Seeing ourselves through others’ eyes

Senate House

Senate House

A few weeks ago I attended the cpd25 event Liaison Librarians working with other professionals: Seeing ourselves through others’ eyes. I highly recommend cpd25 events, and this day was no different. It gave me some new ideas and a fresh perspective on collaboration.

Speakers from four universities covered interesting and exciting projects working with learning advisers, student champions, IT and academics. There were also plenty of opportunities to network with fellow attendees over tea and biscuits (or ice cold water, as it was the start of the heat wave).

To start off, an ‘icebreaker discussion’ on working with other professionals, thoughts on what other professionals value about working with librarians, and what they might find surprising or might not like. 

The first speaker, Jean Portman from the University of Surrey, spoke about working with learning advisers within the library to create a space for collaborative work and the learning advisory service. Liaison librarians have timetabled slots in the learning advisers area, replacing duties on the Ground Floor Information Desk, which had involved answering simple enquiries. I found this very interesting, as the structure they changed was similar to the current structure at my workplace.

Caroline Gale from the University of Exeter (my ‘almer mater’) explained their student champions project. These are student library representatives, similar to course reps. They promote the library within their departments and have a budget of £1000-1500 for library resources.

Working with IT and academics is a common form of collaborating within HE libraries. Eleri Kyffin from the University of Westminster spoke about creating communities of practice, including their Project DigitISE. As part of this they created the Digital Edge event, to encourage digital literacy with links to employability.

One of the games

One of the games

The final session was the most interactive. Adam Edwards and Vanessa Hill from Middlesex University played ABBA as we returned from a coffee break, which set the tone for their ABBA-themed presentation on Information skills and student achievement. They use activities and games to enhance the quality and impact of library workshops.

Adam and Vanessa wait for feedback from students until after the marks are back. Collating the attendees vs non-attendees, they can prove attending gets you better marks. That’s something it’s all very well saying to students, but being able to prove it in this way makes your message so much more powerful.

I’ve since experimented with a couple of the activities we tried out on the day, in a recent information skills session. They worked reasonably well, but as @Pennyb pointed out, many games are limited for those with a very literal mind. Games and activities are a useful way to cater for different learning styles, but are of most use when tied to the students’ work, such as an assignment.

Cpd25 have again hosted a thought-provoking day, from which I took a lot. It was interesting to hear from the speakers about their projects, as so often collaboration goes on all the time without us stopping to think objectively about it. We all know the benefits – sharing knowledge, developing relationships, spreading the load – but sometimes we may forget to express them out loud.

20130717_135002It was also exciting in another way, as our lunch break was interrupted by a protest outside the Senate House entrance!

Support for Researchers

Senate House - the venue

Senate House – the venue

In December I attended the cpd25 event Support for Researchers. A key theme of the presentations and discussion was collaboration. With the roles of libraries evolving as research needs and activities change, collaboration with other relevant services and departments can offer greater knowledge, expertise and skills. Much of this was echoed in the Guardian Higher Education live chat last Friday. I have collated the Guardian’s tweets from the live chat into Storify:
[View the story “Guardian #HElivechat” on Storify]

Supporting Researchers Collaboratively

The first presentation, Supporting Researchers Collaboratively, was from Miggie Pickton and Nick Dimmock from the Research Support Team, part of the Library and Learning Services (LLS) at University of Northampton. Miggie and Nick spoke about the Research Support Hub, a blog which brings news of interest to researchers into one place, where before it was scattered. It publicises services of the Graduate School, the Research and Strategic Bidding Office (RSBO) and LLS Research Support Team.

They also spoke about other ways they are collaborating with other parts of the University. A mandatory four-day induction for new researchers which involves two days of information and research skills, such as the institutional repository, is a chance to identify learning needs by meeting face-to-face. The institutional repository also offers an opportunity for collaboration through technical help, metadata and copyright support. It’s the main source of data for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), and representatives of LLS and RSBO are on a REF working group. Collaboration can bring an invitation into research community, and higher visibility and perceived value.

New technologies and online research presence

The second presentation, Blogs, Twitter, Wikis and other web-based tools: collaboration and building your online presence, was from Jenny Evans, Imperial College. This is a six-week programme of face-to-face and online elements for PhD students, exploring tools and technologies, but also developing online research presence.

Collaboration occurs within the project, as the library staff write content for the programme, which includes case studies of researchers at various career stages and how they’re using these tools.

Obligatory 'research' photo

Obligatory ‘research’ photo

Perspectives of a Research student

Tahani Nadim presented on her experiences doing a PhD, giving us an insight into her self-proclaimed “messy practices”. Tahani has also worked as an institutional repository manager, and has completed Library research as part of JISC funded projects, so was able to bridge the gap between researchers and library/information staff.

Although Tahani never had a problem gathering data, it was organising information that was more challenging. Since she wants to, and will, revisit her texts, audio files and transcripts from interviews, there are issues of the management and organisation of this information. It’s as much about managing your research as actually doing it! When opened up for a Q&A, it seemed PhD researchers are very much in isolation, making it difficult for librarians to anticipate their needs and skill-levels. The students are much more likely to go to their peers for advice and support, even if it is something the library does offer. Increasing visibility, and an increased embedded nature of library liaison, can help alleviate some of this.

Points of discussion

Some interesting themes emerged in the discussion session, including;

  • Support for bidding process
  • Value of librarians as practitioner researchers
  • Re-focusing titles of our courses, and building in more “research” aspects to existing sessions
  • Effects of Open Access policies on libraries

Evaluating our support for researchers is a current hot topic at my own workplace, so the chance to benchmark with other university libraries was valuable. There was quite a discrepancy between the support offered by different institutions, both in terms of how much was offered, and what shape that support took.