BETH are a European group of national organisations representing librarians working in theological college, seminary, Church and monastic libraries. Solo librarians or librarians working in small teams are characteristic of their membership, although there is also representation from University libraries. I attended their conference on the theme of Challenges facing ecclesiastical libraries in Cordoba, Spain on 30/9/23-4/10/23, to share a paper about partnership working between Church and University in New College Library.
BETH Conference 2023
What are the challenges for ecclesiastical libraries?
A number of recurring challenges were underlying themes for the conference.
The decline in religious vocations and in church membership and attendance, which is also linked to a decline in available funding for church libraries, as funding must come from a diminishing church populace.
The effects of war, military action and other political and social conflicts.
Delivering professional management of historic collections under both of these circumstances with the particular needs and financial demands of historic and rare collections.
How can ecclesiastical libraries be successful in avoiding crisis and collapse?Continue reading →
I attended the CALC Conference on 24th and 25th May and can thoroughly recommend this annual event to other professionals interested in critical librarianship. The gathering was welcoming and introduced the day by stating “we will operate within a spirit of liberation at this conference”. If you have not heard of CALC before, their website states that “The Critical Approaches to Libraries Conference aims to provide a space to discuss all aspects of critical practice in libraries and librarianship including (but not limited to) decolonisation, critical pedagogy, equality, diversity and inclusion in library work and the representation of marginalised groups in the workforce, academia and literature.”
The 2 day conference was packed with a diverse range of topics and speakers, so I can only highlight a few here. At the end of the blog post I have included links to further reading.
Some of my key take-aways were:
When designing a support resource for ebook accessibility question your assumptions about students understanding of platforms, and co-design courses with students.
When investigating library ‘decolonisation’ initiatives there is no such thing as “neutral”. Be clear about your positionality and privileges. Find actionable recommendations to solve a problem (move beyond critiquing, to action). Look at Algorithms of Oppression book (on DiscoverEd).
In the Day 1 conference Keynote: Decolonising bibliographies, referencing and citational practices Dr Gurnam Singh shared so many important reflections for where we find ourselves right now, such as:
“Enlightenment belongs to humanity not to Europe!”
“Colonialism is an economic endeavour and is still happening”.
“Critiquing the canon means exposing the othering and silencing of people”.
Dr Singh discussed the various types of colonisation to be aware of such as settler colonisation, extractive colonisation, and plantation colonisation.
(Colonialism is generally classified by one of five overlapping types according to the practice’s particular goals and consequences on the subjugated territory and its indigenous peoples. These are: settler colonialism; exploitation colonialism; plantation colonialism; surrogate colonialism; and internal colonialism.)
Dr Singh then went on to compare the fixed hierarchies of arborescent thought versus rhizomatic thought’s interconnected multiplicity and networks of thought, which rejects fixed categories and sees connections and dialogues.
Some of his comments might be challenging to some people, such as “Citation rankings are monetised and racist, and so therefore is the REF [Research Excellence Framework]”. It is true that currently citation rankings perpetuate certain dominant authors and global voices, which position Western discourse as the most “valid” or important. Dr Singh said “When an article has 10 authors you just know its gaming the citation rankings – its fraud. The publishing industry is colonial – it’s based on colonial attitudes.”
“Decoloniality is about building a new humanity not going back to a “purer” time. This isn’t a specialist subject, its about being human. Maybe AI could release us to be humans and not robots?”
Other topics covered by other speakers included multilingualism in public libraries; using reflective practices to extend the impact of teaching in libraries; developing collaborative cataloguing codes of ethics; setting up Library Decol Working Groups in academic libraries; exploring working class roots of library staff and their experiences in the mostly middle class populations of HE library staff; being a neurodivergent librarian in HE; using critical race theory in medical curriculum decolonisation work; and using the Homosaurus for cataloguing in a public library consortium.
We were encouraged to develop the attitude that everybody brings something to the workplace – a richness of their own, rather than making assumptions about the limitations of people based on their assumed backgrounds, identities, or experiences of “othering”.
I can thoroughly recommend attending this very affordable and welcoming conference!
Everybody’s talking about AI and Chat GPT – what will they mean? I attended an event on 20.4.2023 organised by the Information School Sheffield University which explored this question for libraries.
Dr Andrew Cox introduced the session, reminding us that chatbots & AI have featured heavily in the news recently, and of course have existed in scifi for some time.
What might AI look like in the library?
From what we’ve learnt about AI it will have a wide and deep impact on library service and backend operations and library information literacy. We’ll see new features like library chatbots, text and datamining support and automation of systematic reviews. Knowledge discovery of collections will change, with a new paradigm of search : instead of giving a list of results, ChatGPT will give an answer. Users expectations of what a search looks like will change dramatically. There may be an impact on library jobs (although the decline of the librarian has been forecast for many years since the arrival of the internet, and librarians have evolved and thrived). Changes to the workforce will probably be complex and driven by sector.
Fundamentally we should remember that AI is only as good as the data it relies upon. Our library expertise in finding and managing data in a complex information landscape, and in determining the provenance and quality of data remains key. Also, libraries’ work in supporting sharing, openness and interoperability of data is vital as this data becomes available for AI to use.
In our third and final post about the LILAC conference (you can find part one here and part two here) I wanted to touch on the topic of becoming better teachers. Although there was so much to take in from the conference – as you’ll have read from Ruth and Christine’s posts – one of the most impactful things I learned from the sessions was that the work we do is so important and impactful on our students, and it’s in all of our best interests that we consider that we have a powerful role to play in teaching.
The session I attended on the topic of Students, academic reading and information literacy in a time of COVID really reminded me that there can be a marked difference in the information we think our students want, and what they actually want. The panellists explored the results of the Academic Reading Format Information Study (D Mizrachi, 2021) which shows that over 70% of students prefer to use print books for academic study, with only 8.7% preferring ebooks. A later examination of student trends during the pandemic showed that 73% of students who responded in the US would not complete all their prescribed readings for their course due to their availability online. These results surprised and somewhat concerned us, particularly as many institutions operate on an e-first policy for library acquisitions now. If students don’t want ebooks, are we doing them a disservice by putting such emphasis on online access? Do we need to communicate and provide better training in order to help make these resources more accessible? Ultimately these questions could be answered by working more directly with students and not making assumptions about what information needs they have.
There were also inspiring sessions to encourage us to continue to develop as professionals ourselves, because by allowing ourselves time to write and research and read more about developments in our profession, we not only share the student experience with those we teach but we also develop better praxis for ourselves. All three of our academic support librarian delegates attended the Getting Your Writing Groove Back workshop run by the Journal of Information Literacy representatives, and I think all of us found it both fun and instructive. As a result we’ve already restarted the L&UC Journal Club, and look forward to building research and writing further into our current workplace activities in the future.
Slide from Getting Your Writing Groove Back presentation, by the team from the Journal of Information Literacy.
My final thought on becoming better teachers as librarians is that we need to seek out recognition of the work we’re already doing. The fact is that many library workers don’t consider themselves teachers, but by attending this conference I was able to hear many people from around the country talk about the impact their work has, and it reminded me that we’re already doing lots of this. Whether it’s creating subject guides or video demonstrations of resources, writing web content or blogs to help highlight useful databases, or directly providing instruction in front of hundreds of students, we are teachers too.
Ruth already spoke about the inspiring words of Marilyn Clarke and Emily Drabinski, but I must return to their keynotes as they both drove home the point for me. Libraries are important and library workers have influence. We must be intentional in the work we do. We have the power to affect great change in the lives of our students and our institutions, whether it’s including a range of examples in our work to help our students feel like they belong in their classes, or challenging them to find a wider variety of voices beyond their prescribed reading. We are supporting their learning and we need to recognise the power we have in order to use it to be the best teachers we can be.
Last month, three of our Academic Support Librarians team attended the LILAC conference. LILAC is a conference for librarians and information professionals who teach information literacy skills, are interested in digital literacies and who want to improve the information seeking and evaluation skills of library users. You may have seen our previous post about LILAC 22 here.
Much of the conference covered issues of critical information literacy, including long and slightly intimidating words such as critical pedagogy and decolonisation, and it was great to have the space to explore what these mean.
Keynote speaker Marilyn Clarke, Director of Library Services at Goldsmiths, University of London, spoke on Decolonisation as a means to creating an equitable future.
Marilyn Clarke with discussion chair Elizabeth Brookbank at LILAC 2022.
Marilyn clarified succinctly the difference between decolonising and diversifying library collections; diversifying ≠ decolonising, we need to ask the question why are these voices underrepresented?
She highlighted fantastic work at Goldsmiths to dismantle Eurocentric structures in the library and university, including funds for the ‘Liberate My Degree’ collection set aside for student book purchase suggestions to address gaps in the library collection. At the University of Edinburgh we have the Student Request a Book service which empowers students to request purchase of books and other resources to be added to the Library collections.
When cataloguing their Zines collection, librarians gather suggestions for keywords (used as a finding aid in the catalogue) from the authors themselves, to ensure the language used is representative. This is not just about addressing race, but also other systemic oppression such as LGBTQ+ and class.
In the final keynote of the conference, Emily Drabinski, Critical Pedagogy Librarian at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, explored how information literacy canreveal and challenge structures of power, and equip our students with tools to recognise and understand power dynamics.
By power, this mean the ability to change things, do things, influence things – we all have power in different ways and different situations. As librarians who help people find, use and understand information, we need to take societal values and power structures into account.
For example, who designed this database? With whom in mind? What is included in the database and what isn’t, and who makes those decisions? That feeling, where you get no results from a search, or too many, or their wrong – that’s not you, that’s the way the system is constructed with power.
Myself, I will be doing more to incorporate discussions of power into my teaching. It’s something I do when teaching literature searching for Systematic Reviews in medicine and biomedical sciences (these aim to find and synthesise all clinical evidence on a topic), where comprehensive searches and minimising bias are a core foundation of the review methodology – and as such, knowing what is included in a database, and crucially what is excluded, is crucial. But we can introduce this criticality earlier in students’ academic careers. I am not sure yet what that will look like exactly, but it’s exciting to consider.
Ruth Jenkins, SarahLouise McDonald and Christine Love-Rodgers at LILAC 2022
The LILAC 2022 conference in Manchester this April was a challenge and a pleasure to attend : my first real life, in person conference for two years! I put aside my laptop with the distraction of its constant stream of email to concentrate on being present in the conference and using my LILAC notebook and pen.
Alongside my colleagues, I was there to present papers about the projects we’d delivered in the COVID years, including LibSmart, our online information literacy course. We’ve developed LibSmart I to develop student information literacy skills to support student transition into the first years of an undergraduate course, and LibSmart II to support student transition into Honours and PG dissertation research. We had lots of great questions about the courses, and interest from Uppsala and Gothenberg Universities in Sweden who are keen to develop similar projects.
Student transitions in information literacy was a key theme of the conference. I attended a session by Paul Newnham on Information literacy and the transition to university education : Reflections and initial findings from Lancaster University. This research study aimed to understand student needs for information literacy and how the Library can support students with information literacy and critical thinking skills. Using qualitative data from groups in Blackpool Sixth Form College and Lancaster University, the study found that both lecturers and teachers thought that students’ ability to find information had deteriorated over the last 10-15 years. However there was wide understanding of the importance of referencing and plagiarism.
On 2-4 November I attended the LibPMC Conference (International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries). The conference content was really varied, including a focus on the needs of stakeholders and communities and actively using qualitative and quantitative data to improve services and the user experience. Here are some highlights.
But can it last? How the pandemic transformed our relationship with data. Dr Frankie Wilson, Bodleian Library
Knowledge is PowerBI: How data visualisation helped inform services during the pandemic. Elaine Sykes, Liverpool John Moore’s University
Using return on investment to tell the story of library value and library values. Prof Scott HW Young, Prof Hannah McKelvey – Montana State University
Assembling a Virtual Student Library Advisory Board during COVID-19. Prof Chantelle Swaren, Prof Theresa Liedtka – University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Charting the Change: Analysing How Online Delivery Made A Difference to Who Is Accessing Academic Skills Programmes. Louise Makin, Academic Engagement Manager, Liverpool John Moores University.
Marilyn started off with a quote from Desmond Tutu “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” What can we do as librarians to be more than neutral?
At Goldsmiths, a Liberate our library working group was set up to look at this question. They started out by asking : do students see library spaces, books on the shelves, which looks like them? Do students see themselves when they come into the library?
It is once again Conference Season, where academic librarians would usually be collecting a variety of colourful lanyards, discussing who had the best snacks with mid-morning coffee and which exhibitors had the best swag. It’s a great time to network with colleagues from other institutions or sectors, and to make new contacts and finally put a face to the name of those twitter accounts. However, as we rounded the bend on a year of online working, we’ve all become quite well versed in the pivot to not only online teaching but also online events. Although we’re used to communicating through a screen – and the related Zoom Fatigue – CALC was an event to get excited about. The speaker list was diverse and exciting. The topics felt relevant to the work we’re doing, or want to be doing. The days looked well thought out and not too overwhelming. The ethics of the conference organisation included an optional additional fee to allow the organisers to provide bursary places free of charge to those from marginalised backgrounds. Continue reading →