Designing and delivering reflective reading groups

When you’ve put a lot of work into something, it’s sometimes hard to accept when it’s not the runaway success you hoped. My reflective reading groups for nurses have been hit and miss. When they go well, it’s elating, and everyone agrees it’s a great thing to pursue. When no one turns up despite six bookings, it is disheartening to have put in hours of preparation for nothing.

However… Overall? It’s been a valuable learning experience, and I am glad I have stuck with it. As I said before, when it goes well, I feel over the moon. And even if people book but no one comes, they at least know the library exists when they might not have before.

So what are reflective reading groups?

As of April 2016, nurses and midwives undertake revalidation to maintain their registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). One criteria of the revalidation portfolio is evidence of 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD), of which 20 hours must be participatory. To support this, I introduced reflective reading groups for nurses; roughly one-hour guided discussion to reflect on an article with other nurses.

stationary cropped

There’s a lot of preparation involved. I use the SRLA Tool in Collins et al (2015) Using reflection on your reading for revalidation, which I discovered from LIS-MEDICAL, to structure the discussion questions. The article is emailed in advance along with some questions to prompt reflection. I try to pick articles that can apply to a range of nursing areas; such as telehealth, apps or compassionate care.

Although I send the article in advance, not everyone will have read it or read it in full, so the first ten minutes or so are spent running over the key points. This works as an icebreaker too, since those who are more reluctant have some time while I’m talking. The discussion is more about the themes of the article and how it might apply to nursing practice, rather than a critical appraisal of the paper.


My role is a facilitator, so I encouraged the discussion to be led by the nurses, but guided by myself with prompt questions or follow-up. Sometimes the conversation dies down, especially if it’s a small group, so having a facilitator is valuable here.

The groups have been a lot of mental effort, not just in the group itself but with the preparation of articles and reflection. As a non-expert, reading articles on nursing and thinking of discussion points has been challenging and interesting. I haven’t read articles with such scrutiny since my Masters degree, so although it’s sometimes demanding, it’s a good brain workout.


Of the six groups I’ve scheduled, five have gone ahead, but two of those had only one person turn up. More people were booked to come but didn’t show on the day, so it’s difficult to rearrange in that circumstance. It can be disheartening when so much preparation and time has gone into it, but it’s important not to take it personally – nurses are incredibly busy people, and the feedback for the groups that have gone ahead is positive, so it’s not me!

The hope is that we’ll attract new people to the library, who may not have used the service before, by aligning with a national change.

Personally, I have learnt a lot about developing a program from scratch, promoting it, and evaluating it. I’ve had to tweak things, and deal with the unexpected, but I’m proud despite it occasionally not quite working.

Reflections on the LILAC conference

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me”

– Warning, by Jenny Joseph

Last month I travelled up to Sheffield for LILAC, the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference. I was fortunate to receive a bursary to attend for the full three days, which was great as I really enjoyed the conference and the evening events. I miss Sheffield a lot (I studied for my masters there) so it was great to be back.

The Culter's Hall

The Culter’s Hall

I actually knew quite a lot of people at LILAC. It was lovely to catch up with familiar faces, I recognised a lot of names from Twitter, and a good sized contingent of SLA members were present, including SLA President Kate Arnold as a keynote speaker on the final day (in which we SLA people got a bit of a shout-out *polishes ego*). I’m glad the conference organisers arranged plenty of time for networking, and the networking evening and the conference dinner were both in stunning venues – the City Hall and Cutler’s Hall.

Some parts of the programme were very practical, such as Jade Kelsall’s workshop on creating interactive online skills resources, and the small groups in a few of the sessions allowed for interesting discussions to develop. A big take-home for me was the need to be critical of our own definitions of information literacy (IL), from Andrew Whitworth’s lecture on Dialogism, Mikhail Bakhtin and information literacy. I’ve already had to realign what I think IL means having moved from academic libraries to healthcare, but Andrew’s session made me consider how definitions of IL are a discourse, and whether our definition of ‘literate’ means conforming to claims of authority or scrutinising them.

The highlight of LILAC was the Health Literacy theme on the final day. Kondwani Wella’s research into information challenges for serodiscordant* couples in Malawi was fascinating, and refreshing after two days of quite Higher Education-centric talks. Sessions on the problems of lack of information for rare diseases (Hannah Spring), and on the heath information needs of young people (Barbara Sen & Hannah Spring) were similarly inspiring. They got me thinking about the impact of librarians on IL and health literacy, and how it can actually have an impact on people’s lives.

On a more academic sector note, LILAC debunked the myth that students struggle most with searching when doing their research, and that librarians are needed most for help with search skills. Many of the sessions highlighted that students are struggling most with contextualising their topic, and actually this is where IL practitioners need to be to support the needs of our users. In our library, students on health courses make up a fair proportion of our users, so this is definitely something I will need to keep in mind when training on finding evidence.

It was LILAC's 10th birthday

It was LILAC’s 10th birthday

I did had a couple of niggling issues with LILAC, the main being the Higher Education bias of the sessions. However, this was successfully countered with the Health Literacy theme on the final day, and I know is something the LILAC committee are working to rectify (the bursary I received is to encourage delegates from other sectors, for example).

Another niggle: there seemed to be a slight, typically English embarrassment. I found this particularly evident in the larger sessions, such as the keynotes. A couple of times, this sort of thing happened;

*Keynote finishes presentation*
Host: “Thank you, that was fantastic, do we have any questions?”
Audience: *No immediate questions, still mulling over the speech*
Host: “No? You’ve stunned them into silence! Well, we’ll finish there”

Over so quickly, and I am still formulating questions. The reaction to silence was to try to make it go away, but what we needed were a few minutes to gather our thoughts. But then again, it’s my fault too for not stopping this happening; I should have been coming up with questions throughout the speech. However, this didn’t happen in every session. In fact, I was impressed that in the parallel sessions the LILAC hosts often asked the first questions to get the ball rolling.

I had a really great time at LILAC. I enjoyed the networking/social times, following the conference on Twitter, and I even enjoyed being a little bit critical at times. At events or conferences in the past, I’ve felt very much a newbie listening to all-knowing experts. But at LILAC I started to feel that, you know what, I know a bit more about this than I thought, and I’m confident enough in my knowledge to have opinions. I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone reading, but to me it feels like a turning point away from being a newbie librarian (even though I doubt my imposter syndrome will be disappearing any time soon!).

I won the networking bingo!

I won the networking bingo!

I was impressed by the scale, smooth running, and atmosphere of LILAC. Congratulations to the conference planners on a great job. I would highly recommend attending LILAC in 2015.


[*] Where one partner in the couple is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative.

The library for teacher & researcher development – with an international spin

Flickr: Globe, stevecadman

Flickr: Globe, stevecadman

I was really pleased to be asked by two of our academics in the Education department to present workshops for visiting academics from Kazakhstan, who are here for a bespoke continuing professional development programme.

The sessions I delivered were on Using the Library for Research and E-books at the University, with a talk from me to set the scene and a hands-on activity so they could have a go themselves. The workshops were very interesting to deliver – I particularly enjoyed planning Using the Library for Research – and it was fascinating to hear about libraries at their universities in Kazakhstan: one university library was entirely closed access, in a similar set-up to the British Library, making browsing impossible.

Planning and delivering these workshops was more challenging than my usual information skills sessions, for a number of reasons.

1. English is often their third, if not fourth, language (Kazakh, Russian, Turkish is common pattern). This meant I couldn’t cover as much as I usually would, as I had to consciously slow down my speech even more than usual. We were also advised to use hand-gestures more consciously to emphasise points e.g. distinctions, or linear processes.

Some of my content was complicated material, especially the e-books session, which I was trying to get across in their third language. Striking a balance of making it simple enough, but not patronising, was quite difficult.

2. A lot of preparation went into the e-books session. It’s a subject I only knew a little about, but I got help from Electronic Acquisitions Co-ordinator with the content. I am so glad I was able to exploit her knowledge, and the presentation was much richer as a result of her input.

Additionally, I had to plan so each person had an individual e-book and example search term to use in the hands-on, because the single/multi-user licenses on many of our e-books restrict the number of simultaneous users. I learnt this the hard way in past information skills classes, where students were let loose on e-resources but all want to find the same e-book. When a book only allows three concurrent users, 80% of the class would be disappointed.

3. In the session on the Library for research, it was really hard to emphasise that it wasn’t a Library induction; it was about the Library as a department within the University. Many of those in the sessions had attended a pre-sessional programme with the University to improve their English, so I think they expected my session to cover the same ground as their pre-sessional Library induction.

4. They took place early in Autumn term, my most busy time. Preferably, I would’ve spent longer planning and preparing, but it unfortunately was a little more rushed than I would have liked. However, the sessions themselves went well, and I at no point did I feel underprepared.

I have since been asked to deliver another session for a similar group from Kazakhstan visiting next month. This time, however, it will be with a translator – that should be an interesting experience! This will be on e-books again, and I will adapt my previous work but leaving extra time for the live translation.

To be asked to give these sessions was really gratifying. The Education department here are good at embedding information skills sessions into their courses, and I feel the Library being represented on this CPD programme is evidence to the Library as embedded within the department more widely.

A Librarian who Lectures

Yesterday I delivered a lecture to 200 students. It was kind of terrifying, but also completely new to me and thrilling!

In the content of the session I covered: What is information and how to evaluate it; The benefits of using the Library to find information; Why the Library is a quality alternative to Google and Wikipedia; How to use the Library to find things from reading lists; What we can do for you, and what you can do for us.

I used my predecessor’s slides from the previous year, but updated and altered, to guide the content of the session. I was glad to have enough time beforehand to really make it my own. The students didn’t seem to find my lame jokes all that funny though – unsurprisingly!

I was worried I would speak too fast, but actually I was a bit slow, and nearly overran. It’s hard to judge it when you’re just practising at your desk.

Don’t let them know you’re afraid. My mantra was that I know more than them, even if I do still feel new. I also told myself that to them I am a lecturer – I’m standing at the front, giving a lecture, therefore I am the lecturer. They don’t know that only six months ago I was in their seat.

Don’t underestimate how long it takes for people to settle down, take their coats off, and finish conversations. I started almost 10 minutes late because people were still filing in.

They wanted to chat, so I had to balance making the session as interactive as possible without it descending into chaos. An overstatement perhaps, but it’s something to bear in mind, particularly with undergraduates. I did this by mainly using show of hands for some questions, as discussion is hard to regulate in such a large class.

Make it personal to their course. I tried whenever possible to emphasise that *I* am the History librarian, and that’s why *I* have come to see them. I tried to emphasise the resources that are particularly useful for History students, and relate the benefits of using the Library for assignments (read: better marks!). At one point I referred to the students as ‘Historians’. This is something that stuck with me when I was an undergraduate, when a lecturer on my course did the same. It made me feel much more a researcher and stakeholder in the university.

Overall, despite being scary, I’m so glad I did it. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to such a large audience before, and it’s an experience not many get to have.

Learning to Teach

… and teaching to learn? Ooh, deep.

As many of you may know, I have recently started a new job as a liaison librarian at a university library. I started a week before Fresher’s Week, so you can imagine I was thrown in at the deep end!

Part of this particularly sharp learning curve has involved running information skills sessions for students, and as a result has required a large amount of teaching.

Most of these sessions have been general inductions to the Library and it’s resources, tailored for specific user groups within my liaison remit. However, some have been more in-depth workshops, involving me taking more responsibility as ‘teacher’ – these have been classes, rather than simply presentations.

This is something that, theoretically, I knew I would be involved with, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the responsibility of being an actual teacher. I have actually really enjoyed it though. I have been taken out of my comfort zone, and since I’ve had to just get on with it, I’ve not really had a chance to get scared by it!

I’m sure I’ll be eating my words when, in a few weeks time, I’m delivering a lecture to approximately 200 students. In a way though, this is less scary than teaching in a smaller, interactive workshop – I really have to know my stuff in smaller sessions, because the opportunity for more in-depth discussion is increased.

I have been learning how to teach ‘on-the-job’, so to speak. I don’t feel the content of my Masters has prepared me practically for it. I know a lot about information literacy, learning styles, and changes in pedagogy, but I didn’t learn how to deliver effective workshops or how to plan a session. Fortunately there is a lot of support at my workplace, and my predecessors have many previous sessions’ content I can draw on. Teaching is becoming an increasingly large part of a librarian’s role, and is something that transfers across LIS sectors. I would like to see that correlating in LIS Masters curricula.

Modules covering information literacy have certainly begun this and will help librarians develop effective theoretical teaching knowledge, but something I have discovered since qualifying is that, firstly, students and lecturers don’t necessarily know what information literacy is – and who can blame them, it is a bit jargon-y! They also might not see it as a key objective, even though it is a means to their perceived objectives – they both want the students to be able to do their work better!

Information Literacy in my Future Career

As part of my ‘Information Resources and Information Literacy’ module, we were asked to produce group posters on how information literacy would be relevant to our future careers, which were then displayed in an event which some of the Information School attended.

In my group there were four of us. Although we all wanted generally wanted to work in libraries, it was quite interesting to see how varied it was in the type of library we would prefer.

Our poster – click for larger image

For our poster we decided on the design I suggested (woo!), which was using the seven SCONUL Pillars of Information Literacy in an Acropolis style building, with ourselves standing atop, supported by information literacy. I must say, the poster was fantastic. Props to my team-mate Jen especially, who did a lot of work on it at home.

It was really interesting to see everyone else’s posters, and it was fascinating to see how different the career paths were for the class. 

One particular poster I was very impressed with looked at Information Literacy in relation to working as an Information Manager. I was gushing about this poster for ages after the event, because everything on it was so well thought out and meantsomething.

Team F's poster

The boxes along the side go into detail about what skills are relevant to the profession and how they would be used by an Information Manager. The Matrix style design in the background is used to represent how society is built on information in today’s world. In the characters, the words ‘Information Literacy’ is written in different languages.
The figure in the centre is wearing glasses and headphones to show how information is multi-sensory, and the Godfather style puppet strings in the corner are meant to convey how an Information Manager controls and manages information.
I really enjoyed this poster event. It came at just the right time, as I think everyone’s energy has been lagging this week – I definitely know mine has! Playing with colouring in, and talking about what we want to be when we grow up, was much nicer than a lecture!