NoWAL Conference 2015

In July I attended the NoWAL Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus. I was speaking about Lancaster’s Jolt the Library project but was looking forward to a varied programme of talks about digital libraries, user engagement and learning spaces.

The first keynote of the day was from Jo Norry (@JPNLeeds), Director of Libraries and Learning Innovation at Leeds Beckett University. Jo admitted she would be ruminating on a number of themes – this was a wide ranging and really interesting keynote from someone who is clearly a passionate advocate for the library and it’s services in her institution.

Like many universities, Leeds Beckett have discussed renaming Library spaces and services, using zeitgeist terms such as “learning commons”. Jo noted that no matter how it’s branded, students and staff will refer to university learning spaces as “The Library” , as it’s a recognisable and widely understood term. Recently, learning technologists at Leeds Beckett had become part of the library team. Jo felt that it was important that they retained their own professional identities, so the team were to keep their own distinct name – but she then realised that many of the team members themselves had started referring to themselves as being “from the Library”. The Library is simple, recognisable, and has connotations of responsiveness and excellent service.

Despite this, Jo spoke about the challenges of keeping the library visible at the highest levels of the institution. As the library’s services and resources are embedded in an ever more seamless manner, does the library as an organisation and a team of people become more invisible? VCs and senior management of universities aren’t often library users anymore. Their perceptions may be influenced by media discourse around libraries being outdated or expendable. This was a really interesting talk on library advocacy at a senior management level.

A great final tip from Jo: “Be everywhere and be easy to work with”.

Digital literacies from over t’border

My first breakout session was Susan Halfpenny from The University of York Library, talking about their project to develop a digital literacies framework for their Department of Health Sciences. York have a merged Library and IT Directorate – the framework will help to formalise the provision of the Directorate’s Relationship Management team for the Department of Health Sciences, and will act as a model that can be rolled out across other departments.

York have done extensive work to show what areas of digital and information literacy development are currently embedded into what courses, and at what stage. Susan shared some really interesting visualisations of this which I’d like to look at again when the slides are shared.

Provision in the past had largely been the result of independent work by subject librarians – the new framework now formalises what is embedded in Health Sciences courses by a range of support departments (not just the Library), and aligns this embedded support and development with both University strategy and graduate attributes.

york dig lit
Susan presenting York’s Digital Literacy framework for their Department of Health Sciences.

York’s Digital Literacy model is based on Beetham and Sharpe’s pyramid model, which characterises digital literacies as a continuum from access and functional skills to higher level capabilities, which become embedded in practices and identities. York’s model is also influenced by other information literacy models such as ANCIL and Jisc’s Seven Elements of Digital Literacies.

York consulted with students and staff in Health Sciences to create their framework. Both students and staff identified a number of areas where they needed more support, including managing information sources and critical appraisal techniques.

Taking a department-level approach has enabled York to focus on consultation and collaboration and to ensure that the framework is situated and meaningful for both students and academics in this discipline; this is a similar approach to the faculty-level projects undertaken at Bath (PRiDE) amongst others.

This was a really interesting talk and it looks like York are doing some great work around digital literacies. Sarah will be speaking about this project again at the Northern Collaboration conference in September for those attending that event.

Jolt the Library…out and about

Up next was, er, me! I was really pleased that I got such a good attendance for my talk (we needed to get more chairs to fit everyone in). There’s clearly an appetite for new methods of student engagement in academic libraries. One of the attendees from the University of Worcester mentioned that they are planning on running their own student innovation competition in future.

I used Haiku Deck for the first time for my presentation. It is really good for creating clean, visually bold presentations and for breaking you out of institutionally branded or bulletpoint heavy slides. It’s pretty intuitive, and Haiku Deck’s User Guide is very good too. The creative commons licenced image search is a really nice feature.

Said strategic Godzilla:

godzilla planning
Haiku Deck’s image search found this for me….I can’t take all the credit 🙂

There are a few elements that make it frustrating to use; you can’t embed video…oh, ok, fine. You can’t embed links AT ALL in a slide. WHAT? How baffling. You also can’t embed the slide deck in WordPress unless you have a self hosted blog (grumble). So here’s a link to my slides:


I’m glad I tried Haiku Deck though, it made a nice change. I got good feedback and I’d definitely use it again. There were some really good questions from my session, and I had lots of kind comments both in person and via Twitter. Thanks to everyone who came along!

There’s more information about the project on our Jolt the Library site – you can also view all the ideas that were submitted for the competition (including the inter-floor slides and the Cat Cafe)  via the Jolt Ideas Platform.

You can find out more about Lancaster University’s brilliant Innovation Hub team via their website and Twitter.

Space is the place

Following lunch, Rosie Jones (@RosieJHJones) from Liverpool John Moores delivered an inspiring keynote on approaches to designing learning and library spaces. Rosie has led on major Library space projects at the University of Manchester and now at Liverpool John Moores, and was able to deliver an informed critique on design processes in Universities, such as a reliance on replicating what’s been done elsewhere, and a focus on familiar kinds of space (individual and “social” space) rather than taking a truly user led approach. Rosie identified `liminal spaces’ such as lift lobbies, ill-defined breakout areas and waiting areas, as traditionally under designed and under funded areas – but ones which can real impact on the feelings that users have for a learning space .

John Moores have recently consulted with a range of small design agencies, including Manchester-based Space Invader Design. Space Invader have worked on the recent refurbishment of Manchester Public Library, which is well worth a visit. As organisations, Universities aren’t doing enough to engage with small, innovative design companies and suppliers. Procurement policies can often be a barrier to this. Rosie commented that designers she had worked with are often frustrated by the slow speed of University projects. Flexible learning spaces need to be flexible for staff too; the needs of staff are often an overlooked in the design process. And issues which Rosie covered in a similar presentation in 2011 are still pertinent; infrastructure for ever developing technology remains a challenge, as does delivering a one-stop shop approach without the need for users to understand service structures.

Lessons learned

Satish Patel, Library Development Manager at the University of Salford, delivered a brave and fascinating talk about recent Library development projects from Salford, including a significant change in approach to student engagement.

Salford closed their Health Sciences library and relocated the collections to their main library site in 2013. This was undertaken as part of an institution-wide reorganisation and an essential need to reduce costs. Salford undertook ‘listening events’ with students, but Satish was very frank in saying that these events were primarily to communicate the changes to students and explain the context the changes were made in – the decisions themselves were made and students had little chance of impacting them.

There was a very negative response to the relocation of the Health Library, including a student union petition, an email campaign to the VC and a significant impact on the NSS score for the department.

As part of phase two of their Library Development project Salford are now taking a co-creation approach to student learning spaces. Salford appointed a “Library Guru” to consult with all stakeholders in the institution; Les Watson, who has significant experience of leading university space and refurbishment developments.

Salford have used Les’ findings to produce “a roadmap of space and service improvements for the lifespan of the building” (15 years). Salford are now working with Leeds-based Fuse Studios on future projects; Fuse have run student and staff focus group sessions, and Salford are embracing a culture of being challenged by user needs and expectations. Salford are also using a number of ethnographic methods in parallel to the work undertaken by Les and Fuse, to understand how people are using their learning spaces and to what extent the Library is providing for their needs.

Satish showed us some great concept art for Salford’s new Library space, taking on a `Library in the Park’ theme to reference nearby Peel Park, one of the oldest public parks in Britain. This was a brave talk that acknowledged past challenges, and revealed a real commitment to ongoing student engagement and co-creation of learning spaces.

Cognitive mapping of digital spaces

Ending the afternoon on a high was a workshop session from Liam Cunningham (@liamealbee), Liason Librarian from the University of Sheffield. Liam’s session The Library of the Mind explored using cognitive mapping techniques to visualise your library’s web presence.

library web cognitive mapping
My scribble of Lancaster University Library’s web footprint. Library users are at the bottom, cocooned in various University information systems.

I attended this workshop with a colleague from Lancaster, and we felt like we were cheating a bit as we’d tried cognitive mapping for the first time just over a week ago, thanks to a brilliant staff development session at Lancaster from Andy Priestner. What we did on that day focused on mapping our day at work, and we did discuss cognitive mapping primarily in relation to physical spaces. This is a great idea from Liam to focus on the virtual library space, and I can see a real value in trying this with students (Liam has trialled it with MSc students at Sheffield).

Liam did a great job of introducing cognitive mapping for people who were unfamiliar with it as a technique. He’s compiled a great list of references on library ethnography which I’ll be perusing with interest once the slides are up on the NoWAL site.

I’ve started thinking about how ethnographic techniques such as cognitive mapping could be used in Library teaching sessions at Lancaster in future, and I think it could be used as the basis for a reflective activity on research practices for undergraduate students transitioning to Part II and III. I think most participants in Liam’s session would be keen to try cognitive mapping with their students and staff, particularly with regard to online spaces and services. This was a great focus for a workshop activity and I hope Liam develops this further in future.

Thanks to Yvette Jeal, Jayne Evans, Lorna Clarke, Nicola Howorth and anyone else who was involved in organising the day – you all did a great job and I look forward to being involved in future NoWAL events!

You can revisit tweets from the event using the hashtag #NoWAL2015 and the presentations from the day are going to be shared on added to the NoWAL website shortly. Helen Monagle (@HelenMonagle) from Manchester NLPN has written a really good recap too.


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