CILIP Umbrella #ub13 conference

Thanks to a generous HLG bursary I attended the CILIP Umbrella conference in Manchester at the beginning of July. Being the national library and information professionals conference it boasted a broad range of speakers and sessions and proved to be a thought-provoking, frustrating and inspiring conference for me.


Lauren Smith’s a Critical Approach to Information Literacy gave me the most to think about. Lauren argued that without a critical perspective, information literacy will never be the librarian’s weapon of choice no matter how much we argue that it is our raison d’etre. Critical information literacy is essential for all citizens to be able to participate in the democratic processes of society and to feel included. As a health librarian I am all too aware that the general public would benefit from the skills needed to critique the health stories (and scares) which appear daily on TV and in newspapers. These are all too often reported on or published without anyone checking the actual research that has been produced. Ben Goldacre’s TED talk on this is fascinating and well worth a watch.


The Community Libraries debate (that was anything but) was the most frustrating session I’ve ever sat through. It consisted of five people, three of whom were clearly advocating for community-managed libraries (and however you define this it means the use of volunteers and community groups either instead of, or that causes the reduction of, paid staff). The attitude of the panel was that community-managed libraries are happening so we should all just get used to it. I was (incredibly naively) expecting at least one person on the panel to be of the opinion that the very concept of these libraries is abhorrent and should be actively avoided at all costs. I was expecting a debate. A heated discussion between people on both ends of the spectrum. I wanted someone to give a rousing speech against community libraries. But the the most anti-community library comment I remember (from the panel) was a bit of reverse-psychology about community-managed libraries being inevitable so rather than being in denial (which I don’t think we are) librarians should be angry about them (which I think we are). If this had been a teachers’ conference session discussing the implementation of community-managed schools and volunteers replacing teachers what do you think the reaction would have been?

But what to do about them? When the weight of council pressure is forcing these changes through with little thought of the long-term sustainability and impact on communities what do we do? I can’t say that I know seeing as I don’t know of any campaign which has been successful. But I am proud to have joined a campaign (Save Lincolnshire Libraries) and to at least try.


Anyone that attended Umbrella will know what the winner here is! No? Were you not paying attention?

Victoria Treadway and Dr Girendra Sadera‘s brilliant example of collaboration between medicine and librarianship left so many of us in awe. Critical care is a unique department with patients needing treatment for a myriad of often life-threatening and rare conditions. Because of this, clinicians may not be certain of the best treatments or may need their knowledge reinforcing. Enter the super-duper clinical librarian! For the past two years Victoria has spent time on Dr Sadera’s critical care ward round answering clinical queries from staff within 10-15 minutes (using a tablet). This means the clinicians get answers fast and patients can be treated much more quickly.  It was clear that Victoria and Girendra had built up a really beneficial collaborative relationship and it was a very inspiring end to the first day of Umbrella.

Umbrella presentations can be found here.

National Libraries Day #NLD13 or, what do libraries mean to me?

Today is National Libraries Day, an annual event to celebrate library services and the essential work paid library/information staff do every day.

(via Paul Stainthorp on Flickr)

(via Paul Stainthorp on Flickr)

My first memory of a library is taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge at my local public library. I had a library card from a young age and used the library semi-regularly for most of my childhood. I was an avid reader but not an avid library user. I don’t have vivid memories of Matilda-esque escapades in the library. It wasn’t a sanctuary. The public library was (and still is) a nice place to visit to borrow a few books, quickly use the internet and read a paper but it never had a pivotal role in my childhood. It doesn’t have a pivotal role in my life now. I use it as semi-regularly as I used it when I was a child.

I’ve also never desperately life-depends-on-it needed an ambulance and paramedics; a hospital bed; or a fire engine and fire crew. Does this mean that noone else has? No. Should we cut these services seeing as most of us have never really needed them? No. Should we encourage nursing volunteers? Volunteer-led schools? No. Once we’ve stopped needing a school or university library should we stop caring whether it stays open or not? No.

via Pauline Fisk (

My point is, is that its very easy to dismiss libraries as nice luxuries that have never impacted greatly on anyone’s life. And that is very easy to do if the majority of people do not know what libraries do and what value and impact they have on many people’s lives. This is the point #NLD13. To showcase public, school, college, health, university and organisational libraries; the work they do; and to celebrate the staff that provide a valuable service to their users.

Whether they directly impact my life or not (some do, some never will), it’s essential that libraries are not seen as easy targets for cuts; that the general public appreciates how important they all are (not just public ones); and that those with power realise the long-term damage they are doing by replacing paid trained staff with volunteers or getting rid of library services completely because what doesn’t immediately impact one person could be a lifeline to others.

Marketing for Libraries

At the end of November last year I attended the Libraries for Nursing Winter study day Marketing your library service with limited time and limited budget. I was really pleased to be able to attend for free (thanks to the committee’s bursary) and came away with plenty of ideas and enthusiasm for marketing my library service.

Our trainer was Terry Kendrick. He was engaging and explained concepts simply (a lot of the day was spent with me going “oh yeah!” in my head as I realised how clear and straightforward his ideas were).

So, what is marketing?

“It is not how good your service is, it is how good people think it is.”

Marketing is not the same as promotion. Too many people make the mistake of thinking that creating and distributing promotional materials is marketing. However, this should always be the last thing you do after you’ve done your marketing. The whole point of marketing is to make people ready for your service by making them want or need it because they see the value in it. Libraries need to create clear and unambiguous value for users. We need to forget what services we have and instead think about what they do.

Libraries need to know their users inside out. This means that we can get the right message to the right people as and when they need it. Marketing strategies need to be planned thoroughly based on our knowledge of our users and messages need to be delivered just before users need our services.

Terry asked us what it would take for us as professionals to stop and listen to someone selling us a new product. This was a valuable exercise as it made us appreciate how selling the library service can be viewed negatively by users. We think we’re informing users of our great services and that they are obviously engaged with our message. But unless we offer added value; a time saver; a personalised product; something better than similar resources they already use; or accessible and user friendly services they may not be listening. The quality of any message always beats its quantity. Every time a user receives a message that they don’t need and therefore think is irrelevant to them they will eventually stop opening messages and (worse) stop thinking of the library as a place or service that can help them.


Terry was insistent that the only way users will be interested in our library services is if we explicitly detail the value of them. Library resources are interesting but not as interesting as helping someone do their job or study better. Libraries need to be part of a solution rather than part of an information overload problem. Many users think more information will slow them down; instead they want small amounts which are relevant to their immediate need. Spoon feeding is exactly where the value is added by libraries. Users should always get more back than what they put into the activity or relationship. User want to know if the service is worth the effort of them going; do they help them achieve important things; is the library’s offer compellingly different to other approaches?

We should segment our marketing because different user groups consider value to be different things so a personalised offer is essential. This should be based on the knowledge we have developed of the specific user group. Offering too much and overloading users with “stuff” may create a situation where users don’t use anything because they’re overwhelmed with too much choice. But encouraging them to make their own choices may result in users choosing nothing because they don’t have enough information. It’s important to get the balance right. Never draw attention to services or resources that you can’t show the immediate value of otherwise it looks superfluous and may be prone to cuts.

Getting the message out

Inform existing users of the value of a service with a friendly tone and persuade those that aren’t users with a more formal tone. If your library doesn’t appear in the news channels of your organisation this either means nothing is happening or your service’s impact gets forgotten easily. Try to keep the library at the forefront of users minds by purposefully looking for regular information and distributing with an “I came across this and thought you might be interested” tone.

Ultimately we have to be more interested in our users and what they need than trying to get users interested in services or resources that they may not want or need now (or possible ever).

A big thank you to Terry Kendrick for delivering such an interesting session and to the Libraries for Nursing committee for sponsoring my attendance at the study day.


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