Face-off: online vs offline networks

In this post I am going to write about both thing 6 (online networks) and thing 7 (offline networks) of the 23 Things for Continuing Professional Development programme. This is partly because I’m so far behind, but mostly because I don’t feel I can talk about one without mentioning the other. I am also going to flip things around and write about offline networks first.

I am a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), within that my special interest groups are the CDG (Career Development Group) and CoFHE (Colleges of Further and Higher Education).

I started my membership when I was doing my masters. My reason for joining was because it seemed like a good way to get an insight into the profession I was about to join and really who could say no to student membership for £38 for the year? What I found from that year of membership was that I didn’t really get much out of it so when it came to renewing, as a full-time worker on a moderate income, I didn’t feel it was worth the cost, and I didn’t miss it for the couple of years that I was on the outside.

I rejoined a couple of years ago because I had planned to charter. I haven’t done that yet, and increasingly am thinking that I never will, but I have found that I’m getting more out of CILIP now than I did before. Why is that? I think partly it’s down to the new regime under Annie Mauger who seems to be working hard to make CILIP relevant and useful to its members. Mostly however I think it’s because I’m more engaged with what’s going on in the special interest groups and my local branch. The West Midlands branch is really active and there’s a lot of good stuff being done.

In addition to CILIP I am also a member (through my institution) of the BLA (Business Librarians Association) and this is an absolutely invaluable network to be part of. The events run by the group are second to none as they have direct relevance and application to my day to day work. The conference, as I have mentioned before, is the highlight of my working year. You might say I am biased because I am also on the BLA committee. Being so involved in this group has played a major part in my development in the profession, it’s given me opportunities and challenges that I feel have helped me to become better at what I do.

You know that motto ‘you get out what you put in’? I think this is especially true with professional organisations such as these.

Other than Twitter I can’t say that I use any other online network to its full potential for professional networking. I am a member of LinkedIn, LISNPN and CILIP Communities but the truth is that I just don’t use them unless I’m directed there to look at something. Largely I use them as an add-on to the face-to-face interactions that I get through the offline networks. On LinkedIn I a member of the CILIP and BLA groups which provides an oportunity for communication between events. I contribute to CILIP Communities as a blogger, but the forums are something which I’ve never really got in to.

With the BLA I have tried to initiate more online discussion. I revamped the forum when I took over as Web Officer, but it rarely got used and has wasted away. We’ve got a hashtag on Twitter which is used a little. I think the reason none of these has taken off is because of the success of the LIS-Business email list. Between events this is where the community lives and interacts, and it works so why change it.

So what’s my conclusion? Before I started writing this post I had this in mind as my closing statement:

Online and offline networks each have their own benefits, neither is superior and together they make an awesome team.

As I have been writing though I’ve realised that without Twitter in the equation the online networks just don’t do it for me. The offline networks have by far the most value for me as a professional.

The result
Offline: 1
Online: 0

Making an impact with the BLA

The Business Librarians Association (BLA) conference is one of the highlights of my year at work. I’ve been to three so far and they get better year after year. This year’s conference was held in Sheffield from the 13-15 July. The theme was “Making an impact: demonstrating value”.

Production LineAs a member of the BLA committee my conference starts a day earlier than most delegates with a final committee meeting at the venue. At this meeting we run through the programme for the next few days and divide up the remaining jobs. The final task is to make up the delegates packs. We’ve got this down to a fine art now as you can see from the production line in this photo.

One of the jobs I had at the conference was to tweet from the BLAlibNews account. It was the first time that I’ve live tweeted from a conference and also used this as my sole form of notetaking – yes, that means there are no visual notes to show you. I have however created an archive of all of the tweets from the conference (on the #BLAlib tag).

Rather than trawl through all of the tweets and reflect on every session in this post I’m just going to pull out my highlights. All of the presentations will eventually be uploaded to the BLA SlideShare account.

A is for Advocacy… (Keynote by Antony Brewerton)

Ant’s ABC for libraries is advocacy, branding and communicating your worth. Here are the key points of each:

Librarians have always had an image problem and we need advocates. Students can be our most effective advocates – lots of universities are using students to create videos about library services to promote them to Freshers.

Antony expanded Jerome McCarthy’s 4Ps of the Marketing Mix to 7:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion
  5. Physical evidence
  6. Processes
  7. Participants

He showed us examples of marketing campaigns from Oxford Brookes (where cakes featured heavily) and Warwick. At Warwick the main library has a brand and each of the different facilities (Learning, Teaching and BioMed Grids, Wolfson Research Exchange and MRC) have their own sub-brand.

Communicating your worth
It is difficult to attract new users so we need to work on building relationships with existing users. When it comes to this we need to think about selling the benefits and outcomes rather than the tools. This is something which I try to remember whenever I am teaching.

Question Time

Question Time

Question Time

The panel discussion this year took a different format from previous years. Chair Emma Thompson channelled David Dimbleby to host Question Time. The panel consisted of the four speakers from earlier in the day, Heather Thrift, Antony Brewerton, Clive MacDonald and Steve Giannoni. The questions had been previously submitted by members of the audience:

  1. What is the role of the library in the employability agenda?
    SG: supplies need to be aware of the changing roles of libraries so they can support us better in achieving that
    CM: we need to focus on practical solutions; placements and projects
    AB: libraries need to get information skills of all kinds (including employability) embedded into modules and work with other central university services to provide them
    HT: we need to reinvent traditional tools and show that library resources can be used to break in to future job markets
  2. Do libraries need to embrace social media?
    CM: students value face-to-face interactions most but they will expect us to know and use technology.
    AB: we need to get students promoting the library using social media e.g. writing posts on library blogs
    ET: we also need to monitor what is said about our libraries and respond
  3. Are students primarily learners or customers?
    HT: We have customer services divisions in our libraries; we are therefore sending a message to our users about how we view them.
    AB: This has been an issue for the past 10-15 years and it’s far me complex than this or that.
    SG: it’s irrelevant what we think, it’s about student perceptions and how we manage them
    CM: they are learners but they need and want the best elements of customer services from library staff

Huddersfield University Library Impact Project workshop

This session consisted of two parts. The first a presentation introducing the project delivered by Graham Stone (sadly Dave Pattern had to stay in Huddersfield to resolve a problem at work).



The project’s hypothesis is that there is a statistically proven correlation between student library usage and attainment. The data used to measure this was circulation transactions, e-resource usage and library entry statistics.

As the project nears its end the team are nearly in a position where they can prove the hypothesis.

Further research will look at whether usage of reading list items raises attainment and whether a VLE makes a difference

To find out more you can read the project blog and the slides from the presentation.

The second part of the session was a discussion workshop. We were split into groups and presented with one of four questions to discuss. After 15 minutes we came back together for each group to present their answers.

1. If we assume a link between library usage and attainment, what does good practice look like?

  • responding to feedback
  • analysis of surveys, including NSS
  • Bloomberg/Reuters certification
  • testimonials and publication of positive feedback
  • access to materials and provision of learning space
  • promotion of services

2. Can we actually demonstrate that the library adds value?

  • ask high achieving students what they are doing; are they using the library or not
  • can’t assume that non-usage means students are doing something wrong; perhaps course does not demand it
  • is reading beyond the reading list making a difference to grades?
  • application and interpretation of information, not just use
  • are higher achievers better at choosing resources? Yes; evaluation is key

3. If students are not using the library or the resources, what can we do to change their behaviour? How could gender, culture and socio-economic background affect library usage and how could this be addressed?

  • librarians and information skills need to be embedded and relevant
  • resources need to be simplified
  • cultural issues; one right answer or unrealistic expectations of help available
  • student ambassadors/champions
  • promotion/marketing of resources
  • content AND functionality are key

4. If the hypothesis is proved to be correct, does cutting library budgets mean that attainment will fall?

  • use usage statistics to identify which resources to cut
  • move to eBooks over multiple print copies
  • point of need training and making the most of what you’ve got
  • year on year cuts will of course have an impact
  • evidence is crucial; can we show resource use is linked to student performance
  • to measure value of subject librarians test information literacy before and after information skills training

Analysing Service Quality Among Postgraduate Chinese Students (Keynote by Bradley Barnes)

In the future there will be greater competition for Chinese students from outside the UK. In addition to the expansion of China’s Higher Education market there are external issues which may mean Chinese students are less likely to apply to UK universities: Visa processing, reduced economic growth in China and the fear of no job on return home.

Bradley Barnes, Professor of International Management & Marketing at the University of Sheffield, has carried out a survey of Chinese students in order to analyse service quality. The survey was based on SERVQUAL and split into sections: responsiveness, assurance, empathy, tangibles and reliability. The results showed that the subject university was underperforming in all areas – the issue therefore is understanding and managing expectations.

Concerns about the expectations of Chinese students are that they, and so the answers given in the survey, are skewed by cultural factors. A major contributing factor is that the students have little knowledge or experience of the UK. Barnes sees a simple solution to this, we need to educate Chinese students before they arrive so they are more aware of cultural differences.


BLA Conference 2010

BLA logo
From the 7th – 9th July I attended the annual Business Librarians Association (formerly the British Business Schools Librarians Group) conference. A week on I have finally had a chance to reflect on the three day event.

Both Kirsty Taylor and Andy Priestner have already blogged in detail about the conference and I would encourage you to read their posts and also to check out the tweets from the event.

The overall theme, and title for the event was The Research Agenda and under that there were three main areas covered:

  • open access
  • practitioner research
  • the library’s role in supporting researchers

Rather than take you through and outline each presentation in detail I’m going to carve things up using these themes.

Open access
Phil Sykes, Librarian at the Sydney Jones Library, University of Liverpool, was the first to tackle the topic of open access. He stated that in order to increase the impact of research output, publishing papers in open access repositories was essential – and this was an area where libraries had a key role to play. In the Q&A session after Phil’s presentation Keith Walker opened up a discussion on the morality of open access by stating that as academics are essentially publicly funded they have a moral obligation to publish the results of their research in open access repositories. There was overwhelming support for this amongst the audience, and presenters – however, in her presentation, Mary Betts-Gray identified three barriers that prevented academics feeling the same way; lack of awareness, copyright concerns and a perceived threat to their ability to publish their research in the future.

Practitioner research
In the first keynote of the conference, Hazel Hall, IWR Information Professional of the Year, spoke about practitioner research. Her presentation is available on Slideshare. She hit us with a shocking statistic – in 2 years of issues of the top 2 LIS peer reviewed journals not one article was written by an LIS practitioner! As far as I can see there are three possible reasons for this:

  1. We’re not doing the research
  2. We’re not writing our findings up for publication
  3. We’re publishing in other places

I’m prepared to bet that number one is not the problem and this view is supported by the One Minute Madness session which ran at this year’s Library and Information Science Research Coalition conference. The idea behind the session was to get LIS practitioners talking about their research for one minute each. Luckily for us the session was filmed:

One Minute Madness: LISRC10 from LIS Research Coalition on Vimeo.

In the most perfect display of conference programme planning Lydia Matheson’s members’ sharing session followed on perfectly from Hazel’s keynote. The session entitled ‘Research into practice: how evaluation and feedback have informed library service development at Aston University’ was a showcase for the research projects Lydia has been working on with the support of the Centre for Learning Innovation and Professional Practice at Aston. The projects included the development of an information literacy module to be embedded into the VLE and the implementation of a consistent approach to reading list management.

Supporting researchers
When discussing this topic it is impossible not to refer to the Researcher Development Framework which is due to be published by Vitae later this month. This is intended to be used as a tool for “planning, promoting and supporting the personal, professional and career development of researchers in higher education”.

Moira Bent of the University of Newcastle delivered a keynote on the library’s role in the research lifecycle. Her presentation focused on five ‘I’s:

  • Information
  • Integration
  • Innovation
  • Impact
  • Information Literacy

Her emphasis, and what she views as the key to our success, is information literacy. This is something that was picked up by Stephane Goldstein of the Research Information Network in his keynote referring back to the RIN’s Mind the Skills Gap report on training for researchers.

Finally, we had the view of support for researchers from a members’ perspective in the form of Carolyn Smith’s presentation on PhD support at Cass Business School. Her focus was on how to engage a community that appears hidden and distanced from the library. She presented a few ideas they are using at Cass including focus groups and a research seminar series, but encouraged the group to share their experiences.

One thing I’ve taken away from the conference (there are some more to follow in a later post too) is a long reading list and so to finish off, here are couple of links to further reading for you too: