Online 2010: “the one when it snowed”


By the end of the annual Online conference and exhibition each year a couple of themes emerge as dominant. Last year, for example, in the LIS Research Coalition’s review of the Online 2009, we reported that social media and the semantic web had been the key areas of interest. At Online 2010 conversations centered on a range of themes including linked data, the social web, the value and impact of information professionals, and mobile and cloud computing. However, at the forefront of many minds was the UK weather as it deteriorated over the course of the week. In the future we may well be remembering this event as “the one when it snowed”.

Online 2010 exhibition hall at London Olympia

Online 2010 exhibition hall at London Olympia

For visitors to Online from both the UK and beyond snow caused much disruption. There were few people at Olympia whose travel plans were not subject to delay or change for their outward and/or return journeys, and many who had hoped to attend Online 2010 simply did not make it to London at all. As a consequence there were some substitutions on the programme, both in terms of presenters and session chairs. Hazel Hall, for example, expected to deliver her own paper on news from the LIS Research Coalition and chair two others: (1) Winning hearts and minds! Breaking through social media barriers with presentations by Phil Bradley (now on Slideshare), Ulla de Stricker and Bonnie Cheuk; (2) Adding value to library and information services using social media with presentations by Kim Holmberg, Mervi Ahola and Janika Asplund, and Hervé Basset.
Presenters Angela Ashenden, Helen Clegg and Gordon Vala-Webb

Presenters Angela Ashenden, Helen Clegg and Gordon Vala-Webb

In the event, she chaired an additional session – Social media in action: driving forward IM and KM with presentations by Gordon Vala Webb (now on Slideshare), Helen Clegg and Hugo Evans, and Angela Ashenden – and was on standby for other duties should they have arisen. This session has been reviewed by VIP in a posting entitled “Infopros and social media 1: culture or toolkit?“.


Those who follow @LISResearch on Twitter will have watched our tweeting from sessions where Hazel was a member of the audience. If you would like to see the full archive of conference tweets, it is available from the Online10 Twapperkeeper set up by Karen Blakeman.

A session tweet on the tweet wall

A session tweet on the tweet wall

From here you can get a flavour of the event, as well as links through to speakers’ slides and some blogged reviews of individual sessions and the conference as a whole. At the event itself there were a number of screens around the conference that displayed the Twitter activity in real time. Tweets referred to the sessions, exhibitors and – inevitably – the snow. As well as hosting the screens, UltraKnowledge kept a record who was most active on Twitter. @LISResearch topped the chart.

Paper highlights

Of the sessions that Hazel attended she particularly enjoyed the discussion of “Web squared” as the successor to Web 2.0, illustrated neatly by Dion Hinchcliffe in the opening keynote paper. Here Dion used a table to compare Web squared’s characteristics with those of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

Conference chair Stephen Dale and keynote speaker Dion Hinchcliffe

Conference chair Stephen Dale and keynote speaker Dion Hinchcliffe

Bonnie Cheuk’s efforts with social media to protect staff from information overload generated by the “e-mail high five” were entertaining and illustrated the challenges of culture change when implementing social media in the work place. There were three strong presentations from Euan Semple, Lee Bryant and Brian Kelly in the Social media and leadership session on the Tuesday morning, with Euan’s focus on how to move people away from po-faced attitudes to social media, and Lee’s discussion of how information professionals should have a stronger involvement in an area where corporate communications staff often have a hold. Librarians working in higher education are advised to review the video of Brian Kelly’s presentation on the value of cloud services, accessible from his UK Web Focus site. The conference sessions also gave access to many case studies from which librarians and information scientists could learn about good (and sometimes less than optimal) practice in information services delivery.

Ake Nygren spoke about social media and public libraries

Ake Nygren spoke about social media and public libraries

Some of the free sessions were of particular interest, not least because the presentations drew heavily on research evidence. For example, the content of Wednesday afternoon’s Social media spotlight papers by Jakob Harnesk, Hervé Basset, Stephane Goldstein, Geoff Walton, Ake Nygren, and Tomas Baiget derived largely from the results of research projects.

The two papers that followed in the gallery area of the exhibition hall by Annie Mauger of CILIP and Anne Caputo of SLA were also based on the output of research projects. We were particularly pleased when Annie restated in her presentation CILIP’s recognition of the importance of evidence-based research to library and information science.


Hazel was pleased to join in celebrations of success at Online 2010. On the Tuesday afternoon, and just before he was due to take the stage, it was announced that Phil Bradley had been elected Vice President of CILIP for 2011.

Phil Bradley (photo credit Dave Pattern)

Since Hazel was chairing the session in which Phil spoke, she had the honour and pleasure of making the first face-to-face public announcement of Phil’s success.

Later in the afternoon she attended the presentation of the award of Information World Review Information Professional of the Year 2010. Unfortunately the recipient Dave Pattern had been unable to make the journey to London due to the snow, so Karen Blakeman accepted the award on his behalf. For further information on Dave’s well-deserved success, please see the blog post by Brian Kelly. On the Thursday lunchtime we were also pleased to see Stephanie Kenna receive her honorary fellowship of CILIP.

Other reviews

This review of Online 2010 can only reflect the perspective of one participant and, as such, it is limited. For a fuller picture it is worth checking the reviews of others who have reported in detail on individual sessions, as well as the conference as a whole. The blogs postings from the Conference Circuit by Donald T Hawkins provide a good overview starting with Welcome to Live from London – Online Information 2010, as do the posts by Val Skelton and Kat Allen at Val’s summary of What we learnt at Online Information 2010 is particularly interesting. Individuals who have blogged their own experiences of the conference include Mareike Guy and Onlineability. Nancy Davis Kho’s review for VIP focuses on the exhibition, and FreePint’s photos from Online are worth browsing. There are also links to blog postings and photographs from the conference and exhibition on the SLA Europe web site. We look forward to seeing further reviews of the conference in the print media in early 2011.

Catching up with Coalition colleagues in Ireland

The Annual General Meeting of the Library and Information Services Council of Northern Ireland was held on Wednesday 29 September in the Antrim Library. Hazel Hall was delighted to attend as the guest keynote speaker, particularly because it gave her the chance to meet colleagues in Ireland who are now connected to the work of the Coalition through COLICO’s associate membership (as reported here on the Coalition blog in July). The venue for the meeting was also of interest: although the new Antrim Library has been open to the public since February 2010, it was only officially opened last week, as reported by Libraries NI.

Antrim Library

Antrim Library

As part of the formal business of the day some important announcements related to the support of LIS research by LISC in Northern Ireland were made. First, a bursary of £650 to support a Masters student at the University of Ulster has been offered. Secondly, a new prize of £150 will be awarded to an excellent dissertation from the Ulster course. Further details of these awards are available on the LISC NI blog posting about the AGM. Dr Jessica Bates also took the opportunity to update meeting participants on CPD courses for librarians to be held at the University of Ulster in November 2010. These are on demonstrating the impact of library services (8 November) and the use of social media (25 November). Further details are available on the leaflet about the courses.

As well as the business of the AGM, during which LISC NI’s annual report was accepted, the meeting was timetabled to include presentations by four students who are currently completing their Masters dissertations in Library and Information Management at the University of Ulster. Three of the presentations are now available on Slideshare:

Students and staff of the University of Ulster

Ulster student presenters Rita, Anthony, Jackie and Francesca with their tutor Dr Jessica Bates

A fourth student, Francesca Fodale, presented her case study work on the role of the school library in the personal development of pupils. We wish all the students on the course the best for their submissions in December 2010.

The last formal presentation of the day was given by Hazel Hall. It was entitled “The research landscape: the wider context and the LIS Research Coalition Response”. The text below summarises Hazel’s main points. The presentation slides are available on Slideshare.

Hazel began her presentation by explaining how the LIS Research Coalition was set up in 2009 to address a number of concerns expressed by a range of UK LIS research stakeholders. These include: difficulties experienced in identifying sources of funding for new projects, as well as accessing published output of completed projects; the need for improved communication between research funders; and problems that derive when not all members of a professional group recognise the value of research to their work, nor their own skills in conducting research. She then referred to the five main goals of the LIS Research Coalition:

  1. to bring together information about LIS research opportunities and results
  2. to encourage dialogue between research funders
  3. to promote LIS research practitioner research and translation of research outcomes into practice
  4. to articulate a strategic approach to LIS research
  5. to promote the development of research capacity in LIS

Hazel gave a number of reasons why librarians should engage in research-led practice. Of these, she argued that the most important are: (1) to exploit the existing knowledge base for services improvement so that future decisions are made on the basis of real evidence; and (2) to enhance the value of prior research work by capitalising on the investment made in earlier research studies.

Hazel Hall

Hazel Hall makes her presentation

In addition, Hazel highlighted the value of encouraging librarians to undertake practitioner-led research. Of particular significance here is the pressing need for library practitioners to contribute to efforts to enlarge the evidence base that demonstrates the value and impact of library and information services delivery. This is crucial to convince politically important stakeholders of the need for further investment in services provision. Such work needs to extend beyond advocacy (the indisputable “libraries are a good thing” mantra) and the simple measurement of tangibles (for example, transactional data such as issue numbers). What is needed here are demonstrations of actual benefit, for example: how the service has contributed to the reduction of anti-social behaviour or the improvement of literacy amongst the community in a public library setting; how academic library services make a difference to research assessment ratings or improved student experience; or how innovations in information services delivery within a school have contributed to better exam results amongst the pupils.

The drive towards research-led practice, and associated ambitions to enlarge the body of research-active librarians, faces a number of challenges. It was to these that Hazel then turned her attention. Whilst librarians recognise that in theory it is worthwhile to consult the output of earlier research studies as part of decision-making processes, for example in the development of a new service, few would do so as a matter of course. Rather than conduct a formal literature search to access a set of relevant research papers, often they would rely on first-hand experience and professional judgement in an action-orientated approach to their work. Here is interesting to note the irony that specialists in accessing published evidence to help other professionals plan a systematic approach to professional practice fail to do this themselves.

Lack of time is often cited to justify an approach that ignores earlier studies. Hazel argued that this is with good reason. The multidisciplinary nature of librarianship research means that relevant papers are scattered across various domains. In addition, often the most significant source material comprises grey literature, such as unpublished internal studies and summaries of discussions on listservs. This is near impossible to locate, let alone access. In some cases, the most valuable research has not been published at all.

The dearth of accessible published research studies emphasises why practising librarians themselves need to acknowledge their role in contributing to research efforts in librarianship as part of the larger research community that also includes academics, students and other researchers. Currently many librarians simply do not consider research as part of their professional role. This holds true even in cases where they play a lead in the design and implementation of projects which – to an outsider – represent research activity. Much valuable knowledge is lost when such projects end, and their outcomes are disseminated only as far as a local audience, often when they would be of interest to professional colleagues beyond the home authority. Hazel explained how the LIS Research Coalition is therefore working to encourage librarians to reflect on how they may actively contribute to research efforts across the profession, as well as exploit the existing evidence base in their regular work.

The efforts of the LIS Research Coalition acknowledge that the circumstances in which librarians work are often not ideal for the budding practitioner researcher. Time constraints of the practitioner role, low internal support of research activity and poor access to external research support, for example in the form of funding or research mentors, are all relevant external factors here. Individuals may also lack confidence in their own research competence due to limited knowledge of research approaches, coupled with a general failure to recognise their current research activity and skills as such. Hazel explained how the LIS Research Coalition has made publicly accessible a set of resources to save researchers’ time to address these concerns, principally through the web site and the Twitter feed at @LISResearch. She also mentioned how the LIS Research Coalition is involved in advocacy to persuade services managers of the need to support research initiatives; points to resources, as well as supports, events to extend the repertoire of research approaches in library and information science; and leads efforts to improve recognition of research knowledge within the profession. In short, the LIS Research Coalition is a focus for external research support in librarianship and information science.

Hazel also acknowledged that individuals’ engagement in research also meets the personal priorities of staff as professionals. Intellectual stimulation, enjoyment of learning and pride in observing how the integration of research findings into work practice enhance services delivery all contribute to job satisfaction (and, from a manager’s point of view, the retention of talented individuals). Associated with this are career benefits. For example, profiles and reputations may grow on the basis of submissions to the journal and conference literature, and the skills of individuals increase through both formal and informal professional development activity undertaken in practitioner researcher roles. At the same time actual research output supports claims of the value of library and information services to individuals (for example, their social mobility, their educational opportunities), to citizens and society (for example, contributions to the enhancement of local communities, culture and heritage) and specialist user groups (for example, information provision to business to support economic development). A further role of research in this domain is to raise the profile of librarianship as a profession that is evidence-based across all sectors. For all these reasons the LIS Research Coalition facilitates a coordinated and strategic approach to Library and Information Science Research in the UK.

Hazel Hall, Linda Houston and Anne Peoples

Hazel Hall with Linda Houston (Director of LISC NI) and Anne Peoples (lecturer at University of Ulster)

Photo acknowledgements: Dr Jessica Bates

The librarian as researcher

Over the past few months the LIS Research Coalition has been involved in a number of conferences and meetings, as can be seen from the listings on the Events web page. Last week attention focused on the Librarian as Researcher event organised by the Yorkshire and Humberside branch of the University, College and Research (UC&R) group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). As well as those who attended in person, a number of people followed the day’s proceedings on Twitter by watching the hashtag #ucryhres and corresponding with those tweeting, including @LISResearch. Miggie Pickton, who presented at this event, kindly agreed to contribute a guest blog posting on the day for the LIS Research Coalition web site.

Miggie is Research Support Specialist at the University of Northampton. She has been a great supporter of the LIS Research Coalition in the first year of its implementation. Miggie has served on the programme committee for the conference which takes place later in the month on Monday 28th June at the British Library, and is the one behind the organisation of the one minute madness session at this event.

Over to Miggie…

We all enjoyed a fun-filled day on practitioner research in York last Thursday, participating in the ‘Librarians as researchers’ event hosted by UC&R Yorkshire and Humberside. In the morning Jean McNiff of York St John University put us all through our paces as action researchers (yes, we actually did a piece of action research there and then) and then Sheila Corrall from the University of Sheffield’s i-School presented a set of convincing arguments for embarking on a higher degree in LIS. Professional doctorates appeal – a structured programme with lots of relevance to the day job – but, as yet, there not many professional doctorates available for LIS professionals in the UK.

Slightly awed by this exalted company, I was there banging the drum for practitioner research. But why would practitioners want to do research? The group came up with lots of reasons….

Research is good for the individual:

  • It is interesting – an opportunity to explore something in more depth, learn something new, satisfy your curiosity
  • It encourages you to challenge yourself, to move out of that comfort zone, develop new skills, become reflective, stretch yourself
  • It adds variety to the job – research involves a change from routine, an opportunity to do something different, work with new people
  • It involves making a personal connection with work
  • It increases job satisfaction
  • It enables you to do your job better
  • It supports professional development
  • It enhances personal profile and improves career prospects

Research is good for the service and the organisation:

  • It provides evidence of value and demonstrates impact
  • It underpins strategic improvement and other decision-making… and on the way research can help to solve problems and improve service
  • It leads to greater engagement with service users through:
    • Understanding their perspective
    • Showing that you’re interested in their needs
    • Doing what they do (promote the library as ‘academic’ department and the librarian as credible researcher)
  • It increases staff motivation and dynamism
  • It enhances organisational reputation and achieve recognition (within and beyond the institution)
  • It brings financial benefit – by generating income or discovering ways to reduce costs

Research is good for the profession:

  • It provokes conversation and debate (and not just within LIS – with other disciplines too)
  • It creates and disseminates new knowledge and good practice – furthering professional excellence (as CILIP would have us do)
  • It provokes positive change
  • It develops an engaged and vibrant professional community
  • It enhances the profession’s reputation and profile
  • It defines our professional future

And with all that is going for practitioner research, we’d better get on with it, taking advantage of continuing the conversation at other professional events that provide research support and opportunities to consider its context in LIS practice, such as the LIS Research Coalition conference at the end of this month.

Six months into the implementation and priorities for future work

Six months have passed since work began in earnest on the implementation of the plans of the LIS Research Coalition. In this time we’ve made progress in meeting the goals related to establishing a structure to facilitate a co-ordinated and strategic approach to LIS research across the UK. For example, the Coalition web site grows steadily as a source of information about LIS research. Equally the Twitter account, @LISResearch, provides regular news feeds on research projects from proposal to publication of results, as well as research opportunities ranging from advertised PhD places to vacancies on high level research-related bodies and committees.

The Coalition has also taken the opportunity to present to external audiences. This has been achieved both at a general
level – as at Online 2009, and in the Coalition response to the consultation on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – and with reference to concerns of particular user groups, such as the “student experience” focus of the autumn 2009 SCONUL conference. Further conference and meeting contributions are planned for a variety of audiences. We are also looking forward to the LIS Research Coalition’s own conference on Monday 28th June 2010 at the British Library Conference Centre in London. Events – both Coalition and externally organised – are noted on the Coalition web site Events page. We’ve also been busy engaging with the media, attracting coverage of our activities in both the LIS and general press (for example, we’ve had two mentions in Times Higher Education to date). Details of such publishing activity are given on the Media coverage page. It is hoped that these efforts will succeed in the goal of pushing LIS research further up the agenda of the UK LIS community, particularly amongst practitioner colleagues. Longer term it is anticipated that they might result in an improvement in the volume and quality of practitioner research, and the translation of this future research output into practice. Ultimately the research completed should also inform the development of future UK LIS research strategy.

One of the Coalition’s goals is to address current gaps in LIS research activity in the UK. The need to develop a strong evidence base that can be used to demonstrate the value and impact of library and information services has been identified as a priority area. We intend to put resources into addressing this ahead all of other possible research themes. This is on the basis that without easy access to an evidence base that can be used to assess and publicise impact and value, library and information services are rendered vulnerable to cost-cutting exercises. Funders will protect units where contributions to organisational objectives and the bottom line are more clearly artciulated, not least as demonstration of accountability for their own decisions. A second priority is to consider how to provide research methods training opportunities, primarily for the (potentially enlarged) practitioner researcher audience. Currently work is on-going on a funding bid for the provision of a series of events focused on research methods. A further possibile initiative is to run smaller-scale one-off sessions on specific themes of interest to those starting to engage in research activities.

In forthcoming meetings of the Board of Directors of the LIS Research Coalition we will be discussing how we can build on
our initial work to progress it further: there is clearly much more that could be done! The focus of these discussions will be how to ensure that we channel the resources available to the Coalition into activities that deliver real value to the LIS research community in the UK. There will be opportunities for greater participation in the debate on the direction of the Coalition at the LIS Research Coalition conference at the British Library Conference Centre on June 28th 2010. In the meantime members of the UK LIS research community – from established researchers to aspiring new professionals – are invited to respond to the proposals made in this blog posting. Of particular interest would be suggestions on how the work of the Coalition could be developed to meet the needs of practitioner researchers. Responses can be made by leaving comments below, or by e-mailing Hazel Hall directly at