Report from the CONUL Conference by Beth Hall.

Thank you to Beth Hall, Research Support Librarian, Bangor University for this report:

12.06.17 I attended the CONUL annual conference, May 30th and 31st, Athlone, Ireland. CONUL is a consortium of Ireland’s main research libraries.

Recordings of the keynote lectures are available here:

The slides are available here:

I spoke at the conference on the topic of the WHELF research group and the events we have held over the last couple of years.  The slides are available on the link above but they are just photos so I have attached a copy of the talk at the end of this report.  I was in a session with talks from Dr John Cox who talked about a new staffing model to support research at the National University of Ireland Galway; his research paper on this is available at  In the session with my talk, we also had a presentation from Julia Barrett from University College Dublin about the establishment and development of UCD Library’s research services unit.  The three talks complimented each other and demonstrate a shift in Library’s staffing and organisation towards supporting researchers more directly.  We were asked questions as a panel of three, and answered topics such as “how do we keep librarians up to date with such a fast moving environment?”, “how do we engage with the research community?”, “how can we change the practice of more senior researchers who may not be aware of recent changes but won’t want to attend any briefings?”, “how important is the relationship with other parts of the University?”.  We also had a brief discussion about one of points raised during the Cardiff WHELF research group event about how far into the research a librarian should get – crossing the line from being a librarian into being a researcher.  Danny Kingsley referred back to this discussion during her keynote lecture – when she asked “is it out place to be telling the research community how they should be doing things?”  And answered herself “yes, researchers haven’t got the metaview, libraries are the neutral space where we can have those discussions”.

It seems we are all facing similar challenges.  I had very good feedback after my talk, with many commenting on how successful the shared LMS implementation has been viewed from across the water, and that they would be looking out for more benefits realisation from that project as it goes into the next stage.

I will now go on to describe some of the keynotes and talks that I enjoyed attending at the conference.  In fact, there were many more talks over the two days that I enjoyed attending, but I have just chosen a few here that are directly relevant for the work of the WHELF research group.

Lorcan Dempsey talked about the shift in research practices and therefore a need to change the way we think about library collections. Many libraries are managing down print collections, looking to share print in consortia, and using demand-driven acquisition. However, there are disciplinary differences and it is important to maintain specialist/special collections for your institution. Lorcan then described two trends, my interpretation of how he described these follows:

  • Reconfiguration of research work: libraries are managing the final product of research but not the process of research – multiple other outputs (publishing methods, data, discussion, working papers, pre-prints). Also a researcher’s identity is now linked to their output e.g. PURE portal and profiles on Google Scholar and ResearchGate for building reputation and for assessment. So this means that there is a blurring between their identity and their output. There is also a big drive in institutions to improve management of, and disclose institutional records. How does the library fit into this the ecosystem? Depends on positioning, personality, and politics. Publishers have already moved into this area.


  • Reconfiguration of the information space. Moving to facilitating collections not managing collections. We should right-scale collections. The information space in which our users work has changed. Library guides are useful to point to resources held elsewhere. Should we realise now that our value is not on the quality of our collections, but in the efficiency with which we can meet researchers’ needs. But retain specialized collections. Invest in collaborative collection building. See Lorcan’s blog for description of “inside out and outside in information practices” Also some discussion afterwards and ideas about a union catalogue.

Della Keating (National Library of Ireland) talked about archiving born digital materials and a pilot project they are current running to archive web content.  This talk reminded me of the LLGC’s Web Archive Wales project and I wondered if it is important to review which of our University webpages are being archived, if any research project websites are being archived could this help towards research data preservation?

Helen Young, from Loughborough University, talked about a UX project they have run in collaboration with Taylor and Francis.  They followed a small number of postgraduate research students, which they surveyed once a month.  They found that every student would search in a different way, and each would search in a different way every month.  They found a number of barriers that exist between the student and the resources they were trying to access.  Students did attend workshops and found these useful, but also learnt skills from peers and supervisors, and brought with them skills learnt at another University.  This reminds us that training or briefings for PhD supervisors are also important.  Students valued having someone available to them at their point of need for a face-to-face consultation.

I believe that Danny Kingsley’s keynote “Emerging from the chrysalis – transforming libraries for the future” gave us all a clear mandate to change quicker in libraries and provide support for researchers where they need it; otherwise, publishers will occupy the whole space.  Danny pointed out that often libraries do not occupy the top table with University leaders, so it is important to use champions and academics who can pass on information to make change happen. Researchers are looking for help, they want access to full text articles, they want their academic freedom protected, and they want guidance.  We should be talking to the research community about how things are changing and the way they should work in this environment.  During the discussion at the end of Danny’s talk an ECR in the audience spoke and stated that the way that senior researchers went through the academic system does not work for ECRs, still no jobs, many ECRs are displeased and open to change.  ECRs are interested in hybrid academic careers, and publishing in non-traditional means.  Danny reminded us of a number of useful blogs/sites/publications to look at including the following, she tweeted many on her account :

Jack Hyland & Lisa Callaghan from Dublin City University gave a presentation titled ‘Ask the Audience: Identifying what library services are important to the research community at DCU’. DCU has recently restructured academic support into functional roles.  They found that academic staff still valued having a dedicated contact for collection development, one-to-one consultations and for teaching support.

Frank Brady & Ciaran Quinn from Maynooth University talked about communication with the research community.   After consultation with academic staff and postgraduate students, they found that email is still the preferred communication tool.  They found that PGR students are confident in their own bubble, often self-taught and often do not feel they need any further support.  In the discussion following their talk, it was suggested that perhaps a UX project could have a PhD student or research staff member do a literature search, and have the librarian independently perform the same search and compare the results?

Simon Bains from the University of Manchester talked about a project they undertook to investigate student publishing at the University of Manchester.  They have not launched a student journal, but instead have launched other initiatives from their project:

A number of important points came up during the panel discussion on Open Access at the end of the conference, featuring Professor Robert Galavan from the School of Business at Maynooth University, Danny Kingsley, Lorcan Dempsey, John Fitzgerald Director of Information Services at University College Cork, and Professor John Costello Professor of Physics at Dublin City University.  Here are some of them as follows

  • Many senior academics still think of the quality of a library as the quality of its holdings
  • National data sharing platforms are required for open access data sharing to be a reality
  • Research funders are spending an awful lot of money on Gold OA from publishers, that money could be used in a better way to support open access, we should be looking to stop embargoes for green OA journals and stop funding hybrid journals
  • RCUK ask us to feedback compliance on OA policy with number of publications that have been made OA, but really we should be feeding back whether the publications have been read and cited and made a societal impact
  • Libraries should work together to support a collaborative approach to open access – should CONUL have a position on this? Should WHELF? Should we walk away from deals, ramp up our displeasure with the current system?
  • We should more actively support the Leiden principles
  • We should look at other measures of research impact so that we can cancel subscriptions
  • One academic has stated that they would lose a limb to get printed in a high ranking journal – that’s how important these journals are to reward
  • We are paying for a lot of journal content that doesn’t get read


Beth Hall CONUL conference presentation May 2017 – presentation script

WHELF: What is it?

  • Wales Higher Education Libraries Forum (WHELF) is a grouping of Chief Librarians and Directors of Information Services drawn from all the higher education institutions in Wales (Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Swansea University, University of South Wales, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Wrexham Glyndwr University, along with the National Library of Wales, National Museum Wales, Natural Resources Wales and the Open University in Wales
  • Chaired by Emma Adamson, Director of Learning Services at the University of South Wales
  • WHELF had its origins in the regular but informal meetings of University of Wales Chief Librarians, which were held in the 1980s, and in 1990, this was named the University of Wales Coordinating Committee for Libraries. In 1993, the membership of the Committee was extended to include the Chief Librarians of all Higher Education institutions in Wales.  In order to reflect the changed role of the group it was reconstituted as the Wales Higher Education Libraries Forum.
  • WHELF’s mission is to promote library and information services co-operation, to encourage the exchange of ideas, to provide a forum for mutual support and to help facilitate new initiatives in library and information services provision.
  • Strong culture of sharing and collaboration.
  • A successful project to highlight is the shared LMS – A single Library Management System and discovery interface has been agreed and implemented for all of the HEIs in Wales plus National Library of Wales and the Welsh NHS Libraries. Collaboration was very important in this implementation: Cohort 1 helped Cohort 2, Cohort 1 and 2 helped Cohort 3, NLW provided Welsh language translations of interface for the others. This project has now entered a new phase where WHELF examine the full benefits of the shared LMS post implementation to explore shared discovery and resources tools, a shared catalogue and cataloguing, and reciprocal borrowing.
  • In 2014 WHELF were working on a new strategy, constitution, and action plan – at the time, Janet Peters, Director of Libraries and University Librarian at Cardiff University who was leading on the actions on research – identified that it would be useful to set up a new group focusing on how libraries are supporting research and researchers.

WHELF research group

  • A new group set up in 2015 and I am a member along with representatives from the other WHELF institutions
  • Working on the broad WHELF strategy aims to: examine and enhance the changing role of libraries and librarians in supporting research and the research lifecycle through open access publishing, research data management, data curation and research skills.
  • Primarily a focus on bridging (reference to photo on screen) and bringing library staff together from across Wales who are focusing on supporting research and researchers. Provides a forum for library staff to:
  • Advise each other on relevant issues and share good practice in the support of research and researchers in Wales
  • Present issues for discussion to WHELF
  • Develop a WHELF research strategy for approval by WHELF
  • Organise events to bring staff together to learn new skills
  • Practitioner members – some with a research role, others not
  • How we communicate: video-conference, face-to-face meetings, email, Google docs

Why the collaboration works

  • An opportunity – timely – Filling a gap – roles and nervous about change
  • A desire to solve common problems
  • Shared values
  • Variety of different skills and expertise
  • Bilingual members
  • Pragmatic about what is achievable: team of 1 in some places, with collaboration small steps turn into big steps
  • Respect for differences
  • Proactive members
  • Professional trust
  • Openness and desire to learn

Projects / work packages

  • We’ve done a stack of things in the last 2 years (reference to photo on screen)
  • Initially the group focused on the desirability of establishing a shared repository across Wales, but with the transition to a new LMS and in some cases new research information management systems in member institutions, it was agreed that this was not the best time to be proposing further major system changes.
  • Understanding / benchmarking: Team structures, RDM systems and policies, repositories
  • Sharing resources: teaching slides, RDM resources
  • Digital collections: meeting recently at the NLW with ARCW (Archives and Records Council Wales), also WHELF adoption of the principles in the Ensuring the Future statement by the Keepers registry to support archiving and preservation initiatives. Looking collectively at preservation standards
  • Cross-Wales events e.g. on institutional publishing
  • Sharing solutions: email template for contact with new academic staff
  • Sharing knowledge and strategic attendance at events: pointers to where information is available from external organisations
  • Identifying training needs and booking external trainers: RDM, UX, OA Publishing
  • Informal training events “teachmeets” – May 2016 and May 2017
  • Dissemination: blog posts, conference talks, asking members to cascade at their institutions (tools for communication – webinar software)

May 2016 events

  • Three regional events- South Wales, South West Wales, and mid-Wales (all of these events involved people standing at the end of piers – not really but the new Swansea Bay campus library really is that close to the sea – and there are deck chairs in the library) (reference to photo on screen)
  • Informal – not chalk and talk, sharing, unconference
  • Share experiences
  • All three events organised in the same format: members of the WHELF research group prepared three presentations beforehand, and we asked librarians who were attending the events to volunteer to present these presentations. The slides provided bullet points that would set the scene and prompt questions and discussion points. Each presentation was followed by a lengthy discussion session on each topic.

Themes for the event:

  1. How to organise/upskill to provide support for researchers?
    • Our concerns:
      • changing role of subject librarians
      • Lack of time of capacity: taking on these new tasks on top of everything else – so what can we give up? Hoffman wrote in 2016 in the introduction to her edited book “Dynamic research support for academic libraries”: “For far too long, the mantra in many libraries has been “do more with less” – the idea that we should somehow solve shrinking budgets by creating more projects and services despite time and budget constraints. This inevitably results in a slew of half-finished projects and frazzled librarians”.
      • Lack of confidence in approaching researchers
      • Not understanding researchers’ needs
    • Can we use evidence from the literature for ideas to support us in this transition: evidence based practice?
  1. Open Access publishing – an update
  2. Researchers and social networking – an update

May 2016 events: feedback and outcomes

  • Positive feedback: “more like this please! It’s really helpful to have the opportunity to step out of the office and share experience, worries and ideas with others”
  • Gregynog conference June 2016: Susan Glen, Bronwen Blatchford and myself: brought it to a wider audience
  • SCONUL Focus article (reference at the end of the slides)
  • Want more training events and shared resources, find out what researchers want, case studies to demonstrate library value to researchers
  • Sown the seeds of ideas of more collaboration between sites and we can see the shoots of growth of new projects (reference to photo on screen)

May 2017 events

  • Three regional events: South Wales, South West Wales and North Wales
  • Aims: bring us closer to researchers, understand their pressures, better understanding of the researcher lifecycle, learn more about how other departments in the institution support researchers, explore more effective ways to promote our value to researchers, to communicate what we have on offer

Themes for the events:

  • Hear from researchers – we asked researchers to leave their desks and come to us (reference to photo on screen)
  • Hear from other staff in the institutions who also support researchers
  • Communicating with researchers

May 2017 events: feedback and outcomes

  • Positive feedback: “reassuring for me that I am operating along the right lines. Thank you for organising this.”
  • But wanted more time for discussion and more time to catch up with library staff who are in “new roles” supporting researchers – what do their roles involve, also lessons learned – what has worked well and what has not – so maybe next year when we meet we may revert back to a more “sharing – learn from peers” event.
  • This year the three events were quite different, with different speakers bringing different emphasis to the discussions. At Bangor, we organised our event as a Teachmeet sponsored by the CILIP Information Literacy Group so we discussed information literacy for researchers as one of the main themes of our event. We discussed the issue of researchers not recognising information literacy skills as core research skills, using these skills every day so don’t feel they would learn anything from a training session.  Early career researchers may not know some key concepts if they have not been part of them yet – peer review, metrics etc.
  • I co-organised the event at Bangor earlier this month with Tegid Williams, Information Services Manager at Natural Resources Wales (Welsh government sponsored body regulating and advising on issues relating to the environment and natural resources) and I co-organised this event, and despite coming from two different sectors we found there were common areas of support that we are delivering across both our organisations. We found that we have more in common that we first might have thought taking into consideration how differently the researchers behave according to the different motivations of University versus Public Sector Government organisation.
  • Learning points:
    • Defining researchers – difficult – a diverse population – different levels of engagement, difficult to engage with more senior staff who may not have realised that regulations/requirements/services/available support have changed, reach into departmental meetings
    • Researchers respond at the point of need – don’t know what they need until they need it
    • Challenge: Hard to support researchers if you are not connect with them – need to build networks (Friendly connections – rubbing shoulders – oral cultures works) BUT to really get embedded and be directly involved in supporting a research project – requires immersion – but too much specialisation risks transformation library role into a research role
    • Researchers are trained to be independent, “persistent confidence in their self-sufficiency” – do not feel they need direct support from library staff.
    • Researchers don’t just need the black and white of identifying the published literature in their field, but tacit knowledge of what’s happening in their sector, differences in opinion, a wider range of evidence
    • Importance to researchers of external funders policies – some researchers not fully aware of all external requirements
    • Vitae materials are useful, also look at other sources such as PIRUS,
    • It is highly valuable to build up a good relationship with and work with other sections of the organisation that support researchers
    • Make sure staff are aware of all library services at induction
  • Opportunities/support that is valued:
    • Literature searching: where researchers are moving into new fields, where researchers are also practitioners and therefore less embedded in a research culture (e.g. medical)
    • Students and ECRs if they have not already picked up these skills
    • Research Data Management
    • Copyright and publishers permissions for OA publishing
    • Help with metrics
    • Interlibrary loans / contacting archives and finding hard to reach materials
    • Digitising and making available rare books and documents
    • Systematic reviews and realist reviews
    • Rapid reviews or policy briefings – most up-to-date current good quality information needed quickly
    • Managing information
    • A nice space to work in, work collaboratively with others, if meeting rooms are available
  • Identified: ideas for promotion, guides for researchers, using the Researcher Development Framework (RDF), understanding where we fit into researchers skills development (reference to photo on screen), targeted info – nothing too generic, more online materials, video guides and lecture capture, pitch training at different levels
  • Unfortunately researchers are so busy it was a real coup for us to have them talk at our event, but we would have liked to spend more time with them to find out what they thought of what we are currently offering and how our marketing messages are working – an idea to present them with some materials and see how they responded. Future worked planned in WHELF on using UX and customer-mapping journey may help us answer this.

My personal gains

  • Helped me get from A to B (reference to photo on screen – Tryfan adam and eve) – new role, new direction for the service
  • Enjoy being part of a team – bouncing ideas
  • It’s fun
  • Learn so much from colleagues – informal sharing
  • CPD opportunities – helped me complete my CILIP chartership
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Given me confidence
  • Helped me understand my place within the service and within the University and who to be working closely with (Archives, records management, research office, ECR network etc)
  • The best knowledge is to know yourself– our library team at Bangor is not as far behind as others, I can share my expertise with others
  • …..some direct solutions…(next slide)

Examples of day-to-day solutions provided by collaboration

  • Data Manager for a new large research project at Bangor – not sure how to comply with subject-specific metadata standards – Natural Resources Wales have a data manager who sits on the advisory board for the metadata standard – organise a meeting to put the two in touch
  • EPSRC funded researcher not responding to reminders of requirements to make arrangement to deposit research data at the end of the project – project is joint funded being led by Swansea University – conversation with Swansea research office – two-pronged approach to communicate with principal investigators on the project
  • Welsh translation of the Open Journals Systems front-end
  • All of this work was enabled by connections and belonging to a network of colleagues (reference to the photo on the screen)

WHELF research group – Successes

  • Greater capacity
  • More resilience
  • Sustainability
  • More collaboration – collaboration breeds collaboration
  • Increased knowledge across the board
  • A new strategy for WHELF including research support
  • New roles in some institutions
  • Raising the profile and value of library research support services in our own institutions, in Wales and beyond.
  • Raising of importance in a wider group of practitioners – more accepting that this is core work
  • Cross-over work with other teams in the libraries across institutions: preservation work with archives, working with collections teams on accessibility of research, understanding the customer journey with the customer services team, thinking about how researchers respond to research guides and training sessions with the teaching and learning group

Final words

  • (With reference to photo on screen) just as the bridge between my home town and my University town is strong, I believe our new network across Wales is strong.
  • I hope it will be a continuing supportive network – it hasn’t just popped up for one day

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

Henry Ford



  • Hoffman, S. 2016. Introduction: a vision for supporting research. In S. Hoffman, ed., Dynamic research support for academic libraries. London: Facet Publishing.
  • Blatchford, B. et al. 2016. SCONUL Focus 67. Librarians supporting research in Wales: Collaborative staff development and capacity building.
  • WHELF website:




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