LILAC14 – day 3 and some general reflections

My last day of LILAC was a short one. Due to the flights (yes, plural), trains etc. to get home, I had to leave the conference before the last parallel sessions and closing panel.

ID&L feedback loop (Parkes & Pope)

Feedback is one of the most important things we do in higher education, and it is a recurring subject on student satisfaction surveys. Parkes and Pope said. Still – we find it hard. We say that it is important that students take the feedback seriously and work on the things we ask them to work on. However, as it turns out, students very often misunderstand the feedback that they get. (JISC has a good website on assessment and feedback, btw.) At Staffordshire University the library started generic courses called “Get a better grade”. They had not expected the courses to be a huge success, but they really were. Students had to book sessions, and Parkes and Pope thought that this was part of the reason the course became a success. The students committed more to it when they had to book in advance. Also, the simple title was good. (The library had previously held open workshops. Teachers read assignments, graded and indicated to students which workshops they should go to, but this did not work. The students did not come.) The library did massive marketing of the “Get a better grade” workshops. 59 percent of those who had signed up for the workshop attended and this is actually pretty good. There were three sessions: study skills, library resources, IT. Parkes and Pope also emphasised the importance of giving this workshop at the right time during the semester and simple feedback (smileys). After the workshop, the librarians decided to use the momentum and they started “exam support workshops” with sessions like “finishing touches to your document”, “keep calm and pass your exams” and “referencing”. These were moderately well visited. “Get a better grade” workshops have now been included on the academic calendar.

Keynote: What value and benefits do we add? Why information professionals are essential to successful digital, health and information literacy delivery. (Arnold)

The beginning of this keynote was unfortunately very muddled due to technical difficulties with the microphone. Silly tech problems can really ruin things. Anyway, Arnold began by (over-)selling her organisation, the SLA (Special libraries association) which is pretty much like CILIP in the UK. Arnold continued to talking about why we need to change what our profession is about. The general population have very strong associations to what a librarian is and do (all about the books). If you image google “librarian” you get lots of images of women with books. If you image google “knowledge worker” you get totally different images. (But what on earth is a knowledge worker? Who is not working with knowledge? Oh, boy. The words we use..) How do we change people`s perceptions?, asked Arnold. Nora Paul (1999) wrote about the transition from old to new skills. The report “IFLA future trends” that came out last year was about things like lifelong learning, universal access etc. What does this do to the library profession?

The SLA did a survey. They came up with five main points on what we have to do to change our image: 1.communicate your value, 2.understand the drivers (how organisations work), 3. managing the process, 4. keeping up your technical skills, 5. provide decision-ready information (right info, right time, right format). We have to keep up our tech skills to stay ahead of the field, go to conferences and to be information curators for our users. All professions must prove that they add value to their organisations or society as a whole. Why must librarians be reminded of this? Do we think that we have intrinsic value??

Arnold`s keynote didn`t give me any “eureka moments”. In fact, I think most of it was pretty old news (something also noted on twitter if I remember correctly). But to be fair, keynotes are usually meant to give you an overview of something or just some thoughts on what is going on within a field, so I never (Alison Head`s keynote excepted) have high expectations.

IFLA (2013) IFLA Trend Report [online] URL: (May 5, 2014)

Paul, N. (1999) The changing role of the news librarian: use of the Internet worldwide. In: Information Sources for the Press and Broadcast Media.

old to new skills slide from keynote

Kate Arnold`s keynote. Slide on the transition from old to new skills.

Some general reflections

I think LILAC is a really good conference for teaching librarians. I do hope that they manage to keep it focussed, and that it does not become too large (like I feel the Internet Librarian International has become). Most of the sessions I attended this year gave me some ideas on how to improve my own practice. This is, I think, some of LILAC`s strength – that it attracts speakers that tries to keep it practical. It is easy to find the “take away”, the tips, the methods that can be implemented right away. That is why it doesn`t matter that much that the keynotes are of varying quality. I really liked Alison Head`s keynote. I think her work shows that it is possible to work with larger datasets and that librarians can get more involved with students` learning, and it inspired me to read her work (again) to see if I can use it to improve my practice. Other high points from LILAC14 included the session on reflective pedagogy (day 1) and writing and getting things published (day 1). As always, I find that socialising with other librarians usually gives me more ideas and information than anything else, and I really enjoyed both the networking event and the conference dinner this year. There were so many great people. I am, as ever, amazed at how many funny and inspiring librarians there are:) I loved spending some time with old acquaintances as well as forming new ones. Going to a conference now and then can really bring the spark back – and LILAC is a great way to get some new ideas.

Buzzwords this year (OK, so not really that new, but I certainly heard them a lot):

  • Annoted bibliography
  • Embedded
  • Plagiarism
  • Online/ MOOCs/ off-campus/ availability
  • Retention

Writing is thinking

jente skriverI came across two really great opinion pieces today, one in “Morgenbladet” (a weekly newspaper emphasising literature, art, culture and politics), the other in “Dagens næringsliv” (a business and management daily newspaper).

The first one, entitled “Dictation”, was written by Gudmund Hernes, former minister of education, now professor at the Norwegian school of business and management. Hernes writes about how students often think better than they write. Their inability to put their thoughts into a logical, well-structured and correctly spelled paper hampers their (in most cases) only chance of expressing their knowledge. Hernes argues that the students have been the victims of a particular pedagogical ideology, namely the one that claims that creativity and talent for style grows best when unchecked. In other words: the “let-them-play-and-originality-will-appear” ideology. Hernes thinks that this has been a failure, and that students are paying the price. All musicians know that they have to master the basics before they go on to master the more advanced pieces of music, he says. Musicians learn a language, a notation, a kind of “musical esperanto” that is used for all musicians in the world; they cannot just “sing with their own beak” and hope for the best.

Hernes explains that to be good at something, one has to start with the basics and the rules. Why not more emphasis on the old-fashioned “dictation” in the school system, he asks. Why should we not teach our students how to use their language? How else can we teach them to express a coherent thought? It was an interesting point, and I really do hope that something is done about this problem.

The other article was called “Å skrive er å tenke” (Writing is thinking) and was penned by Toril Moi, a professoor of literature at Duke University. She wrote: “To write is to think: it is when we express an insight on paper that we begin to understand what it means. To write is also to explore something: it is when we try to find words to describe what we have seen that we see what we have understood” [my translation]. I couldn`t agree more.

Moi argues that a good researcher will never wait to write till after she has “read up on the subject”; she will write a research diary where she will speculate and contemplate over what she has read. She will allow herself to write terrible drafts, just to see what she is thinking about the subjects. “PhD students must be braver”, Moi continued. “The fear of being judged, the fear of being seen as stupid, paralyzes many good students. A student cannot just write a diary. She must master the art of writing for others and to be able to take constructive criticism, to understand that revising drafts over and over again is a natural part of writing.” [my translation]

These two opinion papers, published only one day apart from each other, interested me greatly. Why don`t we spend more time teaching our students how to write? I teach academic writing, but most of the time in class I talk about how to find and use information, not much about the writing itself. I would love to do a little project on the writing processes itself, but I don`t have the same access to the students as teachers have. This is one of the things that I keep coming back to when I write about teaching; the lack of access. This fall, however, I will be more involved with a couple of classes at least. Maybe I can start something there?

I have heard teachers say: “We cannot spend so much time on academic writing this early on (first year college students). They have to learn something to write about first!”. I disagree. I think that form and content should go hand in hand. The one cannot exist without the other.

The opinion papers are worth reading (if you can read Norwegian, of course..). They certainly gave me some ideas.

Hernes, G. (2013) Diktat. Morgenbladet, 9.-15. august 2013 [online], s. 44 URL: (14.08.2013).

Moi, T. (2013). Å skrive er å tenke. Dagens næringsliv, 10. august 2013, s. 51-51.

PhD on track – a new website for PhD support launched (part 1)

I attended a conference last week where the website “PhD on track” was launched. It is a new resource to help PhD students with things like systematic search, referencing, publishing, co-authorship, marketing and sharing the research, open access issues and the weighted funding system in Norway, to  mention some. The conference was divided into three main parts, where the launch was part two. Check out the website, (and look at the conference program) and I`ll write up my notes here (I tweeted too, and the hashtag that was used was #phdontrack).

Berit Hyllseth from The Norwegian assosiation of higher education institutions did a presentation on generic skills (or rather professional skills as she corrected herself to) that we expect PhD students to have or gain. Which skills should they possess? Interpersonal skills, organisational skills, research competensies, cognitive abilities, communication skills and enterprise skills were mentioned. Hyllseth also showed us the Vitae Researcher Developers Framework (RDF), a new framework that describes necessary skills and competensies that a PhD students should have. PhD students can use it as a personal development tool, to see where they need to learn more  and put in more effort.

Norway is committed to the European Qualifications Framework, where the focus (for PhD students) is on the student`s knowledge and processes, not the research that they produce. Globalisation causes (among many other things) a higher demand for knowledge, and there is an emphasis on innovation and development, Hyllseth said. 74 percent of all persons with a PhD work in the public sector in Norway. This is a Norwegian phenomenon. In OECD countries most people with a PhD work in the private sector. We must focus more on the globalisation effect, Hyllseth said. It is not enough to educate researchers who have basic research skills and knows how to publish. An increasing number of people are enrolled in PhD programmes, and many are now studying part-time. We have to standardise programmes to facilitate researcher mobility. The research must also respond to the market`s needs. There is a paradigm shift in PhD education. The student can no longer expect to have a close relationship with his or her mentor because the mentor have more students to take care of than before. Are the PhD programmes bold enough to give us researchers that the society needs and wants?, Hyllseth asked rhetorically.

Hyllseth`s own data showed that while most PhD students (at the University of Oslo) were contented with their mentor and the guidance, they were less impressed with the courses and seminars. Many saw these courses as not very relevant and of low quality. The students expressed a wish for a broader choice of courses, and said that they wanted to learn more about academic writing, publishing and project management.

There is a need for better quality and a stronger collaboration between the different elements in the PhD training. There is also an expressed need for more interdisciplinary collaboration, but the faculties (at the University of Oslo) are autonomous and they decide how to build these training programmes and courses. There is no central management here.

We have to clarify the mentor`s role as someone who is jointly responsible for the student`s academic progress, we need better and more systematic use of external tutors and resources, a handbook for mentors as well as training measures to mentors. Hyllseth also recommended more partnerships with external institutions and a focus on marketing the value of PhD students and their knowledge.

More in part 2 (to come)