HLG 2014 Sarah Beach

Health Libraries Group conference, 24 – 25 July 2014, Oxford Examination Halls
The Health Libraries Group (HLG) conference brings together librarians from the health service, the
academic sector, government departments, charities, professional associations and public libraries.
The event is an opportunity to share best practice, exchange ideas and debate key topics.
Proving our value
Annie Maugher set the scene of the conference by emphasising the important place for librarians in
the future information landscape. Our skills are needed more than ever in order to interpret the vast
amounts of information available. Although we know the importance of the services we offer,
librarians must highlight their impact and therefore their value to others. Annie encouraged us to
actively demonstrate our professional value, and consider how we can make ourselves indispensable
by building our own evidence base.
Gathering the evidence
Some of the speakers elaborated on how we might gather data for our evidence base. It was pointed
out by Archana Deshmukh in her session, ‘measuring the impact of the clinical librarian service’, that
often the terms ‘outputs’, ‘outcomes’ and ‘impact’ are used interchangeably when we should be
aware that our outputs are not the same as our outcomes. We may be good about speaking about
what we do – our outputs - but when it comes to providing evidence of our impact, this is more
difficult. However, this is the information that will be most effective in proving our value to our
Archana Deshmukh discussed how she had attempted to find a way to quantify the impact of the
clinical librarian service offered by an NHS library. She saw that there was a need to demonstrate
value using robust quantitative methods. As Archana found, outputs, such as issue statistics, are
easy to measure, whereas it is harder to show how we have made a direct impact, and further, to
show this quantitatively.
Jenny Craven’s session, ‘looking beyond satisfaction: evaluating the value and impact of information
skills training’, discussed her team’s approach to measuring impact and outcomes. The team wanted
to do more than ascertain whether the attendees of their sessions were ‘satisfied’, and sought to
objectively measure if learning took place after a session. Data was gathered using pre and post
session semi-structured interviews, where there were questions to measure learning and an open
question to explore how learning was used.
These speakers indicated the challenges of proving our value, and the importance of having good
quality evidence to support what we do. It isn’t surprising that we as a profession appreciate this,
considering many of us teach healthcare students and professionals how to find the best evidence to
support their clinical decisions.
Outcomes vs outputs
Mary Dunne emphasised in her session, ‘liberate your inner librarian: create a value proposition’,
why, and how, we should talk about outcomes rather than outputs. Echoing Archana Deshmukh,
Mary noted that we often speak about what we do, but not why we do it – and it is when you add
the why that the statement becomes much more powerful. For example, we catalogue books. Why
do we do this? So people can find information easily. This increases their confidence with finding
information, and so they continue to look for new information. We therefore contribute to a culture
of informed practice. I felt this focus on the ‘why’ resounded with Annie Maugher’s words in her
keynote, “it’s not about what you do, it’s about what you’re for”.
Often, key stakeholders do not understand the role of librarians, and a good way of making this clear
is by creating a value proposition; a promise of value to be delivered. A value proposition is a useful
exercise in which you must sum up the unique benefits of the service you offer. You must establish
what the stakeholders value, bearing in mind that this is likely to vary, and importantly, you should
consider your competitors. As well as internet search engines, health websites and volunteers, Mary
also listed librarians themselves as potential competitors.
Our professional value
Dr Barbara Sen picked up the idea that librarians can sometimes be their own worst enemies with
regard to how they represent themselves. In her session ‘A “jack of all trades”? The key skills of
health information professionals’, Barbara outlined her research into the different skill sets of health
librarians, as identified by the librarians themselves, in data collected from focus groups, interviews
and an online survey. Some participants described themselves as a ‘jack of all trades’ which as
Barbara noted, implies ‘master of none’; certainly an inaccurate and negative depiction of health
librarianship. Perhaps then, as Mary suggested, we need to reflect on the way we communicate
about ourselves to non-librarians.
Mary Dunne finished her session by continuing a theme from Annie Maugher’s keynote, emphasising
that if we value ourselves personally and professionally then ‘all becomes possible’. Or in other
words, perhaps we all need to do a bit more showing off.
Sarah Beach, Subject Librarian for the University of Exeter Medical School
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