Libraries at the Equinox – Report from the Joint LfN / UHMLG Conference

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 31 (2)

Maurice Wakeham
Faculty Liaison Librarian: Health and Social Care
University Library, Queens Building,
Anglia Ruskin University, Bishop Hall Lane,
Chelmsford, Essex

In the dim dark distant past (about a month ago, as I write) I attended the joint Libraries for Nursing / University Health and Medical Librarians Group’s conference which had the rather puzzling title of “Libraries at the Equinox”, which was partly explained by its sub-title of “New challenges, new competencies, new roles”. The event had actually been planned to look at the linkages between what health and medical librarians do in the educational setting, and how this carried over into the real worlds that people live and learn in when they leave the educational environment and go into the world of work. This was a two day event (20-21 June 2011), in the first of which speakers attempted to show how academics and health professionals prepared students and employees for their roles in the workplace, while day two was more concerned with the changing roles of librarians and the ways that they support different audiences. I think this is the first time that LFN and UHMLG have collaborated on an event like this and no doubt many of the presentations will appear on the relevant websites in due course (;

Preparing for Practice

On day one there was a report on the development of the new nursing curriculum at the University of Southampton and the way it is based in values and research, the creation of a curriculum for Assistant Practitioners seeking to develop their knowledge and the development of career frameworks for healthcare scientists. A theme which came through on this first day was the new ways that education needs to be provided – collaboratively, at work, proactively, in small chunks, at the right time, flexibly, interprofessionally, on the move and by a range of providers. (See South West Learning 4 Health; Modernising Scientific Careers )

Information literacy

The role of libraries in preparing for practice was emphasised more by Judy Atkinson and Caroline Lynch who described how the Royal College of Nursing had gone about formulating a set of information literacy competencies1. Developing this thread Alison Brettle spoke about research into the effectiveness, or not, of information skills training for student nurses. I think what she, and the others she was quoting, have concluded is that it is very difficult to know whether information skills training is effective or not, and that there was little difference in the effectiveness of computer aided instruction and traditional methods, though there is some evidence that most participants preferred online methods.

Networking opportunities

One of the features of a two day conference is that at the end of the first day you get the chance to eat and drink too much, in convivial surroundings, and engage in witty conversation with your colleagues. I think, as far as your employer is concerned, especially if they are paying, this is known as professional networking. This phrase might also describe what Isla Kuhntalked about on the following day when she described the TeachMeets which she had helped set up, where people canmeet together in an informal setting to share ideas and experiences. (See Library TeachMeets: )

Supporting researchers

Day two commenced with us all refreshed and ready to hear from Antony Brewerton about opportunities for subject librarians to support researchers. Antony spoke about a forthcoming study entitled “Reskilling for Research” that has been carried out within the Research Libraries UK Workforce Think Tank. Libraries have been surveyed to find out what they do to support researchers. Examples of their activities include providing research specialists, information skills training, bibliographic software support, copyright advice, promotion of special collections, bibliometrics / impact measurement, Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) support, development of web 2.0 technologies, current awareness services (through RSS feeds) and advice on writing for publication. Areas that librarians do not seem so interested in are generating research themselves, commercial exploitation of research, data collection and analysing or reflecting upon data. Interestingly librarians often did not think subject knowledge was important for working with researchers (this would not be the case in the USA) and nor did they think it was their role to produce digests of information. Are they right? Given what subsequent speakers had to say, perhaps not. The study has found that researchers, very much like undergraduates, are happy with ‘good enough’ information. Many subject librarians will need reskilling in providing for the needs of researchers. This was presented against the background that researchers do not see libraries as relevant, often filling their information needs by communication within their own networks. As usual from Antony this was a very interesting presentation and the full report may well be available by the time you read this. (See RLUK: Subject Librarians. Skills set investigation: and several useful articles in SCONUL Focus 51, 2011).

Supporting managers

Support for researchers was followed up by Debra Thornton talking about how her library supports hospital managers. She had been engaged in a project whereby a librarian attended high level management meetings in a Blackpool based NHS Trust and undertook searches around policy issues which managers wanted information about. The management librarian would also perform searches for examples of best practice, produce summaries of papers and provide hyperlinks. The pilot project is now over but it has raised the profile of the library service and highlighted the value to management of evidence based decision making.

An approximate role was outlined by Anne Gray, a commissioning librarian who works in Milton Keynes. Her job, like the Blackpool management librarian’s, is to attend meetings and to find, select, appraise and summarise information – managers do not want to do it or be trained in how to do it, they want it done for them. So she proactively responds to the issues which arise. The emphasis is on a plurality of types of evidence rather than a hierarchy, in contrast to the clinical realm. The types of information that managers value most are local public health intelligence, examples of best practice and expert advice, local policies, guidelines, government policies, benchmarks and evidence of cost effectiveness. Typically they want to know how others have done what they have to do. So they do not actually want documentation but to know who to talk to. The librarian, who probably prefers to be known as a knowledge officer, carries information around the organisation, pollinating as she goes. (See  Quality MK Knowledge zone: ).

Embedded research assistance

Both Debra and Anne actually seem to be describing what might be called embedded librarians, which is what Rachel Kotarski also talked about – research information officers embedded within a research group. The JISC funded project that Rachel was involved with found that researchers tend not to want to use services provided centrally, they do not see these as relevant to them, their project is special so they create their own systems rather than using existing ones. Libraries wishing to support such groups need to make known what they can do. People and relationships are probably as or more important than technological solutions.

Digital professionalism

Though not the final presentation, the session that I thought provided a useful overview of what is going on at the moment was given by Suzanne Hardy. She talked about digital professionalism, being professional in a digital environment. This is a concept which is rarely taught explicitly but is of increasing importance. People are not always aware that what they do in the virtual world is potentially there forever. Being digitally professional is about managing risk, so be careful about what you say and do online, remember an online community is still a community and follow the same rules of acknowledgement of sources in the virtual world as you would in the real one. (See Digital professionalism: )

I hope that gives you a flavour of the content of the meeting, which was very interesting and good value. And if you feel the need for a little professional networking, keep your eyes open for a local librarians’ TeachMeet or a future event organised by LFN or UHMLG, or both.


  1. See
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