Parenting skills that help me be a better librarian

31 10 2014

I’ve just returned to work following my second maternity leave, having spent the past 10 months at home with a baby and toddler.  Being able to sit on a chair (as opposed to the floor) and enjoy a hot cup of tea (as opposed to a luke warm offering) in relative peace is still a novelty.  To some it might seem that maternity leave is a break in your career; valuable time out of the workplace that is lost forever.  I’d argue that being a parent, and spending time at home with small children, has actually helped me to develop skills that I’m going to find invaluable in my library career.



I thought I was pretty good at multitasking, but managing with two small children on my own at home has taken this TO ANOTHER LEVEL.  I spend my mornings picking dried Weetabix out of the carpet, while trying to stop the crawling baby dunking himself head first into the dog’s water dish, keeping one eye on the 3 year old who is shouting “Watch this, Mummy!” as he hurtles off the sofa onto a pile of cushions.  If I can do this, I can get through all those outstanding emails, a dozen literature searches and a page-long ‘to-do’ list no problem.


Not taking myself too seriously

Yesterday my toddler announced, “Mummy, I’ll be Thomas and you be the Fat Controller” (thanks for that), and we embarked on a very detailed and serious role play scenario, me using my most authentic and well-practised Fat Controller’s voice (it’s taken months to perfect).  Other times we’ll have a moment of frenetic dancing around the living room, the toddler shouting out instructions: “Clap your hands! Kick your legs! Higher, Mummy!”  Singing ridiculous songs at playgroup and having a ‘funny faces’ competition is a good reminder that a bit of silliness and fun is sometimes necessary to help you through the day.


Thinking on my feet

I have never had to field so many awkward questions, and be so creative in my responses to irrational demands as I have since living with a 3 year old.  “Mummy, what does donkey poo look like?”. “Mummy, I want Rice Krispies, I want Rice Krispies!” [Mummy brings Rice Krispies] “No, I don’t want that!”.  “Mummy, I want to go to Father Christmas’ house NOWWWWWWWW!”.  Responding to such unreasonable requests makes those difficult questions at the end of a work presentation seem a breeze.



Being a fulltime working parent means I have to be super organised.  Each month a family rota details childcare arrangements; meals are batch cooked and frozen until needed; clothes are laid out the night before.  A never-ending ‘to-do’ list constantly floats around in my head.  Attention to detail is essential (toddler likes the striped bowl and the orange spoon), and the chaos of life means that minor details and useless facts have to be plucked from my memory instantly (that one needs more work).  All of which is great practice for organising my workload, writing accurate reports and remembering names in meetings (that one definitely needs more work).


Social media

You thought librarians were good at social media?  Mums (and dads) are at it too.  Facebook allows me to join all sorts of parenting groups to converse with like-minded parents, and I can ask random parenting questions on Twitter (“Can you freeze cheese sandwiches?”) and know that another parent, somewhere in cyberspace, will know the answer (Yes, you can, by the way.  And tuna sandwiches too).  I’ve even joined an online slow cooker group for people who love slow cookers, in an effort to be a more accomplished and organised parent.  Good grief.  And there are any number of mummy bloggers out there recounting their parenting failures and accomplishments to reassure you that you’re not alone.  So even while on maternity leave I was on Twitter every day to help me solve life’s little problems, and was connecting with an online community that’s just as active as the library and information world.



My parenting experience so far has been a continuous cycle of What? So what? Now what? (Driscoll, 2007); it’s a constant learning experience.  Dealing with the illogical and hectic behaviour of small people requires a very steep learning curve.  Every day I’m required to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what I’ll do differently next time, in order to navigate my way through the chaos of modern family life and answer some of those big questions: How do I remove baby’s clothing most effectively following a nappy explosion?   How many towels are required to dry the bathroom floor following bathtime?  What is the best way to diffuse a toddler tantrum in the middle of Tesco car park?  With reflection as a daily custom at home, I can ensure that I apply those skills in the workplace too, and endeavour to learn continuously from both positive and negative experiences.


Time out of work has given me the opportunity to grow and develop personally, which will hopefully have positive implications for my professional life too.  So while I may have been away from the library, I’ve been continuing to gain experience in a wide range of useful skills that will equip me for the next chapter of my career.



Driscoll, J. (2007) Practising Clinical Supervision: A Reflective Approach for Healthcare Professionals. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Bailliere Tindall Elsevier.


The uniqueness of health librarianship

8 04 2013

Health librarians are unique ‘Identity’

I’ve always been conscious of the huge variety of roles there are in the library sector.  My skills and experience as a health librarian are so different to someone who has worked their entire career in, say, public libraries.

Two speakers at a recent LIHNN Clinical Librarians Group meeting made it even more apparent to me how unique health information is, and how our skills as health librarians have to be specialised accordingly.

First of all, Jon Brassey (@JRBtrip), founder of the TRIP database, satisfied the inner geek in all of us by giving an overview of how the database started and his ideas for future development.  Secondly, Emma Thompson, Business and Management Librarian at Liverpool University, gave us a glimpse of information beyond health, into the equally specialised world of business information.

Jon explained how TRIP started out as one enormous spreadsheet before it was developed into a web interface. Jon asserts that clinical journals do not do a very good job of providing answers for busy clinicians.  He says that “having poor content makes it harder for the clinician to find what they want”.  In developing TRIP he hoped to make it easier for clinicians to ‘find evidence fast’.

He considers TRIP’s success to be in part due to the fact that he listens to users and takes on board their suggestions.  Some parts of TRIP, including the PICO search, were developed as a direct result of user feedback.

What is the future of TRIP?  Jon is working to produce a database of Randomised Control Trials taken from data in Pubmed and Mendeley.  He also wants to try to introduce links to institutional journal holdings where available.  He is in talks with Dynamed to link to their content when a user has a Dynamed subscription, and he wants to develop a case reports section that links into the Biomed Central case reports database.  He is also tentatively exploring the concept of transforming some areas of TRIP into an ‘answer engine’, so that when you’ve put your search terms in you get a bottom line answer rather than a list of results.

Jon is exploring other ways to fund TRIP and one suggestion is a ‘freemium’ version of TRIP, where you get a basic version for free but then have to pay for additional features.  He’s looking for suggestions from librarians about what features might be included in a freemium version.  I was really impressed by how open Jon was to incorporating suggestions from TRIP users and his passion for the wider sharing of information was clear.  I use TRIP a lot in day-to-day searching, and I am particularly interested in how Jon is exploring the ‘answer engine’ concept since a lot of my searching is to answer questions for direct patient care.  I think that incorporating content from Dynamed and UpToDate would be a good first step.

In health we are used the debate surrounding open access research, so it was fascinating to hear next from a librarian working in the world of business, where a different attitude is adopted.

Emma Thompson (@libraryemma) is a Business and Management Librarian at Liverpool University.  She delivers library services to business and management students, and other subjects including economics and accounting.

In her day-to-day role, it is unusual for her to do a structured search, as we might do.  Her searches are usually free text using buzz words and phrases, and there is no structured vocabulary like we have in health.  Questions that she might be asked to answer are, How many companies develop widgets in Hungary? and What is the market share of L’Oreal in the UK?

In health we are accustomed to training our users to consider the quality of information; searching for “cure for cancer” would retrieve vastly different results if you searched in Medline rather than Google.  In business information, it seems, there is no hierarchy of evidence; practitioners recognise good quality business information by how relevant it is to their needs (though if something features in the Harvard Business Review it is considered better quality).

What became apparent early on during Emma’s talk is that most good business sources are not free!  A couple of free ones that she suggested are Zanran (good for figures) and Duedil (useful companies information).  She also recommended the British Library Management and Business Studies portal which is aimed at entrepreneurs.  She suggested Bized for business studies resources aimed at A level students.  Case studies are the main type of information that she searches for in business.  The Times 100 Business Case Studies is great for case studies and is free.

Following Emma’s talk, business librarianship is looking more attractive to me.  The specialised nature of it is really appealing, and I love that you have to be creative in the way that you search for information.  Although there is not the same sharing culture in business that there is in healthcare, business librarians have an active Business Librarians Association network, so it seems a librarian is always a librarian, wherever they are.

Thing 21: Promoting yourself

14 11 2012

Creating a list of what I enjoy doing is actually much more difficult than I thought it was going to be.  If I wrote this list once a year I’m sure it would be different every time, according to what I’ve been doing at that time and how my skills and knowledge have broadened into new areas.

So, at the moment, the things that I really enjoy doing…

1. Organising things.  I love taking something chaotic and untamed and putting it into some order, whether that be ideas or words.  I get a lot of satisfaction from planning events and projects and thrashing out new ideas.  There’s nothing more satisfying to me than completing a list, plan or mindmap.  For every holiday I’ve ever been on I’ve devised a rota and have to make sure I have a selection of maps.  I admit it, I’m a geek.

2. Innovation.  My head is often turned by new and exciting things, and I love the thought of doing something that no-one else is doing.  I like to be at the front of developments at work and find that incredibly motivating.  I’m a  recent Twitter convert which is perfect for keeping me abreast of new ideas and professional developments. 

3. Writing.  I’ve always enjoyed turning ideas into words, and whether it’s a report for work, a reflective piece for my blog or an article for a newsletter, I really love trying to express myself and communicate to an audience using words.  And I adore reading too.. these days with an 18 month old son curling up with a good book is a rare indulgence.

4. Being around people.  I always thought that I was a shy person (and I was), but now that I’ve grown in confidence I’m finding that I get a huge amount of satisfaction and enjoyment from being with others.  I enjoy helping customers to find information, I love working alongside other professionals on projects and I get a real buzz when I talk to someone on the same wavelength as me who shares my ideas and passions.  I’ve grown to enjoy networking rather than seeing it as a necessary evil.  At home, my weekends are always spent catching up with family and friends, it’s happy time.

5. Running.  Ok, I don’t do much of this in work (obviously!), but outside of work it’s the only form of exercise that I’ve ever really found an affinity with.  I run with my dog and sometimes with other people, and it always feels like a real accomplishment when I finish a run.  It’s true that you get a buzz from running.  I feel sluggish and lethargic when I’m not running.

The things I really dislike doing…

1. Lack of human contact.  I could never work from home or work alone.  Being without human contact all day puts me in a bad mood and makes me withdraw even more into myself.  The endless days I spent revising alone in my bedroom as a teenager make me shudder.

2. Numbers.  I really can’t get over this one.  Anytime that I have to work with numbers, be it statistics, maths, finance…gah.  The very thought makes me feel nauseous.  My brain just doesn’t seem to work that way.

3. Not doing a proper job.  I get really frustrated when I haven’t completed something to the best of my ability due to lack of time or preparation.  I really come down hard on myself about it.  Last minute changes make me panic.  I also find it incredibly difficult to work with people who don’t pay attention to detail. Bad grammar and punctuation is a pet hate of mine.

This has been really interesting, it seems ridiculous that I’ve never actually stopped to think about what I enjoy doing and what I dislike.   I can’t believe I’ve never done it before.  And the final result is… I’m a geek, perfectionist and control freak!  Gah.

I’ve just completed an annotated CV for my Chartership submission, but I’m going to look at it again and see if I can include anything that’s more skills based.

I’ve not had many interviews, but the one thing I have always found really useful is to practice answering questions with a family member or friend prior to the interview.  You can get a rough idea of what questions will come up by examining the person specification.  I’ve sometimes used the book Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions for sample questions.

As someone who has been on an interview panel several times, I would say that you can definitely tell when someone has prepared or not.  The really impressive candidates are those who have done research into the role and some of the surrounding issues.  Also, don’t worry too much about being nervous.  A good candidate always shines despite nerves.

Running reflections

2 11 2012

I’ve always described running as my ‘therapy’. It helps me clear my head, sort through my thoughts and gives me down time. Since returning to work 6 months ago after having my son I’ve struggled to make time to run and I’ve really noticed the change. I’ve felt more stressed and lethargic. So, I’ve entered the Liverpool Santa Dash (that I’ve run for the past four years) which has given me an incentive to start running again. It’s only 5k so manageable, and its a fun run so I’ll be raising money for charity too.

Last night I ran home from work. It’s about 4 miles and I managed it in 40 minutes which I was pleased with. What was interesting about running immediately after work was that the time on my own, with no other distractions, allowed me to re-run the day’s events in my mind, decide what had gone well and what I hadn’t managed to achieve. I also prepared a mental to-do list for the following day. This was a real achievement for me, since usually I get home to a tired and boisterous toddler, and the day’s events are quickly forgotten while I try to tidy up or sort tea out.

I’m definitely going to run home again. As well as helping me to get fit, it will help me to find some valuable reflection time. Which, since I’m planning to submit my chartership portfolio by the end of the year, is much needed!

Thing 16: Advocacy, getting published and speaking up for the profession

2 10 2012

Advocacy is so important for health libraries because there’s such a low level awareness about what we do, inside the health service as well as amongst the general public.  People are always surprised when I tell them what I do, and often people misunderstand and think that I wheel around a trolley of Mills and Boon for inpatients in the hospital.  I am really passionate about the value of library and knowledge staff within the NHS and I certainly consider advocacy to be part of my role (even though it’s not in my job description). I consider it a professional duty!

The advocacy that I’ve been involved in has mainly been through work -I’ve spoken at non-library conferences and found people to be intrigued about the role of a Clinical Librarian.  I’ve also published an article in a renal medicine journal about a project that I developed with the renal unit in the hospital.  But come to think of it, these activities have all been within healthcare – perhaps I should be pushing the boundaries and advocating to a wider audience, i.e. the general public.

I like to think that I do this (to some extent) via Twitter – as well as an active professional network I do have non-library followers too.

I also see an opportunity to advocate on behalf of other library sectors – for example, my son (16 months) and I used the local library a lot during my maternity leave, to go to Baby Bounce and Rhyme sessions and meet other mums.  His Nan still takes him a couple of times a week and he borrows books (even completing his Summer Reading Challenge!).  I feel strongly about the value of my local public library in the community so maybe I should be advocating on their behalf, as a fellow librarian and user of the service. 

So two tasks for me:1)  identify ways to advocate health libraries to the wider general public (any suggestions welcome?!) and 2) write a letter to my local paper advocating the value of my local public library.

Thing 9: Evernote, ever-blocked by IT dept

5 07 2012

I would love to crack on with Thing 9, but as it stands my IT department have decided to block the Evernote website.  So this will remain ‘parked’ until I have time to have a look at home.  This probably won’t be for a while since I have a lively toddler to go home to every night and once he’s in bed I’m pretty much done for the day.  Gah.

Thing 5: Living a reflective life

8 06 2012

I’ve been working towards Chartership for the past two years so I feel like I’ve been in a reflective haze for most of that time.  At first I found that I had to force myself to reflect and that the “What? So what? Now what?”  mantra was necessary to stop me from digressing.  Further down the line it does come more naturally to me, but I do think I still have to work at being a reflective practitioner – it’s so easy for work / family / real life to take over.  I found that writing my reflective learning log (via PBWorks) makes me take a necessary pause for breath.  Often I think, “Right, I’ve got 10 minutes so I’ll just write a quick log entry”, then I find that 2 hours later I’m still typing!  It’s a bit like professional therapy for me.

One unnerving side effect that I have noticed is how wearing a reflective hat can overflow into my personal life; I’ll sometimes find myself likening children’s TV shows to professional development (I watch a lot of CBeebies – well, my son does).  Does anyone else find this?  Once you’ve activated the reflective switch it’s hard to turn it off!