the key concepts and standards involved in the management, preservation and processing of rare materials. The fact that the course is delivered online means that it does not impact on service cover, which is very important for a small team such as ours.”

CAIS Application Process and Contact Details:
Interested applicants are required to complete an application form and submit a 300 word personal statement. The cost (as of 2013) was €1,025.00.
E-mail: armtraining@dundee.ac.uk or
Web: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/cais/cais-contact.htm
The next CPD courses begin on the 12th May and 15th of September 2014.

Anyone interested in finding out more about my experiences should e-mail me at: audrey dot kinch [at] nuim.ie

9 May 2014

Teaching for understanding -- insights from a student and teacher

Guest post by Maura Flynn, Nursing & Midwifery Librarian at UCC

In my role in University College Cork, I was recently both a student and a teacher (of sorts).  I recently undertook a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning within Ionad Bairre in UCC.  I contribute to classes within the College of Medicine and Health and more specifically the School of Nursing and Midwifery. I would like to share some thoughts about this course.

I would highly recommend this particularly course or indeed any teacher training course to Library and Information professionals who are involved in teaching and training. This course is multidisciplinary and provides a wonderful insight into the universal challenges of teaching and indeed learning. For example, I am not alone in wondering at times if it’s better to try to cover everything that I had hoped to in a class or to try to reduce the amount of content being delivered in an attempt to ensure student learning and understanding. I now feel that such quandaries are universally felt on occasion and that using particular approaches may be helpful in this regard, namely the framework of Teaching for Understanding (TfU).

The TfU framework developed by Gardner, Perkins and Perrone within the Harvard Graduate School of Education is briefly outlined here. This approach is based upon a “performance view of understanding” and involves actively seeking evidence of student understanding and application of same in new ways. Indeed teaching information literacy skills lends itself very well to such a theoretical approach as we can often facilitate active learning by demonstrating use of a particular resource and then giving the students the opportunity to practice same to determine evidence of their understanding.

This framework provides something of a formula for success for the teacher, namely the integration of generative topics, understanding goals, performances of understanding and on-going assessment. For example, consider again my internal conflict of a desire to teach all of the material prepared for a particular class when evidence that all students fully understand the material presented is not present (but the desire to move on while rationalising it with a statement of: “we have a lot to cover” is very much present!). The TfU encourages us to focus upon generative topics which are of central importance within a discipline so instead of trying to teach everything that you would like to within a particular class that you choose the most important topics, which are fundamental to knowledge acquisition in this area.

Examples of this construct within information literacy might be the appropriate use of Boolean Operators or assessing the validity and credibility of information before using same. This approach suggests devoting time to the essential components rather than trying to cover everything within a particular class. There is of course scope to provide the other material in a follow-up class, but if this is not possible within the constraints of student timetabling you could also provide materials to support self-directed learning, such as tutorials via the virtual learning environment (VLE) or simply via email.

In addition to performances of understanding, the framework highlights three other key concepts: generative topics, understanding goals and on-going assessment. For teachers, attention to each of these aspects of instruction helps ensure that they will be focusing their time and energy on helping students to learn about those concepts, ideas, and skills that are most important to understand. For the students, this approach to teaching and learning can help to provide clarity of purpose and regular feedback.

The premise here is that the students will have a good foundation of understanding, enabling them to apply their knowledge and skills flexibly in a variety of situations. In my own experience, being in a position where students experience hands on practice of using library resources during the sessions is very useful and provides me with some evidence of their understanding. If the students are willing to do some self-directed practice the building blocks for a deep and flexible understanding will hopefully be in place. Saying that while I find the TfU framework helpful in rationalising (and indeed rationing) the content I prepare for an individual class, I still find this approach very challenging! Accordingly, I sometimes use email or VLE follow-up to reinforce or raise specific points after the actual class.

Ultimately TfU is a very comprehensive framework and considering the TfU components can help one to determine if students grasp a well-rounded, in-depth understanding of a subject area, as opposed to simply a surface understanding, are also incredibly useful and thought-provoking.

I hope to share some other reflections from the course with you in a couple of forthcoming posts and look forward to hearing your own insights in this area.

Further details of the course are available here:  http://www.ucc.ie/en/ckb02/

Harvard Graduate School of Education (2014) Project Zero: Teaching for Understanding. Available at: http://www.pz.gse.harvard.edu/teaching_for_understanding.php. Accessed on 1st April 2014.
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2014 | Categories: ,

5 May 2014

Fundamentals for the Academic Liaison (Review) by Richard Moniz, Jo Henry and Joe Eschleman

As somebody relatively new to the liaison role in an academic library myself, I was attracted to this title for obvious reasons. In this respect, the book is very much true to its title in promising “fundamentals”, and presents a practical, nuts and bolts overview of most aspects of the role of a liaison librarian.

However, at times I feel that the content and coverage of the book is perhaps too “fundamental”, with the risk that readers may outgrow it quickly. The checklist approach that is used throughou, simplifies and distils aspects of the role into key tasks or activities, which will likely be of value to somebody very new to the area. On occasion however, I feel it borders on ‘stating the obvious’ - are separate checklists of real-time and virtual-time communication channels really necessary for instance? The sequencing of some of the chapters could also have been tweaked a little – in particular, the placement of Communication with Faculty after Subject Expertise reads a little out of logical order in my view, as in many ways subject knowledge can be partly acquired as a direct result of building relationships and interacting with academic staff. Similarly, I feel it may have been more fitting to position the Online Tutorials chapter after Teaching Information Literacy rather than much earlier on, as I would consider designing learning objects to be part of the overall instructional role.

The chapter on Information Literacy also suffers from the aforementioned problem of being overly basic in my view, with nearly three pages discussing the ACRL definition and standards (I wonder why these were chosen over say SCONUL Seven Pillars or other models? More discussion on this for example would have been welcome). These are concepts that should already be very familiar to anyone who has completed an MLIS - even if they may be very new to a liaison role. It is also a little database-heavy and perhaps too ‘traditional’ in terms of the teaching content that is discussed. That said, there are still some useful tips included, such as the value that can be gleaned from observing an experienced colleague or peer teaching a class, and the idea that less can be more when it comes to teaching IL. The Library Guides chapter primarily discusses LibGuides which may or may not be useful, depending on whether your institution has access to the product (there is really only a single page devoted to open source alternatives). As a Libguides user myself however, I found the section on inventive uses did provide some interesting ideas and inspiration.

As somebody getting to grips with the role of a liaison librarian, I would have preferred more discussion of the evolving nature of the role – how it has changed and where liaison librarians might position themselves in the future. For instance, there is little mention of topics such as open access, data management and bibliometrics and the implications thereof. A deeper analysis of the challenges, threats and opportunities would also have been welcome. Indeed one of the most useful chapters - Faculty Assistance - does allude to some of these issues, including the move away from the traditional collection development role and issues surrounding the status of librarians, but largely it feels as though the discussion is only skimming the surface.

At times, I feel the book paints an overly traditional picture of the role, which does not necessarily reflect the disparate and diverse nature of liaison roles across institutions and indeed countries today. Unfortunately I feel most liaison librarians would probably quickly outgrow the text, instead opting for more specialised texts on teaching, management or communications. However, as an introductory text that promises the “fundamentals”, I am probably being overly critical to expect a more wide-ranging and comprehensive treatment.

Fundamentals for the Academic Liaison is published by Facet, April 2014

1 May 2014

MLS is neither a necessary nor sufficient indicator of "librarian-ness".

This post on 'librarian-ness' is essentially a series of questions around the topic of the role of the MLS in relation to 'librarian-ness'. It is a series of questions to which I don't have any definitive answers to. I'm hoping some of you reading this might.

Last month Chris Bourg, started a brief discussion on Twitter about the importance of the MLS to the Library profession. The tweet that started it was:
Though the discussion didn't last very long and didn't go as far I would have liked it did raise familiar feelings, thoughts and questions I have any time the issue or the importance of the MLS comes up in conversation. It brought on Confusion & Conflict - for me it raises plenty of questions. And never provides very many clearly defined answers.

I cannot decide whether the MLS and its importance to the Library Profession is a good thing.
Or is it a bad thing?
Or is it both?
Is it a necessary thing for you to be a librarian?
Is having it sufficient for you to be a librarian?
Does it damage our profession?
Or without it would our profession be damaged?

I ask myself and cannot definitively answer - do you really need a library qualification 'to be' a librarian?
Why not?
And why do we put so much store in this qualification if it, as Bourg bluntly states, is neither a necessity or sufficient indicator of 'librarian-ness'?
Or is Chris Bourg wrong?
Is MLS indeed a necessary and sufficient indicator of "librarian-ness"?

I also ask myself am I actually a better librarian for having my library qualification?
Are my hard working colleagues who do not have a qualification, some who have years of experience over me, any less a 'librarian' than me?
Why should they, as is the practice in many if not all libraries, be disqualified from applying for 'professional' posts when they arise?
Or should anybody be able to apply for professional library posts?
Should a person with years of managerial experience, but no library experience, be able to apply for a professional library post safe in the knowledge that they have a chance of being hired?

Does the MLS create and perpetuate a glass ceiling? A financial glass ceiling. Is it a creator of an Us and a Them?
Does it create a glass ceiling based on money and not on merit? [If such a glass ceiling can exist? Or are we in oxymoron territory?]

Objectively, does a piece of paper I gained after three years of distance learning elevate me above people who don't have this piece of paper?
How? Why?
Does this piece of paper confer librarian-ness on you?
On me?
Are librarians who qualified, say 25 or 30 years ago, necessarily better qualified to run a library of today: a library most likely very different to that in which they qualified all those years ago?
Does somebody who has just completed their MLS but never worked in a library have the indicators of 'librarian-ness'?

Would somebody who doesn't have an MLS and hasn't worked in a library before be able to manage a library team and run a library well?
If yes, what does this say about our profession?

And further:
What are those necessary indicators of 'librarian-ness' that Chris mentions?
Do we all know in the abstract what they are?
And do library schools teach these?
And can they be taught?
Those of you recently qualified - were you thought these traits?
Or did you have them in you before you did your course?

In the eyes of many the MLS does matter - very much. I saw this at a discussion after this paper by Elaine Bean at the 2011 INULS conference. I found it interesting to see so many 'professional' qualified librarians get very uncomfortable listening to the paper and the comments and questions and discussion after it.
Why should we get so uncomfortable?

And with that I should perhaps stop asking questions but before then I ask just a few more:
Any answers?
You agree?
You disagree?
Any comment?