30 Jun 2015


A few months ago, I added two ukuleles to my library’s circulating collection. They both got checked out within an hour and I haven’t seen them since. I don’t mean that they’ve been stolen or destroyed or lost. No, they’re so popular that when they’re returned to the library, they get checked out again almost immediately. Our ukuleles have been so popular, we had to add two more; now they’re gone too. If this continues, each of our ukuleles will circulate about 25 times per year. That’s huge. The average item in Massachusetts libraries circulates about 1.3 times annually. It may seem a little strange to borrow a ukulele from a library, but it is certainly popular.

And it’s not just ukuleles: you can also borrow telescopes, soil testers, stud finders, metal detectors, board games, cake pans, and pedometers, and I’m always on the lookout for other “unusuals” to add to the collection.

And it’s not just my library. A small but growing number of public libraries have added unusuals to their collections, and I’ve been encouraging more libraries to do the same. In October 2014, I presented a poster at the Small Libraries Forum showing that unusual items are affordable, impactful, and in keeping with the typical library mission. This past April, I gave a lightning talk at a technical services conference in which I argued that unusuals are easy to add to library collections. In October, I’ll be giving a 75-minute comprehensive presentation on unusual items at the New England Library Association annual conference. I’ll cover everything from acquisition to assessment.

One of the first questions I’ll cover is a simple one: why circulate unusual items?

Well, there are a number of perfectly good reasons. You can probably guess most of them:
  • Circulation
  • Cost
  • Patron feedback
  • Library mission

My favorite reason might not occur to you, though. I advocate circulating unusual items because they are a tangible representation of the future of libraries. Yes, libraries are changing, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s true that we’re not totally sure how to make ebooks work in a library setting, and yes, Netflix may be decreasing our DVD circulations somewhat, but haven’t you always wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument? Here, try one of ours.

It is crucial for our communities to be excited about the future of libraries, and I think the future of libraries is legitimately very exciting. Unusual items help give voice to that excitement.

If you’re thinking about adding unusual items to your library and have questions, please get in touch with me. I’d love to talk to you and help you get started

25 Jun 2015

Bear V Shark (...or Discovery platforms V Google Scholar)

This post has been prompted by many sources: my own experiences as both a teacher and a researcher; a keynote at the recent Lir Annual Seminar on Thinking the Unthinkable - Utrecht University Library's decision to drop their discovery service and rely on Google Scholar; articles like this which highlight that whilst Google Scholar may be lacking in authority it offers an attractively comprehensive index; and this one too, which finds "no significant performance difference between the two discovery services [Summon & EDS] and Google Scholar for known-item searches. However, Google Scholar outperformed [emphasis added] both discovery services for topical searches" (Ciccone & Vickery, 2015*).

I'm perhaps a little unusual as librarians go, in that I firmly consider myself a pragmatist. A lot of the time, I subscribe to the 'good enough' approach when it comes to searching for information - enough being the key word here (caveat: obviously this is in the context of the specific user's needs i.e. most people I see are not doing systematic reviews or PhD level research but studying to get a degree and a job in the real world). Most students don't need every article ever published; they need a reasonable selection and more importantly in my opinion, the ability and skills to filter,evaluate and use them. For the most part, our graduates will not go on to be academic researchers; they will become teachers, entrepreneurs, office workers, policy analysts, managers. They will leave our libraries behind, and with it, their access to subscription databases and content. Where can they look for information now?

Most of us would agree that discovery platforms are not ideal for detailed, systematic or comprehensive searching, but rather work best when used as a scoping or initial searching tool to inform further searching on specialist academic databases. Indeed this is where they excel - and the same goes for Google Scholar. Yes, the volume of results is overwhelming. You would never be able to look through them all, but that's really not the point. Moreover, most library discovery tools are exactly the same in this respect. GS is intuitive, it's simple, and it's associated with one of the biggest brand names in the world.  When linked to a library's subscription resources, it provides easy access to paid-for content, as well as a lot of openly available content that may not show up in a discovery service (repositories and hybrid journals for example, for more on the latter see here). Sure, library visibility may be lower on GS than with an in-house or rebranded discovery platform, but if we are relying solely on generic, widely available publisher content to demonstrate our value to our users, we probably won't last long anyway.

Discovery services do offer one big advantage over GS, that is, the inclusion and integration of the library's catalogue. However, our catalogues are still very useful tools in their own right, and sometimes people just want to see what books we have on the shelves without the noise and inconsistent metadata that discovery services can sometimes open up. There is also the obvious risk that libraries might potentially become very dependent on Google, who could simply remove their Scholar service overnight if they so wished. This possibility is extremely unlikely in the short term in my view, and in the long run, well...

For some libraries, especially smaller ones, using GS instead of a discovery product may free up valuable resources (both financial and human) to concentrate on other areas where we can create much more value for our users, such as developing our unique and distinctive collections, and focusing on the expertise that our staff can offer our users. We are always claiming our users want a "Google search experience". If this is true, why not give it to them?

*Ciccone, K., & Vickery, J. (2015). Summon, EBSCO Discovery Service, and Google Scholar: A Comparison of Search Performance Using User Queries. Evidence Based Library And Information Practice, 10(1), 34-49. Retrieved fromhttp://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/23845/17954

17 Jun 2015

Undertaking the Lead (Leadership Equality & Diversity) Programme

Guest post by Bernadette Mellon, MU Library 

The LEAD Programme was recently established by the IUA Equality network.  It’s an eLearning programme focusing on equality in higher education. The programme is being rolled out by the Human Resources (HR) Department at Maynooth University and is also available in other Irish universities. The HR Department asked the Library to do a pilot of the programme for the University. I was pleased to be part of the pilot group of eight.  I have some experience with online learning, having co-ordinated the National Disability Authority’s online elearning programme here a few years ago.  I wrote about that for An Leabharlann and for Sconul Focus.  I also presented two posters on the programme, which can be viewed online (1, 2).

The LEAD online programme is free of charge. Register online at: http://www.leadequalitynetwork.com/. The Programme is very clearly presented and easy to follow. There are five modules and it is estimated that completing all of these will take two to three hours

The five modules are:
  • Understanding diversity
  • What’s it got to do with you?
  • From compliance to commitment
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Dignity and Respect
It took me approximately two hours overall to complete the five modules. I found it very useful that I could dip in and out of the programme and didn’t have to finish it at one sitting. If you don’t login for a few weeks you will get an email reminder, which is automatically generated. The programme explains the nine areas covered by Irish Equality legislation.  It also links to the equality policies in each of the universities.  The programme combines interactive audio, vox pop scenarios, text and interactive questions, opinions from university staff countrywide as well as a text only option. There are quick fire question/answer sessions and an overall assessment when each module has been completed. Modules are very clearly laid out with a list of learning outcomes at the start and a series of assessment questions at the end. Nine out of thirteen questions need to be answered correctly to pass the course. The layout is very fresh and up to date. I found the ‘Opinions on Diversity’ section particularly informative and interesting as it contained personal thoughts of people from several cultures on what their idea of diversity was. Regardless of the words used to describe a person’s idea of equality and diversity it all comes down to the same thing acceptance and fairness.

After completing the programme I felt that I have a much better understanding and knowledge of what equality and diversity is. I feel that this will bring many things that will enhance me both professionally and privately; curiosity about different cultures, which can sometimes be lost during day to day life, awareness of gender equality, tolerance, empathy and a realisation never to pre-judge.
I would strongly recommend this course to everyone.

After successfully completing this excellent course it was a delight to print off my certificate of achievement.


bernadette.mellon [@] nuim.ie
Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 | Categories:

14 Jun 2015

Two useful librarian seminars in June

We had our second annual library seminar at DBS Library last Friday, which caused quite a stir on Twitter (great). Below are two free webinars that neatly weave themselves in as constructive follow-ups along some of the themes that we covered on the day.

Tuesday, 30th June, 14:30 – 15:15 GMT
There is a growing rift between those who believe the library's most fundamental purpose is to support and advance the goals of its host institution and those who believe the library's most important role is as an agent of progress and reform in the larger world of scholarly communication. Although these two areas of endeavour are not mutually exclusive, they are in competition for scarce resources and the choices made between them have serious implications at both the micro level (for the patrons and institutions served by each library) and the macro level (for members of the larger academic community).

The tension between these two worldviews is creating friction within librarianship itself: as tightening budgets increasingly force us to choose between worthy programs and projects, there is growing conflict between those whose choices reflect one worldview and those who hold to the other. How this conflict plays out over the next few years may have significant implications for the scholars who depend on libraries for access to research content and for the publishers and other vendors for whom libraries are a core customer base. (Provided by UKSG)

Wednesday, 17th June, 17:30 – 18:30 GMT
It’s easy to have some successes in our library’s social media efforts. Unfortunately, it’s even easier to fail. Whether it is how we begin in our social media efforts or how we focus on informing instead of engaging, many libraries have tasted the bitterness of failure. The good news is, we can learn from the mistakes and failures of others and not repeat their mistakes.

This fast-paced interactive and fun webinar program will show you (rather poignantly) how to improve your social media presence and your outcomes in connecting with your users.

We will include examples of failing and succeeding from the social media pages of many public and academic libraries. This program is appropriate for beginners and veterans in your library’s social media efforts. (Provided by Utha State Library)
Posted on Sunday, June 14, 2015 | Categories:

12 Jun 2015

Reflections on inaugural CONUL Conference

CONUL (Consortium of National University Libraries) held their inaugural conference in Athlone on the 3/4 June. The conference theme was Innovation and Evolution: Challenges and Opportunities for 21st Century Academic and Research Libraries.
The general consensus was that there was very much to learn from and enjoy in the very packed, very organised, programme. Word back from the 136 delegates was that it was an excellent event full of interesting talks, ideas, networking, and as LAI president Philip Cohen put it, buzz, excitement and great 'fun'.

What follows are personal reflections on #conulconf15 by two of the delegates.

Sarah Moore’s keynote delivered plenty to think about – not just in terms of how we support teaching and learning – but the place of libraries in higher education more generally. At times perhaps we fall victim to an “under the radarness”, whilst many of our users either over-simplify or over-complicate our role. This idea that we need to work on communicating our message, service, and value in a way that our users and other stakeholders can connect with and understand, resonated with a number of the other presentations throughout the conference: Josh Clark’s (UCD) discussion of the emerging and growing need for a dedicated Outreach unit within an academic library; Fiona Tuohy’s (MU) examples of engaging users and enhancing visibility using online tools; and Bernadette Gardiner and Emma Boyce’s experience of using a blog to showcase the work of MU Library as part of the quality review process. Mary Delaney’s (IT Carlow) presentation on exploring information literacy from outside the LIS lens also served as a reminder that sometimes people see our work in very different ways than we might. In this context, the way that we communicate our role to others becomes all the more critical.

The importance of becoming more visible at the ‘top table’ does not just have implications for how we package and sell our existing and traditional services however, but also for how we must adapt our skills and structures to changing times and needs. In many ways, we are are only at the beginning of this journey. Some of these emerging opportunities include the potential for both libraries and librarians to become involved in growing areas such as medical humanities as showcased by Jane Burns (RCSI); innovative uses of library space like those highlighted by Frank Brady and Lorna Dodd (MU),  Peter Dudley (DCU) and Karen Latimer (QUB); bringing the world of makerspaces inside the doors of the library (Connell Cunningham, NUIG); and the potential for using open access books in a sector still dominated by traditional publishing models (Aine Lynch, ITB). As we know however, change is the only constant in life, and libraries and librarians must continuously look towards new opportunities to partner with, and deliver value to, our users.

Prior to the conference the stream I was most looking forward to was Emerging Roles and Services.  Josh Clarke's talk on UCD's outreach team and programme was of particular interest to me. It was great to see a library investing in a dedicated outreach team to promote the library and the work it does. His talk contained much detailed advice for any other libraries looking to invest in such a team and programme.  I enjoyed Monica Crump's paper on the evolution of a reading list programme. It was an excellent overview of the benefits, the pitfalls and the lessons learned at NUI Galway.  Mary Delaney, IT Carlow, provided a theoretical underpinning for Information Literacy programmes and though IL in libraries is in no way a new or emerging role her slant looking at the democratisation of information and the creation of literate digital citizens in an information overloaded world is something that library staff should be more involved in.

The big surprise for me was how interesting I found the Unique and Distinctive Collections papers. Sinead Keogh, UL,  pointed out in her paper how important UDCs are to Irish academic libraries in an IRElised age when one library collection can be pretty much similar to another. It is UDCs that will help to distinguish one library collection from another. I loved how UL are using the Armstrong collection to engage can with the wider world. They are creating a soap opera that makes you want to come back every day. Cronan O Doibhlin, UCC, explored how many library UDCs are now moving away from the traditional types of collections to more outlier or counter cultural collections. Elaine Harrington looked at how UCC are engaging in programmes that encourage undergraduate - a non traditional UDC user - to use UDCs in the course of their undergrad studies. Catch them young was her suggestion.

The Assessment and Evaluation thread - Michelle Dalton, UCD, Peter Corrigan, Ronan Kennedy (both NUIG) provided essential insights into how we can gain more substantial feedback from our users on the services we provide than many of us currently do.

For somebody who has spent most of his library life working in Information Services and teaching undergraduates the Information Skills slot - Elaine Bean, MU, Jack Hyland, DCU and Brian Gillespie, DIT, did not disappoint. A good mix of case study and theory. (As an aside, Jack is my joint winner of Introduction of the day as he said a very cute hello to his two kids as they watched the live stream from home)

The Staffing our Services session was: (1) scary - Joseph Green, UCD, talked about how he tracks down web bots in a quest to see how many views of items on the UCD repository are actually by 'real' people, (2) inspiring - Jane Burns talked about medical humanities in the Digital world and how these two worlds can be joined (3) food for much further deeper discussion - Debra McCann, UCD, talked about the use of non core staff - Students - to provide core services.

The Research and Communications session provided an insight into how MU is now communicating with their users (Fiona Turley  - my joint winner of best introduction as she asked us to ignore the thumping noise in the background - her heart - as she spoke). It provided an insight into how MU uses blogging as a way to raise the profile of the services they provide and to enhance the Quality Review process (Bernadette Gardiner, Emma Boyce) and how two separate departments in UCD - UCD Research and UCD Library are collaborating (Michael Ladisch)

And to finish this overview of speakers I cannot leave out the keynotes Marshall Breeding and Sarah Moore or the pre dinner speaker Mary O Rourke.

And to sum up I have concur with Sarah Moore's call for library staff to crash 'the party' and make ourselves visible at the top table. I would take it further and say we need to make ourselves visible at every table in the place. We need to be more vocal and loud about what we do. This conference showed that we do much great work, instigate exciting projects and provide an essential service to all our stakeholders. We need to be more vocal about it!!!

Plenary sessions talks will soon be posted on the Conul Conference YouTube Channel
Presentations will soon be available on Slideshare

8 Jun 2015

HSLG 2015 Conference, (Athlone 14/15 May) Joint Report

This is a joint report of the recent HSLG 2015 Conference recently held in Athlone. It is written by Delegate and speaker Maura Flynn and Elaine Harrington who followed the event on Twitter.
The idea for the #blogoff came from an exchange on Twitter. We were happy to oblige...

Maura Flynn - (Health Sciences Librarian at UCC Library)

Day 1 featured parallel day long CPD sessions, featuring critical appraisal training and secondly presentation, communication and management skill training.  I opted for the former, which was delivered by Mala Mann, Cardiff University.  Mala has considerable experience of undertaking systematic reviews and evidence syntheses projects.  I have written an overview of my thoughts on Day 1 for HINT.
The walls were graced with posters on a variety of topics from Louise Farragher, Bennery Rickard, Mairea Nelson, Diarmuid Stokes and Niamh O’Sullivan.  Unfortunately I could not attend the AGM or Conference Dinner but I’d love to hear about both in the comments from those who attended.  
Day 2 began with a presentation by Dr. Sara Burke, a health policy analyst, journalist and broadcaster.  Sara provided a very informative presentation about the current healthcare situation, policy commitments versus delivered improvements, sustainability, equity of access and financial considerations.  She highlighted the fact that some of our practices, for example, charging for Primary Health Care and Emergency Department visits, do not happen elsewhere in Europe.  In spite of equity issues, Sara argues that there have been some improvements recently, such as quality improvements in some areas, from the National Clinical Programmes, reduced drug costs etc.  However significant challenges remain and Sara suggests that the current crisis is largely due to bad decisions made and good decisions not made.  Sara also spoke about the work of Richard Corbridge, the HSE’s Chief Information Officer and recommended Richard’s blog.  Interestingly Sara said also that she wasn’t aware of Health Science Librarians before being invited to speak at the conference, so again this emphasises the need for increasing visibility of Health Science Librarians!
Next up was Jane Burns, from RCSI, who spoke about transferrable skills of Librarians into Research Environments.  Jane’s presentation was very inspiring as she shared her own insights about transitioning between roles using a framework called RITE:

Jane Burns, HSLG 2015 slide from presentation:  Evolution or Extinction Transferable Skills of Librarians in Research Environments

Jane showed the interconnectedness of these skills and shared how she moved into a research-based role with self-directed upskilling.    
Next up was Diarmuid Stokes, who explored the evolution of subject support in UCD Library, from 1997 to date, using a variety of different content management systems, including terminal 4 and LibGuides.  In 2011 UCD Library removed such guides, but subsequently reinstated and effectively reinvented them using LibGuides.  
Next up was Anne O’Byrne who provided a history of the National Document Supply Co-Operative amongst Healthcare Libraries.  Commencing in 1982 as a communication forum, it progressed in 1991 to form the Irish Healthcare Libraries Inter-Lending Co-Operative, a non-profit document supply service. Anne acknowledged the contributions of many past Co-Operative members.  Current constraints include a loss of members and holdings, due to staff shortages, changes to copyright and licensing.  Anne highlights the importance of retaining the goodwill and motivation which underpinned the Co-Operative despite the challenging current environment.
Laura Rooney-Ferris gave the next presentation about developing a workshop with a Clinical Psychologist on social media and grief.  Laura shared some of the theory behind this concept, which was fascinating. The workshop was developed to make professionals aware of how social media platforms can be used by the bereaved and the pros and cons of same and finally to encourage them to evaluate social media usage in this context.
I delivered the final presentation before lunch about my experience contributing to reviews in multidisciplinary teams within UCC.  My presentation focussed primarily on lessons learned. 
After lunch, a fiesty debate took place entitled: Health Librarianship: The Dodo or the Phoenix.  I can’t accurately summarise all of the excellent arguments made by both teams, but some points that stood out for me were:
·       Many “information” roles are now becoming ICT roles, with the Chief Information Officer post was a central example, as this is an ICT role.
·       We need to become more research orientated to achieve increased credibility and recognition.
·       Roles are being “diluted”, for example one debater’s role strongly involves communication and web management.
·       The question was posed as to whether we would be replaced if we left/took extended leave.
·       A New England Journal of Medicine article from 2005 about Medical Libraries in 2015 was mentioned.  It highlights the important role that Libraries play in providing high quality healthcare, education and research.
·       We need to talk to non-librarians about what we do!
Well done to Louise, Niamh, Katherine, Gerry, Laura, Caroline who all debated so brilliantly!  A fascinating discussion ensued moderated by Diarmuid and a tie vote resulted.  The poster prize went to a very deserving Niamh O’Sullivan, who has very kindly agreed to share it.

Courtesy of Niamh O'Sullivan
Thanks to all HSLG committee members and organisers for a great two days and lots of inspiration, great ideas and networking opportunities and here’s looking forward to HSLG 2016!

Elaine Harrington  - (Special Collections Librarian UCC Library)

On Following a Conference Via Twitter

I’m used to following conferences via Twitter e.g. #ALA15 but such conferences tend to relate to special collections, digitisation, library trends or emerging technologies. What would happen when I followed conference tweets for #hslg2015? My previous forays into health sciences have been brief: 18 months working as a student help on the combined floor of science, engineering and medicine in 2001 - 2002 in the Boole Library and six months working in Boston Health Sciences Library in 2012. It barely scratches the surface of the material that’s available and the terminology that’s used.

I logged onto Twitter on Thursday evening and prepared to speed through the tweets. I’d already viewed the programme and I knew that there were some presentations that I was more interested in as I felt they might contain material that would be more applicable to all areas of libraries. Others I felt were too specific to the health sciences and therefore of less interest to me.

However I felt somewhat daunted from the offset. One of the first tweets I saw was a Maura Flynn tweet on abbreviations used in systematic reviews.

It reminded me of chemistry symbols but whereas I still remember what H2O is, these were completely unknown. As I read more of these particular tweets I realised how it must be for students starting out in any area. Despite our best efforts or best of intentions we can become blase rather easily about our individual areas and forget what the base level is for new students or new staff in a particular area. Note to self: be more forgiving of what others don’t know about Special Collections.

As I read more of the tweets I wondered how many other non-health specialists were reading these tweets. I was reading them but who else? I looked at who commented on the various tweets and mostly they were people in the health sciences. While it’s good to have discussion with our peers and moreover as we don’t have to explain basic terminology to them, are we creating echo chambers? This too was discussed in the aftermath of #conulconf15.

However what did I learn specifically from the #hslg2015 tweets?

  • Publishing more means more visibility for what we do.
  • Time for CPD is limited - do what you are interested in.

  • If you can learn it, you can transfer it.
  • Identify what key points you can take away and implement from every conference or CPD you attend.

  • The future depends on what you do today.

  • Having a bio prepared at all times as you never know when you will need one.


  • Get academics behind your innovations & they will encourage students to us
  • Can use Libguides to promote an event or a special collection.


  • The only way to make a great presentation is preparation, preparation.
  • All of these points are valuable and worth saying repeatedly.

It was clear from the tweets that the conversations delegates had with each other at the breaks weren’t documented. Therefore full awareness of what happens at a conference isn’t possible. However attending a conference virtually is still worthwhile as it leads to greater shared understanding. What about those confusing symbols? Did I get an answer? Ask and librarians help!

Plus I have an invite to #hslg2016!

The presentations for the event can be found here