The librarian will see you now: bookable literature search clinics

IMG_20190729_145450332_HDR (2)After a pilot last academic year, we’ve decided to roll out bookable literature search clinics for students in medicine & veterinary medicine.

We see a high demand for individual guidance in these subjects. Students and researchers are increasingly conducting large-scale literature reviews & evidence syntheses, such as systematic reviews, and within medicine and vet medicine, undergraduates are now taking an honours year midway through their degree, which involves a dissertation research project.

Literature search clinics are something our colleagues supporting Social & Political Sciences have been doing for a while, but the idea was sparked for me from a talk at by a statistician in the school of Biomedical Sciences. He mentioned he had been running office hours for students with questions about data analysis. It seemed a possible way for me to manage the large number of requests from students for individual meetings and the administration load of arranging them.

After mulling it over and chatting to one of the other medical librarians, I decided office hours wouldn’t work (how many of us have advertised a drop-in where no one turned up…) but she suggested bookable sessions. We thought it would be worth a try and scheduled some weekly slots.

Bookable clinics

The meetings are held in a pre-booked room at dates and times we’ve decided. We add them to the events booking system, which appears on the student web portal. Only students within the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine can book these clinics.

The dates are split with two other colleagues so we cover one meeting a week, and alternate campuses (and later we introduced the option to meet online).

photo of planner and writing materials
Photo by Bich Tran on

While it is more administration than simply having office hours, it’s less administration than ad-hoc arrangements. I get the contact details of the attendee so I can request information beforehand, and because of this the meeting can be streamlined.

Promotion versus demand

They clinics are visible on the student web portal, so it’s potentially reaching students who wouldn’t know who to contact for this kind of help, or are shy to send an email. If I’m not available for an ad-hoc one-to-one meeting request, I can refer the student to these clinics, either with myself at another time or with another of the medical librarians.

It’s hard to tell if I’m creating more demand because this service is now more visible, but at least I have some control over it’s impact on my workload.

Next academic year

The dates for Semester 1 are now in the events system. We’ve had a handful bookings already, mostly by PhD students and medical students (they’re already back). And I have already expanded the clinic approach; advertising one-to-one clinics designated for large group of medical students doing research projects.

I want to explore for next academic year using this to manage student expectations of contact time with a librarian. Next academic year we have one fewer Academic Support Librarian supporting the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. I don’t know yet if that will make these clinics harder to deliver, or if the timetabled nature of them will help us to deal with our reduced capacity.


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