Survival of the fittest: changing environments, evolving roles, and new skills for librarians in healthcare
The UHMLG 2015 Spring Forum was held at the Royal Society of Medicine and I was fortunate enough to attend as it was paid for by my department. There were about 100 delegates and sponsors including Dynamed, Oxford University Press, Mark Allen, BMJ, Wiley and more. I had the opportunity to re-establish connections with library colleagues and service providers I have not been in contact with since I went on maternity leave. It was a one day event which centered on how roles, services and staff skills need to change to meet changing needs and expectations in healthcare. It started off with a welcome address from Donald Mackay, Head of Health Care Libraries, Bodleian Libraries.
The first speaker introduced was Jason Briddon, Director of Library Services, University of West of England. His talk covered how librarians with the Higher Education sector are developing skills to meet changes in how services are rendered and what needs to be done to meet user expectations. He raised the lego four horsemen of the library apocalypse:
- unsustainable costs as the need for the library existence is constantly challenged by finance
- variable alternatives as sources of information
- decreasing demand for physical stock as engagement with digital content increases and there is increased use of the library space and chat support
- views of the library as not meeting user demands
The next speaker was David Stewart, Director or Health Libraries North West. His talk focused a published document strategy for NHS Knowledge and Library Service for 2015-20, Knowledge for healthcare. This document was requested when Health Education England LKSL asked for £2m for recurrent national core content to cover a three year period. It's importance cannot be overemphasized as previous similar documents were never published and it also provides resources to support its implementation. There are four strategic themes focusing on transforming service.
- Proactive customer-focused services
- Quick and easy access to evidence
- Effective leadership, planning and development of the healthcare library and knowledge services workforce
- Optimising funding for best value
- What is working well with the current LKS provision?
- What part of the vision resonates with us?
- What can we do together?
Ruth Murphy, Library Learning and Teaching Manager and Sonya Lipczynska, Library Liaison Manager, both from Kings College London were next and their talk covered how librarians perceive their roles as teachers. They referred to a 1979 Pauline Wilson article and her thoughts on the fact that librarianship and academia should be kept separate. Wilson stated "it is a fiction that librarians are teachers. The fiction is used by librarians to provide a more comforting self-image, to bolster a status claim, and to relate the profession to the world outside it". Needless to say, the statement caused an uproar but then it raised the question, Is there a difference between teachers and trainers? To answer this, the pair looked to the KCL mission statement and determined that the library is central to the student learning journey. Sonya highlighted that she progressed through peer support, experience, trial and lots of error. She obtained a Certificate in Academic Practice which helped her reflect on what she was doing and how she could make small but positive changes. Ruth employed practice from experience and peer support. She also obtained certificates in learning and development activities and more. How practice was impacted was discussed as they moved from surface to deep learning. It had longer term benefits to the students as they were engaged by giving scenarios and asking them to teach each other what they learn. Their online environment is Keats but they also use Libguides to bring content together for groups and use Pollseverywhere to confirm understanding of what is learnt. They expanded their portfolio to include academic writing and maths & statistics support but find that there is a need to standardise language used, clarify academic departmental expectations (just ask them what they want), set clear learning objectives and knowledge outcomes, and distinguish between awareness, instructional training and knowledge development sessions.
We were joined next by Janette Colcough, Research Support Manager, University of York and Pat Spoor, Scholarly Communications and Research Skills (SCoRes) Team Leader, University of Leeds. They discussed how their university libraries have been restructured to take on new roles and responsibilities highlighting that neither of their roles have the term library or librarian in it. The new teams were created from the old and reorganised by function which created a need for change management and staff reallocation. It also meant that not everyone had the job they wanted but at least everyone had a job. Teams focused on collection development, research support and teaching and learning. The restructuring provided a more dedicated support to service provision and increased support to meet research needs. The session highlights the need to change how we perceive our roles in libraries. There should be librarians for new roles and not new roles for librarians.
Next up was Erica Rae, Public Health & Commissioning Librarian, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. She discusses the WSKL merged library service and how rather complicated NHS changes turned her into a hotdesking outreach librarian with just a laptop and a mobile phone. The print collection was moved back to parent libraries and all journals provided were now in electronic format. All correspondence is also via email. Her role made her less visible and started on a six month trial basis. This meant if she could not get funded, she'd end up jobless. Three years on found her fully embedded with a full contract taken on by the City Council. The physical challenges she faced include loss of contact with colleagues, loss of a physical library collection, travel issues and associated admin expenses, technological challenges such as network issues. Practical challenges included the need for new skills, requirement for new sources and resources and funding issues.
The next speaker was Rosalind Francis, Health and Social Care Librarian, University of Greenwich and she talked about participating in the going for GOLD programme (Greenwich Opportunities in Learning Development). She wanted to obtain acknowledgement for her efforts so pursued becoming an Associated Fellow of the Higher Education Academy using the UK Professional Standards Framework. The AF is the most common level for librarians as it applies to those who support student learning. She found the criteria similar to Chartership but more straightforward and confided that she gained a greater sense of achievement through this process than through Chartership. It enabled her tailor sessions in response to enquiries thereby gaining an idea of information needs of different users, gain professional recognition for learned skills, reflect on teaching and boost departmental and institutional reputation. The process does not require much evidence as the referees supplied by the candidate are there to observe and support the claims of what has been achieved.
At this juncture, we broke for a well deserved and enjoyable lunch. It gave me the opportunity to network and visit exhibition stands. The next speaker was Fiona Ware, Academic Liaison Librarian, University of Hull, who discussed her role supporting systematic reviews. She highlights the issue of being asked for help with systematic reviews which turn out not to be systematic reviews and the need to re-educate academics on what constitutes a systematic review. She helped PhDs with a systematic review which got her an authorship mention but took an entire year to complete and requires an update within one year. All this does not come without its challenges and they include time, the need to refresh skills, the amount of repeated work required and the weight of responsibility. There is an organisational review taking place which does not include an Academic Liaison Librarian role so she is providing a service that may cease to exist leaving her without a job.
Laura Wilkes, Library and Knowledge Services Manager, West Suffolk Hospital, then joined us for a very interesting talk about her role as an Innovation Scout. It is a voluntary role which helps identify new innovations within the NHS to the Health Enterprise East for development. She raises awareness of innovation in her organisation, promotes the adoption and diffusion of new ideas and targets the corporates to raise the profile of the library and ultimately obtain funding. This has enabled her achieve a revised Intellectual Property policy to include the innovation scout, get an Intellectual Property lead, set up meetings quarterly with the DCEO, promote the role with an innovation webpage on the library website, register a trademark for a tray developed called Rosevital which delivers wipes and earplugs and helped reduce noise complaints at night from 85% to 15%. She was Runner up in the Sally Hernando Awards and an Innovation award has now been added to the annual Shining Lights Awards sponsored by the HEE. One of the great challenges for her is time as she does this on top of her day job. The ideas provided need to be seen from the perspective of the Executives and hard questions need to be asked such as what impact will it have and how much will developing the idea cost? The good thing is that all ideas are filtered by the library first, literature searches are then carried out to support the ides and test its viability.
Next was the Panel discussion with roving mics chaired by Betsy Anagnostelis. Sue Lacey Bryant, Senior Development Advisor, Health Education England, came on to talk about career portfolio and how she has navigated a range of roles within the NHS over the years. She advised new professionals to invest in management skills and play to their strengths. Do what you're good at, steer your own development, learn from experience and from others, learn to adapt and test your personal resilience. I was struck by her candor and it made me realise that most times we do not think we have the knowledge and experience for a role but with the network of support in the profession and by learning on the job, we can achieve a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.
Donald Mackay thanked sponsors and speakers and I got a tour of the Royal Society of Medicine Library. This was my first time at a UHMLG Forum and it was a day well spent with a lot of information obtained and good relationships fostered. That's the currency you need in this profession so I'm feeling very wealthy.