The concluding DREaM conference (Monday 9th July at the British Library, London) was an excellent, enjoyable and thought-provoking day and I have learned a great deal from the conference keynotes, papers, panel sessions and networking and conversations with other participants.
Professor Hazel Hall reiterated the aims of the DREaM project in her introduction – the project aimed to develop a UK-wide network of LIS researchers, to build a secure foundation for long-term research capacity, capability and quality and to embed notions of “value”, “impact” and “influence” among practitioners and researchers.
Traditionally LIS researchers and practitioners have been good at the survey, focus group and interview data collection techniques but other methodologies and techniques have been less well-used. DREaM has provided an accessible and comprehensive introduction to these lesser-well known methodologies.
All sessions were extremely valuable but the ones which were most directly relevant to my practice as a health librarian were the two keynotes by Professor Carol Tenopir and Dr Ben Goldacre on “Building evidence of the value and impact of library and information services: methods, metrics and ROI” and “Research, evidence bases, decision making and policy” respectively.
The subject of Professor Carol Tenopir’s talk – articulating the benefits, value and impact of library and information services – is central to my work in the health sector and the topic as a whole is of major interest to both LIS researchers and practitioners.
Carol made a distinction between two fundamentally different kinds of “impact” – 1) impact in terms of information as value in terms of purchase or exchange, making savings or saving time in that “time is money” 2) the “use value” of information, i.e. the valuable (or not!) consequences derived from reading and using the information. NHS libraries have made a lot of use of the second kind of “value” (see for example the impact studies on the NHS SHA Library Leads Website at: http://www.libraryservices.nhs.uk/forlibrarystaff/impactassessment/) but it is important that they and other kinds of libraries/information services do not neglect the first kind.
More practically, Carol’s talk highlighted 3 approaches to measuring value – 1) measurements of implied value (i.e. producing usage statistics and theorising as to the probable value of the usage “outputs” to LIS users), 2) explicit value (i.e. trying to define outcomes more specifically, including use of the critical incident technique) 3) derived values (i.e. contingent “economic” evaluation and return on investment (ROI).
The critical incident technique highlighted in the second of these approaches is, I feel, a particularly important technique in LIS practice and research. The critical incident technique asks information users to articulate the value of an information product or service in a specific instance (rather than provide more vague general expressions of the value and benefits derived). This is a very practical technique which can produce potent examples of “impact” in terms of rich qualitative data which can be appealing to the organisations in which the information service is located.
As a health library practitioner, Dr Ben Goldacre’s talk was also vital and touches on many themes I encounter in my work. Ben highlighted how the age-old problem of publication bias (the fact that health studies are more likely to be published if they produce “positive” results or results which are favourable to commercial companies) can ultimately harm patients because research findings which might affect patient care are sometimes not being made available to healthcare professionals. More insidious practices can, and do, go on such as researchers reporting their final results by defining outcomes differently from that laid out in their protocols (i.e. statement of intention to conduct research and details of how this research will be carried out) or using a multitude of statistical tests (some of which may not be appropriate for the data) in order to manipulate a probability value at the level generally considered significant.
Publication bias, selective reporting of studies and withholding research data can, as well as impeding health professionals’ access to important information, harm the work of the healthcare librarian.
The concept of a clinical librarian working with health professionals has been around for 30 years. Clinical librarians work in a variety of ways but central to the job is to facilitate access to the health evidence base for clinicians and managers. (Sometimes this is done by the librarian producing “evidence summaries”; other clinical librarians act more as trainers/facilitators).
There are a plethora of examples from the health literature of the benefits of clinical librarians to patient care and other clinical/professional activity in healthcare organisations. However, in order to harness the potential of externally published research for the benefit of patients and healthcare organisations, clinical librarians are dependent on robust and transparent reporting mechanisms of this externally published research.
The continuing improvement of information architecture and the continuing articulation of the value and benefit of information/knowledge to healthcare are central to the healthcare librarians’ remit and the keynote by Dr Ben Goldacre showed how important it is that these issues are given proper consideration.
As a new professional I very much appreciate having the opportunity to attend this conference and I would like to thank the DREaM team for the travel bursary which was kindly provided to me to support my attendance.