Comparison of Vancouver and Seattle public libraries

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

Last month I travelled half the world away to Vancouver for the Special Libraries Association (SLA) annual conference.

After the conference I stayed on in Vancouver for a little while, and then travelled across the border into the United States to visit Oregon and Washington. As I expect is pretty normal for a librarian in a foreign country, I wanted to see the public libraries of the cities I visited.

Both Vancouver and Seattle public libraries were incredible buildings. The only thing I have seen in this country that comes close is the Library of Birmingham. Inside, they were both quite similar in style, with pops of bright colour, but I have to say Seattle Public Library just snuck into the lead over Vancouver.

The Vancouver Public Library resembles a high-tech Roman colosseum (I didn’t get a picture of the exterior, sorry). The entrance just beckons you in.

Vancouver library entrance

Vancouver library entrance

Seattle Library utilised the light and the view from the upper floors. It felt more open, whereas Vancouver library felt quite closed in with low ceilings especially on the ground floor – a contrast to all the glass and light in the foyer area with cafes and shops. It’s still an impressive place, and well worth seeing.

Inside Seattle public library

Inside Seattle public library

During our visit to Seattle Public Library we noticed the auditorium, where they were screening the USA v Portugal football match in.


It was a good atmosphere, and a lot of people popped in while using the library. It was the best of both worlds – I got to nose around a library, and the fella got to watch some of the World Cup.

Beyond the pharmacy window… a visit to the Medicines Information Service

Pharmacy green cross

Credit: Elliot Brown, flickr

I was very excited to go ‘behind the scenes’ of the hospital pharmacy to visit the Medicines Information team, to learn about what they do and the services they offer. Much of the work Medicines Information (MI) do is in a similar vein to the literature searches we do in the library, but a lot is very different too.

It is part of UKMI, and as such have to meet certain standards – for example, it holds a minimum requirement of references needed to be MI department, such as British National Formularies and other reference texts.

MI support best use of medicines by providing evidence-based information and advice to prescribers, patients and carers. They receives a whole range of medicines related enquiries, from doctors, nurses, GPs, community workers, social workers, service users, carers and the general public. In fact, they get an average of 100 enquiries per month! Most of the things they get asked about include safety in pregnancy and breastfeeding, drugs of choice in cardiac disease, or drug interactions, among others. They keep a log of these queries to avoid duplication of effort, and these records must be kept for a long time – 25 years for anything about pregnancy!

The queries they get generally have two sides to them; a literature review to examine the existing evidence, and information about the drug(s), such as side effects, interactions, etc. These literature reviews are similar to the ones we do in the library, though are a lot more specific to particular drugs, and in fact we have sometimes done searches to verify what they have found for peace of mind!

As well as enquiries, MI are also involved in writing local guidelines and policies, incorporating best evidence from literature searches, such as NICE guidelines or Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines in Psychiatry. They are working on getting prescribers on board to co-write as a team effort.

Visiting the MI service was fascinating. The work they do is so important and such a responsibility – they are advising doctors, not just giving them information. It was clear that MI is a very important service as there is very little going on that doesn’t involve MI to some extent. It was also useful to see that literature searching overlaps a little bit between our services. If I get a literature search that’s about a drug, it might be more appropriate to pass it to MI, which is useful to know.

It’s always interesting to see departments and teams you wouldn’t normally find out about. How many people can say they’ve been behind the scenes of a pharmacy!

University of Bergen Staff Mobility Week, Day 5

Hade – Goodbye

[Check out the rest of my week here]

The final day was actually quite emotional. No one could quite believe the week had come to an end already.

It started with a visit to the social sciences library to discuss information literacy teaching. It was an interesting and lively discussion. One of the group brought along an iPad, so we were able to compare how our libraries display our list of databases and get ideas for avoiding simply an A-Z list. Our website, for example, has an A-Z list, but also collates key databases into subject guides, along with other useful information such as relevant call numbers, useful websites and key resources.

Again I was struck by the subject knowledge held by the librarians at the University of Bergen, where librarians have postgraduate degrees in their liaison subjects, often PhDs. I’ve always held a good librarian can be a librarian for any subject, but often I’d like more subject knowledge at times!

After another lovely lunch (though strawberries on smoked salmon?!) the three groups converged on the Egg lecture theatre for summaries, a photo presentation and goodbyes.

The library group, somewhat infamous after the previous night’s shenanigans, had recorded a summary video, on top of Fløien. We hadn’t seen the video in full since recording it, so we were relieved when we all looked fairly sober and sensible. The video is lovely, each of us describing what we’ve gotten out of SMW. I hope to post it once it becomes publicly available.

The other two groups, health & safety and IT, also seemed to have had great experiences. After the presentations of certificates, including a photo of the library group for Britt-Inger our host, the end was here. It came so quickly! I had flashbacks of leaving university, no one wanting to be the first to leave.

We’ve kept in touch since, sharing photos and emails. I made friends at SMW, and I really hope to see them again soon.


The library group

I’d really like to thank the University of Bergen for hosting a fantastic week that I left feeling inspired and enthusiastic. Thank you, too, to the university’s library staff, who were so generous not just with the activities they laid on but also their time.

If you work in higher education and are interested in attending an Erasmus funded visit to a European university, speak with your international/study abroad office. Is a fantastic opportunity for cpd and developing networks, but also for getting an objective view on your own work practices – if you have to explain then to someone, out makes you see them from the outside.

University of Bergen Staff Mobility Week, Day 4

“I thought librarians were meant to be quiet?!”

[Check out days 1, 2 and 3]

The above quote refers to the Thursday’s evening dinner, where many a stereotype was smashed. (As were many a librarian – free wine!). The librarians table was raucous, and it was this night we became infamous.

But I am getting ahead of myself. First, we attended a discussion session from two librarians from the University’s Medical and Dental Library. In designing a new re-purposed space in the library, created from withdrawing superseded print journal backfiles, the library staff had implemented evidence-based practice (EBP) to ensure the space was perfectly suited to what the students wanted and needed.

Evidence-based medicine

Evidence-based medicine

Although the librarians had some ideas of what to do with the space, by employing EBP they could make sure the space was meeting the students’ actual needs. They collected evidence from their own experience: No more computers were needed. And they read the literature: There should be variety of study spaces with quiet areas and comfy seating. They also gathered student’s views: They wanted a quiet place, but also more space for group work.

The combination of these three factors created a strong basis for making decisions on how best to use the space. Using EBM seems common sense, but how many times do we do two of these things, and not the 3rd? for example, you might make a decision using your own experiences, and you might survey the users, but have you read around it to see what other libraries are doing? Or any combination of these three areas. I know I have definitely done this, so using EBM as a framework ensures you are as informed as possible, and the structure affords you a pathway to follow.

We spent our afternoon at the University’s Picture Collection, to better understand their digitised sources for research. Staff at the Picture Collection are building a database, with linked data to improve the end-user experience. We also had a tour, and saw some gems including glass plate negatives. The staff all have a background in some way in photography – indeed, staff with subject knowledge of their liaison areas is very common, and I think compulsory.

I'm not really miniature - I'm on a slope and between two tall people!

I’m not really miniature – I’m on a slope and between two tall people!

In the evening, it was back up Mount Fløien for a wonderful dinner at the Fløien Folkerestaurant. With stunning views, this was a perfect final SMW evening. The food was delicious – ham and hard goats cheese salad, baked cod with asparagus, and a beautiful traditional Norwegian dessert called Fløien’s farm girl veiled in Apple Syrup. My mouth is watering just remembering it all!

Most of the Library group were sat together at one table. We had really bonded over the days we spent together, so there was much laughter. Especially so a fellow Brit, a Pole and I completely failed to understand a joke about Finnish people. Seriously, they told it to us three times. It still baffles me now. We spent so long trying to decipher it, it became more and more funny to those around us!

It was so generous of UiB to provide the wonderful meal, and it was the social activities throughout the week which made my stay so memorable.

University of Bergen Staff Mobility Week: Day 3

School trip!

[Check out Day 1 and Day 2]

The third day of Staff Mobility Week was an all day excursion, visiting interesting places key to Norwegian economy, life, and culture. It was an early start, which wreaked havoc on my body clock. Because gets light so early, we all had trouble sleeping – it only got dark after midnight, and you’d wake up at 3am thinking you’ve overslept because it was as bright as midday.

All three groups – Library, IT, and Health & Safety – went on the excursion. It was really nice to chat with the other groups and catch up on what we’d all been doing. The day was excellently planned, and I commend the SMW organisers for shepherding that many people so effectively. We were like excited children going on a school trip.

A troll at the entrance to Mongstad

A troll at the entrance to Mongstad

First was Technology Centre at Mongstad oil refinery – called by the Norwegian Prime Minister “Norway’s moon landing”. We were given a presentation in English about this the largest carbon capture test facility. Unfortunately, due to the specialist nature of this subject, it included quite a bit of jargon – I sometimes struggled to follow it, and I know my European colleagues garnered even less. However, a guided tour in our coach around the facility was a interesting experience.

We also had a tour around the oil refinery – again fascinating, but I found it a strange experience to reconcile with my own political/environmental views. Nevertheless, it is something I would never have had the chance to do otherwise.



Following this, we took a ferry to the North Sea island Fedje (pronounced Fii-ya). Here we had a warming lunch of creamy salmon soup.

A local of Fedje gave us a guided tour and a little of the history of Fedje, including a mercury-laden German U-Boat which was sunk just off the coast. A few years back, Fedje experienced an awful oil spill from a tanker, but there was no trace of it due to fantastic clean-up efforts.

Knitting machines

Knitting machines

Hopping back on the ferry, we travelled to the Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum in Salhus (Sol-hoos). I can imagine many librarians in the UK would be excited by this museum!

The museum used to the factory for Krone-Marco knitwear, but went out of business in the 1980s. It’s since been converted to a museum, but still retains the working machinery. Our guide was able to demonstrate the machines, which really drove home how loud, claustrophobic, and dangerous it was to work there.

The community of Salhus had formed around the factory, so it is great to see it living on as a museum. Though the working machines may have worried some of our Health and Safety group colleagues!



We returned to Bergen, having seen a side of Norway the tourists may not get to. The oil refinery at Mongstad, the fishing and whaling community of Fedje, and the legacy of the textile industry in Salhus, all offering a unique insight into Norway – but, as my Norwegian colleagues pointed out, certainly not the whole story.

University of Bergen Staff Mobility Week: Day 2

Sharing success stories

[Day 1 can be found here]

The second day of the Staff Mobility Week was the first day of the Library group programme. It was opened by Library Director Ole Gunnar Evensen (starring in the videos below). He introduced the Library, and its current projects and accomplishments, and showed the Magic of the Library video, which won silver in the annual IFLA marketing award:

We were also introduced to
Search and Write (Sok og scriv), an information literacy and skills platform, and the newly launched PhD on Track, a hub of information and resources for PhD students.

The first workshop was the presentations from participants on Marketing the Library, its Resources and Services. The brief was:

The headline will be: “Marketing YOUR library and its resources and services” […] We would like to hear about fun and creative ways of promoting your library. Please share smart and incredible success-stories as well as spectacular failures. In a way, this will be “Story time”.

We heard about recent social media developments at the University, as well as from the other participants from around Europe, including outreach, events, and new buildings. To demonstrate some innovative marketing at the UoB Libraries: A Plagiarism Carol  – most cast members are Library staff!

[Turn ‘Captions’ on for English subtitles]

We broke for lunch, which we enjoyed in the beautiful museum gardens. Unfortunately, the sun made me a bit sleepy for the following session! A good dose of tea and biscuits put that right, though.

The second workshop was Reference management – Best practice? The discussion was on reference management software training, primarily EndNote. It was great to hear that we all have the same challenges, regardless of our country.

The evening activity was a hiking trip up to Mount Fløien. There is a funicular that runs up and down Fløien at an incredible incline.


I am not usually one for exercise, or any physical activity to be honest, but the hike was well worth it for the view, and the ice cream at the top. It was a relatively easy (very relative!) hike, but I still had a great sense of achievement at the top. 

University of Bergen Staff Mobility Week: Day 1

Velkommen til Norge!

Bryggen (old Bergen)

Bryggen (old Bergen)

I spent the first week of June in Bergen, Norway, attending the University of Bergen Staff Mobility Week. The trip was funded through my university’s participation in the Erasmus Staff Training Mobility programme. I will be blogging each day separately, as it was too large an event to summarise in one post. I arrived in Bergen on Monday 3 June, and this will form the first of these posts.

This was my first solo arrival in a foreign country, so I was nervous and excited. I get a bit nervous flying, so I was glad I have my row of seats to myself on the plane, so no one could see me practicing breathing exercises!

The airport is about 25 minutes from Bergen, and these 25 minutes were what I was most nervous about. I don’t like getting an unknown bus route in England, let alone in Norway. All was fine though, and I apparently looked like I knew what I was doing, according to someone I later met who recognised me from the flight/bus. Bergen’s lovely, though my hotel was up a very steep hill, and I had to drag my suitcase up it! Despite the hill, and taking three wrong turns, I arrived at the hotel with time to spare, so decided to take a stroll in the botanical gardens of the University Museum before registration.

Bergen University museum and botanical garden

Bergen University museum and botanical garden

Registration was in the very snazzy Student Centre building. They handed out umbrellas with registration packs. This was the first clue to the Norwegian obsession with the weather – they are more obsessed than the English!

Tea and coffee meant an opportunity to meet other participants. One of the first people I met was someone from my own institution! Neither of us knew the other was attending, proving it is indeed a small world. We then moved into ‘Egget’ – The egg-shaped lecture theatre, where we were welcomed by Vice Rector Astri Endresen. She gave us an overview of internationalisation at UiB (University of Bergen’s Norwegian acronym), and background into the University. Following Astri, co-ordinator Signe Knappskog welcomed us to the Staff Mobility Week (SMW). Signe’s presentation aimed to get us up to speed with Bergen, with photos of the rain (second clue), a list of the many, many fires Bergen has experienced, and a quick course in Norwegian.

A quick course in Norwegian

A quick course in Norwegian

Next up, an enjoyable and informative presentation from Atle Rotevatn, Associate Professor at the Department of Earth Science – Black Gold in Norway: History, controversies and the role of science. Oil is one of Norway’s largest exports, and Atle covered why it has such rich oil and gas reserves in the North and Norwegian Seas, and the economic development of the industry. This led on to how research at UoB has and is informing this industry. Although I know very little about Earth Science, geology and the oil industry, I found Atle’s presentation interesting and enlightening. 

'Black gold' in Norway

‘Black gold’ in Norway

Following this, presentations from the organisers, running through the individual group programmes. We broke out for lunch, which involved much chatting and getting to know others in our group. It involved the most incredible cake – the size of A1 paper, half cream, half sponge. It was certainly a talking point.

There was an evening activity each day of the programme, and Monday’s was a guided walking tour of Bergen. Our guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, taking us into alleys and hidden streets – a lovely start to my week in Norway.

Bergen's hanseatic buildings

Bergen’s Hanseatic buildings