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.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Supporting Researchers: how librarians can support the REF, bibliometrics and data management

On Wednesday 8th May, I left work early to help set up and attend the Academic and Research Libraries Group (ARLG) London and South East event entitled Supporting Researchers: how librarians can support the REF, bibliometrics and data management. 

There was a good turnout to hear the two speakers talk about their experience of supporting researchers. First up was Andria McGrath, a Research Information Specialist at King's College London. She focused on internal library partnerships and discussed the importance of  working with IT and Research management as well as academics.

Andria's slides are available so I don't want to regurgitate everything she said, however, a couple of the main points that resonated for me were:

  • The relationship between the Graduate School and the Research Librarian is key. Andria mentioned that training is very important for supporting researchers but they only want to turn up to sessions on how to use referencing software. This is why it is so important that academic librarians, and especially research librarians, have a strong relationship with the Graduate School in order that researchers don't miss out on very useful and relevant workshops. This is definitely the case where I work and it was also remarked upon via Twitter that this was the same at other institutions.
  • Staff development is vital. Andria mentioned that she spent a week on a Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) training course in Leiden and this helped her to fulfil her duties enormously. While not all institutions value or support continual professional development, I think it is important that we take control of what we are able to  -  engaging in what we can and then taking the time to share it with others. Not only will it help consolidate thoughts but by 'paying it back' you are helping others to learn and grow too improving the situation for us all.
The second speaker of the evening was Monique Ritchie, a colleague and Research Librarian at Brunel University. She spoke about her new post supporting researchers, the Research Data Management Project and UKRISS. Monique helpfully listed 6 key skills needed to do her role; a useful list for anyone trying to decide if this could be for them, although I felt they could easily apply to my job too. The key skills were:

  • adaptability & flexibility
  • ability to prioritise
  • diplomacy and tact
  • a sense of adventure
  • ability to think strategically
  • networking - externally as well as internally 

Monique's slides are also available but a couple of items she mentioned stuck with me:

  • Always be ready to justify what you're doing. I've found that as budgets and time are both tighter and we are regularly expected to do more with less, justifying oneself is becoming a regular obstacle to overcome. If we always carry in the back of our minds the reasons behind what we are doing then it should make it that little bit easier to explain it to others.
  • Relationship building is a key part of the role. Research librarians need to work closely with subject librarians to embed support in departments, with the schools in the university, with research institutes and with other stakeholders. In all my various roles, librarian and otherwise, building relationships not only makes getting things done a lot easier but it helps make life more enjoyable too.

Unintentionally, this event on supporting researchers raised the theme of collaboration and partnerships. This topic is very prevalent this year; it was the theme for the ARLG Members' Day and features as a theme at the CILIP Umbrella conference. It has been recognised that in a recession or global downturn people become increasingly anxious about personal identity and therefore more protective and less willing to share (you've only to look round an office when supplies are limited - people become very protective of their staplers!)  I'm hoping that as this theme keeps cropping up throughout the library, information, education and research sectors that perhaps we are bucking the trend, which is certainly an optimistic thought.