Evidence Aid secondment

During a virtual team meeting at the end of March mention was made of a list of useful tasks that the Knowledge and Library Services team could work on to support COVID-19 efforts within PHE and with external partners.  Knowing that, as the Knowledge and Evidence Specialist for Health Improvement my workload was likely to be quieter for a time*, I followed up after the meeting. “We have just the job in mind for you” is always a scary phase because it generally refers to a terrible task that no-one else wants to do. The conversation continued “We know you miss managing people, so you get to do that and use your organisational, tact and diplomacy skills as well”.**

Evidence Aid, a charity, needed someone to co-ordinate a team of volunteer literature searchers for their COVID-19 collection of systematic review summaries and had asked their contacts at PHE for help. I was offered to Evidence Aid on a part-time basis (2-3 hours per day) from 1st April – 31st May to support them with Phase 1 of the project.

Literature Search Co-Ordination – During an initial chat with Evidence Aid it became apparent that as well as co-ordinating the searchers, they needed someone to recruit new searchers and set up the workflows and processes. I did that within a couple of days. To explain, Evidence Aid has a core COVID-19 search that runs every day looking for new systematic reviews, but they wanted volunteers to perform literature searches on related topics of interest as well. I am extremely concerned about using library workers as volunteers. I did an Evidence Aid mini episode of the podcast and approached established groups for health library workers with a very clear message of “Please don’t feel obliged to consider doing this work if you can’t/don’t want to, focus on looking after yourselves and your loved ones”. PHE have kindly allowed me to ‘borrow’ a couple of my colleagues to do searches, and a few other people answered my call for help. (FWIW the searchers either have jobs in which they are already doing COVID-related work, have been redeployed and want to keep their hand in with searching, or want to develop new skills while they’re working at home.)

I’ve developed a small cohort of keen, committed searchers and I keep a careful eye on them. They are asked to consider whether they want to take on a search, not to worry if they can’t, and to take care of themselves. I also ensure that they have realistic deadlines to work to and that these can be changed as/when necessary.

Summary Writing Co-Ordination – Once the searching end of the process was set up and running smoothly, it became obvious that someone was needed to co-ordinate the other end of the process, the summary writers, as well. Once suitable systematic reviews are identified via searches, they are prioritised for summarising (the bar for inclusion is high and many COVID-related SRs aren’t up to scratch so are rejected early on), allocated to summarisers, edited by a small team, and added to the website.

Initially the summaries were written by two people and finalised by someone else, but this model of working was unsustainable. Evidence Aid put a call-out on the Cochrane Task Exchange and academics and students from all over the world offered their services as summary writers. Initially they were co-ordinated by the two original summary writers, but their workloads were huge and one of them was studying for exams, so I took over.

When I started there was a lot of confusion about who was working on a summary, who wasn’t, what stage a summary was at, whether it was a duplicate, who was editing summaries, and liaising with the summarisers. I created the workflows and processes so that a summary could be tracked from when it was prioritised for inclusion to when it was added to the portal. I’m the initial point of contact for the summarisers and keep a careful eye on their workloads. Draft summaries are sent to two people (a student and a health specialist) to edit, go to an academic for finalising, and are given the final go-ahead by another academic before being added to the website.

This means that I’m now co-ordinating the work of c.60 people across the project.

Managing my time – I’m balancing the Evidence Aid work with my PHE work. When the project was in its infancy my inbox was overwhelming and I spent most of my time dealing with email traffic and fighting fires. Two months on things have settled down, there have been some personnel changes, and I have far less traffic to manage. I have clear boundaries. If I have PHE work to do, I’ll turn off my emails for a couple of hours so that I can focus. I won’t work late unless I need to finish something urgent off, and I absolutely will not work weekends.

Feedback – I’m the main point of contact for the volunteers and I want to make them feel welcome and valued. If they say they will get a piece of work done by a certain date and don’t manage it, I’ll follow-up to gently ask if they’re ok. An awful lot can happen in someone’s life in a short space of time and piling in on them for not doing something they’ve volunteered for is never appropriate. I emphasise that they must look after themselves and thank them for their work. The relationship-building aspect of the work is key, as is the need for kind and constructive feedback. English is not necessarily the first (or second) language of the summary writers so I need to be mindful of how I phrase emails e.g. not using colloquial or confusing language. I don’t always get it right, though, and I’m learning all the time.

Emotional toll – I’m incredibly lucky and haven’t been personally affected – yet – by COVID. Managing emails from 60 volunteers, plus those from the Evidence Aid team, being part of team calls across two organisations, updating the workflows, advising on the project, doing my PHE work, managing my own wellbeing, parenting, supervising home schooling and trying to get through life in lockdown is far from easy though. There are days when the last thing I want to do is work.  I have imposed a routine on myself on weekdays to prevent the gloom from descending too severely.

Next steps – In May Evidence Aid received funding for Phase 2 of the COVID-19 project and asked if I would like to carry on working with them. It’s been agreed that my part-time secondment will carry on until the end of October and I’ll juggle my PHE work alongside. My original job title was Searching Co-Ordinator. In early April I became the Searching and Summary Writing Co-Ordinator. I’m now the COVID-19 Project Co-Ordinator.

Final thoughts – It’s no secret that I’ve been through a tough time professionally in the last year. In an ideal world I would be doing my PHE role full-time, a job that I was just starting to get good at before lockdown started, and we wouldn’t be coping with a global pandemic. However, we can only operate in the situation in which we find ourselves. I’m enormously privileged that despite the challenges outlined, I can do my PHE and Evidence Aid work from home, and that everyone I love is ok. I appreciate the opportunity that I have been given and I’m determined not to waste it.

It’s not appropriate to do so now, but perhaps in a few months’ time I’ll be able to sit down and selfishly, cynically, write a list of the ways that this secondment will benefit my career prospects and how I can use my new and enhanced skills in the future. For now, my stance is that if my work makes the lives of my colleagues and peers easier, that is enough.

*The HI work quietened down for a time as everyone shifted to new ways of working and/or was asked to do COVID-related work but picked up again from late April. I’m now at the point where I get a lot of repeat business from happy customers who like my literature searching and with whom I have built relationships so I’m keen to keep working with them.

**I would describe my skills in these areas as a ‘work in progress’ but perhaps my management team views me a little differently to how I view myself.

What studying for (and deciding against) an alternative career taught me

In my living room a framed print of a painting by William Hodges, called A Waterfall in Tahiti, hangs above the television. Hodges painted the scene when he travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and I fell in love with it when I worked at the National Maritime Museum. The print was part of my leaving present. I resolved to visit the waterfall depicted, which is in the Tuauru Valley, one day.

In 2012 I decided to re-train as a sport psychologist. The dream was to qualify, get a job with the English Institute of Sport and become good enough to go to travel to the Olympics as part of the Team GB ‘Team behind the team’.  Only…it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

I had absolutely no background in psychology, so in 2013 I did an introductory course recommended by the British Psychological Society as a way of accessing the Sport and Exercise Psychology MSc and was duly given a place on the latter in 2014. There are two paths to accessing the MSc: the traditional route for those that had already studied psychology at degree level, and the ‘applied’ route, for those that had transferable qualifications and skills. I fell into the latter category.

There are several steps to becoming a fully-qualified sport psychologist: Introductory course/undergraduate degree – Sport Psych MSc – Conversion course – BPS registration. I was funding all of this myself and each stage cost more money. BPS registration alone would have been several thousand pounds. [If you’re weeping over the cost of CILIP Professional Registration, it’s an absolute steal compared with BPS registration.] There was a more straightforward (and cheaper) route, which was to do the MSc and join BASES (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences) although it was made very clear that this was regarded as a less professional path and that those who chose it wouldn’t be regarded as ‘proper’ sport psychologists.

Several of my course mates were already practising psychologists. The introductory psychology course had given me some idea of the basic concepts, but many of my peers were already working in clinical fields. It would have been very easy to feel intimidated and I certainly experienced ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

To survive, I fell back on my well-honed information professional skills. If I didn’t know something I knew where to look to find the answer. I relied on being able to write myself out of trouble. I’d done enough presentations over the years to be able to put together a half-decent talk on a subject that I barely understood. My grades were decent (I got a Merit for all but one of the assignments.) I faked it until I (nearly) made it.

I made the right decision to finish the course before I embarked on the dissertation though. I’d decided on a topic (the impact of fitness trackers on mental health) but there isn’t a magic money tree, I don’t own a time-turner and I’d fallen completely out of love with the subject. Also, I realised that I still really liked (and was actually good at) being a Librarian.

I got the most out of the assignments that allowed me to use transferable skills:

  1. Designing a workplace activity intervention that focused on Prochaska and DiClemente’s stages of change model (I’d still like my organisation to implement my intervention)
  2. Writing and presenting a voicethread presentation on team cohesion in cycling (team building; getting the right personalities in the right roles at the right time)
  3. A case study of skill breakdown in diving (why things go wrong, why they get into your head and exploring ways to put them right)

I’m in the process of planning a family holiday for August 2018. I’m dreaming of cruises to Tahiti but I’m a. A Librarian b. I’m funding 4 people c. We can’t disappear off to travel the world d. I spent quite a bit of money on trying to become a sport psychologist.

Still, I think it’s absolutely fine for me to spend my downtime researching cruises, like this one, or this, or this. Some dreams aren’t meant to work out but teach you to appreciate what you already had. I suspect this one might have to wait until I retire. Or win Euromillions. Whichever comes first.

CILIP Conference 2017: Part 4 -Day 2 sessions

My notes for Day 2 are (mercifully) brief as I was absolutely exhausted (see the Day 1 and lazy networking posts for more details), although a lack of sleep didn’t prevent me from going for a run in the morning.

An insiders guide to professional registration – Kate Robinson & Dan Livesey

I didn’t plan to attend this session as I thought it would be about Chartership and Revalidation and I’ve been there, done that. Juanita set me straight though and there was plenty of advice on Fellowship, too.

I now have a to-do list:

  1. Fill out the PKSB on the VLE (not all of it, just 6-8 sections that are most relevant to me)
  2. Annotate my job description
  3. Annotate my CV
  4. Find a mentor (this still feels insurmountable)

Learning points:

  1. The portfolio doesn’t need to precisely match the PKSB and evidence of change is good
  2. Be really obvious about your journey and how it meets the assessment criteria
  3. Think strategically when evaluating service performance. Don’t be too operational and adopt a high-level mindset
  4. The ‘So what?’ principle: which criteria does a piece of evidence actually match? Learn to be selective and let go of biases about favourite bits of evidence if they don’t fit the criteria
  5. When going on library visits, reflect on your understanding of how they work and how it fits into what they do.
  6. For fellowship, you can draw on a body of work, developed over a number of years.

Information Mismatch workshop – Jonathon Berry & Jane Fox

  • There’s a huge gap in understanding between clinical staff, patients and their families around the language used. This doesn’t surprise me as I’ve seen it in action. It’s very easy to overestimate intelligence (both intellectual and emotional.)
  • SMOG – Simplified Measure of Gobbledegook calculator. Online tool that aims to reduce nonsense and unnecessary wordiness [Won’t be using it on this blog any time soon.]
  • Good quality information requires the following elements: Information production, evidence sources, user understanding, user involvement, quality control, feedback and review

My specialist colleagues use a lot of acronyms (the name of our organisation is an acronym!) and specialist terms at work. As I have a different background to them it took me a while to adjust to the language and terminology used. As a result I try not to use any overtly librariany (I WILL make it an actual word. I will!) terms. It’s one of the reasons that I eschewed a more lofty job title and am simply ‘Librarian’ as it’s a term that everyone understands.

How to be a chief librarian in 15 easy steps – Caroline Brazier

SPOILER: Not 15 steps. Not easy!

I find listening to other people’s career stories incredibly interesting. It was refreshing to hear someone being honest about the fact that career decisions aren’t always made rationally and with a step-by-step plan. This session expanded out and looked at developments at the British Library, so that’s reflected in my notes.

Learning points:

  1. Tell people your career story
  2. Think about your core purpose (as an individual and as an institution.)
  3. Income generation is incredibly difficult and you have to work hard for it (I know this only too well!)
  4. Work out what people value about us and focus on that.

Exhibition

  • I found the exhibition a bit difficult because virtually none of the products are relevant to my library service. I did, however, enjoy chatting to people from the special interest groups and sitting on the faceless duck (long story.)
  • CILIP stand – I wish I’d had my photo taken with the Facts Matter sign on Day 1 as I look exhausted in the photos. I’m going to suggest that next year they take it to the evening reception as I’m much more comfortable with having my photo taken when I’m wearing lipstick and after a glass of wine.

Final thoughts

I was so tired that I was virtually on my knees by the end of the conference. I’d forgotten how intense a professional event over two days can be. I hope it’s evident from my posts that I got a huge amount from attending, both professionally and personally.

My primary aims when I submitted the bursary application were to reconnect with the profession and make a decision on whether to continue with Fellowship. I feel much more embedded now and I’m definitely going to continue my Fellowship journey.

After my Thursday morning run, which took me past Manchester Central Library, I popped into the coffee shop near my hotel for a cold drink. They were playing How Soon is Now by The Smiths and I had two thoughts:

  1. Manchester is amazing
  2. Being an information professional is BRILLIANT.

Well played, CILIP. Well played.

Guess who’s back? Tell a friend.

Last time on LwL (November 2012!) I said farewell to library CPD and flounced off to study sport psychology. Now LwL is back and so am I. What happened?

giphy

I’m now a mildly qualified sport and exercise psychologist. I really enjoyed studying sport psych and was flying through the course but realised I was far more into the theory behind it than the reality of doing it. I took a break after the ‘taught’ component of the course with the aim of having a year off before starting the dissertation. Then things went really wrong and I was unable to do anything at all.

In the Wilderness Months my brain reset itself and I realised, very slowly, that I was Actually Really Quite Good at being a Librarian. Who knew?  It’s hard to describe how I went from being on the verge of quitting the profession to being *so* enthusiastic that I’m doing Fellowship and rekindling all of my professional associations, including this blog. Taking a break from ‘thinky work’ allowed my brain a chance to calm down and remember who I really was and what I’m actually good at.

I was co-opted onto the ALISS Committee in 2014 (I couldn’t stay away for very long, really) and it was one of very few side-activities I kept up when I was learning about physical activity interventions, team roles and leadership, and declarative memory. I managed to Revalidate twice; in 2016 and earlier this year. Once I’d made the decision to end the sport psych course, Fellowship felt like the natural next step if I was to fully commit to being an information professional.

Then I started to feel a bit stuck again. On a whim I applied for a bursary from CILIP in London to attend this year’s CILIP conference, hoping that it would give me the much needed kick up the backside to crack on with Fellowship and reconnect with my professional peers. I was awarded a full bursary and what happened next is worthy of its own post [TL;DR – it went well] …

giphy1

The ethos of LwL hasn’t changed. I still want to share my thoughts on CPD and I also want other people to write guest posts on how to fit professional activities into a busy life and stay connected to the profession without feeling overwhelmed by it.

Most of all, I want to enjoy being part of the community again. It’s going well so far.

 

 

Revalidation malaise

I registered for Revalidation back in January. I have done precisely nothing towards it since. I had a quick look at the documentation and downloaded a couple of templates and then? Nothing. A big blank space of nothing. I simply can’t work up any enthusiasm for it. What am I going to get from it? A step closer to Fellowship? Do I really want that when I’m in such a funk professionally? It’s not going to gain me anything at work, financially or developmentally.

Why should I persevere with it? Should I cut my losses and abandon the idea? I’d welcome your thoughts…

Disillusioned

Before I start – I love my job. My family have jokingly described the Library I run as ‘My other baby’ and they are pretty much right. I birthed the library, I water and nurture it. I protect and defend it. It has grown into something I’m rather proud of.

I’m feeling rather disillusioned with the information profession generally.

Why?

1. I think we’ve forgotten why we exist. Libraries cannot exist without their patrons/end-users/public. In the general stampede to stand up and shout and defend information provision for the great unwashed (and to tell everyone we’re doing it) we’ve forgotten to ask them what they actually want. Information professionals have a tendency (and I include myself in this) to decide that they know what’s best for the users, which isn’t always the case.

There’s a definite whiff of ‘Dad at the disco’ about some of the leaps we’ve made in terms of online presence, Web 2.0, etc. Yeah! We’re groovy! We’re hip! We’re down with the kids! A great example of this is Second Life. A number of libraries leapt on the Second Life bandwagon a few years ago because they thought they should. Do many Libraries have a Second Life presence now? I’d love to know. Instead of assuming that we know what our users want and imposing our will on them whilst also trying to be cutting edge means that we can forget what a good service actually looks like.

2. A Library isn’t a means to an end. We are, lest we forget, a support service. To define ourselves in the same bracket as doctors, lawyers and accountants in terms of professionalization is utterly ludicrous. We promote learning. We support evidence-based practice. We enable people to do their jobs; and/or conduct their lives just that little bit better.

I’m under no illusions about my job and my place in the organisation I work for. I support front-line practice and I enable people to undertake CPD. If people stop using the library, I’ll lose my job. It’s as simple as that. I’m not out on the front line dealing with the messy stuff in social work. I (hopefully) make the social workers’ lives a little bit easier. If I provide some information that can influence a decision in a small way that will positively benefit a family or a child, I’m doing my job properly. I can make the library as pretty and forward-thinking as I like but the moment I stop focusing on the needs of the end user, I’m sunk.

3. There’s too many people trying to make a name for themselves rather than focusing on their jobs. I do wonder when some people actually do the work they’re allegedly paid to do. How can they fit it in between the CPD and telling us what to think and how to behave? Giving someone a platform and a voice doesn’t make them God (before you ask, I’m aware of the irony of that sentence….)

I do not have time to sit and ponder the great conundrums of the information profession during working hours. Why? I’m too busy ploughing on with my job. If I had time to look up and take a breather I’d be concerned about the effect that would have on the very detailed statistics I keep that help to justify the existence of the Library. Which reminds me – it’s not just public and academic libraries that are struggling at the moment. Show me a library service that isn’t under some sort of threat and I’ll show you someone with serious delusions. We’re all fighting demons, even if we’re not prepared to shout about it publicly.

I keep trying to remind myself that Information Professionals are BRILLIANT. We’re great at doing more with less. We provide fantastic, comprehensive services. Above all, we CARE so much about what we do that we’re evangelical about it. These are all great things, and we should be proud of them. I just think we need to be more self-aware and not think that we’re the gatekeepers of all knowledge. We can learn as much from our users as they can from us.

That’s a fairly key point. I think the root of my malaise is the sense that, as a group, we’re losing sight of what we’re for and why we do it. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case. I don’t want to fall out of love with the information profession completely, but at this point, my relationship with it is pretty rocky.

Guest post #1: Keep your(professional)self alive

This is our first (of, hopefully, many) guest post on Librarians with Lives and I’m very pleased to say that it comes from Bethan Ruddock @bethanar on Twitter and library blogger extraordinaire – she of recently Chartered, Mimas, recently honoured by the SLA, Librarian Crowd fame and a rather marvellous example of ‘our’ kind, who was pressganged offered to write a piece for me. Here it is and I think it’s brilliant We would both love your thoughts on it…

So, get me on Twitter of an evening after a glass of wine and I’ll agree to anything!  Such as writing a blog post for this ace new blog.  I really liked the ‘no more than 15 mins on a post’ rule – that’s something I can fit into my overcrowded days!

But what to write about?  I asked Jo, and got the response ‘anything with a prof dev/ revalidation slant really’ and so, me being me, I’ve taken inspiration from the tweet directly below that in my @ replies – from SimonXIX in response to a rather messy (in many ways) thread that had been going about sticky toffee pudding and celery. Don’t ask.  It said: ‘Perhaps suicide is unprofessional. Discuss’

This got me thinking: what is professional suicide? Is it doing something hideously, horrendously unprofessional – insulting members of the audience from the stage at a conference?  Being sued by the music industry for file-sharing? Going on a rampage through the library, destroying books and computers and traumatising users?

Or is it something more insidious?  Rather than going out with a bang, perhaps it’s a gradual death, a slow wasting-away, a gentle decline.  Perhaps professional death starts where professional growth ends.

We’re constantly told that by not eating properly and not doing enough exercise, we’re gradually killing ourselves with neglect.  I’d say the same is true of our careers.  Professional suicide comes not so much from doing anything wrong, but from failing to do the right things, failing to commit to continuing your professional development.  And just like diet and exercise, we need to find that small window of time to cram it into our busy day.

So, 15 minutes of CPD a day then, to keep your career healthy, happy, and active? Sounds eminently achievable.  And you don’t have to do anything spectacular in those 15 minutes – think gentle stretching rather than full-on sprint.  Spend 5 minutes reading a blog post, and then 10 minutes thinking about it while you’re doing the washing up, or waiting for a bus.  Scribble down a to-do list with some long-term goals.  Learn a fact about the information profession, your workplace, or your colleagues that you didn’t know before.

Keep stretching. Keep growing. Keep your career alive.

Other suggestions for 15 minute CPD fixes? Comments please!