CILIP Conference 2015

13 07 2015

I have produced a storify of my learning and reflections on CILIP Conference 2015.


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.

Up-selling the library service offer: Supporting health care staff undertaking systematic reviews

1 11 2013

Recently  I was approached by a doctor asking for helping searching The Cochrane Library.  It emerged during our discussions that he was undertaking a systematic review and was constructing a search strategy.  Having attended an excellent training session delivered by Michelle Maden, exploring how health libraries can support those health care staff undertaking systematic reviews, I was able to recognise this as an opportunity to ‘up-sell’ the services that the library can offer.

I offered to advise on his search strategy, and to also signpost him to additional databases that he could include.  He seemed enthused by these suggestions, and we arranged a two hour appointment for later in the week.

On delving back into the handouts and notes that I’d taken during Michelle’s session, I was able to pull together an information pack for the doctor ahead of our meeting.  In this I included copies of the South Central Literature Search Protocol to provide support for the search strategy, PRISMA statement to provide guidance on writing up the systematic review, and an example search protocol and strategy.

Having attended Michelle’s session, I was able to recognise that the library can offer support for staff undertaking systematic reviews in many ways, including:

  • Offering literature searching support, undertaking assisted searches and ‘checking’ searches
  • Help with defining the topic, search considerations, e.g. inclusion of English language studies
  • Advice on basic methodology, good/bad practice, advice on sources
  • Support with navigating resources, exporting results from HDAS and other databases
  • Help with developing a search protocol
  • Quality assessment (critical appraisal) of included studies
  • Help with searching for grey literature
  • Explaining what is a systematic review, what it involves, helping people understand the process
  • Help with managing references (using software such as Refworks, EndNote, Reference Manager, or FREE Mendeley, Zotero)
  • Support with managing documentation (wikis, e.g. PBWorks, online document storage, e.g. DropBox)
  • Help researchers to register the systematic review protocol on a national database (Prospero)

During my one-to-one session with the doctor, we revisited his search strategy and I was able to make some suggestions about how it might be tightened up.  We also visited The Cochrane Library, which he had been told about but had never really searched, and we tried out his search strategy in Embase.

This was a really good opportunity for me to put into practise some of the skills and knowledge I’d gained from attending Michelle’s training session.  A lot of the ‘hints and tips’ that I picked up were invaluable – I was able to offer advice on how to prepare a search protocol, make suggestions for sources of grey literature and advise on registering on the PROSPERO database.  Having undertaken a systematic review myself a couple of years ago, and following Michelle’s training, I felt much more confident to make these suggestions authoritatively.

It is a different experience to have first contact with a new library customer coming at it from a research point of view.  I found I was able to promote a lot of our services to him, but with a slightly different slant.  For example, he joined the library after I told him that membership would allow him 24 hour access to the library facilities, including IT, printing and photocopying (handy for those research all-nighters and weekend work!).  He was also particularly interested in the functionality of NHS databases to export references as an RIS file, which would allow him to import his results into his reference management software.  The main thing that was of interest to him was the wide range of sources available to him.  I was able to highlight how many different sources a systematic review should cover, and I was able to suggest several that were new to him.

I found the whole session really enjoyable and it was a much different ‘user education’ experience to those standard literature searches that we deal with every day.  It challenged me to promote the library with a different slant and hopefully I was able to tailor the service provided to the unique requirements of a researcher.  It left me with even more of an appreciation that when I’m approached to help someone with a search, it’s always worth finding out more about the purpose of their search.  Knowing that your requester is undertaking a systematic review allows you to ‘up-sell’ the services that the library can offer, and provide a more valuable customer experience.


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 23: What next?

20 11 2012

Flickr CC, ‘olympic finish’ by ronky

Phew!  At one point I thought I was never going to get here!  I’ve finally finished 23 Things and I am so pleased.  With the pressures of my day job and a hectic family life there were times that I considered abandoning the programme, but the value and learning that I knew I’d get spurred me on.

I’d summarise 23 Things as “stuff I wish I’d known earlier”.  I can’t emphasise enough how useful this programme would have been to me 1-2 years ago when I was starting out on Chartership.  However, it’s better late than never, as they say, and I’m looking forward to where my CPD journey might take me next.

I have a Personal Development Plan as part of my Chartership submission, but I’m definitely going to revisit it in the light of 23 Things.  As suggested I’ve undertaken a personal SWOT analysis to examine my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in terms of my career.  It’s been illuminating.  It’s forced me to take a much wider view of my CPD and look at my future career, rather than just my current role.  It’s also helped me to recognise my own unique skills in my role and identify ways in which I might grab career opportunities to deal with some of my weaknesses.  In doing the SWOT analysis I found this Personal SWOT analysis from Mindtools really useful.

In reflecting on what I’ve gained from 23 Things, I’d say it’s had the following impact on me professionally:

I am now an avid Twitter user.  I find it incredibly useful for online professional networking and keeping abreast of the latest developments in my areas of interest.

I am now blogging regularly.  Previously I was using a private wiki to record my reflective learning.  Now I share those reflections, ideas and thoughts with the online community via this blog.

I feel confident that I’m up to speed with new technologies.  I have just started using Prezi for a training event I am delivering at work, and I feel comfortable to deal with engaging in discussions about the best free software for referencing or creating podcasts.

I now adopt a ‘whole career’ approach to my CPD, rather than just thinking about how I will develop in my current role.  I feel much more self-aware and comfortable acknowledging my weaknesses as well as celebrating my strengths.

Overall, it’s been a fantastic way for me to learn, reflect and develop.  I shall be encouraging colleagues to join in for the next 23 Things!

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.

Lessons from a training guru

9 11 2012

Yesterday I attended a course on how to critically appraise medical research studies.  Part of my role is to train doctors, nurses and other staff on how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of research so I was hopeful that I’d pick up some useful ideas.  I’d also been told that the doctor running the course was an international guru on critical appraisal so my expectations were high!

The course was brilliant.  Critical appraisal is quite a difficult subject to teach because there’s a lot of theory involved.  The trainer approached this in a really creative way.  There was over 50 people on the course, and we were in a lecture theatre so there was no room to break up into small groups.  Each person had a workbook and a digital handset.  Periodically, the trainer would make us answer some questions in our workbook, then share our answers with the room by ‘voting’ using our digital handsets (in the style of ‘Ask the Audience’ in Who Wants to be a Millionaire).  It was a really effective way of checking learning as we went along and it also made sure you paid attention because you knew that a question would be coming up soon.  There wasn’t that fear of exposure that you feel if you have to speak in front of a large group; it felt ‘safe’ to take a guess at a question even if you gave a wrong answer. 

The trainer also used a lot of practical examples and anecdotes to illustrate the ideas behind the theory.  For example, the Hawthorne effect is a term to describe how patients often change their behaviour when they are being observed in a trial.  The effect is named after a ‘Mr Hawthorne’ who was a factory boss who one day had to move offices.  He set up his desk temporarily on the shop floor.  During this period, productivity in the factory went through the roof!  Small examples like that are the ones that stick in my head, so I can draw some inspiration from this approach for my own training.

I felt fairly comfortable with most of the session content, except for the part of the afternoon that covered interpreting medical statistics.  I’ve always struggled with maths and in the past whenever numbers have come up in a training session, a mental wall appeared and I completely glazed over.  I seem to need longer to take in the information than everyone else!  I really tried so hard to concentrate, but unfortunately the same thing happened.  I got myself completely lost during the exercises and felt really stupid when other people around me were having no trouble at all working out Number Needed to Treat (NNT) and Absolute Risk Reduction (ARR) calculations.  Gah!  The more stupid I felt, the less I concentrated and by the end I had stopped listening altogether.  I was really disappointed.  I knew that this was a weak area of mine and I hadn’t been able to overcome my usualt reaction.  I don’t feel that statistics are something I’ll ever be able to train other people on, if I can’t even understand the numbers myself!

Statistics aside, it was a thoroughly interesting day and I came away with some really useful ideas on how to make my own training more appealing to participants.  I also extended my knowledge in a range of areas, and will feel much more confident with the subject next time I’m delivering training.  I’m already planning my next session…