CILIP UMBRELLA 2013 Conference: a student perspective

The following article was first published in the September 2013 issue of elucidate – the Newsletter for UKeiG.

CILIP UMBRELLA 2013: A Student Perspective

University_Place,_University_of_ManchesterIn March of this year I was delighted to receive a bursary from UKeiG towards the cost of attending CILIP’s Umbrella conference at the University of Manchester on 2-3 July 2013.  This biennial event brings together librarians and information professionals from a range of sectors and aims to highlight the impact of good practice and promote innovation.

According to delegates who had attended previous Umbrella conferences, there was a marked difference in the approach used to organised this year’s event.  Firstly, instead of requesting submissions through the CILIP sub-groups, the conference organisers had put out a general call for papers.  Secondly, the conference featured speakers from beyond the library profession.   This meant that there was an interesting diversity in the style, content and viewpoints expressed at the event.

The presentations were grouped under four strands: “Future Skills and Future Roles”, “Information to Best Support Society”, “Beyond Information Matters” and “Partnerships for Progress”.  Over the course of the conference, I was interested to note that a number of sub-themes seemed to be echoed across all four strands.  Instead of summarising the content of the presentations which are available via this link:, I will therefore focus on discussing my perceptions of these sub-themes.

A blurring of the boundaries between digital and physical library services

(Interior of the British Library designed by Colin St. John Wilson, with the enclosed, smoked glass King's Library at its centre )The impact of digital technologies on the information environment was viewed from different professional perspectives including media production and software development.  However, the opening keynote speaker for the conference was Roly Keating, CEO of the British Library.  He highlighted how the organisation is embracing opportunities to widen access and enjoyment of its existing physical collections, content and expertise through digital projects such as its Sounds Archive.  Moreover, he discussed the opportunities which the digital environment presents for creating new collections, as demonstrated by the project to archive the personal emails of the poet Wendy Cope.  This positive view of digital technologies was somewhat contrasted by a discussion following a presentation by Ka Ming Pang about #UKLibchat, a discussion forum on Twitter for librarians.  Some delegates expressed concern about using social media in the workplace, seeing it as a predominantly social rather than a professional activity.  However, the debate session entitled “Where Does the Internet End and the Library Begin?” highlighted how today’s information environment has no defined boundaries; users now act as creators, sharers and archivists.  In order to meet their requirements, information professionals need to be engaged with the full range of physical and digital information sources adopted by users.  This was aptly demonstrated by Suzanne Tatham of University of Sussex who has integrated the use of Twitter in the teaching of information literacy to undergraduate students.

Adapting to a changing economic climate

voices for libraryAlthough it can be argued that the information environment is constantly evolving and that information professionals are frequently early adopters of new technologies, the economic recession has focussed attention on the need to review and update the skills required in a competitive job market.  Thus, Karen McFarlane, Government Head of Profession, Knowledge & Information Management discussed how the role of Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) has changed over time and explained how the KIM remit now includes newer areas such as information architecture, data management and information rights.  Janice Lachance CEO of the Special Libraries Association in the U.S. (and a former Cabinet Member of the U.S. government under Bill Clinton), echoed this issue by advising librarians to consider broadening their career paths by making use of sought-after analytical and data management skills beyond the library sector.  Both speakers emphasised the need for staff to actively promote information services and demonstrate their value and expertise to senior management by aligning service objectives to those of the organisation.  The speakers’ sound advice was inspiring on a personal level, although their words provided little comfort to staff working in the public libraries sector, where despite the evident need for the provision of information services to the public via a community hub, library services are being eroded due to cutbacks in funding.  This issue was raised after the presentation by Keri Gray, Consultant from Sue Hill Recruitment who discussed strategies for “Managing Change and Changing Mindsets”; delegates expressed concern about adapting willingly to changes that diminish a service rather than enhancing it.

Collaborative practice

tabletsA number of presentations highlighted projects where collaboration has led to the development of innovative and relevant services.   For example, Ruth Carlyle, whose role at Macmillan Cancer Support currently includes that of Acting Head of Information, discussed the partnership between Macmillan, NHS Choices and public libraries with the aim of supporting the creation of personalised information prescriptions. This user-centred initiative also benefits participating information services by providing opportunities for sharing knowledge and expertise from their respective areas.  This form of inter-service collaboration can increase the perceived value of information services amongst stakeholders.  The joint presentation by Victoria Treadwell, Clinical Librarian and Dr. Girendra Sadera, Consultant in Critical Care & Anaesthesia at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, was an example of a working collaboration which exists in a number of NHS hospitals, whereby the Clinical Librarian (CL) is integrated into a clinical team.  The CL undertakes a range of activities which can include providing information on ward rounds, researching guidelines, supporting staff development and supporting funding bids.  Although clinical librarianship has been as aspect of NHS library services since 1978, it is the active promotion and championing of the CL role by a senior clinician that has led to the recent coverage in the national media and contributed to a wider understanding of the role of information professionals in the health sector.

Successful, localised initiatives

Woman head in handsThe conference highlighted a wide range of innovative practices being undertaken by academic, legal, health and government information services in the UK.  Within the public libraries sector, it was clear that librarians continue to play a key role in the community, as demonstrated by a number of initiatives, including the project run by Surrey County Council Libraries for people experiencing or surviving domestic abuse, which won the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award for 2013.  It was evident that despite straitened economic times, information professionals continue to provide innovative, relevant information services to their users. Nevertheless, as a newcomer to the profession, I was concerned that many of the initiatives were local in nature and that the longer-term aims of some projects seemed to be unclear.  It may be that a more cohesive and focussed approach to the advocacy of library and information services at a national level may lead to less fragmented initiatives.

Benefits of attending the conference

Attending the 2013 CILIP Umbrella conference was an opportunity for me to hear about and reflect upon best practice from experienced information professionals in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.  Moreover, it enabled me to gain a greater understanding of some of the issues and viewpoints regarding the current and potential future of the information profession.  It is certainly the case that the overview I have gained from attending the conference, has served to contextualise the research project which I am undertaking in a health library.  I therefore hope that my experience of the conference will contribute towards the library service’s ongoing development.

Many thanks to UKeiG for enabling me to attend the 2013 CILIP Umbrella conference.

(Interior of the British Library designed by Colin St. John Wilson, with the enclosed, smoked glass King’s Library at its centre) © 2004 Andrew Dunn, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

Health apps

SHaLL Consumer Health Information Conference 05/06/2013

As part of my MA in Information Studies, I am undertaking a research project in a health library.  In June, I attended a consumer health conference organised by the Strategic Health and Library Leads (SHaLL) group which represents and promotes the work of NHS health libraries.  The following is a short summary of the day’s presentations.  A revised version of this article is included in the September 2013 CILIP Health Libraries Group Newsletter.

senate house londonRichard Osborn, the Chair of SHaLL’ s Consumer Health Information (CHI) Group opened the conference at Senate House in London by explaining that the aim of the event was to highlight national developments in consumer health information as well as to provide an opportunity for colleagues from around the country to network, explore opportunities for collaboration and share good practice.


keyboard and mouseThe National Picture of Consumer Health in the NHS

The keynote address was given by Bob Gann, Director of Partnerships for the Integrated Customer Service Platform at NHS England.  Bob discussed his role in developing a new, national digital service for health and social care.  He explained that although existing NHS information websites are authoritative and well-used, these services are not integrated or transactional.  Bob’s aim is to develop an integrated multi-channel platform with a “single front door” for users.  He highlighted how successful user-centred commercial models such as Tripadvisor and Amazon share the key features of transparency, participation and transaction and explained how these features could be reflected by the new digital customer service platform.  Bob maintained that developments in digital health services must be balanced with a recognition that people experiencing the greatest health inequalities have the least access to online resources.  He endorsed the potential role for public libraries as community health hubs.

An Update on Public Health England and its Role in Consumer Health Information


Anne Brice, Interim Head of Knowledge and Library Services at Public Health England discussed how key challenges include the need to integrate the information services for the thirteen organisations which are now within the new PHE framework.  Future plans for development include working with delivery channels such as the proposed integrated customer services platform and making information more accessible to all using a variety of formats.  She was optimistic about the role for public libraries in supporting the work of local health and well-being boards.

Reading Well Books on Prescription

Books on prescription

Debbie Hicks, Director of Research at The Reading Agency discussed the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme for England.  (An overview of the scheme was reported in the June edition of the HLG newsletter, available via this link:  Debbie highlighted the role of public libraries as partners in the scheme, alongside clinicians’ representative bodies, government and publishers.  Debbie was confident that the development of the charity’s two complementary schemes:  Reading Well Mood-boosting Books and Reading Groups is evidence of the importance of public libraries in supporting the public health agenda.  Debbie concluded her presentation by discussing plans to undertake clinical research to evaluate the scheme’s quantitative impact.

Making the Case for Investing in Health Information

people running on beach

Sarah Smith, Operations Director from Patient Information Forum (PiF) presented the pre-publication findings of the PiF report on consumer health information provision, available via this link:  A key conclusion was that investing in high quality patient information improves outcomes and reduces costs.  Sarah explained that positive impacts were noted in three key areas including: patient experience, service utilisation  and people’s health behaviour.  The report’s findings endorsed previous speakers’ views that services need to be available in a range of formats and cannot migrate completely to an online environment.  Sarah concluded by suggesting that the report could be a useful tool in demonstrating the value of existing and future consumer health information services.

Quality Standards in the Provision of Information and Support Services

macmillan information centre

The presentation by Gary Birkenhead, Improvement Adviser for Macmillan Cancer Support and Chair of CILIP Health Libraries Group focussed on quality standards in the provision of information and support services at Macmillan.  Gary outlined how the charity has specialist information centres based in a wide range of venues including public libraries.  He discussed some of the challenges faced by the voluntary sector with regards to quality standards in information and service provision, including the diverse background of staff/volunteers who may have little or no background in information management.   He also highlighted how there is no common standard for consumer health information and discussed how Macmillan uses the Macmillan Quality in Information and Support Services (MQuISS) to guide service improvement.  Details of this quality standard are available via this link:

Update on SHaLL Patient Information Workshops

Birmingham public library

Sarah Greening, Health Information Coordinator for Health Education West Midlands was the final speaker of the day.  She discussed two workshops organised in Birmingham and York which had shown that strengths and areas for development in patient information services vary according to local organisational structures.  Sarah noted that libraries often say they are non or partially compliant in the LQAF patient information criterion (5.31). This was not evident from the information given by libraries in the workshops and she suggested that some libraries may be marking themselves down unnecessarily.  She proposed that libraries work more closely with the broad range of in-house patient information providers, including PALS and Health Promotion teams.  Sarah highlighted a range of cross-sector collaborative practices, whereby public and health librarians could work together, including information and knowledge exchange and developing staff and patient access to the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme.

Richard Osborn brought the conference to a close by thanking all speakers and delegates.  He reflected on the day’s key themes and looked forward to organising a similar event in the near future.

All presentations from the conference are available from the LondonLinks website via the following link:

A Storify of the day’s tweets is available via the following link:

Thanks to staff at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust Library and Knowledge Service and Richard Osborn from SHaLL for their kind support.

Home saved borlotto and trail of tears seeds

5 ways in which academic journal publishing resembles commercial seed production

Academic journal publishing resembles commercial seed production.  The similarity struck me during a discussion hosted by UKSG (a body encouraging the exchange of ideas on scholarly communication) at University of Brighton regarding the collection management of e-journals.  (The “composting” part of “compostinglibrarian” had to surface sometime on this blog, you know…)

I have been growing vegetables organically for several years and I have been rewarded by being able to collect the seed for future replanting:

Tuscan black kale in flower.  Looks great and I can collect the seed.

I’ve left this kale to flower so that it can set seed.

However, as with journal publishing, seed production has become increasingly controlled.  In essence, all seed must be rigorously tested before appearing on an EU-wide list of approved varieties for commercial production. In principle, a great idea but in practical terms the expense has led to the list being dominated by global companies such as Monsanto – whose hybrid seeds produce flowers and fruit but which cannot set viable seed for collection.  New seeds must be bought every year and as a result, growers become dependent on seed companies for annual supplies.  Coupled with the loss of locally-produced varieties suited to local conditions, this concentration is resulting in a reduction in biodiversity.  For me, the implications of this model of seed and food production are worrying, particularly as the greatest impact is on farmers in developing countries.

So what are the similarities with academic journal publishing?

1. Government control

The Government recently adopted the majority of the recommendations made in the Finch Report (2012), including the use of the Gold Open Access route for the publication of publicly-funded scientific research. Although largely positive, this move has several implications, including the impact of cost on academic institutions and learned societies.  Similarly, there are regulations governing the sale of seeds across the EU.  On May 6th, the most recent EU draft proposal regarding restrictions on seed production was amended following campaigns by civil society across the EU. As a result, seed swapping and seed sharing between individuals remains possible, although implications for commercial growers are not clear.

2. Market control

Academic journal publishing has become dominated by a handful of companies with the resources to support content digitally on a global scale.  The world’s seed market is dominated by a handful of seed companies with patented seeds; according to research by ETC Group, in 2009 three companies controlled 53% of the world’s market for seeds.  These global companies are interested in promoting the sale of seeds in which they have invested R&D; primarily F1 hybrids and GM seeds.

3. Restricted access

Academics have traditionally written and peer-reviewed scholarly articles in journals for free.  It can be argued that they benefit from the kudos of participating in the publishing process.  However, due to increasing costs – including those of Gold Access publishing and complex licensing agreements, academic institutions may not be able to access relevant material.    This has significant implications in terms of teaching, learning, research and funding.  Similarly, the cost of registering open source seeds for commercial production is prohibitive (and deemed to be unethical  by campaigning organisations).  This is consequently resulting in a restriction of the available seed pool to plant varieties which do not support biodiversity.

4. Developing open access

I have commented previously on the Open Source Movement.  Open Access (OA) has been characterised in the past as being the elusive “Holy Grail” of idealists and tecchie dreamers. 

Open Access Logo

However, the adoption of the recommendations of the  Finch Report reflect the credibility of the argument for OA – and its potential to evolve beyond the Gold Access model.  The ingenuity and determination demonstrated by the reaction of academics to publisher restrictions is also reflected by organisations campaigning to maintain open access to seeds.

Via seed swaps

Seeds were always shared informally between growers in allotments but are now becoming regular events in numerous towns and cities.  Brighton’s Seedy Sunday claims to be the oldest community seed swap.  A key feature of the event is the range of talks and activities aimed at informing the public about the importance of seed saving.

Via seed clubs

Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library and the Real Seed Catalogue encourage the production and sharing of seed via membership to a club, thus circumventing the abovementioned restrictions and allowing less known but valuable varieties to continue being grown:

Seeds suitable for saving2

Some open source seeds which I have planted

Golden sweet yellow podded pea

And some of the results: “Golden Sweet” yellow podded pea

5. Repositories

I’d never really thought about how a digital object such as an e-journal could be kept safe and accessible for perpetuity – especially when a paper copy may have never existed. Initiatives such as LOCKSS seek to preserve purchased e-journals on behalf of academic libraries and to make them available to their own users, even after a publisher is unable to continue to provide access.  I’m not sure if there are other seed banks similar to this one, but Kew’s Millenium Seed Bank has collected seeds from 10% of the world’s wild plant species in an effort to preserve the future of our biodiversity:

Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex

Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex

Whilst I do think that the role of GM in food production is an important debate, I think that the issue of commercial seed production has been rather overshadowed by it – small independent seed companies have been bought up by multinational giants and the patenting of seeds by stealth and the proliferation of F1 seeds is already with us.  Next time you go to the garden centre, just take a look at the racks of seed packets – how many of them are open source?

I’m not a scientist or expert – so if you have any comments, please do let me know.

Bethlem Moorefield 1676

Archiving Bedlam

A voyeuristic experience?

Last week I joined the Association of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Social Sciences (ALISS) in a visit to the Museum and Archives of The Bethlem Royal Hospital.  I knew very little about the Hospital; I was aware that the word bedlam is a corruption of the Hospital’s name and that its meaning (uproar, confusion) is a result of its association with the treatment of mental illness.  I wondered if visiting the museum was a modern day equivalent of the Hospital’s historical practice of “public visiting”, whereby the paying public were allowed to observe patients for entertainment.  Caroline Smith, the Education and Outreach Officer for the Museum and Archives gave a presentation about the background of the Hospital and Colin Gale, the Archivist led a workshop; both helped to dispel my concerns.

Why it wasn’t all bedlam

Established as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem in 1247 with the aim of collecting alms to fund the Crusader church, Bethlem Royal Hospital has a long history; it has occupied four different sites (including the building currently occupied by The Imperial War Museum) and has been known by a number of names, including St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlehem Hospital and Bedlam.

Although the Hospital may have deserved its association with the meaning of the word bedlam in its early history, I was struck by the fact that after the late 1800s, Bethlem Royal Hospital differed in its approach to mental illness from other institutions.

Firstly, it was clear that a patient could only be admitted on being diagnosed on separate occasions by two different doctors.  Moreover, most families had to pay a substantial deposit relative to their income when referring a family member to the hospital.  Caroline explained that this reduced the opportunity for families to commit people in an attempt to “hide away” embarrassing members of their family such as unwed mothers or rejected wives.

Secondly, the Hospital’s policy was to admit only patients that were likely to make a recovery.  Patients stayed for a maximum of 12 months, during which time they were monitored for signs of improvement.  Operating on the premise that mental illness was treatable meant that patients were encouraged to make use of the outdoor environment and to occupy themselves with activities in order to make a recovery.

The female workroom The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam], St. George's Fields

The female workroom

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam], St. George's Fields, Lambeth: the billiard room. Wood engraving by F. Vizetelly, 1860.

The billiard room

A workshop activity

Colin Gale’s workshop involved looking at historical patient records.  These large tomes contained the information detailing every patient’s background, admission, observation and discharge notes.  I was moved by the details of a young woman patient and wondered if this was a solely voyeuristic activity.  My opinion changed when Colin asked the group to consider the way in which the records had been presented.  It became evident that although observations were made, no treatments were outlined and patients were discharged on the basis of observable improvements in social and personal behaviour.  So how do we define “normal” mental health?  Is it by conforming to contemporary social norms?  Colin suggested that looking at archival material was a useful springboard for discussing a wide range of issues.  Thus, the Bethlem Museum & Archives team are skilled at presenting their resources (records, photos, artwork) for use by schools, colleges and HE institutions to lead debates regarding mental health.

It’s about more than preservation

Royal Bethlem Hospital Monks Orchard

Royal Bethlem Hospital at Monks Orchard, Beckenham

Today, the Royal Bethlem Hospital serves a dual purpose as a provider of mental health services for residents of South East London and also as a national referral centre for  specialist areas, such as neurodevelopmental and anxiety disorders.  At first glance, there appears to be a contrast between the modern clinical practice at the Hospital and the historical content of the Museum and Archives.  But perhaps not…

Collection development

It was coincidental that this week I also attended a lecture on library collection development policies; we discussed how these are influenced by the organisational aims and objectives.  It is evident from its archives that in the past, Bethlem has been associated with cruel practices, reflective of their historical context.  By preserving the collection and through the use of events, exhibitions and educational workshops, the Museum and Archives service are contributing to the widening of understanding regarding mental health.  Thus, the collection continues to grow, with the ongoing addition of material related to the development of psychiatric care.

Thanks to all staff at ALISS and the Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum and Archives for organising the visit!

(All images obtained under Creative Commons copyright from Wellcome Images.)

London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

BIALL, CLSIG and SLA New Professionals Open Day

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend an Open Day for New Professionals organised by The British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL), the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CILIP CLSIG) and the Special Libraries’ Association (SLA Europe).  This was an opportunity to find out about the work of information professionals in different sectors ranging from law, medicine and science.

To top it all off, we were offered the opportunity to visit one of three nearby libraries; I chose the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Library, as my Master’s research project      is based in a hospital library and I thought that this might give me a different perspective on the medical sector.

We were given a tour of the beautiful Art Deco building by Caroline Lloyd, the Head of Library and Archives Service.  She had also arranged for us to hear about the different aspects of the Library’s work from her team.

Main Library of London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Main Library of London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

The Archives team had selected items for us to see from some of their collections.  I’ve always enjoyed the history of science; the impact and scale of a scientific discovery or advancement can sometimes be better understood when put into its historical and social context.  Thus, I was really thrilled to see a selection of artefacts and documents from the Ronald Ross Collection. This was the scientist who received a Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery of the transmission link between mosquitoes and malaria in 1897.  It was humbling to think that he resolved as a child to look for a cure for this terrible disease after it was contracted by his grandfather.

The visit to the LSTMH Library was followed by a generous lunch at CILIP HQ, with an opportunity to discuss our thoughts on the event with some of the speakers.

In the afternoon we were given a glimpse into seemingly contrasting libraries; Daniel Rees discussed the provenance of the material in the Wellcome Library, Tracey Dennis spoke about her work in the Inner Temple Library and Simon Barron spoke about his role working with digital collections at the British Library.

On reflection, however, the sectors, cultures and experiences described by the speakers (I have only mentioned a few, full list is available from the CILIP website: were not fundamentally different.  Whether cataloguing a notebook, retrieving case law for a judge, or encouraging people to understand science thorough special Library events – all speakers shared a passion and commitment to facilitate access to resources and knowledge.

Thanks BIALL, CLSIG and SLA Europe for a great Day!


Cowtaloguing: librarians on a farm

I was intrigued by the advert in the local volunteer centre.  Why did a farm require the services of a cataloguer?

After working for two years as a part-time library assistant in the Lending Services department of an HE library where I had gained some useful experience in managing enquiries I was keen to try out the new skills I was learning on my Master’s in Information Studies course.

As it turned out, there was already a librarian on the farm; working under the pseudonym of “Data & Resources Officer”, this experienced librarian manages the information needs of the farm and its related charity whilst also working as reference librarian at the local library.

So what does a librarian do on a farm?

Updating the website, managing the social media account, writing the farm newsletter – and finding someone to video the cows skipping out to the field for the first time since the winter…a librarian on a farm needs the same skills and resourcefulness as required by any 21st century information service!

And what does the librarian’s assistant do?

Well, the recent CILIP South East Lightning Talks focussed on the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base and I was pleased to see that my voluntary work, as outlined in the Prezi below:

fits into the “Organising Knowledge and Information” and “Knowledge and Information Management” segments of this new tool!