Knowledge Exchange Week at the University of Edinburgh

June has been a busy month. On return from a holiday in the Highlands, I was straight into the University of Edinburgh’s Knowledge Exchange Week (KEW).

Shelf signage at New College Library

It was a whirlwind week of presentations, tours and hands-on activities (Conservation was a lot of fun). The majority of participants were from European universities, attending with Erasmus staff mobility funding. Three of us were from the University of Edinburgh, all in different roles.

I was impressed with the level of organisation and the enthusiasm of those involved. Being new to the University of Edinburgh, it was a valuable opportunity to learn more about the Library, University collections, and how my role fits into the whole.

Open by default, wherever possible

A theme, for me, that ran through the week, was openness. This particularly came across in the presentations about projects, with examples of using digitisation and open licences to widen access. For example, the images on are CC-BY by default. Likewise, staff on the Theses digitisation project are adding links on Wikipedia pages of notable authors of the 27,000 PhD theses being digitised – for example, Arthur Conan Doye’s MD thesis.

The University of Edinburgh is a member of the IIIF (The International Image Interoperability Framework), working collaboratively to enable wider access to its image collection. And these are just a few of the examples. You can probably tell by the lack of real detail here, this isn’t my area of expertise. However, it’s so valuable to know these resources are available to researchers, academics and students that I support.

Tea for fourteen or so librarians

International profession

I was struck by how differently university libraries operate between countries. For example, German universities and libraries have a very different organisational culture to UoE regarding where the library sits within the university. Collaboration and interaction between departments is much more difficult, and it can be easy to maintain silos. I didn’t know much about how German universities operate before KEW. I’d foolishly assumed that, as a Northern European country, we would share similar approaches. I’d love to attend a German Knowledge Exchange, to have a look particularly at German Medical Schools and medical libraries.

As well as the full programme of talks and tours, I gained a lot of tacit knowledge I want to apply to my own work. Observing presenters and our tour guides, I learnt useful skills for presenting to an international audience; and Edinburgh University is an international community. Speaking slowly and not overloading your listeners becomes even more important when your audience are having to translate.

The social events were much appreciated, definitely by me and I hope by the others for a taste of Scottish life. We danced and a ceilidh, and got competitive playing skittles.

How my role fits into the whole

Although I had met many of the UoE speakers throughout my first four months here (has it only been four months?!), sitting down to a thirty-minute presentation on their roles, teams and services was valuable for my understanding of where my own role joins up. For example, I took down a few actions from my colleagues’ talks on Scholarly Communications, collections development, and Help Services.

I was impressed with the unique and world-class collections we have at the University of Edinburgh. I must admit I was surprised how much I got from this aspect of the week, because I wasn’t expecting special collections and archives to be directly related to my role. However, the presentation from the archivist for the Lothian Health Services Archive changed all that!

Visits of note

And finally I want to highlight some of the library visits during the week. The first day included a visit to New College Library. A stunning library in a former church, New College Library was a Historic Edinburgh treat for the international visitors and for us Edinburgh-based people!

New College Library

St Cecilias Hall reopened in May as a brand-spanking-new museum of musical instruments. Well worth a visit if you are in Edinburgh. The collections are impressive, and the space has been wonderfully renovated.

The Signet Library, the library of the Writers to the Signet who are a body of Scottish lawyers, is just off the Royal Mile. It was amusing to have a library tour surrounded by people enjoying refreshments – it is also a tea room.


A few of us Scottish-based KEW participants already have plans to revisit, for afternoon tea!

I enjoyed the week, and reached the end of Friday full of ideas (and a little exhausted!). I hope to visit a European country next year for a knowledge exchange to learn from a culturally-different institution.

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