Sunday, 26 May 2013

Academic and Research Libraries Group: Members' Day

Last January two CILIP Special Interest Groups, Universities, Colleges and Research (UC&R) and Colleges of Further and Higher Education (CoFHE) merged to become Academic and Research Libraries Group (ARLG). I'm active in the regional branch of this group (London and South East) having become a member of the CoFHE London and South East committee in 2010 and now fulfil the roles of liaison officer, blog editor and web editor.

On Wednesday 15th May, ARLG held its first ever Members' Day - I was looking forward to attending this event as even though I had been involved at a regional level I thought it would be a great opportunity to find out more about the goings on at the top.

It was held at Regents University London in the beautiful surroundings of Regent's Park and the day kicked off with an introduction from its new Vice Chancellor, Professor Aldwyn Cooper. For half an hour, he calmly but passionately enthused about the institution, about its social responsibility, ethos, diversity, its focus on employability but most of all its collegiality. Tying in the ARLG theme of partnerships and collaboration, he expressed his pride in working with people who talk to each other across their departments.

Regents University London 

Straight after was a talk from Lesley Ruthven, a special collections librarian from Goldsmiths University. She spoke about the various partnerships she and her team are involved in from school visits to creating workshops for her academic staff. She referred to 'empowering' the subject librarians to promote the resources by breaking down the collections into subject categories. She works hard to preempt as well as to respond to enquiries and is working to ensure her role becomes a 'jewel in the crown' at Goldsmiths.

Lesley's slides.

Working with subject librarians came up at the Supporting Researcher's event I attended and it makes sense - we are the ones who know our academic staff, know who is receptive and willing to be involved and know who would benefit. The theme of the day was partnerships but if we aren't even talking to each other effectively then we can't realistically expect to get very far with others.

Next up was Abi Mawhirt from Dundee College speaking about the new learning hubs recently installed. They took on a headache inducing amount of projects at one go as besides creating the hubs they also installed RFID, installed a new library management system, migrated their Blackboard virtual learning environment to Moodle all while five campuses were being reduced to two. In each hub there is a focus on academic support and learning and despite initial misgivings from academic and library staff, feedback indicates that students feel more engaged, more capable of working together and the retention rates have improved. While all this sounded great, one thing which niggled was that the Library specified they wanted to get new staff who worked well with people so they purposefully didn't stipulate a library qualification. I can empathise with this in one way as I didn't have the qualification when I started out but did have tons of customer service experience which has always proven valuable, however, I would have expected that they would encourage staff to work towards it, plus it implies that librarians aren't people focused which is completely untrue.

Abi's slides.

After lunch and the Annual General Meeting, Ann Craig from University of Worcester told us about the development and the implementation of the Hive, a privately financed initiative to create a library for both university students and council services. They combine staffing and resources and their corporate plans are very similar. I'm still not sure about the Hive - on one hand it's great for the community as they get new facilities and access to a much wider range of materials but I just can't see what the students get out of it. Having seen how private finance initiatives have meant extortionate costs for the NHS, I can't help but be concerned that education will suffer the same fate if it follows the same path.

Ann's slides.

After a short promotion for ARLG bursaries, it was time for us to give back - in small groups we came up with and fedback answers to the following questions:

  • what topics would you like to be covered at the next conference?
  • what do we want from ARLG?
  • what should its objectives be?
I didn't catch everything that was said but there were a lot of people interested in access, including open access and disability access, and transition, including from school to further education to higher education and within higher education itself. Help with career decisions related to academic and research libraries such as chartership, teaching certificates and PhDs alongside online help, webinars, clear communication, advocacy and sustainability also featured heavily.

The whole process of merging the two special interest groups has not been without its challenges and suffered enormously at the beginning from a lack of communication, however, it does seem to be getting back on track and having a Members' Day is definitely a positive step in the right direction. It's a useful way to keep in touch, to share what we are up to and to strengthen the bonds within our sector and I sincerely hope they continue.


  1. Sounds interesting! Thanks for posting the links to the slides - I've been looking at Lesley's for obvious reasons!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    I tried to post this some time ago, but have not had any success! I enjoyed reading your account of the ARLG Members' Day - a beautiful setting and lively event.

    I'm disappointed you've had quite a negative reaction to our recruitment process - I suppose in some ways we're just not a very typical library. In truth, we've had some really difficult situations with librarian-trained staff, most of whom actively disliked speaking with students, delivering inductions and in general being proactive with users. Perhaps it would have been fairer of me to say we did not limit applications to those with library training, but I think it is equally unfair to say every single librarian is a people-person - I have worked with many who are not.

    I know our approach will not work for all libraries, but that's why we like to share our experiences - so much changed in one go and it would not be successful without the team we have - of which I am the only trained librarian. I think that has in part been key to our successes - we want people who want to do the job we're offering and that's what we've got, librarian or not.

    Best wishes,

  3. Thanks for your comments Abi. It sounds like you have a really good team there and that you have achieved a great deal in such a short amount of time. Not limiting applications to those with library training is fine,I certainly didn't have library training when I got my first library job like I state in my post, I think it was just the way it was presented that surprised me. I still believe that generally librarians in those roles are people focused, although of course you always get individuals who like to prove the opposite. Perhaps I just surround myself with the good ones!

    I certainly agree that if you are providing a student/customer facing service that people skills are paramount.