Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Sharing Best Practice at the Midlands and East Summer Conference

I was invited to run two sessions on "Sharing Best Practice" at this year's Summer Conference, held in Peterborough, on 12th July.

I spent some time thinking about what "best practice" actually is, is it different from good practice, from evidence based practice, and is it different from innovation?

In the first session there was a lively discussion on whether librarians actually do evidence based practice, and whether we practise what we preach on using evidence. Does all evidence come through desk based research, or simply learning from others' successes and failures?  There was a lot of talk around whether the evidence base for clinical librarians is now well established to the point that no further work is needed (I'd say not, others disagreed).

We discussed how we use professional judgement and experience alongside evidence gathered through observation and conversation with colleagues in other organisations.

When looking at the best forum in which to share activities we consider as best practice, we talked about conferences and meetings as "down time" and whether it's easier to share in these environments than make time in a busy working day to write a blog post, draft a journal article or enter an award. Many of us are keeping up with the day job and finding that takes all of our energy.

We discussed the value of local networks, talking with trusted colleagues we know well so feel more able to be open. The East of England libraries network run "Can Do Caf├ęs" as forums to share ideas and learn from each other, along with themed "Share Your Stories" sessions, which sound like an excellent way to throw an idea out to colleagues and get feedback and encouragement and/or commiseration.

In the second session we discussed whether it is possible to define what best practice is without giving examples of activities we feel are embodying best practice. Words such as "efficient" and "relevant" were used, but we found it difficult to come up with a single best fit for what best practice is. The group felt that it can be very location and context dependent when deciding what constitutes best practice as it may not work everywhere.

Sharing is not just down to being present at events such as the Summer Conference, the EoE librarians have a well established tradition of reporting and sharing best practice through their LQAF (Library Quality Assurance Framework) returns. This may not work for all, working in the East Midlands, I've never seen another library's LQAF return until I worked as a peer reviewer this year.

Local networks again came up where people feel they can talk openly with trusted colleagues. This did make me wonder how you can break out of your own network and find out about wider practice, and members of the group said that if you want to know, just ask! But this assumes that we're able to find out that something is going on, that we might want to know more about.

Mailing lists, more on the local scale rather than national were thought to be useful where colleagues are not able to meet face to face regularly. There seemed to be a sense of not wanting to put yourself out there for judgement.

We then got onto a rich discussion of whether we ought to be sharing our failures as well as our successes, and if we're reticent to share our success, failure is going to be even harder to come by!

Innovation versus best practice came up again, and the feeling of needing to be doing something unique AND interesting in order to qualify as an innovation before shouting about it appeared to be a widely held concern in the group. However it was agreed that we don't always need to feel we're in direct competition with other health libraries.